Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Blog Layout

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

by Rafael

Robert Cruickshank and I have decided to fiddle with the blog layout in an effort to improve its user-friendliness.

  • The text field for posts and comments is now wider, but anyone with a monitor resolution at least 1024 pixels wide should still be able to view the entire page without having to scroll horizontally.

  • We've reduced the number of recent posts on the blog's home page from seven to three to improve download times, especially when a recent post includes multimedia elements, e.g. Google Maps or Youtube videos.

  • The Blog Archive was moved up to the top of the sidebar on the right. Only the top level, i.e. the years, are shown by default to avoid pushing everything else down too far. To view older posts, please click on the little triangles to open and close the hierarchical index.

  • Just below it, we've added the new search widget Blogger has kindly made available.

  • For those would like to become a follower of this blog, we've added the widget for that at the very bottom of the sidebar. There's a choice to follow publicly or privately and you can stop following at any time. Followers will be notified of new posts on their Blogger dashboard.

Header Image

  • We would quite like to use a suitable background drawing or photo for a new header that is not subject to copyright or made available to us by permission.

  • The preferred dimensions are 920-960 pixels wide by 80-120 pixels high. A drawing should be in GIF, a photo in JPEG format with 50-80% quality to keep the file small.

  • The text "California High Speed Rail Blog" has to be prominently superimposed on the image, either in a suitable application or else using Blogger itself. The subtitle presently in the header will probably end up below the image or else be removed altogether.

  • A drawing could feature the blue-yellow-white color scheme adopted by CHSRA but not echo the Authority's logo - this blog has no official affiliation with that state planning body.

  • Neither photo nor drawing should include the logo of any railroad operator, foreign or domestic, nor should any train shown be clearly recognizable as a product of any particular train vendor.

We'll keep looking for appropriate options, but if you have a good image that meets the above criteria, that would be very welcome indeed. Please send it via email to Robert Cruickshank at his last name dot gmail dot com no later than June 15, 2009.

If we end up with multiple good candidates, we'll publish a post later this month with a poll so the readership tell us which they would prefer. Since internet polls are easily skewed (or skewered, Stephen Colbert-style), we'd also take the comments into considerations. In any event, due credit will be given to the creator of any contributed header image that appears on this blog.

Meanwhile, we'd appreciate your feedback on the changes we've made so far.


Brandon in California said...

The header reads:
California High Speed Rail support blog, spreading news and info about the high speed trains project approved by California voters in November 2008.Should 'Trains" be singular, "Train" ?

Rafael said...

@ Brandon -

I'll leave that call up to Robert Cruickshank, that subtitle has been up since day one. I'm guessing he just wanted to avoid using the word "rail" again.

TomW said...

Mch nicer :-)
However, could you do something about the comment posting page? The columns for both the exsistign comments and the box to enter commenst are still rather narrow.

Alon Levy said...

I think you should go back to 7 posts per page. This blog has very long comment threads, which often remain active several days after the original article was posted.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I'm no grammar expert, so I don't know if "trains" should be singular or plural. Thoughts? Rafael is right that I am trying to avoid repeating the word "rail."

Tom, I don't think we can do anything to the comments page without using a non-Blogger comments system, and I don't think either of us have the time to pull that off.

Alon, the number of posts on the page is something worth considering. I hope to hear others chime in with their thoughts as well. 7 seems like a bit much, but I will defer to consensus if one exists.

Anonymous said...

Its an improvement but I'd like to see a larger font. At least the next largest size. Also how about the ability for posters to ad images to their post using the [img

Anonymous said...

as for the trains or train - either one is correct.

Anonymous said...

7 is too many how bout 4. (and a larger font)

bossyman15 said...

i like old one better. I'm so used to it.

Bianca said...

Fonts can be adjusted on your own computer very easily, and you can subscribe to email for follow-up comments to keep tabs on threads. But does Blogger have an option to just display the title of the post and the number of comments for older posts without any text? That would save space but still allow people to follow along on older threads. I know you are constrained a bit by what Blogger lets you do.

Please no img tag. We've been hit by random trolls and/or spammers before, images would be inviting trouble. It's not too hard to figure out how to link to things with the "a" tag.

Anonymous said...

