Plimsoll Line on the Good Ship Blogger
Several miles inland, on the estuary of the English River Avon, is Bristol City, one of the oldest seaports in the world. It has been in use for over a thousand years. A consequence of Bristol’s geographical location is that it experiences extremely variable tidal flows. Water levels vary as much as 10 metres between tides.
Ships anchored at Bristol were stranded on the mud at low tide. Since they were beached twice a day, they needed to be built robustly to avoid damage. As well, cargo had to be securely stowed to prevent it being ruined by the severe movement incurred when a ship was repeatedly beached and then set afloat with the cycle of the tides.
It is believed that the term 'ship-shape and Bristol fashion' originated because of the critical specifications that ships had to meet before entering Bristol Harbour. Everything on board had to be secure, neat and orderly. In 1805, a floating harbour was built that prevented ships from being beached at low tide.
Ship-shape and Bristol fashion:
I was reminded of this phrase when I read Sue Waters’ advice to bloggers on not using MS Word when writing blog posts. The introduction of messy coding that’s often not seen by the writer, through the practice of copying from Word into the writer’s blog post, can cause problems.
It happens because of the presence of what’s known as html. It is carried across with the text when copying from Word. Sue rightly recommends ‘stripping’ the html by pasting the copied text into a Notepad file, and then copying the ‘cleaned’ text from there into the post. In this way, the html, that may well have been invisible to the unsuspecting writer, is left behind.
So what is html?
HyperText Markup Language sounds a bit of a mouthful. Its initialism, html, is far easier to remember. Html is a code that was developed in the early 1980s to permit the formatting of text for use in web pages. The so-called tags, marked by the < > signs, and code-words written in text form, permit size, colour, and font to be defined for a line of text.
While the actual text is easily recognised in html, the tags and other code-words tend to make it look like gobbledygook. When that’s carried across and pasted with the text into a blog post, it is sometimes displayed as gobbledygook. Not what a blogger wants to see in a newly published post!
Notepad - the html scrubber:
So why does Notepad not permit the html to be carried across? Notepad is really a very simple digital tool. A component of Microsoft Windows, it is the so-called ‘plain text editor’. Because it is so simple, it acts as a filter, so that only the text in a portion of copied data is recognised and accepted into the Notepad file. Presto! Anything that is then copied from the Notepad file will be just text.
The other splendid thing about Notepad is that it is a true WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get). So if there’s something in the text in Notepad that shouldn’t be there, you will see it. Not so with the hidden code in a Word file or text that you copy from a web page.
So why does web page text have code?
A web page invariably uses html for formatting its text. That’s what html is for after all. You can inspect this in a web page by right clicking on the text and selecting View Page Source. Try it on this page. Gobbledygook, right? Copying text from a web page can carry some of that gobbledygook across with the text and it can be pasted, with the entire messy html that you don’t want.
Text that’s copied from a web page can be cleaned of html by pasting into a Notepad file first. So, lesson well learnt. No more messy html.
From now on, we will have the content of our blog posts all ship-shape and Bristol fashion.