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HTML and Foreign Languages

July 29

This is an article I needed to find myself six months ago. Feel free to link gratuitously with phrases like “html translation” and “unicode web” and “foreign language web site” and any other appropriate search term you can think of so that others may benefit from it.

I’ve recently had to get my hands dirty with HTML in French, Greek characters, and English OS support for Asian languages, so I figured I’d pass on the results of my muddling creating the various translations of the Zen Garden. This is a short but sweet summary of what I know on the subject.

Don’t Panic

First of all: How in the world do you even start with foreign character support, especially if you don’t speak the language? If you receive a foreign-language document and get asked to put it on the web, this is about the point you start panicking.

Relax, it’s actually surprisingly easy, given a fairly modern Operating System with decent language support. Here’s what you need to know.

Operating System Support

You may not be able to see the document in its original character set, but depending on your OS, you might be able to copy and paste the characters between documents without damaging the data. I’ve had luck copying from Windows Notepad and pasting into my HTML editor.

Easiest way to tell is to try with a small amount of data — paste it into a properly-encoded document (see below), and view it in Mozilla or IE6. If it renders properly with the desired characters intact, you’re good to go.

If it doesn’t, you may not have the correct language pack installed — it should be possible to work with the data anyway (even if you can’t view it — just make sure you test on a system that can), but it can’t hurt to install any foreign language packs you can get your hands on, just in case. The 200MB of disk space is negligible in 2003.

File Formats

UTF-16 files are out. Do not try saving your .html, .asp, or.php as a double-byte Unicode file. Most modern browsers support it, but some older ones do not (IE5/Mac comes to mind). Not only that, but your file size doubles, and IIS and PHP alike have trouble with the files so unless you’re serving up static HTML (not likely in 2003) you won’t be able to use them anyway.

Feel free to save a properly-encoded or UTF-8 document as anything you wish though. It can be .html, .php, .asp and so on.

Document Encoding

It’s all about character encoding, baby. Redundancy is the key; define your XML namespace if working with XHTML, and also (regardless if you’re using HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.x) add a <meta> tag to specify your document’s encoding.

XML Namespace:

It goes in your <html> tag, and looks like this:

<html xmlns="" xml:lang="en">

In this case, English is the language, designated by the "en". (complete list of the ISO 639 character codes)

<meta> Tag Encoding:

On top of setting your XML language, 9.8 times out of 10 you’ll also want to specify document encoding. I’m a little unclear on the difference between the two, but WaSP has a summary of the best way to encode a document. Syntax looks like this:

<meta http-equiv="content-type"
    content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />

The charset (character set) is the key. For most western European languages based on Latin characters, you won’t need to change this; just include it. For eastern European, Asian, and all other languages, there are different charsets — lists are available but the best resource for this is in your Mozilla-based browser; hit View->Character Coding, and you should find a comprehensive list of all possibilites with their associated charset value. Use the code in brackets (UTF-8, US-ASCII etc.) and not the full name.

Note that the WaSP article linked above has further information on server-side character encoding. This is beyond my current abilities, but is something highly recommended by the W3C. Worth a read, if you want to really do it properly.

Unicode character encoding works just fine, and in some cases is preferable. The difference here is that we’re not saving the document as a double-byte Unicode file; we’re instead merely setting the document’s charset to Unicode through the meta tag. Sample Unicode encoding:

<meta http-equiv="content-type"
    content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />

As far as individual characters, you may want to try using HTML Character Entities for occurances of non-ASCII characters. That is, you might want to use &Uuml; instead of just the character itself, Ü. This can be tedious and trying though, and given proper encoding as discussed above, may even be unnecessary.

Accessibility Concerns

One last thing to consider before we wrap up. WAI lists “identifying changes in language” as a priority 1 accessibility concern, which is to say, it’s Really Important that you do this. If your HTML switches at any point from the main language to another, you must provide some cue for the browser that this is happening. See the WAI for more on this.


