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An Event Apart 2014 Schedules, Round One

I’ve recently had the odd experience of seeing from the outside something that I usually get to see from the inside: the schedules and workshops for the first three An Event Aparts of 2014 have been announced.  Those shows are:

All the shows feature a great mix of veterans and new faces, all coming together to bring our usual blend of looking to the future while staying firmly grounded in the details of the here-and-now.  The shows include workshops from Luke Wroblewski (in Atlanta or Boston) or Josh Clark (in Seattle) about mobile and touch design.

Ordinarily, at this point I’d say “hope to see you there!” but I can’t be sure that I’ll be able to hold up my side of that.  The same family crisis that forced me to withdraw from the last four AEAs of 2013 has also kept me off the roster for at least the first three shows of 2014, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to travel even to visit.  I’ll continue to be a part of the show, but behind the scenes, at least for now.

And that crisis is why I got to experience the announcements from the outside.  While I was in Philadelphia, I was basically on extended medical leave from AEA, with the team picking up every scrap of my duties they could.  They pretty much soaked up 99%+ of what I do daily, sparing me the worry of day-to-day operations and leaving me free to focus everything I could on my daughter and family during a very difficult period.  I am forever indebted.  I can’t ever thank them enough for what they did for me.  I am beyond fortunate to have had such a strong team of friends and colleagues at my back.

I will say that it was a good thing for me to experience the process from the audience, as it were, gaining a new perspective on what we do and how we do it.  I certainly don’t recommend a major crisis as the best way to gain that perspective, but I have a newfound appreciation for the value of stepping outside of the process as completely as possible.  You might be very surprised by how things look from out there.

But back to the point: the complete agendas are up for the first three AEAs of 2014, so go check them out!  And if you’re at all interested, I wouldn’t wait to register any longer than absolutely necessary.  Every show for the past two or three years has sold out weeks or months in advance, and cancellation rates are low enough that it’s pretty rare for people on the waiting list to get in.  I hope you’ll be there!

Seattle Memories

It’s been a week since I got back from An Event Apart Seattle 2010, and I’m still aglow about it.

I know it’s something a cliché for conference organizers to say “it was the best show we ever done did!” but damn.  It really was.  That’s down to the speakers, of course.  We’ve done our best to find great speakers with interesting things to say, and I’d like to think we’ve done just that.  This went to a new level, though.

You know how a band can have one of those nights where somehow, everything seems to go just right, where every jam riff builds on the others, where the music hits an indescribable groove, where the energy feeds on and multiplies itself until everyone in the place gets charged with it?  That’s what happened in Seattle, building throughout the whole show.  You could just feel it, buzzing in the room and through everyone there.  Every time a speaker finished I’d say to myself, half in gratitude and half in awe, “That is the best talk I’ve ever seen that person give.”

That was only half the experience, of course.  The other half was the audience itself, our amazing and wonderful attendees, who are as much colleagues as anything else.  They’re whip-smart, professional, veteran members of the industry.  That’s the demographic Jeffrey and I set out to address, and they’ve come to learn from and teach and challenge us to excel at every show.  Several speakers, some of them long practiced at the art of public speaking, have told me that they get uniquely nervous before going onto the stage at An Event Apart.  I absolutely agree.  To return to the band metaphor, it’s like doing a show for your fellow musicians.  While that’s comforting in a collegial way, it’s also nerve-wracking in a way other shows aren’t.

And the conversations!  Over lunch, in the hall between talks, at the party, it was non-stop talk with smart, funny, insightful colleagues who know their stuff through and through and are as keen to learn more as they are to share what they know.

So I can’t thank our speakers and attendees enough.  You are all incredible.  It was an honor and a privilege just to be there in your combined presence.

In Search of Q

In an effort to get a handle on my taskflow, I went looking for an organizer application.  So far as I can tell, what I want doesn’t exist, but maybe someone can point me to it.

What I really want is a push queue for documents and other data fragments.  I’ll call it “Q”, both for the obvious phonic match as well as to score a little ST:TNG joke plus make a Cleveland arena reference.  The latter two work because I sort of envision the application as being a very powerful being as well as a large gathering place for data.

The way I envision it, I drag a file onto the main Q window and it’s added to the general pool.  Every item in Q can be labeled, tagged, commented, and otherwise meta’d half to death.  The queue can be sorted or filtered on any number of things—file creation or modification date, Q addition date, file name, containing folder, tags, labels, and so forth.  Also, every item can be assigned a due date.

When I double-click on anything in Q, it opens the original file just as if I’d double-clicked its Finder icon.  (I’m an OS X user, but translate “Finder icon” to whatever the equivalent words are in your OS of choice.)  So really, Q is maintaining a pool of aliases to the original files, plus any associated metadata.  In that sense, it’s like iTunes set to not copy added music to the iTunes Music folder in your home directory.  Yes, some people run it that way.  And like iTunes, the ability to create smart lists based on tags and comments and such would be really awesome.

I’d find Q deeply useful because as new tasks come in/up, I could drag in whatever file(s) relate to those tasks so that I don’t lose track of what I have to do, quickly tag them and set a due date, and continue with whatever I was working on.  There’s room for tons of even more useful features like synchronization across multiple computers, the ability to accept any fragment of data at all as opposed to files, and more, but the core need is a task queue.

To illustrate this with some examples from my recent workflow, I would drag in a copy or two of the IRS W-9 form, a couple of e-mail messages, an invoice, and a Word document containing a set of interview questions.  The W-9s would get tagged by the clients’ names, the invoice would be tagged and flagged, and so on.  The real key here is that they’d be add-sorted by default, so I can work on them first-come-first-served.  Of course, other approaches would be possible with other sorts and filtering.

