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Monday, July 31st, 2006 - 11:19 PM

"EsoGalleries Invade the Earth!"

I am continuing to work on Jonah Ministries' web site. In fact, I will be going there this week to talk to the camp director about the future full site redesign. So far, I have made minimal changes and updates. After this week I will know how extensive my future plans will be, and I will be able to set out to finish the task well. I have some ideas that I think will improve the appearance, navigation and attraction to the site. I am anxious to see what other ideas might be presented in this meeting.

EsoGallery on Camp Jonah

Last weekend I worked on adapting my custom-built gallery scripts to another site. I have developed a simple interface and functionality for EsoShow and EsoGallery in PHP, with MySQL database connectivity, of course. Over the years (not like it has been more than 2), I have changed my gallery scripts considerably (read through EsoLog for examples), but have recently gone for a simple approach. No flashy moving slideshows with transitions, just simple straightforward navigation. I was inspired by a recent request to get some new camp photos up on the Jonah site, and decided to adapt my scripts for their situation. It took me a couple days. It was fun, and went surprisingly smooth with just a few hiccups. Sure, I could write perfectly extensible and adaptable code that could be used by anyone, but my scripts are fairly simple. I had to rewrite large sections to get it to work how I wanted. I am pleased with the results. I haven't heard a reaction from Jonah (I kinda did it randomly) and hope they like it. It is simple and lean, and I see it as an improvement. Maybe this will be the shortest lived (and only) hostile EsoGallery takeover in history. We'll see how long this link connects you to the new layout for the page. I simply put the updated photo album format inside the flow of the current site, so it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb. I haven't touched the colors, interface or navigation elsewhere and am saving drastic changes for after my discussion with friends at Jonah.

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Sunday, July 30th, 2006 - 7:13 PM

"10 Year PC Reunion"

Portland Christian Schools

Okay, so I should say at least something about my 10-year high school reunion. I really haven't had a lot of thoughts following the event, or if I did, they are much lost already. I can certainly say I'm glad I went, in spite of the $40 per person price tag. It really was nice to see some of my former classmates and catch up on some of their lives and adventures. The only real downside to the Friday night (July 21st) dinner was that more students and teachers didn't show up. Yet the sampling was fun. In all, something like 24 showed out of our small class of 66 graduates - not a bad turnout percentage-wise, I guess. There was an unorganized day at the park the following day, but I opted not to go.

Our class, as any I suppose is, was full of cliques. There were the tough, often rebellious jocks, the brilliant blondes, the drama group, the laid-back mild cynics. And then there was the group I was part of: Some might call us the social outcasts, but we had popularity and respect in our own way - not picked on in the slightest. We were quiet, diligent in our work, and totally random in our humor. It was funny to see that the cliques have mostly kept together throughout this ten years. When people chose their tables, sure enough, the cliques almost invariably sat together.

I get the impression from what I've heard over the years that people often go or don't go to reunions based on issues like their appearance, status and success. Some people are worried what others will think of their lack of such things, while others are proud to flaunt their abundance of one or all. I simply don't care. Looking at what I have, I can't complain much (though I do in my weekness at times). God has provided for me, introduced me to an awesome loving wife, and kept me more-or-less on a path that leads me near Him and not doing horribly foolish things.

Going to a Christian school, there were a few thoughts and observations that probably wouldn't normally be part of the whole standard reunion package. One always wonders... "Hmmm... Is anyone walking with the Lord? Were any of these people really Christians, going to Portland Christian High School, or were they just going because of their parents' provision or control? Will any sort of religious or meaningful conversation arise in this room? It's really hard to make judgments on people's spiritual condition, but my general impression was that there was not a huge number of Christ followers in the room. Then again, passion often comes and goes with age, so maybe some were simply not outspoken about their state of being beyond the "Here's where I work", "Here's how many kids I have" and "Here's the places I have lived" conversations. Perhaps some people didn't come simply because they felt their way of living might not be "acceptable" for a Christian school reunion, or that a Christian reunion would be too tame and boring. Who knows. At any rate, it was interesting to see some who seem to have the same commitment, some who have had reversals, and others who have perhaps matured spiritually since high school. Speaking for myself, my journey has had its ups and downs, and I sometimes doubt I have the same youthful passion of yester-years. But I do sense God is in my life, and He isn't about to give up on this hopeless schmuck quite yet.

