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Spring into HTML and CSS 131

Posted by timothy
from the brevity dept.
Simon P. Chappell writes "One of the perks of regular book reviewing is that, periodically, you'll check your mail box and discover a book waiting for you. A serendipitous surprise! I don't review all such books that I receive, but this one, Spring Into HTML and CSS by Molly E. Holzschlag, stood out from the crowd and I felt that I should share my thoughts on it with you." Read on for Chappell's brief review.
Spring into HTML and CSS
author Molly E. Holzschlag
pages 316 (18 page index)
publisher Addison Wesley
rating 9.5 out of 10
reviewer Simon P. Chappell
ISBN 0131855867
summary A great book for learning or upgrading your current skills.

Who's it for?

This seems a very clearly targeted book. It's directed towards professionals that need to work with websites, but do not necessarily have a software development background.

The Good Stuff

The approach of the book reflects the targeted audience very well. The book starts by introducing a basic HTML page and then building upon it by showing how to add text and graphic content. The next couple of chapters then show a few more advanced subjects like forms and tables. The second half of the book then moves into explaining CSS, starting with some of the basic ground rules and then moving into applying colours, styles and borders to the HTML document. The last chapter is a cookbook of classic layouts, explained clearly and with code.

Even though I'm not a typical member of the intended audience, I found the organisation of the book very well thought-out and with a good sense of flow. Each chapter builds on the preceding one, with a small set of examples that are built up through the course of the book. Each chapter is broken into one or two page "chunks," as the book itself describes them. These chunks are small discrete explanations of aspects that the chapter covers. For example, in the chapter on images, the chunks cover topics like adding alternative text to an image, specifying its height and width and using an image in a hyperlink.

For me, the combination of the chunk organisation and Molly's writing makes the book. The chunked approach fits the needs of both learning a new subject without being overwhelmed and those that want more of a reference capability. This book is not written to be a reference work, but with everything being so well partitioned, it comes close enough to meet my need for a good reference work as well. Some authors tell you about their subject, but Molly really does seem to explain it to you. A subtle difference, but one that gives this book the edge.

As a book that aims to be practical, the examples were very well chosen. There are plenty of pieces of example markup and images of the resulting rendering. The markup is nicely laid out and the images are large enough to show the effect, but not so large as to interrupt the flow of the explanation. The other nice thing about the examples, especially in the CSS section of the book, is that the examples are consistent. The same portion of text, from The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe, is used throughout. I found that this helped clearly show the difference between the effects being taught. The text stayed the same, only the layout changed with the new style being shown. Very effective.

Groan!

My first inclination when I saw that the book was part of a new series called "Spring into ..." was to groan and wonder when they were planning to fire the marketing non-genius that dreamt up such a bad title! Thankfully the contents more than make up for the corny name. The only other thing that bugged me was the inclusion of two appendixes with HTML and CSS reference information in them. The references are annotated very well with practical considerations, so I'm only going to knock off half a point from what would otherwise have been a perfect ten.


You can purchase Spring into HTML and CSS from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Spring into HTML and CSS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:24PM (#12816360)
    Maybe the Slashdot editors should take some advice [alistapart.com] here.
    • by Anonymous Coward
    • by warriorpostman (648010) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @04:05PM (#12816846) Homepage
      The alistapart web site is EXCELLENT. It's a good demo of how to take inline-style-bloated markup and convert it into something much more streamlined.


      Unfortunately, in the web projects that I work on, I see nested tables ALL over the place, and it's like pulling teeth to get some of my co-workers to stop inlining style everywhere, and nesting tables instead of retooling the layout using CSS.
      • by podperson (592944) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @05:05PM (#12817421) Homepage
        After tooling up a dynamic site from scratch to use CSS to do simple stuff like boxes and then running it past folks for usability and layout -- I ended up re-implementing it as a bunch of nested tables.

        Worked on more browsers.
        Was far simpler to work with.
        Looked better.

