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Tuesday, February 28th, 2006 - 9:27 PM

"Weekly E Special Overhaul"

I created yet another Weekly E Special Email today, as I do each week. In general, I use the same email template each week - composed of header, footer, HTML and controlling CSS. I create a simple bitmap composition showing the feature product and its special price and paste some descriptive text into the email template.

Every once in a while, however, I get sick of looking at the same old email template and figure the customers might too. So I force myself to design a more dynamic and bold template. Today was such a day. I think I surprised myself with the results. I started out with little in mind, but I came up with a header and footer design that I really like. It is easily my best template design so far.

new Weekly E Special header graphic

new Weekly E Special footer graphic

new Weekly E Special template View new email template in action
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Monday, February 27th, 2006 - 6:54 PM

"C2F Schools II - A CSS Layout"

I continue to work on the new layout for the C2F school login screen. With each project I always learn something new. There's not really all that much to know about CSS academically. I feel comfortable with all the attributes and syntax. However, when a specific layout is desired, there are always some hoops to jump through, because no modern browser fully supports CSS as it is recommended by the W3C. CSS hacks must be employed constantly. Microsoft Internet Exploder seems to be just about the worst browser for properly rendering Cascading Style Sheets, and it is necessary to come up with extraneous code and weird tricks to overcome its shortcomings. There is no perfect browser, furthermore, and all of them require some sort of adaptations for cross-browser consistency if the layout has virtually any styling at all. [Ahem]... but IE6 is currently the worst. Firefox is the clear leader. Download it, use it! It's free. It's better.

I included a dummy layout that shows my progress on this particular design project, a school login screen for C2F, Inc. It doesn't yet appear on the site and is still in process. I am showing it here because I think it could be informative for designers to see a list of many design tricks I use on a regular basis in the form of a real-world example. Most of what I know is common knowledge, but there are a few techniques that will really aid the novice designer, and perhaps those of any level. As time permits, I will develop a step-by-step EsoShow and accompanying captions to present some of the more interesting techniques used. For now, you can click on the following image to see how the layout functions. Keep in mind that the layout and accompanying graphics are not finished, and all links have been made inactive. I currently test my layouts in IE6 and Firefox 1.x, and this one seems to work exactly as I wanted in both - after many IE6 CSS hacks.

Why don't I wait to publish this blog entry until I have the EsoShow done? Well, I've got to keep you on the edge of your seats in anticipation, right? :) For the time being, take a look at the sample layout below and ask me some questions on EsoQuery. The more specific, the better. If you have background in CSS design and see a solution to problem you have but don't quite get it, please ask me to explain. You will help me decide how to structure the EsoShow. Keep in mind that I used 100% standards compliant XHTML Markup and CSS. No javascript was used.

C2F School Home Page see the CSS layout in action

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Saturday, February 25th, 2006 - 7:06 PM

"XBox 360 Introduction"

There's no better way of being introduced to a new system or game than with my good ole friend, Jubbadisk. He came over last night and brought along his relatively new XBox 360. Since I witnessed the console's debut a few months ago, I was somewhat skeptical of its abilities. I had seen some game screenshots in video game magazines and wasn't overly impressed. I thought, "Couldn't they have made this game on the regular XBox?". Seeing the graphics in motion on screen, however, put all my doubts to rest. The XBox 360 is clearly a far superior system, not a minor upgrade.

Kameo - Elements of Power click for larger image

As with virtually every new video game system, the arrival of new game titles is a little slow in the beginning. I suppose it takes some time for the game makers to adapt to the new system and learn to take advantage of its new tricky technology. To be honest, there are not a lot of games out that appeal much to me. I'm not really into sports, racing or first-person shooters (especially the brutally violent sort). These always seem to be some of the first to be made for any system. So I wait for a few good action/adventure games to release before my interest is peaked.

One such game that I was privileged to peek at is Kameo: Elements of Power. Jorb showed me this game briefly, demonstrating the morphing ability of the main character and the apparent smooth gameplay. The gist of the story involves a conflict between elves and trolls. Kameo is daughter of the elvin king and must discover her destiny, save her people and defeat Thorn, the evil troll king. Her most powerful weapon is the Element of Power, which allows her to morph into 10 unique creatures, each with abilities that must be wisely used throughout the game.

If I had an XBox 360, Kameo would probably be one of the first games of choice for purchase/play. However, I don't make it my business to keep up with the latest VG systems. Until recently, the most advanced systems I owned were a SNES, Sega Genesis and GameBoy Advance. A while ago, a friend indefinitely lent me his XBox, so I can play cool games like X-Men II - Rise of Apocalypse.

Kameo - Kameo gallops horseback through troll-filled fields click for larger image

The entire game scenery and characters in Kameo are astounding, but there are a couple moments that are absolutely thrilling and unbelievable. Kameo mounts a horse and rides through seemingly endless fields of battling trolls, and infinite other junk is happening simultaneously. The XBox 360 handles all this geometry, textures, effects and intelligence without any slow-down or flickering. It is simply amazing to behold and proof that the 360 is leaps and bounds above all previously developed systems. Most of the games I saw rivaled some of the best fully-rendered 3D frames I have seen... yet on the 360, these pristine images are in-game graphics, moving around smoothly, without noticeable texture or geometry loss!

