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About the making of this site

OK, I thought I'd write a little bit about how I conceived, designed and produced this site. First of all, why did I do it? Well I wanted a presence on the web, somewhere I could display my pictures for those who were interested and also host a blog, the main purpose of which would be to keep everyone updated as to what I was up to when I go travelling next year and allow people to leave comments etc. It also provides an opportunity to show off my skills as a web designer should I wish to try and gain some commissions to raise some money.

So I had been pondering this idea for some time when study leave came round, and naturally the first thing you do when you should be revising is to find anything else to do instead. I did a bit of investigation and found a domain I liked — (for those who may not know, it stands for Neil Matthew Jenkins) — and already being taken. I really wanted a dot com address as firstly it's international, so should I move to Australia/New Zealand/Outer Mongolia it will still be just as appropriate, and more importantly, dot com being the most common domain suffix, I thought people would be more likely to remember it. I would have settled for dot co dot uk but these domains had already been taken as well.

Having found a suitable domain, I set about the hard bit — actually creating the web site. I started by deciding on a fixed width rather than a variable width (i.e. the page doesn't get wider if you make your browser wider), as this gave me more control over the dimensions of the site (it’s 760px wide so it should fit on the screen without horizontal scrolling even on really rubbish monitors running at 800 x 600). Then it was 'simply' a matter of firing up the old text editor (skEdit - the best web-site creation tool ever; reason enough to buy an Apple Mac) and making it so. Each page was coded by hand in XHTML (so it should be accessible even to people running something like Lynx which doesn't support CSS styles) and the same goes for the CSS file that styles it all. Given that the content is completely separate from the styling, I can (and almost certainly will) completely redesign the site in the future by just changing a few files.

The section I'm most proud of is the photos section. The 'squares' effect for the images on the page listing all the galleries (and the home page) was inspired by the similar effect at dive into mark, which I thought would look a bit different and cool. Each square is a link to the gallery and 'zooms' when you move your mouse over it. The actual galleries themselves are a bit special too. The photos are presented as slides (not a particularly original effect, but effective). However, unlike most (any?) other photo galleries on the web, you can view the thumbnails in two different sizes. And clicking on a photo presents it as large as can fit on your monitor and only requires loading of the image - not a whole new page. And there's a slideshow with fades in between that pre-loads the next image while your looking at the current one so if you're on a reasonably fast connection to the internet you should get one smooth slideshow. This is all powered by some cool javascript, originally written by Rob Mueller (Joint founder/CEO/Owner of the excellent email service FastMail.FM) and finished by me.

A special mention goes to the horrendous difficulties involved in getting MS Internet Explorer (IE) to display anything resembling the way it should. This web-site was designed with web standards (for those who don't know there's a group called the world wide web consortium who define how a browser should display the HTML/CSS code that is used to make web pages). This worked fantastically - I know the standards in quite a bit of detail so I knew exactly how the code I was writing should be displayed. Every so often I would fire up the web browsers on my Mac (Safari, Firefox, Opera, Omniweb, Camino...) and check that everything was displaying as it should. Great. So I finish and move over to the MS Windows box in my house to check it works in IE. Not a hope - Internet Explorer's was last updated in 2001 and it's support for web standards (especially CSS) ranges from buggy to non-existent. Now my layout isn't too complicated, but to get it working as well as I could in IE I spent about 8 hours and I was up till 2am in the morning. And there are still problems (for instance IE's inexplicable rendering of the 'slides' on the photo gallery - every so often it seems to decide it can't fit more than one or two on a line. Bizarrely, it works correctly with the large thumbnail size). There are whole sites documenting the inconsistencies in IE's rendering engine. There are all sorts of cool web-sites that could be created in all the latest browsers if it wasn't for trying to support IE. To close this post I urge you, if you are still using Internet Explorer, to switch to a better browser. I recommend Mozilla Firefox. It's free, more secure than IE (you're less likely to get spyware infecting your computer), it has features you'll wonder how you ever lived without once you begin to use them and this web-site (amongst others) will look better :-). Other good alternatives include Opera, Safari (Mac only) and Camino (Mac only).

By the way, if there's a question you want answered, you want me to blog about something or you simply have something you want to get off your chest, please make use of the comments section below.