Tribolum.com Making Light of Things

September 2003 Archives

Submission

These past few months of musing over job opportunities has run me ragged. I have not applied indiscriminately for many jobs, and the ones that really caught my eye never came back to me.

I’ve mentioned my thoughts of starting my own web design agency. I am thankful for Faith, who has been a more wonderful wife than I ever dreamed anyone could be. Instead of chiding me for my financial “discontributions”, she asks me to take the time I need to live out my own ideals.

I have seen the work of many web design companies here in Singapore and there are times I stand appalled at the lack of quality. In my mind I lay down rules for my yet imaginary company: things I should do; and things I shouldn’t.

But I am reminded that my life is in God’s hands. Not only for His provision, but for His pleasure. It is to be used as He sees fit. I sometimes beg that my lofty plans of opening my little web design bakery falls within His plans for me, but I know God doesn’t work that way.

My all has to be laid on His altar. My dreams, my hopes, my ambitions. My skills, my life. The song “Is Your All On The Altar?” goes:

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid, your heart, does the Spirit control?

A life with Christ means a life for Christ. My dad named me “Lucian” after a preacher whose words touched his life. Though my memory of it is vague, I seem to remember that the name came with hopes that I’d be a missionary too. Those hopes gave way to pragmatism somewhere along the way and were never uttered again.

Lord, I yield you my body and soul. There is nothing hidden from you. I hold on to the ashes of an Adamic life and I taste its futility. I only ask that You take me wherever You lead. I leave my nets behind. I want so much to follow.

More Tweaks

Thanks to all of you who provided feedback on the redesign. For those of you who’ve been reading Tribolum long enough, you’d know that I’d always provide more than one skin. Even on the first layout I had a “day” and “night” theme.

Like I’ve mentioned before, fire is extremely hard to design for because of its intensity. This trait has led to a particularly masculine layout (thanks Kris, for pointing that out), and the flames have not sat well with those of you who prefered a softer, gentler approach.

More than colours or themes, a main goal of my redesign was better use of typography. Zhenlin pointed out that the Times New Roman font used in the navigation were too formal. I did have the intention of making the layout slightly more formal than the previous one. This can be seen in the use of serif fonts for the headers and dates, while sans-serif fonts were preserved to maintain readability at small font-sizes.

First thing this morning I tweaked the CSS to display properly on IE6/Win. I set the main content to width:auto while floating the sidebar right. While coding to preserve semantics, one must bear in mind that the order the data is presented influences the presentation.

If the sidebar data came before the main contents, floating it right and giving it a fixed width would have allowed my main content to sit nicely on its left. But since it appears after the main content, the content area happily takes up all the width (width:auto) and pushes the sidebar to the bottom.

Unwilling to let the sidebar data take precedence over the main content (displayed in terms of importance) I had to work leftwards and fixing the two columns to percentage widths.

If you read to this point and understood all of that, we should meetup at the MT meetup sometime.

Trial By Fire

The new design is up and ready for testing. Drop a comment if you experience any problems. I’ve already seen the box model crash on IE5/Win, and heard that the sidebar on the right doesn’t display on IE6/Win.

I’ve tested it on Safari, Mozilla and IE5/Mac. The XHTML and CSS validates, but that means nothing if you can’t read it.

So fire away. Comments, criticisms, wishlists or problems.

Going Down in Flames

Fire is undoubtedly one of the hardest themes to design. The last time I tried a layout that was predominantly red, I had immediate feedback from a few readers saying they had thought they stumbled upon a porn site by mistake.

Though my previous layout did use red for the top banner, I took the safe route and had loads of white to offset the colour’s intensity. It ended up looking like a big meetup sticker or the Singapore flag.

Pinky and the Brain

I’ve been staying up the last two nights working on Tribolum. As far as you can see, nothing much (or at least visible) has been accomplished. I went to bed at 5 this morning, spending the whole of last night coding nothing in particular.

