Amused by The Times

I’ve always respected The (London) Times and the writers it uses. But today I can’t help but be amused by the commentary of the Jokela shooting (massacre ?) by Roger Boynes. Oh, he sure does use all of the correct clich├ęs when writing about Finland: its darkness, sparse habitation, suicide rates, gun ownership, and our ancient pagan gods. But how could he forget that Finland is also the home of Lordi and other heavy metal bands?

My first reaction to hearing about the events, before the full extent of what had happened and how he’d been armed was that someone had taken a hunting gun and used it. While Finland really does have a large amount of guns around, almost all of them are hunting weapons: rifles, shotguns and the sort. Finland also has very strict laws on how the guns must be stored when not in use (locked up so that they can not be immeadiately put to use). The few pistols that are around are generally owned by marksmen hobbyists and are of a small caliber. Not exactly Dirty Harry material.

While the amount of guns has been mentioned in practically all of the international press that the incident has received, it isn’t exactly what amused me in the Times commentary. Discussing how darkness and long distances isolate our youth and force them to seek refuge in technological means of keeping in touch is simply hilarious. Except that it is written by someone for the Times. Someone who should know better.

I’m a product of the times when there were no technological means (other than normal telephones) to keep in touch. But we did was boys then did and still do. Rode our bikes and met up somewhere and used the darkness for our nefarious schemes (read: played hide and seek in people’s yards). While it is true that the increasing darkness of winter does have an effect on many people, using it to explain or analyze something like this is foolish.

Similarly, playing the card that Finland is sparsely inhabited and people are isolated from each other is a prime example of using statistics out of context. Jokela is in Southern Finland. Just some 30 miles north from the capital and definitely still part of the “metropolitan area”. Or you could maybe call it a distant suburb of metropolitan Helsinki. (I can imagine the howls of rage from the people living in that area, countryside they call it. Suburbs say I, from here in the east.)

Stereotypes and their amusing usages are one thing. But when one of the media sources that I have still considered fairly accurate and dependable publishes drivel like this under the titles of commentary and analysis, I have to voice my objections. And based on the comments on various sites (including The Times itself), I’m not alone. While I don’t expect and apology or correction of facts at this point, replacing the words commentary and analysis by satire and sarcasm would serve as a start.

Background images and tables

In developing a new version of our website (our personal site), I encountered an odd bug that seems to affect IE6, IE7, Safari 3 (beta, windows) and Konqueror 3.5.6. Opera 9 and Firefox 2 at least are unaffected by the issue.

The issue comes from having a semantically marked up table in which a tbody is given a background image (with CSS naturally). The idea is to create a table that looks like the image below (screenshot from Firefox).

A picture of the styled table in firefox

To achieve this, the following styles are applied:

.pedigree {
	empty-cells: show;
}

.pedigree td {
	border-bottom: 2px solid #4a4a4a;
    border-left: 2px solid #4a4a4a;
    padding: 3px;
    font-weight: bold;
}

.pedigree td span {
	font-weight: normal;
}

tbody.sire {
	background: #cbcbcb url('images/pedigree-topright.png') no-repeat right top;
}

.pedigree .fmRight {
	padding-right: 10px;
}

.pedigree .fmS {
	border-left: none;
	background: url('images/pedigree-topleft.png') no-repeat left top;
	padding-left: 10px;
}

.pedigree .fmS, .pedigree .fmSS {
	padding-top: 10px;
}

.pedigree .fmSSS {
	padding-top: 20px;
	padding-right: 20px;
}
/* Similar styling continues for the lower half as well */

When I began testing the layout with IE is was surprised when the end result was:

A picture of the styled table in IE

What really threw me off was that the same was visible in Safari 3 (Windows, beta) and Konqueror. Because the bug wasn’t limited to IE, I went and rechecked the CSS spec to see what it says about background and inheritance.

When it comes to inheritance, backgrounds are never inherited and the default values are none for the background image and transparent for the color. So, based on how I read the spec, Firefox and Opera get this right and the others are wrong.

To fix this, IE6/7 were easy as I simply used a conditional stylesheet to turn off all background images (and add some borders). Finding a workaround for Safari or Konqueror has left me stumped however.

No combination selectors to specifically set the background image of individual cells as none worked.

I’ve tried searching for this problem, but either I can’t come up with the correct combination of terms or I’m the first one to notice it.

I’ll put up a link to live versions of this table once our site is finalized and live, until then you’ll just have to imagine the table markup (or ask me for it).