I missed the old layout.

SEB is looking a little more like SEB today. Ever since I made the move to WordPress I’ve been at a loss to come up with a site design that I’m happy with. The WP templating system is a nightmare compared to blogging platforms I’ve used in the past and I’ve never really mastered it. Not that I’ve ever been particularly great at HTML coding to begin with, but I am fond of the few layouts I managed to cobble together in the past.

This is just a slightly modified Twenty Eleven theme from the base WP install, but it makes it feel a little more like it did back when I was still coding the layout by hand. I was going to make another attempt at it, but then I remembered that the one image editing package I know how to use — PhotoImpact — and the one HTML editor I know how to use — Homesite — have both been bought out by bigger companies and discontinued. PI by Corel and Homesite by Macromedia which was in turn bought out by Adobe. If this sounds familiar it’s because I bitched about this previously around about this time last year. Showing that I’m becoming predictable and consistent in my habits as I get older.

Of course I can’t just write a short blurb about this cyclical need to redesign SEB that comes around each fall without hitting up the Internet Archive to see what past layouts I’ve used. To get to the earliest stuff I had to use my Jenkins Online domain as we didn’t get the Stupid Evil Bastard domain name until October of 2002. Considering how long I had SEB with a black background it was surprising to realize one of the first layouts I ever did was for a white page:

The very first layout I could find in the Internet Archive. Click to embiggen.

The very first layout I could find in the Internet Archive. Click to embiggen.

Here we can see that I got started with the narcissistic practice of putting my face on the page very early on in SEB’s history. My choice of font size and link color are horrendous as it makes reading the page annoying as fuck. I kept it like this for several months until someone I knew at my job at Ford told me he designed webpages as a side job and offered to do one for me if I put a link back to his own site on the page. A chance to have a pro design a layout? How could I refuse!

The only SEB layout that I didn't design myself until we made the switch to WordPress. It was... interesting. Click to embiggen.

One of the few SEB layouts that I didn’t design myself until we made the switch to WordPress. It was… interesting. Click to embiggen.

The Internet Archive misaligns a couple of the images in their reproduction, but that’s more or less how it looked at the time. I wasn’t overly thrilled with it myself, but I felt an obligation to use it for at least a little while. From about September of 2002 until January 2003 after we moved to our current domain name and I came up with this fabulously retro template:

I wasn't even alive in the 1950's so I have no idea why I thought this was cool. Click to embiggen.

I wasn’t even alive in the 1950’s so I have no idea why I thought this was cool. Click to embiggen.

I loved this template for a couple of reasons. The first being that it contains a couple of simple graphical tricks that I had recently mastered such as the gradient fill in the title bar that gave a pseudo-3D look. The hint of a drop shadow that runs down the left side of the text boxes was something I was very proud of at the time. Also, the move towards blue in my templates. OK, this was more of a turquoise color, but it’s blue-ish. Blue has always been my favorite color (probably because my eyes are blue) and it would end up being a big part of future layouts. That lasted up until sometime between August and October of 2003 when I unleashed the layout that would last for years to come:

Yes, I can see you and you should be ashamed of yourself. Click to embiggen.

Yes, I can see you and you should be ashamed of yourself. Click to embiggen.

This is my favorite layout of all the ones I’ve ever managed to cobble together. My 36 year-old self would stare out at you with that slightly self-satisfied smirk on his face for at least the next 3 years. There were a few tweaks along the way, but no major changes until sometime late in November of 2006. For some reason the Internet Archive had trouble grabbing the stylesheets for scans it did near the end of that year, but by January 2007 the layout added the all imported MENU BAR:

The SEB you know and love now with smaller Glowering Face of Doom and a menu bar! Click to embiggen.

The SEB you know and love now with smaller Glowering Face of Doom and a menu bar! Click to embiggen.

It’s still the same basic layout, but my head isn’t as massive (or as bald) and it’s a little easier to get around to some of the extra stuff we had on the site and barely made use of because I’m ADD and there were video games to play. The IA didn’t scan SEB much during 2008 and it lost the stylesheet for a lot of the entries in 2009, but it’s clear this was the basic layout until at least November of 2009 when we made the switch to WordPress and my days as a template designer came to a screeching halt. There were a couple of other minor themes I did that never got picked up by the Internet Archive, but these were the major ones.

There was a brief period in December 2009 when I had a custom template I’d cobbled together that kinda sorta looked like the previous layout prior to the switch to WP, but it never worked 100% and looked crappy in comparison and I swapped it out for an overly complicated to customize WP template I found. Since then we’ve cycled through various templates none of which I’ve been completely happy with. The stuff that looks halfway decent is often missing some features of another theme that looks like crap but does what I want.

This current theme is far from my glory days as a mangler of HTML, but it at least has the right font in the header and, for the most part, the right color scheme. Maybe I’ll get ambitious and start looking through open source HTML editors again and see if I can take another crack at designing my very own WP template.

