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Archive: January 2003

Stay in View, Please

Imagine the ability to spread a bunch of sub-millimeter sensors around and then collect the data.  Now go read “Companies test prototype wireless-sensor nets” at EE Times Advanced Technology.  Then, assuming you haven’t, go read A Deepness In The Sky by Vernor Vinge.  It goes on rather longer than I might have liked, but it’s still full of interesting ideas, including the use of a “smart dust” sensor network.  It would seem that privacy as we know it really will be over.  David Brin touched on this topic in Earth, and apparently addresses it directly in The Transparent Society, which I haven’t read.  Is the only defense against technological invasion of privacy the ability to detect the invasion, and the ability to counter-invade?  I don’t see too many other options, frankly.  It might be possible to jam some forms of invasion privacy, but who could afford the gear to detect and defeat all possible forms of invasion?

Along similar lines, the more I hear about the things that can happen to IE/Win users, the happier I am about being a Macintosh user who works for Netscape.  The very idea that a Web browser can be taken over, and seriously mess up the operating system in the process, makes my eyes cross.  I’m starting to wonder how any company with the slightest shred of concern over security could possibly justify running IE/Win.  Here’s a scenario:  a high-level manager wanders past a site that does a drive-by download of a toolbar which then does its own download of a small program that quietly transfers all of the hard drive contents to another system.  Hey, were those your corporate secrets leaving the building just now?  Yeah, I think they passed a virulent data-eating virus on its way in.

Then again, if said company is also running Outlook, I suppose getting upset over virus infections became passé a long time ago.  In any case, the only defense against this sort of thing is the ability to find out that it’s happening and put a stop to it.  If there were a way to inflict similar damage on the original perpetrators, we’d all be mini-Cold War actors: don’t mess with my data and I won’t mess with yours.  In that kind of situation, how long would it take someone to decide a first strike was a good idea, and how much damage could they inflict?

Increasing Circulation

I’ve watched word of the Web Standards Meetup work its way through various blogs like a slow conceptual pulse, so I may as well keep it going.  I seem to be the only one in my area signed up so far, and I’m slightly bummed that there are cool people like Nick and Molly signed up in cities far away from me.  Of course it was only after I signed up that I realized the meetup is the same night I’m presenting at a local community college, so I’d be incredibly late or in absentia anyway.  Of course, people interested in standards could come meet at the talk, and then we could all go to a nearby place afterwards.  It’s an idea.  It might even be a good one.  You be the judge.

I’d been toying with the idea of trying to get local Web folks to assemble for socialization and (human-relation) networking for a while now, but thanks to Meetup I don’t have to undertake the organizational effort.  That’s pretty cool.  It just makes sense someone named Eric would be involved in something that cool.  We’re everywhere, and everywhere we go is cool.  That’s the kind of cool we are.

Some time yesterday, someone asked how my new book was coming along.  I asked which one they meant.  It turned out they meant Eric Meyer on CSS, and that they’d spotted a mention of it on MozillaZine.  So I went over to see what they had to say, and discovered they were saying that evolt had posted an interview with me last Saturday.  Well, shoot the horse and slap me silly!  I’m always the last to know.

Actually, said interview was already available in Italian, and I forgot to mention that fact until now.  I sense a karmic balancing here.

So, Opera 7.  It’s out, and yes, it does wonderfully well on css/edge, so you can all stop e-mailing me now.  I’ll update the demo pages one of these days to say so, I promise.  Just not today.  Opera 7 still suffers from some disappointing CSS bugs, though.  One is on this page right here, assuming you’re using the default page stylesheet or one of its variants.  The entry dates should be appearing below the horizontal line at the top of each entry, not above the borders.  Also, on my Speaking page, the :first-line underlining of li children of ul#upcoming is being applied to more content than it should.  Neither is really tragic, but they are a touch annoying.  Opera 7 also has some problems with negative text-indent values on block-level links; it seems to be flipping the sign on the value, so that it’s positive.  But I could be wrong about that, since I haven’t invested a lot of time in detailed analysis of the behavior.

There have also been some changes that make OperaShow do odd things to some of the files available on my Speaking page.  It’s probably a case of my writing my projection-media CSS to cater to Opera 6 bugs, and Opera 7 having fixed said bugs.  I probably won’t get around to fixing up old talk files, so if you really want to see them as first written, keep a copy of Opera 6 around.  Hey, at least you can have multiple versions of Opera on your computer, just like most browsers.

