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Archive: July 2006

Dvoraked

A couple of weeks back, I was hanging out in a New York hotel lobby with Tantek, who was either working on his AEA slides or enhancing the overall usefulness of the web in his spare time; I’m not sure which.  On the far wall, a plasma display ran CNN continually, softly, offering up such choice crawl text as “N. Korea Missile Test Fallout”.  One of the stories running was about alleged plagiarism on the part of Ann Coulter.

We got into a brief discussion over whether such people should be rebutted or ignored.  Tantek took the former position, whereas I took the latter.  My stance is probably a holdover from my long years of Usenet and mailing-list participation, where one of my most iron-clad rules is “Don’t feed the trolls”.  Better they starve for lack of attention, that’s how I see it.  Perhaps this is a defensible strategy in the “real world”, and perhaps not, but I will freely admit that it’s one of my default behaviors.

Thus, my first instinct was to completely ignore John Dvorak’s screed about CSS.  Mr. Dvorak is an admitted troll, and so my default tendency is to simply ignore him.  But “troll” is, in my world, an alternate spelling for “fool”, and as Winston Churchill reminded us, one of the great lessons of life is to know that even fools are sometimes right.

So is Mr. Dvorak right?  Not in what he has to say, no, but there is still something there worth hearing.

It turns out that none of his complaints about CSS are really valid, even when you consider only the ones that have a factual basis.  Sure, he can complain about the cascade being confusing, but that’s like criticizing Windows because of all those stupid windows that open up everywhere and get in the way of the desktop wallpaper.  It’s an inherent feature of the system: either accept it and move on, or reject it and walk away, but don’t waste your time complaining about it.  The best part, of course, is where he blames CSS for inconsistent browser implementations, which is rather like criticizing Microsoft because Windows doesn’t run properly on a computer whose processor isn’t compatible with Intel’s architecture.

But step back and let your eyesight blur a bit, and the shape of a worthwhile point begins to emerge.  The closest Mr. Dvorak gets to expressing it, possibly by accident, is this sentence: “Can someone explain to me exactly what kind of ‘standard’ CSS is, anyway?”

I could do so, of course, as could most of you, but that’s not the issue.  What we’re seeing here is the initial reaction of a CSS newbie, not too different from many others when they first begin to style, and all brought closer to home by the high-profile nature of the newbie.  (Whatever you may think of Mr. Dvorak, he has prominence in the industry.)  CSS is not as hard as some make it out to be, but it isn’t easy as cake, either.

A good part of that problem is the natural expectation that all browsers should act the same.  It’s a strange thing to expect if you’ve been in the field long enough, since browsers have never really been consistent on anything, from HTML error handling to PNG support.  But someone who’s coming in fresh is almost certainly going to expect that if they do things a certain way, the result just works.  Why would one expect anything less?

That’s why the Web Standards Project was founded, of course; and its existence, history, and current efforts put paid to Mr. Dvorak’s assertion that nothing is being done.  As I’ve said, none of his individual points are on target.  What his outburst does is remind us of the problem to which so many have grown numb, and which we still—for all the progress that has been made—face on a daily basis.  Consequently, it reminds us to keep advocating for greater consistency between browsers, to praise the efforts of browser makers in that direction, and to help them correct their course when they move in the wrong direction—and to do so constructively, not destructively.  For while we may gain insights from the rantings of trolls, we should never be so foolish as to adopt their tactics.

When It Rains…

I’ve been largely offline for the last couple of days due to an inexplicable failure of my DSL modem.  I was certain that it was another case of the DSLAM dying on me—it’s happened a few times in the past—and when the Covad techs claimed it had to be a modem failure, I was deeply skeptical.  Score one for the topical experts: they were right, and I was not.

While I waited for the replacement modem that I was sure wouldn’t change anything, I was using dialup.  Man, I never want to do that again.  Talk about sipping the Internet through a cocktail straw.  To make it even worse, I was tethered.  To a phone jack.  There was no wifi infusing the house, letting me work anywhere.  It was like having lost a perceptual sense.  It was wrong and confining and I didn’t like it.  No more of that, thanks.  If the Republicans are so hot to amend the Constitution, how about they be useful for a change and add “the Right to Unfetter’d Bandwidth”?

So.  Nothing much happened CSS-wise while I was gone, did it?  No controversies or anything?  Good.

While I may have been getting my bits by carrier pigeon, the AEA team was able to assemble and post a full schedule for An Event Apart Seattle, which includes a session by Kelly Goto on “Designing for Lifestyle”:

As design migrates from the web to mobile devices, our approach must also shift. Learn how companies are using ethnographic-based research to design smarter interfaces.