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Tuesday, February 21st, 2006 - 11:13 PM

"Evangel Logo"

Evangel Logo

A few weeks ago I was approached by a friend at church. He informed me that he was working on getting our pastor's sermons online via iTunes. He requested that I make some sort of graphic to display along with the sound files. So my task essentially became to make a logo for the church, more-or-less. Well, at least that's how I decided to approach it.

So more for fun than anything else, I set out to think of a logo concept that would somehow capture at least some of the important unique characteristics of our church body.

Our greatest strength as a local church body is our people. Now, that may sound silly, but it really means something. We are a small body; under 100 attend most Sundays. But within that small group, there is a lot happening. We are like a great, extended family. I think what makes this church unique is this feeling of acceptance over a broad range of personalities. Combined with Pastor's vision to see us grow and walk in a real, vital relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than simply believing truth... it is a great place to be, to grow.

Anyway, I tried to bring the family into the logo by erecting a house shape, composed of spheres. I guess the idea is that we are one body. Our building is not so much important, but the church is made up of the units of the very people themselves, each formed in the image of God, each an important part of the structure. Christ is at the center, and we do our best to draw near to Him and make Him known.

This logo underwent quite a few revisions, and I don't even know if it is even done yet. Besides, this logo was never sanctioned by the church, and it is more for my own amusement. I don't even know if it will be used officially for anything. Here is an EsoShow outlining the development and process of creating the logo. As/if I make changes or come up with something better, I'll add slides here.

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Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 - 8:17 PM

"Weekly E Special Text"

One of the many responsibilities I have where I work is to produce a weekly ad for product with special discounts. The ad goes out in the form of an HTML-rich email to all our customers. I have fun arranging the product photos (sometimes I photograph them if we don't already have an image) and promotional graphics and try to vary it each week for interest.

I feel much more free to create simple and fast graphical objects using Macromedia Fireworks (now an Adobe product) as opposed to Adobe Photoshop, or most any other graphics program out there. Fireworks has a level of object orientation that no other program in existence has achieved. As I was playing around with the price object this week, I came up with what I thought was a pretty interesting effect. This sort of fun effect discovery tends to happen more when using Fireworks. See the result below.

Weekly E Special Promotional Graphic

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Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 - 7:43 PM

"Spoken English Learned Quickly"

Last night I worked on a web site header for a friend and brother in Christ. This friend serves in several very successful ministries. He spends much of his time writing and studying and has written some widely distributed (in numerous countries) books and pamphlets on a variety of Christian topics. Another of his ministry projects is Spoken English Learned Quickly, an absolutely free online English language learning system. The site offers scripts and sound files, among a host of other tools. CDs and accompanying books are also available for purchase. Thousands of people in countries too numerous to mention have taken advantage of his learning method. The content is constantly updated, and instructions are added in new languages.

This friend recently asked me to design a graphical header for his site and CDs, and just yesterday I made the time to whip it out. I used a stock photo and created some graphical elements, including a custom logo. See the header more-or-less as it appears on his site below.

A downloadable self-study English course used by professionals and university students

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Monday, February 6th, 2006 - 10:53 AM

"Wandering Fist II"

It is now time to write an extremely long sentence that simply goes on and on about various important exponents of the mind (or not). Maybe this sentence will somehow inspire deep thought (or not)... In the pattern set by Supreme Wandering Fist.

Once upon a time in a land where the eagles dwelt in red, inspired foam, the sea crested in line with the spirit of the soaring creatures that could outlast the dawn in its golden grandeur, but on the other side of Dark Crag lied in wait the one fowl monster who never knew or sought the Light, for he carried the black with him in a mirky cloud, but one can cast a shadow only that shines the light, and he therefore is lost in his weakened state that only knows and collects the sorrow of his peers, a sorrow that can now hide because it is taken up in the arms of another, yet remains revealed through his essense, and it is presupposed that he is lost, but there is a shining light inside that confounds the minds of the brightest scholar, and they all wander in circles of confusion, only to converge with hands in the air, though on the other side of the Crag lies the warmth and the light, and the hope remains that a short journey would move the very sun that shines into the black, so he leaves his cloud behind.
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Sunday, February 5th, 2006 - 1:42 AM

"A Corny Copia of Country"

When it comes to music, I have always considered myself pretty much open to most styles. Though there are other exceptions, I generally say, "I like everything except country". No apologies necessary: I just don't like country music! It seems most people I know say that same thing. I guess you either love it or you hate it. Or you start wondering what's wrong when you take a liking to a song or two... uh oh!

Carrie Underwood

I'm not sure if it would be labeled "Country", but I like Carrie Underwood's song, "Jesus, Take the Wheel". Carrie won the acclaimed American Idol competition last season, a show I watch from time to time, but not faithfully. I admit recognizing her name, but I know little else about her or any other of the contestants. From "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and other bits and pieces, I sense that she has faith in Jesus Christ. It would be interesting to see if/how/when she expressed her beliefs or convictions throughout the competition. Not that it really matters. Just because someone is famous doesn't mean they deserve (or desire) more spotlight on their religious persuasion. I'm sure celebrities are under enough pressure as it is and don't particularly enjoy the microscope. Well, I have little interest in Carrie Underwood's reputation or ability to live out a perfect life. I just find her voice and song very beautiful and full of truth.

