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The Unheard Word

One woman's slightly skewed views

Where are the women of the web?

A recent conversation with a widely known and respected web designer friend in the U.S.A. raised the oft-asked question, “Where are the women in web design?”

My friend found herself in a situation where she was asked to fix the work of a relatively prominent male in the area of web standards. Before she discovered who he was (no, neither of us personally knew who he was until she Googled him), she had prepared an email to shoot off to the (high-profile) company concerned, saying that their developer had done them no favours in the development of their website.

On discovering who had built the site, and his affiliations, she asked herself:

  1. Did I miss something in the technique used? There must be something here that I’m not seeing; and
  2. OK I didn’t miss anything and my professional opinion remains the same, so should I still say what I was going to say to this company?

She told me that people ask, “Where are the women of the web?” and one answer may be that they are afraid to stick their necks out and criticise the men of the web. I thought about this and came to a couple of my own conclusions.

Momentarily, my friend doubted her professional opinion, but I don’t think that’s because the original developer was male so much as because he was a “name” in the web world! I’d guess that anyone, male or female, would double-check to make sure they weren’t making a mistake in that situation.

I believe that women are, by nature, collaborative rather than confrontational. This means that, whoever they find themselves up against, by instinct most will look for a non-confrontational way to resolve any conflict. (Obviously there are exceptions.) I don’t personally believe this necessarily has anything to do with the other person being male or female — although since females tend to react to confrontation differently to males, the gender of the other party can certainly affect whether or not a woman believes a confrontation will be effective and/or the best approach, and therefore whether or not she will take that approach.

Another issue is that if a woman criticises (however professionally and/or constructively) the work of a man, she can be viewed as being a bad sport (maybe more of an issue here in Australia than in the U.S.A.) or as being jealous, or numerous other scenarios — which are not, of course, exclusive to women criticising men, but nonetheless appear more likely to be applied to women criticising men than to men criticising men (or women).

My friend did end up telling the company concerned her true professional opinion (in her usual diplomatic, professional and non-confrontational way). I just wanted to raise the issue here and hopefully get other women thinking about how they react to the male/female dynamics of web (or indeed, any other) work.

Tagged! Four Things

How exciting! I got tagged! Have I finally made it into the stratosphere? Do I actually have a friend now? 😉

Thanks(?!) Lisa. Here are my “four things”.

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. Checkout operator at Big W
  2. Batch clerk at National Australia Bank
  3. Flower seller in restaurants
  4. Web developer at CALM

Four movies I can watch over and over:

(Well, I’ll try — but given my hearing difficulties I don’t really watch movies, and rarely view them more than once. It was a battle to think of memorable movies!)

  1. The Sound of Music
  2. Moulin Rouge
  3. Strictly Ballroom (I adore ballroom and Latin dancing so this was always going to be a hit with me!)
  4. Crackerjack (Yep I do love Australian films.)

Four places I’ve lived:

(All in Western Australia)

  1. Wembley Downs, Perth
  2. High Wycombe, Perth
  3. Waroona
  4. Helena Valley, Perth

Four TV shows I enjoy:

(Ouch… I don’t watch tv at all)

  1. #
  2. #
  3. #
  4. #

Four places I’ve vacationed:

  1. Pemberton (South-West Western Australia)
  2. Europe
  3. Bali
  4. India and Sri Lanka

Four of my favorite dishes:

  1. Miscellaneous combinations of food cooked in the raclette grill
  2. Thai green curry (chicken)
  3. Mum’s corned silverside and cheese sauce
  4. Pie (family recipe, like a beef casserole with a suet crust)

Four sites I visit daily:

  1. Perth weather forecast (Bureau of Meteorology)
  2. Community MX
  3. New Matilda
  4. ANZ Bank

Four places I would rather be right now:

  1. Germany
  2. France
  3. On a cruise somewhere — anywhere!
  4. In bed

Four bloggers I am tagging:

  1. Stephanie Sullivan
  2. Nick Cowie
  3. Natalie Bennett
  4. Tim Dunlop

(No pressure, folks… only if you want to.)

