The 1930s

I’ve updated the blog theme, and I’m just enough of a pretentious bastard to talk about it.

Two years ago, I took a photograph of the “back forty” behind my apartment building. The building itself was stuck at the edge of civilization, at the end of a small cul-de-sac hanging off a street which divided the pseudo-suburb of DeKalb, IL from the farmland which surrounds it. I’ve one of that series of shots as my desktop wallpaper for a while now, something I stopped last week.

The image itself seemed fitting for my existing blog title (Homage To Icarus), and I’ve always wanted to use it as a background spread for this blog. Along the way, I decided to re-implement the blog as a software project, stored completely in subversion, using vendor branches of WordPress, built in Zend 6 (Eclipse + some proprietary PHP stuff that I don’t actually use for this).

The theme itself was based on a thought I’d had a long time ago about the last presidential election. Namely, the utter shamelesness and propaganda of it. As background, the United States makes it’s friends look better, and it’s enemies look worse than they really are. There’s more than just an element of cartoonish silliness every time some bastard or other is designated “The Next Hitler” by an spokesperson for the Executive Branch. Every government does it to their foreign rivals, and the extremists in one’s own country are also likewise attacked.

What archetypal Western governments typically do not do is call other members of the government “traitors,” scheming to sell Our Country down the river to whoever the bad guy is this time around. In this regard, what the 2004 election reminded me of most was reading George Orwell’s descriptions of political life in the 1930s; the faux nationalism that disbelieved all of Stalin’s crimes (on the part of the left) and invented horrors by the anti-fascist resistance (on the part of the right). It’s simply depressing to look at the garbage that people are expected to believe about their political enemies: Reds Crucify Nuns, Kerry conspires to sell out U.S. with Jane Fonda during Paris Peace Talks, and this is working right up to today, Barack Obama a secret Muslim, personally responsible for the capital crisis.

So I started typesetting this website like a book printed in the 1930s. The header was set in a fat serif type, like the chapter title of a flourishing book—as opposed to one that would simply print the chapter title in bold uppercase and waste a half a page. I dithered about that, added and removed other graphical elements like the sidebar.

And this weekend I had time to simply sit down and work on the site. Given then exigent circumstances (i.e. the implosion of the economy), I started googling for “1930s,” and ended up seeing some advertisements and page layouts from Popular Mechanix, the obvious precursor. At that point the right answer presented itself: don’t model this on a book from the 1930s, model it on the other side, a magazine advertisement. The rest was simply a matter of finishing the implementation.

So far as future work, what I’d like to do is retract the sidebar into a tab, and I’m thinking about the use of drop shadows and gradients to give a distortion effect when it slides out… We’ll see :-).



  1. Absolutely stunning. I love it.

  2. Andy Wingo says:

    Oh that is gorgeous. The photo is *great*.

    Since you’re also looking for criticism, it’s a bit slow to scroll, as you probably know. (Epiphany from F9.) Also the sidebar is almost invisible, on the edge of not discoverable. But I don’t miss it, the photo + huge title + lovely thin column of text is great. Perhaps put “extras” at the end? Anyway minutes in I’m really digging the barbed wire!

  3. James Cape says:

    Thanks a bunch 🙂

  4. Andy says:

    Yeah, it is very easy on the eye. In my firefox (v3, from Ubuntu Hardy repo) the comment box is a little bit messed up (the metadata fields go behind the comment box). Also, I think a bit less transparency on the menu when there is no mouse over would make it a bit more clear that there is a menu there.

  5. Chris Lord says:

    Impressive design, I like it 🙂

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