Posts from 2005

Post WE05: Manly Jazz

Published 12 years, 8 months ago

On the Saturday after WE05 concluded, I took the ferry over to Manly Beach with Doug, Kelly, and Erik.  It just so happened that the Manly International Jazz Festival was being held that weekend, and with weather so beautiful and clear, it was impossible to resist heading over.  Once we got there, I kept snickering to myself at all the localized signs; I simply could not resist repeating them in a deep, booming voice: “MANLY T-Shirts!  MANLY Boatshed!  MANLY Frozen Custard!  MANLY Ocean Foods!  C’mon, try some!  It’s MANLY!”

As a result, I got curious about the origin of the name, so I asked a couple of locals.  According to them, the beach got its name because the aborigines who lived there were very manly, and enough so that the invaders gave the cove that name.  This, to me, sounded like the kind of jokey answer you give foreigners to find out how gullible they are, but if that’s the case, then it’s a joke they tell to each other as well.

The first act we caught was a Dixieland quartet that was filling time between stage acts.  I thought they were pretty good, especially considering they were all playing to a single microphone.  Then we saw Peter Ind from the UK, as well as some of his supporting players, The Ozboppers.  At least two of which were from America, but never mind that now.  Mr. Ind was really very good, but I took one look at him, turned to Kelly, and said, “Ladies and gentlemen—Gandalf on the bass.”

Seriously, that’s what it looked like.  I guess he would need a new gig after Sauron’s defeat.

Wandering onward, we stumbled across a small side-street stage where this absolutely incredible singer was belting out some jazz standards.  I was transfixed.  I mean, not only did she have this whole “hot librarian” look going, but her voice was simply unbelievable.  I can’t even properly characterize it, but my best attempt is the smoky expressiveness of Billie Holiday combined with the range of Ella Fitzgerald and the nimbleness of Anita O’Day.

It turned out we were listening to Elana Stone, who continued to transfix me and everyone around her through a few more numbers.  Afterward, I bought a CD (“In The Garden of Wild Things”, which she signed for me) and tried not to be too much of a gushing fanboy.  If Ms. Stone doesn’t become a major star, it will be a crime, although a part of me thinks that she was born several decades too late.  Had she been singing in the 1930s and 1940s, she would have been a sensation; her name would be up with those I mentioned previously.  I have this fear that her voice won’t have as big an audience as it should in the 21st Century.  At the same time, I very much hope that fear is misplaced.

The ferry ride back to Sydney was illuminated by a perfect (if cloudless) sunset and a dusky gloaming sky behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and marred by a terribly assembled Elvis impersonator and his even scruffier companion singing a number of Western ballads rather gratingly off-key, and twice nearly brained me with their guitar’s tuning pegs.  Even without the contrast with Ms. Stone, they would have been bad; so soon after hearing her, they were just short of abominable.  I’d have said something, except they appeared to be rather soused, and I try not to tangle with pickled Elvis impersonators unless there’s life and limb at stake.  It’s just one of my little guidelines in life.

Fortunately, the remainder of the evening was redeemed by a fine dinner overlooking Darling Harbour with assorted speakers and conference staff, great conversation about web design work and Australia going late into the night, and a leisurely walk back to the hotel with a friend.

Overall, a lovely day.

Web Essentials 05 Wrap-up

Published 12 years, 8 months ago

So, having been back from Australia for most of a month and having posted about other stuff in the meantime, what would make more sense than writing up some thoughts on the trip?  I mean, other than giving an ocelot a bath in a tub full of kippers?

Okay, don’t go there.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on Web Essentials 05 itself.  With all due respect and apologies to the other conference organizers in my life, the WE05 attendees were flat-out amazing.  I have not encountered a group of conference attendees as enthusiastic and focused in many years.  I have hopes that the folks who come to An Event Apart will rival them, but honestly, the bar’s been set pretty high.  I might be tempted to say that the lack of wifi access in the conference hall helped them stay focused, but the focus remained during breaks, when wifi was (mostly) available.  They were there to learn from the speakers and from each other, and the collective determination to get as much as possible out of the whole experience bordered on fanatic.  It was thoroughly awesome.