        Sad.
        • Worked on more browsers.
          Was far simpler to work with.
          Looked better.
          Then you did it wrong... Try Again.
          • I'd say it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. There are still things that you can do with tables that you can't quite do with CSS, though the number of these are dwindling. IMHO, if you have to use a table for layout, it should be the most minimal table you can use, with the rest of the presentation loaded from CSS. Handwaving about CSS as a panacea doesn't solve anyone's problems.
            • There are still things that you can do with tables that you can't quite do with CSS, though the number of these are dwindling.
              And what is 1 example of 1 thing that you are referring to?
              • by timothyf (615594) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @07:04PM (#12818688) Homepage
                Try to mimic the behavior of valign="bottom" on a td tag using CSS with a container of variable height. To the best of my knowledge, it can't be done without tables (or by cheating and applying a display: table-cell style rule to the container, which is not supported by IE) or using a Javascript hack. Complex grid-like layouts, where your content doesn't fit into a nice 3 column layout with a header and footer--basically anything where you've got to have things align with each other vertically--require tables to work. Tables will also 'give' when the content would normally overflow a fixed-width div. Granted, most sites don't need it, but that doesn't mean that tables for layout can't be an acceptable solution under some situations. See also http://www.mezzoblue.com/archives/2004/05/15/table s_oh_th/index.php [mezzoblue.com] For the record, I advocate using CSS over Layout Tables whenever possible, but I'm not dogmatic about it either.
                • I haven't seen this mentioned yet, so I thought it appropriate to post as a response to your gripes:

                  http://www.csszengarden.com/ [csszengarden.com]

                  CSS Zen Garden is an extensive collection of sites designed and manufactured entirely with CSS. One caveat: most of the more intricate styles do not work well, or at all, on any other browsers besides Firefox (yet another reason to switch). If you are designing for a company intranet where the browser can be controlled by the IT department, then I'd recommend using CSS to it'
                  • yes, everybody knows about czg these days, and it's been posted at least twice in this /. discussion alone.

                    and in a world where well over 80% of people still use IE, you're a damn idiot to post "it works in firefox, just get all your users to switch."
                    • "it works in firefox, just get all your users to switch."

                      But that's not what he said at all. He said (to paraphrase) if you're designing for an environment where you have control of your users browser platform, then using CSS makes sense. Otherwise you'll have headachces dealing with CSS browser issues. It would have been more clear had he broken the two seperate thoughts into distinct paragraphs, but his point was still pretty clear.
                  • Or I could just use a table and tell on the table nazis to shut up.
                • cheating and applying a display: table-cell style rule to the container, which is not supported by IE

                  er... using the universally-agreed standard is "cheating", because a 7-year-old browser is too broken to support it?

                  riiight.

                  • When the name of the game is cross-browser-support[1], then yes, functionality known to be broken on the browser that still has 90% market share is indeed cheating.

                    Or just not doing your job.

                    Now, as to whether it's fair that we should have to produce broken, sketchy, brain-damaged code to support an ancient, obsolete and crumbling browser that's nevertheless obstinately squatting on the web browser market, impeding the development of the entire world wide web... no, it's not fair.

                    But then since when was
                    • indeed, leaving IE completely in the lurch is kind of unfriendly to the benighted masses - and the poor victims of backwards corporate browser policies :)

                      my preferred approach is to use CSS progressive enhancement, with IE-specific CSS hacks where necessary, so my sites look great and work perfectly in modern browsers, and look reasonable and are at least functional in IE.

                      as for accessibility, i couldn't agree more that it's what the web is about. but we're talking about cosmetics here - vertical alignme
              • Footers.

                It's hilarious the backwards hoops folks jump through trying to do nice footers (for dynamically generated content) using css.

                It's all very well to create static pages that look like works of art (e.g. csszengarden) but you can put a footer across the bottom of a 3 column layout trivially using a table, and -- if you're very persistent -- using rocket science level css which depends on the order the content appears in in the page (which is surely one of the main things css was supposed to avoid).
          • Then you did it wrong... Try Again.

            At least in a table when you say cellpadding="2" all the current browsers get it right, unlike CSS "padding" where some include it in the width and some don't and you have to rely on broken parser hacks to get them straight.

