Essential Reading for Web Designers

I’ve been busy finishing a few projects so I haven’t blogged much recently I know but I’m going to try and pick up the pace a little bit.

I just got a couple of new books from Amazon this week and I’ve now found that I have four books that I look to for cool solutions for the challenges presented by Standards Compliant website design. So I’m putting a little mini-review here of them, despite the fact that I’ve only just started reading one of the books I got this week, it’s just I can tell it’s worth recommending them!

Designing with Web Standards
By Jeffrey Zeldman

Picture of Designing with Web Standards book jacketThis book is the one to read if you don’t know anything about Web Standards at all, it’s intended more to explain the benefits of Standards compliant web design rather than being a how-to manual with extensive code.

It does have some code examples but it doesn’t go too deep so it serves as a great primer for those beginning to get a feel for CSS and XHTML.
It’s written well and is not a dry technical manual but interesting to read.

Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook
by Dan Cederholm

Picture of Web Standards Solutions book jacketFor those who’ve read the first book and have gotten hooked then this next book is a great way to move forwards. There’s lot’s of practical code examples which relate to real world usage, it gives solutions that can be applied to give great results.

Like the book above it’s well written and fun to read with simple explanations, perfect for extending your Web Standards knowledge.

Bulletproof Web Design: Improving Flexibility and Protecting Against Worst-Case Scenarios with XHTML and CSS
by Dan Cederholm

Picture of Bulletproof Web Design book jacket The next book follows on from the previous book and focuses on ‘bulletproof’ techniques to use in building your sites.

Lot’s of clear code examples that compare traditional methods of site design with the benefits of creating the same layout using Standards compliant techniques. It’s written well like Dan’s first book and really gives a great overview of some brilliant techniques to apply to the website that you build.

DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model
by J.Keith

Picture of DOM Scripting book jacketThe title of this book might sound a little ominous, maybe all of them do?!?! This book is a great companion to the rest in that as the other books deal more with Standards Compliant CSS and XHTML this book focuses on Standards Compliant Javascript coding.

It’s a great book aimed at web designers rather than programmers so it’s an excellent way to get into the power that the DOM and Javascript can offer.

These are all great books that I regularly dip in and out of, they’ve really helped me get a better understanding of all the benefits of Standards Compliant website design as well as how to practically put it into practice.


“It was like totally random!”

Yep, we’re back from our holiday, well, we got back on the 23rd of October but I’ve just been busy this last week and hadn’t had an opportunity to post a new blog entry.

We had a great holiday down in Wales, we stayed in a really nice cottage called Tyddyn Cottage (pronounced ‘tithin’) near a place called Builth Wells. It was nice just being in the middle of countryside and not having to work!

Here’s a few photos from the holiday with some comments:

Our rental car was a Ford Focus Zetec. Nice!

Tyddyn Cottage

Natalie and her favourite tree.

Natalie listening to rain falling on the roof of my Auntie’s barn.

Natalie smiling for the camera.

Natalie and her Grandad.

Natalie kissing one of my Auntie’s goats!

Inside Cardiff Castle.

The ‘flamily’ in the ball pool at ‘Quackers‘!!!

Left to right: My cousin Melanie, her son James, my Auntie (in the red), Natalie, Annie, me, my Dad, my brother and his wife Maureen’s knee!

Four Generations of the Curran family!!!

That’s just a few pictures from our holiday, we all had a really nice time away.

Geeky stuff:

Well, what can I write for my geeky bit? Mmm, well, today I got a chance to play around with one of the new iPods, the ones which can play video it’s so thin compared to my iPod, a very nice piece of kit.

Oh, a really cool thing was that someone gave me a Canon 10D digital SLR camera and two lenses, I was pretty blown away, I’ve really wanted a digital SLR but couldn’t afford one. I’m really looking forward to getting back into photography again, I haven’t used my film-based 35mm SLR for years, once you use digital it’s hard to go back!

What else? umm, oh yeah, Annie and I made a song, well, more Annie really but we both had fun! I’d describe it as being a mixture of Jefferson Airplane meets Madonna and the ‘Lost’ polar bear!!! Also, once you listen to it the title of this blog post will make sense, well kind of!

Download ‘Selah’ in MP3 format…

Lastly, thanks to Annie’s Mom for sending us ‘Lost‘ Series One on DVD in the mail, without this we’d be just like the rest of the UK having to wait another 10 weeks to find out what happens!!!