These are just the things I’ve noticed from a little surfing around.  To a degree, I’m just picking nits, but I also wonder how many other “combinatorial” problems I’m going to encounter.  It’s one thing to pass a test suite, which is a set of controlled circumstances that is easily predictable.  Dealing with the wonderfully wacky ways authors like to combine bits of CSS in pursuit of a given effect is something else entirely.

Is Opera 7 better than Opera 6?  Yes.  Does it have a good CSS engine?  Yes.  Is it the best CSS engine I’ve seen?  No.  Close, but not quite.

On a completely different front, the interface on this medical detector is really cool, not to mention the technology itself is pretty nifty.  Give ‘em about 15 years to wedge in more advanced scanners and extra features, and we’ll have tricorders after all.

Talking, Correcting, Ranting

The files I used for last Thursday’s presentation are now available on the Speaking page.  The presentation space that COMMUG uses is, in a word, awesome.  Picture a large lounge-type setup with three wall-height projection screens, each of which can be devoted to any of the video input signals.  I was able to set it up so the slides (an OperaShow document running on my Windows laptop) were in the center screen, and the examples (which came off the TiBook) were on the left and right screes.  Beforehand I decided to have some fun; running three fifteen-foot-tall iTunes visualizations of “Block Rockin’ Beats” is a sight to behold.  I felt like a real rock star for a moment there.

In my post last Thursday, I referred to the XHTML 2.0 element nl as meaning “nested list,” when in fact it stands for “navigation list.”  My bad.  I’ve corrected the original entry as well.  It’s another data point in the topic of markup, semantics, and semantic overloading, but not one I’m currently prepared to explore in detail.  Meanwhile, I’ll just increase my Buzzword Rating by saying “Semantic” a lot.  Semantic semantic semantic.

So it looks as though the Northwest Passage will open up in our lifetimes, but I’m sure there’s no such thing as global warming.  After all, the Republican News Cha—er, I mean, Fox News Channel said so.  It’s all just a fantasy of radical environmentalists who don’t have anything better to do, apparently.  Which makes sense, because obviously there isn’t anything else to get upset about, like widespread deformities in amphibians.  Oh wait!  Sorry, the FNC gurus have said that last one is all made up as well.  Too bad nobody told Scientific American before they published an article about an eight-year scientific investigation of amphibian deformations.  Oh, those wacky scientists.  When will they learn that science is only valid if its conclusions agree with certain political agendas?

Which, oddly, reminds me: ever noticed how when a judge rules in a manner favorable to conservatives, it’s hailed as respect for the rule of law, but when the ruling leans to the left, that’s called judicial activism?  Maybe it’s time to turn the terms around, just to see how the right wing likes it.  After all, there’s nothing like extremist apoplexy to brighten one’s day.

A List, A Year, A Look Back

Lists seem to be my topic-of-the-moment, but this is about a different kind of list.  It’s hard to believe this, but it was a year ago today that the mailing list css-discuss was launched.  By my slightly rough count, the list carried 17,455 messages to its subscribers in calendar year 2002, and has nearly reached 19,000 messages total.  Just over one thousand of those messages were sent in the first eight days alone, which sent a lot of early subscribers running away in horror, and caused me to wonder if I was going to be crushed by the flood.  Due to overloading problems, we had to switch servers twice before finally migrating to the current home, graciously provided to us by evolt UK.  The list averages about fifty messages per day, both at present and as a lifetime average,.  Even though we moved the list to a new server and required people to actively re-join the list at that time, it has nearly 1,500 subscribed accounts.

I’ve worked hard to keep it a practical list with a high degree of signal, and I’d like to think those efforts have paid off.  We have the occasional hiccup, and every now and again a thread gets out of hand, but overall I think the list has been a lot more worthy than not.

I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to John Allsopp of Western Civilisation, which provided the list its first home; to John Handelaar of Userfrenzy and evolt UK, who manages the server where the list now resides; and to all the members of the css-discuss community, who make it useful through their contributions, discussions, and continued respect for one another and the list itself.  No community can be truly great without active support from its members, and the members of that list are very active in making it the kind of place I’d hoped it would be.  My thanks to you, one and all.

Listing Toward the Future

Douglas Bowman ruminates over the use of list elements (i.e., <ul> and <ol>) as the basis for navigation links, tabbed interfaces, weblogs, and just stuff in general.  Is it okay to use an unordered list to hold the lists that drive your site?  Should a weblog just be an enormous ordered list?  If you do those things, does the semantic meaning of the list change to the point that it’s no longer really a list?

