2003, Part 3

Salvation in the Storm?

Wednesday, 2 July 2003

There's been some speculation that Microsoft's recent browser moves may actually be good for Web standardization, not bad. It's a side of the issue I hadn't considered, and it does make a certain degree of sense. Suppose you're a large bank and you want a browser that you can rely on to protect your data. You might well decide that adopting an open-source browser, one which you can influence and even improve if your staff programmers contribute to the project, makes more sense than being beholden to a glacially developing and poorly secured product. Ditto for companies who care about security—and now that spam-filtering's built into at least one product's mail client, ditching Outlook and IE for Mozilla or a variant makes a lot more business sense.

But there's a down side to the whole situation, which is effectively that the adoption of standards is limited by the available browsers. If IE/Win stays in its present state for the next two or three years, then use of CSS, XML, XSLT, RDF, P3P, PNG, and pretty much everything else will be constrained by the support IE/Win embodies—not totally beholden to it, but still definitely affected, in the same way the poor CSS support of NN4.x retarded CSS adoption for years. When IE7 comes out in 2005 or 2006, it will help determine the standards-use landscape by how far its support advances (or doesn't). Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe having bigger updates less often is better than smaller updates all the time. It just feels a little too much like stagnation, especially for an industry as drunk on change as ours has been.

Then again, if we're lucky and Microsoft's Web competitors don't fold their cards just when they have a chance of winning back some of the pot, maybe in a couple of years IE/Win won't be as weighty a gorilla as it is today.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Thursday, 3 July 2003

Since I've been known to link to interviews with me in the past, it's only fair that I give you a chance to participate in an upcoming one. DMX Zone will be interviewing me in the near future, and you can submit questions to be asked. If you've ever wanted to put me on the spot in public, here's your chance. DMX Zone recently published an interview with Jeffrey Zeldman, which I point out not only because it's interesting but because the graphic they created for it is hilarious. Not as hilarious as the graphic on Molly's interview, though.


Friday, 4 July 2003

For a long time, I've been semi-fascinated by The Mirror Project. I never submitted anything, though, because my relevant pictures were years old and would need to be scanned, cleaned up, and all that kind of thing. I was basically being lazy.

But now I have a Canon PowerShot S45, and taking reflective images is a simple matter of having enough memory space and clicking away—and no scanning needed later on. In the meantime, though, I've discovered another limit to my participation in the Project. I'm not willing to go out and intentionally create images appropriate for the Project: they have to be "found reflections," as it were. I'm only interested in reflections that occur in the course of my normal actions, and just in the unusual ones. I can see myself reflected in a monitor any time the system goes to sleep. Yawn. Now that I think about it, perhaps my main interest is in reflections in non-glassy surfaces.

So now I have two entries in the Project, both taken in the last month: Pitcher Picture and Eye See Me. The latter is the most interesting to me by far, but I didn't know I'd be taking it when I submitted the first one.

My most recent trips have been eventful, and sometimes stressful, but they've had a very beneficial side effect. For the past few months I've been pondering my professional and personal lives, wondering if I'd be better off doing something else or adjusting my balance. Everything's been up for consideration: my career, my line of work, my interests, my relationships with friends, my relationship with Kat—everything. A lot of this springs from turbulence in the wake of my mother's death, of course. But thanks to my constantly changing locations and moods, I've been able to look at my life from new angles. In the sharing of ideas and recent personal events, I've found a new way to look at myself. I needed that quite a bit, and will need it even more in the coming weeks and months.

It hasn't helped me catch up on my e-mail, sadly, but two or three things at a time is all I can handle.

Today, behind the sounds of wind rushing the summer trees and birds chirping, I can hear high-performance race cars in the distance, gearshifting and Doppler shifting with a muted, hyperactive beehive sound. It takes me back two decades, when I lived with my parents about the same distance from Mid-Ohio that I now live from downtown Cleveland, and we could hear every weekend race echoing over the hills and forests of north central Ohio. Usually I'd hear them while out in the back yard, weeding Mom's gardens as part of my weekly chores. I remember the sun on my back and the insects buzzing around me, entranced by my hair color... the smell of the earth as I ripped weeds out of it, the color of dirt in the afternoon sun, my grouchy mood over having to get mud under my fingernails, which I hate. And the sound of wind in the trees and annoyingly cheerful avian chirps all around me.

I also remember the time that I and the woman I then loved went to Mid-Ohio to watch a go-kart race. We knew someone who acted as pit crew and engineering staff for one of the racers, and these were serious vehicles: they ran on high-performance fuel and could exceed highway speeds in a matter of seconds, despite being about a third the size of a regular compact car. The race went only a few laps before there was an accident. The driver who lost control was killed, a rare and shocking event even for the other drivers. The race was cancelled, and we all went home early.

The sound of the go-karts racing wasn't altogether different than the sounds of stock or performance cars. It was just louder because for once I was standing next to the track, instead of sitting a few miles away weeding. Or typing.


Sunday, 6 July 2003

Is anyone else getting spam from German e-mail addresses looking for a dimensional warp generator, preferably in the New York/Boston area? Because so far I have three of them, and for once my spam actually amuses me more than it annoys me. A few unedited excerpts:

I'm offering $5,000 US dollars just for referring a vender which is (Actually RELIABLE in providing the below equipment)... The mind warper generation 4 Dimensional Warp Generator # 52 4350a series wrist watch with z80 or better memory adapter. If in stock the AMD Dimensional Warp Generator module containing the GRC79 induction motor, two I80200 warp stabilizers, 256GB of SRAM, and two Analog Devices isolinear modules, This unit also has a menu driven GUI accessible on the front panel XID display. All in 1 units would be great if reliable models are available... The special 23200 or Acme 5X24 series time transducing capacitor with built in temporal displacement. Needed with complete jumper/auxiliary system

Wow, five thousand whole dollars? Somebody's sure willing to spend a lot of money, eh? There's more to the message, but I'm laughing too hard to reproduce any more of it. Here's the whole message, with a strategic edit.

The best part is that all my copies of this spam show a date of 5/15/48, so I'm not even sure of its century of origin. All I am sure of is that whoever's sending it is seriously warped, possibly to the point they don't actually need the equipment they seek. Well, either that or somebody's time machine broke down and they're looking for parts. I wonder how long they'll have to wait before a reliable "vender" emerges?

You Say Po-TAY-to...

Tuesday, 8 July 2003

I'm having one of those moments where I can't decide whether to laugh or cry. I checked CNN this morning and noticed the headline "White House: Iraq uranium claim was wrong." I must be reading that wrong, I thought, but it turns out that Ari Fleischer admitted today that the whole "Iraq bought a bunch of uranium in Africa" thing was incorrect. Whoops. Anyway, in the article, I found this sentence:

A British parliamentary committee concluded that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government mishandled intelligence material on Iraqi weapons.

The British government was cited by President Bush as having found out about the uranium sale, so that's how he ended up making an incorrect claim. Well, it's more complicated than that, but the article's there for you to read, so go ahead.

As I finished the article, a sense of morbid curiosity overcame me; I wondered what the Republican News Channel would have to say about all this. So I went on over, and found no headline relating to the issue at all, two hours after the CNN story was posted. In fact, the only thing I could find was a "Video" box sited well below the fold, which contained this text:

The British parliament concludes Tony Blair did not doctor evidence to support the war in Iraq

Okay, here's your mental exercise for the day: devise a scenario in which both these statements can be true. I came up with one, although since I refused to set up a Fox News user account—I get enough spam exhorting me to buy Ann Coulter books as it is—I can't watch the video to see if I was right.

It isn't that news outlets slant their reporting that bothers me. I just wish they'd be honest about it, so we could take the slant into account. In times past, newspapers were very open about their ideological leanings. Yes, many news outlets have a liberal bias, and others have a conservative bias. That's fine. But don't try to tell me you're being fair or balanced when clearly neither is true, because frankly, it's insulting.

Moments of Transition

Tuesday, 15 July 2003

It's true: Netscape is no longer a viable entity. I'll leave it to others to draw conclusions regarding how this move is related to the agreement AOL and Microsoft reached a while back. Y'all can probably do a much better job of it anyway.

From what I can discern, there will be no more new versions of Netscape; the browser will go into maintenance mode, whatever that means. More than half the staff was let go today, and Mozilla has been spun off into an independent, non-profit foundation supported by AOL, IBM, Sun, and others. I have no idea what will happen with netscape.com itself. DevEdge will cease producing new content, it would seem, which is a shame. We produced some really good stuff, and had more in the pipeline. Hopefully that forthcoming material will find another outlet.

