Archive for August, 2013

Good Birmingham decorator, plasterer, electrician, double-glazing, roofer, plumber

Possibly my dullest-ever post, but two years after moving into a somewhat run-down Victorian house in South Birmingham (West Midlands, UK not Alabama) I’ve used lots of tradesmen – on one memorable occasion, I had 2 plasterers, 2 roofers and an electrician in at the same time.

These were all recommended to me by people I trust, and I can definitely recommend them to anyone else.

Double glazing

Badger Windows – a double-glazing company recommended by a friend, that didn’t try a hard sell or do stupid shenanigans to “give a discount”. They turned up when they said, did the job cleanly, and didn’t ask for money up-front, but invoiced a month later. (I regret using Anglian previously – they mucked around with installation dates, had to come back because the factory had sent the wrong thing then had to be called back because the new double-glazed door had a draught.)

Decorator, wallpapering, painting

Andy Day (0121 733 7359) decorated my previous house. Ten years later, we moved out and the decoration was still really good so we hired him again. He redid almost all of my new house, hanging paper immaculately on 10 feet high walls. He turns up when he says, takes half an hour to eat his sandwiches, and leaves at six until the job’s done. He was recommended to me by a police officer and is also a very nice bloke, which is helpful when you work at home and have someone in your house for 3 weeks.

Plastering

Andy Day (above) recommended Dean Beach (07833 974859) who did some beautiful work clearing artex off, skimming and repairing some walls and broken coving (from when electricity had been installed half a century ago). Very good price, takes real pride in the job.

Roofing

My brother recommended Gary Coles (07949 739056) who painted the eaves on my three-storey house, sorted out a couple of leaks, capped some chimneys for a very fair price, without trying to tell me I need a new roof (which the surveyor said I might).

Electrical work

Jason at Knight Security (they do burglar alarms too: 0121 706 5799) added some lights, light switches and plug sockets, lowered the main fusebox (it was 10 feet up – hard to deal with in the dark if the lights go!), installed extractor fans in the shower. Recommended by two different friends.

Plumber

Jason the electrician – who’s also a guitarist – recommended his mate Paul (07902 624295) who’s both a plumber and a drummer to install a new radiator in a radiatorless, cold hallway. £150, including the radiator.

Handyman, shower installation, tiling, handmade oak garage doors

I recommend my old schoolfriend Matt who did loads of stuff for me. Drop me a line if you want details.

Reading List

Here’s your bank holiday reading list!

We need a war on authoritarianism

It was with incredulity that I read the reports of that David Miranda, partner of the Guardian journalist who worked on the Snowden leaks, was detained by UK agents for 9 hours under anti-terrorism legislation. (In what sense is Snowden related to terrorism, anyway?)

It felt like when I was back in my teens, when the government attempted to ban books and every CND or anti-fascist march I went on (most weekends) would be surrounded by police photographing all the marchers, and every newsletter I received from the British Communist Party was mysteriously opened in transit.

The Thatcher years were dark times for real liberals – the neocons were economic “liberals” but social authoritarians (see Section 28 as an example), and I hoped that the UK was getting better when Blair came to power. Ha!

I used to switch voting between the Labour and Liberal parties, in order to ensure the Tories stayed out. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t vote Labour again while those who supported introducing ID cards were in its hierarchy. For people my age (who grew up in the 70s, just 20 years after the end of WW2), a representative of the state murmuring “papers, please” in a film was a short-cut for Soviet or Nazi state. I’ve always been proud that in the UK, if I’m lawfully going about my business, no-one has a right to ask me to prove who I am. (Of course, if I had been a young black man, the Sus law would have been my nemesis).

But now we have a government made of a coalition of the Liberal Party and the Conservatives that seems to me even more authoritarian. The Conservatives constantly bang on about “rolling back the state”, but that is a smokescreen for ideological dismantling of state benefits, of planning regulations and of redistribution of wealth. The state increasingly meddles in the lives of people in the UK, even though the government promised

We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion. The Coalition: our programme for government (section 3) (PDF, 475K)

Yet they want to censor the Web (probably the UK’s greatest contribution to the modern world) and set up centralised databases of who wishes to view certain types of material with no transparency or accountability, and without a Parliamentary debate. They snoop on us via information provided by the outrageous US PRISM surveillance system. People are hounded for expressing unpleasant views on social networking. They use anti-terrorism legislation to intimidate a journalist. I’m too scared to go on protests because of heavy-handed policing – Ian Tomlinson was killed by the Metropolitan Police.

I used to mock Americans who were programmed to believe their government was corrupt and intrusive. Of course, that can lead to weirdos in the mountains with huge caches of legal guns, or the absurdities of an American friend of mine who told me once that she had no moral obligation to pay any tax while bemoaning the fact that there is no NHS in the USA.

