Sunday, November 2, 2003

Oops! Dead End

I am currently converting the entire site to HTML 4.01 Strict. This means I will no longer qualify for the X-Philes. It has been a fun and interesting but frustrating journey.

Being a stickler for doing things “by the book,” I have been using the ?xml prologue in addition to serving application/xhtml+xml to better browsers. Everything was fine until I decided that I should also use the ?xml-stylesheet processing instructions along with the style and link elements. Every browser I checked handled it fine until I got to IE6/Windows, which tried to render the page as generic XML. I was able to verify this by saving a copy of the source code on my hard drive with a .xml file extension.

Internet Explorer cannot render XHTML properly when served according to the W3C spec; its XML rendering mode left the page a terrible mess, with all of the links broken and the page useless (see screenshots on another page).

A lot of reading and research went into this. I realized that my reasons for converting to XHTML served “correctly” didn't hold water:

  1. Forward compatibility — I think HTML will be around for a long time, especially considering the number of tag soup pages out there today.
  2. Giving the best browsers what they want — that means giving invalid HTML to everyone else, since that’s how they parse it.

No more! I’m with Mark Pilgrim on this one: it’s dangerous. I’m with Hixie: it’s considered harmful and can possibly mislead less experienced authors. Don’t get me wrong: XHTML offers some great scripting possibilities, not to mention the extensibility of XML for those who need it (like Jacques Distler, who blends two namespaces). But until it’s well supported by the vast majority of the browsing public, I’m sticking with HTML 4.01 Strict.

Monday, November 3, 2003

Hold yesterday’s hasty post! I discovered partway through the conversion from XHTML back to HTML that I was now getting horizontal scrollbars in Internet Explorer (curse Microsoft!). Previously I had thought that one of my scripts was fixing the problem; apparently I was wrong. Internet Explorer’s “standards-compliant mode” is what was causing the scrollbars. The ?xml prologue throws Explorer into quirks mode, and voila! no more scrollbars.

Both the ?xml prologue and the ?xml-stylesheet PIs are optional. If I use the former but not the latter, and serve MIME types according to the browser in use, everything should be okay.

This site is already back in full XHTML; the craft site will follow later on Monday.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Sunny (the Kitten, Not the Weather)

Our younger kitten, now nearly three-and-a-half months old, has learned to climb over the boxes Joe put up to keep him out of his bedroom. Joe has removed the boxes, giving both kittens free admission to his room.

We took Sunny to the vet this morning at 8:30 local time. He was quite calm in the car on the way there, but he hissed the moment we got inside. Then he began growling! After a bit, he settled down. His temp was normal; his weight is up sharply, at 1.86 kg (4 lbs. 1.5 oz.). He received a distemper shot today; they also gave us some stuff to help with hairballs, and a little catnip for the road.

The weather has been unpleasant lately—cloudy, rainy and somewhat breezy at times since Halloween night. Tomorrow should be sunny but breezy and cooler.

Site Progress

The crafts site is up and running in XHTML 1.0 Strict; there is even styling for Netscape 4.

You may notice that the .html extensions no longer appear in our URIs. Some mod_rewrite magic allowed us to take care of that. An article entitled Clean url’s by Thijs van der Vossen tells how to do it. Thanks to Anne van Kesteren, whose link led me to the article.

Automated Accessibility Verification Considered Harmful

It is a fairly simple matter to produce a Web page that passes all of the automated accessibility tests performed by such services as Bobby and Cynthia Says. In all fairness to them, no automated service can possibly address all of the issues that concern Web content accessibility, and both of them do a good job of addressing what they can. But to ensure that a Web page is truly accessible, one must read the fine print—check out the specification and see if everything on the page actually measures up.

After going to great lengths (or so I thought) to ensure that our pages are fully accessible to all users regardless of what devices they use to browse the Internet, I received this disturbing email (see Follow-up) from none other than the Web Team of Section508.com:

These web pages do not yet meet the requirements for Section 508 Approved status. To be Section 508 Approved, a page must pass all of the accessibility checkpoints established in Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act.

The email then proceeded to enumerate several of the most frequent errors—the ones that I always check for myself, and these pages pass.

Confused, I replied to the email and asked the team to be more specific and tell me exactly what they found on this page that was non-compliant.

