concept to publication

Category: webwork Page 1 of 6

Webwork posts at

This post will be sticky in the “webwork” category. I’ve had a site on the web since December 1994. The beginning was the first Mercury House website, on which I had some personal pages that grew into the current site. I favor an artisanal web presence over the cooky-cutter prefab web sites you often see. But I’m hardly a hardcore coder. Still, over 22 years you do pick up a trick or two. exists in two versions: the desktop version is mainly a simple image map (old school!) while the mobile version is based on the 960 griid system. Since 2006 I’ve used WordPress for much of the new material (exceptions are mainly extended content), and increasingly links go to WordPress category pages, where sticky posts like this one provide additional links.

What’s New at Tom’s Garden

Tom's Garden home page, February 2017.

Tom’s Garden home page, February 2017.

I’ve been a bit more active recently over at Frisco Vista (that could change). Among the more recent posts there:

  • photo magic
  • an aromatic bitters triumph
  • the best online guide to DIY vermouth resources
  • one of the best posts on making ginger beer (bug or yeast?)
  • anatomy of a flower
  • bioregions of the SF Bay Area
  • an appearance from the great Sir Oliver Hardy
  • more

A new look for

The former look of this blog (since around 2006)

The former look of this blog (since around 2006).

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated the look of this blog, mainly because I had customized so many features that I never had the heart to undertake an update. But it’s gotten long in the tooth, and as you can see from the above image, it wastes a lot of screen real estate in the empty screen areas at right and left. It was a thing at the time, and I don’t even remember why.

In addition, the blog was not designed to be responsive. You could use a plugin like wp-touch or the newer mobile feature in jetpack (currently experiencing bugs) to get a mobile version, but those are ultimately makeshifts. This design by Anders Norén is distinguished by thoughtful typography and a clean look, and it is fully responsive. I decided to go ahead and effect the transition, even though I’ve only just begun my customizations, and I’m sure much will turn out to be broken. But in the end I think it will be good, and for now it is, I hope, readable.

Sticky posts

Sorry, folks, for all these category sticky posts, which will head pages in various categories and gradually gather together helpful links outside the blog relevant to them. I don’t think I can remove them from the blog home, but they will slide down the page soon enough. This is all the result of recent website reorganization in which I have begun using separate home pages for desktop and mobile devices.

Changes at

A few years ago I redid my home page and other parts of my site. Mainly I was bored and decided to learn the 960 web design system. But now I feel the new home page is too static and not as much fun as the old one, and I’m reverting. The new (ancient, really, and now revived) home page looks like this (I might upgrade the quality of the Goya image, if I’m not too lazy; images in this post, BTW, are also links):

New (revived) home page

New (revived) home page.

Here’s the 960-grid homepage. I do like the carousel. I think I will convert this into my bio page.

960-grid former home page at

960-grid former home page at

It would replace the current bio page, which looks like this:

Thomas W. Christensen bio page at

Thomas W. Christensen bio page at

The one thing I need to figure out how to do is to use the 960 page for mobile devices and the Goya page for desktop. I’ll have to research how that is down (unless someone want to save me the time and just tell me).

And so we move on . . .

Web redesign



It’s been a long time since I did a redesign to this creeky old website. Now I’m in the middle of one; in fact, I am uploading core files to the server even as I type this. The home page has been changed to look like the above, and the main pages referenced in the nav at the upper right have been updated as well. There’s still lots that remains to be done, but I’ve been working hard.

The home page on the old site looked like the below. Let me know what you think.


1616 landing page updated

1616 landing page

Earlier I talked about creating a landing page for my book 1616. At that time I just put together a quick image map with hot spots for links. But this meant the text was an image, which meant it was neither very editable nor very googleable. In addition, I thought the middle column was a bit too thin and the type too small. So I’ve redone the page as CSS. I’ve also included a new link to an e-mail newsletter that I intend to send out every couple of months or so. You can sign up for it here.

If anything on the landing page seems amiss please let me know.

Google on Google

a google privacy e-mail appearing in my gmail spam folder

You find some funny things in your gmail spam folder sometimes. Google seems to think this e-mail is spam.

Google Plus versus Facebook: Where things stand today

facebook and google plus logos

Remember the buzz about Google Plus when it launched? It was a nice bump while it lasted. But I think it’s safe to say it hasn’t sustained itself. My #OccupyXmas piece over at has had 504 Facebook likes since it went up a day and a half ago. How many Google +1s has it had? 18 — a little over 3 percent as many. I’d say the ball is in Google’s court. They’d better come up with a new feature, or this game is over.

