Chad Perrin: SOB

30 March 2006

WordPress Effluvia

Filed under: Metalog — apotheon @ 06:02

So my WordPress version for this weblog has been updated to deal with a security issue with the older version I was using. Unfortunately, the new version is aggravatingly WYSIWYGish, in the way that things like MS FrontPage are WYSIWYGish. It tends to try to hide source code from me, and does weird things with the first paragraph in a block element when I add such elements to my post entries.

A problem WP has had from day one, even with the older version, is the fact that it uses dumb-quotes (what most people, for some ironic reason, call “smart-quotes”) in the presentation of text. While such quote styles are appropriate and even preferable for hardcopy media (think “paperback book” and the like), they’re the Wrong Thing to do with electronic text media. For one thing, dumb-quotes aren’t particularly searchable. You can’t just hit a key on your keyboard in the little search box in your browser and have it find an apostrophe or quote mark that fits the “smart-quotes” description. Those little curly bastards just don’t live on a standard keyboard. For another, they’re not plain-text transparent — when you look at the source for a webpage with dumb-quotes on it, you see HTML entities or otherwise non-representative replacements for the actual characters.

Then, of course, if you try to copy the text into something using ASCII only, or view the page with a text-based browser like Lynx, or something like that, you’ll get nonsense characters in place of the characters you actually want.

Annoying. Dumb-quotes aren’t very smart in electronic media text presentations. So, I spent about twenty minutes or so today having to hack the presentation functions in the PHP source for WordPress to get rid of all those quote-replacement lines of code. This, of course, raises a question:

Why the heck didn’t the fine folks developing WP code think to include a configuration parameter for turning on/off dumb-quotes? In general, WordPress is great, but there are some minor niggling annoyances that are driving me up the wall. It’s just a little too dumbed-down for the common Windows-using know-nothing that uses Word for things like shopping lists when Notepad would be more appropriate. I guess the mindset that prefers Word DOC files for unformatted text must also prefer a weblog that makes the presentation of content nontransparent, nonportable, and sometimes nonreadable. It seems to be to these people that WordPress is mostly catering.

Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a nontrivial web application, but they wrote it in PHP. Maybe that says something about the mindsets of its developers.

If any of you see any curly or slanted quotes or apostrophes (accent marks like á notwithstanding), I hope you’ll let me know so I can track down what bit of code is altering my plain text.

Also: I’ve decided to do some paragraph-indents. I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing that, but it amuses me for now.


  1. I’ve not had that problem. I post in raw text so I can do my own links, although the buttons at the top are handy when I want to do something quickly (such as blockquote)

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 30 March 2006 @ 08:31

  2. You don’t have . . . which problem? I mentioned more than one.

    I don’t use the stupid rich text formatting buttons, by the way. I turned that off pretty quickly.

    Comment by apotheon — 30 March 2006 @ 08:40

  3. Smart quotes were probably the third biggest nuisance in my last job. I’m not exaggerating. They added hours to several already late nights, and were a never-ending struggle… but there were people in that office who were not willing or able to use sane software.

    Also, paragraph indentation is one of those things that I miss about reading books, as opposed to web pages. I don’t know if I actually prefer them in any particular way, or if I think they’re superior, but I do miss them. It’s comfortable and familiar to move that first sentence in a couple spaces.

    Comment by SLR — 31 March 2006 @ 05:35

  4. Yeah, sometimes I miss the paragraph indent.

    The paragraph indent was originally precisely five characters’ width because it actually consisted of the word fnord, and only looked like an indent because people refused to see it. Of course. Odd that every paragraph began with fnord though.

    Now that we use typefaces that aren’t monospace, of course, the actual width of an indent is a little more of a crapshoot. I have a tendency to use a value of 2em for the CSS text-indent property. It usually provides good results for paragraph indents.

    I’m still trying to decide whether or not paragraph indents should be a preferred universal standard for text content on webpages. Maybe it’s just one of those things that varies from case to case. I do know for a fact, however, that the (X)HTML standard should provide for the ability to add 1.5 spaces after a period rather than simply, brainlessly, collapsing all whitespace to 1, and that the ellipsis character entity should half-space those ellipsis points rather than cramming them all together like they’re conjoined twins or something. Darn them.

    Comment by apotheon — 31 March 2006 @ 07:28

  5. I don’t have any of the problems you mentioned, and I use HTML formatting quite extensively, sometimes its easier to go back and highlight a word, press a button and have proper HTML 4.01 Strict tags placed nicely around the text instead of at the end of the entry (something phpBB and other boards do with annoying frequency). I can even highlight text, hit the link button and put an anchor around it making an instant URI in case I need to go back and do such things.

    I use the plain text mode editor, leaving the basic format buttons there because I find them entirely too useful, especially the lookup button which opens up in a new tab to do a spell-check for me. (:

    Comment by Joseph A Nagy Jr — 11 April 2006 @ 05:07

  6. I agree with your position on special quotes in documents. I always turn off that feature in word processing. As well as those auto-format and auto-spell-check options, which in addition to corrupting my text (they never perfectly understand what I’m trying to do), assume that I’m a village idiot. Personally I prefer 2 spaces after a period. (It can be created in html by adding a hard space –   – but it is a hassle.) And that elipse character … what is wrong with simply using 3 periods? (without added spaces) Readable with monospaced or proportional type, and also readily searchable. As for paragraph indents, it makes a nice change from time to time :)

    Comment by andr_ — 17 May 2006 @ 07:51

  7. Two spaces after a period is correct. It’s the way it’s supposed to be rendered.

    Ellipsis points are supposed to be separated by half-width spaces, technically — not crammed together with no spaces. Since it’s such a tremendous pain in the arse to represent half-width spaces while typing, I just space them out with the spacebar. Ideally, I’d be using   between them, but that’s as much a pain as half-width spaces, so that’s suboptimal. I’d really like to know who the nitwit is that decided ellipsis points via HTML entity should all be even closer together than no-space distance for the font, though. There’s something seriously wrong with that.

    Comment by apotheon — 17 May 2006 @ 10:03

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