Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Making Up For Lost Time
7:00 UTC

Busy holidays, snow, cold weather and some minor website problems have prevented me from posting any updates for the past 15 days. I will attempt to catch up with today’s posts.

A Quiet Christmas at Home

Our first Christmas Day at the house was most unusual and will certainly be memorable. Because we were still awaiting the refund from People to People from the canceled Australia trip, we had not bought any presents. Consequently there were no presents to open on Christmas morning! We slept until 10 a.m. then drank eggnog and ate Christmas goodies while watching four episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD (11:00–2:20). It was great fun but made the day seem more like Halloween than Christmas.

Finally I prepared the turkey and stuffing for the oven; it went in at 3 p.m. Dinner was served at 7:15. We had roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes with turkey gravy, jellied cranberries, fruit salad and croissants. Our beverage of choice was sparkling cherry cider. We listened to some holiday music. Later (about 10 p.m.) we had cake for dessert. It was a nice finish for a sweet but rather quiet holiday (our extended family gathering was held the Sunday before Christmas).

Belated Holiday Shopping

The refund check arrived the following day (Friday). We promptly refunded those who donated toward the trip (except for a few who explicitly told us to keep the money) and then went shopping the following Monday.

When we arrived back at the house after shopping, sometime around 2:30 p.m., one of the Christmas trees was lying on the floor. Ornaments were strewn everywhere. The kittens somehow managed to tip it over, despite the 20 pounds of weights on the stand!

To avoid further holiday disasters, I took down both Christmas trees with their ornaments, garlands and lights, and put them away for the season (4:40–6:10 p.m.). The rest of the decorations would be left up until the New Year.

Our New Year Celebrations

Two teenage boys, friends of Joe, spent the night with us. Our dinner menu was strange; it included a bacon-and-mozzarella quiche plus a variety of frozen fried snacks. The boys spent most of the evening playing video games upstairs. We splurged and bought Ben & Jerry’s® Ice Cream, which we broke out 15 minutes before the New Year. We didn’t finish eating until after the New Year arrived. “I never tried Ben & Jerry’s before,” I noted, “but now I’ve eaten it two years in a row!” Everyone laughed. When the ball came down in New York City at the stroke of midnight, one of the boys blew a noisemaker he had brought. Now it was official: 2004 was upon us.

In the morning, I made French toast and bacon for the boys before they went home. Then I picked up some other guests—friends of the family—and another of Joe’s friends arrived while I was gone.

Lunch was served at about 2:15 p.m. We all ate baked ham, yams baked with marshmallows, mashed potatoes, vegetables with dip, fruit salad and crescent rolls. We had a great time with lots of laughs. Dessert was served at about 4 p.m.: pumpkin pie (with French Vanilla Cool Whip®) and chocolate pudding.

Worn out from the previous night, Joe fell asleep upstairs at about 7 p.m.

Winterizing—Better Late Than Never

Friday, January 2 was a foggy, rainy day with mild temperatures (45° at midday, 52° at 9 p.m.). I took the opportunity to seal the air leak around the back door in the mud room, using plastic garbage bags and duct tape. It worked quite well. I also set up the two humidifiers we bought after Christmas.

Winter Arrives in Southern Wisconsin

Snow began to fall Sunday afternoon (January 4) at about 12:30. It ended shortly after 8 a.m. on Monday with a total of 2.7 inches at our house. Monday was the first day of school after the winter break, and Joe had trouble getting up in time for school despite his intention to help me shovel the sidewalks. So I did it myself after taking him to school, finishing by 9 a.m. The sun came out and glistened off of the newly fallen snow. It was beautiful.

Bitterly cold temperatures followed hard on the heels of the snowfall. It was 4° below zero at the house Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. and the high was 12° at 3 p.m.