I used the “Section 508” link at the bottom of this page to check it at Cynthia Says. Yeah, it passed automated verification. Now let’s check the fine print! I came up with a few things which may be non-compliant:

  1. I have used CSS to color-code all external links on this site. The specification says that if color is used to convey information, that information must also be conveyed another way. Oops. My class="ext" is not really semantic at all!
  2. The script I use to make the q, abbr and acronym work on Internet Explorer, can occasionally cause the screen to flicker. This may be in violation of a rule that states that “Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.” Or not? It flickers once, if at all—not enough to establish a frequency. Violation, or no?
  3. Our email link has “javascript…” as a target. See next point.
  4. There is a script element in the document head; its functions are to bring in the script mentioned above for Internet Explorer; to bring in a limited style sheet for Netscape 4; and to define the function for the email link. There is no noscript element on the page to provide alternate content, but the site is fully functional without the IE script and the limited style sheet, and the email address is still available without a clickable link. Violation, or no?
  5. “A method shall be provided that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links.” Well, I have a link to skip to the navigation, but no link to skip over it. Only the footer appears after the navigation in the page source. Should I provide an extra skip link, or change the page structure?

As you can see, the best way of doing things is not always clear. I will wait to see what the Section508.com people have to say about this site and then go from there. I’ll keep you informed. For now, be skeptical of pages that sport the “AAA Approved” logo (which I have removed from this page). The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a lot tougher—I wonder if anyone can actually satisfy them all.

Much Ado About Nothing? (06:50 UTC)

I received a follow-up email reply at 03:53 UTC Wednesday morning. It read as follows: “Sorry for the mistake, we still trying to get the bugs out of systems” (sic) (Sounds like the problems I’ve been having with this site.) Okay! Nevertheless I will consider the possible violations I mentioned above, and as always, I will keep you posted.

Just finished cleaning up the URIs on Ummamum’s Picture Place at 06:14 UTC. Also switched the DOCTYPE to XHTML 1.0 Strict, to match the rest of the site.

Thursday, November 6, 2003
21:15 UTC

Accessibility Issues Addressed

In reference to yesterday’s post regarding Section 508, these are my conclusions:

  1. From point (c) of the Section 508 guidelines, it seems that our color-coded external links are okay. The fact that a link is external is usually apparent from the context; the color only makes them easier to spot on the page (which is helpful to me, since I have to keep them updated). Also, the colored shading is visibly darker than the page background, so it will show up okay in black and white. Presentation themes have been added since this was first posted, and in some themes, the external links are highlighted in a lighter color than the surrounding text.
  2. The single screen flicker occasionally caused by our special script for Internet Explorer, should pose no problem since it’s no different from someone blinking his eyes, or a light flickering briefly when turned on. Repetitive or consistent flickering (as seen in the popular ad that says “If this screen is flashing, you are a winner”) is the real problem as it becomes annoying to users and can potentially trigger epileptic seizures.
  3. The javascript email links do the same thing they always have: they provide a clickable hyperlink to accompany the email address, which is available in both the image and its alternate text (the alt attribute) regardless of whether the script works or not. In this case, the alternative content is built in.
  4. The script element in the document head does not provide content; it merely improves what is already there. If scripting is disabled, Netscape 4 gets unstyled markup, which is okay; Internet Explorer gets no quotation marks, but quoted text is italicized via the style sheet; the email link is broken but the address is still there. All is well in the Oo Kingdom.
  5. As for the “skip navigation” link, that should be provided if the navigation precedes the content in the page source. This is so users of screen readers (such as the visually impaired) don’t have to listen to the navigation before hearing the page’s real content. On our pages, the navigation falls after the content, so this should not be a problem (only the footer appears after the navigation, and it’s mostly more links anyway). I have provided a “Jump to navigation” link on each page, right after the main heading, to speed exit in case this wasn’t the page the user wanted. I believe anything more than that would be needless clutter.

“The King’s XHTML
Second paragraph revised, 22:25 UTC

You hear about “the King’s English” all the time, but what about “the King’s HTML”? I did a Google search on "king's html" and came up with 77 pages. Most of the results were stuff like “Eastons Bible Dictionary - Dale, the king's - HTML Bible” where the two words just happened to be juxtaposed in the title line. Many others pertained to HTML authoring tools, usually built by someone named King. A few pages were actual HTML tutorials; some of them were downright antiquated.

Next I tried a Google search for "king's xhtml" and got no results at all, so I decided I would be the first one to get a listing for that category. You will find “the King’s XHTML” included in the title bar on our Home page. New logos may follow in the near future.

One external link did appear on the search results page, however. It was an advertisement for XStandard, an XHTML 1.1 WYSIWYG editor. The ad contained a link to a conversation with Vlad Alexander, VP of Development at Belus Technology, who made a strong case for using XHTML 1.1 as opposed to HTML or even earlier versions of XHTML. But some of the statements he made are dead wrong:

  1. “The font element and the style attribute are gone, forever.” The font element is gone, all right, but the style attribute is only deprecated. Many people seem to be confused by that term; when an item is deprecated, it means that although it remains in the specification, its use is discouraged in favor of newer methods (in the case of the style attribute, used for embedding styles in text, the newer methods would be style elements in document heads, or external stylesheets).
  2. “…and data has been separated from presentation once and for all.” OK then, why do XStandard’s Web pages use tables for layout? That use was discouraged by the W3C in the HTML 4 specification back in 1998. Valid markup never guarantees separation of data from presentation. Authors need to ensure this through judicious use of markup and style.

