[sword-devel] No more standards

Don A. Elbourne Jr. sword-devel@crosswire.org
Thu, 27 Feb 2003 10:51:11 -0600


I understand that it is not time yet to discuss colors, font sizes, etc.
that is not what I mean. Its not a question of "what" but a question of
"how." Anything that can be done without standards can be done better,
safer, leaner, more accessable, more scalable, and more efficiently with
standards.  Are we going to patch the new site together with deprecated
invalid coding practices, duck tape, kite string, chewing gum, and spare
parts left over from the browser wars of the mid 1990's, or are we going to
create clean semantically structured markup that validates according to
standards, that makes our project accessable to the widest audience
possible, takes advantage of newer browsers, and degrades gracefully for
those stuck with older software?

I know I probably sound like I'm on a high horse, but I truly believe in the
Sword Project and want it to succeed in its mission. If its worth doing, its
worth doing right. As a man in my church says, If we are going to do it for
the Lord, it ought to be done "top drawer." I believe a key to that is that,
at the very least, the pages validate. That is the main thing I am asking
for. I'd really like to see a commitment that says if we run the site
through the w3c validator, it will valadate.

Perhaps a comparison to C/C++ will help. If I understand it correctly, if
you write invalid C/C++ code and try to compile it, the compiler will choke
on errors. The errors can be fixed and you try to compile it again, and
again, and again, until it finally returns no errors and the code compiles.
Unfortunately, no matter how many errors are coded into an HTML page, the
page still renders on most browsers. The browsers are forgiving to a fault
and has resulted in extremely sloppy coding practices across the net. If it
looks ok in the designers browser, that is all many care about, no matter
what is under the hood. I'm recommending that we use the  W3C MarkUp
Validation Service (http://validator.w3.org/) like a compiler, in that if
the code does not validate, we fix it until it does before we go live with
the site.

I do not believe it is premature to discuss this. Let me tell you a story. A
small rural Baptist church in Mississippi has built 4 church buildings in
the past 10 years. The first building burned to the ground 10 years ago
because of faulty electric wiring. The people in the church had done the
work themselves in order  to save a little money. The circuits were
overloaded and a small spark sent the whole building up in a blaze one
Thursday night. The building was lost before anyone could reach it to douse
the flames.

The church quickly rebuilt and the new structure served them well for about
3 years. A storm blew through one late spring afternoon, and although the
storm was not a tornado, or anything like that, the structure was so flimsy
it toppled in the wind. The people re-grouped and tried to repair the
damage. But when they tried to patch the ceiling and bolster the sagging
wall, they ended up doing more harm then good and before long realized the
building was a total loss. They tore it down and started over.

A third building was constructed. Many people loved the new building because
it was built a little nicer than the other two. The ceiling was higher, the
windows larger, and it had beautiful columns in the front with large steps
leading to the front entrance. Three months after the building was complete
the pastor's aged father-in-law came to live with him. He was in a wheel
chair and was unable to ascend the stairs to the church, nor was he able to
fit his wheelchair into the narrow door of the restroom facilities. Not long
after he joined them, the pastor discovered that their were 3 other
individuals in the community that were bound to wheel chairs and would  have
been attending the Sunday services if the building was more accessable. The
deacon body met and decided to construct a wheel chair ramp up the side of
the building, re-outfit the restroom facilities, and remove one of the pews
in the main sanctuary to make room for their new members with special needs.
The cost of retrofitting the building was expensive - 3 times the cost it
would have been if they would have made these accommodations with the
original design. They knew it needed to be done. The church members bit the
bullet, gave above and beyond their tithe, and forked out the money to have
the work done.

Unfortunately, the  work was in vain. That Christmas, the building burned to
the ground once again. This time it was not faulty wiring, but the highly
flammable material that the Woman's Missionary Union used for the drapes and
pew cushion upholstery. Apparently one of the Christmas candles in the
window ignited one of the curtains and the fire spread within seconds. The
custodian was present at the time, but with no fire extinguisher on the
property, he was helpless to do anything. Again, the building was destroyed.

The church met in Deacon Jones' barn while they saved up for a fourth
building. This was getting old and the church started to become a laughing
stock to the non-Christians in the little rural town. The mishaps were
beginning to negatively effect their witness for Christ. Undaunted, the band
of Christians scrimped and saved until they could start rebuilding a little
at a time. They cut corners where ever they could. No columns this time, no
majestic steps, no drapes on the windows, just a barebones building they
threw together as cheaply as possible. They were cramped in their new space
but at least they had a place they could call their "church." A couple years
into the new facilities they started to notice some cracks in the walls. The
thin foundation was shifting and several large cracks had formed. Closer
investigation in the attic revealed that the rafters were pulling apart and
that the building would soon be unsafe to inhabit.