You see, ideas don’t come easy. There will always be those who guard their methods obsessively, afraid that others will discover that it really isn’t so hard to code a webpage, to take a decent photo, or to perform an left-hand crossover across the front and around the right leg. Ok, so the last one took me more than a few hours on the basketball court. But the methods aren’t what differentiates the top-tier from the middle-tier. It’s the ability to generate ideas.

It’s pulling off the crossover in the dying seconds of the game with your team down by a single point and the coach screaming at you to “play it safe”. It’s doing the incredible when it counts.

Getting the brain to churn out great ideas is the second hardest thing in any process. The first is lifting the pinky and getting started. That’s how you take over the world.

The ideas are still vague, though I have the theme. Here’s a glimpse of what’s to come.

It’s going to be a simple layout, as always.

Nielsenesque

When you look upwards at the peak of human endeavour, you will undoubtedly find people who look down on you. It is as inevitable as Newtonian cause and effect. You look up to the people who look down on you.

Jakob Nielsen, self-proclaimed smarty-pants of usability and the web, draws constant fire for his inability to accept viewpoints not in line with his own. I’ve done my fair share of Nielsen-bashing myself.

In a more recent bout of lowbie-bashing, Sarah Bellham of Histology-world was listed on Zeldman (normally an honour) as the worst flash intro ever. CSS guru Eric Meyer adds another two cents worth of sarcasm.

Zeldman and Meyer are two of my greatest influences on web design. I have the books to prove it. I also know that they’re relatively nice people, having had a really brief glimpse of them at SXSW 2003.

The point I want to make is that we all start somewhere. As a community we all fling our ideas out in cyberspace. Our ideas are part of who we are and they continually evolve through the gentle chiselling of minds more experienced than your own.

It is the not the one who has conquered the peak who earns the most reverent respect of those who climb beneath. It belongs to the fellow climber who is but two steps ahead, drenched with the perspiration of hard toil and takes time to offer a hand and a smile for those who climb behind.

So take heart Sarah Bellham, for I’ve had my own run-ins with flash. It’s scary how similar we are.

Hierachies Revised

Just realised that I can have more than a single entry in a day, but not the other way round. This would mean that entry titles ought to be rendered lower than the date field.

Guess I got it right the first time.

Skeletons

I’m leaving Tribolum up and running as I do a major site redesign. So if you’re visiting you’ll most likely see the process much like the redesign of a window display. There’s the undressing of the mannequins and then the redressing.

The changes to Tribolum are more than merely cosmetic. I’m trimming down the CSS (avoiding divitis and classitis, as Zeldman puts it). I’m also rearranging my Hns (h1, h2, h3s) to correct show the hierachy of important information over the not-so-important. Right now my dates are h2 while the titles of my entries are h3. It bugs me a little, so I’m diving deep.

So pardon if the aesthetics are less than pleasing. Enjoy the walk through my construction site.

Sleepless in Singapore

A marvelous idea came to me a few moments ago.

I shall redesign Tribolum tonight.

Only Aqueous

There is no such thing as politically-correct humour. Every joke I’ve observed (since coming up with this statement) earns its laughter at the expense of someone else. Whether it’s on the intellectually-disabled, the vertically-challenged, people of different races, individuals or collectives, someone has to be put down in order for another (normally the comedian) to be brought up.

I used to think the safest form was self-deprecating humour. But what of the people who are like me?

Growing Pains

I read David’s entry on crying, or rather the male’s lack of it.

I have to confess that I cry naturally. When a movie or story touches me, I allow myself to be swept up in it. The feeling of reckless emotional abandon leaves me breathless and I cling on to every moment within the moment, allowing my parched soul the pleasure of feeling alive again.

In recent years it has become harder to cry. I’ve grown more “objective” and less emotional, or so the grown-ups would have me believe. The truth isn’t half as pleasant: Like them, I’ve stopped growing and started dying.

I’ve learnt that trust can be given, but never in entirety. The people we vote into power lie to us constantly. The integrity of journalism is non-existent. I’m no longer affected by sob-stories drummed up by the media. These days I just walk away shaking my head at the exploitation that takes place whenever one of these sensationalised stories are brought to us.

