Distance learning

Eric Langhorst is a history teacher in Liberty, Missouri. He’s been specializing in ways of using the internet in order to aid in the teaching of history, and has posted conference notes about his research for the MidWest Education Technology conference here in St. Louis.

It’s a nice presentation, but it does demonstrate the growing importance of global broadband coverage. Our community is looking at wide-area wireless for the county, and all the public library system now provides free wireless, as does the downtown St. Louis area.

Lee at Black River News mentions the new Missouri Virtual School program, which lets kids take classes over the internet. This would be particularly valuable for rural areas, especially within school systems struggling with funding. It’s unfortunate that there’s no plan for providing the internet coverage into those areas more likely to benefit from such.


Browser testing

Roger Johansson details his browser testing strategy and it is far more extensive than mine–at least for CSS and markup, though I go much further when it comes to JavaScript.

  • I start with, and use extensively, Firefox on the Mac. The main reason why is the extensions, specifically Firebug. I think that Joe Hewitt’s Firebug is the third single-most important component of today’s new web development–following on Mozilla’s innovative architecture, which enables such extensions, and REST.
  • I then test with IE7 on Windows XP. Why? Because if anything I do is going to break, it will break with IE. I no longer have an IE6 box, but I do use Total Validator to take screenshots in IE6 and Konquerer if I’m working on issues of design.
  • Next, I test with Opera on the Mac, which helps me discover those things that Firefox allows that aren’t necessarily standard. I find Opera to be the most standards compliant browser.
  • Then I go to Safari and the most current WebKit, both still on the Mac.
  • I need to test with Camino and Flock more. However, my logs tell me I have people using IE, Firefox, Safari, some Opera, rarely Konquerer, and older versions of IE, on Windows and the Mac. These are my target audiences.
  • I tested the book with OmniWeb, but I don’t have it any longer as it’s a ‘cost’ browser and the cost isn’t justified.
  • I test with Netscape and Opera on Windows XP, last. I used to test for IE6, and I did for the book. However, I don’t have access to a IE6 machine, now, so am dependent on IE6 users to tell me if something breaks.
  • I provide a mobile stylesheet, which Ralph at There is no Cat, was kind enough to test for me. I also use Opera’s mobile feature to test.

One thing I talked about in the upcoming Adding Ajax book is understanding your audience before making a choice of target test browsers. If we use progressive enhancement as a development approach, which means creating the functionality without the use of scripting and then gradually adding script effects, then we always have a natural fall back if a script effect doesn’t work with one browser or another: just disable the effect for the browsers that choke. Those few who are still using IE 5.5 on the Mac (why?), or IE 3.2 (WHY!), at least get a decent shot at a workable page, if not a terribly interactive or visually appealing page.

Then there’s my feeds. If all else fails, I provide full content feeds.

Roger’s mention of semantic markup is spot on, also. I haven’t been pursuing this as diligently as I should, and plan to go over my design one more time and look for better uses of markup—after the book has gone to production, of course.

My biggest design problem? Fonts. I can never find a font that seems to look good everywhere, and that scales as well as I’d like for each resolution. That’s mainly because I haven’t taken the time with fonts as I should. Another thing to explore as soon as the book is finished.

Oh, and this site is using a conditional IE stylesheet.

Burningbird Technology

The wonders of S3

The only domains I’m keeping are,, and Burningbird is my major site, I’m turning the into an online CV, resume, what have you, and developing MissouriGreen more fully.

One unique feature of Missouri Green is that most of the site resources will be hosted on Amazon’s S3. I’ve already tried out S3 for a Flash-based photo show, and it works remarkably well. I figure that I can offload everything but the dynamic applications, such as whatever tool I use for the content. I’m leaning towards Drupal right now for the content. Drupal or WordPress most likely.

I’m using a variation of a Python script to bulk load to S3 from my server, but it needs work. I’m also using the Firefox add-on, S3 Firefox Organizer for loads from my desktop.

I’ve been enjoying myself immensely but I have to watch it: I’m almost up to a dollar in monthly charges.

Since S3 is a third party service, I’m not making it my key storage device. My photos I upload I have in RAW format on external hard drive and backup DVD. Same with the database dumps, as well as the code. If Amazon decides to enforce a minimum charge, or the service become less than robust, I have a plan to programatically recover the data and host elsewhere.