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Archive: December 2002

No Harm, No Foul

As promised: “Considered Harmful” Essays Considered Harmful.  It should, of course, be taken with the same degree of seriousness to which all such essays are taken.

Jeffrey Zeldman seems to be very happy about something, although I can’t quite work out whether his happiness is over OS X, Chimera, the ability to run the Dock and DragThing at the same time, the latter half of my journal entry from yesterday, or something else entirely.

Was that too many links for a one-sentence paragraph?  I thought so too.

Harmful Considerations

Tantek muses: “I wonder who is going to write the ‘”Considered Harmful” Essays Considered Harmful’ essay.”  It’s always a weird feeling when I share a brain with someone other than my wife.  I almost wrote that essay a few months ago, when I’d been sent one too many “considered harmful” links, and that was going to be pretty much its exact title.  Guess I’d better jump on the idea now, before someone else does it.  If I had to make a guess, I’d say look for something to show up tomorrow.

Fly the really friendly skies: Hooters adds airline wings (CNN).  I can’t decide if this a highly creative way to bankrupt a restaurant chain or a brilliant move.  I suppose if the airline is repositioned as high-end CEO charter service, with prices to match, it could be a hugely profitable business.  Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “hugely” in the previous sentence.  Sorry.

Speaking of odd commercial news, it would seem the Segway is a popular item (CNN) after all.  I’m having trouble believing this isn’t just more hype, since Amazon doesn’t want to give out sales figures, and I’ve never really understood why anyone would want to spend a large chunk of money on a really high-tech scooter.  Then again, I don’t understand people spending large amounts of money on sporting-event tickets and memorabilia, so what do I know?

Well, at least somebody finally did what I’ve been expecting, and decided Eric Meyer on CSS was picking up too many five-star reviews.  It managed to collect 23 top ratings in a row before the backlash started, so I feel pretty good about that.  I won’t even try rebutting the three-star review, as it makes some reasonable points.  The book is not a cure-all; no book ever is, which is why I wrote the “Should You Buy This Book?” text.

Meanwhile, the United States may or may not be going to war with one or more members of its self-created “Axis of Evil.”  Not that I think those were countries with our best interests at the forefront of their minds—and why should they have?—but throwing around labels with a level of sophistication not too far above fourth-grade recess just doesn’t seem like a good way to manage foreign policy.

I should talk.  My Christmas gifts included an XBox game where you can use a giant robot to blow up everything around you, including buildings, a so-so rock album, a comic-book movie, and a truly deranged comedy cult classic.  Too bad I couldn’t come up with anything personally meaningful to request for the holidays this year.  At least I found out that my family does in fact know me well, as I was given quite a few Eeyore-themed items.  The slippers were an especially nice touch.

Over at his own journal, The Ferrett comments rather directly on the sexualization of pre-adults in the movies.  I agree with him in a generic sense, although I disagree that the “Harry Potter” cast was destined to be over-eroticized.  Just because an author does a remarkable job of making characters real (for certain definitions of the term “real”), that doesn’t force an eroticization of the same characters on film.  No, I think that’s just the evolution of video storytelling over the last several decades—and it’s been happening for longer than most of us realize.  The Major and the Minor is a movie about a young woman posing as a 12-year-old who falls in love with a man who thinks she’s, well, twelve.  Of course he has no interest in her other than semi-paternal, but by the end of the movie they end up together, depsite his being engaged at the movie’s outset.  It stars Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland and was written by Billy Widler, so that will give you a hint regarding its age.  My parents weren’t even born when it was filmed.  So making sexual objects out of minors is not exactly new.

Remixing Fun

Okay, so I’m late to the party as usual, but this is still pretty cool: WThremix, a contest to see who can take the new W3C home page and make it look less plain.  Maybe even visually striking and exciting.  Personally I think they should have added one more rule, which is that no content or structure can be altered in the restyling.  There could have at least been a “restyled original markup” category.  I’d think about entering, but as you can see from my private attempts (onetwothree) at the same thing back in late September, I’m not exactly a world-class visual artist.  Like you hadn’t guessed that by now.

Anyway, I really like the contest idea.  We have a site that uses valid structural markup to hold its content, and CSS to lay it out.  One of the great things about CSS is that the user can change a site’s presentation to suit their own needs, whatever those may be.  Similarly, it’s possible to take the same markup and completely change its layout and appearance just by changing stylesheets.  This is one of those really amazing things about the (X)HTML+CSS combination, and browsers are up to the task of making such things possible.  Contests to restyle sites may not be exactly what the specification authors had in mind, but it’s a creative application of all the promises of W3C technology.

I have been falling behind in my journal entries of late, but that’s because I’ve been trying to correct my falling behind in e-mail.  I’m getting tantalizingly close to catching up—just in time, of course, to go offline for a few days.  C’est la guerre, if I got that right.

To those who celebrate them right about now, please enjoy your holidays!

ScatterShotBot?

The standards/design community has taken notice of the new Hotbot, and with its bold design statement being carried out in XHTML and CSS, it’s certainly worthy of comment.  Unfortunately, there’s a slight problem with it.  If you visit the skinning preferences page in Mozilla, Compuserve 7, or AOL for OS X, you get the following message:

To choose a new skin for HotBot, you must download a browser that supports Web standards.

Visit the same page with Netscape 7.x and you’ll have no trouble at all.  All of these browsers use, essentially, the same rendering engine.  They have the same standards support, give or take a few bug fixes.  The source of this roadblock seems to be a poorly written detection routine on the server itself.