What is the best time of day to post to a blog?

informationial graphic charting affective moods of twitter users

These days I’m pretty casual about my web presence, but a few years ago I gave some thought to maximizing the impact of blog posts. I ended up scheduling most of my posts for 5:00 am Pacific time. My strongest geographical regions were the U.S. east and west coasts, and that would be 8:00 Eastern time. A lot of people check their feeds in the morning, and it is incontrovertible that most people do the bulk of their browsing at work, little as employers like hearing this (so I mainly post on weekdays).

A new study purporting to track people’s affective states through the day brings new information to this topic. Researchers tracked the relative use of positive and negative words in tweets at different times of the days throughout the week. They found that negative terms predominated early in the morning and mid-to-late afternoon, while positive terms were most common from 6:00 to 9:00 am and in the late evening. The pattern held even on weekends, when most people aren’t going off to work.

The methodology can be questioned. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert points out that “if you counted the good and bad words people said during intercourse, you’d mistakenly conclude they were having an awful time.”

Supposing the results are valid, what are the implications for people posting to the web? Should you make negative posts when people are most negative and positive posts when they are most positive? Or should you always try to post when people are positive and will presumably be most receptive to what you are saying? Or does this not matter at all, and what you should really be looking at is the volume of traffic — my guess is that while people might be feeling positive around 10:00 pm there are probably significantly fewer of them online at that time than in the morning.

Well, I’m moving my post time forward an hour, from 5:00 am to 6:00 am. I hope you’re happy.



Informational graphic via the New York Times

More on the “alt” tag


I recently lamented my belated discovery that “alt” text was not being displayed on mouseover of my images.

The estimable Peecay of Bibliodyssey has replied by e-mail with a description of his system:

I try to abide by the pure description (for a blind person, is how I understood it) to approximate an image with alt tag (eg. “woodcut of cat in colour from Japan, 16th cent.”)

But then I try to put something specific to the book or author or illustrator in as the title tag.

I’ve always worked under the assumption that – when including captions as well, below the image – I was priming those images as best they could be to be open to image search engines.

What I hear from the “SEO” types is that alt tags seem to help with search engines but title tags less so. That’s hearsay, really, and I haven’t tested it.

According to SearchEngine Journal, it is indeed important to keep the various tags different. Ann Smarty, speaking of the alt and title tags, says, “include your main keywords in both of them but keep them different. Keyword stuffing in Alt text and Title is still keyword stuffing.”

Wily Michael Gray has a helpful guide to optimizing images for search engines.

All good advice. But kind a lot of work to provide three different kinds of unique nonrepetitive text for all your images.

“Alt” text not displayed on mouseover


Man, I guess I’m late coming to this realization but I just noticed that in my default browser, Chrome, my images’ “alt” text was not being displayed on mouseover on a page I was working on. A little investigation revealed that nowadays you’re supposed to use the “title” tag instead. I’ve got seventeen years of web pages that use the “alt” tag. My older version of Dreamweaver has a field for “alt,” but I would have to insert “title” manually. Color me bummed.


Nope, that’s not me. The image is from jugbo’s photostream.

1616 landing page

1616 landing page

I made a simple landing page for 1616. (It’s just a big image map — a picture with clickable areas –that’s about 200 KB.) If it doesn’t load and look okay for you let me know.

There’s room to expand to the right. If I get another blurb or two I’ll shift the brief descriptive copy right. That copy is adapted from the publisher’s catalogue. Even though I live in Richmond, home of Rosie the Riveter, I would not normally refer to my own writing as “riveting.” But I am trying to be a good compliant author.

UPDATE 1: The blurb text was too small so I moved the descriptive copy right. Compare the finished page to the thumbnail above by clicking though on it.

UPDATE 2: I added a simple slide show of sample spreads.

Google font API

google font api - example typefaces

Google has quietly introduced an API (application programming interface) for web fonts. This could potentially result in better — and also worse — web typography — depending on the skill and knowledge of the people who implement it. Unfortunately only a small minority of font users these day take the time to educate themselves about the print tradition.

Google’s font system involves referencing fonts stored at The open source license fonts are then served up by the Google servers and should appear on your web pages without your needing to upload or embed them. There are instructions here.

Only a small number of fonts are available at present but no doubt the list will grow. I wonder what the type designer community will think about this.

The web is a wide and mysterious place

Some people take offense when you give them links. I sent an e-mail out this morning that went something like this.

