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Archive: April 2004

Linkapalooza!

Because it’s Friday and my brain is fried.  It won’t be as over the top as one of Owen’s magnum opii, but still, it should be a spot of fun.

  • Like you haven’t seen it already, but hey: Dave Shea‘s A Roadmap to Standards.  It’s definitely worth reading, and I’m not just saying that because somewhere near the end he recommends more than half my book catalog.
  • Seeing itself might get a massive upgrade in the near future thanks to laser light and mirrors.  Hmmm… how much fun would it be to have a complete CSS reference overlaying the world?  Yeah—not very.
  • It occurs to me that Simon St. Laurent might be interested in the possibilites that a full-color personal display might bring filtering the world, considering the thoughts he had with regard to this DVD player.
  • You could, of course, view DVD alterations as a way of correcting or filtering a piece of work to conform to your worldview.  Sometimes, as the British Medical Journal points out, corrections can be a good thing.
  • And I wonder what Jack Valenti thinks of a DVD player that alters copyrighted material?
  • Ro collected 300 images from around the Web and they’re… well… familiar.  It’s almost an art piece.  I like the use of negative letter-spacing for the title.
  • A note for OS X users: Panic, creators of the inestimable Transmit, have released Stattoo.  Looks veeeery interesting, although it’s so rare for me to have any appreciable portion of my desktop visible that I’m not sure how much use I’d get out of it.
  • Now here’s a tool we all can use: a list of the changeover points from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time all over the world.  And you can even find the change points for the last five years.  Woohoo!
  • Elena, the radioactive Russian rider, had to remove her photojournal because a few million too many people went to check it out.  Thankfully, there are a number of mirrors available.
  • Of course, if you wanted to get close to the high-Geiger action yourself, you could join a Chernobyl tour.  I didn’t see any mention of oversized earthworms or Matthew Broderick, though.
  • Tom proposes a geographical metaphor to measure your memetic cluefulness.  I put myself somewhere near Bingen, mostly because I like the sound of the word “Bingen.”
  • You may as well join the memtic herd, think of badgers, and then visit Kenya.  How long will you be able to stay?

Homecoming

After delivering the keynote and a technical breakout session at the 5th Annual Webmaster Forum (and I’ll be posting those files over at Complex Spiral‘s web site by week’s end), I realized that I had planned poorly.  When I arranged to drive to the UIUC campus for the conference, I did some research and discovered that it would be about a seven hour drive.  Because of that length, and not knowing exactly how the conference schedule would work out, I decided to get there Monday evening and leave Wednesday morning.  Now here it was, the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday, the conference was over, and I had nothing else planned.

So I checked out and started driving.  I left the UIUC campus right around 5:00pm Central Daylight Time.  As I departed, I knew that as I crossed back into the Eastern time zone, I would lose an hour, so I wouldn’t arrive home until 1:00am local time.  Most of the drive would be done in darkness, which I dislike, and I would have to fight road fatigue every mile.

It was worth it.

I passed through Indianapolis as the sun was setting, almost getting lost at the junctions of Interstates 74 and 465, mentally saying “hello!” to the gang at New Riders as I curved past the downtown and merged onto Interstate 70.  Three hours later, I edged around Columbus, matching speeds with an Animal Control Unit van on the theory that if he was doing 87 miles per hour on the outerbelt of a major city, it must be okay for me to do it, too.  Around 11:40pm, I refueled at the BP station just off the SR 97 exit (Lexington / Belleville), the exit closest to my home town.  As a high school student, I used to gas up at the same station on my way to and from work.  I sent another mental “hello!” to my sister, who still lives in the area, and my father, who the next day would be moving away from the area for the rest of his life.

As I got back onto Interstate 71, headed north, I cast my thoughts ahead to my arrival home, now only ninety minutes or so away.  I pictured dropping my things in the dining room, going up the stairs in the dark, and walking slowly and quietly into Carolyn’s room.  For a moment, I imagined looking over the edge of her crib just as she opened her eyes, gave me a big welcoming daddy smile, stretched, and then shut her eyes again to drift back into sleep.  I could see her face and her smile in my mind just as clearly as I could see the road in my headlights.

