|log (2001/02/16 to 2001/02/22)|
Thursday, February 22, 2001
Since some people are still expressing reluctance about converting their sites to CSS, despite having been told by experts in the field that in the next six to twenty-four months All Websites Will Be Designed That Way (or else), I thought I'd add my own little bit to the cause.
Why CSS is Wonderful: a Worked Example
Consider this bit of primitive HTML:
While the "center" tag might seem simple and innocent, we will see in a moment how it actually contributes to the Moral Decay of the Web.
A trivial conversion of this obsolete markup to the New World of CSS might look something like:
along with a paragraph in blog.css saying
The main advantage here, of course, is size (and therefore load time). The old "center" method requires about 17 characters of markup per centered phrase, whereas the new CSS method requires only about 28 characters of markup per centered phrase, plus about 90 characters per page for the stylesheet link, plus about 30 characters in the stylesheet itself. So if I have, say, 30 pages containing a total of 50 centered phrases, the old way would use 850 characters of markup, whereas the new way requires only 4,130 characters, a saving of -3,280 characters. And of course every little bit of bandwidth counts!
But this simple translation to CSS has ignored the most important benefit of the new way: Semantics. Proper modern markup specifies not what to do with text, but what the text is. So rather than having a class called "centered", a proper class would explain why it's centered; what the text's role is in the production activities of the State. (This is called "class consciousness".)
So a more correct version of our example might read
along with relevant paragraphs in blog.css such as
and so on. The space and time advantages are even more obvious here: 40-odd characters of markup per phrase, and then 40-odd more in the stylesheet for each different kind of ironic (or otherwise) comment we might want to make. The savings in our hypothetical case above could be well over -4,000 bytes! This method also makes it easy to change, at one fell swoop, the formatting of every ironic comment we've ever made about elves (something that I find myself frequently wishing I could do; don't you?).
But the most important part, the real Nub of the New World Order,
is the Semantics.
A "center" tag, or a class called "centered", tells us nothing
about the meaning of the enclosed text.
Now a human of course can tell the meaning of the text by
reading it, but a computer program cannot (and
if the Web is about anything, it's about making things easy
for computer programs).
Semantic markup solves this problem, by clearly labelling each
block of content with a textual label
So if we wanted to write a spider that would traverse the Web collecting ironic comments about elves, we can simply gather all the content contained in things of class "ironicCommentAboutElves"! And perhaps "ironicElfComment". And maybe "ironicRemarkAboutElves" and "ironicElfRemark". And probably "elfIrony". And "elfSarcasm" and "sarcasticCommentAboutElves" and "sarcasticRemarkAboutElves" and "sarcasticElfRemark". And some subset of "ironicComment" and "ironicRemark" and "sarcasticComment" and "sarcasticRemark" and "elfComment" and "elfRemark". And of course "ironicCommentsAboutElves" and "ironicRemarksAboutElves" and "sarcasticCommentsAboutElves" and...
Isn't that wonderful?
So anyway! This humble essay illustrates just a few of the reasons I will be converting my entire site to the use of stylesheets and general New World Order markup Real Soon Now.
Doesn't anyone at Wired read the classics?
Number of times the name "Vulcan" appears in "Forging the Dragonslayer", an article in Wired 9.02 about forging a sword out of a new high-tech steel: 2
OK, so I managed to get all enthusiastic about the Webstandards Browser Upgrade Campaign, and learning CSS, and separating my content from my presentation, and generally being a Cool New Millennium Web Guy. Then I noticed that when Zeldman himself set out to do that, he had to modify even the simplest and most basic thing about his site design:
I quickly decided that the top panel -- the familiar orange brand panel -- was unnecessary, and probably always had been. From now on, branding could be handled in the content panel itself. Frankly, creating a three-paneled layout in CSS also looked close to impossible to achieve, though such capabilities are planned for CSS-3, and Lance Arthur could probably do it now.
