rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

22-1-2003 (archived)

If you're not a WebGeek, this would be a good time to scroll down to the next post; I'm going to talk about XHTML for a while.

What's it all about? Well, in order to get lots of different technologies to play together nicely on the web, we need some sort of lingua franca that supports extensibility, and is also at least borderline sane. The least bad choice for this (not least because of its enormous mindshare) is probably XML.

Why would you want this? Well, suppose you're me (suppress details of the supposition if they make you nauseous). You need to put up mathematics on the web, both to propogate your papers and to tie in to your teaching.

So far, so good. Now, for things that I want people to print out, whether they be papers or lecture notes, PDF pretty much rocks my socks. It's massively crossplatform, there are lots of tools (including good free ones, like Ghostscript and PDFLaTeX for creation of your content), and it prints out beautifully.

Sadly, it just isn't all that good for on-line use. It falls down on two main counts:

So, what we need is some sort of XML encoding of mathematics, and an XML encoding of HTML and then we can use the two in the same document. Yay! We have them; one's called XHTML, and the other is MathML. It's still bleeding edge, but it's increasingly available in all your standard tools - including Mozilla and also that other thing lots of people use, along with a free plugin. It's out there, just, and it's superb; the whole industry's pulling in the same direction, and that's just not something you see very often.

Sadly, there are all sorts of problems with XHTML. Served up as xhtml+xml, it breaks browsers all over the place (except Mozilla, natch), and even in Mozilla it causes unexpectedness compared to the behaviour when served as HTML “tag soup”. Of course, serving it as tag soup misses the point. As a result, some problems have occurred, even for the most fearsomely hardcore of practitioners. Still, if I want to do the MathML thing in a valid way (as I do), I have to make it work for me. Add to this the clean-break nature of the XHTML 2.0 spec, and you have real pain:

I know, I know, XHTML 2.0 isn't meant to be backwardly compatible. But damn it, I've done everything the W3C has ever recommended. I migrated to CSS because they told me it would work better with the browsers and handheld devices of the future, then the browsers and handheld devices of the future came out and my site looked like shit. I migrated to XHTML 1.1 because they told me to use the latest standards available, and it bought me absolutely nothing except some MIME type headaches and (I am not making this up) Javascript incompatibilities. I migrated to semantic markup that has been around for 10 fucking years and they go and drop it. Not deprecate it slowly over time, mind you, but just fucking drop it. Which means that, after keeping up with all the latest standards, painstakingly marking up all my content, and validating every last page on my site, I'm still stuck in a dead end.

So, as Mark says, it's discouraging (to say the least); and in fact he's gone back to plain old HTML. This won't cut it for me, though, as I want that MathML thing.

However, Zeldman seems to have had this crisis of faith a while ago, and he's understood the crucial point: this is not happening now, it's not even happening soon, and XHTML 2 is really not a replacement for XHTML 1 in any meaningful sense. That's OK; the real problem is that the name looks like it ought to be.

I understand why the W3C would suggest a cleaner dialect that the crufty, non-XML-origined HTML has left us. But they need to realise that people aren't calling for it, browsers are unlikely to support it any time soon (five years? I doubt it. Ten? Maybe) and that people who do use it will expect to transform it into some real-world dialect - like XHTML 1. I'm pretty sure they know this already. But people are losing faith, and that's a real problem when your only assets are people and mindshare.

23-1-2003 (archived)

There were two possibilities today. One would have been to have written a long, furious piece about the new student fees arrangements, but having been political only a couple of days ago, I shall leave it for now. Also, my breakfast-time rage was rather lessened by a visit to the gym and the enforced calm of an afternoon invigilation, so it wouldn't quite flow off the keyboard this evening.

So, instead I shall point you at the splendour that is Richard Herring's journal (not a weblog, decidedly; no links). I am familiar with Mr Herring mostly through his work with Stewart Lee, though I'm well aware that they've both done other things - indeed, I bought one of Stewart's books, and rather enjoyed it in the end (during the first few chapters, I formed the mistaken impression that it was going to be quite bad. But it wasn't).

