Archives » February, 2005

February 27, 2005

Winter Ormsby

It was another cold month, so it was another slow month at the Ormsby House.

They didn’t do much on the outside, so there’s not a lot of see. But there were some panels falling off the building, so I guess that’s exciting!

Go check out the February update.

February 26, 2005

Sunset Over Fuji Park

February 24, 2005

While I Was Out

So I go away for a week, and a couple of big stories rock the blogosphere. It figures. That’s what I get for writing about so much local stuff lately, and ignoring the internet at large. So here’s what’s been going on, stuff you’ve probably already read on a hundred thousand other blogs:

New version of IE announced

It was kind of inevitable, but we didn’t know if it would actually happen. I speculated last month that Microsoft would release Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP users before Longhorn was released, and now it seems like it’s coming true. The only details they’re letting loose is that it will have “better security”, leaving everyone to speculate on the likelihood of better standards support and tabbed browsing. There are way too many sites to link to, so just go through Google and Google News. The beta is due this summer. Of course, it may be too late to win back everyone who switched to Firefox.

Google pisses everyone off

Speaking of Google, they’re at the heart of last week’s second big story. It seems that they forgot how Microsoft got strung up by their nads for contemplating including Smart Tags in IE6, so now they’re doing the same thing with their Google Toolbar. The new Toolbar includes “AutoLink”, which is supposed to scan the sites you visit and automatically add links to the page in order to be “helpful”. It will link any ISBNs it finds to, and any street addresses will be linked to Google Maps. This is bad for the same reason Smart Tags was bad. It’s just plain wrong to go around changing people’s text like that, and links (or the absence of links) are certainly part of the text.

The usual suspects like Google Watch are speaking out against AutoLink, but plenty of people who have been pro-Google are also denouncing it as a Very Bad Thing. It looks like this is going to be a litmus test for Google’s supposed motto, “Don’t Be Evil”. The world has proclaimed AutoLink to be evil. Will Google pay attention?

The Diner

Okay, so this isn’t a “big story”, just a minor treat for making it to the end of the post. I came back to find that James Lileks had started a podcast, The Diner. The same kind of stuff he does on his site (e.g., going into way too much detail about some forgotten pop culture tidbit from before any of us were born), only now in audio form. It’s great. It’s should be daily, but since he already does more in 24 hours than I do in 24 months, I’ll cut him some slack.

February 22, 2005

Return to Little Lake

Before I left on vacation I mentioned the town of Little Lake. On our drive back yesterday we got a chance to get off the highway and drive through the “town”, as it were. What did we find? A lot of sagebrush, maybe a few ghosts hiding in the shadows, and not much else.

The main street through town. This stretch of road used to be Hwy 395 until they built a new four-lane divided highway a few hundred feet to the east.

The plot of land where the hotel sat. Whoever demolished it did a really thorough job—there’s no trace of it left.

The only building left in town, a little shack way off the road. Looks like they still have telephone service!

Everything that was in Little Lake is now gone. There’s a mailbox at one end of town, and the green shack at the other, but that’s it. Just a turn-off from the highway, and a short run of crumbling pavement. The funniest part is that all the highway signs still mention Little Lake. As you approach from either direction, the road signs count down how many miles you have left until you get there. And then when you get there…nothing. In some ways it’s pretty amusing, that they don’t care enough to update the signs. But at the same time it’s sad, and for the same reason.

February 14, 2005

Virginia City Then and Now

I finally got around to finishing one of my projects. I know! Go figure! It seems like procrastination is such a way of life for me, that whenever something actually gets done it’s a cause for celebration. Especially around this website. Anyway, this is an idea I had last June, so I went out and took some pictures for it. And now, after eight months of procrastinating and about a week of actual work, it’s ready to be unveiled: Virginia City Then and Now.

I’ve got to run so I don’t have a lot of time to talk about it, so just go look at it. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Take a photo from the past and pair it up with what the same shot looks like today. Virginia City’s a good place for it, since almost all the buildings are still there, they’ve just been fixed up. So go enjoy!