It seems like, with all the GTD mania floating around, someone would have come up with this solution already, but my searches have so far been fruitless.  I tried a couple of applications that seemed like they might be close to what I want, but they weren’t.  Am I just using the wrong search terms, or is this something that just doesn’t exist yet?

Looking for Headset Help

I could use a little advice from the crowd, if you have a minute.  Basically, I need a new phone headset for my office landline, and maybe a new phone as well.  My current headset, an aging Plantronics Vista model, is generating this really loud buzz that I can only fix by forcibly contorting the boom mike, and even then the fix isn’t always permanent.  I’ve tried fiddling with the ‘channel’ and gain settings, and then only way to avoid the buzz is to make myself completely inaudible.

All I really want is a nice comfortable headset that has good sound quality.  I’ve looked at headsets that are just 2.5mm plugins, and at ones that have the little amplifier box.  I probably will want an over-the-head set, since the over-the-ear Vista I have makes my ear ache on event moderately long calls.  And a corded set is fine; I don’t really need a cordless headset.  In my specific case, any disincentive to stand up and pace while talking is probably a good thing.

Also, I’m not at all adverse to replacing my phone, which is also old and clunky.  It still works okay (and is not the source of the buzz—I checked) but it’s nothing spectacular.  If there’s a really good headset-and-phone combo out there, I’m completely open to that.

So anyway, if anyone has recommendations they’d like to make, either pro or con, please fire away.  Thanks!

Tax Relief

When you own your own business (or just work independently), there’s an extra-special feeling of frisson when the mailman arrives bearing an envelope from the Internal Revenue Service.  I recently got one, though, that made me laugh out loud, despite being about the possible loss of my third-quarter payment.  No, really.  It still makes me chuckle every time I read the second paragraph:

On Sunday, September 11, 2005 an accident occurred on the San Mateo Bridge near San Francisco, California involving a courier transporting payments to an IRS Payment Processing Site.  A truck carrying tax payments overturned, causing approximately 30,000 Form 1040ES quarterly estimated tax payments to be ejected into the San Francisco Bay.

And people say the IRS has no sense of poetry.

Standing At a Crossroads

There has been more detailed information written about yesterday’s events, so it’s worth reading if you still care.  Personally, I thought Dave Shea’s summary was quite amusing.

I indicated yesterday that DevEdge would likely not be updated.  That’s because the standards evangelism team has been disbanded.  Two team members were among those let go, and the rest of us went to different places within AOL.  I’m really not sure what made the difference between those who were axed and those who were not. 

As much as I’m unhappy that we’ve come to this pass, I don’t regret for one second having taken the position of Standards Evangelist.  While it lasted, Netscape funded close to ten full-time and part-time positions whose job was to promote standards, not proprietary technology, and to spread that message as far and wide as possible.  They may well have been doing it for selfish reasons, but that hardly matters.  We were able to inform, educate, and proactively help a lot of sites get better cross-browser behavior by using standards.  In our own way, we helped make things better, and we made a difference.

So here’s to Bob Clary, Marcio Galli, Katsuhiko Momoi, Chris Nalls, Tristan Nitot, Arun Ranganathan, Doron Rosenberg, and Susie Wyshak.  We fought the good fight and created a lot of great material, including information about the redesign of DevEdge itself.

Moving forward, I have to decide what I will do: accept the position into which I was reassigned, turn down the reassignment and look for another position within AOL, or decide to take the severance package and leave AOL altogether.  This isn’t exactly an easy call, partly due to the economy, but also because the importance of standards to AOL is not, at present, clear to me.  Perhaps the message has sunk in and there will be a place for someone like me, and perhaps not.  I hope to find out which over the next week or so.  No matter what, I face some tough choices, but at least I have choices.  I can’t say the same about 50 former co-workers.

Meanwhile, DMX Zone just this morning (my time) published an interview with me, so those interested in such things can click away.  Love that Dark Jedi groove thang!  [insert lightsaber sound effects here]

Moments of Transition

It’s true: Netscape is no longer a viable entity.  I’ll leave it to others to draw conclusions regarding how this move is related to the agreement AOL and Microsoft reached a while back.  Y’all can probably do a much better job of it anyway.

From what I can discern, there will be no more new versions of Netscape; the browser will go into maintenance mode, whatever that means.  More than half the staff was let go today, and Mozilla has been spun off into an independent, non-profit foundation supported by AOL, IBM, Sun, and others.  I have no idea what will happen with netscape.com itself.  DevEdge will cease producing new content, it would seem, which is a shame.  We produced some really good stuff, and had more in the pipeline.  Hopefully that forthcoming material will find another outlet.

For now, I still have a job, although my team’s been split up and sent to different organizations within AOL.  I don’t know yet how this will turn out for me, but I do know that today I’m saddened by the loss.  Yes, Mozilla will go on, but another pioneering force of the Web has just been painfully dimmed.  It’s worth a moment to reflect on where we’ve been… and where we might be headed.

Friday, 18 May 2001

Now it can be told… I’ve resigned from The OPAL Group, effective the end of May.  I do this not because there were any problems; actually it’s a fine place to work and a great group of guys.  The decision to leave them actually caused me a good deal of stress and a certain measure of guilt.  However, it’s all in a good cause:  I’m taking a position with Netscape Communications as a “standards evangelist.”  This move will definitely give me a chance to have a bigger impact on the shape and direction of Web browser development, both now and in the future.  Even better, the position does not require me to relocate.  This has been more than two months in coming, between the time Netscape contacted me and today.  The long delay should help explain some of the stress reflected in my posts here on meyerweb.com.

So that’s the news for now.  It’s scary and exciting all at once, as most major life changes tend to be—but at the very least, I will have followed up all my talk about the importance of standards with a commitment to work towards improving support, and that’s worth a lot to me.

October 2014
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