Well, kell co-ink-e-dink!  Tonight’s talk at COMMUG deals almost entirely with ways to take lists and restyle them to get panels, tabs, flowchart-like structures… pretty much everything Doug was talking about.  I’d even been planning to talk a bit about the semantic joyride such approaches can mean, at least to some people.

So here’s the short version of what I think: looked at a certain way, pretty much everything can be represented as a list.  The U.S. Census, the Solar system, my family tree, a restaurant menu, the stuff I did yesterday, all the friends I’ve ever had and lost—these can all be represented as a list, or a list of lists.  So the question isn’t really whether we should be putting all this stuff into lists.  The question (at least at this stage of the game) is whether or not the markup structure meets the job, and helps with accessibility concerns.

Now, should we have markup structures that meet the jobs more closely?  Maybe.  XHTML 2.0 has the <nl> (nestednavigation list) structure, which comes closer to making the markup name match the structure’s intended role.  I’m not convinced this is necessary; it’s already possible to just take nested lists and turn them into menu systems using CSS, assuming a sufficiently capable user agent.  It’s still a topic worth consideration and exploration.

Hold the Pickles

Just when I thought it was all going to go to smash (and of course it probably will anyway), a tiny sign of sanity has peeked its head out of the murk to give me a moment of hope.  A lawsuit alleging McDonald’s is responsible for two consumers’ obesity has been dismissed.  Oddly enough, suddenly I have a craving for a McDonald’s hamburger.  With fries.  Mmmmm….

Of course, it’s absurd to think that fast food is good for you, and I’m not trying to say that it is.  I worked at a very busy McDonald’s for a couple of years, so I know what goes into that stuff.  It’s not healthy.  I don’t think it’s supposed to be, and in fact the offering of salads and yogurt at McDonald’s still gives me moments of cognitive dissonance.  The whole super-sizing trend isn’t the greatest thing to hit the waistline, either, and it seems to be moving into the home.  But nobody’s forcing us to super-size anything.  We choose to go for the Big Gulp, and Value Pack, the Combo Deal, the what-have-you outsized portion.  We could as easily choose not to go for them, if it were important to us.  In the meantime, people should stop blaming nebulous external forces for everything wrong in their lives.  Personal responsibility may be a neglected art these days, but it’s one well worth reviving.

Speaking of junk-ish food, did you know that if you leave rainbow sprinkles in a vanilla milkshake overnight (in the refrigerator, of course!), they semi-disintegrate into a sort of sandy, crusty consistency?  Neither did I, until lunch today.  And for those wondering why I would be drinking a milkshake in our current weather, the nightly lows are still positive Fahrenheit values, so it’s not all that cold.  Besides, a really good milkshake is worthwhile in any weather, and Dottie’s makes really good milkshakes.  Not quite as good as Tommy’s, perhaps, but still really darned good.

If you’re in the central Ohio area and would like to see some fun stuff done with lightweight markup and creative CSS, remember that I’ll be speaking at the Central Ohio Macromedia User Group meeting tomorrow evening at 7:00pm.  We’ve made sure to leave time for audience questions, so come on down!

See Me… Hear Me…

For those who have interest in my physical-world activities, I’ve posted updates to the Speaking page.  In two days I’ll be presenting in Columbus, Ohio, and two weeks after that I’ll be speaking here in Cleveland, so you Ohio folks get plenty of opportunities to come heckle!  Details on both talks are now available, and while one of them isn’t free, it’s still pretty darned cheap to get in.  Usually when I present, it’s at some conference that costs you an arm and a leg to attend.  Speaking of which, I’ve filled out the details on my SxSW panel, so if you’re going to be there and want to know more, check it out.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Peter Janes wrote in to point out that if I’d bothered to follow the “Official site” link on IMDB.com, I would have found the Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter Web page (part of the Odessa Filmworks site) and from there found out that the Special Edition DVD streets in the United States in eight days.  For $19.95.  With 30 minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes.  I think I need to lie down for a minute.

Shoot, having a copy of the “Star Wars Scat” sung near the end of the film is reason enough to buy the thing.  Thanks to Eclectic DVD, I can.

Oh, and don’t forget the free JCVH desktops!

Lest you think I’m a rabid fanboi here, bear in mind that I was chuckling as I typed out all this stuff.  This film is goofy.  It’s obviously a labor of love, and shows many a spark of talent.  The musical number was fall-down funny (in more ways than one, the end-credit outtakes reveal) and the ranting prophet in the bushes was genuinely odd.  If you’re uptight, this movie almost certainly will offend you, but of course that’s one of the things I liked about it.

Good thing the Bible is in the public domain, though.

January 2003
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