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Things I’ve learned . . . May 8, 2007

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Here’s a list of a few of the tetrabazillion things I’ve learned in the past few months from undertaking this project:

1. My hair is greyer . . . a lot greyer.

2. Beating one’s head against a desk/wall/computer monitor actually does help because it gives you time away from your code.  Once you’ve successfully visited the office nurse and applied ice to your wounds, you quickly and easily see the error that’s been plaguing you for what seems like decades.

3. Organization really really matters.  After making a 7-page website that’s not even halfway complete, I realized so many organizational things that I need to do.  For instance, I was uploading the header and footer images for each individual page before it dawned on me that I could create a “common-images” folder and just always draw from there.  Then I realized that instead of transferring over all of my header and footer CSS for each page, I could’ve just created one CSS file named “header-footer.css” and just linked that to each of my pages.  Then, when I wanted to change something, I’d only have to go to one place rather than going to each page, or could just change classes on the individual pages if I didn’t want to affect them all.  I have no idea why it took me so long to think of that – I’m sure I read it early in the semester anyway, but better late than never. 

4. It’s taken me a while to think outside of the old table-based way of building sites but I think I’m finally, slowly getting there.

5. There’s a lot I have yet to learn but I can’t wait to tackle something new.

6. This isn’t really anything I’ve learned – but thanks everyone for your comments!  Seriously, they were a big help. 

Finally! (maybe?) May 1, 2007

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Well I finally had a breakthrough moment where I think I really understood what the crap was going on with positioning.  However, once my lightbulb finally flicked from 20w to maybe something more like 60w, I realized how many unseen problems there were with my code despite it passing verification.  After spending hours tightening it up, I’ve finally been able to move on with building my site.  As you’ll see, the homepage is still a work in progress (maybe I should get one of those ‘under construction’ animated gifs) but I actually have some content on the Engineers page.  I still haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do for navigation, but Paula’s arrow idea sounds good to me.  I’m still perplexed over why I have a white border around my page.  Any hints on how to get rid of that?  That would be mightly helpful!

Myst April 24, 2007

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I remember the good old days of Myst 1.  I must have been in middle school when that first came out – back when I had more than 30 minutes to devote to any one thing.  A few years went by and I played Riven.  Either I got dumber (which is extremely likely) or the game got exponentially harder.  For the first time in my life I had to use a “walk-through” and felt somewhat disgusted in myself.  Apparently 3 more have come out since then, so rather than playing them in sequence, I simply picked up Myst V.  I guess I’ve missed a lot of the story because there was a lot of catching up to do via the diary entries, but I suppose I’ve got what I need.  The pattern is the same from what I remember in the first ones.  Everything has a purpose – you have everything you need, nothing more and nothing less.  It’s like a good history essay.  It’s pointed with no unnecessary excess yet it remains quite nuanced.  If anything though, this version creeps me out a little more than the earlier ones.  I know it’s not really possible to die or whatever but I don’t really like the bats flying at me.  To me the purpose of the game is to solve the puzzles – everything else is just flashy flash, but like every Myst game, there comes a point to where you have to make a decision.  Getting trapped in books is no fun.  I definitely enjoy games that make one think – but despite the addition of other characters into the game, it’s a completely lone/isolated process.  I guess they “help” you, but I definitely enjoy interaction with others, which I guess is where they’ve gone with their newest version?

2 steps forward; 6,124 steps backward April 17, 2007

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 http://members.cox.net/hambone5981/panama/

 Seriously, what the hell?  Why is it that half of this process doesn’t make any sense?  I create a beautiful website in dreamweaver, frequently preview it in my browser, validate it, then post it online . . . and it looks nothing like the previews in my browser – even though it’s the same damn browser!  It bears repeating: Seriously, what the hell?  Despite my supposed javascript hack, my .png files don’t show up being transparent (yes, I use IE – just like everyone else at my agency), and the background image doesn’t load.  I had several break-through moments in the past couple weeks where I thought I actually understood something for once – but that was usually followed by hours of trying to understand mundane details that somehow greatly affect my site – like how my header, background, and footer don’t line up properly even though they’ve all been positioned using the same numeric parameters. 

 But, onto other style notes – since design is what this assignment is about: I need some advice on what to include on the left side of my page.  I don’t like the idea of having a traditional-looking nav bar because of my 3-column content layout.  I’m breaking the project into 3 parts as explained on the homepage, and feel it’s unnecessary to have any further navigation.  Yet, it feels kinda naked without something over there.  Any advice?

 Also, any advice on how to get my right margin to line up properly?  Right now it’s unacceptable but have given up on trying to fix it for now.

Formatting my anchors has also proven to be difficult, especially when trying to assign specific classes.  Point being, I’ve still got a lot to learn before the final project is due!

Ugh! April 10, 2007

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Maybe it’s just my computer at work, but these sites seem to have usibility (is that a word?) problems.  Turning pages was frustrating, and in that virtual museum, I kept clicking the ‘back’ button on my browser, which of course took me back to the intro for the museum.  The intro included music and a short video clip.  So, after hearing that 5x, I got frustrated and left.  I guess my point is that all of these sites are kinda cool, but I don’t really see much use to them.  The most fun was drawing medieval painting where soldiers lay dead at the feet of cooks, saying something like “Ye stew hath savaged my entrails worse than the Moors.”  I guess that just shows that my research and use of the web is very directed and focused on things I’m working on.  Whereas these sites are ones of blind discovery.  The B&B museum collection – we all know there’s going to be some pretty random stuff in there, but I suppose that’s the draw for some.  I’d rather go to a museum or go to a website when I know what I’m looking for and know what to expect.  I guess I’m a stereotypical guy – I don’t really browse.  I’m in and out with what I need, otherwise I don’t see it as a good use of my time.  I guess I’m one of the 90-95% who would just lurk and not participate on such sites.

