You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby… Not.

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As fun as it is to pontificate about microformats, structured markup and the semantic web, in the past week two item have brought home to me how far the leading edge of web thinking is ahead of ‘Joe in the street’.

The first was an article by Dave Siegel at XML.com.

The Web Is Ruined and I ruined it. Some people say I’ve ruined the Web, and to them it’s true. Web pages can’t be seen as easily by search engines and those with low-end machines have a hard time getting much out of my site. On my personal site, I don’t even put ALT tags just to send a message to those surfing without images. My life is visual. I love museums. How would you like to visit the Louvre with images turned off?

Dave is one of the web design’s true pioneers and his ‘Creating Killer Web Sites‘ was one of the early bibles of web technique. To relate him to the current web landscape, if Tantek Celik is ‘Mr. Box Model Hack‘, then Dave Siegel was ‘Sir. Table & Spacer Gif‘.

The article is a very interesting but slightly depressing read, not because Dave is championing spacer GIFs, but because he actually goes on to admit the problems he is getting us into, and for the fact that he is writing this article way back in 1997!

Yes, that’s right, almost a decade ago the inventor of ‘The Single Pixel GIF Trick‘ was warning us all ‘don’t compromise your structure for some presentational voodoo‘. He was on our side (the structured markup side) before we even had a side.

Until then, we’re going to go through another round of hacks where we put everything into databases and serve pages from there. It won’t help the search engines at all. It will cost millions of dollars. It will all be totally unnecessary. Don’t look at me. Look at Netscape. They break the rules; I just do what needs to be done. If I have ruined the Web, I apologize. It was my intention all along. Many people like me have put design and content ahead of structure, and now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Netscape has blocked the way, but they may be coming around. Site designers unite. Fight for presentation and structure. If we win, our future will be so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.

Impressive vision from David but a depressing outcome as we sit here 2006.

The week was then neatly bookended when I noticed a new ’rounded corners technique’ getting momentum on some on the social networking hubs — Spiffy Corners with a neat tagline ‘No Images. No Javascript. No fluff.’

As the name might imply, Greg J’s Spiffy Corners borrows a fair amount from Alessandro Fulciniti’s ‘Nifty Corners‘ (which he freely acknowledged) in using layers of styled <b> tags to build up a soft corner. The key difference is while Alessandro’s <b> tags only exist when the JavaScript says they do (so removal is trivial), Spiffy Corners takes the approach of hard-coding them permanently into the markup. The markup is something like this.

 
  <div>
<b class="spiffy">
<b class="spiffy1"><b></b></b>
<b class="spiffy2"><b></b></b>
<b class="spiffy3"></b>
<b class="spiffy4"></b>
<b class="spiffy5"></b>
</b> <div class="spiffy_content">
<!-- Your Content Goes Here -->
</div>
<b class="spiffy">
<b class="spiffy5"></b>
<b class="spiffy4"></b>
<b class="spiffy3"></b>
<b class="spiffy2"><b></b></b>
<b class="spiffy1"><b></b></b>
</b>
</div> 

Now I’ve got nothing against Greg or Spiffy Corners, and he’s clearly put a lot of work into building and promoting the site. The slightly disheartening part from my own point of view is that so many people seemed to see this as a solution to their perceived problems — at last check over 2000 ‘shovels’ on one well-known social bookmarking site.

While I can understand that JavaScript may not be the solution for everyone, I have to admit I don’t really understand the problem that this is addressing.

  • What’s wrong with images? At least you can turn em off.
  • How can this save bandwidth? CSS, Javascript and images all cache after the first download. <b> tags can’t, so every new page bleeds a little more.
  • What about when we want larger arcs? Do we add a new class every time we want the curve to be 1 pixel bigger?

And make no mistake, this isn’t aimed at the Frontpage 98 crowd either. You need to at least be comfortable with HTML to get this working . It certainly seems to me some of the central concepts of the whole web standards shebang still haven’t truly made to the collective web consciousness.

Ah Dave, where to now?


To Greg’s great credit, he’s digested a lot of the discussion (here and elsewhere) contributed to it and come back with a bigger and better corner generator based on the Thrashbox method. You can check out Spiffybox for yourself here. Nice work, Greg.

