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April 2004

F-F-F-F-Foolin'

Thursday, 1 April 2004 | 0831 US Eastern

April Fools Day has rolled 'round again, and already the confusion is thick in the air. Doug and Dave have swapped faces for a day (or perhaps longer), much as newspaper comic artists often do. The WaSP reports that the use of standards has hitherto unsuspected benefits, and Nature is reporting that stronger trade winds have changed the planet's rotation enough that today should be 2 April, not 1 April. Global warming is blamed.

Then there are the edge cases. Google's announcement of Gmail has now been reported by CNN, The New York Times, c|net, Wired, and more. It sure seems like an April Fools Day joke on Google's part, just like Pigeonrank, but heck, it could be real. Here's the thing: just because it got reported by major media outlets doesn't make it true.

I found this out back at the very beginning of 2000. You all probably remember the Y2K noise leading up to that point; there were reports that vendors had to certify pencils as Y2K compliant in order to sell them. It got pretty silly. In the middle of it all, as we went through month after month of analysis and certification of the systems at CWRU, one of the DMS gang said something like, "Are we sure that Aurora [the CWRU Web server] won't suddenly think it's January 1900?" The response was, "I sure hope not, because then it would insist on using a telegraph to connect to the Internet." We started riffing on that idea, kicking around what the page design would look like, what kind of news would be there, turn-of-the-century pictures that should show up, and so on.

So we did it. My co-worker Pam and I went down to the University Archives and found a number of photos that were of the right era and that were clearly allowed to be used (many of them had no known author and so would not pass into the public domain until 2020), and scanned them in. I created a wood-grain design for the home page, including a modified badge that proclaimed us the "Yahoo! Most Wired College 1899" site. We had two places on the page where the year was listed, and I had to deliberately introduce Y2K bugs in order to make them say "January 1, 1900" on that day. We set up a cron job to roll the old-timey graphics into place at the stroke of midnight on 1 January 2000, and went off to party.

By eight o'clock on the morning of the first, we had several dozen e-mails in the server contact inbox. They were about evenly divided into people congratulating us on having a sense of humor, and people insulting us for being so stupid as to have suffered a visible Y2K bug on our public Web server. (I'd like to think that at least some of those were tongue-in-cheek.) By the end of the day, Wired had reported it as a real Y2K bug, even quoting our message apologizing that the server "believes that it is January of 1900," and the next day the story was printed more or less verbatim in The Washington Post. We ended up issuing a press release about it, and the joke design, which was intended to stay in place for a couple of weeks, lasted 33 hours before the administration said, "Yeah, uh-huh, very funny. Get rid of it."

As I write this entry, I have no idea if Gmail is an April Fools joke or not. (Okay, that's not true. I have some idea that it's a joke, but I'm not certain.) In a way, it's kind of irrelevant. The whole situation has simply reminded me that those in the news media can be as easily duped as the rest of us, and that's something worth remembering in the current political climate.

No Foolin'

Friday, 2 April 2004

Gmail appears to be for real, so my idea that it was a joke was flat wrong. Of course, some would say "flat wrong" has been a recurring theme of mine for the last few days. (Or longer.)

A Charitable Request

Saturday, 3 April 2004

Two of our greatest friends in the Cleveland area (and in our lives in general) are the oddly-named Gini and Ferrett. They've been with us through every triumph and tragedy of the last year; they made the trip to Mansfield for Mom's memorial service, and also happened to be the first to lay eyes on Carolyn the night she came home. We've come to know that they'll be there for us when we need them, and have tried to be the same for them.

Gini's little sister could use a big heap of help. She's in danger of dying from unknown causes, and her family is in danger of losing their home while the insurance company plays dice with her life. Even if you aren't able or inclined to donate money to help somebody you've never met, your thoughts and prayers will be very much appreciated.

I would say that I can't imagine what Gini is going through right now, except that's not really true. I know what it's like to have a younger sibling who is in danger of dying from a disease that nobody is sure can be cured, to have a family member lying in the hospital while phone calls are made, while worried voices say things like "we don't know if she'll make it" and "the next few days will tell the tale." I know what it's like to get a phone call that's traveled half the continent, distant and blurred, to tell me that someone I love is terribly ill. It's a horrible, desolate feeling.

If you can help, please do. Kat and I both thank you.

It's On Every Channel!

Friday, 9 April 2004

I got word yesterday that More Eric Meyer on CSS has already come back from the printers, so it ought to be available within a week or so. Woo hoo! I've put up a companion site with the table of contents; the project files will be online soon. And yes—that really is the cover.

Speaking of books, the second edition of Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide is now available pretty much everywhere. Over at Amazon, its sales rank has been hovering around 200 for a couple of weeks now, so that's pretty cool. I've heard from a few readers who already have their copies, and some errata reports have started to come in. Joy! It's always frustrating to finish a book, because I know that the errors that got missed will immediately be spotted by all the readers. No matter how hard we tried, some errors are going to slip through. The perfectionist in me quails at that knowledge.

But then, releasing a new book does afford me the chance to be amused by reader reviews. Here's one that had me chuckling:

i understand the basics of css already, i just needed something to outline the syntax and concepts in css2 and then just function as a reference. this book did neither, and i've found it to be a complete waste.