Website Progress, or Lack Thereof

Several people around the globe hot-linked our files over the holidays: that is, they embedded images and sound files directly from our site onto their own pages. Boy, was I surprised to find the Ummamum Santa Claus from our Christmas GIF page on a gay forum! The Ummamum Christmas Song from the same page, turned up on a Danish website (no kidding). Apparently they were not aware that “Ummamum” does not mean “Jingle Bells” in English! One of our Christmas MIDI files was used on a golfers’ page.

To avoid excessive bandwidth drain due to hot-linking in the future, I have re-configured our .htaccess file so that such linking is no longer possible. I have also banned several annoying robots from the site (not those used by major search engines).

Two pages that were promised before the holidays are still in the works along with a third page.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

What’s Going On Here?
23:00 UTC

If you visited our Home page in the past day or so, you may have noticed that the page was written in HTML 4.01 instead of XHTML. I have been experimenting with the site again—this time trying to solve the problem that our ie.js script is causing on Internet Explorer.

The script takes the Q tags used to enclose short quotations, and replaces them with manual curly quotation marks (like these: “ ”) for Internet Explorer. It also makes ABBR and ACRONYM work properly on that browser. The downside is that after reprocessing the source code, the browser often reloads the images, causing a rather annoying delay and flickering screen. Oddly, the effect is most noticeable on IE 5 and 6, a bit less on IE 5.5 and even less on IE 4.

I considered using a server-side PHP solution, but server-side scripting also delays loading, so this did not appeal to me. I tried delivering separate documents—XHTML to newer browsers and HTML to older ones—resulting in faster page loads (I only did this on the Home page). The downside of this would be creating and maintaining two complete sets of pages, which for The Oo Kingdom would mean about 1400 separate documents! Last summer’s photo section entitled A New Home, a War and a Kitten, at 41 pages, would have been a major undertaking all by itself, if done in duplicate.

Other new things I tried with the 21st Anniversary Edition—serving XHTML as two MIME types and cleaning up URIs—worked beautifully, but this ie.js thing has to go. Since server-side scripting or serving two separate pages are also poor solutions, I believe that my best solution is to mark all of the quotations up with manual curly quotes, and to avoid using ABBR tags, which do not work on Internet Explorer without the ie.js script.

ABBR and ACRONYM tags serve two purposes: the first is to let readers know what the term in question stands for (example: HTML is HyperText Markup Language), and the second is so that screen readers know how to pronounce them (abbreviations should be spelled out, acronyms spoken as words). The catch here is that the leading screen reader, JAWS for Windows, does not recognize either tag but does a fair job of sorting this out on its own. I have since learned that this is not the case; see the January 15 entry. That leaves giving the term’s expansion as the only valid purpose for the tags. For that, ACRONYM works for all of them; even though this is technically incorrect, it appears to be the most accessible solution, given that IE does not support ABBR.

Expect a modified version of this site to appear over the next several days or weeks. It should look much like (if not identical to) the current version, but IE users will enjoy faster page loading.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

It Stands Once Again
22:40 UTC

I have been trying to get rid of the flickering that occurs when IE runs the ie.js script and then reloads some or all of the images. I was ready to mark up all quotations with manual curly quotation marks, and mark up all abbreviations as acronyms (and then only if a title attribute was needed), but after reading much material in weblogs that strongly discouraged such practices (at least with abbreviations), I decided against it. The “straw that broke the camel’s back” was when removing the Q tag replacement code from the ie.js script, failed to prevent the double loading and page flickering. The fact is that the script has to run “onload” which means after the page has finished loading. Then, after reprocessing the HTML, it may decide to reload images in order to display the page correctly (we know this isn’t truly the case, but a non-human piece of Microsoft programming cannot determine that).

ABBR and ACRONYM are important for accessibility, so modern web developers say we should be using them. This means I am stuck with the script. The Q element probably is less critical, since manual quotation marks are semantically identical to the use of Q tags. But since using Q tags makes for cleaner markup than using “ and ” for curly quotes (which I strongly prefer to straight ones, for better readability), and since the script is going to do its thing anyway, it seems smartest to use the full script. Anyway, I managed to learn a trick, during all of my reading, that allowed me to shorten the script literally by half, and reduce the number of times Internet Explorer must re-parse the page source from nine to four!

