web: personal

[glowing neon at O'Hare Airport in Chicago]


This volume is an "alpha" release; that is, it is still being written! (You will know when this volume has reached its "final" release because this message will no longer appear.) Please excuse any debris you may come across, including broken links or missing content. Thanks.

This volume of my portfolio begins with some background information. The bulk is devoted to demonstrating my experience through personal sites, professional work, and general content development. Some of the web experiments I have cooked up over time are also on display. I conclude this volume with a discussion of my web design philosophy.

personal sites

My personal web sites fall into three distinct areas: MSEnet, ellars.com, and periphery sites. These areas, and the specific sites within them, are discussed below. Or, you can skip ahead to what's next.


In the beginning was MSEnet. No numbers, no nothing, just plain and simple MSEnet. It wasn't as if I was planning on ever needing to create a new version of my site -- I mean, it was perfect already, right? So with the release of my second site, close on the heels of the second release of Netscape's browser, "v2.0" seemed appropriate.

I never really liked this whole numbering thing, and to me calling the third version "v3.0," as originally planned, would make it seem too much like a continuation of the second site -- quite unlike the complete departure that it was to become. So, in a nod to William Gibson's Neuromancer character Lady 3Jane, I called the third release MSEnet Version3. This aversion to numbering reached its zenith with the fourth release, which I called msenet****.


What was MSEnet? The first version of my website was hacked together from "borrowed" code and half-original ideas during my freshman year at the University of Southern California School of Architecture. Specifically, it was assembled for the Advanced Computer Applications in Architecture course, taught by Karen Kensek and Doug Noble.

Needless to say, there wasn't much there to write home about.

I put it together near the beginning of October (the year was 1995). By December, it was undergoing massive changes and additions, not the least of which was a pet project called The Inner Sanctum. (By that point, I had adopted a "screen name," Flieghund, and he was the High Lord of the Inner Sanctum.)

The Inner Sanctum -- a rather cool name, a bit too popular I was to discover -- was an imagemap-driven interactive "building" that you could navigate through. Essentially a long hall with rooms branching off the the side, you could walk down the length of the building and even turn around and "look" from different directions. That's when I learned what bandwidth was.

Each view was a full-color 600x400 JPEG. Add to that bandwidth-hog the fact that client-side image maps had not been developed yet and it was taking nearly an entire minute to navigate between views... far too long, even for the lax "time standards" of the time.

The following spring semester (1996) I took a "Freshman Seminar" course on the Internet. (I kind of felt bad that I almost knew more about it than the teacher.) The final project was to create a web page depicting life on the internet from different countries' points of view. Having taken a few courses in German back in high school, and with several German censorship issues in the media, I chose Germany. To make a long story short, the Germany site was voted the best in the class and MSEnet had real content for the first time!

Alas, the good times would not last. Later that spring, Netscape released its 2.0 browser. Now you could have colored tables! And, perhaps the coolest feature was this nifty thing called JavaScript that allowed you to dynamically change the content and/or appearance of stuff on the page. With something that cool on the horizon, I knew that the present condition of MSEnet would not remain acceptable for long.

MSEnet v2.0

MSEnet v2.0 features a highly-customizable user interface. It predated adoption of DHTML by a year and CSS by more, but both have made the "advanced" features rather out of date.

The idea behind MSEnet v2.0 was to create a series of utility pages -- that is, pages that users could visit and utilize in some meaningful manner. For example, the crowning feature of the design was a color chooser (shamelessly borrowed from my first -- and until very recently my only -- JavaScript reference book).

Other utilities allowed users to customize the look and arrangement of MSEnet itself. This was accomplished through the use of cookies set through an interfaced heavily based on the color chooser. The drawback to this arrangement was the dual requirements of cookies being stored on the user's machine, and the use of somewhere upwards of ten cookies to do it. Of course, the cool stuff was that it would "remember" your settings between sessions. That kind of functionality is taken for granted today, but trust me, it didn't exist when I was working on this site.

Two "sub-sites" coexisted with MSEnet v2.0. The first was Mike.net, a little tribute to Mikes everywhere. I think I had about a dozen "members" before I moved on and killed the project. The other sub-site was Shadow.Net, a semi-private site based on the Shadowrun role-playing game formerly published by FASA Corporation. Though I put a lot of work into Shadow.Net, it eventually collapsed under its own size -- not to mention higher-quality competition in the form of Shadowland.

MSEnet Version3

The third major iteration of MSEnet was also my most successful. This success was measured not only from the overwhelming feedback I received from both friends and strangers, but also because it won a site design award! Nothing major -- no "Cool Site of the Day" or anything -- but just the knowledge that people are looking at and appreciating your site is a good feeling. And the USC Interactive Media Club apparently thought my site was pretty darn good, so they gave me their weekly award.

Shameless pride aside, MSEnet Version3 is an amazing site. Disappointed in my inability to create content in v2.0, I not only dedicated myself to producing it for Version3, but also decided to stick to a relatively narrow theme: Architecture.

It makes sense in retrospect, what with me being an architecture student at the time, but I'll tell you this: when I came up with the idea in the middle of the summer of 1997, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.

