Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Taming CSS

For those of you who are not familiar with CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, let me give you a little lesson. We'll call it CSS-101.

In the early days of the internet, web pages were built using basic HTML. HTML basically used a table format or rows and columns to format the way the page looked. As web pages became more complicated and began to use more graphics, flash and media, it became apparent that something more was needed.

CSS breaks away from the table format. Basically you put your contents into boxes and tell the boxes where they should be placed on the page. While the content is contained on your html page (now XHTML), the instructions for formatting and placing is located on an external .css file, which is loaded into the html page.

So I've been fooling around with this for the past year or so. At first I used CSS just to format my text styles. But lately I've been trying to get better search results for my sites, and that's where css can really help out. By reducing the amount of code required in a tables format into a css format, there is less clutter on your page for the search engines to go through.

The first big change was to the Omni site. Initially this site was built as a cient portal using ColdFusion for the data base. The design was an afterthought and lacked any real content for the search engines. A couple months ago the site was redesigned by myself and co-workers Dan Upbin and Daniel Maxwell. Daniel used a combination of CSS and tables on the pages, which worked well enough. But even those pages, with the flash showcases and all, had too much clutter.

So I took up the challenge and redesigned the site. There are still some tables in there but the flash has been eliminated and the code has been optimized. The next step is to rewrite the text content for SEO.

All of this work with CSS has helped me with my other sites as well. Of course there are still instances where I can't use CSS. Unfortunately some of the older versions of browsers, especially Internet Explorer, do not work well with CSS and require 'hacks' to fix these 'bugs'. It's very difficult to write css for every version of every browser, especially since I don't have the old browser versions anymore. When my client, Kilalu Luxury Homes, viewed their new site on an old AOL version, the layout broke up and they wanted the site to work in all browsers. In this instance I had to re-write the html code for tables.

Sometimes you just can't win.

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Having a Heat Wave

Move to North Carolina and enjoy the great weather! Leave the heat and humidity behind in South Florida! That's what they told us. We monitored the weather reports all year long before moving and it looked pretty nice. So what's up with these record breaking temperatures these past few weeks. 102° and 104° two days in a row last week. The forecast for today is a high of 99°. And this is not just a local phenomenon. High temperatures in neighboring Tennessee are blamed for a couple fatalities.

So what's up? Is this global warming or just a periodic natural weather cycle? What do you think.

And the wierd part of all of this is... it's cooler in Fort Lauderdale!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Disappointment in Asheville

Yesterday Wendy and I took a trip to Asheville with our neighbors Joe and Barbara and their son Kip and his partner Chaz who are visiting from Fort Lauderdale. We spent most of the day walking around, looking in the galleries and shops and generally having a good time. The mountain altitude kept the temperature in the mid 80's, a welcome relief from the 90+ temperatures around Charlotte.

One of our first stops was a small gallery showcasing arts of glass work. Since we were all pretty hungry and really wanted to find a place to eat, Kip asked the shops manager where we might find a good place to eat. He suggested a small bistro up the street, Battery Park Bistro, which we found easily enough. The lunch menu looked acceptible. A variety of sandwiches, salads, appetizers and specials sounded appetizing so we decided to have lunch there.

Walking inside we found the bistro to be at about half capacity and were promptly seated. The space was rather small, a long rectangle with perhaps a dozen tables along one wall and a small bar at the rear. We were seated towards the back with only one table between ourselves and the kitchen. Two tables, whose heights did not match, were pushed together to seat the six of us. A party of four, who had followed us into the restaurant, was seated at the table behind us.

It was about this time that three or four more groups came into the restaurant. What we had hoped would be a nice, pleasant and quick lunch, was about to go badly wrong.

First we noticed that the prices, for sandwiches, were a little steep. $7.95 for a BLT. $8.95 for a corned beef sandwich. I don't mind paying a little more for good food, but I did think the $17 for pasta carbonara was a little steep. Nonetheless, we placed our orders. At the last moment Kip ordered an appetizer of spinach dip. The spinach dip arrived in a timely fashion. The dip was very spicy and Joe didn't like it. Everyone felt it was a little too spicy and we only ate about half. We passed the time talking, waiting for the main course.

After about twenty minutes we noticed that the couple behind us had been served their lunches. Since we had ordered the appetizer we assumed that our food would soon be served. Food soon came out of the kitchen, but it was brought to another table, which had been seated after us. More food, another table. More food again. Not our. By this time we had been in the restaurant for at least an hour. Wendy, who was very hungry, was begining to get very upset. Joe and Barbara quickly followed suit. The waiter assured us that our food would be out soon but after another fifteen minutes we still had not been served. By now of course we were all getting pretty much fed up and were just about to walk out when our food finally arrived.

Before I go any further, let me explain that Joe and Barbara use to own a restaurant, so they know all about the business. When our food arrived Joe asked Kip to show him his pastrami sandwich. Joe was a butcher in his youth, so he knows meat. Guess what? Not pastrami. Then Joe's BLT arrived. You would think for $7.95 they would put more than 1 tomatoe and some burnt bacon on the bread, don't you think. Wendy's anitipasta salad arrived and she quickly noticed that it was served with iceberg lettuce, cheap salami, and american cheese. Definitely not the antipasta salad she ordered. My corned beef sandwich was nothing special either. But by now we were all starving and certainly didn't want to go looking for another restaurant so we ate our lunches in a rather sullen silence.

Having finished his BLT, Joe left the restaurant to go outside, saying he needed to stretch his legs. The truth was he was very disappointed and probably didn't want to blow up at our waiter. Our waiter tried to make up for our experience with free desert of chocolate cake and cheesecake but by now the damage was done. We quickly paid our bill and quickly left the bistro.

Up the street we passed a sidewalk vendor who asked if I would like to sample the jellies he was selling. "No thank you," I said. "We just ate lunch."

"Was it good," he asked?

"Not really," I replied. What else could I say?

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