Archive for Technology

Blueprint CSS Framework

My friend Matt Mower recently pointed me to the Blueprint CSS Framework, a very nifty set of modular CSS stylesheets and accompanying sample files that help a neophyte web builder create nice looking sites with multi-column layouts while still using CSS.

I can’t point you to my results yet, but I can say that it’s helped me immensely and allowed me to actually structure a multi-column web page without the use of tables.

About once a year I foolishly take on the task of designing a new website. As you can see from the HTML on this very page (assuming you’re looking at my web page and not the RSS feed) this effort has never actually resulted in a new design for b.cognosco. But never mind that.

What normally happens is that I spend days and days with high blood pressure, evolving a blue-streak vocabulary, throwing temper tantrums, and being cruel to small animals while I try to get HTML to do what I want with my limited understanding of the all too cryptic CSS.

Once I have good and well failed at that I try to hire someone to help me. I am a cheap bastard and have no interest in going out to *real* designers who will charge me $3,000 – $10,000 for a website that is basically for some hobby interest of mine or some freebie for a friend. But I am also a contrarian – so I do not wish to click over to TypePad or WordPress and grab up a template that is in use by a few hundred other people. I like to do a lot of stuff that simple templates don’t cover.

So I do various mockups of the page in something I can understand (like Adobe InDesign) until I have something I am happy with, create a PDF, and send it to some HTML slice-and-dice service or con one of the many web people I know into doing a little work for me on the side.

Sometimes this last approach works out ok except that no one creates CSS stylesheets I can really understand. So even if the site looks good I have to spend days of frustration trying to understand the nesting and tagging and inheritance and hacks and browser-specific workarounds that everyone uses.

But Blueprint has made it a lot easier, and more understandable, to use CSS by providing a discrete grid for layout and a well-documented set of stylesheets that explain what things do. I’m told the grid is even quite useful for experienced web designers to speed their basic development. I’ll put some links to the new site(s) here when they’re ready. In the meantime, try out Blueprint. It’s nice.

New Prostate Cancer Test Show Promise

A little over a year ago I lost a long-time friend and mentor to prostate cancer. He was a relatively young, healthy 60 years old. He was diagnosed in August of last year. He died in January. By the time he died the cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain. His loss will be felt for a long, long time.

The statistics on prostate cancer are discouraging – it’s the most common malignancy among American men. The treatments are barbaric, and our ability to diagnose early or with any specificity is poor, at best. But there is good news on the horizon.

As reported at MedicineNet, a new protein, called prostate cancer antigen-2 (EPCA-2), looks like it’s going to provide a far more accurate marker for cancer cells than the common PSA test:

“We’ve been able to show that blood levels of it are low in normal individuals and high in prostate cancer, and that it distinguishes between cancers that are confined to the prostate and those that have spread outside the gland,” explained study lead researcher Dr. Robert H. Getzenberg, professor of urology and director of research at Johns Hopkins University’s James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute, in Baltimore.His team published its findings in the May issue of Urology.

[…]

Spotting especially life-threatening prostate tumors is “the holy grail” of diagnosis, he said. Current PSA testing cannot distinguish between cancers that will grow so slowly that they pose no danger to life and those that require quick action. The hope is that the ECPA-2 test will identify men whose slow-growing cancers make them candidates for “watchful waiting” rather than immediate surgery or other treatment.

Speaking of curing cancer, if you want to donate to one of the world’s most efficient charities (by efficient I mean in excess of $.90 of every dollar goes directly to research) Seth has his Pan-Mass Challenge page up. All proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

I Am So Happy

Since August of 2004 I have used a custom Linux firewall in my network. The firewall was built by Bob Toxen, author of Real World Linux Security, and it worked flawlessly for more than two years. When I first got it I had servers in my office and felt I needed the extra protection of a professional firewall. If you need top-notch security I can confidently recommend Bob. But I don’t need enterprise-level security anymore. I never did, really. And, while I felt quite safe behind the firewall, it’s safety had a cost in complexity that I don’t want anymore.

I no longer have any application servers running in my office. I have my basic file servers, but nothing fancy. So my firewall needs are pretty basic and today’s inexpensive, commercial firewalls are vastly improved over what was available just two years ago. I bought a little Netgear FVS124G Firewall/VPN/Router a couple of months ago for $125. I’ve had it laying around the office for a while because I knew it would take a good half-day to get the whole network changed over and tested. But today I set it up. And what a relief! I’m finally able to fix some niggling problems I’ve been living with forever.

First, I finally was able to clear and prioritize the ports for my VoIP adapter, assigning it top-level QoS ranking. After 2.5 years of having to shutdown my e-mail client and carefully monitor all UL/DL traffic on my LAN while making phone calls, I finally can ignore all that and just talk on the phone. Damn! That feels good. I made a phone call tonight while simultaneously listening to streaming audio and checking e-mail. It worked flawlessly.

I also started configuring the Netgear VPN. I haven’t been able to do this before, because I just didn’t have the expertise on Linux and it wasn’t nearly important enough to pay someone to figure it out for me. So I waited. But the Netgear setup looks pretty simple and straightforward. I’ll be testing it over the next few weeks as I have some travel to do. I look forward to being able to have seamless access to my home computers, and to being able to pop-up unexpectedly on my kids computers.

The other really cool thing the FVS124G has is two WAN ports with three modes of operation – fail-over, load balancing, and dedicated. This lets me have both a DSL and a cable-modem connection running simultaneously, with the router sharing the bandwidth between them. With my office at my house, and my connectivity subject to the vagaries of cheap-ass residential service from telco and cable monopolies, this sort of flexibility is priceless. The only feature I miss, and I could have it if I bought just a little more expensive unit, is the DMZ. I like to put an open wireless router on the DMZ so visitors can logon without hassle and I don’t have to worry about my LAN. But I’ll get that next time.

I avoid doing this sort of geek stuff much anymore – I just don’t have the time and it always seems to take me 2x, or 3x, as long as it should. But today I didn’t have any problems and the little Netgear is working flawlessly. Between the VoIP fix, the dual connections, and the simple VPN I’m in my own little nerd heaven. I know it’s not much to you real geeks. But for me it’s about as good as it gets .