Re-Orientation 101

Just when I think I have it all figured out, I have another epistemological crisis.

For several years now I’ve been signing my postings in webmasters’ forums with that statement. It’s almost to the point where I don’t notice it anymore. However, when I do notice it, I still think that it’s true.

Some might think this statement is negative, but I don’t. To me it’s speaks of my unwillingness to stagnate. As difficult as it may be sometimes to deconstruct and reconstruct what I’ve come to view as a truism, I’m not one to shy away from the exercise of debunking bad premises and rebuilding upon better ones.

After supper tonight, BeeGoddessM and I talked about what my professional plan(s) should be as the new year approaches. Exactly what needs to happen in 2005 is quite clear, but how (i.e., finding the means) to make it happen is not quite as clear. A significant roadblock for me is that I’m one cynical bastard when it comes to certain things, and my threshhold for tolerating bullshit phrases is pretty low. No one would dispute that I’m passionate about what I do; however, that passion might very well be contributing to my impatience towards what I consider bullshit.

“Build it and they will come” is one saying that bugs the bejesus out of me whenever I hear it. It’s right up there with how some people steadfastly believe that hard work is always recognized and justly rewarded, or how other people still believe in trickle-down economics. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth to those sayings. I mean, we all know that those who only sit with their thumb up their arse aren’t poised to seeing any kind of improvement in their situation. But at the same time, I think some of these sayings are merely pop psycho-socio babble bordering on myth.

I spent much of this evening reading tips and completing quizzes on entrepreneurship. Although the material came from reputable sources, most of it struck me as either statements of the glaringly obvious or prompts to do highly subjective exercises which, despite assertions to the contrary, are neither practical nor measurable. Like I said, I’m one cynical bastard. But it’s hard not to be when you can figure out with very little thought what the “right” answers to quiz questions are even though said quizzes supposedly don’t have “right” or “wrong” answers. I remember how infuriated I would get when students would try to find the “magic bullet,” namely the answers they thought I wanted to hear, instead of putting forward original ideas based on credible supporting evidence. Now I’m recognizing that perhaps it’s how they had to operate with other instructors.

So yes, I guess you could say I’m having one of my famous epistemological crises. I’m seeing some of my weak premises and I’m having to go through the difficult motion of reshaping them. Put differently: I still know where I’m going but I see I may have gone on a tangent along the way, just like Bugs Bunny when he poked out of the ground with a map and said, “I knew I should’a taken a left toin at Albakurkee!”

Just Another Startling Difference

This is the back of the new Canadian 20 dollar bill.

new20back.gif

Personally, the “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency gives me the willies. In contrast, in Canada, our currency often promotes the arts. You can’t read it on this image of the $20 bill, but the very fine print is a quote from the French-Canadian author, Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983): “Could we know each other in the slightest without the arts?”

Take your pick: That, or “In God We Trust.” It’s an easy decision for me and the difference speaks volumes.

And oh, that $20 is finally worth something these days! Our loonie broke the 85 cents US mark last week, although now it’s fallen back to about 81-82 cents. Still, it sure makes purchases from the States a lot more affordable, considering how it dove as low as 62 cents about 18 months ago.

What Kind of Soul Are You?


You Are a Prophet Soul

You are a gentle soul, with good intentions toward everyone. Selfless and kind, you have great faith in people. Sometimes this faith can lead to disappoinment in the long run. No matter what, you deal with everything in a calm and balanced way.

You are a good interpreter, very sensitive, intuitive, caring, and gentle. Concerned about the world, you are good at predicting people’s feelings. A seeker of wisdom, you are a life long learner looking for purpose and meaning. You are a great thinker and communicator, but not necessarily a doer.

Souls you are most compatible with: Bright Star Soul and Dreaming Soul.

What Kind of Soul Are You?

Would I come across as presumptuous if I said that I think this assessment is pretty accurate?

A Big Little Thing

It’s not unusual for people who maintain a website to want to create a hyperlink to another page on their site. The easiest way to accomplish this within TextStyleM would be to find the URL for the page to which the link should lead, complete with the request string (i.e., the bit of gibberish after the filename, like “?lang=1&menid=01&mtyp=3”). With the help of the built-in coding assistant, most TextStyleM users have come to master this technique after one or two tries.

But there was a problem with this “hard coded” approach. A big one!

It’s also not unusual for people to add new menus and submenus to their site, and that’s also quite easy to do in TextStyleM. However, when, on the one hand, someone added a page “between” two existing pages, and, on the other hand, someone had created a link earlier to the page that is now below the new page, that link he or she had created earlier would thereafter lead to the wrong page (namely, the new one). Follow me thus far?

To avoid this hassle, some users simply added new pages at the end of a submenu in order not to screw up any prior links they created. That meant that, over time, the sequencing of items in some submenus became counterintuitive from the perspective of readers. Yet I’m all about making the site friendly to the readers as well as easy for the publisher to maintain. Surely there had to be a way to refer to a page on the local site while abstracting its physical location, which could be changed at any time.

redirect.gifSo of course, necessity being the mother of invention, I came up with a solution tonight. From now on, when editors write or revise a text on their website, this “redirection” icon will appear in the coding assistant. Clicking on this icon will open a new browser window to view the site, except that it will also show a “stable” referrer for the page being viewed — a true “permalink” as we often encounter on blogs. Editors need only click their way to the page to which they want to link and copy-and-paste that referrer code to the page being edited (something like {L_LOCAL M12 A0 P0}{/L_LOCAL}). Even if the viewed page changes location later on, the hyperlink created by this referrer code will always lead to the intended page.

