Recently in Standards Category

Word Text in Movable Type (DON'T DO IT)

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Pasting text from Word into Movable Type can be tricky. Take this innocuous looking

I am a simple sentence with no formatting (pasted from Word).

Ha! That's what you think. You've actually pasted the code below. It looks good now in a blog entry, but I did discover a "feature" that in some of the widgets, the MS code is the one displayed. At least it's Unicode ;)

<meta name="Title" content="">
<meta name="Keywords" content="">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
<meta name="ProgId" content="Word.Document">
<meta name="Generator" content="Microsoft Word 2008">
<meta name="Originator" content="Microsoft Word 2008">
<link rel="File-List" href="file://localhost/Users/ejp10/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/msoclip/0/clip_filelist.xml">
<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
</xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
  <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>
  <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>
</xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
 <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276">
 /* Font Definitions */
    panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4;
    mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;}
 /* Style Definitions */
p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal
    font-family:"Times New Roman";
    mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";
@page Section1
    {size:8.5in 11.0in;
    margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in;
<!--[if gte mso 10]>
 /* Style Definitions */
    {mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
    mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
    font-family:"Times New Roman";
    mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";


<p class="MsoNormal">I am a simple sentence with no formatting (pasted from Word). <span style="font-family: &quot;Times New Roman&quot;;"><o:p></o:p></span></p>

<!--EndFragment--><br />
<br />

Brad Kozlek from Blogs at Penn State contacted me to let me know that they have fixed the system so that Word Code is no longer displayed in the widgets, but it only applies to blogs created after Jan 2010 or those with refreshed templates.

Open Office XML Hacks

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Just ran into an interesting article on hacking Open Office

Even if you don't hack, I think it's an interesting case study of how XML underlies many modern application settings.

Hidden Impact of Unicode

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Sometime last week I half joked that I would only start a Unicode group only if "I wanted to eat lunch alone." Brett asked if I was selling Unicode short, and the as with many things, the answer is both yes and no.

Actually, a lot of people at Penn State ARE interested in Unicode, but in what I would call a "just in time fashion" when they need to troubleshoot something so that they can type out what needs to be typed. This happens surprisingly frequently (see list below).

The Unicode site also receives a large number of hits with over 100,000 users hitting the Windows Alt Code (and the Mac Extended Keyboard Codes Pagee is popular as well).

The site also receives relatively heavy Penn State usage from students looking for "Spanish accent codes" (and also French). Clearly there are lots of desperate people who needs a reference to accent codes, and I am proud that Penn State provides one.

But as a topic people want to discuss in depth...not so much. I know because I've seen the low attendance of my local seminars just on "Accent codes" or "Unicode." So low that when ITS Training ran a list of popular seminars they wanted to see continued...mine was not included (sniff).

All theatrics aside, I am actually OK with that scenario. Unicode should be such a low level tool that you should be taking the ability to type a ŵ granted (like picking up the phone or turning on the TV, pre-remote). We're just not there yet, so we need troubleshooting resources.

I believe that it takes a slightly different set of cognitive wiring to love the tangled web of hex to decimal conversion, spelling rules, and dialect tagging. I just happen to be one of these people (and there are others like me here at Penn State).

And believe it or not, I think that my expertise in Unicode has afforded me some opportunities that I might not have gotten yet such as a reception in Adobe headquarters and a trip to an NSF workshop. Plus I get to consult (and ocassionally argue with) people from all over the world - something any Unicode junkie lives for.

But is Penn State being neglected? Obviously I do try to track other important technologies like blogs, RSS, Web 2.0 and pedagogical development like gaming and authentic learning. Again though, Unicode has cropped an amazing number of times in the darndest ways. Here's that list I mentioned

Penn State Projects Involving Unicode Issues

  • Spanish Course Accent Codes (obviously)
  • Statistics course - why we COULDN'T use Unicode in 2000
  • Symbolic Logic Course, Symbol Codes
  • Presenting Chinese symbols in course lecture over Adobe Connect
  • Thermodynamics Course, More Symbol Codes
  • Etymologique French Etymology Quiz in PHP (that œ is a tricky devil)
  • ANGEL - broken accent codes
  • ANGEL - garbled display after visiting site in Korea
  • Why the Unicode page stopped working after a server upgrade (Apache issue)
  • Consult with University Libraries when they switched to a Unicode Catalog database
  • Set up of international utilities in CLC labs including QWERTY Russian keyboards

And every tool should be tested for Unicode (it's amazing how much better Unicode implementation is these days).

