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Microformat proving ground

Microformat proving ground published on

From perfect grief there need not be

Wisdom or even memory:

One thing then learnt remains to me,—

The woodspurge has a cup of three.


As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies

As the Vulture teased

Forces the Broods in lonely Valleys

As the Tiger eased

By but a Crumb of Blood, fasts Scarlet

Till he meet a Man

Dainty adorned with Veins and Tissues

And partakes — his Tongue

Cooled by the Morsel for a moment

Grows a fiercer thing

Till he esteem his Dates and Cocoa

A Nutrition mean

I, of a finer Famine

Deem my Supper dry

For but a Berry of Domingo

And a Torrid Eye



WordPress, with the help of a couple of plugins, is … barely … able to add a layer on top for me to edit CSS, to drive the formatting. The worst problem is not actually the part about its being a plugin (and therefore prone to breakage), but rather in how WordPress is unable to save the native HTML dependably. It is evident why this is (for all kinds of reasons WordPress will not allow random HTML injections), but it creates a problem for anyone who … needs more …

Oh! And here’s an Achilles’ heel – the CSS is easily lost. For example, on the site’s front page, the same code that comes out pretty and formatted on the blog post’s page is … busted.

SVG in WordPress

SVG in WordPress published on

So … what I’ve learned is, with the help of an extension one can indeed get an SVG to appear under WordPress … barely. (Take a look at the little Irish Airman experiment.)

It drops in as media, and WordPress can only link to it, not embed it. I.e., via an img, not by including the SVG in the HTML. This is okay for some purposes, maybe not so great for others, since among other things, it makes controlling the scaling relative to the HTML page next to impossible.

The larger theme is the “too much to know” problem. Because people don’t know how to use SVG, support for it is slow to come. Since support for it is slow to come, no one explores it and learns how to use it. Folks like me (nothing special, I just came in through a side door) are outliers again.

Theory of generalized markup, 2014

Theory of generalized markup, 2014 published on

On xml-dev, Arjun Ray posts a link to Charles Goldfarb’s seminal paper on the theory of generalized markup and its application in SGML, which was first published in 1981 and subsequently revised and included, in 1986, as Annex A to the SGML standard (ISO 8879).

Thirty years along we have the web, and everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. The core of Goldfarb’s argument is the same lesson taught daily to neophyte web developers on how much better things are when you hang your styles on “semantic” class attributes.

Such labels are useful today because the elements on which they sit (p, td, li, div, span, what have you) have almost no “descriptive” semantics of their own (a p marks a paragraph?!): they have been reduced to their operations, viz. their effects in the browser. (No, p only starts a new line, with some vertical white space. Or not, as the case may be). The pretense of HTML5 to mitigate this trend with new semantic elements like article and aside acquires a poignant irony when we reflect that it can last only as long as these elements are not used (or abused, if that’s how you look at it) to do stuff in the browser that has nothing to do with what they “are” or are “supposed to be”. At that point (which has undoubtedly already past), the semantics of article, in HTML, become as vacuous as those of p. It means only what you say it means when it does what it does.

Similarly, I wryly note how the WordPress interface into which I type gives me an HTML strong element for its B button and an em for its I button, and how I then use strong to signal what might be term or gi in (“descriptive”) TEI, and em for what might be soCalled. (Someone somewhere has ruled that HTML b is bad and strong is good — it’s semantic! So I get strong whether I like it or not.) And yet, seeing only bold for my strong and italics for my em, you know well enough what I mean. Semantics are so sneaky!

This tug of war has gone on long enough to suggest that it cannot be won. Thus, having emerged as a de facto standard for formatting publications even off line — and accordingly reduced to the “presentational”, for good or ill — HTML kindly permits us, in order that we may do what we need, to sneak our semantics back into our markup. The fact that the application of class attribute values is so hard to constrain, particularly in comparison to the rigid document types imposed by SGML (Goldfarb calls them “rigorous”), is both a terrible weakness and a secret strength.

