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‘CSS: The Definitive Guide’, Fourth Edition

I’m really excited to announce that CSS: The Definitive Guide, Fourth Edition, is being released one piece at a time.

As announced last week on the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing blog, the next edition of CSS:TDG will be released chapter by chapter.  As each one is finished, it will go into production right away instead of waiting for the entire omnibus book to be completed.  You’ll be able to get each standalone as an e-book, a print-on-demand paper copy, or even as both if that’s how you roll.  I’ve taken to calling these “pre-books”, which I hope isn’t too confusing or inaccurate.

There are a lot of advantages to this, which I wrote about in some detail for the TOC post.  Boiled down, they are: accuracy, agility, and à la carte.  If you have the e-book version, then updates can be downloaded for free as errata are corrected or rewrites are triggered by changes to CSS itself.  And, of course, you can only buy the pre-books that interest you, if you don’t feel like you need the whole thing.

I should clarify that not every pre-book is a single chapter; occasionally, more than one chapter of the final product will be bundled together into a single pre-book.  For example, Selectors, Specificity, and the Cascade is actually chapters 2 and 3 of the final book combined.  It just made no sense to sell them separately, so we didn’t.  “Values, Units, and Colors”. on the other hand, is Chapter 4 all by itself.  (So if anyone was wondering about the pricing differences between those two pre-books, there’s your explanation.)

If you want to see what the e-book versions are like, CSS and Documents (otherwise known as Chapter 1) has been given the low, low price of $0.00.  Give it a whirl, see if you like the way the pre-books work as bits.

My current plan is to work through the chapters sequentially, but I’m always willing to depart from that plan if it seems like a good idea.  What amuses me about all this is the way the writing of CSS: The Definitive Guide has come to mirror CSS itself—split up into modules that can be tackled independently of the others, and eventually collected into a snapshot tome that reflects a point in time instead of an overarching version number.

Every pre-book is a significantly updated version of their third-edition counterparts, though of course a great deal of material has stayed the same.  In some cases I rewrote or rearranged existing sections for greater clarity, and in all but “CSS and Documents” I’ve added a fair amount of new material.  I think they’re just as useful today as the older editions were in their day, and I hope you’ll agree.

Just to reiterate, these are the three pre-books currently available:

  • CSS and Documents (free) — the basics of CSS and how it’s associated with HTML, covering things like link and style as well as obscure topics like HTTP header linking
  • Selectors, Specificity, and the Cascade — including all of the level 3 selectors, examples of use, and how conflicts are resolved
  • Values, Units, and Colors — fairly up to date, including HSL/HSLa/RGBa and the full run of X11-based keywords, and also the newest units except for the very, very latest—and as they firm up and gain support, we’ll add them into an update!

As future pre-books come out, I’ll definitely announce them here and in the usual social spaces.  I really think this is a good move for the book and the topic, and I’m very excited to explore this method of publishing with O’Reilly!

Same As It Ever Was

I recently became re-acquainted with a ghost, and it looked very, very familiar.  In the spring of 1995, just over a year into my first Web gig and still just over a year away from first encountering CSS, I wrote the following:

Writing to the Norm

No, not the fat guy on “Cheers.”  Actually, it’s a fundamental issue every Web author needs to know about and appreciate.

Web browsers are written by different people.  Each person has their own idea about how Web documents should look.  Therefore, any given Web document will be displayed differently by different browsers.  In fact, it will be displayed differently by different copies of the same browser, if the two copies have different preferences set.

Therefore, you need to keep this principle foremost in your mind at all times: you cannot guarantee that your document will appear to other people exactly as it does to you.  In other words, don’t fall into the trap of obsessively re-writing a document just to get it to “fit on one screen,” or so a line of text is exactly “one screen wide.”  This is as pointless as trying to take a picture that will always be one foot wide, no matter how big the projection screen. Changes in font, font size, window size, and so on will all invalidate your attempts.

On the other hand, you want to write documents which look acceptable to most people.  How?  Well, it’s almost an art form in itself, but my recommendation is that you assume that most people will set their browser to display text in a common font such as Times at a point size of somewhere between 10 and 15 points.  While you shouldn’t spend your time trying to precisely engineer page arrangement, you also shouldn’t waste time worrying about how pages will look for someone whose display is set to 27-point Garamond.

That’s from “Chapter 1: Terms and Concepts” of Introduction to HTML, my first publication of note and the first of three tutorials dedicated to teaching HTML in a friendly, interactive manner.  The tutorials were taken down a couple of years ago by their host organization, which made me a bit sad even though I understood why they didn’t want to maintain the pages (and deal with the support e-mail) any longer.

