Archive for December, 2004

CSS Zen Garden submission: "Geocities 1996"

The CSS Zen Garden has been highly useful to me in demonstrating the value of standards when attempting to convince my reluctant colleagues to abandon tables. Thanks Mr. Shea!

However, it’s also been a major pain in the arse, as Nongyaw, friends and family now expect every site I make for them to look as good as the zen garden submissions. As a design-challenged individual, I’ve found myself almost nostalgic for the multi-coloured, multi-typefaced gif-ridden designs I used to see in 1996 when I moved to Thailand and first used the web, back in the days when Netscape 3.0 was the coolest browser out.

So I’ve made a css zen garden skin, hearkening back to that devil-may-care era of joie-de-web.

It’s  called "Geocities 1996".

Check it out! Click here!

For maximum authenticity, I’ve used only public domain gifs from surviving "webmaster resource" sites of that era, as well as their on-line button and banner makers, intrepidly braving pop-ups and feeding my email addresses to spam fiends as I went.

I think it’s beautiful (but I’m biased). What do you think?

(Related post: Does validation matter?)

(7 March 05) I just came across a brilliant essay on the development of the Web’s look and feel, called A Vernacular Web – The Indigenous and The Barbarians.

Thanks to Weiran Zhang for offering to host the design for me after continual bandwidth meltdowns.

What the critics say

22.12.04: Zeldman said “Your CSS Zen Garden design is rockin'”, and Peter wrote to say, “The best thing I’ve seen all day. Thanks.”. Justin Wignell concurs: “Absolutely fantastic! Love it! It made my day”, whilst Dave MacEwan makes the aesthetic point “;It almost made me puke. :-)”.

In keeping with body-fluids mode of criticism, David Thompson called it “A festering pile of shite”. The less-scatalogical jp says, “Absolutely brilliant…though it hurts my head”.

Molly said “Bruce, I love you but this just proves your insanity”, while bilingual Joe Clark says “Oui, très amusant” and points out to those who don’t get the joke that, although the the xhtml source is ostensibly AAA accessible, the strobing gifs I’ve included make it inaccessible (and perhaps dangerous) to some.

Accessibility guru, Ian Lloyd, wrote “Bruce, that is a piece of genius. I’m going blind. So bad it’s brilliant!”. The Linux-loving Gabriel wrote “Will you propose your design to the “official” zengarden? It is among the best I have ever seen.”

The Christian Web Masters didn’t like it, while Stan Furlong wrote to say that it’s the topic of discussion on a Macforum: “OMG, that is the best thing I’ve ever seen. Please submit that. Please.” Steven Souza emailed: “The proxmity of my computer to the restroom proved to be highly valuable after viewing your version of the zen garden. I laughed for at least 5 minutes and fought for breath afterward. Thanks for creating such an enjoyable experience.”

Ronaldb66 wrote, “I was thinking: anyone for a “CSS Zany Garden” contest? Using the original markup and CSS to create a really awful design? Although it would be hard to top the original.”

Dave Shea emailed me on 16 Feb 05 to say “It’s brilliant. I’ve had a good laugh every time I’ve loaded it.”

Bruce Lawson hates Standards?

24.12.04 – someone nominated me to web pages that suck. I’m happy to receive the praise “Wonderful stuff. I’ll give it my highest compliment – I wish I had thought of it first” but I’m not so pleased when Vince Flanders writes,

Too many of us get carried away with Web Standards and too many believe that using them makes your site wonderful … Bruce Lawson has taken Web Standards and the Zen Garden approach, thrown it on the ground, and stomped it to death.

No, no, no! I’m a great believer in Web Standards. What I’ve tried to do is visually demonstrate what I said at the mediaelements conference: "validity and accessibility by no means guarantee a good page, as my submission to the CSS Zen Garden, Geocities 1996, demonstrates".

I reinforce Dave Shea’s reason for planting the Zen Garden: to show that the "structurists" like me were not showing the advantages of CSS to its full effect. By making a deliberately ugly page, I’m proving that structural purity alone does not a good page make – exactly what he was trying to show, and a point which I 100% agree with. Beautiful design plus beautiful structure is the way forward, as the CSS Zen Garden shows.

Phew – it’s always hard to explain a joke.

Top five Elizabethan / Jacobean plays not by Shakespeare

This era of verse was what got me to university to do an English degree. I still love and read my 1911 copy of thirty of these plays, which was given to me by Bob Brush, an English teacher of mine.

  1. The Alchemist – Ben Jonson

    "The Alchemist" is a great comedy – a cross between a heist movie and a farce (lots of people hiding, dressing up, almost getting caught). It opens with two of the gang fighting, and one taunting the other to do “thy worst! I fart at thee”. One character berates another character, "Thou look’st like the Anti-christ in that lewd hat" – something I’m always dying to say when I see people in headgear.