So Unicode has been an a real opportunity for me to learn more about Penn State and multiple technology issues. It's been fun really. Maybe I should find a way to spread the joy more (or not).

Ordered Lists and CSS - Are we losing semantics?

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I'm about to question a pearl of standards/accessibility conventional wisdom and ask if we need to rethink how ordered lists are coded in terms of CSS. That is, are we putting too much semantic information in the CSS?

The standard mantra for ordered list OL standards is to use stylesheets to change list numbering types as in the examples below. Another is to make sure that nested lists change numbering schemes between levels to mark a change in list level.

Capital Alphabetical
Lower Roman
  1. Item 1
  2. Item 2
  3. Item 3
  1. Item A
  2. Item B
  3. Item C
  1. Item i
  2. Item ii
  3. Item iii

This is a change from the old days when you would specify numbering schemes and start points with embedded attributes (e.g. <list type="A"> if you wanted capital letters).

From a processing level it makes sense because all ordered lists are numbered lists in disguise. And since modern screen readers appear to recognize the new styles, it appears that a major hurdle is cleared.

On the other hand, this means that all numbering scheme information is in a CSS? That's fine...unless a user chooses to ignore your stylesheet and use a custom style sheet. Then the potential is for a nested listed with distinct numbering levels to become an inaccessible nested list using the same numbering scheme at all levels. Hmmm.

Nested List with CSS Nested List, CSS Disabled
  1. Top Level Item 1
    1. Second Level 1
    2. Second Level 2
      1. Third Level 1
      2. Third Level 2
  2. Top Level Item 2
  3. Top Level Item 3
  1. Top Level Item 1
    1. Second Level 1
    2. Second Level 2
      1. Third Level 1
      2. Third Level 2
  2. Top Level Item 2
  3. Top Level Item 3

I'm not sure how serious a problem this is, but it is a possible gotcha. The line between "presentation" and "semantics" can be a little fuzzy at times. Of course, if I want my Hebrew numbered lists, I have to rely on the new styles.

Postscript (Feb 13)

This issue is being discussed on one of the language tech list, and someone else made the same objection (I'm glad it's not just me).

MathML for IE7 Update

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My last write-up on MathML indicated that I was having problems implementing MathML on Internet Explorer 7.

As it turns out I did get a rapid note from Design Science, the creator of the MathType equation editor which explained that MathML could be implemented on Internet Explorer 7 and they sent me a link to their MathML documentation at :

I did want to expand my horizons, so I read their information. First, they did admit that there is no set of code that will work on all browsers (Math ML in IE 7 has a slightly different syntax). Fortunately, they do provide Javascript code for a browser sniffer.

In terms of viewing page in IE 7, you may have to download the MathType plugin. The first time it runs, you will likely get a security warning. You need to right-click and agree to run the Active X control.

IE Math ML Test Page

I did get MathML to run on my version of IE 7 (finally), but it looks like developer will be creating double versions of MathML for a while.

Comment on Future Support

As with any browser war, there is a question of which version of MathML within HTML will be supported in the long run. Both implementations have their annoying quirks, I am placing my bets on the Firefox raw MathML win HTML version. One reason is that it is supported by Firefox and Opera which are known for promoting cross-platform standards. Indeed, the Firefox solution is the one used at the W3C MathML Test Suite. Also It's also the only method which works on any Mac browser at all (and yes there are technical researchers who do use a Mac). If you want Mac & PC, this is the only route.

A key player may be Safari - it would be interesting to see if they developers at Apple choose to implement the Firefox solution, the Microsoft solution or nothing at all.

Time for a Montenegran Web Site?

