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December 18, 2001

This would be so much easier if interesting stuff didn’t happen all at the same time.

Steven Scougall has put together a Do-Gooders personality quiz. I had disabled Javascript’s ability to open new windows disabled the first time I tried it, which prevented it from working, but once I reset that, everything was fine. (It also reminds me that I need to put together my thoughts for the Do-Gooders memorial.)

Elsewhere, Deborah Cameron laments the spread of soulless corporate language, incidentally highlighting how absurd it can be. Ever notice how many companies strive for “excellence”? Does this mean all the others strive for mediocrity or lousiness? (via JOHO)

Around here, I’ve actually gone and re-written my bio to reflect the fact that I no longer work at Telcordia. For those of you who complained that the previous bio wasn’t that informative… the new one is even worse. #

The WaSP Hiatus

The Web Standards Project, having largely convinced browser makers that supporting the “recent” W3C recommendations (such as CSS, which is still poorly supported despite being introduced in 1996), has announced that it’s taking a break while it considers the next step: convincing companies who sell web page design software to have the software generate pages that actually conform to the specifications. This has gotten a lot of media attention (relatively speaking), such as this interview with Jeffrey Zeldman, who notes in his weblog: “It’s odd how much press this non-event is getting.”

Meanwhile, Doc Searls quotes this comment:

While we ponder the WaSP’s future, we ask designers and site owners to ponder the web’s. Will it conform to Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of an open platform accessible to all? Or will it remain a presentational hack?

Mr Searls responds: “For better or worse, the answer is both. The urge to present is as natural to humans as fanning its gorgeous ass is to a peacock.”

That’s true, but it isn’t what Mr Zeldman was talking about. “Presentational hack” refers to the various strategies web designers used to exploit the display bugs and quirks of older browsers to achieve certain visual effects. Sometimes this involved using elements in ways that didn’t make logical sense, but allowed visual effects (such as using tables to position things onscreen, or using definition lists for any sort of header-item list) or by coding pages in invalid ways that produced desireable effects. (This is why the XML specification requires parsers to exit unconditionally if they hit a syntax error.)

The problem with these strategies is that they sacrifice the logical structure of the web page in order to achieve a specific visual effect—but that trick only works if your audience all use similar software to read the page. Some super-complex table layout may create a page that looks good in Mosaic-derived graphical web browsers, but how is an audio web browser (for the blind, say) supposed to understand it?

Owen Brigg’s Design Rant goes into more detail about the advantages of structural pages. (via Zeldman) #

Are you now, or have you ever been, a spammer?

John Gilmore, noted libertarian and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, had a recent brush with the anti-spam forces, who pressured his ISP to cancel his internet service because he was running an open e-mail relay.

Spammers love open e-mail relays because they can use them to further obscure their own location and avoid repercussions from the people they irritate. Organizations like MAPS argue that ISPs should forbid users from running open relays and not run them themselves, and they provide frequently-updated lists of known open relays that ISPs can use to block mail from open relays (reducing the amount of spam, in theory, and giving the people running the relay incentive to stop).

Mr Gilmore argues that this is censorship and blacklisting, and that the open relay he runs for his customers is useful to them because it allows them to send e-mail from any location, not just the areas where he can provide dial-in service. (A closed relay will only forward mail coming from people who are authorized to be using it, and the simplest way to assure authorization is to say that only people who have dialed into the ISP for internet access are authorized.)

But there’s a lot of ground between allowing anyone to use a relay (clearly a bad thing) and only allowing local dial-in users (which is too restrictive for travellers who subscribe to non-ubiquitous ISPs). There are lots of other ways to authenticate people, and it isn’t clear to me where both parties stand relative to them. (via Hack The Planet, whose readers are currently discussing the issue) #

Somewhat Related: Ever wonder what Hormel thinks about this use of their trademarked word “spam”? The answer may surprise you. (via JOHO the Blog)

A musical temperament

Long ago, I mentioned in passing the equal-tempered scale, hoping to do a more detailed look at it in the future. (Long-term readers can guess how successful that plan was.) Thankfully, others have gone to the trouble of doing it for me.

A recent review of Temperament: The Idea That Solved Music’s Greatest Riddle goes into great depth explaining what temperament is and why instruments today are almost universally tuned using equal temperament, which sacrifices pure intervals in order to work equally well in any key.

With electronics increasingly involved in modern music, I wonder how hard it would be to create a dynamic tuning system that allows purer chords while still being able to shift keys. (via Jerry Kindall) #