Where are the non-English programming languages? Thoughts prompted by a small but mighty bug

A short two-parter

Part 1: A small-but-mighty bug

I’m doing a few coding-for-designers workshops with the students in the MA Graphic Media Design programme at the LCC, the first one was this past Thursday.

We’re focusing on web stuff since that’s what they expressed the most interest in and it’s in my wheelhouse. We started with a broad and brief overview of code, about how we use human-readable programming languages to communicate with computers. But 99% of the time, when we say “human-readable” we really mean “English-based”. More on this later.

After my short intro, we put together a simple webpage with HTML and CSS. A few of the students ran in to a small-but-mighty bug that I’ve never encountered before.

We were working on a basic CSS rule set, something like:

body {
  background-color: linear-gradient(blue, pink);
}

And for one of the students, it just wasn’t working. I checked it a bunch of times, it was all typed perfectly. No missing spaces or characters, spelling was fine. VSCode indicated that the background-color declaration wasn’t finished, which seemed weird. I looked really closely at it and noticed that the semicolon seemed a little thinner than the others in the file.

Turns out that the student had typed a full-width semicolon (U+FF1B) instead of a semicolon (U+003B). The full-width semicolon is used in Chinese to “demarcate parallel structures in a paragraph”. Another student ran in to the same problem a few minutes later, using a full-width left curly bracket (U+FF5B) instead of a left curly bracket (U+007B).

I had asked them to type in a semicolon, to type in a curly bracket, and so they typed the characters the way they normally do in their native languages. Super understandable.

If you were just starting to learn what code is and how it works, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to debug this sort of language-based problem on your own.

Part 2: Where are the non-English programming languages?

Gretchen McCulloch wrote a very worthwhile Wired article titled “Coding Is for Everyone—as Long as You Speak English”. I feel like every programmer / dev should read it.

Programming doesn’t have to be English-centric. As McCulloch puts it:

The computer doesn’t care. The computer is already running an invisible program (a compiler) to translate your IF or <body> into the 1s and 0s that it functions in, and it would function just as effectively if we used a potato emoji 🥔 to stand for IF and the obscure 15th century Cyrillic symbol multiocular O ꙮ to stand for <body>.

How would we go about implementing non-English HTML tags? W3C has an FAQ on the topic where they state that “HTML or XHTML tags are all pre-defined (in English) and must remain that way if they are to be correctly recognized by user agents (eg. browsers).

Since browsers just implement the standards set by W3C (I’m pretty sure that’s right?), I’m guessing that W3C would have to approve it if we wanted native non-English HTML support. It seems like it would be a bit of a mountain to climb but if we take something like Wikipedia’s translation efforts as an example, surely there are tons of people out there that would help with translation?

Gonna keep an eye on this. Need to find a book or good article on the history of ALGOL.

Getting STRONG

I want to get STRONG

Yoga is relaxing but expensive, and I’m not sure about learning it at home. Gyms suck. Swimming is *lovely* but doesn’t do my angry skin any favours. Can’t run much b/c of lifelong knee issue. Excuses, excuses.

At-home bodyweight exercises FTW. This is what I’ve been trying recently, every other day for about 30 minutes. I can do all of them within the confines of a yoga mat in my postage-stamp flat.

They’re based on a few decent exercise vids on YouTube, but I prefer not to refer to the full videos all the time. Too high-energy / shiny. Instead, I’ve got the movements programmed in to a circuit training app and I listen to that alongside a mix.


Glute + quad workout

About 11 minutes. Need a yoga / exercise mat. Related video

0:30 – Pulse lunge, left side
0:30 – Pulse lunge, right side

0:30 – Lunge with leg raise

0:30 – Jump squats

0:30 – Side squat steps

0:30 – Sumo squats

0:30 – Abductor squats

Move to mat, tabletop position

0:30 – Donkey kicks, left side
0:30 – Donkey kicks, right side

0:30 – Fire hydrants to straight kick back, left side
0:30 – Fire hydrants to straight kick back, right side

Lie on stomach, head resting on forearms

0:30 – Frog kicks, alternating legs
0:30 – Frog kicks, both legs

Lie on back

0:30 – Glute bridge

0:30 – One-leg glute bridge, left side
0:30 – One-leg glute bridge, right side

0:30 – Glute bridge, narrow stance

0:30 – Glute bridge, alternating leg raise

0:30 – Glute bridge, hold it


Standing arm workout

About 4 minutes. Completed standing in one spot, arms extended the whole time. These are hard to describe, see related video.