I’ve seen Kelly speak in the past, and she’s always funny, smart, and relevant.  I’m really looking forward to hearing what she has to say about ethnography and design.

I’ll be offering updated versions of my highest-rated talks in New York, “Hard-Core CSS” and “One True Layout”, and Jeffrey will be talking about selling standards to difficult clients (especially when the client is a boss) and the importance of writing to good design.  All this and Stan too!  If you’re fixin’ to come see us, the early bird deadline is still a ways off, but don’t wait too long.

S5Project.org

Over the past year-plus-a-half, S5 has grown from a small hack of a compact slide show script written by Tantek Çelik into a relatively complex bit of work.  In the beginning, there was simply a way to take a single document and turn it into a series of slides.  I added basic keyboard controls, a navigation menu, and the ability to have the navigation controls show and hide, and then threw it out into the public eye.  People loved it, and with a lot of help from a lot of people, all manner of features were added: slide bookmarks, much better keyboard controls, incremental progress, a notes view, and more.

Despite all this community involvement, though, the code base was in a single set of hands: mine.  Anything that was added to the “official” S5 code was done by me, as time and understanding allowed.  As anyone could have predicted, this has slowed the advancement of S5 over time, and of late it’s brought advancement to a near standstill as I’ve struggled to keep up with other demands.  The only thing I’ve added since 1.2a2 is the ability to blank the screen by hitting the “B” key, and that change has yet to become public.

Of course, the code is explicitly in the public domain, so anyone can add to S5—and many have.  ZohoShow, for example, outputs S5 1.1 code.  I’ve seen S5 used for product tours of medical software and board games.  Jonathon Snook added a “live preview” version of the notes view, which I totally want to see in the primary code base.  David Goodger made a bunch of useful Docutils-compatibility additions that I never managed to fold in.  I also know of four different implementations of remote-control functionality, where one person runs a slide show and changes are reflected in remote copies.  This is a feature perfect for distance learning, corporate netconferences, and other situations.

And all this time, there was still no way to have those enhancements, or any others, “come home” to the source of S5 unless I did it myself.  Until now.

Thanks to Ryan King, we now have S5 Project, which will be the official home of S5.  Besides the blog and mailing list S5-discuss, there will be a wiki, a source code repository, and a bug-and-feature-request tracking system.  If you’re an S5 hacker, or even a frequent user, please do join the mailing list (I know, I know—another one?) or at least subscribe to the S5Project RSS feed to keep track of what’s going on.  I expect the mailing list to become the place for coders to talk about additions they want to make and bugs they’re trying to squash, even after the bug-tracking software gets set up, and it will be a primary source of content for the wiki-to-come.

While it’s been the case that anyone may add to S5 in their own way, for whatever purpose they see fit, now there will truly be community access to what’s always been a community project.  I hope you’ll join us there!

Peep

Posting has been very sparse of late, and will likely continue in that vein for some time.  We just this week held An Event Apart NYC 2006, and it was a really great time.  The two-day format let us not only have more content, but also more time for interaction, which was great.  We’ll definitely be using what we learned in New York as we move forward to Seattle and beyond.  And can I get a round of applause for our wonderful caterer, amazing speakers, and even more amazing audience?  There was so much great conversation with the attendees that Jeffrey and I barely had time to speak with one another.

For those interested in the Seattle show, we should have more information in the coming weeks, but for now let’s just summarize it as the very best parts of the NYC show, condensed to a single day, with an all-new and thoroughly excellent guest speaker.  Sound good to you?  It sure does to me.

I’ve been working on an update to the Definitive Guide and a beginner-level book for another publisher—more details to come soon.  Okay, I know I just said that about AEA Seattle.  Sorry.

And then there’s the evolution of a fairly popular personal project into something substantially less bottlenecked, thanks to a great deal of help from a professional acquaintance, which should happen in the next few days.  Details should be— well, you know.  Third verse, same as the first.

I don’t think I have any more semi-secret activity to half-reveal, but if I manage to think of anything else, I’ll post some details when I can.

Ah ha ha.

Culmination

I’m very pleased to announce that as of yesterday, I am no longer married to Kat.  Instead, I am now married to Doctor Kat.  Dr. Kathryn Meyer, if you want to be a little more formal about it.

Yesterday morning, Kat successfully defended her dissertation, “The Temporal Patterns of Interruptions During the First Postpartum Day”, and thus earned the title Doctor of Practical Nursing.

And there was much rejoicing.

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