Masks in Design and How They Relate to HTML/CSS

I have always struggled understanding the use of masks in design tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch. I recently had to work on translating some creative from Sketch into a responsive design. I realized that a mask in these tools is like a containing element in HTML with overflow hidden and the contents being absolutely positioned.

This is not something you would want to do a lot of as there is a lot of the image being loaded that not being shown. But, it is useful in responsive designs.

See the Pen How masks in design tools translate to HTML by Brian Moon (@brianlmoon) on CodePen.

New Responsive Design

I have not blogged in over a year. Shame on me. I think part of the reason was because my blog template had become quite dated. I tweaked it a bit to make it semi-responsive a while back. But, I have never been happy with it.

So, I decided to build a new, mobile first template from scratch and use lots of modern (relative to my old template) CSS and responsive web design techniques. Things like rem for sizing things, flexbox, text-shadow, and background-size (for the header image). I know it is nothing ground-breaking. And, at the same time, it was nice to shed all the old compatibility layers and work with the code without worrying about fall backs.

For the font, I chose the super-popular Open Sans after reading "Serif or Sans Serif?" by Danielle Stone. I looked at many sans serif fonts. Open Sans just looked the cleanest to me.

I opted to go with an easy to read black text on white background after reading "How the Web Became Unreadable" by Kevin Marks. One great nugget in that article is where Kevin quotes Adam Schwartz:
A color is a color isn’t a color……not to computers…and not to the human eye.
I found this very interesting. I often look at my "black" SUV and think "my car looks kind of brown today".

With the help of the love of my life, Deedra, I found the header graphic, bought it from iStockPhoto and then played with the hue a bit to get it just right.

While testing, I found myself reading my old blog posts. It felt good. I really need to do this more.

State of the Browsers and ad blocking

In my last post about CSS layout and ads, a commenter brought up that the web site did not handle extensions like Ad Block very gracefully. To which I responded that I don't care. To which he responded with download counts. Well, the reason I don't care is that ad impressions when compared to page views on are within 2% of each other. So, at best, less than 2% of users are blocking ads. In reality, that is going to include some DNS failures, network issues, or something else. I would bet our logo graphic has about the same difference. The reality is that normal people don't block ads. In my opinion, if you make your money by working on the web, you shouldn't either. I should add that this site's (my geeky blog) ad views was about 16% lower than the recorded page views. So, geeks block ads more I guess. But, geeks have dominated the web for a long time.

This got me thinking that I had not look at the browser stats very much lately. dealnews has a very odd graph on browser statistics. We do not follow the industry averages. Our audience is dominantly tech savy (that does not mean geeks). Our users don't just use the stuff that is installed on the computer when they get it. This kind of proves my point about ad blocking even more. We have non-moron users and they still don't block ads.

Browser   % of Visits
Internet Explorer 42.34%
Firefox 36.94%
Safari 9.55%
Chrome 8.34%
Mozilla 1.46%
Opera 0.68%
Netscape 0.41%
Avant 0.08%
Camino 0.06%
IE Mobile 0.02%

As you can see, Firefox is very prevalent on our site. We generally test in IE7/8, Firefox 3, Safari and Chrome. I will occasionally test a major change in Opera. Typically, well formed HTML and CSS works fine in Opera so everything is all good.

As for operating systems, Windows still dominates, but we have more Macs than the average site I would guess.

OS   % of Visits
Windows 82.95%
Macintosh 11.27%
iPhone 3.80%
Linux 1.19%
Android 0.17%

Interesting that iPhone beats out Linux. That is just another sign to me that Linux is still not a real choice for real people. Be that a product issue from OEMs or user choice. That is debatable. It is notable that most of our company uses Macs. I don't think we make up a speck of that traffic though. If we did, our home state of Alabama would be our most dominant. It isn't. We are very typical in that regard, California is number one. We only have one employee there.

Open Source Web Design

So, my wife told me that my site design was boring.  Yeah, she was right.  I am no designer.  I just don't have that gene.  But, during my work on Wordcraft, I came across some cool places to find designs that are relased under Open Source licenses.
  • Open Designs - This is arguably the the prettiest of the three. The search, however, is painfully slow because all results return on one page.  I guess if you can wait, this is a plus as browsing is easier.  Also, you can pick multiple colors and choose by license.  They only list XHTML templates (at least as search options).  That could be a turn off if you like HTML 4 like me.
  • Open Web Design - The site itself could use a design overhaul.  But, the content is good.  The search lets you choose primary and secondary color, a unique feature among these sites.  Thumbnails are a bit small though.
  • Open Source Web Design - Their search is not as powerful as the others, but it does return very fast.  The thumbnails are a nice size.
You will find the same content on all three sometimes.  But, it comes down to browsing and searching.

I found my new design at one of those.  Not sure which, I looked at a lot of them.  I did not use the template's HTML exactly as I like HTML 4.0 and wanted a different sidebar than the original author.  But, the design is the hard part.  So, thanks for Deep Red.

Forums are the red headed step child of a web site

I have seen it time and time again. And yet, every time, it irritates me to no end. You are on a professional web site. You are navigating around and at some point you hit the link for their forums. And just like that you feel transported to another place. The whole site design just changes. Colors, layout, navigation... everything. Here are some examples, including the new C7Y site from php|Architect which inspired this post. (I really do love you guys on the podcast I promise =)

  • php|architect's C7Y - main site - forums

  • Zend's Developer Zone - main site - forums
    Zend's forums do at least use the header, but you can't get to the forums from the main site. You have to go to the Developer Zone.

  • TextPad (great windows editor) - main site - forums
    The header is kind of the same. Fonts and link colors change slightly though which is worse in some ways than a wholesale change. It looks like they just wedged in their HTML into the phpBB template.

