pg: "Arc embodies a similarly unPC attitude to HTML. The predefined libraries just do everything with tables. Why? Because Arc is tuned for exploratory programming, and the W3C-approved way of doing things represents the opposite spirit.
Tables are the lists of html. The W3C doesn't like you to use tables to do more than display tabular data because then it's unclear what a table cell means. But this sort of ambiguity is not always an error. It might be an accurate reflection of the programmer's state of mind. [...]
Good cleanness is a response to constraints imposed by the problem. Bad cleanness is a response to constraints imposed from outside-- by regulations, or the expectations of powerful organizations."
Personally, I think using semantic HTML isn't that big a deal to implement, and it seems to have practical benefits in terms of accessibility. It isn't just something the W3C is trying to impose on people arbitrarily.
And yet, the built-in features of HTML and CSS have a tendency of being very arbitrary. If you want a text box, you can have it; if you want a set of radio buttons, you can have it; if you want a set of radio buttons where one of them says "Other (please specify)" and has an associated text box, you suddenly have a significant amount of code to write. If you want to style the first letter of a paragraph, you can use a ::first-letter CSS selector... but if you want to style letters other than the first, you need to wrap them in explicit HTML elements, which unfortunately has other effects you might not want (like causing screen readers to treat each letter like it's a separate word).
Sometimes, there isn't a workaround. For instance, pages have titles, which appear in the top of the browser window. Have you ever seen a page with a title and a subtitle displayed just under it? I haven't, and short of finding a security hole that makes the browser execute arbitrary code, it seems pretty clear there isn't a way to do this.
Sometimes, there is a conceivable workaround, but it requires something like building your own text layout engine from scratch and then wrangling with a lot of obscure Unicode scripts, screen-reader troubles, text selection support, etc. There are some in-browser text editors which have to make this kind of effort just to achieve syntax highlighting.
And sometimes, there's a workaround that's a lot like building your own substantial subsystem of the browser, but it's actually fairly reasonable to do in a pinch. Like, there are a bunch of front-end frameworks for writing reactive UIs. They take in something that's pretty similar to DOM nodes (sometimes even obtained by parsing DOM nodes that aren't meant to be displayed to the user), they generate actual DOM nodes that are similar to those, and they modify those generated DOM nodes on the fly as the application state changes. In certain respects, these frameworks can save a lot of work by taking advantage of the underlying features of HTML... and in certain respects, there's extra work involved in inverting HTML's abstractions to get them to support this new indirect interaction style they weren't designed for.
pg: "But the advantage of a rewritable language is more than that it lets programmers fix your mistakes. I think the best programmers tend to work by rewriting whatever language they're using. So even the perfect language, if there is such a thing, would be very rewritable. In fact, if I had to guess, I think the perfect language might be whichever one was most rewritable."
How much code does it take for someone to implement their own "rewritten" variation of some HTML or CSS feature? Well, if they can't achieve their goal without writing their own text layout engine or their own virtual DOM framework, quite a lot.
This is important to Arc because it makes the program longer.
Arc is a language designed incrementally by starting with something Lispy and then making whatever changes will shorten Arc programs. News is a program that was written to put Arc to the test; the shorter its code is, the better Arc is doing.
If News used HTML or CSS features in very picky ways, it wouldn't be a good test: As soon as News's needs strayed slightly from the HTML and CSS features that browsers had built-in, then a heap of code would need to be written to make up the difference. When a slight discrepancy in the way a measuring instrument is consulted results in a large discrepancy in the measurement, it's not a very reliable measuring instrument.
So it seems to me that of all possible programs, News was pursued because it could get by on using HTML features in non-picky ways, pretty much in the ways they were already designed to be used. The use of HTML tables and transparent gif spacers was a well-known and once-popular, if dated, technique for achieving layout that was consistent across browsers, so pg built abstractions on that technique for News.
All that being said, I personally think it's a great improvement for News to use semantic HTML tags instead of tables, and I don't think this change really does that much to the size of the codebase (does it?). I just figure these pg writings are interesting in this context.
This has me thinking about html.arc....
The way html.arc is designed involves a lot of special-casing of specific HTML tags and attributes. It's almost like a full go-between layer abstracting HTML from Arc, which suggests that with some ambitious modifications to html.arc, it could turn into a DSL that compiles to HTML in a more indirect way (perhaps performing nonlocal transformations to implement things like footnotes or column breaks). This would potentially be a good place to hone the design of the HTML built-ins so that they're more abstraction-friendly and more "rewritable" as far as Arc code is concerned.
This has a lot in common with those front-end frameworks I mentioned. They abstract over and extend the features of HTML, and in doing so, they tend to make HTML's built-ins "rewritable" by exposing a new way for programmers to define their own extensions of the same kind.
(ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻ NO PG LISTS ARE ALREADY THE LISTS OF HTML
... sorry. Don't know what came over me there.
>and I don't think this change really does that much to the size of the codebase (does it?).
Most of it is the result of moving existing code around, so I think it comes out about even. I don't know how much of a performance issue macro expansion is but there is less of it in the new code, and the HTML itself should be simpler without tables.
>This has me thinking about html.arc....
Racket has its own xml/html library and there is an sml.arc which I haven't played with yet that seems like it might be capable. html.arc seems to do both too much and too little... the attributes blacklist makes it difficult to have modern features like data attributes, and the more macros there are, the more polluted the global namespace becomes.
I've sometimes thought it would be nice if Arc supported css and xml grammar natively, but I have no idea what it would take to actually support that. And I'm probably the only person here who wants to just write html and css directly, rather than use s-expressions or concatenating strings.
> Tables are the lists of html. The W3C doesn't like you to use tables to do more than display tabular data because then it's unclear what a table cell means. But this sort of ambiguity is not always an error. It might be an accurate reflection of the programmer's state of mind. [...]
Note that it's traditional html tables pg is referencing. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the 'display' properties options: 'table', 'table-row', 'table-cell' etc, were not well supported (in IE particularly) or even existent at the time pg wrote the code. So he may not believe the same now.
> The predefined libraries just do everything with tables. Why? Because Arc is tuned for exploratory programming, and the W3C-approved way of doing things represents the opposite spirit.
I don't agree. My understanding is that traditional tables are ridged, which is why they suggest you only put data into it. They are highlighting that it's, generally, not suitable for other things. Divs allow for more flexible manipulation. For example, I can create a table and then decide to break out of the table somewhere in the middle of it's content to render some component. Or I can make a table and morph it into something different by only changing it's properties via css/js.
But pg was not writing web apps. He was writing web pages and then calling a new page for, pretty much, ANY change. So from that perspective (where you can macro away server side) you can see why pg would just put it all in a table and highlight how using arc macros will let you do more compose-able things.