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Archive for March, 2009

Squirrels in Sunderland

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Northumberland-based publisher Red Squirrel Press is one of our liveliest clients – it takes a special sort of energy to launch a poetry collection with three separate events in ten days, and still be prepared to launch not only a novel but a whole crime fiction imprint the following week! All this without sacrificing quality: Valerie Laws is a tremendous poet, and I’m looking forward to the launch of her fiction debut, The Rotting Spot, next week, but that shouldn’t overshadow another fine book, Alistair Robinson’s first collection, Stereograms of the Dead.

So last Thursday we ventured into Sunderland’s Bridges Shopping Centre for the last of Alistair’s three launches. Contrary to what people from Newcastle will tell you, there are many good things about Sunderland, but The Bridges isn’t one of them. Perhaps, in hindsight, we chose the wrong place to park: it should have been conveniently close to the bookshop, but it meant that on our way to the event we had to find our way out of a department store with no sign-posted exit, and on our way back, after the shops were shut, we had to trace a wide circle out of the shopping center and in again, up the stairs and down again. Waterstones was a haven of life, and warmth – and books – among the dark shuttered shops, and the coffee bar upstairs would be the perfect intimate venue, if it weren’t for the loud humming of the fridge.

Poetry triumphed over all these obstacles, though, and an appreciative audience of friends and family, students and fellow-poets, not to mention Cornwell Internet, enjoyed a lively tour (with props) of some of Alistair Robinson’s recurring themes. Vinyl LPs were brandished for the benefit of the younger members of the audience, who might not otherwise have grasped that the ‘stereograms of the dead’ are the stacks of records encountered in charity shops, the residue of house clearances.

This image from the poem The World of Mantovani is typical of what most appeals to me in Alistair Robinson’s poetry: it’s funny and clever and reflective, all of them in turn and sometimes all at once. He’s observant, too, and brings his observations to life – almost literally, in Polystyrene, in which the fragments of packaging caught in the wind become a flock of tiny creatures exploring the street, or Sand Shoes, which begins with a pun but carries on to justify it. Life’s Little Indignities is a photograph, something funny glimpsed, recorded and shared. (No, I won’t give away what – read the book!)

The price of cheap web sites

Friday, March 6th, 2009

The Guardian‘s Thursday Technology supplement used to have an entertaining column called ‘Technobile’. I enjoyed reading it, and was sorry when it reverted to technophilia. I rarely read the current Technophile column, since I’m not in the market for the new and shiny gadgets it assesses each week, largely enthusiatically.

But last week’s instalment (which I can’t find on the web) caught my eye. It described a service called MrSite, a cheap and simple way for people to build their own web sites. Just because I’m a web designer, it doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to people designing their own sites. I want clients who are already convinced that they need a web site, and if that means trying out something small-scale and home-made first, that’s fine. So I was interested to see what the review had to say.

There’s only one thing wrong with MrSite, it seems, and it wasn’t worth discussing in the text of the article (only appearing in the ‘pros and cons’ summary at the end) – "browser differences mean site doesn’t always look the same" In other words, despite restricting users to a fixed template, MrSite still can’t deliver standards-compliant sites, which will display correctly in all compliant browsers. The reviewer didn’t seem perturbed by this, but I’d call it a drawback – and it also made me wonder whether the sites meet accessibility standards (and can be used by disabled visitors).

The real problem, I suspect, is that the ‘Technophile’ column is not an in-depth scrutiny of whatever product is featured in any given week, but a user assessment – which can be informative if the reaction is "this mobile phone is easy / tricky to use" or "these headphones are comfortable, but the sound quality isn’t very good." But the user of site-building software is not just the person who builds the site, but everyone who ever visits it – and their experiences may be very different. At Cornwell Internet, we do our best to ensure that our sites work over a range of browsers, new and old, PC and Mac, voice and visual, and on different screen sizes, too. That’s part of our job.

Ah, well, as I say, it’s not in the nature of the column to pick up this sort of issue; but then I turned the page to the Ask Jack column, and found a letter headlined ‘Not a Firefox fan’ which illustrates the same problem. The writer complains that "Firefox seems unable to display numerous websites properly" In fact, of course, Firefox is displaying the site ‘properly’ (according to the rules), the site wasn’t designed ‘properly’, it was designed to be viewed through all the idiosyncracies of Internet Explorer – possibly even using the MrSite software! It would be asking too much in the way of cross-referencing, I suppose, for Jack Schofield’s reply to make this point – but a reply published in yesterday’s paper spells it out!

And no, if you’re wondering, I didn’t write it – though the reason this post appears a week after the article that sparked it off is, indeed, that it incorporates the text of a letter not published by the Guardian!

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