For now, I still have a job, although my team's been split up and sent to different organizations within AOL. I don't know yet how this will turn out for me, but I do know that today I'm saddened by the loss. Yes, Mozilla will go on, but another pioneering force of the Web has just been painfully dimmed. It's worth a moment to reflect on where we've been... and where we might be headed.

Standing At a Crossroads

Wednesday, 16 July 2003

There has been more detailed information written about yesterday's events, so it's worth reading if you still care. Personally, I thought Dave Shea's summary was quite amusing.

I indicated yesterday that DevEdge would likely not be updated. That's because the standards evangelism team has been disbanded. Two team members were among those let go, and the rest of us went to different places within AOL. I'm really not sure what made the difference between those who were axed and those who were not.

As much as I'm unhappy that we've come to this pass, I don't regret for one second having taken the position of Standards Evangelist. While it lasted, Netscape funded close to ten full-time and part-time positions whose job was to promote standards, not proprietary technology, and to spread that message as far and wide as possible. They may well have been doing it for selfish reasons, but that hardly matters. We were able to inform, educate, and proactively help a lot of sites get better cross-browser behavior by using standards. In our own way, we helped make things better, and we made a difference.

So here's to Bob Clary, Marcio Galli, Katsuhiko Momoi, Chris Nalls, Tristan Nitot, Arun Ranganathan, Doron Rosenberg, and Susie Wyshak. We fought the good fight and created a lot of great material, including information about the redesign of DevEdge itself.

Moving forward, I have to decide what I will do: accept the position into which I was reassigned, turn down the reassignment and look for another position within AOL, or decide to take the severance package and leave AOL altogether. This isn't exactly an easy call, partly due to the economy, but also because the importance of standards to AOL is not, at present, clear to me. Perhaps the message has sunk in and there will be a place for someone like me, and perhaps not. I hope to find out which over the next week or so. No matter what, I face some tough choices, but at least I have choices. I can't say the same about 50 former co-workers.

Meanwhile, DMX Zone just this morning (my time) published an interview with me, so those interested in such things can click away. Love that Dark Jedi groove thang! [insert lightsaber sound effects here]

Open Door Policy

Thursday, 17 July 2003

If you're feeling safe (in a computing sense) you might want to rethink that view. I just came across a USA Today article that leads off with:

Microsoft acknowledged a critical vulnerability Wednesday in nearly all versions of its flagship Windows operating system software, the first such design flaw to affect its latest Windows Server 2003 software. Microsoft said the vulnerability could allow hackers to seize control of a victim's Windows computer over the Internet, stealing data, deleting files or eavesdropping on e-mails.

Yes, there's a patch, so if you're using Windows, go get it before crackers reverse-engineer the patch to figure out the flaw and start attacking systems. As it turns out, Windows ME is immune to the problem, so those folks are safe, at least in this case. Oh, and there have been two more security bulletins and patches published since the one in question, which was released yesterday.

Hardly a week goes by any more that I don't see one of these and feel really, really glad that all my important personal data—like my books and a current mirror of this Web site—is on a Macintosh. One running the Classic OS, I might add, so it's even less vulnerable than OS X machines, which are pretty darned safe. Plus the system crashes a whole lot less often than Microsoft releases Windows security patches, and when it does crash it's usually because of Microsoft Word.

Anyway, back to the article I was reading. Near the end of the piece, the author adds a really chilling note:

The announcement came one day after the Department of Homeland Security announced that it awarded a five-year, $90-million contract for Microsoft to supply all its most important desktop and server software for about 140,000 computers inside the new federal agency.

Just the other day, Kat and I were kicking around the idea of moving to another country as sort of a grand adventure and interesting career move for us both. Now the idea almost seems like a reasonable personal safety measure.

Moving and Shaping

Friday, 18 July 2003

Apparently I'm a desirable emigrant. In response to yesterday's comment-in-passing that Kat and I had been kicking around the idea of moving to another country, I've had three people write encouraging me to emigrate to Canada, and one other person recommend the United Kingdom. The Canada people actually make a pretty good case, since apparently there's a plan afoot for Canada to make the Turks and Caicos Islands their eleventh province. That sounds pretty sweet, even if I would have to spend the whole year encased in zinc oxide.

Personally, I've always liked Toronto as a city. Their weather isn't significantly different than what we experience here in Cleveland, plus I know a number of very cool folks who already live there. I can't comment on places in the UK, since I've never actually been there (although I hope to fix that within the next year or so). For the record, the country we had in mind was Norway. I also gave some thought to the Bahamas, but then we're back to the prospect of me resembling a lobster on a semi-continual basis.

There've been a whole lot of XHTML-and-CSS redesigns announced in the past ten days, and I've been remiss in pointing them out. Here's a list of the ones I noticed: The Open Championship, Quark, Message Digital Design Ltd., Phish.com, Lawrence, Kansas Weather, Adaptive Path, and Inc.com. There were some others, I think, but the URLs seem to have escaped me.

On that last one, Dan talks a bit about the particulars of the Inc. redesign, and Doug points out that the markup size reduction for Inc.com's redesign was just about the same as that for the redesigns of Adaptive Path and Wired News. I'll add that it's very close to the markup size reduction seen when ESPN.com redesigned. So yes, Doug's absolutely right: there's a trend here. Old-school table-and-spacer designs can be visually recreated using lean, structural markup and CSS, and the process cuts page size by about half. Some sites will see less savings, but some will see more. As an example, my off-the-cuff guess (having peeked at the source of a typical page) is that eBay could drop its page weight by 66% or so. They could probably reduce their annual outgoing bandwidth by several petabytes. Tell you what, eBay: I'll show you how to do it and do it right, and you can pay me five percent of your savings over the next five years. Deal?

Silver and Wood

Saturday, 19 July 2003
A picture of Eric and Kat in profile, touching noses and smiling.

Five years ago today, standing under a tree before a small gathering of family and friends in her parent's front yard, Kat and I vowed to make each other laugh at least once a day. On that sunny Long Island morning, we promised to listen to each other, to hold each other, and to support each other through everything that life would bring our way.

Mom once told me that she'd never seen me as happy as I was that day.

Being Noticed

Tuesday, 22 July 2003

I've made the big time: Internet gossip columns! Okay, not really, but Opera Journal has just run a short piece about my ruminations over possibly moving to another country. On the theme of moving elsewhere, CNN recently ran an article about Americans who are heading for Canada. I do hope these folks do a little more research before making the move; nowhere is as perfect as it first seems—no, not even Canada. Anyway, having that article come so closely on the heels of my recent posts makes for a weird feeling, like the universe somehow centers on me. Which I'm pretty darned sure it doesn't. Personally, I wouldn't want it to; as someone I know used to say, "The problem with solipsism is that it makes me responsible for all the idiocy in the world."

[Aside: I'd just like to point out that the markup for the word "me" in the previous sentence is <em>me</em>. Maybe MC Frontalot could use that as a (much) nerdier version of Eminem's name, as a parody or something.]

To come back to something vaguely related to having my potential moves discussed in public, I had a very interesting conversation with my father Sunday at the anniversary porch party Kat and I threw. Among discussions of my job situation and the prospect of striking out on my own, and how that might work in a fiscal sense, he said to me, "Back when you were in high school, you told your mother and me that you wanted to be a recognized name one day. I don't remember if you had a specific plan in mind, but it's something your mother and I talked about a couple of times in recent years, how you'd worked toward that goal and achieved it."

This took me completely by surprise; I don't remember ever having said that, nor that it had been a goal of mine. I always felt like I'd lucked into whatever fame I have. Granted, I worked hard to reach my current position, but I was lucky to be in the right places at the right times, and to have opportunities that could be developed into advancement. But now I wonder if the idea of being a "known name" lurked in the back of my head for years, and subconsciously guided me toward the place I now find myself. I also wonder if, at any time before a couple of years ago, I knew why it was important to me.


Wednesday, 23 July 2003

I don't think I mentioned this before, but there's an aural-CSS supporter besides Emacspeak out there. It's called Fonix SpeakThis, and while its aural CSS support is pretty limited, it does exist. (A tip of the hat to The Literary Moose, by the way, for passing along the information.) I find the existence of another aural-CSS browser, however limited, to be interesting in light of the aural style sheets appendix of CSS2.1, which says in part:

We expect that in a future level of CSS there will be new properties and values defined for speech output. Therefore CSS2.1 reserves the 'speech' media type... but does not yet define which properties do or do not apply to it. The properties in this appendix apply to a media type 'aural', that was introduced in CSS2. The type 'aural' is now deprecated.

In other words, aural is a dead end, and speech will be used in the future. At some point. Really.