Corny Copia

I really like the melody and message of "Jesus, Take the Wheel". The song presents a story (or two?) of a person in a situation where life runs thin, and there is no option but to cry, "Jesus, Take the Wheel!". I so often throw up my hands and plea with God to take over. This life is absolutely full of trouble and distractions. I wish it was easier to give up, to let God take over, to make His will be done. It's too easy to lean over and grab the wheel again after offering it up for a moment.

Anyway, I'm kinda flabbergasted that I even like the song, because it smells like country. This isn't the first time I've noticed this pattern. I guess I don't like country because it's always the same. The same instruments and beats, the same message... some bad relationship, a broken car, or a cat gone off and got itself killed and a boo hoo hoo... or something. And that awful twang in the voice and hokie guitars bending up and down (or whatever those instruments are). I tend to enjoy songs like "Jesus, Take the Wheel" that border on the edge of country, without leaping over the line. Another that I recently wrote about is "Silent Night" by Mercy Me. It's kinda funny because I really enjoy folk and ballads, both of which have noticeable audible similarity to country. I just have to keep myself in check. Heaven forbid I start liking all out country music! (It's not going to happen, trust me)

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Saturday, February 4th, 2006 - 6:19 PM

"EsoBlog Browse By Topic"

Last night and this evening I succeeded in making it possible to browse EsoBlog by the categories I recently set up. This way visitors can read only those entries that are more likely to fit their interests.

There are two ways to enable browsing by topic. First, there is a full list of all the available topics freshly displayed in a window to the left (along with the total number of contained entries). Click on a topic to narrow the subject matter. In addition, each entry indicates which categories it falls in, shown clearly below the entry's title. Click on one of the categories to show only entries in a similar topic. The Archives window will change to reflect the topical selection, so only archived entries within the selected topic will show up when an archive range is clicked. In addition, the first, prev, next and last buttons will page through entries of the selected topic. To return to showing entries in all topics, click "Show All" in the Topics Selection Window, or simply click "Blog" on the main menu at the top of the page.

Granted, there might be a few bugs to iron out. I think I got some of the larger problems squared away, but let me know if the page breaks apart, or something stupid happens.

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Friday, February 3rd, 2006 - 4:18 PM

"The Flying Slug Reports"

The Flying Slug Reports - on my messy desk

Every night at my office the Day End Reports print. It is a hefty stack of reports relating information about the day's activity to be distributed to various people in the company. Each segment in the report has a pink title page printed in-between so it is easy for us to hand out the reports to various people (good 'ole ANSI/ASCII art). A couple days ago two of my co-workers in the data processing/IT department were going back and forth about whether the title pages should read the name of the people they go to or the actual titles of the positions of the people. The reason being, if someone quits or changes to another position within the company, we wouldn't have to change the title pages if we gave them titles, rather than people's names.

Since it was being discussed, I asked our programmer if I could choose a cool title for the 1-page report I get every morning. He asked me what title I would like. So I gave him one...

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Friday, February 3rd, 2006 - 12:07 PM

"The Slowest Web Site in the Multiverse?"

I'm sure everybody gets spam from time to time. I certainly do. It seems it is one of those [not so] accepted parts of life. Normally I don't even dignify spam by opening it (or even reading the subject fully), and I immediately delete them. However, I am intentionally part of several mailing lists, mostly software companies that I like to keep up with. Every once in a while though something that I didn't sign up for catches my eye. I see there being two sorts of spam: 1) mostly harmless, corporate spam from real companies, and 2) total junk from people or companies that don't even exist. This second type of spam is usually some sort of tactic to get you to respond and get even more spam or possibly load a virus on your computer. The first type is a little more tolerable, and there is usually an option to unsubscribe on the bottom that actually does something.

One such corporate/sales spams that I get I haven't deleted yet. Most of these don't bother me unless the company commits frequency abuse - sends emails out more than once a week or daily, which is ANNOYING! I decided to actually open this particular spam and was even led to click on the link inside - imagine that! It is an email that I get from a tourist company in Brazil.

Waiting, waiting and waiting...

I'm glad I opened the email because I have officially discovered the world's slowest web site! Imagine if I had simply deleted this email along with all the other trash... I would have never encountered this rare oddity!... Please visit The Slowest Web Site in the Multiverse and tell me if you can see what I'm talking about. Feel free to submit a comment here, telling me why it is slow. Let's learn a thing or two about web design together, eh? I'm rarely ever mean to other designers, and I have no intentions of massive making fun sarcasm, but sometimes it is good to learn from others' mistakes instead of making them ourselves ;) In all actuality, the site showcases a fairly interesting location that I wouldn't mind at all visiting if I had the extra time and money. Maybe you will be so interested in the place that you will ignore the slowness of their site, and they will get several thousand dollars as the result of this blog entry, in which case I will be forgiven for my criticism :)

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