Gainful Employment

“How’s the shop?” you ask. Yup, it’s been a couple weeks since I sold out and went whole-hog at Big Winds. It’s been great, and while my job suffers from a severe and terminal case of ADD, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

Sometimes I’m working on the website, but much of the time I’m helping customers in the store, or answering kiteboarding questions on the phone, or processing internet orders, or cleaning out the microwave after my coffee exploded. For the next couple days I’m actually in charge of the shipping department, as Joe has taken a few days off to go out to Joseph, Oregon and give a ring to a special person. Sadly, he may return to find both his bachelorhood and his workspace in ruins.

A few days ago Bruce Peterson, the brilliant and kind fellow behind Sailworks, stopped by the shop. While climbing into his van he found me on the sidewalk in front of the shop, covered in dust and shaking the dirt out of a whole stack of rugs.

“Hey Dane, welcome back!”
“Thanks, Bruce!”
“So, web guy, eh?”
“And… rugs, looks like?”
“Uhh, yeah. Either way, I usually just take them all out back and beat them.”

So yeah, I’m all over the map these days and still busy getting reacquainted with the shop, but I’m really enjoying the diversity of it all. In regards to the website there’s a whole lot of changes I want to make, but much of it falls behind my current priority, which is to simply make our online product catalog accurate. There’s a lot of data in there, and even though I’ve nearly rewritten the entire back-end over the years, there’s a lot of legacy code that prevents me from efficiently making large-scale updates. That said, I have managed to eek a bit of coolness out of the deal:

Using this batch of Photoshop Automator Actions, I’ve automated the generation of product images for the website. It took a couple hours of development, but now I’ve got a nearly foolproof system that takes in a batch of original high-res images, and automatically creates large, standard and thumbnail sized images. The whole deal respects aspect ratios, throws in a bit of unsharpen mask and gently compresses each image, all while I microwave yesterday’s coffee for the fourth time.

Thanks to this, I’ve been able to integrate Lightbox with our kite detail pages. It’s still in beta so there aren’t any visual cues, but if you click on the kite picture it’ll bring up a larger version. I really wanted the large images to be much bigger, but our web statistics suggest that most of our visitors are still stuck at 1024×768 resolution, and I didn’t want them to have to scroll to hit the close button.

Hard to believe, eh? I mean, I kicked 1024 to the curb at least five years ago, maybe nine, and my preferred environment these days is a whopping 1900×1200. Apparently there are still a bunch of people out there who want to be miserable in front of their computers, and want blindness to accompany their barroom deafness.

Here’s another interesting discovery. According to our statistics, as well as some off-the-cuff usability studies I’ve conducted (which is just a fancy way of saying that I watched people browse our website), people have no clue that the “Boards”, “Sails”, “Masts”, etc. headings in our primary navigation are clickable.

It appears that even the New York Times website suffers from the same problem, which is probably why they have little » » glyphs next to their category headings. While I definitely have qualms about the improper semantics of using right angle quotes as visual cues rather than as, say, quotes, I figured I’d give them a shot and see if they affect usability at all.

Another kinda neat thing we did to the site is add a couple of QuickTime VR Tours of our shop. A couple months ago we had a guy come in and shoot the whole place with a fisheye lens, and stitch the photos together all right-nice. In the interest of catering to a hideous web browser that is used by a vast majority of our visitors (see my earlier point about how people want to be miserable at their computers), I tried to embed the videos as unobtrusively as possible, using these scripts provided by Apple.

Long story short, by using JavaScript to embed the video code, I am able to circumvent the repercussions of the Eolas lawsuit, and make the videos work in Internet Explorer without requiring visitors to hate their lives and click on it multiple times.

I know, I know. There are better ways to embed content, ways that will validate and are semantically correct. That said, even the most recent article on A List Apart doesn’t arrive at a definitive solution for the issue, and as such I’m willing to leave this one up to bloody pragmatism. My solution above worked in every browser I tested, under nearly all conditions, and I call that good.

In happier news, I did manage to get all of my tiny, disparate onload JavaScripts to fire using the same addEvent() function. Major props go to Dustin Diaz for his rock solid addEvent() function, though I might add we’re still gonna whoop his butt in bowling at SXSW.

And hey, did you know that in a Google search for “camp loo”, camping toilets come up in nearly all of the link ads? I just thought that was funny.