Oh, and I made one more improvement: the underlining of expanded abbreviations and acronyms is blocked for print media; its only purpose is for the screen, to alert visitors that the expansion of the term is available as a mouse-over tooltip. Once again, all is well in the Oo Kingdom.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Latest Addition and Design Tweak
02:00 UTC

A new Categories section has been added to our News Archive, so you can find posts by subject. A few tags have been revised across the site also, and a few scripts and style sheets have been updated. The browser compatibility notice near the bottom of the Home page was added as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Correction Regarding JAWS for Windows
18:15 UTC

On January 8, I said that JAWS for Windows does not recognize the ABBR or ACRONYM tags. I stand corrected: it does recognize them but only for the purpose of expanding their meaning via the title attribute. One has to go to Utilities, then Configuration Manager, then Options, then HTML Options Dialog, then check the boxes labeled “Expand Abbreviations” and “Expand Acronyms”. JAWS will then read the text of the title attribute instead of the on screen text.

By default, JAWS reads the on screen text, and since it cannot understand style sheets, it pronounces abbreviations and acronyms as it sees fit, making which tag is used a moot point. And, as I stated before, it does a pretty good job of getting the right pronunciation on its own.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Lost in the Translation
16:08 UTC

This is an excellent example of what can happen when software is used differently than intended. I ran our Home page through the InterTran online translator and told it to translate the page from English to English. It should come back normal, right? Wrong! You can see the result for yourself. Here’s a tip: rest your mouse over any word or phrase; the page is loaded with tooltips! Words in brackets are the words from the original page. Also, use the back button to get off the page (unless, of course, you want to see more of the same garbage).

Yes, I did have to do some major editing in Windows WordPad, to get the translated page to validate as XHTML.

There’s another thing I noticed about our website: the use of Q tags actually helps most automatic translators, which simply insert the tags where they belong on the page. The entity codes for manual curly quotation marks tend to mess up most translators terribly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Ubiquitous Ummamums Theme Debuts
22:12 UTC

For those who don’t know, ubiquitous means “existing everywhere: present everywhere at once, or seeming to be” (definition courtesy of Encarta® World English Dictionary). Selecting our Ubiquitous Ummamums theme will leave your screen filled with little Ummamum faces in four colors! Don’t worry about being able to read the text; a white background is provided with most text elements.

“OK… So What’s an Ummamum?” you may ask. Learn from the link! ‘Nuff said.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

New Site Under Management
22:30 UTC

Mary’s Creations, the official web site of quilter Mary Edwards of Janesville, Wisconsin, has just been designed and published by yours truly. The markup is all valid HTML 4.01 Transitional except for the contact page, which must contain one invalid attribute in order to work with the FrontPage extensions on that server.

Other sites I am presently managing include the following:

NOTE, November 6, 2007: Joe’s site is no longer online. The domain was sold to a reseller in October, 2007.

New Humor Page
22:35 UTC

I discovered Dead Rabbit and the Blonde in my archived email and just posted it today.

Another Rebuild in the Works
22:52 UTC

This site will undergo another metamorphosis very soon. The flickering caused by the ie.js script on Internet Explorer is unacceptable to me, and the script also causes files to load twice, resulting in unnecessary double traffic on the server. Also, I have learned how to redirect traffic from .htm and .html extensions, to directories by the same name (example: oksowhats.htm can be redirected to oksowhats/), so I will be revising directory structure on the site as well. In addition, styling and scripting are in dire need of revision.

At this time, it looks like the markup will remain in XHTML 1.0 Strict, using all of the phrase elements currently in use except for Q and ABBR. Full explanation for the changes will appear in our Web Design section when the new edition is completed, probably sometime in February. Due to the directory structure changes, the entire domain will be republished at one time.