Behold, the blinking marquee

I recently picked up “Handcrafted CSS” at the local bookstore and flipping through it has revived my old love of design.

At the heart of this process is the separation of content, style and behavior in DHTML that evokes notions of beauty in the code that drives the pretty layouts on the screen. The books introduce and codifies some of the aesthetic precepts and takes the reader through the reasoning and creative process of an artist which is quite intriguing.

I remember a particularly interactive web site I was involved in many years ago at a time when the browser wars were at its bloodiest and when the world was being slowly drowned in text that blinked and marquees that scrolled and when the mood struck, marquees that blinked. It was a dark time, when many of the world’s creative types cried themselves to sleep at the fate of browser compatibility and the pain of being caught in the cross-fire between Netscape, IE and Opera.

To drive the point further home, behold, the horror.

I drifted away from the world of design for a while after that, with a number of deep-seated unresolved issues that linger to this day – most having to do with the marquee tag. In case you hadn’t picked up on that already.

Generally, a good design is seen as one that can withstand the innate standards-hating marquee-loving nature of browsers, so that it looks pleasing no matter where it is rendered and at different resolutions, with *hit turned off (like Javascript and even CSS). Throw into this mix, the need for accessibility features and we introduce a whole new dimension of complexity when thinking about design. Thankfully, this forces the designer to think along the lines of separation of concerns or things get out of hand very quickly.

This is where it pays to think of DHTML interface design in terms of markup, presentation and behavior in the same way we look at models, views and controllers. This may not be new to most of you, but I feel as if I’ve been time warped from a time when presentation anti-patterns ruled and the <blink> tag was at the forefront of browser innovation.

Another interesting book that’s keeping me up at night is “Smart Things – Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design“. Ubicomp ftw. More on this later.

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Anansi

Came across Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman at Vijitha Yapa and purchased it almost immediately. I distinctly recall reading a story called tar-baby or something like that when I was a kid. I found it absolutely hilarious back then, as I did a lot of things that seem boring and mundane to me now. I guess I was a six year old with a much less jaded outlook on life. Anansi is a trickster god in African folk-lore and it is said that he could never be captured (or something like that), and all it took was a tar-baby with some attitude to bring him down. I don’t recall much, but whatever it was, it was funny as hell. Any six year olds reading this would probably know what I’m talking about.

In some ways, Neil Gaiman, like Anansi, is King of All Stories. Loved his American Gods, which incidentally features Anansi’s Norse cousin, Loki, Neverwhere – which was just awesome! and Smoke and Mirrors. I have yet to read Stardust and rumour has it that there’s a movie in the making.

For those inclined towards cyber stalkery, here’s Neil Gaiman’s blog.

Hut 8, Bletchley Park

Came across the M4 project a couple of days ago while doing some much needed digging. Its simply a distributed effort to crack 3 enigma messages encoded in (what is believed to be) “Shark”, the formidable naval cipher which uses four rotors as opposed to “Dolphin” that uses just three. You can find a good study of Enigma here, here and and a not so good one right here.

You can download a neat multiplatform client that utilizes your idle cycles to crack Shark. Very much in the spirit of seti@home, with the only difference being that this time around, the effort seems worthwhile. <smirk>

I was hooked on Enigma ever since I first read Singh’s Code Book. Then I just HAD to read Robert Harris’ thriller and of course, watch the movie that came out of it. Loved them all. I don’t know what it is about Enigma, whether its the stories surrounding it, the effort it took to crack it, the genius behind it, but I find it all extremely and excruciatingly fascinating.

Hey there Echelon. Readers, say Hi to Echelon.