HTML5 Specs

Deprecated is now obsolete

A simple change can have profound consequences. What triggered this epiphany was my attempt to return the summary attribute to the HTML table element.

I thought all we would need to do to add summary back is remove the deprecated label from the attribute in the HTML table custom attribute list. But wait a second, when you look at the table element, there are *no custom attributes. All of the previously existing table attributes are now listed in the Obsolete but conforming or the Obsolete and not conforming section of the HTML 5 specification. Summary is joined by cellpadding, cellspacing, frame, rules, bgcolor, align, border, and width. The instructions associated with the latter attributes read, “The following attributes are obsolete (though the elements are still part of the language), and must not be used by authors”.

Now, most of the presentational attributes, such as bgcolor, were deprecated in HTML 4.01, so we had warning that these attributes could be made obsolete in future versions of HTML. Everything is right and proper to make bgcolor obsolete for Table in HTML 5. But what about those attributes, such as width, cellpadding, cellsummary, border, and yes, summary, that were not deprecated in HTML 4.01? Isn’t the proper procedure to, first, deprecate an attribute or element, and then obsolete it in a future version of the specification?

But the summary and other attributes are not deprecated in HTML 5. Instead, they have been tossed directly into the obsolete bin. In fact, if you look for these attributes in the table element definition, you won’t find anything but a toss away sentence for summary in the examples.

I thought the whole purpose behind deprecating language elements is so that if these elements are in widespread usage, it gives web authors notice that these elements can disappear someday. It gives people notice that they need to be prepared to change their web pages, without yanking the support rug out from under them while they make these changes? Look at the definition for “deprecated” in HTML 4.01:

A deprecated element or attribute is one that has been outdated by newer constructs. Deprecated elements are defined in the reference manual in appropriate locations, but are clearly marked as deprecated. Deprecated elements may become obsolete in future versions of HTML. User agents should continue to support deprecated elements for reasons of backward compatibility.

Definitions of elements and attributes clearly indicate which are deprecated.

This specification includes examples that illustrate how to avoid using deprecated elements. In most cases these depend on user agent support for style sheets. In general, authors should use style sheets to achieve stylistic and formatting effects rather than HTML presentational attributes. HTML presentational attributes have been deprecated when style sheet alternatives exist (see, for example, [CSS1]).

Clear, concise, and everyone understands what deprecate means. User agents still have to support the elements and attributes when they support HTML 4.01. Authors know they eventually have to modify their web pages to remove the attributes and elements, but that they’re still supported until they do.

Now look at the definition for obsolete in HTML 4.01:

An obsolete element or attribute is one for which there is no guarantee of support by a user agent. Obsolete elements are no longer defined in the specification, but are listed for historical purposes in the changes section of the reference manual.

Again, clarity. User agents know they don’t have to support the obsolete elements in HTML 4.01, though they do for older HTML languages. Authoring tools also understand that they should no longer support the attributes in new documents. In addition, there’s a historical reference to the elements/attributes so when we stumble upon the attribute or element in old web pages, we know when it bit the dust, so to speak. Authors definitely know that if they haven’t changed their pages by now, there’s no guarantees how those old, obsolete attributes and elements will be handled by user agents.

Compare and contract these with “The following attributes are obsolete (though the elements are still part of the language), and must not be used by authors”. Or the statement associated with summary, “Authors should not specify the summary attribute on table elements. This attribute was suggested in earlier versions of the language as a technique for providing explanatory text for complex tables for users of screen readers. One of the techniques described in the table section should be used instead.” Well, are the things obsolete, or not?

There is no continuity to this approach. There is no graceful movement from one version of the markup to the other. Instead, there is an abrupt transition that is guaranteed to leave confusion rippling in its wake.

“The following attributes are obsolete (though the elements are still part of the language), and must not be used by authors”. What does that mean? Does that mean user agents have to support the elements and attributes for an indefinite period of time? How about the summary attribute, which is obsolete but conforming? How can something be conforming and part of a language, and obsolete at the exact same time? Isn’t one aspect of a deprecated (and obsolete) attribute or element is that it is replaced by something else? Doesn’t physics preclude two bodies from occupying the same space at the same time?

There’s also a disconnect because the perfectly valid HTML 4.01 attributes are dumped into an also ran bin at the bottom of the HTML5 specification, leaving you wondering where the hell summary, or cellspacing, or cellpadding has gone. In HTML 4.01, when an attribute was deprecated, it was still listed with the element, but labeled deprecated, so you knew what the attribute was (if you see it in an actual page), and not to use it for new pages (deprecated).

It was an elegant process, for an elegant time. We gently pushed the no longer wanted attributes and elements over a hill and out of sight. We don’t have markup hills now, in HTML 5, we have markup cliffs. We haven’t taken attributes and elements over the hill, we’ve taken them to cliffs, and pushed them off. And the little buggers are grabbing hold of page designers and developers, not to mention authoring tools and user agents, to take with them on their way down.

By skipping over the entire concept of deprecation, and diving head first into making these elements and attributes obsolete, we’ve either redefined obsolete, so that it no longer means the same thing (“You’re gone!”), or we’re creating a massive level of uncertainty about how long we have to change our web pages.