            There's doing it right... and doing it the hard way.

      • Ah, but the answer is staring you in the face. For each nested table your co-workers use, extract one of their teeth. For each FONT tag, kill them. Should solve the problem in no time! (although your workload may see a slight increase)

        Hey, at least they're not using Frontpage..

    • by bigbigbison (104532) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @09:40PM (#12819816) Homepage
      They are working [perl.org] on it [slashdot.org].
  • This is a bad thing? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Elyscape (882517) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .epacsyle.> on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:25PM (#12816370) Homepage
    The only other thing that bugged me was the inclusion of two appendixes with HTML and CSS reference information in them.
    I fail to understand how this is a bad thing. Could someone explain?
    • I would say it were better if they had been included instead of not.
    • In Soviet Russia, the appendixes write you.
    • by suresk (816773)
      Presumably because this sort of information (updated, too) can be easily found online. Sticking it in a book only serves to make the book look thicker and perhaps justify a higher price.

      I don't really care though, if the contents of the book alone are good, no need to knock it for including reference information.
    • by /ASCII (86998) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:30PM (#12816435) Homepage
      Why pay good money for a dead tree-version of something that will soon be obsolete when it is available through the Internet, and alway up to date?
      • by StandardDeviant (122674) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @04:13PM (#12816922) Homepage Journal
        Because not everyone wants to read documentation on a screen. Some people like to have a book open next to their keyboard, some want something they can read on the train, in a plane, etc. Dead trees also have no need for power adaptors or batteries. Neither dead trees nor e-docs are better than the other, they're just different.
        • I tote Instant HTML [addall.com] around with me when I need a reference. There may be better books, but it's got what I need. It's for 4.0 and while there are changes I don't have with me, it gets me by when I need it. And while it doesn't list Opera or Firefox, it's got charts for the various tags, showing which ones are supported in IE and NN - and in which versions. Again, it's not perfect, but if I see something across the board for IE, I figure it must be IE-only and I know to avoid it. Besides, I'm willing to wa
      • "dead-tree version" = available to be paged through without taking up monitor space.

        "soon be obsolete"? Define soon. Maybe there are projects waiting that could be up and earning income within a couple days of receiving this information formatted in easy to digest "chunks" - do you promise it will be online as-is, and if so, when?

        "alway (sic) up to date"? please...

        The only thing worse is that some lazy butt bunch of mods dropped "insightful" points on your low-uid self.

        The only thing missing is the dre
        • Why not just use a printer to print out the latest CSS or HTML reference sheets? Then you don't have it bound to an annoying stiff spined book (at the end of the book to boot) that wants to stay closed when you want it to stay open.
      • Because the person might save a few hundred bucks when, after finishing the book, they realize FrontPage isn't necessary?
      • ... a dead tree-version of something that will soon be obsolete....

        You're assuming that HTML will continue to be totally re-invented at regular intervals, the way it has in the past. But that's something that has to change, and Molly Holzschlag happens to be one of the people trying to change it. I haven't seen this book (though I have to say that I've been disappointed by some of her previous books) but I think its safe to say that anything MH writes will be standards-driven, and thus unlikely to be o

  • Just knowing HTML and CSS does not result in web pages that are easy to use and accessible. That is something that can't be learned directly from a book. It takes a certain intuition to be able to design web pages that truly perform.

    Anyways, does this book cover XHTML at all? And what about CSS 2.0? I get the feeling from this review that this book is somewhat outdated, and does not cover such topics. I hope I am wrong in such assumptions.
  • by cruppel (603595) * on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:26PM (#12816388) Homepage
    I reccommend http://www.zeldman.com/ [zeldman.com] for all your web-standards reading. He's even re-worked Slashdot [alistapart.com] using current web standards.
    • Read the author line for the article. That was written by Daniel M. Frommelt. Zeldman is just one of the editors for ALA and writes once in a while, he doesn't write everything there.

    • All I can say is Slashdot must be absolutely minted.

