Welcome to After Hours.

This is a personal and professional blog by me, Brad Bice. I've combined all of my opinions, reviews, technical learnings and other writings and ramblings into one stream of consciousness. Thanks for stopping by!

Game over

My time in the sports licensed retail business is done. I have moved on to a new opportunity after 3 12 years at Dreams Retail / Fanatics, Inc.

It was great to be able to apply my web skills to the sports world, and to work with brands such as the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bulls. I’ll always appreciate the experience I gained and the relationships that formed while there.

But life moves on and I am now a member of a great development team at Medtelligent, Inc. They create web-based software for assisted living communities and I’m very excited to work with a great group of people on a wonderful product.

Life works in strange ways, and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to pursue my professional dream with wonderful opportunities!

Pro Wrestling

It’s been 25 years since I first saw professional wrestling on TV.

I’m not sure why I remember that it was in March of 1988 that I turned the channel and became mesmerized by Superstar Billy Graham flexing and two pathetic no-name wrestlers trying to pull his arms down, only to be thrown to the mat. I was 8 years old at the time, Saturday morning cartoons had just ended and I was probably bored and looking for something else cartoon-ish to entertain me.

Fast-forward 25 years and I’m still entertained by pro wrestling. Definitely not to the extent that I have been in periods of my life, but I’ll still watch a show or linger on the channel or visit wrestling websites for the latest news and gossip. But I can’t quite put my finger on why I like it, and I as I grow older it gets harder to justify to myself.

When I was young, it was easy to understand why I loved it. Here were these costumed superheroes, fighting costumed bad guys, and looking and sounding so cool while they did it. They wrestled/performed in huge arenas with rocking 80s music and a spectacle that no one but Vince McMahon has ever been able to display. Monsters ranged from the incredible Andre the Giant to the dastardly “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase. They wore cool shiny gold belts and walked around with gorgeous women. I wanted to be them, I wanted to wrestle, and I wanted to dress like a superhero. They were building toward WrestleMania 4, and I recreated this with my toy wrestling ring and figures.

5 years in, around 1993 and now 13 years old, I was approaching high school and was knee-deep in adolescence. My attentions diverted to music and girls, and whatever else kept me busy as a teenager. So I stopped watching wrestling, but never really stopped following it. I knew who was good and who was bad still. I knew who was WWF and who was WCW. I still leafed through black-and-white wrestling magazines at the grocery store.

In 1996 a couple of guys (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) jumped ship from the WWF to WCW in a way that made it look like they hadn’t actually left the WWF, but were appearing on WCW TV anyways. This BLEW MY MIND. Before the days of internet news sites and twitter and the information era, the audience didn’t know all the backstage goings-on with wrestling. We didn’t know wrestlers’ contract status or info about who signed with what company. So when Hall & Nash appeared on WCW Nitro, my brain snapped and I was back in. More than ever, I was a pro wrestling fan. I went to a Nitro live show. I went to a WWF Raw show. I bought the magazines, taped the TV shows, and bought a couple of wrestling t-shirts. For another 4-5 years, they had me.

After that, it was just casual entertainment. I didn’t fret if I missed a show here or there. Besides, I now had the internet to help me catch up on storylines and happenings. Because of the internet, spoilers kept too much big from surprising anyone, taking some of the magic away from the whole thing.

This weekend is WrestleMania 29, highlighted by current stars like CM Punk, John Cena and Brock Lesnar. The audience has matured from the good guys vs. bad guys schtick, they all know matches are predetermined and that the guys (usually) don’t actually hit each other.

But the thing that most people never understood is that whether any of it is real or not wasn’t the point. The point was how real they made it feel to us, what emotions they could bring out, and how fun they made their shows. It was fun watching the matches, it was fun booing people we didn’t like, and it was fun watching the spectacle of the whole thing. They coined their own term of “sports entertainment” because they get it.

It’s still fun for me to keep up with, and until it really gets watered down, I’ll probably still know who will be in the main event each year at WrestleMania.

Why the Closing of Google Reader Matters

On Wednesday, March 13th, Google announced that they will be closing their popular (in opinion if not in numbers) Google Reader product on July 1, 2013.

As a Reader user, I was kind of shocked to see that a product that seemed to be steadily improving, and that also seemed to not be too resource-dependent on Google’s part, be relegated to the trash bin.

For those that don’t know, Google Reader is a tool for aggregating and viewing RSS feed content. RSS feeds are streams of updates from websites and services. This blog has an RSS feed that contains each of the posts that I have made, along with time and date and other meta information for indexing and organization. Reader was a tool that collected and organized feeds for easy reading, allowing users to access one page to browse all of their favorite website updates (as opposed to opening a bunch of bookmarks into multiple tabs or remembering site addresses.)

Upon release of the announcement of the closing, the web went completely ape-shit and popular news items of the day like NFL free agency and oh, just the appointment of a new Pope were pushed aside for complete panic over what people are going to do now that Reader is closing. It may seem a little trivial considering this is just a free tool for reading RSS feeds (there are lots and lots of alternative tools available,) but this is actually a fairly important red flag for everyone that uses the web.

Most of us use free services like GMail, Yahoo Mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. for sharing and storing our information on the web. They’re great: they’re free, easily accessible, constantly updated and enhanced and they’re relevant to the types of information we want and need and how we want and need it. Services like GMail make something like email easy for the masses. Setting up your own email server or even using POP with your own domain (what’s that, right?) are fairly complicated, especially for the less-techy users out there.

