We are past March and it's time to announce the winner of the Member of the Month award. This month it is blufive that will have the shining MotM badge.
I had the chance to ask Gavin some questions so we could all get to know him a little better.
How did you find out about SitePoint? What made you stay?
I really can't remember how I found sitepoint. I can remember that I was far more interested in the forums rather than the articles. I stayed because of the relatively high signal-to-noise ratio compared to other online discussion forums.
How long have you been using computers? For what purpose?
Two-thirds (going on three-quarters) of my life.
The first computer I encountered was some huge, room-filling *thing* at the chemical plant where my dad worked. The output was a teletype, and lots of blinkenlights. It had big reel-to-reel tape drives, incandescent filament number displays and everything. My eight-year-old self stood in awe of this behemoth that my dad was occasionally allowed to work with. It probably had less CPU horsepower than the Psion revo I carry around in my coat pocket nowadays.
The first computer I was actually allowed to interact with in any way was a Commodore Pet, at an after-school computer club in 1982. My parents bought a Dragon 32 (a British re-badged TRS-80 model II) for my brother and I that christmas. The Dragon may not have been a stellar success in the home micro marketplace, but over the next 10 years, I learned to program on that machine, initially in basic, later graduating to a little assembly.
A couple of computing projects during my time studying engineering at university convinced me that I wanted to work with computers professionally, and I got my first computing job in 1994. Ten years ago *today*, as I write this, IIRC. Yikes. I got my first PC about as soon as I'd saved enough wages to buy a creaking old 386 second-hand, and a few upgrades later, here I am.
What do you work with on a day to day basis?
Over the years, I've wandered through a few jobs in my present company, working my way up from a junior code-grinding dogsbody to a more senior developer. For the last 5 years or so, I've worked in the internet team. For most of that time, I've worked on the guts of the server code that powers an online insurance quotation system - first on a system based on a proprietary in-house framework, but for the last year or so, I've been part of the team working on the Java/JSP-based replacement for the older system. If you've bought Car, Motorcycle or Household insurance online in the UK in the last 4 years or so, there's a pretty good chance that some of my code was lurking behind the scenes.
What got you started in web development?
Professionally, I spend most of my time down in the guts of the server back-end, but I have tinkered with the display code a bit over the years. I saw some of the horrendous tag soup that was supplied to some of our clients by "professional" web design agencies - I may not have been a web developer at that point, but I was a programmer, and I figured that there had to be a better way of doing it.
So I set about learning how, as a sideline alongside my main job. At the same time, I started to learn how things were supposed to work through my involvement in the Mozilla project. I've mostly used my personal sites for tinkering and learning, but I've also picked up some stuff at work (when I've managed to escape from the innards)
I suppose, in many ways, XHTML/CSS is the stuff I tinker with for fun in between wrestling with the minutae of the insurance quotation system. I also do it as much for educational reasons as anything else. It's good stuff to know and it's easy to learn. I hang out round here to learn how to do things better, and to try to teach other people how to do it, too.
You are concerned with web standards. What do you think about IE6 and its conformity (or non) to standards?
As I mentioned above, I mostly latched on to standards by looking at tag soup and thinking that there had to be a better way. XHTML/CSS won me over pretty quickly once I started to investigate properly. I've only really been a standards weenie for about two years, though, and IE6 has been a fixture for the whole time.
When it was new, IE6 had pretty good support for standards compared to other browsers, and I'm prepared to give Microsoft credit for that. The problem, for me, is that IE stopped. Standards-wise, IE6 was a good step forward, but it was the last step Microsoft took, and it was well over two years ago now. I have no doubt that if they had maintained the progress they made from versions 4-6, IE would have standards support to rival anything out there.
Now that I feel comfortable ignoring NN4.x, IE6 has inherited the "Pain In The Neck" position, and is the one that blows my designs to pieces. I think my pet hates are the borked handling of float/clear, lack of min/max-width, and the way it treats width/height as min-width/height. If I said I wanted that div to be 50 by 15 pixels, then I want it to be 50 by 15 pixels, not some other size because IE thinks I goofed.
On a more general level, the glitches in PNG support are a real nuisance - I'm not even close to being a graphics nerd (I get lost in Photoshop, and most of my designs are pure text/border/background) but more graphically-inclined web web designers could really have a field day with PNG transparency.
Having a font-sizing strategy that was in the same ballpark as the other browsers would be nice, too. I have pretty good eyesight, so I tend to run screens at high resolution. Websites that foist 9-pixel text on me are not appreciated. Conversely, my girlfriend has pretty poor eyesight, so I also get to see her reaction to sites that have "fixed-size" small text for design reasons. I'm afraid this is a web design practice that can give me a total sense-of-humour bypass. In this one accessibility area, IE is a disaster area, positively
encouraging bad behaviour from designers who want their page to look "just right", regardless of the user's preference.
