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February 28, 2006

I love it when predictions come true

OK, so it only happened once, but that first time it was uncanny.

A few weeks back I made some predictions for 2006 - and my big one was "data at the edges".

Well, knock me down with a feather, but along comes edgeio "listings from the edge", which uses a microformats approach to aggregate classifieds which are posted to your site.

Which makes my prediction look pretty good :-)

"data will become increasingly distributed, and reside on the edges of the network (a book review you do will reside on your site, not, for instance at Amazon)"

But seriously, this is but the beginning.

"Do I get money now?" (bragging rights for the first to attribute the quote)

February 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 26, 2006

Cool things you can do with style master Part II

"Sucking in" HTML - automagic CSS creation

Because Style Master has all kinds of what we consider are pretty cool features that might not be immediately obvious when you use the application, I've started this series to detail some of the things in Style Master that can really bump up your productivity. In this installment, we'll learn about how you can create a style sheet for an HTML document with one or two mouse clicks.

The problem

Suppose someone hands you an HTML document and says "style this, oh CSS guru". Or, if like many developers I know (me included), you develop your structured HTML content then style it with CSS. Or, perhaps the content is being output by a blogging tool, or content management system. How do we go about the process of creating a style sheet for this HTML document?

Well, by hand we could find all of the elements, all of the classes and ids, and so on, then create a statement selecting each of these kinds of element. That could take some time.

Here is how Style Master can help

Step 1.
Choose New from HTML Document... from the File menu

Locate the HTML document you want to base your new style sheet on

Step 3.
Choose where you want to save your new style sheet

And Style Master creates and saves a new style sheet based on the contents of the HTML document. It creates one statement for each kind of HTML element (p, h1, and so on) which is in the HTML document. It also creates a statement for any class and id values in the HTML document.

So, for example, if your HTML document has an element like this

<div id="footer">©westciv.com</div>

Then style master will create this statement to select it

#footer {}

Style Master also creates a set of statements for selecting links in their various states.

So you are ready to start styling, rather than spend minutes or more creating your statements.

But wait, there's more. If your HTML has legacy styling with in the HTML, style master will convert that to styling in the CSS. So, for example, if your body has a bgcolor attribute, Style Master would convert something like this

<body bgcolor=#666> into

body {background-color: #666}

And does something similar for font, fontsize, border and other presentational HTML.

Many ways to skin a cat

There is actually more than one way to do this in Style Master. You can "suck in" CSS from the preview HTML document in the design pane. Just right click he preview document, and choose "New Statements from HTML". This does exactly the same thing as we saw above, but this way you can append new statements to an existing Style Sheet.

But I just want to add statements for some elements

You might want to only create statements for some elements, or you might have changed your HTML, and want to add new statements for these new elements. You can do this easily as well.

In the design pane, right click the element you want to create a statement for

In the contextual menu which opens, choose "New Matching Statement" - the submenu for this item displays a number of possible selectors for this element. If the element doesn't have a class or id value, then only one possible statement will be shown. But if the element contains a class or id value, you can choose the selector you want. For example, if we right clicked out footer element above

<div id="footer">©westciv.com</div>

Style Master will give you the option to create any of these statements

  • div {}
  • div#footer {}
  • #footer {}

just select the statement you want, and Style master will add it to the style sheet after the currently selected statement.

Hopefully this cool little part of Style Master will come in handy for you one day. I find myself using it quite a bit.

February 26, 2006 in Cool things you can do with Style Master | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

Ruby on Rails quickstart

Tim Lucas is a really smart, lovely young guy, who spoke at Web Essentials last year, and is doing some really cool stuff with Rails (possibly even with westciv).

He's holding a Ruby on Rails quickstart workshop in Sydney next week, so if you are interetsed in getting up to speed with Rails, I can't think of a better way. We have no affiliation with this other than knowing Tim.

Here are the details.

A hands–on quick–start to Ruby on Rails development


Who's it for?

