Humour Imported From Epistula useability web development


Translation into Gamer of Matthew Paul Thomas’s Translation from cranky-speak into English of a selected portion of Mark Pilgrim’s ‘Silly season’ :

Adobe Apollo and Microsoft Silverlight are the HyperCard of the 21st century.


Platf0rm 1ndepen-c is roxxor teh boxxor, L0cked plat4m suxx0r & is 4 newbs w/out l33t. lfg 4 x-s-able & useable w3b warez.

Current Affairs Imported From Epistula stories Those who evolve useability web development

Years, Drugs, Webs

So, Three hundred and sixty five days.

Fifty two weeks, at thirty five pounds on bus tickets a week, four and a half hours every working day is… No, I’d better not think about it.

Today is my first anniversary working for EM, and therefore ranks as my longest continuous employment since I had a paper-round. Yay the new economy.

There is a new design for Aquarionics on its way, BTW. Maybe even new content, or something. The design is stuck in limbo since I redesigned it in PSP and then my trial ran out, so I’m waiting until I can justify buying the full product. Or I could use that as an excuse to leap to Photoshop etc.

I bought the new Barenaked Ladies album – Everything to Everyone – last week (Via iTunes. Yes, DRM isn’t ideal, but until we can convince the record industry that there are more honest people in the world than people who will get something for free if they can. While we’re at it, can we convince me too?). It contains a couple of ‘future classic’ type tracks I can see myself listening to for a long time, and there is a track whose first lines are “You’ve never seen as many monkeys in the Daily Mail”, Which even out of context (It’s a song about postcards of chimpanzees) makes me laugh. I’m a sad person.

We have, once again, returned to the classic, battered battlegrounds of the War On Drugz. Every so often the needle of popular culture appears to drift from “liberal” to “conservative”, and the further into time we get the faster the metronome appears to be ticking. Anyway, some of the Popular Press (Who, in a rare display of Actual Humour, refer to broadsheets as the Unpopular Press) have decided that some of the white powder coating the fashion industry must be blown away (possibly in the hope that they can sniff it as it goes past.) and… and… in the great traditions of journalists everywhere, when someone says it better than I do I’m going to use their words instead. From The Friday Thing 2005-09-23 (Which if you don’t read, you should, it’s well worth every penny):

The point being – God, what *is* the point? The point being that
millions of people take recreational drugs in this country and
it’s madness to think of them as criminals. OK, so Moss happens
to work in a particularly stupid-money tiny-talent industry in
which coke-taking is practically compulsory, but frankly, even if
she’d been less lucky in life and had never made it further than
the customer service counter at TKMaxx in Croydon, she’d probably
still burn holes in her pretty little nose of a weekend. Only it
would cost her an awful lot more and would be cut full of chalk
and paracetamol. The point being, for the love of Belushi, in the
name of all that is holy and legally-permissable – it is a little
bit of coke. An inconsequential smudge of bullshit-dust. It is
not important.

Waging a deeply cynical tabloid war on celebrities who take drugs
is a waste of time, and investigating and prosecuting anyone who
take drugs is a waste of time and money. Furthermore, the fact
that Ian Blair took time out from devising futuristic Supercops
to get personally involved in publicly chastising druggy Moss is
madness, particularly as it means that now, if he’s not going to
appear like a hypocritical superloon, he’ll have to make it his
personal business to investigate Doherty, Deayton, Williams,
Walliams, every other catwalk model alive, 90% of all TV
presenters and pop stars, Russell Grant, Prince Harry… the list
is endless. He’s certainly going to have his work cut out for
him. He’ll probably have to bring in the TA to help out.

It’s very simple. Prohibition doesn’t work. The pros and cons of
various drugs don’t and shouldn’t come into it. The fact is,
people take drugs. They always have and they always will. The
least we can do as a society is educate people as to the risks
and ensure that if they do take them, at least they’re getting
stuff of a certain purity, and in relative safety.