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  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    Greg J’s Spiffy Corners borrows a fair amount from Alessandro Fulciniti’s ‘Nifty Corners’

    You’re being too polite Alex. It’s a complete rip-off, without the advantage of being semantically correct in the markup.

    I suspect the reason for its popularity is that many designers view the leap from CSS to JavaScript as enormous, even if they don’t have to write any of it themselves. If they figure they can implement a solution without needing to resort to any of that scary, confusing code that they don’t understand then it’s “better”, no matter how ugly it is. And despite the fact that implementing Nifty Corners it is a no-brainer.

  • http://www.dotcomwebdev.com chris ward

    Spiffy-corners… Absolute rubbish.

    What I don’t understand is, with everything leaning towards a more semantical web, why didn’t the author use the more-ambiguous <span> element for his handles?

    He might as well have used a 3×3 table!

    We’ve learned that Javascript should provide a role in progressive enhancement and closed-intranets, but probably nowhere else… just consider the rounded corners an enhancement.

    And on another point Alex, we should really thank Dave Seigel!

    He provided a simple solution for when clients wanted sites designed and developed yesterday.

    He made alot of economies, companies and people rich.

    He invoked the movement to stop this non-semantical madness, and I personally believe our time is coming soon.

    The industry is founded on cowboy web-designers and children in their bedrooms making sites on geocities/angelfire and it is an understanding for our profession and the standards that are allowing the industry to mature.

  • Etnu

    That corners thing makes me laugh. How anybody can look at that and say, “Wow, this is much better than a little bit of javascript or some images!” is way beyond me.

  • emanresu

    OK, I’m asking for opinions here, rather than criticising, but…

    I thought the whole point of using CSS/DHTML/Standards/Valid Mark-Up/Etc. was to seperate content from presentation.

    Tables used for presentation are supposed to be bad.

    So what’s the difference between using tables for layout and altering your mark-up with tricks like this, purely for layout?

    Surely you’re adding presentation to your mark-up and betraying the whole point of what you’re trying to achieve?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    @emanresu – That’s exactly the possibly long-winded point of the post. There’s really no difference between embedding empty bold tags or font tags or clear GIFs for layout.

    @Chris – yep, I’m got nothing but respect for Dave. Fact was 1997 browser gave you very little option to get the job done. That Dave was so aware of the pitfalls regardless is deeply impressive.

  • http://boyohazard.net Octal

    Structurists see [NetObject]Fusion sites being paired with databases and prepare to eat the sleepy applesauce and lay down with purple shrouds over their heads.

    I still cringe at the recollection of using that program. Where did I put my purple shroud…

  • Thirteenva

    Can someone explain to me, why in an era where we strive for clean markup I would want to have 5 or more empty bold tags just to round a corner. Something that can be achieved much cleaner by using one or two BG images applied to a div tag ? I just don’t get it.

  • John

    Another solution to the rounded corners images is this one: http://www.assemblysys.com/dataServices/php_roundedCorners.php
    I’ve used it quite a few times in recent projects and love it.

  • http://www.dotcomwebdev.com chris ward

    Chris Ward’s Retro-Corners

    insert content here

    and god damn, i’ve actually forgotten how to set a table background image.

  • http://www.dotcomwebdev.com chris ward

    Chris Ward’s Retro-Corners


    <table bgcolor="pink">
    <tr>
    <td width="10px"><img src="topleft.gif"></td>
    <td></td>
    <td width="10px"><img src="topright.gif"></td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
    <td width="10px"></td>
    <td><!--Blink - NN4 only!--><blink><marquee><font color="lime">insert content here</font></marquee></blink></td>
    <td width="10px"></td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
    <td width="10px"><img src="bottomleft.gif"></td>
    <td></td>
    <td width="10px"><img src="bottomright.gif"></td>
    </tr>
    </table>

  • mx2k


    <b>
    </b>

    runs and hides……

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    Chris Ward’s Retro-Corners

    I feel like I’m in the matrix. In front of me is lines and lines of code, falling away like raindrops, but all I see is the nightmare that the code represents.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    Btw I can’t believe that guy has the gall to stick a “Donate” link on his “revolutionary” spiffy corners solution. The nerve!!!

