XHTML, HTTP 1.1, Xanadu, Mozblog, and a profusion of painful standards
I like blogger for a lot of reasons - I trust them to do the backups, posting an article is easy, they take care of posting to RSS newsreaders (at least I think they do, I'm still in the dark ages on that protocol), etc, etc.
It's getting harder and harder to ignore the flaws of the web.
- Tedium: In 1982 I typed in printer codes into Wordstar documents to make them look good. It was tedious and painful, and printer specific. I spent a lot of time learning semi-secret ways of getting good output from my trusty Okidata dot matrix printer. From there I moved to TeX and Troff, which were painful, but portable. Getting the printer to work properly was Somebody Else's Problem.
From 1988-92 I switched to using an awesome editor, called Lotus Manuscript, to bang out extremely complex, beautiful documents. The way Manuscript worked had an elegance matched by the XHTML specification, except that... Lotus discontinued that product.
In 1993 I started coding web pages. I was pleased by the display resolution independence, so much like postscript but simpler. but I grew quite annoyed at one tiny little detail missed by the first html standards - there was no way to get a form feed - so no matter how you tried you couldn't get a page to print properly. That one little detail helped lead to the rise of the .pdf file format - which I hate because it's basically read-only.
Then html tables came out. The web all went to hell. The idea of display independence went out the window. People started targeting 640x480 screens, then 800x600, and now, most commercial sites target 1024x768. The webmasters and marketers want to take over your entire screen so they can. get. their. message. to. dominate. your. eyeballs. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. I want to be able to WORK and surf at the same time. I want PDAs and cell phones to make sense of what I write, and I want future standards to be able to read it, and...
Here I am, in 2003... typing in xhtml codes manually to make a blog that's clean, and simple, struggling to find a way to make it look good down to 320x240 (it works well down to 640x480 and up to any size).
I struggled today to make the whole thing XHTML standards-compliant.
The raw tedium and attention to detail required to do this properly is mind boggling - I ran my blog through the w3 validator and it pointed out over 500 errors. Html that was perfectly valid 10 years ago, although still accepted by browsers, isn't rigorous enough for the xhtml standard.
OK. I'm not a machine! I don't want that much rigor, I just want to write and be done with it. I do want the structure that is in XHTML that I don't get from word or open office - I sorely miss the ability to make a good outline and retain the logical structure of the document - I want the format to be display independent.
I have hope that the new version of openoffice generates good xhtml.... I sit here, typing in text, and think - there's gotta be another way... fantasy sets in - give me a time transporter to 1988! I'll raid Lotus's labs, grab their source, and then find an island somewhere to hide for 15 years so I can write an editor that works like I think and outputs valid xhtml.
I look back on all these different formats I've had to write in, all the documents I've lost due to conversion problems, all the useless knowledge I have about obsolete systems... stuff that is still in use, but obsolete, like Troff and TeX - and look at a future filled with even more standards - 10 years from now, will a web page truly be browsable? I find myself wishing for something that was common and standard for a 80+ years. A typewriter.
- Blogging Tools: I can't get mozblog to work. Both BlogThis and mozblog assume a single topic post per link for a blog, and I don't write that way. I write essays. I'm always synthesising from dozens of links on the web. The method I have now for doing that is primitive and 80sish. I copy and paste links into one of a dozen emacs buffers from mozilla and go from there. It's really tedious - I used to use xemac's web mode but it hasn't kept up with web standards... I think the solution to this is:
- Bitch and moan about it.
- Learn enough xpi to modify mozblog.
- Blogger tags: I don't like being tied to tags that aren't standard, and when compared to a language like php or perl - or even for that matter cfm or shtml, the blogger tag language is weak. I understand the power of simplicity, but I miss the power of... power. I wish it was there when I needed it.
- Google. I'd like the title to my blog to change on every post, I'd like the summaries on google to make more sense, and I'd vastly prefer google always switched to a permalink when spidering me - but kept the attribution to the current stuff. I've been reading up on ways to make googling better. I'm starting to have lots of issues with google - one key part of the algorithm seems to be tied to the age of a given web page - so a posting that is 5 years out of date has more rank than one that's relevant today - there's no way to expire documents, which gets me to my last point...
- Transclusion for text: Bloggers do manually what Ted Nelson wanted to do automatically - quote parts of textual articles - and while his goal was lofty, I've gradually come to the conclusion that he was right. All the mass duplication of partial texts, all the work that we do to ensure credit is given - would have been handled by Xanadu. The ability to quote partial texts exists in the http 1.1 protocol, but nobody uses it. (It's byte specific, and buried deep in the protocol). It's possible to use it just as easily as we copy and paste today.
Anyway, off to AAS for a little mind bending exploration of science. I sure hope they have WiFi there.