So, what’s it worth to people for me not to post what happens??!!!!!


Going on holiday, yay!

Yep, going on holiday for a week on Saturday. I’m really looking forwards to it. We’ve got a hire car and are driving down to Wales to visit family, my Dad is over from Australia and my brother Alistair and his wife Maureen will be there too, it’ll be the first big family get together for a long time. Also it will be the first time Annie and Natalie meet my Grandparents and my Aunt & Uncle, so lot’s going on there.

My Dad has booked a holiday cottage for my brother & his wife and Annie, Natalie and myself which looks reaaly nice. So, looking forward to a nice break.

Essential Gadgets

Of course, going away means you have to be prepared so I’ve got a whole range of gadgets to keep me amused and also to help us not get lost driving there. The list so far is:

  • Canon MV600i Digital Video Camera
  • Canon 10D Digital SLR Camera (Borrowed from my friend Dave!)
  • 2.5gb CF card storage capacity
  • Powerbook Laptop
  • 120gb External hard drive
  • Nokia NGage Gaming phone
  • Tom-Tom Satellite Navigation System (Borrowed from my friend Dave!)
  • 40gb iPod (Mine!)
  • 512mb iPod Shuffle (Annie’s!)
  • Various Cables, firewire, USB, AV etc…

Well, that’s the stuff I’ve remembered so far. All completely essential of course! The most annoying thing is that the hire car comes with a CD player and not a tape deck so I can’t plug in my iPod to listen to music!!! A hassle as we keep all our CD’s stored away as we only play music from our iPods nowadays. How archaic having to use CDs!!! ;)

“It was black and about the size of labrador…”

Another little project I’ve started working on is a little Google Maps mashup. Oh, what’s a ‘mashup’ you ask? well, it’s where you take the function of the Google Maps service and link in your own data or functionality to it. So I’ve made my own little mashup.

Over the years there’s been sightings in the local area, and indeed throughout the rest of Scotland and the UK, of ‘Big Cats’, these are not just domestic cats gone wild but cats of descriptions varying from Puma to Lynx, and also paw-prints and animals killed. Recently there was a few sightings of a big black cat in the West End of Dundee, someone even feared their pet had been eaten by it. I came across the site of a charity called Scottish Big Cat Trust and they track sightings of these animals.

So, my Google maps Mashup is a ‘Cat Map’, have a look here, Please note that the first sighting is of course fake! We haven’t spotted anything ourselves! The data for 2004 is real though. There’s over 1300 sightings in the Big Cat Trust database so it’ll take time to add all those but you’ll get the idea hopefully.

Well, Annie’s here to pick me up from work so now I am on holiday!!!



Geek stuff, Web 2.0, interesting music…

I was watching TV tonight and saw the Orange advert with this unusual music track on it, I googled a few of the words of the song and found out it was a track by Joanna Newsom, a quick trip to the iTunes Music store and I bought the album. It’s called ‘The Milk-Eyed Mender’, you can follow this link to go straight to it in the iTunes Music store, you’ll need iTunes installed to do so of course. Nice album, very quirky sound but I like it.

Apart from listening to music (and updating this blog!) I have been reading a lot of stuff about what has been termed ‘Web 2.0’. What’s Web 2.0 you ask? well, that’s what lot’s of other people are asking too! I’ve been asked to speak at an event called Creative Exchange in Perth next week and I’ve decided that this will be (at least part anyway) the subject of my talk.

Basically Web 2.0 is about the new generation of internet based application, or Rich Internet Applications as they’re known. Web 2.0 refers to the development of the World Wide Web from simply being a collection of websites that can / may link to one another to becoming more like an operating system in itself. Web 2.0 Applications move away from simply being web-browser based content to being separate software applications that draw functionality as well as content from the internet.

Many websites have ways that allow you to tap into the content or functionality that they provide, Google for instance has methods by which you can search their extensive database and pull the information back into the application requesting it. Many News websites offer you the ability to subscribe to their content using RSS feeds, these can be linked into an application to provide up-to-date information. Another characteristic of Web 2.0 RIA’s is that of being Social applications, linking users to one another, communities based not just around websites as in Web 1.0 but within desktop software applications too.