I won't talk too much about specific people and their stories, but I will mention that I had fun talking to Key, Micah, Dave L., Ed, and others. And of course it was nice to see Jim Guys (Dave, Jim & fam), but I have never lost touch with them anyway - except for Marcus. Too bad he didn't come.

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Friday, July 28th, 2006 - 12:21 AM

"Web Browser Compatibility"

Mozilla Firefox Internet Explorer Opera Apple Safari Netscape

Today I finished a new page for my redesign of the C2F site. After testing the site in a large number of browsers, I discovered that pretty much every browser displays the pages with enough integrity to support most functionality. I tested in Firefox version 1.0.5 and 1.5; Internet Explorer versions 4, 5, 5.5 and 6; Opera 9; and Netscape versions 4.79, 7.1 and 8.1. I also used an online rendering service that takes a screenshot of any url in Safari on a Macintosh. The site was amazingly viewable in all these browsers except Netscape 4.7, the worst browser ever made!

I recently had the privilege of seeing the site statistics for this site I have been working on, namely the browser usage stats. As would be expected, the stats mirror the trends all over the net: Internet Exploder was in first and Firefox was in second, while Opera, Netscape, Safari and others also had a presence. Interestingly enough there were some people still visiting with Netscape 4.x. The numbers were small, but I decided to create a simple script that would accommodate this archaic browser. My new layout, though very carefully designed and surprisingly backwards compatible, totally explodes in Netscape 4.7. There are literally random color blocks and pieces of text strewn about, and the links aren't clickable for some reason - totally unusable (even netscape.com explodes in this same fashion in Netscape 4.7!). Thanks to a simple javascript snippet I wrote, the home page redirects to a stripped down HTML4 (old) browser update page (instead of the favorable XHTML, and virtually no CSS) where these users are encouraged to update their browsers. This redirection only occurs if someone is using specifically Netscape, versions below 5. I also created a fully styled version of the browser update page that includes an explanation why it is good to update as well as links to all the major browsers' most current download pages. I am somewhat proud of this page, and it was accepted by my superiors with essentially no changes!

This project was quite fun, and a valuable learning experience. Generally I code according to the most current widely accepted W3C standards (currently XHTML and CSS 2), adding only extra code that lends to rendering properly in multiple browsers (if only everyone was as good as Firefox, currently the best browser available!). Creating a page that displays with any appeal in Netscape 4.7 and some older browsers is not an easy task - not because the code is hard to write, but it's hard to make oneself design ancient, inefficient and badly-structured pages when better techniques are fully grasped, and the contrast is stark! Since CSS isn't even supported much at all, simple and ancient HTML4 tags and attributes (including the nasty <font> tag!) must be used. This sort of coding brought back memories to when I first started coding web pages, before I set out to master web standards. I'm so glad efforts are being made to standardize and structure the web. I just wish it would come faster! If only the various browser makers would comply instead of complicate!

I also found online documentation that allows multiple versions of browsers to be installed simultaneously. Microsoft doesn't normally allow multiple versions of IE to be installed, so I had to find a workaround. Netscape and some others allow multiple versions with little trouble and provide archived downloads directly from their sites. I have a host of browsers installed at work now, an appropriate move, since my responsibilities are almost exclusively web design.

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Thursday, July 27th, 2006 - 10:40 PM

"EsoBackup"

Normally I backup my site into a folder every time I make a significant change. I backup all the files as well as the database that controls its content. I hadn't done it for a long time, and I've made lots of changes since my last backup. Thank goodness for stable servers! I've never had any problems where I needed to restore anything significant. The only time I can remember doing anything of that sort was when I switched web hosting services back in March.

