A List Apart Finds the Holy Grail (of CSS Layout)

With a URL like:http://www.alistapart.com/articles/holygrailyou know it should be interesting.  In this article on the most revered of “Web-Standards-Based-Design” websites, Matthew Levine reveals the secrets for a clean, semantic, CSS-only way to create the page layout framework used by 90% of decent web sites.If you don’t want to read the article, you can skip right to the example.  Just do a “Save As…” and a huge amount of headaches can be avoided on your next project.The only thing that bugs me about this code is that the side columns do screwy things when the browser window gets really small.  This may seem minor, but I’ve always felt that although user interfaces shouldn’t always behave like real-world objects, when you’re using something that appears to implode and collapse in on itself under certain circumstances, you naturally tend to feel like what you’re using may be fragile and unreliable.  Early versions of Groove were notorious for this kind of collapsing layout – even buttons would shrink down so that the text on them “fell off”.Anyway, I’m pretty sure that a fix would only involve one or two non-semantic “container” tags (which Levine wen’t out of his way to avoid – I have much less of a moral issue with the occasional container tag).  I’ll let you know if I come up with something.

Private Information Retrieval

There’s a new(?) privacy-oriented trick being cooked up by the true Computer Science brains out there, called Private Information Retrieval. The basic premise is this:It’s possible to retrieve information from a database in such a way that the database itself has no idea what you were looking for.If this sounds ridiculous, there is at least one easily understood solution to this problem: Just retrieve the whole database any time you want a piece of info from it.Clearly, this has, er, scalability issues. PIR research seeks out mathematical tricks to this process far more practical. There are clearly some very interesting practical applications of this technology, such as making your search engine subpeona-proof. Of course, here in the US, we will likely develop DMCA-type laws against the use of PIR.

QuietAgent’s“Banned”Superbowl Ad

QuietAgent.com invites people to view the Superbowl ad they don’t want you to see. It was banned by ABC! Censorship! Political Correctness! You know, it’s a lot cheaper to generate publicity by having an ad rejected by the TV network than by actually running it during the Superbowl. If you want to go this route, like QuietAgent.com did, you may want your ad to include shots of:

  • a dog taking a dump
  • a set of horribly rotten teeth
  • a pair of diseased feet
  • a close-up of the innards of a dissected frog
  • a man getting strangled

Oh, and put a picture of the president in front of it all.  All I’m saying is that this “rejection” couldn’t possibly have been intentional, could it? Naaaahhh…All that said, the concept is pretty funny, but in an “Ebaum’s World” kind of way (where it will inevitably turn up).  Running it during the Superbowl would be unbelievably tasteless, and methinks QuietAgent.com knew that quite well.However, now that I check on Technorati and Digg, the manufactured controversy isn’t spreading quite as quickly as I assumed while writing this post.

Web 2.0 and Jazz

There’s a major backlash going on towards all that is known as “Web 2.0″. I don’t really buy into it. Sure it may be a poorly-defined, badly-named phenomenon, but there is definitely something different and real going on. And the way I see it, the fact that the Web 2.0 “brand” encompasses a lot of seemingly unrelated characteristics (“Site X uses AJAX, has a blog, and uses rounded corners”) is precisely what makes it interesting.In a way, I think that Web 2.0 is to the web what jazz is to music. Jazz isn’t jazz strictly because of how the notes are lined up. Jazz is jazz because of the musical arrangements, because the musicians call each other “cats”, and because afficionados like to drink martinis. I’m stereotyping here, but my point is that Web 2.0 is about a culture, not about exactly what the code does. And a genuine culture it is, with its own heroes, aesthetic, and values.Part of the argument against the Web 2.0 “meme” is that it’s all marketing gibberish. That’s not true at all. What is true is that marketers are exploiting a real culture, and co-opting its lingo and selected characteristics, tacking them onto projects that have nothing to do with that culture. To bring it back to my analogy, think of all times you’ve seen marketers apply words like “jazzy”, “swinging”, or “groovy” to things that are not remotely jazzy, swinging, or groovy. Just because the invitation to your office’s company party grossly misused the word “swinging” to describe the promised vibe of the evening doesn’t mean that Duke Ellington and Count Basie didn’t exist. Just because your great aunt Esmerelda likes to describe her multicolored stretch pants as “jazzy” doesn’t negate the immeasurable impact of Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the world of music.Saying Web 2.0 doesn’t exist just because you can’t nail down exactly what it is, or because or because the term “2.0″ doesn’t mean exactly what it implies (call it Nouveau Webism for all I care), just means that you really don’t get the point.I hate to use “you just don’t get it” as an defense of anything, but in this case I think it’s entirely apt. As Louis Armstrong said, “Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know”. He wasn’t talking about Web 2.0 – but he could have been.

Amazing Charts

Karl Hartig makes some amazing charts. Anyone who’s a follower of Edward Tufte (and anyone who does anything with data should be), will see these for the artwork that they are. (via Guy Kawasaki)By the way, to continue my unsolicited plug of Edward Tufte, if you can get to one of his training courses, for the love of God, go! You will probably never see a more fascinating speaker in your lifetime. I was transfixed for the entire 6+ hours, and I have a notoriously short attention span.

ShoZu Phone Blogging

Image of ShoZuI switched to a new phone a couple months back, upgrading to the Audiovox SMT5600 Windows Smartphone — the unofficial official preferred phone of Microsoft employees (for various reasons).Anyway, I never got around to setting up the phone to post photos to my Flickr site.So, that’s what I went to do today. The only “setup” required to link a cameraphone to Flickr is to add a “magic” email address to your contact list. Then, to post, you just send your snapped photos to that email address and they show up online. When I went to the Flickr website today to look up my particular magic email address, I noticed a link to a service called “ShoZu“, which aims to drastically simplify the photo blogging process.Now, on this particular phone, once you take a photo, sending it to Flickr is done like so:

  1. Click “Menu”
  2. Click “Send”
  3. Click “via Email”
  4. Click to select my usual email account
  5. Click “Menu”
  6. Click “Insert Contact”
  7. Scroll and click my magic Flickr email address
  8. Click “Send”

It wasn’t much easier on my last phone, either.After downloading and setting up ShoZu, sending a snapped photo to Flickr involves the following process:

  1. Click “Yes”

If you want to get fancy, it has other nifty tricks up its sleeve, too.Very slick. Expect a lot more photoblogging from me in the future. Now, I have no idea how ShoZu intends to make money. It seems to be following the “operate for free in ‘beta’ mode until someone buys us out” business model that has become the norm for “web 2.0″ operations. Regardless, it’s a nice piece of work.ShoZu actually works with other photo blog services, too (Textamerica and Webshots) , and supports many other phones. If yours is supported, I consider this a must-download.

PlayDock MP3 – May Frighten Small Children

One of the problems with non-iPod MP3 players is that no single device commands enough market share to convince third party developers to build accessories for them. And when they do, they’re… um… Well, I saw this thing at the mall today at Cambridge Soundworks (a division of Creative, you know). Could it be any more hideous? I would not want to come across the PlayDock MP3 in a darkened corridor. It looks like something out of Half-Life 2 for crying out loud.PlayDock MP3