Aug 20, 2009
Phew! Talk about taking forever to achieve something! We here at the Freeing Growth Foundation have been working upon Deepereconomics.org now for about three weeks yet this is our first post to the blogging system. We are proud of what we have achieved so far - it may be practically an empty site at present with just a lot of fancy graphics and theming, however we have invested an awful lot of work now in order to make the site scalable, resilient and flexible, and functional on all the major web browsers (except anything before IE8) as well as reasonably fast even on ancient hardware (it helps that one can disable fancy CSS3 stuff at the bottom of any page). We have no idea whether the idea for this site will gain traction - chances are that much as with the development of open source computer software, the person with the most passion or pain does most of the work which probably means us. I guess we'll see with time.
The theme of this site has been described as "beautiful" by everyone who has seen it to date - which greatly pleases us, as an awful lot of programming work went into making the gradually changing backdrop not cause most web browsers to lock up the user interface because each fade rendition was costing hundreds of milliseconds. It actually employs a dynamic self-throttling timer system whereby it adjusts the increment and rate of fade according to how much the browser is sputtering. It wasn't as easy as just that - we have made use of CSS3 text shadowing to emulate the outlining of all text with a black border which is a very subtle - and almost subliminal - way of achieving good readability of text even though the background isn't uniform. If you want to see the difference it makes, try looking at any page using IE8 which does not yet support CSS3 text shadowing - it's surprising how much difference it makes when reading long passages. However one consequence of text shadowing is that all text must be drawn five times rather than one, so a page with a lot of text sputters the browser much more with the fade transitions than pages with less text.
We're also proud of the automatic linking into RePEc citations data - user profiles show the publications of the user, and ISBN and RePEc references are automatically linked and iconified with AJAX dynamically loading in the citation. There are an awful lot of pseudo-economists out there most of whom mean well, but are not even disciplined enough to self-publish their own academic papers with a full bibliography, and a RePEc link is one way of assigning such people their proper weighting. One hint I have always told my students is that one should aim for an A4 page of academic citations per two thousand words, so a twenty thousand word thesis should really have around ten pages of references. Of course, writing up references is boring for anyone, but it is important as a means of enforcing discipline and helping the academic writer to ensure that they have performed a good literature review. I myself also find it rather fun personally - rather like baseball, its tedium is made worthwhile by the occasional golden nugget that one will discover which will totally transform for the better the approach you were going to take in your own work. And of course, one of the most beneficial if annoying events is the discovery that someone else has already done the topic you were about to do, and furthermore has done it better and more completely than you had thought possible.
One the big, big things we wish to do as part of this particular initiative is to place our experience with using modern tools into a very short reader for the undergraduate student. Word 2007 has some excellent facilities poorly presented, and a short practical guide to these facilities would be very useful to just about everyone we think.