Cascading Style Sheets

I’ve looked at articles recommending Cascading Style Sheets before, but I’ve always been frustrated by the browser incompatibilities and bugs. For the last month or so I’ve been following css discussions more closely, and I’m going to try using css again. I still don’t quite understand why people hate tables—I find them to be very useful—but the ability to use a style sheet for my sixty-something pages does appeal to me. So I’m taking a closer look.

I’ve found some good resources—this series of Apple tutorials, for one, and WebMonkey’s Style Sheet Guide then there’s Dave Raggett’s guide—and his useful “ccs readiness” checker HTML Tidy (I’m using Terry Teague’s BBTidy BBEdit plug in port). I’ve also found WDG’s Quick Tutorial and the New York Public Library Style Guide helpful, not to mention all the resources at the CSS Pointers Group.

Next of course is xml.

Text Tools for HTML

I’m old fashioned in a lot of ways. I use a text editor, BBEdit 6.5, to be precise, for my HTML (and for javascript and perl). There’s a version of BBedit, BBedit Lite, that’s free, and supports OS 9.x and OS X, and I started with it. My friend Nicholas Urfé swears by TexEdit Plus accompanied by Dean Allen’s Scripted Writing for the Web AppleScripts (yes, Apple Script is Mac only–including Mac OS X). I have them both on my list of things to look at.

But if I weren’t one of the fortunate users of the blessed Celtic computer, I’d use Arachnophilia by Paul Lutus for html under Windows. He’s announced that he’s rewriting Arachnophilia in Java2, to make it platform neutral because it “is immoral to write programs that only run on Windows.” That’s right—he’s asking users to boycott Microsoft. The new version of Arachnophilia is still CareWare.

Userland Radio and Blogger Pro

Interesting article at Byte by John Udall on Userland’s Radio 8.0.5. He does a better job of differentiating Radio from Blogger and other tools than anything else I’ve seen. I’m thus far unimpressed with user support at Userland; I’ve found places where the documentation, such as it is, is just wrong, as well as numerous instances where Windows information has been left intact in the Mac version of the software; that’s pretty unprofessional. And they don’t respond to user help requests, even though I’m registered and sent very specific information.

QuickTime Live and Education

QuickTime clearly has marvelous potential for instruction–and lots of us are using it. Apple, with its long time interest in education, targeted educators with some specific sessions. The first one I went to was typical of such things—it was presented by an Apple employee with a background in education and instructional technology, with a hot demo. It wasn’t his fault that the technology wasn’t behaving, but it was his fault that the use of technology in his examples, and his own reasons for presenting the sites were not pedagogically effective or clear. Essentially, the technology was driving the instruction (though I think sites like RaceRocks.com have a lot of potential, the presenter left us to figure out the benefits of streaming).

It’s About the Content, OK?

Too often I see educators, administrators, and developers presenting the technology as the reason for instruction. The proposition usually goes something like this:
“We have this really great [camera, server, application&mdash:fill in the technology to suit]—what can we do with it?”

Putting the technology first, before the instruction and the student, makes me crazy. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the content, it’s about finding ways to encourage learning by using technology as one of many tools.

There were several amazing presentations at QuickTime Live that, while not specifically targeting education, were right on the money about how and why to teach with technology—because it’s often more effective, it adds qualities that couldn’t be achieved with other methods, and it makes learning fun. David Gratton, of Totally Hip Software, makers of the altogether wonderful Live Stage Pro, was a perfect example of the right way to teach with technology.

Live Stage Pro–QuickTime Interactivity for The Rest of Us

David showed specific examples of useful techniques–like combining an interactive QuickTime movie with XML to swap data with a server–and immediately tied his examples to specific educational goals–like evaluating student responses. A lot of the session’s effectiveness had to do with David—he knows his stuff, and is personally enthusiastic—but it also had a lot to do with Live Stage Pro and Totally Hip’s ethos. Totally Hip saw an unfilled need–developers and ordinary end users (educators) needed a way to access the enormous power and potential of QuickTime without having to drop everything to learn C. So they created Live Stage Pro, which really is freakin’ awesome, and then created one of the best educational discount programs I’ve ever seen.

I’ll try to locate some of the sites David showed, and get permission to link them, and I will be posting my notes next week One of them, TODD, a movie database that swapped XML, is here. One of the enormously high potential areas David talked about, and QuickTime offers, is getting away from the browser, since a QuickTime file is sort of like a bento box for data–lots of tracks, lots of different kinds of data in those tracks (including XML, also supported by AppleScript), and all of it, including server communication, in a single file, even a tiny ref movie, small enough to attach in an email, as David pointed out.