antanova

MOVED: My blog is now at http://antanova.com/blog

We're off to see the Wizards

Like a donkey walking up and down the same stretch of beach on some cold North Western seaside town, sometimes building website after website can leave inspiration a little used up. Plodding past the faded plastic and neon signs over the chewing-gum encrusted arcades day after day can leave Mr Donkey asking, like some trite actor, “what's my motivation?”

How, then, to inject some adrenaline into the creative arteries; to smother the encroaching malaise?

Go to Flash on the Beach, that's how! I've just booked my ticket, and I can't wait to get there. From my perspective, I'll be going to sessions on ScreenweaverHX, and haXe – the others I'll have to decide closer to the time (early December). It should be good to see industry leaders and to have conversations with other people in the industry. Networking, and gossiping about the state of the art, not to mention having a drink or two and enjoying Brighton's great nightlife will be the order of the (3) days. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Jason posted this on Sunday, August 27, 2006 at 11:57 am.
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Client Education

It's not rare that when trying to convert a client's nice Photoshop picture of a website into a real website, the needs of the end user would be better served by altering the design. The trouble is, the design has already been completed, and clients generally seem uninterested with excuses as to why their pretty picture has not been duplicated verbatim. By this time, of course, it's too late. The design has been done, and there is no chance that the client will revisit it for a reason he doesn't really understand.

So I was encouraged to read in .net magazine an article about Saatchi and Saatchi's re-design of the Royal Navy's website. There's a handy paragraph in there by Chris Walker that every client should read.

It's important to design with accessibility in mind from the start: attempting to reverse-engineer accessibility requirements into an existing design can prove time-consuming and painful. After all, accessibility isn't just a nice thing to have, it's a legal requirement of the Disability Discrimination Act. It also makes your site much better overall, not just for people who may have physical difficulties in using the web. Natural search is improved by a standards-compliant site and, more often than not, accessible sites are much easier to navigate.

So clients, get those spectacles out.

Jason posted this on Saturday, August 26, 2006 at 9:46 am.
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Polishing the table

What with the oh-so-slow move away from using html tables to format layout, the table tags have been abandoned by the side of the road like so much rubbish. But wait! That's not right. You heard, that's definitely a Bad Thing (tm). Why? Well, they're useful for..... guess what. Laying out tables.

I have had to present some tabular data over the past couple of days. One set was a very simple table comparing 2 pricing levels of four products. The other was a long list of sporting entries. Both sets of data needed to be presented correctly and semantically with the table layout tags.

For those of you who've forgotten, here are the main tags.

<table> - the main man. This has lots of attributes. I used “summary” to write a very short... you guessed it, summary of what the table was presenting to the user. You and indeed I may need to add a “class” attribute, but we al know that one already, right?

<colgroup> - Use this to contain groups of columns to group a set of columns together in your table. This tag should be used just after the <table> tag.

<col> - Allows you to specify settings on a particular column. Use it with <colgroup> to create groups of columns in your table.

<caption> - A tag that unsurprisingly adds a caption to your table. I rarely use this tag, but then I haven't had to caption a table often.

<thead> - the table header. I used this to distinguish a group of <th> tags at the top of the table. This helps when printing out tables. After using the <thead> you must also use <tbody>.

<th> - the heading cell. I used this for only column headings for the sporting table, but for both column and row headings for the price-comparison. The important thing here is that you specify what the heading belongs to using the “scope” attribute. So, for example where I used the <th> tag as a heading for a column I used the tag <th scope=”col”> and where I used it as a heading for a row I used <th scope=”row”>

<tfoot> - is something I didn't use, but if your table has a footer, the <tfoot> tag should be used between the <thead> and <tbody> tags, rather than at the bottom of your table mark-up. This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but the point is that putting it there essentially at the top of your mark-up enables the browser to render it correctly for each printed page (<thead> and <tfoot> will be rendered on each printed page, with body cells between). In future, the <thead> and <tfoot> sections will be present on the screen, and the <tbody> section between them will be scrollable. Nice and user-friendly, that idea. I like it. The contents of <tfoot> will render at the bottom of your tables on screen.

<tbody> - Presents the main body of the table. If you need to group parts of the table body separately, but still within the same table you can use more than one <tbody> tag.

<tr> - row tag. If you don't know what this does, turn your computer off and do something else.

<td> - this is where it all happens. Table data.

There you go. Just a little refresher. After not using tables for so long, then having to present some tabular data, I had to scratch my head for a couple of minutes before it all came back, so I hope you've found this little session useful. If not, why have you read this far? Haven't you got something better to do? Get polishing.

Jason posted this on Friday, August 25, 2006 at 10:33 am.
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The geekiest form of excitement

On one rare but very appreciated tea-break, whilst sipping the hot elixir, I was idly searching for an OSS SWF-file generator. I don't know why, because I have Flash already; I suppose I was curious to see if those cheeky open-source monkeys had got 'round to it. Anyway, I happened upon MTASC, which is almost exactly that: it's an open-source ActionScript compiler. According to its blurb it's very good, which I'm pleased to hear. I may give it a try in future. But that is not the main reason for this post. Oh no. From that site, there is a link to something much more interesting.

It's called haXe. It's a language. But the interesting thing about it is that it's cross-platform. Not in the Java sense: it compiles to Flash, JavaScript, Neko (server-side language currently available for Apache) and desktop executables. Syntactically, it's “between Java and ECMA”, so it shouldn't require a massive re-train.

I'm excited by this. It's a new, fresh-for-2006 language that at least on the face of it could be hugely useful. Imagine building a web app where you can use the same language for the server-side processing, the front-end (AJAX or whatever), and any Flash elements. Then imagine you could easily port it to the desktop using the same language.

So, the enthusiasm is there. Now I've just got to find the time.

Bugger.

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Jason posted this on Wednesday, August 23, 2006 at 10:01 am.
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Product recommendation - "JavaScript: The Definitive Guide 5th Edition"

After having been an avid peruser of the 4th edition of this excellent JavaScript book, I'm sure the 5th edition will be even better.

My 4th edition is looking a little tatty, so maybe it's time for me to upgrade. This new one has AJAX examples etc included too which was something the old edition lacked.

If you fancy a copy, click on JavaScript the Definitive Guide and I'll get a few pence. Hurrah!

Jason posted this on Tuesday, August 22, 2006 at 7:49 pm.
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Off-topic: AIDS vaccine one step closer

I saw this posted on Slashdot and thought I'd have to add it to my blog.

Xinhua reports that the first stage of trials of an HIV vaccine have been successful, and now they're moving on to the next stage.

Pretty good.

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Jason posted this on Monday, August 21, 2006 at 10:06 am.
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Version Controllery 2

After installing Subversion on my work machine here, I started clumsily creating a repository for one of my more complex projects using the command-line. Now I don't mind using the command line now and then, but with version control it's not exactly the best way to see which files are changed, which are new and which are old. Enter TortoiseSVN. This little beauty will sit in the Windows shell and act as a GUI for Subversion.

What this means is that I can clearly see which files I have modified since last committing changes to the repository, and performing most tasks in Subversion is as simple as right-clicking. Genius. As ever, more on Subversion and my attempt to make it work for me, later.

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Jason posted this on Wednesday, August 02, 2006 at 10:57 am.
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