CSS Lint

CSS Lint. It’s an open-source online tool to check for typos, bad practices, incorrect properties for rules, inefficiencies, and other potential problems in your code.

I pasted in the primary style sheet I use for my work website. CSS Lint returned one error and 173 warnings.  The error was a missing colon in one selector. As for the warnings, they could be grouped into the three main problem areas: using IDs in selectors, broken box models, and qualified headings.

It’s an instructional and helpful tool, especially for lengthy style sheets that have been used and abused for years. While you may not need or want to take action on every warning, CSS Lint will help you write better code moving forward. Users are welcome to contribute new rules to the tool.

Huffduffer

Huffduffer. It’s a creation of web developer Jeremy Keith, who says he originally invented this tool for himself to fill a simple need.

Like many online tools with staying power, ‘filling a simple need’ is often the first litmus test for success. The second is filling a simple need well. And this site does the job very well. Huffduffer is an easy-to-use, elegant, friendly way to create your own personal podcast stream from found audio on the web. The part that makes Huffduffer so useful is RSS feed creation. It’s easy to bookmark audio, but not so easy to create an iTunes-compatible RSS feed. I think of it this way: Huffduffer is to audio what Instapaper is to text.

I must admit, though, that I have only just started using this tool as intended. So far, I’ve primarily been using it as a discovery tool to find audio content I otherwise would not have known existed by subscribing to Huffduffer’s ‘Popular’ feed. As you may surmise, this feed delivers a steady stream of what other people are ‘Huffduffing.’ The downside to this stream is that there are often many duplicate posts, so you’ll find yourself often deleting entries that you’ve seen before. The upside is that the content is usually interesting and there’s plenty of new content every day. For my long daily train commute, this feed is most welcome.

You’ll find that much of the ‘popular content’ tends to be in the vein of tech, design, web design/development, science fiction, speculative science, and hard science. This surely says a lot about the core users of the site. And this makes sense given who created it: I surmise that site usage has spread mainly by word-of-mouth and via conferences. I, for instance, discovered it a web design conference where Jeremy Keith was speaking. So if you are particularly interested in this type of content, you’ll get a lot out of this feed. As a secondary benefit, the popular feed has helped me find many a new podcast to subscribe to via iTunes. Now I need to start huffduffing some of my own ‘found audio.’ 

Here are a few recent items from the ‘popular’ feed that I really enjoyed:

Conversation with William Gibson — A discussion with William Gibson about where we are headed in the post-internet age.

Arthur C. Clarke, Alvin Toffler, Margaret Mead —  A talk recorded in 1970 about the future. From the show notes on Huffduffer: “At the time of this recording Arthur C. Clarke had recently collaborated on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick. Alvin Toffler’s mega-influential book, Future Shock, is about to be published. And Margaret Mead is the world’s foremost cultural anthropologist.”

Kevin Kelly interview — An interview with Kelly about his new book, “What Technology Wants.” Fascinating stuff.

The Value of Ruins — James Bridle from dConstruct 2010 (a design & creativity conference) asks “as we design our future, should we be concerned with the value of our ruins?” 

If you’d like some more background, check out this interview with Jeremy Keith on Huffduffer. And if you’re curious about the meaning behind the word ‘Huffduffer,’ here’s an explanation.

20 Things

launched a beautiful online guidebook. It’s a fantastic primer that seeks to answer basic questions about the web while showcasing the capabilities of modern browsers.

Aside from the lovely illustrations and easy-to-understand prose, what’s most intriguing is that this site is entirely built with HTML5.  Amazing.

Xyle scope now free

Xyle scope for free. Not sure when this happened. Used to cost $20. I’m guessing this choice has a lot to do with the great success of Things. I wrote about Xyle scope in Jan. 2008. My conclusion then:

I almost bought this application but, in the end, I decided to stick with two free tools that perform most of the same feats as Xyle, even though I think they are much less elegant. I use Firefox when I’m working on websites, and have grown to rely on Chris Pederick’s Web Developer and Joe Hewitt’s Firebug.

I’m definitely adding Xyle scope to my toolbox now.

Get a $30 CSS book for free

For the next 14 days, you can download The Art & Science Of CSS (a $29.95 value) for free.

