New website design (sort of) and the trip to Tuscaloosa to see Neil Gaiman

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Summary: This past Thursday, Sarah and I went down to Tuscaloosa to visit the University of Alabama campus (especially Gorgas Library) and to attend an event featuring one of my favorite authors: Neil Gaiman. I talk a little bit about that event and some about changing the layout of my site to better work with mobile devices and so forth.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

(15:39:00 CST)

New website design (sort of) and the trip to Tuscaloosa to see Neil Gaiman

I have been tweaking my website again. Or, well, about to tweak my website. Hmm, how to describe in a way that makes it interesting. Ok. The basic website has two rough aspects: layout and content. The content is a mixture of HTML, Javascript, images, and so forth. The layout is a combination of a CSS (style sheet) and call-outs in the content that say "consider me part of this style". Think of a living room. It has various pieces of furniture and decoration and it has ways of laying out those pieces. The shape and size and use of the various pieces decide which arrangements of layout make the most sense, but the two aspects are separate.

Having started with HTML back before CSS was around (or at least popular), I combined layout with my content. The first things you see on the page is the first things in the HTML. There is logic to that, right? If you look up most any website, you will find something similar. If something is to the upper left, it is written first in the HTML. If it is to the lower right, it is written later. Now, you can have multiple columns in your layout so that it goes down the left-most column, and then the next-leftmost, and all the way through to the rightmost column.Following the above heuristic, the upper-left comes before the lower-right in the "content describes layout" method.

Mobile devices, older browsers (such as the command-line models), and text-to-speech readers; though, read right on down the HTML. This means that they will read first the one column and then the next. Which makes sense. Except they do not display them in columns (in the case of things like text-to-speech readers, the term column does not quite make sense). Pages, like mine, that have a menu of links to the left of their main text, have the issue of these non-columned readers being forced to go through our links and whatever our left-column would say before they get to the body of the HTML. My original layout wasn't that bad, considering, since my left-hand "menu bar" was relatively short. It had only a few options. After my December 2009 rewrite of the site-layout, the left-hand menu options changed and grew. This means that someone viewing my site, say, on a cell-phone will have to skip as many as 10+ pages of text to get to the content they were looking for.

All this is to say that I have finally come up with a solution. I am going to name the content, and then use those tricksy little CSSes to tell it where to put the content. In other words, the content name is going to be, say, 1 and 2 and then the CSS is going to say "Alright, are up, and now 1, you get in there". 2 is going to go in the logical spot on the left, and 1 is going to go on to the right, so that the browser will also seem to read the middle bit first, all the way down, and then come back to top. Hopefully. If it works, this means that browsers that do not know how to handle CSS layouts will start with the content of the page, along with a jump-link to get to the site links, making the page a whole lot more interesting to them (and possibly searching engine bots) and those readers with CSS should see the page without any change. I personally prefer it to the "standard" method, which turns certain CSS bits on and off depending on different readers, if I understand it correctly. I'm too lazy for all of that.

Now on to the other news of the bit. This past Thursday, Sarah and I headed down to Tuscaloosa to see "An Evening with Neil Gaiman". Outside of a small handful of local writers, this is the first time I have had the pleasure of attending any sort of author-led event. It was awesome. He is a very charming, personable man. The event started out with a short introduction and then he read off several short works that are either unpublished (as I understand it) or soon-to-be published.

One, a short story about a living statue called "Feminine Endings", played out like a more disturbing and reverse-angle version of his short film: Statuesque (i.e. the statue is one obsessed, not the onlooker). Another story, called "Orange" (along with a subtitle) was an quite funny story that is hopefully soon published because it would detrimental for me to explain anything. I have a feeling that his little mannerisms and gestures added to the humor, but look it up if it ever comes available. There were some poems, one that is supposed to be in anthology of horror dealing with water that I am absolutely thrilled about. That is one of the best combinations for poetry out there. Finally something to go along with Bertolt Brecht's "Drowned Girl". The last is about fairy tales and he said it should show up in an upcoming Charles Vess collaboration.

The next hour-plus was a Q & A session, and questions were all over the place. Stuff about working with Terry Pratchett, working with Hollywood, his feelings about the movie adaptations of his works, and his brushes with censorship. Apparently Hollywood wanted to pretty much slaughter Good Omens (no surprise), by the way; by tossing in unnecessary love stories on top of what was already there, and to make Adam an older guy played by some big-name. On the censorship note, he said one of his earliest brushes with censorship had to do with an authentically biblical reference to the story of the man who has to pull a Job and offer up his daughter and a visitor's wife/concubine to stop a crowd to from raping the visitor. This time they take the man up on it, and the wife/concubine is raped so much she dies from it. The only thing that stopped that from being censored and the publisher jailed was the fact that it was from the Bible. The second brush had to do with John Constantine telling readers of a rated-mature comic about safe-sex and showing how to put a condom on a banana. Apparently that one was straight up resolved by pointing out that it wasn't obscene, and was fully under the auspices of freedom of speech.

That are the two answers that stuck out the most to me. Oh, and he wanted to be a writer for a while but finally, one night, sat down and said that he did not want to get to the end of his life and go "I should have been writer" and that was that. Honestly, well-said and I'll take that as inspiration, my-own-self. That, and he said he does not mind being called Amanda Palmer's fiancé. If you read his blog and twitter feeds, then you have likely heard a lot of the stuff covered already.

Then, at the end, the audience gave him a standing ovation (not sure how that is supposed to with such an event, but since he is one of the first big name writers to come to the region, then screw it, we are going to be appreciative). He thanked us. And, as we were all turning to leave, called a woman back because she had wanted to get her child's book autographed and wasn't going to be able to. It was very sweet. There is a reason why his fans adore him.

The rest of the trip was pretty draining. On the way down, we had to put up with an unexpected amount of traffic, including some dangerous driving by a large semi-truck that was still, somehow, covered in snow. Every time we would go around a curve, he would pull in really short and cross the line and start squeezing us off the road. Once we got to Tuscaloosa and amazingly found the place we need to be, we headed out to the campus; where a chunk of Sarah's underside fell out. After a kindly old man tried to help and failed, I settled it by Shoving it into place and half-wedging, half-tying it off. Then we get to campus, and get lost (well, as lost as you can get on an university, meaning it took us more time to drive around than I supposed it should). We find the library, and then have to run up and down a bit to find a parking pass. Finally, get upstairs, and most of my professors are gone for the day. I got to visit with one of them and see the layout of Gorgas, though, so it wasn't all bad. Finally, got back to the Bama Theater and Sarah and I walked down to Mellow Mushroom. If the phrase "Buffalo Chicken Pizza" sounds like it would interest you, I highly recommend it.

Trip back was a whole lot less exciting. I was too tired to remember much of it, anyhow.

Ok, have a good one. About time to head out to birthday dinner with Sarah and her mom (it's a joint dinner between them).

Si Vales, Valeo


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