Canadian Social Research Links

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Updated January 31, 2013


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This is my soapbox.
I use it to vent my spleen about things that people and institutions do - probably intentionally - to irk me.
Not that I think that certain people and/or organizations are plotting to drive me insane by assaulting me continuously with this stuff like the constant drip-drip-drip of the Chinese water torture device or anything, but it's good to share my feelings - or so my therapist tells me.
This list will definitely not interest everyone - just people like you who are hopelessly bored at the office or hopelessly bored at home.
Also, needless to say, as EL Supremo Ruler of this site, I reserve the right to make the occasional tipo and to mess up the odd sentence on my own website...
Gilles

Related Links:

Canadian Social Research Links Gotcha! page (formerly the "Duh" page)
Web Pages that Suck.com

Clicking either of the two links below will take you further down on the page you're now reading.

Latest rant : DATE YOUR *$%@ WORK!

Dangling participial phrases



1. rants about websites - design, content, etc.
- things that bug me about some of the websites I visit
- things to keep in mind and to avoid if you plan to set up a website or are currently maintaining one.


Splash Pages

A splash page is the default page that visitors encounter upon arriving on a website using the site's domain name rather than a specific URL.
For example:
The Canada Site splash page shows how a splash page should work - it presents a simple graphic design (not too large) with links to the English and French versions of the site.
http://canada.gc.ca/
http://canada.gc.ca/home.html
Same goes for the Canadian Council on Social Development:
http://www.ccsd.ca
http://www.ccsd.ca/home.htm
But...
Some webmasters - especially those in the private sector - like to use the splash page to show off their Flash skills or their graphic prowess.
Bad webmaster.
Don't waste my time.
Or at least give me a "Skip Flash Intro" button:
http://www.seoulforeign.org/


Bilingual sites

Other language? What other language?

Good on you if your government department or organization offers French content on your website, moreso if you have a French/English "mirror site".

The ideal bilingual site has a single splashpage with links to both languages, and each page in each language has a visible  link to the equivalent file in the other language. The French and English versions are mirrors of one another, including all content and graphics. If that's not possible (because of budget constraints or whatever), then each page should link to the home page in the other language.
For example:

A visitor on this page can go to either the French or the English version of the site.

http://www.childpoverty.com/

But on this page:

http://www.childpoverty.com/eng/index.html

and this one:
Street Level Homelessness Conference website
...the visitor has no clue that there's even a version in the other language, and all the site development work in the other language is overlooked.

The Canadian federal government is the perfect example of how well this English-French juxtaposition can work. Starting with the splashpage of The Canada Site (where you select the French or English version of the site), you can click on any link and (on the next page) you'll always have a link to the equivalent content in the other language. But the federal govt. does have this commitment under the Official Languages Act - not to mention deep pockets - when it comes to websites...
If you're building a bilingual site, try to ensure that you have a link on each page of your site to the corresponding page in the other language, or at least a link to the home page in the other language.


Frames
Use frames sparingly.
In fact, DON'T use frames unless there's a compelling  reason for them.
- See the separate rant (link below) I wrote about frames after helping out a work colleague with a browser problem and noticing that she'd saved almost a dozen bookmarks to exactly the same URL --- the home page of a frame site. Dontcha just hate it when that happens?
http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/frames.htm


Dates

January 31, 2013
A note for researchers and copy editors everywhere:

PLEASE ensure that you include a DATE on reports and other documents that you or your organization plan to post online.

In the BC Health report on improving care for BC seniors (the link below), there isn't a single reference to when the action plan was produced or released.

Oh, sure, there are partial clues in the text, such as "Effective Feb. 1, 2012, residential care clients will have one of the highest...", where the use of the future tense would indicate that the action plan came out before Feb. 2012.
TIP : If the file is in PDF format, you can find the date the file was created under "File - Properties" in your PDF reader.

Bottom line : The reader shouldn't have to guesstimate the date of a report.
Ever.

---

Improving Care for B.C. Seniors: An Action Plan (PDF - 3.3MB, 12 pages):
http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/library/publications/year/2012/seniors-action-plan.pdf
Source:
BC Health

---------------------------------------------

BTW --- When dating your material, try to avoid confusing your visitors with numeric dates (--/--/--)

For example:

02-12-01 =
- February 12, 2001?
- December 2, 2001?
- January 12, 2002?
- December 1, 2002?


"Under Construction"
If the page isn't ready, don't include a link to it.
The end.