Just in case you hadn’t heard (ha!), the main-hall presentations were recorded and made available as podcasts.  You can go to the WE05 podcasts page and grab whichever ones strike your fancy.  Some of the talks have slides you can download, although mine don’t, since most of what I did was intensely visual and hands-on in nature, and I skipped around in my slides quite a bit.

Even if you’re uninterested in 45-minute talks with no visual component, you should totally grab the remixes: WE05 Upbeat Remix and WE05 Deep Remix.  They’re about two to three minutes each, with some fun / meaningful audio snippets taken straight out of the talks (different snippets for each remix) and laid over some techno music by Mr. John Allsopp.  Cripes, is there anything he can’t do?

Now all we need is for someone to create a music video for the remixes.  Who’s up for it?  There are a bunch of photos from the conference that could be used, both those tagged WE05 by attendees and the official Web Essentials photo stream  And if you need filler material for that grungy-shaky-blurry-throbbing text overlay effect all the kids love, don’t forget about the large number of tagged posts.

Anyway, I was pleased with my presentations, even if they weren’t as deep and meaningful as, well, just about every other international speaker’s.  When Doug Bowman managed to invoke the fight against poverty, the future of change, and Malcolm X in the same talk, I really started to feel like a pretty minor spear carrier.  (“Yeah, Doug just blew everyone’s mind with the infinite horizon of riches and wonder that our profession can enable.  Check out my super-cool use of position: absolute!”)

At least I didn’t have my Q&A period interrupted by an evacuation alarm.

For me, one of the most personally affecting aspects of the whole conference was talking with Lisa Herrod, who is fluent in Auslan and familiar with ASL.  The fact that we both knew at least basic ASL signs came in handy when we ended up at a King’s Cross club with a bunch of other attendees.  The music was, of course, so loud that one could hardly hear oneself speak, let alone anyone else.  At one point, Lisa looked over at me from a distance of four or five meters and signed “like” with a questioning look, perhaps picking up on my detachment.  I indicated mixed feelings, and she signed “OK?”  I indicated I was.  Reassured, she turned back to what she’d been doing.  Very handy, that.  Although our ears were effectively useless, we could very clearly converse.

Earlier on, Lisa and I had compared notes on differences between Auslan and ASL, which are substantial, and she told me about the origins of each (Auslan grew out of British signing, whereas ASL owes a large debt to old French signing systems) as well as the fascinating story of Martha’s Vineyard, where everyone in its early history knew a localized sign language due to the original settlers being mostly deaf.  It was in talking with Lisa that I came to realize I’ve developed a passion for signing and its history.  It’s a gift that Carolyn has given me, simply by entering and changing my life.  It isn’t her only gift to me, nor the last.  I’m just glad to have seen it for what it is, and thankful to Lisa for helping me see it.

Similarly, I’m thankful to John and Maxine for getting me to WE05 in the first place, and to the WE05 staff and attendees for making it a truly great experience.  I hope I’ll get to come back and do some more spear-carrying in the future.

Reading the Signs

Published 12 years, 8 months ago

Back in January, I wrote about teaching Carolyn sign language, and enough time has passed and things changed that it seems like a good time to revisit the topic.  (Also, our friend Gini wrote about it, and that spurred me into typing.)

As I mentioned back in January, we started out with Baby Signs but moved on to American Sign Language (ASL).  This has held true, and when the next child comes into our lives, we’ll use only ASL signs.  To me, the real value of Baby Signs is in showing you where to start: with needs like food, water, milk, and so on.  In moving to ASL, we’ve been immensely helped by the Signing Time video series, which Carolyn loves.  She watches one every other day or so, which is about as much TV as we let her watch, and she can identify each one with a different sign.

At the time I last wrote about it, Carolyn was using about thirty signs.  She’s now somewhere past two hundred signs—I don’t know the exact number, as Kat and I lost track a while ago.  This includes all the primary colors, emotional states, and much more.  She’s also started to speak, with about twenty or so verbal words.  It gets really fascinating when she combines them.