The crazy part? It took me hours of thought and planning, on and off, to come up with a way of accomplishing this feat and about 8 hours to write and tweak the function. The final tweaking will consist of making sure that if a menu or an article is permanently deleted, TextStyleM will scan the entire site and remove the links that are no longer going to work. That may sound outlandish, but TextStyleM already does that with other components, most notably images. Indeed, already if someone deletes an image, any reference to that image on the site gets deleted, meaning that readers of a TextStyleM-driven site never encounter one of those unsightly broken images. So, for the sake of consistency, I should apply the same “smartness” to this new function.

A Few Things to Rant About

Here we are, another Saturday and December already. I got a lot of work done again this week, but one of the tasks I accomplished took longer than it should have because of…

Rant #1: The “All Micro$oft Ensures Compatibility” Fallacy
I agreed to enter a large number of texts for a client via TextStyleM so that said client would have a wealth of examples from which to copy-and-paste when adding additional, similar content later. The texts were provided as a series of Word documents in folders corresponding to the hard copy of a publication. As a result, I could do copy-and-pastes of articles into TextStyleM and then massage the text within the editing box (reintroduce italics and boldface where needed, recreate blockquotes [double-sided indents], etc.).

My browser of choice these days is Netscape 7.1, although I’m considering giving Firefox a whirl soon. But as a developer, I have to turn to IE once in a while, given that it’s the most widely used browser and I have to make sure that pages are rendered tolerably well within it. And it was while conducting such a test that I discovered a problem: some — although not all — of the pages I had been creating had this big ugly gap of white space at the top, which wasn’t occurring in Netscape.

My first reaction, of course, was to blame how TextStyleM generates code. Indeed, I always assume it’s my fault even though there’s no hard evidence of this when I look at the code that’s been generated. It was only once I removed all the TCodes — TextStyleM‘s simplified markup language — and noticed that the gap persisted in IE that I could conclude the culprit was something else. But what? What was making IE cough up such ugly pages?

Thus began one of those notorious searches for the needle in the haystack. The only logical conclusion I could draw was that there had to be some kind of hidden code in some of the Word documents from which I was working, but which one(s)? However, what made me angrier was that whatever code there was that was causing the problem, it was generated by a M$ product (Word) and was then causing havoc in another M$ product (IE).

The ellipses turned out to be the culprit — yes, those innocuous “dot dot dot” (…). I’m not sure whether or not it’s a default setting in Word, but if someone types “period period period,” they get automatically converted to a single character, namely ellipsis (with the periods kerned). Once I had searched for that character and replaced it with three periods within Word before copying-and-pasting into TextStyleM, IE rendered the page correctly 95% of the time. For its part, Netscape never cared one way or the other.

Stuff like this makes me despair about M$ products, just as most professional webmasters will run out of a room screaming their head off at the mere mention of FrontPage to create webpages. I could have understood if the problem was the other way around, that is, if Netscape had behaved oddly when it would encounter an ellipsis character. But IE? The worse thing is that I’m not convinced the problem wouldn’t have occurred if I had been taking Word documents as my base and trying to bring them into FrontPage.

At any rate, now I have to warn clients about this potential problem or, better still, find a way of automatically converting the character back to dot dot dot. And you just know that those who cling to the belief that “all M$ products = no compatibility problem” are going to assume it’s because TextStyleM isn’t M$. It makes me want to bang my head against the wall until it falls off my shoulders.

While we’re on the topic of dealing with clients…

Rant #2: “This Business is my Livelihood, Folks!”
I assume the best of my clients — always have, still do, and probably always will. This assumption implies that I don’t believe my client are intent on screwing me, just as I’m not intent on screwing them. But I’m not sure some clients understand all the differences between dealing with a large company and dealing with a small vendor like yours truly.

They do understand some of the differences, mind you. A small vendor is more likely to be able to provide personalized service than a large, quasi-faceless service provider. And, because a small vendor tends to have lower overhead costs, it is able to place competitive bids on projects — a deal-making factor that has brought many clients on side in the first place. But the part they may not fully grasp is that a small vendor depends on the timely payment of its invoices.

The individuals within any organization who are in charge of paying the organization’s bills have a job one way or the other. Whether they elaborate a policy whereby bills aren’t to be paid before so many days, or adhere to a hierarchical structure resulting in a long and convoluted process to obtain the autorised signatures, they can rest in the assurance that they will be receiving a paycheque every two weeks or every month or whatever. Conversely, a large vendor doesn’t have to rely as heavily as a small vendor on the timely payment of the bills it issues. A large vendor has a bit more elasticity in that regard, although, like any vendor, it can’t afford a high margin of bad debt. The latter is a killer regardless of the size of the vendor.

There is a very direct connection between the invoices a small vendor issues and that vendor’s paycheque and out-of-pocket expenses. Any small vendor will tell you that, out of necessity, they have a buffer for the ups and downs within their receivable folder, but all buffers have their limit. Those whose job it is to pay the vendor’s invoices will continue to draw a salary no matter what. But when a small vendor is caught for too long with a bottleneck in its receivables, it could be forced to fold. And thus the deal maker that has brought some clients to have chosen the small vendor evaporates, along with the small vendor…

I should point out that most of my clients pay their bills in a timely manner, most of the time. Bless them for that! Plus, things shouldn’t be taken personally in business and none of my client has ever acted out of malice. I also regard my clients as human beings, and to err is human. However, when errors occur or systems fail, it might be a good idea to look into how to avoid future errors or fix the system.

I’m just sayin’…