What happens is a web designer comes up with a spiffy look for a site, and creates a nifty graphic navigation bar with buttons to a whole bunch of content pages. Trouble is, some of those nifty buttons point to "placemarker pages" that don't have any content when the site is first launched but will eventually (the web designer hopes) be useful. In the meantime, they keep the button on the site (because it's part of the navigation bar graphic) and upload an "Under Construction" file to the site. Every time someone clicks on a button that takes them to an "Under Construction" page, they are justifiably frustrated, because those are wasted clicks to blank pages. Moreover, there's always a risk that if content for that page isn't available for site launch, it won't be for awhile --- then, over time, the page turns into an embarrassment.



Graphics

If you're putting together a page with any graphics, please remember that not everyone is surfing the net on a T3 line or some other broadband Internet connection.
Try to keep the size of graphic files reasonable - if necessary, use an online graphic optimizer. I had an example of a super-large photo from the Saskatchewan Cabinet in 2004, but I've since decided that it's so bad that it's good, so I've transferred it from this page to my Gotcha page.


A few words about site statistics ("Over a MILLION hits last month!!")

Site statistics serve two main purposes: they help web authors to monitor the visits to their site as a tool to improve its functionality, and they are proffered to financial supporters as evidence of site traffic to increase site revenue. With higher visitor numbers, a web author can sell advertising space on a page ("banner ads") at a higher premium, or he/she can obtain a larger operating grant from some organization or other.

There's a lot of confusion about site stats. The fact that you're reading this attests to that (unless you're bored silly and you're reading this just to kill time...)

The Extreme Tracking counter on the home page of my site is a pretty sophisticated hit counter. A hit counter displays the number of times people have viewed the page where the counter is located; that number increases by one each time the page is opened. Some of them are very plain - they display a number only. Nothing fancy, no further info. The Extreme Tracking counter offers a whole bunch of interesting stats, including the IP addresses of the last 20 visitors to the home page, the URLs of all "referrers" (pages from which visitors are coming from), daily/weekly/monthly site traffic stats and more. I like the Extreme Tracking stats for the additional info they provide - I really enjoy seeing the last 20 visitors, and I'm getting good at identifying visitors' countries of origin by their IP addresses. The Extreme Tracking counter provides stats only about visitors to the home page of this site.

You'll often hear about the number of "hits"per month, per week or per day. Those are kind of misleading, because each graphic on a page counts as a hit - if you have 20 graphics on a single page, the counter rings up 21 hits each time the page is viewed...

My web hosting service offers more comprehensive website stats online.
According to its numbers, there were over one million page views on this site during the year 2006.
(The number of hit was close to three million for the same year.)


Disclaimers about the content of another site.
You know what I mean - you're on a site, you click on a link and you see a new screen with something like "You are now leaving the such-and-such site. The such-and-such company (or government or other entity) is not responsible for the quality, effectiveness and fitness for a particular purpose of products or services available on external sites and listed or described on our menu; nor is the such-and-such site responsible for the accuracy, reliability or currency of the information contained on the Website and supplied by external sources."

Well, duh.
Is there reeeeeally anyone out there who's naive enough to hold the webmaster of one site accountable for content on another website?
Spare us that unnecessary extra screen or popup, please...


PDF files

Use the PDF format wisely. Make sure that your file can be opened, read and printed using older versions of Adobe Acrobat and on different operating systems.
If you post a PDF file, fer Gawd's sake, tell people (1) the date of the file, (2) how large it is, and (3) how many pages it contains, eh...

And BY THE WAY:

Programs for Seniors 2006 (PDF file - 5.0MB - LARGE download)
Source:
Senior Citizens' Secretariat
[ Nova Scotia Department of Health ]

This is how NOT to do PDF --- by the time this 9.8MB file downloads to a senior's computer, the person may have expired.
Suggestion : do *two* PDF versions --- one with all the fancy graphics and stuff (5.0MB), and the other with formatted text only.
The average size of a simple PDF file should be somewhere around 3-4 KB per page.



"This site best viewed using Internet Explorer."
B.S.!

I've heard 'em all:

- "Stupid %&$#*@ Netscape/Firefox"
--- "Less than 3% of WWW surfers use Netscape/Firefox"
----- "Get a REAL browser!"

Sure, you can design your site for Internet Explorer and say "Screw everybody else!".
If you're trying to sell goods or services on the Web, though, you'll be forgoing part of your sales.
If you're trying to provide information, it makes you look unprofessional.

If your web design tool of preference is Front Page, or if you built your site using Java or JavaScript, you'll likely have some problems with the look of the site in Netscape/Firefox - except for the most recent versions.

