Archive: web design

Several years ago I bought the domain name I have never really been sure what to do with it, but I have kept it up because, well, it’s my name. I have had holding pages up, but never anything of real note.

I have had a bit of time off work this month, but I hadn’t planned anything. So I decided once and for all to make a proper attempt at putting a good webpage up there. The result is this new design.

Screenshot of the new website

I used this as an opportunity to experiment with new techniques. This should look pretty good on both mobiles and desktops — though it’s reasonably straightforward here since there is not really much content to speak of. (I am working on making this blog a bit more mobile-friendly in due course.)

I found it fascinating working on this design. It reminded me of when I was first learning about web design a decade ago. For the first time in years, I truly pushed myself to learn new things, and I was hooked on trying to get it all working the way I wanted it to.

But while I found the code a challenge to work on, visually I have taken a simple approach as usual. I drew influence from two sources in particular: Microsoft’s Metro design language and the BBC’s Global Experience Language.

I am a big fan of their less-is-more approach. I have always loved minimalist design, and I have increasingly strived to create designs that are simple and clear. Hopefully I have achieved it here.

The design uses icons from the Wireframe Toolbar Icons set.

It should work fine in all major browsers, although I have noticed a few quirks in Opera Mini, as well as older versions of Internet Explorer. Please let me know if you spot anything unusual.


When adding social media icons to a website, take care over the order in which they appear.

Hi everyone, and welcome back to my blog! This is it — it’s official. This is a proper relaunch. And to prove it I have about a dozen posts already prepared, ready to be whipped out whenever I hit a dry patch.

I was actually hoping to launch it a few weeks earlier. But the process of redesigning the blog took much longer than I had anticipated. I must have had the original ideas for this design way back in September, and I have been working on it on and off ever since. Obviously it went on the back burner when I moved into my new flat, which took up a huge amount of my time between December and February.

Nonetheless, I expected that I would be able to put together the design quite quickly. One of my original intentions was to do it properly, with good accessibility, a mobile stylesheet, and some HTML5 and CSS3. I saw it as a good learning experience, and an opportunity to learn about the sort of code I will have to start using at work.

In the end, I have ended up having to basically re-learn how to develop a WordPress theme, due to major changes in versions 2.7 and 3.0. That was much harder than I anticipated, and it was only after borrowing a book from my colleague Gareth Saunders that I finally cracked it (sort of)!

It got to the stage where I have just had to work as quickly as possible to get the theme finished and ready for public display. As such, most of the fancy stuff I wanted to implement has not been started on, never mind finished. And the theme lacks the final polish. You will probably notice a few inconsistencies in the way some elements of the design work. I will be hoping to iron this all out in the coming weeks.

Content-wise, I anticipate that the blog will be quite different to what has been here before. But I knew that all along. That was part of the reason for my hiatus over the winter. But you will see what’s in store later on.

In the next few weeks there will be a few posts that would normally have appeared in either November or December. The normal sort of end-of-year stuff. For instance, I never got round to writing about the end of last year’s Formula 1 season (!), nor did I write a music roundup, which I have done every year since I started blogging way back in 2002.

Please let me know what you think of the design. As I say, I’m still working on it and am open to any suggestions.

The observant among you may have spotted that it is a month since I wrote a post for this blog. It is interesting that I have not even found the motivation to write about the General Election. This is not a conscious decision — I genuinely have not been moved enough to put finger to keyboard.

This is due to a combination of factors. Partly, I became disillusioned with politics a couple of years ago and have not felt the need to write about it for a long time now. But it goes beyond politics writing.

Just now I don’t have as much spare time as I would like. Depending on whether I can borrow my dad’s car or I have to take the bus, I am currently spending between two hours and three-and-a-half hours a day commuting.

The spare time I have left is spent on other activities. Partly, that is finding somewhere closer to my work to move, so that I can build some more spare time into my life. Finding somewhere to live in north east Fife is not as easy as I would like, but I think I am getting closer.

I also lost a lot of my motivation for blogging, and have turned my attention to more relaxing pursuits. After around a ten-year hiatus, I have rediscovered gaming after my truly awesome brother got me an Xbox 360 for Christmas! I may blog more about that in future, but for anyone interested my gamertag is ‘doctorvee‘!