My version of HTML 5 will return the concept of deprecated and obsolete to their old HTML 4.01 meaning, so that there is continuity between the specifications. In addition, the attributes that were not deprecated in HTML 4.01, but no longer wanted in HTML 5 will become deprecated in HTML 5, and eventually, possibly, gracefully made obsolete in a future version of HTML.

How will this impact on summary? The point of contention about summary isn’t that everyone loves the attribute and wants it to last forever, but that the accessibility folks want it supported in HTML 5 until something better comes along. Is there something better? The HTML 5 working draft lists various ways a person can document the structure of a table, but none of these ways fulfill the same purpose of summary. If they did, we could deprecate the summary attribute, with a reference to the replacement. But since these alternatives don’t serve the same purpose, summary has to continue as a viable, active attribute until replaced by something else.

The alternative approaches for documenting a table are also viable, and can continue in the specification, but they should be joined by an example demonstrating summary. In addition, summary needs a good description, at least to the same level of other elements and attributes, such as legend, section, and so on.

*Perhaps the fact that all custom attributes have been removed from the table element explains another reason why there’s reluctance to bring back the summary attribute: summary would look odd, hanging out there all by itself. Being the only table element custom attribute would actually emphasize the attribute, making it more likely that people would use it.


One nice weekend

The weather last weekend was wonderful: cooler and less humidity. I came out of my self-imposed cave both days and managed to grab some photos to share.

Saturday I went to the St. Louis Zoo. While there, we had a chance to talk with one of the wild bird keepers about the American White Pelicans in the artificial lake. We noticed that the pelicans seemed to be diving their beaks into the water in unison, and the keeper said the behavior is called “driving”. Pelicans work together using this technique to drive fish into more shallow waters, in order to make them easier to grab.

However, while we were watching, we noticed that one of the pelicans had a duck in its mouth. It would scoop it up, and then dump it out. A little alarmed, we asked the keeper if the pelicans actually ate duck. He replied that no, none of the ducks are harmed. What they think is happening is that the pelicans are playing with the ducks, like a toy.

Bit hard on the duck, but the pelicans looked like they were having a lot of fun.

driving white pelicans

old cougar making her way up the hill

male ostrich

amur leopard

Sunday, I broke my rule about only staying in the city during Missouri summers, and went to the Shaw Nature Center, about 20 miles outside the city. The Center was lovely, with several summer wildflowers still in full bloom, and masses of dragonflies and butterflies.

Unfortunately, either I was too careless about brushing up against bushes trying to take photos, or for some other reason, I ended up pretty chewed up by chiggers. Since I tend to react badly to chigger bites, I had a somewhat unpleasant week. I must say, though, it was worth it: the trip was beautiful, and it was so nice to get out of the city. I can’t wait for the Fall.

path through butterfly meadow

Echinacea flowers

bronze dragonfly

old shed

You can see now why I called my Missouri specific site “MissouriGreen”.

Just Shelley

Review of Flip Ultra Camera

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

A couple of months ago, Amazon invited me to participate in its Vine program, where customers are given books, gadgets, food, and other items, in exchange for reviews (either positive or negative). In the month that I participated, I received a couple of books, a nice laptop bag, and the second generation Flip Ultra Camcorder. I was happy to receive all the free goodies, but the Flip Ultra was an especially nice item, as I’ve wanted a camcorder for some time.

The Flip Ultra, and its higher end cousin, the Flip UltraHD, is a hand held camcorder about the same size as most cellphones. It’s a very simple to use gadget, and you can be taking your first videos about five minutes after you open the box.

With 4GB of memory, you can record up to two hours of videos with the Flip Ultra, which can be uploaded to your computer, and to the internet via the included software. Unlike the higher end HD device, I found the Flip Ultra worked with all of my computers, even my much older Powerbooks. You transfer videos to your computer via a pop-out USB attachment, which attaches directly to your computer, or use a USB extension, as I do (the USB extension is not included with the camcorder).

I find the camcorder to be very comfortable to hold and use. It fits into a pocket of my camera bag, so I take it with me whenever I’m out shooting photos. The Flip Ultra adjusts easily to differing light conditions, though I have found it works best in well lit indoor light, or outdoor in lightly overcast or clear days (but not in direct light or in extreme conditions of light and shadow). The LED is more than large enough to easily see what you’re recording, and viewable in bright daylight.

It’s an exceptional device for recording people, or anything that’s approximate 5 to 15 feet from the camcorder. It would be a very good device for podcasting, or filming your daughter on the piano, or your son doing his homework. Farther out than that, though, and people become too small. There is a zoom built into the camcorder, but the resolution of the zoomed image isn’t very good. I don’t recommend depending on the zoom.

The camera shoots 30 frames per second, with a resolution of 640 x 480. The light sensitivity is not as good as the HD model, but sufficient in most cases. The sensor is a 1/4″ VGA CMOS sensor, 5.6 µm pixels, and the bitrate is 4.0 Mbps, with an auto-adaptive algorithm. What this means is that the quality is good, but don’t expect the same quality as a higher end camcorder. But then again, don’t expect to shell out the same $1000.00 you’d need for higher end camcorder, either. (See the Flip Ultra camcorder spec page for more details.)