Eric Meyer wrote an excellent article about separation of data from presentation, entitled The Incomplete Divorce. In the article he states that

…the divorce is not complete and never can be. I’ve been saying this in public presentations for a while now, and it bears repetition here: you can have structure without style, but you can’t have style without structure… you have to have elements (and, also, classes and IDs and such) in order to apply style.

Back to XStandard—I was also disappointed to see a general lack of semantic markup on the pages; specifically, not one of cite, dfn, code, samp, kbd, q, abbr or acronym. The home page didn’t use em or strong either, but the conversation page contained one em element and lots of strongs.

Oh well. At least they are making some effort toward standards compliance. What about the zillions of tag soup pages out there?

Certifiably Bad Markup

There is a company called CIWCertified.com that specializes in training people to be Certified Internet Webmasters (CIW). The training includes instruction in all areas of Internet technology, not just markup. But by the look of things, that site’s own management could stand to learn a few things about markup. All of their pages are laid out in tables, with no DOCTYPE in the sources. So much for standards!

Then I found their About CIW page. At the bottom of the page is a list of other sites that do IT training and certification. Looking at the page’s source, it was probably meant to be an actual list of links, but whoever put it there forgot to mark anything up at all, so it appears on the page as a continuous run of company names and URIs and not one solitary hyperlink. The page has not been fixed since I checked it last, in July. I am sure that CIWCertified.com is a reputable organization, but fixing their broken markup (or lack of markup) would certainly improve their credibility.

Monday, November 10, 2003
06:00 UTC

More Fixes on This Site

While checking to see how certain websites rendered on some older browsers yesterday, I discovered a link which led to a blog post entitled Multiple Versions of Internet Explorer. You can now actually download stand-alone versions of some older Internet Explorer browsers for use in testing websites! (NOTE, November 7, 2007: this is now gone.)

Of course, I downloaded the zip files, unzipped and installed them, and then proceeded to test this site on them. IE 5.5 rendered this site exactly the same as IE 6.0, but the site was sadly broken in IE 5.01. This problem is now fixed, though it took me hours of troubleshooting with scripts and style sheets as well as a minor edit of every page source on the primary domain.

Ummamum’s Picture Place received another edit on Friday, November 7; now there is limited styling for Netscape 4.

New Listing on Google

It didn’t take long for the world’s largest search engine to catch up with us. A Google search of "king's xhtml" (in quotes as shown) will take you directly to this site.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003
06:00 UTC

Phrase Elements Working Everywhere

All quotations in Ummamum’s Picture Place are now marked up with the q element (there are no quotes on the crafts site). Abbreviations and acronyms on all sites are now marked up properly as well. Improved scripting and styling ensure proper visual presentation for popular browsers, including Internet Explorer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
04:15 UTC

Design Update

Today I downloaded IE 3 and 4 from the site mentioned in the November 10 entry, and tested this site on them. Floating images on many pages messed up the layout and surrounding text on IE 4. Much of my day was spent fixing bugs on the site; everything works fine now, including the quotation marks (which also required more fixing).

Second update (06:35 UTC)

Third update (21:05 UTC)

Reworked scripting and style sheets for 4.0 browsers. Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape 4 now have separate custom style sheets. Internet Explorer 4 looks close to what newer browsers are getting.

Friday, November 14, 2003
22:40 UTC

It Works! It Works!

I have been doing a lot of styling and scripting on the site the past few days. Everything works properly now on every browser I tested it on. This includes Internet Explorer 4.01, 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0 (Windows); Netscape 4.03, 4.77 and 7.1; Mozilla Firebird; Opera 6.01 and 7.22. Older browsers (Netscape 2.02 and 3.04; Internet Explorer 3.0) get unstyled content, which is okay.

The new subtitle on the Home page logo will stay until I discover that it’s too long for Google to list in full (which I suspect it is). If that happens, I’ll figure out a way to shorten it a little.

At any rate, this so-called “Web Design Nightmare From You Know Where” appears to be finally at an end.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Bye Bye Digital Home
06:30 UTC

Our old subtitle, “Digital Home of Charlie Petitt & Family,” had to go. “Digital home” is nowadays used to refer to digital media in the home (as in “digital home entertainment”). It does not at all describe the content of this site. So I tried “A Family Site in the King’s XHTML by Charlie Petitt” which proved to be too long. Google cuts off the last word of the title, which just happens to be our last name!

