How Can I See What's Really There? and How'd He Get it to Look Like That!?
Page Design | Construction | Browser Settings
Machine Components, Settings, Seeing What's Really There
... or "Why are there spots before my eyes?""
Credit Where Credit Is Decidedly Due

On Browsers

Writing pages with style, that exhibit good graphic design and typography, is difficult at best. Doing it to accommodate all browsers is daunting, if not impossible. These pages are written in HTML 3.2, such as it is at present. Every effort is made to ensure that my design is able to be experienced on whichever platform you happen to be running. ...but that's not always the case. If something does not look quite right to you, it probably isn't. Please let me know so I may learn what and how to make adjustments.

Here's some of what to expect:

Netscape, Microsoft Internet Explorer, NCSA Mosaic, and a few others, support the majority of what is needed to view this site with clarity and ease though each time a new browser, or version of one, is released one finds him or herself redesigning the code all over again just to make sure it is readable to the majority of users.
 Macintosh applications do not understand special characters in the same way that the Windows versions do, due to the differing character sets native to the platforms, and Mac monitors display graphics with a different tone that is less saturated when compared with a Windows system - even on the same monitor.
 These pages are text browser friendly. Text-only browsers need alternate text where an image would appear so as to allow for navigation without image support, but that doesn't hinder the operation of a graphical browser. In fact, many users leave graphics turned off (see below) until they get to a site that seems like it might be interesting, so providing the alternate text is a must where I am concerned.
 With the release of the America Online 3.0, users are upgrading and the problems of compatibility are now no more serious than with other mainstream browsers, due in no small part to the fact that the AOL 3.0 browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer. The old v2.5 browser does not support many of the standards. It is my hearty recommendation that you upgrade as soon as possible.

In short, the Web is in its teen years; awkward, gangly, unsure of what or how to be, while struggling desperately to appear mature and accomplished. There are things that I could do easily in Netscape that take a bit of ingenuity to accomplish in the other browsers. Sometimes you just can't get there from here. Fixing one while not breaking the other has become something of an art in itself. So, as long as I code for some, I code for all, as much as is possible, and leave the Netscapeisms out until they are accepted by the committee and written into the specification.
...Then there will be a new set of 'isms we'll be tempted to use - but won't. Now I just have to figure out how to get the curly quotes to appear correctly on the Macs... :-\

Alternatives

If you are connecting with America Online or Compuserve dialup in Windows, and have no direct TCP/IP connection, you may still use alternative browsers to make your Web experience richer (and faster). Logon; go to Keyword WINSOCK for AOL, GO NetLauncher for CIS; read the FAQs and download the AOL winsock.dll or NetLauncher software, follow the installation instructions and then get Netscape, Mosaic or one of the other mainstream browsers and run it over top of AOL or CIS as your Web client. It won't be as fast as a more direct connection through an ISP, as you are dealing with their internal traffic. But, faster - even by a small amount - is always welcome and worth the trouble to attain.
 Users with Windows 95 Internet Explorer can run the 16-bit and/or 32-bit versions of all of the Winsock apps on the W95 TCP/IP stack. The setup is a tad on the cryptic side but help may be found at Windows95.com as well as the comp.os.ms-windows.win95.* Usenet newsgroups.
 The most comprehensive location I know of to get the latest scoop on available Net software is Stroud's Consummate Winsock Apps List. There, you will find descriptions, reviews, a rating system and links to the direct site to obtain what you are seeking - all cataloged by type and updated on an almost daily basis. A monumental task, and appreciated by all of us.

Construction

If you like what you see here and are interested to know how it is done, there are many hours of enjoyable learning ahead. These pages are written with techniques I've learned through invention (trial and a lot of error), stumbled upon (blind luck), and a great many are tricks that I have picked up on the Net combined with more design experience than I sometimes care to remember. Being a programmer/engineer/writer, I love doing a creative end-run on a problem. There are lots of them to learn, and there are lots more to work out for yourself then share them with others.
 The comp.infosystems.www.*.* Usenet newsgroups are the best place to begin to understand the pulse of the medium and what is desirable in one's page design. Roll on over and lurk for a while and you'll pick up some of the most remarkable stuff.

Design

As a designer, I have a certain feel for the construction of an instrument, whether it be physical or figurative, fanciful or factual; a finely tuned mechanism running here in front of me or only within my mind, perhaps never to be committed to reality; a page printed in a magazine, or glowing on a monitor somewhere on the other side of the globe. I am in support of those championing the cause of presentation WITH content on the World Wide Web. This is a topic of hot debate. In my case, the presentation IS the content so you can understand my position on this point. How it is saying what it says is as important as what it is saying.

The challenge of Web design, as I see it, is that the WWW is designed to be platform inspecific so that a page will be able to be displayed on any machine with whatever application the user employs to view the document without regard for design at all. Along came the GUI and then nerds like me uncovering and exploiting features in the evolving code to do things that the interface was not originally designed to do.
 Attempting to try to control how the page is arranged, beyond what comes after what, is thought of as heresy in many circles. Actually doing it - defining whitespace, line spacing, balance, image placement and overlap, paragraph indentation, copy offset and relative font size - all while staying within the proper HTML construct - can get you burned at the stake or at least flamed beyond recognition. Even so, I feel that good design is well worth the effort in helping a reader obtain what is sought, while refreshing the spirit and soothing the eyes. Creativity and invention makes the WWW medium exciting to work in but the designer is bound by the fact that she must abandon a certain level of control over how a design is going to be implemented once it leaves the site where it was created and is placed on the servers to be accessed.

