Monthly Archives: December 2008

Hanging on Ads

In response to those reports on Christmas Day of readers apparently being attacked by malware programs when viewing the Locus Online website, I contacted our hosting service, CI Host, about the problem, and they responded quickly, within the hour, to say that our dedicated server had been checked for abnormal processes and files and been found clean.

A couple of the email reports implied it was one (or another) of the banner ads that was responsible, and I suspect this is the case… But this being a long holiday weekend, I have no way of contacting HarperCollins or BBC or GorillaNation to alert them of a potential problem. If reports keep coming in, I’ll pursue this on Monday.

I downloaded and ran the Anti-Malware utility suggested by Making Light, and found my own computer clean.

Meanwhile, however, I have today experienced another odd problem, which I don’t understand in the context of the possible malware problems. All day today, when viewing websites with links to ad servers, the loading of the page in my browser hangs, for minute or more at a time, while waiting for a response to one or another ad server… or or or whatever… including my own pages, as I was editing them before posting, to the point I had to comment out ad links on the latest Gary Westfahl review just so I could view the updated page on my C drive as I was formatting it. Could my computer be infected with something that blocks ad servers? Just now, rechecking these, most are better. But not all. And yes of course I’m running standard, updated, antivirus software (on this my main PC, Norton).

–Update next day: whatever the problem was, it was solved by rebooting my cable modem. Never mind.

The Untitled

C.E. Petit makes a useful comment (to the previous post) about the reformatting of the awards nominee index pages — that displaying the em-dash in the title column for any award citation that does not refer to the actual title of a book or story is perhaps misleading; it suggests, as in academic bibliographies, that the previous title still applies, which certainly isn’t the case here. So this is something else I should rethink… Perhaps, where no title is applicable, some version of the category name, or else a description of the purpose of the category or award, in brackets, should appear in this column, avoiding the use of a blank or em-dash altogether. Just as the ‘for’ comments for World Fantasy Award pro and semipro categories should perhaps be in brackets. I will keep thinking about this.

Floating in Style

So as indicated previous post, I’ve begun updating, overhauling, and scrubbing the Awards database and index, step by step, beginning with a reformatting of the Nominee Index pages, which I’ve felt were a compromise layout to begin with…

The history of web page layout, in a tiny thumbnail, began with bulleted lists and indents (such as Locus Index to Science Fiction pages still use), advanced to grid layouts using ‘tables’ (with borders usually hidden), such as many websites including Locus Online still use, then moved beyond to spans and floats, such as typical blog templates and actual blogs (e.g. Making Light) use.

With spans and floats you needn’t worry about figuring out a grid layout, you surround blocks of content by div or span tags, with classes pointing to definitions in your style sheet, which include settings to ‘float’ left or right, and let the relative positions of those blocks determine how they land (e.g. left column, center column, etc.) when the page is displayed in a browser.

I didn’t know about floats when I designed the original Nominee Index pages, but after trial design I didn’t want to rely on tables either. Ideally, I thought, the date and title along the left, and the award citations on the right, should be level across the page. To use a single table for an entire page would force all the titles to wrap, on the left, and all the citations to wrap, on the right, to the same dimensions. To use a separate table for each nominee, or title, would put so many tables in one page of html that the browsers I was using, back in 1999 or so, choked. So I avoided tables and used very basic block tags, aligned left and right for titles and citations. Even though that meant the citations began one line down from the end of the title…

So now I’m determined to find current html/style sheet/float settings to overcome that. Floats assigned to divs are really cool but have some restrictions, including the necessity of specifying exact width — so the notion of free floating wraps for every title/citation entry, with the same set of tags, evaporated.

A bigger headache is that not all browsers interpret html, especially the more abstruse stuff like floats, the same way. A couple of times I had a layout refined perfectly in IE, only to discover the page was mincemeat in Firefox. IE, it seems, not only has bugs, but it is less strict in some ways than the other browsers, more forgiving of what might be considered minor html coding sins. So now I have five browsers installed on my home machine — IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera — and have a layout for the Nominee Index that looks good in all of them. Take a look, and let me know if anything looks wonky in *your* browser…

Expansion Plans

As I indicated in a note to the last New Books page posted on the site,, I’m deliberately scaling back on detailed listings of all new books I see or am sent each week. This is because this task for the website is easily the most time-consuming of any of the website tasks, taking four to five hours at a time, and generally consuming much of the one free day I typically can find each weekend, given personal circumstances. I think it’s a fundamental section of the website, alerting readers to what books have been published in a more timely fashion than the print magazine can possibly do, but it is time-consuming, especially given my posted invitation to include any copies of all new books seen or received — which means including a steady number of books received that can only be described as self-published…

Anyway, the reason for this is to find time to develop and implement the long-planned expansions to the website that either I’ve alluded to, or which the Locus Home Office has desired, for several years now. More the former. I almost hesitate to specify what I mean, since it’s been so long that I’ve indicated such plans without following through… e.g. in the Introduction page to the Locus Awards Index… that I feel it’s become my own private LDV, if you know what I mean. But what I mean is, the extension to the Awards Index that takes all sort of additional factors besides awards into account, to generate a truly comprehensive overview of canonical novels and short stories, laid out on a timeline, ranked overall and by year and decade, sorted by theme, and so on. A superset of the awards data. I’ve been compiling source data for years, played with layout options and ranking schemes, but never brought it all together. I think it will be really cool when all in place — a fundamental resource, more comprehensive and up-to-date than any other such resource online or in print, of the basic, canonical, novels and stories across the history of the SF (and F and H) genres.

The Locus Home Office tasks haven’t lingered quite as long, but they have been discussed in those annual Locus Foundation Board meetings once or twice a year for a couple three years now, and more recently in a visit by Liza Groen Trombi to me in LA last August: a ‘news ticker’ function on the website that would allow the Locus office staff to post breaking news, without my intervention, and a Locus Roundtable opinion blog, with contributors such as … well, such as editors and reviewers for Locus Magazine, without naming or promising names… which would also be linked in to the Locus Online homepage.

So I’ve begun all these tasks, with some downtime on the LHO tasks while waiting for feedback from the staff (who do have a print magazine to put out each month), and for an indefinite duration I plan to not only scale back on the book listings for the website, but more to the point also stand down from all recreational reading during any time I might instead be working on these tasks at the computer. (I might still read a bit while exercycling at the gym.) This may be for a period of months — I’m anticipating at least a couple, maybe three, maybe six.

I reached this decision over a sequence of dinners alone the week before last, during a business trip to Arlington VA, and have begun by applying these ‘if not now, then when?’ resolutions to the Awards Index itself — due for its annual update just about now anyway — and have been for the past week been applying them to a thorough scrubbing of the underlying database code that generates the site, to layout issues I’ve long meant to rework, and to streamlining the HTML coding of the index pages themselves.

More on that, and everything else, as these plans progress.