WordPress 2.0

Happy New Year to all!

I thought I’d start off the New Year by upgrading to the new version of WordPress, my blogging software. I’d read some less-than-enthusiastic reviews and so didn’t do it immediately on its release. But over the New Year weekend, I didn’t want to actually work so I placated myself by doing something work-related instead. 🙂

Backing up the old database and files was the usual tedious chore (particularly on my slow dialup connection) and I also had to work out which of my plugins would work with the new version, which wouldn’t, and which had working updates available. But once that was done, the upgrade itself proceeded with textbook ease. I actually forgot to disable a couple of plugins (had wanted to leave them till the very last second, then forgot about them) but fortunately for me, those plugins played nice and didn’t cause me any issues.

On successful completion of the install, my blog site opened in the browser window, and I was understandably rather pleased to note it hadn’t changed a jot. 🙂

The admin area is the same — and different. A few people have commented that the WordPress back-end is unattractive, but it’s not something that has ever mattered to me. So I was pleased to find that although the general look of the admin area has changed (and definitely a visual improvement), everything is in pretty much the same place so I can continue to use it without thinking. Indeed, most of it is exactly the same, apart the new theme.

I did notice a perceptible difference in speed of navigating within the admin area. I noticed this on my WordPress.com blogs as well so it’s unlikely to be anything related to my server. Version 1.5 was not sluggish, nevertheless that was a pleasant surprise.

The only area in which I have run into any trouble at all is the WYSIWYG editor. You can switch this on or off in the options, but I wanted to use it to write this post so I could write about it in this post. (I normally use ecto, and in HTML mode at that.) Sadly, the built-in WYSIWYG editor doesn’t show up at all in my default browser, Safari (which is actually not uncommon for WYSIWYG editors but some do work in that browser), so I had to then open the site in Firefox.

In Firefox, the editor appeared, and this is one area where noticeable interface changes have been made, and for the better. Most of the long list of options including time stamps, password protections, post slugs, categories and so on are now neatly tucked to the right of the editor in expand/collapse format — so you can see each one at a glance as you type, but their “innards” are neatly tucked away until you want to use them. Nice touch. And you can even add a category right from this page. (Not sure if you could do that before, but if you could, I hadn’t noticed it!)

Back to the editor: I started to type. So far so good, it all behaved exactly as I would expect. Hitting the Return key gives a nice clean paragraph as you’d expect from an editor of an application that outputs XHTML. Drag-and-drop of selected text works great.

Then I tried to use a button to bold a word. Uh-oh. Clicking the button had no effect at all. I had to go into HTML Source Code view to bold words. Then I remembered keyboard shortcuts (I am not used to using buttons in editors!) The tooltip for Bold says the keyboard shortcut is Alt+B, but that didn’t work for me either but Ctrl+B worked. The editor evidently didn’t know I’m using a Mac! How silly can you get? (Joking!)

However, even Ctrl+B was “sticky” and it was hit-and-miss to actually get the word bolded. The same occurred when attempting to return the text to normal. Luckily the HTML button worked instantly.

Closer inspection revealed that the other buttons are working, and Firefox was trying to attempt to execute them, but it took such an extraordinarily long time — as long as several minutes. You can imagine, I only found that out by accident; I wasn’t deliberately waiting minutes which is why I initially thought the buttons didn’t work at all. But keyboard shortcuts are faster.

After saving this post as a draft then returning to it, I got a nice surprise in the Post Preview section below the editor, which displays the blog like a live preview so you can see what it will look like before it’s published. A very nice touch. (It may have been there before but I don’t remember it…?)

Another thing about saving posts and returning to them: some of the paragraphs get lost and br tags sneak in. After further use, I see that the same thing is happening as I continue to write the post as well. Grrrrrrr.

Also, I can’t see any option to add Technorati tags. Will have to do them by hand. (Mttr grnt mmbl. I’ve been spoiled by ecto!) Expect this post to be updated after publication to fix any of these issues; I don’t want to do it now because I’m determined to post using the built-in editor. 🙂

So, generally, I found the WYSIWYG editor disappointing — not because I want to use it myself, but because I like WordPress and was really hoping it would all work perfectly. To write this post I have needed to go to HTML Source Code view several times.