  • lamejoker

    wonder where Dave Segal is now. I loved his movies with his ponytail and stern look.
    ooh and chunk from goonies – whatever happened to him?
    8D

  • Greg-J

    I’m the creator of spiffy corners, and I noticed a fair amount of links from this site. I’d just like to say a few things.

    I didn’t really create spiffy corners for the corners. The fact is, I wouldn’t use them in my own site designs. They’re a tangled semantic mess, and they break easily.

    I created the site because I was interested in learning the math to do it, as well as the php behind it. It was a fun experiment for me, and my friends told me I should put it up. I didn’t promote it because I thought it was a great solution, I simply posted it on digg because It was suggested to me.

    @Mathew

    Btw I can’t believe that guy has the gall to stick a “Donate” link on his “revolutionary” spiffy corners solution. The nerve!!!

    As for the donate link, as difficult as this may be to believe, I received no less than 20 emails the first day asking me where my donate links was. Furthermore, It’s my site and if I feel like putting a donate link on it, that’s my prerogative.

    So while you may not agree with the way I’ve done it, or you don’t like it as a solution, do remember that it was just a way to experiment with something I wanted to experiment with and share with those who would find it useful. And although I appreciate constructive criticism, you would do well to take your energy and create something rather than complain about my contributions.

    -Greg-J

  • dusoft

    you shouldn’t put that mess online when it was just your experiment. i would be ashamed to put some ugly non semantic mess online event when pretending it’s art.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    It’s my site and if I feel like putting a donate link on it, that’s my prerogative

    That’s true enough. But the right thing to do would have been to tell those inquiries to donate to Allessandro.

  • Anonymous

    And I don’t know whats the buzz…

    Do not lie ourselves. We all do some kind of hacks like this.

    Yes, it is semantical mess, but also putting a 2 or 3 div’s and 2 or 4 images to gain “Oh, what a nice web 2.0 round corners” outlook is also semantical mess. Some times I forced to wrap content into two layers just to make content on the center. Why I do that? javaScript consumes resources, and I don’t like that.

    Even IE hacks for CSS are the same mess. Try some validator on css with IE hacks. Gotta point?

    The spiffy corners are very interesting. In the light of D.Siegel it is just the way that we all work. If we came to boundary, we will find the way to pass over it. Standards are just the convention on what we already did, and they always few years behind us (designers and developers). My mind is every day few years ahead of w3c. Not just mine. Everyone who tries to find some new way is like me. If we make standard for round corners in CSS, like:

    #justleftcornerround{
    left-corner: 4px thin solid;
    }

    and implement some normal ways for strething divs it will be take years to be adopted by browsers makers.

    Every time when you use JavaScript for layout – it is semantical mess. It is not by standards. Spiffy corners are more semantical than nifty corners.

    So, the path is not so bright.

    Round corners is one of the reasons why Flash got in popularity. Everything else came later.

    Greg-J have same spirit as Siegel, a spirit of pioneers. If Siegel did by HTML 2.0 standars, maybe we will be still working in HTML 2 or something like that.

    Keep going Greg! Keep with experiments. Maybe we have to learn something new by you.

    PS: I’m not native english speakers. If someone send me where I made mistakes, I will be gratefull. Thx!

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Hey Greg, good on you for putting your side. As I said in the original post, my disappointment is the simple realisation that it’s pretty clear that many developers don’t really understand why they stopped using tables and font tags.

    The Web Standards Project, books, blogs and legions of supporters (us no doubt included) have been working tirelessly for 4 years now to get the “why’s” across, but many people seemed to have basically taken it as a religious truth rather than an intelligent concept. “So,.. Font tags are bad? .. um ok…images are bad too?.. whatever.. .. No-one mentioned bold tags! You beauty!”.

    Do not lie ourselves. We all do some kind of hacks like this.

    Yes, it is semantical mess, but also putting a 2 or 3 div’s and 2 or 4 images to gain “Oh, what a nice web 2.0 round corners” outlook is also semantical mess. Some times I forced to wrap content into two layers just to make content on the center. Why I do that? javaScript consumes resources, and I don’t like that.