Fans of complexspiral's visual groove might also appreciate Atlantis, which looks a whole lot more professional. As is to be expected.

Raffi Krikorian raises some long-term problems arising from URL-shortening services that are worth pondering. It isn't the case that absolutely everything has to be preserved for all time, but how many links would suddenly break if a popular shortening service disappeared? I already don't like such services because they hide the ultimate destination, which robs me of an important piece of information in my quest to decide whether or not I should follow a given link. How many times have you seen a post that says, basically, "This is interesting!" followed by a shortened link? It could be a political story from the BBC, a collection of Battlestar: Galactica fan fiction, the official site of the Malaysian legislature, or an outrageously disgusting fringe-porn site. How can you tell? By following the link. It's like Web roulette. Place your bets!

I guess it's also true that shortening services irk me because they should be utterly unnecessary. In the first place, there's almost no excuse for URLs to be so long that they need some kind of shortening service. Okay, maybe mapping programs have some excuse, but that's about it. The kind of enormous cryptic URLs that most database-driven sites generate is just sloppy and wrong. In the second place, as for putting URLs in e-mail and newsposts, you can contain the URL in angle brackets—<http://like.this/>—and any client worth running will understand that the whole string is a single URL, and ignore any line-wrapping that might occur within the brackets. If your program can't handle that, especially if it tries to interpret the bracketed text as an HTML tag, then it's time to get another one.

Incidentally, the title of today's entry is a hand-shortened form of "Speech, Shells, and Shortening." Which is better? Granted, it's kind of cool having an entry title that sounds like a door on Star Trek, but it isn't what I'd call particularly useful for determining the contents of the entry before you actually read it. See what I mean?

Rounding A Corner

Friday, 25 July 2003

Adam Kalsey shares a method for rounding corners that has minimal HTML impact. I explored the same basic concept (along with several others) in Project 10 of Eric Meyer on CSS, although in my case I used it to provide rounded corners between two differently-sized sections of a document; sort of the visual inverse of what Adam demonstrates, but using the same fundamental techniques.

It's always interesting to see ideas emerge in different places, mutate, evolve, advance, and generally act like they have a life of their own. Did somebody say "meme?"

The thing is, of course, that we'd be better off not having to hack in bits of HTML just to get these effects. CSS3 offers proposals for corner-rounding properties, and that's a good step forward. One can also use XBL to dynamically insert the needed bits and style them, without having to clutter up the source document. Here's my XBL-based recreation of Adam's demonstration. Now here's a variant employing more complex corner and border effects. And then there's blockquote styling with great big background quotation marks and rounding of some corners.

The above examples will only work fully in Gecko-based browsers (as of today, anyway), but what's interesting to note is that they don't look bad in non-Gecko browsers. Take the blockquote example, for one. In a Gecko browser, you get all the eye candy. In a non-Gecko browser you get a visually distinct blockquote with less eye candy. It still looks pretty good, or at least not bad; it could probably use some padding, but these aren't polished examples. The document structure is clean, and semantically appropriate. What's not to like? This seems like another aspect of the concept of graceful flexibility—or, if you prefer, progressive enhancement—and one worth further investigation.

Broken Windows

Sunday, 27 July 2003

Ever worry about the security holes in your graphics and audio technology? Yep, you guessed it, there's a critical flaw in DirectX (specifically how it handles MIDI files) that will—say it with me, now—let an attacker take control of your Windows machine. Go, read the security bulletin and get the patch. Again. For the second time in nine days.

To those who are wondering when meyerweb became the Windows Security Monitor: rest assured, I'm only passing along the flaws that Microsoft deems "critical." The lesser severity levels (like "important") don't get mentioned, because otherwise I suspect I wouldn't have room to talk about anything else. If you're running Windows, you really should go sign up to get security bulletins sent to you. It may increase your daily e-mail traffic, but at least you'll be informed.

Critical security flaws in the multimedia APIs? Picture me shaking my head in weary, resigned disbelief here. The amazing part to me is that people actually choose to buy machines using this technology—and I seem to be using that term very loosely. The real irony is that I may be buying such a machine myself, in the not too distant future. Quite possibly next Sunday, A.D.

Distant Speeches

Monday, 28 July 2003

I wish I were in Seattle right now, hanging out with all the cool folks speaking at Web Design World. Oh well, I guess one can't be at every conference. I also wish the WDW site didn't use points to size their fonts, since that makes the text painfully tiny in some browsers, including one I use fairly often. Oh well, I guess you can't expect good Web design from every Web design conference's Web site.

Hey, wait a minute.

Although I may not be in Seattle this year, I will be in Cambridge, MA this October for User Interface 8, and have added a note to that effect to my Speaking page. On the latter page, you'll find a registration code you can use to get a nice discount at UI8, and incidentally add a small bonus to my bank account. We both come out ahead—what's not to like?

I'll also be at Seybold in early September, but I don't have the details ready just yet. Check back in a few days if you're interested.

One Foot In the Past...

Tuesday, 29 July 2003

Anyone who's been reading this site for more than a year might remember my rantings last year when the Section 508 Web site went online and proclaimed it worked best in IE5+ for Windows. The other day, I got e-mail from another developer working for the U.S. House of Representatives, who had some disheartening information to share, and I think it's worth talking about. I'm going to quote my source in some detail, but as you might expect, this will be an "unnamed government source." I'm going to use the pronoun "he" because it's technically gender-neutral English, and I don't feel like saying "he or she" every time I need to use a pronoun.

The e-mail was prompted by this person finding and reading last year's rants. Thus, after a short introduction, he said:

...as far as the 508 guidelines go, we use them, but nobody seems to actually be concerned with accessibility. It's just making sure the InFocus software approves you according to the guidelines, and plod onwards. Nobody cares about the usefulness or lack thereof of the features they're putting in, nothing is planned out, and the barest minimum to meet the guidelines is all that you'll get from most developers.

This, of course, is a problem of management: it would seem nobody in this particular shop has made forward thinking a priority. Rather than plan for the future, they're stuck in the past. (Some would say this is unsurprising in a government institution, but never mind that now.) You might think a quick intravenous application of Designing With Web Standards might be just what the doctor ordered. However, it turns out there's a reason the project managers don't care:

Of course, this is infinitely more preferable to the attitude from the actual Congressmen; I've actually had aides ask me if the site has to include accessibility features.

And there's the problem. The clients are not only aware of accessibility, but borderline hostile to it. How do you overcome that kind of hurdle? We can say, "It's your job to educate the client," but at a certain point you have to stop singing to the pigs.

I seem to recall that, some time back, AOL was sued for being inaccessible, and lost. Will it take a similar suit to bring government sites into the 21st century? I sincerely hope not; if there's one thing I think America could do with less of, it's lawsuits. (No offense intended to the legally inclined folks I know.)

In such a situation, the best approach to improvement would likely be a back-stage effort by the coders themselves. They can just do the right thing and not bother their clients with the details of how things get done, right? Maybe not:

...just about everybody is still coding with FONT soup. This is especially frustrating when people ask me for help to do something which would be trivial if they knew a modicum of CSS, but which is onerous at best given whatever HTML hack they're using. I've broached using more CSS with people, and they all just mutter something about Netscape 4 and stick their heads back in the sand.

At this stage, I'm not sure what can be done for Our Hero, except maybe expressing some compassion and pity.

This is the kind of situation that I think is more common than many of us realize, and it's a serious impediment to the forward motion of the Web. The enormous amount of wasted bandwidth and time such coding practices incur would, if translated into dollars, very likely cover a significant chunk of the U.S. national debt. There are too many Web authors stuck in 1999, and not enough who are looking forward to 2005 and beyond. What words, what memes would penetrate their shells and point them in the right direction?

This is a deep and serious challenge for groups like the W3C and the WSP, not to mention people like me, who just want things to be better than they've been in the past. Last night I met a guy who expressed incredulity that Netscape had hired me, back in May of 2001, to tell people that standards were a good thing. "What was your title, Manager In Charge of Repeating the Painfully Obvious?" he asked, laughing. If only that had been so; in an ideal world, there would have been no need for Netscape to hire me in the first place. What seems so obvious to so many of us seems to be utterly unknown to so many more—or, perhaps worse, known but disregarded.

What will it take to turn things around? More corporate XHTML+CSS designs? A pronouncement from one of those consulting firms who get quoted by the media all the time, but nobody really knows what else they do besides issue semi-useless browser demographic data and charge huge consulting fees? Another grass-roots campaign like the original WaSP? Blackmail?