Yeah, phht, who wants that three-panel layout anyway? CSS is so wonderful in some abstract theoretical sense that we're all willing to forego doing things that TABLE tags have let us do for the last four or five years. Right? Aren't we? Well, maybe next month.
I'm not declaring war on web sites, or on the artistry of web designers. Web sites are wonderful, and on good days, I still love them. But the news is not a site; a list of links is not a site; a conversation is not a site. Designers are being forced to create designs for things that shouldn't need designs, and they ought to be freed up to put their creativity where it can matter.
I don't quite get his argument: why shouldn't news, or a list of links, or a conversation, be a site?. Why should the design on a news / links / conversation site not matter? But the basic question is interesting: is what I'm doing here more naturally expressed as a stream of text (and perhaps the occasional image) that could show up in your mailbox, rather than as a frequently-updated Web site? Should I have a mailing list, the way say gorjuss does?
I think I understand a little better the feeling that was motivating me the other month when I wrote "You Can't Separate Content From Presentation". I don't actually disagree with the claim that you can separate them: that you can pull out some text and maybe some inline images from most Web pages, and call that "the content". I think what disturbs me is an unspoken (and perhaps even unmeant) implication that once you do that teasing apart, the "content" part, the stream of text and inline images, is what matters, and the rest of the stuff, the mere presentation, can be discarded, or replaced, without interfering with the basic meaning, the essential experience, of the original Web site.
That may sometimes be true and sometimes be false, but I don't think it deserves to be taken as an unspoken assumption; I don't think it goes without saying. It's an assumption that needs to be dragged out into the light and examined. (And "well, sites for which that isn't true should use Flash 7" doesn't count as a useful response.)
Lots of memorable reader input lately:
The Bicycle Pedaling Frog prefers blue dog pornography; he is condemned by some for his cross-species orientation.
Well, I'm pro-life in the naive pre-political sense that I think life is pretty cool. But politically I'm pro-choice. On the other hand I think it's pretty clear that at some point between conception and two seconds before birth, abortion does become murder (or at least infanticide). Is that controversial?
a ha ha I hyad coffee with geegaw, lucky me!
Lucky you, indeed! I often wonder what these here blogging people are like in person. And what I'm like in person, for that matter. (I have nice eyes, I think.) (But enough about me.)
On the topic of good pornography, it's worth noting that the uncut, unrated version of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is finally being released on DVD and VHS next month, according to amazon. (It's listed by amazon as NC-17, but that's a retro-rating; the NC-17 rating didn't exist when the movie was in theaters.) Up to now, only the cut, R-rated version has been available for purchase.
Another item for the wishlist (I don't suppose BlockBuster will be carrying that version?).
"(The best way, it strikes me, to reduce the influence of the very rich on politics would be to take away the incentive: drastically decrease the amount of money the government has to toss about, and the amount of control it has over the success and failure of private enterprises. Yes, this is getting a bit Libertarian...)" - but if you assume that what the very rich want is less government, then by doing this, you are not just giving the rich influence, you are giving them exactly what they want, which doesn't seem fair, somehow.
Not everything the very rich want ought to be denied them. If they want peace, honesty, clean air, we shouldn't therefore hesitate to create these things. And I'm not at all sure that your typical very-rich wants less government. The very rich tend to become that way with the help of governments, and I would expect they wouldn't want to disturb that status quo. Similarly for this now-complete thought:
I agree with you on campaign finance; the spending of money is, in an oblique way, the excercise of 1st Amendment rights just as surely as printing satirical pornographic political pamphlets is. Or whatever. Still, the level of control that the Fortune 500 excercises over our politics is truly disturbing. There has to be a Golden Mean somewhere in there.
