Financial liberty for the Library One

Yesterday I got a call from the University Library asking why I’d not returned the book that was recalled last Saturday.

Erm … because that telephone call was the first time I’d heard about the book (The Warnock Report, in case you’re interested) being recalled.

Seemingly I had already accrued a fine of six earth pounds (£6.00).

They’d sent me two emails, one on Saturday, and a reminder on Tuesday. Only … well, I didn’t get either of them.

IT Helpdesk checked the server logs and sure enough: they’d sent two, but I’d received none of them.

My fine was cancelled and I’d help escalate a new support call: where is the missing email going?!

Learning Subversion

Having effectively moved PCs three times in the last year I’m feeling a little insecure about the safety of my code, so today I’m learning how to use Subversion.

Subversion (SVN) is a version control application that allows me to store my code on a server while working on a local copy. I can then commit any changes made and SVN will keep a track of all the changes I’ve made, so that I can roll-back to an earlier version if need be.

I’m finding the free PDF version of the O’Reilly book Version Control with Subversion very useful. It’s not nearly as complicated as I’d feared it might be.

The Abs Diet

In my last issue of Men’s Health magazine I got a flyer inviting me to

Send for your 14-day FREE-PREVIEW COPY of The Abs Diet…

If I decided to keep the book the flyer told me that “I’ll pay four easy instalments of just £6.99” which included postage and handling. A total of £27.96.

You can buy the same book on Amazon for £3.14. A saving of £24.82 before postage.

For £24.82 you could probably have it delivered to the Moon.

Transcending CSS

Transcending CSS

Transcending CSS: the fine art of web design by Andy Clarke is one of the best books about cascading style sheets (CSS) that I’ve read in a long time.

As a designer Andy Clarke has produced a book that’s far from the hundreds of other dull books on CSS which are packed full of dry code examples and pages and pages of text. This is a beautiful and colourful book, filled with hundreds of images, that takes a real-life approach to designing sites and writing accessible HTML and CSS code.

While this book isn’t aimed at beginners, it assumes that you have at least a good, working knowledge of XHTML and CSS, it is very easily read and if you’re looking to get into modern CSS layout methods then this book could be an inspirational introduction to the subject. Because of the design of the book it’s also more accessible than Jeffrey Zeldman‘s excellent Designing with Web Standards, now in its second edition.

The book is organized into four main sections:

  1. Discovery
  2. Process
  3. Inspiration
  4. Transcendence

Discovery

In the first part of his book Andy Clarke introduces us to what he calls Transcendent CSS, that is code that looks to the future, building on current web standards to create accessible, cross-browser-compatible websites, rather than relying on outdated layout methods such as non-semantic tables.

He argues for web standards, acknowledges that not all browsers display the same design, advocates that web designers use all available CSS selectors and semantic code, use CSS3 where possible to look to the future, avoid using hacks and filters, and to use JavaScript and the DOM to plug any gaps in CSS.

One particularly useful exercise is where he takes real-life examples and shows how he would present these in XHTML, in a section entitled “translating meaning into markup”. His examples include a horse race, marathon runners, a taxi rank, books on a shelf, and a museum display of mediaeval helmets.

Process

Having set the scene over the first 100 pages (lots of pretty pictures on the way, so don’t worry!) Clarke explores a usable process for designing with web standards. It’s quite a good introduction to certain elements of information architecture, such as wireframing/grey-boxing and usability.

Taking the example of a design for Cookr! (his made-up recipe website) he adds mark-up to the design to show you how to best mark-up and organize the XHTML and CSS code. It’s a very visual and practical approach which is strengthened by excellent explanations of what he’s doing and why.

Inspiration

In the third part of the book Clarke moves away from code and gives us an insight into where he finds inspiration for website designs. And it’s not just from other websites but newspapers, magazines, buildings, streets … anywhere really.

This section offers a good introduction to grid and layout theory, and his advice about keeping a scrapbook of inspiration examples is really helpful, either a real scrapbook or something online like Flickr. He finishes off the section exploring why design is more than just creating attractive visuals.

Transcendence

In the final section Clarke brings it all together in some practical examples of how to take particular designs and mark them up using semantic XHTML and CSS. Of particular note is his extensive and creative use of lists for marking up particular content.

This section has the best explanation of relative and absolute positioning that I’ve read in any book on CSS. It’s really worth buying it just for that.

He finishes off the section with a look ahead to what CSS3 has to offer. I’m looking forward especially to the :nth-child pseudo-class which will make creating zebra-stripes on tables easy (currently available via hand-coding and jQuery), multiple background images for elements, and multicolumn layouts (currently available in Firefox via the -moz identifier).

Conclusion

I found this a really inspiring book which got the balance between code theory and practical design application right. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who’s looking to improve their CSS coding or simply wanting inspiration about how to take their CSS to the next level.

Available on Amazon UK.

The Present Future

Book cover for The Present Future

While reading around the subject of Jesus saying:

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
(Luke 12: 56)

I picked up this book off my bookshelf: The Present Future: Six tough questions for the Church by Reggie McNeal.

Wow! Well there’s an author who doesn’t miss with any of his punches! It’s a book written with courage, insight, humour, honesty, a passion for Jesus Christ and a desire to see the Church move beyond its seeming current obsession with preserving the current status quo and moving towards being a powerful missionary movement: to face the future with imagination and courage.

While his focus is on North America, I’m quite sure that the picture McNeal paints in broad brushstrokes about the “current church culture in North America” can equally be said about the church here in the UK, if I understand correctly what the likes of John Drane have been writing about the situation this side of the Atlantic.

New reality #1: The collapse of the Church culture

Here’s what McNeal says on page one of chapter one:

The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying. The death of the church culture as we know it will not be the death of the church. The church Jesus founded is good; it is right. The church established by Jesus will survive until he returns. The imminent demise under discussion is the collapse of the unique culture in North America that has come to be called “church.” This church culture has become confused with biblical Christianity, both inside the church and out. In reality, the church culture in North America is a vestige of the original movement, an institutional expression of religion that is in part a civil religion and in part a club where religious people can hang out with other people whose politics, worldview, and lifestyle match theirs. As he hung on the cross Jesus probably never thought the impact of his sacrifice be reduced to an invitation for people to join and to support an institution.

Powerful, challenging but also exciting stuff. As fearful as I was about the Luke 12 passage a couple of days ago, I’m now going to look forward to putting this sermon together in the next couple of days.

You can read a little more on the Amazon UK website; you can currently buy the book on Amazon for as little as £6.15.