Something like that anyway. The next weeks episode (Which would have been the first of October, I appear to have deleted the email and since I’m composing this from (looks out the window) somewhere between Henlow and Shefford (while bopping along quietly to Barenaked Ladies still) I don’t have a connection to teh interwebs) [Next week’s episode of TFT] had a rant on the subject of the government’s stated desire to have an “adult debate” on the subject of drugs whilst simultaneously refusing to budge from… well…

“Lets have a Proper Discussion on drugs. Okay?”
“Sure. I don’t agree with everything you say, not all drugs are the spawn of saran, you know.”
“How dare you publicise drug use like that! I can have you arrested, you know.”
“What? I thought you wanted a discussion on drugs?”
“We do”
“But if we even mention something that isn’t inline with your views, you say you will arrest us”
“Well yes, it is illegal, after all.”
“But not all drugs are utterly evil!”
“Yes they are”
“No they’re not!”
“Yes they are.”
“This isn’t even a proper discussion! A discussion is a series of statements made to establish a consensus or logical conclusion, this is just contradiction!”
“No it isn’t”
“Yes it is!”
“No it isn’t”
“Yes it IS!”


(Yes, I should have resisted the Python humour harder, Sosume.)

What else? Oh, yes. Web 2.0. Argh. Words cannot express how much I find this entire 2.0 thing incredibly annoying. The web is a series of evolving technologies, and the integrated web-app Gmail type thing that characterises Web 2.0 hype is just one new use of a reasonably new technology. It’s not that AJAX and DOM Scripting aren’t cool things, it’s just they are not immediately better than what we have. The ability to “access your information from anywhere” has the downside of not applying when you don’t have a net connection. In a world where “going to work” consists of going from network connection to another this may seem less important, but the world isn’t that globally connected yet, as can be gathered from my Henlow/Shefford statement above (As an update, I’ve now reached Shefford). From here I can’t access GMail, flickr, Mint or whatever. I could, I suppose, connect by connecting to my mobile via bluetooth, and then over 3G to the internet, but when I’m paying per kilobyte for my connection I’d quite frankly prefer optimised and compressed text-based communication. XML surrounds data with metadata, which makes it a good general transport protocol, but not a wonderfully bandwidth-conservative one. While in this bandwidth limited state, I get to view the world from the 1997 perspective of all styles and all images turned off, no sparkly effects or anything. I’d use Lynx if it didn’t feel silly doing so on a Powerbook.

This entry, btw, is part of a new initiative to get me to update more often. It consists of writing Journal on the way from Hitchin to Bedford and Frontier (Of which you know nothing) on the way back.

Explanations as to Frontier will be forthcoming soonish.

Accessibility Design Imported From Epistula useability web development

Sites of Evil

Today I was going to buy some Sluggy Freelance books for christmas.

I went to Plan 9 Europe, the European distributor for the comics and…

Well, go see. Your mission is to buy the first three Sluggy books without smashing your monitor.

Your time starts now.

Design Imported From Epistula useability

LJ Icons in CSS

People who don’t read the site purely though an RSS aggregator will not have noticed the new thing that’s happening on this site, that is that Amazon and Livejournal links are being prefixed with an icon. The LJ icon mimics the one the site uses to show users on the system, and the Amazon one is there because people may think I’m trying to make them buy things secretly…

Actually, if you’re using IE, or any one of a few browsers really, you won’t see the effect at all, because it uses CSS3 selectors to get the effect. The code is thus:

a[href*=""] {
        background: url("/assets/spanicons/userinfo.gif") left center no-repeat;
        padding-left: 16px;
a[href*=""] {
        background: url("/assets/spanicons/ljcommunity.gif") left center no-repeat;
        padding-left: 16px;
a[href*=""] {
        background: url("/assets/spanicons/amazon.png") left center no-repeat;
        padding-left: 10px;

What this does is selects all links where the href attribute contains the string “” (I’m likely to change this to a sequence that matches either “” or “”, but that doesn’t catch all LJ URLs, since paid users can also have “”, The down side to this is that currently it matches any LJ URL, but since almost all of the LJ URLs I’ll use will be to a user in some case – given as everything on LJ is a user – I’m not too worried about this. The only difference is for Communities, and I later have a special rule for them anyway). This could also be begins with replacing the ”*=” with ”^=”, or ends with by replacing it with a ”$=”.

To each of these we then apply the required icon as a background image to the link:

background: url("/assets/spanicons/userinfo.gif");


Then stop it repeating and aligns it to the left:

background: url("/assets/spanicons/userinfo.gif") left center no-repeat;


(This could have been done with multiple statements, for example:

background-image: url("/assets/spanicons/userinfo.gif");
background-repeat: no-repeat;
background-align: left center;

but that isn’t my style)

Finally it puts a padding equal to the size of the image – 16px for this icon – to the left, effectivly shunting the text up for the image.

background: url("/assets/spanicons/userinfo.gif") left center no-repeat;
        padding-left: 16px;


There are a couple of footnotes to all this, though. As I said, IE users (Which are still 90% of users, though Fx is gaining) won’t see anything. It’s not a perfect rendition of the LJ tag either, since the actual form for that is the image is a link to the user profile and the text to the diary, but for my purposes it works fine.

computing Imported From Epistula useability

Mis-spelling as a scientific experiement

Apparently, a British university has discovered that you don’t need every letter in a word to be right, just the beginnings and endings. To test this Hypothosis, every entry in Aquarionics is currently being run though JWZ’s Scramble script. Isn’t it cool?

