Quick Start

I've got a lot of web pages here. A few simple conventions are used throughout to help you navigate them. A quick read here will help you find your way around.

My pages don't have "back" links or icons on them; I recommend using your browser's "Back" button, or even better, the keyboard command (Alt-LeftArrow or somesuch). There are good technical reasons for browsing that way, but I won't bore you with them. Just figure out how it's done and your browsing will improve!

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Who Needs Help?

Most home pages don't have Help pages. Some would benefit from having them, considering how far they veer from normal or even comprehensible visual cues for web navigation; but this site is pretty normal in that respect.

So why a Help page? Well, I had these tables with lists of links, some of which were my own, some of which went to other websites, and I thought it would be useful to show which was which. There's no standard or even common simple cue for this! I tried out a few things, including listing them separately, which was cumbersome. I finally settled on the convention of making the link bold, but since there's no standard, I knew I'd have to explain it somewhere. So here we are.

Toolbars are a nice idea, but they tend to have icons that mean one specific thing, and that specific thing isn't always apparent from the icon. Downloading a bunch of single-purpose icons for a web page's toolbar seems like a waste, so I offer the all-ASCII "chain" as a low-bandwidth alternative.

(Usually you can get by fine without icons. Firefox lets you set its toolbars to "Text Only", which allows you to use more of your computer screen to look at a web page. Give it a try!)

I have a handful of tiny icons, though. The "[Text]," "[Photo]," etc. icons are adapted from ones used the same way by Indymedia. The " [More] " icon was inspired by a set of icons that were once on Sun Microsystems' website. These icons were the result of some human factors research, and there was a Help page explaining them. I thought they might catch on, but alas, even Sun doesn't use them anymore. Maybe someday I'll replace it with a Eudora-like "Blah Blah Blah" button, which is one of the best icons ever devised. :-)

I am toying with the convention of adding the " [External] " icon to indicate external links in some contexts, a convention used by Wikipedia.

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I've worked to make these pages accessible. I run them through an accessibility checker, and I also view every page with a text-based browser. I've designed them for use with keyboard shortcuts: I don't use problematic features such as frames, or put forms inside a series of complex tables, or screw up keyboard focus with Javascript. (Keyboard shortcuts are useful for the blind and for people with RSI.)

The "chains" are presented these on cyan-colored backgrounds, which is a cue for the benefit of the sighted, but I made sure it wasn't the only cue. While blind folks won't see that the ASCII characters make them look vaguely like chains, if they've got systems that read text aloud, they'll hear "hyphen equals hyphen equals," "equals v equals," and "equals o equals;" all of which indicate a "chain." As mentioned above, when I collect links into a table, I make sure the table has bevelled borders. This has the advantage of distinguishing them for blind folks who use a tactile mouse.

I've provided "alt" text for every image. I use background images rarely, and when I do, it's really only for decorative purposes.

I have a few audio files in these pages, but the sounds they make are not terribly important. Each of them is a joke, based on the juxtaposition of the words used in the link, the name of the audio file, and the sound itself; to explain them would spoil the joke. However, if you can't hear them and want to know what the jokes are, send me email and I'll be happy to explain them to you.

Some of these pages have .sig files and drawings that use ASCII art, which can be annoying for people using a system that reads text aloud. For example, the top line of an ASCII rendition of a certain spiky-haired cartoon character could become, "vertical bar, backslash, slash, backslash, slash, backslash, slash, vertical bar." So, most of my ASCII art is at the very bottom of the pages it appears on. I hope that my other use of ASCII graphics, such as the dingbats and "chains" mentioned above, is sparse enough not to be annoying, and brief enough to be helpful.

I am always interested in getting feedback from people with disabilities who have suggestions about improvements I could make to these web pages.

Note: New CSS specs implement features to make sites more accessible. I would love to use these features if I had a way to test out whether I'm using them right. Please contact me if you know of a way I could do that.

"Anyone who slaps a `this page is best viewed with Browser X' label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network."
    -- Tim Berners-Lee

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