      I remember reading that article when it was published almost two years ago, and Slashdot still haven't embraced web-standards, even for alleviating their bandwidth bills -- a cool $3,600 a-year saving if they followed that article.
    • by matt me (850665) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @05:02PM (#12817403)
      zeldman.com very cool-looking site, beautiful beige and green tones, but just like alistapart.com the styling falls short because of it's use of a fixed pixel width - in a large resolution (esp wide screen of dual head), it's width capped at around 800 pixels means it looks stupid as a narrow bar down the centre of your screen, wasting useful space, and on a narrow resolution, you have to scroll horizontally. worse still if you increase the relative text size, the width doesn't grow, so you end up with very few words visible despite all the avaliable space...
      • That's usually done to keep the text more readable. I find myself resizing fluid sites so I can more easily read what's on the page myself when I'm using a high res monitor. Tis also easier if we know when designing a page what width it will be. Takes one more element of Surprise!!! out of the webdesign process. It's old but there's good discussion on it here: http://photomatt.net/2003/12/11/death-of-flexible- width-designs/ [photomatt.net]
      • in a large resolution (esp wide screen of dual head), it's width capped at around 800 pixels means it looks stupid as a narrow bar down the centre of your screen, wasting useful space

        You're the one who seems to be running your browser full screen.

        It's a browser window, not a browser desktop. The width of a column is inversly proportional to ease of reading.

        Until someone comes up with an easier way to do multi-column text, a fixed width is going to be required.

        It doesn't matter what resolution I'm at..
        • There's no real excuse for fixed-width columns now. The following CSS produces variable width up to an upper limit proportional to the font size in all browsers that support it, with a fall-back for IE.

          div#contents {
          margin: 0 auto;
          max-width: 48em;
          min-width: 12em; }
          * html div#contents {
          width: 48em; /* for IE */ }

          If you want to support IE as well, a simple bit of JavaScript will do the trick. See this site [stnics.org] for an example.
  • by Nytewynd (829901) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:27PM (#12816395)
    Thank goodness someone wrote a book about HTML and CSS development. There aren't enough free sites on the internet to teach you this stuff already.

    The best place to advertise this is probably /. too. Most of the readers here are probably novice developers with only basic knowledge of HTML if any at all.
    • by ImaLamer (260199) <john.lamar@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:45PM (#12816618) Homepage Journal
      To be fair, it's not easy writing HTML/CSS on the screen while having a million tabs/windows open trying to hunt down the information you need.

      Reference material sometimes just needs to be held in your hand. Not to mention that /. readers will likely promote this book to their in-laws who beg to know how to write/design tiny, no purpose websites. It will save a few weekends for a bunch of us.
      • by Nytewynd (829901) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:55PM (#12816739)
        To be fair, it's not easy writing HTML/CSS on the screen while having a million tabs/windows open trying to hunt down the information you need.

        I can probably google what I need and find an example before I'd find it in the book with the index. I know what you mean about having a reference handy, but it seems that since Google, I haven't touched a single one of my reference books. All that LISP book does is collect dust these days. I don't even want to think about what might be growing on my Computer Architecture book.
        • by prockcore (543967)
          I can probably google what I need and find an example before I'd find it in the book with the index.

          I'd agree with that, for everything *except* html/css and javascript.

          There's so much crap out there that you'll have to wade through thousands of pages of improper CSS and javascript before you find someone who knows what they're talking about.

          Just try it.. google for the XMP tag.. tell me what it does. After 500 pages that say "it's like the PRE tag" you *might* find one that tells you that the browser
      • I can't imagine it would be easy doing anything with a million tabs/windows open.

        I too think this book is way off target for the slashdot audience.
      • That's when dual monitors come in handy.
    • I would have to agree, there is no need to read a book on the subject, there is a huge swath of information on HTML, CSS, XHTML, etc. on the internet already. Just a month ago, I decided to learn XHTML+CSS, it was pretty easy with all the great tutorial sites out there. For me, it's alot easier to learn something by actually doing it and learning through trial and error then reading a book.

