February 2008 in the Life of Ben (Blog)
Recovered from Illness (28th February 2008)
After about 10 days, I am just about over whatever bug I had.
Taking Reviews Personally (28th February 2008)
Personal qualities of an author do not change actual qualities of their markup. Similarly, personal qualities of a reviewer do not change actual qualities of their review.
As such, I judge feedback by the issues it raises. The manner in which they are raised is always secondary.
Cycle Ride with Dad (27th February 2008)
Not often I spend time with my dad since we both work a lot. So this was a rare event.
From leaving our driveway to arriving back at it, we were gone about 1 hour 30 minutes.
Left at about 2:30pm and joined the Basingstoke Canal. Turning left (East), we followed it through Fleet to the overflow. It’s been raining quite a lot so the water was pouring over the whole way across. This prevents the canal from bursting its banks.
Dad wasn’t sure how far he wanted to go. I described how we could take the route I took a couple of days, but in reverse. He thought reaching the next overflow would be far enough, so we rode onwards.
The next overflow has a gate where the level is controlled. Water was dribbling over the wall at a few points and really rushing through the gate. Showed dad the pool and stream.
At this point I got a call from work! Dad went off to find the other end of a drainage pipe which was connected to the pool. After the call ended he showed me the most likely option: the original sluce gate next to the overflow. We share an interest in construction; mine is towards computers whilst his is towards metalwork.
We continued towards the bridge at Pyestock, which can be seen from the second overflow. The path to it exits on the left of the towpath a long way before the bridge, since it’s a very high bridge. Even so, riding up the path was much steeper than I expected! We both got up it and rested at the top for a bit.
The path forked ahead of us. I thought I took the route on the left. Dad thought the route on the right was a better choice, as it was heading towards the road more directly. We went right. After a while, it looked like a dead end.
We stopped and prepared to turn back. I decided to check the end for certain. It did actually reach the road, but you could only see that when you got right to the end! I had completely missed this tiny gap through the fence where it joined the road 2 days before.
We rejoined the road and I could see the gap I had gone through further down. That must lead to the path on the left of the fork; so both options reach the road. It’s very difficult to get lost round here because the paths take sensible routes.
Turning right, we rode over the bridge, crossing to the other side of the canal.
The military use this ground for their training, so there are lots of gravel roads and troop paths. We followed a track which ran more or less alongside the tarmac road between Pyestock and Fleet. It was far enough into the forest that the traffic was just a quiet hum.
The route had some nice downhill sections and we quickly reached a small car park. We turned right onto a troop path and headed deeper into the forest.
After a while we reached a T-junction with a gravel track which was going up a steep hill. I recognised this from 2 days ago. After a bit of head-scratching I figured we wanted to go down it. This soon turned out to be correct as I recognised the deep ditches full of water on either side.
We rode over a cattle grid and reached another car park, the The Foresters pub. We rested a while at a sign for the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. It used an angular cartoon type of style and was credited to Greg Poole, by IRI rather than name.
Back Towards Fleet
The road was alongside us again as we rode behind the Foresters to the next car park. At this point we reached a navigational dillema.
- I knew how to get back home via the roads. But the roads are kind of busy and not picturesque. Riding on roads is basically commuting, not recreation.
- There is a path which runs between the edge of the forest and the edge of the town. I wasn’t certain how far down this we would need to go before turning left into the town. Or even if turning left into the town was possible.
The roads seemed a pretty bleak option. The path seemed a lot more adventurous and fun, so that’s what we did.
Coasting down the path was pleasant. It was steep enough to maintain a good speed without pedalling whilst being gentle enough to avoid braking. But there were no exits on the left. After going down it for what seemed like too far, we eventually found a residential road from Fleet which terminated on the left.
Towards Basingborne Park
The road ended at one of the busy road we wanted to avoid. Just opposite was Basingbourne Road, precisely the road we wanted. We waited for a clear gap before crossing over to it.
Another gentle slope led to the roundabout near the park. We rode across this and turned right, into the car park. We went down to the drop kerb at the bottom and onto the path which runs past my old playschool.
There’s a short, sharp slope down to an old wooden bridge. It must have been there for 20 years or more; I remember it being there when I attended the playschool. This leads directly onto the route I time myself around, although we were going in the opposite direction.
The paths exits the woods into a cul-de-sac at the North of the loop I live on. We got onto the loop, rode up the hill, turned right and then coasted down to our house.
When I was little, my dad seemed to know everything worth knowing about. Now I know lots of stuffs about stuff, too. The relationship between my dad and I has been bad at times. A couple of years ago it was more or less ruined. It took quite a while for that to happen. It has taken much longer to piece it back together.
We’re in a much better place now, chatting and chuckling like old times.
“Suits you, Sir!” (27th February 2008)
Went to Marks and Spencer to buy a suit for my sister’s upcoming wedding. Chose the same style as my dad (but in a very different size) so we would match.
This is my first ever suit, at age 22. The experience was very easy, reinforcing my feeling that shopping is easy when you don’t use the web.
2008 Tasks (26th February 2008)
Started writing a Do List today.
This entry could be called 2,008 Tasks. That’s about the number of things I’d like to work on!
Procrastination (26th February 2008)
I should write something about this. Maybe later.
Located Pondtail (25th February 2008)
My 2nd cycle ride of 2008. Went to The Foresters again. This time I followed the road, more or less, ending up at the double bridge near Pyestock.
Rode over the bridge and found a deliberate gap in the fence on the left, without signposts. Followed it into a cool area of woodland with steep tracks. A gentle track led to the canal.
Followed towpath back towards Fleet. Went over an overflow which drains into a pool, which in turn drains over a weir into a stream.
Continued for some while and arrived at the bridge by Pontail. A path to the right of the bridge led to the junction with traffic lights.
<a href> (19th February 2008)
(Continuing discussion about Too much accessibility - the rise and fall of the LONGDESC. My comment was greeted by The connection was reset.)
Context menus can be opened from the keyboard in Windows. Either by the Properties key, located next to the right-hand Ctrl, or by Shift+F10. This is a native feature.
If the issue is
longdesc being used wrongly most of the time, that’s true of HTML generally.
The solution, I think, is to stop authoring tools from generating specialist markup without the author knowing about it. Automated accessibility checks which pat authors on the back for the mere presence of
longdesc, without checking if it’s a link to a different document which would actually work, are probably another area to improve.
longdesc and using text links is similar to CSS hacks, to my mind. It means abandoning the purpose-built feature designed specifically to provide this, then putting something similar together using features which weren’t designed for it.
longdesc and using visible text links (which will be of no use to most people who see them) doesn’t seem a great option, to me. I’d rather we fix the situation with
longdesc if it is useful to people.
HTMLWG are still discussing
Ill (18th February 2008)
My parents and just about everyone else I know has had a throat infection cough type thing for some weeks now. This morning, at about 2am, it finally reached me.
Mainstream Site Icons (18th February 2008)
Search engines could display the
shortcut icon like a bullet point beside each result.
- Sites become more recognisable when skimming through results.
- More websites supply one, making them mainstream.
- History, Bookmarks and Favourites become easier to skim through in the browser.
This idea came from seeing Firefox 3’s autocomplete list. Which would also benefit from these icons being mainstream.
Autocomplete could learn from SERPs by using bold with no underline for matching text.
Further Description (16th February 2008)
(Another response to: Too much accessibility - the rise and fall of the LONGDESC.)
By “see the link” I meant “see” in the literal sense. A user who can view the image directly has no need for a link taking them to a description of what they just saw, afaict. A user who can’t see necessary details can zoom in with a screen magnifier or browser zoom.
Just as “[D]” links won’t fit a professional design, “Image Description” links won’t.
longdesc neatly avoids this problem by letting the UA provide appropriate UI for it.
In text browsers, author styling is all but absent. These could create a “[D]” or “Image Description” link next to each image which uses
Right-clicking an image and selecting Properties in Firefox provides various details in an Element Properties window. Including the value of
longdesc, when present. This can be copied and pasted into the Address bar, making
longdesc available without screen reader software in one browser already. Making this a hyperlink would be more convenient.
There is a
longdesc extension which adds a View Image Longdesc item to the context menu. Any graphical UA could implement this in any operating system which supports context menus. Naming the item View Image Description might be more user-friendly.
A UA without convenient access to useful and standard HTML features can be updated by its vendor. A website which uses
longdesc correctly and helpfully is already doing the right thing; it should not change.
Providing features via strange and unusual means makes supporting the web harder for UAs. CSS hacks and IE7 are a recent example. Using features correctly and then encouraging UAs catch up is a more robust strategy, imho.
The Long Description (13th February 2008)
(In response to The rise and fall of the LONGDESC from RNIB’s WAC. My reply was greeted by a very long wait, ending with The connection was reset. Bummer.)
Looks like this attribute catches out the best of us!
- The “workable LONGDESC” won’t work. It uses curly quotes instead of straight quotes. If you mark it up as a code sample (with
<pre><code>or similar) your publishing tool might avoid doing that. Or it might not.
- The paragraph just after the example says “[...] HTML page called ‘
whitby01.jpg’ [...]” but the
longdescin the sample points to
Adjacent text links visible to all are in WCAG 1.0, called description links. They didn’t catch on because it creates visual clutter:
- If you can see the link the can see the image.
- Difficult to make the link look natural and fit in with a professional design.
For images which are not links, you could wrap the image in
<a href> where
href takes the place of
<img>. But then some image links will take users to long descriptions whilst others take them to normal pages. That uncertainty is undesirable.
<a href> is interactive content inside other interactive content. Form controls aren’t allowed inside
<a href> or inside other form controls. But text-to-speech devices could treat this as 2 links, side-by-side. Users could then move between them normally and select the one they want.
Situations where detailed descriptions of graphics are helpful would probably help everyone. Art, fashion, architecture, typography and so on. But in these cases, such descriptions should be the main content, not a separate page?
Damn. I’m Still a Noob. (13th February 2008)
If XML People had been written by anyone else, it would be depressing. All those smart, charismatic people living on the edge of world-changing technologies. And I’m nowhere near being one of them.
Instead, reading it was a moving and humbling hour.
Mum’s Birthday (9th February 2008)
Zoe, Sarah, mum, dad and I all went to the The Hatchgate for a family lunch. We go there for most family meal type situations because:
- quiet inside and out;
- wonderful food;
- generous portions;
- friendly staff;
- reasonable prices;
- and a rustic yet tidy interior.
The food is very British but uses fine ingredients cooked just enough. This time I had the quarter pound beefburger with cheese, bacon and mushrooms. The menu said you could have 1 of these 3 options. But I asked the waitress nicely and it turns out you can have all 3. So that’s what I got.
Living off borind British frozen food from supermarkets makes even the dullest food seem tasty. Cottage Pie with frozen Mixed Vegetables is not a delicacy.
Their side salad contains actual leaves, which are crisp and flavoursome. Eating at the Hatchgate is like tasting a different world, to me!
(Don’t let their web design skills put you off.)
5th Blood Donation (8th February 2008)
A glorious Spring day in Farnborough saw me donate blood again.
Despite the sunshine it was cold inside. Taking off my jumper to give the nurse better access but using it as a blanket worked very well. I remained warm and the donation took just 5 minutes 23 seconds!
What I Do (6th February 2008)
At parties and family events I’m sometimes asked what I do. Talking about tags and selectors usually prompts a polite smile, followed by a hasty exit.
The description must use familiar terms that summarise the main things.
I make websites for sDesign1, a website design company in Liverpool.
- Website Designer
- For non-techies and new acquaintances to have any idea what I do.
- Web Developer
- Anyone in the industry should have some idea what this is.
- I say “web” because I’ve helped develop web standards, not just websites.
- Senior Front-end Developer
- My actual job title at sDesign1.
“What Does That Mean?”
I bridge the gap between how a website looks and how it works.
- A website has a few different types of page.
- A designer makes a picture of how each type of page should look.
- I turn each picture into a single web page, called a template.
- A programmer integrates each template with the website’s database. That makes the actual pages.
How I got into Websites Design
- Made my first website in 1998 with a friend from school.
- Helped other friends make websites for themselves over the next few years.
- In 2005 I turned professional, working freelance.
- Asked the secondary school I went to, Calthorpe Park School, if they’d like help with their website. They did and this is ongoing.
- In 2006 I started working for sDesign1.
- In 2007 Calthorpe’s website won an award from Hampshire County Council.
I make websites:
- easier for people to use, especially for people with disabilities;
- faster to load;
- easier to maintain;
- and pass industry standards.
Notes on Notes (2nd February 2008)
There are hundreds of things I’d like to work on. Jotting them down in my notepad is one way I keep track.
The quality of these notes varies. At primary school (ages 6 to 11) my teachers nicknames me “Hieroglyphic Sid” due to my handwriting. I took to writing in all-capitals on exams and was granted extra time to do so. Even my uppercase letters are barely legible to anyone else!
Here are the best and worst of my current notes. Dozens of old notes live in a ring binder.
- Presentation with meaning, including:
- significant colouring;
- borders in several styles for urgency;
- underline for headings;
- crossed out when completed;
- and horizontal rules for sections.
- Multiple lines of text in each marked line.
- Text is wrapped in and around other text.
- Text is written vertically. Some upwards, some downwards.
- Some text goes around corners.
- Every bit of paper has text on it.
- Title and start date are surrounded by content.
Typical web pages are tame compared to this!
In contrast, my neat notes have:
- One line of text in each marked line.
- Underline for headings.
- Title and start date are well spaced.
- Most of the paper has no text on it.
The other side of the paper has some tidy notes, too. The power of the scanner’s light made them show through the paper like a mirror image watermark. They are invisible under normal light.
Spreading notes across multiple pages, each with a distinct topic, makes them easier to follow. Lots of short, clear pages beat a big, messy page. Just like on the web.
The scanner’s software has a remarkable UI. I’ve taken screenshots and written notes. Haven’t started the web page.