0:30 – Arms extended, palms up and then down

0:30 – Butterfly stroke then curling under as if holding beach ball

0:20 – Pulsing with palms facing forward
0:20 – Pulsing with palms facing backward

0:20 – Small circles clockwise
0:20 – Small circles counter-clockwise

0:20 – Forward, bend elbows, up, down

0:20 – Up, bend elbows, forward, back (reverse of above)

0:20 – Straight arm clap

0:30 – Trace ball in front


I’ll add more as I come across things that I like.

I found Piskel while writing this post, what a cool little site / tool. Neat CSS tip via SB: use image-rendering: crisp-edges for extra crispy pixel art.

Using CSS, HTML, and maybe a little logic to display images with a consistent surface area

Every once in a while, I have to figure out how to display images on the web with a consistent surface area. It’s usually in relation to making a lot of logos with very different aspect ratios look evenly sized so that none of them stick out like a sore thumb.

I haven’t had to do this in a while but came across a tweet by Nick Sherman that prompted me to think about it again.

To achieve an evenly-sized group of images, you have to calculate a maximum width that is proportionate to the surface area you want. To do this, you need to be able to calculate a square root, you need the width and height of each original image, and all of your images need to be tightly cropped since extra negative space will throw things off visually.

In the past, I’ve achieved this with logic since vanilla CSS doesn’t currently support a sqrt() function (more on this later). I’ve usually used PHP since I tend to work with Kirby CMS pretty often.

The function in PHP:

function max_img_width($img_width, $img_height, $ideal_area) {
  $max_width = round($img_width * sqrt($ideal_area / ($img_width * $img_height)));
  echo $max_width;
}

And the function in use + corresponding HTML:

<img style="max-width: <?php max_img_width(1500, 3000, 40000); ?>px;" src="https://piperhaywood.com/my-image.jpg">

A CSS-only solution that works now

There seems to be a CSS-only way to go about this though. Apparently you can approximate square roots in CSS by using a series of CSS variables and calc(), see more info in this thread.

Here’s the CSS and the image markup:

img {
  --width: 0;
  --height: 0;
  --ideal-area: 40000;
  --area: calc(var(--logo-width) * var(--logo-height));
  --ratio: calc(var(--ideal-area) / var(--area));
  --guess01: calc(calc(var(--ratio) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--ratio))) / 2);
  --guess02: calc(calc(var(--guess01) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess01))) / 2);
  --guess03: calc(calc(var(--guess02) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess02))) / 2);
  --guess04: calc(calc(var(--guess03) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess03))) / 2);
  --guess05: calc(calc(var(--guess04) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess04))) / 2);
  --guess06: calc(calc(var(--guess05) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess05))) / 2);
  --guess07: calc(calc(var(--guess06) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess06))) / 2);
  --guess08: calc(calc(var(--guess07) + calc( var(--ratio) / var(--guess07))) / 2);
  max-width: calc(var(--width) * var(--guess08) / 2 * 1px);
}
<img style="--width: 1500; --height: 3000;" src="https://piperhaywood.com/my-image.jpg">

I’d want to do some more browser testing since this results in a pretty gnarly calc() situation by --guess08, but at first glance this seems like it might be a worthwhile solution. It doesn’t give us exactly proportionate surface areas but it gets very close. It only starts to fall apart with super skyscraper-y and letterbox-y images.

A few quick notes regarding why this is written as it is and ways that it could be tweaked:

I capped the number of guesses at eight because any more seemed to just fail, Chrome and Safari wouldn’t interpret such a big calc() equation.

I set the default width and height to zero so that there is no max width restriction if the image tag is missing the width and height CSS variables. This could be changed, as could the ideal area variable (increase to get larger images, decrease to get smaller).

The 1px value in the max-width calculation is required so that the value is interpreted as a unit. That said, it doesn’t have to be pixels! Could change this to another unit like 1em or 1%.

If I wanted to display these evenly centred, I’d probably give the images some margin and then wrap them in a container with styles as below:

.container {
  align-items: center;
  display: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap;
  justify-content: center;
}

Could also use CSS grid for a more consistent spacing result.

And a final reminder: this only visually scales the images. Try to avoid loading a 3000px wide image if you’re going to be displaying it around 200px wide, your users and the planet will thank you.

A CSS-only solution that might work in the future

So apparently more complex math functions including sqrt() might be coming to CSS in the future! See this issue raised by Lea Verou in the CSS specifications editor’s drafts repo and the exponential functions section from CSS Values and Units Module Level 4 in the W3C editor’s draft from 3 February 2020 (a couple days ago!).