I wish I knew. This is yet another uphill battle against overwhelming odds, but a battle so much worth fighting that I can't walk away from it. I think this is my third such battle in the Web space alone. Sometimes I wonder how many battles I have in me. I also wonder why I keep finding new battles to fight.


Wednesday, 30 July 2003

In response to yesterday's musings, a correspondent wrote in to say:

...a local Swiss government [has] switched their site (now 95%+) to structural HTML and CSS and freed the site from font-tags and framesets.... In the meantime, I have found that beginning at January 1st, 2004, a new law will be in force that demands from all official Swiss sites that they be accessible. So to speak, Switzerland has now [its] own "Section 508".

I noticed some layout problems in IE5/Mac, but otherwise the site looks pretty good. The important point is this: there are people working in government sectors who care about accessibility and forward-thinking design. What we need now is a channel to get them in touch with each other and swap tips on how to advance the cause. Who wants to set it up? (I'd do it myself except I already ride herd over a high-volume mailing list, and that's plenty.) If someone does create a venue for government Webmasters who are pasasionate about using standards, and is willing to devote the time and energy to making sure that venue is a good one, please tell me where it is via e-mail and I'll share the news here.

Another reader wrote to say that in the wake of a recent redesign:

...we've gotten quite a few letters from people who work for various federal government agencies (especially the DOJ) saying they aren't even allowed to use any other browser besides Netscape 4.

I can't say this really surprises me a great deal, having talked to folks at a U.S. government research facility who only recently managed, after much internal argument, to convince their IT staff that running Mozilla instead of NN4.x was an acceptable course of action. I suspect that a major reason the government sticks with NN4.x is its relative level of security; it may not be bulletproof, but it's a darned sight more secure than some other browsers I could name. Then again, this is the same government that uses Windows more or less universally, so I'm not sure how secure they really are. (Not much.)

Then there was a followup message from my unnamed government source, who said in part:

...none of the other on-staff developers really want to learn new methods, I think, and therefore they're going to stonewall any endeavor that's going to require them to take some classes (or, potentially, cost them their jobs, I suppose).

That's sad, but it's also not unique to the Web field; you get reactionary behavior of that kind in just about any work situation. I wonder, though, if perhaps it's more entrenched in the government sector because job losses are so rare. Or are they? I always thought federal jobs, at least, were massively protected and rarely did anyone ever get fired, but I might have swallowed some Reagan-era Kool-Aid. Someone let me know if I'm wrong. Too many things to learn, not enough brain tissue...

Close One Door, Open Another

Thursday, 31 July 2003

Today is my last day at AOL Time Warner. In the end, my interests weren't compatible with the positions available in the post-Netscape environment, so I decided to leave. I won't have any free time, though: I'm proud to announce that I'm firing up my own consulting business! I'll be concentrating on the following:

  • Advising clients on best practices in standards-oriented design
  • Guidance through standards conversion projects
  • CSS and HTML optimization for improved site performance
  • Hands-on training in CSS and design techniques for groups of any size
  • Help resolving design compatibility problems

As you can probably tell from the above points, I'll be taking my passion for intelligently using Web standards and applying that passion to my work with clients. More detailed information should be on the way soon, but the work I'm already doing has me too busy to set up the consulting site. Here's a sample of what's on my plate:

  • I'm working with a major and highly respected name in the industry on optimizing their site's CSS and providing guidance for their future plans.
  • I'll be doing three days of CSS training at a major research facility in early September.
  • Also in September, I'll be chairing a conference track at Seybold San Francisco, one of the largest and oldest technical conferences in the United States. In addition to the chair duties, I'll also be delivering two presentations and sitting on two panels.
  • This November, I'll be in Las Vegas co-presenting a developer-centric CSS class at COMDEX. The other presenter for this session will be Molly Holzschlag.

I have some other projects simmering as well, but that will do for a quick glimpse into this new venture. Hopefully I'll find some time in the next week to get the consulting site up and running. In the meantime, if you're interested in my services, please feel free to get in touch with me via my meyerweb e-mail address. (And please, make the subject line really painfully obvious so I don't accidentally throw your message away with all the spam I get!)

I may not be working for Netscape any more, but I'm still incredibly proud of the work done in my two-plus years there. It was an honor and a joy to be a part of our team. I wish the people still at AOLTW continued success in their fight to promote standards both inside and outside the company, and I truly hope we'll have a chance to work together again in the future.


Friday, 1 August 2003

Yesterday's announcement has generated a fair bit of attention, which is certainly a good thing for a new startup. My deepest thanks to everyone who wrote words of support and congratulations, through all the e-mail and many a weblog. Your collective enthusiasm has definitely made today one of the best in months, and eased my mind quite a bit about the step I've taken. And those of you who got in touch regarding contracting my services get extra-special thanks! (What are the rest of you waiting for?)

I mentioned that one of my clients is "a major and highly respected name in the industry," and I'm proud to say that client is Macromedia. My work is actually in two different areas, both of which relate to CSS, and I'm looking forward to talking about the projects in more detail once they've been completed. For now, let me just say that Macromedia is serious about using CSS well, and in doing the right thing.

I'm hoping that this weekend I'll get the consulting site material together and ready for launch—I don't even have a design yet. What I may do is use a variant of a meyerweb theme as a first look and then, like Zeldman did earlier this year, redesign in public, commenting on my choices and techniques as I go. I don't know if a business site has ever done exactly that kind of a redesign before, and it seems like it would be an interesting experiment. To be honest, I may chicken out and just jump from one design to another instead of evolving it over time, rather than experiment with a business site. We'll see what kind of feedback I get on the idea.

Speaking of feedback, I need to pass along some tidbits readers sent in response to my discussion of governments and open standards:

  • Bob Sawyer wrote to say he's created a discussion forums for Webmasters at the fledgling Built For The Future, which looks like it could be just the kind of resource people need.
  • Felix Ingram sent in a link to a fascinating Wired article on standardization and its distinctly political nature.
  • Rob Lifford pointed out the Texas Governors' site is accessible, and even has a dedicated statement about the use of W3C standards. That jostled my memory and I remembered that the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska's site did something similar a while back.
  • Paul Martin speculated that, until recently, standards use and accessibility have been almost entirely the concern of hand-coders, the people who know the nuts and bolts that make a page work. If that's so, then the WaSP was absolutely right to concentrate on getting tool vendors to clean up the markup they generate.

I'm going to take the weekend to concentrate on responding to e-mail, doing some writing, and fleshing out the new site, and should be back bright and early Monday morning to regale you with more random stuff. Enjoy your weekend!

Out On The Tiles

Saturday, 2 August 2003

Note: I'm having e-mail troubles. I can currently send mail, but I can't receive it. I don't know if the mail server is accepting messages or not, but if you get a bounce, please wait a day or two before sending again. If you don't get a bounce, assume the message will eventually reach me, and that I'll respond as soon as I can. The hope, of course, is that this will only be a temporary glitch.

Two days after announcing I'm available for hire, too. Hey, timing is everything!

Jesse Ruderman has created a nifty little game using JavaScript. What's particularly clever about it is that he's only using a single image, and (with CSS) is shifting that image in the background of each tile to show the appropriate section.

Thanks to Modulo 26, I now have a whole bunch of kanji representations of my name. I kind of like them. How does your name look?


Sunday, 3 August 2003

Note: e-mail delivery has resumed. Yay! Now I can go back to deleting mountains of spam. If you were holding off sending me mail, there's no reason to wait any longer.

Kat and I were driving to the other side of town today when we passed a car with the license plate "IB COOL." My immediate reaction was: "If you have a vanity plate stating 'IB COOL,' I can just about guarantee that you aren't. At all." Then we noticed this plate was affixed to a Buick Reatta. I smugly rested my case.

The whole thing put me in mind of another recent license-plate incident. A few days ago, I spotted a car with the plate "ZARGON." The plate bracket stated "Lord Zargon" across the top, and "Terror is my business" across the bottom. I thought to myself, That takes some guts.

I don't know what it is with me and license plates. Sometimes they even make me see colors. You'd think I'd have more important things to do on the road than look at license plates, like maybe watch out for other cars or traffic signals. It seems almost like I'm stalking through traffic on a hunt for a license plate unlike any I've ever seen, something new and fascinating and life-altering. I don't know what that looks like, I can't know until I see it, and then I'll know. It's like license-plate hunting is in my blood, where I can't get it out and I can't resist the call.

In case you're wondering, no, I don't own a magnetic harpoon system. Yet.

Disc Slippage

Monday, 4 August 2003

I have in my possession the separation package AOLTW is offering me. It came in one of those paper-cardboard navy blue Oxford pocket folders I used to store all my class notes back in junior high school, at least for the classes that didn't require a lot of note-taking. Like art class. There isn't a whole lot to these agreements. I go that way, they go another way, they help tide over the transition period, I agree to certain things, blah blah blah. This is actually new to me, as it's the first time I've left a position without resigning.