Moving away from the editor, another thing I’d like to note is that ongoing issues I’ve had with the Discussion options not working, appear to have totally been fixed. (In version 1.5, despite my settings, posts were not getting moderated and a lot of spam was finding its way to the blog, including words I’d set to be blocked.) So I am really happy that’s a thing of the past, or at least I’m hoping it is! I’m also now using Automattic’s Akismet, and haven’t had one spam message since the changeover… that’s pretty good. 🙂

Reading back, I see I have given the major portion of this post to the WYSIWYG editor, but that’s just because it was the only area that gave me any troubles. In all it appears to be a fairly unspectacular update but a definite improvement, from my perspective. If the comment moderation continues to work, I will consider it worth the trouble of the upgrade for that alone.

UPDATE: Seems the news feeds from this post didn’t work so I’m deleting the original and re-posting from ecto.

UPDATE 2: RSS still doesn’t seem to be working though Atom does…. will look into it. Sorry folks. If anyone does receive an RSS feed, please let me know. 🙂

UPDATE 3: It seems to be working now — for me, at least. (After nearly 24 hours of angst… blah.) Seems there are a few hoops to jump through to get Feedburner and WordPress 2.0 to play nice together. If anyone is not getting their usual feed, let me know and I’ll do what it takes to fix it!

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A Catch-up, and Christmas Wishes

Sorry for my lack of posting lately. I’ve been a busy little bee!

First, my daughter and I were in a car crash. That was pretty scary. The scariest part (after hitting the side of their car at 80km/h, spinning, and realising we were not badly hurt) was that the other people were trapped in their car, unconscious, and we thought they might be dead. It was terrible to look at them while we waited for help. Even though we were not at fault, it still would have been terrible if someone had died… however they recovered enough to start abusing the police later, and one was arrested. Another got taken to hospital, apparently with a broken leg — thankfully, that was the worst of it.

People were very kind to us, especially the staff at Ginger’s Roadhouse and the tow truck driver.

The really bad news was that our car was written off, so we’re struggling a bit right now. We were a bit dazed and sore and bruised for a while but are back to normal now.

Since then, I’ve been occupied with visitors from Germany. After a couple of years of chatting online, we finally got to meet a very special couple, and did the touristy, sight-seeing thing with them while they were here. We all got on amazingly well and had a heap of fun together, and it was very, very sad when they returned to Germany.

I am unlikely to write again till after Christmas so I’d like to wish everyone a safe and very, very happy Christmas (or other holiday you might celebrate) and I hope you all get a nice break and refresh yourselves, ready for a wonderful, prosperous year in 2006.

Extending Safari

In my ongoing search for the elusive “perfect browser”, I have been back and forth a bit lately. I’ve gone from Safari 2.0 (a very fast and elegant browser), to Firefox (for the zillionth time), to Flock, back to Firefox, over to Camino, and am now back with Safari. Here’s a bit of an explanation why.

Safari is without doubt the fastest browser I’ve tried on my Mac. It has an elegant interface and doesn’t share the memory leaks of Firefox on OSX, and has good standards support. (Safari 2 now passes the Acid2 test and to my knowledge is still the only browser currently to do so.)

The beauty of Firefox

But Safari does lack some of Firefox’s features (let’s face it, it’s the extensions that make Firefox such a great browser), such as Chris Pederick’s wonderful Web Developer Toolbar. Safari does have WebDevAdditions but it lacks the live CSS editing function of the Firefox extension, which is extremely useful. However, it’s a trade-off, as WebDevAdditions allows the page’s text to be edited directly in the browser window.