The idea actually formed more through an afternoon of messing around in Photoshop. Due to the loss of an intense personal relationship, I was feeling devastated, depressed, and despondent about life in general. I had a clip art library from the now-defunct Site Builders Network and was just going through and trying to composite some images together to make something pleasing. Then it hit me: a beautiful angel "standing" on a Corinthian capital, with a spoked gear and a chambered nautilus to either side of her. A compass superimposed on the capital completed the image. The composition was stunning and I knew that I was on to something great.

Over the next few days, I kept trying to add things to the arrangement. Nothing else seemed to fit, so right then and there I decided that I would stringently limit the scope of MSEnet Version3. In both the long and short runs, it was a great decision because it simultaneously kept me focused on the content and limited the amount of content I had to deal with.

The arrangement was simple. "Gear" dealt with the technical aspects of architecture and included a beam stress calculator, a seismic calculator (never finished), and the beginnings of a materials database (again, never finished, but never really started either). "Shell" featured writings on architecture and the built environment. "Angel" contained mostly personal information. It was never really as complete as I would have liked it, but at least it had up-to-date information. The last section was "Compass," where the technical information about MSEnet Version3 itself could be found: things like a site map, user feedback form, and hit counters.

One of the best decisions, IMHO, was to artificially limit the technology used on the site to that supported by 3.x-generation web browsers, despite the overwhelming popularity and availability of 4.x-generation browsers. The idea was to make my site as acceccible as possible and, AFAICT, it seemed to have worked.

MSEnet Version3 was so successful that I didn't think I would need to change it before I graduated. Alas, I knew even then that I was only fooling myself: I can't stand leaving something alone when I can tinker with it instead. But a lot of other things got me going on a new version of MSEnet, not the least of which was Cascading Style Sheets.

During the winter of 1998/1999, I tried to produce the next iteration, MSEnet Vier. (Vier is German for "four.") Going for shock value (for real), I made it with a bright yellow stripe down the left over a bright red background, with green, yellow, and white highlights. For some strange reason, no one I showed it to liked it.

So, MSEnet Version3 sat for another eight months with no updates whatsoever. Then I "rediscovered" Cascading Style Sheets in early June 1999 while working on the website for my employer, Kirkpatrick Associates Architects. Needless to say, I fell in love with the possibilities. I also became bitterly resentful of Netscape's negligent implementation of CSS. For the first time in my life, I was forced to admit that Microsoft had actually produced a superior product. Of course, this "victory" was a short-lived one, for while Microsoft has made some improvements to its support of web standards, Netscape (through Mozilla) is now thoroughly the better browser.


After the disappointingly cool reception to MSEnet Vier, I decided to lay off of personal website creation for a while. Three things drove this decision: I was busy in school (especially studio), I was busy doing freelance web design, and MSEnet Version3 was still fairly popular and useful.

Somewhere near early June, 1999, I "rediscovered" Cascading Style Sheets and was instantly galvanized in the decision to move forward with the fourth edition of MSEnet.

In a moment of weakness, I decided that I didn't particularly care what others might think of my site or, for that matter, how particularly accessible it was. To that end, I included things that made sense to me (not necessarly anyone else), and I pushed the limits of what you could be done with Cascading Style Sheets. Unfortunately, this meant that Netscape's suite of browsers not only didn't work with msenet****, but also seemed to crash and/or render a multitude of errors. This really made me sick, because I have always been a strong supporter of Netscape and a dedicated naysayer to Internet Explorer; alas, Babylon! It was not to be for almost two years... Turns out that not only did IE5 support CSS vastly better than any version of Netscape at the time, but even IE4 supported CSS better than NS4! It was almost enough to make me puke.

At the time, I wrote:

So what does the future have in store for MSEnet? Only time will tell. I will graduate from USC on May 12, 2000, and I will lose the free web page I have enjoyed for five years shortly thereafter. I don't know where, how, or when I will effect a mass transfer of my website, but you can rest assured that MSEnet will not end with my education...

The ironic thing is that MSEnet did, in fact, "end" with my education, in the sense that none of the versions of MSEnet are maintained (though you can still view them at msenet.org). Instead, I pushed into the realm of a vanity domain...


In the late fall of 1999, I suddenly realized that, as a soon-to-be-graduated USC student, I had less than a year of "free" web hosting remaining. Futhermore, I would only have my school-sponsered email address for a few more months... Something had to be done! And at the time, that "something" was, of course, getting my own domain name. Thus, on that cold December day, ellars.com was born!

the site that never was

Before the original, there was another concept. Thankfully, my better tastes prevailed, and I continued designing until I came up with ellars.com Mk.1.

current longevity champion

The first iteration of ellars.com survived three-and-a-half years, which is something of a record for me. The design was intended as a step towards greater simplicity, but in the end even it became too large and unwieldly -- eventually leading to the design you see here today.

Mk.2 alpha
the "close-but-no-cigar" version

My first pass at a simplified design for ellars.com ended up being not that simple at all. However, it did provide me with a place to experiment with different technologies, especially advanced CSS features.

this here very web site

[something will be written here evenually]

periphery sites

Description and discussion of sites like flieghund.net.


Web design and development in a professional environment.

themes?: [lightness] [darkness] [blueness]

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