On Monday evening, I ran several possible titles by Wendi and Joe to see what they liked. Joe was in favor of keeping the words “& Family” in the title. What we finally decided upon (unanimously) was not far from our old title and surprisingly close to the one used on Ummamum’s Hideout Gold Version 2 (July 18, 2000; see our history page). The new title describes the site well and should last us a very long time.

The image on the Home page bearing the words “May God Bless Our Digital Home” has also been retired after nearly three years of running on our site. I believe God has blessed our site, but it is not a “digital home.” In place of the image is a “No-Evil Family-Site Award” linked to the site from which it came. This award emphasizes the wholesome, child-safe, Grandma-safe content which has been a tradition on The Oo Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

One Sick Teenager
04:25 UTC

Joe has been home from school sick since midday Friday. His regular doctor diagnosed him with bronchitis then and prescribed Amoxicillin for him. Four days later, he was no better—actually worse. Now he was weak and dizzy and coughing up yucky stuff.

We made another trip to the clinic and saw another doctor. This time they even did chest X-rays. We went back to the exam room and waited. Finally the doctor returned with the X-rays.

“You have a nice pneumonia,” the doctor announced, almost cheerfully. He showed us the X-rays, and we knew that he was not kidding. Joe’s lungs were filled with white specks and all sorts of cloudy stuff. No wonder he felt ill!

The doctor prescribed a new medication called Zithromax which hopefully will clear it up. Joe is excused from school on Wednesday, and there are no classes on Thursday or Friday this week due to parent-teacher conferences.

One Growing Kitty
04:25 UTC

Sunny is growing like crazy. On Monday, he jumped up onto the kitchen counter for the first time.

Both kittens are doing very well. Now if only we could say that about the humans…

Thursday, November 20, 2003

New Web Host
01:27 UTC

We have switched our Web hosting company from Jatol.com to DoorHost.net. This will make no difference in how the site appears to visitors. I only changed the text font so I know when the DNS changes take effect in our area. The font change will be temporary unless we decide that we like this better. I have already changed it back.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

More Site Updates
21:20 UTC

Another edit of all pages on the primary domain took most of the day on Friday. This edit made the navigation bar improvements possible and simplified alternate styling for selected browsers.

Today at 05:04 UTC I gave the best browsers (Mozilla, Netscape 7, Opera 7) a fixed-position navigation bar. What this means is that the page content can scroll while the navigation bar stays put. Longer navigation bars will have separate scrollbars of their own.

Less capable browsers (Internet Explorer, Opera 6) will get the navigation bar absolute-positioned on the page, as before (Netscape 4 users will find it at the bottom of the page).

My sincere apology goes out to anyone who tried in vain to visit the pictures or crafts sites the past three days. I transferred the files to the new server but forgot to create the subdomains. The problem is now corrected, and all is well in the Oo Kingdom.

Monday, November 24, 2003

It’s Finally Over
23:20 UTC

At long last I added the new page about our latest design, entitled Final Edit. Also reorganized the menus for the entire Web Design section.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

All Better (Almost)
19:25 UTC

Joe stayed home from school Monday and Tuesday with a lingering cough. At today’s follow-up visit to the doctor, X-rays showed the pneumonia was gone. He should be recovered well enough to return to school next Monday, after the Thanksgiving break.

The five of us (Charlie, Wendi, Joe, Shadow and Sunny) wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving holiday—even if you aren’t from the United States.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving!

New Presentation Themes
07:50 UTC

Most visitors can now choose between four presentation themes for this site. The options appear at the bottom of the navigation bar, only on the Home page so far. JavaScript and cookies are required; the cookie is only used to store your choice of theme.

If you are using Internet Explorer or Netscape version 4, you will not be able to change the theme yet. I am still working on it.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Presentation Themes Fixed
02:55 UTC

Presentation themes are now working properly on all modern browsers plus Internet Explorer 4. Netscape 4 browsers crash on the styles and scripting, so I have blocked this feature from those browsers (they will receive only the default Pastels theme).

Removed margins from text boxes and block quotes; this fixed a bug in Netscape 4 and improved rendering for everyone else. Also improved the Kittens background image (by the way, the kittens are Shadow and Sunny, if you haven’t already guessed).

This evening, I added the Presentation Themes menu to the bottom of all navigation bars (it won’t appear on Netscape 4 or older browsers). This meant editing every page again in Windows WordPad. Somehow I accomplished this in 74 minutes flat, even with 270 pages!

By the way, our Thanksgiving was great. We spent much of the day with some friends here in Janesville; we brought homemade sweet potato and apple pies, and deviled eggs; they supplied the rest. Boy, was there a feast!