Dear blogger:

Since you objected to my referencing your item I have removed that post from my site.

I was if anything excessive in giving acknowledgment to you. I linked to your post twice in mine. I quoted a few sentences from your piece as a direct quote, signaled with quotation marks, attribution, and a link.

To make sure this doesn’t happen again (I guess because you don’t wish to be bothered by traffic to your site) I have removed your site from my feeds. You can rest easy.

How the internet works

internet memes


Via Daily


Why Google Chrome is my default browser

google chrome logoI was reluctant to switch from Firefox, which has been my browser of choice for a long time. But Firefox is often very slow to load — sometimes I would get tired of waiting and after a while open up Chrome, and it would still open first — and Firefox takes up a lot more memory. In Chrome you can check the memory usage of each tab separately and just close an offender without shutting down the whole program. Moreover, Chrome seems more secure — at least, it escaped unscathed in a couple of hack contests.

I like the way I can rearrange tabs in Chrome — I can move the one I opened last to the left if I want. I can type a search term directly into the address bar. I can open a download from the status bar at the bottom of the page. On the New Tab page I can see a list of pages recently closed, and links to my top sites are opened automatically.

In Chrome I can easily sync all my browsers — if, for example, I change something on my netbook the change will be made on my laptop and my work computer as well. Extensions are intelligently managed. One click gets me to facebook, local weather, Google Translate, Google Docs, and my calendar (which is synced to my smartphone).

There are a few things Chrome lacks that I miss: There is no print preview button, which is crazy. The back button for some reason takes me to the top of the page rather than the place I left from. And because my laptop has a wide screen I liked to have the sidebar open in Firefox.

I hate the idea of one company controlling so much of the world’s information and the ways we access it. I always seem to come to Google products a little reluctantly. But in the end it’s the features that win me over.

Sorry, Firefox.

Spamming Amazon

Via Slashdot:

In recent months a flood of so-called books have been appearing in Amazon’s catalog. VDM Publishing’s imprints Alphascript and Betascript Publishing have listed over 57,000 titles, adding at least 10,000 in the previous month alone. These books are simply collections of linked Wikipedia articles put into paperback form, at a cost of 40 cents a page or more. These books seem to be computer-generated, which explains the peculiar titles noted such as ‘Vreni Schneider: Annemarie Moser-Pröll, FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, Winter Olympic Games, Slalom Skiing, Giant Slalom Skiing, Half Man Half Biscuit.’ Such titles do have the marketing effect of turning up in many different searches. There is debate on Wikipedia about whether their ‘VDM Publishing’ page should contain the words ‘fraud’ or ‘scam.’ VDM Publishing’s practice of reselling Wikipedia articles appears to be legal, but is ethically questionable. Amazon customers have begun to post 1-star reviews and complain. Amazon’s response to date has been, ‘As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking.’ The words ‘and pay us’ were left out. Amazon carries, as a Googled guess, 2 million different book titles, so VDM Publishing is currently 1/35th of their catalog, and rapidly growing.

A new look for the BBC

Bronwyn van der Merwe has an interesting post over at the BBC Blog about redesigning their web content. Whether you approve of all the decisions or not, what’s wonderful about the post is how through and generous it is in sharing the various elements of the design. The design uses a grid system, which is pretty standard for print materials but is more difficult on the web because of the lack of uniformity in screen resolutions. The post looks at banner design, embedded media, mobile platforms, fonts, sources of inspiration, type over images, color palette, and more. They are moving away from lefthand navigation to top-of-page horizontal navigation. They even created a new set of icons. And a style guide, which they are sharing as a download.

I’m not crazy about the aqua tones (this site also uses a blue palette but I hope with a bit more soul), and I don’t really understand combining Helvetica with Gill Sans. Etc. Still, it’s a great look at the process of rationalizing design on a large site with many different kinds of pages.

Google Wave

Google Wave, currently in beta, seems to be an effort to combine an online document feature (Google Docs) with a live chat feature (Google Chat). Contacts can collaborate on documents in real time. I haven’t tried it yet, and I wonder if the simultaneous live editing feature doesn’t get a little chaotic.

Anyway, I have a handful of invites left to share, so if anyone wants to try the beta version, send me an e.  Google says “Google Wave is more fun when you have others to wave with, so please nominate people you would like to add. Keep in mind that this is a preview so it could be a bit rocky at times. Invitations will not be sent immediately. We have a lot of stamps to lick. Happy waving!”

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Some rights reserved 2022 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via