Web-page Layout


Why valid HTML and CSS are useful versatile tools and not to be feared

One of the things writers often ask when setting up a website is about the layout – coming from print design backgrounds generally they want everything rigidly laid out in certain colours, spacings, fonts and sizes. And this is where the shock lays – the internet doesn’t work like that.

Most of them start having panic attacks at this point but they shouldn’t, and this is why. Everybody has a different computer set up – some people use big screens others small, some use e-readers and some use phones.

Some people use speech synthesis to navigate sites or need to have certain coloured backgrounds and text to be able to read, they need things to appear in different sizes.

Then there is the thorny problem of which operating system they are using and which web-broswer – Windows, Mac OS, Linux, NetBSD etc… each one of these displays the websites slightly differently.

And this is why CSS, HTML and some useful stuff like PHP is designed the way it is. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets and is the most useful thing ever – combined with HTML it means that you can format your page – you can have headers in different sizes – eg, title, sub-title, name. You can designate a preferred font and then if the viewer is on a system that can’t show that font you can put in second and third choices. You can request colours and sizes, and unless the viewer has overridden the colours for some reason, you’ll get that colour. You can request the size of the text relative to the viewer’s preferred normal text size; if they need large text as they are partially sighted, then they will still see your headings as being larger than the body text.

Your site will work on all these different platforms, with all those different size screens being used by all those different people – in other words, your work will be accessible.

You use HTML tags within your writing/article to get the styles to show and everybody’s happy.

Writers are asking me how they can make their writing look nicer on the web – the answer is CSS and if you haven’t got time to learn the intricacies then get someone in. If you are using a blog that supports it you can use a simpler notation than HTML known as Markdown to change sizes of text and mark paragraph boundaries etc…

It is tempting to force control of text styling by placing an image of text on your site. This is often unavoidable for things like corporate logos, but for the main text of a site, it’s unacceptable. Imagine a blind person reading your site with a speech synthesiser; their software can’t read out text that’s in an image.

Just knowing a few of the tags would help you greatly in having a more aesthetic appeal, even if it is not universal – after all a blind person isn’t going to care if your title’s pink or blue. For the visually non-impaired a header image might read My Wonderful Site in lovely swirly text but for those with screenreaders it would just say “unknown image” unless you hide a text version in the HTML using an ‘alt attribute’, but that’s not suitable for anything more than a few words.

This isn’t just a matter of getting your stuff out there accessible and looking pretty; it is also about the discrimination laws. And though no one has yet been taken to court over it – when there is stuff in place to make websites accessible it seems folly not use it.

And don’t be scared of CSS and HTML if you don’t know them there are plenty of forums and help guides out there for you to peruse.

And another good thing about CSS is that you can put stuff into the ‘skeleton’ of your site that only things like google see – so you end up in the right place in search queries. It will also help indexing sites list you, which if you’re looking for lots of visitors can’t be a bad thing.

Ada Lovelace Day – Grace Hopper

Here at Web-Empire we have chosen to honour Grace Hopper for the first ever Ada Lovelace Day. For those of you who do not know what this is all about you might want to read last weeks post.

Although Ada Lovelace was the first programmer, her work in the field was crippled by the lack of an actual computer: but Grace Hopper had no such restriction.

She became involved with computers during World War 2, working on the US Navy’s Mark I computer; she excelled, and after the way turned down an offer of a professorship in order to stay with the Navy.

She was a member of the team that designed the UNIVAC in the late 1940s and early 1950s, during which she pioneered compilation: the technique of writing a program for a computer that translates programs written in languages designed for humans into the actual language of the computer, which soon led to the development of COBOL, a language that is still used today.

It’s easy to underestimate how fundamental that idea is – the native language of a computer, machine code (also known as assembly language), is designed for efficient implementation in digital circuitry: where ‘efficient’ means both that the circuits required to understand the language are cheap to build, and that the circuits can process their commands quickly. These requirements lead to machine code being uncomfortable for humans to program directly. The development of compiler technology meant that humans could write programs in languages designed for humans – then the compiler automatically translates those programs into machine code that the computer can actually run. Nowadays, only a tiny fraction of software is written directly in machine code; generally, this is only done when it cannot be avoided for some technical reason.

Although relatively few people in the industry today know of her name unless they’ve actually gone searching for the history of women in computing, Grace Hopper attracted an amazing list of honours – check out her Wikipedia article for the full list!

Ada Lovelace Day

Tuesday March 24th 2009 is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging about women we admire in technology.

Why should such a day interest us? Is it not sexist? Why is it needed?

It interests us here at Web-Empire because a) it’d about blogging, b) Ada was pretty much the first computer programmer though the computer she was designing the programs for was never finished meaning she could not run her programs. c) there is a dangerous misconception that men are some how more capable of doing ‘technical stuff’ than women – amongst this ‘technical stuff’ computer programming and other areas of science and technology are now seen as masculine pursuits. This has not always been the case – far from it.

Restraining ourselves to just looking at recent history, computer programming was originally considered to be “women’s work” as it involved typing which obviously meant secretarial work. During the second world war women outnumbered men at Bletchley Park by 3 to 1.

Young women in schools who are making career decisions are not always given a balanced view of the careers they could have, pushing them into ill fitting “acceptable” career paths. Whether it is parents not knowing what careers the subjects could lead to or other issues, making people aware that women have actually contributed a lot to science and technology is very important.

If this does not happen and the young women are discouraged or their male colleagues have been led to believe they automatically will not be any good – we will lose valuable contributors to our economy, our national security and to the possibility of the human race actually surviving long enough to do anything useful.

