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Comment Spam: Some Thoughts On Accessibility

Aggregated from posts at accessifyforum.com.

Tommy Ollsen has had some trouble with spam comments on his blog. I can’t sympathise, because nobody visits here. 🙂 But in patience for the day, some accessibility and usability concerns…

I’ve always been very confused by blogs which have allowed comments, but not when you come across them (months later). It’s not intuitive or usable, particularly where discussion boards are based around the whole idea of years-long threads. So if you do go ahead with, make it very explicit that there’s a reason for no-comment, otherwise you get users looking around the page for the comment form, or thinking they’ve been banned.

If you’re going to close comments, make it clear on the page – it would particularly ne usefulwhen located in the same area/style division as the comment box would usually be, so that if you’re already aware of the site design it’s clear that something’s different on this page.

There’s an argument for closing comments, but there’s also a flipside. I’ve come across various important discussions (Mezzo/Malarkey spring to mind) by searching for them, and where there are still “gaps” in the conversation. That’s why the “bumping” feature of forums is a very useful feature, in that it can reignite debates which haven’t properly concluded. However, as a blog/journal it’s clearly a different matter, but you could argue that a “Ten recent comments” list could include all comments from all entries, rather than just the open ones, so that any user would see that the old/archived ones were still in use, and thus reflect/comment further on the new entries.

Consider whether it is worth pairing the timeout (based on the original post date + x days) with some sort of activity figure (if comments made in past 28 days > 2) which flags the entry for human intervention, to work out whether the conversation really is going on for months and months (and so where it’d be a shame for the timeout to apply), or whether a sneaky comment spam has just held it open.

In the end, I think at the moment – without resorting to some extreme filtering/AI techniques – in order to allow the blog to be sufficiently useful over a wide range of people and over a reasonable length of time, it’s going to have to be the compromise involving a machine making broad decisions and flagging up things it’s concerned about to a human, in the same way as simple email spam filters work. Sad but true.

Acronym vs. Abbr!

A long debacle has plagued the web standards community: that of ABBR vs. ACRONYM.

Let’s get one thing straight, to begin with: an acronym is still an abbreviation. Everything that is a contraction of a fuller version is an abbreviation. Acronyms, initialisms, 2nd-class-initialisms, communist-initialisms – they’re all still abbreviations.

HTML tags exist for the purpose of alerting the user agent to do something different. CSS exists to illustrate to the user how things are done differently.

This means that use of abbr at a base level is more than enough, because the user agent (including assistive technology) is aware that the content within the tags is not to be treated as standard text, and it can therefore work out from the tag you used what your intention was. A screen reader relies on an extensive dictionary to be able to pronounce any word, and it will/should rely on this dictionary to work out whether it feels a set of characters, marked up as an abbreviation, should be pronounced in a different way (either as letters, or as a word but with the option of also saying the expanded meaning).

Where there is ambiguity, there will be ambiguity for everyone, and so the content author should learn to write content better. (for example, logically, IE and i.e. could be equivalents, depending on the individual and/or the localisation norm. But it may seem clear to the content author which is which).

Assumptions will always have to be made about the user, and the user agent, analysing content. That’s why well written content will also include an expansion of an acronym/initialism in parentheses, unless it can be safely assumed that the anticipated audience will already have this knowledge. The benefit in expanding etc. into etcetera by use of any tag is slim, since it still makes the assumption that the user knows what etcetera means, that the user-agent/AT will be better at saying/reading etcetera than it will be by intelligently interpreting etc. and it makes the assumption that AT developers aren’t capable of making the technology intellegient and/or localised, with UK and US dictionaries usually being the first stage.

There is far too long a chain of possibilities to be able to reliably pick either ABBR or ACRONYM or another tag. You may use a colon to introduce a list, as you grammatically should, but another person may use a colon-hyper combo to do it. What are you able to do to ensure that the screen reader delivers the correct length of pause in order to indicate it’s a list? (and before you answer, do you really advocate marking up:

Western languages make extensive use of acronyms such as “GmbH”, “NATO”, and “F.B.I.”

into:

Western languages make extensive use of acronyms such as [ul class=”inline”][li]”GmbH”,[/li][li] “NATO”,[/li][li]and “F.B.I.”[/li][/ul]

and perhaps using CSS’ :before and :after to insert the commas and ‘and’s for a list item with the class ‘last’? Semantically, it’s a lot more meaningful and less ambiguous than what we had before.)

