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Archive: June 2007

‘Off By One’ On 2 July

For them what might be interested, this Monday (July 2nd) I’ll be the guest on Off By One, a half-hour technology radio show originating from the studios of WCSB in sunny downtown Cleveland and is available on iTunes as well as via the station’s streaming audio.  Locals can, of course, catch it at 89.3 MHz on their FM dials.  The show starts at 12:30pm EDT and runs a half-hour, so it will be, y’know, off by 1:00pm.  (Hee hee!)

This will be my first time on the air since Your Father’s Oldsmobile ended back in 2005 (unless you count my talk radio call-in earlier this month), and the first time I’ve done a live on-air chat about my professional work and life in about seven years.  Bart, the show’s host, and I haven’t discussed any specific topics to be covered, so if you’ve ever wanted to find out what I’m like in an almost totally unrehearsed environment, well, now’s your chance.  I’m looking forward to it.

Update [4 Jul 07]: a recording of the show is available via the “Off By One” weblog.  Apparently I say “fractional update” a lot.

Thanks Be To Jobs

The big day is finally here.  It’s a day for which so many of us have impatiently waited for so long, almost writhing in anguish as we were denied all but the smallest glimpses of the object of our desires.  It is a day that will demonstrate as never before the possibilities inherent when the relentless march of technological progress is matched with a singular vision and a dedicated team of world-class technoartists.  It is the day that is, in many ways, the culmination of all the magic and wonder that Steve Jobs has brought to the world over the past two decades.

That’s right: Ratatouille opens today.

Oh yeah, and there’s some new cell phone coming out.

Windows Safari

Because the world needed another browser/platform combination to test, Apple has released a beta version of Safari for Windows.  Why?  Arguably, it’s to make sure that Windows developers have access to the browser in the iPhone, so they can make sure that their Web 2.0 sites work on the iPhone without having to buy new computers.  (Though this also robs them of the primary justification for getting an iPhone on the company dime.  Haven’t they suffered enough, Steve?)  On that note, I hope this new foray will expand the pool of people contributing ideas to Greg‘s post about cool new apps for the iPhone.  (There’s already a truly brilliant idea in there, albeit with a name I can’t use here due to readers behind content filters.  Who’s going to make it happen?)

It will also be interesting to see if the presence of another highly standards-compliant browser (joining Firefox and Opera) on the Windows platform spurs more Windows-based web developers to pressure Microsoft to maintain their momentum on the issue, so as not to see IE fall behind all the competitors.  As you might expect, I certainly hope so.

Remember: this is a beta!  There’s going to be weirdness.  PPK, for example, ran into layout problems that may or may not be related to the video card in one of his systems.  Other people are reporting crashes; though many of them are reporting crashes on CNN‘s site, which crashes my OS X copy of Safari from time to time.  Interesting to see that kind of cross-platform crash consistency.

The beta’s certainly worth checking out if you’re interested, but—as with the IE7 betas—do not start reworking your site to address layout problems in this beta.  Report them to the WebKit team instead.  When the final version (or a feature-frozen RC version) is released, it’ll be time for testing, charting, and possible reworking.

Interesting times indeed.  If you’ll excuse me, I have to go make some changes to my browser-release timeline slides.

Who Ordered the Link States?

Thanks to everyone who shared their thinking on the ordering of link states.  It looks like a minority of people were in favor of my preferred ordering, which is: Link-Visited-Hover-Focus-Active.

The reasoning is fairly straightforward, and starts with the assumption that a person who uses solely a keyboard to navigate won’t ever encounter a hover effect.  Thus, for such users, the states might as well simply be LVFA.  For them, the placement of the hover styles is irrelevant.

On the flip side, a person using a mouse to navigate will have far more links in hover states than focus states.  Once a link is selected (clicked) by a mouse-wielder, the link enters the active state until the user lets go of the mouse button.  Then it’s both in focus and hovered, at least until the mouse cursor moves away.  (It’s also either visited or unvisited, but that’s not relevant to the question at hand.)

So in this situation, I want to provide a visual cue that the link has in fact been clicked, even though the mouse button is no longer down.  I want this to happen regardless of the hover states of the link.  Therefore, the focus styles need to come after the hover styles.  If not, the focus color will only take effect once the mouse moves away from the link, thus exiting the hover state and removing the hover color.

Yes, this will only take hold in browsers that update the focus state while asking for the requested page.  While that isn’t all browsers, it’s most of them, from what I can tell.  Safari 2.x seems to be the notable exception.  (I didn’t test 1.x, and haven’t installed 3.x yet because I don’t want to lose 2.x.)

So what mnemonics can we use to keep this ordering straight?  I’ve come up with a few.

  • LoVe’s Hurts Fade Away
  • Luther Vandross Hits Fabulous Arpeggios
  • Lord Vader Hates Furry Animals
  • Lusty Vampires Hunger For Absinthe
  • Lord Voldemort Has Foul Ambitions

What do you have?