Yet I pen my thoughts daily in the hope that some of you out there will weep with me every now and then. I only pray that I hold true to you, and to myself.

Dreaming In Yellow

I dreamt of Ernie last night. We were zipping around in a silver Mustang. He cracked me up, just as he does in real life.

Zelded With Gold

I received a text message just after midnight this morning. Unwilling (and / or unable) to crawl out of bed to the table upon which my cellphone was charging, I left it unread and unanswered. I’m glad I did, or I would have had trouble sleeping. I’m sure someone in Singapore had problems with excitement of her own.

Vanessa left me a message that she had been linked to the Zeldman himself. For those of you not in the web design know, getting linked to by Zeldman is akin to having the cast of Friends give thanks to you on television after winning their Emmy. Or Brad Pitt bearing his butt on screen with your name tattooed on it. Or Kim Jong-il writing your name on his first nuclear warhead with a sharpie marker. It’s a great honour - you get the idea.

Above all things, it shows that she’s doing something right, and I’m glad for it. She’s spent quite a bit of time on the redesign and her markup is impeccable. A part of me wants to turn hulk-green with envy, but I know good work when I see it.

Congrats on the Zelddie Vanessa! Way to go to put Singapore on the map.

Media Makeover

Remember Jessica Lynch? The U.S. army private who got stabbed, shot and kidnapped by the Iraqis during the height of the Iraqi war? Remember the daring rescue by the U.S. Marines who broke into a highly fortified Iraqi hospital via helicopter insertion and stretchered Private Lynch out using the U.S. flag as a blanket? Or how she was beaten so badly she had amnesia and couldn’t remember being beaten?

I can almost hear President Bush humming the Star-spangled banner on this one. The television networks are clamouring over who gets to tell her story. She finally lands a deal with NBC. Get ready to read her book, watch her MTV, eat her cereal and listen to her songs. The line between entertainment and news is blurred as FoxNews still proclaims that it is the only “fair and balanced” entity in the world.

I was stupid enough to fall for the Tomahawk Missile crap back in the first Gulf War. If you believe this whole Jessica Lynch story without as much raising your eyebrow, you’re more gullible than I thought.

Retracing My Steps

I’ve been spending the last few days cleaning up our new place. It’s slowly becoming a compulsive behaviour because no matter how often I mop the floor, dust still seems to settle right back on it. And I’d mop again. Then I’d run my hand along the length of the floor. And mop again. And again.

I’m slowly becoming acclimatised to the new place and its surroundings. It’s a mature estate, meaning the inhabitants are, amongst other things, mature. The Old Airport hawker center stands out as a colossal monument of classical hawker fare, authentic right down to the level of hygiene.

But today I ventured upstairs and found a lost piece of myself. On level two of the Old Airport hawker center a dying colony of old sole proprietorships can be found. Many stalls have since closed, but business goes on here the same way it has for decades. Well, almost the same way. The stall near the stairs sells the Playstation 2 for S$380. I thought it was quite a good deal, but had to pass due to the lack of employment.

The average age of shopkeepers here rivals that of most senior citizen homes, and business is slow. For most of the folks here, it seems that earning the big bucks is no longer the object; the business is their way of life. An old man with silver hair lies on the corner bench, fast asleep.

I would like so much to conduct a short photo-taking of the place and the people who run these shops. As one who grew up in the fledging housing community of Rochor Centre, today’s journey brought back so many memories. I was tempted to buy the old plastic ultraman toys on sale just to preserve this part of my childhood.

The grimy, disheveled look of yesteryear may not be as efficient and streamlined as the clinically sanitary shopping malls of today, but they’re home, both in a emotional and historical sense.

Vantan Visited

I forgot to mention that I had lunch with Vanessa two days ago. It was highly intriguing to find someone so similar in outlook, at least when it comes to Internet technologies and the general online industry.

