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Flaming Fireballs

Relates to Star Gazing

I have just seen my first fireball, and it was so exciting I had to jot this down. Only popped outside for a second, and in the corner of my eye I saw a bright trail shooting across the north-eastern sky, far larger and brighter than the average shooting star. To start with I wasn't sure what it was, and then the ball intensified dramatically, and with an intense flash it burnt out in the atmosphere, leaving a small trail of tiny fragments. No annual meteor showers due at the current time, but this must have been a good size rock (or a wayward satellite!).

Also stoked, since Simon Winchester's Krakatoa arrived in the post this morning. Couldn't have been better timing, since I am facing an eighteen hour journey to Bordeaux next week to surf the Gironde Mascaret, and catch up with the local Dordogne bore surfing crew. Been itching to get my hands on this book. His previous book, The Map that Changed The World, was a fascinating read, and this should make for an interesting comparison to Rupert Furneaux's 1964 Krakatoa which I picked up in a Hay second hand book store last Summer. Plus brushing up a bit of my Geology - a refreshing change from the stack of computing books I have been trawling through in recent months!

Posted on Sep 20, 2003 at 03:06:38. [Comments for Flaming Fireballs- 0]

Does RNIB See It Right?

Relates to Web Standards and Accessibility

In follow up to Andrew Sinclair's Accessibility Article I had a quick reccie of the Anglia Railways website, mentioned in the article for its recent receipt of the RNIB See It Right logo.

The W3C Validator failed the home page with 80 errors, many of which were associated with incorrect embedding of Flash objects in the page and entity errors in URL query strings, but also failure to close a few elements. Bobby (an official part of the RNIB audit) was equally less forgiving, picking up on absolute sizing at Level 2. Cynthia was equally unhappy with the use of the deprecated embed element. View the page in Mozilla and there is an immediate problem with the on and return labels. Blow up the text 2 times and the page quickly become difficult to view.

So, what exactly does the RNIB See It Right campaign represent? Perhaps the Anglia Railways site passed the audit a week ago, but has changed since then. Or perhaps a few important accessibility issues are brushed under the table as not relevant to this specific audit - the errors are perhaps not relevant for screen readers and braille browsers? Well clearly, valid and well formed markup is of little importance, with the Audit guidelines page failing to supply a DOCTYPE!

Posted on Sep 19, 2003 at 14:31:52. [Comments for Does RNIB See It Right?- 1]

The J-Bay Of J-Editors

Relates to Java and IDEs

Ok, have played around with Eclipse this weekend, and I am totally converted. All the IDEs I had tried up till now have been removed from my system, and Eclipse has become my only Java editor. It is superb! The features are just too many to list right now, but with realtime tool tips from the JavaDoc and source file, error checking, advanced file compare and rollback and auto-compile on save (to name a few) my personal Java development is coming along rapidly. And that is in only 36 hours! The interface is crisp, the icons are visually pleasing and instructive and the well documented start-up tutorial got me up and running in no time with workspaces, perspectives and views. Creating custom classpaths to the Open Office API and MySQL Bridge was a breeze. And if all this wasn't enough to get me excited, the quick fix feature put the icing on the cake.

Massive respect to the team that dedicate their time to develop this Open Source project. Maybe once I have a real feel for the system, I will have a look at a few of the plugins for PHP, Perl, XML and SQL. Even try and get involved when I can find the time. The Point Break of non-commercial/low-budget Java IDEs!

Posted on Sep 14, 2003 at 17:45:13. [Comments for The J-Bay Of J-Editors- 0]

Key Press Event Handling

Relates to Accessibility and DOM Scripting, Firefox and Co

On a current project, where accessibility is essential, I have integrated a stylesheet switcher on two pages where a mouseover affect on an image montage displays an introduction to each page in a separate box below the montage. The montage is structurally defined as a definition list, since it is a visual representation of links to pages on the site, with a brief description of each page. The stylesheet switcher allows users to switch the view to an actual list representation, if, for example, they are using only the keyboard. For CSS-enabled browsers without Javascript, the switcher loads a fresh page with the list display, and for non-display browsers the montage is just represented as a list from the outset.