Yeah, and maybe monkeys will fly outta my butt too.

Couple of things I’ve been working on…

techsupportcatSo this past weekend I thought it was high time I take another crack at designing my own WordPress theme. I figured I’d keep it simple and just adapt the one I used to use on ExpressionEngine over. It’s ugly, but it’s me.

As you can tell by looking at it, I ended up just switching to someone else’s premade theme. It didn’t occur to me that it’s been almost 4 years since we made the move to WordPress (November 7th, 2009) and a lot has changed in that time. Not only do I still not have a good clue how to make a WordPress theme, but all of the tools I used to use to create my crappy HTML have dried up gone away.

I used to use a specialized HTML editor called Homesite which was originally produced by a company named Bradbury Software which was bought by Allaire that was acquired by Macromedia which itself was eventually bought by Adobe. Adobe decided to stop selling Homesite in, as it turns out, May of 2009. I’ve yet to find a replacement editor I like as much and I’ve never mastered WYSIWYG systems. I’d use my old copy of Homesite, but when I bought it it was a digital download and have long since misplaced my copy and its activation key.

The other major tool I used to use was a image editor called Ulead PhotoImpact. It was a moderate skill editor that could do both raster and vector graphics and I’d been using it since 1996 when I created my first website. It’s arguably the one image editing program I’ve ever really mastered. Ulead was acquired by Corel in 2006 and eventually they discontinued development of PhotoImpact in 2008. I have a copy of the last version produced someplace in my mess of CDs, but I haven’t been able to locate it. Fortunately Corel still sells PhotoImpact even if they’re no longer developing it so I can at least pick it up again at some point.

Not having spare cash at the moment, I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing with various free/open source HTML and image editors to see if there was anything that felt close to what I was used to. I’ve been using Paint.NET for awhile and it’s not bad, but it doesn’t open Ulead image files which I ended up using for a lot of SEB’s graphics back in the day. I’ve tried to learn Gimp, but I think it’s way beyond my skill level as it Photoshop (which I could never afford anyway). There’s a couple of OS WYSIWYG HTML editors out there and I haven’t a clue where to begin to figure them out. Most of the text based editors seem to have HTML as a secondary consideration or go so way beyond HTML that they’re full of stuff I don’t need. So I ended up giving up and playing Black Ops II instead. I may take another stab at it in the coming week as I’d really like to bring back the old Halloween layouts, but I’ve not even started on figuring out how to plug the WordPress codes in I’d need to make a template work. The way things are going I wouldn’t hold my breath if you were anticipating my craptastic HTML coding skills to be put to use anytime soon.

bearhookersSo the other thing I’m working on involves trying to offer my tech support skills to a wider audience. Google just started a new service calls Helpouts which makes use of their Hangouts service to allow folks to provide services for free or for a charge. I was invited to be a service provider and I thought I might offer it to help folks dealing with viruses or other technical issues where their PC is still operational enough to handle a Hangouts session. In addition to support video and audio it’ll be possible to grant me access to remotely control your machine to make changes. I’ve not set up a listing yet as I’m still trying to decide what things I could help with or what kind of tutoring I could offer and how much to charge and what hours I’ll be available and so on. A few regulars have asked me for help from time to time over the years and this seemed like a good way to facilitate making it happen more often. It would require folks to have a Google+ account so some might not want to go that route, but for those who don’t mind it’s a flexible option.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what services you’d think you’d like me to offer and what rates you think would be reasonable. That is assuming there’s still enough folks hanging around with an interest in having my assistance from time to time. I could even help with getting up and running with blogging, though creating custom WordPress themes is obviously out of the question at the moment. Let me know what you think.

Preliminary SEB templates are in place.

As you can see, if you’ve stopped by the site instead of reading its RSS feed, I’ve got a half-assed port of the old SEB template moved over to WordPress. It’s missing a few things here and there, but it appears to be functional so I wanted to try it on the live site and see how well it holds up. I may yet try to make use of one of the frameworks instead of doing it this way, but for now this feels more like home.

One other advantage is that I’m able to incorporate plugins when and where I want them instead of hoping they work with the theme I was using. You’ll note, for example, that there is now a “preview” and “post” button on the Comment form. Try ‘em out and let me know what you think.

As always let me know if there’s any glitches or bits that don’t work.

I’ll be messing around with SEB’s theme soon.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently using the Atahualpa theme for SEB because it’s the most configurable one I’ve found outside of Thesis. The latter of which costs money while the former does not, though they do accept donations. Athualpa has a few annoying quirks, but it is amazingly malleable so working with it is worth the effort. I’ve already made a major modification by reducing the layout from a three column format to a two column format as several folks seem to prefer that. I’ll be working on the color scheme as well in the days to come to get us back to a darker look. Alas, this means updating a lot of different sections one by one so as I do it the site will look somewhat funky during the process.