Firefox also has some other extensions I love, notably (amongst others I have installed and use regularly when in Firefox):

  • Session Saver (enables the user to close Firefox and then have all tabs restored on re-opening)
  • MiniT(drag+indicator) (enables drag-and-drop to change the order of tabs)
  • Tab Mix Plus (too many extra functions to mention but very handy)
  • Tab X (displays a close button on each tab)

But, aside from the Web Developers Toolbar, the extension I love more than anything is HTML Validator, which uses a button in the status bar to show if the current web page uses valid X/HTML — or not. It will also display errors and attempt to “clean” the page if required. When I first found out about it, I installed it and went to all my sites including this blog site to have a look, and was horrified to discover that between WordPress and my blog editor, unbeknown to me some XHTML warnings had snuck in. (I had validated the site before launch, so was not expecting it to have changed.) That’s when I decided I couldn’t afford to be without it. (And it was verrrrrrrry interesting to visit other sites and see how few actually validated!)

Moving right along

Then the preview version of Flock was released. I installed it and loved it, but since it is a fork of Firefox and appears to share that browser’s memory leak on Mac OSX, and since I can’t import my bookmarks yet (that feature will be available soon according to the Flock website), and since HTML Validator was not yet available for Flock, and nor was Session Saver (it is really hard to go back to having tabs disappear when closing the browser, after getting used to them being saved!) I decided to go back to Firefox “for now”. When the new beta of Camino was announced, I decided I would toddle along and try that too. Camino is a really nice browser but felt to me like a dumbed-down — though far more elegant — version of Firefox. Same high system memory usage, less functionality.

I should add that, in the past, I have attempted to use Opera 8.5 as my default browser, and while I find Opera to be an excellent browser generally with very useful web developer support, little things annoyed me like Command+T opening the “Add bookmark” dialog instead of a new tab as I’ve become accustomed to in other browsers, and even the menu uses different terminology… it’s “New Page” instead of “New Tab”… Such unexpected behaviour slows down my workflow and adds unnecessary annoyance, and frankly I don’t see any need to form new habits with these things when it’s the only browser to do this.

I did have OmniWeb set as my default browser for many months and love its extra features. But it too, like Firefox, tended to hog memory.

Re-discovering Safari plug-ins

Then… I rediscovered some third-party extensions for Safari. Of particular interest was Saft which includes the ability to save tabs when closing the window, amongst a lot of other good stuff. To name but a few:


  • Drag-and-drop tabs
  • Ad-blocking
  • Image and plug-in blocking
  • Save open browser windows when quitting (and reload them on re-opening of course)
  • Enable Debug menu (mine was already enabled and in itself offers some nifty tricks)
  • Undo closed tab support
  • Customisable shortcuts to web pages
  • Block HTML refreshing
  • Growl support
  • Many more… see the very long features list on the Saft home page.
  • This plug-in alone covers most of my favourite Firefox extensions, and more. Naturally, me being me, I went ahead and installed it. (Hi, my name is Vicki and I am a softwareholic.)

    For good measure, I also installed SafariStand. This nifty plug-in fills in the gaps in Saft (hard though it was to believe, at first, that Saft had any gaps to fill), including a sidebar (thumbnail tabs — think OmniWeb — the thumbnail tabs were my favourite OmniWeb feature and this is an awesome addition to Safari) and syntax colouring of viewed source. It also doubles up on a couple of Saft’s features but, generally speaking, it complements Saft very well.

    Then I went ahead and installed SafariButtons, which adds a New Tab button to the toolbar. (Who would have thought it would be too much trouble for Apple to include that in Safari by default?)


    I use iGetter as a download manager (can’t get broadband here, blah, so I definitely need a download manager) and I soon realised I had a “small” problem. Safari was no longer passing downloads to iGetter. It was attempting to download them in a browser window — not even in Safari’s own download manager. I’ll spare you the story of my frustration, torment and despair, but I finally found a little snippet in a forum that referred to a problem and solution with Saft and SpeedDownload (incidentally the download manager that I used before switching to iGetter) which just happened to apply to iGetter too. Saft has an option that turns off animated images — which I had selected. And using this feature somehow affects Safari’s ability to talk to download managers. Weird. Anyway, many hours after first detecting the issue (and many hours into the wee hours of the morning) the issue was solved. I can live without animated images turned off but I can’t live without a download manager!