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Monday, July 24th, 2006 - 11:54 PM

"Blast Furnace"

Sun is really hot

We have been subject to a heat wave in the last week or so. It's intensity and consistency have been more than I am comfortable with. I guess I'm pretty wimpy when it comes to weather. Here are the recently recorded high temperatures for our area:

  • Monday July 24, 2006: 100°
  • Sunday July 23, 2006: 105°
  • Saturday July 22, 2006: 99°
  • Friday July 21, 2006: 108°
  • Thursday July 20, 2006: 97°
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Friday, July 14th, 2006 - 5:52 PM

"Sweet Adobe Suite"

Adobe Creative Suite

I received and installed Adobe Creative Suite 2 on my work computer yesterday. I haven't had a chance yet to look at it extensively, but I'm pretty excited with my new tools. I can now say that I have virtually all the top of the line graphic design software, and a tool for every task. Creative Suite comes with the following:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS2
  • Adobe Illustrator CS2
  • Adobe InDesign CS2
  • Adobe GoLive CS2
  • Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional
  • Adobe Bridge
  • Adobe Stock Photos

I will be taking over the larger part of maintaining all the websites for C2F, including several responsibilities I previously did not have. One of the tools I lacked was Acrobat. When we looked into it, it ended up being just a little more to get the Creative Suite than upgrading and purchasing what i needed to get Acrobat and Photoshop up to speed.

So now, in addition to my new speedy computer, I have some amazing software to go with it. I also have Macromedia Studio 8, which includes everything I need to do web design/development and web graphics. Yipee!

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Wednesday, July 12th, 2006 - 5:33 PM

"New C2F Site Release"

For some time I have been working on a significant redesign for www.c2f.com, my company's flagship site. My work is finally realized on the web, as the redesign was made live last week. Much of the fun layout and graphic interface elements cannot be seen from the outside, as our site has a secure login side to it. Click here to see some of the interface elements I created for the project.

This web site release is significant for me because it is one of my best attempts at using all my CSS knowledge to create an advanced layout with multiple columns and both relatively and absolutely positioned content inside multiple containers. The structure and presentation are almost fully separated. Only a couple extra containers were applied to overcome modern browsers' CSS shortcomings. When stylesheets are disabled in a browser such as Firefox, everything still displays in a sensible order with proper structure. All images are CSS backgrounds, so the entire appearance and color scheme of the site can be changed simply by linking a different CSS file. This was long desired functionality so that the site can change with the seasons or different promotional themes.

I also worked around a great deal of ASP/Visual Basic and became familiar with the language's basic syntax and functionality. This was a useful experience. I have quite a bit of experience in PHP now, and it was not difficult to translate this experience into an understanding of the ASP code. I still much prefer open source PHP. I like how friendly, logical and powerful the language is.

Browser "Fun": After working out a few bugs, the site is fully functional and works great in the latest versions of Firefox and IE. I have also been informed it looks good in Mac's Safari. Of course I had to uglify my code ever so slightly to get the layouts to work in IE6. Writing CSS that works in Firefox is virtually a breeze, since the browser has done a very good job at standards compliance since its inception. There is, however, one strange issue where many pages overflow their containers in Firefox 1.0.7 (one of the first releases of Firefox, before automatic updates were introduced), but this bug has since been fixed in verson 1.5. Interestingly enough, the bug can also be "fixed" by pressing the refresh button on each infracting page in version 1.0.7. There is a known CSS issue in Netscape 7.1 that I will fix in the next couple days. I haven't been testing in Netscape because I was under the impression from something I read that its development had been discontinued, and customers were being referred to Firefox. I just learned today that my 3-column layout has a couple problems in Netscape 7.1, a somewhat widely distributed version. So here I go again at accommodating annoyingly old and buggy software. Netscape has been notoriously the worst of all browsers at keeping up with standards. Interestingly enough, whatever bug that creates this weird container behavior has been fixed in Netscape 8.1, the latest release to date.

My boss and I made a decision early on to expand the new site to fit in a 1024x768 screen resolution, rather than the archaic and severely limiting 800x600. So, instead of the content being 775 pixels wide, it is now 900. We have had a couple calls from customers who are having to scroll sideways to see all the content, but we are "fixing" their computers and having them change their screen resolution to 1024x768.

Visit the new C2F site

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Wednesday, July 5th, 2006 - 11:35 PM

"Superman Returns"

Warning: Contains Significant Movie Spoilers!
Don't read unless you have already watched it, or don't care if I tell all!

From the beginning I have had very mixed feelings about the new Superman movie. After watching it on Monday, I'm still not entirely sure what to think. Early on I criticized the final choice of Brandon Routh in the lead role. While I stand with that specific scrutiny, I am surprised at how Routh visually filled the roll in the end. He is definitely too young and has a plastic-boy appearance, but there are many times in the movie where I found myself quite forgetful of these flaws. In reality, the magic of film can make just about any person look decent in blue, red and yellow. Though some of the early choices would have been ghastly - such as Brendan Fraser (George of the Jungle, Mummy) and Nicolas Cage (National Treasure, Lord of War).