This document was written by an embarrassingly unilingual English speaker with extremely limited foreign language capability beyond grade-school French classes. If I’ve managed to wrangle over a dozen translations of a document using these techniques, chances are they’re good enough for most cases. Inevitably I’ll have made some errors and over-simplified, but hey — that's what the comments are for.

Further Reading:

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Garden and CSS News, Conspiracy Theorists Unite!

July 26

Note: If you're looking for the comment Tantek has made about the CSS validator, due to archiving changes on this site you may now find it here.

If you haven’t been to the Zen Garden in a while, go! The current front page set of designs (Hedges through to Not So Minimal) is absolutely amazing, and way exceeds my vision of what this would become. Everyone who has submitted so far ought to be proud; this is a quite a thing we’ve got here.

As well, the translations list is growing. Twelve languages are complete, and I have four more in the works. I’ve learned a lot working with foreign character sets, and I’ll write about my findings in the future. For the time being, take a look at Jukka Korpella’s thoughts on multilingual authoring for the web, written after his experience translating the Garden to Finnish (coming soon!)

It’s getting a bit harder to keep up with the volume of submissions. I work with almost every designer to bring their work up to Zen Garden standards, and I’ve tried to give as helpful and constructive criticism as possible to the work that doesn’t make the cut. I have at least 10 submissions on hand right now, some will make it, most won’t. That’s 10 people I have to spend 5 to 10 minutes writing back; it adds up.

How am I doing so far? Consider this a chance to voice your opinion about the way I’m running the Garden. I’ve made many small changes along the way thanks to feedback, and I’m open to more. Just remember — I can tweak non-display code like titles and accesskeys, but there are far too many designs to modify structure. §

Seamus Leahy is at it again. Reminiscent to the Literary Moose’s CSS Destroy table experiments (look for ‘A Rose of Winds’), he’s come up with some really interesting alternative table formatting for browsers that can handle CSS-2’s Table Model. §

For anyone looking for a slightly less ambitious challenge than the Zen Garden, Nic Steenhout has written me about a contest he’s running. The Internet Bonsai Club is looking for a CSS makeover. 500 people a day visit his site, so it could be some rather respectable exposure. Take a look. §

Holy signal to noise, Batman. Like, what? Some days I start to wonder if Mark Pilgrim is on to something when he closes comments on older threads. §

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Movable Type Fun Day

July 25

It’s Movable Type Fun Day!

First start with Paul’s account of switching from .html file extensions to .php, and how gracefully MT handled the transition. Even existing off-site bookmarks don’t break!

Then head over to Scott’s place to read up on how he managed to wrangle Movable Type into producing human-friendly, meaningful URLs instead of the arbitrary sequential URLs that MT ships with. Fun!

Then take a look at the URL attached to this post (click the title), and rejoice for I too have switched to more meaningful URLs. Except… oh wait. Look at that. No I haven’t.

The intent is there, but instead of something nice and tidy like my server spits out a bunch of extra crud and delivers the far worse (pause for breath) archives/2003/07/25/movable_type_fun_day/default.asp. Sigh. I know how to fix this: migrate to PHP. Guess what the chances are of that happening soon? It’s back to the drawing board for me. Apologies to those who are reading my RSS feed, it’ll get worse before it gets better.

The bright side though is that I finally put together a swanky ‘recent comments’ page so that I (and you) can keep track of who’s saying what where on this site. It’ll step out of beta as soon as I can figure out how to link it in on the right sidebar.

update: comments also available as a validating RSS feed!

further update: Damn it all anyway. Instead of break anyone’s new bookmarks over the weekend, I went ahead and reverted to the old filename system, so the above is no longer relevant. I’ll leave it up as an explanation of my file system, mainly for my own reference.

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Times New Roman

July 24

It’s time we take back Times New Roman on the web

Since 1994, nearly all browsers have shipped with Times as the default font. Up until the introduction of the <font> tag, the only way it could be changed was if the user reset her own default. Most of the web was viewed in Times, and when a way to change that finally appeared we quickly embraced it and never looked back.

So why the continual shunning? It’s a good font. Designed in 1931 for The Times of London, it has become the de facto standard for digital imaging. While not as pixel-precise in its on-screen rendering as Georgia or Verdana, it still does a fine job. But still we ignore it, unless we specify it as a last resort for the lunatics viewing our site who even now don’t have Georgia installed.

No more. Used in new and inspiring ways, Times can be beautiful and fresh, and a brand new old tool in our pathetically limited web type case.

First of all, let’s examine leading, or line-height as it’s known in CSS. Padding the space between each line is the easiest way we can reinvigorate Times, and probably the most effective. Consider the following:

I never thought about it in as much detail. As a kid, who has time 
to consider the future, anyway? There are far too many bikes to 
ride, forests to explore, and sprinklers to run through to worry 
about growing up. As a kid, there’s no future because life is all 
about living in the present.

Very 1994. Let’s add some leading:

I never thought about it in as much detail. As a kid, who has time 
to consider the future, anyway? There are far too many bikes to 
ride, forests to explore, and sprinklers to run through to worry 
about growing up. As a kid, there’s no future because life is all 
about living in the present.

Already we’ve managed to drop the ‘unstyled text’ look and move into something more typographically pleasing. What I’ve taken for granted is that the text is also constrained. 500 years of typographical study have determined that for maximum legibility, line lengths should be no more than 80 characters and no less than 40 characters. 65 is a good ideal to shoot for. The early web allowed no such control without a mish-mash of ugly <p> and <br> tags, but CSS lets us get around that by limiting widths and setting margins. Doing so automatically casts off a bit of that early web stigma.

Body text may be re-sized of course, and picking anything other than 16px Times moves a further step away from the early-web look:

I never thought about it in as much detail. As a kid, who has time 
to consider the future, anyway? There are far too many bikes to 
ride, forests to explore, and sprinklers to run through to worry 
about growing up. As a kid, there’s no future because life is all 
about living in the present. (source)

One more white space trick before we move on: word-spacing, which only works in relatively new browsers:

I never thought about it in as much detail. As a kid, who has time 
to consider the future, anyway? There are far too many bikes to 
ride, forests to explore, and sprinklers to run through to worry 
about growing up. As a kid, there’s no future because life is all 
about living in the present. (source)

Body text is easy enough, but what about headlines? We’re all sick of the bold 32px Times look of an unstyled h1, after all:

A Pocket Full of Rye

A solution is again white space, in the form of letter-spacing:

A Pocket Full of Rye

This does a bit, but it doesn’t go quite far enough. It still feels like a browser war-era headline, and that has to go. So to mix some bad metaphors, let’s open up our arsenal and really give this some juice. See you on the other side.

A Pocket Full of Rye
(font: 500 italic 32px 'Times New Roman'; 
letter-spacing: 0.1em;)
A Pocket Full of Rye
(font: 100 32px 'Times New Roman';
letter-spacing: 0.1em; text-transform: uppercase;)
A Pocket Full of Rye
(font: 900 32px 'Times New Roman'; 
letter-spacing: -0.1em;)
A Pocket Full of Rye
(font: italic 32px 'Times New Roman'; 
letter-spacing: 0.3em; text-transform: lowercase;)

Did you get that? Each one is 32px Times New Roman, the same font as a default h1 in many browsers. It should be noted that ‘px’ is a good unit for on-screen consistency, but it’s rather bad for accessibility. For our purposes right now, I’m trying to match the common browser default for h1-sized text so it’s not as important, but more information on font sizing on the web is available, and indeed something you should read.

Before we’re done, let’s try playing with our CSS and applying some typography tricks to bring out the best from Times New Roman:

To a boy growing up in central British Columbia, 
hockey cards were a big thing. They were what you did during your 
spare time on lunch breaks, they were what you talked about with 
your friends. More than just printed pieces of paper with colour 
photos on the front, they were entertainment, currency, and a sign
of social status. (source)
To a boy growing up in central British Columbia, 
hockey cards were a big thing. They were what 
you did during your spare time on lunch breaks, 
they were what you talked about with your friends. 
More than just printed pieces of paper with colour 
photos on the front, they were entertainment, 
currency, and a sign of social status. (source)

You get the idea. Now it’s up to you. Don’t be afraid of Times — embrace it, love it, and learn to use it well. The web will be better for it.

update: I’ve added this PNG comparing Times to Georgia with and without Cleartype rendering.

Comparison: Times vs. Georgia, Cleartype vs. aliasing

See explanation.

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Search Engine Placement

July 22

The introduction to this piece has been lost thanks to a Safari caching error. The rest of it should make sense with a little guesswork. Sorry for the inconvenience.

When we start to look at more generic terms like ‘ css ’, there are obviously far more sites that qualify for high placement. The full first page of results for ‘ css ’ on Google are relevant and deserve to be there, except for possibly the current result #10 — Doctor Dobb’s Journal is running Eric Meyer’s CSS Reference Guide as a feature right now, but it’s the only item on their home page pertaining to CSS . At the time of writing, the Zen Garden sits in spot #9 on Yahoo’s search results page for ‘ css ’. It’s in spot #11 in Google’s search results for ‘ css ’. When DDJ’s feature is moved off the front page, I expect to see it in spot #10 shortly thereafter. I have no qualms about this. In fact, I’m quite pleased that we’re so high up in the results for CSS . It’s when we become number one for a generic term that doesn’t relate to CSS that we start to have a problem. Right now, the css Zen Garden is the number one result for ‘ zen garden ’, trumping even’s Zen cards . It’s on the first page of results for the even more generic ‘ zen ’. I’ve even made a dent in the listings for ‘ garden ’, showing up on the second page. This highlights a fundamental assumption that Google makes: the title of a page determines what the content pertains to. In this case, any mention of ‘gardens’ or ‘zen’ does no such thing, so the assumption falls apart. Is this my problem? I don’t think so, as it would indicate that I’m incorrect for choosing a title for my project. In an indirect way, the Zen Garden theme was rather appropriate even though the true focus was on a technology that couldn’t be more different. Is this Google’s problem? Signs point towards yes. One more thought, somewhat unrelated — remember when once upon a time it actually mattered to have a Yahoo directory listing ? Those days are over. ]]>

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Photoshop Shortcut Keys

July 21

Working on a PC, I have never found a satisfactory way of building my own macros. (Mac OS has offered AppleScript for years, of course.) Some software allows me to define my own shortcut keys, others don’t. Photoshop allows for simple automation in the form of ‘Actions’, and I’ve put them to some use which I figured I’d share.

Built–in keyboard shortcuts are great, but not all functions have them straight out of the box. I’ve remapped the function keys to give me an extra set of keyboard shortcuts. Some effects I use every day, others I never touch. I want the frequent ones at my fingertips, so hijacking the basic function keys (which show and hide specific palettes by default, not nearly as important to me) was the way to go. Your milage may vary, but here’s my list which I’ve been using for well over two years now (F7 and F9 are strangely vacant):

F2 — Crop

I use Marquees for near everything. When I want to crop an image, I’m far more inclined to select an area with a marquee and then Image->Crop, rather than use Photoshop’s built–in Crop tool. This is one of the quirks about my workflow, but I find it particularly handy when working with smaller GIFs and bits of images that need tiny little adjustments.

F3 — Image Size

Mainly for scaling down images. Judicious use of both this tool, cropping, and canvas re–sizing are completely must–have tools. Literally every single image I work on requires use of at least one of the three, but frequently a combination of them.

F4 — Canvas Size

To add extra space around the image, or to crop, canvas re–sizing is one of the holy trinity of image sizing mentioned above.