For example, she’s started asking me if I’m done working whenever I come downstairs from my office.  She does this by saying “Daddy?” while signing “work” and then “done”.  If I confirm that I’m done working for the day (or at least for the moment), she’ll do it all over again, except this time saying “Daddy” in a satisfied tone of voice instead of as a question.  Then we spend some time playing.

In fact, one of these exchanges led to Carolyn telling me what she wanted to do when she grows up.  After confirming that Daddy was done working for the day, she thought a minute, then signed “work” and emphatically pointed to herself.

You want to work?” I asked, a little bit surprised.  She nodded and said “yeah!” (one of her favorite spoken words).

“Okay”, said I, amused, “what do you want to do when you work?”

She thought a moment more and then signed “airplane”.  My mouth dropped open.

“You want to be a pilot?” I asked.

She said “yeah!” again, quite enthusiastically, and then ran off to kick a ball across the yard.

Now, it’s possible that Carolyn was saying that she wants to do whatever Daddy does, because when he leaves for a few days, he’s left on a plane.  But my gut feeling was that she was saying she wanted to work on or with airplanes.  Attendant, sure; engineer, why not?; but pilot was the first thing that came to mind.

Then again, about a week later, she told us she wanted to work on swings and slides.  So I guess she’s still evaluating her options.

She also can identify different bedtime stories through signs and speech.  “The Bear’s Water Picnic” is represented by the sign for “water”; “Goodnight Moon” by the sign for “moon”; “Pete the Sheep” by the spoken word “baa”; and so on.  Although she usually picks the same set of stories each night, she can clearly tell us when she wants something different.

For months now, Carolyn’s been able to distinguish between being hurt and being scared when she falls down.  As we hold her, we just ask her if the fall hurt or scared her, and she tells us.  That alone would have made the whole effort worthwhile, because she has told us what the problem is, and so we know how best to comfort her.  It also seems to calm her down simply to tell us, the same way it can make an adult feel better just to say out loud what is upsetting them.

She can also tell us when we’re being silly, when she’s surprised, and more.  When a baby near her cries, she always looks concerned.  We can tell her that the baby is sad, or grumpy, or hungry, and she can sign back the emotion to indicate she understands.

So has signing delayed her speech?  There’s no way to know.  Her speaking vocabulary is on track, according to our pediatrician: some kids do speak early, but to have three spoken words at 18 months is normal, and she was at five.  Plus over 100 signs, which has caused our pediatrician to consider her bilingual.  According to the father of a deaf child with whom I recently conversed, most independent studies show that signing has no major impact, positive or negative, on speech development, at least across the whole study group.

Regardless of whether or not the signing has slowed or sped Carolyn’s development of speech, it has quite definitely accelerated her ability to communicate.  That, to me, was the whole reason to use signs.  For a year now, she’s been able to communicate her needs and wants, and for at least half a year she’s been able to converse with us in some fairly complex ways.

Perhaps as a result of this, Carolyn is entirely capable of following multistep directions, like: “Please go pick up the stuffed cow and put it where it belongs, then come back to Mommy”.  If she’s nervous about a person or situation, we can find out what’s bothering her and show her that it’s okay; conversely, we can tell her when something is dangerous when it might not appear to be, like a hot plate, and get confirmation that she understands.  We’ve been able to teach her to sign “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”, and she understands when each is appropriate, sometimes saying them without prompting.  We can get her to calm down for a not-desired nap by asking what she wants to do instead of napping, and then telling her she can do it later, after she takes the nap.  In other words, she’ll agree to delay gratification, so long as we assure her that she’ll get what she wants after doing something that we want her to do.

Remember that she’s not yet two years old.

While Kat and I sometimes augment our words with signs, most of the time we just talk to Carolyn, and she responds with whatever combination of words and signs is needed.  So she has all kinds of exposure to speech, and her development in that regard seems fairly normal.  It could be that she’d have spoken earlier without the signs, but then again it could be that she’d have spoken later.  Maybe the signs have reduced the incentive to speak because she can get by without speech, or maybe the signs have shown her how powerful communication is and thus increased the incentive to speak.