I se about the img thing but id like to know how you make a link

Anonymous said...

not one that looks like this but the other kind where you just click on it without having to copy and paste

bossyman15 said...

@ Jim

I don't have to copy and paste it.
linkification FTW.

Rafael said...

@ Jim -

easy enough. Just type

Jim's <a href="">favorite website</a>!

instead of

Jim's favorite website!

and you get an active link with the appropriate anchor text.

Jim's favorite website!

Some blog engines automatically recognize URLs as such as make them active. Unfortunately, Blogger isn't one of them.

Rafael said...

@ Bianca -

I think you're referring to peek-a-boo comments. I'll have to test those on my private blog and then talk to Robert about this and other suggestions.

Anonymous said...

let's see like this.. jims favoritewebsite wow thats too complicated.

Rafael said...

@ TomW -

unfortunately, Blogger doesn't allow us to change the layout of the comments page.

Two alternatives are offered: one that pops up a new window and another that embeds the comment entry form after the last comment on a post. They say you have to enable the Archive -> Post Pages setting, which we have since day one, but it still doesn't appear to work.

I didn't pursue it any further as the Comments -> Full Page we currently use is the only one that offers a captcha (word verification) feature out of the box. We don't want spambots to disrupt our discussion threads.

Commenting tip #1:You can use right-click on your PC mouse (or ctrl-click on your Mac) when you want to click on the link that brings up the comments page. Your browser will give you the option of opening it in a new window or tab.

This will make it easy to switch back and forth between the post incl. images etc. and the comments page. Note that the letter also allows you to show the text of the original post.

I often use a third tab to search for URLs I want to embed into my comments with an HTML anchor tag.

Commenting tip #2:If you decide to write up a longish comment, it can be useful to draft it in a basic text or HTML editor and then copy-paste it into the comment entry field of this blog's comments page. In such cases, it's a good idea to hit Preview to verify that it formats correctly before you publish.

Note that Blogger only permits the HTML tags indicated below the comment entry field:

- <b>my bold text</b> yields my bold text- <i>my italic text</i> yields my italic text- <a href=">what's a hyperlink?</a> yields the anchor what's a hyperlink? tied to the corresponding Wikipedia page.

Commenting tip #3:
If you want to refer to an image, map, video, MP3 sound file etc. that resource needs to be published elsewhere on the web so you can use its URL in an anchor tag.

Pressing right-click or ctrl-click when hovering over an image displayed by your browser will provide options to download it or to acquire its URL into the copy buffer for pasting elsewhere.

Suppose you have an image in e.g. GIF or JPEG format that you want to refer to, but it hasn't been published on the web yet. You can upload it to a free Picasa account, obtain the full URL it is given there and copy-paste that between the quotes of the href= portion of the hyperlink in your comment.

It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.

NONIMBYS said...

A Nimby filter!!!!!

Bay Area Resident said...

Just a suggestion but one feature I find extremely useful in blogs is a "recent comment list" on the left hand side. That way if somebody writes a comment on a prior post, I know its there.

Anonymous said...

oh and change the color. I'm tired of the pukey pink background.

Anonymous said...

The mayors of Portland and Vancouver, B.C. say they’ll work together to seek a high-speed rail line between Eugene and Canada.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson signed a memorandum of agreement that supports high-speed rail through the Pacific Northwest. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the House Transportation Committee, attended the event, as did Vancouver, Wash. Mayor Royce Pollard and Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy.

Anonymous said...

sounds good--- The Federal Railroad Administration will hold one of seven regional workshops in Sacramento as part of the agency's implementation of President Obama’s vision for an American network of high-speed trains. The federal agency is charged with establishing guidelines for use of $8 billion in federal stimulus funding for high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail development.

California is the only state in the country that already has in place $9 billion in voter-approved financing, environmental clearances and an adopted route for a true high-speed train. Caltrans Director Will Kempton and California High-Speed Rail Authority officials will outline the plan for California's 800-mile system, linking major cities with service up to 220-miles-an hour, as well as the conventional intercity and commuter rail systems that will link to it.

The FRA is expected to announce its interim guidance for grant proposals on or before June 17, 2009.

Bianca said...

pukey pink background.

Pink? Hmmm. I get a rather nondescript and inoffensive beige. Boring, perhaps, but not pukey. Checked your monitor lately?

political_i said...

