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The Daily Report

14 October 2003 :::

12 noon edt

In this Report: a little dog, a new way to support an old web browser, an interview at Lounge72, and updates on Web Design on a Shoestring and A List Apart Magazine.

A Little Dog

Thursday: A little dog, abandoned by his owner, sat shivering on a noisy New York street. Someone had tied him to the front of our building – no tags, no ID. His skin was raw and he smelled like a pretzel factory. We adopted him (all fifteen pounds of him) and named him Emile. As near as the vet can figure, he’s three years old and is a full or part Shih Tzu. He’s recovering nicely and is a great little guy. :::

CSS design: mid pass filter

One heartache of CSS design can be summed up thusly: IE5.x/Windows. IE5/Win was hot stuff for its day – only Opera rivaled its CSS support in the 20th Century – but IE5/Win’s CSS was never exactly accurate. Still, many millions use this browser. To your arsenal of CSS workarounds, you can now add a fresh one:

Tantek’s “Mid Pass Filter ... passes external style sheets to version 5.x Internet Explorer for Windows browsers, but not to earlier/older browsers, nor to newer/more modern browsers.”

In other words, instead of including IE5/Win-specific workaround rules in your base style sheet, you can put them in a separate IE5/Win-only style sheet.

Tantek of course is the dude who gave us the Box Model Hack and the Tasman rendering engine in IE5/Macintosh, which is far more accurate than the one in IE5/Win; many of its CSS accuracies found their way into IE6/Win. When he’s not helping bring standards compliance to Microsoft browsers or crafting clever ways to work around Explorer’s bugs, Tantek contributes to the CSS and HTML Working Groups of the W3C.

The Mid Pass Filter is a work in progress and we can soon expect Tantek to present additional, even subtler filters. :::

Interview at Lounge72

Design mag Lounge 72 has just published an interview with Jeffrey Zeldman. :::

Shoestring ships

Say it three times, fast: Shoestring ships. Shoestring ships. Shoestring ships. As you may have surmised, Web Design on a Shoestring is now shipping (“usually ships within 24 hours”). A book site, barely in its infancy, includes early reviews and banner ads. :::

ALA 3 update

A List Apart will relaunch in just a few more days. Besides preparing the relaunch issue and building out the publishing, syndication, discussion, and mailing list tools, our tiny development and production team has been reformatting old content and putting it into the new system.

We also did some last-minute rethinking about how to handle requests for very old content that has not yet been put into the new system. Originally, if you requested an article that had not yet been reformatted, you were directed to a page explaining that the content was temporarily offline but would be back soon.

As the relaunch drew closer, we realized it would be better to avoid taking old content offline, even temporarily.

So we’re working on a means of delivering old content in its original state if it has not yet been reformatted and put into the system (but checking the system first to see if the content has been reformatted).

The technology part is easy. The contingency design part is hard, but we’re getting there. We crave your indulgence for another few days. :::

8 October 2003 :::

10 am edt

In this Report: a new book, a relaunch, VeriSign’s mis-named “Site Finder” goes down, and a first look at fallout from the Eolas patent lawsuit mess.

Coming soon: Web design on a shoestring

Carrie’s Web Design on a Shoestring is on its way to a bookstore near you. The little white book is for designers, developers, “webmasters” and site owners with big ideas and small budgets. It will especially but not exclusively help those in the dotedu and dotgov spaces. :::

Coming soon: ALA 3.0

We hope to launch A List Apart 3.0 this week. In addition to a sportier, more usable front end, ALA 3.0 will be powered by a standards-friendly publishing system built by Brian Alvey of Meet the Makers, Blogstakes, Frankensite, Weblogs, Inc., and Happy Cog. To reward your patience, the inaugural issue will offer three killer articles on topics that matter most to our readers, from the minds of Joe Clark, Douglas Bowman, and Dan Benjamin. More soon. :::

ICANN can: no more VeriSign wildcards

ICANN has forced VeriSign to stop using wildcard entries in the .com and .net registries to serve ads, push VeriSign services, break third-party networked applications, and crush (PDF) VeriSign’s few competitors. Announcing the end of its wildcard-based Site Finder service, VeriSign’s Matt Larson shows a touching concern for the “community.” :::

Eolas: first fallout

We’ve been covering Eolas’s plug-in patent lawsuit against Microsoft since Mike Doyle’s one-man company first won its bid to squeeze over half a billion dollars out of Redmond while forcing the giant software company to permanently cripple its IE/Windows browser. But just how would Microsoft change IE, and what impact would such changes have on websites and the people who make them? We are beginning to find out. discusses and links to technical papers put out this week by Apple, Macromedia, RealNetworks, and Microsoft. These documents attempt to explain Eolas-based changes in IE/Win, and what designers and developers can do to make sure their sites still work.

Apparently what designers and developers can do is either use JavaScript to trigger embedded content, or else add a proprietary, non-validating, IE-only attribute to OBJECT tags on their sites.

Some developers already use JavaScript to launch embedded content. They do this so their sites will validate even though the tags and attributes contained in their scripts are invalid. (They are invalid because the W3C chose not to include the EMBED tag in any of its official markup specs, even though EMBED was used on millions of sites.) Message Digital Design does it with an eye-wateringly complex series of scripts. Textura Design does it with a single, simple script. Both methods work; both sites validate; theoretically, rich media content produced by both companies was protected against changes in IE/Win even before IE/Win changed.

But using JavaScript to replace markup tags can cause accessibility and usability problems. Also, if you decide to take the advice of Microsoft, Apple, Macromedia, and RealNetworks and use JavaScript to replace (X)HTML tags and attributes, a retooling cost is involved. Either your client will have to pay you for this work, or you will have to eat the cost.

And even though this method is currently recommended for coping with IE/Windows changes, there is no guarantee that Eolas will consider the JavaScript workaround kosher within the terms of its lawsuit. Eolas might sue again; Eolas might win again; and your interim solution would have to be scrapped for something else.

The other proposed solution is much simpler and less expensive to implement, but completely invalid: a proprietary attribute is added to the object element. Because it is easy and inexpensive, many developers will opt for this proprietary solution. In so doing, they will unwittingly impede the great march toward valid, accessible, standards-based design (although this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that few designers who specialize in embedded media are especially standards-aware, and few standards-based designers are especially adept at designing with embedded rich media – Todd Dominey being an exception).

In any case, don’t blame the developers, and don’t blame Microsoft. All of this is because a judge who was not an internet expert made a decision with untold consequences for the health of the web.

We won’t be surprised if the W3C includes Microsoft’s new attribute in an official XHTML spec – not because they like it, but because they are trying to help contain the damage.

We also will not be surprised if Eolas sues again, claiming this method, too, violates the conditions of the one-man company’s lawsuit.

We plan to sit this one out for a while. Few of Happy Cog’s commercial sites have used embedded media. We are reluctant to wake old clients from their dream that all is well, and convince them to let us recode old sites, only to discover in another few weeks that Eolas is suing again. :::

7 October 2003 :::

10 am edt

Midwest and Eastwood

We’ve just returned from Bloomington, Indiana, where we attended a book signing and gave a keynote address and plenary at the commencement of Indiana University’s WebdevShare 2003 conference. We last saw IU’s lush, park-like campus when we were students there.

Earlier in the week, we interviewed Clint Eastwood on the occasion of his new film, Mystic River, being chosen to open The New York Film Festival. An excerpt from the videotaped interview will soon be available on Warner Bros’s official site for Mr Eastwood’s remarkable film.

Hence few posts last week. :::

30 September 2003 :::

4 pm edt

Slashdot does DWWS

Yes, we know. Designing With Web Standards has been Slashdotted, and rather pleasantly, too:

“[A]fter finishing the book (the first IT book I’ve ever read beginning to end!), I’m here to preach the book’s virtues as the author preaches those of web standards.”

What’s nice to see is how many of the comments show an awareness of and appreciation for W3C standards. ’Twas not ever thus. When Slashdot interviewed your host some years back, many were hostile to design and suspicious of CSS and its brothers, as if these specs were part of a plot by Microsoft to unseat Netscape 4 or disenfranchise Linux users. To judge by today’s Slashdot comments, such views are now in the minority. :::

For the people

Firdamatic™ for the People
“Firdamatic™ is an online tableless layout generator that allows you to create and customise layouts easily only by completing forms.”
Automatic for the People
Hivelogic has launched Enkoder 6.0, a new version of its free anti-spam email address encoder, and has also unveiled Automatic Labs, “an agency specializing in custom web application development, content management systems, database-driven websites, and web design with a focus on usability and standards.”
Charles Hartman, Charles Hartman (“Some assembly required”) is a nicely written, subtly designed personal site built with XHTML and styled via CSS layout.
Waferbaby 2.0 Fusion
Waferbaby has re-coded from scratch! Among its latest content offerings is a new installment of Fusion, a digital version of Exquisite Corpse, where each player draws a cartoon panel based only the panel immediately preceding his or hers. “The results are often amusing.” (Elftor, an old episode, is representative.) :::

26 September 2003 :::

12 noon edt

Don’t f__k with the Dewey Decimal System

Record companies and the holders of patents on common base-level web technologies aren’t the only ones suing the pants off the world and his wife. The Rogue Librarian reports that the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) is suing a boutique Manhattan hotel for playfully naming each of its floors after a category in the Dewey Decimal System, whose trademark the OCLC owns. (In a follow-up post, the OCLC says it had no choice.) :::

Style Master 3

Westciv’s newly released Style Master 3 for Windows and Macintosh OS X is an intuitive CSS hand-coding environment that understands CSS syntax and makes it easy to edit selectors and (correctly authored) properties. Formatting and even syntax color are entirely within your control. The tool describes properties and explains how they work, and it can warn you if you create rules that might fail in one browser or another. You can toggle browser support information by manufacturer and version number, and can also see how your rules stack up against the CSS1, CSS2, and CSS3 Mobile Profile specifications.

Westciv founder and Style Master 3 director John Allsopp knows his CSS inside and out. He was a member of The Web Standards Project’s CSS Samurai (1999), is the author of the influential ALA article, “A Dao of Web Design” (1999), and has been refining Style Master since the late 1990s. His comprehensive knowledge means Style Master 3 is not only easy to use, it is also accurate. Style Master 3 is available for a free 30 day demo and can be purchased online for $49.99 US. :::

CSS layout-o-matic

Kevin Tatroe, co-creator (with Mike Slone and Justin Souter) of the Inknoise Personal Publishing System, writes:

“I saw your link to the fabulous List-o-matic the other day; it planted an idea in my head. I couldn’t sleep. A day later, it had to be born: Layout-o-Matic!”

The free online tool automatically generates cross-browser CSS layouts (including two- and three-column layouts with header and footer).

Tatroe is still fine-tuning the tool: In our first test, Layout-o-Matic assigned a width value to the overall container that we had intended for the central, content column only. Tatroe solved this UI problem by clarifying field label text.

Layout-o-Matic is a pleasure to work with. It will help experienced CSS users save time, and will also help beginning and intermediate users learn CSS layout or create sophisticated CSS structures without understanding exactly how they work. :::

List-o-matic Dreamweaver Extension

In The Daily Report of 19 September, we told how Accessify’s free List-o-matic lets you instantly create CSS/XHTML list navigation menus and predicted:

“We wouldn’t be surprised to see someone come up with a Dreamweaver Extension based on Accessify’s free online app.”

Sure enough, George Petrov of DMXzone now offers a free List-o-Rama Dreamweaver Extension that works in Dreamweaver 4 and up. :::

Listamatic for the people

Meanwhile, Maxdesign, the folks whose Listamatic inspired the List-o-matic that inspired the List-o-Rama, have come out with Listamatic 2: “There have been numerous requests for Listamatic to include nested lists. So, here is Listamatic2. Submit your own CSS ... to become part of the site.” :::

Words to live by

A thin little man with a Baltic accent was finishing an unfiltered cigarette in front of our building. He said:

“‘Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t eat fried food.’ I’ve been smoking since I was six years old. I am 68 years old. I never get lung cancer. I know people never smoke get lung cancer. I smoke 62 years I never get lung cancer. I think it is in the genes.” :::

Opera 7.2: wrong faster?

We’ve received troubling mail about the new Opera 7.2 for Windows. Chris Hester claims the updated browser affects padding in a new way, breaking some layouts and busting Eric Meyer’s border-collapse model.

Paul Bellows finds that Opera’s latest “seems to use odd paragraph padding, ignores font parameters in certain id elements, and uses different [non-defacto-standard] default type sizes. Pseudo-class declarations for a: states in certain id regions aren’t working. The good news: it’s wrong faster! (But on the bright side: mouse gestures.)”

Opera 6.03 for Mac OS X 10.3+ is also available. :::

Previously in The Daily Report

Must-link-to: ISSN and weblogs
More than a must-read, Joe Clark’s “Compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN” is a must-link-to.
Patents: W3C on amber alert
Yesterday the W3C launched a Patent Advisory Group to “study issues ... raised by the court case of Eolas v. Microsoft.” The group’s FAQ is most interesting for what it does not say.
Is you is or is you ain’t my patent?
Eolas back-pedals. Great news, or empty spin?
Put your money where your mouthguard is!
Blog marketing: mouthguard users get free weblogs. W3C Schools offer full web design tutorials free of charge. DevArticles hosts a coding and design contest. Fontscape! Fray founder on clueless web design diatribes. Apple is hiring a screen reader application engineer. We need stinking Badgers!
Open source accessibility testing
WAI plus Mozilla equals WaiZilla, which aims to build an open source, free, cross-platform accessibility testing tool.
CSS conversions on parade
Four more sites have converted to CSS layout.
The big tease
A List Apart version 3.0 is coming.
Much more »