      XHTML [w3.org]
      CSS [w3.org]
    • I am a "novice developer with only basic knowledge of HTML if any at all.", you insensitive clod!
      Happy Troll Tuesday!
  • by smackjer (697558) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:28PM (#12816407) Homepage
    Designing with Web Standards [amazon.com] by Jeffrey Zeldman. By far the most useful and informative book on the subject that I've seen. A good web designer needs to know the "why", not just the "how".
    • Zeldman's book is good if you need to convince your boss that it's a good idea but it's alittle short on the "meat" part. He's a great writer though.

      If you're really interested in learning about CSS it's best to go straight to the source [literally, these guys helped develop the spec] and get Bert Bos and Hakon Lie's Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web [amazon.com], it's by far to most detailed and even goes into the design reasons behind a lot of the decisions made when CSS was developed. There's a new ver
      • Seemed like 1/2 of Zeldman's book was indeed a long-winded web standards sales pitch. If you're already sold and want to get to work, a more down-and-dirty, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of book is Dan Cederholm's Web Standards Solutions [powells.com]. It's not as entertaining as Zeldman, but I found it much more useful. I've been very happy using Cederhom's book with O'Reilly's XHTML [powells.com] and CSS [powells.com] (by Eric Meyer) guides.
      • Seconded. While the Zeldman book is an entertaining read and a nice overview, it's not exactly loaded with examples and it doesn't really take you soup-to-nuts for either developing from scratch or converting an existing site. There are a lot of nice chunks, but they're almost always floating alone rather then ever assembling into a whole. I don't feel it was a waste of my money, but it's not the sort of book I regularly pull off the shelf. You could probably get more practical information by reading A List
      • An affiliate link? Shame on you.
    • Building Accessible Websites [joeclark.org] by Joe Clark. By far the most insightful and interestnig book on the subject that I've seen. A great designer needs to keep all the "who" in mind - not just the "why" or "how".
    • Oh man. One look at that cover and I thought, "Written by the Unibomber." Not a good sales tool, folks. Maybe a simple abstract pattern on the next edition?
    • I own Zeldman's book, and it's more or less a compilation of several A List Apart articles tied together with some questionable reasoning about XML.
  • Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Giant Space Hamster (157354) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:30PM (#12816442)
    The only other thing that bugged me was the inclusion of two appendixes with HTML and CSS reference information in them. The references are annotated very well with practical considerations, so I'm only going to knock off half a point from what would otherwise have been a perfect ten.

    Wait, why is including reference material a negative? Isn't that an advantage to the user, all relevant information collected in one place?
    • It is often an effort to fatten up a book, without providing benefit, but not being hard to do. If it just repeats information that is readily available in the book, then it is a waste. If it has lots of information that isn't in the book, the why didn't the author want to talk about it?

      It can be done well, or it can be done poorly. In a book on a foreign language, I expect a dictionary section at the back, even though all the foreign word are already scattered throughout the book.

      OTOH, a math book whi
    • Wait, why is including reference material a negative? Isn't that an advantage to the user...?

      Opportunity cost [wikipedia.org].
  • Sounds very basic... (Score:5, Informative)

    by inkdesign (7389) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:32PM (#12816467)
    Based on the review, it sounds like this covers topics so basic; one would be better served by a resource such as w3schools [w3schools.com], or something along those lines. I recommend the Zen of CSS Design [amazon.com], which I found to be a great read for those who have gotten the basics down.
  • by ChrisF79 (829953) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:39PM (#12816545) Homepage
    (begin sarcasm)
    Wow, it's about time someone wrote a book about HTML and CSS. I went to the Barnes and Noble and couldn't find a single one on the subject. Are they trying to keep this stuff a secret?
    (end sarcasm)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      (begin sarcasm)
      Wow, it's about time someone wrote a book about HTML and CSS. I went to the Barnes and Noble and couldn't find a single one on the subject. Are they trying to keep this stuff a secret?
      (end sarcasm)


      Wow, about time someone finally decided to tag very hidden sarcasms. The joe-user filled population of slashdot wouldn't have noticed it!
  • Targeted? (Score:2, Funny)

    by jkliff (580262)
    This seems a very clearly targeted book. It's directed towards professionals that need to work with websites, but do not necessarily have a software development background. And how is this supposed to be "clearly targeted"?
  • Hey, when you are done with the book, how about you send it on to someone [mailto] who needs it?
  • Izzat So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lheal (86013) <lheal1999@y a h o o .com> on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @03:47PM (#12816644) Journal

    Usually I dislike details about a reviewer being included in a review, but:

    Even though I'm not a typical member of the intended audience, I found the organisation of the book very well thought-out and with a good sense of flow.

