Three columns

Consider this an experiment and an invitation for feedback. The three-column layout gives a bit more flexibility with sidebars, does it work? Is it user-friendly? Ugly? Your take on this matters more than mine does.

(Update: Tweaked this a bit so the center column is a fluid width.)

* * * * * * * * *

I've heard several people refer to Fred Thompson's likely late entry into the race for the Republican presidential nomination as an attempt to be the "hero on the white horse," riding in at the last minute to save the day.

It strikes me more as an attempt at the "quarter-to-two, how do you do." My friend BD calls this "taking a bye in the first round." The idea being not to show up at the bar until at least after midnight, at which point your entry as Someone New — someone who has not already been evaluated and dismissed — provides you with a halo of hope. The by now slightly buzzed patrons, just beginning to reluctantly concede that their evening will be a disappointment, may be eager to turn to you in the hopes that you will be interesting or charismatic enough to salvage things.

Kind of a sleazy move, really. And probably not the basis for a meaningful long-term commitment.

* * * * * * * * *

Earlier, in passing, I mentioned Media Matters' study, "Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media." That study points out the way culturally and politically conservative religious leaders are overrepresented in the news media.

True enough, but my bigger pet peeve is the way that religious leaders with fringe views are treated as mainstream. Journalists and TV hosts with little knowledge of the religious traditions these folks say they represent tend to take at face value whatever claims they make. Thus, for example, Tim LaHaye is able, time after time, to make the unchallenged assertion that Left Behind simply presents "what Christians believe" or "what the Bible teaches."

It'd be like if ESPN had Dr. Mike Marshall on as an "expert on pitching." The former Cy Young award winner is an expert on pitching, of course, but a bit more context would be needed to accurately convey his real place in, and influence on, baseball.

* * * * * * * * *

Matthew Yglesias makes a pragmatic case for "internal critiques" regarding religion:

… Seeking arguments against female genital mutilation in the Koran seems like an obviously smart move. In countries where large numbers of people believe FGM is required by Islam, arguments of the form "Islam requires FGM, FGM bad for women, therefore Islam should be abandoned" aren't going to get off the ground. Arguments of the form "FGM is not required by Islam" or, even better, "FGM is condemned by Islam" are, pragmatically speaking, much more useful.

Hold that thought, I want to return to this point later.

* * * * * * * * *

Don Bosch of The Evangelical Ecologist offers a summary and review of Thursday's "Discussion on Global Warming" hosted by the Family Research Council.

Yes, the same Family Research Council that regularly fills my in-box with e-mail "Updates" in which FRC spokesmodel Tony Perkins spouts dishonest denialist talking points and repeatedly suggests that global warming is myth invented by proponents of a socialist one-world (Carpathian?) government.

No surprise then that the discussion included shameless corporate mouthpiece-for-hire E. Calvin Beisner — a.k.a. Scaife's pocket go-fer.

Related: Another of Scaife's pet theologians tries his hand at climate-change denial.

Found that via the same Matt Yglesias post in which he linked to this invaluable resource from Grist: "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic." And here's a handy bestiary of denialists.

* * * * * * * * *

In another of those FRC updates, Perkins celebrates a recent Gallup poll finding that:

About one-third of the American adult population believes the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word.

I'd be interested in a Gallup poll on what percentage of the American adult population is able to explain what "literally" means.

(BooMan sees a correlation between this poll and another one.)

* * * * * * * *

Somehow, this makes perfect sense:

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Here's hoping it offers the same generosity of spirit as The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

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  • adam

    Is it weird to anyone else that entering a political race over a year before the actual election occurs is now considered “late?” It’s later than the other candidates’ entries, but it seems somehow wrong to take it as normal that politicians spend two years campaigning for a position they’ll hold for only four to eight, if even that long. I don’t know if Fred Thompson has been active in the year or so before this, let alone in positive ways (I suspect not on both counts, except for TV shows), but I’d much rather have politicians off TV trying to solve problems, preferably with a lot of thought and discussion, than have them on TV trying to look good.

  • the opoponax

    arg, that should be “I think the new font … is too small, i would like to see it a point or two bigger.
    One problem with sans serif fonts is that they’re readable at much smaller sizes, so you can’t use the 12 pt by default rule, but then sometimes 9 or 10 looks too small.

