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We Live To Serve

Yesterday, Jeffrey Zeldman was nice enough to point people toward meyerweb’s redesign, and also to say some kind words about yours truly that he’ll probably regret some day.  I know I have already, because when goofy rendering errors were reported in IE6/Win, I kind of felt obligated to do something about them instead of just shrugging and saying, “Eh, not my problem.”  Curse you, El Jefe!  I shall be revenged!

Two days ago, I got an e-mail message that had me falling out of my chair, I was laughing so hard, and I simply can’t resist sharing it with you.  I’ve edited the text a bit for clarity, and the name has been removed to protect—well, the guilty, really.  In a legal sense, I mean.

I’ve spent some time reading and working with several CSS books….  and I have to tell you that Eric Meyer on CSS is the best…. if I want to know how to do something and refer to the pile of books near my left hand, it is the one that most easily produces the answer.

It has one other great advantage over all the others as well:  it is by far the best book to roll a joint on.  Shape, size, thickness, glossiness, flexibility, and color are all excellent and [far] ahead of the competition.

It’s amazing how a well designed book serves all purposes.

Well.  Glad I could help out.

A day or two before that fascinating bit of e-mail arrived, I was standing in clothing store located in a brand-new shopping mall just recently built a couple of miles from our house, when the following lyrics came over the store speakers:

Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
—Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”

…and I thought to myself, “Is someone trying to be ironic?”

Advance Planning

Regional linguistic variations are funny.  The BBC News UK Web site has an article with this lead paragraph:

US President George W Bush has launched his bid for re-election, filing papers declaring his intention to contest next year’s vote.

Here in America, the usual meaning assigned to “contest,” at least in this context, would be “challenge” instead of “strive to win”—so to us Yanks, the implication is that Bush is already preparing to challenge the results of the next election.  Sounds like an Onion story, doesn’t it?

Speaking of linguistic variations, I now have in my possession copies of Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide in Polish, Bulgarian, and Korean.  Two of each, in fact.  The surreal part is that all the examples and screenshots are still in English, while the main text is in something not English.  I have to wonder how that affects the book’s utility for local readers.

So not only will I be speaking at The Other Dreamweaver Conference (TODCON) next month in Las Vegas, I’ll be giving two technical sessions and delivering the conference keynote.  Some other speakers you might know will also be there, including Molly Holzschlag, Murray Summers, Massimo Foti, and Angela Buraglia, among others.  It should be an interesting time, what with me giving talks to all those Dreamweaver power users when I, you know, don’t actually use Dreamweaver.  Haven’t touched it in years, in fact.

We’re headed off to see The Matrix Reloaded tonight, and as expected it’s already causing hugely polarized reactions among those who’ve seen it.  I have pretty low expectations, so I ought to be all right.  As with the first one, I expect a lot of goofy exposition and nonsensical backstory mixed in with some eye-popping special effects sequences.  Hey, it worked well enough the first time, so why not draw from the same well?

New Review, Old Author?

There’s an interesting review of Eric Meyer on CSS at Linux Journal.  Instead of just reviewing the book, Russell Dyer also asked me some interview questions and wove my responses into the review.  I really like the format; it allows him to make points about how and why the book was written in a certain way without just guessing.  It also means that a reader will get a better sense of the book’s purpose through the author’s words.

Thanks to Nick, I found out what operating system I am.  [You are HP/UX: You're still strong despite the passage of time.  Though few understand you, those who do love you deeply and appreciate you.]  I’m wondering how much time constitutes a passage, since I don’t feel that old.  Yet.  As for few understanding me, that’s no surprise.  Nobody gets me.  I’m the wind, baby.

I thought about incorporating a graphic displaying the current U.S. Homeland Security Advisory System level into my site design, but in the end decided I didn’t want John Ashcroft getting anywhere near my Web site.  Thus I continue to shore up a pleasant illusion that he couldn’t have someone crack into the server’s file system and download everything in about nine seconds if he felt like it.  All in the interests of defending liberty from those who would destroy it, of course.

Although it occurs to me to wonder who that someone might be.  The Department of Justice?  The National Security Agency?  (Side note: one of the funniest things I’ve seen lately is that the NSA has a privacy and security notice on their Web site, and it’s sort of a shame that it doesn’t just say: “You have none.  Get over it.”)  The Department of Homeland Security?  Probably any of them.  It bothers me that the only safeguard to my personal privacy could well be an interdepartmental fight over who gets to invade it first.