    The reviewer doesn't say what his background is, so it's hard to judge his claim not to be a typical member of the intended audience. Claiming it without some explanation makes me wonder what he means, and even why I should read on.

    Perhaps he found the organization of the book well thought out because he's atypical?

  • I can dependency-inject my CSS files? Finally!
  • The author is not qualified to review this book, especially not for a savvy audience like that of Slashdot. A 'don't worry I'm only a beginner too' review (check his blog [simonpeter.com]) can seem very comforting and empathic, but Simon Chappell clearly cannot even speculate on the completeness of this work, nor it's adherence to, and promotion of, best practices.
    • Unqualified? Interesting. Which part of 16 years earning my employment as a programmer and then a technical lead would disqualify me to comment on technical matters?

      Also, the link you gave for my blog is actually my personal website http://www.simonpeter.com/ [simonpeter.com] my blog is hosted at blogspot. http://uab.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]
      • Unqualified? Interesting. Which part of 16 years earning my employment as a programmer and then a technical lead would disqualify me to comment on technical matters?

        Exactly the same part that would make me unqualified to review a book on object-relational DBMSs (stab in the dark - I don't know what your specialism is beyond OOP about which I also have quite a bit of experience, both as a practitioner - I've also been a technical lead in the industry, myself on C++ projects - and a researcher), or that

  • Index dot CSS [blooberry.com]
    Index dot HTML [blooberry.com]

    Just the facts for me...
    • Not too shabby. What I wonder, is there anywhere a good reference card for HTML in 1-4 pages? And throw one in for CSS while you're at it. To print out, and keep around for reference? Or is modern HTML too large for that? (Last time I really did HTML, I coded HTML 2.0 in Notepad.)
  • quirksmode.org (Score:5, Informative)

    by t_allardyce (48447) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @04:20PM (#12816989) Journal
    http://quirksmode.org/ [quirksmode.org]

    Amazing site, this guy has done some painstaking cross-browser testing for JavaScript, CSS and HTML and come back with compatibility tables and recommendations for everything from the basic box model (how browsers managed to fuck this up i don't know) to robust JavaScript that doesn't use crappy "if browser equals X" statements. Working with HTML/CSS and JS is highly painful if your project specifies that it must look _good_ in all browsers, so any tricks you can learn will save your life.
  • Molly is Cool (Score:3, Informative)

    by airship (242862) on Tuesday June 14, 2005 @04:43PM (#12817206) Homepage
    Molly is an amazing writer, and she really knows web design. When I got busy and couldn't update my book "Special Edition: Using HTML 4", Molly took it over and reworked it from the ground up into a much better book. And she's not only a great web designer and writer, she's a fantastic human being. Check out her site at http://www.molly.com/ [molly.com]
  • .."I'm Rick James, bitch!" I would also like to include that reviews of 'beginners' type books on slashdot can really be helpful to those of us who haven't been able to geek out in particular areas of tech. I'll pick it up.
  • Word meaning does not have to be straight-forward and correct for it to make sense in a sentence. Most of humor is using language or meaning in a way that is not quite correct. (sarcasm, irony, etc.)

    For example, if I say "you have a good face for radio", the humor is that the real meaning of the sentence is not the same as the straightforward meaning.

    It was funny. Laugh.
  • ... I thought it was something to do with the Spring framework [springframework.org]. It's not.
  • screaming at the top of their lungs over IE's non-conformance to the CSS standards. Though CSS is not perfect, the separation of structure and style is the right thing. It is nearly criminal the number of hacks required to get around IE's non-conformity.

% APL is a natural extension of assembler language programming; ...and is best for educational purposes. -- A. Perlis

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