Is RSS Ready for Mommy?

While showing my mother what to use SharpReader for, I decided to illustrate the concept by writing this blog entry to create a real-time example of the uses of RSS. Hopefully, this will be a successfull experiment.

Update: Well, it turns out Mom’s not using SharpReader at all, really, and she hasn’t subscribed to any newsfeeds on her own at all. Figures, but that’s all right. At least she’s emailing with some proficiency now. ;)

Windows XP Service Pack 2: Oh no….

Update: I just learned from the Tao of Mac that there is another problem with Windows Service Pack 2: it breaks raw sockets.

Well, according to several news sources, Microsoft has released the long-awaited Service Pack 2 to manufacturers. Starting next month, computers will come pre-installed with the software. But in the mean time, I’m anxiously awaiting the moment SP2 becomes available via Windows Update.

Why am I so nervous? Microsoft has had a bad habit of making software updates go horribly wrong. My Windows PC laptop is not yet 2 months old, and now I have to subject it to this major OS upgrade. If something goes wrong, I know what will happen: Microsoft will blame it on the manufacturer (HP in my case), and the manufacturuer will blame it on Microsoft. At the very least, when something goes wrong with a Mac (which has rarely personally happened to me) Apple doesn’t jerk anyone around.

As soon as SP2 comes out, I want to get this ordeal over with. And for those of you wondering why I’m not really looking forward to any of the so-called “improvements” I suggest you take another look at what’s really going to change and what’s not.

Accessibility: The Ultimate Programming Holy Grail

Write once, work anywhere: the dream utopia of interoperability. Often frought with implementation snaffus, this is the quest of Web standards. But these standards don’t yet take everything into account. In response to this interesting WATS article I’ve devised a quick and simple compromise to help solve the problem of inaccessible title attributes on various XHTML elements.

[title]:after { content: " (" attr(title) ")"; }

I also wrote a letter to Derek Featherstone, author of the article and co-founder of WATS. I’m hoping to get some feedback on the technique I’m planning on using. If you can offer some advice and feedback, then please let me know as well!

Dear Mr. Derek Featherstone,

I am a freelance web developer based in the New York City area. I have recently become aware of the depressingly dismal state of accessibility on the web at large today. I have thus started an intense self-education campaign in my free time to learn all that I can about accessibility and usability online in an effort to increase the quality of my work.

After reading your article on Hidden information (found at http://www.wats.ca/articles/hiddeninformation/63 on the WATS web site), I took a quick glance at some of my existing designs and found what I believe to be a relatively painless solution. Unfortunately, it relies upon CSS level 2 selectors and the CSS level 3 pseudo-class :after (or, :before).

I was hoping to get some feedback as to how effective you think this technique may be overall. Here’s the CSS code:

[title]:after { content: " (" attr(title) ")"; }

As you know, this takes any element with a title attribute and writes that title attribute in parenthesis after the element. It can be easily controlled via the stylesheets, restricted to certain elements, and styled based on the element containing it. For instance, blockquotes with title attributes can be styled differently from links with title attributes due to the nature of the information contained in the different elements. For that matter, acronyms with title attributes can be styled differently, too.

Furthermore, placing this in an alternative stylesheet that is linked to only when users specify their preference for "display all hidden content" as suggested in your article is not a difficult task either. Furthermore, browsers with built-in stylesheet switchers will then see this and if named appropriately, for instance, "Green with Hidden Content Visible," this provides yet another control for users.

Naturally, Internet Explorer will be left behind because it doesn’t support this CSS, but that is IE’s deficiency.

The reasoning behind this approach is this: I love technology. I think its main drawback is that not everyone knows how to use it most effectively. Low-tech solutions are only necessary because high-tech ones don’t exist. That said, I want to use all the available tools at my disposal to create the most accessible, usable, and richest site I can. Thus, I am unwilling not to use the technology that I can (title attributes in this case) and I am similarly unwilling to duplicate my efforts in an attempt to cater to what I perceive as vendors’ limitations. In short, I want my title attributes but I also want my page to be as rich as possible and I want to do it all without changing the markup one bit.

The aforementioned CSS provides such a method without needing to touch the underlying XHTML document structure. The title attributes are still accessible to some current devices without visual CSS support, such as screen readers, because they are technically still in the code…right?

Here is where I need your more extensive experience to help me judge the true effectiveness of this technique.

Thanks in advance for any reply, and thanks also for continuing your work and writings on the topic of accessibility.

As an aside, does WATS.ca offer an RSS or Atom news feed? I’d be eager to subscribe if it did.

Thanks again!
Sincerely,
—Meitar Moscovitz

So what do you think? Is this CSS example a workable solution?

Business Cents for Style Sense

This interesting article by Christopher Simmons is worth a read if you’ve got a spare moment or two. I caught it from the RSS feed from Lockergnome Web Developer this morning.
Christopher Simmons raises some good points that I have yet to fully digest.

As I begin my own entry to the Wonderful World of Working Web Design™ I will certainly be exposed to such ignorance as clients without an inkling of design sensibility or understanding of the Web as a design medium. I am wondering just how I’ll end up confronting these issues, and how I can make money from the situation.

For now, however, I’m going to look into ways of just getting paid. Thanks Ryan!

More Emotional Intelligence

I bought three new compies of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman today. I’ve been re-reading a copy of the book my father loaned me, as you may recall from an earlier entry, but wanted to get my own copy given the opportunity to buy the book. Danica picked it up on our way out for a late breakfast this afternoon (yeah, breakfast during the afternoon hours is semi-normal ’round our house) and, while reading it at the diner, said it would make a wonderful belated-birthday gift for her mother. I nodded in agreement, and after breakfast we went on over to our local Barnes and Nobles Booksellers to grab a copy.

So, one will go to Danica’s mother, one I’ll keep, and I bought the third to give to a random stranger if they ask me about the book as I read it. That’s what the waitress at the diner did today, but the copy Danica had with her is, of course, my fathers.

It’s a book as important as the Bible is to lots of folks, so I thought I’d treat it as such. There isn’t anything more deserving of respectful evangelism on earth as the concepts contained within those several hundred pages.

Love for Web Developers

It occured to me today that the prevalence of badly-designed computer programs is depressingly common. More depressing, however, is the fact that this badly-designed technology is considered normal, espoused as right on par. Even worse, regardless of quality, almost any upgrade or advance to the next version number is seen as an "improvement" for the mere fact that some annoyances have been fixed or improved upon.

This begs the question, why wasn’t the original version as good as this one? Yes, I tried my hand at developing some programs, and I completely understand the development cycle but it does seem rather silly that many programs which truly suck in terms of usability and user-friendliness are released as final products. Not until version 3 or 4 do such programs actually become useable by the majority of computer users out there.

This was all sparked by my discovery of Firefox’s (or, really, the Mozilla code-base’s) development of extensions. While working on the SandorSzenassy.com web gallery redesign, I was rather disappointed when I couldn’t find the option to show the site navigation toolbar in Firefox, a feauture present in the Mozilla and Netscape browsers as well as some others.

This prompted me to head on over to MozillaZine and suggest that the feature be added to Firefox, or how I could get it if it already existed. Sure enough, the link toolbar extension was available and I immediately downloaded it.

After that, I started exploring other extensions, and came across the Web Developer Toolbar. I’ve just been playing with it for a few moments already, but I am so impressed that I already have that "How did I get along with this for so long?" feeling. Five minutes with this baby, and you will too!

Hoorah for making my life easier! Moral of the story: if there’s an easier way to do something, go look for the way. You’ll be glad you did.

Bad Weather Makes Me Restless

Not much to say right now. It’s rainy outside and I don’t feel 100%. In any case, it was somewhat challenging to stay as active as I’d like. Now that Danica is home, I wanted to spend some time with her, but she hadn’t felt quite up to going out often. It came to a bit of a head when she no longer wanted to go get her laptop computer’s data off of it (since it’s not breathing at the moment); that frustrated me since I had hoped that would give us an excuse to go out (and because she said the night before she wanted to come with me to get it fixed) — and because I wanted it fixed too, though I did not feel like going to get it fixed for her without her there.

The rest of that day, and the days after that, however, have been very good: we have both been productive, active, and fun. I’m teaching her how to rollerblade about every other night, and she is doing extremely well after only three hours of practice. Especially for someone who hasn’t put on skates in years.

On Saturday I also picked up a package from the Post Office that she sent me before she left and found Domo-kun had stowed away in it (details). I hope he’s not that angry with me for leaving him at the post office last week.

New Doors Opening

Yesterday I gave my father a "CSS Crash Course" in the form of a tutoring lesson with demonstrations about what is what. He had the brilliant idea that I should do that for money too. In other words, offer to tutor designers in the language of CSS. It’s hard for those folks to understand mostly because there is no point-and-click method of designing a page. It must be written in code, or typed in some sort of interface. The best out there right now only reduce the need to learn syntax; learning CSS concepts are still very important.

So I’m gonna see if I can get on a bandwagon of that. I’m trying to find some screen-capture video programs so I can make video demonstrations, not unlike those Adobe Photoshop video tutorials. I have a friend who is in the CBT business and that is a opportunity as well. Quite a good little niche!