The Cynics Corner

Cynics Corner 5.0

by David E. Sluss

6 September 2002

 
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This new Cynics Corner design has been a long time in coming. Development has taken place on and off since February 2001. That's right - eighteen months, even if it doesn't show. The Cynics Corner's fifth anniversary seemed like a good time to get my ass in gear and get this baby out the door. Now, here are the boring details...

In the beginning, "CCV5" was intended to represent a fairly radical break from the past and would have included:

  • The total banishment of the default Times New Roman font, in favor of Arial
  • A new Cynics Corner logo
  • Reversing the color scheme of the review text (i.e. dark on light, rather than light on dark)
  • Dynamically generated lists of "related articles." 

However, after quite a bit of experimentation, these things didn't quite work out, at least not to my liking:

  • Even though the conventional wisdom is that sans serif fonts are easier to read on a computer screen, I personally don't find that to be the case (and because my day job involves the creation of electronic and paper versions of textbooks, I have ample opportunity to study the issue). In any case, I just didn't like the way the review text looked in Arial, or in any other commonly available sans serif font. Call me stodgy and boring, but I like good old fashioned Times New Roman.
      
  • Graphics programs are admittedly not my forte. So, like some mad scientist in a dismal laboratory, I produced a number of monstrosities using Photoshop and Image Composer, but never came up with anything I liked better than the current logo, which, in one of those "chimpanzee at the typewriter" moments, I produced with uncharacteristic competence nearly three years ago. And, no, the rejected logos will not be going on display. I'm not some carnival barker running a freak show...
       
  • I played around "dark-on-light" for a while, but it never really worked right. One problem was that neither the Cynics Corner logo nor the various series logos looked right on a white background (And why should they? In their "natural state," most are displayed against the inky blackness of space). I briefly toyed with a "checkerboard" design in which parts of the page had a white background, while the rest was on a black background. The results were rather appalling.
       
  • Generating related links dynamically is definitely a Good Thing, particularly in the context of maintaining a growing archive of some 250 pages. While it's easy (and standard operating procedure) when writing a review of "Shockwave," for instance, to link back to reviews of "Broken Bow" and "Cold Front," it's more challenging to go back to "Broken Bow" and "Cold Front" and stick in a "forward link" to "Shockwave" - and to do such a thing consistently across all reviews and articles. I haven't yet worked out the implementation of this, but it will appear eventually.

At the end of the day, though, the biggest obstacle was the fact that the version 4.x design, in my opinion at least, worked pretty well. It wasn't flashy or especially innovative, but for a site consisting of an archive of largely static articles, it served admirably. So starting in March 2002, I decided to "work backwards" from CCV5, combining some of its elements with parts of the 4.x design. The result is Cynics Corner 5.0

Major changes and features include:

  • A less "top-to-bottom" approach thanks to the dark blue "navigation bar" to the left of each page. At the moment a lot of these seem pretty vacant, but the plan is to eventually put the "related reviews" feature mentioned above there. Right now, links to other review sites and relevant episode guides are included.
       
  • More consistent font use. Headings and navigation bar text are Arial; article text is Times New Roman. That's it. Exceptions should be very, very rare (I hope). The review text itself is virtually identical to the way it appeared in 4.x.
       
  • A more rigidly uniform page structure. I was fairly merciless in my application of the 5.0 design, so that whether it's a review, a list of episodes, or something else, objects and text are all positioned and formatted identically.
       
  • "Top" links on every page. Why not?
        
  • A slightly altered color scheme, although the basic black, white, and blue palette remains in place.
       
  • Changes in the use of graphics. While the Cynics Corner logo itself didn't change, you will notice that I'm no longer using versions of it that have a series' logo embedded inside. This was done in the interest of page uniformity, and also because some of those embedded logos (particularly the Enterprise one) didn't work very well. One new graphic is the "CC" logo you see at upper right, which is used on pages like this one that don't cover any particular series; it's part of the uniform design - I determined that there must be a graphic in that position. The sharp-eyed among you will notice one graphic that is missing: The black-to-blue-to-black background image. Yes, it's true. It was with a salty tear in my eye that I gave good old "bg.gif" its walking papers. That image actually goes back to the very beginning of the Cynics Corner, and was used as the background even in the original, inept 1.0 design in the fall of 1997. Unfortunately, it didn't mesh well with the new design elements (particularly the "navigation bar"). In addition, the increased use of tables in the 5.0 design means that each HTML file is noticeably larger in size; the removal of that 17KB background image seemed a reasonable tradeoff so that loading times remain reasonable.
       
  • Inclusion of episode synopses for all reviewed seasons. Last season, after a number of reader suggestions, I started including episode summaries on each season page, but I didn't go back and add them to previous seasons. Now I have, and what an ordeal that was ("'Scientific Method?' What the hell was that one about?"). The bright side is that it made the reformatting seem less painful by comparison.
      
  • Assorted minor alterations and corrections.

In short, it may not seem very different, but in a lot of ways it is. It's a design that I should be able to grow with for the foreseeable future.

All pages were tested using various versions of Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Opera on a Windows machine, and I think that all the bugs have been worked out. I've always been committed to supporting users of text-based browsers (owing largely to the fact that when I started the site, those were all my sorry machine could run). After limited testing with Lynx, I can tell you that the new design will function for those browsers, but it won't be pretty. I don't have access to a Mac or Linux machine, but I don't believe there is anything "eccentric" in this design that could cause problems on those or other platforms. If you find pervasive problems with the site on non-Windows machines, let me know (crosses fingers). For that matter, anyone who sees any bugs, or who simply wants to praise or vilify the new design, is welcome to drop me a line at webmaster@cynicscorner.org.
   

  

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This article is copyright 2002 David E. Sluss