Radio Waving

If you happened to be listening to “The Diane Rehm Show” yesterday and caught the segment with Barbara Bisantz Raymond, author of “The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption“, I was “Eric from Cleveland”.  There was more I wanted to say, especially concerning our particular adoption agency and how they deal with openness, but as soon as they said “Very good question, Eric; Barbara?” I was cut off and had to download the podcast to hear her answer.

I’d love to have a chance to talk to Ms. Raymond at length, because she seems to have a different view of adoption than we do.  Also because, as she said, she lived in Cleveland when she adopted, and I’d be fascinated to hear how her experience differed from ours.  For that matter, I’m now a lot more interested in the history and current practice of adoption.  I never really thought about the origins of the current system, simply accepting it as How It Is And Always Was.  An odd failing for a history major, to be sure.

Let me tell you something, though.  I have never been as nervous and scared on a conference stage as I was on that call.  My voice almost locked up twice.

Growing Up

“Daddy, when will my baby brother or sister get here?”

“Soon, sweetie.  We don’t know exactly when.”

“Tomorrow?”

“No, probably not.”

“The tomorrow after tomorrow?”

“Probably not.”

“But when my baby brother or sister comes, they will be a baby.”

“Yep.  A tiny little baby.”

“I were a little tiny baby a long time ago.”

“That’s right.  Everyone starts out as a baby.”

“Even Mommies and Daddies were babies a long time ago.”

“Yep, even Mommies and Daddies.”

“Everybody is a baby and then everybody becomes a big kid.”

“You got it.”

“And then everybody grows up.”

“That’s right.”

“And then everybody dies.”

A late afternoon breeze quietly rustled a few leaves above our heads.

“Yes, sweetie.  Everybody dies.”

“You will die.”

“Some day.  But probably not for a long, long time.”

“I will die?”

A bird chirped in a nearby tree, fell silent, and then chirped again.

“Yes, Carolyn.  Some day.  But not for a long, long time.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Where will I go when I die?”

“Nobody knows, sweetie.”

“Will I go someplace new?”

“Nobody knows, sweetie.”

“Then what happens to me when I die?”

“Nobody knows that either, sweetie.”

“Nobody?”

“Nobody.”

“Why not?”

“That’s just the way things are.  Nobody knows what happens before we’re born or after we die.  A lot of people think they know, but nobody really does.”

“I were someplace else before I were born?”

“Maybe, sweetie.  I don’t know if you were somewhere or not.  I don’t think you were.”

“Did you take pictures of where I were before I were born?”

“No, Carolyn.  It isn’t someplace we can take a picture of.  There may not even be a place at all, so there’s no way to take a picture of it.”

She leaned forward slightly on the bench beside me, intense thought written in her small frame.  The chirping bird flew off to some other part of the yard.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“I will not die until after I’m all done growing up.”

“Good.”

Good.

Surface Tunnels

So Microsoft announced a touch-surface interactive computing device called “Microsoft Surface“—gee, now there’s a creative name!—and practically everyone in the known universe has gone crazy over it.  Eh, I don’t know.  I might be interested, but only if they can get the proper environment running on it, as pictured here.

A picture of a Microsoft Surface unit with Ms. Pac-Man Photoshopped onto the display area, thus recalling the tabletop Ms. Pac-Man arcade games of yore.

Oh, c’mon.  You know it’s the first thing you thought of too.

Ordering the Link States

Spend any time at all writing above-beginner CSS, and you’re going to come across the “link-visited-hover-active” (LVHA) rule.  This holds that the four link states should always be listed in that order, like so:

a:link {color: blue;}
a:visited {color: purple;}
a:hover {color: red;}
a:active {color: yellow;}

Masters of the dark arts of specificity know why this rule exists and how it does or doesn’t apply, but if you’re still a padawan in these matters (or just rusty), you can get a quick refresher from this old chestnut of mine.

Now, it’s the case that this will become less of an issue over time becuase IE7 supports (and one presumes future versions of IE will continue to support) chained pseudo-classes, like a:link:hover {color: red;}.  Once you start chaining those you transcend a lot of the specificity-ordering concerns that drive the LVHA rule.  However, we’re not there yet.

Which brings me to the point of all this: the fifth possible link state, :focus.  Assuming we’re going to avoid chaining pseudo-classes for a while yet, but that we want to introduce link-focus styles, where should it fit in the ordering?  For the purposes of this discussion, assume the following:

a:focus {color: orange;}

a:link {color: blue;}
a:visited {color: purple;}
a:hover {color: red;}
a:active {color: yellow;}

We need to move the a:focus rule so it has a visible effect.  But where?  Should it come before a:hover, after a:hover, or after a:active?  In other words, which states’ styles should the focus style overwrite?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter, and especially the rationale driving your answer.  Accessibility experts are particularly welcome to weigh in, but it’s anyone’s game here.

(Postscript: I know that many problems can be avoided by picking a different styling effect for the focus style, like a border or outline, or boldfacing or italicizing the text of a focused link.  Still, some people will want to handle everything through color, regardless of the problems this can cause for the colorblind or images-as-links, and I’d like to address that specific situation.  Thanks.)

June 2007
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