I’m not sure when this would become part of the spec and no idea if / when the browsers might implement them, but here is a snippet that should work with that new function in theory:

img {
  --width: 0;
  --height: 0;
  --ideal-area: 40000;
  max-width: calc(var(--width) * sqrt(calc(var(--ideal-area) / calc(var(--width) * var(--height)))) / 2 * 1px);
}

I’m happy that Nick asked the question on Twitter, I actually need this on an upcoming project where I’ve only got Twig to work with which doesn’t support square roots, and I’d prefer to avoid JavaScript in this instance. Hopefully this is the solution, will update here if so.

A picture says a thousand words, so see Nick’s very nice demo of area-based image sizing with CSS to check out one possible outcome.


Edit 05.02.20

Edited a few words for clarity, added Nick’s demo, added future example incorporating a CSS-based sqrt() function.

Thanks Sam Baldwin for bringing future math function support in CSS to my attention!

Edit 06.02.20

Simplified the PHP + HTML example.

The original PHP + HTML example used a --max-width CSS variable instead of just applying a max-width directly. I used a CSS variable because I thought that they were compliant with a strict Content Security Policy that includes the style-src directive set to unsafe-inline. That assumption was incorrect, though there does seem to be some discussion about the topic.

Thanks Lizzie Malcolm for questioning the CSS var usage in the PHP example!

Edit 18.02.20

Changed parenthesis-enclosed arithmetic so that each is enclosed in calc(). Plain CSS seems to interpret arithmetic enclosed in parenthesis just fine, but SASS doesn’t seem to like it.

It’s just a jump to the left

Just learned about Y2038 from this thread by John Feminella. ELI5 (almost) from Twitter user @stderrdk (source):

UNIX timestamps used to be a signed 32-bit integer with January 1st 1970 at 00:00:00 UTC as the start of epoch.

The maximum value of a signed 32-bit integer is 2147483647 and 2147483647 seconds after the start of Epoch is:

$ date -u -d @2147483647
Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 UTC 2038

We’re living in a time warp after all.

Flourless peanut butter cookies

Makes about 10 cookies. Can use crunchy or smooth peanut butter.

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and line a tray with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, combine 66 g (⅓ c) brown sugar, 66 g (⅓ c) granulated sugar, and 1 t baking soda. Add and blend in a pinch of salt if using unsalted peanut butter. Next, add 1 large egg and 250 g peanut butter, and then mix thoroughly to combine.

Use two spoons to maneuver walnut-sized balls of dough on to the tray, leaving ample space between each cookie since they will rise and spread. Flatten the balls slightly with a fork, creating a cross-hatch pattern.

Bake in a 175C (350F) oven for 8–10 minutes. Allow them to cool on the tray for at least 5 minutes, then move to a rack to cool further. They will be very soft to the touch fresh from the oven and firm up as they cool.

Selecting open, free, or commons licenses for content and code

Content and code licensing is a bit of a minefield.

The first thing to remember is that in the UK and USA at least, all creative works are automatically protected by copyright from the moment they are made. The creator retains exclusive rights to their work, and nobody can share, copy, or use the work without the creator’s direct permission unless they are sharing it in fair use (critique, comment, parody, etc.). This is the reasoning behind the classic “all rights reserved” statement you often see in relation to a creative work.

Cover of “Copy This Book” by Eric Schrijver

But it is foolish to believe that “all rights reserved” will always be respected for content online. Tumblr and other platforms have made it so effortless to share others’ work that the public perception of copyright is seriously warped. Creators are very welcome to reserve their rights to all of their work but if they’re releasing it online under such terms, they should be prepared for a lot of violations.

The nature of the Internet created a need for less restrictive copyright licenses, and a whole host of open, free, and commons licenses have filled the void. This is my experience navigating the space for my own work including some of the resources I’ve used, the licenses I have chosen, and my reasoning.

Continue reading

Ceramic cat by a young David Hockney

Life-size black and white ceramic cat by David Hockney

Ceramic Cat
David Hockney 1955

On loan from Jean and Paul Hockney.

This cat was given to David Hockney’s brother and sister-in-law as a wedding present in September 1955. It was one of approximately four cats made by the artist whilst a student at Bradford College of Art. After the model was produced the mould broke, making this sculpture unique as it was the only one with indentations. Subsequent versions were produced with a smooth finish and in different colours.

This life-size ceramic cat with stubby little legs is in one of the display cases in the ground floor of Salts Mill alongside many other pieces by David Hockney.