Sure, it's easy to say "get a good browser"*, but for some folks it's not a matter of choice. If someone is working on a public access machine in a library or in an office environment on a network, they don't have the option of downloading and installing the latest version of whatever. Some people working on a home computer don't have the technical experience and the self-confidence to tackle that kind of job. Yet others are required to use a different browser altogether by a disability; if your site doesn't render well using Netscape or Firefox, chances are it won't for someone using a text reader or voice navigation either...
The reason that some sites don't render well in Netscape or Firefox is that the webmaster used proprietary website software like Microsoft Front Page or some such Internet-Explorer-focused program that creates sites for Internet Explorer and doesn't give a rat's patootie whether the site works in Firefox or Netscape. Firefox and NS7 are built using the Mozilla engine, which is 100% in conformity with WWW standards, so if a site doesn't open in either of those browsers, it's because it was poorly coded.

-----------------------------------
*Easy to say, indeed --- now, all of the experts are suggesting that folks Dump Internet Explorer!!



"Static HTML" VS Databases
[This section is a reply to my son Daniel, my buddy Peter and anyone else who would try to convince me to convert my site into a database...]
This site is pretty much plain-vanilla, as sites go. No Flashy Flash Intro, no javascript or Java, no streaming video --- just the links. When one of the pages on this site becomes excessively large (and thus longer to download on a slow machine or connection), I split it into two separate pages and link them to one another. Site visitors who browse several pages will see that I often copy the same links to several pages on my site because their theme or their content cuts across several themes and/or jurisdictions. Awright, you might say (and some do...) --- why not convert the whole shebang into a database with a user-friendly interface, let someone else take care of the technical stuff while I continue trolling for content?
Lemme tell ya why.
The plain-vanilla approach not only allows a site to reach out to a larger audience, i.e., those with slower machines and connections, but it also means that site can be updated literally from any computer in the world that has an Internet connection. I can sit down in an Internet Café in Melbourne Australia or Vancouver and update my site, using the tools available from my web hosting service. What's even more important for me, though, is the ability to fix anything that goes wrong with the site myself - no need for a technical support crew when something doesn't work...
Take THAT, you database freaks!
But seriously, I do have a number of problems with database-driven websites in general. Many of them are definitely not user-friendly or intuitive, they're often slow to open and navigate, the file sizes are often enormous (especially if the website search feature doesn't offer an option of showing more or fewer results per page), and the URLs are not always stable (they change from one visit to the next on some sites).

Here's an example of a Canadian government database site that doesn't work for me :
Seniors Policies and Programs Database (SPPD)*
There's no such thing as a simple URL in database sites.
Try telling someone over the phone how to get to this web page on the SPPD site : http://www.sppd.gc.ca/bin/sppdsrch.dll/?level=basic&language=e&keywords=any&description=yes&PROGRAM_NAME=alberta&jurisdiction=ALL

If you try to copy and paste the same URL into an e-mail message, mail-reading programs will likely wrap the text to the next line automatically after 76 or 80 characters (I can't remember exactly how many...) - but the hyperlink doesn't always include any text that's wrapped to the next line. Many e-mail users give up immediately if they click on an incomplete hyperlink and end up not going anywhere...
[TIP: if you want to send a long URL by e-mail , try TinyURL.com - a free online service that converts long URLs into short ones.]

Yeah, that's what I don't like about database sites - that and the fact that they often don't date their material...


Related Links:

Canadian Social Research Links Gotcha! page (formerly the "Duh" page)

Web Pages that Suck.com



2. speling, grammar and other language-related rants

Over the years, I've earned a reputation as office nit-picker in matters relating to the use of English* in our publications and, more recently, websites. I've always enjoyed doing quality control of French and English versions of reports that my group or branch would produce, and I even earned a mention in the Ontario Social Assistance Review Committee's 1988 report Transitions for verifying the 697-page English version against the French translation.

*My academic background is a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from the University of Ottawa in 1971.
No, I kid you not.

My special list of common spelling and grammar mistakes on the net:

Amount/Number :
(definitely of interest only to English language sticklers...)

From a welfare news release:

"The caseload number in January 2005 was 27,669. This is the lowest amount for the month..."

===>Amount words relate to quantities of things that are measured in bulk; number words relate to things that can be counted.
You can't have an 'amount' of cases or people any more than you can have a 'number' of snow or money.
Source:
Common Errors in English


"MYSELF"

Repeat after me: "Myself" is not a synonym for "me".