Put it all together to save you more April 3, 2007

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Now that I’ve got a dedicated topic and some actual content that I fully intend to post, all these design issues are starting to drive me a little crazy.  It’s no longer as much of a question of how to do things, but what to do.  Because this is going to be a federal site, accessibility is a very important aspect.  The last thing we want as a gov’t agency is to be accused of not offering equal access.  So, I’ve been trying to limit the number of links on the homepage.  I definitely remember being completely overwhelmed from that U. of Antarctica website with excessive amounts of links.  So, I’ve broken the Panama Canal page into 3 basic parts and from there it can branch out further once inside the site.  I’ve drawn out what I envision for the homepage, but the deeper I get, the more small details I notice.  More and more small design or visual problems appear.  It’s amazing how nuanced a decent website is – and equally amazing how little of such intricacy is noticed by visitors.  Kinda like the Corps of Engineers – people only take notice when there’s a problem!  . . . back to practicing and trying to put this all together into something tangible.

Is our site compliant? Maybe?! March 27, 2007

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For those of you who work for the government, you’re well aware of how things function.  Generally one’s goal is to fulfill the stipulations of a regulation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the true intentions of that regulation are being addressed.  Web work is certainly one example.  My office is currently under the jurisdiction of 2 HQ webmasters (at least until my coup is successful), and of course we’re required to follow certain disability guidelines.  The webmasters insure that those regulations are followed, but they don’t take into account the purpose of the regulation: to allow disabled visitors to easily navigate the Army Corps of Engineers websites.  Well the sites are almost entirely table-based.  Most at HQ still use Frontpage, and I can only imagine what disabled visitors must go through if they try to look at any of our sites.  Yet, we all make sure to have captions on our pictures!  The world would come to an end if we didn’t name and caption each and every graphic.  So, I think people around here are missing the point that being compliant isn’t good enough – what matters is that all can access our site and navigate it easily.  That simulation of the web reader was “the best thing ever.”  I sent that to my boss and our editor to give them an idea of what it’s like to visit sites like that – with 800 million links and banner images.  I’m going to get this place turned around eventually!

Old it up! And information overload March 6, 2007

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I think it’s very cool how we can make our sites mirror the documents we work with.  As historians, I know we all fall in love with certain aspects of our materials, and unlike newly printed publications, websites can better evoke those emotions.  However, from the readings there definitely seems to be a sense of exaggeration with some of the designs.  Maybe it’s just me, but I really like accuracy.  When I see a website that’s been “oldened” it definitely looks good and catches my attention but I wonder how much altering the look of a document or site will affect its ethos amongst professionals.  If I see something too glitzy, am I to think that it’s more of a “popular” history; or worse yet – history being done by a graphic designer?  Obviously one shouldn’t focus more on the layout than on the content, but more people will likely go to the site with a better layout despite its content.  Now I’m rambling.  The point is, I think we should be careful how we portray our sites so as to not fall into a trap of antiquarianism or focusing too much time and attention on making it look historical rather than making the material worth reading. 

But that thought is likely just a reaction to information overload that I’m trying to deal with.  I feel like it could take me a few months to master the things we read and discuss each week.  Yet there’s always more piling on and now I’m getting nervous about how I’m going to manage all of this.  Not to mention,  along with design, there’s content!  And that content has to be worth reading!  If I ever have to design a website along my dissertation, I think I’ll cry.  Either that or making something really flashy that will detract from my poor performance (I’m thinking Kennedy-Nixon debate). 

Color and more color February 27, 2007

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Wow, I’ll be honest – the sites and tools for this week are pretty amazing.  Honestly, as a self-proclaimed “dude,” color matching isn’t my strong-point.  When I go shirt & tie shopping, I must always take a female along or else disaster ensues.  In fact, color was probably my biggest fear when it came to webdesign.  Despite my CSS frustrations, learning code is like learning a trade – or more specifically, a language.  Coloring, despite it’s elementary connotations, is definitely where true art comes into play.  So, these sites, like many others, helped me immensely.  Yet, now I’m faced with so many possibilities, that I think having the advantage of so precisely tweaking my palettes makes this process even more time-consuming.  Without knowledge and ability, it’s easy!  I just slap a few different shades of blue up there and think, “well, that’s the best I know how to do.”  But with a plethora of options and tools, now I’m confronted with about 800,000 really nice palettes.  Oh well – I guess that means I better get to work!

Venting some CSS frustration February 17, 2007

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I know it’s been almost 2 weeks since our last class meeting, but I didn’t think CSS was going to be such a pain in the posterior. I’ve been working on the writing project assignment and can’t seem to figure out what I’m doing wrong. The CSS and XHTML that we wrote in class last time seems to simple, and yet it works. Me, well I must just be simple, because my page’s behavoir is incomprehensible. I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but basically I’ve gotten to the point to where I can work on it for a few hours, then by that time I’ve gotten so frustrated that I have to quit for a while. When I eventually come back to it, I can usually make a few minor improvements before all hell breaks loose again. I think maybe I’m trying to accomplish more than my skills can yet allow. Anyway, back to drawing board for now.

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