There are two ways to get it:

– follow @sitepointdotcom on Twitter
– visit twitaway.com

Here’s an excerpt from the email I just received from SitePoint.com:

Freebies like this are few and far between, so help us spread the word. Tell everyone you think might be interested in a FREE CSS book about the SitePoint 14-day Twitaway!

Ok, there you go. It’s a good deal. You’ll get 227 pages of CSS goodness. If you don’t know much about CSS, it may be especially useful. And, hey, it’s free.

MacRabbit Espresso

EspressoGrab a cup of coffee. We already have Bean, the excellent and free rich text editor. Soon, we will have Espresso from MacRabbit, creator of the best-in-class CSS editor, CSSEdit.

Reading through the features, it looks like Espresso will be a hybrid application that combines many of the coding-friendly features of BBEdit or TextMate with the great UI and navigation of CSSEdit (to include CSSEdit’s live preview functionality). It also offers built-in publishing tools. It is geared towards web development, so it will surely be a strong Panic Coda alternative as well. Can’t wait to test it out.

I’ve signed up for the beta.

Free (as in beer) PhotoShop book: 3 days only

Free PhotoShop Book

Get your copy of The PhotoShop Anthology: 101 Web Design Tips, Tricks, Techniques by Corrie Hafley, offered for free by 99Designs for the next three days only. This 278-page book promotion is available until June 12, 2008 via sitepoint.com.

From sitepoint:

It’s brimming with tried and tested real-world Photoshop solutions that will add impact to your next web design project. If you’ve ever been stuck for inspiration, have puzzled over just how to create a shiny aqua-style button, or wanted to create that seamlessly tiling background image you saw on a site recently, you need download this book.

My opinion: I’ve downloaded the book and have perused the contents. This primer contains some good tips and time savers, especially for the beginner. Hey, it’s free. Check it out.

On Things, RapidWeaver

1. Things integration, tagging

Things
Cultured Code’s Things is slowly and methodically nearing release — something I suspect many people eagerly await (or not, considering we now get to use the Beta for free!). Last saturday, Cultured Code released a small version update with a big new feature: system-wide To Do integration. Enter a To Do in Things, and it’s instantly in Mail and iCal. It’s a significant step in the evolution of this task manager. It’s been enlightening to watch this app progress via the updates and the Things blog. The developers are clearly focusing an extraordinary level of effort to get this right, and it shows. I can’t wait to see the companion app for the iPhone/iPod Touch due out at the end of June.

I received a comment this week concerning my original (and aging) Things review. I questioned the scalability of Things in that review (i.e. ability to manage hundreds of To Dos), and reader Mark countered that Things scales just fine provided one develops a good tagging system. I think this is largely true — more so as I’ve become a better tag manager and better versed in how to use Things.

The trick, then, is to develop a system of tagging that works. If you have a good tagging structure for Things, you can share it on the Things wiki (on the Real-world tagging examples page). There are two useful entries there to help get you started. Hopefully more tagging gurus will share their ideas and solutions. For more on tagging, check out Ian Beck’s TagaMac site (particularly his intro to tags).

By the way, wouldn’t it be nice to have a dedicated wiki for community-contributed tagging solutions, usage examples, and tips for all Mac apps that support the venerable tag?

2. RapidWeaver 4 first impressions

RapidWeaver 4
You may have heard that RealMac Software’s RapidWeaver 4 came out this week. The most noticeable difference in this Leopard-only upgrade is the user interface, but there are also some significant under-the-hood improvements. If you are upgrading from an earlier version, ensure you update your third party plug ins first, then install the upgrade.

The new interface meshes well with the ‘Leopard look’ and is sleeker and easier to look at. It also includes a far amount of eye candy (e.g. black pop up windows, iconic representations of your files flying past during file open and upload). In short, it looks good. Note to RapidWeaver: I don’t need to see each file loading when I start up RW. Just show me the progress bar. All those file icons whipping past is a nice use of Core Animation, but it’s superfluous. Same goes for the file upload progress indicator.

I like the new toolbar that runs across the top of the app. At first, I was lamenting that I could not customize the shortcuts on the toolbar. Then, upon further inspection, it dawned on me that everything I need is already there. Good design.