It was, after all, what had compelled me to get into my car, even knowing the length of the drive before me, late that afternoon.  It wasn’t that I was bored; I could have found any number of things to do in a college town.  I was in my car, passing within a few miles of my family without stopping, because I missed my wife and child more than I could stand.  I had chosen a lengthy, boring, late night drive over another night away from them.

It was worth it.

When I did finally arrive home, two minutes shy of 1:00am, everything went just as I had imagined it up until I snuck into Carolyn’s room.  She didn’t wake up, as I’d known she would not, even when I leaned into the crib to kiss her lightly on the forehead and whisper good night to her.  I knew that if I woke her she would smile at me, but that was never even an option.  So there was no welcoming smile, but that was all right.

For another minute or so, I just stood and watched our daughter sleep, listened to her breathe.  The pure innocence and beauty of a sleeping baby cannot be put into words, no matter how hard pop stars and rock stars and poets may try.  But I understand why they do.

It was worth it, I told her without words, looking down at her face, the same sleeping face I’d imagined in every detail.  It’s all worth it.

Mission: Insignificant

Upon arriving at NOTACON, I discovered two things in quick succession: they didn’t have Internet access out of the conference network when I arrived, and I had neglected to grab screenshots of the Zen Garden designs I wanted to talk about.  This was intolerable—those designs needed to be seen in order to make the point.  My own stupidity had caused the problem, but hopefully my savvy could fix it.

Kat had come downtown with me to go to lunch, and over dim sum I planned out my strategy.  All I needed was three minutes on an open network.  And fortunately for me, I knew where to find one: the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.  The reading garden there is covered with an open wifi network.

With lunch over, we headed back into downtown.  As we crossed East 9th Street, I had Kat slow down and pull over to the curb as I pulled out my laptop.  “We can’t stop here,” said Kat, pointing to the street signs.  I looked out my window and realized we were in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, not the Library; I’d told her to slow down a block too early.  Odds were that if we stopped here for any length of time, we’d be the focus of some unwanted attention.  Kat slipped forward a block as I fired up MacStumbler.  Faint network signals flickered across my display panel as we drew close to the garden, and then there it was: CLEVNET.

“We can’t stop here either,” said Kat, but I urged her to do so anyway.  As we came to a halt several yards past the garden, CLEVNET disappeared from the monitor.

“Back up,” I said, intently watching the display and catching a glimpse of Kat’s disbelieving look out of the corner of my eye.  We rolled back slowly, stealthily, but nothing was coming through, and the garden was locked up for the season.  We were getting too close to a bus stop, teeming with people, and I still wasn’t getting any signal.  We were going to have to try another approach.  We circled around the block, coming at the installation from the rear.  Kat looped past a van and pulled into a service entrance right next the garden.  Bingo!  CLEVNET was back.  “Good!” I barked.  “I’ve got the signal.”

“Hurry up,” Kat muttered as I fired off a prepared bookmark group and started grabbing screenshots.  One minute down; I had about a third of the screenshots I needed, but the rest of the pages were still loading.  My fingers drummed impatiently on the keyboard housing.  The next page finished loading: I took the shot and closed the window.  Another three pages loaded at once, and I got them as well.  Two minutes, and I was half done.  I glanced around to see if anyone had noticed us.

Suddenly, we caught a break and the rest of the pages all finished loading within a few seconds of each other.  I grabbed each in turn, my fingers flashing back and forth between the trackpad and the keyboard, capturing and closing windows as fast as possible.  Five left… almost there… three.. two… stay on target…

“Okay, let’s go!” I said triumphantly, flipping the laptop shut.  “Got ‘em all.”

