Number trouble in Washington

These must be heady days in Washington, pollsters and politicians spending days and nights pondering numbers, interests, opinions.. Who had that quote about lies, damned lies and statistics – was it Mark Twain?

Statistics wizards and campaign twists aside, there is another area where trusting numbers can get you in trouble: HTML element names. Today we're looking at the user profile administration screen of the venerable Washington Post, specifically their interface for subscribing to newsletters:

<http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?node=admin/email> (Requires free registration)

This does not work in Opera. The reason is markup like this:

<TD id="cell" name="1" width="181" value="1" nowrap="true" STYLE='cursor: pointer' onclick="callClickOnItem(this, event);" bgcolor="white">

The HTML standard has this instruction on using NAME/ID attributes:

ID and NAME tokens must begin with a letter ([A-Za-z])

<http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/types.html#type-cdata>

It is perhaps no surprise that the script isn't standards-compliant since they are using a freeware JavaScript that still carries a copyright notice with a GeoCities URL and a changelog ending in February 1998! (The HTML 4.01 spec was finalised in 1999.) Time to upgrade to a version that leaves the "replace names with numbers" work to statisticians?

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