    BTW your english is pretty good.

    David Siegal was in a very different position to us. In 1997 he was looking at IE4 and Netscape Gold 3.5. Both supported less than half the current CSS spec, so CSS layout techniques were simply not even close to an option.

    In 1996 all the major browsers support more than 95% of the CSS spec.

    While it’s difficult to come up with a push-button, one-size-fits-all rounded corners solution (we’re working on something actually) plenty of sites have come up with custom solutions for their particular layout, and many people have used Thrashbox and MODx as a good starting points.

  • krdr

    First to indentify myself, ’cause last time I wasn’t logged-in.

    BTW your english is pretty good.

    Thanks, I’ll continue to improve myself.

    The Web Standards Project, books, blogs and legions of supporters (us no doubt included) have been working tirelessly for 4 years now to get the “why’s” across, but many people seemed to have basically taken it as a religious truth rather than an intelligent concept. “So,.. Font tags are bad? .. um ok…images are bad too?.. whatever.. .. No-one mentioned bold tags! You beauty!”.

    But, Allaire Homesite labeled bold tag depreciated back in 2000! In deed, every use of tag that is not in line with purpose is not good. I agree that we must to stick to standard, but sometimes standards are not enough, and we are forced to brake them. And there is good standards, bad one and stupid one. The good thing is they are changing in the way to satisfy our needs.

    My point was not to courage Greg to brake standards but to keep searching and experimeting, as all we must. Not to put him under the avalanche of crticism, as it started.

    As Tomas Edison said after some experiment failed for 99 times: I didn’t make mistake 99 times, I found 99 ways how not to do the experiment.

    And so on…

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    With all due respect to Greg, there isn’t much technically new about Spiffy Corners. As has been noted, conceptually it’s a subset of Nifty Corners.

    As Stephen Clay pointed out on the Web Standards project thread on this topic..

    This is really a lesson for tech writers: If you want your techniques to be used by the masses, step up and create easy-as-pie generators. The technology even exists to generate on-the-fly images for techniques like Thrashbox, but we aren’t doing it.

    He’s got a good point. Greg has probably taught us something more valuable about marketing than markup, and that’s not to ignored.

    My point was not to encourage Greg to break standards but to keep searching and experimenting, as all we must. Not to put him under the avalanche of crticism, as it started.

    (couple of minor english corrections I bolded for you)

    I totall agree attacking Greg is waste of time, and I’ve personally spent a fair bit time being as constructive as I can.

    Experimentation is cool and always to be encouraged, but to me this is a bit like McDonalds. Making it cheap and easy for everyone to consume high fat, low-nutrition food doesn’t help us as a community in the long run. It might be tasty, but we all have to deal with the consequences via the health system costs sooner or later.

    The main point is, you’re right, there are very few perfect, cookie-cutter solutions to these sorts of issue right now, so you have to make the decision where you place your compromises.

    SitePoint has thousands of HTML pages, while sites like Amazon and Ebay have literally tens of thousands of HTML pages and those pages are echoed in Googles proxy, the Web archive and online RSS readers, and all manner of places, so if we compromise our HTML, we make thousands of mistakes.

    However those 1000’s of HTML pages all access just a handful of JavaScript and CSS files. If you have to make compromises, it’s always going to be easier to manage them in the future from 4 CSS and JS files than countless HTML pages.

  • Stevie D

    So what’s the difference between using tables for layout and altering your mark-up with tricks like this, purely for layout?

    Surely you’re adding presentation to your mark-up and betraying the whole point of what you’re trying to achieve?

    Yes and no.

    If the tags that are added to achieve the effects are appropriate or are semantically empty, then we have still made progress. Think what stands for – table data. Therefore the content should be data. Not general fluff. Not decorative images. is clearly an inappropriate tag to use to place these items on a page. or is precisely the right tag to use, because all it says is “here is some stuff”.

    Yes, nested s and s can significantly bulk up a page and make it difficult for an author to work with, but there is nothing wrong with using them in this way.