I was a bit nervous going to see the movie because it hasn't initially received many solid, positive reviews. Even one of my good friends gave it a thumbs down or "So so" at best. I went to the theater not expecting a whole lot.

If it wasn't for my keen interest in Superman and other comic book heroes (if not completely ludicrous and pathetic, like Joel Schumacher's Batman movies), it would have been easy to dislike the new Superman movie. I can't really explain what caused me to leave the theater thinking, "That was a cool movie!". It is so full of flaws and weaknesses after giving it a second thought and reading what several others have expressed.

Superman ReturnsThe Definite Flaws in
Superman Returns
Brandon Routh makes a halfway decent Superman after all.
  • Lois Lane: First of all a bad actress choice. She has too sweet and docile a face to be the outgoing and even overbearing personality of Lois Lane. To me, I wasn't even thinking "Lois" at all while watching. It was just some other woman who was fabricated into the story.
  • Plastic Boy: A combination of Brandon Routh and imperfect CG made Superman out to be Plastic Boy Express DX-256. Perhaps Routh was chosen for this very reason: there was less of a gap between the plastic face of Routh and second-rate computer work. Some of the flight sequences featuring the Man of Steel were very well done, but too many shots were ineffably Plasticoid Barnaby Wostcot & Tucker, Inc.. Plus, a few shots showed Superman with an absolutely unforgivably waxy and mal-shaped hair. The worst hair moment was after his first heroic act - moments after blasting through fire, metal and the like, he delivers a cheesy line to the bewildered passengers, undisturbed and gelled hair in tow. It was almost wig-like. Perhaps this could be explained as an alien who hasn't yet learned to comb his hair according to acceptable earthly fashion standards, but less precision scuplting could have worked wonders. In fact, my favorite scenes were those where Routh's hair was a total mess, like when Superman lifts the severed yacht from the ocean. Beautifully unstyled hair - natural in the wind. Not to mention the fact that they chose a totally inexperienced soap opera star. This was a dumb mistake, but some of the effects and cinematography overcame this weakness. Also, Superman had very little dramatic presence in the movie. He was almost a silent actor, with very little discernable personality. I don't know why this approach was taken... perhaps it was the only solution to the poor actor choice. They gave him the lines he could handle!
  • Relationships: Most of the relationships in the movie were totally meaningless, devoid of honor, integrity and even romance. I'm sure no one who watched cared a bit about Lois' boyfriend. Though his character wields a tiny shread of decency, his very existence and involvement is pretty mindless. The idea that Lois would give up on the love of her life, Superman, and pursue a random normal life with Joe Schmoe is absolutely ridiculous to any die-hard Superman fan. This point is especially ridiculous because of the fact that in this account, Lois has a child with Superman, fiending this boyfriend character as the father in Superman's absence. It is totally stupid to see Clark Kent treated like an outsider after his return from a 5-year absence - except for Jimmy Olson's mindless fondness, of course. When Clark talked to Lois, she completely ignored him as if he was a nobody, even though nearly every previous adaptation of Superman suggests a close friendship if not romance between the two (aside from Lois' romance with Clark's super alter ego). The whole idea that Lois might love Superman without his powers is tossed aside as quickly as Clark is in the movie, denying a wonderful ethical and romantic dynamic that should not have been spoiled. Even the famed romance between Lois and Superman is anything but strong or endearingly portrayed in Superman Returns. It seems Lois is simply desparate and unintentional in her romances and has only marginal interest in a restored relationship. It bugs me that Superman would be presented as having a sexual relationship with Lois and immediately leave for five years with no sense of responsibility for his actions or attachment/loyalty to her. I guess most people are doing such things nowadays, so why not Superman, eh? So much for presenting any shred of moral role model in the guy. I never remember seeing such soap opera antics in any previous installments. Oh well, soap stars encourage soap morality, I guess.
  • Return From Where: More background into Superman's decision to leave earth for five years and what he encountered on his journey would have added to the plot development. The whole Krypton exploration explanation seems weak and unthoughtful.
  • The Evil Plot: Pretty much a dumb idea. It seems like a Superman movie should be the most creative, intriguing plot idea ever, especially after 20 years of waiting. Using a kryptonian crystal to build a continent to drown out all others is pretty flimsy.
