MLK Day: Black Enrollment at UW

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

The cover of the Seattle Times today featured an article "Bigger black enrollment still only a dream for UW." My friend Terryl Ross has probably studied black enrollment at the UW more than any single person. He tells me that low black enrollment isn't the end of it. The bigger problem is black attrition: a high percentage of black students don't stay. As far as I know, nobody gathers good stats on how many of these students transfer out to other institutions, and how many just leave higher education altogether. The former is a loss for the UW community. The latter is an economic disaster for the individual and a loss for our community as a whole.
    Why do Black students leave the UW? The Times article gives some reasons. Black students don't feel welcome at the UW. They often don't feel safe. Most of all, they feel lonely. Seattle's black population is small, but the UW's shortage of black people, relative even to the community it serves, is depressing.


Going Off the Grid with CSS

CSS (cascading style sheets) make it easier to keep a web site's look consistent, allow easy implementation of important web features that would otherwise require extensive javascript, and even result in more compact HTML. CSS is good. I started using CSS with my web sites a couple of years ago, as soon as I thought CSS was adequately supported by browsers.
    Some commentators advocate CSS for another reason: CSS frees web designers from gridded designs. Before CSS, the argument goes, web designers were forced to design using grids and tables. Now, some commentators claim, CSS allows us to abandon table-based layout and with it gridded design. (A gridded design breaks the page up into boxes and fits text and pictures into the boxes. For examples, see this blog and 99% of all web pages.) Molly Holzschlag's article "Thinking Outside the Grid" is a good example of this argument. Holzschlag isn't an anti-grid extremist. She allows that gridded web designs often work well, but claims CSS creates important new gridless design opportunities. Other go further. The W3C pontificates that layout using tables, and furthermore any attempt at all to actually design the appearance of web pages is an evil corruption of HTML. What an utterly laughable idea.
    Conversely, I wouldn't call myself a pro-grid extremist. I just think gridless designs are like driving at night with the headlights turned off. With practice, pros can do it well with minimal downside. But it's always the hard way, and usually the wrong answer. Whatever, if people want to work off-grid that's fine by me. But I worry that people will get the idea that the only reason we used grids was because we had no alternative. To the contrary, HTML is not very friendly to grid designs. We forced a grid onto HTML by using the only tool we had: tables. Aggressive use of the deprecated <font> tag further reclaimed HTML from the hideous dogma that pages should not be explicitly designed, and CSS is recruited to the same cause. Now W3C wants us to stop putting body text into tables because it's somehow immoral. Sorry, I use gridded designs, implemented with CSS and tables, because that's usually the only solution that is going to work well. As CSS matures and use of older browsers declines, I'll use CSS more. But I won't stop designing gridded designs with tables until I can do what I want better and easier with CSS. W3C apparently wants to persuade us via CSS to abandon design and control of the user experience. Consequently, I'll probably be designing with tables forever.


Nabokov's Blues

Much like Nabokov's career, Nabokov's Blues doesn't hold a single focus, but the beautiful moments make it worthwhile.
    Author Vladimir Nabokov was famous for two literary careers: one in Russian and another in English. Nabokov also had a third career as a biologist, specializing in lepidoptery, the taxonomy of butterflies. This book is the story of his original work, and the later consequences, with digressions for Nabokov's fictional treatment of butterflies, and a fair bit of traipsing around South America by modern day lepidopterists, chasing down butterflies known as blues that Nabokov studied.
    This books will mostly appeal to fans of Nabokov's literature, including me. But the authors are most obviously in their element describing biological fieldwork, which in the case of butterflies still involves chasing flashes of light around with a net. Like Nabokov, the authors genuinely thrill at this work, and write compellingly of their joy, which Nabokov shared, in fieldwork.