Taken offline now. Content of this entry was as follows:

Atppeanlry, a Biistrh uiivestnry has doisreevcd that you don’t need eevry leettr in a word to be rhigt, jsut the bnnneggiis and ennigds. To tset this Hooysitphs, every ernty in Aqciiaonurs is crrtlneuy bieng run thguoh JWZ’s Scambrle scrpit. Isn’t it cool?

Imported From Epistula internet useability

Firebird Extensions

This is why I use Firebird (Which once was Phoenix, and is a browser-only version of Mozilla):

The primary reason, and the thing that stops me from going back to IE even if I ever had the option, is tabbed browsing. It sounds so very minor, but the ability to middle-click on a link so it loads in the background on a new tab changes the way you use the web, it really does. Also, because they are tabs and not windows, you don’t have fifty things on the task-bar too, having to be closed one by one. Also, if you have a set of tabs open you can bookmark the lot of them as one group.

The extensions.

The extension system is the main reason of Firebird over Mozilla traditional, it enables you to install all these little things that someone thought were cool and wrote. For example, these are the extensions I’m currently using:

Download Statusbar

adds a bar at the bottom of your window with the status of all your current downloads in it. Automagically goes away when it’s empty.

Firebird Icons

Turns the Firebird extensions into cool flame-based ones instead of the dull Mozilla ones.


Adds functionality to every link as follows: Given the URL “”, you get the options:


    Giving you the ability to get to any level of the site below you.


    Gives you a menu per page allowing you to:

  • Open all links in tabs or windows
  • Open all links in selection as new tabs or windows
  • Open all picture links in tabs or windows
  • Open all picture links in selection as new tabs or windows
  • Open all picture links in one tab

…and so on. allowing you to drag-select a whole load of links and open them at once, so they load in the background while you read. (This is good for, for example, blogrolls, lists of webcomics, galleries…)

Live HTTP Headers

Headers the server sent. Useful for developers 🙂


Allows the user to modify Firebird’s view-source functions, so you can view source in your text editor. Also allows you to edit any given text-area in your text editor, and change settings for mail, ftp and download links.

Tab Browser Extensions & Tab Browser Extensions Extra Prefs

Extensive upgrades to the tab system, including grouped tabs (by colour), ability to drag and drop tag order, close all other tabs, close tabs to the right of this one etc.

User Agent Switcher

Feeds sites differant agent strings so that sites which prejustice against Mozilla/Firebird users for no apparent reason can be accessed.

Web Development Toolbar

A whole new toolbar that gives you touch-of-a-button access to things like disabling all stylesheets, images, javascript and java. Resizing the browser to standard resolutions, validating, viewing contents of cookies etc.

So, there we have it, a selection of cool things for Firebird.

Accessibility Imported From Epistula useability

Design Blind

The RNIB has launched it’s new site.

I’m appalled.

The RNIB are one of the people behind the UK’s recent push for web-accessibility, including full support of the WAI standards. The RNIB site is a prefect example of a site that, whilst filling most of the technical criteria for an accessible website, is terribly implemented.

The first thing is the worst. The internal URLs are broken. Some of the urls are using backslashes instead of forward slashes, meaning that whilst IE (Which is broken in this regard) displays and links properly, Browsers that actually support the standard (Like Mozilla) get links with backslashes, which don’t work. (An example of this, this page, is the link to “Sarah’s Story”) (The page linked to is mirrored in the link at the bottom of this article, just in case the thing is updated).

The second is the link colours. They define the background to white and the default text to black, but leave all other links alone. If someone (as many Vision Impaired People (ViPs) do) set their text colour to gray and the background to black for ease of reading, with the links as white, the links become invisible.

The menu system breaks at 800*600 resolution, displaying broken lines where none should be. I’m not even going to mention 640*480.

It doesn’t validate. Not even by a little. There is no DOCTYPE specified, and even if we override it there are 83 errors, including tables that aren’t closed properly.

The design also breaks at 1600*1200 resolution, though not by much.

