Designing in the open

It’s been a while since I last redesigned (or should I say, realigned) this site. Six years, in fact. My regular visitor, if they are still regular, will have noticed that this site has been somewhat broked for a week or so.

I’m not sure what I did, but I clearly mangled something. Anyway, it’s an excuse to realign.

This time I have some simple requirements for myself:

  1. Mobile first. The reality is that most browsing is done on a mobile device of some kind, so I want to primarily cater to those constraints. That means mobile-first CSS, Service Workers, small images only where necessary etc etc.
  2. Performance second. Closely related to the mobile thing, good performance is a must. I’m aiming for sub-second render times. I also want to use no JavaScript. This is a content site, why would I need it?
  3. More emphasis on the IndieWeb. I’ve started doing this, by pulling in my tweets. But I want to go much further down that road.

And I’m doing all this in the open, live on the site. I may fail completely, in which case it will be a public humiliation. But maybe it will force me to get on with it!

Missing the important stuff

A few days ago I found out a very good friend of mine had died several months ago. I hadn’t heard about it and, of course, I had missed his funeral. It was very upsetting news, especially because I had found out so long after the fact.

His passing had been announced on Facebook, but as I hardly go on that site (in fact I wonder why I have an account at all) I missed it. In just a couple of weeks those messages had dropped off my timeline, replaced by reams of banal tripe. The important things, in this case literally life and death, drowned out by the noise.

I can’t rant too much about this, I’m as guilty as anyone for posting (to Twitter, mainly) more than my fair share of trite nothings. It’s easy to be shallow online, and really hard to be genuine and heartfelt. For true relationships you need, at least occassionally, physical interaction. Words on a screen are a poor reflection of real life.

I’m not sure what the answer is. If I come off Facebook entirely then I may miss important news. But if I stay I may miss it too, unless I dedicate my life to keeping up with the firehose of messages.

Gah. I guess I just miss my friend.

Blog highlights

I enjoyed myself with this trip through my blogging history, but I guess something you’d like to see is some highlights of what I’ve written about. Here’s the greatest hits of (in my opinion, of course).

*Sniff*. Good times.

So it appears I’ve been doing this blogging thing a while

Time’s a funny old thing. I was looking back over my blog and was shocked how much of it there is: 131 pages at the present time, stretching back to 3:58 pm on October 21, 2004. Actually I had been blogging since 2002 (11th July 2002, to be exact) but that particular blog was an emotional release for me at the time, so will remain incognito forever. But as if proof were needed here’s the very first thing I blogged:

Breath deeply and relax (11/07/2002)

Well now we’ve got that little lot sorted out, maybe I can start to write something.

As if I have anything to write.

(There’s a bit more to the post than that, but those were my very first words sent into the blogosphere). I think “that little lot” was a reference to the blogging system I’d just written.

Ah, you need some historical context. OK, bear with me while I wander down memory lane. Back in mid-2002 my very good friend Dave said he’d heard about this blogging lark and could we offer blogs to the good parishoners at the community site we ran (and still run, in a fashion). I said of course, and proceeded to write a system to do it. Why I didn’t look around at what other systems (ahem) were available at the time I have no idea.

Actually it was, I recall, an opportunity for me to get into some more serious PHP which I’d been dabbling in for a couple of years before that. My day job was building sites in classic ASP using VBScript, so perhaps PHP was a way to escape that world. At any rate, I embarked upon this quest with my usual gusto – and devotion to inventing new wheels. The fact I built a multi-user blogging system *without a database* shows I didn’t really know what I was doing. It’s true, the original Wiblog site was a flat-file system which used XML files to store blog posts. Hardly cutting edge, even for the time.

It’s pretty interesting to note this all happened was about a year before WordPress came into being as a fork of b2, probably around the time Donncha was working on the b2++ project which became WordPress MU. Sorry the links for that stuff are a little squiffy, Donncha’s personal site seems to be down tonight.

So in the summer of 2002 you’ll have found me either spending time with the beautiful Katharine (who is now my wife, we just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary) or coding the Wiblog system far too late into the night. I “officially” started blogging about tech stuff on October 21st, 2004 with a post about Firefox – which, according to Wikipedia, was just before version 1.0. That makes it all the more amazing that I wrote:

On the auspicious occasion of my company disabling web access for Internet Destroyer Explorer and instead promoting the use of Mozilla Firefox I thought I’d finally start the techy blog I’ve been threatening people for ages about.

Reading stuff like that makes me wonder if my dates are correct. I even checked the archived Wiblog site, and the date is correct. Sheesh, I must be old.

I moved the site over to WordPress, importing my geek blog post from, on 23rd January 2007. That means I’d have installed (again, according to Wikipedia) version 2.0 or possibly 2.1 of WordPress. A couple of years later, on 8th November 2008, I moved all the other Wiblogs onto WordPress 2.6, onto the site we’re still using today.

So, 653 posts later, I’m still here. Blogging has been, in roughly equal parts, self-therapy and self-flagellation. Long may it continue.

I’ve been certified

It’s been a good week, for several reasons. One of them is that I passed a Microsoft exam: Developing web apps in .Net 4. That means I am now (drum roll) a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist. I’ve been building websites for 14 years, give or take, so it’s about time I had some kind of qualification in it.

This is, to put it bluntly, an unexpected turn of events. For much of my career I’ve treated the Microsoft-based things I do in my day job as “just” work, and my real passion has been the Open Source web development I’ve done in my own time. When those two worlds collide, which they do occassionally, it always feels a bit strange. The most obvious example of my day job and personal work coming together is my Performer JavaScript library, which I use on every project I can.

So why the dismissal of Microsoft web technologies for so long? I guess it’s because, for much of the lifetime of ASP.NET, they just haven’t been very good. ASP.NET fundamentally ignored the way the web was designed to work for a long time (I’m talking ViewState and WebForms) but I have to admit it also introduced many fantastic features as well. Templated controls and MasterPages are just brilliant. For this and more of the good stuff refer to my articles on Nettuts.

But now, well, things have changed. ASP.NET MVC is a cracking bit of kit, and Microsoft’s embrace of Open Source – particularly jQuery – has changed many opinions about the Redmond behemoth. Plus the fact that finally we’re beginning to see versions of Internet Explorer that don’t suck. Although much of the industry press is still about open technologies, like WordPress, JavaScript and RoR, it no longer feels faintly embarrasing to me to be a Microsoft developer. Yes, thing’s have certainly changed.

So here’s to the future. A future where all companies, technologies and platforms can work towards making the web more open, accessible and useful in people’s lives.