So, there’s a very brief glimpse of some Web 2.0 thoughts. I’ve set up an account on (A Social bookmarking site!) with some interesting stuff about Web 2.0 in case anybody feels like reading more, it’s definitely something I’m paying attention to as a web developer / designer. My site is

As one of my old college tutors used to say, ‘Interesting stuff, interesting stuff.’ ;)


The weekend! A few Photos / Videos…

Just before leaving my office on Friday night I noticed a really awesome sky out of the window, the clouds were rippled and it was all red and glowing. We really do get some awesome sunsets in Dundee. Here’s a picture:

Sunset Clouds over Dundee, taken on 30-09/05 You’ll notice the crane at the lower-right corner, there’s actually about 3 or 4 visible out of this window as there’s so much construction going on in Dundee just now.

Saturday morning and it’s nice to be at home with the family. We had an easy start to the day and then helped some friends move into a flat across the road, some more people who’ve moved onto our street!

Then we went to Jimmy Chungs for lunch, Natalie loves going here, plus she’s still free as she’s under 3 years old! ;) We then went and bought some new clothes, I’ve needed new trousers for a while and Natalie needed some new clothes more suited for Autumn (Fall!) / Winter (yup, Summer is over! Night’s are drawing in!).

After that I went to the park to meet up with my friend Daryl to check out and document progress on the new outdoor concrete park being built. The park is looking good! Annie and Natalie came and met us at the park and Natalie showed off her new dress and also to play in the play-park too.
I took a few photos and some video clips, they were taken using my phone so the quality isn’t superb due to the light being a bit low.

Natalie in one of her new dresses Natalie in one of her new dresses!

Natalie and Daddy playing on the slide Natalie and Daddy playing on the slide.

Annie and Natalie pose for the camera Mummy and Natalie pose for the camera.

Movie of the sunset.

Natalie on the slide.

The Curran Family Singers!

Well, it’s been over a week since my last blog post. I’ve been pretty busy at work catching up on bits and pieces, starting one or two new projects.

Annie, however, has finally caught the GarageBand bug! I’ve now made my laptop a permanent resident at home and we’ve given the PC we had to some friends. So because we’re now a Mac-only household it’s meant Annie’s been able to spend some time using it to make some music.

‘Flamily’ singing

So, with all this music-making going on we thought we’d record a track especially for the blog, so we now proudly present the first ever track from ‘The Curran Family Singers’! ‘Row-Row’ is our rendition of that famous nursery rhyme, it’s in MP3 format so you should all be able to listen to it.

Row-Row.mp3 (750kb approx)

We hope you enjoy it! (Annie wouldn’t let me keep my voice distorted to sound like a robot so you’ll have to out up with my singing voice!)

‘Flamily’ is how Natalie pronounces ‘Family’ and it’s so cute that it’s hard to discourage or correct her!


So, with having my Powerbook laptop at home now I wanted to be able to hook it up to my stereo so that we could play all of our music. We put almost all of our CD’s away in boxes recently as we wanted to get rid of our CD towers which were taking up space and which also weren’t big enough to hold it all anyway!

I have all of our music in digital form at work and also on my iPod too, so it made sense to have it at home too. So with the addition of an external hard-drive we’ve now got all of our music (over 5500+ tracks, 30gb, enough music to play for three weeks continuously!) and also our Photo archive (Over 3500 photos at least!) in one place too.

We can now listen to all of our music and it doesn’t take up much space! The only drawback is currently we have to hook the computer up via a really long cable, the next addition will need to be an Airport Express base station that will allow the music to be beamed to the amplifier wirelessly!

Cool, that was family stuff and geek stuff one blog post!

Requests for further songs to be recorded are welcome!



Well, what’s been happening? I’ve just been working away on some other projects that have been on the back-burner due to TheBigProject? I was working on.

Helped my friend Daryl get a site up and running for the new outdoor concrete skatepark being built in Dundee. is the address, it’s another site based on my Blog engine so it’s good to get another site using it. The site has some construction progress shots on it which is the main reason for using the Blog engine for it.

My friend Alyn has just started VideoBlogging on his Blog site too, so go and check that out, the first episode is about a trip to Texas he and his wife AJ made recently. Pretty interesting, plus Alyn plans to end each one with a card trick! Check it out. We’re planning on getting a vBlog together soon to so watch this space!

For the geeky bit today I present Microsoft’s poor attempt to be cool and innovative, As Apple said in 2004, “Redmond, start your photcopiers“!!!

