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Notices for 20th August 2007 to 15th July 2007

Monday, 20th August 2007

Less than a week to go, and this site will have been up for four years. In the grand scheme of the Web, it’s not very long, but such is the transience of content on the Web that it may as well be a long time.

I received an e-mail from a German yesterday, asking for help with my path case fix code. I decided I’d just knock up a complete working example, and that was when I discovered something bad. I’ve been using the <q> tag for quotations now for some time in relative deference to its lack of support in Internet Explorer (due to IE’s abysmal CSS support) but I’ve finally given it up and am reverting to standard typographer’s quotation marks, opt-[ (“) and opt-{ (”).

But I found something else. I had decided on a rather cunning (or moronic, depending) trick to gain some semantics. I decided I would wrap blocks of code in <code> blocks, despite that element defaulting to inline. I created a CSS rule that set certain code blocks to behave as if they were <pre> elements.

The snag is, that Firefox (and only Firefox!) ignores CSS-derived line breaks when copying and pasting code. So my code blocks end up all on a single line when pasted into another application, making them almost useless. Internet Explorer 6, iCab 3 and Opera 9 do not take the same stance on how CSS should affect copy and paste, fully obeying my formatting rule.

I don’t know who is correct here. CSS is for presentational purposes only, so what I am doing is wrong. However, I feel that HTML 4 semantics are weak. Using this as an example case, HTML only permits code to be marked up as being inline.

There are two directions you can go, I suppose: more semantics or less semantics. Even the HTML 4 specifications are very hazy on most of the “formatting” semantic tags like <addr> and <tt>. I do fully agree with tags like <blockquote> and <em> however.

Where I see semantics as failing is when you consider how hard it is to convey basic meaning in any useful way without creating complexity that still leaves many cases not catered for. Computers will never have a sufficiently clear understanding of the semantics and humans don’t need semantic tags to help us. The alternative is to strip out all the fancy semantic tags like <addr>, <kbd> and <code> and leave only <pre> (block monospace) and <tt> (inline monospace) and be done with it. I am not sure if having much else besides these two is genuinely useful. They do, however, provide something for CSS selectors to latch onto, athough I remember failing to convince any browser to let me use <addr> inline…

Saturday, 11th August 2007

Visiting Apple’s site to investigate their new products curiously led me to learn about how Macs now support text zoom in several applications. This reminded me that Psion introduced this idea in 1997, so I revisited my EIKON page, adding several more points of note, including menu appearance and behaviour and window content zoom.

I also updated the RISC OS page. Something that had not fully dawned on me when I wrote that page was that Acorn achieved smooth type with fractional character widths no later than 1992. It would take Apple until 2001 to introduce this to the public. Even the operating system’s splash screen was rendered on the fly in high quality type, something Apple only pulled off with System 7.6 in 1997 with a pre-rendered bitmap. If I were human, I would say, “Mad props to Acorn.” If I were human.

Sunday, 15th July 2007

Firetrack is getting old – literally: there are audible signs of wear now. Having it running all day and night as a server was a waste of electricity, so the site simply disappeared off the Internet a while ago. I guess this was wise, as it’s still a very important computer to me and I don’t want to wear it into the grave. I have now formally archived all the Firetrack site content at firetrack.telcontar.net. The 404 page and directory listings are still ICD and Apache defaults respectively, so the next stage is to reproduce the original pages.

A sad day, though.