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Issue № 76

Dr. Strangeglobe: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The W3C.

by Published in Browsers, Industry, State of the Web

For more than a year, ominous rumors have been privately circulating among high-level corporate leaders that Mozilla had been at work on what was darkly hinted to be the Ultimate Weapon, a Doomsday device. Intelligence sources traced the site of the top secret Mozillan project to the perpetually smog-shrouded wasteland known as Mountain View, California.  What they were building, or why it should be located in such a remote and desolate place, no one could say.

How General Ripper was Driven to the Edge of Madness

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U.S. General Jack D. Ripper was busy coding the Burpleson Air Force base website when he began experiencing problems.  His fonts were serif where they were supposed to be sans, and bold where they were supposed to be plain.  Worse yet, his liquid layout seemed to be contaminated.

Naturally, General Ripper began to suspect a Mozillan conspiracy.

After spending an hour or twelve troubleshooting his own HTML, Ripper felt the threads of sanity slipping away.  He was banging his head rhythmically against the monitor when his Executive Assistant, Mandrake, a British Officer with Officer Exchange Programme, entered the room.

“General Ripper, sir!” yelled Mandrake,  pulling him back from the monitor.  “Sir, what the devil is going on?  Are you mad?”

Ripper covered his face with his hands, weeping, “I don’t know what else to do.  I’ve tried everything.  It’s those damn Mooskies.  My page won’t work in their browser.”

“Mooskies, sir?”

“Mozillans! You know the ones I mean.  The ones behind that commie plot Mozilla project!”

“You mean to tell me, Sir,” said Mandrake, “that your web page won’t display properly on Netscape?”

“Damn right that’s what I mean!  Damn Mozillans… contaminating the purity of my liquid layout! I oughta clobber ‘em!”   Ripper picked up the phone,  “That’s it.  I’m giving Microsoft the ‘go code.’”

“Sir!” shouted Mandrake.

“What?!”

“Before you go and do anything drastic!  We have a special weapons – uh, browser and HTML expert – on staff.  He may be able to help you.”

“Who?”

“He is known as Dr. Strangeglobe.”

“Strangeglobe?”

“Strangeglobe,” Mandrake went on, “is a genius, he is.  He is our Director of Browser Research and HTML Development.  Knows those browsers like the back of his hand, he does.  And his knowledge of HTML is – intimate.”

“Intimate, you say?”  Ripper paused for a moment, puffing thoughtfully on his cigar.  “Alright, Mandrake.   Send him in!”

“Right away, sir.”  Mandrake scooted out the door.

Soon Mandrake was back. “General Ripper, Sir, meet Dr. Strangeglobe.  I’m going to fetch myself a Coca Cola while you two troubleshoot.”

Strangeglobe and the FONT tag

“Good Day,” said Dr. Strangeglobe, speaking with a German accent. “What seems to be the problem?”

Web designers are generally an odd lot, but this fellow was even stranger than most.  A small, dark-haired man in a wheel chair, Strangeglobe sat with his head cocked to one side, grinning a tight little grin, his beady eyes obscured behind smokey wire-rimmed spectacles.  His right arm and hand, which were completely mechanical, hung stiffly at his side.

“My page!” Ripper barked, “It has no vitality!  No fluidity!  It has lost it’s manly essence!  It’s a plot, I tell you, a Mozillan plot!”

“Let us see.”  After taking a drag from his cigarette, Dr. Strangeglobe wheeled himself up to the computer,  and with his mechanical hand, gripped the mouse.  He examined Ripper’s work in Internet Explorer.  He then looked at the site in Netscape Navigator.  “I see,” he muttered.

Next he viewed Ripper’s source code. “Mein Gott!”

“What is it?” Ripper asked, peering over Strangeglobe’s shoulder.

Strangeglobe spun around so fast, the ash flew off his cigarette.  “What is it??!  It is 15 megatons of FONT tags, is what it is!”

“Yes?  So?”

“FONT tags!” he continued.  “<font> TAGS! – Do you not know the <font> tag has been deprecated since 1996!”

“Doktor, hate to break it to you, but everyone uses FONT tags. Webmonkey uses FONT tags.  developer.com uses FONT tags. CNET’s builder uses them.  A List Apart has a couple – and even the commie mozilla.org uses them!  These are web designer’s websites.   If they use FONT tags…”

“Everyone?” said the Doktor,   “EVERYONE uses them?  Sir, if EVERYONE were spending themselves penniless to build huge weapons systems capable of destroying all life on earth, would you also do the same? Eh?  Would you?”

Ripper looked perplexed.  “Of course,” he replied.