Does it seem paradoxical that an XML enthusiast should see any good in all this redoubled reversing? I hope not. Why we will never have a fully comprehensive descriptive markup language (after many valiant attempts) is more interesting than the simple fact of it. And the point of XML is not, it seems to me, what SGML so often presumed, to enable “true description” of our information. It is to achieve better layering in systems design, to be more flexible, more expressive, more graceful. As for HTML, if we didn’t have it, we’d have to invent it. And then we’d have to invent CSS to go with it.

Constantly revising

Constantly revising published on

I can’t help myself: I tweak and tweak. I’m a little worried about it. Is the blog post you read anything like the blog post I wrote? That’s a problem with which I am well familiar, and I am willing to live with it. But how about the blog post I wrote: is that one anything like the one I wrote? That’s what’s got me nervous.

In my experience, under the pressure of revision, writing tends to set and harden, like plaster. Eventually there isn’t much more you can do with it without breaking it into pieces. (Maybe you can then make something of the salvage job; maybe not.) We’ll see if that happens here, if these posts eventually settle. If they do, maybe you and I have a chance.

Inkblot here we come

Inkblot here we come published on

Twenty fourteen (what came with the installation) wasn’t half bad, but what tipped me over the edge was the hard-pixel encoding of the CSS. I’m a true believer in relative sizing. Maybe this had nothing to do with how frustrating I was finding it to make the modifications I needed, or maybe not.

The topic is WordPress themes, if the foregoing made no sense to you at all.

So I looked again, and as of now I’m customizing Michael Sisk‘s Inkblot. This is solid stuff that reconciles me greatly to having to live in an HTML world: flexible, straightforward, clean and clear, and as old-fashioned as I want it to look without a lot of fuss. Fantastic work.

Styling experiments

Styling experiments published on

One does want to know to what extent WordPress is flexible and transparent enough to support customization, and not only by an engineer familiar with its inner workings, but the poor, plain, pained user.

Custom tagging? This HTML ‘blockquote’ element has a @class attribute provided by hand in the source. It would be nifty if that gave me a handle for styling it.

If all were well, that would have come out purple … so, it breaks! Back to the drawing board … so it seems that blockquote/@class gets stripped in back. What about arbitrary spans? Or homemade @style values?

Early report … blockquote appears not to be safe. But the spans are pushed through. One can hope divs might also be.

Here’s my special div, to which I would like to assign a hanging indent, which I will do in the CSS….

Some accounting for the nothing of it

Some accounting for the nothing of it published on

(The move to meta happens right away. No! Bad blog! Get it back on its leash.)

So finally I decided I needed a place to log and document current projects and interests, in the hope that some interaction with interested parties might offer me some guidance for the future. I need inputs; the only way to get them is to produce more outputs.

Then too, there’s the question of the “natural form” that any blog tends to take, whether professional or personal, and whether the lines between professional and personal are clear or blurry.

A major motivation for me is discovering that an 18-month lag time for major academic media publication makes for disjunction and asynchronization between levels of attention off and on the web. On the web, things come and go quickly: the half-life for attention is probably days. And I need that tighter feedback loop. Yet to meet other needs than simply diversion or entertainment, however, one needs things to be able to age. So one is writing always for the future as well as the present. This makes for bad writing. Probably the best productions on and for the web are written in the spirit of “here today, gone tomorrow”, even if the hope is that from all the dross, some metal might eventually be mined.

Rather than try and overthink it (always my tendency), I am going to try letting the strategy emerge. Welcome, dear reader, and please let me know what you think.

XML export a must

XML export a must published on

So does WordPress have a tolerably good archiving format, preferably an XML format? We will see.

Not necessarily so much because the stuff will be worth saving, as so that one at least has choices when the time comes.

In the meantime, one should assume that any blogging is more or less writing on water. This is a precariously fragile medium.