Anyway, the point is that blogging seems like so much hard work in comparison to unwinding pretending you’re Travis Pastrana. Those who follow me on Twitter may know that recently I had a minor bout of blog depression, when I wondered what on earth I should to about that blog I don’t bother to maintain any more. It had become less fun and too hard-going.

The problem was that I had begun to feel like everything I was writing was inflicting readers with something they didn’t necessarily want to read. This was exacerbated when I merged vee8 (my old Formula 1 blog) with doctorvee. I originally separated out the content because I realised that my F1 posts had such a different audience to the rest of my posts.

This was echoed in the responses on Twitter. Some people said that I should continue, although they personally skipped over the F1 posts. Others said that I should continue, although they only ever read the F1 posts.

I found it easy to get wound up about that sort of thing, but at the end of the day no one minds and certainly no-one dies. Part of the reason for merging the blogs again was to help me become more at-ease with that. But I got neurotic about overwhelming the blog with F1 commentary.

The problem was that I had turned this blog into something where I felt as though everything I published had to be a beautifully-written, 1,000+ word long potential Pulitzer prize winner. Quality control is good, but I had gone too far the other way.

My best blogging years were between 2004 and 2006, when I was more prolific, more spontaneous, and more hit-and-miss. The quality was lower, but the readership was higher, and I had much more fun that way.

So this is just a heads-up to say that I will be making an effort to nudge this blog back in that direction again. I have made a few subtle design changes to make me feel more comfortable about that (the main one being to reduce the font size of the post titles to make them less preposterous if I am writing about something frivolous or personal). There may be a few more to come as well — I will probably experiment.

The upshot of it is that there will probably be a change in tone around here. There will probably be more posts, and I will try to become a bit less squeamish about writing about myself again.

But as you can see from this post, I still can’t resist allowing the word count to go sky high!

Thanks to everyone on Twitter and Facebook who offered their support and advice about where I should take this blog.

I don’t often write about myself here these days. Despite the fact that I went to all the effort to set up a personal website, I do think it is a tad self-indulgent to bang on about myself. However, some readers may be interested in recent developments in my life.

Regular readers will know that I haven’t had the best year when it comes to work. After graduating from university last year, I struggled to find employment. Then I lost my part-time job when Woolworths closed down. I had done bits and pieces of freelance work, but not much else.

A few months ago I decided to bite the bullet and look for unpaid work. I saw an internship at the office of Willie Rennie MP advertised, and went for it. It made sense in a lot of ways. The Liberal Democrats have long been the party I sympathise with the most.

Plus, Willie Rennie’s constituency of Dunfermline and West Fife is just next door to mine, so there is the local connection too. I liked the fact that he beat Labour in an area that is so left wing that it was once represented by a Communist MP — a great achievement.

I spent a few months helping out there doing a variety of tasks, and I enjoyed it so much that I will still help out from time to time. It is worth pointing out, in the interests of transparency and what-not, that I have joined the Liberal Democrats.

But I no longer catch the bus to Dunfermline to work there. That is because I have finally found a proper job — one that involves being paid and everything.

I am now working as the Web Editor at the University of St Andrews. When you read this, I will have started my second week there. As you may imagine, I’m really pleased to have got the job.

Despite the recent navel-gazing about the value and future of blogging, which I wasn’t very positive about, getting this job is a vindication of the time and energy I have spent running websites.

All the knowledge that enabled me to get the job was gathered as a result of my hobby running websites. I have no other background or qualifications in editing content for the web. Mind you, I gather that this is no barrier.

There is another way in which this blog helped me get the job. I was originally alerted to the position by a reader of this blog. Then, despite expressing my initial reluctance, she encouraged me to apply. That person has proved difficult to get in contact with since. But if you happen to still be reading, you know who you are — thanks so much!

I am not yet sure what this means for the future of this blog. While I have been busier over the past few months, my already-infrequent updates have become even less frequent. I will spend the winter months experimenting to see what works.

Hopefully I will be able to continue updating, but maybe with a different different focus. Less about sin taxes, and more about syntax? Less about dealing with the DSS, and more about dealing with CSS?