But I’m starting to feel that the Americans who are healthily suspicious of government have a point. Just as any company in a capitalist economy tends to monopoly (the imperative to maximise profit and marketshare inexorably points that way), it seems that, without proper check and balances, all government tends towards authoritarianism.

It’s obvious that in the UK we no longer have the correct checks and balances. “They” do as they please, because we – and “they” – have forgotten that they work for us, and are not our masters. This doesn’t feel as the UK should. We, the people, need to declare a war on authoritarianism.

On citing quotations. Again.

Every so often, the conversation about how to cite quotations in HTML comes up again.

I’ve experimented throughout the years. In the heady XHTML days, I did

<blockquote cite=”http://example.com/foo”>
Blah blah
<cite><a href=”http://example.com/foo”>Your mum</a></cite>
</blockquote>

but it annoyed me that I was repeating a URL, and the cite attribute was invisible, anyway, so dropped it for

<blockquote>
Blah blah
<cite><a href=”http://example.com/foo”>Your mum</a></cite>
</blockquote>

Then, HTML5 came about and changed the definition of the <cite> element to explicitly disallow citing the name of people. This was a mistake: HTML4 allowed it, so it broke backwards compatibility. Millions of WordPress websites used <cite> to mark up the names of commenters, so it made a very common use case suddently non-conforming. Anyway, no validator could possibly know whether <cite>Jane Eyre</cite> was citing the book or the person.

But, anyway, as part of learning HTML5 I was determined to “do it right” so I switched to using

<blockquote>
Blah blah
<footer><a href=”http://example.com/foo”>Your mum</a></footer>
</blockquote>

because <footer> is explictly allowed inside a blockquote, and the spec says “A footer typically contains information about its section such as who wrote it, links to related documents, copyright data, and the like.”, which seemed highly appropriate.

However, Hixie nixed this idea; apparently, this was for quoting a footer rather than attributing a quotation. (What about quoting a header?). Also, the metadata about the blockquote isn’t actually part of the blockquote.

As my fellow HTML5 Doctor, Oli Studholme has showed, people seldom quote exactly – so sacrosanctity of the quoted text isn’t a useful ideal – and in print etc, citations almost always appear as part of the quotation – it’s highly conventional.

Some have suggested

<figure>
<blockquote>
Blah blah
</blockquote>
<figcaption><a href=”http://example.com/foo”>Your mum</a></figcaption>
</figure>

and that’s fine, but requires more markup, and potentially more complex CSS.

The advantage of cite-inside-blockquote is that it’s obvious what refers to what, because the citation is nested inside the quotation. Without CSS, browsers tend to italicise the citation, so it’s visually obvious that it’s not part of the quotation, but it is indented with the quotation as is very common with print. Also, crucially, it’s a very common markup pattern used by authors, as Steve Faulker has showed.

Once again, I propose that the definition of <cite> be reverted to include the real-world use for marking up names of those cited, and that the spec note that cite-inside-blockquote is one way (although not the only way) to link a quotation with the work or the person being quoted.

Also see

Reading List

Responsive images

WebKit has (partially) implemented a new attribute to our ancient chum <img> called srcset that allows authors to send a high-res image only to browsers that have high-resolution displays. It looks like this:

<img alt=… src="normal-image.jpg" srcset="better-image.jpg 2x">

That “2x” thing after the file name means that if a browser has 2 or more physical pixels per CSS pixel (eg, high resolution), it is sent better-image.jpg. If it’s not high-res, or if it’s a browser that doesn’t support srcset, it gets normal-image.jpg. There’s no JavaScript required, and it doesn’t interfere with browsers’ pre-fetch algorithms because it’s right there in the markup.

You can extend it further if you want to:

<img alt=… src=… srcset="better-image.jpg 2x, super-image.jpg 3x">

This implementation doesn’t have the horrible “pretend Media Queries” syntax that sources close to Tim Berners-Lee* called “like, a total barfmare, man”, but this is potentially a great leap forward; it saves bandwidth for the servers, stops people downloading gigantic images that they don’t need, is easy to understand and has graceful fallback.

Let’s hope it turns up in Blink, Trident and Gecko soon.

* “sources close to” is UK newspaper code for “we just made it up”.

Graceful degradation of SVG images in unsupporting browsers

Very very clever: SVG and <image> tag tricks. (Yes, <image> which the HTML5 parser aliases to <img>.)

Microdata / RDFa / “semweb” shizzle/ SEO

In The Downward Spiral of Microdata, nice Mr Manu Sporny predicts the death of “HTML5” Microdata and the triumph of RDFa Lite now that both WebKit and Blink have dropped support for the Microdata API (which allowed JS access to Microdata).

Co-incidentally, Mr Sporny is an inventor of RDFa Lite. Personally, I don’t care which triumphs – now only Opera Presto supports the Microdata API, there is no technical reason to prefer one to the other (in fact, as Facebook supports RDFa and not microdata, so you could argue it has greater utility).