  • mcc

    Since this post seems to mostly be a random links pile, thought I’d toss one on:

  • cjmr

    easier on the eyes =/= easier for me to read
    (I have a weird astigmatism and also wear progressive bifocals.) I find that having serifs on the letters makes it much easier to discriminate between ‘m’ and ‘n’, especially if they are next to each other in a word. Also ‘f’ and ‘t’. I can read sans serif fonts, it just takes me longer and costs more attention.

  • Stephen Frug

    I liked two columns better. Writing such as Fred’s is often lengthier than, say, brief Atrios-like blog posts, and thus it’s good to be able to see more of it.

  • Steve

    Opo: Actually, studies have shown that serif fonts (like Times) are better for body text for readability…i.e. testing done on comprehension is higher. The tails make it easier to distiguish the letters, I believe. Then, typically, a sans serif font (like Arial) are used for titles and headlines to standout from the body text.

  • Steve

    Microsoft-designed Best For Teh Intarwebs font

  • Steve

    Opo: I should add…I’m three years removed from being a professional web designer…so things could have changed…but the last book I read on readability and retension recommended “tails” for body text.

  • 85% Duane

    Fred, thanks for holding off on the decision until I could bother myself to check it in my mobile device. The new format works great in my windows phone as long as you continue to keep the Recent Posts and Recent Comments on the left side. In fact, it might be more orderly to have “your stuff” (recent posts/recent comments/interesting stuff/archives) on the left side and then the 4 trillion other site links on the left side.
    That way, in my phone on one column layout, the stuff I never use – the links to other sites – would be dead last and the stuff I use all the time, links to posts and comments and search/archives would be at the top of my page.

  • 85% Duane

    then the 4 trillion other site links on the left side
    Oops.. should read:
    then the 4 trillion other site links on the right side

  • cjmr’s husband

    then the 4 trillion other site links on the left side
    I dunno, I use the “most recent comments” section to track where I am, and increasing the size of that from ten to 4 trillion would mean not losing track of an old post when there’s a flame war going on.

  • Drak Pope

    What exactly is wrong with losing track of a flame war? If it’s an “old” post, chances are both sides have seized whatever you just said and twisted it through bias and selective reading into an argument in favor of the Rwanda genocide. Either that or it was completely ignored. Either way, there is no benefit in looking at it again.

  • mcc

    The whole floating-in-space element of the middle column toward the bottom of the page is still kind of odd to me, but the serif font + moving the commenter line improves things a LOT.

  • Journ-O-LST-3

    I like the lines between comments. I don’t like the three column layout.

  • Bugmaster

    Hmm, now there are these thick link borders around each image. I suspect they’re the spawn of the Big Blue Thing, come to gnaw at our sanity until the Stars Are Right.
    Also, the Google search box is still overlapped by the middle column (at least, in Firefox it is). And the right column is a bit cut off on the right.
    This is why I don’t use CSS for layout… It’s a good idea in theory, but in practice, the table tag actually works, and is much easier to control. It sure lacks the Web 2.0 1337 factor, though.

  • the opoponax

    @ Steve — funny, I’ve always heard the reverse. Though, knowing me, I’m just misremembering. though most text on the web nowadays (including long blog entries, news articles, etc) is sans serif, and i doubt web designers are just doing that to be contrary. Wonkette is the only site I visit regularly that uses a serif font.
    The font I’m thinking of is not Verdana. ok, i could totally be making this up. in fact, after looking through all my books about typography that include “hey, look at this kewl typeface family you should totally use”, i can’t think of what it could possibly be, except for Thesis Sans, or maybe Gill Sans. But Thesis Sans wasn’t developed by Microsoft, Gill Sans isn’t all that new. I also could’ve sworn it wasn’t an “X Sans” font, but a seperate sans serif typeface. At this point I am about to just concede that I dreamed that Microsoft came out with Teh Ultimate Interweb Typeface. Which, knowing the levels of my typeface geekdom, is entirely possible.
    Favorite fonts: generally anything midcentury and Swiss, specifically Interstate and anything in the Futura family, but also Univers. Because I’m evil like that.

