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Archive: September 2003

The Well Defended

So it turns out OCLC might not be acting quite as poorly as first appeared, but instead acting in a ‘rational’ way given the parameters of an irrational system.  In their press release (currently available only on their News and Events page, so no permanent URL here) on the subject of suing the Library Hotel, they state:

…trademark law imposes affirmative obligations on trademark owners to protect their trademarks, or risk losing all rights in those marks through legal abandonment. We felt that abandoning our rights in the Dewey trademarks was an unacceptable result for the OCLC membership. OCLC attempted to avoid litigation by repeatedly requesting attribution of our ownership of the Dewey marks from The Library Hotel. They have refused to do so. Unfortunately, that refusal left us with no other recourse than to file a legal complaint.

It is true that trademark law imposes such obligations.  It’s long been the case that failure to defend a trademark is taken to mean relinquishment of any rights to preserve said trademark.  That’s the irrational part, in my opinion, but I suppose if we somehow fixed that then a lot of copyright lawyers would be out of work, and we can’t have that, now can we?

It may also be the case that a commonly used term can retain legal protection without having to sue everyone just to defend it.  If I’m remembering correctly, LucasFilm helped establish that precedent at some point, when a judge ruled that a protected entity that had sufficiently permeated the mainstream (read: every major Star Wars character) didn’t have to be continually defended in order to preserve its protected status.  Or something along those lines.  I don’t know if the Dewey Decimal system qualifies as having permeated the mainstream, but it probably should.  Then again, I occupied offices in university libraries for most of a decade, so my view might be skewed.

Of course, we don’t know what kind of attribution OCLC requested, and how the Library Hotel refused OCLC’s requests; either one or both of them could have been wholly unreasonable in their communications.  Regardless, it makes no sense to me that OCLC should be compelled (in a legal sense) to file a lawsuit for an enormous amount of money in this situation.  Does the Creative Commons offer a way out of this kind of situation?  Could it, with some enhancements?  It might be worth investigating.

It was also brought to my attention that the phrase “poisoning the community well” may have connotations of which I was previously unaware.  According to Informal Logical Fallacies, I was very close to using the term for a type of logically fallacious argument that is “an attempt to preclude discussion by attacking the credibility of an opponent.”  I merely meant “acting in a way contrary to the community interest.”  No attacks on anyone’s credibility were intended.  I just hope the term isn’t trademarked, because I’d really hate to end up in court over it.

Dynamic Mental Static

An interesting idea: Pixy’s fast no-preload rollovers, which I first heard about in a presentation at Seybold.  It seems to me there’s one potential drawback in this method, which is that it requires that your links be an exact size, or at least never be taller than a certain size.  Since I spend a lot of time thinking about techniques that will work well even if the text is scaled up 300% or more, this “drawback” is probably more of a concern to me than to the rest of you.  I don’t mean to denigrate what Petr has done—it’s a clever technique, and has a great deal to commend it, including reduced server load.

So, Eolas.  Their claims of inventing plug-ins or applets or whatever put me in mind of a similar yet much dorkier situation surrounding the new movie Underworld, summarized rather well by the guys at Penny Arcade, as usual.  Of course, Microsoft itself patented style sheets back in the late Nineties, so it’s not like they’ve never been down that road themselves.  I’ll freely admit that Microsoft never did anything with said patent, and that puts them a step above Eolas in the trudge toward something resembling the faintest shadow of a moral high ground.

One of the reasons I’ve not gotten too worked up about all this is I still have this idiotic faith that reason will, eventually, prevail.  The British Telecom “patent” on hyperlinks came to nothing, so far as I can tell.  Whether this was due to a court throwing out the claim, or the collective will of the Web ignoring it outright, I’m not sure, but that’s sort of the point: it was never a big deal.  I keep thinking whatever process got us there will similarly operate in the Eolas case.  I can’t do much about it either way.  Hey, maybe Eolas did patent the process of whatever it is they claim to have invented years after other people had already done it.  Great.  As soon as I secure a patent for my novel method of representing complex information using only the integers one and zero, I am so going to clean up in the courts.  (Hat tip: Chris Lilley, ca. 1999.)

Of course, we also have ISO and OCLC poisoning the community well in different but still deeply distasteful ways, so maybe I should reconsider my faith in reason winning the day.  Is it time to pull out the term “morons” yet?  How about “scummy bastards?”  Somebody let me know.  Meanwhile, I generally find relief from goofy humor and mind games (of the good sort), so let’s try some of that on for size, shall we?

Davezilla shares a semi-coherent translation on a snack-food packet (for more such goodness, please to enjoy the site of Engrish).  I’m reminded of one of my favorite business cards of all time; it came from a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  This card stated, in bold red capital letters near to bursting with pride, “WE SPECIALIZE TO MAKE ALL OCCASIONAL COOKIES.”  Sadly, this glorious bit of prose no longer graces the new cards they now hand out, which instead inform us that they are happy to offer novelty adult cookies.  I sometimes wonder if that simply means that the fortunes come with the words “in bed” already printed at the end of the phrase.

The page I’m about to point to is best viewed with a fairly wide browser window, because it’s peppered with some very wide images, but “The latest works” is very much worth visiting if you’re fascinated by optical illusions.  I’m always intrigued by examples of the brain percieving motion where there is none, and sometimes wonder if this capacity is in some weird way the neurological basis for conspiracism.  Note that not all the examples may work for you; only about half to two-thirds did for me.  But the ones that did… wow.  I expect it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being a synaesthetic.

Entity Errors

Okay, XSLT folks, here’s one for you.  I had the following fragment in my journal recipes, with some whitespace to make everything more readable:

<xsl:element name="a" use-attribute-sets="plink">
  <![CDATA[&para;]]>
</xsl:element>

The goal was to get output something like this:

<a ... >&para;</a>

Instead, what I got was this:

<a ... >&amp;para;</a>

So how do I reach my goal?  And please don’t tell me that I should just generate the character directly.  It isn’t the result I want, even though I’m doing it now as a stopgap measure.  All I want to know is how to get what I want, if for no other reason than it will clarify more about XSLT, XML, and how they handle CDATA and entities.  Several Google searches turned up nothing useful, but it may very well be that I wasn’t using the right search terms.

Update: Curtis Pew pointed me to an XML.com article that led to the answer.  It is:

<xsl:element name="a" use-attribute-sets="plink">
  <xsl:text disable-output-escaping="yes">&para;</xsl:text>
</xsl:element>

The article talks about defining a custom entity, which I tried but failed to do even I’ve done it successfully in the past for less ambitious purposes.  xsltproc kept complaining that the namespace prefix xsl wasn’t defined, even though everything else in the recipe didn’t seem to have that problem.  Moving the xsl:text into the recipe itself was the answer.  Thanks to Curtis for the lead!

Signs and Importants

Spotted in and around Cedar Falls, Iowa:

  • The license plate 007 JFK.  Because Iowa plates are formatted as three numbers followed by three letters, this is likely a random occurence instead of a vanity plate; typically vanity plates aren’t allowed to be in the same format as the random plate series, for fear of platespace collisions.  Maybe that was a poor choice of words.
  • Two minutes later, a license plate reading 152 EGO.
  • A sign attached to a traffic light stating “OBEY ONLY YOUR SIGNAL.”  The one the CIA transmits via my fillings, or just the one I get on the car radio?  (The same signs were later spotted in the Chicago area.)
  • A gas station called “Kum ‘n’ Go.”  Seriously.  It has great big signs at each station reading “PAY AT PUMP.”
  • A whole bunch of people (as in a few dozen) standing around the downtown Cedar Falls area with nametags on their chests and clipboards in hand, looking at the buildings and putting pencil to paper.  It turns out they were design students studying the downtown, which is award-winning, but it was still just a tad creepy.  I couldn’t help wondering if they were collecting information for TIPS or not.

Spotted in the Minneapolis International Airport:

  • Restaurants called “Miami Subs” and “Malibu Al’s” adjacent to each other.  Doubtless they were related, probably had the same owner, but it was still strange to see in Minnesota—particularly since elsewhere in the airport I passed a “Maui Tacos.”
  • Pay-to-surf WiFi.  I thought about ponying up the money just so I could use Airport in the airport, but my cheapitude got the better of me.

I also noticed a lot of attention being paid to Jeff Veen’s article on the business benefits of standards, coincidentally published on the same day I delivered a talk on that very subject at the University of Northern Iowa.  Jeff’s piece is a great overview of why using standards can save you money, so if you haven’t read it, you should; this is an important and often overlooked aspect of the whole standards movement, even though it’s the thing that is most likely to drive more standards adoption.  Tristan Nitot published an article with a very similar title on DevEdge back in February, and it might be worth revisiting.  Of course, I believe so strongly in this that I founded a consultancy with a core goal of helping organizations figure out how to save money by better using standards in their Web sites, both internal and external.

Round and Round

The second Complex Spiral article is now on-line: “Rounding Tab Corners.”  The scheduling of this article was dictated by a promise I made at Seybold last week during the “CSS For Navigation” talk.  I’d been planning to write it later on, but due to interest in the audience I decided to move up publication.

A few days back I badgered you, as you may recall; now, thanks to Jeffrey, I am here to bring you the joys of Histology-World and its Relentless Flash Splash Screen, which is the whole point of linking to it.  By the end of the intro, as you’re redirected to the site’s home page, you may well ask yourself, as I did: “What the hell is histology?”  The site is fairly adamant about not admitting to anything, so I looked it up.  I think I can say with absolute confidence that if there’s one subject that really cries out for a lengthy, overblown Flash intro, histology most definitely isn’t it.

Out of the Past

Yesterday, I finally cleaned out my old desk, which is now Kat’s desk, so she could make use of the drawers.  More than a decade’s worth of mementoes, knick-knacks, toys, scraps, and other oddities were there to be sifted.  It was like digging back through my own past, a sort of temporal archaeology.  There were even pieces of other men’s lives, like my father’s old Zeiss-Ikon camera, still in perfect working order, lent to me years ago and never reclaimed.  Since the desk itself originally belonged to a great-grandfather of mine, the sense of history surrounding the whole process was even heavier.

Not that it wasn’t fun to dig back into the past!  I threw out a whole bunch of stuff, of course, but all my old Animaniacs fast-food toys went to a good home, and I salvaged a number of wall signs whose origin is murky indeed.  So too I rescued some college-era photos, a box of stationery, assorted shoulder patches, and old conference passes.

The top half of a loose-leaf spiral-bound notebook.  The page contains some simple notes about CSS, including the approximate number of properties and ways to associate CSS with HTML.

And then, in a medium-size blue notepad with the name “Lysa” inexplicably written across its front in thick black marker, I found several pages of handwritten notes regarding HTTP 1.1, HTML 3.2, PICS, and several other technologies.  These were the notes I took sitting in the W3C track at WWW5—and there, in the middle of it all, were the notes I took as I encountered CSS for the very first time.  I checked the agenda for that conference, which was still with the conference pass, and discovered that the date for the presentation “Cascading Style Sheets and HTML” was Wednesday, 8 May 1996.  That was a good seven months before CSS1 was made a full Recommendation.

It’s a distinctly odd feeling to hold this loosely bound collection of paper in my hand and think about all that sprang out of that one, simple little page.  I was also amused to see that my notes, as minimal as they are, don’t validate (can you spot the error?)

There were other things rescued from the desk cleaning yesterday, of course.  There’s a box of memories sitting in a corner of my office now… but this one notebook made the whole experience worthwhile.  Just for a minute, as I flipped to that page, I remembered once more what it felt like to be completely blown away by a new technology and to know, beyond any doubt, that it was going to change my entire life for the better.  At the time, I just thought it would make my Webmastering job both simpler and more interesting, but even then, it was enough.  There was an incredible promise there, and I wanted more than anything to see where it led.

I still want that, even today.  For all that’s been learned, and all the things that have been done to make CSS the important piece of Web design it’s become, there is still a vast amount of uncharted territory.  I haven’t added anything to css/edge in quite some time, but the statement made there is still true.  We haven’t figured out everything CSS can offer us, even today, and as support improves and the specification is enhanced, we’ll be able to do still more.

I can hardly wait to see what’s next!

Off the Wire

The TiBook’s Ethernet connection is all wireless now, thanks to the Netgear MR814 I installed yesterday.  I discovered that the one place on the front porch I really wanted to have access is a complete dead zone, which is highly annoying.  The rest of the house and the back yard all give me anywhere from 75% to 100% signal strength, and even the other half of the front porch wavers around 75%.  But the part where we have the really comfortable chairs set up, not to mention several short tables for drinks and such, is just a huge cone of silence.

Eventually, I realized it was probably our screen windows.  I’m pretty sure ours are a metal mesh, not vinyl, and if I’m correct it means they’re forming big impenetrable barriers to any WiFi signal.  My experiment of walking out into the front yard and immediately getting 50% signal seems to confirm this.  In all honesty, it’s probably just as well that there’s at least one area of the house that cuts me off from the Ethernet line.

To celebrate, I’m sitting here on the active side of my front porch, enjoying the sunny, breezy weather and listening to the cicadas while I share with you a few amusing and/or interesting things I’ve collected from various sources in the last few days:

  • You may recall the Bork edition of Opera, and of course there have long been scripts that alter content to sound like Yoda or any number of other distinctive speech patterns.  A close cousin to the Jive filter is Tha Shizzolator, courtesy everyone’s favorite rapper/porn artist, Snoop Dogg.  I found its translation of meyerweb highly amusing—I love the fact that it turns a reference to Doug and Tantek into “bomb diggity muthas”—and can hardly wait to see what it does with this entry.  Societal note: if you are offended by certain “naughty” words, or live/work in a place characterized by easy offense, you may want to avoid the Shizzolator.  I’m just sayin’.  Interesting technical note: the entity &para; becomes &pimpa;.  I have no idea why.
  • I never enjoyed the group pictures taken ad nauseam throughout my senior year of high school, but at least none of them ended like this one did.  Takes ponding to a whole new level, really.
  • Speaking of group photos gone horribly wrong, this one also features a soaking.  The difference is in the liquid vector, and of course there’s a little more intention behind this one.  I just hope that was the last picture in the series, instead of the first one.  There’s one guy toward the left side of the group who seems to be a little more aware than the rest.  Or maybe he just had forewarning.
  • Badger aerobics were never so… odd.  I got this from Jeff Veen, who was dead on when he said, “Every single person you know is about to send you a link to this.”  You may as well just get it over with now.  How long can you stand to let it run?  I timed out after roughly five minutes.
  • This little Flash movie is funny in certain ways, and yet not funny in too many others.  Likely to be offensive to people who have an aversion to inconvenient truths.

Released

Right in the middle of the Iron Chef of Web Design presentations on Wednesday, a calm female voice announced over the public-address system, with quite a bit of volume, that due to a security situation the Moscone Center was to be evacuated.  As it turns out, the entire complex was being evacuated, not just the Moscone West building.  That’s a lot of people to dump on to the sidewalks of San Francisco all at once.  Fortunately, the hotel here has a WiFi network in the lobby, so I could check e-mail after all.

Dreamweaver MX 2004, and the rest of Studio MX 2004, has shipped and is available for download.  If you use Dreamweaver and you’re interested in CSS or stadndards-oriented design, it’s very likely worth the upgrade.  There’s a free 30-day trial, so you can always check it out if you aren’t sure.  You’ll get a chance to work with the templates I contributed and a design firm prettied up.  I spent some time talking with Macromedia folks while in San Francisco and was impressed anew by their interest in doing the right thing when it comes to standards.  These are folks who think about not just today’s Web, but the Web to come, and how they can best help authors get from here to there.  That’s a highly commendable perspective in a tool vendor.

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