F5 — Gaussian Blur

Blur is often over–used, but I do find it completely necessary in many instances. Whether I’m fudging detail in a low–res image, building texture by blurring layers and blending them, or even building a drop shadow by hand — blur control makes my life easier.

F6 — Unsharp Mask

The opposite of blur in many regards, Unsharp Mask is mainly useful when scaling images. A reduction in size blurs an image after a certain level, and Unsharp Mask is the best way to reduce the blur and emphasize detail. The easiest tool to use completely wrong, there are plenty of tips on using sharpening properly. I find the easiest setting for web purposes is leaving my radius at 0.2 and adjusting the amount as necessary, while ignoring the levels.

F8 — Stroke

Not the most necessary tool at my disposal, but I frequently find it valuable when working with small graphics specifically for the web. I use it much the same as I do my cropping — first I’ll build the selection with the marquee, then I’ll add a stroke. With Photoshop 6+ and its built–in shape tools, I often times find myself selecting a shape layer, then stroking a simple border on a new layer.

F10 — Convert to RGB

A quick way to convert a recently–opened GIF to something I can work with, as well as a less-frequently–used way of converting CMYK stock photos to the colour model the web knows and loves. When I’m making small changes to GIF files I find I don’t always need to do this — but any changes requiring out–of–palette colour need a cleansing first.

(Anyone still remembering this still–empty promise need not fear: I haven’t forgotten. I’ve just had a better project to work on in the meantime. One day it will come, however.)

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The Continued Death of the Browser

July 18
Remember the Luxury Web idea I was thinking about a month and a half ago? See link for the complete history. Tim Bray has posted something that made me really sit up and pay attention. Microsoft appears to have every intention of sacrificing the browser to do what they want to do. And we’re quick to assume that consumers are sheep, and will buy into whatever Microsoft foists on them. I don’t need a new OS. Do you? 2000 and XP still work fine after the past few years, and will continue to work. This is bad news to Microsoft. Longhorn is a desperate move, because we genuinely don’t care anymore. I don’t care about the next version of Windows anymore than I care about the latest .2Ghz speed upgrade from Intel. I am a consumer, I speak with my wallet, and I say it simply isn’t something I need to spend money on. So if we’re stuck waiting for a browser upgrade in an operating system nobody is going to buy, then we aren’t going to get it. Don Park points out that the simple most effective way to deploy a new browser is bundling. That’s how Microsoft has won, sure, but what if Longhorn flops? The consumer may not care about the browser, but they will continue to use the web. Consumers like it. And if they don’t upgrade to Longhorn, the web stands still. I deal with clients that run Netscape 4 because they’ve never bothered to upgrade. Because no one told them they should. What if they start seeing messages on every third site they visit, telling them they should? The messages are coming from an authoritative voice. Maybe they won’t upgrade the first hundred or thousand times they see the message, but eventually they can’t help but think it’s something they need to do. And forget the web developer for a moment, the problem goes well beyond those who code front-end only. Web services need that front end. The browser that wins dictactes who can display what. If Microsoft controls this space, Google dies on their whim. See the potential? Maybe Google should bankroll Mozilla. Maybe everyone working with the web in one capacity or another should think long and hard about how easily Microsoft will crush them and their respective companies with any further monopoly. R.I.P. Netscape. Maybe it’s time for us all to band together. Maybe the Luxury Web was premature, maybe it’s the wrong approach. But now that our suspicions have played out to the letter and worse in the past two months, maybe it’s time to quit watching what happens, and start doing.
Continued Reading:
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An MSN-TV Complaint

July 18

A concerned reader writes:

Your site: FAILS to satisfy the MSN-TV Browser! It bleeds off the viewable screen to the right and since the WebTv Browser does not permit side scrolling, your pages are a MESS!

What do you propose to do about this? You can find a link to the MSN Developer site here (a bit down the page): and from there, Download the MSN-TV Viewer to see how your pages look on a TV Browser!

— Very Truly Yours, Magic Dave

Some days these posts just write themselves.

Dear Magic Dave,

Thanks for your letter, it caused me to think. What did I think about? Well, do you remember that scene in Taxi Driver, where De Niro was looking in the mirror, and he was like, Are you looking at me? Are you looking at me? There’s no one else here, so you must be looking at me? Yeah. That was pretty cool.

But anyway, your letter. So here’s the deal. I like accessibility. Specifically, I like the power that CSS provides in allowing the user to browse with any anything they happen to have. You’ve got a Palm? Come on in! You’re using a screen reader? Sure, you too. You want to visit my site in Mosaic? Even you!

See, Magic Dave, the great thing about CSS is that if a user agent doesn’t support it it doesn’t use it. This allows me to go full–out nuts in my style, while keeping the site’s content accessible and viewable to everybody. It’s a beautiful thing. Except when it doesn’t work.

So what’s the problem then? Well, as best as I can tell, it’s this: MSN-TV seems to want to render ‘screen’ style sheets, designed for colour computer monitors — a decision I can’t support on a device with only 544 pixels of horizontal resolution. If it were to realize that there’s a special media type called ‘tv’ and use that, we’d both be enjoying a beer and watching the sunset right about now. But we’re not, are we?

Why won’t MSN-TV support my site? I’ve done everything in my power to make sure the proper user agents render it, and the ones that just can’t keep up don’t even bother. I’m not a miracle worker. I can’t fix MSN-TV.

So the ball’s back in your court, Magic Dave. Why do you use a broken browser that makes a mess of my wonderful site? I see you maintain a page chock full of great tips on why MSN-TV is better than a PC, so I have a feeling you won’t change your browser of choice to make me happy any time soon.

It’s tempting for me to say that you shouldn’t have to, that browsers should be better about supporting what they can handle and admitting what they can’t — but you were pretty insistent that I do something about it, as if I’m on the hook for this one. Since it turns out it’s your choice that causes my site to render improperly, what do you propose to do about it?

Incidentally, have you ever heard of cement canoe racing? A bunch of engineering students get together and race big, clunky canoes, literally made of concrete. It strikes me as a bit odd that they’d start with a material so obviously wrong for speed and finesse, as well as something that by all rights shouldn’t work for the purpose they intend. They do it for the challenge, I suppose, and the sense of satisfaction of wrangling a result out of an impossible situation.

Nah, I don’t bring it up for any particular reason, but I just had one more question: do you really design web pages on MSN-TV?

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CSS Roundup

July 17

A CSS-2 menu bar, rounded corners vs. CSS-3, and Jigsaw trouble.

Seamus Leahy recently brought to my attention a CSS-2 menu bar he has been working on. Oh baby, that’s nice.

Why does it suck that browser development has hit the wall? Because the above example won’t be practical on production sites until, oh, 2008. If we’re lucky. §

A demonstration of CSS–based rounded corners. Another one. A third, with borders.

CSS–3 seeks to address this obvious need for rounded corners via the border-radius property. For the time being, we’re stuck with presentational hacks that more or less defeat the purpose of CSS.

Why does it suck that browser development has hit the wall? Because the above solution won’t be practical on production sites until, oh, 2011. If we’re lucky. §

Has anyone else been having problems with the W3C’s CSS validator lately? §

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Thinking Out Loud

July 16

The Death of Netscape vs. living browsers, analogies to media players,’s new look, web services need browsers.

So. Relevant browsers that will continue: Safari, Mozilla, Opera, and somewhere way down the road, IE/Win. Relevant browsers that will not: IE/Mac and Netscape. Given the tiny market shares for each, in the grand scheme of things, all we’re losing is a false sense of security. Change is inevitable; learn to love it. § Originally posted to StopDesign . Other than Internet Explorer, Microsoft has created other utilities that mimic popular software to undercut competition. Windows Media Player has had roughly the same development cycle as the browser, and the only reason I can see that Real, Quicktime, and even Winamp are still around is because of proprietary media formats that the vendors refuse to open. Ironic, isn’t it? I’m not saying standards killed the competition, but I wonder to what extent Microsoft’s involvement in the W3C will continue from this point. § The new Mozilla home page is a nice step in a good direction at a critical time. The previous incarnation screamed ‘geek’ louder than a bearded, T–shirt–wearing Perl junkie. The latest incarnation feels like a well–thought out marketing site, highlighting product features and quoting Time Magazine , Joel Spolsky , and others. Somebody is starting to get it right over there, and if they’d like some volunteer work to polish it even further, all they need do is ask. § The question begs itself: if web services really are where software is going, why aren’t more software developers making noise against the death of the browser? Avoiding ‘ Sharecropping ’ logically means supporting open software/standards. Developing for one browser is no different than developing for one operating system. § ]]>

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Validation Woes

July 15
This page is not Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional!
Designers transitioning to XHTML often get tripped up by the cryptic errors when validating. The W3C’s validator has long been lamented as being un–user–friendly. Take the source of this very page. When everything is kosher, my XHTML 1.0 Transitional gets a thumbs up. But if I make a small, very understandable error like missing a </p> for example, look what happens. I missed one closing tag, and received 52 validation errors. The enthusiasm of a beginning web designer getting her feet wet with XHTML rapidly wanes when this happens to her. Seeing so many errors on one page is a blow to one’s psyche, and when they don’t realize that all 52 can be eliminated with the addition of four bytes to their code, it can make the difference between sticking it out until validation is achieved, and turning their back on valid markup because it’s just too hard. update: Zeldman has pointed out that the validation services are maintained by a small, unpaid and under–appreciated staff of volunteers who are looking for help to improve the service. It’s not fair of me to point out the shortcomings of a group that is doing so much with so little, especially out of my own ignorance, so I’ve toned down the original post. Hopefully my criticism comes across as more constructive than otherwise… If you have the time and technical expertise necessary, this would be a great project to get involved with. My personal gratitude to those working on this necessary tool.

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R.I.P. Netscape

July 15
It’s official: Netscape is dead, and AOL has cut funding for Mozilla. In future news: November, 2009 — Microsoft issues a press release, raising Internet Explorer licensing fees to “eleventy billion dollars”. AOL executives surprised to discover ‘foresight’ carelessly crossed out of their dictionaries.

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Self Publishing, plus ISSN

July 14

A meme I missed while I was away got started by John Gruber, and was eventually picked up by Jeffrey Zeldman and others. The rise of the personal site as a publishing powerhouse is the focus, and since I run a site approaching its first anniversary in a couple of months (I’m not alone on that — D. Keith Robinson and Gruber himself are hitting this milestone), here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.

I applied for an International Standard Serial Number for this site last month. The National Library of Canada denied my original request, but upon some explaining I eventually got my way.

I deserved an ISSN, I reasoned, because the web design community doesn’t have any traditional publications of note. We are a community devoted to a certain medium, and we chose to publish on it due to the global spread of the community members as well as the inter–connectedness of the medium.

Rather than rely on stodgy monthly periodicals, we harnass the power of our individual voices to publish daily. We are fast–moving and tightly–knit because of this. Could you imagine it any other way?

Others publishing as I do have received ISSNs, so why couldn’t I? The NLC concurred, and granted me 1708–0789. I congratulated them for being more forward thinking than like bodies in the U.K. and Holland (who have consistently denied ISSN applications for weblogs).

The issue was not, in this case, the technology. My official denial reason was that “Personal or organizational homepages, including weblogs and online diaries, are not assigned ISSNs.“ Fair enough, that’s what I applied as. But after I was denied, I thought about it some more.

I publish as one voice. I speak for myself alone, but I share opinions, experiments, and ideas that I think will be relevant and useful to the larger community. I am publishing for the web, on the web, and about the web. This site, while owned and run exclusively by me, is far more than a personal home page.

The stipulation, I’d theorize, is to discourage just anyone with a LiveJournal or BlogSpot account from applying for an ISSN. The system wasn’t created for the pure volume of publications that might qualify now that we have the web to contend with, and in a lot of cases the time and effort required to categorize these sites beyond the web isn’t worth it for the libraries. Quality over Quantity, after all.

But in my case, as may be the same in your case, the site I publish isn’t a typical “I saw my friends today’ type weblog. I do not publish introspectively myopic pieces that are relevant to precisely three people on the planet. (I discuss web design news and technique in introspectively myopic ways that are relevant to at least seven people, maybe eight on a good day)

We’re doing something new here. We’re one of the only trades that doesn’t have any official printed publications. We are a completely unorganized collective of intelligent people whose voices all have a chance to be heard, and we’re all contributing to the common good. We use each others tips and advice to improve our skill, and we make money by applying principles that we all offer each other for free.

It’s a give and take system, and the most important people are the ones who give the most. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

     ISSN for Weblogs
     ISSN Home Page
     ISSN National Centre List
     ISSN Canada
     ISSN U.S.
     ISSN U.K.
     ISSN Australia

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Reading List

July 13

On my recent foray I had enough time off that I needed a vacation from the general vacationing. Our particular form of escapism involves reading, so there were multiple stops in Borders in CA, CT, and other states. I can say definitively that much like Starbucks, homogeny amongst stores is the name of the game country-wide. Strangely comforting and disturbing at the same time.

Spending too much money at Borders, I wound up with two gems in the lot that I read cover-to-cover over the course of the trip. Every respectable web designer needs to have these on their bookshelf.

Designing With Web Standards — Jeffrey Zeldman

Designing With Web Standards

A common complaint running through the current set of Amazon reviews for this book is that if you read on a regular basis, this book doesn't offer much new.

A point I'd have to concede, but there has always been a temporal feeling to the daily posting paradigm which marks older thoughts as less relevant, when sometimes they're the most relevant. This is the first time Zeldman's thinking has been collected and presented in such a clear manner in one spot, and it's well worth owning if for no other reason than to pass it around the office.

The first four chapters of the book are devoted to the Why. As in, why use web standards to build your site. The last half deals with the How, and goes over basic XHTML, CSS, and DOM methods that likely won't open your eyes if you've been reading his site for any period of time.

Already in its second printing, DWWS deserves a spot on your shelf whether you're new to the game, or just need a definitive resource to point to when making the case for designing with web standards.

Don't Make Me Think—Steven Krug

Don't Make Me Think

At 190 pages, Steven Krug's very popular book on web usability gets right to the point and tells you what you need to do to make your work as easy to use as possible. Finally, a usability expert that actually gives you information you can use.

This book really opened my eyes—a lot of the things he discusses are intuitive, but not obvious. They're the sort of things you inherently feel, but have never been able to verbalize before. As you read you can't help but slap your head as each epiphany leaves you muttering "oh yeah, of course."

People use the web a certain way. If you peg the average web user as the type who will click through three pages to find what they need before giving up and moving on to the next site, you have much to learn.

Much as web standards are a continuum, so too is web usability. Krug notes that if you make even 50% of an effort to make your work more usable, he'll be pleased. And there's no doubt in my mind that the same effort will cause your site to be far more successful.

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All Good

July 1

With a half & half white/yellow gold ring on my finger, I’m pleased to report the wedding went… well, I’d say ‘without a hitch’, except that I have about $400 in discounts and refunds thanks to various screw–ups and a guy got fired as a direct result.

Still. All is good, I am married, and while we were forced to delay a full hour, once we began all went well. We are spending Canada Day in Vancouver, and bright and early tomorrow morning we’re off for the honeymoon.

The Getaway

A picture just before our getaway. More forthcoming — the thing about bringing your own camera to your wedding is that you don’t get much of an opportunity to use it.

Thanks to all for the congratulations and words of wisdom! Back in a week and change.

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