Sunday, February 1, 2004

Counting the Cost
06:45 UTC
Category: Site Progress

I had to reconsider redirecting to directories (Another Rebuild in the Works [January 28, 2004]). We currently have 57 folders, or directories, on this domain; under my new proposed setup, we would have 657 (one for each page on the site). I don’t relish the thought of creating 600 new directories and moving all of the image files and stuff around. It’s a bad idea. Also, I would have to name each page source “index.html” (or “index.php” or whatever), and when I open one of them up in Notepad or WordPad for editing, how can I be really sure which “index” file I have open on my desktop? (I know I could look at the title tag, but I have been known to accidentally overwrite them.)

Yesterday I visited eight or ten of the X-Philes sites. Some of them weren’t laid out as nicely as this one, but a couple of them were very nice. At least one had URI schemes similar to ours, with links pointing to files by name, without the .html or whatever extension. Adding a slash to the end of one of these results in a 404 Error (file not found).

Our error logs have caught several visitors adding slashes to the end of our URIs. Closer examination of the error logs reveals that it isn’t visitors who are doing this, but robots. And adding slashes isn’t all they are doing; they are occasionally requesting all sorts of bogus URIs that have never existed on our site! No amount of restructuring can prevent this sort of error.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Messing with the URIs again is a bad idea, so it will not happen on this site. This means I can republish files as they are modified during this transitional period. So far the Q and ABBR elements have been removed from all pages in the root directory (Close to Home) and Web Design, and a few bits of content have been updated. Unfortunately the flickering phrase element script (for Internet Explorer) will have to remain in place until this phase of the transition is complete.

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

IE Fix Completed
01:45 UTC
Category: Site Progress

Yesterday I finished converting all Q elements on ookingdom.com back to manual curly quotation marks (“ ”) which actually are semantically identical to the Q elements but render correctly on all browsers of version 4.0 or higher. Also, to satisfy Internet Explorer (which is used by 90% of our visitors), I switched all ABBR tags to ACRONYM and removed altogether any such tags that were not expanded with a title attribute. I know that this is not semantically correct, so I will explain my reasons for doing this:

The main problem, of course, lies with Internet Explorer: it does not support ABBR, nor does it supply quotation marks with Q, so I have been using a special JavaScript to convert the Q tags to manual curly quotation marks for Internet Explorer; the same script wraps the content of all ABBR and ACRONYM tags containing title attributes, in a SPAN element with a class="abbr" and the same title attribute. The SPAN is then styled so IE users get the same effect that users of better browsers do. It was very nice, except that it caused the screen to flicker as images reloaded after the script ran, each time a page was loaded. I found this quite annoying, not to mention the fact that our server stats were misleading: instead of one page and six images being served, now it was one page and twelve images!

Add to all this the fact that Q is not supported at all by Netscape Navigator 4.x (which quite a few people are still using—sigh), nor by Google, which never rendered quotation marks in our search results! I don’t know if any other search engines support them, but I doubt it. Web developers have largely ignored the Q element because of poor browser support.

After using Q for several months, I personally think it’s a bad idea anyway. It “is intended for short quotations (inline content) that don’t require paragraph breaks” according to the W3C specification, but in the real world, quotations do continue into a second paragraph; it’s not uncommon. There is an often forgotten grammatical rule which states that if a quote continues into the next paragraph, the end quote should be omitted. I found a way to make this happen with style, but semantically the Q tags were wrong, because they indicated that the quote ended with paragraph one, and a new quote began with paragraph two. Manual quotation marks can give a more accurate indication without any stylistic tweaking.

As for ABBR and ACRONYM, the reason most often cited for using both elements is that abbreviations should be spelled out (like FBI or CIA) and acronyms spoken as words (like radar and NATO). These rules can be specified in an aural style sheet for the benefit of screenreaders. (It just happens that JAWS for Windows is the leading screenreader today, and although it supports both elements, they do not affect how it pronounces them.)

Personally, I have a problem with this as it isn’t always that simple. Take, for example, the JPEG image file format. Do you spell it out, J-P-E-G, or do you pronounce it as “juh-PEG”? Neither, of course; most people say it as “JAY-peg.” Now how do you get a machine to do that? Or does it matter, since if it appears in all capital letters, JAWS (for example) will spell it out, and anyone familiar with the term will know what it is? Anyway, JAWS does a pretty fine job of getting the pronunciations right with no help from us; it says etc. and HTML and NATO just as we humans would, probably because someone smart programmed it to do so. I say don’t mess with it; just use ACRONYM.

They say you should mark up all abbreviations and acronyms, whether expanded with title attributes or not, for the benefit of screenreaders, but using only ACRONYM sorta shoots that idea in the foot, so I have (for the sake of simplicity) eliminated all un-expanded ACRONYM elements, making for simpler, cleaner markup.

The bottom line for The Oo Kingdom was faster page loading for the world’s most popular (albeit buggy) browser, and markup that is still more standards compliant than over 99% of websites are using today.

Friday, February 6, 2004

More Winter Weather in Wisconsin
17:00 UTC
Category: Seasonal

Photo of house and snow

Once again the weatherman predicted more snow than we received, but we did get some snow! And I got some good exercise, shoveling the walks and driveway and sweeping off the porch. Last night’s snowfall amounted to 2.9 inches at our house, which brings our season total to 12.9 inches—not very much, but only 1.3 inches fell in December, so that’s why we’re behind.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Let the Action Begin!
19:00 UTC
Category: Site Progress

Sorry it has been so long since my last update. I was working on the new version of the site when our tax refund came in, and we decided to spring for a new computer. The past several days have been spent setting up programs and tools on the new system and removing duplicate software from the old one, which now resides in Joe’s room.

I am very impressed with the new computer so far. It has a 2.6 GHz processor, which is over five times faster than the old one. It also has 256 MB of RAM, four times what the old one has. The difference in speed is phenomenal. And my apprehension about Windows XP is now gone. It’s much more user-friendly than Windows 98!

The new computer, however, spelled bad news for this website. On the old system I had every major version of Netscape Navigator; the new one came with Netscape 6.2 installed. Guess what? The Oo Kingdom looks awful on that browser, because it botches the script that controls our presentation themes as well as the greeting script. Also, I quickly learned that several old familiar fonts did not come installed on the new computer. I wonder who else is missing Book Antiqua and Rockwell? I will address both of these issues with the new site version. Hmmm… well, I guess it’s back to work.