Should the browser window width be standardized? This is another source for constant debate and many designers try to force users into adopting the width that they designed to, not wanting to spend the extra time to allow for flexibility while retaining a good design, no matter what the resultant width. However, it is to be noted that the printed pages that we see every day exhibit a fairly standardized shape. It is not by accident that they are the proportions they are. A few hundred years of printing experience has taught us that the mind and body prefer certain environments in which to operate efficiently.
 I set my browser window to approximate a section of standard 8.5"x11" sheet paper when held up adjacent to the monitor. Significantly wider than that, and nearly any design becomes difficult to assimilate - unless you're standing back about ten feet. You can readily see that maximizing a Netscape window on a 21" monitor set at 1024x768 would be ridiculous. The eye has difficulty following the lines of text and accurately dropping to the line below if the page is too wide. This is the principle reason that column style was adopted; to assist the reader in following the copy down the page. A narrower page makes for faster, more relaxed reading.
 To enhance the readability, I prefer to turn the link underlines off, as they disrupt the flow of text under your eyes. Letting the document override the color settings in the browser is also advised. Many page authors have a desire to create a mood on a page and the field color plays a large part in that. Some browser versions will not display a background field pattern if the background color is set to "custom".
 Font choice, more than any other element, is in the domain of the user. Readability is paramount here and I find that serif fonts set at 9pt.-12pt. win out for the majority of situations, although if you can find it, Lucida Casual is a well designed sans-serif handwriting font that flows very well and is easy on the eyes.

Video

The images here are best viewed with the video driver set to as high a pixel depth as your system will support. To prevent the browser from dithering on its own, which Netscape does whether it needs to or not - to a color cube that no one seems to be able to figure out, it is recommended that your screen be set above the 256 color level. If you are seeing a fine dot pattern in the background of the main page, even one on this page where the field is plain white, or what looks like colored snow on the images, this is due to the browser dithering the color file down to 256 and making the best (or worst) of it. I have worked to keep this pattern to an acceptable level while not sacrificing the feel at the higher bit depths. If your video card supports it, raise the level of colors displayed. Higher bit depth greatly improves the clarity and realism of your display. 32K is good, 65K is better, as the images can contain that many colors and more. 256 colors is an absolute minimum. 16 colors looks really awful and conveys little, very little, of the real image that is present.
 A good graphics viewer may return acceptable results at the 256 level as the application does a better job of presenting the image in the available colors than Netscape. LView, available on Stroud's, works well for basic work on a Windows environment and GraphicConverter on the Macintosh is good, They support all of the standard file types and a few you've never heard of, and will convert between them all. You may set LView or GraphicConverter up as a Helper App in Netscape's Preferences and it will display the image rather than letting the browser fumble it.

If you can't think of what to ask for for Christmas, Chanuka or your Birthday, go for a 17" monitor coupled with a good graphics controller, ("Well, as long as you were asking...") and set the resolution to 800x600 or 1024x768, small fonts, 72Hz+ refresh, 256+ colors for a larger effective workspace and superior, flicker free image rendering. I say this, not because of these pages, but because it is a more hospitable environment in which to do one's daily work. I cannot stress enough that the monitor, keyboard and mouse should not be skimped on as they are the devices that you deal with directly when at your workstation. They do not have to be the most expensive, though that is often the equation, but the investment is well worth the ease on your eyes and extremities.

Speed

Many people I talk with tell me that the Web is slow and they turn graphics off when accessing sites, as it just takes too long for the pages to come in. Now, I suppose you wouldn't even be here if you had graphics turned off, but it does happen. As you may figure, that is not good for me, as graphics is what the site is mostly about. It is, in my opinion, what the Web is all about as well. There is a raging controversy over presentation vs. content. The exchange will go on - perhaps forever. To me, not being able to see the graphics at a particular site is missing out on the majority of the experience. Otherwise we could just as well have stayed with Listservers, Gopherservers and Usenet.
 While it is very true that the CPU and motherboard speed will determine how fast the system will process and display images, the biggest bottleneck in most systems is the connect speed to the Net. If you are working with a 14,400bps or lower modem it's time to open the gates. (no.. not you, Bill)
 SO! If the monitor won't fly, get a 33,600bps or 56KFlex modem. Good ones are available in the $200 range and provide the biggest bang-for-the-buck in richening your Web experience. ISDN is available in many areas but, depending upon your phone company and ISP, it can be pretty pricey. Which modem do I prefer? Motorola, hands down. If you get an external, you will need to certify that your I/O ports are equipped with 16550AFN UARTs for reliable high speed throughput. Internals have their own UARTs onboard. Then enable them graphics and get what you're paying for!

Speaking of Graphics...
or
Credit Where Credit is Due Department

Carmel Color Graphics
Graphics Design & Pre-press House
P.O. Box 3566
Carmel, California 93921
408-625-6195
Scanned many of the images found here. Many thanks to Gus, Joyce, Don, Jay & Jennie for their fine facility and great work! With a site like this one, good scans are more than half the battle. With a service bureau like theirs, that's not a worry.

I'm still building this too . . .
    Now the saw's gone!

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