February 13, 2005

Urban Wildlife II

A while ago I wrote about urban wildlife, the deer whose habitat in the mountains burned to a crisp last summer, so now they have to hang out in town to get food and shelter. They’re usually pretty good about staying away from people, but last week we saw some more while we were driving around by the Governor’s Mansion.

By night they roam the streets:

But by day they find a nice front yard to curl up in:

February 11, 2005

Happy Birthday Viola

She doesn’t even read this site, but I still want to put up happy birthday wishes to my wife Viola!

Shrinking Papers

We’ve all heard about how newspapers are shrinking. Not only are the sheets physically getting smaller, but there’s more room devoted to ads, leaving less room for stories. Well, both of the major papers in Northern Nevada, the Reno Gazette Journal and Carson’s Nevada Appeal, just unveiled new designs this month. And, sure enough, there’s less room for stories. But, surprisingly, the worst place is on the front page! Let’s take a look.

The Reno Gazette-Journal is Northern Nevada’s largest paper, in terms of circulation and number of pages. Under its new redesign, stories got pushed aside on the front page to make room for other things. But, surprisingly, the biggest culprit wasn’t ads, it was the masthead that grew the most! Let’s see (click to enlarge):



The RGJ’s masthead, which has always included promo material, used to take up 15% of the page, with the first headline starting about 3.5 inches down. But now they’ve added so much whitespace that the masthead takes up 19%, and the headlines have been pushed down another inch. They tried to make up for it at the bottom of the page by dumping things like the weather and air quality reports, and just printing a thin index. But if you’re just looking above the fold, you’re getting less room for stories. And if they put a huge picture like this every day, that’s even less room.

But the RGJ is tame compared to what the Nevada Appeal has done to their front page. Take a look:



Here we have the masthead problem again. Not only did they add white space, but they moved promotional material into a space where there was none before. All of this makes the masthead jump from 12% to 20%, nearly doubling in size and pushing the headline down almost two full inches. And if that’s not enough, they added a sidebar on the left for more promotional space. A sidebar! That takes up over two more inches of the space on the page. Again, they tried to compensate at the bottom, but that can’t hide the fact that only 54% of their front page is reserved for stories. Half the page is promo stuff and ads. That’s compared to 73% in the old design and 67% for the new Gazette-Journal.

Newspapers are indeed shrinking. Of course this is easy to blame on websites, but this has been happening to papers for a good long time now. Go count the number of words on the front page of any paper from the year 1900, and compare it to now. Maybe it’s our short attention spans or something.

And at least the Appeal seems to have stopped their nasty habit of running full-page photos above the fold. I mean, for some things it’s understandable. But they would have a picture of the snowstorm, or of a kid with a dog, and it would take up most or all of the available space above the fold, with nothing but a headline to read. And then beneath it they’d have maybe two stories. And if you were lucky one of them would be related to the photo.

So I guess we’re making progress?

February 10, 2005

The Ghost Town of Little Lake

Since we’re driving down to LA from Carson City next week, I was poking around a little on the web about the road we’re taking, US Hwy 395. I got a chuckle to see that the road has its own website, The site gets off on the wrong foot by filling up your screen with a ton of “headlines”, mostly blog posts having nothing to do with the area (and half in German!). But if you get past that and scroll down, or look at the sidebar, you’ll find info about the road and all the stops and towns along the way.

I also came across a few sites with the history of the town of Little Lake. Little Lake is located right at the southern tip of the Owens Valley, where 395 passes through a gap in the mountains. Sure enough there’s a little lake by the side of the road, that may or may not be part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, depending on which source you believe. And on the other side of the road is a freeway exit leading to the town of Little Lake. Of course, it’s not much of a town. It mostly consisted of a two-story hotel and a couple of outbuildings. In all our trips from Nevada to LA, we never stopped there to explore it, we just passed it by. In the late 80s the hotel burned and was never rebuilt, and years later you could still see the scorch marks coming out of the upper floor windows. A friend and I did venture through town once in the mid 90s, but by then it was a scary place. Squatters were living in the burned-out shell of the old hotel, with cars up on blocks, wide doorways being used as garages, and a couple of Confederate flags hung proudly from the top floor. Needless to say, we didn’t stop and get out.

The last time we made the drive we noticed that the hotel was gone, finally demolished. We didn’t think anything of it.