How much control does the Fortune 500 actually have over our politics? And how much of that control is due to political contributions? The main thing that predicts the winner of an election is incumbency (the incumbent almost always wins). Size of the war-chest actually shows a very weak correlation with winning, from the one or two studies I've seen written up. I suspect that the interests and culture of the rich influence our politics in much much subtler ways: our major politicians hang out with rich people, live among rich people, hear from rich people, plan to become rich themselves, are at an age where stability looks vital and wealth can generally be counted on to help preserve stability. I suspect that the influence of wealth and business on government is more cultural than flatly monetary. And again, if government didn't have so much more power than it needs, this would all matter much less than it does.
Now back to our story:
From the halls of my presuma to the short hair trip of thee, wee wills flight are chutney's bottle, with our hair our hand and she.
The word "squaw" is now deprecated, but it was a funny joke in its day. ("These three Native American women are sitting around talking about their children. One of them, who is sitting on a blanket made of hippopotamus hide...")
A reader points out that Heinlein's short story "And He Built a Crooked House" is available in its entirety on the Web (see also this short summary), and that it may belong in the Vasty Houses bibliography. So there it is.
Was it "Real Genius" or one of those other names of movies made at the same time? Anyway the one with the house full of popcorn and the space shuttle with the high powered laser. Remember the guy who walks thru the dorm room, into the closet and disappears. Our hero eventually figures out how to get thru the back of the closet into the steam etc. tunnels and finds the mysterious guy in a little cubicle there.
I can never keep those movies apart in my mind either, but I do vaguely remember the mysterious maze under the dorm, where the eccentric genius grad student lived. What strange places are under the building you're in?
Nomic move: I'm applying:
I suggest the following change(s) to the Rules:
So now we have a time limit! Note that the haiku there wasn't strictly necessary, due to Rule LII's gloss on Rule L. But we appreciate it anyway...
I had a better explanation, but my dog ate it.
A portrait of Karl Marx, the cover of a lesbian magazine, and my own face; we're having quite a week over there in the margin, aren't we? I think I'll play it safe and stick to words today.
Thinking about the radical anti-pornography feminists I'm struck by a sort of parallelism of form.
It's easy to see the Dworkinites as extreme loonies, overdramatizing the wrong parts of the plight of women, accusing even the most unlikely phenomena (male homoeroticism?) of degrading women, wildly misstating the experience of actual workers in the porn industry, cowardlyly refusing to appear on the same stage as feminists they disagree with (saying silly things like "When there's a conference on World Hunger, does the pro-hunger side get to speak?"), and generally behaving badly.
On the other hand, if they are (if they were) really right about how the world is, if the porn industry really was enslaving and killing women, if every instance of heterosexual sex really was poison to the female spirit, if every Caesarian section really was an instance of "surgical rape", maybe they'd have a point; maybe they'd be admirably standing up for what's right, on the right side of a real war, and taking actions whose extreme nature was warranted by the urgency of the cause.
In the same sort of way, if abortion really were murder, then most of the antisocial things that the anti-abortion people do would make a kind of sense. Sure it's generally a bad idea to scream in the faces of people who are already under stress, to break laws, to threaten violence, to try to lure vulnerable people to you with misleading advertisements. But if one were preventing thousands of murders, all these things might be worth the extremity.
And I get the same sort of feeling about the civil rights movement in the 50's and 60's: if you assume that things were basically okay (sure, lynching is bad, but the police are doing their best to catch the people that do it), then all those confrontational marches, the flouting of laws, the high emotions, people bussed in from other states to cause trouble, seem entirely uncalled for, even deplorable. But if there's really a whole culture of oppression and rights violation that needs to be overthrown, well then they make more sense.
One of the reasons this is interesting to think about is that it shows that this sort of vague similarity of form does not imply other sorts of sameness. I think the civil rights people were right, whereas I think the anti-abortionists and anti-porn people are wrong. Race inequality really was a deadly tumor in the body politic, whereas abortion (sufficiently early-term abortion, of course) is not murder, and pornography is not (always and automatically) degrading to women.
