"The Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?) TAG suggestions

From john on Thu, 26 Nov 1998

(?) I think that the way you are laying out TAG right now makes it a little hard to navigate. It would almost be better if you ran them all together on one big page, a la $.02 tips. The one word descriptions of other solutions at the bottom of each page are also pretty tough to figure out. How about an onMouseOver window.status() description for each, or something to the same effect? Great job, by the way!

(!) Heather (my wife) does all of the markup.
She's spent many hours, for the last several months refining a script that does the bulk of the conversion from e-mail (adjusted for the quirks of how I format my responses) to HTML.
However, one of the things that we both refuse to do is to rely about non-standard, browser dependent, and particularly upon JavaScript, features.
[ Actually, this is not specifically because I have anything against javascript, though the abuse of certain features on the open web does annoy me considerably; nor because I don't write usable javascript code, for there's certainly a world of tested scripts at http://www.developer.com/ to go with the old Gamelon archives of Java applets; but rather, because I have no interest in making the folks with "modern" browsers lose more memory to a feature that they probably won't use.
and the very idea of shipping someone 90+ full titles of messages, every time they read one of them, is insane. Don't even go there. I'm getting off this soapbox before I scorch it. -- Heather ]
Originally all I wanted was for the URL's that I embed in my text to be wrapped with anchors. However, Heather and Marjorie (my editors) like to have the TAG messages split and like to over some navigation between them. Heather doesn't like sites that only offer "up, next, previous" options in their page footers, so she's implemented the scheme that you're describing.
[ Also, at least one querent begged to be able to go to seperate messages without having to go back up to the index. Others thanked us for switching to an indexed format, as it was much easier to read the index alone and decide what messages they wanted to read.
As for the "tough little words"... I thought it would be nicer than numbers, which is what my script actually generates. The good thing is that they can be figured out at all. They are short so that I can format the table at the bottom so it doesn't look lame and cost more space than the message bodies. As it is, there's so many this time, they're staying numbers. They'll probably go back to words next month, but I won't say for sure. -- Heather ]
One problem I used encounter when TAG was "all one big page" was with search engines. I'd get a new question that correlated a couple of different concepts (IMAP plus Netscape Navigator/Communicator) and I'd get all sorts of spurious hits pointing to my own previous TAG articles.
So I'm glad that we don't still smash all my articles into one page.
[ However, masochists are encouraged to read 'The Whole Damn Thing'... the streamed version of the Linux Gazette. And if I see more than this one request, I may link 'The Whole Damn Answer Guy' (that is, the version I turn in to our Overseer for inclusion to TWDT) as an option off the Answer Guy index. But we're certainly not going back to the old format. Too many people like it, and I've put too much effort into the scripts I use to convert it, to go back. -- Heather ]
However, Heather and Marjorie will see this message (along with other LG readers). I leave the details of formatting for publication entire up to them. Indeed when I first started answer these questions I didn't even know that they'd be published. (I just offered to take on technical questions that were misdirected to the editors). So, I'll focus on providing technical answers and commentary.
[ I make a sincere effort to keep the resulting message looking as close as HTML allows to what the email looks like. When you only see it on the web, it could be hard to recall that it was a plain slice of mail. I feel it's important to keep that feeling. Real people use this software, real people have ordinary problems with it, and real people give a shot at answering them.
Which is the last tack in the coffin of using browser-specific features... real people aren't going to change browsers just to read a webazine, and they're not gonna be happy if it crashes their browser because someone went a bit overboard on the HTML.
So, I've kept changes minimal. I did all the graphics you see here, but except for color, and the split messages, I feel it's still pretty close to the original effort. (The astute reader, or especially the reader without color support, will note that I use EM and STRONG to support color usage, so the color is gratuitous, but does make for more comfortable reading if you have it and there's a lot of quoting.) You can look at the older Gazettes if you'd like to see what they used to look like... I think they look a lot better, but I'm biased ;) Still, if Jim keeps getting messages about the formatting that I'm really responsible for, I'm gonna have to draw my own speak bubble. I still have the blank bubble so it'll be easy. Gimp is cool, when it doesn't crash. Maybe some month when the load isn't too high I'll write an article about the script and how I did the gifs. -- Heather ]
(Personally when I'm browsing through a series of related pages I prefer to bounce back up to the upper/dispatch page and then down to the next. This keeps my current "depth" a bit shorter when I want to back out of my browser completely. (Since I get interrupted and sidetracked frequently while browsing I like to make sure that I'm "done" with each page that's still on the "stack" by backing completely out to the "first document").

Copyright © 1999, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 36 January 1999

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