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December 16, 2004

CSS podGuide - Wow, what a response

Sara, my new bride, got me an iPod for my birthday. I can't tell you what a treat this was for me. For years, while slowly building up westciv there was no room for the slightest extravagance. A 6 pack of beer was a special treat, I kid you not. Anything like an iPod was just beyond thinking about.
These days I'm not driving around in a TT (indeed we don't own a car) but things aren't quite as grim as those dark days.

Anyway, there is a point to this ramble.

On our way to the Cook Islands, where we were married, I was playing with my iPod. Listening to all kinds of tunes, avoiding the dire inflight movies, playing the (rather lame) games, and generally taking a poke around.
Then I came across the Notes part in Extras. They sure don't make it a feature of your iPod. And why would you? It's all about the music right?

But then I had a "eureka" moment. What a great place to store handy guides. Over there years I'e programmed in many languages to many many APIs. Each has its own syntax, quirks, things to remember. You simply can't remember everything.

That's why the back of so many developers books are full of appendices, with all kinds of tables - everything from DOM support in browsers to the .NET framework in 12 easy A1 pages :-)

Imagine if you could have all this on one small device, with an easy to use interface? The iPod is perfect for this.

Now, I was on my way to the Cook Islands. I had to wait 'til I got back home 'til I tried it out. As soon as I got back I started looking into it. I discovered that iPod notes even supported linking to other iPod notes. I grabbed our CSS Guide, and BBEdit, and got to grepping, tearing out almost all the HTML (Notes support <title> <p> <br> and <a href="">)

After a couple of hours I had nearly 100 notes ready to go.

Often, you can only tell how good an idea is when you try it out. Like that guy wth the helium balloon and the armchair and the shotgun. Bad idea.
But this one seemed like a really good idea.

It was like alchemy (I've just finished Neal Stephenson's extraordinary Baroque Cycle, where Alchemy is a central character, much like cryptography in Cryptonomicon). You take plain text files, with links in them, put them on a device with a screen of about 8 lines by 25 characters, no text styling, a single font, and you get something really cool and useful.

So that's how the world got our CSS podGuide.

It must have struck a nerve, as westciv is right near the top of blogdex, and a quick look at technorati sees loads of people a linking to it.

Some people, judging by the odd comment I've seen, think this is some kind of publicity stunt, and that there is no value in a podGuide. But even since we released the CSS podGuide I've got even more excited about the possibilities. But I've got to sit down and have a bit of a deeper think about all this, rather than go off (like more than one character in the above mentioned Baroque Cycle) half cocked.

So stay tuned for some news on this front in the next few days, and thanks as always for dropping by.


December 16, 2004 | Permalink


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I really like the very minimal nature of the iPod interface. It reminds me of MacOS 6 on a 512x342 Classic.

I created iPod-HTML for a class I taught this year, to try and broaden their minds about what HTML is, or where it might turn up.

I have an accessibility tip for people publishing to the iPod notes platform -- with scroll-wheel navigation, it's better not to put more than one link on the same line. It's possible to scroll right and left on that tiny screen, but no fun.

Oh, and I once added the entire text of Dickens' "David Copperfield" to my friend's iPod, just because.

Posted by: john | Dec 16, 2004 5:22:02 PM

Would you beleive my co-worker ran over my I-pod? Of course I was the stupid one who left it in my bookbag and put it close to his car for a minute.

Posted by: mark | Dec 17, 2004 8:27:50 AM


I don't find such an issue with the multiple links on a line. But I'll do some more investigation.
The alterative is tohave all navigation in a vertical list

so instead of

description :: syntax :: use :: tips

taking up one line or so you have it taking up several lines of an 8 line (or fewer on the mini) screen.

As to large texts on an iPod, while files are limited to 4K in size, I gind them quite readable Apple must have workled hard on the legibility of the font on that screen.

and af inal p.s. just for you :-) My line breaking technique is a deliberate rhetorical strategy to try and capture in whitespace a conversational tone :-)


Posted by: John Allsopp | Dec 17, 2004 8:35:04 AM