May 2007 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

Joined W3C HTML WG (30th May 2007)

Today I became a public Invited Expert, adding to the 402 others in the HTML WG.

The process was lengthy, clumsy and very 20th Century. Maybe I should offer to help out with this?

Accessibility in HTML WG (30th May 2007)

In the tasks and interests survey, very few respondants mention accessibility:

That’s just 9 mentions out of 74 respondants (12%). There are currently 460 participants, so only 16% of them have responded to this survey. If just 12% of all participants care at all about accessibility, we could have a hard task even keeping accessibility at the HTML4 level for HTML4 features. Let alone improving it and ensuring new features are accessible.

So far, less than 2% of all participants have registered an interest in accessibility.

However, the charter says there will be liasons with the WAI. Accessibility should become better represented as the WG finds its feet. Already the WAI PFWG is looking into headers.

Writing a big specification is a long process. I’ll continue my table accessibility examples and get involved when I’ve got a more complete collection.

XHTML < HTML (30th May 2007)

From #html-wg IRC logs today:

hyatt:all using XHTML gets you is slower parsing, loss of key JS functionality, bugs, and (in some browsers) non-incremental rendering
xover:If you assume the input is “perfect” XHTML, no need to deal with possible author borkage.
mjs:well, XML parsers are already an example of what happens then
mjs:although they do have to detect errors so they can fail
mjs:sometimes detecting errors is more work than just handling them the same as the non-error case
mjs:I don’t think there’s an intrinsic simplicity advantage to either HTML or XML parsing; or performance advantage when dealing with conforming content
xover:Code Complexity then?
mjs:XML has simpler error handling rules (hard failure) but the internal subset and other such things make up for it in added complexity
mjs:in any case the parser is a fairly small part of the implementation, all things considered
mjs:most of the core code is DOM, CSS, JavaScript and layout
mjs:and the parts with the hardest algorithms are JS and rendering/layout
xover* can well imagine... *
mjs:DOM does not have too many fancy algorithms required, but it is a fair chunk of code and requires careful thinking to choose the right data structures
hyatt:the rendering/layout code will put hair on your chest.
hyatt* flexes. *

This shouldn’t be news to you, unless you still believe the hype. The lengthier sytax of XML means it takes a bit longer to GET across the Internet, too.

Monday 17th November 2008

Maciej expands on XML, in particular the amount of code required for it in Webkit. Håkon joins in, detailing how WML played out.

See Also

TextStudio Update (29th May 2007)

Now that I’ve installed VB6 again, my TextStudio editor has received some much-needed fixes.

It now feels a lot more stable and responsive...using it is enjoyable again. c{:¬)

Circuit de la Sarthe 24h II (28th May 2007)

After winning the Sauber Mercedes C9 from the Forumula Gran Turismo World Championship I wanted to see if it could reach 400km/h down the famous 6km Mulsanne straight.

This involved a lot of testing and setup time:

After all this, it would regularly hit 399km/h using the super hard compound tyres (ideal for endurance races). Being really accurate and committed through the preceeding turn made it hit 400–402km/h. Succcess!

In the race, I reached a top speed of 418km/h due to the slipstream effect from cars I was lapping. There was one about quarter of the way down the straight and another about halfway down the straight. I regularly got over 400km/h thanks to slipstreaming cars as I lapped them, so there was still plenty of high-speed action throughout the race.

However, GT4 simulates the engine oil getting old. So after about an hour, engine power starts to go down and that awesome top speed is not quite achievable. By the end of the 24 hour race, power had dropped by nearly 100bhp but that’ss still 889bhp. The top speed was only down to 387km/h because the straight has some long downhill sections.

The chassis rigidity had taken a hammering as well, so the car wasn’t responding quite as well for the last few hours. This was good; I liked this always-changing balancing act. It kept the race interesting and challenging from the start to the finish.

The finishing order was:

  1. Sauber Mercedes C9 (me)
  2. Sauber Mercedes C9
  3. Jaguar XJR-9
  4. Toyota 88C-V
  5. Nissan R89C
  6. Peugeot 905

I completed 448 laps, 25 laps ahead of the next car. The event finished on game day 996, just before the end of the third game year. This race was everything I’d always wanted it to be.

Seventh Ride of 2007 (22nd May 2007)

Explored the woods out past the Foresters’ Inn on the outskirts of Fleet. I hadn’t ridden these tracks’s like a huge swathe of countryside I’ve never been in before.

Luckily all that time playing GTA games has given me a pretty good feel for navigation so I didn’t get lost! Came out in Pondtail which is also on the outskirts of Fleet but further round.

There was a clearing which looked out over a big stretch of ferns and grasses surrounded by conifers and pine. Looked like something out of Walking with Dinosaurs. But there were several jet airliners leaving thin white vapour trails in a grid across the sky, like spaceships in a sci-fi movie.

It was like BCE100,000,000 and 2400CE in one scene.

This was my longest ride of the year, taking an hour or two. Much of it was taken at a very gentle pace, just admiring the scenery.

Site Maintenance (20th May 2007)

Every now and then I check the Pages not found section of AWstats. It usually finds a worrying number of pages, each with about a dozen hits.

I then use the W3C Link Checker service to see if any of these erroneous URLs are coming from my own pages. The checker limits the number of pages it will check so I have to be a bit shrewd with the recursion depth and the start location to ensure the whole site gets done without a silly number of runs.

There are a few images and file downloads in the Tutorials section whose URLs are getting rewritten due to the change in page URL scheme from some time ago. Hopefully I can prevent this by adding one RewriteMatch rule rather than a load of specific rules.

Site Search Box (20th May 2007)

This site now has a search box on every page. When it was just static pages this wasn’t practical. Adding a search box to Calthorpe Park School has worked really well and I’ve finally gotten round to doing it here as well.

Sixth Ride of 2007 (19th May 2007)

Kept pace with dad’s truck doing 25mph. Rode down to Crookham Village and found a track signposted as a public footpath which ended at a house, with no apparent footpath. Turned round and rode to the other side of Fleet.

When through Pondtail and out into the woods. Took the gravel tracks around Pyestock and rode as fast as I could down one of my favourites. Feels like I’m in a rally car doing 100mph when I’m on a cheap mountain bike doing this!

Probably about 6 miles in total. Weather was glorious.

Project Cerbera Realign (9th May 2007)

As I work with more designers and use more websites I start to pick up on elegant solutions to design issues. One of these is the use of a linked heading followed by a horizontal list of links to provide a category with several sections. This is a great idea for many reasons:

Because it has so much going for it, I’ve applied it to the following pages:

Currently, tutorial index for each game edition category just has an entry for each section it contains. This compact listing method could be used to put a list of tutorials under each category. This would let users see exactly what tutorials were in that category rather than having a lame summary.

The typography of the site has also changed a bit. The letter-spacing of headings has been reduced somewhat and better fallbacks have been specified for machines on which Lucida Sans isn’t present.

The paragraphs and lists are now narrower in the main content so the lines aren’t so long. The gap from the main text to the browser edges is now symmetrical, which seems to balance the pages aesthetically.

Emotional Long Weekend with Fliss (8th May 2007)

From 2007-05-04 to 2007-05-07 I was staying with Fliss at her mum’s house. We went outside for hours at a time nearly every day and talked at great length about life, work, people and painful memories. Some tears were shed but also a lot of laughs were had. A very memorable visit.

Things which happened:

Hopefully these notes will be enough to remind me what an enriching and uplifting experience this visit was.

Data Recovered (4th May 2007)

Thankfully all the data from the hard drive of our upstairs PC has been recovered. It failed on 13th April 2007.

They data recovery place copied the data onto a new 320GB hard drive. It’s external and connects via USB so we can use it for future backups.

Big relief to get it all back! We got a new hard drive to go in the PC as well. With over 100,000 recovered files it will take a while to sort through what to transfer back into the PC!

There are a lot of essential things I’ve had to reinstall or transfer from the old hard drive:

Thankfully getting this stuff back where it belongs hasn’t been too painful, just a bit time-consuming.

Internet World 2007 (2nd May 2007)

This was the first conference I’d attended. What an event!

Johan and I travelled there by train on 2nd May from Aldershot to West Brompton with a change at Clapham Junction.

Accessify Forum was used for arranging to attend. The venue was Earl’s Court 2, which I noticed has an amazingly big roof while I was there. Their website says it’s the largest unsupported span in Europe and I can totally believe it.

Human Factors

A presentation from Human Factors International about usability. More managerial than technical but still interesting to watch.

Johan and I found the theatre for it quite late, so we had to stand in the aisle. Luckily we’re both fairly tall so the other plebians didn’t get in our way too much!

Content Optimisation

A fairly boring presentation about how tiny changes to the wording of buttons and headings can cause dramatic changes to how many people buy from that websites.

We left after the first 15 minutes to go and see the next presentation.


The supermarket I buy from, which my parents buy from and which my mother’s parents bought from while they were alive.

The scheduled speaker couldn’t attend so we got a woman from Foviance, a company Tesco worked with a lot for doing the research. She explained this rather apologetically at the start. I started a round of applaused for her out of sympathy once her introduction had finished.

She asked if there were any questions. I asked if she’d be discussing accessibility and she winced! Apparently it wasn’t her speciality which is fair enough. I decided to let her off and accessibility went unmentioned throughout the presentation. If it had been the real speaker I’d have been tougher.

Use of eye-tracking studies on paper catalogues found Tesco’s red sales star thing drew attention from users. They applied these to the website and confirmed the same behaviour.


We stopped off at the AbilityNet stand. Chatted with a woman there about accessibility, user testing, their quarterly audits of various industries and so on. Made me feel pretty good to talk to such experts on a level playing field. I couldn’t have imagined that would happen just a few years ago!


At the WebCredible stand they had a couple of laptops and were offering free mini-audits of usability. The woman there had just finished with another person so we got straight in.


Johan went first with eTeach. She mentioned that it wasn’t particularly friendly for scanning the page. After a few other comments I asked if there were things she thought had been done well. She immediately went to the main navigation and, after a few clicks, complimented it.

Johan also showed her ScotEdJobs which was a more recent design he’d done. This was considered a lot easier to scan. Her attention was drawn by the clickable region map and this produced more compliments.

Ben (me)

Calthorpe Park School is the only site where I do the design as well as the nuts and bolts. (Well, calling it “design” gives it more credit than is due but you get the idea.) So that’s the site I decided to try out with her.

We chatted about it at great length and I teased out a lot of practical advice. She really knew her stuff! We went back and forth with the user goals of our audience and the orthodox solutions to accomodate them. Reminded me of how I can look at a page of HTML and point out improvements.

I jotted down many of the things she pointed out. I’ll reproduce them here as HTML rather than an image because my handwriting is dreadful.

Student Resources

Main suggestion was to make this brighter and more fun. This is something we’ve wanted to do from the start. But since we can’t afford a proper designer I’m reluctant to try doing bright stuff in case it looks garish. Better pictures would help, though.


Impressed by WebCredible

All very sound advice and all for free! Hopefully we can get a lot of this stuff in, especially the homepage improvements.

Final Thoughts

There seemed to be nowhere in the venue or nearby to eat proper meals. I like to eat. A lot. Next time I’ll get a taxi to a restaurant or something.

I also met Phil Smears (founder of sdesign1 and boss of me) while I was there. Didn’t expect him to look like a football hooligan. What a day!