Anyway, the point is that when I pulled out the documents, I discovered something else in the folder. A closeup picture of an AOL 8.0 CS sitting on top of the first pages of Eric's separation agreement. A little bonus parting gift from a former employer, as it were. Just their way of saying thanks for all the work I'd done over the past couple of years. I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

Ah irony, thou cruel and playful mistress. Why do I love thee so?

You'd think they could have sent along a bunch of them for me to use. Like, six or maybe eight of them. You know?


Thursday, 7 August 2003

Just to demonstrate that my brain has melted, I'm actually thinking about adding a "Plate Watch" box to the site sidebar. On my way back home this afternoon, I found myself situated behind an SUV whose license plate read "ICU PEKN." I was impressed. It isn't often you see reverse psychology employed on a license plate.

The business side of life seems to be jumpin', as they would have said back in the Big Band era. Besides the work for Macromedia, I have one confirmed CSS training contract and three possibles, plus what looks like three conferences between now and Thanksgiving. I'm also hoping to sign in the next week a few more contracts to do standards optimization and strategy work for various companies. All that, plus I'm trying to assemble a business site for myself and create or acquire the materials that are so vital to being on one's own.

Considered in this context, I suppose the persistent light insomnia is a bit of a blessing in disguise. Still, I've no cause to complain. I think I almost had to go out on my own at some point, just to find out if I can hack it. If so, great! If not, then I'll know that I tried.

At any rate, the heavy work load does make for light journal entries.

All Tied Up

Friday, 8 August 2003

Fresh from a Taiwanese factory and several FedEx planes, I now have in my claws a brand-spankin' new 1GHz 15.2" TiBook. Ahhhhh.... except for it running OS X, which I still don't really quite understand. Thanks to Mac OS X Hacks, I quickly located the terminal window and added it to the Dock for handy access. <mood type="bliss"/> I even got the built-in AirPort option even though I don't have WiFi in the house. So, of course, I'm in the market for a wireless access point. Anyone have suggestions for a good one? Bear in mind the access point will be situated inside a lath-and-plaster house, which may mean a whole lot of metal wire mesh in the walls. Then again, the house was built in 1920, so I don't know for sure that they were using much metal in walls back then.

Also bear in mind that I didn't buy an Airport base station because I didn't want to spend that much on a wireless extension to my existing wired network. I've been looking at the LinkSys WAP11, as I have a LinkSys router already and the price is right, but I've been reading online that its range is limited and I want to cover three floors of the house, plus the front and back yards. As long as I can good signal at a fifty-foot range from the station, and moderate signal up to one hundred feet, I'll be more than fine. I found a how-to on hacking the WAP11 to boost its transmission power, but I don't know if the current firmware still allows the hack. What does sort of bother me is that the WAP11 won't pass through AppleTalk packets. It's not that I do tons of AppleTalk, but that it bothers me buying an access point that absolutely slams that door shut. I will want to communicate between my Classic OS desktop and the TiBook, obviously.

Anyway—have need for wireless access point, need to cover multistory house, will want Mac-to-Mac communication, looking for recommendations. The more plug-and-play, the better. Meantime, I have to figure out how to best go about repartioning the hard drive into my usual triad of boot volume, data volume, and scratch-space volume. And then I have to come up with a catchy name for this beast. Oh, the crosses I bear.

Somehow I missed the fact that Opera Journal published a short interview with me on Tuesday and Wednesday. You should probably start with part one, and then follow it to part two. I think it got broken up because I spent some time answering the first question, but it really is short—five questions, if I counted correctly. But not a Friday Five.


Saturday, 9 August 2003

Remember I mentioned the "ZARGON" license plate? Gail Cohen wrote me from Miami, Florida to tell me whose car that was. His name's Rex. I've talked about moments of technological vertigo (technovertigo? technologigo? technigo?) in the past. This is another such moment.

So apparently Gail and Rex are both members of the International Association of Haunted Attractions, and his hobby is being an interactive actor in haunted houses. You know the guys who jump out at you with goalie masks and chain saws? He's one of them. Oh, heck, take a look for yourself. So it turns out that terror really is his business, at least as a hobby, and I suppose it does take guts. Just not the kind I meant.

Windows Pains

Monday, 11 August 2003

Even in the bright, shiny, translucent world of Mac OS X, Windows haunts me like a vengeful spectre.

Upon deciding to strike out on my own, I knew I'd have to buy a laptop. The older-model TiBook and two-months-old Dell Latitude both belonged to AOL Time Warner, and they would want them back. When I went somewhere to speak, or to train, I would need a portable computing node. I would need the ability to carry everything needed to deliver my presentation: all the slides, the working files, the examples. Too often have I seen speakers show up assuming they could run their presentation via the net and be told, "Sorry, the connection is down." Or arrive with a CD-ROM they burned containing everything, only to have the presentation machine absolutely refuse to read the disc.

So I bought a new 1GHz TiBook, with the gracious assistance of a local Apple employee. It's shiny on the outside, and shiny inside too. After a quick hard drive repartition and reinstallation of both OS X and the Classic OS, I spent a couple of hours adjusting the OS look to at least vaguely resemble my old Mac's desktop, customizing the Dock and System Preferences to put the important things within quick reach, and learning how the new OS works as compared to the Classic OS.

Then I installed Virtual PC 6. And the pain began.

Please realize I have very little against VPC6. It does a stunning job of recreating a Windows operating system right there in a Mac OS window. If I launched a Classic application, I could run three completely separate operating systems on the same machine. Slowly, of course.

But anyway, I installed my Windows 2000 Professional edition of VPC6, and there it was. Windows. Mocking me. Can't live without me, eh? it sneered. In a sense, no, I can't: I need to be able to test designs and templates and CSS techniques in Windows browsers as well as Macintosh browsers. And I need to be able to test in different versions of Internet Explorer. To do that, you either need multiple Wintel boxes, or one Wintel box running Virtual PC for Windows—think about that for a minute—or one Macintosh running Virtual PC for Macintosh. In the latter case, I'd also get OS X, which I haven't been running but need to, since Safari is a serious browser that deserves to be taken seriously.

Economically speaking, there was no contest: one laptop that gave me everything I needed. Aesthetically speaking, there wasn't much of a choice either. TiBooks are just so darned... cool.

I fought with virtual Windows for almost 12 hours yesterday, trying to make it behave with some semblance of normalcy. Discovering that I'd done something sensible yet still horribly wrong, and having to start over, more than once. At least with Virtual PC, a badly botched installation is no big deal: you just throw away the drive image and empty the trash can. It's like reformatting the hard drive on a Windows machine, except it takes less time. You can also, once you get a drive image set up as a baseline, copy it to new images and make changes to the copies. So I can have images with IE5.0, IE5.5, and IE6. I can also install Opera, Mozilla, Netscape, Firebird, and all the other Windows browsers. (I'll probably install them into the IE6 image.)

But getting to that point, making my life easy, was amazingly hard and deeply frustrating. And I've been using Windows 2000 Professional on a regular basis for the last two years.

At least VPC6 has a "go to full screen mode" that will let me present my presentation slideshows using Opera, as I've been doing for more than a year now. I was very glad to see that feature. Now, if only the software had a "shrink drive image to eliminate unused drive space," I'd be a really happy camper.

Oh, and the next time someone tells you how bloated Mozilla or some other browser has become, kindly point out to them that the install package for Internet Explorer for Windows 5.5, Service Pack 2, is 84.1 megabytes; IE6.0 is 76.7 megabytes. Even at T1 speeds, those take a while to download—almost as long as it takes light from the sun to reach Earth, in fact. The only reason nobody ever complained is that nobody had to download Explorer. Funny, that. Imagine if Microsoft had been required to offer Explorer for download instead of bolting it into the OS. I wonder how many copies would be in use today?

Pray Tell

Tuesday, 12 August 2003

I just found out that Joshua Davis will be in town tonight, and I'm not going to be able to make it. So the rest of you local types need to get down there and attend! Even if you don't use Flash, as in fact I don't, Josh is a great speaker and you'll have a lot of fun, so hurry up and RSVP. The entrance fee may be a bit of a deterrent, but trust me, if you have the cash to spare it will be well invested... if for no other reason than getting a chance to look at Josh's extensive tattoos.