So this is just a note to say that if you stop by and the site looks a mess it’s because I’m working on getting it back to something a bit more familiar. Just so you know.

Mozilla to IE: You will be standards compliant whether you like it or not!

I literally laughed out loud when I read this ArsTechnica.com article:

Most browser implementors are quick to adopt emerging Internet technologies, but Microsoft can’t or won’t make Internet Explorer a modern web browser. Despite some positive steps in the right direction, Internet Explorer still lacks many important features. Its mediocrity has arguably hampered the evolution of the web and forced many site designers to depend on suboptimal proprietary solutions.

IE’s shortcomings won’t hold back the Internet for much longer, however, because Mozilla plans to drag IE into the next generation of open web technologies without Microsoft’s help. One of the first steps towards achieving this goal is a new experimental plugin that adapts Mozilla’s implementation of the HTML5 Canvas element so that it can be used in Internet Explorer.

That’s certainly one way to bring standards to IE, but it’s not perfect by a long stretch as Microsoft seems determined to make it as hard as possible:

Vukićević is confident that a lot of the holes can be filled without substantial effort, but his primary concern is with the challenges posed by deployment. The plugin is designed to snap into IE as a binary rendering behavior, but the browser’s defensive security mechanisms insist on prompting the user before every time it is used. This detracts from the seamlessness of the plugin and makes it difficult to use for conventional web applications.

“Currently, the experience is pretty crappy: you have to click through an infobar to allow installation of this component, then you have to click ‘Yes’ to say that you really want to run the native content, and then you have to click ‘Yes’ again to allow the component to interact with content on the page,” he wrote in a blog entry. “In theory, with the right signatures, the right security class implementations, some eye of newt, and a pinch of garlic, it’s possible to get things down to a one-time install which would make the component available everywhere.”

Let’s hope the Mozilla folks are composed of some skilled witches then. Having a few plugins to help make IE standards compliant would be a welcome development for anyone who codes in HTML.

SEB’s Christmas template is now up.

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas around here because I felt like it. Slightly different from last year, but same basic color scheme. Was going to try and get a pic of me in my new Santa hat, but haven’t found a good background for it yet. If I get around to it soon I may set it up as a rotating image similar to what I did with the Halloween pics.

We’re slowly decorating the house as well. The tree is up and we’ve got a string of LED lights (a 33% energy savings over standard lights!) across the fireplace mantel. I need to get the outside lights strung up and the animated deer set up as well. Oh, and I finally broke down and bought myself a USB powered Christmas Tree that blinks between several different colors. It was $3.99 at the local Micro Center so I figured what the hell.

How about you guys? You got your Christmas decorations up yet? Are you an early starter like me or do you wait till the last minute?

SEB Reviews back in action.

I just spent the past couple of hours reworking the long neglected Stupid Evil Bastard Reviews sub-blog in preparation for the various reviews I’ve been working on. In addition to getting rid of the now defunct ExpressionEngine Amazon Plugin, I’ve updated the listings with current pricing and reintegrated it into SEB’s front page so you won’t have to check two sites to keep up with any reviews that come along.

I’ve not updated SEB’s RSS feeds to include content from the sub-blog yet, but I plan to do that very soon. If you click on either the product image or the listed price you’ll be taken to Amazon.com’s listing for the item in question and your’s truly will earn a couple of cents in the process. As I’ve said before I don’t hold any illusions of making myself rich by writing deeply insightful and informative reviews, but if I can eek out a few pennies here and there I’ll be happy.

Now I can sit down and finish up a couple of these book reviews that are in various stages of completion.

Bookmark: Ultimate Web Developer Lists - 4000 Web Development Links in 200 Topics.

Every now and then I come across a really useful collection of links on web development. This has to be one of the biggest I’ve found so far. Ultimate Web Developer Lists: 4000 Web Development Links in 200 Topics.

Everything from Ajax, CSS, HTML, XML and more to sites with free fonts, cheat sheets, color pickers, graphics, RSS, site tools, and so on. If you’re always on the lookout for learning more about how to do this stuff yourself then this is a great resource to add to your bookmarks.

Christmas theme is up and man is it ugly.

And I’m not just talking about my picture either. Yes, my sense of color schemes is comically inept and I admit to that. Truth is I’ve been trying to come up with a new layout and graphics for Yuletide and just haven’t been able to pull of any of the things my imagination has cooked up lately. Seeing as this is about all the Christmas decorating I’m going to do this year I wanted to get something up before too much more time passed. I’ll probably still try to come up with something less garish later in between getting ready to move out of the apartment and finding a job, but with as crappy as the last dozen designs I tried to do have turned out I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it if I were you. If nothing else I’ll keep playing with the color scheme to see if I can’t tone it down a bit…