Fortunately, this is a problem that’s easy to fix.  All the HotBot folks have to do, as my co-worker Arun wrote so cogently, is spot the Gecko, and here’s hoping that they do so soon.  If you’re doing UA detection of any kind, either client or server side, then you ought to read his excellent explanation of how to detect the whole Gecko family at once, rather than client by client.  It’s liable to let you avoid a whole lot of headaches.  You’d avoid even more if you did object detection instead of UA detection, but one thing at a time, I suppose.

It’s just occurred to me to wonder if anyone’s written an AmIHotOrNotBot.  The search parameters in the advanced interface would no doubt be very interesting.

Under Review

For most authors, Amazon.com is the closest we get to a stock market for book popularity.  Despite their apparent randomness, tracking the rankings can become an obsession; in fact, I’m not really sure why else Junglescan exists.  The reader reviews are also a source of potential obsession.

That’s why I’m unaccountably pleased that Eric Meyer on CSS has just completed the “Dash to One Hundred Stars”: since publication, twenty reader reviews have been posted, and every single one is five stars.  I’ve been rooting for this to happen ever since it passed a dozen five-star reviews, actually, which sounds stupid even to me.  After all, what this proves is that twenty people who use Amazon really liked the book; it’s not a conferment of sainthood or anything.  The book won’t be a five-star experience for everyone, which is one reason I wrote some material explaining the target audience.  Maybe that really did help the book get into the hands of those who would like it, and keep it away from those who wouldn’t.

Other books of mine haven’t fared as well.  The CSS2.0 Programmer’s Reference has recently picked up two one-star Amazon.com reviews, but both of them gave me an arid chuckle.  So far as I can tell, in both cases a person thought they were buying some sort of tutorial or guide, and when they discovered they had something else, they decided that was my fault.  One guy even looked through the book in a store, bought it, and then discovered the book was of no use to him… and then decided to go post a review on Amazon where he admitted to his mistake in the course of blasting the book.  It reminded me a lot of the guy who blasted CSS:TDG for being a “light tutorial” and “not a reference at all.”  (Maybe they should just swap books!)

I admit to feeling a certain regret that these people spent money on my books that could have been better invested in something else, but at the same time I can’t help but be amused.  Caveat emptor, if you prefer, but I think of it more as, “A lack of intelligent buying on your part does not constitute an authoring failure on mine.”

Anyway… one hundred stars in twenty reviews!  That feels pretty darned good, no matter how irrelevant the yardstick might be.  Somehow I feel like Will Smith in Men in Black: “Still, that was a pretty good shot, though.”

Releases New and Old

Netscape 7.01 has been released, and there’s a lot more to it than a one-hundredth version number increment would indicate.  The new release includes popup controls, which let you globally block unrequested popups while defining a whitelist of sites where you accept popups; and a way to make a collection of Web sites your home page, with each one opened in its own tab.  If you’re using Netscape, you should definitely grab this release.  Netscape 7.0 had over 12 million downloads, and with these new features I’d bet the update will be even more popular.

At some point in recent weeks New Riders posted an interview with me, and I completely missed that fact until some time last night.  Since it’s a publisher interview I spend a little more time than usual talking about why I write books at all, but it covers other ground as well, including advice for people starting to learn CSS and what I think about tables for layout.

Sharpening My Focus

My whole life, I’ve had very sharp vision both near and far, so I’ve never had to wear glasses or contacts.  Recently I’d noticed a degradation of the acuity in my left eye, particularly when looking at intense light sources, so this morning I went to an eye doctor for the first time in two decades.  She told me I need glasses—probably have needed them for years, but only now has it gotten to the point that I noticed a problem.  Kat and I have to go pick out frames.  I’m taking Kat along because she’s the one who has to look at me, so I may as well pick frames that she finds attractive (ahem).

This is a weird moment for me.  I realize the vast majority of you are wondering why this is worthy of note, because you’ve been wearing glasses since you were teenagers or six years old or in utero or something.  But to go from vision estimated at 20/10 to needing corrective lenses is something of a shock.  I suppose I always knew that my vision couldn’t stay sharp my whole life, but knowing and living are of course always different.  This seems like a little warning sign on the highway of life that says “Decline ahead: trucks use lower gear.”  It’s a little teeny intimation that youth won’t last, that life will eventually come shuddering to a halt.

Am I reading too much into needing glasses?  Yes.  That’s usually how it is when I experience a change in the pattern of my life: I reflect a little more deeply on life itself, and how the seemingly permanent things never are.

On the other hand, now I’ll be able to use that whole “intellectual college professor” look to do well with the ladies.  Or could if I weren’t married.

Moving On

After having outgrown the resources of its current home, css-discuss is moving to a new site, hopefully for the last time.  You can now find it at www.css-discuss.org (or .com), where a paltry few pages of information about the list accompany the subscribe interface.  The site is really just a front end for the list, but since it was moving to its own domain anyway, I figured what the heck, let’s put up some pages.  I heard this whole Web thing is all the rage with the kids, you know?

This change of address would not have been possible without the incredibly generous support of evolt.org, which is donating the server space, technical support, and bandwidth needed to keep a 50-messages-a-day list going out to its 2,000-plus subscribers.  I feel good about this, because evolt has long been an organization I admire, and also because they have experience running high-volume mailing lists.

The move to the new list should be complete by Monday.  Hopefully I catch up with my personal e-mail shortly thereafter.  I’m only about two weeks behind at the moment, although responses to mail about my latest book and css/edge are unfortunately further behind than that.  That’s the danger of dumping things into folders… you tend to ignore them once they’re out of the Inbox.  Or I do, at any rate.

December 2002
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