Another thing this leads me to think about is the effectiveness, as well as the warrant, of means. Even if pornography really were degrading to women as Dworkin and MacKinnon think it is, would censorship be the right answer? If abortion were murder, are the anti-abortionists tactics those most likely to stop those murders? (If life begins at conception, in fact, there are many more lives lost to spontaneous abortion than there are to intentional abortion.) Given that the civil rights movement was justified in thinking that extreme tactics were justified by the urgency of its cause, were those tactics in fact (and in retrospect) the most effective way of getting the country to a less racist place?
Geegaw has been posting again! Which is good, even though (or especially because) she's been posting mostly about poetry, and I've never really grokked poetry. I mean sure I've written some myself over the years, and there's some (just some) that I do enjoy reading. But the larger culture of poetry and poets, poetry criticism and poetry culture, has for some reason always been a very foreign place to me. I can easily understand writing prose about prose; I feel only a little cognitive dissonance when someone writes compact and carefully argued sentences about a bunch of sprawling and emotional sentences. But somehow I feel like (this very afternoon at least) the proper response to poetry would be more poetry, or a deep breath, or just a sort of inner hum. I suppose I'm simply undereducated; I can imagine a true fan of poetry waxing mickle wroth here. Opinions like that are proably what keeps poetry from assuming its true place in the world of letters in the contemporary West, eh? Still...
(Ref. Mark Aster's "English 12A, Mrs. Dillon" in the 26 November 2000 number of Parents Strongly Cautioned; the essay questions about the story are roughly twice as long as the story itself. Is there some ironic statement there? If a poem can do what it does in half a page, how much sense does it make to write, or read, a twenty-page essay about it? Probably lots of sense, and I'm just naive!)
But anyway! *8) Geegaw led me to this interesting article about a recent hoax in the poetry world, and eventually to this also interesting site about poetry in general. So I can try to educate myself.
FTrain also has new stuff up; he's been to Israel, and brought back some lovely prose.
From a recent RRE Pointers list, this silly but somehow enjoyable Supreme Court B*tch-Slap. Appropriately futile in all senses. (I know, I know, I should move beyond my wrath. Or perhaps I shouldn't. So hard to say.)
From Anton Sherwood, a story about the making of the Puppet Masters movie. I'm amazed at the amount of wasted effort that goes on in the universe of screenwriting.
The guy blogging his experience with the Alex Chiu magnetic rings is still immortal!
Great, another language I might should learn: Ruby. ("Java? Oh, that's so last week!")
There are four Nomic moves that I might apply, but Rule XII doesn't currently allow it, since it hasn't yet been a week, and I don't really feel like it. *8)
Another of those idyllic days (but in New York this time, not in Maine) where all the adults but me (M and the two grownup visitors) go off to crowded unpleasant places to (gag) shop, and I stay behind with the four kids. Everyone got along just fine, I made bread and popcorn and cut up a couple of melons and lay in the sun and read K. W. Jeter's "Noir" while the kids played video games and read books and did things with toys. "Noir" is kind of fun to read, but so far it's one of those books where the characters are all so unmitigatedly rotten and cynical that it's hard to get really involved.
I finished "The False House" the other day, the sequel to "The High House", the book that inspired the Vasty Houses list. It was also a good book, and I want there to be more; I want to spend more time in that world. The ultimate conflict wasn't quite satisfying; the good guys apparently have the Almighty God actively on their side, which takes some of the suspense out of it. And in the final battle they seem to win mostly because the mysterious unexplained magical powers of one of the good characters are a little stronger than the mysterious unexplained magical powers of the main evil character. Which is very nice, but not (what?) entirely optimal. Still, it's a good book (I just like to complain).