If you’re a developer interested in learning how to rapidly create quality web applications, then this intensive half-day workshop is for you.

It's going to be pretty action packed: to make the most of it you’ll need to have experience in developing database driven web applications and a basic understanding of object oriented programming principles. We’ll teach you everything you’ll need to know about Ruby and Rails, but any prior experience will be a bonus.

What you’ll learn

  1. The Ruby language
  2. Rails principles
  3. The core modules: ActiveRecord, ActionController and ActionView
  4. Creating a new rails project
  5. Understanding how everything is organised
  6. Creating a simple application
  7. Writing tests
  8. Effectively using the docs
  9. Customising your URLs
  10. Layouts, partials and helpers
  11. AJAX
  12. Plugins
  13. Deployment

When and where?

The workshop will be held on March 1 2006 in Sydney Australia.

What's the deal?

$365 includes the half-day instructed workshop with laptop provided (yes, you can bring your own too), printed workbook and CD with all the code plus a few extras to continue with after it’s over.

While it is part of WebDU, this workshop is open to everybody, but places are strictly limited.

To book your spot phone Vivianne at Daemon on 02 9380 4162 or email vivianne@daemon.com.au.

February 23, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 18, 2006

Cool things you can do with Style Master - Part I

Recently on a pretty much unrelated forum, someone attempted to insult me by suggesting that Style Master was just a glorified text editor, and that's exactly what the world needed one more of. Props for the attempt, dude, but in defence can I just say

  1. Text Mate, one very cool "glorified text editor" (henceforward known as GTE)
  2. Style Master does a lot more than just add CSS macros and syntax coloring
  3. The life

So, piqued into action, I thought I'd get back to more or less the original point of this blog, to write about Style Master and developing software, and post the first in hopefully a series of articles I've been meaning to write for a long time, "Cool things you can do with Style Master".

The difficult problem of styling online documents - blogs, CMS and other web apps

When I first started developing Style Master 8 years ago, give or take most people designed static web sites. Blogging more or less didn't exist, and those which did were hand coded static files by and large. The only people using Content Management Systems (CMS) were large organizations with deep pockets - they cost a fortune to purchase (and maintain). Webapps were hardly a twinkle in anyone's eye. In short, almost all content on the web was static.

Which made styling them with CSS easy.

  1. Write your CSS locally
  2. link it locally to your static HTML
  3. test it locally in a browser
  4. upload to the server via ftp.

The explosion of blogging, blogging apps and hosted blogging services, along with cool open source CMS like ModX means that this old model of development has more or less gone out the window for many developers. So how can we design for sites that never have a static page to begin with?

Well, we could

  1. create a locally saved version of the pages generated by the CMS
  2. include a <base> element with the href attribute being the url of the document online (or locally if using a local server for testing)
  3. style this
  4. upload the style sheet to an ftp server

Then there is the added complication of what you do with any links to images in your CSS. Make them absolute?

But Style Master provides a much cooler (and simpler) way of doing this.

You can use URLs for preview documents. These are then used locally as the preview document internally by Style Master, and also when you preview with local browsers. It's really simple to setup, and works a charm regardless of which blogging or CMS tool you use. We still have to work around an issue when the URL is behind some kind of login window, which is an issue of occasion.

But, Style Master is even more web savvy.

Recently, a Style Master user got in touch asking how they could work with this setup.

  1. Their content was in a CMS.
  2. Their Style Sheet was stored on an ftp server, and they wanted to be able to edit it live, while using the CMS generated content as preview pages.

Well, in Style Master 4 for windows (and very soon in 4.5 for the Mac, currently in closed beta, public beta soon) you can work on style sheets located on an ftp server, and save them straight to the server as you go. I'd probably suggest working on a copy, unless the site is only under development, because you can never tell when a little CSS change becomes a big change to how the page appears.

