Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Plimsoll Line On The Good Ship Blogger - artist ken allanPlimsoll 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.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Manish Mohan said...

There are advantages in composing a blog post in MS Word. You can format your content, which is hard to do in HTML if you are not used to it.

If you use Wordpress as blogging platform, you should use Past from Word button to past your MS Word formatted text. This retains formatting while removing the extra HTML tags. The Paste from Word button is the sixth button in the second toolbar above the editing window. If you are seeing only one toolbar, click the Show/Hide Kitchen Sink button (usually the last button) on the first toolbar.

In Blogger, pasting from Word is easier. Blogger strips out Words's extra HTML tags by default.

A little hard to explain these in comments here without graphics to show the buttons and toolbars :-).

Paul C said...

Hi Ken,
Love the metaphor and geographical allusion in your post. I learned something on two fronts, or two sides of the hull?

I have experienced that frustration of preparing something in Word and then carrying it over to Blogger, only to be frustrated when I post. I will keep in mind the Notepad feature. I also find if I use Google Docs that problem is eliminated.

V Yonkers said...

On the other hand, I have learned to compose my blog in html and edit view. Not because I know html, but because it allows me to take the html code (i.e. for pictures) that the edit mode assigns, and move it around in html view.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tenei to mihi ki a koutou!

Kia ora Manish!

I use MS Word all the time in writing posts. But experience has shown me that pasting from MS Word into Blogger Dashboard brings across html that can be a devil to clean up. I never copy and paste into Blogger anything from MS Word. I always use Notepad as an interim measure.

Tēnā koe Paul!.

Thanks for the tip about Google Docs. I had a head start in blogging with my previous knowledge of html, learnt when I started writing web pages.

I don't know what I'd have done if I didn't have that knowledge to start with. But like everything else, one learns, I guess.

Kia ora Virginia!.

I frequently dive into the html in Blogger after I've pasted in the text. I can change font colour and sort out 'alt' tags and associated captions. One useful tag is target="_blank" which, when inserted in a link tag opens a new window (or tab in Firefox), allowing the original page to remain in the browser.

Ka kite anō
Catch ya later

Anonymous said...

How does the saying go? You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink?

Unfortunately regardless of the fact that I even included images to show how Word can upset formatting on posts it appears it wasn't adequate. Trouble is I don't think the bloggers who are doing it can see how it is impacting on their formatting. Oh well.... it happens.

Unfortunately the Paste to Word button doesn't necessarily strip out all the code from Word. Definitely didn't when pasted from my version of Word however may work for someone using Word on a Mac.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Ah Sue! The lot of a teacher!

In my first few years of teaching (way back!) I did all sorts of experiments on trying to find out how much my lovely young students had learnt from my energetic and innovative lessons. I really thought I was doing well - till I made some telling assessments.

I actually doubled every mark achieved in the test before giving back the results, for the simple reason that I felt then that it was me who should be assessed and not my students. I knew what my assessment was :-(

But in later years I also learnt not to be so hard on myself. And I don't think you should be either, though somehow, I think you already know that.

My line for the week is:

The biggest barrier to learning is the belief that one already knows all about it.

Thanks for commenting on this rather watery reflection of your post, Why You Shouldn’t Write Your Posts Using Word:-)