Site Revision Underway

After only a few weeks of serious blogging here, I’ve decided to redo my site template, mostly in an effort to force myself to learn some coding skills. But also because there’s a lot of things I just don’t like about the current template. So if things get screwy around here, that’s me, “learning” (read: “making mistakes”).

What I like about the current template

  • The “newspaper” style: I got the idea for this after seeing a Fark photoshop contest calling on users to redesign Slashdot. One of the entries was Slashdot, redone as an old newspaper, and it was, in my opinion, the best of the lot. So I stole the idea, although mine has more of an “Old West” feel than I remember the Fark entry having. I like the connection between old-style, “craft” printing and blogging. Since its inception, printing has been a tool of democracy and egalitarianism. The frontier printer (as I imagine him) was someone who culled the news from the Eastern newspapers and the telegraph and from travellers passing through and put it together for his local audience, mostly people he knew, with a healthy dollop of his own editorial commentary. He was a point of contact between his community and the wider world, as well as a shaper of his local world. In a social environment defined by the cattle trade, mining, railroad speculation, and farming, he devoted himself to intellectual pursuits, to feeding his neighbor’s need for information and connection. I’d like to think, as abstracted and idealized as this portrait is, that blogging partakes of some of these qualities.
  • The domain name:When I decided to do this, in the last days before the 2000 election, I tried my hand at a number of domain names, all of which were taken, before arriving at onemansopinion.org”. That’s what the site is, the opinions of one man (me, of course). The domain name describes exactly what the site is.
  • The logo: Once I settled on the domain name, I got to thinking. There’s an old joke, that opinions are like assholes–everybody’s got one. So I thought a good logo would be the asshole doodle from Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, which is really just a bunch of lines crossing at the center. But I also wanted to avoid all the implications of the “One Man”–I hoped that readers would comment, disagree, argue, and send me nasty e-mails (only 2 have, so far, and they weren’t really all that nasty). So I wanted the site to have a slogan to go along with the logo, and thought of the “Got Milk?” campaign, so along with the asshole logo I would put “Got One?”–as in both “got an asshole?” and “got an opinion?” Also, I didn’t want to throw it in your face but just subtly suggest that, by the very fact of running a site devoted to my own opinions, I was sort of an asshole, as well.
  • The coding: There’s nothing fancy in the coding of the site. All of my own code is straight out of besic HTML. The only javascript on the isite is where outside services like bloggrolling.com or squawkbox.tv use it to integrate their content into my site–there’s no javascript in any of the critical areas, where a non-javascript browser would be unable to use the essential functions of the site. There’s no mouseovers or pop-ups or drop-downs. I did use server-side includes, notably for the archive menu and the copyright notice, but these are invisible to the end-user. I am a big fan of the simple in web design, of avoiding bells and whistles as much as possible, especially in layout and presentation. All of the places I’ve broken from this are content-related–links to sites I enjoy, the Iraqi Death Count counter, etc., all of which contribute to the meaning of the site without detracting from the structure of it.

What I dislike about the current template

  • The “newspaper” style: As much as I liked the connection between blogging and printing, I have to admit that I didn’t pull it off well. As I added more content to the sidebars, they got too crowded. The Old West theme pretty much demanded I use a serif font, which are somewheat harder on the eyes when reading on screen. Most of all, though, I’m just not a good enough designer to pull it off. The site looks good, I think, but not distinctive. The biggest issue is the contrast of medias, the translation from 19th c. tech to 21st c. A good designer could do this, but I am not a good designer (I’m not a designer at all–my work in IT has been focused around content, not design). While I have some of the designer’s skills, I don’t have the “eye”, the “feel” for what would really work. And I am somewhat constrained by the nature of blogging, too–a newspaper has all kinds of visual cues–typefaces, page position, column width, and so on–to indicate how important a story is, where it fits in the grand scheme of things. A template–and especially one centred around Blogger or a similar content management system–takes all of these visual cues away; templates tend towards uniformity, while print can be designed anew for each application. I don’t have stories that are more important than others–I have random thoughts and opinions.
  • The domain name: If I had really thought things through, I would have come up with something distinctive, like Turtle Wisdom or The Matter with Me or something. OneMansOpinion.org is what I came to when my first and second choices were all exhausted. It’s descriptive, it’s functional, but it’s not very fun. Maybe that’s why I came up with the whole “asshole” connection, to liven it up a bit.
  • The logo: I scanned the image in from my copy of Breakfast of Champions, likely committing a grave copyright infringement in the process. But no matter what I did, on-screen it always had these jagged edges, and I never managed to make it look as fluid and off-the-cuff as Vonnegut’s original drawing. And I’m pretty sure that only a handful of Vonnegut fans could possibly get the joke.
  • The coding: There’s nothing fancy in the coding of the site. In fact, most of the code comes out of the degraded HTML 3.2 standard, and doesn’t validate well against the current, HTML 4.0 standard. And I use my code sloppily. For instance, I use “font” tags, which are superseded by CSS text attributes. I use tables for layout, instead of for presenting content. I use structural elements like the “h2″ tag for text formatting. Content and structure are not clearly distinguished. Basically, I just did not push myself–I relied on what I already knew and made it work, instead of trying new things.

The new template will hopefully address these dislikes while retaining the things I like. It’s very simple, much cleaner, much more restrained. I use CSS for all the layout and to define all the text formatting (although I’ve cheated a little, so I could use the basic HTML commands I know by heart in Blogger without having to refer to the style sheet). I am trying to make an effort to make sure it works in all browsers (at least all that support CSS–there’s a limit to how much backwards compatability I’m willing to extend). From my logs, I noticed that about 12% of my viewers use browsers that do not support PNG graphics, which means they never saw my background–although I prefer the PNG format, the graphics on the new site will all be GIFs or JPGs.

I hope to have the new template ready some time next week. I’m trying not to get sucked into it–one can easily waste hours just trying to add one more cool feature–and am devoting a lot of weekday time to job-hunting, so I don’t know for sure when it will be ready. And I have to go through my archives and add “/p” tags to all my posts in order for the CSS to work, which is a big project in itself. But I hope the new look will be a major improvement ove rthe current site. And if you’ve read this far–thanks for caring!

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