Saturday morning housekeeping: my basement and CSS

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I slept in a bit this morning since it was an exceptionally long work week. Much to the frustration of others in my family, I sometimes wake up on Saturdays with an annoying urge to get more efficient and to organize things. There is no special reason why this couldn’t be done on a Sunday or in bits and pieces through the rest of the week, but so be it.

Beatnik the cat

My plans were thwarted somewhat this morning when I went down the basement and discovered two things. First, though I’ve screened off part of the basement to keep the cats out of the area, one of our cats, Beatnik, was staring at me from the other side of the screen. Evidently he can jump over it with impunity. That’s not all that serious, but adds a to-do to the list.

The second issue was more serious. Our furnace has two burners and one of them wasn’t lit. I’ve learned to look for this since it happened a couple of years ago. I called the service company and they’ll be over sometime between Noon and 3. They are quite reliable, but now I know what I’m doing this afternoon. I had an immediate to-do with this in that I needed to clean up the basement a bit which I did. That wasn’t on my list. My house was built in 1820, so this is an old basement and is never going to look beautiful, but it is serviceable.

The basement taken care of, I decided to turn to something a bit more digital, and that was my website. Every few days I logon as the administrator for my blog and see if anything needs to be updated. I check the comment spam list to see if anyting was caught that shouldn’t have been (there was one). I look at the WordPress plugins to see if there are any notifications of updates (there was one, for Twitter Tools by Alex King). Then I backup everything to my desktop Mac. From there Time Machine will preserve a copy, as will Jungle Disk onto the Amazon storage cloud.

The wiki that I use, Dokuwiki, also needed some care. There was a message, rather annoying actually, at the top of every wiki page stating that an update was available. So I went and downloaded that, moved over the various pages, template, and configuration files, and uploaded it all to the site. I missed a file, so had to add that back in. Everything worked, and I made the new version current and renamed the old version. It worked, but it was a pain. There were two many individual files to remember to move. I consider the wiki an experiment, and it has great features, but maintenance could have been better. I do understand that it is an individual effort and I do appreciate that it is open source. Anyway, I got it done.

I haven’t done much to unify the look and feel of the Dokuwiki wiki and the WordPress blog. I’m starting to think that I shouldn’t have to do it, in the following sense. While you can create arbitrary HTML either directly, via PHP, or other means, you can also make up new and strange CSS names for the various elements of your page design. If you allow your application to be skinnable via templates of some sort, you can just fiddle with the definitions in CSS to change your look and feel.

Wouldn’t it be cool if, say, template builders for most of the common web-based apps got together and used common CSS names? That is, while not everything is the same in the page layout for a blog as it is for a wiki, many things are. I’m aware of some work around such things such as BluePrint CSS, but no complete solution. I also understand that some templates do some particular code tweaking.

So here’s the proposal: have those responsible for the template infrastructure in the most widely used web-based apps get together and decide on a common naming scheme and design for CSS, that is, a standard. Above that, there could be a minimal code layer or set of extra CSS design elements. That way, those who wish to incorporate multiple web sites within a single site could much more easily achieve a common look and design. Right now, just too much hacking is involved.

When I look around I see people trying to move to common infrastructure in web applications, such as access control lists. Having a common and standard infrastructure for the design elements would allow rapid integration of applications and more powerful websites.


  1. HTML5 should make this much less of a problem with better semantic tagging of data: With tags such as , , and , you’ve got generic content (much better than the existing grouping mess) building blocks. It should make people stray less into the unfortunate area of 101 classes per page :)

    See source code for an example of this,

  2. Thanks for the pointer to Blueprint CSS. It could be the right direction, but I wonder about flexibility. (On my personal blogs, I like two right sidebars, which doesn’t seem to be something that Blueprint CSS is thinking about).

    I’ve been focused a lot on theming, recently, because the professional association that I work with has put out an RFI to try to get more similar looks across Drupal, Dokuwiki and Open Journal System. As part of the initial estimate, we’ve requested that the vendor package up a version of the code to be contributed back to these communities — possibly saving some other organization with similar technologies from having to reinvent the wheel — and we should be okay if a “plain” version (i.e. not our colours) is posted, so that everyone doesn’t look like us.

    The above list doesn’t include WordPress — we currently aren’t blogging — but your CSS point makes me think about what it might take if we ever moved that direction. Right now, it looks like Drupal is the most sophisticated, so the direction is to start there, and then adjust for Dokuwiki and OJS.

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