Green Destiny

Simon Jessey has confessed he wrote the Amazon review I mentioned on Thursday, and furthermore says he pictures me mostly as Li Mu Bai with a little Jen Yu thrown in.  Hmmmm… that’s definitely an interesting image.  Anyway, I’ve created a new presentation option for the site to celebrate being called “The Li Mu Bai of Cascading Style Sheets”: please enjoy wo hu cang long.  Note that this new theme has a layout bug in IE5/Mac which appears to be related to the alternate-style switch, and not the CSS itself.  There isn’t much I can do about it, as the bug doesn’t happen in static test documents.

On the other hand, Robert Kirkpatrick wrote in to advise me that I should work to be the Cheng Pei-pei (who played the Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) of CSS.  Of course, we’re mixing actual people and characters here—in the movie, of course, Li Mu Bai is the more skilled, but in real life it’s likely Cheng is more skilled than Chow.  Either way, I’m flattered.

I’m also feeling under the weather, which is ironic given how nice a day it is today.  Off to the couch for tea with lemon and maybe a movie.  The Killer is always a good choice.

Lookin’ Up

In response to my rantings yesterday, David Hyatt has stated unequivocally that the Safari team did not, in fact, co-opt Netscape evangelism efforts during development.  I’m really very glad to hear that’s the case, and if I hadn’t had such a bad day Tuesday, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the rumor in the first place.  Then again, the end result of my ranting is a negative rumor laid to rest, so perhaps it was all for the best.  That’s what I’ll tell myself to feel better about the whole situation, anyway.

To make it formal: I apologize for casting any unwarranted aspersions on the Safari team, Apple, etc.  With any luck this will help stamp out the rumors that were reaching me.

On to more trivial matters!  This is quite possibly the coolest review I’ve yet received:

Last year, I watched “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and I was amazed at the swordsmanship on display. Swords were no longer weapons, but extensions of arms – as if they were new appendages grown especially for the task. Eric Meyer can wield CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) in just the same way as those actors could wield swords.
–Amazon reader review for Eric Meyer on CSS

Being a big fan of the movie, I can’t help but be deeply flattered.  I’m just wondering if said reader pictures me as Li Mu Bai, Yu Shu Lien, or Jen Yu.

Getting Mixed In/Up

Remember the redesign competition I mentioned (along with a lot of other people) a while back?  They’ve announced the prizes up for grabs, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the Grand Prize package includes a copy of Eric Meyer on CSS.  I do have to wonder how much use it will be to someone who can successfully restyle another person’s site with CSS… but hey, no complaints here!  Good luck to all the entrants.

Contrary to what Zeldman has to say, I generally don’t wish I were not writing a book.  When I’m writing a book, I enjoy it because it’s something I like to do and because I wouldn’t have agreed to do it if I weren’t excited about the project.  When I’m not writing a book, I enjoy the time off, but usually get back to the authorial keyboard within six months or so.

Rewriting a book, though… that’s a whole other story, and one with distinctly fewer comedic overtones.  I hate having to revise my own work, because my deep-seated impulse to tinker usually drives down the quality of the text.  The dread spectre of endless revision is tempered by the glimmer of needed new material, but to me, it’s like mixing chocolate syrup into a thick vanilla milk shake: the end result isn’t as awful as it could have been, but Lord, it sure isn’t good.

(It may help your understanding of the previous paragraph to know that I loathe chocolate.  No sympathy is necessary, because believe me, I’m not missing out on anything.  Call to mind a food that you truly despise; something that, if you accidentally got a mouthful, you would instantly spit out and then try to scrape off your tongue.  That’s what chocolate is like for me.  Kat couldn’t be happier, because I never try to steal her dessert.)

Reviewing other people’s work isn’t bad.  I’m currently reviewing two books, and this morning I started getting severe dèjá vu.  The chapters I was reviewing for both books referred to the same sites, and even had screenshots of those sites that were taken on the same day.  I’m about 98% certain it was all just a big coincidence.  Either that or the computers that run the Matrix are getting less creative.

Harmful Considerations

Tantek muses: “I wonder who is going to write the ‘”Considered Harmful” Essays Considered Harmful’ essay.”  It’s always a weird feeling when I share a brain with someone other than my wife.  I almost wrote that essay a few months ago, when I’d been sent one too many “considered harmful” links, and that was going to be pretty much its exact title.  Guess I’d better jump on the idea now, before someone else does it.  If I had to make a guess, I’d say look for something to show up tomorrow.