Could it be possible to use one of the NC3D pictures in the header? I think that might be one of the best options to utilize.

Anonymous said...

hey if everyone in san mateo county ponied up a hundred bucks they could raise 70 million to buy Pa a tunnel!

Adirondacker said...

Pink? Hmmm. I get a rather nondescript and inoffensive beige. Boring, perhaps, but not pukey. Checked your monitor lately?

I'm sure it has a name other than beige. Navajo White? Mohave Sand? French Ecru? ...

While I'm sure Jim doesn't have a pair, looking at beige through rose colored glasses will make it look pink...

hey if everyone in san mateo county ponied up a hundred bucks they could raise 70 million to buy Pa a tunnel!

But how do they pay for the second block long piece of tunnel?

Anonymous said...

So when do we actually start building this thing? Too bad californians voted against gay marriage, we could have tacked a high speed rail fee on all gay marriages and paid for it that way.

Anonymous said...

now we just have unmarried gays and slow trains. boring.

Paul Herman said...

go to 5 articles at least, so you've at least covered the week on the home page.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

I assume you're referring to the background of the comments page. Unfortunately, afaik Blogger does not permit any changes to the layout of that page at all.

If it were up to me, I'd use plain old white and make both the comments column and the comment entry field wider. The latter could be taller as well.

@ political_i -

I suspect CHSRA owns the copyright on the NC3D images. While this blog strongly supports HSR in California, it is independent of the Authority. We don't want to give our readers the wrong impression.

Rafael said...

@ Bay Area Resident -

Blogger Help has an article on how to recent comments in the sidebar, sounds like a useful feature to me.

However, I'd have to figure out a way hide/show the list and also, to group them by post since our discussion threads tend to be active for several days. I'm no XML wizard, so I'm not sure I could get that to work.

BruceMcF said...

jim said...

"... thats too complicated."

Normally you copy and paste the URL, so its <a href="Ctrl-V">your text</a>

Depending on your browser, there are also tools that simplify the process.

BruceMcF said...

(1) If possible, the "recent posts" should have the current month, then the years. That puts the most recent posts two clicks away.

(2) Otherwise five front page posts is better than three.

Bianca said...

Would there be room in the sidebar for addressing frequently addressed topics?

It seems that in about every other thread some Anonymous poster comes along and says either "why don't they just run HSR along the 101 corridor instead?" or "Why don't they just stop HSR at San Jose and people going to San Francisco can just take a baby bullet?"

It occurs to me that this might be too Peninsula-focused for a blog with a statewide focus. On the other hand, I imagine that other sections of the route will sooner or later bubble over with technical or NIMBY issues. It might be useful to have some place to address things that come up over and over and over again.

Alon Levy said...

Bianca: nobody in SoCal seems to care either way about HSR. Part of that is that the HSR authority is dominated by Northerners, and part of it is that HSR usually benefits the smaller city more, so the Bay Area people care more about it for the same reason that Washingtonians care about the NEC way more than New Yorkers do.

Anonymous said...

Presented for your attention:

Basically, the California Farm Bureau - I mean, the California Republican Party - is "concerned" that HSR will harm agriculture.


Anonymous said...

Shoot, that link sucked. Let me try again:

High-speed rail proposal is viewed with concernQuote:
An estimated 300 miles of the project is expected to go through the Central Valley—one of the most productive farming regions in the world.
"There has been a real concern by agriculture about the route that the California high-speed rail project ends up taking and how it is going to impact those properties, as well as properties adjacent to the proposed project corridor," said Andrea Fox, California Farm Bureau Federation governmental affairs legislative coordinator. "While the routes of the project are being planned, we cannot lose sight of the many benefits of California agriculture, not only to support the state and nation economically, but to feed people locally and around the world."


Anonymous said...

We all know what it means when the republican party is suddenly "concerned" about people.

Alon Levy said...

Anon: the previous post on this blog deals with that. If this blog had displayed more than 3 posts on its front page, you'd have seen it.

Anonymous said...

and here's my bi level platform for sharing hsr and caltrain. not exactly genious. you just need a simple ramp.

Anonymous said...

jim said...
and here's my bi level platform for sharing hsr and caltrain. not exactly genious. you just need a simple ramp

Anonymous said...

damn I keep posting on the wrong column. sorry.