You will notice that this blog entry trails off at the end.  I found it on the disk when I was creating my blog page, and no longer remember where I was going with it. 

HTML, e-mail, and Graphic Design

October 7, 2004:  

I'm moving a pile of dirt with a spade, a few clods every day.  A spade is not at all suited to the job:  the blade is too narrow, and the clods fall off.  But I need the spade to cut the clods loose, and once a clod is loose, it's easier to move it with the spade than to put the spade down and pick up a shovel. 

Something similar has happened to HTML. 

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language.  That is, hypertext is text.  The original idea was to organize text logically, rather than visually.  For example, instead of indenting paragraphs, one would put in a paragraph-break code, and leave it up to the reader whether he wanted to see indents, blank lines, marks in the margin, some combination, or something else altogether. 

Instead of carefully arranging the text around an illustration, one merely inserts a code that says "put illustration here"; then no matter what font size, font style, and column width the reader finds easy to read, the illustration will appear close to the relevant text. 

Organizing text logically allows you to let the reader read the text in any order he pleases.  For example, if Rough Sewing were on paper, I'd have to decide whether "sewing on buttons, hooks, snaps" should come before or after "Hand-sewing stitches".  Since Rough Sewing is webbed, I merely present a list of topics and let the reader decide which one to click on. 

In the book's present disorganized state, the topics are listed in the same order as the arbitrary numbers on the files; but it would be quite easy for me to re-arrange the links alphabetically, or sort them by topic — or to arrange them several different ways and let the reader click on the index he prefers.

But what makes hypertext hyper is the links.  If I put in a footnote, clicking on the asterisk or the superscript takes you directly to the footnote, without any hunting around, and another link after the footnote takes you back to where you left off.  Nor is hypertext confined to jumping around inside the file; a document can consist of several files.  Clicking on a funny word in Shuttle Solitaire will take you directly to the appropriate entry in the Glossary; a cross reference will take you directly to another lesson or to the Encyclopedic Index.

And if you can jump around to different files, why not to different documents?  I copied a section out of my as yet un-named mitten-and-glove book into the chapter on mending in Rough Sewing; were it not that I wanted to re-write it a bit for the general case, I could simply have made the "Mending Hand Knits" header a link to the appropriate spot in the other book. 

And then some genius said, "why do the files all have to be on one computer?"  Suppose that when I quoted a bit from Professor Murchison's master's thesis, you could hop over to Professor Murchison's computer on the other side of the campus and read the whole thesis? And hey, we've got the Internet, how about a protocol — call it HyperText Transfer Protocol — that would let you read a hypertext document anywhere in the world, and anybody can play — when writing an essay on wool embroidery thread, I could link to a sheep rancher in Australia, a hand spinner in India, Dolfus-Meig Corporation in France, and little Johnny's essay on What I did Last Summer. 

And poof!  We've got hypertext documents linked together into a World Wide Web!  If I should say, "My favorite fabric shop is Phoenix Textiles", you can click on "Phoenix Textiles", and there you are reading the catalog.

21 November 2005

Now I remember where I was going with this:  Once you have all these documents linked into a World Wide Web, some of the folks posting documents find that they need graphic design.  The proper way to include graphic design is to use graphic design tools — but when you use .gif or .jpg to encode a whole page, the files take forever to download.  PDF files are most emphatically not intended to be read on a screen, and most of the pages that require graphic design are pages you can't reasonably expect the reader to print out for you. 

Well the spade of HTML is already in the hand, so they try to shovel graphic design with it.  And they keep adding frills and warbles to it to make it a little less icky as a graphic design tool, so *ML becomes icky as a hypertext tool, and the source code is appalling.

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