Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

July 7th, 2003

Traditional post-weekend update

These “what happened to my weekend” posts are becoming a habit. This week included a July 4th barbeque on the deck (complete with thunderstorm!), a trip to listen to some music played during the Yonge street festival, and dinner and anime with Donald.

On the technical side of things there’s been:

  • A fix to my backup script to be able to delete symbolic links correctly.
  • Limited Photo album support added to PubTal (scheduled for version 1.1)
  • Numerous fixes to XHTML handling in SimpleTAL (scheduled for version 3.4)

July 4th, 2003

Speed walking

The BBC has a great article on the trottoir roulant rapide, an extra fast moving walkway currently undergoing trails in Paris.

The animation is neat, and the description reminds me of the moving walkways described in Isaac Asimov books. It only goes up to 9km/h at the moment, but that’s still a pretty fast way of getting around stations and airports.

July 2nd, 2003

Post long weekend, the dull stuff

I design my website for CSS1&2 compliant web browsers. In practise this means I design for which ever version of Mozilla I happen to have installed at the time, although I try and avoid anything Mozilla specific. Once I have a design I try and get it working in Internet Explorer 5.5, and thanks to help from Robin I also get some feedback on IE 6.

My original design didn’t work well in IE. The page contents were being laid out underneath the page subject, rather than next to it as it should have been. This, it turns out, is due to flaky support for floating boxes and the clear property in IE. After some considerable messing around I found a work around (only using three instead of four floats) that seems to work in IE 5.5 OK, and the pages still draw fine in Mozilla.

Now I’ve found that IE is putting random white space between some lines on some pages. Not most, just two that I’ve found so far (for example About SimpleTAL), but it’s still very irritating.

So I either need everyone in the world to upgrade from Internet Explorer to a browser that can layout and display basic CSS pages, or I need to find yet another work around for a bug that is best described by the phrase “IE randomly inserts white space in my content when using floats”. I’m not entirely sure which is more likely to happen…

July 2nd, 2003

Long weekend, the fun stuff

This last weekend was fun. Friday was my birthday featuring Laotian/Thai food at Ban Vanipha, followed by drinks till closing time. Saturday was a house-warming in the dark for Gavin and Lindsay (the power went out due to a fire at the local sub-station).

Sunday was brunch at Mitzi followed by the pride parade. I’ve got 180 photos, mostly of peoples heads, to sort through during a spare moment. There were some really good costumes, and we even spotted some friends in the parade. In the evening was YAP (Yet Another Party), this time out in Mississauga.

Monday was a day of relaxation, and yesterday was Canada day. We spent the evening backing up Shana’s laptop ready for repair, and then went out for the Chin picnic. We heard Gianluca Grignani play, and while he was OK I wouldn’t say that it was the best musical performance I’ve ever listened to. The evening ended with fireworks over Ontario Place, which we could watch from Exhibition Place for free.

July 1st, 2003

It’s summer time!

Hopefully everyone will like, and more importantly be able to see, my new summer theme for It’s taken some tweaking over a week or so to get the final design done, and I much prefer this new look to the older grey/blue colour scheme.

I’ve tested the design under Gecko based browsers, so Netscape/Mozilla/Galeon readers should see everything as intended. If you are using a different browser then please drop me a note letting me know whether it works or not. Feedback on the design is also welcomed, as I’m still new at trying to produce “proper” web designs.

June 26th, 2003

Broken HTML

I feel like I’ve been catching up ever since last weekend, and now another one is almost upon us again. This time it’ll be different, with a national holiday on Tuesday and a day off on Monday, it’s going to be an extra long, long weekend.

The combination of Harry Potter, various birthdays (including my own), parties, and work seem to have consumed most of my week. The latest distraction was implementing a work around for broken HTML in my RSS aggregator.

My aggregator strips out HTML from RSS descriptions for a variety of reasons. Rendering HTML delivered via RSS is a security problem, is unreliable, and almost certainly means that the resulting web page will not be valid. To solve this I strip out all HTML tags and just display the plain text.

This has worked well for many months until the past couple of days. The problem is that someone’s feed I subscribe to contains severely broken HTML. They have entered some HTML comments in their RSS feed (sigh), only instead of using <!-- to start the comment they have instead put <! //

This was causing TALAggregator to log exceptions when trying to parse the feed, resulting in an email to me every 24 hours informing me that it was having difficulties. The solution I’ve used is to abandon using the standard SGML parser that comes with Python, and instead resort to some regular expressions.

Hopefully I can now turn my attention to something more interesting…

June 24th, 2003

Summer time and min-height

I’ve been trying to come up with a new design for my website. I want something appropriate to the season, something summery and bright, rather than the current serious looking grey. My use of PubTal means that I can easily roll-out a new theme, although at this point I have to update the templates for my weblog separately from the rest of the site.

I’ve got an initial design, and although I need to make some further changes, it’s looking fairly good in Mozilla. Unfortunately it doesn’t look anywhere near as good in IE, because IE doesn’t support the min-height CSS property. Apparently Safari doesn’t support this either (see the documentation on the properties Safari supports), although Opera does.

Using min-height is really nice because it combines the ability to ensure the background image of a block is going to be fully visible, and yet still allows the block to grow with it’s content. The only alternative is to specify the height, in which case content will overflow if it’s too large, for example when the user selects a larger text size.

I’m going to see if I can change my design to take this into account, I would rather not have to use CSS hacks to try and hide the markup from IE, because it’ll still be a problem for Safari and probably other browsers as well.

June 18th, 2003

Catching up

As tends to happen early in the week, I’ve once again neglected my journal. A quick update in therefore in order.

At the request of Shana I’ve added categories to the development (i.e. not yet released) version of TALAggregator. This allows for feeds to be placed into a category, and then the “latest articles” view can be adjusted to show a particular category, un-categorised, or all categories. It should make following even more RSS feeds practical.

Work has been busy the last few days, and there are now a couple of trips planned for meetings and presentations. While I still hate using MS Project I am at least beginning to find my way around it more easily.

On Tuesday I saw the remake of The Italian Job. It’s not worth comparing to the original, mainly because there’s so little of the original plot used in it. Worth seeing as a feel good, crime pays, chase scene movie.

June 15th, 2003

Another note

On a completely separate note from the wonderful world of web pages, we have mini-poppadums, bought during this weekends “taste of little Italy”. They are pretty tasty, and indeed very small.

The “taste of little Italy” is tiny compared to “the taste of the Danforth” and involved a lot less food. There were a comparatively larger number of bands playing, including Jazz, a Brazilian drumming/dancing group, and yes even someone singing in Italian.

Overall a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

June 15th, 2003

PubTal released!

Dinner was good, so it’s time to let the world know about PubTal, my latest creation. I’ve been using a fair mixture of different ways to keep my web pages up-to date over the years, from straight HTML pages through to XML transformations using XSLT.

I had hoped that XSLT would become the way for me to manage all my site, but it turned out that both writing the templates and more importantly the content, was too error prone and painful.

A few weeks back I decided to have another go at solving the problem of managing this site, and came up with PubTal. The content for PubTal is written in plain text with minimal HTML markup, which makes editing and creating pages extremely easy. I can even use the spell checker that comes with my text editor, because the content is mostly just plain text.

Templates for PubTal are written in TAL (hence the name) which I find far easier to understand and use than XSLT. XSLT can do a lot more, that’s most of the problem, but for a small site like this you don’t need much from a templating system, and TAL gives all the power you do need.

If you maintain your own web pages then please take the time to have a look at PubTal. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s made my web maintenance easier, and so it should be useful to others as well.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at