Anyway: there are too many nuances of too many languages, and dialects of languages, to be able to provide appropriate tags for them all. All that is required is for the content author to ensure that pieces of content which are not standard words – i.e. use formatting (capital initials) or punctuation (etc.) – are marked up to indicate to the user agent that something different needs to happen here. The user agent and the user themselves are then responsible for interpreting how this content should be broadcast. Use of localised assistive technology, with frequent dictionary updates to follow current language fashions and trends, would ensure that the user is receiving a reasonable interpretation of what the author is trying to say. It’s then up to the user to keep educated enough to understand what the user agent is offering to them.

Solutions? Gez Lemon suggests using this for print stylesheets, or for people with poor mobility in their alternative stylesheet:

abbr:after
{
content: ” (” attr(title) “) “;
}

Finally, on repetition of acronyms, users and UAs should handle this in their own way – if a user doesn’t understand an acronym because they’ve hit the 3rd usage of it, common convention (and the guidelines) will indicate to them that it might be somewhere else on the page, and so will be encouraged to look for it.

Either that, or they google it like I do when I don’t understand something. I then ignore the google results and click on the definition to go to dictionary.com, then click on the acronym link to go to acronymfinder.com. But that’s just for bandwidth abusers!

It’s entirely conceivable that a UA should provide a context menu for acronyms/abbreviations that give you a number of choices – one of these would be very simply to get the UA to look at the rest of the page for you, and identify the first (or better, previous to the current) instance of the acronym, and take the title from there. If it just shows you this in the menu, even better. Another option could be exactly the above – search for the acronym in the predefined website/dictionary of the user’s choice etc.

And we could end up with limitless resource and pamper everyone…. 🙂

Final word: use of the ABBR tag is the most generic possible in the current W3C specifications, and is the only one which should be used unless there is certainty that it’s an acronym as well. In this case, the abbreviation should perhaps be wrapped in both – a nightmare of tag soup, but the standards (and Microsoft’s absurd understanding of them) do not serve us well. Semantically neutral tags don’t really help us, because this is semantic. Ideally, duplicate the effort by providing the expansion of the abbreviation in an alternate form, so you’ve got all bases covered. Any comments from any users as to whether this has ever actually mattered to them, would be most enlightening to, and may help put the matter to rest….

Remix: Arovane – Good Bye Osaka

From: Arovane’s Good Bye Forever, Arovane’s Cry Osaka Cry, and Martin Luther King’s speeches, I Have A Dream and I Have Seen The Promised Land.

Download Arovana – Good Bye Osaka (God Bless MLK Mix) as Mp3

This remix is unofficial and may not have permission of the copyright owner. It is included here to complement the original work and is not theft; however, should you wish it to be removed, please contact me.

Single: Newspeak

A new year, and a new mood. Installed Fruity Studio in demo mode, prohibiting any savings, and hence latter adjusting, of the sound. Is this jazz? It is output only once and then the workstation is closed, never to return again. One copy, one moment. It may not be any good; it’s flawed and could be bettered. But that is for music to decide; we aren’t looking for perfection, we’re looking for meaning, for inspiration, for fragments of life captured in the peripheral vision of the world. When you catch a butterfly, show everyone…

Tracklist:

  1. Unite Me
  2. This Is Not Our Fight
  3. Praise Me

Thanks to the The George W. Bush Public Domain Audio Archive for the vocal samples and the inspiration for what for me is a disconcertingly “nice” portrayal of our new dictator, and our new Nurembergs.

Download Newspeak

Zebra Crossing

January 2004 – for the Orange short story competition

(All stories were to be grounded around the word “North”.)

There is no time here. For years I lived by routine, by day and by night, yet still I cannot create it here. There is just space. I look around and see nothing recognisable, nothing to remember later, nothing to grapple my attention. For as far as I can see everything is exactly the same, all around. But there is no direction here, no left or right, no north or south; at times I lose track of what is up and what is down. Just black above and black below, both showered with glimmering white starlight. The silence is just silent, nothing more. I feel slightly nauseous but I guess that’s OK considering.

I don’t know how long ago I lost contact. It’s still as dark as it was then – two hours? Four? Less? Around me, everything slowly changes but everything stays the same. I was supposed to return by morning. It was supposed to be a routine trip. Out, then back. Same as always – done it plenty of times, they all have. I don’t know what went wrong. I’m just lost, trapped in an infinite darkness punctuated by pinpricks of icy light. I think I’m cold. I should be; the temperature plummets here when the sun leaves us. There’s no point in moving, I should save my energy, even though I don’t know what for. I know they are somewhere behind me, but I don’t know which way that is.