The problem comes with the complete integration of our lives with these services. Sure, Google can shutter Reader and we’ll grumble but move on to another service. But what if they decide to close GMail? Our email includes details about not only our online lives, but also our offline lives as well. Bank account logins, loan details, school and work documents, and other vital details for accessing important information all lives in our email. Not to mention all of the personal correspondence and records of conversations that are also archived there. Even businesses and universities have converted from private to GMail-run email services. We have all put our vital, private information in the hands of a corporation that has the justifiable power to erase it all at the flip of a switch.

Now, it’s highly unlikely that Google will close GMail, one of its most successful (if not most popular or industry leading) products. But it’s not impossible. It’s also not impossible for services such as Yahoo, Twitter or Facebook to close either. Or to be bought out or merged with another company and fundamentally changed for better or worse. Internet giants like Flickr and Instagram have both been eaten up by larger corporations (Yahoo and Facebook, respectively,) and while their core functionality has yet to change, decisions regarding these services must eventually bend to the will of the stockholder.

I’m not giving up my GMail account anytime soon, but I will be keeping my eye on what is a growing trend of commercialized information. And I’ll try to own and/or pay for as much of my information and services as I can.

The Mythical "Fold"

Photo of devices

The “fold” on the web is a controversial topic. I personally believe that the web is different from print (where the term and concept originated) in that it is interactive.

Scroll bars and touch controls allow users to manipulate their viewing experience more and more with each new device and browser. Also,  ”mobile” internet use will surpass desktop use by 2014 (according to this study,) meaning that any concrete identification of the fold will be out the window.

Obviously there are cases where putting content near the top of a page can be beneficial, since most if not all browsers render pages with the starting point scrolled to the top (is top a relevant term when describing page location anymore? Especially since devices can be rotated and turned more than older monitors ever could.)  But I believe that is different from expressing that something be entirely or mostly “above the fold.” There should always be a content hierarchy  and browsing trends will usually point to people scrolling from top to bottom to support this.

Responsive design especially defeats the concept of the fold since it makes the “fold line” a floating and ever-changing border. Instead of concentrating on what should be above or below a line that may or may not even exist in a majority of cases, I believe authors should instead focus on a consistent hierarchy of content and embrace the ambiguity of the web.

Responsively Redesigning

I’m currently redesigning this site to take advantage of Responsive Web Design, something anyone with a website should be doing.

I’m using a “Mobile First” approach (do you see a trend here?) by serving up a minimal content set for those on cellular networks or slow connections. As the screen size increases, the design will change to allow for a different experience (a slightly different layout, larger images, etc.) The design is also resolution independent, thanks to icon fonts (the exception being photos and images, I have yet to provide new versions of those, as my focus has been on the mobile side for now.)

This is a work in progress but I wanted to express my desire and determination to create a responsive version of my website. It’s part of a “design in the browser” method that I’m using for this particular project where I am the client. So if things happen to look a little muddy at times, that’s why!

Note: Current development and testing has taken place in Google Chrome and Safari on iOS 5. These are the most-utilized browsers according to my analytics so I design in those first. Firefox and IE support is coming next. I am only using this “live-redesign” process on my personal page, and would not use or recommend it for a commercial site. See Zeldman and Zeldman.

Internet Explorer 6 compatibility

Internet Explorer 6 is the bane of web developers everywhere, much like Netscape 4 was in the early 2000s. How do we support IE6 users without going crazy?

There is a growing campaign in the web development community calling for the death of version 6 of the Internet Explorer browser by Microsoft. Introduced in 2001, it had ruled the market share of browser usage for years until the coming of Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer 7.

I did a quick Google search for the term “ie6” and found a startling six “death to ie6” websites on just the first two pages of results. These include:

And one likely parody, SaveIE6.

One of the main reasons for the IE6 hate is its lack of support for web standards such as full CSS 2.1 compliance and PNG alpha transparency. Another is its many security issues which come with being the top browser for approximately 5 years. While no browser available supports every standard, even IE7 at least supports a larger contingent of CSS 2.1 selectors, PNG alpha transparency and is a little better on security.

While it may seem easier to point visitors to new browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox, Opera, Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari or even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8, it is important to note that some people either can not or will not upgrade. Many business computers still run IE6, and will do so for years to come. So what is the solution for web developers who want to escape having to “fix” their websites for IE6?

Andy Clarke, a member of the Web Standards Project and a former invited expert to the W3C’s CSS Working Group, provided a solution that I find appealing. Since the content of a website is most important, make sure that content is viewable and accessible to users of IE6 by providing them with an IE6-only CSS stylesheet. This renders the page in a very readable and organized yet generic design while separating the main design for others using more current and advanced browsers.

This is done by inserting IE conditional comments into the <head> portion of your website’s HTML, like so:

<!–[if IE 6]><link rel=“stylesheet” type=“text/css” href=“ie6.0.3.css” media=“screen, projection” /><![endif]–>
The stylesheet code is available on Google Code for anyone to use for free. I am using it on this website as a mere 10% of my visitors are currently browsing with IE6. It is important that designers and developers view their logs and stats to determine what browsers to support. I will usually adapt my design for IE6 (or any other browser) if more than 30% of my visitors are using it.

As Jeffrey Zeldman said when referring to Clarke’s method, “no solution, however elegant, will work for every situation.” But work like this will allow for an easier transition as the world upgrades.