Aug 222006

I went to look up my web site at a friend’s house recently, and I was horrified to find out how slowly my page was loading. When I got home, I decided to investigate the problem and found an interesting difference between Firefox and IE. In Firefox, my pages loaded quickly, but in IE it seemed that the entire page had to be rendered before the content was displayed.

After a bit of trial and error, I found the culprit: . sitesIRead.js was a very simple JavaScript command: document.write(‘Sites I read’);. All this does is display the phrase “Sites I read,” above the list of web pages I read in Bloglines. Now for the really geeky part: when my home page is displayed as XHTML, JavaScript is not necessarily interpreted. This means that the list of web pages is not displayed. Since I didn’t want the phrase, “Sites I read,” displayed unless the list was display, I decided to throw that phrase display into a JavaScript piece as well. (Either JavaScript works, or it doesn’t work; either the list of sites and my header display, or they don’t.)

This is already silly, and a goofy hack at that. No one is actually really using XHTML. I might as well do the entire site as HTML 4. But this is what I was doing, and I wanted to know why the page was taking so long to display.

As of this writing, the index page has over 20 images in-line. All of these images are loading from the same site as the JavaScript snippet above. It appears that Firefox will attempt to load the JavaScript page before loading the images. IE appears to load external linked objects in the order they are seen on the page. In addition, since one of the objects can change the size of the table, IE holds off rendering the entire page until the JavaScript is loaded.

So how did I fix the problem? Rather than calling a linked JavaScript page, I simply put the JavaScript inline. The JavaScript snippet now reads:

Long term solutions? Ditch XHTML and just rely on plain old HTML. It’s not clear what using XHTML has given me except for incompatibilities with older browsers. In addition, I should use a templating engine for these pages–it’s silly to republish every page from Blogger when I make a minor tweak.

 Posted by at 10:14 pm
Aug 182006

I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the other weekend to see the corpse flower (titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum). It was the first time this kind of flower has bloomed in New York City in over 70 years. I caught it at the tail end; for more information, check out the BBG web site. It was pretty incredible. The flower was over five feet tall. (These are not “fake” photos; the flower really was that big.)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Corpse Flower
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Corpse Flower

As always, I enjoyed taking other photos around the garden.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Brooklyn Botanic Garden Brooklyn Botanic Garden Brooklyn Botanic Garden Brooklyn Botanic Garden Brooklyn Botanic Garden

 Posted by at 3:28 pm
Aug 022006

I read Christopher Hitchen’s story on Agent Orange in this past month’s Vanity Fair. It’s a well written and horrifying article with stunning and horrible photos by James Nachtwey. The article covers the spread of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. It’s the sort of article that makes you wonder if the United States committed war crimes during the Vietnam War and makes you question just what is “collateral damage.”

[Incidentally, the article references studies by Prof. Jeanne Stellman; she is an expert on how Agent Orange was deployed during Vietnam and its long term effects. She is also my friend Andrew’s mother. It’s a small world.]

However much the article and photos stuck with me, one paragraph really hit home. Hitchens wrote:

I swear to you that Jim Nachtwey has taken photographs, as one of his few rivals, Philip Jones Griffiths, also took photographs, that simply cannot be printed in this magazine, because they would poison your sleep, as they have poisoned mine. 

To me, this quote illustrates a facet of professional journalism that is not widely understood: writers, editors, photographers, and others exercise discretion in what they choose to create and publish. They make tradeoffs between how they feel their reader’s will react versus what their readers want to see and their “right to know.”

Two examples of incidents that have been underreported come to mind: one generic and one specific. It’s been well documented that publishing details of a suicide can lead to other suicides. Because of this, the media will refrain from publishing details of a suicide. It isn’t censorship, because governments are not preventing the media from publishing details of suicides; it’s just responsible journalism. (See the Wikipedia article on copycat suicide.)

Specifically, one example of an underreported incident that comes to mind was the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11. This may sound surprising, since there was such in-depth coverage of this horrific event. However, I’ve talked with people who were there when the towers fell. When I heard the specific stories of the carnage that surrounded the area, I realized how even though coverage was extensive it did not cover the true horror of what happened there.

I’m a bit curious if fiction writers can cover historical events more accurately than journalists. Because they are not bound to cover everything in a historically accurate manner, they can choose to represent the true nature of events without reprisal. In a sneaky way, a fiction writer can always just claim to be making a story up. In an even sneakier way, a reader can accept events more easily because they are reading fiction.

Ultimately, I think people who criticize the “mainstream media” fail to realize that the media is generally made of people who deeply care about their readers and humanity as a whole.

 Posted by at 6:38 pm
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