While I started blogging back in 2000 because I thought I was dying from a humongous fever, Vanessa started because she was dying from boredom. We’ve both come a long way since using the dreaded Frontpage, and I can honestly say that there aren’t that many people who care about semantics and proper markup as much as she.

It is hard to be optimistic about the web design industry in Singapore. Shortcuts are taken everywhere, and I know more than a handful of web design companies who use image-maps for entire sites. Maybe I’m being too purist and idealistic, but I know that coding properly will pay off in the future when XML kicks in hard.

Still wondering about doing web design for a living; starting my own web design firm; hiring Vanessa when or if I have more clients (who believe in web standards) than I can handle.

Vileness Revisited

As one who has been previously hit by Verisign’s unethical business practices, I’m doubly miffed that they’re literally monopolising the Internet.

Type in the URL of any unregistered domain (that don’t exist) and you’ll be automatically brought to a Verisign managed page. Some ignorami report this as a friendly service that makes the net more usable. Goodness knows what they do with the marketing information they glean, not to mention the wonderful redirection they provide to spam spiders.

Dammit Verisign!

Links via StopDesign.

Austin Revisited

While contemplating over whether or not to start up my little web design company, one of the things which motivates me to go ahead with it is the freedom that comes with it. Namely, I wanted to be able to take time to research on new web technologies, keep current with web design methods and ideas. Ok, truth is, I wanted to be able to attend South by Southwest (SXSW) on the company account.

Attending it last year was an eye-opener. Just physically being in a place where so many ideas were bounced around was a quickening of the mind and imagination. Though I wasn’t any big-time programmer or designer, there were no false pretenses or massive egos. Ok, maybe there was a reverent silence when Ben and Mena walked in on us at Kick! 2003.

SXSW 2004 registration is open, and my imaginary company has yet to be registered (stupid online registration process screwed it up) and not enough money has been made for the gargantuan airfare.

Wrong Liners

When I took a personality test many years ago, I ranked high in introverted and extroverted qualities. My organisational behaviour tutor tried to explain how the two qualities were not mutually exclusive, but I doubt any of us understood how the two seemingly contradictory elements could be found in a single individual.

Normally not one to conform to mass-hysteria, the extrovert part of me surprised myself this morning. I woke up at 6am, took the train to the other side of the island for the Creative Lab’s warehouse sale.

It was only 7:30am when I arrived at Creative’s headquarters. It was a good three and a half hours before the sale would begin. I saw that a handful of people sat in front of the entrance. I took my place as second in line. I was glad that my madness paid of. I came to buy the 5.1 speaker system for less than half its usual price — a discount available only to the first fifty buyers.

An hour and a half later, a woman wearing the company shirt came up to us and spoke to the first person in line. We had been waiting in the wrong line. The real line was downstairs and had spiralled round the building twice. The first guy in line arrived yesterday afternoon. That’s more than 22 hours before the sale would begin.

I should have known beter than to think Singaporeans would give anything up easily. I came home without the speakers I woke up early for.

Farming Mutinies

I spent a great deal of time learning about agricultural techniques. Though I hardly regard myself an expert in the area, I have developed a deep affinity with the land. The smell of the fallen rain as it makes its cyclical pilgrimage up to the heavens, the feel of the soil as I clench my toes; I have grown attuned to the fields.

I had not my own.

It was a few weeks ago that I bumped into the town artisan on my way home from the market. He mentioned briefly his intention to convert the plot he owned into a farm and invited me to take a look at it. He had hired a trio of farmers from out of town to work the land.

The soles of my feet were calloused from the distance of many miles over many years, but I felt the parched earth the moment I stepped into his field. The crops, though green, stood stalk-thin and malnourished. There were no irrigation channels - the hired hands had foregone the hard work of laying the land and the seeds they scattered had fallen on shallow, sallow soil.

A pulsing sense of wanting to right the injustice surged within me, but I restrained myself, for it was neither my seed nor my field. But the artisan was unhappy with the state of his field and the work of his hirees. He arranged a meeting with them and brought me along as a go-between.