Fly the really friendly skies: Hooters adds airline wings (CNN).  I can’t decide if this a highly creative way to bankrupt a restaurant chain or a brilliant move.  I suppose if the airline is repositioned as high-end CEO charter service, with prices to match, it could be a hugely profitable business.  Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “hugely” in the previous sentence.  Sorry.

Speaking of odd commercial news, it would seem the Segway is a popular item (CNN) after all.  I’m having trouble believing this isn’t just more hype, since Amazon doesn’t want to give out sales figures, and I’ve never really understood why anyone would want to spend a large chunk of money on a really high-tech scooter.  Then again, I don’t understand people spending large amounts of money on sporting-event tickets and memorabilia, so what do I know?

Well, at least somebody finally did what I’ve been expecting, and decided Eric Meyer on CSS was picking up too many five-star reviews.  It managed to collect 23 top ratings in a row before the backlash started, so I feel pretty good about that.  I won’t even try rebutting the three-star review, as it makes some reasonable points.  The book is not a cure-all; no book ever is, which is why I wrote the “Should You Buy This Book?” text.

Meanwhile, the United States may or may not be going to war with one or more members of its self-created “Axis of Evil.”  Not that I think those were countries with our best interests at the forefront of their minds—and why should they have?—but throwing around labels with a level of sophistication not too far above fourth-grade recess just doesn’t seem like a good way to manage foreign policy.

I should talk.  My Christmas gifts included an XBox game where you can use a giant robot to blow up everything around you, including buildings, a so-so rock album, a comic-book movie, and a truly deranged comedy cult classic.  Too bad I couldn’t come up with anything personally meaningful to request for the holidays this year.  At least I found out that my family does in fact know me well, as I was given quite a few Eeyore-themed items.  The slippers were an especially nice touch.

Over at his own journal, The Ferrett comments rather directly on the sexualization of pre-adults in the movies.  I agree with him in a generic sense, although I disagree that the “Harry Potter” cast was destined to be over-eroticized.  Just because an author does a remarkable job of making characters real (for certain definitions of the term “real”), that doesn’t force an eroticization of the same characters on film.  No, I think that’s just the evolution of video storytelling over the last several decades—and it’s been happening for longer than most of us realize.  The Major and the Minor is a movie about a young woman posing as a 12-year-old who falls in love with a man who thinks she’s, well, twelve.  Of course he has no interest in her other than semi-paternal, but by the end of the movie they end up together, depsite his being engaged at the movie’s outset.  It stars Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland and was written by Billy Widler, so that will give you a hint regarding its age.  My parents weren’t even born when it was filmed.  So making sexual objects out of minors is not exactly new.

Under Review

For most authors, Amazon.com is the closest we get to a stock market for book popularity.  Despite their apparent randomness, tracking the rankings can become an obsession; in fact, I’m not really sure why else Junglescan exists.  The reader reviews are also a source of potential obsession.

That’s why I’m unaccountably pleased that Eric Meyer on CSS has just completed the “Dash to One Hundred Stars”: since publication, twenty reader reviews have been posted, and every single one is five stars.  I’ve been rooting for this to happen ever since it passed a dozen five-star reviews, actually, which sounds stupid even to me.  After all, what this proves is that twenty people who use Amazon really liked the book; it’s not a conferment of sainthood or anything.  The book won’t be a five-star experience for everyone, which is one reason I wrote some material explaining the target audience.  Maybe that really did help the book get into the hands of those who would like it, and keep it away from those who wouldn’t.

Other books of mine haven’t fared as well.  The CSS2.0 Programmer’s Reference has recently picked up two one-star Amazon.com reviews, but both of them gave me an arid chuckle.  So far as I can tell, in both cases a person thought they were buying some sort of tutorial or guide, and when they discovered they had something else, they decided that was my fault.  One guy even looked through the book in a store, bought it, and then discovered the book was of no use to him… and then decided to go post a review on Amazon where he admitted to his mistake in the course of blasting the book.  It reminded me a lot of the guy who blasted CSS:TDG for being a “light tutorial” and “not a reference at all.”  (Maybe they should just swap books!)

I admit to feeling a certain regret that these people spent money on my books that could have been better invested in something else, but at the same time I can’t help but be amused.  Caveat emptor, if you prefer, but I think of it more as, “A lack of intelligent buying on your part does not constitute an authoring failure on mine.”

Anyway… one hundred stars in twenty reviews!  That feels pretty darned good, no matter how irrelevant the yardstick might be.  Somehow I feel like Will Smith in Men in Black: “Still, that was a pretty good shot, though.”

November 2014
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