This is why we here at Web-Empire thought you should all know about next Tuesday. the idea is that you write a blog post on an inspiring/admirable woman in technology.

For this reason next week’s Web-Empire post shall go live on the Tuesday and not the Monday.

Ada even had a [programming language](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_(programming_language)named after her, and there are now prestigious industry awards associated with her name.

We hope this has been informative, from all of us here at web-empire.


Twitter is micro-blogging, a cross over between blogging and instant messangers such as ichat and MSN. It is also considered to be a type of social networking. Twitter was founded in 2006 and has been growing in popularity, especially in the last few months (to the extent that we here at web-empire now have ‘What is this Twitter thing?’ as our most asked question).

Each person has their own homepage with twitter were they can post messages up to 140 characters long. These are known as tweets and can be thoughts, what you are currently doing, links to things you find interesting etc…

The tweets appear on your home page, and you can choose to follow other people’s tweets which will appear on your homepage too. Tweets also appear on the public timeline which is a page that shows everybody’s tweets – this, however, has become less interesting and it is hard to catch your own tweets the bigger twitter becomes.

You may also direct a tweet at a friend or accaintance by putting their name after an @ sign in the tweet – these tweets will be brought to their attention as being directed at them, and their name will become a link to their homepage when people view your tweet.

As well as using Twitter’s web site, there are many Twitter client applications you can run on your own computer, which provide an easier interface. In many of these, new tweets from your friends will appear as a small popup window, much like an instant messaging system.

There are also Twitter clients that run on smartphones and PDAs, or you can tweet via SMS/text messages from any mobile phone.

For the community/social journalism side of blogging twitter is helping to get stories noticed or for headlines to break before the article is even written! There is also Twitpic which is a site that allows you to post pictures through twitter.

Twitter has a direct message service on it, for sending private messages to other users, though this too is restricted to the short character count.

There is unique form of spaming going on in twitter where accounts are made, often with nonsense posts (though sometimes not), the whole perpose of which is to get people to click through to adverts and things.

Having said that many companies and individauls such as writers use Twitter as an effective marketing tool, with interesting tid bits for their followers to engage with. However there are considered to be some security risks associated with Twitter as they will share information they have collected with ‘third parties’.

Twitter has recently gone main stream due to the news coverage of Stephan Fry’s usage, much to the horror of those who have been using it and who have watched it grow. This means marketing companies have finally noticed it and that the amount of spam or spoof accounts is likely to sky rocket.

However it does mean that more of the poeple you know will now actually be using it. There are also RSS feeds which you can add to your blogs, social networking sites and websites that show your tweets.

Twitter is fun and versatile and when things are broken they have a lovely picture of the Fail Whale being carried by little birds which we here at Web-Empire love. There is even a Fail Whale fan club complete with merchandise!

However, Twitter is centralised and has control of your account – by it all being based on their servers – this is a potential risk for security reasons as it is one large target to be hacked plus it means if anything happens to the central organisation you could loose all the contacts you’ve made.

But it is free and this means you do not need access to your own space on a server. There are also news letter emails occasionally, too. We like Twitter but it is not the only micro-blogging system which is something we will hopefully cover in future posts.

We hope this has been informative from all of us here at Web-Empire.

WordPress Visual Editor

For those who are using WordPress blogs and use plugins such as markdown or textile to make all the links and formatting appear, the new visual editor may cause a few problems. This was not in earlier versions of WordPress, but is now the default for new blogs when you set them up.

If you edit your work with markdown or in plain HTML, but happen to be in the visual editor, markup such as your links will not work, and will appear as the original markup on the blog, as if your chosen formatting plugin wasn’t installed. If you just change over to the html editor the damage is already done, so the links will still not work; and on top of that there will be all the random html tags the visual editor had put onto the text, all visible within your post. If it is only one post then copy the contents from the visual editor, change editors, delete the contents, and paste in the uncorrupted original. Now everything should work.

However if you have multiple posts you will have to go in and remove all the tags manually.

We at Web-Empire hope this is helpful. For any other problems there is always the WordPress blog and forum themselves!

The Building Blocks of the Blogosphere

Here at Web-Empire we specialise in blogs; setting them up, showing you how to get the most out of them and indeed how to use them. But what is a blog?

“Blog” is a contraction of web-log and can be veiwed as an online diary. A fuller description of what a blog is can be found in our glossary. The concept of a blog is a pretty obvious one; put any writter or diariest online and it was bound to happen sooner or later. This means the origin of blogs and when the first arose is a vague and grey area.

They have also now taken on a life of their own as, unlike diaries kept in the traditional sense, they are interactive – people read them, and people comment on them in direct response to what ever has been posted that day. The original author may then respond and discussions, debates and even full blown arguments may ensue!

The ability to link directly to information that may be interesting or support a cause is also a new dimension for the diariest and journalist to contend with. This can lead to a sort of community where everybody knows somebody who knows somebody – thus mirroring social structure.

Blogs are also highly versatile and capable of having more than one person adding posts. This leads them to being useful for larger organisations as well as the individual, and businesses may set one up for a specific project.

They are searchable in a way books are not. They can have catagories in which posts are placed so if you are interested in all of the posts containing Fruit you can just click on the catagory fruit. And unlike books with contents pages each post can be in multiply catagories and so they act similarly to an index as well.

Another way that many blogs have of searching their contents is the archive, this has everything listed in the month, year etc… when it was posted.

Journalisim, either professional or what is termed Citizen Journalism, is another use of the blog which has grown in popularity. People like Tom Renolds have even had book deals out of it. (By the way we recommend his book).

Blogs are used in many ways and have a huge potential. There is much more to be said on the matter which we at Web-Empire will be addressing shortly. Until then, have a good week.

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