The trio were quick to size me up. I understood their adoption of a defensive stance, but I made it clear that it was not my intention to threaten their livelihood but to make sure that the artisan, my friend, got the quality of work he paid for.

The artisan had little confidence that they could grow crops bountiful enough to reap any profit and asked me to work on the irrigation, an aspect of the job which the other farmers had neglected to do properly. This meant that the trio would have to give up part of their wages. Two of the three farmers seemed more than willing to lease out the back-breaking work, but the last (who coincidentally was physically the largest) was adamant that their “territory” be protected. My friend the artisan could not convince him otherwise, for the contract had been signed and the wages paid in advance.

I spent the latter part of the day talking to the artisan, sharing dreams and visions over cups of tea. The loyalty I felt to him was partly due to our friendship, but a large portion of it was my obligation to the land. It cries to me.

Maybe it is time for me to find my own little plot, and toil in the manner I know how.

Episode Two

We were watching Pirates of the Caribbean the other day when I looked at Louelle, the younger of my two younger sisters. She has grown up so much while I was away.

Then I realised that my return to Singapore was the beginning of episode two of my life.

Grammarphone

Kristen always seems to land the most news. Her latest find on misused doggy poo bags in Singapore highlights a larger problem: Singaporeans can’t speak English.

Faith and I were lamenting that Singaporeans weren’t treated as “native” speakers of english despite having sacrificed our own “native” tongues to learn it. This formed a natural barrier to many jobs that would have otherwise been open to us.

With the doggy-poo article out in the international press, our place in non-native-english-speaker land is etched in stone. An example of our fluency in the article:

Some of them they bring their dogs here and they poo here and they just pretend they don’t see. Then we saw it and tell them they say where, where, where. I said there, there, there.

The thing that scares me is that it makes perfect sense as I read it. Maybe we really are english illterate.

Thunder Thighs

Played two hours of basketball on Thursday, three hours on Friday and went for the 10km Big Walk early this morning. I think sleep will be especially sweet tonight.

I have been wanting to take part in the Big Walk for many years now. Back in the day it was an event more focused on charity than community-building. I’m not even sure how the 4 dollars I put into the Walk will be managed, or where it will go to. Maybe I’ll be wiser next time. The Terry Fox run (which I participated in a few years ago) is coming up. There is less doubt in the focal point of that event.

Marching body-to-body with more than 50,000 people (my guess), it was inevitable that I’d have up-close encounters with smells that were less than pleasant. It was especially so at the course’s midway point, where free isotonic drinks were given out. I was rather disheartened to see many Singaporeans grab as many bottles as they could carry. Some pushed their way out of the crowd hugging four or five bottles per person. Fools. Didn’t they not realise they had 5 kilometres more to go?

I didn’t take many photos due to the close-quarters we were forced to operate in. There were a couple of Singaporeans dressed as the Crocodile Hunter (our epitome of originality). Some pet owners were daft enough to dress long-haired silky terriers up in clothes. They seemed clueless as to why their pets refused to walk any further after only a short distance.

All in all, it was a good power walk down Nicoll Highway.

Against Time

Every night when I climb into bed and stretch out under my blanket (we each have our own) there is an inaudible (sometimes audible) squeal in the back of my throat. It always feels like the first night of a sleepover - an odd mixture of excitement and soothing comfort. Always the one who comes in much later while you are sleeping (work at the computer demands much of my nights), I always spend my last moments awake looking at you.

It’s only been a little less than a couple of months, but I often pray that I’ll look upon you this way every night for the rest of our lives. My heart alternates between an indomitable hope and a quivering fear. We’ve seen too many relationships go sour due to the degenerative properties of time. It becomes even more important to realise that we ought to spend our days wisely, building upon what we now have. Merely holding the fort will only leave us dwelling on better and sweeter days gone by.

I cannot make you promises of forever, but I’ve set my heart to training: to go the extra mile everyday, that we may have the endurance to finish the race together.