Whatever, stay tuned. I’ll be back with more posts soon.

As you can probably see, I have decided to give this place a new look. The old design was starting to feel a bit old, and to be fair it was easily the longest-serving design the website has had, so it was time for a change.

I had been thinking redesigning it for a little while, but couldn’t think quite what it was I wanted to change about it. Then I saw this groovy icon set which gave me the inspiration for the new design. As you can probably see, I have used a few of those icons and created some of my own based on the same idea. This stretched my graphic design skills to the limit but I think I have done an okay job at it.

Part of the motivation was not just to freshen this place up a bit, but also to make it more suitable for the direction I seem to have gone in. For whatever reason, I have been publishing fewer, more in-depth articles. So instead of resolving to create more content (which I sadly don’t have so much time for), I have gone about this redesign with a view to tapping into the archives and bringing more attention to the stuff I do that isn’t for doctorvee.

In the end, though, I was surprised at how little I actually changed. It is certainly a fresh lick of paint, but apart from that visitors should find that not much is actually different.

In the long run I will be thinking about ways of displaying content other than reverse chronological order. The traditional blog-style layout seems more inappropriate while I am unable to update so often, so sometime soon the front page might have a different feel to it, perhaps with more emphasis on archived content or showcasing articles that are filed under each of the main categories.

Speaking of categories, I have created a new one called Editor’s Picks. These are archived articles which I have decided to bring attention to. A list of these articles appears in the sidebar. I haven’t gone very far back though — just a few months. It will build up over time. It is really to replace the old featured articles plugin I used, which was a real pain in the neck to use. This solution should be much easier to maintain.

I have created a few new pages, although I haven’t quite decided where to put them yet. I have brought back the Subscribe page which outlines ways to subscribe. You can now subscribe by email if you are that way inclined.

The Praise page contains some kind things other people have said about my writing. I have noticed a few other bloggers bringing attention to that sort of thing, so I thought I might as well join the bandwagon.

I have also re-jigged the “best of” section which had become a bit cluttered. The main page is now called Highlights and brings to attention some notable articles from the archives — mostly when my writing has been featured in the mainstream media.

Popular articles as calculated by user ratings are now on a standalone page called Top rated articles.

There is also a totally new page called Media appearances, which I have created mostly to remind me of the good old days when I managed to get on the radio a few times. On that note I’d like to point out that I am available for any radio appearances, newspaper interviews and bar mitzvahs. And jobs, if anyone has a spare one of them going.

I haven’t quite finished the redesign yet, and I expect that it is still a bit rough around the edges. I also need to work a bit on browser compatibility. I designed it on Firefox 3, but having quickly checked it in other browsers there don’t seem to be many problems. But I wanted to switch it over to the new look so that I can get some feedback while I’m still working on it.

So if you have any thoughts, or if you see anything that seems broken, please do let me know!

While perusing the stats for my blogs, I noticed that one of the referrers was this URL: I clicked through to see what it was all about. To my astonishment, I was taken directly to the Webalizer stats for Charlie Gordon’s website.

This seems quite unusual to me. To access these stats for my websites, I need to log in with a password. Surely most other people do for their websites as well. But for the most expensive website for an MSP, such basic security measures do not seem to be in place. When you consider the possibility that search logs may contain constituents’ sensitive information, it seems to be quite an oversight.

There is one upside though. This free access to Charlie Gordon’s stats does give us the ability to calculate just how much value for money the taxpayer is getting out of his website.

For those who missed it, last month the Scottish Parliament released MSPs’ expense claims. The Scottish Parliament website allows you to search for expense claims by category. One of the categories is ‘Website Costs’, giving us the ability to see just what MSPs are spending on their websites.

It made the news that Charlie Gordon’s website was the most expensive of all the MSPs — by a very long way. Duncan Cumming conducted a full analysis. Charlie Gordon claimed £12,822.62 in website costs for the financial year 2007–2008. The next largest claim was by John Wilson, who claimed £2,291.25 — less than a fifth of what Charlie Gordon claimed.

