The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Monday, Debtember 30, 2002

Semantic HTML

There's quite the buzz in the weblogging community over Mark Pilgrim's use of the <CITE> tag (among other more esoteric tags in HTML). It's a nice idea, but all the standard says about <CITE> is:

    Contains a citation or a reference to other sources.

HTML 4.0 § 9.2.1 Phrase elements

And only a few scant and quite trivial examples. I'm not sure of the exact usage of the <CITE> tag. In the following:

In Snowcrash, Neal Stephenson explored the implications of neuro-linguistic hacking …

Now, am I supposed to mark that up like:

In <CITE>Snowcrash</CITE>, Neal Stephenson explored the implications of neuro-linguistic hacking ...

Because I'm citing the book Snowcrash? So, along those lines, if I had instead written it as:

Neal Stephenson, in his book Snowcrash, explored the implications of neuro-linguistic hacking …

Would I then mark it up as:

<CITE>Neal Stephenson</CITE>, in his book Snowcrash, explored the implications of neuro-linguistic hacking ...

since now I'm emphasizing Neal Stephenson over the book? But the book was written by Neal Stephenson so should it instead be:

In <CITE>Snowcrash</CITE>, <CITE>Neal Stephenson</CITE> explored the implications of neuro-linguistic hacking ...

Okay, so it's a contrived example, but generating semantically correct markup isn't trivial and expecting the general public to get it correct is asking a bit too much. As one person pointed out, given a hypothetical tag like <EDITOR>, is it:




(except when it's <EDITOR>Frontpage</EDITOR> but I won't go there)?

There are other semi-obscure tags for semantic mark-up and fortunately, most of them are less ambiguous as for usage, like <CODE> is for mark-up of computer source code, or <SAMP> for program output. Unfortunately the HTML spec lists both <CODE> and <SAMP> as an inline tag, not a block tag which really restricts their use. I'm not sure what the W3C was thinking when they made <CODE> and <SAMP> inline. Using <CODE> to mark-up code fragments will turn something like:

for (i = 0 ; types[i].sl != NULL ; i++)
  if (strstr(filename,types[i].sl) != NULL)


for (i = 0 ; types[i].sl != NULL ; i++) { if (strstr(filename,types[i].sl != NULL) return(types[i].sl); } return("text/plain");

Nice, huh?

Dougal Campbell suggests using:

  white-space: pre;

Which sounds good, but doesn't work. The CSS spec states that white-space is only valid for a display type of “block”, which <CODE> isn't (remember, it's “inline”). To work, you really need:

  display:     block;
  white-space: pre;

Which works fine in Mozilla, but fails for IE 5x (which is most likely a bug) and Lynx, which doesn't even look at the CSS file (and it looks like I have one regular reader who uses Lynx). As much as I would love to use <CODE> and <SAMP> for semantically better mark-up, I'm afraid I'm still stuck with using <PRE>; otherwise I'll end up with:

<CODE>for (i = 0 ; types[i].sl != NULL ; i++)</CODE><BR>
<CODE>  if (strstr(filename,types[i].sl != NULL)</CODE><BR>
<CODE>    return(types[i].sl);</CODE><BR>

Which is silly. (Okay, it's easy enough to write some code to automatically convert the source code, but semantically, does it even make sense?)

The upshot of all this rambling about semantically correct HTML? Um … not much really. I won't be changing the mark-up I use too much since I do lose the visual appearance in most browsers (although I may try giving the <CITE> tag a bit of a go).

One lucky dude

11:15 pm. Mark, JeffK and I were hanging out here in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, trying to work up the energy for a walk when I received a phone call from my friend Russel S. Our friend Gregory Pius was in a motorcycle accident, although fortunately he only (only!) broke a few ribs and his clavicle. Russel was on his way to the hospital.

Mark, Jeff and I then headed to the hospital. Once there, we inquired about Gregory and was told the rules there only allow one person to see a patient in the ER; since Russel was already there we would have to wait our turn. Word was sent back to Gregory that I was there waiting. A while later Russel and L. (Gregory's ex) arrive back in the waiting room, breaking hospital rules by both visiting Gregory). After a bit of brief conversation, L. and I break hospital rules and both go back to see Gregory.

Gregory was conscious and coherent, although his arms were scraped up and still a bit bloody. He had indeed broken six ribs and his clavical; more tests were being done to see what else might be wrong. I asked him what happened; he was on his motorcycle folling his parents (mom and step-dad) home when he took a corner a bit too fast and hit a car next to him at about 35 mph. I don't know when exactly the accident happened but considering what happened, Gregory was very lucky.

Gregory was also quoting Monty Python so things aren't that bad.

In the room with Gregory was L., her friend (which surprised me) and I. We were talking to Gregory, trying to keep his spirits up as a technician came in, strapped some electrical pads to his chest for monitoring and allowed Gregory some small sips of water in an attempt to get a urine sample for testing purposes. After about fifteen minutes the head nurse popped in, saw that there were two people too many in the room with Gregory and started to kick us out. As I walked back to the waiting room, I kept expecting L.'s friend to tag along but he remained behind with L. Once back in the waiting room, Mark, JeffK, Russel and I sat around waiting for news.

About an hour later, L. and friend come back saying that Gregory has been heavily medicated and was currently sleeping. A urine sample had been retrieved and it came out clean, which was a good sign. Gregory was being admitted to the hospital and there was no real point for anyone to remain at the hospital.

On the way out, L. showed us Gregory's helmet, which the visor had been split up the center and one of his steel-toed shoes, which had the leather torn away at the toe, explosing the steel tip.

More as things progress.

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