Tags filed under ‘webdev’

The Comics Curmudgeon, Redesigned!

Screenshot of the new Comics Curmudgeon site design

Always an honor to get to improve upon a personal favorite!

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of reading the newspaper comics: youthful confusion about the differences between Garfield and Heathcliff, Marmaduke and Howard Huge, the Lockhorns and the Family Circus, wondering who was reading those giant-yet-boring Prince Valiant strips on Sunday, pondering the bizarre evolution of Robotman. I’ve read the comics religiously ever since, missing only a handful of days over the past 20+ years. But there were so many strips I simply ignored, convinced they were stodgy hangers-on from decades long past, or else that they were unfunny legacy soap operas not worth the time to investigate.

Thankfully in 2004 Joshua Fruhlinger started reading the comics so we wouldn’t have to. His curmudgeonly commentary had an opposite effect, though: hundreds of thousands of people suddenly began to appreciate Mary Worth for all of her meddlesome glory, found themselves able to recite the sordid back stories of the girls of Apartment 3G, and learned new ways to determine whether or not you might in fact be a Plugger.

The Comics Curmudgeon is one of the few sites that I visit multiple times a day right in the browser (despite its handy RSS feeds), so it was a great honor to be given the chance to do a facelift of the site. Since I look at it so often, I figured I’d better do a good job. Not to mention that if I broke what was already a cherished site, I’d surely be mauled by his sizable community of rabid comics fans!

Some of the highlights of the redesign:

  • An awesome new logo up there in the header depicting Josh as drawn by Ces Marciuliano, writer of Sally Forth and creator of Medium Large
  • Brand new, handcrafted WordPress theme, designed to retain some of the lo-fi, Verdana-heavy charm of the old site while cleaning up the layout and typography considerably
  • A new jQuery-based @reply system for the comments section, modeled after the ad hoc format that his community evolved and had been manually typing in — his posts often reach 500+ comments, so this helps keep track of who’s talking to whom a bit
  • A new Advanced Archives page that lets users build the archive they’d like to see (ex: “Show me this month’s posts about Mary Worth that contain the word “meddle”, in ascending order, five per page”), also allowing for easy bookmarking of their search query
  • Cleaner, lighter code and speed optimizations on the server side to help offset the time it takes to pull down the large daily comics
  • A flexible “jello” layout that expands and contracts depending on the size of your browser window, to add a bit of whitespace and breathing room without breaking things for folks on smaller screens
  • iPhone and “other” mobile versions of the site (which double as low-bandwidth alternatives for those on dialup who’d like a speed boost) with AJAX comment loading

Hopefully it’s all a change for the better (I think it is!), and I look forward to hearing the feedback!

UT Law on the Go: New iPhone Web App

Screenshots of the UT Law iPhone app

Trying to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, today we launched an iPhone / iPod Touch mobile web app for the University of Texas School of Law. If you want to check it out on your iPhone right away, fire up the following link in Safari: http://www.utexas.edu/law/m/

I built it from the ground up with PHP, JavaScript, and a bit of elbow grease, pulling data from a handful of existing sources both on-campus and off. It makes use of the iUI JavaScript framework, which is a great resource for getting up and running quickly (but which also has some drawbacks — I’ll likely switch to pure jQuery for the next major version, but I’m also keeping an eye on the jQTouch project). A quick rundown of the features of the web app:

  • Directory Search — if you’re affiliated with UT Law School you can search our internal phone and email directory by name or department, using the native iPhone apps to place calls and send emails directly,
  • Event listings and Notices pulled from our existing calendar and Law Mail announcement systems,
  • RSS feed view of our press releases,
  • Recent Twitter posts from our Communications office (this will make more sense when/if we have more than one Twitter account posting official news, and can combine them into one stream here),
  • Maps: detailed building maps, Google maps that use the iPhone location services to guide you to our building, KML-based maps of public parking, nearby hotels, and restaurants,
  • and a psuedo-iPhone style photo gallery that’s pulled from our existing mini-gallery on the regular website, adding the ability to flick through the images (did you know that Mobile Safari adds nifty JavaScript events for multi-touch gesture support? I didn’t until this project…)

There are a lot of things already in the works for the next iteration. The number one goal is to support other popular devices, to live up to the ideal of “one web, any browser”. As a developer who has wrestled against the wide range of inconsistent desktop browsers and all of their HTML and CSS inconsistencies over the years, though, it was really, really, nice to work with a single browser that already supports HTML5 and CSS3 presentation out of the box. Now I’m spoiled.