While, I hope this will be effective under most conditions, I found a frustrating problem with supplementing the onclick event with an onkeypress event for keyboard users in Mozilla and co. When tabbing through the links on the page, as soon as the user tabs off the switcher (containing the event handler) the key press event is triggered. Well, of course, this is the correct behaviour, but Inte$net Exploder actually only triggers the event when the Return key is pressed, which is misleading to the developer, and incorrect interpretation.

The solution was to integrate a filter function that is called by the onkeypress event and this in turn only calls the style switcher function if the key pressed was Return

Here is the code:

function checkKeyPressed(evt, func, params)
  evt = (evt) ? evt : (window.event) ? event : null;
  if (evt)
    var charCode = (evt.charCode) ? evt.charCode :
                   ((evt.keyCode) ? evt.keyCode :
                   ((evt.which) ? evt.which : 0));
    if (charCode == 13) func(params);

Where 13 is the ASCII value for the Return key. As well as passing the event as argument, I passed the function to be called and its parameters, to make the function generic. The scenario is just as relevant if using the event handlers to open a new window from a link (although this is strongly discouraged). The resulting anchor is as follows:

<a href="#" onclick="setStyleSheet('sheet'); return false;"
onkeypress="checkKeyPressed(event, setStyleSheet, 'sheet');"
>Switch to List View</a>

It is important that a false value is not returned in the key press event since this would prevent the user from tabbing beyond the style switcher link. The DHTML cookbook suggests the key detection in the filter should work in Netscape and Exploder back to v.4. It resolved the issue for this project.

Posted on Sep 14, 2003 at 17:44:31. [Comments for Key Press Event Handling- 7]

Java Editors

Relates to Java and IDEs

I seem to have been through a multitude of IDEs the last couple of years, with each one bringing benefits that the one before may have lacked. For quite a while my preferred environment was HTML-Kit with my emphasis on HTML, CSS and Javascript development.

When I started working professionally with PHP, I went for PHPEd which wasn't without its quirks, the worst being a repetitive run time error when debugging, which I (and NuSphere tech support) still haven't resolved now.

I found Style Master a beneficial tool when I was advancing my CSS knowledge, although it had a bad habit of draining my GDI resources considerably allowing me enough room to run only one browser concurrently - actually the latest release of Top Style looks pretty exciting, with added support for accessibility testing.

XML Spy was an absolute godsend, especially for learning XSD. However, once the trial expired I was reluctant to invest in a peculiar support system that expired on the same date regardless of when the product was purchased. Fortunately this has been changed with the latest release, XMLSpy 2004, and this IDE is high on my wishlist.

The last six months or so I have actually found myself doing most coding in UltraEdit, which I have found to be an efficient lightweight IDE with enough features to support my requirements and not overburdened (as my copy of HTML-Kit rapidly became) with superfluous extensions. I generally find myself using this for all XML, HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP development. Some of the other languages, which I have really only trodden the surface with, Python, TCL/TK, Curl come with very useful IDEs as part of the development kit, or Vim/Emacs (a totally new world!) with regard to shell scripting within Cygwin..

However the one language I had never really quite found the right tool for at a low budget and lightweight was Java. Lack of quality autocomplete and class management in the IDEs I used elsewhere always let them down for Java development. Since I have being doing a few projects on the side recently with Apache Xerces and generally developing my Swing knowledge, I decided a few months ago a good Java IDE was essential. Well, I have tried a few. For a while I thought that JCreator was a good enough solution, however SitePad has edged past it with better class/package management and a more customisable interface through its inbuilt adoption of Javascript scripting tools. SitePad has a slightly steeper learning curve but I havent found this to be too much of a disadvantage. Also, the creator, Chet Murphy, was very prompt to reply and helpful when I contacted him with a few queries.

So, have I found my environment of choice? It appears not yet, since the other day I stumbled across the Eclipse Open Source project. Why I never found this earlier, I don't know, but this looks like it could be a different solution all together. Being a strong advocate of Open Source Software, and appreciating the advantage of not having to fork out the same expense everytime an upgrade occurs (or lose out), I therefore have an excuse to put the feet up tonight, catch up on fourty winks and wait for the colossal 66 megabytes of the SDK to ween their way down my phone line. Will report back with a verdict…

Posted on Sep 12, 2003 at 23:35:44. [Comments for Java Editors- 0]

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