Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Web Modernization: Updating Personal Website

With my current job as a technology analyst I spend a lot of time evaluating new technologies and following the latest standards of the web.

With the 2010 court case that demanded Government of Canada websites become accessible, many in the tech analysis fields going back to basics.

My approach to learning about technology and standards is usually to implement it. Over the last number of years I have managed the websites of personal projects of mine including sites for Computers for Communities and Freeheelers United. These two sites use the content management systems (CMS) Drupal and Joomla respectively. These CMS's tend to take care of a lot of the backend HTML coding and therefore I have grown to trust the machine.

My personal website however, is just a collection of HTML pages with CSS styling. When I first started my website a number of years ago I did not use, nor did I likely know about CSS. The last time I refreshed my HTML skills I upgraded my site to HTML version 4 and started using CSS.

Lately in my job we have been discussing various approaches to web architecture, web interoperability and web accessibility. Also, websites for governments are becoming more complex with feeds, audio, video, blogs and social tools.

This new perspective of the web means that you can shoe-horn old standards to fit the new situation or update the standards you are using. When we look at the basics of the web we are now talking about HTML version 5, CSS version 3 as well as JavaScript.

So to re-aquaint myself with the basics of the web as they stand today I have undertaken an overhaul of my personal website.

This means updating my personal website. My goals right now are:

  • Use a text editor to avoid erroneous markup from editors
  • Migrate from HTML 4 to 5
  • Remove remaining styling from HTML
  • Ensure CSS conforms to version 3
  • Strive for WCAG 2.0 AA standard
  • Learn and implement JavaScript from scratch
In order to find some guidance in implementing these standards I have been exploring many resources. To date I can confirm that there are many differing opinions on implementing HTML5.

The two schools of thougt I have come across include:
  • Strict HTML 5 that will pass validation
  • Loose HTML 5 that is easier to understand with slimmed down markup but still interpreted by browsers
  • Some are HTML centric
  • Others are XHTML centric
My solution is to find sources that:
  • value structured markup, 
  • will validate against the standards
  • accomodates cross browser implementation
  • separate content (HTML) from style (CSS) from logic (JavaScript)

I will continue to update my progress through my blog and will keep my readers posted on my progress. I will also announce any new site launches that demonstrate implementing my above stated goals.


The content of this post does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or priorities of the authors employer as is written from a personal perspective.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Moving on over.... to the other side..... of Barrhaven

Well the last number of months have been pretty busy with life.

One major activity that my wife and I have been working on is house shopping. My wife enjoys checking out MLS on a regular basis and until recently we were only casually house shopping.

Well, sure enough a couple of houses came up we liked a lot and fit our price range.

We checked out houses mainly in the west end, Barrhaven and Kanata. Anything inside the greenbelt was outside our price range but we liked the bigger lots, mature tress, the unique house models and looks of the neighborhood. But despite these likes it just was not worth it for us.

At the same time new houses seemed to increase in price weekly. Sure enough they were soon out of reach. A few good points about this is that modern home owners tend to not want a backyard, front yard or even a driveway they own themselves. We saw plenty of large interior houses but they were mainly townhomes with shared driveways and postage stamp backyards.

This process really tested my personal environmental ethic though. I have been and continue to be an environmentalist, but perhaps more moderate than my days of living in a tent and paddling around northern Ontario 4 months of the year.

Now I do own a house, have a 2 car family, a dog , a cat and a loving wife. But I still have a nagging feeling of making the wrong environmental choice. After all we should be decreasing urban sprawl, decreasing commuting distances and trying to live better.

Ottawa does have its 20/20 vision city plan, and a strategy to increase intensification. However how this plan is panning out in reality does not look too friendly. Barrhaven is still a bedroom community, I still work for a government department not planning on moving away from its current location, the bus system still has little incentive and town homes just are not that appealing.

Driving throughout Barrhaven there are plenty of examples of where townhomes loose their appeal. Here is my running list, although not exhasutive it gives you an idea of what I mean:
  • Neighbours separate their driveway using cinder blocks
  • Some choices in colours of siding and exterior paint just should not happen
  • Some driveways are painted on one side and crumbling on the other
  • As far as I can tell there is no FIREPROOF firewall separating neighbours.
  • The houses in the centre of the row need to use a "right of way" to get to the backyard with the lawn mower, but the end units block it off.
  • The backyards are just too small
  • current occupants still hear noises through the walls
In an appartment or highrise you rarely run into these issues from my experience. So these issues seem like a big gamble with an expensive piece of property. I would have hopped that the housing market and industry would have innovated more to overcome these challenges.

Among other reasons as well we opted to not buy a townhome. We also opted to by previously owned. I fully expect our next house to have issues. I mean who wouldn't expect something wrong? But we already know the major issues with it.

As friends that have bought new have shared, a new house does not mean a perfect house. The house settles, cracks appear, things shift. At least with a previously owned house it has done most of its shifting, cracking and settling.

Construction material was another issue for me. I am one of those "weak" people with those "environment" allergies. You know the kind caused by off gassing of carpet adhesive, mold and dust in air ducts or a poorly ventilated house cased in plastic.

Those new fancy pre-fab 'I' beams created using woodchips and resin? Not only do they love to off gas (yes there are high quality ones that are better), but they also drasticaly decrease your escape time in case of fire. They tend to melt instead of burn. And when all these new resins burn you'll be lucky to survive the toxi gases in the case of a fire let alone the heat.

You CAN still build a house with "natural" materials (wood, concrete, steel), but you'll pay for it as an extra from the major builders.

So after all this critique of new home construction, the cities dimming 20/20 densification vision and neighbours who have a difficult time getting together to drink beer and figure out how to co-exist what did we do? Where did we go? Have we sold our house yet?

Well we currently live off of Claridge drive near Woodroffe by Farm Boy and we found a nice place over on the older side of Barrhaven on Kennevale by Marry Honeywell school. We take possesion on Febraruary 28 and have yet to sell our current place. This is stressful for sure, holding tow mortgages does not sound like fun.

Our daily mantra includes the following positive self talk:
  • We bought our current house, surely someone else will
  • For 15 years someone has lived here
  • It is a great starter home
  • Thanks to the Home Reno tax credit we upgraded a bunch of stuff
  • and finaly... IT ONLY TAKES ONE BUYER.

So the waiting game continues. I may provide more updates as time goes on.

Good luck if you are shopping for homes, do some research into house design and building you'll learn a lot.