Friday, December 28, 2007

Kid in an eye candy store

Managing Design and Construction
I meet interesting people in this business. Steph Slater is one of those interesting people. Steph’s genius expresses itself in his visual sense and his sense of space. This led him naturally enough toward the study of architecture. But rather than pursuing a career directly in that field, he became a construction consultant and primarily works as an owner’s representative.

Steph came to me with an idea for a book, a guide for project owners—typically board members of nonprofits, Steph’s usual clients—to help them understand how a large project gets designed and built and to help them understand their own roles and those of the other players in the process. But Steph also wanted the book to be a rich visual experience for the reader with some instructive illustrations but also with inspiring images of great architectural examples.

Serendipitously, Steph had access to the images at Shutterstock, and he took full advantage of it, selecting lots of great eye candy for the book.

Because of Steph’s strong visual sense, working with him on the design of the book was a great collaboration. He didn’t come to the project with a visual vocabulary related to books, but he learned quickly as we went along and was ready with immediate and specific feedback as the design took shape. He also trusted me with the editing, because, as with a lot of strongly visual people, the details of grammar and spelling sort of sail below his radar.

And then there was the website
[Note that I’ve given up on “Web site” and have made the transition to solid, lowercase website. Language marches on.]

Turnberry Planning Incorporated


We had started out with a straightforward design for a static HTML website for Steph’s consulting business and to promote the book. Blecch! It was duller than the roof of the used GMC van I once owned. So Steph rooted around at Shutterstock and came up with the image he wanted to use for the site background.

Only there were a couple of problems. First, the laptop screen was not exactly vertical and rectangular. It was tilted toward the viewer and trapezoidal. Okay, Photoshop to the rescue on that one. I isolated that part of the image, distorted it to make it rectangular, and then did some other Photoshoppy things to fill in the skinny blank triangles that maneuver created on the sides of the screen. No big deal.

The second problem was that I had to accommodate the wide range of browser resolutions people use. I did not want anyone to have to scroll down to find the menu buttons or scroll across to find the page contents. And if I made the image small enough to accommodate the smallest browser, the contents would be unreadable on a high-resolution browser. That meant I had to figure out how to scale the background image to the browser size.

In the end, the site turned into the biggest JavaScript project I’ve done, and I leaned on the expertise of a number of other people who got me out of one jam after another. The site is not for everyone: It requires that you permit JavaScript and it really requires a high-speed connection, because otherwise you’ll be able to cook breakfast while the site loads. But visually, I think the site came out looking good. And for Steph’s potential clientele, all of whom can be presumed to have the latest and greatest laptop and a high-speed connection, the technical requirements won’t be impediments.

Anyway, I beat the deadline (books should be on hand any day now) even if I never got a chance to go Christmas shopping. And I learned a ton of JavaScript. I also learned a lot about developing a construction project, which will come in handy in real life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Typographic notes from all over IV: About that gift card...

Okay, I wasn’t going to take the time, but this is seasonal.

Have you ordered any holiday gifts on the Web to be shipped to friends and relatives with an enclosed gift card? Have you received any such gifts?

What is wrong with these people? The merchants, I mean. “We’ll enclose your personalized note.” I guess I’d rather have a personal note, but I’ll settle for personalized. What I won’t settle for is a personalized note limited to 100 characters (including spaces) and printed on 20 lb. copier paper in 10 pt. Arial bold, all caps. Is that as personalized as these people are capable of?

Oh, it isn’t every catalog. The ones that are primarily in the gift business, rather than just running a little gift sideline at this time of year, put in a little more effort. Maybe they choose a slightly friendlier font and go to the trouble of printing on an attractive card. But they still limit the length of the message ridiculously and they still print it out in all caps.

Here’s a clue: Computers have been able to print lowercase letters since 1963.

We are experiencing particularly heavy call volume

Please call back at another time. Meanwhile, enjoy the holiday season. I will return to blogging after I get caught up on pressing deadlines. Ho! Ho! Ho! and all that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Blog news: feed subscribers can now access comments

Back in October, I asked for some feedback on the blog, and Doug Geiger pointed out that people who read the blog through an RSS feed cannot easily click a link to add comments to a post.

I looked into it a bit and found a short script to enable that, but when I tried to upload it to the blog, the feed service objected (even though I obtained it from their own catalog).

Well, over the weekend, I had a bit of a blog template disaster (it was just a stupid-human trick, nothing to get excited about) and had to rebuild the template from scratch. Then today, I decided to check into the comments problem again, and I discovered that the same problem was occurring. So I looked at it a little harder and found the problem—a missing space in one line of code. I fixed that and uploaded the patch. The upshot is that for those of you using a feed reader, you should now see a Comments link at the foot of every post and you should be able to click it to access the comments, where you can then add a comment and, if you so choose, subscribe to the comment stream for that single post (that part seems silly to me, but it’s part of the deal). All this works in theory. If the stars are properly aligned.

Feel free to write back if you find it doesn’t work as advertised.

Monday, December 03, 2007

No statistical difference

NPR reporter David Greene, in a report this morning on the run-up to the Iowa presidential caucuses, called the race for the Democratic nomination a three-way “statistical dead heat” and, within the same sentence, commented on the interesting fact that Obama is edging out Clinton. He said it twice, actually, in different words.

Um, no. If there is no statistical difference, then there is no statistical difference. Nobody is edging out anybody. If you’re going to report on statistical results of polls, you should understand at least that much about poll results. Attaching political significance to statistically insignificant differences is irresponsible journalism, and claiming you weren’t a math major is no excuse. Shame on you, David Greene!

Numeracy matters.