  2. Dr Fautus – Christopher Marlowe

    A great tragedy of the over-reacher, Faustus is a man who wants more knowledge than his station as mere mortal allows. The play is patchy (the comic scenes are almost certainly a hack job), but when Marlowe is on form, the poetry is fantastic. Here’s Faustus on kissing Helen of Troy:

    “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? / Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss! / Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies! / Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. /
    Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips,/
    And all is dross that is not Helena.

    The irony is that it’s not really Helen, but a demon dressed up: its kiss really does suck his soul away and damn him. His speech while waiting for the devils to take him finally into hell is a masterpiece.

  3. Volpone – Ben Jonson

    Another vicious comedy from Jonson, with Volpone (The Fox), Mosca (the Fly), Voltore (the Vulture) and other, almost medieval-style allegorical characters, with the same comedy of misfits that was found in The Alchemist.

  4. The Changeling – Middleton

    Beatrice-Joanna teams with sinister servant De Flores to murder the man her father has chosen for her husband. As a reward, de Flores deflowers her (geddit?), and implies she is a changeling – no longer belonging to her father or good family name:

    .. fly not to your birth, but settle you/ In what the act has made you; you are no more now./ You must forget your parentage to me;/ You are the deed’s creature.

    There’s a cool bit at the end when her father doesn’t know whether to call her Beatrice or Joanna, and alternates the names – as if to imply that the two names indicate two different people in one.

  5. The Duchess of Malfi – John Webster

    Death, murder, despair and unremitting gloom: the quintessential Jacobean tragedy. A sort of video nasty of the early 17th century.

Bubbling under were Ford’s "Tis Pity She’s A Whore", Tourneur(?)’s "Revenger’s Tragedy" (blood and black comedy – like a 400 year old "Evil Dead"), Dekker’s social comedy "The Shoemaker’s Holiday" , Peele’s pantomime-like "The Old Wives’ Tale" and Beaumont and Fletchers’ play-within-a-play "The Knight of the Burning Pestle."

Everlasting thanks to Robert Brush for firing and nurturing my enthusiasm for this era.

I hate Christmas music

Now, I freely confess that I am a 100% bah-humbugger when it comes to Christmas, but xmas music still drives me wild with fury.

Confusingly, from an atheist who would rather get testicular leprosy than religion, the least offensive Christmas music that can be broadcast at you when you’re walking around the supermarket is traditional Christmas carols sung by proper choirs. This is relatively easy to blank out, being tuneful, quite gentle and thus eminently ignorable.

No, the xmas music that really raises my blood pressure the modern popular xmas genre. For one, it’s fabulously cynical; we can assume that the writers of Victorian carols at least believed what they were writing and genuinely wished goodwill to all mankind (except the females, colonials and workers, of course), but I can’t believe that Bruce Springsteen *really* felt much when he made his repulsive cover of "Santa Claus is coming to town".

Secondly, pop xmas stuff is too damn loud. I read somewhere that Slade’s contribution to this sorry genre was recorded during the summer. Noddy Holder’s fade out "IT’S CHRISTMAS" squawk is a fantastic impersonation of a pissed-up overly-sentimental Brummie on Xmas eve (and trust me, I’ve absolutely nothing against pissed-up Brummies), but it is an aural assault when tannoyed at me while I’m trying to get parsnips for Sunday lunch.

The very very worst example of the modern Xmas song is Lennon’s "Merry Xmas (War is Over)". This is a crime against humanity for several reasons:

  • War isn’t over, is it? The twat. You can imagine the people in Iraq or Palestine slapping their foreheads and saying, "Why didn’t we realise. War is over, if we want it. Doh!". So the fact that they’re being bombed, murdered and starved is entirely their own fault, as they insufficiently wish for peace. Thanks for the lesson in geopolitics, Mr Lennon.
  • The sound of a multi-millionaire pop singer asking the listener "So this is Xmas/ and what have you done?"  is pretty galling when all he‘d done to fight warfare and oppression was get pissed with his mates and sit in bed with his wife. And send some fucking acorns to politicians. Not a Gandhi salt march, is it John?
  • It’s a horrible tune and Yoko’s glass-shattering "harmonies" at the chorus had me cowering behind the display of Xmas puddings in Tescos, genuinely fearing being cut to ribbons by shards of glass if the shopfront gave way during a high note.
  • The lyrics are doggerel. "So this is Xmas/ and what have you done?/ Another year over/ and a new one just begun". Childish rhymes, bad scansion.

The woman who sold me my cheese at the deli counter told me she was dreading next Saturday when "They turn on the Xmas music". I’m not surprised: when the U.S. played horrid music to Iraqi prisoners to break their will, Amnesty International were seriously concerned. They should visit Birmingham supermarkets. With earplugs.

(This post was written for the grumpy old people blog.)