The journal is consistently amusing, sometimes interesting in a serious way, and often very funny indeed; I read it from the first entry, and it was time well spent. Interestingly, he wrote entries for a couple of months before bringing it online, a strategy I also considered for this site before starting blogging to avoid embarrassment if I didn't stick to it, but then rejected because without the immediacy of regular publication I wouldn't stick to it. (Via Oblomovka.)

24-1-2003 (archived)

Today's reading is an excellent, long interview with Mark Pinske, who was Zappa's sound engineer for a long, long time. It's split over three days.

We have our first gig for a couple of weeks tomorrow, at the Bridge Inn in Westhoughton. It's the same venue we played our very first gig in, and we're still wondering whether we'll be able to fit all five of us in (we didn't even try the first time). It'd be a shame to have to manage without James, so I hope so.

26-1-2003 (archived)

Good gig last night. I awoke in the middle of the night from a dream in which Danny DeVito was my landlord. He was under a court order preventing him from turning on the lights on the ground floor of the building, and also from advertising flats for rent. He was trying, without success, to persuade me to file an ad on his behalf. As soon as I gave him my phone number, I was woken by my mobile phone ringing.

It wasn't Danny, though, it was some drunken bastard asking for (I think) “Steve” at half past three in the morning. Sigh.

I suspect the root of this dream lies in the size of the electricity bill I received last week. Winter's expensive.

Not only is Jonathan Ross intelligent, talented, successful, good-looking, immensely likeable, and witty, his wife Jane Goldman is all of these things and also impressively chested. I hate him. Anyway, she's been learning guitar, and writing a column on the experience for a guitar magazine (Total Guitar) that I don't read. The discussion in the forums got a little, ahem, open, and then she joined in. Hilarity ensues, and all that.

27-1-2003 (archived)

This week's first (there are likely to be several, I'm way behind on movies after the conference) movie review is “Chicago”, another version of the classic musical. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones and Richard Gere all dance well (especially the girls) and sing acceptably (especially Jones), but yet there's just something missing. One review I saw described it as lo-cal, and there is that feel about it; all the sweetness but none of the sugar.

It's glossy and flawless; I didn't care what happened, didn't care whether the murderesses hanged or walked free, but then you don't expect to with this story. The songs remain superb, and it's worth going for them alone, but it's not the film it should have been. I think the problem is that it just wasn't sexy. I didn't expect Zellweger to catch my eye; other than in Bridget Jones, she's just too skinny to be interesting to me (a fact that I'm sure is a constant source of grief to her), but even the delicious Jones isn't distracting, despite the costumes and the heavily sexualised dancing. The film goes through the motions perfectly, but never catches fire; the carnality is stylised and sanitised, and ultimately boring. It feels like children playing dress-up, or perhaps like bad strip-tease; there are the moves, but not the intent.

This has been a frustrating review to write; I'm struggling to come to some sort of conclusion, and to justify (even to myself) how I've got there, and I'm failing. It's by no means a bad film, and it'll keep you amused for a couple of hours, but I can't recommend it.

28-1-2003 (archived)

This week's second movie review is “The Tuxedo.”, an action comedy starring Jackie Chan. I must admit, I expected very little of this film. The plot makes no sense whatsoever, so let's forget about that. What does matter?

I seem to be commenting a lot on the desirability or otherwise of actresses recently. That's what's missing from most film reviews, I think - OK, it's not a great film, but does she look good? I shall attempt to extract opinions on the desirability or otherwise of male participants in future, in the interests of some sort of balance.

The Tuxedo's been getting terrible reviews, but my companion and I were hugely entertained, and laughed almost constantly. Disposable trash, but fun disposable trash. The theatre was conspicuously empty, so if you fancy catching it and having 100 minutes of brain-disengaged fun, you should go soon. Recommended.

29-1-2003 (archived)

Today is a day of random linkage.

Flash animation: Switch to Linux. Subtle, silly, good. (Via jwz.)

More Cory Doctorow fiction online, this time his short story 0wnz0red. (Not new, but I only just found it). It's good. Also, I finally got around to reading “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, and it's very good.

I'm trying to keep politics and the apparently-forthcoming war off this site, so I shall link here and here while eschewing further comment.

As you were.

30-1-2003 (archived)

This week's third (and final) film review is “Gangs of New York”. Opinions vary widely on this one, so let me start with a caveat: all of my friends here in Manchester who've seen it disliked it. My two companions on the evening described it as “the most boring film I've ever seen” and “two hours and forty-five minutes of unmitigated arse”.

It's a long film, and Scorsese wanted it longer; it's been viciously and (in a couple of places) visibly cut. Nontheless, it remains a flawed masterpiece, a patient, epic, unflinching story of violence and revenge. DiCaprio is good as the boy orphaned by Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, growing up set on revenge and finding, I think, that he could have been happy working for Cutting given other beginnings. Cameron Diaz, as the love interest, is as effervescent and desirable as ever.

Good though they are, the film is completely dominated by Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill, a charismatic, convincingly evil and completely believable force of nature. Even were the rest of the film unwatchable, it would be worth the price of admission and three hours for his performance. But the rest of the film is, while stately, really rather good; DiCaprio's struggle with his motives is well done, the picture of a totally corrupt and lawless city is comprehensible and believable, the whole is utterly, thrillingly real.

This is not the most entertaining film I will see this year; it's not the best (that's likely to be City of God); but long, bleak, violent and blood-drenched as it is (I'm not sure I've ever seen a bloodier film, other than low-believability splatterpunk horrors), it is a genuinely brilliant work. Not to be missed.

31-1-2003 (archived)

Today is another day of random linkage.

As we all know, Google is the king of searching; it is the site that makes the web useful. San Diego needed to upgrade the city government's search technology, and the usual suspects weren't looking helpful. So Google licensed its appliance to the city, with pretty staggering results:

Cull says employees are using stuff they didn't know existed, and citizens are sending E-mail about the search success they're having.

And the city has been able to simplify other tasks, such as finding related documents with data that previously would have been duplicated or populating an online calendar by using Google to pull items from the city's events database. All this, and the server and software were up and running in 30 minutes. Says Cull, “It's hard to measure the value to the city.”

(Via Boing Boing.)

Apparently, there's this swimming team of 14-17 year old, both sexes, and they had this long tradition of all shaving together in the changing rooms. Apparently some of them “found the event stimulating”. I find this unsurprising. We're a sick species that we find this kind of thing anything other than healthy; and of course, they're going to have to stop it now. Sigh. (Via jwz.)

More war: war games, phone calls. (Game via ambiguous.)

Evolution in action. (Via Die Puny Humans.)

New weebl! New weebl! Splendid.

“Hey kids-the past wasn't like a trip to Waikiki: the only sure thing about the past is some ghastly disease, carnage, toil that defies all description, starvation, and boredom of a sort that makes waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles seem like Disneyland on heroin.”

Douglas Coupland on why the past sucks. (Via jwzrants.)

1-2-2003 (archived)

I was raised on SF, believing that space was out future and our salvation. I still do; there's so much we could do, and it's so important - as Heinlein said, the earth is just too small and fragile a basket to keep all my species' eggs in.

No man has been on the moon in my lifetime, and that makes me angry when I let it. We should have been forging ahead; there should be a scientific base on Mars by now, preparing for a colony proper, like the one on the Moon. There should be people out mining the incredibly lucrative asteroids. There should be solar power stations in orbit; energy should be cheap and clean, not expensive and dirty.

We didn't get that, though; what we got was satellite television and the shuttle, and that was OK. The shuttle made us forget, for a time, that this old technology (the test flights were in 1977; the shuttle is nearly as old as me) was still on the high frontier; that it was still dangerous.

Today seven people died when Columbia, the first space shuttle, failed in reentry: Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Rick Husband, William McCool, Ilan Ramon. Remember them.