The new look

I’ve spent the last week or two updating my system and reorganizing the database underlying the site. You’ll find a new look here that offers many advantages and some aesthetic differences compared to the old site.

If you’ve gotten comfortable with the old look, I hope you’ll stick around and get a feel for the new site. I have some very exciting additions coming in the next few weeks that will take full advantage of the new enhancements.

But I loved your smiling Neandertal. And now there's just an ugly picture of some guy with a hat!

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel around the world during the last year and meet lots of new friends. Some of them have been long-time readers. Many of them were actually shocked and dismayed to discover that I am not a Neandertal.

I didn’t really understand this at first. Over time, a few people noted that I look nothing like the picture on my website. You’ll have to try to imagine my feelings, having all these people who think they know me as a smiling, virile, red-headed Neandertal character…

Clearly I had only two choices: Change the picture, or enlist Talia Shire as my therapist.

Who's the kid?

That’s my new Neandertal. As you can see, it’s not so easy to make a child Neandertal look different from an ordinary human, although he’s a bit more browridgy. I thought it was good and retro to represent a blond, light-eyed Neandertal kid, although there’s not any direct genetic evidence of that yet.

Don’t see the boy Neandertal? You’re looking at the site at its smaller size, which is now tuned to your actual browser and screen size.

I’ll rotate that art a bit more often. And you’ll see different themes appearing as different parts of the site go live in the next few weeks.

Go live? What are you talking about?

Keep watching. I have some very exciting content coming, including two open science initiatives that are completely unprecedented in paleoanthropology.

I can't find what I'm looking for!

I’m still fine-tuning the site. Some of the links are broken, I expect that most of these will be fixed within the month as I continue to cycle through links myself.

A few of the RSS feed links have been permanently changed; if you’ve been following a topic-specific feed, you may need to change the bookmark for that. If you’ve linked deep into the site, it is possible that some of the links are broken, but most should be working normally. Unless you’ve linked deeply into the bibliography database, which has been totally reordered.

I’ve turned off searching the bibliography at the moment. I’ll be working on putting this back online during the next two weeks. My upgrade comes with some very nice potential for expanding the bibliography and I’ll be taking full advantage of the new features. Meanwhile the search index for the entire site has been reset and it will take some time to rebuild completely.

What advantages does the new layout have?

When I was in Siberia, lucky to access the internet only through my Kindle, I found some obvious drawbacks to sites that are not optimized for mobile devices. Posting new content from the Kindle was just not possible in any but the smallest scale. I’ve noticed during the last few months, as I access the site more often using a phone or tablet, that usability on those smaller devices is lacking. As my travel schedule has accelerated, I need the ability to use my online resources more often in a smaller format.

This was a serious challenge. My custom CSS was state-of-the-art in 2007, but web design has advanced greatly in response to the changing device environment. Until this year, it really wasn’t possible for me to incorporate both mobile and desktop layouts in a single scalable design. This last year has seen the innovation of “responsive layout”, a system that allows a single standards-compliant theme to provide content to a range of devices at different sizes, within a single resizable page.

If you resize this window down to a minimum width on a modern CSS-compliant browser, you’ll see the mobile potential of the new system. If you browse the site on your iPad, you’ll see it seamlessly resize from landscape to portrait layout width when you turn the device 90 degrees. The art on the site resizes seamlessly with the theme. If you use your iPhone or Android device, you’ll get a readable design with text size and layout appropriate to the handheld form.

Keeping with my priorities from the beginning of the site, all of the new theme is screen-reader compatible for readers with disabilities or other challenges, to the maximum degree possible. I know that a lot of blogs don’t think much about accessibility, but it’s important to me to use technology to make the site visually advanced at the same time that it remains accessible. Scale the site down to phone-size, and you’ll see the most basic layout: site title immediately followed by front-page content. You can even read the site using lynx, in plain text on a console! And if you want to turn off the styling altogether, the full-text RSS feed is still there, at the same address as before.

I cannot test this on every conceivable platform, and in particular if you’re using an older version of Internet Explorer, you’ll find some elements of the site degrade. I’ve shaved as many kilobytes off each page as I can, but the new redesign is more picture-heavy than the old. On a mobile device or dialup, the site will retain its shape and readability with the graphics turned off.

Any last words?

It has taken me two weeks of concerted work to get the site upgraded, and I’m sure that I’ve missed some things. It’s not so easy to move a site with 15,000 nodes, and in fact I did most of the moving by scripting from old to new database tables. The bibliography is a fresh import from my CiteULike records, which has fixed some errors but introduced a few others. Actually bringing the site online caused the usual number of unexpected problems, as many readers probably noticed.

I am still making decisions about which elements will appear on which pages in the site, and how I can optimize internal navigation. I’m building out several new areas within the site that will be integrated with the main blog.

So please be patient as I sand off the rough edges. If you see error messages, I apologize but I’m on it – some of the site’s features are still under development. I hope you enjoy the new functionality and look forward to seeing more in the next month.