Friday, February 2, 2007

An Interesting Footnote

I've changed the style of footnotes that I'm using in this blog. I've also undertaken a bit of revisionist history, and updated the footnote formatting (but not the content) in all of the previous blog posts. I've also taken the opportunity to clean up a bit of other formatting.

Each footnote number in the main text is now a link to the footnote at the end of the document1. (Actually, I suppose that makes them endnotes, but in a single-page format (such as the web), the difference is tiny2.) Each footnote contains an arrow, ↩, which links back to the place in the article where the footnote came from.5

At least in theory it's an arrow. The arrow isn't a picture; it's actually a Unicode symbol (number ↩, to be exact). I'll write an article some time on what that means, but for now just think of Unicode as a way to describe characters that are more complicated than your run-of-the-mill "a" or "$". Most importantly, it allows for the characters necessary for non-English languages (e.g., Cyrillic characters, or those characters found in any number of Asian languages). However, it also provides all sorts of other cool stuff, ranging from musical notes to math symbols6. Now, this is all well and good assuming that your web browser is smart enough to display Unicode characters. If it's not, the arrow may appear as a box (which is the generic "I don't know how to display this character" character). That shouldn't happen on the Mac, nor with Firefox on either Windows or Linux. It may, however, occur with some versions of Internet Explorer on some versions of Windows. If you're using IE, might I use this opportunity to suggest trying out Firefox, a third-party web browser that is far more secure (and capable) than IE.

Anyway, this style of footnote is directly based on that of Daring Fireball. A discussion of these footnotes can be found in this article.

On a related note, I've started to use Markdown to prepare the text of this blog. It's a system that makes it easier to write the text of an article while still allowing easy access to features necessary for web publishing (like links). If you like using a text editor (as opposed to something like a Word Processor), it's worth a look. I've also hacked together a small script to expedite footnote processing, since Markdown does not provide "native" footnote support. This omission is particularly odd given that Markdown is written by John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame, whose footnote style is the direct inspiration for my script. When I get the code cleaned up a bit, I'll send it along to John.

  1. See, like this. 
  2. And blurry, just like the inside of a cataract3
  3. Episode 2F08 Fear of Flying 4
  4. Yes, this quote is a bit of a stretch. But you try working a Simpsons reference into a post about footnotes! 
  5. See, like this. 
  6. In fact, Unicode provides the capability to encode pretty well an infinite number of different characters, so we should be ok even if humanity invents a couple of hundred new languages. 

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