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While I was Brett's Gaming Commons blog entry on the totally awesome RJDJ interactive music application for the iPhone, my inner geek noticed that the download was actually from with the .me domain

I knew about the .tv domain (which is really the South Pacific island Tuvalu), but this was new so I checked it out. The .me domain is in fact from the country Montenegro (one of the many republics formed from the former Yugoslavia), and it has only become available in January 2008. from

By July though, it turned out that GoDaddy was having a little problem sorting out multiple applications for and other popular .me ideas. It's always great to see how international protocol interacts with the marketplace.

Speaking for the former Yugoslavia though, we did lose a potential domain treasure when their original domain .yu was discontinued. Alas, there will not be any over18funfor.yu sites coming our way any time soon.

MathML Testing & One Weird Benefit

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Math ML is one of those standards that has been waiting for implementation for years. It's been on my list to try "one of these days" and I used an engineering course to try it out. First, it helps that modern equation editors are not exporting MathML files - I wouldn't want to try and code these by hand.

Browser Implementation

Unfortunately, I was disappointed to learn that MathML is inconsitently implemented on the different browsers. It works best in Firefox, but only if you embed the HTML & MathML together in a true XML page (with the <?xml version="1.0"?> header) and change the extension to .xml or .xhtml). The good newa is that If you're comfortable with CSS, you can apply styles to get some very nice effects (either in a DIV or directly on the tags).

See Fake Blog Test Page with MathML (with .xhtml extension)

Update on Feb 4, 2009 - Firefox users should install an MathML font. For now I recommend the font from MIT (scroll down), but the Stix font should be available at some point in the future. I also recommend upgrading to Firefox 3.

The same file will also work in Opera, but with some display quirks (at least for exponents). Safari has no MathML support, but you can kluge some results with the right CSS stylesheet...but that page will look weird in Firefox (sigh).

As far as I can tell, IE 7 is hopeless. Once you change the extension from .htm/.html, IE 7 treats the file as a "random" XML file and can no longer parse the HTML tags properly - everything runs together on the page. I think you could fix the HTML part, but recreating a CSS stylesheet (e.g h1,h2,h3,h4,p,ol,ul: {display:block}...but is it worth the hassle? The real problem is that the MathML does not display correctly.

In theory, there are plugins for MathML for IE 7, but they were designed for older versions of IE. The one I tried hasn't worked so far. To make it worse, when it did work, you apparently had to use an OBJECT tag (in an .html page) which then makes it stop working in Firefox - Arggh.

Update on 8 Dec - I was able to view a version of MathML of IE7, but the syntax is not the same. See the IE 7 and MathML Update entry for details

Weird Benefit

If it ever works, it will be great because the MathML versions display much better than the GIF/JPG files generated by the Equation editor (see below for comparison). You can also make minor edits in the code to fix any typos/formatting issues (such as super tniny exponents)

Image Generated by Equation Editor (Fuzzy)

Fraction - a = 27 r squared times T sub c squared over 64 P sub C

Image of Equation Generated by MathML (Sharper)

Same Fraction Rendered in MathML/Firefox

Which leads me to the weird benefit - I CAN use MathML in Firefox to post the equations and take screen captures for all other browsers. Plus, you can then have a record of the MathML to use for quick corrections. Then...when everyone gets to the same place, it will be nice to have a repository available to plug in later.

Import/Export Literacy?

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I know we probably don't need a new literacy, but today I've been contemplating the task of possibly transferring large repository of links into I could hand-enter the links, but the repository does number in the thousands (in other words, I don't think so).

The better choice is to batch import them - this will be faster and more accurate, and will save me from potential Carpal tunnel issues. Alas though any import/export will require me to delve into the mechanics of file format and tags more than is normally necessary.

According to the blog, there is an import tool, but it only works with the Netscape bookmark file format. This would be fine, but not all lists of bookmarks are stored in your browser. If you're like me, you may lists of links in all sorts of places like a list in a Word file, a spreadsheet, your blogroll or perhaps in a database backend

That doesn't phase me, because once I get a hold of the Netscape book format, I know I will be able to massage my list and get it to work, sooner or later.