An emergency meeting was called and they began to make plans for the 5th
building in a single decade. The pastor asked for some people to throw
together some sketches as to what the new building would look like. Deacon
Brown stood and asked if he could address the congregation.

The elderly deacon cleared his throat, "Brothers and sisters, I would like
to make a proposal. Before we begin drawing up sketches, discussing where we
are going to purchase materials, and how we are going to finance this new
building, I believe we ought to make a commitment to build the new
facilities according to state building code."

An audible gasp could be heard across the small congregation. The deacon's
nephew stood. "Now Uncle Sid, there is no need for that. You know better
than I do, in this part of the county those building inspectors never bother
coming way out here. Besides, we are a church. If we leave them alone, they
will leave us alone. That's the way its always been. Why should we waste our
effort trying to adhere to arbitrary standards prescribed by some guy
sitting in his cushy office up in Jackson?"

The deacon bowed his head as if in deep thought or prayer. After a few
moments he looked up and tried to explain, "If we had done the electrical
work according to standards, we would not have lost our first building. If
we had built the structure of our second building up to code, we would not
have lost it. We could have saved a lot of money with the third building if
we would have adhered to the accessibility recommendations and it would not
have been destroyed if we had met the fire code. The dilapidated building we
are in, would not have the problems it has if we would have done it right
the first time. For 10 years we have been building sub-standard buildings
over and over again instead of being about the business we are supposed to
be doing, which is to fulfill the great commission. I'm pleading with you
brethren, if we are going to do this, let's do it right this time. Let's
find out how thick the foundation ought to be for a building this size.
Let's place the wall studs every 16 inches as is called for in the building
code and meet the other regulations. Let's make sure we use flame resistant
materials, keep fire extinguishers in working order, and meet the other fire
safety standards. Before we start talking about what color the carpet will
be and what style of building we want to construct this time, lets commit
ourselves to one thing. Let's commit to doing it right. Let's commit to
building to code. Let's commit to adhering to standards. Then and only then
will we be able to move forward to the glory of God."

Deacon Sid Brown sat down. The congregation was silent. The pastor stood and
said, "Brother Sid has given us some things to think about. Let's pray about
his proposal and we will reconvene next week to make our decision." The
congregation was dismissed.

The moral of the story is that although they did not have any building
inspector looking over their shoulder demanding they meet any state imposed
regulations, it would be a good idea to abide by them anyway. I know I got a
little carried away whit that extended illustration above, :) but I really
believe the time to commit to doing it right is before we break ground. Once
we have that commitment, we can start hammering out some details. A
commitment to standards can not be an afterthought tacked on at the end.
IMHO, it should be the foundation of any new project.

by grace alone,

Don A. Elbourne Jr.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Christian Renz" <crenz-swordproject@web42.com>
To: <sword-devel@crosswire.org>
Sent: Tuesday, February 25, 2003 3:30 AM
Subject: [sword-devel] No more standards

> >I do not want to be a trouble maker, but was that a "yes" or a "no" to
> >valid markup (X)HTML according to W3c web standards? If yes, what
> I agree with Troy in this issue; I also think that at this moment
> there is no further need to discuss which standards are going to be
> used.
> Compare it to writing a book. Right now, we are discussing whether the
> cover should be done using four or six colours, that we absolutely
> need to use a 10pt font to be compatible with everybody's eyes and
> that some feel 120 g/m^2 paper is superior to 110 g/m^2
> paper. However, we haven't talked about the story yet.
> Let's look at what features we want, and what users. Let's develop a
> few nice interfaces -- because it gives us a good idea what needs to
> be in the project -- and _then_, once we have agreed on a rough idea
> of what we want, talk about the technical framework we are operating
> in (Did you ever notice how good Germans are at making long
> sentences?). In the projects I worked in and/or helped to manage, I
> learned that premature focus on technical issues can obstruct the view
> on the _real_ problems.
> Greetings,
>    Christian
> --
> crenz@web42.com - http://www.web42.com/crenz/ - http://www.web42.com/
> "If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from
> the purest and best motives, who could be saved?"
>     -- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
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