Yeah, I guess you probably would. Say it with me, sparky: "Definitive Guide." Not "Reference." It's not an outline, and wasn't when the first edition came out. If you need a reference with a quick outline, you could always try the CSS2.0 Programmer's Reference, which has, of all things, an outline of the syntax and concepts of CSS2 and provides a full property reference. Amazing.

I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you can get a little guidance from its title.

Anyone who reads Italian might be interested in an interview with me conducted by Marco Trevisan. For those who don't do as the Romans do, the English version should be available in the near future.

Update: Gini's sister is doing better, although she was evicted from the hospital even though still suffering a lot of pain. Ferrett tells me that it looks like some of meyerweb's readers did contribute to the support fund, and again, Kat and I both thank you for reaching out.

Guru By Design?

Sunday, 11 April 2004 | 2207 US Eastern

You've probably already seen the Gurus vs. Bloggers matchup over at Design By Fire; I quite enjoyed it, and not just because it's funny. I found it to be gratifying because I took a close look at the designs, and I think there's very little doubt about it. meyerweb's design just screams "guru," don't you think? (David Robarts does.) I'm kind of hoping that I get into a future round of the matchup, so I can by completely demolished by the likes of Dave Shea or Doug Bowman.

Of course, I can always counter with cute pictures of Carolyn. A closeup of Carolyn lying on the floor and look out of the corners of her eyes toward the camera, with her left hand near her chin and the index finger extended into the corner of her mouth. She's suffering through another cold, but that doesn't seem to prevent her from being just too adorable for words. Now, I know it isn't the right finger, but I still can't help thinking, "One billion dollars!"

For some reason, Kat and I like the show $40 A Day, where host Rachael Ray visits a different city each week and goes through a full day without spending more than $40 on all her meals. One of this past weekend's episodes had her visiting Cleveland, calling it "one of the most underrated cities in America." Kat and I found it fascinating to watch, getting an outsider's perspective on the city. We don't have the time or space for me to enumerate everything great about this city. Nonetheless, it was still interesting to hear words of praise from a visitor, even one hosting a show that does what are basically puff pieces about the visited cities.

It didn't hurt that two of the three restaurants she visited were the always-excellent Tommy's (where the waiter shown on-camera is one of those guys who's been there forever) and Trattoria Roman Gardens down in Little Italy, not to mention spent some time at the West Side Market. I thought the show could have done with a few less "_____ ROCKS!" jokes—okay, we get it, the only song the rest of the country associates with us is "Cleveland Rocks." Thank you. It's time to move on.

Of course, I suppose I might be tired of the whole "rocks" thing because it's a lot like having people always tell you the sky is blue. After a while, it gets to be a little bit wearying to keep being repetitively told something you already know.

Wow, Is My Book Red!

Monday, 12 April 2004 | 2203 US Eastern

I got my first paper copy of More Eric Meyer on CSS this morning, so I had to accelerate my update process for the companion site; the project files are now online. Apparently on many machines, the cover and site colors are a startling dark pink, which isn't the intent. On my machine, the color is a deep red, as is the actual book. Imagine a fire engine made out of tomato soup—that's pretty much the shade of red.

Either way, it's still fairly startling.

It's kind of a weird feeling to have two books come out at almost the same time. CSS:TDG, Second Edition, arrived just two weeks ago. Now here's MEMOC, forming something of a weird acronym duet. So now I have this small stack of two new books. The covers are still shiny and creaseless. They have that hot-off-the-presses crispness. I almost hate to open them. I'm always afraid I'll break their spines, and then I won't be able to move them any more.

Conspiracy Theory

Tuesday, 13 April 2004 | 1143 US Eastern

Oh, God, now they're going to come for me; this may be the last communication I ever send. But it will have been worth it, if only to find the real truth, whatever that turns out to be.

Damn Ferrett, anyway. He's the one who blew my cover.

This is my story. I just hope it can serve as a guide, and a warning, to those who may follow me.

Some of you may be too young to remember the name Bill Watterson, but he's the man who created Calvin & Hobbes. Bill is one of the Cleveland area's most famous residents, but he's also one of its most elusive. As an article published in the Cleveland Scene details, he not only withdrew from the comic pages in 1995, but also from public life shortly thereafter. He resides in or around Chagrin Falls, which coincidentally was the subject of a song by The Tragically Hip, and not so coincidentally is the small town through which a giant Calvin is rampaging on the back cover of the first Calvin & Hobbes collection. The striped-awning shop in his hand is the Popcorn Shop, a great little small-town store that sits right next to the falls themselves.

It is something of a coincidence that it was next to the actual falls, on a platform right next to (and somewhat below) the Popcorn Shop, where I officially proposed to Kat on her 29th birthday. That has little to do with the story, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

Back to my tale—I just hope I can finish before it's too late.