A reader resends these very useful comments on our genome-mapping question from last week (the first time the silly input box apparently ate them; maybe someday I ought to add some error checking to that script):
Once you have the sequence of bases, it's fairly easy to determine what's likely to be a gene and what isn't. Some DNA sequences code for proteins (such DNA sequences are known as genes). Now, there are only four DNA bases, but twenty possible amino acids (the units which make up proteins). Thus, the bases are read three at a time, and such groups of three bases are known as "codons". 61 of the possible 64 codons code for an amino acid. The other three possible codons are known as stop codons, and indicate the end of the protein. Therefore, if a DNA sequence were random, a stop codon would occur once every 20 codons or so. Proteins are much longer, consisting of hundreds or thousands of amino acids. So if you have a long stretch of DNA with no stop codons, that is very probably a gene. If you have a segment of DNA where stop codons show up with their expected statistical likelihood, that is very probably not a gene.
Cool. I like the statistical part especially for some reason.
A(nother) reader asks:
is that your real face?
Is what my real face? *8) Is Marilyn Monroe whose real name?
Some version of my real face can be found in various places on the site. I'm kind of fond of the wise and noble-looking one over to the left there, but there are various others around that are somewhat more realistic. On the other hand, the pixellated site logo is a very quick self-portrait that I did in Paint, without thinking about it very hard, and may therefore be closer to my real real face than any of the others.
An alert reader notices an error in the Tableau:
It looks like you applied (XI, VIII) = I instead of (XI, VII) = I. Horrors!
By Rule XVI, my action was "definitively incorrect"; cool! I wonder what that means? (I wonder if sentences that start "I wonder" are really supposed to end in question marks?) In any case, I've now corrected it.
Ooh! It's a Glider!
For today's Nomic move, I'm plucking (out of chronological order) another mapping change:
I suggest the following modification(s) to the Mapping:
I like that couplet. Reminds me of a button I have:
Anyway, now we have a glider and a traffic light in the Tableau. Of course, the clock doesn't seem to be ticking...
The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.A good epigram. It applies equally well to my comments Friday about campaign finance reform and to the book I've just finished reading: Nadine Strossen's "Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights." (No link today; I'm offline, and you can search on Amazon just as well as I can.)
The book was originally written in 1994, but the second edition has a new forward and an extensive new introduction, dated February 2000. Strossen, the president of the ACLU, writes cogently and readably about why censorship is a bad idea in general, and why censorship of pornography in particular is a bad way to protect the rights of women. The part of the argument that parallels my dislike for campaign finance reform runs something like this: even if some pornography is actively harmful to the rights of women, and even if banning that pornography would enhance those rights (neither of which assumption is itself uncontroversial), any real-world law that enhances the power of the state to restrict speech will in fact be used to the detriment of people who are already marginalized, disenfranchised, and exploited.
Both informed common sense and actual events (many of which are interestingly described in the book) attest that laws against pornography, however intended, will in fact be used against radical lesbian erotica, not against Playboy; against artistic homoerotic photographs, not against the "normal" stuff that's found in for instance the sheriff's own video collection.
Which isn't to say that I think Playboy and the sheriff's special videos ought to be acted against; I'm at least as radical a free-speech type as Strossen, and I'm a fan of good pornography. If the book had any weakness for me, it was that I didn't read much that I didn't already know, or that I disagreed with. There are some new incidents, illustrations I hadn't seen before of what a terrible idea censorship is, what regrettable things happen when "sexual harrassment" is broadened to include all sexual speech, and just how far anti-sex pro-censorship "feminists" like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon carry their hatred of all things pornographic, erotic, or even just sexual. There's also good material on other aspects of the question, including the (lack of) evidence that pornography actually causes violence against women. All of it is thoroughly documented; several footnotes per page cite primary sources and provide pointers to further reading.
I highly recommend the book to anyone not familiar with the debate within feminism about the status of pornography. There are important questions here for feminists, people who worry about free speech, and current or future consumers of even the tamest erotic material. That is, for just about everyone.
I read Dworkin's "Woman Hating" a few years back (see the Dworkin Device over on Theogeny). It's a powerful and thought-provoking book, angry and passionate, odd and disturbing. It's definitely not a careful or rational argument for anything in particular, and certainly not a tract on which I'd like to see people base legislation! I remember thinking at the time how blatantly hypocritical it was for conservatives and pro-censorship types to use Dworkin as an authority for "pornography is bad", while not mentioning that she also thinks "the traditional family is bad" and "the state should be destroyed".