I don't know how your day has been, but I learned something about myself this morning. There's an online CSS-centric forum that I frequently read—actually, there are several that I read, popping up every now and again to post, but there's this one I have in mind. My last few posts there have gone basically unacknowledged, despite the fact that my posts were (I think) detailed and helpful. Of course, I didn't post them to generate worship, but these didn't even get so much as a "thank you" or "that worked." I posted, and then it was crickets. Other threads were continuing, so I knew the community was still in some sense active.

So as I made my morning rounds of various weblogs, forums, mailing lists, newsgroups, and so forth, I thought to myself, "You know what? I'm not going there any more. I don't have time to help out people who don't even acknowledge that I tried to help out." Childish and petty, I suppose, but that's what I thought. Then, several minutes later, I found myself headed to the very place I'd resolved to abandon, because I wondered if there would be any interesting posts, anyone looking for help that I could provide. I realized that providing assistance was more important than any wounded feelings I might have.

So what I learned is that I can be petty, but that the pettiness gets trumped by other, stronger motivations. I think that's a good balance to have in my life. It may be the key to thickening one's skin, which is another necessary trait, particularly online.


Wednesday, 13 August 2003

Flurry is the new Satori.

Between Darkness and Light

Friday, 15 August 2003

Our power came back on about 8:00am EDT, sixteen or so hours after it failed. Not everyone is back online. Portions of Detroit may be out until Sunday, and I've gotten word that parts of New York City are still offline even as I write this. As an example, Jeff and Carrie Zeldman are still blacked out, so try to go easy on the e-mail for a while.

There was a flutter in the power before it went out yesterday that was kind of fascinating. I heard a low surging sound, repeated five or six times, coming through the speakers on my computer; it sounded very much like an old cassette tape warble, except I could see the power was fading in and out on the speaker set. My biggest concern at that moment was that my speakers were getting ready to short out. As it turned out, the entire power system shorted out instead. I was hearing the death rattle of a multi-state power grid, and didn't realize it until later.

As for Kat and me, things went fairly well. I had the new TiBook to work on, and although I was cut off from a lot of the files I needed I still got some work done. We cook with gas, so we were able to make dinner by flashlight and eat by candlelight, which is never a bad thing. Since close to the entire city was blacked out until this morning, the clear weather last night made it a perfect chance to stargaze and get a good look at Mars. I spotted the Milky Way faintly through the summer haze, and the across-the-street neighbors had a fairly powerful telescope, so we checked out Mars and the Moon, then sat in the moonlight chatting. All in all, the evening could have been worse spent.

Grand Designs

Saturday, 16 August 2003

Everyone complains about Jakob Neilsen's site design, but nobody ever does anything about it—until now. Bob Sawyer has announced a "redesign useit.com" contest that's being held with the blessing of Dr. Neilsen himself. Dare we call it Designer's Eye For the Usable Guy? The contest closes at the end of October, so you have some time to really do a great job.

The trends described in the Time article "Believe It, Or Not" bother me quite a bit. The last paragraph in particular seems chilling to me. I've no objection to religion, as long as it isn't being shoved in my face, and frankly I think more people could use a strong moral/ethical core. It's the decline in intellectualism and critical thinking, and the view that one can't be moral without a belief in God, that trouble me deeply. I can say with absolute certainty the latter is patently false, unless one defines morality to be solely derived from religious teachings, in which case either the term needs to be expanded or we need to ask a different question. For example: "Is it necessary to believe in God to be an ethical person? A good person?"

As I looked at this and the last several entries, I see that most of my recent posting has been personal in nature. The CSS has fallen more or less by the wayside, which also bothers me. I'm going to take a week off and think about the balance or technical content versus personal commentary, and how I want this site to evolve as I move forward with the consulting business.


Saturday, 23 August 2003

The weeklong break is over. Now I start a weekend break. Meanwhile, a few things that flitted across my radar while I was away:

That's it for the moment, but I hope to have a new site and some new content to share with you on Monday.

Multiple Launches

Monday, 25 August 2003

It's up, running, and official: Complex Spiral Consulting finally has a Web site. So far I have up recent news and upcoming events, information about the services I'm offering, ways to contact me, and a publications area that contains a new article: Containing Floats. If you're having trouble getting elements to stretch around floats, this article is for you. Anticipate more such articles in the future, as well as the addition of information on just what I've been doing in the past month, and for whom.

Also today, Macromedia announced the impending release of Studio MX 2004, including a major new version of Dreamweaver MX. I'm happy to say that the CSS support in this new Dreamweaver is pretty darned good, and it comes with a number of CSS-driven templates already installed. I provided the layout skeletons to Macromedia, and then helped make sure the markup and layout were acceptable once a design firm made the layouts look pretty. And hey, who are those mugs being quoted in the Dreamweaver MX press release?

There's also a new layout for the Macromedia Web site, and it uses some relatively sophisticated CSS to create the layout. I did some CSS optimization and upgrade work for the site, running in parallel with the Dreamweaver MX input I was providing.

Spiralling Apples and Mice

Thursday, 28 August 2003

Much to my delight, Containing Floats hit Blogdex, just above a story about Al Franken (when I looked, anyway). It also tied for 29th with the Ars Technica Macintosh browser smackdown, which I was further delighted to see used the complexspiral demo as one of its evaluation criteria. Thus we come spiralling back to where we started.

Congratulations to Jeffrey Zeldman and Doug Bowman on their new project with Apple! Doug explains that they'll be giving Apple strategic guidance toward better using Web standards, which is wonderful thing for me to hear at this stage—it's another indication that there is indeed a demand for the kinds of services I'm offering through Complex Spiral. I've very little doubt that the demand exists, but reinforcing evidence is never a bad thing.

Speaking of Apple, I like OS X a whole lot better now, but not because I've gotten used to it. Instead, I've gotten it used to me, with help from Robb Timlin. He wrote the freeware tool Classic Window Management, the installation of which instantly eliminated about 85% of my frustration with OS X. Now the Finder acts the way I think it should: when I click on the desktop, all the Finder windows come to the front instead of staying hidden behind whatever application I was just using. In other words, now OS X acts like a Mac, not a Windows machine. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

I also recently upgraded my computing experience by finally ditching the Apple hockey-puck mouse in favor of a Logitech MX700 cordless optical mouse. Between the freedom to mouse anywhere on my desk and the application-specific programmable buttons, I'm a happy guy. I also picked up an MX500—same mouse, except with a cord. I was going to use the MX700 on the TiBook so that I could use a mouse on flights and not have to fight with a mouse cord. It was the perfect plan until I realized the plan involved using a radio transmitter on a commercial airliner.


When the Going Gets Weird...

Monday, 1 September 2003

It's been a month since I announced my foray into consulting, and it's been a busy but rewarding month. I did of course finally get the official site online, but also put in time working with Macromedia, created a three-day training course for the staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and shorter training sessions for two different universities. Between that and preparing to chair a track (and present twice) at the Seybold-WOW Web Design and Development conference, I wasn't lacking for things to do. So much for using my newfound freedom to lounge around eating Cheetos and playing XBox games.

Not that I would anyway, to be honest. Kat can't even take me on relaxing vacations in tropical venues, because after two or three days of not doing anything productive, my head implodes.

Someone let me know that Containing Floats hit #9 on Popdex as well as Blogdex, so thanks to all you linkers out there! Y'all are the greatest.

Since we're mentioning the greatest, we went to see "Weird Al" Yankovic play the Taste of Cleveland festival. I say "the greatest" not because I think he's the greatest musician of all time, but because I completely agree with what a friend of mine said about him: he's out there working it every night like it's the only show he'll do all year. That's professionalism at its finest, and I respect that no end. Al always makes it a fun show, a high-energy show, and the only way you can leave disappointed is if you're a humorless sourpuss in the first place. In which case, what the hell were you doing at a Weird Al show?

And now that "weird" has come up, you might remember I mentioned that I'd received time-traveler spam a while back. Wired has the whole story behind that spam, and as you might expect it's a bit odd. I feel so special to have scooped Wired... especially since I inadvertently fooled them three and a half years back.

...the Weird Get Going

Saturday, 6 September 2003

I wrapped up the three-day speaking and training session at Los Alamos National Laboratory yesterday, and it seemed to go really well. This having been my first multi-day training session, I was a little bit nervous that I might have problems with pacing, but everything seemed to come together just fine. The attendees certainly were positive about the material, and how much they learned.

Now I'm off to Albuquerque to catch a flight to San Francisco (by way of Houston) for Seybold. I've been four days from home, and have another five before I return. Kat and I talk at least twice a day, and it seems like every conversation begins and ends with, "I miss you."