The left-hand sidebar icons that represent individual pages of your site are now easier to recognize. RW pages are easy to pick out, as are third party plugin pages (e.g. a Blocks page now looks, appropriately, like a big yellow block).

One thing I don’t like is the ‘Add a new Page‘ view in the UI — it looks pretty, but I can’t see the version number of my plugins as I could in earlier versions of the app (I tried clicking on the plugin name, as I would in Finder to reveal a long file name, but this had no effect). This used to be an easy way to see if I had the most current plugins installed.

There are now four new themes. You can now search through your themes or filter them (based on RW version, or if they originated from a third party). I like this. The one minor problem I’ve noticed is this: if I change the theme view to display smaller icon sizes, it doesn’t stick. Once I close the document and open it up again, the theme previews are once again set to the default size (which are a bit too large).

One of the biggest changes is the adoption of a new file format based on standard XML. This is good news for people with very large sites, and good news for third party integration possibilities. I can vouch for this: publishing is dramatically speedier.

Be sure to check out the new Extras folder in the download. It includes a well-designed new PDF manual, the SDK for Theme development, and an assortment of web badges to add to your site.

I’m quite happy with this update, although I could not find a changelog anywhere on the RW site that clearly delineates what’s new. I’m sure it’s there somewhere.

And speaking of the RW website, it also received a major refresh (RealMac does this with each major release, offering up their previous site design as a new RW template).

The RapidWeaver forums have also been totally revamped. There is now a main community discussion section, a technical support section (which is now the primary means to get technical support for RW), and community forums in various languages other than English. A note for people who were used to the old forum: look for the search function inside the categories. It looks good, but I was disappointed to see that my account indicates that I’ve not made any posts (i.e. it appears my account was reset with the new launch. I don’t know if other users face the same situation).

Scanner Art

Here’s a project idea for the long weekend. Have you heard of scanner art? The basic idea is this: you scan things and you try to make something something artistic with it. Is it art? Is it really photography? Some say yes, some say no. I say, ‘Who cares?’

I have found that I can get some extraordinary results with my trusty scanner (the Epson Perfection 4490). I particularly like how the scanner captures intricate detail in natural objects. Here are a few samples of items I’ve created (click for a larger view).

Edge.org, where the stunning work of Katinka Matson is often featured. Intrigued, I started experimenting with my scanner. I don’t have any sage advice about creating scanned artwork, but I do have a few tips:

• Ensure you clean the scanner bed really well before you scan
• Be prepared to spend several hours cleaning up dust and artifacts from each image you scan with your image editor of choice (even if you DO clean the bed well, you will spend a good deal of time on this task).
• I prefer to scan in the dark with the lid of the scanner open. It produces nice clean lines and a black background, which makes it easier to extract the image.
• This is a great way to experiment with your image editing program (I use Photoshop), particularly for creating interesting backgrounds, arrangements and frames.
• Try scanning anything and everything. For items that might damage your scanner bed glass, some say to try using a transparent film (e.g. a rigid piece of clear plastic of the type used to protect business reports in days past). Haven’t tried this myself — I just use the ‘be really, really careful when scanning’ method.
• Try playing around with arrangement and layering of your scanned items.
• Scan the same item from different angles, then try piecing it together the various images into one montage.
• Scan the same item at different resolutions, then try assembling something interesting from these scans.

If scanning objects appeals to you, check out Scanner Magic and Photo Vinc for more tips and ideas.

On Mac Organizers & WordPress

Coming soon: a comparison review of five top Mac information organizers…

But first, I want to say how happy I am that my offline experiment is over. The TV part was easy, since I don’t really watch TV. The Mac part was quite hard. I’m happily back online now, with no great lessons learned (other than I prefer to be connected; no great surprise there).

Now, about my impending series on Mac organizers: I agree with those of you who suggest I tackle Together (formerly known as KIT) rather than Evernote. Together is clearly in the same class as DevonThink, EagleFiler, and Yojimbo. Evernote is clearly not. Together is also quite popular, so it’s a good target for this series. Thank you to those who commented for steering me straight.