My equipment was damaged in the accident. That always happens to people. It makes for a more interesting story. Actually, maybe it doesn’t always happen to people. Maybe their equipment does the job it’s supposed to and they get saved in minutes without recourse to miracles or autocannibalism. We only ever hear stories of danger and struggle and the ‘being saved at the very last second of death’, or the ‘escape from the inescapable and the long crawl home to welcoming arms’. Still time for that to happen, I guess.

There’s still no time here. The thought occurs that without it, I can’t be bored. This isn’t comforting in the slightest.


Blacked out again. I got the bus into town to do the shopping and bumped into a lady who hurled abuse at me for walking on the wrong side of the pavement. I’ve always had a problem remembering that kind of thing. Think she went a bit over the top though, probably could’ve saved more stress and energy by just adjusting her stride and slowing slightly. Or maybe she’d have never got to where she was going that way. Obviously my fault, anyway. I just bought fresh stuff to last me to the weekend since I knew I’d be doing a bigger shop then for the party. We’re having a few old friends over, no big deal – in truth it always ends up a little stale, probably due to the drink, but we carry on inviting them anyway. I think maybe we miss the descent from back-slapping dinner conversation into slightly darker and more heated ‘discussions’ before we reach the full blown arguments about nothing particularly important but something that’s been really pissing us off about the others simply because we’ve had nothing else big to piss us off about. That’s what’s so nice about the civilised world: self-manufactured anger. Soon it’ll be bottled in jars and sold with a free audiotape specifically designed to get you nicely settled into prescribed vehemence. They’ll do tests at the clubs – ‘you on Rage mate?’ Maybe not. I reappeared into my blackened world just before we descended into comfortable depression, so I guess I’ll never know. It’s still cold.


I’ve discovered that the only part of me still movable to any useful degree are my eyes, and there is still nothing to see. I can’t remember whether everything was damaged in the accident or whether I’ve just frozen stiff. I’m looking forward to the hallunications starting though; I’ve heard they do a pretty good show out here. Probably still a while before that happens though, everything just looks as bland as before. Distant stars in pools of black whatever. I think about using the metaphor of dandruff on a suit jacket, until I realise that a suit jacket isn’t usually as boundless and doesn’t usually pick up constellations in such quantities.

Only now have I realised that I’m talking to myself, or at least thinking to myself. It’s the first time I’ve noticed it – whenever I consciously think, rather than just on impulse, I can only think using a language, say English. You would’ve thought English was a pretty crummy language to feed into the most complex neural network known to man, but apparently it’s doing OK in mine. I start to wonder what would’ve happened if I’d never been taught a common language – just been born into a world where there was no way to communicate externally. Would I still be able to think? Would I still be able to buy fish and chips on Blackpool Prom? Would it necessarily be a bad thing if I couldn’t? People like Descartes reckoned if you started with a blank slate you’d still end up being able to prove yourself and God, but the trouble is he’d already factored in some sort of logical language as an assumption, and so he wasn’t really doing it properly. However he did have the torture chambers of a viciously religious society to influence his thinking a little.

The idea of a world where communication was removed starts to become a little too experimentalist, in more of a fascist/lunatic dictator than cure-for-cancer-esque way, but I do mentally smile at the possibility of me being the most intelligent toddler on earth, with a direct routing of thoughts in the natural language of my brain: having resolved poverty and famine and invented easy cook rice which doesn’t require a diploma to prevent it from turning to glue, before someone dumbed me down by trying to teach me only the 26 letter alphabet, whereupon I started to think AC/DC were pretty good.

I start to get a bit worried about my lack of direction, both in life and my current situation, and anyway my mind is starting to numb a little, starting to get used to the lack of change, and has decided to wind down a gear or two. I decide to help it out by blacking out for a while.


It is Africa by night. The sky is vapourless and the wind escaped long ago. We have been out since dawn gaping at the most incredible and lovable creatures roaming the planet. The safari can only capture a glimpse of a fragment of the wilds, but its intensity blows us away. For centuries we have feared lions most of all, yet they languish in the shade merely metres from our vehicle. We have been told not to stand up, since this would break the box shape of the vehicle and indicate that we are alive, but the fact that we speed off at 40mph in search of leopard doesn’t seem to offer any more hints.