  • Greg-J

    Wow,

    I think a lot of you either are, or feel you are examples or perhaps even pioneers of the web and its related design.

    I just make my sites to work for me. I don’t have a strong conviction to encourage great design, because frankly I think “great design” is just something a few people who were influential decided was ‘it’ and started preaching. They’re recommendations, not rules. I’m not obligated to keep the internet free of semantic messes, and I don’t much feel the need to have source code that wows people I don’t know with its complex simplicity.

    I’m actually quite astonished these silly little corners received this much attention, and I almost regret it. But I have received an overwhelming number of positive emails, and that feels nice. If I don’t impress a few CSS zealots, I think I’ll live.

    @Matthew Magain

    That’s true enough. But the right thing to do would have been to tell those inquiries to donate to Allessandro.

    I’m not entirely sure even you understand the logic in that statement. I paid for the domain, foot the bill for the server, designed the site and did the footwork to create the generator. Are you to imply that anyone who receives compensation from derivative works, or creates something inspired by another should forward any proceeds to the inspiring individual? Please tell me your not serious.

    All in all, I appreciate the accolades as well as the criticism. But like I said, I’m not trying to shape or re-shape the web here. I was just sharing a creation. Nothing more, nothing less. And last I checked; In web design and development, there are no rules. Just suggestions, recommendations, and general usages.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Greg, no doubt from time to time we can all take ourselves a little too seriously. In the end no-one dies via ordinary markup, but I guess this is just a subject that seems to ‘get’ people.

    I just make my sites to work for me. I don’t have a strong conviction to encourage great design, because frankly I think “great design” is just something a few people who were influential decided was ‘it’ and started preaching.

    I suppose it’s hard to have it both ways. It’s one thing to select methods for your internal work, but when you design a generator you’re implicitly endorsing and recommending a method. Whether you meant to or not, you’re taking a public position on a subject that always, as we’ve seen, draws quite a bit of feisty discussion.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com Matthew Magain

    Hi Greg. As Alex mentioned previously, good on you for creating a generator that makes implementing the technique a no-brainer. I probably didn’t acknowledge the fact that your php script, while simple, is useful for people who just want to cut and paste. I was focussed on your billing the technique as an improvement to nifty corners, which I don’t think it is, and your marketing line of “no fluff”, of which I think is untrue.

    So perhaps I was a bit harsh in suggesting a donate link was not warranted – it’s not like you’re going to get rich out of it. Thanks for adding to the discussion and I look forward to future incarnations – hopefully one of these days we will arrive upon an elegant solution that we can all agree on.

  • Greg-J

    In retrospect, I suppose that putting it out there for people to use does require me to take some sort of responsibility for the mess it is.

    I don’t think it’s an improvement to nifty corners though. Just an alternative. For single page sites that don’t already have any images or .js to call, I think it’s a great solution. For everyone? No, definitely not.

    And as for the “no fluff”. As with anything, it’s all about interpretation. “No fluff” just came out when I was writing it, but I guess it is a ‘little’ fluffy.

    This discussion has proved to be somewhat valuable to me however. While I obviously don’t consider myself an influential individual in weaving the web, If I can contribute in positive ways that make sense – perhaps I should.

    That said, I am working on the next version of spiffy corners and have taken all these comments into careful consideration.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Good stuff, Greg. We’ll look forward to seeing the next generation.

  • hallo man

    hallo.
    I like it.
    Greg says ‘hey I got something spiffy here’

    Alex says ‘hey that’s no good and Im bummed out because we don’t seem to be making as much progress here as I thought’

    Visitors say ‘yeah this guys stupid. He’s a big jerk’

    Then Greg says ‘hold on there guys! Don’t be so hard on me. This is the internet and we are all in the dark when we go beyond our monitors’

    Alex and the visitors say ‘That’s great but your spiffy corners are still messed up and stuff’

    Greg says ‘ok, your right, Ill fix them corners up guys’

    Alex says ‘Cool! Do your thing. Lets get some spiffy corners in da house.’

    Then I said something (see above)

    I think humans are great. But I think humans are REALLY fantastic when they are inside the internet.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Lol, it’s hard to argue with a summary like that.