    I’ve also read of conflicts between PithHelmet and other plug-ins, but it never appealed enough to me to install it anyway.

    An extending Safari resource

    Pimp My Safari is a really useful site that links to a big range of Safari plug-ins and bookmarklets but the essential ones for me are WebDevAdditions, Saft and SafariStand, and those three are playing together nicely, along with SafariButtons.

    The bookmarklets on PMS are really worth a look because they cover many functions provided by various Firefox extensions.

    Worth it?

    Incidentally, Saft is not freeware, and not everyone will agree that the main advantage to me of using Safari (that it’s lean and mean on my tired old iMac) is worth the sacrifice of a few dollars for features that are available for free when using Firefox. For me, it’s well worth it, because continually closing and re-opening Firefox to speed it up and to regain some system memory is — er — annoying, to say the least. 🙂

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    Fitting design to content, not content to design

    For those that didn’t catch the heads-up on 456 Berea St, what a magnificent article by Chris at Wait till I come!. Chris notes how difficult it actually was, in the early days of the web with their accompanying browser wars, to build and maintain table-based websites that worked across browsers — and how (contrary to what some of the old-school diehards would have us believe) building websites using Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) layouts is not any more difficult, once you accept CSS for what it is.

    He makes the very pertinent point that the design should fit around the content, not the content be made to fit into our designs:

    A web page that looks and works exactly the same across different browsers is most likely neither accessible nor easy to maintain. A web page that is well structured, allows for flexibility and improves visually with the sophistication of the user agent is both.

    An amazing statement, isn’t it? Such a basic point that is so very true — and so frequently overlooked.

    It doesn’t have to look the same in every browser. It really doesn’t.

    A site built using well-formed and semantic X/HTML, CSS and other standards as set out by the W3C, should work well and look acceptable (the definition of “acceptable” will ultimately depend on the target audience) in browsers without good standards support. Those using browsers that do support standards to a greater degree will be able to take advantage of any sophisticated visual features built into the site for such browsers.

    The thing is this: the visual features are built around the content, not the other way round.

    And a bonus is improved web accessibility.

    Pretty simple really.

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    Windows Live

    I’m not fond of Microsoft but the new Windows Live Beta, a Web 2.0 application, looks like it could be a useful tool when there’s full browser support.

    Tim O’Reilly says:

    Windows Live is described as Internet-based personal services, centered on the individual, focused on communication, information, and protection.

    In general, I like the way Web 2.0 is heading.

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    Encouraging Web Standards

    I’m a bit concerned, after some recent comments on some of the email lists (which shall remain nameless!) to which I subscribe, about the attitude of some web standards advocates towards others.

    My journey to a career in web development and design was quite a gradual one. I drifted into it one day when I was bored. I made a horrific attempt (of which I was extraordinarily pleased and proud at the time) at a home page at GeoCities. Thankfully, that site from way back in 1998 is long since dead and buried! I remember well my pain at trying to get rollover buttons to work. I thought I had to write the JavaScript (yes, JavaScript, just imagine! On simple rollovers! Shock, horror!) by hand and was in a frenzy trying to work it out. Then oh! The satisfaction when I eventually did get it to work. I was hooked.

    Since I was at home and bored I decided it might be a Good Thing to study web design at University. I found a suitable course and off I went.

    In my first paid job, I made a tables-based design that I couldn’t get to work in NS4. I posted about my problem on an email list, and one very clued-up and standards-savvy member re-worked my design with a CSS layout and — lo and behold — it even worked in NS4. I was gobsmacked.

    Time, however, was running short by that point and I never ended up going with the CSS layout. (I did figure out the NS4 problem, which was that I’d mixed units in my columns, that is, one was fixed width and the other was in percentages. NS4 spits the dummy at that.)

    But my interest was aroused, and though I hadn’t even heard the term “web standards” at that time, I was well on the way to learning about them.