Boxing Day

I’ve avoided writing about web design in Tribolum, largely because I reckoned no one would want to read it. Then I realised that no one really wanted to read stuff about my everyday life anyway. My everyday life now consists of hacking away on the keyboard, churning out a respectable demonstration of what XHTML and CSS can offer my potential client.

If you’ve been interested at all in web design, and I’m sure many of you have (you just needed to figure out how to embed those music files didn’t you?), you’d have come across the famous CSS Box Model Hack.

A box element in CSS is made up of the content area, the paddings, and the margins (we’re moving outwards here). If you specify a box to be 400px wide, with paddings of 20px and margins of 30px, browsers that interpret CSS correctly will allocate a width of 400px to the content area, 40px to the paddings (two sides) and 60px to the margins (two sides), resulting in a total width of 500px.

400px + 2(20px) + 2(30px) = 500px

Browsers that interpret it wrongly (IE5 and earlier) allocate the width of 400px to the entire box, resulting in a content area of only 300px. The paddings and margins are included within the 400px you specified.

400px - 2(20px) - 2(30px) = 300px (which is your content area)

So we write code that tells well-behaved browsers 400px, and the not-so-CSS-literate browsers 500px.

For more information on how to actually do this, read Tantek’s Box Model Hack entry.

Down the Chicane and Staying on Track

When you’re a young Christian everyone tells you how hard living the Christian life is going to be when you step into the working world. It’s true - it is so easy to get swept up in a whirlwind of activity when things are happening so quickly around you.

These few days of work (or deciding on the form of work) has been intellectually invigorating but spritually draining. The exhilaration that comes with getting the job done fast and well quickens the mind like a drug. It is not too long after you smell its metallic scent oozing out from your pores, and find yourself slowly assimilated into the borg collective.

Just before I kissed Faith goodnight and headed to the computer to work out some computations, we took time to pray. I prayed half in fear that the corporate animal was already unleashed in me. Only this morning I caught myself getting irritated with Faith for holding me up and possibly making me late for work. Though I didn’t show it outwardly, I had shocked myself.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. - Matthew 6:24

Mammon - the love of money and self-pride - often lulls us to sleep, only to awake already too deep in its dark bog. Pray for us, that we stay on the straight and narrow.

Meaningless Meaningless, All is Meaningless!

Thanks to Kottke’s post about validation and semantics, my previously already strong urge to redesign Tribolum now surges through all my veins with even greater drive. Like a large number of designers, I avoided the hierachically-correct <hn> tags and applied classes, creating my own language along the way.

While my own naming convention makes sense to me, <div> and <span> tags and their attached classes have no more meaning than made up XML tags.

Though not a great discerner of the hidden world of semantic meaning, I’m slowly picking it up and learning to code more efficiently. A great place to start is Dan Cederholm’s simplequiz.

Day One

It’s been a long time since I’ve had that much data to absorb in a condensed period of time. My brain ran complex physical models to understand how light rays were manipulated by tilting the lens board of a 4 by 5 camera, memorised what each and every knob did, composed mental ERDs (Entity-Relationship Diagrams) in attempts to produce a more streamlined method of data organisation for the half-completed website, and still found time to explore visually aesthetic site layouts while planning out the CSS elements.

All this in a day. And a night (I had homework). It’s would have been easier if I had a clean slate to work with. Now with a work already in progress, I feel restricted to work within the given parameters, even if a different perspective and style was chosen. I don’t necessarily agree with what has already been done, but am too nice to take the sweat and toil of other people lightly and discard them. I am aware that it is these compromises that result in half-baked websites.

The thought of starting my own web-design company has lingered on my mind for the longest time. I’ve seen so many terribly coded sites (not that mine is perfect; I’ve so much CSS to clean up) that something stirs within me to evangelise compliant standards. Many Singapore web designers are still coding multiple versions to suit various platforms and browsers, and some are (gasp!) using Microsoft Frontpage.

I know I’m ranting incoherently. I don’t know whether or not to strike it out on my own. The possibilities both thrill and scare me.

The contract that would put me on the path of the safe and sure remains unsigned. Where do I go from here? Where does God want me to go?

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