  • the opoponax

    and completely off-topic:
    i’d be willing to bet money that the Democratic nominee in 2008 is John Edwards, with Barack Obama as running mate. You heard it here first, folks.

  • Rachel

    Delurking just to put my two cents in on the new look.
    Please change it back. For all the reasons already listed.

  • Nenya

    Didn’t think I would like the 3 column format, because I liked the low-key simple way it was before. But I think I can live with it. (I missed a lot of the messing about with the center column size, and the advent & passing of the Blue Thing.) Also I’m on a widescreen monitor, so I may not be getting the “too narrow” problems others are having.
    The lines between comments are wonderful. I wonder if it would be possible to make it more obvious which byline went with which comment, though? It’s still a bit confusing.
    Anyway, yay Fred, yay Slactivist, and I will slowly drag my brain around to accepting the new format.

  • cjmr’s husband

    The lines between comments are gone! Thanks!
    (Or is it just that I’m on a different computer now that I’m at work?)
    Anyway, one less thing to confuse me. The three column layout works fine for me on this machine, as long as I close the Sage tab, as expected.
    So it’s looking good now…

  • Marc

    I quite like the new format; it seemed with the two column version that your posts were wider than everyone else’s, which is strange because I have never considered it an issue, but it now seems very important to me.
    As far as fonts, I quite like Handel Gothic Light as a body text format. Geeks will remember it as the credits font for ‘Star Trek:Deep Space Nine”. Web Designers shaking their heads should just be glad I didn’t suggest Creepygirl or Oglivie.

  • indifferent children

    Anyone who really needs a wider middle column (esp. if they need one wider than most users), can use the GreaseMonkey extension to FireFox to modify the site as needed. Here is a GreaseMonkey script that eliminates the left and right columns, and makes the middle column 100% of the browser width:
    // ==UserScript==
    // @name slack-clean
    // @namespace slacker
    // @description change the 3-column layout of slacktivist
    // @include*
    // ==/UserScript==
    var rightdiv = document.getElementById(‘gamma’);
    var leftdiv = document.getElementById(‘alpha’);
    var middlediv = document.getElementById(‘beta’); = ‘none’; = ‘none’;’100%’;

  • Kate

    I haven’t read the comments, but my take on the 3 colums is that it’s harder to read at work where you don’t want to be advertising that you are reading a blog…
    The dynamic middle column means that you can’t re-size the window and “hide” the ads or the graphics.

  • cjmr

    @the husband:
    It’s the different browser on your computer at work. The lines are still there, although they are now below the name of the commenter.

  • –susan

    Sorry, I kinda hate the new layout. Crowded and hard to read.

  • JR

    I have tried the new format both at work (1024 pixels wide) and at home (1440 pixels) in Firefox and the site looks great. I didn’t have any of the crowding/too small text problems that others seemed to have.

  • cjmr

    JR, Fred put the font back to what it was before sometime yesterday.

  • Rob

    There will never be a black vice president and a white president. See Chris Rock for an explanation why.

  • sophia8

    opponax: At the moment, the style sheet lists the body font as “font-family: verdana, ‘trebuchet ms’, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;”

  • the opoponax

    yeah, that’s the first thought i had when it occurred to me that they’re probably the winning combination. my second pick is Edwards and Richardson, for that reason. The main reason I think it’ll be Obama, though, is that Edwards’ main problem is that he’s seen as an untrustworthy and posturing politico, but could fix that a little by riding the coattails of Obama’s charisma. The thought occurrred to me during yesterday’s debate, when Edwards gave him props for opposing the war from the beginning, which is something that Edwards cannot say of himself. If the Dems are going to run a campaign based on bringing the troops home, Edwards is going to need a running mate with anti-war street cred. and it sure as hell isn’t going to be Kucinich.
    My dream would be a Richardson/Obama or Obama/Richardson ticket, but i don’t think that will ever happen.
    Oh, and Chris Rock doesn’t run the world, remember.

  • the opoponax

    and sophia, i thought Trebuchet was the default wordpress blog font… good to see i’m getting better at font ID in the field.