I suppose I really ought to read MacKinnon's anti-porn book, "Only Words", to get all sides of the story. Has anyone out there read it? Am I likely to survive the experience?
On my comments about campaign finance reform, a reader begins to write:
I agree with you on campaign finance; the spending of money is, in an oblique way, the excercise of 1st Amendment rights just as surely as printing satirical pornographic political pamphlets is. Or whatever. Still, the level of control that the Fortune 500
Some problem with the silly input-box device apparently occurred at that point. If that reader (or anyone else!) would like to complete the thought, I'd be glad to hear it. This is an issue on which I find myself disagreeing with various people and groups with whom I usually agree, so any further enlightenment would be especially welcome.
Today's Nomic move: I'm applying
I suggest the following change(s) to the Rules:
Which I'll interpret (perhaps perversely) as creating a single new rule consisting of those two sentences. So now the game includes the concept of "points" for the first time, although currently only I and John Conway can have any.
He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
I can't help but think that campaign finance reform, as currently being considered in the U.S., is a Really Bad Idea. People are proposing to tighten the laws governing political contributions. That is, to give those currently in power increased control over the funding sources available to their potential rivals. Everyone who suspects that, whatever the stated intent, the actual result of such a law would be to further enforce the power of the entrenched establishment, raise your hands. OK, those with their hands up can proceed to the next paragraph; the rest of you, I've got some wonderful news about how you can use the Internet to make up to $52,800 per week without even leaving your home!!
(The best way, it strikes me, to reduce the influence of the very rich on politics would be to take away the incentive: drastically decrease the amount of money the government has to toss about, and the amount of control it has over the success and failure of private enterprises. Yes, this is getting a bit Libertarian...)
Space Stuff: from gorjuss, some very cool live feeds from the Space Station and so on (supposedly available from space.com, but their link doesn't work for me). I watched the Shuttle undocking from the Station this morning, in real time; way neat! And (making the rounds) an exceedingly nifty picture of the lights of Earth, as seen from space. See if you can find your house!
Content Is Not King. The Killer App for virtually all networky things is people talking to each other; y'all would rather talk to your loved ones on the phone than (say) read my weblog, or (even) watch movies. Something to Remember!
The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks!
Of course a lot of that is people calling Martha By Mail and ordering cheese-strainers.
Microsoft Executive Declares Linux Communist Plot. The line between the Onion and real life continues to thin.
"I'm an American, I believe in the American Way," he said. "I worry if the government encourages open source, and I don't think we've done enough education of policy makers to understand the threat."
What are YOU doing?
I thought about saying clever things in response to various of those, but I think in fact they stand very well on their own. There's nothing very deep behind the color scheme here; very early on (when the log was still in shades of gray) I was playing around with the "browser-safe palette", and noticed that the browns were both easy on the eyes and not widely used. So here we are! Every time I've played with changing the design of the log, I've ended up with something that I liked less than what I already have.
I wrote a book once, a long time ago, for Prentice-Hall. It was a dry-as-dust techie book, "Programming PC-DOS Pascal" (anyone remember a programming language called "Pascal"?). I think it sold like two dozen copies, but the advance helped us make the down-payment on our first house.
The publisher decided to play on my name, and they put pictures of chess pieces on the cover. They also put my last name on the spine, just before the title, in a slightly different font. So now I wonder how many of the two dozen people who bought the book thought they were buying "Chess Programming in PC-DOS Pascal", and were disappointed? And how many people coming over from the "Chess log" link in that Metafilter posting yesterday expected to find Mate in Two problems?
Today's Nomic move: I'm applying
I suggest the following modification(s) to the Mapping:
Resulting in a cute stable pentomino in the Tableau. If I did it right.
First, I'll make a quick trick brick stack.