Of these apps, I have substantial experience using DevonThink and Yojimbo. This will give me a good baseline. However, I have no experience using EagleFiler and Together, so I’ve downloaded the trials to test them out. I want to use them each intensely for at least a week to give them a fair shake. I also have decided I will add VooDooPad to the mix because I use it, I really like it and it’s substantially different from the others. It deserves to be in the lineup.

Now that I have identified the five apps I wish to review, I must say that I’m still pondering how to tackle this series. I just read through some existing review series suggested by reader brab. These reviews are excellent and I highly recommend you give them a read. In fact, these posts were so informative and thoughtful that I have to take a few days to rethink how I want to approach this. I want to write something that is value-added. I don’t want to rehash what’s already out there. I want to try to take a fresh look. More to come.

2008 Mac a’hiki Tech Fest (sponsored by the Hawaii Macintosh and Apple Users’ Society).

The highlight of this gathering was a keynote speech by Matt Mullenweg of WordPress.com fame. Most of his talk focused on the capabilities of WordPress, which I’m already familiar with as a WP user. I did, however learn a few interesting things:

First, WordPress is about to launch an interesting new theme called Monotone that’s geared towards displaying photos in a blog. It is interesting because it’s dynamic: the theme samples your top photo in your most recent post and automatically generates complementary colors for the layout of your page. Each time you post a new photo, your base theme colors change to match that photo. It’s a nice idea, and I expect variations on this dynamic sampling to generate more interesting themes in the future. I look forward to taking a peek at the code behind this.

Next, I learned about Gravatar.com. While I was aware of the Gravatar concept, I was unaware that WordPress hosted the Gravatar service. Apparently Automattic, Mullenweg’s WP.com company, acquired Gravatar last October. If you sign up for a Gravatar, your unique little photo will follow you around the web when you’re posting comments on any site that supports the Gravatar feature. Yet another example of how the web is turning into a more cohesive entity for the individual.

Following that, I learned of bbPress and BuddyPress — two WordPress.com offshoots. The first service is a free package for simple forum hosting. It purportedly makes setting up a forum as easy as setting up a WordPress.com site. I’m curious about how well it will integrate into a current WP installation. The second is a set of WordPress plugins (for WordPress MultiUser) which offers a very simple and easy way to transform any blog into a social network platform à la MySpace. The difference is that you don’t have to sign up for a social service with this — you create your own social center.

BuddyPress is still under construction, and Mullenweg doesn’t recommend you launch into it yet. But he said a stable package will soon be available. I like the idea of segmented user-level social networks. While it’s not a new idea, Mullenweg argued that this package will make it simple enough for anyone to create and maintain — which would be something new.

What this all added up for me was a clearer vision of how WordPress is positioning itself to lead the market with free, simple and easy to use blogging and social forum platforms in a variety of flavors. When I add up the myriad of options presented by WordPress.org, WordPress.com, WordPressMU, bbPress, and BuddyPress (all free services, by the way), I get the sense that this is developing into something very special.

I’m also struck by the aggressive development-and-release schedule of the WordPress team. That I can expect a major upgrade with significant improvements every few months is a tangible benefit that has so far kept me from leaping to another platform. I especially like that I have full access to this platform for free. Since I use the ‘.org‘ version of WP, I can do whatever I like with it. I can even try to make a better commercial platform to compete with WordPress. I like the WP business model. As Mullenweg put it, anyone can use and exploit the open source WP package. It’s up to the WP.com team to make their commercial implementation of this package a top consumer choice (they make money, by the way, by offering premium upgrades).

Finally, Mullenweg showcased a site produced by Ford (yes, that Ford) on WordPress. Wow. I took one look at this site and was inspired to see if I could push my WordPress installation a bit further. I’m amazed that this site is based on WordPress. I’ve toyed with moving to a new platform (recently I tried porting this site over to Drupal — you can see the test result here), but I’m more inclined now than ever to stick with WP. Especially when I consider how much time and energy I’ve put into understanding how this package works (and how little time I have to delve into another package!).

If you’re interested in seeing Mullenweg’s talk, HMAUS is planning to post a videocast of the talk soon. As a side note, I put down five bucks on a raffle at the HMAUS event, hoping to win one of two iPod Shuffles or the Belkin USB hub. I walked away with an extra-extra large University of Hawaii football jersey and a can of Chef Boyardee Mac and Cheese. Hmm.