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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...
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
- 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
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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.