I could continue to list some here, but you get the idea. So, what is the problem? Does most message board software make it too hard to edit their templates? Are forums an after thought and some underling is given the task to make them work and not allowed access to the main site's templates?

Some people do better at it. MySQL for example. Theirs is still not perfect. An ad awkwardly appears in the forums in a way that makes it look like an error. However, thanks to Phorum (cha-ching), MySQL was able to make their own log in system work with their forums. Heck, even at dealnews I have not done that. Mostly because our forum logins predate our site accounts for email alerts and newsletters. I am not asking for perfection though. I would just like to feel like the company/entitiy gave some love to making their forums part of their site and not an afterthought.

So, I call for all web sites to start treating their forums like real pages. Give them the same love and attention you give that front page or any other page. And, if your message board software makes that hard, give Phorum a try.

O'Reilly Open Source Conference Day Two

So, day two was the cool keynote day.  Day one keynotes were from Tim O'Reilly (not that he is not cool) and the vendors sponsors.  The Intel building blocks stuff was neat, but most of it was vendor stuff IMO.

Today we had the "cool thing to here and see, but I proabably won't use it" keynote.  It was The Processing Development Environment.  It was really cool.  You can read more about it at

The next keynote was hard for me to follow.  There were no slides he stood behind the podium the whole time.  Gnat  seemed to love it as he all told us in IRC.  You can read the guys blog at  It was basically about overcoming the biases you have.... I think.

Interestingly, (speaking of bias) the next keynote was from Microsoft.  Coincidence?  According to the speaker, MS (or at least this guy) is really trying to make some Open Source stuff.  Time will tell.  Also, they are "working" with the OSI to get their licensing approved as Open Source licenses.  As somone in IRC said, its a win/win from them.  If they don't get approved, they can just blame the OSI for being inflexible.  Nate kind of put him on the spot about patents after his talk.  He handled it well and kind of rode the fence.

The last keynote was, for me, the pay off keynote.  Its the one I will remember from this year the most.  It was about branding.  The poor guy did not have his slides due to technical issues and still did a great job.  You can read Steve's blog at  Maybe he will post the slides.

I attended a couple of good sessions today.  One was about caching, mostly with APC.  But, if you stripped down the APC stuff and just took some of his concepts, you could apply some of it to lots of caching methods.  The talk was given by Gopal Vijayaraghavan of Yahoo! I don't have a URL for the site where his slides may be.  If I find it, I will post it.

Another one was about legacy PHP code.  I didn't agree with 100% of what he was saying, but if you are in the boat he described, anything is better than where you are.  The guys site is  Hopefully he will put of the slides and maybe a blog post about it.

The last talk that I want to tell you about was from Amy Hoy.   She gave the "When Interface Design Attacks!" again this year. Just like last year, it was brilliant.  There were new topics like web 2.0.  I was happy to see that the Phorum 5.2 template I have been working on (emerald) already included many of her recommendations.  I guess she rubbed off on me last year.  Amy has started her own consulting company.  If we need a usability and/or interface design help again (bleh, the last one was less than exciting) I will push for using her for sure.  Check out her site (linked above) for more stuff from her.

The day (and conference really) ended with parties.  We went to the Sourceforge Open Source Awards party.  phpBB won best tool for communication.  Gag me with a chicken bone.  I guess it has a large install base.  But, MySpace has lots of users too.  That does not mean its not a black eye on the internet.  Ok, MySpace is worse than phpBB for sure.  But, c'mon, I write Phorum.  I am biased (see above keynote =).  It was a popularity contest and I guess there are more kiddies to vote for them than say Pidgin which is what I voted for.  With all the trouble they have had with their name, I wonder if "Gaim" would have gotten more votes.  (see other keynote on branding =).  The phpBB team may need to see the branding keynote from this morning.  It talked about how it takes a generation to change perception about a brand.  Most people I talked to here have a negative reaction to the phpBB brand.

The rest of the night we just hung out at the party hosted by Jive Software. We use OpenFire from those guys.  I am not a big Java user on the server.  Its just one more different thing to admin in a company that is 99% GNU C apps on the servers.  But, Openfire does a damn good job with XMPP.

In closing, O'Reilly Open Source Convention was great.  I got some great ideas of stuff we should be doing.  I got confirmation of things that we are already doing.  And most important, IMO, we got to share with others how we solve problems.  As  Gopal said in his caching talk, sometimes is better to stop doing stuff and tell others what you are doing (paraphrase).

The lost LH element

So, in the modern world, navigation in HTML often involves using lists.  You know, the ol and ul elements.  Most of the time, a list of navigation items have some sort of header.  I have done several things in the past to make that header look different.  That includes making it not part of the list, breaking specs and putting it outside of any li element, and using a class on the first element.  I was thinking, we really need an lh element like the th that tables have.  Its a handy way to have a heading that is still part of the document structure.

Well, on more than one occasion, I have found an element that I had forgotten or did not know existed.  I recently started using the dl, dd, dt tag elements for example.  So, I figured I would look to see if I had just missed it.  I check DevGuru for the <lh>, but no luck. So, I ran a search on Yahoo!.  Much to my surprise, there were many examples of this very element in use.  I got excited.  Maybe it was some deprecated HTML 2.0 element or something.  Upon more research, I found that <lh> was part of the HTML 3.0 spec which expired.  HTML 3.2 was later written and did not include<lh>.  HTML 3.0 was never more than a draft.  What a shame.  This little element could be making life a lot easier in a CSS world.

There is some good news though.  XHTML 2.0 will implement the <label> element for lists.  And if you if do not obsess about your page validating, Firefox, IE, Safari and Opera all recognize the label element inside and ol or li already.  If someone emails you telling you your page is not valid HTML, tell them you are ahead of your time.