How it is displayed
I am not the Supergeek who won’t answer the phone. In fact, I’m not really a supergeek at all. I just want to point that out in case anyone should read Brian’s two pieces (here and here) about his return to blogging and put two and two together. And get to five.
However, I have been doing a bit of work for him here and there - mainly in the way of changing a font here and sorting out a template there.
In doing so I have been trying to get to the bottom of a problem that’s been really bugging a few of us - namely, that when you subscribe to Brian Micklethwait on Bloglines, posts frequently get lost. Indeed, recently, I haven’t been getting any Brian posts at all.
I had assumed that the problem was at the Brian Micklethwait end but after numerous tests I came to the conclusion it wasn’t. It is, in fact a Bloglines problem. It would also appear that it is not unique - although still rare. Even so, I know of no other blog so afflicted. Bearing in mind that Bloglines is currently in the throes of moving over to its all-singing, all-dancing new version, I get the impression that it’s not a problem that’s going to be solved anytime soon.
Anyway, there is a workaround. I’ve set Brian up with a Feedburner account which creates a feed that does (at least for the time being) seem to work on Bloglines.
So, if you’re a Brian and a Bloglines fan I suggest you subscribe to that.
As you’ve probably noticed I’ve been doing a bit of tinkering to this site over recent weeks. It was never the plan to swap the burgundy for this sort of metallic blue, but that’s what has happened. That’s the problem with tinkering - when you start it becomes difficult to stop.
As you can see if you’re using the old-fashioned technique of actually going to the site rather than have the site come to you via the magic of RSS, I have made some changes to the layout. I have got rid of the In Brief column and integrated short items á la Instapundit into the main body. I was beginning to feel that it squashed up the main column a bit too much. Plus there were all sorts of technical niggles with such a non-standard approach. The other big change is centering the blog on the page. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but it’s a rather time-consuming thing to do. Anyway, the time has now been consumed. And we have a new banner. Hope you like it. I do. If you don’t like it, now might be the time to mention it - I’m in the mood for being all technical.
I’ve had a go at a couple of design modifications which you can see here. Essentially, they are to centre the blog on the page and to make the background darker. I like them but would appreciate your views before going live.
I’ve been having a go at re-jigging the design, the upshot of which you can see here. The main aim has been to make the look of the site less “hideously white” as Greg Dyke might say. I think it succeeds but I am open to other opinions.
Observant readers will also have noticed the addition of a small “#” to In Brief bar entries. This is the permalink. I’ve added it because it occurs to me that there might be occasions when I and others want to refer to it.
It is important that a blog should look the same as other blogs. Readers of blogs are looking for certain features: title, permalinks, clear demarcations between posts, dates etc. If they don’t find them they find it disorientating.
And if you think this rather contradicts the ethos of this blog you are probably right.
Jackie e-mails me to tick me off for using the date (see end of post) for the permalink. She says it’s not user-friendly and I have to say I agree with her. I think the permalink should say “permalink” and it’s not that long ago that that is precisely what it said. The word “permalink” was a casualty of the addition of the In Brief column. Expression Engine is a many-splendoured thing but there are some things that even it can’t do. Well, it could if… Hmm, let’s see if I can explain this…
When I sat down to design the In Brief column the key question was: “How do I get post A to appear on the main column and post B to appear on the In Brief column?” In other words: “How do I switch between the two?” The two basic options are to have a separate blog or a separate category.
Now the idea of a separate blog may seem a bit odd but it is in fact perfectly possible to have one blog display on another. Perhaps this indicates a confusion with nomenclature. The problem arises when you want to move a posting from column to column. Now, this may seem like an odd thing to do and (as yet I haven’t actually needed to do it) but I can see situations where I flag up a post in IB only to find out that someone else has written something pertinent. What I want to do there is to add an update to the original post and then move it to the main column. But if I have two blogs I can’t.
The alternative is to have a separate category. The problem there is that funny things happen on the category pages (hope that makes sense).
The solution I arrived at was to have neither and instead to have a switch using a custom field (one of EE’s real strengths). But that also has a drawback. Up to then I had been using date headers. A date header gives you the date only once no matter how many posts were posted that day. I like them a lot. Unfortunately, they don’t work well with my switch - date headers either appear on the main column or the IB column but never both. Not good.