We have no way to know, now or ever.  All that I know is that she has been communicating with us for many, many months more than she would have otherwise, and that she’s almost certainly a much happier and better-adjusted child as a result.

Back in May, I said that “…if you’re a new parent or a parent-to-be, I strongly recommend that you try this with your own baby”.  Take that sentiment and increase it by an order of magnitude.  I truly believe it’s one of the best parenting decisions we ever made.

Big Screen, Small Screen

Published 12 years, 8 months ago

The gadgets in my life have recently reached a new level of extreme disparity.

At the enormous end of the scale, there’s the new television we put into our newly-finished basement.  It’s a 50″ widescreen high-definition DLP set, and even though it integrates fairly nicely with the shelving and cabinetry we had built, it still looks stupidly big to me.  When watching a movie, it really gives you a movie-theater experience, simply by taking up so much of your field of view.  The surround sound, I think, gets cranked down a bit to compensate.

I look at this thing and I think to myself, “Why?”  And the answer is: “Because it was in the budget, and plasma screens are still a bit too expensive for the value received.”  So perhaps this is a form of buyer’s remorse, or maybe I’m just being neurotic.  Either way, it has a vaguely looming presence that I’m not entirely sure I like.

At the tiny end of the scale, I recently got a 4GB iPod nano.  This was the early-registration and speakers’ gift given out at UI10, and I gotta tell you, this thing is God’s gift to daddies.  Mine already has a sampling of the best Carolyn pictures taken to date.  I can show them off to other people, or just flip through them when I’m on the road and missing my family.  It’ll also play those pictures as a slide show, using whatever transition effect I like most.  Plus it plays music!

I’m sure it helps that I didn’t pay for it, but honestly, I almost love the little guy.  No scratches (yet), and the sound quality is pretty darned good even with the stock earbuds.  I’m not one of those audiophile types; if the sound is basically clear, I’m good, so the iPod buds work for me.  It’s a bit disappointing, though, that the nano’s dimensions are roughly 1:6:13.  I was really hoping for 1:4:9.

Anyway, propping the nano up against the TV feels like a textbook exercise in totally ludicrous contrasts.

The nano propped up against the TV.

Selling Out Again

Published 12 years, 8 months ago

I noticed this morning, after the power finally came back on, that the graphic next to the information on the Carson Workshops home page about the CSS/XHTML workshop I’m doing in a couple of weeks has a “LAST FEW” banner over it, so it looks like those seats are going fast as well.  If you were interested in that one but hadn’t yet gotten around to registering, now might be a good time.


Published 12 years, 9 months ago

We mentioned two days ago that there were 20 seats left at AEA Philadelphia.  As of an hour ago, they were all gone.  I guess that makes us sellouts.

Our sincere and deepest thanks to everyone who registered, and to everyone who’s written expressing interest in future shows.  We can’t take the wrapper off of our plans just yet, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: we’re planning to announce the date and location of the next event by the middle of November.  Stay tuned to that RSS feed!

Meantime, I’m getting ready for cheesesteaks galore.  Mmmmm… cheesesteaks.

To Hack With It

Published 12 years, 9 months ago

To follow up on what I said recently, there’s another major reason to remain un-stressed about the impending release of IE7 and the use of CSS hacks.  If you read over the list of things that have been fixed, they read like a who’s who of CSS hacks—and a who’s who of the reasons we use most CSS hacks in the first place.

How is that the ticket to a stress-free existence?  I’ll give you an example.  One IE bug I deal with a lot is the doubled-margin float bug.  So I’ll write something like this:

#main {float: left; width: 30em; margin-left: 150px;}
* html #main {margin-left: 75px;}

I’ve halved the margin value in the “IE/Win only” line, which is the second one; that’s the CSS hack part of the duo.  By taking this approach, the layout is consistent between IE/Win and every other modern browser out there.

Okay, so here comes IE7, which the team says has a fixed CSS parser so the Tan hack (which is what I used) isn’t recognized.  That means IE7 completely skips the second line, the one with the hack.  But IE7 has also fixed the double-margin bug on floats.  So the hack rule is completely ignored by IE7, and it acts like other browsers when reading the first.  It’s like it was Firefox or something.  Meanwhile, any IE6 users out there get a consistent experience thanks to the Tan hack line, which it still recognizes.