These animals know and tame the land, yet life is harsh and unpredictable. Food does not come from a supermarket, brief respites from the daily grind do not come from a book or television. But to watch them is beautiful, graceful, and above all, more real than we have ever known.

We leave the track to allow an elephant to pass. It is a natural zebra crossing – as encroachers on their rightful terrority, we must wait, patiently and with a little bit of fear. And then it is night, and the ghosts of the heavens shine with a brilliance and beauty that cannot be found elsewhere but the wilds of the lost continents. The overpowering sense of distance and breadth of the universe is awesome, but the closeness and comfort of these twinkling gifts over us is even more bewildering. Oscar Wilde wrote ‘we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars’; he is usually right, but if he were here now, he would never have noticed the gutter.


Fucking stars. I see things which aren’t there. I still see nothing but I see everything at the same time. Nothing changes but nothing stays the same. What is the point in sitting here staring at what I hate? Why can’t I move? Why hasn’t someone come to find me?


I dream of Africa once more, of races ancient and modern, unknown and hidden from our view. Some of them dream of the West, of civilisation and technological prowess. Some of them do not, as they do not know how to dream. They are not content but they are happy. These people know and tame the land, yet life is harsh and unpredictable. Food does not come from a supermarket, brief respites from the daily grind do not come from a book or television. But to watch them is beautiful, graceful, and above all, more real than we have ever known.


I am lost. I am being wrenched in half by myself. Should I stay here and wait for the inevitable, or should I move around aimlessly and risk getting more lost? I know they are somewhere behind me, but I don’t know which way that is. Help me.


Nothing. Darkness and no light. Silence hounds me and I long for home, no matter where.


I wake to find I have lost. Everything has left me. I long for nothing but the stars, for a place to be. Nothing surrounds me, and then even that abandons me, and I am gone.

Album: Transgenic Knockout Mice

After years away from electronic music, we downloaded a demo copy of Fruity Loops and hacked away at it until we came up with these cuts. As it was a demo, none of the tracks could be saved, only exported! As a result each track, accidentally, follows the jazz tradition of a single take in a single session: the tracks have only ever existed during the creation phase (30 mins to 3 hours) and in their current incarnation.

As a result there’s very little complexity, very little proper production, but hopefully it’s all fun and games anyway. We didn’t really know what we were doing so there’s a load of elements which just loop forever since we couldn’t shut them up. But that’s music.

Tracklist:

  1. Welcome
  2. I Am Municipal
  3. Overearth
  4. Ecorn
  5. Yo
  6. Yonna
  7. Tits
  8. Elude (Parts 1 and 2)
  9. Triad
  10. The Storm
  11. We See It
  12. Cacophony

(yes, Overearth is an insanely clever and cryptic homage to one of the finest dance outfits there ever was.)

There’s also a “Japanese Version” that was mashed up a few months later; it excludes Tits and reorders things slightly because we weren’t happy with it. In the end though this was the original and should be the one that is preserved. No VSTi was harmed in the making of this production (it’s just samples and FL’s default synths).

Download Transgenic Knockout Mice in Mp3 format

On establishing self-confidence

A reply to a person, on a forum

I’ve always found that doing something mindlessly stupid and outrageous, such as swimming in duck ponds or going to the pub in just your boxers, can be a very helpful way of establishing self-confidence. It’s a complicated social event, and requires guts, but the kind of guts that only ever come out through despair…

The fruition of such a crazy act is that you a) know that you can do idiotic things, and therefore doing much milder, and easier things is now within your grasp, and b) you will attract a much more genuine and interesting circle of friends – the “cool” kids won’t have anything to do with you because you’ve made a bottom of yourself, and the further you can be from the “cool” kids the better, I can tell you that without even needing to know your circumstance.

It’s also a potently notable feature that much of the folks on these forums will inevitably have a stronger feminine side than lagerloutlads, and that too is a powerful and helpful thing. The trouble is balancing your male and female sides properly so that you can actually find direction, rather than aimlessly meandering.

I’m not a positive person, and do suffer from depression, although most of it is caused by thinking about things too much. I had some turbulent teenage years which culminated in some interesting and unexpected circumstances, and by my actions caused the loss of pretty much all my friends, and the trust of all my acquantainces and elders, but at the end of it all, I found myself facing a fork in the road. (you know what well known phrase is coming, doncha? 🙂 )

If I’d gone one direction, I would’ve played it safe and tried to fit in with groups of friends, taken much time and effort not to offend or to cause hurt, to live a relatively warm and content life where I put all my efforts into fitting in with everyone else and their expectations. I would’ve emerged self-conscious and socially weak, but wouldn’t have minded because I wasn’t causing anyone any problems, and so that would be OK.