I regard dates on posts as essential so the only real answer was to separately date each individual post. At the time (and without giving the matter much thought) I chose to replace the word “permalink” with the date. I suppose my reasoning (such as it was) was that the bottom row of links would start to get a little crowded. But maybe not. It’s easy enough to change and I am quite happy to try a little experiment to see what readers prefer.
I’m trying out Verdana as the font. Arial was getting difficult to read.
Surfers have different platforms, different types of screen, different screen resolutions, different browsers with different settings and for all I know different (insert here). And they all affect the way "Patrick Crozier" is displayed. Consequently, I have no idea if what I am seeing is what everyone else is seeing.
A good example of this is the sidebar. If you are browsing in IE6 it should look OK. If you are browsing in IE5 it’ll look a bit too near the margin and bit too far away from the main text. (Incidentally, if anyone knows what I have done wrong here please let me know).
These sorts of issues are hard enough for the professionals. They have to work long and hard to find a reasonable compromise. I can’t really afford to work long and hard. I have to find a quick and dirty solution. That solution is to make sure it looks OK on a PC, with IE6, with a CRT monitor at 800x600. If you happen to be on an Apple with Solaris, a TFT monitor and some grand resolution and can still read this without getting suffering a bout of epilepsy I think we’re doing well.
Oh, by the way, I design for 800x600 because one of my most important readers uses that resolution. Me.
I’ve made a few more changes over the last day or so:
- Added trackbacks. What’s a trackback? It’s essentially a way for one blogger to tell another that he has referred to one of his postings. They are very like comments except that they are hosted somewhere else. Because they are like comments I have combined the two (see here). I have always found separate buttons for comments and trackbacks slightly irritating. I have also put the trackbacks at the top as I think they are usually better written.
- Made a slight alteration to the colour of the banner. It’s now redder.
- Changed the font. Originally it was MS Sans Serif which I really liked. Unfortunately, some symbols weren’t displaying and there was a tendency for italicised words to run into their neighbours. I don’t get this with Arial
- Made the column slightly narrower
- Increased the line spacing. These last two changes are a consequence of the move to Arial. I think it improves the look.
Burgundy for the banner. See, I’m not entirely against colour.
I’ve changed the way that links are displayed. They are now underlines and nothing but underlines. A not-so-cunning plot to expunge all colour from my blog? Almost. I’m certainly not a great believer in colour. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should be compulsory. I am a great believer that less is, indeed, more.
I never did solve that comment problem. Comments are by no means finished (although they work) it’s just that there are other, more pressing, concerns.
I’ve spent quite a lot of today experimenting with subdomains. Not entirely successfully it should be said. But we’ll get there in the end.
To cheer myself up I decided to change the font - the old one was beginning to get on my nerves. It’s strange how important aesthetics are. I am not quite sure why but they are and (perhaps more importantly) they are important to me.
The other big change I would like to make is to the background. It is rather (as Greg Dyke would say) hideously white. I experimented yesterday with toning it down with light grey and the pastels of blue, green and red, none of which really worked. I think the long-term solution is to have a fairly dark background with text in brilliant white boxes. But that is quite hard work and something for another day.
Right, I’ve added in the dates. I’ve used the “header” function which most blogging packages now have which gives you the new date only the once.
Once I added the dates the problem then was that the title of the blog and the dates had the same prominence. So, using the magic of style sheets I reversed out the banner, toned down the background and added in a bit more jiggery-pokery to get it looking OK.
Right, well I ‘ve just been messing about with style sheets and column widths. The text stretching the whole of the way across the screen was beginning to get on my nerves. But then, when I brought it down it seemed far too hard against the left-hand side of the screen so I put in a “margin-left” to lift things out a bit. I think it looks a lot better like that.
Oh dear, that title. Much too small, or, rather, indistinct. What can we do, I wonder?
A few observations about my blog:
- There’s no name. Or rather, there is a name but it’s not displayed anywhere
- There is no information on who is writing this blog
- Posts do not have dates
- There is no way for readers to contact me
- Posts do not have titles
- The text stretches right the way across the page (or at least it does in IE6). this makes it hard to read
Very first problem. Now I should point out that I am currently using Expression Engine which is a rather powerful blog management tool. I am also using about the most simple template imaginable.
The problem is that the posts have no demarcation - you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. This is a bad thing. Simplest way is to put in an “hr” tag (sorry, it should look different but I can’t make it look different without it putting a line across the page. In techie: I don’t know what the escape character is). There are better and more complicated ways. But for the time being we are keeping things v.simple.
UPDATE. I’ve figured out how to do escape characters.