The word "myself" is a reflexive pronoun.
You should only use "myself" if the word "I" comes before it in the same sentence.
For example:

1. When the subject and object of the sentence are the same:
*** I know myself.
*** I saw myself in the mirror.

2. When you want to emphasise, or call more attention to the subject of the sentence:
** I did the job myself.
** I ate all the cake myself.

Incorrect usage of "myself":

For more information please contact myself.
<Argh.>

Source:
http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~michaelc/grammar/reflex.htm


It's - its :
The first is a contraction of "it is", the second is the possessive ("belonging to it").

" It's not its bark that you should fear - it's its bite"

...and just for the record: its' does not exist in English.

http://garyes.googlepages.com/its


Two M's in accommodation, please...


Wassup with those darn hyphens anyway?

The Rule:
Hyphens should be used *only* when the hyphenated words are used as adjective or qualifier


Incorrect:"Inflation rates are far ahead of Alan Greenspan's federal funds rate, which he raised to 1.25 percent. Can he catch-up?"
(From a recent issue of the New York Times)

Correct: Inflation rates are far ahead of Alan Greenspan's federal funds rate, which he raised to 1.25 percent. Can he find a catch-up strategy that works?

Incorrect: "Thank-you for for the flowers."
Correct: I wanted to send you this thank-you note for the lovely flowers.



And me / And I

The Rule:
When used as subject of the verb in the sentence, "...and I"
When used as object of the verb, "...and me"

Incorrect: "My mother and me went to the market."
Correct: My mother and I went...

Incorrect: "The boss asked Bob and I to check the inventory."
Correct: The boss asked Bob and me...

TIP: when composing the sentence, leave out the "(whoever) and..." part and read the sentence out loud.
For example, the first sentence above would read "...me went to the market" and the second "The boss asked I...", both of which are clearly incorrect.


Behaviour and neighbour in Canada (and the Commonwealth), drop the "u" in American English.

Likewise...
Centre in Canada, Center in the States...


The five-syllable synonym for payment is NOT renumeration - it's remuneration, OK?
See what the online dictionaries have to say about renumerate!



Bi-weekly, bi-monthly
-- twice a week/month or every two weeks/months?
====> Use semi instead - less confusing, eh...



Millennium - two n's, not one.
Jeez, I'm glad I won't be around to celebrate the next one of these - I must've seen the word spelled incorrectly a thousand times on the net.

Don't believe me?

Do a search on Google.ca
using the term "millenium" with only one "n"
[Nov. 10/05 update - Google the beneficient is now covering up for these errors by offering search results with the correct spelling. Hmph.]


How many Ph.D.s does it take to spell FOREWORD*?

Foreword is what one reads at the front of a book or report.
Forward is a direction.
Foreward means the front line of an army, an advance group or the vanguard.
Forword - isn't even a word...

* I'm just kidding, of course.
Ph.D.'s know very well how to spell Foreword.
This spelling error usually happens when the organization's tech service uploads the file to the Web, which often involves some actual typing of text (e.g., headers & links) on the web pages. Which generally requires some spelling ability. Which is not always the case, at least with some of the otherwise brilliant techies I've known over the years. In the example below, the word is misspelled twice --- once in the news release and once in the text itself.

The example:

New Half in Ten Report Provides Key Data to Inform Fiscal Showdown
http://www.americanprogressaction.org/press/advisory/2012/11/19/45264/
Half in Ten’s 2012 report underscores growing inequality, effectiveness
of work and income supports, and ability to cut poverty while tackling federal deficit
November 19, 2012
News Release
Washington, D.C. — As Congress looks to avoid the fiscal cliff, the Half in Ten campaign released a new report today that provides key insights into how America is faring on key indicators of cutting poverty and expanding opportunity for all. It tracks progress and backward slides from 2010 to 2011 as well as longer-term trends at the national level and for every state.
The report, The Right Choices to Cut Poverty and Restore Shared Prosperity, which includes a forward* from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, also offers recommendations to move the indicators in the right direction and expand the middle class, even as we cut our long-term deficits. The Half in Ten website provides state data and rankings and emphasizes the state’s bottom-ranking data to focus attention on areas for improvement.
---
* Typo Police Alert:
Forward
is a direction.
Foreward (as used on the third page of the PDF of this report) means the front line of an army, an advance group or the vanguard.

Foreword is a short prefacing text found at the beginning of a report or other publication.