However, thanks to a colleague’s help and generosity I recently came into possession of copies of all three.  I’m still pondering what to do about it.  To put them back on the web would require a bit more work than just tossing them onto a server, and to make the quizzes fully functional would take yet more work, and after all this time some of the material is obsolete or even potentially misleading.  Not to mention the page is laid out using a table (woo 1995!).  On the other hand, they’d make an interesting historical document of sorts, a way to let you young whippersnappers know what it was like in the old days.

Reading through them, now sixteen years later, has been an interesting little trip down memory lane.  What strikes me most, besides the fact that my younger self was a better writer than my current self, is how remarkably stable the Web’s fluidity has been over its lifetime.  Yes, the absence of assuredly-repeatable layout is a core design principle, but it’s also the kind of thing that tends to get engineered away, particularly when designers and the public both get involved.  Its persistence hints that it’s something valuable and even necessary.  If I had to nominate one thing about the Web for the title of “Most Under-appreciated”, I think this would be it.

In Defense of Vendor Prefixes

…that having been the original working title for “Prefix or Posthack“, my latest article for A List Apart.  (Sort of like Return of the Jedi had a working title of Blue Harvest.)  In a fairly quick read, I make the case that vendor prefixes are not only good, they have the potential to be great and to deliver greater interoperability and advancement of CSS.

So far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, which frankly came as a bit of a surprise.  The annoyance factor of prefixes is undeniable, and it’s been my experience that annoyance dramatically hardens opposition regardless of whether or not there are good reasons to oppose.  I could flatter myself that the agreement is due to the Obvious Rightness of my argument, but I suspect it’s actually that I merely articulated what most people had already instinctively decided for themselves.  Which isn’t a bad place to be.

Anyway, if you haven’t already, feel free to decide for yourself by reading the article—which, I feel like mentioning for no clear reason, is only the fourth piece I’ve ever written for ALA.

Into the Fray

I am now a Fray Contributor.  Official, for real, badge and everything—check the sidebar on the home page.  My completely and in many ways unbelievably true story of beginnings around an ending, “A Death of Coincidence”, appears in Issue 3: Sex & Death.

This is a huge deal for me.  I still have a little trouble believing it.

For a long time—as in, for more than a decade—I’ve had “participate in Fray” as one of those little deferred dreams we all carry around in the background.  I certainly could’ve submitted pieces all along, either for the original site or one of the live events, and might even have been accepted.  The thing is, I wasn’t dreaming of simply getting a piece accepted and checking an internal to-do box.  I wanted to participate the right way, by my own internal reckoning.  That meant not only vying for inclusion, but doing so with a worthy story, one that felt right.

When Fray relaunched as a themed quarterly, I took notice.  I often work better when I have something to work against; constraints energize me more than they chafe.  The first issue‘s theme, “Busted!”, called to mind a few childhood incidents, but nothing really coalesced.  There was nothing that said, “I’m a Fray piece; write me.”  The second issue‘s theme, “Geek”, left me with far too many options.  I couldn’t hook onto anything with the right vibe.

Then issue 3‘s theme was announced, and I knew exactly what I was going to submit.  No rumination of possible narratives, no idle exploring my past for ideas, no doubt at all.  I knew, and it was right.

In fact, it was a piece I’d already written, except for the ending.  The ending I had used was certainly good enough, and was certainly the right ending for the time and place I wrote and performed it.  But there had always been a different, nearly unbelievable ending to that story and I’d always held it back, kept close to myself, never quite sure why.  Now I know why.  It was the piece that made that story a Fray story.

If you want to read it, you’ll need to pick up Issue 3 of Fray, which you can of course do very easily.  You can pick up issues 1 and 3 together for a great price, or become a subscriber and get issue 3 as your first.  Any of those would be awesome.  Or, I suppose, you can wait until the piece is published for free on the Fray site, though I should tell you that it could be a long while until that happens.

I can’t thank Frayer-in-Chief Derek Powazek enough for including me in Fray.  I am quite literally as proud as I was when my first book was published.  I’ve passed a personal and professional milestone, and far from just ticking off a checkbox on some internal to-do list, I’m basking in the glow of a dream fully and properly fulfilled.

Targeted

You probably don’t need me to tell you about today’s issue of A List Apart, but just in case you hit this entry in your feed reader before reaching the ALA feed, head on over.  If you have anything to do with web development, there’s news of a coming change that you absolutely need to read.

I know there will be many people who disagree with my take on version targeting.  As did I, at first.  Originally I wasn’t even going to be part of this ALA issue but as I argued with Aaron about it on the ALA editorial board and started to shift my perspective, we realized that having someone document that thinking process would be valuable.  So I did.