Mission Critical

Sunday, 7 September 2003

I've been wandering from place to place in the Mission District of San Francisco all afternoon with Doug and Tantek, searching out open WiFi access points that also have open power outlets. We were hanging out at Maxfield's for a while, but then a live jazz band started playing and we couldn't hear each other talk. A picture of Doug, Tantek, and Eric peering over the display panel of Tantek's TiBook. So we moved on, and after snacking on some New York-style pizza (!) have now settled in Muddy Waters on Valencia. What relevance has any of this? Not a lot, but it's a great excuse to post an amusing picture Doug took with his Sony Vaio TR1AP.

Seybold starts tomorrow, which means I get to show up at Moscone West way too early in the morning to register, get oriented, and get ready for the panel "Speaking in Tongues," which will discuss the wide variety of standards and choosing which is best for you. Later in the day I'll present "Bridging the Browser Divide," a look at the state of standards support. Tuesday, I'll do "CSS For Navigation," a slightly reworked version of "Minimal Markup, Surprising Style" (which provided many of the examples in the Listamatic), and then participating in the closing plenary "Future Vision: The Web and Beyond."

I'd better get some future vision by then, I guess. Think the audience will take me any less seriously if I tell them the Web doesn't really matter because we're due to be subjugated by the barbarian hordes of Pluto in the next three years? Think anyone took me seriously in that last sentence?

As much as I like visiting San Francisco and hanging out with such cool people, I can't help looking forward to my return home. I fly back home on Thursday, which means that for the third year in a row I'll start September 11th in the San Francisco area. At least this year I'll end it back in Cleveland, unlike the last two. Contrary to the expectations of some people I've talked with, I have no apprehension about flying on Thursday. I figure if there's one day of the year that's safest to fly, it'll probably be that day. Besides, I'm done with conference and client stuff Wednesday evening, and I intend to get back to Kat as soon as possible.


Friday, 12 September 2003

Right in the middle of the Iron Chef of Web Design presentations on Wednesday, a calm female voice announced over the public-address system, with quite a bit of volume, that due to a security situation the Moscone Center was to be evacuated. As it turns out, the entire complex was being evacuated, not just the Moscone West building. That's a lot of people to dump on to the sidewalks of San Francisco all at once. Fortunately, the hotel here has a WiFi network in the lobby, so I could check e-mail after all.

Dreamweaver MX 2004, and the rest of Studio MX 2004, has shipped and is available for download. If you use Dreamweaver and you're interested in CSS or stadndards-oriented design, it's very likely worth the upgrade. There's a free 30-day trial, so you can always check it out if you aren't sure. You'll get a chance to work with the templates I contributed and a design firm prettied up. I spent some time talking with Macromedia folks while in San Francisco and was impressed anew by their interest in doing the right thing when it comes to standards. These are folks who think about not just today's Web, but the Web to come, and how they can best help authors get from here to there. That's a highly commendable perspective in a tool vendor.

Off the Wire

Saturday, 13 September 2003

The TiBook's Ethernet connection is all wireless now, thanks to the Netgear MR814 I installed yesterday. I discovered that the one place on the front porch I really wanted to have access is a complete dead zone, which is highly annoying. The rest of the house and the back yard all give me anywhere from 75% to 100% signal strength, and even the other half of the front porch wavers around 75%. But the part where we have the really comfortable chairs set up, not to mention several short tables for drinks and such, is just a huge cone of silence.

Eventually, I realized it was probably our screen windows. I'm pretty sure ours are a metal mesh, not vinyl, and if I'm correct it means they're forming big impenetrable barriers to any WiFi signal. My experiment of walking out into the front yard and immediately getting 50% signal seems to confirm this. In all honesty, it's probably just as well that there's at least one area of the house that cuts me off from the Ethernet line.

To celebrate, I'm sitting here on the active side of my front porch, enjoying the sunny, breezy weather and listening to the cicadas while I share with you a few amusing and/or interesting things I've collected from various sources in the last few days:

  • You may recall the Bork edition of Opera, and of course there have long been scripts that alter content to sound like Yoda or any number of other distinctive speech patterns. A close cousin to the Jive filter is Tha Shizzolator, courtesy everyone's favorite rapper/porn artist, Snoop Dogg. I found its translation of meyerweb highly amusing—I love the fact that it turns a reference to Doug and Tantek into "bomb diggity muthas"—and can hardly wait to see what it does with this entry. Societal note: if you are offended by certain "naughty" words, or live/work in a place characterized by easy offense, you may want to avoid the Shizzolator. I'm just sayin'. Interesting technical note: the entity &para; becomes &pimpa;. I have no idea why.
  • I never enjoyed the group pictures taken ad nauseam throughout my senior year of high school, but at least none of them ended like this one did. Takes ponding to a whole new level, really.
  • Speaking of group photos gone horribly wrong, this one also features a soaking. The difference is in the liquid vector, and of course there's a little more intention behind this one. I just hope that was the last picture in the series, instead of the first one. There's one guy toward the left side of the group who seems to be a little more aware than the rest. Or maybe he just had forewarning.
  • Badger aerobics were never so... odd. I got this from Jeff Veen, who was dead on when he said, "Every single person you know is about to send you a link to this." You may as well just get it over with now. How long can you stand to let it run? I timed out after roughly five minutes.
  • This little Flash movie is funny in certain ways, and yet not funny in too many others. Likely to be offensive to people who have an aversion to inconvenient truths.

Out of the Past

Monday, 15 September 2003

Yesterday, I finally cleaned out my old desk, which is now Kat's desk, so she could make use of the drawers. More than a decade's worth of mementoes, knick-knacks, toys, scraps, and other oddities were there to be sifted. It was like digging back through my own past, a sort of temporal archaeology. There were even pieces of other men's lives, like my father's old Zeiss-Ikon camera, still in perfect working order, lent to me years ago and never reclaimed. Since the desk itself originally belonged to a great-grandfather of mine, the sense of history surrounding the whole process was even heavier.

Not that it wasn't fun to dig back into the past! I threw out a whole bunch of stuff, of course, but all my old Animaniacs fast-food toys went to a good home, and I salvaged a number of wall signs whose origin is murky indeed. So too I rescued some college-era photos, a box of stationery, assorted shoulder patches, and old conference passes.

The top half of a loose-leaf spiral-bound notebook.  The page contains some simple notes about CSS, including the approximate number of properties and ways to associate CSS with HTML.

And then, in a medium-size blue notepad with the name "Lysa" inexplicably written across its front in thick black marker, I found several pages of handwritten notes regarding HTTP 1.1, HTML 3.2, PICS, and several other technologies. These were the notes I took sitting in the W3C track at WWW5—and there, in the middle of it all, were the notes I took as I encountered CSS for the very first time. I checked the agenda for that conference, which was still with the conference pass, and discovered that the date for the presentation "Cascading Style Sheets and HTML" was Wednesday, 8 May 1996. That was a good seven months before CSS1 was made a full Recommendation.

It's a distinctly odd feeling to hold this loosely bound collection of paper in my hand and think about all that sprang out of that one, simple little page. I was also amused to see that my notes, as minimal as they are, don't validate (can you spot the error?)

There were other things rescued from the desk cleaning yesterday, of course. There's a box of memories sitting in a corner of my office now... but this one notebook made the whole experience worthwhile. Just for a minute, as I flipped to that page, I remembered once more what it felt like to be completely blown away by a new technology and to know, beyond any doubt, that it was going to change my entire life for the better. At the time, I just thought it would make my Webmastering job both simpler and more interesting, but even then, it was enough. There was an incredible promise there, and I wanted more than anything to see where it led.

I still want that, even today. For all that's been learned, and all the things that have been done to make CSS the important piece of Web design it's become, there is still a vast amount of uncharted territory. I haven't added anything to css/edge in quite some time, but the statement made there is still true. We haven't figured out everything CSS can offer us, even today, and as support improves and the specification is enhanced, we'll be able to do still more.

I can hardly wait to see what's next!

Round and Round

Wednesday, 17 September 2003

The second Complex Spiral article is now on-line: "Rounding Tab Corners." The scheduling of this article was dictated by a promise I made at Seybold last week during the "CSS For Navigation" talk. I'd been planning to write it later on, but due to interest in the audience I decided to move up publication.

A few days back I badgered you, as you may recall; now, thanks to Jeffrey, I am here to bring you the joys of Histology-World and its Relentless Flash Splash Screen, which is the whole point of linking to it. By the end of the intro, as you're redirected to the site's home page, you may well ask yourself, as I did: "What the hell is histology?" The site is fairly adamant about not admitting to anything, so I looked it up. I think I can say with absolute confidence that if there's one subject that really cries out for a lengthy, overblown Flash intro, histology most definitely isn't it.