As for audio, the sound quality on the device is very good. In fact, the pickup on the device is surprisingly good, considering that the microphone is towards you, and the camcorder is such a small device.

It runs on two AA batteries, which last about 3-4 hours, filming and uploading. Included with the camera is a component cable (for connecting the camcorder directly to your TV for playback), a little carrying bag, wrist strap, batteries, and software that allows you to email videos directly, do some minor editing and store and catalog the videos, as well as upload directly to YouTube.

No, it’s not an iPhone

Recently Michael Arrington wrote in Techcrunch and in The Washington Post that Flip has little chance in an iPhone World.

The new iPhone takes very good video (640 x 480). That isn’t as good as the Flip, but it’s still able to shoot perfectly good videos on the go (example), which is exactly what the Flip is for. And the iPhone has something that the Flip will never realistically have, cellular and wifi connectivity that lets you upload your videos immediately. No need to sync back with your base computer to edit the video and upload it. You can do basic editing right on the iPhone, and publish it to YouTube immediately. As an added bonus, that video can be geo-stamped via the phones GPS capability.

That makes it significantly more useful as a video device than the Flip, and worth the reduction in quality. You already have to make some quality tradeoffs with the Flip anyway, so if you are going to have a second video device after your iPhone, it may as well be a slightly bigger video camera that you keep in your bag. I just don’t see people grabbing that Flip when they run out the door.

Actually, I do grab the Flip when I leave the house with my camera case, since it’s included in a pocket of the case.

The mistake Arrington makes is that he’s assuming we’re all running around with high-end cellphones. Though the iPhone is popular, it is still a niche market item. What the Flip provides is a very inexpensive camcorder (I’ve seen prices ranging up to $128.00 US), that’s extremely easy to use. It would make a great gift for new parents or old parents, alike. It would also be a nice gift for a friend or family member heading off on a long trip, or on some other new adventure.

Best of all, it doesn’t come tethered to a two year cellphone contract that costs upwards of a hundred bucks a month.

Audio Slideshows

I found one other purpose for the Flip Ultra, and that’s as an audio recording device.

I’ve long been interested in trying my hand at audio slideshows, but didn’t have a voice recorder small enough to carry around with me. The Flip Utra is small enough to fit in my camera bag, and the good sound pickup works about as well as a small audio recording device. When I get home, I separate the video and audio (using Quicktime Pro), and then use the video part to help me catalog the locations associated with the sound files. A simple sound only recorder wouldn’t provide that visual cue.

Frankly, I’ve had a gas with the little device. There may be a day when I’ll want to go with a higher end camcorder, but the Flip is more than sufficient for my current needs.

You can see some of my playing around with the Flip Ultra out at my new Youtube channel (YouTube channel…my, aren’t I precious). My first try at creating an audio slideshow is below, with photos and sound grabbed from the Shaw Nature Center, just outside of St. Louis. Typically you have a different sound file for each slide, but it’s a start.

Photography Places

July 19 at Shaw Nature Center

Sunday, lured by cooler temperatures, I ventured out of the city to the Shaw Nature Center. Typically I don’t walk on anything but paved paths in the summer because of allergic reactions I’ve had to bug bites. The weather was just too good to resist, though.

You can see from the photos where I got the idea for the name of this site, MissouriGreen.

path through butterfly meadow


July 18 at the Zoo

This July is shaping up to be the coolest July on record for St. Louis. I took advantage of the cooler weather last weekend to visit the St. Louis Zoo on Saturday, Shaw Nature Center on Sunday. Following is some photos from the Zoo trip.

The lake at the Zoo attracts its share of wild birds. I was surprised to see this Wood Duck with three ducklings, as I thought the breeding season was over.

mother wood duck and three babies

The mother wood duck was particularly wary of the American white pelicans in the lake, and for good reason. We noticed that the pelicans were dipping their beaks into the water in unison, a behavior the bird keeper called “driving”— as in driving fish into shallow waters for easy picking. Except in this case, the lead pelican was “driving” a small duck. Evidently, according to the keeper, the pelicans don’t hurt the ducks, and it’s a form of play for them.

A bit rough for the duck, though.

driving white pelicans

If you look at the photo, you can just barely make out the duck in the pelican’s mouth.

I ended up with some decent photos of the zoo’s elderly cougar. She has a decided limp, and it was difficult just to watch her slow, painful climb up the hill. However, the trip seemed worthwhile to her, as she found a nice patch of sunshine at the top of the hill to enjoy.

old cougar making her way up the hill

old cougar laying in sun

Had a nice photo of the Zoo’s male ostrich, Nelson. Also shown is a photo of the female ostrich the Zoo brought in recently. Her name is Stella.

male ostrich

female ostrich Stella

The cooler weather was also enjoyed by several of the cats, most of which come from cooler climates. Among them was this beautiful Snow Leopard, as well as Sofiya, the Amur Leopard, shown here looking across the path at her father.

snow leopard

amur leopard