Kat eased us away from the curb, moving off at a relaxed pace so as not to draw any attention.  As we turned toward the north, we shared a glance and a quiet laugh.  We’d gotten in, gotten the data, and gotten out in the space of less than five minutes.  Perfect.  Just the way I’d planned it.

When I was unable to get the laptop onto the conference network for my presentation on High-Powered Style, every pulse-pounding minute of the heist paid off tenfold.

Echorati

I’ve remembered what it is I wanted to talk about, thanks to Phil Ringnalda, whose last name I’ve finally learned to spell correctly.  Phil just posted that:

Apparently the in thing to do with your blog this month is to add links to each post’s Technorati cosmos, down in the place where you would have a comments link if you had comments.

I first spotted mention of this over at Tantek’s weblog, and since meyerweb doesn’t (yet) support comments or [track|ping]backs, I was initially intrigued.  About six seconds later, I had lost most of my interest.  There were two primary reasons why.

  1. Unlike comments and trackbacks, a “comment cosmos” link (hereafter referred to as “echorati”) offers no information about how many comments will be returned, assuming any at all.  True, we can probably assume that any given Boing Boing post will have at least a few links back to it, and that the popular ones will have dozens or even hundreds.  99.9% of weblogs will have no links to 99.9% of their individual posts… but there’s still no way to know without clicking on the echorati link and hitting Technorati’s servers, which are already kind of flaky.

    (Yes, the service is free, but it also returns a lot of incorrect data, PHP configuration error messages, and so on—when it responds at all.  Echorati links are just going to increase those problems.  This isn’t criticism of the “Technorati sucks” variety; I really like Technorati.  It’s more criticism of that service’s present stability, which I suspect they would agree with me is not as robust as we’d all like.)

    One way to solve this dilemma, as others have suggested, is to have a script that queries Technorati to get the number of echorati links, so you can put right on your site how many there are—again, assuming there are any.  But that leads us to my next objection…

  2. Technorati cosmos data expires.  In other words, if a link to something is on a page that hasn’t been updated in a while, that link falls out of the cosmos.  So however many links comprise an echorati cosmos in, say, the first week after a post is published, that count will fall over time to zero.  Let’s say that a year from now, somebody stumbles across the Boing Boing post about using Technorati to create an echorati cosmos.  They click on that post’s echorati link and Technorati returns “Ouch! 0 links from 0 sources.”  The impression is that nobody ever commented on the post, even though we know that’s not true (as of this writing, there were 29 links to said post).

    So any mechanism that queried Technorati for the number of links in an echorati cosmos would have to keep doing it, and the numbers would slowly drop over time until they finally hit zero.  I don’t know what the expiration interval is at Technorati, but it can’t be more than a few months.  If they start getting slammed by echorati queries, they might have to reduce the interval.

The perhaps obvious solution is to modify your echorati mechanism to ask for the links, harvest them from Technorati, and register them locally as you would a trackback.  That works when Technorati can identify a post, but I’ve noticed that doesn’t happen with regularity.  That means you’d just be harvesting their main URLs, not the URL of their comment on your specific post.  I’ll take a recent ‘popular’ meyerweb example: my post “Conspiracy Theory.”  Of the first ten “freshest” results returned this morning for that post’s echorati, three lacked a “Read Full Post” link.  Technorati also returned 20 results and claimed the post had 12 links from 12 sources.  I then hit the “rank by authority” filter and got 26 links from 26 sources—what was that about service stability?—and five of the top ten had no “Read Full Post” link.

I suppose that echorati harvesting could be an interesting minor addition to the linking toolbox, but I don’t see it replacing trackbacking and comments any time soon.  The capability will have to be built into popular blogging packages to gain any sort of currency, and even then I suspect it will be presented as a part of trackbacking.  Maybe they’ll be called “linkbacks.”

On a related topic, check out Ping-o-Matic.  It’s already replaced the bookmark group I had set up to do my own pinging.  Okay, so it replaced a bookmark group with a single bookmark.  It’s still progress, right?

I’m feeling much better, thanks.  It’s a good thing, too, because I have to give two presentations tomorrow at NOTACON, and two more (one of them the conference keynote) on Tuesday at the 5th Annual Webmaster Forum.

Cold Comfort

c|net seems to have injected a note of disbelief into its headline “AOL plans to revitalize Netscape?” and I suppose they could be forgiven if that was intentional.  My read on the situation is that AOL is going to put their efforts into the portal; the fact that the positions are in Columbus, Ohio, the site of their Compuserve division, was my primary tip-off.  Apparently there will be a new version of the Netscape browser this summer, based on Mozilla 1.7, but that to me bespeaks a piggyback strategy.  They’ll employ enough coders to wrap the Netscape/AOL chrome around Mozilla, and call it macaroni.  Not that this is a bad approach.  I just expect that it means Netscape isn’t about to re-enter the browser development space, nor will they be asking me if I’d like my old job back.  I’d love to be wrong, but I get the sense that they’re going to chase eyeballs.

Enough about my former employer; let’s have me talk for a bit.  I did just that with Russ Weakley of Maxdesign and the Web Standards Group, and the result is now available for your enjoyment, or for your frustration if you’re of certain persuasions.  Font-size zealots of all kinds, I’m looking in your direction.

There was more stuff I was going to talk about, but a severe cold/stomach bug/allergy condition has my brain operating at about one-fifth its usual speed.  Maybe it’ll come back to me tomorrow.  The only reason I’m even typing this entry is that I accidentally took a daytime medication instead of the nighttime equivalent, so now instead of sleeping off the illness I’m propped up in bed snuffling my way through it.  Bleah.

One Year Later

It was a year ago last night that my father called me just before midnight to tell me that my mother was dead.  The first thing I did after hanging up the phone was to fire off a prepared series of e-mails to people who would be directly affected by this—my editor at O’Reilly, the guy covering my radio show for me, and so on.  My second act was swapping the home page of meyerweb for a memorial page I’d created earlier in the week.  At the time, it contained her picture and the first five lines; I added the actual date of death just before putting the page online.  I’d intended to revisit the page to write something meaningful and then decide whether or not I’d show it to Mom.  There just wasn’t time.

We had seen her a mere six days before, on the day the doctor told her that the chemotherapy would kill her more quickly than the cancer, although I sometimes wonder if that was really true, and that there would be no more.  That whatever time she had left was between her and the cancer.  On that Friday, she was still strong and in good spirits.  She walked around our back yard, looking at the gardens and giving Kat some advice.  We all went to lunch at a local diner, and then they hit the road for Mansfield.  It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and Mom was still herself.  It was the last time Kat and I ever saw her.

After she died, I had the opportunity to see her body at the funeral home before it was cremated.  I declined.  I wanted and needed my final image of her to be vital and alive, and I know beyond any doubt that’s what she would have wanted.

Even now, it’s still hard to grasp that in the span of six days, she went from that strong and cheerful woman to being at death’s door, and just a few hours later passed through it.  All of her energy had been put into fighting the cancer while there was still some chance of beating it.  Once the fight was truly hopeless, she relaxed—and died.

We sometimes wonder if she went so quickly in order to spare us the sight of her wasted, ravaged body and having to see her in a drug-dulled state.  I spoke to her by phone the afternoon before she died, just hours after the hospice nurse had told us that she likely had no more than a week or two to live.  She was confused and had little short-term memory, and had to ask three times with whom she was talking.  But she always knew who I was when I told her.  She’d simply forgotten the last few minutes.  We both said “I love you,” and that was that.

The phone still in my hand, standing in the living room and looking out into the back yard where she’d walked and smiled less than a week before, I wept.  She had always feared losing her mind, and it was starting to happen, I thought.  A part of me hoped she’d be released from her suffering, even as another part hoped she’d live for a few more weeks so I’d have several chances to see her, to talk with her, and to hug her a few last times.