So why aren’t I proclaiming that there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, as opposed to declaring my intent to stand pat?  Because the promised fixes are just that: promises.  I have no doubt as to the IE team’s deep desire to get these fixes shipped.  They may, however, find themselves overruled by other factors on one or more fixes.  Perhaps a given fix breaks the layout of eBay, or interacts badly with a particular version of Windows.  Simply put, forces beyond their control might lead to a shipping browser that doesn’t fix everything they want to fix.

That’s a big part of why I said I wasn’t going to make any moves until we have a working release in hand.  There’s absolutely no sense in rewriting all our style sheets to remove hacks—at least, there’s no sense right now.  We’d be trying to author against a moving, distant, and phantom target.  That’s a recipe for frustration.

In general, if the planned fixes do come through, then as far as site breakage, the advent of IE7 will be practically a non-event in the standards-oriented design community.  Assuming those  fixes are released, we’ll honestly have next to nothing to do.  Yes, there will be examples here and there of sites doing funky stuff and experiencing problems, as with Slashdot.  Those problem sites will be identified and fixed one way or another—maybe new hacks, maybe conditional comments, maybe reformulations of markup and CSS.  The same basic thing happened when IE6 came out, and I suspect we’ll have less upheaval with IE7 than with IE6—and IE6 was pretty small stuff, site-breakage-wise.

Note that I suspect.  I don’t know.  Nobody can know until the IE team releases a version with the fixes included.  When that happens, then we’ll start figuring out which way to jump.  Or I will, at any rate.  If anyone out there wants to do a little pointless panicking ahead of time, well, be my guest.

IE7 and IE7

Published 12 years, 9 months ago

As noted on the WaSP site, the IE team is asking developers to clean up their CSS hacks because they’re causing sites to break in IE7 builds.

I have to admit that this call elicited an arid little chuckle from me, because it’s a case of chickens coming home to more than one roost.  There’s the fact that bugs in older versions of IE led us to use hacks, and so they’re making life harder for the IE team.  And then there’s the fact that the use of hacks is an inherently risky and fragile process, so the release of IE7 will make life harder for those who used them.  No smug self-superiority should be read into that second point, by the way: I quite firmly include myself in that crowd.

So—now what?  Personally, I’m not going to make a move until an IE7 beta with new CSS behavior is released.  Why change hacks just to have to hack more?  Put another way, if the ground is going to start shifting, there isn’t much sense in trying to guess how.  Wait until it does, and then adjust your footing.

Still, it might pay to consider ways to cope once the ground shifts.  This leads to something I’ve been pondering for a bit, and now’s a good time to bring it up.  When IE7 (the browser) comes out, it will make IE7 (the script) even more useful than it is now.

Here’s why: all the stuff that IE7 (the script) does, IE7 (the browser) is supposed to do as well.  That is to say, the script can bring IE6 up to par with IE7 the day IE7 is released.  See where I’m headed with this?  Instead of being chained to the fat tail of IE6 installs while being unable to use parser hacks in IE7, we can clear away the hacks and have IE6 and IE7 act basically the same.

They will of course not act exactly the same, and yes, there are drawbacks.  IE6 users will have to download the extra script, and those with JavaScript disabled will have problems.  Not every site will be able to accept those costs—but I’d wager the vast majority will.

In the main, it will be a lot less painful to clear out the hacks with IE7 (the script) available than without it.  A lot.

Oh, and before people start exhorting the use of conditional comments instead, it’s still too soon to know how good an idea that might be.  Doubtless they’ll come into play, but exactly how is completely unpredictable until we know what IE7 actually does.  Perhaps we’ll start using conditionals around the call to IE7 (the script).  Perhaps not.  Time will tell.

As I said before, it’s too soon to know which hacks to clear away or how to rework our code, but thanks to Dean Edwards’ efforts, I’m feeling a distinct lack of stress over the impending shifts.