The other direction involves the realisation that you have been granted a wonderful thing, life, and that you pretty much only have one chance. It’s not about getting it right, because life isn’t something that is there to get right. Life is for living, and live it I shall. If I want to jump into a dirty, freezing duck pond full of rubbish to try and cheer up a friend who’s recently broken up with someone, I’ll damn well do it, despite the risk of disease, pnuemonia, and whatever else. If I want to skydive, I’ll jump out of a plane and enjoy every second of it. If my parachute doesn’t deploy, then fair enough, I’ll die. But at least I’ll die knowing that, inside of me, I didn’t lock things away. I never thought, “What if I had done this? What if I was brave enough to have done that?”. My realisation was that I was not prepared to live life with a burden on my back containing all the false promises I made to myself, and all the things I wanted to do. Such things may have been comforting, they may have made me feel better when I saw everyone else with a burden on their back. But the burden would mean I could only walk, I could not run. And I’m a 21 year old kid who wants to run, even though it means you hurt more when you fall.

Never carry around the dream of who you want to be – be the person you want to be; the dream is just another bundle of unfulfilment.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Be different, be outrageous, but most of all just be.

My reason for living is wanting to see what’s round the corner.

Someone has set my life as a challenge, and I’m not prepared to give up. I want to see what happens. It may end up as a complete waste of time, and that’s fair enough. But it might not. Everyone has a strand of hope floating around them, it’s just that most of them can’t see it. And that’s because you aren’t looking at things properly. Get up at 4.30am tommorow morning and watch the sunrise. It’ll probably be a cloudy day and a complete waste of time. But it could be a clear sky and look absolutely stunning. You have to choose whether you get up and take the risk of seeing something beautiful, and being grateful for being one of the few people in the world who has the time and motivation to want to see something like it, or you can stay in bed and wake up feeling unrefreshed, even though you’ve had an extra 3 hours in bed.

I don’t ask for much in life and I don’t expect much. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, most of them major. I’m eternally grateful for the things that I do have, like my good friends, my fiancee, my ability to think. But these have not come easily, and they have not come quickly. I am 21 years old but I have only been alive for 6 years. I destroyed myself in my mid-teens, and for 3 years felt much the same way as you did. The only difference (metaphorically) is that I took that £5 and didn’t go and buy KFC, I went and bought a cookery book and I cooked that chicken breast. It wasn’t very nice, but I had done it and I was prepared to try to do it again. And I did, and continue to do to this day – I now enjoy cooking, the creation of something beautiful out of ordinary things, and the ability to say “This is something I have done, and I am pleased with it”. If I had gone and bought KFC, I would still be saying, “This is something I cannot do, and I am saddened by this”.

You don’t need to believe in anything. josh.org brings a helpful and worthwhile approach to the situation, and a strong belief and conversation with God can be a very positive way out of the darkness. But it’s not for everyone. And if that’s the case, the way out is to find the light.

I bought a guitar and wrote music, with what are usually read as depressing lyrics. But they are not depressing, they are uplifting, because they describe me, they allowed me to explain myself to me. Again this isn’t the answer for everyone, and that’s the difficult thing – knowing where to start.

What’s prominent here is the fact that you know you are unhappy. By nature of opposites that entails that you know what it would be like to be happy. That means that you have hope, and that’s an important thing to have. Have security in the knowledge that you know what you are looking for, you just don’t know how to get there. Walk around town and look at people, REALLY look at them. The Doctor in the smart suit, he spends most of his days saving people’s lives. But he isn’t happy, because he can’t save his own. He feels out of control, he’s lost his family due to his commitment to helping other people. The man who values life more than anything else is now considering taking his own.

The 15 year old girl with the drug problem and the baby. She’s a nuisance to society, she is something we try to ignore, something we fob off with benefit and leave in the bottom end of the town. But she looks at her baby and she smiles, because she knows that no matter how bad everything else is, no matter how much it hurts when her boyfriend beats her, she will always be able to look at her child and know that there can always be a good thing waiting round the corner.

I don’t think you’re being selfish about things, despite the obvious material gains we have over many billions of people around the world. I just think you need to look at things differently. Life does suck, we all know that. But if you accept that, you’ve already lost.