Well, that’s about it for now, I’ll end with a picture of my beautiful daughter on the day she got new shoes!

Yay! New Shoes!

Done, dusted, delivered.

Yep, the big job I’ve been working on is now finished, the only problem we had was trying to upload a Toast file of the finished hybrid CD to the client’s FTP server, so we had to send it express mail instead. It’s good to have it finished and the client is happy with it too, nice.

To celebrate getting it finished I gave Annie an iPod Shuffle to say thanks for putting up with my general stressed, tired, absent self whilst working on this project. She was happy as I know she’s wanted an iPod for a while, it’s good to have a happy wife ;)

Well, in order to counter-act the general geeky nature of this blog so far (I did warn it would be like this!) here’s some family pictures (I’ll add stuff about CSS, PHP, XHTML and other acronyms another time!).

Nat, Mom, Dad, Cake. Nat, Mom, Dad and Cake. My birthday, 27/08/05.

Nat and Daddy read a book Nat and Daddy read a book.

Nat and Pooh Natalie and Pooh bear. (I think Pooh was talking too much!)

Well, that’s all for this post, oh, apart from one last bit of geekiness. I’ve been trying out the new Firefox 1.5 Beta and it’s pretty good, you can drag tabs to re-arrange them which is pretty useful. Also, for Apple Mac users like myself it’s good news as keyboard commands like up/down arrows for scrolling pages work now too, it generally feels more responsive too. Anyway, good night!


More progress, Geek talk about my project

Yep, did a little work on the layout of the site so it’s looking a little bit better. A bit more tweaking to do, plus I haven’t checked it in IE on windows so I’m not certain it’s all sitting the way it should, I’ll get round to checking it soon.

So, what else? making good progress on the Flash/Director project I’m working on, hopefully get that all finished on Thursday and get it sent to the client for final approval, it’s been a tough job with quite a few challenges. It’s one thing to get up to speed on new software but it’s another thing to deal with unexpected bugs / glitches, it’s been one issue after another on this job.

I said I’d talk about this project so I might as well start, the project is a piece of software that is used to choose and assemble individual PDF pages and assemble them into books. The framework for the software is made up of Director MX 2004 and uses a Flash MX 2004 movie as the main interface aspect. It also uses Tabuleiro’s Arca database Xtra and Integration New Media’s Impressario Xtra for PDF processing.

One of the biggest issues I faced (right near the end of the project!) was a weird issue with a Flash movie with several MM listbox components running inside the Director projector running on Win XP. I had no problems in any other OS, Win 98 / 2000, Mac OSX/OS9. The application would freeze when clicking on a listbox item, I figured out that it only happened on machines with slower processors running XP which is why I hadn’t spotted it as my main test PC was obviously able to cope.

There was no solution other than to change the listboxes, so I bought a set of Ghostwire Studios components and they fixed the problem. The only drawback was that it meant I had to recode a fair bit as they don’t share the exact same API as the Macromedia components set, however, they’re more lightweight and don’t cause the problem!

It’s been good working with Director again, I haven’t used it much for years so it was interesting getting into it again. It was weird working with Flash inside of it as it meant using a mixture of Flash Actionscript and Director’s Lingo syntax, plus Director lets you use Javascript syntax too now so there’s so many ways to do things, it get’s kind of confusing though!

Well, I’m going to leave it there, time to go and sleep! Oh yeah, I did say this was a place for me to geek out!


Get your blog on…

Well, finally I’m going to start blogging, I’ve had this site sitting here for ages but hadn’t got round to doing anything about it. It still needs a visual identity but I thought I’d just get on with posting anyway.

So what’s my blog about? well, topics will revolve about the things I’m interested in, it’s part technology blog (web development, graphic design), part family diary (photos, stories) and just a place for me to write about what I’m thinking about, it’s as much for my own enjoyment as for anybody else to read.

Suburbia is definitely a place for me to geek out though! Currently I’m working on some development using Flash / Director and it’s raised a lot of challenges, so I’m hoping to throw in some of my experiences there.

Also, the actual blog engine running this site is one of my own projects so I’ll be actively developing that more over the next few months. You can see another couple of blogs based on it,, which is my friend Alyn’s blog and also which is a blog site documenting the construction progress of a concrete skatepark being built in Dundee just now.

So, that’s it for this first blog post, next step is sort it out visually and get it looking better.