Christian Heilmann

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Archive for July, 2005

What can we do when there is too much navigation?

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

We have faced quite a dilemma today and had a 4 hour meeting about possibilities how to solve it. The client has a huge sitemap, and they are bound by law to offer all of the services listed in it on their site as links.

Now, up to two levels, a navigation on the left hand side is bearable, but when it comes to three levels with up to 30 links each, even the highest resolution will have the current link below the proverbial fold.

We tackled a lot of that by using something I christened “Contextual navigation order (CNO)”, meaning the current section will always be the first in the navigation, which is good for visual users and screen readers, as neither need to go past the other links to reach where they want to go. An example of CNO is on the easynav demo page and on the North Yorkshire Council web site. North Yorks solved the third level by moving it to the right of the screen, but in this case that space is reserved for marketing.

As cutting down on links is not an option – although it would be more usable – we needed a solution that shows the third level. As the client was not sure if their development team can put parts of the navigation somewhere else on the screen – the easiest option in the CMS (Tridion) is to loop through all folders once and generate one navigation – we wondered if there is a CSS/JS solution which still remains accessible.

A first draft of my attempts can be found here:

Maybe you will have to face the same problem, or you have another option?

Personally, I don’t see much sense in displaying that many links at once, and as a visitor I’d use the A to Z or the search instead.

Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV

Monday, July 25th, 2005

Devarticles just published my first article in a two article saga: Talking business: How I Learned to Love CSV . Why they published it in their XML section is a bit beyond me, but there you go.
The article deals with the dilemma of receiving and giving data from and to non-techie business people and explains why I found CSV files to be a nice format to use for that task.

Creating Accessible Popups

Sunday, July 24th, 2005

As some might know, I am currently writing a chapter for “Constructing Accessible Web Sites” by Apress / Friends of Ed.

As an example, I am writing a script to allow for “accessible” pop-up windows. I had an idea I hadn’t seen yet before and wondered if I should pursue with it.

Here’s the deal:

  • We cannot assume that the user agent allows for popup windows
  • When we only use HTML and the target attribute, we can open a window, but cannot “style” it or close it with a button
  • When we have JavaScript enabled and we have a window.opener, we can assume that the window was opened and we can add window.close() links.

Therefore I considered using link relationships in conjunction with a script to make the whole process failsafe:


would be changed by the script to a link opening the new window and get a message attached that it does so.


would get a close.window() attached and the text changed to “close window”.

Any comments why that is a bad idea and what would be a better one?
Yes, I will point out that popups should be avoided.

Google Moon

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

To celebrate the first moon landing, google released Google Moon , yet another implementation of their map system.

Zoom in all the way and you will see that Wallace and Gromit were right to go there

Harry Potter, ebooks and the train journey from hell

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

Ok, guilty as charged – I like Harry Potter (athough I still think Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” is a lot better when it comes to books parents and kids can read together – albeit more controversial).
I bought 4 copies of the new book for moi, friends and family and I am so far on page 100, and like what I see emerging. However, one thing that annoys me is that the book is bloody chunky and I can’t be bothered to carry it with me to work in the morning.

With the aftermath of the 7th of july bombings, travelling in London is still a pain. My already annoying daily trip from northeast to southwest London – normally taking 40 minutes – now exceeds more than an hour and deprived me of the thing I liked about the long commute – a chance to sit down. If I can sit down, I normally start opening this trusty T40 and start writing stuff (right now a chapter for an upcoming APress book and the things you can see on the webstandards DOM scripting task force site). If I cannot get a seat, I get out a paperback and start reading – David Sedaris, Douglas Coupland, William Gibson, Aldous Huxley amongst others. Now with the Harry Potter book being such a chunky affair, I cannot do that, as I would end up with one arm longer than the other and that is not a nice sight to behold.

Looking around the Victoria line carriage in one of its unannounced stops today and wondering when the man next to me will discover what deodorant is about – I did face his armpit – I saw one guy reading Harry Potter 6 on his pocket PC. “COOL!”, I thought and went off to see if I can purchase an ebook version of the book. And lo and behold – Nada!

Googling for Harry Potter ebook gave me
Ben Buchanan’s My Year with Harry Potter and and a stern warning by JK Rowling not to trust pirated ebooks .

So, yes, the man with the PocketPC had a pirated copy. I am sure that if I had looked closer, I’d have seen the peg leg, the eye patch and the parrot, too. If there are no official ebooks and there are pirated ones, that must mean that somebody either got hold of the original digital format – unless JK uses quill and paper – or did one hell of a job scanning a book that huge and turning it into a LIT, PDF or whatever.
An older article on slate about the piracy of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix came to the same conclusion:

In fact, something equally dramatic has already occurred: A file containing The Order of the Phoenix, the most recent Harry Potter book, did make the rounds on the Internet just hours after the book went on sale, its 870 pages apparently scanned in and distributed by rabid fans. If this doesn’t signal that it’s time for book publisher to perk up and pay attention, what would?

Well, apparently it doesn’t, as an article on CTV about J.K. Rowling refusing e-books for Harry Potter” shows that some publishers tried ebooks for kids/young adults and it didn’t work out:

Adult best sellers such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and David McCullough’s 1776 are available electronically, but not books by Rowling and many other popular children’s authors, including Lemony Snicket and Cornelia Funke. “It’s not like we haven’t tried this market,” says Jason Campbell, marketing director for Harper Media, a division of HarperCollins that oversees e-book distribution. “We’ve done R.L. Stine and (Meg Cabot’s) The Princess Diaries and it didn’t work. Princess Diaries has been our most successful young adult series in e-books, but it pales in comparison to e-book sales for Michael Crichton.”

What they fail to mention here is that “The Princess Diaries” are not in the same league as Harry Potter is. The Potter books are a rare phenomenon where the audience spans all ages, and therefore could be an opportunity as a lot of adult commuters would benefit from an ebook version.

How about a bundle ? Buy the book on amazon, and add the ebook for an extra fiver. Make the ebook digitally signed to the buyer and therefore traceable should he give it to others. The cost of producing an ebook from the digital original cannot be that high that this would not be an option, after all Harry Potter is a product that does not really suffer from bad sales numbers.

Why can’t I just have the stuff I pay money for in a format I want? Why do I have to buy a hardcover and wait for the paperback for half a year, or see a movie in the states as a DVD and have to wait another half year to see it coming to the cinema in the UK? There is no translation or dubbing to be done, so all I can think of is that someone wants to make extra money. When I can’t be bothered then to buy the DVD in the UK another year later and the sales go down piracy gets blamed. Maybe the pirates are just more up to speed on technology and we can take their edge away by beating them with their own weapons?