For what it’s worth, Charlie Gordon released a statement on his website. There is no permalink for it, so you will have to scroll down — it’s (erroneously) dated 23 January 2008. It says: “My website costs for 2007/08 were around £1,700; not £12,900 as stated erroneously on the Scottish Parliament’s website!”

The MSP claims that only 20% of the costs outlined by the Scottish Parliament went on the website itself, the rest being paid for “call handling”. It is worth pointing out that even if we take Charlie Gordon’s claims at face value, a £1,700 claim would still make his website the second most expensive MSP’s website.

Here are the full details of the expense claims as laid out by the Scottish Parliament:

Claim Month: November 2007
Amount: £1,709.38

Claim Month: October 2007
Amount: £1,441.61

Claim Month: November 2007
Amount: £11.80

Claim Month: September 2007
Amount: £1,200.00

Claim Month: August 2007
Amount: £1,932.00

Claim Month: July 2007
Amount: £11.80

Claim Month: June 2007
Amount: £1,152.00

Claim Month: July 2007
Amount: £1,032.00

Claim Month: April 2007
Amount: £11.80

Claim Month: April 2007
Amount: £804.00

Claim Month: May 2007
Amount: £708.00

Claim Month: March 2008
Amount: £144.00

Claim Month: January 2008
Amount: £1,464.00

Claim Month: December 2007
Amount: £1,044.43

Claim Month: September 2007
Amount: £11.80

The pongy whiff intensifies when you read the press reports which noted that GMG Solutions is in fact run by Charlie Gordon’s son, Gavin. As Heather from Idea15 noted, GMG Solutions “does not have a web site, a portfolio, or any basic contact information, and from that we can infer that they do not exist.”

Heather was none too impressed by the website:

It’s done in table layout, its base colour is flamingo pink, it uses Flash for basic navigation buttons, and it has 45 basic coding errors. Worryingly, there are no analytics counters or codes, which means the MSP neither knows nor cares why people might be reading his site.

Moreover, the poor design of the website means that it actually may be in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

As Heather pointed out, the navigation buttons are Flash files. This is totally unnecessary, limits web accessibility and makes it more difficult for Google and other search engines to find pages.

Indeed, Charlie Gordon’s stats show that in January 2009, while the home page accounted for 1,792 hits, the eight navigation buttons (which appear on every page of the website, not just the home page) accounted for an average of just 1,324 hits. This is a clear indication that many users are unable to properly navigate through the site. This could be easily diagnosed by a quick look at the statistics (as I have just done), yet no action has been taken to remedy it.

In fairness, there are plain text links at the bottom of the page. But why should users be made to scroll all the way to the bottom of each page just to navigate through the website? The plain text links should instead be at the top of the page, where the Flash buttons currently are.

Charlie Gordon's Webalizer stats
Guess when people became interested in Charlie Gordon’s website?

January’s stats for Charlie Gordon’s website show a huge spike on 23 January, the day the expense claims were released. Traffic did not return to normal levels until the very end of the month, so I will look at the period 1 January 2009–22 January 2009.

Between those dates, Charlie Gordon’s website received an average of just 54.8 visits per day. The maximum was 80 visits on 5 January. The minimum was 0 visits, achieved on both 17 and 18 January. These are outliers, so I assume that the website was down on these days. So even with Charlie Gordon spending £13,000 £1,700 per year, he can not arrange a vaguely reliable service. Considering the website is supposed to be a valuable resource to his constituents, this is a poor show.

The statistics for the whole of December 2008 are not much better. The website received just 63.7 visits per day that month.

We don’t yet know what Charlie Gordon claimed in website expenses for January 2009 or December 2008. But we do know that his largest claim in one month for the 2007–2008 financial year was £1,932.00 in August 2007. The public also has access to his web stats for that month, allowing us to calculate just how much value for money his constituents are getting out of his website.

Charlie Gordon’s website received 561 visits throughout the month of August 2007. This translates to just 18.1 visits per day. It is worth remembering that all Webalizer stats include robots (i.e. non-human visitors) such as Googlebot. As such, all of these visitor statistics are generous estimates!

Making the calculation, we can see that Charlie Gordon spent £3.44 per visit on his website that month. Even if we accept Charlie Gordon’s assertion that the website costs were in fact 20% of what the Scottish Parliament lists, this is still 69p per visit to the website (including robots). This is quite simply extortionate.

For comparison, I will use the same methodology to analyse the costs of my websites. I actually make more money on my websites than I spend on them, but I understand that advertising may not be an option on a publicly funded MSP’s website. So I will look solely at the costs of running my websites. This, too, is slightly flawed because I don’t pay anyone any wages to maintain my websites. This is purely my blood, sweat and tears, and maybe MSPs are too busy to do that. It is, nonetheless, an interesting exercise that will bring Charlie Gordon’s figures into perspective.

For the month of December 2008 I paid £7.67 (and £1.50 of this was a charge for using my debit card) for webhosting to last me for that month. I ran six websites during that month. During that time, these websites received 75,849 visits in total according to the same Webalizer package. This translates to a cost of £0.0001 (one hundredth of a penny) per visit. This is infinitesimal compared to Charlie Gordon’s figure of £3.44 69p per visit.

Incidentally, figures provided by Webalizer are much larger than any figures provided by any other stats package which excludes robots. Google Analytics, for instance, counts only human visits. It says that my sites collectively received 11,184 visits during the month of December 2008. This is just 14.7% of the figure given to me by Webalizer.

Assuming Charlie Gordon receives the same ratio of robot visitors to human visitors as I do, this would give him just 2.7 visitors per day for August 2007. As Heather pointed out, there appear to be no analytics codes installed on Charlie Gordon’s website, so we’ll never know just how many visitors Charlie Gordon gets or got. But it really could be as few as three per day or less.

I am not an MSP who is providing a potentially vital public service to his constituents. Nor am I a professional web designer. Yet I manage to get many more visitors, and spend much less money. £1,700 per year for a website is, quite frankly, a rip off. Taxpayers would have every right to be furious — especially since the taxpayer seems to be less than attracted to his website.

I previously covered Charlie Gordon’s website on the Scotweb2 blog.

The other day I learnt from my brother that the graphic design company The Designers Republic went out of business earlier this month.

My interest in graphic design is not particularly heavy. But the interest I do have in it has all stemmed from my exposure to the work of The Designers Republic. Their work was usually bold and eye-catching; unconventional and experimental. It is exactly the sort of thing I appreciate in all forms of art. They were sometimes uncompromisingly experimental, yet they made it make sense. Their designs were often beautiful and pleasing.

Pulp logo My first exposure to the work of The Designers Republic was probably the elements of Pulp’s visual identity, which tDR produced when the band was at the height of its powers. Like Pulp, The Designers Republic was proud of its Sheffield roots and would often reference the area in its work.

Later, I would come across The Designers Republic again when it created the visual atmosphere for the wipEout series of futuristic racing games. wip3out in particular was exquisitely presented. Even though “futuristic” design typically dates horrendously, ten years on I think wip3out stands the test of time fairly well. To this day it remains my favourite video game ever.

This video below contains the intro sequence to wip3out, introducing the player to the industrial urban world of 2116 and the (anti-gravity) F7200 Race League. There are also striking corporate identities for each of the fictitious teams. There follows a spot of gameplay — a short eliminator round at the Mega Mall circuit — which shows just how important The Designers Republic’s influence was to the game.

An archived version of the wip3out website, also designed by tDR, is still available to browse.

The earlier wipEout games do not stand the test of time quite so well. Perhaps because it used very similar designs throughout the early-to-mid 1990s, most notably for the band Pop Will Eat Itself, the style seems firmly rooted in the 1990s.

My exposure to tDR’s work increased when became interested in electronic music, particularly the output of Warp Records. Warp’s striking visual identity was one of the things that attracted me to the label, and it was a perfect fit for the experimental, forward-looking techno music that Warp used to specialise in.

Like tDR, Warp has its roots in Sheffield, so the original relationship was one of expediency. But the fit was so good that in a lot of ways Warp and tDR are inseparably intertwined in the eyes of some. But in later years, tDR designed very few record sleeves for Warp at all.

Autechre - Quaristice In fact, the only one from recent years that I can think of is the artwork for Autechre’s Quaristice, which was recently featured in the excellent music artwork blog Sleevage. The extravagant brushed steel limited edition of Quaristice was probably the last tDR-designed product that I bought. It is a truly exquisite piece of work. I have my own photos of it, but the photographs on Sleevage give a much better idea of the stunning quality of it.

But it was difficult to escape the fact that tDR was producing less and less for one of its most iconic clients. In fact, I had knowingly seen hardly any tDR work at all over the past few years, and a lot of people came to see tDR as lazy. Sometimes their work was a bit too minimalist, to a cheeky extent (see, for instance, the track-by-track artwork for Quaristice).

But a number of their designs were very striking, and I own a lot of t-shirts that were designed by tDR. Since being exposed to their work I have made a conscious effort to make anything I design (like this blog) look good. For a brief period of my life, I even seriously considered going into graphic design as a career (before concluding that I probably wouldn’t be any good at it).

Even though The Designers Republic closed down this month, its influence will always be felt. tDR spawned a million copycats, and the course of artwork related to electronic music in particular has been changed forever by tDR.

Anyway, many of tDR’s best designers over the years have moved on (see, for instance, Universal Everything or Build). And tDR’s founder, Ian Anderson, has pledged that it will return in some form or another. The Designers Republic is dead, long live The Designers Republic indeed.

Over the years, tDR has produced some of my favourite album artwork. I’ve gathered some of them below the fold.

Click for more »

Hello there. I misplaced my F1-blogging mojo for a bit, hence the lack of proper posts. Mind you, that may be just because Formula 1 is on its annual summer break at the moment so there’s not a lot of news going around just now.

I knew it would be like that, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finish of the new theme for this website, which I have been working on for a couple of months. (That was the new thing that I hinted about in a previous post.) And tonight I’ve decided it’s good enough to launch it. I’ll still be tweaking bits and pieces, and one or two new features will be added over the weekend. In the meantime, any feedback would be greatly welcomed. If you spot any bugs then do please let me know.

One of the reasons I decided to opt for a new look was just so that I could get an original design up. Although the previous look, which was inspired by the classic FOM graphics used throughout the 1990s, was quaint, it was also a bit unoriginal of me. I wanted to give vee8 its own unique identity.

You will see also that in the sidebar I have built a comprehensive index. You can now choose to view posts that mention a particular driver, team or grand prix. There is also now a full A–Z index.

The new look also puts more emphasis on the author of each post. Beforehand it wasn’t terribly obvious who wrote each post. Now the author’s handle appears on a bold red background and a gavatar (or identicon) is also displayed.

Speaking of post authors…

Important notice for anyone who has submitted a post

A few months ago the good people of Brits On Pole registered here and wrote a post. And it never got published. They emailed me about it, and I didn’t have a clue what was happening. There was no sign of the rogue post anywhere. Later on they submitted a couple of other posts and the process worked fine.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I wondered if the problem struck anyone else. So I’m writing a note here to ask if that has happened to any of you guys. 16 people have registered, but only seven of them have submitted a post — as far as I know.

I have never rejected a post for vee8, so if you submitted a post and it never appeared it wasn’t because I didn’t like what you wrote. It must simply have got lost. Please accept my apologies if your post was lost, and do feel free to write another one. But perhaps keep a backup copy yourself and email it to me in case it gets lost again.


Daily news update has evolved

You may have noticed recently that I’ve had a bit of trouble with the daily news update. Instead of using Delicious’s own tool for publishing a daily post, I have decided to use a plugin (Postalicious) instead.

Postalicious confused me for a while. In fact, in all honest, it still confuses me a little bit. I can’t tell exactly when it will post something, even after setting it all up the way I wanted. Hopefully in the long run it will be published daily at 1700 UK time — as long as there are three or more links for that day.

Using Twitter to liveblog the race is no more

I have decided to ditch my old habit of updating the Twitter account throughout the race. My original intention was for my tweets to act as the race report. In reality, Twitter was simply not reliable enough to work like this. I found that when the daily Twitter post was published here, huge chunks of the race were missing. In the meantime, I will be focussing all my attention on the F1 Fanatic liveblog.

I will still use Twitter to post quick comments though.