But this week, while doing my research, I found the real story of Little Lake. In its day it was one of the premier stops for travellers between LA and points north. Back then, in the 40s and 50s, Highway 395 ran right through the middle of town. The hotel, which was built in 1923, was always busy, and there was a 24-hour cafe and gas station for drivers who needed a break. There was even a railroad line that ran through town. But when the highway was widened in the 60s, it was moved to the edge of town, and a visit to Little Lake meant deliberately getting off the freeway and going out of your way. That, added with faster and more reliable cars that didn’t need as many stops, spelled the death of Little Lake. After the fire it became a ghost town, except for the squatters, and now that the hotel is demolished there’s nothing left.

I’ll see if I can convince my wife to go five minutes out of our way and stop at Little Lake to look around during our trip next week. Now that I know the history, and that it’s one of California’s most recent ghost towns, I’m suddenly more interested in it.

February 7, 2005

Sometime in the last couple of weeks the official Ormsby House website,, finally launched. It’s still pretty bland, but that’s okay. It’s all right these days to launch a website kind of thin, just to get it out there, and then progressively redesign it until you’ve got a good-looking site. It’s happening around here every day. And they’ve got their tongue firmly in cheek about the remodel. Just check out some of this copy:

If you’ve driven down Carson Street recently, you’ve no doubt looked at the Ormsby House project going on and wondered: what are those maniacs trying to do?

If you bookmark this page for occasional visits you’ll be able to know the question, “when’s it going to open?” almost as soon as we do.

The rest of the trip will require you to engage your imagination and see this project through the eyes of a child (or more appropriately an architect—which in our opinion is about the same difference).

There’s a lot of good stuff there, and they’re going in the right direction with the conversational tone.

A little less good is that it looks like they went back in time to 1996 to recruit their web design team. Check a few of these under-the-hood gems from their site:

<meta name="GENERATOR" content="Microsoft FrontPage 4.0">

<body bgproperties="fixed" bgcolor="#F0D793">

<font face="Monotype Corsiva">

<p class="MsoNormal">

<span style="mso-spacerun: yes">&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </span>


bgcolor? font tags? An MsoNormal class that doesn’t even do anything, because there’s no stylesheet linked? And don’t even ask me what the <o:p> tag is. You could look through several different versions of HTML and not find that one. In all the validator shows 63 errors. Is that all? Seems like there should be so many more. Well, that’s because there’s no DOCTYPE, so it’s validating to HTML 4.01. If we validate it again as XHTML Transitional, we get 147 errors. XHTML Strict? 199.

It’s been a while since I got up on my soapbox, but I’ve got to say: I’m tired of this crap. It’s 2005, for Christ’s sake. XHTML has been out for six years. CSS for nine. There is no reason for any web developer who has studied for more than a week to build a site like this. Really. Honestly. It’s obsolete, it’s sloppy, and it’s amateur. It’s like buying a new Ford, looking under the hood, and seeing a steam engine. Or a go-kart engine that the dealer strung up with bailing wire.

Most of all, it smacks of laziness. This is the kind of site that’s built when the web designer is too lazy, or too “busy”, or just too f-ing arrogant to keep up with the industry. And, like I said, it’s not like there’s new stuff coming out every week. XHTML is six years old. Six goddamned years. There is no excuse for anyone who builds websites for money not to be using it. We don’t build sites like this anymore, so grow up and join the 21st century. We’re all here waiting for you.

Now, there is a chance that this site was an inside job. They might have a given some secretary a copy of FrontPage and told him or her to whip up a site. And if that’s the case, I apologize. My little rant above isn’t aimed at amateurs, it’s aimed at the pros who build websites day in and day out. But even for the amateurs, I want to get the word out: there are better ways to build sites. What’s under the hood counts just as much as what can be seen by the eye. Sites aren’t built this way anymore. And since you have millions of dollars to build a casino, I think you can plunk down the money to buy a copy of Designing with Web Standards and spend a few hours reading it. It will be quite an education, and when you redesign your website it will turn out a lot better for it. Trust me.

Plus, search engines like well-designed XHTML. And using it will give you a better chance at knocking my Ormsby House site off the top spot. Good luck!