Once you've opened your css from the ftp server, working with it is the same as if it were located on your local hard drive. When you save, it saves to the ftp server.

So now, you can support all kinds of sophisticated development workflows using Style Master, without having to bend your workflow to Style Master's shortcoming.

More soon in the series "Cool things you can do with Style Master"

February 18, 2006 in Cool things you can do with Style Master | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 15, 2006

Positions Vacant - Sydney Australia

I know a very big, innovative, interesting organisation who do a lot of interesting web stuff who are looking for a "senior designer". If you are interested, drop me a line, and I'll pass you on,

More of my usual rants to resume, once the amount of work I currently am doing calms down a bit.


February 15, 2006 in Positions Vacant | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

Robber Barons

In the 13th Century, one of Europe's great channels of commerce was the Rhine river. Along it flowed the bits of its day - wood, coal, iron, wheat, wool. The raw stuff of commerce, just as bits are ours today.

Along the Rhine lived powerful, wealthy Barons - you can see their footprints still 800 or more years later - those fairy tale castles we've seen in films and Lufthanser posters. And these Barons got their money to build their castles by taxing the flow of commerce past their shores. They didn't cut the wood, or grow the wheat, smelt iron. But the wheat and wool and iron passed through their channels, and if you wanted it to flow, you paid their tax. They were the original "Robber Barons".

Since then the term has been applied to others, most famously in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century, but never more fittingly to a new breed. The Rhine is now the internet, and the barons are the recording industry, the film industry, increasingly telecommunications companies, publishers, all of whom would tax the flow of commerce, and more significantly, restrain it, simply because they can. The world they are comfortable with is changing, and they'll do all they can to stop it happening. The chief weapon in their arsenal is getting governments, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to pass laws protecting their interests. "Cry baby capitalists" some have called them, who need the "nanny state" (I'm sure conservatives hate it when you use their own language against them, hey maybe I'm in breach of copyright for using the term in an unauthorized fashion) to protect their outmoded business practices, all the while happily using the web to grow their businesses. You know, that unpatented, unencumbered invention someone gave to the world, which they seem to have no qualms using when it suits them.

I'll suggest than when history reflects on this period, say 1990 to 2020, it won't see terrorism, or Iraq, or oil as the primary themes. It won't see the so called "clash of civilizations" of Islam and Christianity. It will see openness versus control. It will see DRM, versus the remix culture. It will see open standards versus "industry standards".

If we cast our minds back hundreds or thousand of years, what do we, as a civilization, recall? We recall Homer, and Dante, we recall Bach and Pythagorus, not corporations and governments and lawyers (we only know of that lot as characters in literature, they are creations of culture). Because all we really have is "culture". Music, and literature, film, television, games, software, and whatever else we might dream up a year or a decade, or a century hence. And it's these which the new robber barons fear, unless published on their own terms, for their own benefit,

Imagine paying a license fee to use certain words or phrases - to say, or write "to be or not to be", or "hasta la vista, baby". Yet this is precisely what the recording industry, and hollywood, and rest assured others want to come to pass. Imagine paying more to your telco to use certain web applications, or perhaps even google, because that's what some of them want. Actually, they want Google and others to pay them more to use their networks to deliver information and services. They are like the robber barons of the Rhine 800 years ago, taxing the flow of commerce because they can.

And only in the last few days have we seen major news organizations wanting to stop Google (and others, no doubt) aggregating news, like the fantastic Google News despite that making it easier for us to access their sites, which is surely what they want us all to do? Again, they want complete control.

A decade ago, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Compuserve and others all sort to provide their own walled off mini webs. All failed, despite their wealth, their partnerships with huge powerful content producers, despite seemingly holding all the cards.
A decade from now, will these last ditch efforts of incumbents in so many industries to seek protection through legislation, or the abuse of their monopolies succeed where earlier attempts to co-opt the openness and universality of the web and the internet failed?

February 6, 2006 in Rants | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack