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Archive: September 2005

Parent Processes

Suppose I said that all people of a child-bearing age should be given mandatory contraceptives, and that they only be allowed to reproduce once they had completed a rigorous financial, criminal, intelligence, safety, and social screening process.  That the screening could result in mandated changes to the house, such as wiring upgrades, regardless of the cost those changes might incur.  That without submitting to interviews with a social worker, without completing an exhaustive application process, without becoming certified in infant/child CPR, without all of the preceding—nobody would be permitted to forgo the contraceptives and become a parent.  And suppose I said that after the child’s birth, a social worker would visit the new family for at least half a year—and if during that time the worker became concerned in any way for the child’s safety, or was sufficiently worried about the general conditions in the home, the worker could have the child taken away and assigned to another family.

What would you say?

Suppose I said that the process of adopting a child should be radically simplified, to the point that anyone giving up a child for adoption would just anonymously hand the child over to an agency, and that anyone who wanted a child would simply come into the agency and anonymously pick one up.  That there would be no more background investigations, no mandated education, no screening of any kind, no followup checks, no need for large amounts of money, no waiting—no barriers to becoming an adoptive parent save the initiative to go to the agency and walk out a parent.  That a child would simply be handed out to anyone who merely asked for one, no matter how unprepared or unqualified or unfit they might be for the job of parenting.

What would you say?

Milk vs. Wood Screws

Over at UIE‘s Brain Sparks, the brilliant and lovely Christine Perfetti talked recently about the 7-11 Milk test, and how web sites fail this test 70% of the time.

I’m glad to see that they intend to do more research on the topic, because I think there’s a lot more to the story than just buying milk, and I hope that’s factored into the future research.  Buying on web sites, to me, is not really a 7-11 milk purchase.  It’s more like trying to buy a wood screw for a specific purpose at Home Depot when I’m used to buying them at a corner market.

See, 7-11′s are all pretty much the same.  If you’ve been in one, you know where to find the milk.  Even if the one you’re in is laid out differently than you expect, the conventions are all pretty much the same.  Even if you’ve never been in one before, it won’t take long to get the lay of the land and find the milk.

But walk into a Home Depot and you’re immediately overwhelmed.  I want to find this one thing that’s so tiny compared to what’s in front of me!  There’s an immediate low-level feeling of futility.  Furthermore, any expectations I might have from my local market experience are useless, or even counterproductive.  And even better is when I ask for help and get sent to the wrong place, as has happened to me many a time in Home Depot.

Once I do find the wood screws, then I’m presented with a wide range of choices, and I have to determine which one is best.  Odds are that there won’t be anyone there able to help me make a decision, either; I’m on my own to try to figure out which is the best wood screw for my needs.  The feeling of futility returns.  If I’m not particularly invested in buying this wood screw, I might just give up at this point: faced with too many choices, most of which are going to be wrong, I might decide to make no choice at all.

Furthermore, it’s much easier to bail out of the buying process on a web site.  If I’ve gone to the time and effort of finding and visiting a Home Depot, I’ve invested something in achieving an outcome.  With a web site, I can just come back later.

You can probably draw analogies between the experience I just described and shopping on a web site: the overwhelming home page, the search to find something resembling I want, the misleading cues, the array of choices once I get there.  If web sites were as consistent as 7-11 stores, and online purchases were as simple as “I need milk”, then yes, a 70% failure rate would be abominable—almost unimaginable.  Neither is the case, though.

Mind you, this is not to suggest we should shrug our shoulders and accept this state of affairs.  I think that UIE has an opportunity here to identify the chokepoints (and I use that word on purpose) in the shopping process.  Done correctly, what they find could be applicable in physical space as well as on web sites.

Slashdot’s Validity

With the Redesign Watch back up and running, the most recent entry is Slashdot, the venerable geek portal so infamous for its ability to kill web servers with a single link that the site’s name is a verb meaning “to bring a server grinding to a halt”.

I was asked in a comment:

What’s your feeling on slashdot being HTML 4.01 (and slightly failing validation) VS XHTML 1.0?

My feeling is good.  Why?  Let’s take the second part first.

When it comes to HTML versus XHTML, I just do not care.  Sure, sure, people will tell you that XHTML is XML so it’s more transformable or something.  That’s a very good argument when the XHTML is well-formed and valid.  It’s also a very good argument for using HTML when it’s well-formed and valid.  Conversely, neither HTML nor XHTML is easily transformed when ill-formed and invalid.  This is an experiential point of view, too: I’ve written XSLT (which is itself so tortuous and ugly that it almost by definition cannot be called well-formed) to transform both HTML and XHTML, and the effort is pretty much the same each way—assuming well-formed, valid markup.

So as far as I’m concerned, there’s really no major practical difference between HTML and XHTML.  There are plenty of minor practical differences, like having to throw trailing slashes on all your empty elements in XHTML and needing some namespace information.  Some people will tell you the whole MIME-type thing is a major practical concern, but I’m just not that much of a purist.  Take that for whatever it’s worth.

I mean, imagine a world where Slashdot had used XHTML instead of HTML, and was failing validation.  How would that be any better or worse than things are now?

Okay, so that’s the second part.  The first part, the failure to validate, is not something I can get too terribly upset about.  Slashdot, as a site that accepts ads, is going to get horrible markup shoved into its pages.  That’s just the way it is.  If you want major sites to be perfectly valid, then in all honesty advertisers are the place to start.  So they’re already operating with a major handicap there.

Even if we were to ride our high horses along a very hard line and say that ads are just no excuse, I’d be hard-pressed to fault the job they’ve done.  For example, I ran a check on the Slashdot home page.  Out of 1,262 lines of code, there were exactly four validation errors, and that’s using HTML 4.01 Strict—you’ll note they bypassed Transitional, which only increases my respect.  Three of the errors revolved around an image in a noscript element, and the last was due to the presence of a language attribute on a script element—something they can fix in fifteen seconds, once it gets to the top of the to-do list.

You know what?  I’d be ecstatic to have that low a failure rate when launching the markover of an incredibly complex site like Slashdot.  Think about all the content they have to manage, stitch together, and offer up.  Four errors out of all that dynamically assembled markup?  I say somebody should organize them a parade for doing such a good job, and showing that any site can make use of and benefit from standards.

I’m also really looking forward to the restyling of Slashdot through user-created style sheets, and the Greasemonkey enhancements built on top of this new structure.  If there’s a site whose readers are inherently primed to script the holy bejeezus out of it, that would be the one.

Would I be happier if they’d managed to achieve total validation?  Of course.  In the meantime, though, I’m going to be very nearly as happy for what they’ve accomplished, and also for the simple fact of it being another major site that’s taken a big step forward.  Progress is always a cause for celebration in my world.

MMBUG Talk

Those of you in the Boston area might be interested in a talk I’m giving at the Macromedia Boston User Group meeting on Wednesday, 12 October 2005:

From Comp To Code: Pulling A List Apart Together

You’re handed a graphic comp file and told to make it into a living, breathing web page.  Now what?  How do you figure out what approach to take, which techniques to use, and what kinds of markup will go into the final page?  Eric gives us a fast-paced tour of his decision-making process as he tackled the new design for A List Apart– how he analyzed the requirements, the questions he had to ask, the trade-offs he made, and the reasons behind his decisions.

If you’re interested, then please join us from 7:00pm – 9:00pm in E51-151 (Tang Center) on the MIT campus.  According to the meeting organizer, arriving early is recommended.

If you do decide to drop by, I’m sorry to say that you won’t be the first to hear this presentation: that honor, if we can call it that, will go to the attendees of Web Essentials 05.  On the other hand, you’ll be getting a more detailed version of the talk, since at WE05 I only have 45 minutes.

On the third hand, could it be that both groups will be getting a sneak preview of just one of the topics to be discussed as part of An Event Apart Philadelphia?

Maybe.

Back On Watch

After an extended hiatus, the Redesign Watch is back.  I’m celebrating its return with eight new entries, including the very recently announced HTML+CSS reworking of Slashdot.  I wonder how their work compares to the third-party job that Daniel Frommelt did a couple of years ago.

Since only the most recent five redesigns are shown on the home page, you’ll have to dig into the archive if you want to see all the new stuff—from Everything Tori on forward—or you could just subscribe to the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can find it and other meyerweb feeds on the Feeds page.  (Go figure!)

Speaking Out

Just a reminder to all of you in the Chicago, IL area that I’ll be talking about XHTML, CSS, and that sort of thing on Thursday, 4 3 November 2005.  I’ll be talking all day long, or close to it, as I delve into details, rebuild a design or two, and answer questions from the attendees.  If you’re interested, check out the Carson Workshops site for more information on this and other workshops.

If you’re in Philadelphia, of course, you’ll want to check out An Event Apart, where Mr. Zeldman and I will trade off talking all day.  Seats have been selling pretty briskly, so if you’re interested, you might want to register soon.

I’d encourage all you Strayans to register for WE05, except it’s completely sold out.  The same is very nearly true of UI10, from what I’m told.  Things are definitely picking up on the events circuit!

Which is a good thing for me… after all, how else am I going to reach Gold Elite status?  (I wonder if I get an energy sword for that.)

ALA’s New Print Styles

You asked for it, you begged for it, you demanded it: A List Apart is sporting a working print style sheet for the articles.  Want to know more about it?  Read “ALA’s New Print Styles“, my new article over at ALA.

Believe it or not, that’s only my second ALA article ever, and the first one was the classic “Going To Print“.  Maybe one of these days I should write an ALA article that doesn’t involve ink on dead trees.

Of course, if I stick to the interval established by my first two ALA articles, the next one won’t appear until 2008 early 2009… so I guess I have some time to think about it.

When Printing Maims

Okay, ALA fans, we’ve deployed a print style sheet on the articles.  I don’t know if I could call it done, but it’s a big step.  Why wasn’t it online sooner?  Say it with me: “browser bugs”.  Just when the convergence of screen CSS handling had me feeling good, I had to go and mess with print styling.  Good feeling’s gone.

At the moment, the print styles seem to work quite well in modern browsers except for Firefox 1.0.6 (which is what I have in OS X).  There, when I call up a print preview, any article is fine until page 4.  Then things go off the rails in short order.  Content disappears, margins go wild, all kinds of fun stuff.  Here, try previewing or printing Nick Usborne’s “Helping Your Visitors: a State of Mind.  Now try it with J. David Eisenberg’s “Validating a Custom DTD” or (somewhat ironically) Ross Howard’s “High-Resolution Image Printing“.  Pages 1-3 are fine for me, but after that, no good.  When you get a nice long article like Joe Clark’s “Facts and Opinion About PDF Accessibility” or (completely ironically) my own “Going To Print“, you’re just asking for trouble.

I tried searching Bugzilla for some report, but my skills over there are not what once they were.  So while I got a bunch of results, I don’t know if any of them described this problem.  Could some kind soul let me know if there is a report on this sort of thing already?  If not, I can submit the report.  I just don’t want to add yet another DUPLICATE to the database.

And hey, if you can work out a solution to the problem, I have a factory-fresh ALA T-shirt all ready to send out—you even get to choose which one you want.  Let me know.

Update: Dan Wilkinson is our winnah!

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