It's this magical massage process that I would include in Import/Export literacy. Throughout my career, I've been presented with some large block of data that I've had to import into a database, reformat for Quark, extract for further calculation or reformat into a human-readable report. At this point I have to pull out a set of magic wands called:

  • Export or to comma/tab delimited file
  • Concatenate (add canned text)
  • Use text functions to extract portions of the data
  • Insert special characters such as ^p for hard return

Sound complicated? I admit it's not intuitive, but it's not rocket science either. I've met plenty of literature majors who have taught me the ropes in their careers as copy writers. If you're willing to take charge and not let that software app beat you, you can learn this....just like I've been able to learn how to switch from DVD view to Cable view.

There's been a laudable trend to simplify what everyday users have to know ("plug and play"), but I sometimes wonder if we are hiding so much that we are hobbling users. Hiding extensions, folders and XML files from users doesn't always help them understand what's going on.

Even a simple process like converting a Photoshop file to a GIF file is confusing if you don't realize there is such a thing as a file type (much less a file extension). It's true that you can accomplish quite a bit without ever seeing the backend of a file, but what you can achieve WITH knowing this is so much more.

Overview of the Penn State Open Source License

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The Penn State Multimedia Teaching Objects are a set of objects which can be downloaded under the "Penn State Open Source License". While this license is not Creative Commons, it actually has the same terms as a liberal GNU/Creative Commons license - namely:

This MTO item can be used royalty-free under the following conditions. See the MTO Item Open Source License for complete terms.

  • The item is distributed AS IS with no implied or stated warranties.
  • The item is restricted to educational or personal use only. Commercial use is not permitted.
  • Copies may be distributed, but only for educational or personal use. This item cannot be sold for profit.
  • You have permission to modify the item, but the derivative work must remain open source and cannot be marketed for profit.
  • Copyright of the original item is held by Penn State.
  • If this item is used, attribution to Penn State is requested.

So why not just use Creative Commons? Because when this project was developed several years ago, Creative Commons was not what it is now. At the time we were investigating this, the closest Creative License version I could create was a Canadian one. If, for some reason, someone had borrowed a file and made a billion dollars, it looked like Penn State would have had to file a law suit in Canada.

Looking at the site again, I do think there might be more merit to the actual license...but I don't regret asking qualified attorneys to review the issue. That's why we consult content experts!

Update on Aug 14

I just read in this New Media & Technology Law Blog (found via a Listserv) that a Federal Circuit court says open source licenses are legally enforceable in the U.S. As I interpret it, it means that if you use an open source license, and someone violates it you can sue in court, even if there are no monetary damages per se. I would presume that this is good news for the Creative Commons effort.

Text is Cheap (and sometimes that's good).

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I'm working on posting a media-rich for the fall (images, video and text), and I really have a new appreciation for the cheapness of text. What do I mean exactly?

  • Text files are much smaller than media files
  • Software to edit text files is cheaper
  • Far more people (e.g. instructors) can edit text than edit videos/images
  • It takes much less time to edit text for the Web than videos/images
  • Less time for accessibility is needed because text is almost accessible by default (it's those pesky fonts and colors that cause problems)

A text-only document is almost always easier to deal with.

So why do I bother with video and images? Because they really CAN convey information in a way that text alone cannot. Even the thermodynamics instructor I worked with commented that she couldn't remember how she got through the old thermodynamics books without the "modern" graphs that apparently "only" the Net Gen audience find so useful.

But it's an expensive proposition. That's why crabby instructional designers sometimes ask if the budget is there for that particular graphic – each one takes a lot of time and energy, usually from a rare, skilled specialist. We want to be sure the effort is worth it, and when it is, it's magic!

P.S. 1 – One thing I like about the Digital Commons is that they are geared towards teaching everyone key video skills. But I bet people quickly find out many hours are required – I think most enjoy it though.

P.S. 2 – Borrowing Creative Commons licensed media is great too...when you can find the right file. In one course lesson, I've only been able to borrow directly 3 times, modify 4 times and the rest (25+) had to be created from scratch.