August 2010 Archives

Accessibility at Bravo TV?

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Just wanted to note an interesting trend on the Bravo TV celebrity blogs. Some blogs like that of Top Chef judge Tom Collichio are all text, but some like that of judge Eric Ripert are video blogs. Recently though, Bravo has been adding text transcripts to their blogs.

However, that wasn't the case a few years ago for Padma Lakshmi's video blog. As the archives show, it was an embedded video player and nothing else. If you wanted to learn more about Padma's opinion, you had to listen to the video (and I'm not seeing a caption button either).

I'm curious as to why we are now getting transcripts for Eric Ripert. One could argue that Bravo has had a Section 508 epiphany, but it interesting that the Eric Ripert transcript is right beneath the video, which is unusual for an accessibility measure. I would normally expect a link (probably in small text) - I've gotten a little cynical that way.

But maybe...Bravo has realized that transcripts benefit a significant share of their audience besides those without hearing. Others who benefit may include those who aren't getting the embedded video player to work, or those who prefer to read than watch a video blog or even those who may be having a little difficulty with Ripert's charming, but not-so-native French accent. Quite a diverse group really - but all able to learn more from Ripert's culinary wisdom through multiple modes.

This is a great example of universal design in which an "accommodation" is actually available to everyone, not just a small "disabled" community.

Unsual Online Graphic Tools

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Here's an interesting Web-based graphics tool I ran into very circuitously. It started out with a message about dueling church signson the theme of what happens to your canine companion in the after life. However, I checked Snopes.com and found out that these were fake graphics, but that there's an online tool to create more!

That tool is called http://www.says-it.com/churchsigns/. This is a fascinating tool in which you can select an image of a church sign, then change the text, fonts and colors to come up with a brand new version like the one below.

Church identifed as Holy Temple of Caffeina the Blessed. Sign says coffee, tea or Pepsi?

What really impresses me is that they are able to do this with and maintain a sense of photorealism. There's some sophisticated programming here - but is there any educational value? Well, this is a good source of homemade social commentary, and with all the multimedia project we are encouraging our students to do, this kind of image could enhance a project.

At this point, I should add that you are not restricted to church signs. At http://www.says-it.com/, you can also do school signs, fast food signs, danger signs, official seals, Uncle Sam signs, video tape labels, delivery trucks, soda cans and more. There are times when it might be nice to generate some educational media in that area and have be licensed to you. I have to say that there was a nutrition course that could have benefited from a fake fast food sign or soda can.

The only problem is that the server gets easily overloaded - in fact, there's a sign recommending that you try again if you get a "server error". But I have to say it's generally worth the wait. Or we can wait until the service is bought out by Google or Yahoo.

Achievement Badge: Blogged on a Wednesday

TWT College of Comm Presentation

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França Antártica: A Forgotten Colonial Era Brought to Life

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From: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52337

A development team from the UFF (Federal Fluminense University) in Brazil has created an action-adventure video game which brings a forgotten era, France's attempt to establish the colony of "French Anartica" near modern Rio de Janeiro to life.

Unlike other most other historic action games though, the hero is a native Brazilian man Jeró, the son of a Portuguese father and an Tupiquinam. He is multilingual in all the local languages and familiar with the environment.

Adventures include saving saving Duran de Villegaigon (which earns him the job as interpreter) as well as French maiden Justine (did anyone say romance?), but he'll also have to deal with civil war among the Catholics and Protestants, riots due to lack of women, the search for drinking water, and of course the restles (Tupiniquam) natives.

This sounds like an intriguing game full of traditional action, but one which will present Jeró an interesting dilemma faced my many early Brazilians. When the French, Portiguese and native populations come to blows...which side will Jeró take? No easy answers there.

Another Comment on the Hauser Scandal

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I'm one of the many academics astonished by the recent scandal in which serious accusations of research misconduct have been leveled against Marc Hauser of Harvard University. If you're not aware of the scandal, Hauser is essentially accused of misreporting behavior of Rhesus monkeys then intimidating the graduate students in his lab into following his interpretation.

I do give Harvard kudos for following up on an anonymous complaint from one of the students in the lab. In fact it appears, that all the graduate students will be cleared.

I think it's safe to say Hauser's reputation will not be the same, but what about the rest of it? If reports are accurate, this misconduct did not apply to one experiment, but represented a pattern which several students knew about. As another primate researcher Frans de Waal asks, "Another more sensitive issue is, how many people knew about the misconduct, or how many could have known about or suspected it? Advisors, students, postdocs, close colleagues? Was the scientist solely responsible, as the dean claims, or is there more to worry about?"

It's a legitimate question, but a part of me is surprised this doesn't happen more often. Who really would have both the knowledge and the standing to say something is misconduct were occurring. Really, the only other people most familiar with the data would likely be the graduate students, and it would be very difficult for them to say something. There's a reason the report is anonymous....

Or to put it another way, how many times have you been in a situation where a boss or co-worker has done something you find questionable - yet you said nothing. If you do say something, are you labeled as being argumentative? Not a team player? I know I've been on both sides on this one, and neither position leads to a good night's sleep. I'm glad Dr de Waal adds "the students who exposed the misconduct deserve praise" to his questions of responsibility. I bet it was a tough situation for all of them.

I don't know how to resolve a system for checking scientific data or even allowing for whistleblowers to feel safe. I do believe that an ethical climate starts from the top. Both in modelling behavior and for allowing people to provide feedback (it's one reason democracies are better than dictatorships). I've been in situations where people I am "leading" have told me what I'm doing wrong. It can be annoying, but it does have one benefit - at least I have a clue that I may need to rethink something critical before something really goes irretrievably wrong.

Technology in the Amazon

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A few weeks ago, I commented that blindly adopting new technology doesn't always work in every situation around the globe. But when new technology adoption is done thoughtfully, it can produce amazing results.

On one of my Listservs, they published a great article from Brazil about how indigenous tribes in the Amazon are using the Internet to preserve their culture and their environment. A lot of minority groups are using the Internet (and Unicode :)) as a way to document and transmit their language.

One chief in the Amazon went further though and started using Google Earth to plot deforestation within their territory, and now various indigenous groups in the region are working together on various preservation and political projects. Contact between indigenous cultures and the West has often spelled disaster, but it's also nice to know that the modern era is bring tools that indigenous people can use to adapt and survive.

An Initial HTML 5 Test

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HTML 5 has been suggested as an alternate for interactive apps such as games and multimedia, so I thought I would join in on the testing fun. My actual interest is actually a basic one - how difficult is it to do a basic transition from an older page type to HTML 5?

The answer is that the transition is not too bad...especially if you've been using/moving to using technologies such as CSS and SSI. Here is what I did for a basic Web 1.0 page. That's good news for both developers and the promoters of HTML 5, because they promise lots of backwards compatibility.

Starter Page

The page I am working with is the Penn State Extended Keyboard Accent Codes for the Macintosh - currently an XHTML Transitional page with heavy duty CSS and SSI implementation for the header, footer, navigation tabs and other elements. The HTML 5 version has been posted if you want to check code/display.

BTW - the reason it's "Transitional" is that the site began as an HTML 4 page back in 2000 at a time when CSS implementation was still iffy and FONT tags were still in use. I've tried to clean up the code over the years, but I normally find junk from older versions. And I will find it again in the HTML 5 experiment up.

Initial Conversion

HTML 5 starts with the HTML 4.01 tag sets and adds to it. Therefore, a basic conversion is actually very simple if you're going from HTML 4 to HTML 5 - you need to add the following doctype declaration right at the top of the HTML file:

<!DOCTYPE HTML>
<html>

Yes, that is the entire doc type "HTML". As Webmonkey puts it, it's "Finally, a doctype anyone can remember." FYI - HTML 5 is case insensitive so you can "transition" to HTML 5 even if all your tags from capitalized tags from HTML 3.

Moving from XHTML

The conversion from HTML 4.01 to 5 is fairly easy, but if you're like me, you're actually converting from XHTML which is where some standards experts will wonder if we're losing our minds. Before you lose faith though, it's important to remember that HTML 5 is actually adding some tags like FOOTER, HEADER, MENU which add semantic value.

From a code point of view, this primarily means that you should delete the final "/" in XHTML tags like <img /> and <hr /> to return them back to 1990s style <img> and <hr>. A search and replace operation should do the trick, but if you are using Dreamweaver CS5, you can use the Convert option under the File menu to switch formats.

This will not only remove the "/" from different tags but will change some of the header metadata tags (e.g. the language declaration) from XHTML to HTML 5 syntax. It will also allow you to switch back to XHTML Transitional if need be. Of course, you should be working on a second copy anyway...for now.

Implementing HEADER, MENU, FOOTER

A nice class of tags added to the HTML 5 spec are page structure tags like <header>, <footer> and <menu>. These represent common sections of a page such as the header on the top, the footer on the bottom and different blocks of site navigation.

The HTML 5 team apparently noticed that many modern Web sites create DIVS for these sections for the purposes of CSS. These tags standardize these common classes as tags which makes porting data between sites a little easier. For instance, you would no longer have to worry about whether the header was in <div class="header"> or in <div class="topheader"> or <div class="logoheader">. It's all <header> now.

See some pre HTML 5 and post HTML 5 code for comparison of a navigational menu. I think you'll see that the HTML 5 code is a little easier to parse.

XHTML Transitional

<ul class="menu">
<li><a href="index.html">HOME</a></li>
<li><a href="bylanguage.html">BY LANGUAGE</a></li>
<li><a href="platform.html">BASICS</a></li>
<li><a href="accents.html">ACCENTS</a></li>
<li><a href="web.html">WEB DEVEL</a></li>
<li><a href="glossary.html">GLOSSARY</a></li>
<li><a href="sitemap.html">SITE MAP</a></li>
</ul>

 

HTML 5

<menu>
<ul>
<li><a href="index.html">HOME</a></li>
<li><a href="bylanguage.html">BY LANGUAGE</a></li>
<li><a href="platform.html">BASICS</a></li>
<li><a href="accents.html" >ACCENTS</a></li>
<li><a href="web.html">WEB DEVEL</a></li>
<li><a href="glossary.html>GLOSSARY</a></li>
<li><a href="sitemap.html">SITE MAP</a></li>
</ul>
</menu>

FYI - If you do have multiple navigational schemes, you can create custom CSS classes for the MENU tag.

CSS: Don't Forget display:block

With the exception of Internet Explorer, most modern browsers (Firefox/Safari/Opera) already support these HTML5 structureal tags. Technically they support any tag you wish to make up including everyone's favorite, the <foo> tag. All these browsers do is check the CSS sheets for display instructions.

Note though that there is a default CSS set for standard HTML tags like BODY, H1, H2, and so forth. Our CSS is basically adding additional display information. For newer or made up tags, you have to start from scratch and that includes the CSS display: block syntax which basically says "This class/tag is a DIV like block and not a SPAN." You also need to manually set margins and padding.

Fortunately, you generally only need to add/modify these pieces of information and everything else can stay the same. See example XHTML and HTML 5 code for a header block. Notice that I am also modifying the display of links within a header.

XHTML Transitional

/* Makes logo area blue */
#logoheader { margin: 0px; padding: 5px; background-color: #00B; color: #FFF; }

#logoheader a {text-decoration: none; color: #6AF;}
#logoheader a:hover {text-decoration: none; color: #FFF;}

 

HTML 5

/* Makes logo area blue */

header {
   display: block;
   margin: 0; padding: 5px;
   background-color: #00B;
   color:#FFF;
}

header a {text-decoration: none; color: #6AF;}
header a:hover {text-decoration: none; color: #FFF;}