The code is horrible. They’ve defined arbitrary meta tags, half the page is commented out.

In their defence, they’ve provided alt tags for every image on the page. In attack, they’ve also put in transparent pixels with alt-tags to signpost the page. Ten for idea, Zero for implementation, There are far better ways of doing it. display = hidden, for example.

The actual design, as far as it goes, isn’t bad (for me, as a slightly-colour-blind person with poor eyesight) and makes good use of colour, the menu system would be good if it worked in Mozilla.

They didn’t entity encode the symbols.

And the last, because it’s a personal issue, is the table-based design. The entire design is a table, CSS is used for styling the occasional link only. The site is filled with table & font design.

The entire web development team of RNIB should be forced to read Dive Into Accessibility at least twice.

aqcom Imported From Epistula useability

In an attempt to cut down my hits…

robots.txt is a file that ninty-nine percent of all search engines download from the root domain of a webserver and use it as instructions for what – and what not – to index.

This is my robots.txt file:

User-Agent: *
Disallow: /fun/mp3s.html
Disallow: /comment
Disallow: /trackback
Disallow: /logging
Disallow: /attachment
Disallow: /search
Disallow: /archive

See that last one? That’s the odd one out. It’s going to take a while (the top one has been there for a couple of months now, and was only removed for two weeks, and searches for MP3s account for most of my search traffic), but I’ve blocked Google from my date-based archives.

Why? Have I gone insane? Not quite. I’m currently plagued by incorrect search results. Until earlier this week, This Page was the top match on Google for the phrase “I Hate Dominos”. When I mentioned this a couple of days ago, that page became the top match within hours. This is stupid. Not only is Aquarionics defiantly not about my hatred of Dominos, I didn’t even say I did, some random anonymous commenter did.

Part of the problem with this is that every article gets indexed by Google twice (multiplied by the number of sites I get spidered as, now down to just one from six last week) and the top 200 words get indexed once more (The first two are part of the daily and single-item archives, the third is as the monthly archives which only show extracts or descriptions). This means that not only do people search for random things and get my website, when they search for things I do talk about they get the monthly page, where the phrase might be fifteen folds down.

So I’ve blocked search engines from searching archives, and instead made sure that there is a big list of links to every single entry in each section, so the engines can still find them but now will only index the page-per-article sections instead of having four copies of every item.

Which is neat.

Imported From Epistula intertwingularity useability

XML is the new black

Originally posted to Alt.Fan.Pratchett .

No. The future is not XML for presentation, the future is – or should be – XML for storage, and appropriate formats for presentation.

Right now, that means HTML4 + CSS for web, HTML4 + Tables for old web, PDF for print, MP3 for speech, VRML for 3D. All of these can – and should – be generated from an XML format using XSLT transforms. This completes the ideal of separating content from context and design, leaving the method of display up to the displayer or – in some circumstances – the user.

The attempt to create a one-size-fits-all modular presentation specification (Which is what XHTML 2 and CSS 3 attempt to do) is doomed, because XML Documents are breaking down the standards into mini-standards (This is how you draw equations, this is how you draw vectors, this is how you understand text, these are where to put text) (And CSS as a method of display is still broken as of the latest revisions, because you still cannot tell something where it should be displayed vertically, as in, this goes at the *end* of the document. Furthermore it offers no support for important contextualized information in any media that isn’t screen. When CSS offers me the ability to place something at the top or bottom of each page, or even at the bottom of *any* page, I’ll reconsider my position on it, but while you cannot put page numbers on a printed document – not an actual physical problem, but an example of a lack in the way they are thinking about it – It’s not useful as a print medium format) (XML is a series of smaller standards…) which means that there is no longer any possibility of any browser in the future being fully compliant. First, because in order to support *any* given XML document for display, you need to understand every namespace it uses, and with thirty different namespaces in a complicated document, all different versions and some newer than the browser is, how do you plan for support for these? The only things that will render understand any given XML document from a source are those things developed by the source itself which knows what it needs to understand. The future will therefore be locally stored XML documents which are then converted for the user into a standard, /inclusive/ document type which the user can understand. If the user wants to print it, it can be sent as PDF. For a hyperlinked text document, HTML4 is done, For publishing at O’Reilly it would be converted to – and sent as – DocBook, Mobile users would get the salient details by WAP, WebTV people might see it rendered as a flash animation, but it all comes from the original XML document with no additional work on a per-document basis being done by the creator, just one XSLT stylesheet per media.

That’s the future.

Imported From Epistula useability


Via NTK: