Sunday 02 June 2002

Buddhism 100, Catholicism 29

Inspired by Loren Webster, I took the the Belief-O-Matic test:

  1. Mahayana Buddhism (100%)
  2. Unitarian Universalism (96%)
  3. Liberal Quakers (91%)
  4. Bahá’í Faith (91%)
  5. Theravada Buddhism (88%)
  6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (88%)
  7. Hinduism (87%)
  8. Taoism (80%)
  9. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (79%)
  10. Jainism (76%)
  11. Neo-Pagan (71%)
  12. New Thought (71%)
  13. Sikhism (68%)
  14. Orthodox Quaker (68%)
  15. New Age (61%)
  16. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (61%)
  17. Scientology (59%)
  18. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (56%)
  19. Reform Judaism (52%)
  20. Secular Humanism (52%)
  21. Orthodox Judaism (50%)
  22. Nontheist (44%)
  23. Islam (42%)
  24. Jehovah’s Witness (40%)
  25. Seventh Day Adventist (40%)
  26. Eastern Orthodox (29%)
  27. Roman Catholic (29%)

Loren was upset with his Neo-Pagan (100%) and New Age (99%) scores because he considers himself “almost anything BUT New Age.” I am, on the other hand, delighted. Not just with my 100% score for Mahayana Buddhism but because Roman Catholicism, the religion into which I was baptized, came in at the bottom of the list. I can only attribute my 79% score for Christian Science to a love of the work of Joseph Cornell.

My Myers-Briggs type is INFJ (Loren’s is INTP whereas Jeff is an ENFP).

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Wednesday 05 June 2002

Radical undogmatism

In a post titled R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Burningbird asked:

Am I coming across as this whiney thing that starts a fight, and then tells those who show up to stop picking on me? I would be appalled if this is true, because that’s not how I am. That’s not how I want to portray myself.

Dorothea Salo’s insightful response concluded:

I guess I’m encouraging Burningbird to examine her own writing. It’s not a bad way to learn about yourself. (Neither is RPGing, for that matter. Some of my characters have taught me quite a bit.) I suspect, however, that she’ll find that the worst of the abuse she’s getting is an artifact of the medium, and not her message.

Along the way to that conclusion, Dorothea offered some reasons for the negative (and occasionally personal) comments that troubled Burningbird:

  • one’s weblog posts can be misread (sometimes willfully);
  • people’s natural tendencies are amplified (“nice people tend to get nicer, mean people tend to get meaner”);
  • remarks on the Web are decontextualized (misinterpretation arises from a lack of shared background).

To which I’d add that certain topics—the Middle East conflict currently tops the list—act as a lightning rod for misreading, meanness, and misinterpretation. These topics (abortion is another) are high in the “emotional charge” that sends some people “into a fetal position in a corner” while energizing others to the point where they feel that they’ve finally discovered the meaning of life.

Such emotionally charged issues make it easy to forget or ignore the Happy Tutor’s First and Second Rules of Disagreeing Agreeably (or at least Effectively):

Attack the sin, not the sinner.

Attack the position, not the person holding the position.

Additionly, certain personality types seem more prone to overly aggressive behavior. Some people can’t form boundaries between their self and their strongly-held beliefs and, as a result, frequently (mis)interpret an attack on their position as an attack on their personal worth. Others are dogmatic in the sense Joseph Deumer describes, people who insist that they have a mortgage on the truth by shouting down any alternative or nuanced opinion. It’s the dogmatists who casually throw around epithets like “racist,” “sexist,” and “anti-Semite” as a substitute for reasoned, coherent argument.

These factors—emotional charge, poor internal boundary formation, dogmatic temperament—combined with Dorothea Salo’s “artifacts of the medium” (misreading, meanness, and misinterpretation) yield much of the unpleasantness that contaminates Web discourse.

By way of contrast, my recent post on blogging and journalism provoked a robust and productive dialogue (helped no doubt by the fact that the topic lacks emotional charge).

My post argument be summarized thus:

Given that mainstream journalism is so hopelessly compromised and that blogging appears to offer so many more exciting and creative possibilities, why are so many bloggers willing to settle for the tenth-rate ambition of acting as unpaid researchers and fact checkers for print journalists?

Along the way I took a couple of potshots at John Hiler’s article Blogosphere: the emerging Media Ecosystem (although, with hindsight, I would have done well to have mentioned Dave Winer’s Long Bet with the New York Times). John Hiler’s response showed a sure grasp of the Happy Tutor’s Third Rule:

Adopt a good-humored bantering tone.

After quoting some of my less complimentary remarks, he wrote: “Hmm Jonathan, I’m kind of getting a negative vibe here.” He then quoted at length from some other critical remarks I’d made about his Tipping Blog article, before concluding:

That’s a lot of failing, ignoring, and falling apart! But actually I dug that post because despite the brutality, there were some great points in there. I’d dig this more recent post more if I felt it was responding to points I made in my article…

On reflection, I can see the validity in John’s observation. Kuro5hin, which he treats in depth, is a perfect example of the collaborative authoring that I believe has so much potential. I did briefly consider commenting on the San Francisco State University fracas, which John describes in glowing terms as bloggers acting like real journalists (whereas I thought their reliance on partisan witnesses resulted in a lack of “journalistic balance” that was almost farcical). And I wish now that, instead of framing my argument in terms of journalists living off the backs of bloggers, I’d placed more emphasis on the mutually exploitative relationship between journalists and bloggers that John describes.

What’s most interesting though is that John Hiler’s deft response to my remarks sent me back to read his article once more and to reconsider the criticisms I’d made. Ironically, it’s this call and response mechanism that forms the core of Hiler’s Blogosphere.

Something similar happened in the comments on my post where, amongst the mostly favorable responses, John Morrish wrote:

Blogging is not journalism. You’d have to be deluded to think it was.

John, a British writer who also trains reporters, editors, and feature writers, runs a Web resource called The Journolist. Uh-oh, I thought to myself, he thinks I’m deluded. (Hint: misinterpretation!) John Morrish didn’t think I was deluded at all and even replied politely to my unfavorable view of mainstream journalism:

We’ll probably have to differ about whether journalism is worn out and corrupt. Plenty of journalists are, that’s for sure, but I still think the basic idea — finding something out, finding evidence to support your belief that it happened, publishing in a way that’s lawyer-proof — is worthwhile. When we have one of our perennial rail crashes, I don’t expect to discover the cause in a blog.

Another valid argument. It’s unlikely to change my view that you’ll learn more about what’s truly worth knowing by reading War and Peace, Remembrance of Things Past, or The Tale of Genji than from The New York Times or The Sydney Morning Herald. It did, however, force me to reconsider and acknowledge the worth of factual reporting (I try to avoid sitting in the front carriage of a train).

A useful exchange of views depends not just on the participants’ having strong internal boundaries as well as an awareness of the pitfalls of misreading, meanness, and misinterpretation. It also requires a readiness to consider changing one’s mind, to be open to new experience (as Gadamer described it, to be “radically undogmatic”). Or as Joseph Deumer wrote:

Is it any wonder then that I am suspicious of dogmatism in all its forms, or that I have adopted, partly intuitively & partly through study what amounts to a philosophy of radical pluralism: essentially, that no single point of view is an adequate description of reality, including moral reality. The only descriptions that approach adequacy are plural, multiple.

Weblogging provides that multiplicity of viewpoints. The real challenge is to develop ways of conducting a reasoned discourse about emotionally-charged topics. Particularly topics that attract those who already know everything and who know it better than anyone else. At that point there may be some respect.

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Sunday 09 June 2002

A useful Flash site!!!!!

In October 2000, Jakob Nielsen thought that Flash was bad:

About 99% of the time, the presence of Flash on a website constitutes a usability disease. Although there are rare occurrences of good Flash design (it even adds value on occasion), the use of Flash typically lowers usability. In most cases, we would be better off if these multimedia objects were removed.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (Flash) World Cup Game Tracker

I’ve been teaching Flash for years and, until now, I’ve agreed with Nielsen. Macromedia’s Site of the Day—the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s World Cup Game Tracker—is the first well-designed, useful Flash site I’ve encountered. (It will be interesting to see if the Nielsen Norman Group’s recent strategic partnership with Macromedia results in a quantifiable increase in the number of useful/usable Flash sites.)

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Another great Flash site

Commenting on my useful Flash site post, Patrick Breitenbach drew attention to “another example that predates it:” the Broadmoor Online Reservations in oneScreen™.

Broadmoor Online Reservations in oneScreen (Flash)Patrick is absolutely correct. This one is a humdinger. As it says at the top of the screen:

The entire reservation process is contained in this screen. You may start anywhere and order does not matter.

Pick your check-in and check-out dates, select the type of room, enter your name, address, and credit card details, press the Finish Reservation button. And it all takes place in a secure session.

I realize that this is also what attracted me to the CBC World Cup Game Tracker: one (Flash) screen has replaced a cumbersome navigation system and more than a dozen separate ESPN SoccerNet pages (that load slowly even via my broadband connection). To be fair, the SoccerNet site has game reports and other features that the Game Tracker lacks. But for fast, easy access to schedules and statistics, the Flash application is unbeatable in terms of usefulness and usability.

But I’m curious as to whether either of these sites is accessible, given that Flash MX (which has greatly improved accessibility features) has been available for some time now.

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Tuesday 11 June 2002

Thanks but no cigar

Commenting on my World Cup Game Tracker post, Kestrel identified herself as a blind computer user who, after hearing about the accessibility improvements in Flash MX, had visited the Macromedia site and tried to download the trial version.

The newest version of Flash might be accessible, but trying to figure out where the link was to download this wonder while using a screen reader was not possible.

John Dowdell from Macromedia Support left an apologetic reply—promising to follow up Kestrel’s problems and noting that “the Macromedia web team is working on a major set of enhancements to the site.”

The opportunity to enlist Kestrel as an accessibility consultant was too good to pass up so I asked her if she’d mind offering a critique of the World Cup Game Tracker and the Broadmoor Online Reservations Flash applications. Kestrel’s verdict:

I checked out the two web sites you included, the newstracker for the World Cup and the hotel. For all I know, both sites led to blank pages. No sounds, no text, no links. I tried both clicking on the link by hitting return and using the right click button on my JAWS keypad. This was using IE 6 and JAWS 4.02, both the latest versions, so if anything could be gotten from the experience, I should have gotten it. Whenever I run into this situation, I think of a slumlord slapping a coat of paint over a condemned building and calling it “newly renovated”. Sometimes I think web designers are the snake oil salesmen of the 21st century. When will these guys have to live up to some standards? It isn’t an accessibility issue anymore, it’s a usability issue. PONR!

These sites may be impressive and useful to sighted Web users but they are neither accessible nor usable. “When will these guys have to live up to some standards?” When enough of us care sufficiently to make accessibility a priority.

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Accessibility not a priority?

Mark Pilgrim is determined to change your mind:

Since she was not born blind, Jackie understands sighted concepts like colors, and she still talks about colors with her mother in terms of things that were in her life “before”. The one thing she does not talk about is the car accident that killed her father and left her blind; it is only referred to indirectly by prepositions: “before” and “after”. “This is green like the walls of the living room before.” “It’s sort of like that pink sweater you wore before, only lighter.” And so forth.

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Blogging and Idealism

In a DaveNet titled What I’m learning about journalism, Dave Winer wrote:

PS: Today the New York Times ran a story about weblogs and used the word “journalist” to describe people who do what we do. That’s a milestone worth noting and appreciating. Thanks!

Doc Searls pointed out that the NYT story is essentially bullshit, based as it is on a non-existent rift between Techbloggers and Warbloggers:

But this story has no deep truth. It’s just another feature about another transient topic.

Meanwhile, blogs are still out of fucking control. And the fucking they’re out of control from is old fashioned journalism.

Doc still, however, categorizes blogging as “a form of journalism.”

This blogging = journalism equation drives me to distraction. I can better understand why Doc regards blogging as journalism; after all he’s a professional journalist. But why Dave? When he’s built Radio UserLand, one of the tools that allows us to route around the worn-out, corrupt world of mainstream journalism—not replacing it, but offering something else that is infinitely richer, subtler, and more engaging.

I’ve been racking my brains as to why so many bloggers have such a hard-on for journalism when the journalistic product so frequently:

  • relies on either non-existent conflict or manufactured outrage;
  • recycles press releases and marketing hype;
  • exhibits a wafer-thin grasp of the subject under discussion.

I needn’t have been puzzled. Both Dave’s and Doc’s posts provide the answer to my question.

Dave on journalists:

…many, maybe even most, got into journalism for the same reason people start weblogs. Hoping to make a difference. To have an intellectual life. To be where the action is. Idealism.

Doc on journalism:

Now before you go thinking I’m slamming old fashioned journalism here, I’m not. It’s full of ideals, principles and practices that are no less noble and important for blogs than they are for newspapers.

Idealism.

Dave, Doc, and other bloggers who want to be journalists are idealists in that they have faith in the “elevated ideals or conduct” of journalism and they believe that those ideals are worth pursuing.

Whereas I see pursuing ideals in relation to journalism as unrealistic, choosing in this case to define idealism as “impracticality by virtue of thinking of things in their ideal form rather than as they really are.”

If I’m not an idealist, I guess that makes me a realist, at least according to Brecht’s definition:

Realism does not consist in reproducing reality, but in showing how things really are.

I’ve already argued that blogging can offer infinitely more than journalism. What disturbs me about the blogging = journalism movement is the attempt to define a new form of expression in terms of an old one. It doesn’t matter that there are hundreds of thousands of weblogs. It doesn’t matter that people have been blogging since 1996 or 1997 or whenever. We still can’t really grasp the potential of blogging—particularly now, when tools for linking reader comments, building communities, and collaborating threaten to obsolete the traditional cite, link, quote, opine style that forms the heart of most “journalistic” blogs.

To base one’s (albeit idealistic) definition of blogging on a form such as journalism, whose ideals are so deeply compromised, suggests either wilful irrationality, an improbable infatuation, or—worst of all—a craving for mainstream approval. And as Jung wrote in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.

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Wednesday 12 June 2002

Identity in 11th century Japan

AKMA wrote about identity:

some (“many”? “most”?) of us know people online whom we have grown to trust and (I dare say) love—without ever having encountered them in physical space. That trust and that affection may be ill-founded, but it’s real. This surely implies something about the “reality” of physical space relative to online interaction.

A scene from Chapter Four (Utsusemi) of the Tale of GenjiIn Heian Japan it was possible to conduct a relationship in physical space which was almost as insubstantial as many online interactions, since social relations—even between equals—were not always conducted face-to-face but rather via intermediaries. Screens, curtains, and blinds were also used to establish an appropriate distance as well as to shield the ladies of the house from prying eyes. As Royall Tyler explains in the introduction to his translation of The Tale of Genji:

This is particularly striking in scenes of courtship. In many the man complains about having to talk to the woman through one of her gentlewomen. Of course, he cannot see her, and he may have no idea what she looks like. He will not normally see her even if she speaks to him in her own voice, since she will still be in another room, behind a blind and a curtain, and the curtain will remain even if she allows him into the room where she is. If he then takes it upon himself to brush her curtain aside and go straight to her, he will by that gesture alone have claimed something close to the final intimacy.

Obviously these ethereal relationships were not always brought to resolution. In the Fireflies chapter of Genji, Prince Hotaru sits outside the girl Tamakazura’s screen, making an impassioned declaration of love, “only to be informed by a lady-in-waiting that Tamakazura has long since retired to the inner room and that he has been talking into thin air.” (Ivan Morris, The World of the Shining Prince)

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Shades of gray

30 days to a more accessible weblog (Day 2):

Michael sees the world in shades of grey. This is not a business cliche or a philosophical statement; he really sees the world in shades of grey. He has Achromatopsia, or complete color-blindness. All of his clothes are discretely labeled with letters, R for red, B for blue, DG for dark green, and so forth. His girlfriend has compiled a compatibility matrix that specifies which clothes he is allowed to wear together. He follows these instructions to the letter, so to speak, although he does not understand why they matter.

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Thursday 13 June 2002

Someone who knows everyone

Day 3 and I’m beginning to realize how much I take for granted:

[Bill’s] one big computer-related indulgence was a keyboard extension that gives him a second set of arrow and PageUp/PageDown keys, so he can more easily reach them with his good hand. $29.99, with a $5 mail-in rebate, which he mailed in.

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Friday 14 June 2002

Fresh off the boat

54 year-old eyes (Day 4):

Lillian likes Matt; he’s the nicest of the bunch, and he even once set her text size to “Larger” in Internet Explorer, so now her daughter’s weblog is actually large enough to be readable. She reads it every day. But when she asked Matt why she couldn’t make CNN.com any larger, Matt launched into one of his geek tirades with lots of big technical words, got very frustrated, and finally said there was nothing he could do.

That’s because CNN.com uses fixed pixel sizes for their text. But wait a minute, so do I! I’ve been meaning to do something about that.

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Saturday 15 June 2002

Blind since birth

Jackie, Michael, Bill, Lillian. And now, Marcus:

Marcus also uses an ALVA at home, where he runs the text-only browser Lynx in a full-screen DOS window. He reads the web at home in much the same way that he reads his calls at work: in Braille, one line at a time. He hates screen reader software, and he wouldn’t hear it even if he had it, since he always has talk radio on at top volume from the minute he gets home until the minute he goes to sleep.

Plus a belated introduction. From next Monday, 25 tips for making our weblogs more accessible…

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Sunday 16 June 2002

Changing of the guards

But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

Bob Dylan, Changing of the Guards

“How tedious is this?” asks Stavros about Meg Hourihan’s What We’re Doing When We Blog. “How perfunctory and lacking of any sense of the mad, wild spirit of creativity that is tearing through the souls of (fill in the names or pseudonyms of your favorite bloggers here)?”

Meg Hourihan’s explanation of blogging left me, as it did Stavros, aghast. And sent me back to the years when I was a photographer, showing my work in galleries and museums. Although (or perhaps because) I was a first-rate technician, technique was of little interest. I was primarily concerned with:

  • Forging an intimate emotional connection with the subjects and objects that formed the nominal content of each picture.
  • Transforming chaotic three-dimensional space into a coherent (though ambiguous) flat pictorial space.
  • Creating a beautiful image that also questioned conventional notions of beauty.
  • Inserting coded references to the work of photographers I admired.
  • Packing the image with sufficient energy to attract and hold a viewer’s attention.

And at openings, workshops, forums, interviews, the same questions always cropped up:

  • What camera did you use?
  • What lens did you use?
  • What film did you use?
  • What developer did you use?
  • What shutter speed did you use?
  • What aperture did you use?
  • What paper did you use?
  • What toner did you use?

Photography—perhaps more than other form of creative expression—attracts enthusiasts who fixate on the mechanical aspects of the medium. Some grow out of it and turn their attention to more sophisticated problems. Others don’t and happily continue to make technical flawless pictures devoid of any energy, ambiguity, or emotion.

Just like those photo-technicians, Meg Hourihan defines blogging in terms of the format: reverse-chronological and time-stamped. In this sterile depiction, the key elements of a blogging post are the links, the time-stamp, and the permalink.

Walker Evans, Reedsville, West Virginia, 1936God give me strength. I could describe a Walker Evans photograph by saying that it was taken with a Zeiss Protar lens on a tripod-mounted 8 x 10 Deardorff view camera, at f/45 to maximize the depth of field and with a G filter to emphasize the clouds. All of which is true but, frankly, who gives a shit? Such a description refuses to acknowledge that Evans’ image of a highway corner in Reedsville, West Virginia in 1936 is not just visually complex and gorgeous to look at. Evans’ radical approach to picture-making subverted many of his contemporaries’ most deeply ingrained beliefs about pictorial beauty and the purpose of documentary photography.

Which is not to say there’s no place for an explanation of the mechanics of weblogging: tools, posts, links, time-stamps, permalinks… But wouldn’t it be better to leave those prosaic details for later? And to start by mapping out an imaginative vision of the medium’s potential?

To focus attention on the magic and mystery of blogging. To acknowledge (paraphrasing Burningbird) that the key to weblogging is people, not a format. To admit that—five years on—we’re only just starting to realize what might be possible. To stress the communal nature of the activity. To celebrate the amplification of meaning that occurs when smart, creative people collaborate. To invite newcomers to join a grand adventure, a networked version of Hesse’s Journey to the East.

Instead we are offered a constrained model that, by focusing on the inessentials, drains weblogging of its poetry and promise. It’s dispiriting that one of blogging’s leading lights should have such an arid view of its future. Ultimately that doesn’t matter: we’re building our own ethereal cathedral and filling it with passionate voices. Stavros should have the last word. I can’t say it any better than this:

If you people, you A-listers, you pioneers (and I bow in respect to the Old Blog Guard, but some just don’t seem to get the New, in much the same way, ironically enough, that Old Media don’t seem to get La Kottke or whatever archetypical high-traffic blogger that they happen to pick out of their very small grab-bag when a url is necessary for street-cred in their latest in-depth analysis), if you can’t muster the juice to sing a soul-stirring song about this beautiful web of voices we’re collectively weaving, then I suggest you step the hell back, and point your fingers to those of us who can summon the muse and weave the hymns that will bind the New Tribes together.

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Monday 17 June 2002

Accessibility matters

As one might have expected, Mark Pilgrim’s accessibility case studies provoked a variety of responses.

Todd Fahrner

Mark Pilgrim’s been telling stories about Web accessibility at his shiny xhtml 1.1 blog all this week, and plans to keep it up. You’d think that sites like www.section508.gov would be half as conscientious as Mark about such matters, but no.

Simon Willison

While I applaud his aims and greatly look forward to the series, I can’t help but feel that limiting the series to just bloggers is an unnecessary move. I expect most of the tips to be applicable to a wide array of sites and the web is crying out for a good resource for improving general site accessibility.

Ralph Brandi

Dave Winer says that Mark Pilgrim has noted that he’s got people ripping him apart for the series on his blog entitled “30 days to a more accessible weblog”. (I’ve seen some of the parodies, and they’re vicious. Funny, but vicious. And clueless.) That’s a real shame, because the kind of personas he’s creating are an excellent way to gain a better understanding of the kind of visitors your web site is going to get.

SubAverage

Christ Mark, could you get any more preachy? … Here’s my suggestion for day three:
“Gregory, who goes by Greg, is 21 years old. He is a junior at a large state university, and is a member of a fraternity.
“Greg cannot get laid. This is not a popular culture cliche or a philosophical statement; he really cannot find a girl who will have sex with him. He has “No Game…”

kcalder

I’m not sure if you know this, but I’m colorblind. It’s really not a big deal, and doesn’t play a major part in my day-to-day life. I recently read this story on “Dive into Mark”. I’m not sure if this ‘Michael’ person actually exists, but if I were him I’d be pissed off about this article.

[next day] After yesterday’s post, I got a nice email from Mark. He changed his article on the fictional color-blind ‘Michael’. Now Michael just leaves images off because he doesn’t want to waste his bandwidth. Sort of makes the whole “colorblind” aspect of his character useless now though.

Peter van Dijck

This is too good not to link to… Describing case studies has too long been the stepschild of user research, numbers and graphs were long seen as the ultimate conveyors of truth (see Market research). Time to change that back. There is a lot of detail lost in the numbers and graphs, and a long time ago, the medical profession (for example) recognised that. They used to do detailed case studies; what happened to that practice?

Dave Winer

The hard work is unlocking the power for masses of people, people who couldn’t care less about ontologies, or semantic webs, or even accessibility. If you want all that stuff, you have to learn how to make products that work for people, and accomplish your goals, if you can figure out how…

PS: The bit about accessibility is deliberately provocative. Think about it. People with disabilities don’t want accessibility, they want to use the Web. Different perspective.

The recurring themes?

  • It’s a pity the series is only aimed at webloggers.
  • I thought they were real people.
  • Case studies vividly explain the issues involved.

I think Mark’s approach has been exemplary. First, he ensured that his own site is accessible. Then, without any preliminary explanation, he dropped us into a series of well-written and engaging character sketches that, by personalizing the issue, provide the best reason for caring about accessibility. Most importantly, he has promised to follow up with a series of tips that we can immediately apply to our own weblog templates.

That the series is aimed at webloggers rather than a more general web audience seems OK. Better to start with a defined target audience and trust that the story will ripple out from there.

I’m aware that many bloggers believe they have an obligation to be truthful in their posts, but it’s irrelevant to me whether the personas are based on real people or not. I reject the illusion of “journalistic truth,” believing instead that a well-written fictional character is usually more engaging and believable than a “real person.”

Nor do I have any problem with the parodies. I’m committed to making my own site more accessible by implementing Mark’s tips as he publishes them. Yet I also believe that no issue, idea, or argument should be exempt from (even harsh) critical analysis—as long as the criticism is directed at the position, not the person holding the position. If we’re going to start granting exemptions for special issues or special people, we may as well admit that John Dvorak was correct when he implied that blogging is little more than a cross-linking mutual admiration society.

As for Dave Winer’s statement that “people with disabilities don’t want accessibility, they want to use the Web,” that’s not really a different perspective, that’s just Dave being provocative, as he admits. People with disabilities do want to use the Web and we can significantly enhance their Web experience by designing accessible sites. They may not want accessibility but they certainly need it.

Hats off to Dave Winer, though, for supporting a righteous cause. The traffic he directed to Mark Pilgrim’s site this week probably outweighed the flow from all the other links combined. As we embark on the adventure of making our weblogs accessible, Dave deserves the final word:

I support what [Mark’s] doing, his narratives of real-world case studies for accessibility are just what I wanted, to help me understand what the issues are, and what solutions exist.

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Tuesday 18 June 2002

The missing spice

In a move that I hope encourages further discussion rather than providing premature closure via a (false) happy ending, U Blog faculty members stepped in to provide the nuance I craved.

Jeff Ward, Visible Darkness:

In some ways, I think the confusing night represented by hypertext has been turned to day by blogging. Isn’t it natural to ask why? I alluded to my opinion that it represents a change of consciousness which is deeply tied to the grammar involved. This is a difficult stance to explain concisely. It is an acceptance of a fairly hegemonic view in the education industry that language and thought are intimately connected.

For a capsule summary of the interface between orality and literacy, have a look at this excerpt from Vygotsky. In Vygotsky’s view of cognitive development, at an early age language turns inward becoming “inner speech.” This is different from literacy, however, what Ong and others have proposed is that the transition from speech to writing modulates inner speech, changing it into new patterns of thought. Radical changes brought about by writing changed consciousness As writing changes, we change.

Steve Himmer, One Pot Meal:

But still, a tool is not a point. G.P.’s words say his point, and a tool digs him down to his words, as it digs us down to our own. What is built with said tool, what is now known and surprising, that is our point—that is his point. Things coming known, coming out, through an act of forging such tools. At first a man, a woman (any man, any woman) knows to dig, not a spot. A spot is found, but ground is hard, unsplit, and tool shows a way to crack it. Without our tool, our digging would fail; without our digging a tool has no worth. Dig without tools? No way. Tools without digging? No why.

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Accessibility tip 01: DOCTYPE

Seems like grammar is in the air. Mark Pilgrim’s first accessibility tip begins:

You start your sentences with a capital letter; start your HTML with a DOCTYPE. It’s just basic grammar.

Well, I’m off to a promising start. All my Movable Type templates begin with a DOCTYPE:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">

Since I write most of my posts in Dreamweaver MX, I’ve noticed that the default Dreamweaver XHTML document actually starts with the line:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>

(I think I removed this because it could mess up the RSS Auto-discovery mechanism. Or something. In any case, the character encoding is specified in a meta-tag in the document HEAD.)

And Dreamweaver’s HTML tag reads:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">

whereas mine says:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en">

No doubt, someone will explain whether the added lang=”en” attributes are necessary.

Uh-Oh! Here’s trouble!

After reading the W3C’s explanation of the various flavors of markup, I’ve realized I didn’t have to settle for XHTML Transitional.

XHTML 1.0 Strict - Use this when you want really clean structural mark-up, free of any tags associated with layout. Use this together with W3C’s Cascading Style Sheet language (CSS) to get the font, color, and layout effects you want.

XHTML 1.0 Transitional - Many people writing Web pages for the general public to access might want to use this flavor of XHTML 1.0. The idea is to take advantage of XHTML features including style sheets but nonetheless to make small adjustments to your mark-up for the benefit of those viewing your pages with older browsers which can’t understand style sheets. These include using BODY with bgcolor, text and link attributes.

But, before changing the DOCTYPE in my templates, I thought I’d check that my weblog index page still validated as XHTML Transitional. It doesn’t (although it used to). The W3C’s validator found dozens of errors, all related to links to other sites.

For example, in my previous post I included Steve Himmer’s link to the Amazon search results for “Georges Perec.”

<a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/index=books&field-keywords=georges%20perec&bq=1/103-7928379-7451003">

The validator returned four errors associated with this URL:

  • Error: unknown entity “field-keywords”
  • Error: reference not terminated by refc delimiter (the “=” sign between “keywords” and “georges”)
  • Error: unknown entity “bq”
  • Error: reference not terminated by refc delimiter (the “=” sign between “bq” and “1”)

I understand that (quoting A List Apart) “DOCTYPEs are a key component of compliant web pages: your markup and CSS won’t validate without them” and “DOCTYPES are also essential to the proper rendering and functioning of web documents in compliant browsers like Mozilla, IE5/Mac, and IE6/Win.”

But if a link to a page at Amazon causes my weblog page not to validate, what’s to be done?

<later>Answer: escape the ampersands.</later>

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Wednesday 19 June 2002

Accessibility tip 02: Language

“You know what language you’re writing in,” says Mark Pilgrim, “so tell your readers… and their software.”

Since I’m using XHTML 1.0 Transitional, my <html> tag should read:

<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" lang="en" xml:lang="en">

It turns out I was already ahead of the game—I asked about this in my DOCTYPE post. And, as Dorothea Salo explains in the comments on that post, it’s another Belt & Suspenders solution:

HTML added the lang attribute to the tag long before XML came around… So doing both is another case of belt and suspenders. Non-XML-grokking HTML engines will grab the lang attribute; XML-grokking engines can grab either.

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Anger and resentment

Mark Woods posted “some quotes taken from an old, barely legible holographic commonplace book of mine dating from the early seventies.” Among them was one by Robert Musil:

One can’t be angry with one’s own time without damage to one’s self.

I couldn’t help thinking of a statement by Kamo no Chomei, author of Hojoki (An Account of My Hut):

If I had not deeply resented the society I lived in, the darkness of this fleeting world would not have become illuminated for me.

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Thursday 20 June 2002

Accessibility tip 03: Doc title

I like the way Mark Pilgrim organizes his accessibility tips into sections:

  • Define the principle (today’s is “Every page of your weblog should have a unique and meaningful page title.”)
  • Explain who benefits from our implementing the tip (“Marcus benefits. Lynx displays the page title in the first line of output, so it’s always the first thing that Marcus reads in Braille.”)
  • Describe how to do it for each weblog template (“…if you are using the default [Movable Type] template, you don’t need to make any changes.”)
  • Provide links to further reading on the subject.

I made a couple of minor changes to my MT templates, such as adding the <$MTBlogDescription$> tag to the Main Index title. My <title> tags and the resulting page titles are listed below.

Main Index
<title><$MTBlogName$>: <$MTBlogDescription$></title>
Jonathon Delacour: The Heart of Things

Archive Index
<title><$MTBlogName$>: Archives</title>
Jonathon Delacour: Archives

Category Archive
<title><$MTBlogName$>: <$MTArchiveTitle$> Archives</title>
Jonathon Delacour: Japan Archives

Date-Based Archive
<title><$MTBlogName$>: <$MTArchiveTitle$> Archives</title>
Jonathon Delacour: June 2002 Archives

Individual Entry Archive
<title><$MTBlogName$>: <$MTEntryTitle$></title>
Jonathon Delacour: Accessibility Matters

Is there anything more pleasurable for the ambitious student than to be praised by the teacher? About my Individual Entry Archive title, Mark wrote:

Individual entry archive pages should include the name of your weblog, followed by the entry title. I don’t have separate pages for individual entries, but Jonathon Delacour does, and he gets this right. For example, his post of June 17, 2002, Accessibility matters, is archived on its own page with the title “Jonathon Delacour: Accessibility matters”.

I’m not going to let this go to my head nor am I resting on my laurels. Sooner or later I’ll be getting into serious trouble for using absolute font sizes (in pixels) instead of relative font sizes (using ems, keywords, or percentages). And I don’t think Mr. Pilgrim will be the slightest bit impressed if I say: “But sir, Zeldman told me to do it!”

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Do vampires have anuses?

Thanks to Michael O’Connor Clarke (via David Weinberger), I’ve spent nearly an hour exploring QDB, a database of chat quotes. My favorite so far? #5598:

<Kazz> Do vampires have anuses? Cause that’s why I wouldn’t let this kid invade a vampire’s anus in this RPG, right, I was GMing, and his character was an Anus Shade, with the power to possess and control the anuses of people and animals.. and I figured that vampires don’t have anuses.
<Zaratustra> a vampire’s anus is present, but non-working.
<Zaratustra> like a network card without the appropriate driver.
<Kazz> Wow. You’re the biggest dork on Earth.
<Sharkey> And you’re DMing an rpg with Anus Shades.

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Friday 21 June 2002

Kamome no jonasan

One of my life’s ambitions has been realized. I’ve been mentioned on a Japanese website:

Paragraph of Japanese text from an online article about blogging and journalism

A loose translation would be:

An Australian weblogger has caused a furore by vaulting to the top of blogging’s A-list within a few months of starting his blog. In a telephone interview, Sydney-based Jonathon Delacour said he’s delighted though amazed that his site now dominates Daypop, Blogdex, and the Weblogs.com Top 100.

“I started out like everyone else, writing about XML and my cat,” he told us, “but a post about the Dishmatique seems to have been the catalyst. I was promptly invited to join the faculty of the University of Blogaria and it just took off from there. Naturally I couldn’t have achieved any of this without the support of my U Blog colleagues and the wider weblog community.”

Not surprisingly, given his interest in Pure Land Buddhism, Delacour rejects the cliquish values of the A-list. Instead he is using his influence to support projects that democratize weblogging. For those who create blogs, he is publicizing Shelley Power’s ThreadNeedle (a technology for tracking cross-blog conversations that’s designed to expose previously ignored blogging voices). And to ensure that no-one is excluded from reading weblogs, Delacour has committed to implementing the tips from Mark Pilgrim’s 30 days to a more accessible weblog series.

Heheh. Just kidding. The Japanese story is actually a translation of Noah Shachtman’s Wired News story about blogging and j******ism. What grabbed my attention is how they transliterated my name. I always write it in katakana (the syllabary used for foreign words) as JONASON DERAKORU. In the Wired article they’ve rendered it as JONASAN DERAKUUA.

I resigned myself to the Jonathon/Jonathan confusion a long time ago—in the English-speaking world, in Blogaria, and in Japan. Particularly in Japan where, whenever I introduce myself as Jonathon, the automatic response is “Aah, kamome no Jonasan mitai ne!” (Aah, just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull!) And though others would normally refer to me as JONASON-SAN, that sounds awkward so it’s invariably shortened to JONA-SAN.

I chose DERAKORU because it was similar to how Nikkor (as in lens) is written in katakana. But perhaps DERAKUUA sounds better (in Japanese). I’ve been meaning to get a new set of bilingual business cards so I’ll run the two alternatives past a few of my Japanese friends. In the meantime, Mark’s and Shelley’s projects deserve all the support we can muster.

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Accessibility tip 04: Navigation aids

In today’s accessibility tip Mark Pilgrim asks us to provide additional navigation aids to pages that can be viewed sequentially, such as those in a weblog’s daily or individual entry archives. I already have visible navigation aids (in the form of «Previous | Home | Next» links) on these pages—implemented with the usual a (anchor) tag.

However, Mark is suggesting that I use the link tag to add a duplicate set of navigation aids that, although “normally invisible to visual browsers like Internet Explorer, can be displayed in alternate browsers and help users navigate through [my] weblog.”

Adding the necessary code to my two Movable Type templates took less than a minute. All I then had to do was FTP the modified templates to the server and rebuild my site. Total time required? Less than 5 minutes.

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Saturday 22 June 2002

Accessibility tip 05: Main content first

No problems for me today on the accessibility front—my CSS-based layout already displays the main content while the rest of the page is still loading. I have three positional DIVs:

  • header (logo, site name, site description)
  • content (weblog posts)
  • links (calendar, contents, recent entries, favorites).

My pages load in that order: header then content then links. As Mark said, the default Movable Type template gets it right. But I had no trouble building totally new templates based on a BlueRobot design. All you have to do is put the positional DIVs in the correct order.

I did check my site in the Lynx Viewer and it behaved as expected (kind of how it looks in Netscape 4.x but without any graphics). So it looks like an easy weekend for me. For those of you who don’t use CSS for positioning, get cracking on modifying your table code.

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Sunday 23 June 2002

‘L’ as in chocorate

In response to my post about English-to-Japanese transliteration, Stavros writes about the English-to-Korean version:

But this creative mangling of the sounds of names and other words imported from other languages drives me moderately batty sometimes, as one of the things I have to do in my work is (for example) to disabuse my students of the notion that the proper English pronunciation of ‘sports’ is ‘suh-PO-chuh’, which is the correct way to pronounce the word as it is written in Korean. This tends to be difficult, as they’ve seen and heard the word in all it’s Konglish glory every damn day of their lives for 20 years, on the evening news.

I wonder if Stav’s started speaking Konglish, perhaps without even being aware of it? Because I lapse into Japlish (or Engrish) more often than I’d like. One of the consequences of investing an inordinate amount of time and emotional energy into learning to speak Japanese—attaining a level that a Japanese friend describes as “cute”—is that I frequently mix my R’s and L’s, in the Japanese style. There’s a book on the subject, called Gems of Japanized English: “Is that ‘L’ as in Rome?” “No, it’s ‘R’ as in London.” And a Web site, Engrish.com.

So I routinely say “Frash” when teaching a Flash class. In a restaurant I’ve ordered “lack of ramb.” And a friend who’s used to my doing it in our private conversations nearly fell off his chair when, at a Content Management seminar a few weeks back, I said: “Next I’ll show you the workfrow.”

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Monday 24 June 2002

Mizu shobai

mizu-shobai the bar and entertainment business

Kodansha Furigana Japanese English Dictionary

mizu-shobai, water trade
the vulgar term for any precarious form of trade yielding an income entirely dependent on the patronage of its customers; for example entertainment provided by geisha, bars, cabarets, and so on

John David Morley, Pictures from the Water Trade

Pub Blue Moon

“What’s mizu shobai mean,” I asked Ayako. We were eating breakfast.

“There’s no such thing,” she flatly replied, without looking up from her newspaper.

Twenty minutes later she folded the newspaper, pushing it to one side. She moistened the tip of her middle finger and began to collect the crumbs on her plate, one-by-one.

“Where did you hear about this mizu shobai?” she asked, as she daintily retrieved each crumb with her tongue—yet another provocative gesture from her seemingly inexhaustible repertoire.

“I read it in a book.”

“Which book?” I loved the way she pronounced it, saying ‘buke’ as in Luke.

“A textbook,” I fibbed, certain this would annoy her. A former high-school teacher, she regarded textbooks as inarguable sources of fact.

In a way though, I was telling the truth. Though John David Morley’s Pictures from the Water Trade, is a kind of shi-shosetsu, a lightly-fictionalized account of the author’s several years in Japan, at a crucial point it had functioned as a textbook, my only reliable reference to the enigma of Japanese behavior.

Unless I’d discovered and diligently read Morley’s book I would never have been eating croissants with Ayako on a Sunday morning, arguing about the existence of the mizu-shobai, the water trade.

Ayako had been evasive, the first time I invited her on a date—to see Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-ga the following Sunday afternoon. She asked if she could call me on Sunday morning, that it would take her until then to decide.

She did call back and we saw the movie, which made her laugh and cry. We went on to dinner, chatting so easily and happily together that when I dropped her off in front of her apartment building, I was already falling in love.

I asked her if she wanted to do it again and she said: “Mmm, sometimes.” She gathered up her coat and bag, climbed out of the car, and stood stock still as I drove away. All the way home I tried to decipher what had passed between us in those last moments.

She called me frequently on the phone after that yet it was always the same. Ayako would imply an interest in seeing me again—perhaps another Japanese film?—but the moment I tried to pin her down she would retreat in a flurry of vague apologies.

Our stop-start relationship seemed to have permanently stalled. Around then, fortuitously, I bought Pictures from the Water Trade. The answer to my difficulties was on page 69.

John David Morley, Pictures from the Water Trade (book cover)“The framing of questions in Japanese was an art, an instrument to be handled with great delicacy and care. A direct question at an untimely moment could prove very destructive, merely by virtue of its directness. Direct questions (with obvious exceptions in professional, business life and so on) were not much liked. The typical question was really a feed line, what in a court of law would be disqualified as suggestive, full of loop-holes, offering escape-hatches, and in fact as unlike a question as it was possible to be. The person who had been asked the question could thus be indicted on no more serious charge than of aiding and abetting the person who had asked the question; an accessory to the answer, as it were, not the principal malefactor. He had merely conspired to answer.”

John David Morley, Pictures from the Water Trade

Suddenly it all became easy. She’d call, I’d make a nebulous remark about reading a restaurant review in the newspaper or mention in passing that a friend had enjoyed such-and-such a movie and, almost magically, Ayako and I would be seated at the counter eating sushi or standing in line to buy tickets to the film.

I put Morley into practice with a diffident vengeance: shying away from any attempt at precision; using qualifiers like “perhaps,” “maybe,” or “apparently;” omitting the subject of a sentence, or the verb; speaking, in effect, a kind of ethereal English that mimicked the oblique, tentative quality of spoken Japanese.

And the wonderful paradox was that the vaguer my speech, the more definite Ayako’s affections became.

Months later I asked her if she’d noticed what had happened.

“Of course,” she replied. I asked her what she thought about it at the time.

She said with a smile: “I liked it very much.”

So Ayako’s statement that there was no such thing as the mizu shobai—when both of us knew perfectly well there was—was meant to draw my attention to some inarguable facts: that I needed to learn that “direct questions were not much liked;” that her o-jo-sama upbringing had kept her well clear of the water trade; and that—by extension—she had no desire to associate with a man who felt at home in its relaxed, squishy world.

But most of all she was reminding me that I wasn’t Japanese.

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Tuesday 25 June 2002

Accessibility tip 06: Skip navigation

If you couldn’t hack your table-based template to present your main content first, Mark Pilgrim offers a compromise: allowing Lynx and JAWS users to skip over your navigation links entirely.

If your main content does comes first, this tip does not apply and Mark has given you a day off. I think I’ll use my day off to start work on the changeover from absolute to relative font sizes. Dorothea Salo has already made the switch and her site looks pretty spiffy so I might steal a leaf or two out of Dorothea’s style sheet.

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Wednesday 26 June 2002

The more things change…

At wood s lot, a link to Bush’s Grim Vision by Nat Parry:

Bush’s grim vision is of a modern “crusade,” as he once put it, with American military forces striking preemptively at “evil-doers” wherever they live, while U.S. citizens live under a redefined Constitution with rights that can be suspended selectively by one man. Beyond the enormous sacrifices of blood, money and freedom that this plan entails, there is another problem: the strategy offers no guarantee of greater security for Americans and runs the risk of deepening the pool of hatred against the United States…

The American people may learn too late that relying on repression to gain security can mean sacrificing freedom without actually achieving greater security. As counterinsurgency experts have long argued, only a wise balance between reasonable security and smart policies to address legitimate grievances can reduce violence to manageable levels over the long term. Often, repression simply breeds new generations of bitter enemies.

Saburo Ienaga (The Pacific War) explains the connection between state control and the Japanese slide into war:

The pre-war state kept the populace in a powerful vise: on one side were the internal security laws with their restrictions on freedom of speech and thought; on the other side was the conformist education that blocked the growth of a free consciousness and purposive activity for political ends. The vise was tightened whenever any individual or popular resistance challenged reckess military action. These laws and public education, used as instruments of coercion and manipulation, were the decisive factors that made it impossible for the Japanese people to stop their country from launching the Pacific War.

In Japan’s War, Edwin P. Hoyt describes the Japanese military adventure in China:

Preparations would begin now, in the spring [of 1942], for the great offensive in China, to be carried out against Chiang’s Szechuan Province in the fall. As the generals looked at the map of China, the future appeared bright. The little Rising Sun flags stuck in the map, from the Siberian border all the way south to Hongkong, and beyond, and inland past Peking and down on a line to Hankow, showed the enormous amount of Chinese territory under Japanese army control. But the little flags were misleading, as General Shunroku Hata, commander of the China Expeditionary Force, knew very well. In the north the Chinese Communist armies slipped in and around the Japanese installations, burning, shooting, killing by night. By day the Japanese controlled the countryside, by night it was Chinese territory. And in the south the same was true. Guerillas operated in every province. Every truck, every train had to be escorted by troops; if not, they were prime targets for the guerillas. The Japanese claimed they had China in their grip; the reverse was true; they were still bogged down in a war that demanded more men and more guns and more equipment every month. By the winter of 1942 the need to “settle” the China incident—which meant complete the conquest of all China—had become so ingrained an article of faith with the militarists who controlled the army that there was no way of turning back. Once the China incident was settled, the militarists promised themselves, all else would be simple.

In 1937, Emperor Hirohito had asked how long it would take to end the China Incident. “One month,” replied the War Minister, General Hajime Sugiyama. In 1941 General Sugiyama confidently told the Emperor that Japanese operations in the South Pacific would be completed within three months. In four years, Sugiyama had learned nothing. Who said that experience is the best teacher?

Book cover: The 100 million people of the Showa Period, Japanese War HIstory, Volume 3, The China-Japan WarA refusal to study the Japanese counter-insurgency war in China or the failure of the French in Indo-China led to America’s humiliating defeat in Vietnam. General Westmoreland famously asked: “Why should I study the lessons of the French? They haven’t won a war since Napoleon.”

My ten volume illustrated Japanese War History devotes four volumes to the China Incident and another four to the Pacific War. Looking through countless photographs of the Chinese campaign one can’t help but note the uncanny resemblance between these pictures and those taken during the Vietnam War. Across a thirty year period, only the nationality of the combatants and their weapons and uniforms have changed. Everything else is the same: the terrain, the strategy, the tactics, the bombed cities, the devastated countryside, the military and civilian casualties, and the final catastrophic outcome.

Yet Bush and Sharon both seem to be saying: “Trust me, this time it’ll be different.”

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Accessibility tip 07: Use color safely

In today’s accessibility tip Mark Pilgrim focuses on the color of link text. I wasn’t sure that my (not particularly bright) blue active links and my gray visited links contrasted sufficiently with the white page background. When I checked my site with VisCheck however, the links were easy to discern as was the difference between them. I’ve also chosen to leave my links underlined rather than making them bold or italic (which I prefer to reserve for emphasizing words or for book or movie titles). On my site underlining always means a hypertext link.

<edited>Well, as you can see, Professor Salo’s opinion that “underlined links are just plain ugly” persuaded me to abandon that practice. Now bolded blue text always means a hypertext link and I promise not to use underlining at all.</edited>

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Mars and Venus

Insane Single Chick writes to Salon’s Cary Tennis:

I’m smart, outgoing and attractive enough that men would consider sleeping with and also dating me. I’ve had boyfriends, one-night stands, flings, love affairs, seductions, dates, etc. … but maybe John Gray is right — am I intimidating the commitment power right out of men?

I am an intensely creative and emotional person. I consider myself an individual and though I seek a companion, I don’t necessarily see myself starting a family, nor do I think women need to in order to find fulfillment. But is it true that I can “just be myself” and still find someone?

I do want to meet someone who’s attractive, successful, intelligent, and very interested in growing, experiencing and changing. Am I being unreasonable?

Conversation #755 from the IRC Quote Database:

<saboteur> sometimes i wish i didtn have a penis
<saboteur> like when i get a wood standing up
<Damien> lol sab
<saboteur> and its hard to hide
<phase5> same
<phase5> or like, when your walking down the street
<phase5> and it hangs out the bottom of your pants
<phase5> and drags on the ground
<saboteur> haha
<saboteur> yeah exactly
<k> or when you lie down and planes crash into it

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Thursday 27 June 2002

Accessibility tip 08: Use real links

Mark Pilgrim directs our attention to “the scourge of web design.” It’s the javascript: link, “a pseudo-link that executes a piece of Javascript code when you click on it.” In weblogs, including mine until today, this is commonly used to display comments in a separate (smaller) window. Unfortunately, anyone whose browser doesn’t support JavaScript couldn’t make a comment on any of my posts.

The default templates in Movable Type and Radio UserLand don’t rely on JavaScript but my templates are derived from older versions that I’ve subsequently modified. Happily, implementing Mark’s fix took less than ten minutes.

Searching the template code for “javascript” also revealed that I was using JavaScript to create a spam-proof email link. Clicking on the word “Contact” in my navigation panel automatically opens the visitor’s email client (via a mail:to link) and creates a new message with my email address inserted in the To: field. Since spammers harvest email addresses from these mail:to links, I was using the following JavaScript to encode my email address, using character entities rather than actual text:

<script type="text/javascript">
<!--
document.write('<a href="mailto:&#106;&#111;&#110;&#97;&#116;&#104;&#111;&#110;
&#64;&#100;&#101;&#108;&#97;&#99;&#111;&#117;&#114;&#46;
&#110;&#101;&#116;" title="Send me an email message">Contact<\/a>');
// -->
</script>

But there doesn’t appear to be any reason to use a JavaScript document.write() command to accomplish this relatively simple task—or, if there is, I’m certain someone will quickly draw my attention to it. So I simply replaced the JavaScript with the encoded mail:to link:

<a href="&#109;&#097;&#105;&#108;&#116;&#111;&#058;&#106;&#111;
&#110;&#097;&#116;&#104;&#111;&#110;&#064;&#100;&#101;&#108;
&#097;&#099;&#111;&#117;&#114;&#046;&#110;&#101;&#116;"
title="Send me an email message">Contact</a>

This also fixed a problem with Mozilla 1.0, caused by the escaped forward slash (<\/a>) in the link.

And no, in case you’re worrying, you don’t have to encode your email address manually. The fantomas mailShield™ will do it for you.

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Friday 28 June 2002

Narrative structure in The Tale of Genji

Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of GenjiThe Tale of Genji tells the story of the life and loves of Genji, the Shining Prince (so-called because he is artistically gifted, intelligent, and irresistible to women) and then of Kaoru, supposedly Genji’s son but actually the grandson of his best friend.

Written one thousand years ago by Murasaki Shikibu, an attendant to one of the imperial consorts in Heian Kyo (now Kyoto), the Genji is widely regarded as the world’s first psychological novel, with hundreds of skillfully delineated characters woven into a narrative constructed upon a series of unifying themes such as political power, ideals of feminine beauty, and the Buddhist belief in the impermanence of all things.

The Tale of Genji: The Paulownia PavilionInevitably, The Tale of Genji has been a popular subject for Japanese painters, particularly those of the Tosa school, which specialized in courtly themes and scenes from the literary classics. This painting, depicting the first chapter of Genji, is from an illustrated volume from the Tosa school containing one scene for each of the book’s 54 chapters.

It shows Genji, the emperor, the emperor’s new mistress Fujitsubo (with whom Genji will have an affair and a child), and the Princess Aoi whom Genji will marry for political reasons.

The Tale of Genji: The Broom TreeThe second chapter introduces one of the main themes of the novel: types of femininity and the qualities of an ideal woman. Genji and three companions regale each other through a night with anecdotes of women they have known and loved, describing somewhat clinically each woman’s faults and virtues.

Genji’s friend To-no-Chujo tells of a lover who bore him a daughter but who, ironically, lost his affection through being too meek and accommodating. The ideal woman, they conclude, “does not try to display her scanty knowledge in full,” nor does she “scribble off Chinese characters,” rather she shows taste and restraint and is prepared to “feign a little ignorance.”

The Tale of Genji: The Twilight BeautyIn this scene, Genji is on his way to visit his dying nursemaid when he and his companions stop at a nearby house to admire some flowers (called yugao—evening faces). A young girl comes out of the house with a scented fan on which Genji can take a flower to his nursemaid.

Genji hears about a lady living in the Yugao house and resolves to have her. He takes her away to another house where, that night, he dreams of a jealous lover and wakes to find the Yugao lady dead beside him. It later transpires that she was, in fact, To-no-Chujo’s mistress, the mother of his daughter.

The Tale of Genji: The Cicada ShellHere we seen Genji spying on the lady Utsusemi as she plays go, a Japanese board game, with a female companion, identified later in the story as Nokiba-no-ogi. Genji has come to seduce Utsusemi but she resists his entreaties and disappears, leaving only an outer robe behind.

Genji later breaks into Nokiba-no-ogi’s room by mistake but pretends it was she he intended to visit and spends the night with her instead.

The Tale of Genji: Young MurasakiIn this chapter, called Waka Murasaki (Young Murasaki), Genji is recuperating from an illness when he glimpses a young girl, Murasaki, the author’s namesake, who reminds him of Fujitsubo, the emperor’s mistress. He resolves to adopt Murasaki and will eventually take her as his second wife.

The author deftly weaves together the strands of Genji’s oedipal relationships with Murasaki (whose likeness to Fujitsubo attracts him) and Fujitsubo (whom the emperor married because she resembled his late wife, Genji’s mother).

It is widely believed that Murasaki Shikibu commenced The Tale of Genji not long after she was widowed in 1001 and had completed it about twenty years later. The author of the Sarashina nikki writes, somewhere between 1020 and 1022:

I read Waka Murasaki [chapter 5] and a few of the other [early] books in The Tale of Genji, and I longed to see the later parts… But we were still new to the capital and it was not easy to find copies. I was burning wth impatience and curiosity, and in my prayers I used to say, “Let me see the whole!”

Richard Bowring’s translation of the Murasaki Shikibu Diary

This passage provides an insight into what—besides its many admirable literary features—makes The Tale of Genji fascinating to interactive storytellers. Murasaki Shikibu wrote Genji not as a single work for publication but in chapters (handwritten in individual notebooks) which were passed around the Heian court from one reader to the next.

In fact, the first five chapters outlined briefly above, have been presented not in the “correct” numerical order but as one of Murasaki Shikibu’s readers might have encountered them: in the order 1, 2, 4, 3, 5.

Yet having to read the chapters out of chronological order posed few problems for Murasaki Shikibu’s audience since she had so painstakingly constructed the work, using subtle indicators of time and place to ensure that—even over the fifty year span of her novel—it is always possible to determine the ages and relationships between each of the important characters.

As we struggle with the difficulties of writing non-linear and hypertext narratives, what a delicious irony that a Japanese woman confronted and resolved many of the problems that plague us a thousand years later.

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Accessibility tip 09: Add link titles

Weblogs, by definition, link to other sites. Yet, as Mark Pilgrim points out, few bloggers take advantage of the fact that the anchor (<a>) tag can have a title attribute, whose value appears as a tooltip in visual browsers but can be presented in non-visual browsers too.
For example:

Using the title attribute of the anchor tag to describe the meaning and/or purpose of the link

Mark suggests which links might best benefit from titles. He also points to an AlertBox column by Jakob Nielsen called Using Link Titles to Help Users Predict Where They Are Going, in which Neilsen explains the importance of link titles and offers detailed guidelines for their use. Mark’s advice is a little simpler: don’t overindulge with link titles—in Web design, as in life, “all things in moderation.”

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Saturday 29 June 2002

Accessibility tip 10: Define keyboard shortcuts

I had no idea that you could assign keyboard shortcuts to links and form fields in an HTML document. Today’s accessibility task was to define the following access keys:

  • Home page—Access Key 1
  • Skip to main contentAccess Key 2
  • Search boxAccess Key 4
  • FeedbackAccess Key 9

It’s been relatively smooth sailing for me until now, which I attribute mainly to a combination of CSS-positioning and Movable Type. Today I struck a snag or two.

When I tested the access keys in ie6win, only the Search Field (Access Key 4) worked. I checked back with Mark’s page and followed the link to Paul Bohman’s post on Access keys in IE6 (part of a discussion of accesskeys on the Web Accessibility Forum Mailing List). The last paragraph gives the answer:

By the way, I actually prefer the way that Netscape handles accesskeys. You don’t need to do anything extra to make them work. In Internet Explorer in Windows, you have to use the keyboard shortcut then you have to hit enter. The extra step severely reduces the efficiency of the technique, in my opinion.

Hitting the Enter key after pressing the Access Key did the trick. In Opera 6, none of the access keys worked whereas in Mozilla 1.0 they all worked (although the default “Google” text was not selected as it was in IE).

Access Key 1 (the Home Page) worked in Netscape 6.2 but I was unable to test the other two because my entire navigation panel has disappeared in Netscape 6.2! It’s all there in the source code so perhaps I’ve introduced some bug into the CSS but I have no idea what’s happened to it and it’s too late on a Friday night to investigate any further.

<edited>The problem was my recently introduced SiteMeter code. I moved it to just before the closing body tag and Netscape 6.2 happily displayed the navigation panel. Go figure.</edited>

I’ve summarized the results in the table below.

Support for accesskeys in different browsers
  Access Key 1
Home Page
Access Key 4
Search Field
Access Key 9
Contact
ie5win OK (requires Enter key) OK OK (requires Enter key)
ie6win OK (requires Enter key) OK OK (requires Enter key)
net6win OK OK OK
op6win No No No
moz6win OK OK (default text not selected) OK

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I don’t wanna be a partner

Steve Himmer wrote:

I said to Sage recently, ‘We gotta get us one o’them babies I’ve been hearing so much about.’ To which she said, ‘Uh, no.’ She’s very wise, that Sage (she’s also right over here; go tell her to update more often), and it’s a good thing too: as much as I love being Uncle Cheese, I may not be quite ready to become Uncle Dad.

I followed the link to Sage Brousseau’s site and, although Steve’s recommendation is hardly objective, he’s absolutely correct: she should update more often, and not just the blog but the photo portfolio too. Sage points to one of Steve’s posts, saying:

i could write about it myself…
… but i don’t have to. the wonder that is my neighborhood, as described by my boyfriend.

When I read this I thought, how delightful. Down here in Australia, the forces of political correctness are working overtime to stamp out the terms “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” “fiancé,” “fiancée,” “wife,” and “husband,” replacing these lovely words with the charmless, enervated “partner.” As in:

I’d like to introduce you to my partner.
My partner and I are going away on holiday.
You and your partner are invited to…

Partner. Say goodbye to romance, intimacy, commitment. You might as well be occupying adjacent offices in an accounting firm. Although there isn’t a great deal to be said for being single, at least I can be certain that no-one’s going to ask about my partner.

So what a pleasure to find a woman who has a boyfriend (who, in turn, refers to himself as such in a comment on one of her posts). Long may boyfriends and girlfriends live and love.

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour