News at your fingertips

On election day, I heard a talk radio host saying that he did not want higher turn out at the polls. He said that if people hadn’t been paying attention to the political scene and were debating whether they should go or just felt they should go because of some “duty” to vote, he didn’t want them there. “Stay home, put your feet up,” he encouraged. He has a good point. When I voted, several of the people there demonstrated an extreme lack of knowledge about what was on the ballot. They read the two Kentucky constitutional amendments for the first time at the polling place and said they didn’t know anything about them. (Aside: it’s not like Kentucky makes this information easily available. Since they have to publish the absentee ballots in advance, you’d think they could stick a copy of the ballots for each county on a website somewhere.)

I was talking to someone at work about this. We’d had an interesting debate about the merits of the amendments the day before and suffered similar experiences with uninformed voters. Our conversation turned to how much easier it is to be informed now than it was even 5 years ago. You can read a massive number of newspapers from around the state, nation, and the world as easily as clicking a link. Pre-web this would have required either large amounts of money or a trip to the library daily. Even then, many libraries would get only a few of the newspapers, and most likely few of the international papers. Now we can be overwhelmed by the wealth of information or we can just hit Google News for the daily snapshot. Wow.

High Bridge historical marker

Across Kentucky there are sites that are marked by gold and brown historical markers. I found Signs Of History, a website which includes descriptions and pictures of a number of them. I sent them information about the High Bridge historical marker and they graciously included many links to my rail-trail page. I’m returning the favor. I hope to supply them with pictures of the other historical sites and markers in the area, including the Bethel Academy marker at Asbury College.

Participation in worship

A week ago I had the opportunity to visit St. Anne Orthodox Church (OCA) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The beauty of the chanting during the service surprised me, as I had visited months ago and hadn’t been as impressed. Perhaps the larger 10-15 member choir helped the sound fill the church. Perhaps it was just that the music was more familiar to me now that we’ve been using more of it at St. Athanasius. Whatever the reason, the chanting certainly helped me worship.

It struck me as I was listening to and singing some of the hymns that I had room for people not saying or doing anything in particular during a service. As a Protestant (Methodist/Wesleyan technically, but close enough) convert to Orthodoxy, I had carried along this need for “active participation”. It wasn’t a conscious thing, just an uncomfortable feeling that everyone should be doing the service together. In some of the more traditional methodist services, there’s an unstated rule that said you better stand and at least pretend to be singing along during the hymns. And everybody knows you need to bow your head when someone leads in prayer. I guess I’d just carried this along with me when I became orthodox. I don’t think this was about judging others’ behavior, just a kind of expectation that people would participate in the same way.

So there I was, worshipping God in the middle of an orthodox church and I suddenly realized it really didn’t matter what I or anyone else was doing. It was okay if some people weren’t singing; the choir was voicing our prayers. I know some people can’t sing well or are uncomfortable doing it. Fine. Let them pray. It was alright if some crossed themselves and others did not or if they did it differently. It just hit me that there’s a great freedom in worship. It is so hard to describe what participation looks like.

Mac OS X UI Hall of Shame

I found a Mac OS X UI Hall of Shame. The site describes itself like this:

Mac OS X, Windows and Linux/UNIX desktop managers such as Gnome and KDE have a similar purpose and, as such, similar shortcomings. This site is designed to be a source of “dos” and “don’ts” for interface designers and application developers. The main section of the site is dedicated to various specific GUI issues that can be found in many places in these systems. The second part of the site is a showroom of examples of bad GUI from various popular applications available for various operating environments.

Standards and contentEditable

Blogzilla characterizes the discussion in Mozilla bug 97284 as a war of Standards vs “But IE Does It”. They misunderstood the thinking behind my comments in that bug and missed what I believe is another point of view. Here’s a hint that I don’t believe in doing things just because IE does it.

The fact is that IE currently has far better support for editable content than Mozilla. I’d really like to see Mozilla have similar capabilities. In cases such as this where Mozilla is playing catch-up to IE and implementing similar, identical, or better capabilities, it often makes sense to use the same syntax as IE. Mozilla has done this in the past (see innerHTML, offsetHeight, offsetWidth). InnerHTML is a particularly interesting example. You could get the same information through the DOM, but it was convoluted, poorly understood, and developers were already familiar with the convenience of innerHTML.

The argument is often made that Mozilla should only implement the “magic” standards defined by outside standards organizations. I see little difference between a standard that is defined by the W3C and one defined by a company, such as Netscape or Microsoft. Implementing a Microsoft-defined standard could be more beneficial than a W3 standard because more sites would be impacted. In the end, I don’t care too much how the standard became a standard as long as we can agree on it and our browsers support it.

As a historical note, the early versions of HTML suffered from a problem typical of standards organizations: they were slow to be defined. This led to innovation and browser-specific extensions and the browser war. The initial versions of IE implemented the Netscape extensions as part of standard behavior. If I’m remembering correctly, HTML 3 was a mishmash where the W3 agreed to simply release a “standard” that matched the extensions in use at the time. They realized that if they waited too long they’d be irrelevant.

Standards organizations can define standards that look good on paper, but are difficult or impossible to implement. Companies that have implementation experience and take that expertise to the standards groups are quite valuable. This means that the companies need to be experimenting and implementing before the standard is defined. The -moz CSS extensions provide some of this and reasonably protect against attributes that are expected to be standardized but which are not fully defined (zoom is an example here).

In the case of editable content, which has been available since IE5.5, Mozilla has some options:

  • Wait for the standard (and I fully expect there will be one—see the first comment of the bug) but be penalized by waiting.
  • Implement a Mozilla-specific format and place additional burdens on web developers to convert their pages.
  • Implement the IE-defined contentEditable attribute and be immediately able to use a number of existing web pages (For a preview see Xopus or Bitflux or other TTW WYSIWYG editors).

Rereading the bug’s comments, I see less flame war, and many people being pragmatic about this. Note that a Netscape developer logged the bug and agreed with the suggestion to use the IE syntax way back in comment 10, long before my comment 150. I like that. The more similar the browsers are, the better for everyone. Isn’t that the point of standards?

Update: Scott Andrew LePera makes similar comments about the Microsoft-defined contentEditable standard. He says “Kudos to the Mozilla engineers for making the right choice: mirror the IE implementation and prevent further fragmentation of the technologies. If and when the W3 catches up, the decision will already have been made. Them’s the breaks.”

War and a Nobel Peace

Former President Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming only the third U.S. President (after Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) to have the honor. Did President Jimmy Carter, who shook my hand and patted my sister on the head when we saw him at the airport as kids, gain this recognition because he brought peace? Many will point to the Camp David peace accords he helped facilitate, his work with Habitat for Humanity, or his work in overseeing elections as his work for peace. Some point to his more recent activies and assess him as “a better ex-president than president.” Yet has this gained any real peace in the world? It feels like he got this more for good intentions than actual results.

Perhaps this wasn’t about President Carter at all. “It should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken,” said Gunnar Berge, the chairman of the Nobel committee. “It’s a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States.”

In his recent column, A Nobel Idea of Peace, Michael Kelly suggests that a strong case can be made for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President George H. W. Bush or his son, our current President. Kelly writes:

There are many thoughts that are unthinkable to the ideologically bankrupt establishment-left that the Nobellians exemplify. Paramount among these is that war — or, to be precise, war or the threat of war sponsored by the United States — has been the modern world’s great deliverer of peace. But there the truth sits.

Thunderbird mail client

According to the updated Phoenix FAQ, Blake Ross will soon be working on a standalone mail client called Thunderbird. Mozillazine says Thunderbird is simply Minotaur renamed. They are targetting a Thunderbird 0.1 release around the same time as Phoenix 0.5. There’s currently no scheduled release date for Phoenix 0.5, but based on comments that 0.4 will leverage the Mozilla trunk freeze for 1.2 scheduled for a release November 8, we can guess that we’ll see something in November. Blake posted more details about his plans.

I notice that the Phoenix 0.3 release is going to slip a week to around October 14 due to the 1.2beta.

View Source

Since Netscape 1 and probably before that you’ve been able to get the source of a page from the View menu. This has been true in IE for its many versions as well. For whatever reason, in the latest nightly (I expect it will be the 0.3 release) the Phoenix developers moved it to the Tools menu. In the same version, they moved Preferences from the Edit menu to the Tools menu, which is an obvious imitation of IE’s placement of Internet Options. It’s odd that they ignore user expectations for one item and pay attention to it for the other.

They also brought back the Go menu.