]


Dangling Participial Phrases:
A Gratuitous Grammar Lesson from Gilles
June 1, 2012

During the course of my 17 years online, I've learned to control my inner Grammar Police tendencies.
At first, I was like Anne L. Retentive of Dilbert fame [ http://goo.gl/zVAdR ] --- going apeshit apoplectic whenever I'd spot a typo or an incorrect sentence structure on a website I was visiting. I'd send a polite email to the webmaster of the offending site to offer some avuncular advice on how to spell a particular word or to write a sentence that was grammatically correct, and I'd sign my email "Doctor DemenTypo".

As time passed and I became somewhat more inured to the egregious examples of poor writing online, I learned to let go and focus instead on content, and I've largely weaned myself from the nit-picking habit. I do make exceptions from time to time, for website authors who make it a point of establishing their credibility by referring to their education or work experience.

Here's what prompted this outburst:

The Purple Violet Press - A Citizen Publication
http://thepurplevioletpressnb.blogspot.ca/
Created and updated by a credentialed journalist in Fredericton New Brunswick, the Purple Violet Press website is "an online citizen publication working alongside the province's mainstream media, focusing on grassroots issues involving social justice and public accountability." The site is content-rich and quite informative, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to go beyond the views of the mainstream media.

BUT...

The Policy page of the website begins with the following:

"Operated by a local credentialed journalist, your comments, questions and story ideas are welcome. For writing and editing purposes, this publication uses The Canadian Press Stylebook and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. (...) Please ensure grammar and spelling has been checked before sending [letters to the editor]."

Doctor DemenTypo says:

Perhaps the credentialed journalist could use a credentialed copy editor.
The first part of the first sentence is called a "dangling participial phrase", and it always modifies the subject of the sentence where it is used. In the above excerpt, it's not the "comments, questions and story ideas" that are operated by the journalist, but rather the website.
[ http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/dangling-participles.aspx ]
Also in the above excerpt, the second sentence contains two subjects, so the verb must be plural: "Please ensure grammar and spelling HAVE (not has) been checked."

Credibility : Busted.
Suggestion : Either remove the reference to the journalism credentials or get someone to re-read your texts for typos and grammatical errors.
NOTE : The correct usage of the participial phrase (with slightly different wording) is as follows:
"Created and updated by a credentialed journalist in Fredericton New Brunswick, the Purple Violet Press website is..."

--------------------------------

Full disclosure:
I'm no credentialed journalist; I have a plain-vanilla BA in English Literature (class of '71). However, I did earn my reputation for nit-pickiness over my 30 years of research in the bowels of the federal government. And yes, I *do* make errors from time to time on my own website - but I usually catch them before posting. I do find it deliciously ironic, though, that this person asks people who wish to send in a letter to the editor "to ensure grammar and spelling has been checked before sending"...

[Special note to those who are even *more* nit-picky than I am : yes, I know that "credentialed" is the American spelling and that we in Canada spell this word with a double L. I decided to maintain the one-L spelling to be consistent with the text from the Purple Violet Press website.]



Miscellaneous Rants

Stuff I don't like/want in my e-mail inbox:

Nigerian scam letters, multi-level marketing schemes, home business deals, offers of "up to three extra inches"(enough to give any guy a complex..), low-cost mortgages, Viagra discounts (I heard they started giving Viagra to some of the old fellas in the nursing home down the street just before they go to sleep, to keep them from rolling out of bed during the night) and much more...

Then there's the "other" kind of junk mail --- friends and relatives who feel they must share all of the wonderful / amusing / weird things they find on the Internet with you. Sometimes they add your e-mail address to a joke mailing list and send you daily (only weekly if you're lucky) funnies or inspirational messages [but no personal message], or virus warnings and chain letters they've received. A word of advice: nip this in the bud. Be blunt - some people don't understand that we don't all share the same sense of humour, while others "want you to know that I'm thinking of you, even if I don't have time to write a personal note to include along with my jokes".

This type of junk mail - or SPAM for the uninitiated - is the downside of Internet e-mail, the thorns that grow among the roses.
[This gripe is not aimed at the person who e-mails a joke to a few friends once in awhile - heck, even I do that. It's the hard core - and you know who you are, eh...]

My rule of thumb regarding friendly SPAM:
I never reply to an email that is nothing more than a "Forward" to someone's BCC list or (even worse) CC list* UNLESS the sender has included a personal message to me.

[ * If you must send an email to a group of people, ALWAYS use the BCC option so that their email addresses aren't exposed in the message.
There's software out there that can harvest these mailing lists, and then the SPAM comes...]


To be continued...

...when I get around to it.


 
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E-MAIL: gilseg@rogers.com