Yes, IE has accessibility support to allow people to magnify things, but I'll bet that at least 90% of the people out there with "merely" bad eyesight (as opposed to those with really serious vision problems) don't have the first clue how to turn such aids on - and many would resent being made to feel like second-class people by having to use such aids. [end of rant by the "let users resize text" popular front]
From an educational perspective, too, IE6 is a menace, as its lax parsing, particularly of CSS, lets people develop some very bad habits that completely trash other browsers. A pet hate here is the way it will merrily accept CSS lengths with no units. "width: 200;" 200 what? Pixels? Miles? Aardvarks? And people wonder why Mozilla/Opera do strange things with their pages. As I am fond of saying to particularly clueless pointy-haired bosses: sorry, we forgot to install the telepathy module.
Do you have a favorite browser? Why?
Mozilla Firefox. DOM Inspector.
More seriously, I've used the web fairly heavily since about 1997. In those early days, I got fond of Netscape 3, and later Netscape 4, (purely as a user - I didn't discover CSS until years later). I just found the user interface to be better at letting me do what I wanted to do with the web than IE3/4 (which were the upstart newcomers in those days) Despite a brief dalliance with Opera 3.5, I stuck with NN4 even as it turned into a crash-prone train-wreck, because I couldn't stand IE's UI. Even now, IE's bookmark management sucks, and I'm not a fan of it security-wise, either.
As NN4 went down in flames, I swapped to Mozilla in about May 2001 (it would have been about M15, I think) and started to get involved with its development. I've never contributed any code, but I helped out a little with bug triage and testing. At that point, it was only slightly more stable than Netscape 4.x on my machine, and slower than a very slow thing that's been glued to the floor; but I still preferred it to the "you're doing things OUR way, sunshine" attitude of IE's UI. I'll admit to a little anti-MS bias, too.
What one thing would you tell somebody who wanted to become a better Web designer?
Hmm. I dont't really think of myself as a designer, so much as a programmer (most of my designs are, um, *minimalist*)
So I'm going to give a sort of double answer that meanders across the two areas, starting in HTML and drifting towards the back-end:
Learn. Learn what block and inline elements are, and how they're supposed to work. Learn how floats are supposed to work. When you see something cool, learn how it works. Learn what HTML elements are available, and what they're for. Learn what CSS properties are available, and what they do. Never forget that there's more to learn.
Remember that your code will probably be around for some time. Any programmer who's been in the business for any length of time will tell you that emergency stop-gap fixes have a nasty habit of lasting for decades.
Just because IE6 rules now, doens't mean that it will rule forever. Maybe Firefox will conquer the world in 12 months time. Maybe Microsoft will reveal next month that they've had a secret project going to develop IE7 on the quiet, and it takes over the web in no time. Maybe 90% of websurfing will be done on mobile phones by Christmas. Or maybe the site you're writing just won't get an overhaul for 5 years because no-one gets a chance to update it. Standards are future-proofing.
Whatever you do, keep it simple, and document anything that isn't bleedin' obvious (though you should consider documenting that, too). In many professional environments, someone, very possibly you, will have to look at your code in 18 months time and figure out how it all fits together.
If it's not you, your successor will curse you if you don't document it. If it is you, you won't remember a thing unless you have superhuman memory, or you've been working on it non-stop in the interim. Both are rare. You may think you'll always be able to follow your own work, but in two years time, you'll read something that you know you wrote personally, and think "was I on drugs? this stuff is insane!"
Do you have a favorite forum thread here at Sitepoint?
No, not really. I mostly just hang out looking for interesting stuff where I think I can either help people out and/or learn something by figuring out just what is going wrong with their page.
Do you have any hobbies that are not in the web development world?
I read. Fiction-wise, mostly SF, and also current affairs and science/techy news. I go to about 2-4 SF conventions a year (next up: concourse (http://www.eastercon.com/concourse) and convivial (http://www.empirewideweb.com/)). I play computer games - UFO ftermath is currently eating my free time. I watch some SF TV (current enthusiasm: Firefly)
Do you have a favourite book?
Ooh. Picking just one would be very difficult indeed. The ones I can rave about most enthusiastically at the moment would probably be the works of Iain M. Banks (not to be confused with Iain Banks) Alasdair Reynolds and Lois McMaster Bujold. With an honourable mention to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. But you'd probably get a different answer if you asked me again next week.
...same goes for song?
Again: what, just one? Current enthusiams: Rammstein, Ozric Tentacles, Joe Satriani's "Engines Of Creation" album, and Iron Maiden's latest. But next week it might be Dire Straits, James Brown and Saturday Night Fever. Or Jean Michel Jarre. or something else entirely.
Finally, the two traditional Member of the Month questions:
Would you rather be a human or a penguin?
Oh, human. I'm not really big on eating fish.
Do you have a favorite movie? Are you a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings Person?
"Blufive" is a sad fanboy reference, if a tad obscure.
Take a look at my user pic. Yes, that's really a picture of me. I made it for a fancy dress event.
In the computer room where I'm typing this, I have models of a Star Destroyer, an Imperial Shuttle, a TIE Interceptor, A-, B- and X-wings.
Go on, take a guess
Thank you. Everyone join me in congratulating Gavin!