What's the deal with the "cardboard cutout" CSS-Tricks look?
Nothing metaphorical or especially significant. I just like texture in general. I also wanted to make the site look unique and not fall into any preconceived mold of what a CSS-based site had to look like. I have begun the early stages for a design refresh for this site. I'm pretty pumped about it. Don't get too excited though, it's gonna take me a while to complete it. I'm hoping it's before or around the new year though.
How did you manage to get IE6 on your Mac?
I run VMWare Fusion to run Windows XP where I run IE Tester. I have to have IE 7 installed in order for IE Tester to be able to test all the versions: 5.5, 6, 7 and 8. Somedays I wish I had a real PC with a real original version of IE 6 to test on, because there are little quirks and differences between the IE Tester versions and the real thing. You could use Parallels or Bootcamp to do the same thing, and IE Tester also runs on Vista. You'll need an Intel Mac to run either of these. If you don't have an Intel Mac or can't/don't want to run Windows on your Mac, you could use ies4osx which runs on Darwine (the OS X flavor of the "wine" virtualization software that allows you to run Windows programs without running Windows). I have ies4osx kind of slow and buggy, but it's been a while since I've used it.
When should we use image replacement instead of actual images?
The perfect place to use CSS image replacement is the logo for a website. A logo will often include the text title of the site, which eliminates the need to display the title of the site in actual web text. For both SEO and Accessibility purposes, it makes sense to have the title of your site be an h1 tag as the first thing on the page. With CSS image replacement, you get the best of both worlds. The h1 tag contains the text title of your site, but if a "regular" visitor sees your site with both CSS and images enabled, they will see the graphic logo.
If you replace the h1 with an image, how do you also have an image (typically the logo) in the header that acts as a link to the home page, as is the convention.
This is a great follow-up to the previous question. I said above you should be replacing the h1 tag as that makes the most sense for SEO, accessibility, and semantically. But... this complicates things if you want to make it into a link. If you wrap the inner text in an anchor link, depending on what technique you use, it will either hide or push off the page the text, leaving no clickable area. So what you should do is perform the actual image replacement on the anchor, not the h1 itself (something like "h1#logo a"). Same theory, just leaves the area clickable.
Which is better for building a website layout, Photoshop or Illustrator?
Whichever one you like better and feel more comfortable in. Although it doesn't hurt to know them both well.
If you could build everything from scratch for a website, infrastructure through to front-end programming what would be your ideal stack?
Server: Don't know enough to comment. I guess it's usually Linux or FreeBSD + Apache
Prog/Script Lang/Framework: PHP or Ruby, although I'm a huge novice with both
JS framework: jQuery
Database engine: MySQL
Design (CSS/Tables/Templating..): CSS/XHTML + CMS