A while back, our local paper started carrying a comic called Frazz by Jef Mallett. Immediately, I was struck by how much the illustration style looked like Bill Watterson's. The main character (Frazz) looks an awful lot like a Calvin in his early twenties. He works as the janitor in an elementary school, and is closer to the students than most of the staff, as you'd expect from an older Calvin. Frazz is a musician in his off hours, and there have been whole strips devoted to Frazz singing some lyrically complex song, just like the lengthy poems found in Calvin strips and treasuries. He's also an avid biker, as is his girlfriend, Miss Plainwell, who is a very Susie Derkins type of girl. Frazz likes to play practical jokes on people, often jokes that involve a truly surreal sense of humor. One of the students with whom Frazz spends a lot of time is Caulfield. Catcher in the Rye reference? Yes. It isn't the only one. The pacing, style of humor—it all has a very Wattersonian feel to it.

At some point, it was revealed that "Frazz" is a derivative of the character's last name, when he was addressed as "Mr. Frazier." That's when I started to get really suspicious. So far as I'm aware, Calvin's last name was never given in the strip. So it was entirely possible that we were reading about the exploits of one Calvin Frazier. When a later strip revealed his first name to be Edwin, I wondered if it was just to throw us off the track. Or, perhaps, his real name is Calvin Edwin Frazier, and for some reason he'd started going by the middle name. (Could he be in hiding from fans?)

Then came The Sign. The moment when I couldn't rationalize away my suspicions any more.

In a Sunday strip, Frazz is talking with one of the girls at the school. She mentions that she plans to be famous one day, and when Frazz points out that she doesn't even like to be called on in class, she says she wants to be famous, not well-known; that she wants to be well-known for her work but not be a public figure. "Like J.D. Salinger or Bill Watterson," says Frazz. "Never heard of them," she responds, for the punchline.

At that, I threw down the paper, turned to Kat, and said, "All right, now he's just toying with us."

There is one major objection that gets raised: there is Frazz merchandise available through the uComics site. "Ah HA!" you cry, "that can't be Watterson. He was famously antithetical to merchandising of any kind whatsover." That's true, and look where it got him: as the Scene article points out, the most common sightings of Calvin these days are those completely unauthorized stickers of him urinating on logos, usually Ford but sometimes others; race car drivers come in for this treatment a lot, too. (And take a look at the illustrations in that article. One is the naughty sticker, two are Watterson drawings, and two are credited to "Jef Mallett.")

My theory is that this time around, Watterson is trying limited merchandising as an experiment. No stuffed Frazz dolls, of course, but some mouse pads and coffee mugs on which you can emblazon your favorite strip. Would a syndicate go along with this? Oh, God yes. If I were running a comic syndicate and Bill Watterson came to me with a proposal to pull a Richard Bachman, I'd not only fall to the ground and kiss his feet, I'd hire an actor to play the pseudonymic persona full time and have all the mailed strips routed through that actor's place of residence, just to erase as many tracks as possible.

It's possible that I'm reading patterns into the noise, I admit. I certainly may be projecting my longing for a return to the early days of Calvin & Hobbes (which I liked much better than the last couple of years) onto the situation, hoping for the return of a personal hero, even if in disguise. This whole Mallett/Watterson thing may well be my own personal Lot 49. If there really is a Jef Mallett, it's my hope that he'd be flattered by my theory, not insulted.

But if you never hear from me again, it's because I've said too much and the syndicate had me silenced, stuffed into a trio of tiny boxes and buried in the back pages of a newspaper.

15 Petals

Wednesday, 14 April 2004 | 1606 US Eastern

One of the great privileges of writing More Eric Meyer on CSS was having two wonderful technical reviewers: Porter Glendinning and Dave Shea. Even better was the chance to have Dave create a CSS Zen Garden design, give it to me as a graphic comp, and creating the CSS needed to make it work. I describe that process in detail in Project 10 of the book, but as a preview, the design is now available as—and here I take a deep breath to avoid giggling like a celebrity-struck schoolgirl—the one hundredth official Zen Garden design. The photographs used in the design were all taken by me at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, but the design itself is all Dave, baby. Interestingly, I never told Dave where I'd taken the pictures, so the faint thematic echoes of 15 Petals and the Garden's web site are coincidental.

I will say here and now that design #99, Wiggles the Wonderworm, is an utterly fantastic and delightful concept. If I could, I'd switch his design with mine, so he could have the #100 slot. Wiggles rocks my world.

As you can tell, the syndicate hasn't yet silenced me. In fact, I got a message from an operative deep inside their organization who says that his boss has met both Mallett and Watterson. Obviously his boss is a part of the conspiracy. I've let him know that he needs to be extra careful. Trust no one! I mean, look at today's strip. How much more C&H does it get? Until next time, courage.

All Taxed Up

Thursday, 15 April 2004 | 2348 US Eastern

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.

Little Bundles

Friday, 16 April 2004 | 1524 US Eastern

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!

One Year Later

Sunday, 18 April 2004 | 2323 US Eastern

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.

Cold Comfort

Wednesday, 21 April 2004 | 1224 US Eastern

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.

Echorati

Thursday, 22 April 2004 | 0910 US Eastern

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.

Mission: Insignificant

Friday, 23 April 2004 | 2011 US Eastern

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.

Homecoming

Wednesday, 28 April 2004 | 2349 US Eastern

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 I 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.

Extras