Signs and Importants

Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Spotted in and around Cedar Falls, Iowa:

  • The license plate 007 JFK. Because Iowa plates are formatted as three numbers followed by three letters, this is likely a random occurence instead of a vanity plate; typically vanity plates aren't allowed to be in the same format as the random plate series, for fear of platespace collisions. Maybe that was a poor choice of words.
  • Two minutes later, a license plate reading 152 EGO.
  • A sign attached to a traffic light stating "OBEY ONLY YOUR SIGNAL." The one the CIA transmits via my fillings, or just the one I get on the car radio? (The same signs were later spotted in the Chicago area.)
  • A gas station called "Kum 'n' Go." Seriously. It has great big signs at each station reading "PAY AT PUMP."
  • A whole bunch of people (as in a few dozen) standing around the downtown Cedar Falls area with nametags on their chests and clipboards in hand, looking at the buildings and putting pencil to paper. It turns out they were design students studying the downtown, which is award-winning, but it was still just a tad creepy. I couldn't help wondering if they were collecting information for TIPS or not.

Spotted in the Minneapolis International Airport:

  • Restaurants called "Miami Subs" and "Malibu Al's" adjacent to each other. Doubtless they were related, probably had the same owner, but it was still strange to see in Minnesota—particularly since elsewhere in the airport I passed a "Maui Tacos."
  • Pay-to-surf WiFi. I thought about ponying up the money just so I could use Airport in the airport, but my cheapitude got the better of me.

I also noticed a lot of attention being paid to Jeff Veen's article on the business benefits of standards, coincidentally published on the same day I delivered a talk on that very subject at the University of Northern Iowa. Jeff's piece is a great overview of why using standards can save you money, so if you haven't read it, you should; this is an important and often overlooked aspect of the whole standards movement, even though it's the thing that is most likely to drive more standards adoption. Tristan Nitot published an article with a very similar title on DevEdge back in February, and it might be worth revisiting. Of course, I believe so strongly in this that I founded a consultancy with a core goal of helping organizations figure out how to save money by better using standards in their Web sites, both internal and external.

Entity Errors

Thursday, 25 September 2003

Okay, XSLT folks, here's one for you. I had the following fragment in my journal recipes, with some whitespace to make everything more readable:

<xsl:element name="a" use-attribute-sets="plink">

The goal was to get output something like this:

<a ... >&para;</a>

Instead, what I got was this:

<a ... >&amp;para;</a>

So how do I reach my goal? And please don't tell me that I should just generate the character directly. It isn't the result I want, even though I'm doing it now as a stopgap measure. All I want to know is how to get what I want, if for no other reason than it will clarify more about XSLT, XML, and how they handle CDATA and entities. Several Google searches turned up nothing useful, but it may very well be that I wasn't using the right search terms.

Update: Curtis Pew pointed me to an XML.com article that led to the answer. It is:

<xsl:element name="a" use-attribute-sets="plink">
  <xsl:text disable-output-escaping="yes">&para;</xsl:text>

The article talks about defining a custom entity, which I tried but failed to do even I've done it successfully in the past for less ambitious purposes. xsltproc kept complaining that the namespace prefix xsl wasn't defined, even though everything else in the recipe didn't seem to have that problem. Moving the xsl:text into the recipe itself was the answer. Thanks to Curtis for the lead!

Dynamic Mental Static

Friday, 26 September 2003

An interesting idea: Pixy's fast no-preload rollovers, which I first heard about in a presentation at Seybold. It seems to me there's one potential drawback in this method, which is that it requires that your links be an exact size, or at least never be taller than a certain size. Since I spend a lot of time thinking about techniques that will work well even if the text is scaled up 300% or more, this "drawback" is probably more of a concern to me than to the rest of you. I don't mean to denigrate what Petr has done—it's a clever technique, and has a great deal to commend it, including reduced server load.

So, Eolas. Their claims of inventing plug-ins or applets or whatever put me in mind of a similar yet much dorkier situation surrounding the new movie Underworld, summarized rather well by the guys at Penny Arcade, as usual. Of course, Microsoft itself patented style sheets back in the late Nineties, so it's not like they've never been down that road themselves. I'll freely admit that Microsoft never did anything with said patent, and that puts them a step above Eolas in the trudge toward something resembling the faintest shadow of a moral high ground.

One of the reasons I've not gotten too worked up about all this is I still have this idiotic faith that reason will, eventually, prevail. The British Telecom "patent" on hyperlinks came to nothing, so far as I can tell. Whether this was due to a court throwing out the claim, or the collective will of the Web ignoring it outright, I'm not sure, but that's sort of the point: it was never a big deal. I keep thinking whatever process got us there will similarly operate in the Eolas case. I can't do much about it either way. Hey, maybe Eolas did patent the process of whatever it is they claim to have invented years after other people had already done it. Great. As soon as I secure a patent for my novel method of representing complex information using only the integers one and zero, I am so going to clean up in the courts. (Hat tip: Chris Lilley, ca. 1999.)

Of course, we also have ISO and OCLC poisoning the community well in different but still deeply distasteful ways, so maybe I should reconsider my faith in reason winning the day. Is it time to pull out the term "morons" yet? How about "scummy bastards?" Somebody let me know. Meanwhile, I generally find relief from goofy humor and mind games (of the good sort), so let's try some of that on for size, shall we?

Davezilla shares a semi-coherent translation on a snack-food packet (for more such goodness, please to enjoy the site of Engrish). I'm reminded of one of my favorite business cards of all time; it came from a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco's Chinatown. This card stated, in bold red capital letters near to bursting with pride, "WE SPECIALIZE TO MAKE ALL OCCASIONAL COOKIES." Sadly, this glorious bit of prose no longer graces the new cards they now hand out, which instead inform us that they are happy to offer novelty adult cookies. I sometimes wonder if that simply means that the fortunes come with the words "in bed" already printed at the end of the phrase.

The page I'm about to point to is best viewed with a fairly wide browser window, because it's peppered with some very wide images, but "The latest works" is very much worth visiting if you're fascinated by optical illusions. I'm always intrigued by examples of the brain percieving motion where there is none, and sometimes wonder if this capacity is in some weird way the neurological basis for conspiracism. Note that not all the examples may work for you; only about half to two-thirds did for me. But the ones that did... wow. I expect it's the closest I'll ever come to being a synaesthetic.

The Well Defended

Sunday, 28 September 2003

So it turns out OCLC might not be acting quite as poorly as first appeared, but instead acting in a 'rational' way given the parameters of an irrational system. In their press release (currently available only on their News and Events page, so no permanent URL here) on the subject of suing the Library Hotel, they state:

...trademark law imposes affirmative obligations on trademark owners to protect their trademarks, or risk losing all rights in those marks through legal abandonment. We felt that abandoning our rights in the Dewey trademarks was an unacceptable result for the OCLC membership. OCLC attempted to avoid litigation by repeatedly requesting attribution of our ownership of the Dewey marks from The Library Hotel. They have refused to do so. Unfortunately, that refusal left us with no other recourse than to file a legal complaint.

It is true that trademark law imposes such obligations. It's long been the case that failure to defend a trademark is taken to mean relinquishment of any rights to preserve said trademark. That's the irrational part, in my opinion, but I suppose if we somehow fixed that then a lot of copyright lawyers would be out of work, and we can't have that, now can we?

It may also be the case that a commonly used term can retain legal protection without having to sue everyone just to defend it. If I'm remembering correctly, LucasFilm helped establish that precedent at some point, when a judge ruled that a protected entity that had sufficiently permeated the mainstream (read: every major Star Wars character) didn't have to be continually defended in order to preserve its protected status. Or something along those lines. I don't know if the Dewey Decimal system qualifies as having permeated the mainstream, but it probably should. Then again, I occupied offices in university libraries for most of a decade, so my view might be skewed.

Of course, we don't know what kind of attribution OCLC requested, and how the Library Hotel refused OCLC's requests; either one or both of them could have been wholly unreasonable in their communications. Regardless, it makes no sense to me that OCLC should be compelled (in a legal sense) to file a lawsuit for an enormous amount of money in this situation. Does the Creative Commons offer a way out of this kind of situation? Could it, with some enhancements? It might be worth investigating.

It was also brought to my attention that the phrase "poisoning the community well" may have connotations of which I was previously unaware. According to Informal Logical Fallacies, I was very close to using the term for a type of logically fallacious argument that is "an attempt to preclude discussion by attacking the credibility of an opponent." I merely meant "acting in a way contrary to the community interest." No attacks on anyone's credibility were intended. I just hope the term isn't trademarked, because I'd really hate to end up in court over it.