  • Lex Luthor Again?: Sure, Lex Luthor is the archvillian that everyone knows, but let's have some variety. In fact, this movie parallels the first (Superman the Movie, 1978) way too closely anyway: 1) having something to do with using natural powers combined with technology to alter the landscape of the world in order to gain power and property, and 2) Lex's brainless girlfriend shows her conscience at some point in the movie. Superman has many more film-worthy foes, and one who could actually match him in strength or challenge him in some way other than using kryptonite would be more interesting and original. For example, Mongul and Darkseid from the comics can match Superman's powers because they are powerful alien warlords. Let's try a different villain never before seen in film! I mean, it's like every Batman movie having Joker as the villain instead of using the Riddler, Penguin, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Ra's Al Ghul, Catwoman and others (which the various films have done, to their credit). Besides, unless you portray Superman as kind-of dumb-minded, you really can't match him with Lex Luthor. Granted, Lex is very intelligent, but he has nothing without kryptonite. For some reason most accounts show a adversarial friendship between the foes, and Superman never treats Luthor with violence. This is fine, but in reality (unreal reality of their world), Superman could overcome any of Luthor's plots in a microsecond, combining his infinite durability, strength and speed. So the grand, slow entrance of Superman to meet his foe is not really sensible. Even if Lex had the chance to reveal a piece of kryptonite in Superman's presence, in the blink of an eye, Superman could be halfway across the planet before feeling the poisonous effects. Oh well.
  • Super-Dad: The idea of Superman being a father kinda ruins his splendor. To think of a child flying around with him in his own cheesy supersuit gives me the willies. I hope the next movie doesn't explore that scenario much if at all. Haven't we learned anything from Schumacher's mistakes with Batman and Robin? Batman and Superman alike work best alone, in my opinion. The addition of halfling sidekicks and wonder dogs make for dumb movies.
  • Clark's Glasses: Clark Kent and Superman look exactly the same except for Clarks' glasses. They both are gone for exactly the same span of 5 years, Superman often carelessly rips open his disguise to jump into action, and not one person ever notices or makes the connection? This isn't really a flaw of this particular movie so much as a flaw in the original concept from the beginning (which there are many more not worth mentioning in this article). And anyway, most people don't see this as a flaw in the story, but rather a comical element. All movies, including this one, capitalize on this ridiculously dopey concept. It seems Superman was never intended to be taken completely seriously - like the Wams, Soks and Pows in the old sixties Batman series.
Superman ReturnsThe Finer Points of
Superman Returns
  • Special Effects: Despite some plasticity, there were some pretty amazing sequences that add to the wonder and admiration of the fictional characters and fantastic stories. Such wonderment could not have been achieved in the 1980s with Christopher Reeve, despite his ability to fill the role with magnificence.
  • Superpowers and Heroics: Largely due to modern special effects, Superman's sheer power and ability were presented very well in this movie. Every child sits in amazement to think of one who can fly, who is invincible, almost infinitely strong, with heat, x-ray, telescopic, and microscopic vision, icy breath, and super-everything-else. To see these powers portrayed in a mostly believable fashion is a site for sore eyes. Of course I think just about any youthful fan can dream up even more imaginitive uses and combinations of Superman's powers than any movie director ever will!
  • Lex Luthor: Even though the part of Lex has just about worn a hole of repeated use in film, I mostly enjoyed Kevin Spacey's performance. He has the "Lex face", to be sure. His performance didn't come across with nearly the volume, charisma and flamboyancy as Gene Hackman's (like trying to compare Willy Wonkas - Depp-sucks), but his appearance was convincing.

Somehow, even though the flaws outnumber the redeeming qualities in Superman Returns, I am still able to respond with "I liked it", as a final synopsis. Sorry if my analysis and conclusion disappoint some of you die-hard fans! Batman was/is my favorite anyway. Superman was never better than second. By the way, I don't think of superheroes as gods, just fun and imaginative stories. The Creator's powers, character, personality and abilities far outweigh them all. He is not fictional to boot! Plus, He chose to give up His infinitude and live a lowly human life in order to reach us - A fact that no made up story can best!

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