Already I’ve seen a lot of negative reactions to the idea, and they remind me of my initial reactions.  That’s not to say that my views are more advanced, nor that everyone will eventually come to the same way of thinking.  It’s entirely possible that after due rational consideration, many people will come to the conclusion exactly opposite my own.  I still thought it might be useful to share my thoughts on the matter as someone who has been concerned about browser compatibility and standards advancement for a very long time now.

Comments are closed here, but discussion is open at ALA.

Update: I wanted to point to some other material about this topic.  I’ll probably keep updating this as time goes on.

  • Compatibility and IE8 — a post by Chris Wilson about the challenges faced by browsers when advancing standards, and the particular situation experienced in the IE7 deployment.  You don’t have to agree with the conclusions, but understanding the problem is important.

  • The versioning switch is not a browser detect — this is vitally important to any hope of useful debate on this topic.  I tried to clearly make the same point in my ALA article, but reiteration doesn’t hurt.

  • Broken — Jeremy objects to the default behavior.  I actually agree with him, and made that case at length with a member of the IE team.  I couldn’t make what I wanted square with their requirements, and came to see that I couldn’t, and was deeply saddened by it.  I sincerely hope that Jeremy, or indeed anyone, can succeed where I failed.

  • That Red-headed Monster Next to You? Yeah, that’s Anger — no, I didn’t link this because of the hair-color reference.  I’ve been deeply disheartened by the overall tenor of the reaction.  Disagreement is fine, in fact welcomed; but the level of vitriol, name-calling, and outright personal attacks came as a rude and unwelcome surprise.

Two Books Together

Last Thursday, I came down from the office to discover a stack of five boxes on the front porch.  Three were for Kat, who is one of those annoying people who plans way ahead for Christmas, and two others were my author copies of CSS Web Site Design (formerly “CSS Hands-On Training”).  This is a title I did for lynda.com, and published by Peachpit, and it’s most tersely described as “Eric Meyer on CSS, but for beginners”.  It’s also the hard-copy version of the video training title “CSS Site Design“, and includes all the videos and exercise files from the video title on a CD-ROM bundled with the book.

After I’d hauled all that into the front hallway, I grabbed my car keys and headed out the back door to run my errand.  At which point I nearly fell over two more boxes, these containing my author copies of the third edition of CSS: The Definitive Guide from O’Reilly.  This is of course an update of the second edition, which contains some updates based on the latest version of CSS 2.1, expanded selector coverage, updated compatibility notes taking IE7’s improvements into account, and corrected errata from the previous edition.  It’s not a major update compared to the second edition, admittedly, but if you don’t already own the second edition, it’s well worth acquiring (if I do say so myself).

It’s a bit funny that both sets of books arrived on my doorstep the exact same day, considering that the two projects started out well separated, and gradually synched up.  At first I was going to write one and then the other, but various complications set in and they started to interweave.  I finished their final reviews with a whole lot of overlap—that was a fun couple of weeks—and now, the waves have fully amplified.

What really cracked me up was that the next day, I got packages from both Peachpit and O’Reilly, each containing a single copy of the respective books, and each containing a note along the lines of “Here’s your advance copy; the rest should arrive in a few weeks!”.

Broken Rights

Once I got a look at the markup of my latest Vitamin piece, “Stand Up For Your Rights!“, I winced.  Four paragraphs, with each alternating bit of dialogue separated by a line break?  Ay caramba!

And yet, I’m not sure I could have done better, structurally speaking.  The only semi-reasonable alternative that comes to mind is a set of four blockquotes with paragraphs instead of line breaks, but that doesn’t work for me.  They are, after all, invented conversations.  I’m not quoting anything.

Maybe paragraphed text with a div, possibly classed, for each section (yes, all right, each division) of the article would have been a better choice.  Or maybe not.  What do you think?

Taste the Vitamin

The new weekly web-design ‘zine Vitamin (a.k.a. Yet Another Major New Project From The Carsons) launched earlier this week to generally positive notice from the design community.  I was glad to see this for three reasons.

  1. I wrote one of the launch articles, “Making Popular Layout Decisions“.  Although now that I think about it more, maybe that should have been “Making Unpopular Layout Decisions”.  Anyway, it’s a commentary piece that will probably annoy a few hard-core purists.  That always makes for a success in my book.
  2. I’m a member of the Advisory Board, so I have some stake in seeing it do well.  I’d hate to have things go badly due to my being a bad advisor!  Especially since I’m kind of new to the advisory game.
  3. It demonstrates that there’s plenty of room in the web design community for such resources.  Not that there’s anything wrong with what we have—after all, I love A List Apart so much, I wrote the markup!—but it’s a sign of renewed health and interest in the field.

Oh, and speaking of Carson projects, I hear this May’s Professional CSS XHTML Techniques workshop is almost sold out—so if you’re interested, better get cracking.  (The same is true for AEA Chicago, as it happens.)

August 2015
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