The Doktor did not answer, perhaps because he was busy fighting off the mechanical hand which had wrapped itself around his neck in an attempt at self-strangulation.

Ripper waited patiently.

“Well,” said the Doktor, breathlessly, once the rogue limb had been subdued, “let us leave the rhetorical questions for a moment, and see how your page validates,  shall we?”

“Validates?” Ripper asked, “Why, what do you mean?”

Ach. You shall see.”

General Ripper peered at the screen as Strangeglobe carefully pecked out the URL: http://validator.w3.org.  An input box appeared, and in that box, he typed the URI for the Burpleson Airforce site.   After pressing “Validate this page,” the next screen returned a long list of errors.

Strangeglobe turned toward the General, and with a wry smile said,  “The validator tells if your code is orderly and proper or disorderly and unruly.  As you can see, the HTML is completely out of control. You have opened tags which you did not close, and closed tags that you did not open.  And you are improperly nested.  This could cause a display problem in any browser, not just Netscape.”

Ripper was doubtful.  “You mean it isn’t the Mooskies?”

“Since you are not using any CSS, I seriously doubt that it is the Moos – uh – Netscape who is at fault.  When your HTML is unruly, how can you expect your website to display properly?”

Ripper chewed his cigar.

Strangeglobe continued, “When we don’t have rules, chaos reigns.  When chaos reigns, web designers are beating their heads against the monitor in anxiety and deep frustration.”

“Okay, Doc,” Ripper said.  “Supposing you’re right.  Where do I find the rules?”

Strangeglobe and the World Wide Web Consortium

Strangeglobe typed in another URL: www.w3.org.  “This is the site of the World Wide Web Consortium.  Here you will find your validator, and here you will find the rules.”

Consortium?   Sounds a little like ‘Communism’ to me!”

“Rest assured,” said the Doktor, “it has nothing to do with communism,  capitalism, fascism or any other political or economic ideology for that matter.  However, it has everything to do with the success of your website,  and of the web itself.  Here,  read for yourself.”

Ripper peered at the site, while Strangeglobe read aloud:

“The World Wide Web Consortium was created in October 1994 to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability,”

“Is this German?” Ripper asked.

“Of course not!  It is English! Es ist doch ganz klar!”   Strangeglobe caught himself.  “Excuse me, Sir,”  he said.

Ripper stared at the W3C site as Strangeglobe continued:  “The W3C guides the development of web technology. The W3C is ‘vendor and market neutral.’  W3C members include organizations from all over the world, and the W3C Team of researchers and engineers is international, as well.

“Look here, General Ripper, you might enjoy reading a little web history.  There is even a screenshot of Tim Berners-Lee’s first browser, with accompanying explanation.  Nice, eh?

“The W3C is involved in many projects including standardization of technology through the development of guidelines and specifications, which it calls ‘Recommendations.’   They can all be found in the Technical Reports section of the W3C site.

“Here are W3C specs, you see.  The rules.  These have been very carefully constructed, for the good of everyone.  They are rules for you, and they are rules for the browsers.  You must learn the rules, you must understand the rules.   If you find it absolutely necessary to break the rules later, you will at least know what you are doing, and you will understand the consequences.  Verstehen Sie?”

“Yes,” answered Ripper, “I suppose that makes sense.  But most browsers are set to default on a serif font, see.  But say I want to use a sans-serif font in my body text.  What do I do then?”

“Well,” said the Doktor, “You should try to ‘separate presentation from content.’  Think of your document as a structure with logical elements: paragraphs, quotes, lists, and the like.  Your markup reflects this structure.   As to how you want your document to display, that goes into a stylesheet declaration.  Now you can change your stylesheet as needed to help your document work in different browsers (or ‘user agents’), including text-only browsers, voice browsers, braille readers, and so on.  Your content is now more flexible, more portable, and more accessible.

“Here is what I suggest: use the proper (DTD), and follow the spec.  Here is XHTML 1.0, the current recommendation.  For your convenience,  you will notice that it is offered in a variety of formats, including hypertext, ZIP, and PDF.”

The Doktor went on: “In order to use XHTML, however, you must also be familiar with HTML4.  So you may wish to use an HTML4 or XHTML transitional DTD paired with CSS1.   One advantage of using the HTML4 transitional DTD is that it is more forgiving than either HTML4 strict or XHTML.  And with HTML4, you can use your Macintosh and the iCab browser to validate your code as you work.

“It is perhaps better for you, at this time to avoid CSS2,” he went on,  “when you have mastered the first level of CSS, you may try the second level.  As you move DEEPER into the knowledge, you will want to spend some time reading up on the Document Object Model as well.

“However,  I must warn you.  Although CSS1 has been a recommendation since 1996, the browsers are just now beginning to implement it fully.  It has taken them 4 years.  As for CSS2 (a recommendation since 1998),  and the Document Object Model, even new browsers are still buggy.  Because the browsers are problematic, and because you are yet a beginner, I do not recommend you worry too much about CSS2 or DOM at this time.”

“Beginner! What do you mean beginner?!  Why you Kraut…”  Ripper moved toward Strangeglobe, but the Doktor didn’t back away.

“Your code is a mess!” Strangeglobe went on.  “Listen.  It requires only the WILL to use proper markup and the DISCIPLINE to learn the rules.  As a military man, you should find this a straightforward process.”

Ripper sat back down in his chair.  He scowled at the W3C Recommendations.

“Don’t worry,” said the Doktor.  “You will not understand every word at first, but if you keep working at it, it will eventually become clear.”   He lit another cigarette, pulled it from his mechanical fingers, and took a drag.

“After validating your markup, you see, you can validate your Cascading Style Sheets with the CSS Validator.

“It must be done, you know.  It is time.  For one thing, as we move toward XML, good coding habits become more important.  And though the big browser makers have been an unruly bunch, they are finally beginning to understand we need standards in order for our pages to display properly.  We want them to COMPLY.

“There are good browsers out there.  The W3C offers Amaya, a browser and HTML editor.  For the price of a restaurant meal you can get Opera.  For Mac users there is iCab, and now Explorer 5 for Macintosh, which is fully COMPLIANT with HTML4 and CSS1 specs. Netscape 6, with its new Gecko rendering engine, will also be COMPLIANT.”

“You mean those godless commie open-source Mozillans?”

“Whatever.”

Ripper scrutinized W3C specs again, trying to comprehend.  “I don’t know how well I can stand up under torture,” he said.

Just then, Mandrake burst through the door.

Major Kong Versus Mozilla
“General,” Mandrake shouted,  “Sir, something dreadful has happened!  General Turgidson just called from the War Room.  Someone gave Microsoft’s bombers the ‘go code!’”

“What???”

“Yes.  He said that if the planes got through, they would set off the doomsday device…”

“Doomsday device?”

“A genetically engineered dinosaur set to launch automatically upon attack. It is programmed to devour the world through seemingly innocuous corporate mergers!”

“I knew those Mozillans were up to no damn good!”

Mandrake continued, “Missiles were sent after the Microsoft planes.  But one plane managed to sneak in underneath Mozillan radar.  There were some electrical problems which prevented the plane’s bomb doors from opening, so we thought for a moment the world might yet be saved.  But then the plane’s commander, Major Bill ‘King Kong’ Gates, crawled down the hatch with a wrench,  muttering, ‘I’ll get those bomb doors open if it hare-lips everyone in Mountain View!’”

“Incredible!”

“Gates was last seen straddled across a 30 megaton browser hurtling toward earth, waving his 10 gallon hat and yelling ‘Hee-haw!  We’ll get them Moo-zillans yet!  Nobody interferes with Microsoft’s ability to innovate!!!’”

“A 30 megaton browser?”

“’WIN IE 5.5 – HI THERE!’ was scrawled across the nose.”

“It exploded?”

“Took out half the Valley.”

“And tell me, Mandrake, the doomsday device?”

“We expect to be merged by tomorrow morning.”

“Damn!”

“Sir,” said Dr. Strangeglobe to the General,  “If I may offer a suggestion.”

“What?”

“I would not rule out the possibility of preserving a nucleus of human specimens.   If we were to find one of our deeper mine-shafts…”

“Yes?”

“We could gather up, say, 100 engineers and web designers – we would need a ratio of 10 females to every male, of course.  We could develop our own society and stay there quite comfortably for, oh, 100 years or so.  We could build farms, procreate, make websites, and even develop our own standards-compliant browsers!”

“You say 10 females for every male?  It’s an astoundingly good idea, Doc, but where are we going to find that many females?”

“Ah, that is simple.  You need only to go to a typical search engine and type in ‘web diary.’  You will find your females.   Of course,  their websites must be of a highly – stimulating nature.  And their code should be both well-formed  and valid.”  He was once again beating down the mechanical arm that seemed to be stiffening into a Nazi salute.

“Hmm…”

Suddenly the Doktor rose from his chair.  “Mein Führer!” he exclaimed,  “I can walk!”

He was able to take only about two steps before there was a brilliant flash, a roar, and a firey wind which flattened the base and turned everyone into ash.

As the doomsday device continued to set off mergers across the globe, the World War II hit song “We’ll Meet Again,” played as a looping background MIDI:

We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day!

THE END.

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