  • Greg-J

    Lol. I’d say the sums it up pretty well

  • annoyed

    who has the kind of time to sit around and write all this ranting (much less read it)???

    if someone does something and you dont agree, why not find a viable solution and post that?

    otherwise, take your frustrations someone else, like your closet…

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    who has the kind of time to sit around and write all this ranting (much less read it)???

    Sounds like you do.

  • -_DarkRanger_-

    who has the kind of time to sit around and write all this ranting (much less read it)???

    It’s debates like these that teach people something, because in debates like these, lots of constructive critisism is made, so don’t have ago at people for having a little debate. =)

  • AlB

    The unfortunate thing is that in order to serve clients, and make money at it designers are forced to design for the masses and not for elequence. Tables are still widely used for layout and are actually rarely used for tabular data.

    Web purists seem to want a site that is structured like a word processor document, and clients want bright flashy online flyer ads. in order to please the customer, and keep development time to a minimum thereby increasing the profit margin of the site creation we are often forced into using tables for layout. CSS support in the major borsers and CSS itself are just not there yet.

    Lets face it, HTML was intended to be document centric, but the market has made it layout centric. Paying clients don’t really care about how beautiful the code looks if the display looks drab and second rate.

    Thus the birth of all these hacks and work arrounds that have lead to ugly and often invalid use of HTML and CSS, and further to the use of Javascript to further manipulate layout.

    IMHO the best model for creating clean, readable pages would be the use of XML/XSLT, but then how many web designers actually have the time to create sites this way and still meet clients’ needs?

    The industy is simply not fueled by the designers, but by paying customers who have little to no understanding of the surrounding techical issues, and why should they?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Lets face it, HTML was intended to be document centric, but the market has made it layout centric. Paying clients don’t really care about how beautiful the code looks if the display looks drab and second rate.

    AlB, to be honest, that’s more a reflection of your own ability to use CSS, than it is of the technology. We haven’t built a non-CSS site since late 2002. Our sites always validate and use very, very, very few hacks.

    Now, if you’re too busy to learn CSS layout, that’s cool, but wheeling out circa 2003 arguments about drab design, while ignoring Zoo garden, the dozens of CSS showcase sites and the tens of thousands of high quality corporate sites that don’t see any reason for tables can only be willful ‘fingers-in-the-ears-I-can’t-hear-you-la-la-dee-la‘ stuff.

  • AlB

    I do know CSS layout, and my code does validate with the W3C HTML and CSS validation tools, However, it is still often quicker to get a client site up and looking good using tables for layout. From a buisiness point of view, this is good for the bottom line. Look arround and you will see that even still most sites are coming up with heavy use of tables. I am not saying it is good, but only truth.

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  • Greg-J

    Back at it again.

    I had some free a few days ago and decided I would work on the next version of Spiffy Corners, but since I already knew what I needed to do and how to do it – it really didn’t appeal to me. I can’t stand work that requires only time and no creativity.

    So I started reading through the comments on various blogs, and the one here regarding automating the process of building a ThrashBox stood out at me. I knew from previous experiments that GD does not support native anti-aliased filled ellipses (the bundled version doesn’t support filled ellipses, although it does support some anti-aliasing), so this sounded like a challenge. I decided on a name for the project and bought the domain and started in on the PHP.

    To my surprize it only took a couple hours to figure out the code. I was able to put the design together from PhotoShop to CSS in under 3, so I’m pretty pleased with myself on this one.

    It’s far from perfect, but it – like Spiffy Corners – was more about pushing myself to learn something new than anything else. I publish these things because packaging them up into a presentable and marketable package is more fun to me than actually creating them. I’ve always said that if a marketing job were to fall in to my lap, I’d take it.

    Anyway, open for criticism (and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of it…) is: http://www.spiffybox.com/

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Hey Greg, No criticism at all here. Very nice work. A great looking layout, and the generator works like a treat!

    Thrashbox is still the safest, most flexible way to do corners, and this generator makes it much easier. Of course, the ultimate is to work out a method that doesn’t need those extra DIVs without losing any flexibility in using it.

  • Greg-J

    Thanks Alex.