HTML and All That

I am currently reading Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman (New Riders, 2003).  After reading part I of this book I feel fully justified in my long-held aversion to web programming.  Even now it is apparently only possible to get reasonably consistent results across all browsers by resorting to ugly hacks. 

The immaturity of the whole field reminds me of programming the half-baked microcomputer BASIC interpreters of the early 1980s: some things that you want to do are either impossible or else can only be done in an extremely inefficient way.  Well known principles such as "Keep each item of information in one and only one place" and "Use symbolic names for numerical constants" are just ignored.  However, I suppose this immaturity is only to be expected in a field that has gone through an exponential growth phase during which new people have been coming into the field faster than good programming principles spread.

Zeldman's book provides a good account of both the horrors and the W3C's proposed cures and gives lots of practical examples.  However, it is not an introductory book: it assumes a familiarity with HTML, XHTML and CSS.


Buzzards over Reading

Last Friday evening, as I was going out with Zoe and Liz, I saw a large bird out of the corner of my eye.  I assumed, from its size, that it must be a grey heron but it disappeared behind a nearby block of flats before I could get a good look at it.  I walked on a few steps so that I would be able to see it again as it reappeared round the side of the flats but instead, it came back over the roof, and then it was clear that it wasn't a heron but a large bird of prey, dark all over except for white areas on the undersides of the wings.  Its tail was narrow like that of a kestrel, but the bird was much larger than any kestrel.  Reference to the BWP-CE confirmed my suspicion that this must have been a buzzard (Buteo buteo).  Buzzards vary in the darkness of their plumage.  This one must have been one of the darker ones.

I have seen birds that I suspected were buzzards before, but they have always been high in the sky, far too high to see any detail on them.  This one was at low level and only about 30 metres away and the markings were clear.  Zoe and Liz saw it too.

Earlier this year, while I was at work, Liz and Zoe saw a large bird of prey, that might have been a buzzard, eating a wood pigeon on our back lawn.  However, neither of them was able to provide a good enough description to allow me to identify it.  Later that day that bird carried the dead pigeon up onto our roof, presumably to be able to finish its meal without being disturbed.  By the time I got home all that was left was a scatter of pigeon feathers on the lawn.

Several years ago I was walking with Zoe along Kennetside in central Reading when we heard a mewing sound from above and looked up to see a large bird of prey high up, apparently being mobbed by some gulls.  That too was probably a buzzard, as their characteristic call is a mewing sound.


Egyptian Geese on Reading University Lakes

This afternoon I went for a walk with Liz  and Zoe around the three lakes in the grounds of Reading University.  These are set in an area of parkland that is just 10 minutes walk from where we live.  Liz often takes Zoe there to feed the ducks and geese after school.

For the past five years --and probably longer-- there has been a pair of Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus) living on the larger of these lakes.  These are fairly weird looking birds which come in two forms: a darker rufous form with dark brown eye-patches and a lighter grey form with much fainter eye-patches. Our pair consists of one rufous and one grey.  The grey one --probably the female-- has a deformed leg and always seemed rather sickly, so last year I was surprised when the pair successfully reared three chicks.  This year they reared two more, and two of the previous year's offspring also reared a chick between them.  That makes eight in all, but Zoe tells me that one of last year's brood has either died or  else has left the area (presumably in search of a mate).  That leaves seven.  This afternoon we saw five of the extended family during our walk.  All of the chicks, both this year's and last, appear to be of the rufous form (this suggests that the grey form is genetically recessive).

I understand that there are only about 900 Egyptian geese in the UK and that 90% of these live in the wetlands of Norfolk. This means that our seven Egyptian geese represent about one thirteenth of the UK population outside Norfolk! (Of course, this assumes that the rest of the UK population has stayed the same.)

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