  • ako

    Personally, I’d be a lot more likely to go with an Obama/Edwards ticket than an Edwards/Obama ticket. Too reminiscent of the whole Clinton/Gore “appease the liberals by sticking someone discernibly left of Nixon on, but in a position of little actual power, so he doesn’t scare the moderates,” tactic.
    And while I consider Clinton a step up from any Republican who’d have a shot at the nomination, he didn’t exactly enthrall me. I get much the same impression from Edwards.

  • Nell

    I preferred the two-column version, for reasons given by other above, i.e.:
    – this makes the posts appear unnecessarily long.
    – why are two sidebars better than one?
    The older format just seemed cleaner and easier to read.

  • Pope Easier Rhino I

    Rosina, so sorry for misrepresenting. It must have been those comment lines everyone was complaining about. I stand by my criticism of Ctrl-Plus though.I am not a designer, but I’ve heard everything from, “Sans Serif fonts should be the only things anyone ever uses,” to the exact opposite, and everything in between, from people who claim to be designers. It makes me wonder whether any of it is true. I just know that the size of the font, regardless of face, matters a great deal to me, and since Fred has apparently increased the size, I’m happier.

  • the opoponax

    ako, i’m not saying this is who i’d like to see (actually, i would really like to see Obama/Richardson), but of what i think will happen.
    i don’t particularly like Edwards, but I have a feeling it’s gonna be him. and if it is, he’s probably going to need “to the left of Nixon” cred, and Obama is really the only one who fits the bill (other than Kucinich, but yeah right).
    Edwards/Obama is very reminiscent of Clinton/Gore, though, you’re right.

  • the opoponax

    also, @ Pope Easier Rhino — it’s not that “sans serif fonts should be the only ones anybody ever uses”, but that apparently (from what i’ve heard), they’re better for the web and computer screen reading in general. Serif fonts are generally accepted as better for hard copy text reading — this is why you’ll pretty much never see a book printed in Arial or Verdana, and it’s rare to see a website set in Garamond, Bodoni, or Scala.
    of course, there are no hard and fast rules, and a lot of the time designers are choosing their fonts based on tons of other things, like aesthetic effect. Garamond might be a great typeface to use on a website about books or letterpress printing, for instance. the viewer forms mental associations with certain typefaces, and after questions of readability, this is the main thing a designer should be thinking about.

  • Dawn

    I like two columns better. I couldn’t read the site at all when I visited my mom’s place and had to use a smaller monitor – the middle column got cut off at the right side. Even when I have a bigger monitor and can see it all properly, it feels awfully busy to me.

  • cjmr

    I see we’re back to two columns now…

  • Jesurgislac

    It’s sort of like being in the kind of SF story where you move from universe to universe and can only tell because little things have changed.

  • Geds

    That would explain much. I got home from work and decided to check it on my widescreen monitor/Avant browser combo instead of my 4:3 monitor/IE 6 combo at work. It deeply confused me when I only found two columns…

  • Jesurgislac

    And my chocolate cake changed to white sponge cake. Also, Worf and Deanna weren’t married.

  • 85% Duane

    had a snarky comment about not being able to tell Jesu from opopo, but I decided against it. I will say that while there are many things they agree on, there are more than a few they disagree on, and the content and format of their posts are completely different.
    I’m not sure about content and format, but certainly volume. I’ve come to the conclusion that Opoponax has set up her own blog in the comments threads of Fred’s blog.

  • cjmr

    of course format! if i format my comment like this, it is possible i might be mistaken for opoponax (but not likely).

  • 85% Duane

    Nah, I’ve seen her write with proper punctuation. I know because it fooled me into reading..

  • cjmr

    Opo’s punctuation isn’t an issue. She has great punctuation. She just seems to be somewhat allergic to the SHIFT key. I seem to recall her explaining why, once…

  • 85% Duane

    Well, yer presciptivist hang-up aside, she has used proper capitalization before.

  • Jeff

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Opoponax has set up her own blog in the comments threads of Fred’s blog.
    That’s not necessarily a bad thing! By and large, I like and appreciate her comments. The lower-case thing was a bit off-putting at first, but I figured she might have a cockroach doing a lot of the data entry.

  • 85% Duane

    Is there anyone that hasn’t gotten a hug and special bit of validation from Jeff? Line starts over