    I deliberately used the word “journey” earlier in this post. Nobody becomes an expert overnight. Many of us don’t even hear the term “web standards” until we’ve already learned a different way. And then we need to somehow hear about the resources where information about web standards can be found. It take time and effort (and therefore money, because time is money) to re-train. And it’s a process. It’s not instant. I know a lot more than I did, but I’m still learning. Who is not still learning?

    Getting into the habit of validating our X/HTML is a good springboard for standards-based web design. I have learned a lot by doing so. You have to learn what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it, when the validator screams at you. So if any coders have taken the trouble to validate their pages, then kudos to them, whether the pages completely adhere to standards or not. The coders are making an effort, and if they’re making the effort it means they’re open to learning, and are likely to continue to learn and apply what they’ve learned.

    Ditto with CSS layouts. In an ideal world, all layouts would be CSS-based not tables-based. Fine. But we’ve all got to start somewhere. If coders have made an effort to use style sheets, even if just for text formatting, then I’m encouraged. That’s often the first step and if they know that step, they’ll be aware there’s more to learn, and eventually they’ll learn it, and apply it.

    I think that, as standards advocates, it is our role to encourage the use of standards above all else. I don’t know about you, but I am not encouraged when I am being blasted for doing something wrong. But when someone takes the time to explain to me why another way would be better, then I will listen and form opinions. If lots of people are saying the same thing to me and if it makes sense, then I might even do something about it. But it’s not instant, and learning is a process.

    Whereas, if I’m told harshly that I’m wrong, that I’ve failed just as I’m starting — then I just might not think it worth making the effort. If I’ve been given the impression that if I can’t do it perfectly then I’ve done something really bad, and what’s the point? Why would I even bother trying?

    Who is perfect first try? Or second? Or third? Web standards, semantic X/HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the DOM and web accessibility can be quite complex and there is no quick fix.

    In the Real World, where time is limited and so is money, it just might not be possible to get it perfect at first. I know it can be instinctive to say, “That’s wrong!” But being thoughtful, and rewarding and encouraging effort, as well as providing support and resources, is likely to more successful in influencing those sitting on the web standards fence to permanently embrace web standards.

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    Feedburner again… and it’s all good!

    The reason I moved away from Feedburner was because I thought it was difficult to exit the service and was afraid of my feed subscribers getting stuck. However, last night I had a really great chat to Rick Klau from Feedburner, and he explained a lot of things that now make sense. I see I was quite wrong in my fear that there was no easy way to exit.

    What I hadn’t realised was that the 30-day redirection on leaving the service would result in all modern feed aggregators permanently changing the feed address, so my subscribers would not, in fact, have to do a thing and should not even know anything had changed.

    I am really glad Rick takes the trouble to follow up on feedback about Feedburner on the net, because now I feel comfortable about using the service again — and I won’t be inadvertently spreading misinformation.

    It really is a great business practice to seek out feedback about your company on the net. Feedburner gained in several ways. Just off the top of my head I can see that they stopped negative feedback and misinformation in its tracks; they made a confused and concerned customer satisfied (and will hopefully gain from the positive publicity); and they were able to identify weaknesses in their operations and/or communications, and make moves to correct them so the same thing doesn’t occur again. In addition, they can be recognised as a proactive company who really cares about its customers’ satisfaction.

    Rick — thanks again for taking the time to discuss it with me. 🙂

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    Derek Featherstone’s simplyaccessible.org is Simply Accessible

    I was totally delighted to see the different approach Derek Featherstone has taken when putting his presentation (Designing for Accessibility: Beyond the Basics) from the Web Essentials 05 conference online.

    Rather than just upload his prepared slides, Derek has created a new website, Simply Accessible. He has gone to the trouble of writing up his presentation in tutorial format so that those who weren’t there (or who, like me, couldn’t hear too well) are able to access the full context and content of the presentation.

    Derek clearly gives a lot of thought to the spirit behind web accessibility and has gone the extra mile to not only make the web pages accessible and available to all, but also the content itself. As someone who missed so much at the conference because of my (lack of) hearing, it’s invaluable.

    And not only that, there is now a valuable resource for everyone to return to, and Derek intends to add to it. This site can only get better.

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