Only one part of me got its wish.  She was dead six hours later.

The next time I cried, it was late December.  I was holding Carolyn in my arms and desperately, hopelessly wishing that Mom could have somehow met her granddaughter.

Little Bundles

Oh, sure, Kat and I have a baby and suddenly everybody wants to get in on the act.  I mean, honestly, how unoriginal can you get?

Okay, all kidding aside: our deepest and most joyful congratulations to the Zeldmans and their soon-to-be-larger family.  I can personally attest that, as many people told me, becoming parents is one of the hardest and most amazing things they will ever experience.

Carolyn happily jumps about in her 'bouncy seat', a chair suspended from a door frame and incorporating a spring so that she can bounce up and down even though she hasn't the coordination to stand yet.

Carolyn’s in the range of four and a half months old now, and appears to be developing very nicely.  She discovered her hands a couple of weeks back, and is now busily trying to sample the taste of every object she encounters.  She’s almost to the point of rolling over; she can get onto her side for a minute, and then she rolls back onto her back.  She’s also a stander: she’ll stand upright for ten or fifteen minutes, if someone’s willing to hold her steady for that long.  We put up the “bouncy seat” a couple of months early, and she absolutely loves it.  She doesn’t even sit upright yet.  The pediatrician was actually kind of impressed by the strength and head control she has at her age.

Of course, we know of a baby two weeks older than her who already has two teeth, and another that’s rolling over constantly and getting close to sitting up on his own.  So it’s not as though we have a super-baby (though she is, obviously, a super baby).  She’s just ahead of the curve in some respects, and no doubt behind in others, the same as every other baby.

All I know is, whenever she looks at me with her gray-blue eyes and she breaks into an enormous smile, I can’t help but think she’s the most perfect baby in the history of the universe… the same as any other parent.

Congratulations again to Jeff and Carrie!

All Taxed Up

On this, the day on which citizens of the United States owe their income taxes, it’s worth reflecting on the effects of tax-code changes over the past few years.  After all, President Bush claims that those changes are responsible for an economic recovery, while Senator John Kerry insists the economic situation is miserable and that the tax situation is making things worse.  The truth, as ever, appears to lie between those views.  And, of course, both views can be supported by citing specific facts while not giving attention to others.

What it comes down to, in effect, is that things have changed very little; tax cuts and the economic slump have basically balanced each other out, leading to a very minor drop in median household income.  There was one interesting statement:

At least part of the reason for the decline in median income at the same time that average income rose is that the wealthy have seen more gains from both the tax cuts and the overall economic climate, according to economists.

It left me wondering exactly what definition of “wealthy” is being used in this context.  I also found this passage to be of interest:

“The debate about tax cuts shouldn’t be whether they helped or not — they clearly helped taxpayers,” said Vitner. “The debate should be whether we can afford them and whether they can lead to a sustained recovery in economy.”

That’s long been my concern.  I’d like to see an interactive budget-and-tax simulator, something that would let you adjust spending levels and find out how much tax revenue would be required to cover your budget.  Oh, look, there is!  Well, not exactly, but hey, it’s a start.

I’d actually like to see a simulation that doesn’t let you run a deficit—one where tax receipts must match expenditures.  That would deliver a much better idea of what taxes should be in order to support the budget.  It would be even better if you could plug in what you owed this year and see what you would actually owe if the government couldn’t rack up huge debts.  Or, conversely, just how much would have to be cut in order to keep your taxes from increasing.  Let’s put it this way: if the budget deficit were divided equally in classic flat-tax fashion, every man, woman, and child in the country would owe somewhere around $1,250.  I got that by dividing $350 billion by 280 million.  So my household would—one might even say should—owe an extra $3,750 this year.

For some reason, instead of crowing that I got away with something, I find myself concerned about the long-term consequences implied by those figures.  I’m trying to imagine how many years of budgetary surplus would be required just to fill in the hole we’re digging, and I don’t like the answer.

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