Posts in the Rants Category
I know that you don’t need to be told this, but I’m just going to put this on record for anyone who might be Googling for the information in the future, not to mention the four separate people who got this wrong within the last 24 hours. It’s like this:
My last name is spelled M-E-Y-E-R. No trailing “s”; an “e” to each side of the “y”; no “a” anywhere within its bounds. Got it? Good!
Also, it’s “Eric” with a “c”, not a “k” or even a “ck”. ‘kay?
So how does your name get misspelled, and how much does it bother you?
As someone who obtained a minor in Astronomy in college, and one of the only people I know who can consistently name the planets in order without having to resort to mnemonics, I’d like to take a moment out from the whole W3C thing to comment on the de-planetization of Pluto.
It’s about time.
Its classification as a planet was never really justifiable, and recent discoveries like 2003 UB313 (Xena) have only served to underscore that fact.
Now, that said, I’m no fan of the “dwarf planet” compromise. That just smells of committee-think, and it’s got to go. For that matter, the newly adopted definition for “planet” is pretty terrible. If it were up to me, I’d go with a definition that was based on orbital characteristics and a minimum surface gravitational acceleration threshold—maybe size and density, too. But none of this “cleared its orbital path” crap.
Furthermore, I think all this a great illustration of how science works. Although it’s quite the fashion to talk about “scientific dogma”, what this shows is exactly how science works. There is no inflexible dogma. As new evidence emerges and is incorporated into the general body of knowledge, the “orthodoxy” changes. There are no absolute truths in science—only the best available information. Once we thought meat transformed directly into maggots; now we know otherwise. Today we think that no physical object can move faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, but tomorrow (or a hundred years from now, or a thousand) we may find we were wrong. It doesn’t mean anyone was wrong in their previous understanding. It means simply that their previous understanding was incomplete.
And that’s fine. In fact, it’s better than fine: it’s expected and, by and large, welcomed. I often wonder if the real conflict between religion and science isn’t that science stands in opposition to religion, which it does not, but that science embodies a way of approaching the world that could not be more different than that taught by most religions. There are no absolutes in science, no final immutable truths, nothing that cannot be supplanted by some new understanding. Change may happen slowly, and it always happens after there is clear and convincing evidence, but it does happen.
As with Pluto. At one time, it seemed like it could qualify as a planet. Now it does not. As we understand more about the universe, we will be able to formulate better definitions of what is a planet and what is not. Maybe that will mean one day re-planetizing Pluto, and if so, then fine. It’s all part of the process—excuse me, the method.
Maybe that’s a lot to hang on a change of classification for a tiny, frozen pile of rock, but it’s true nonetheless. Or at least it will remain true until someone can convincingly show otherwise.
In my head, at any rate, it was Jeffrey‘s angry post that kicked off the latest round of posts about consortium contretemps, even though Jeffrey’s post was triggered (at least in part) by a message posted to the fairly obscure public-qa-dev mailing list by Björn Höhrmann, detailing his reasons for leaving the W3C.
A little over a week later, there came a semi-rebuttal by Molly over at the Web Standards Project, where she talked about a new spirit of “opening up to new things”, like adding “at least one classically trained artist and graphic designer” to the CSS Working Group (a role that’s been more or less vacant ever since Jeff Veen left the WG over half a decade ago).
That’s great to hear, but what’s perversely fascinating to me is that in that very same post, Molly herself lists the reasons why Jeffrey’s anger is in no way misplaced:
Am I defending the W3C’s slow-to-move process or its over-bureaucratized administration? Its lack of attention and sensitivity to gender (count the women, go ahead, dare you) and racial diversity, its frightening disregard for the real needs of the workaday Web world? Oh no, nor would I want to.
It’s that last point that lends the greatest support to Jeffrey’s argument: “…frightening disregard for the real needs of the workaday Web world”.
What more really needs to be said? It’s the most concise indictment possible that the first part of the W3C’s mission statement, the fragment they put right on their home page, “Leading the Web to Its Full Potential…”, has been betrayed.
Believe me, I’d prefer things to be otherwise. I’m still a strong believer in standards, and for seven years (1997 – 2004) put my time and energy into supporting and advancing them as a member of the CSS Working Group. When I left, it was because I didn’t have the time and energy to contribute any more, and rather than continue to be a deadwood listing on the group’s roster, I left. But most of the reason I couldn’t come up with the time and energy was precisely what Molly articulated. I no longer believed in the W3C’s ability to do what it promised, and what I wanted.
But the worst part? None of this is new. Look back two years, when David Baron and Brendan Eich walked away from a W3C Workshop in disgust. To a large degree, both men walked away from the W3C itself at that point—and if you’ve spurred David Baron to turn his back on the web’s central standards body, then boyo, you’ve got some deeply serious problems.
Let’s be frank: a whole lot of people who believe passionately in the web’s potential and want to see it advance fought for years to make that happen through the W3C, and finally decided they’d had enough. One by one, I saw some of the best minds of my generation soured by the W3C; one by one, the embittered generals marched forward, determined to make some sort of progress.
Perhaps my eyes have become a touch too jaundiced over the last decade, but I’m not sure I could disagree more with what Molly claims near the end of her post:
Jeffrey is wrong in his current assessment of the W3C.
If only that were so.
If the folks at the WaSP believe the Good Ship Consortium is beginning to change course, then I’m happy for them, really; I’ll be even more happy if they’re right. But when the ship is moving so slowly and has drifted so far out to sea, how much relevance can a change of heading really have?
Last night, I returned from a week in Ojai, CA. The rules for my return were just a touch different than when I left.
For a moment on Thursday, I was seriously concerned, because the news reports made it seem like no books, iPods, laptops, or other time-fillers would be allowed on any flights in the U.S., and I was facing a flight home of four or more hours. Even worse, that meant I’d have to send my laptop through the baggage handling system. I was frankly far more concerned at the potential for damage or loss there than I was over the possibility that someone might blow up my plane.
Fortunately, things settled down and the truth emerged: no gels, liquids, or creams. Everything else is still permitted.
Although this isn’t true if you’re flying from the U.K. to the U.S. I was planning to be in London this November, but faced with the prospect of eight hours in a metal tube with nothing but the in-flight movies to occupy my attention, I’m starting to reconsider. I mean, come on: for my flight out to LAX, the movie was direct-to-video Dr. Dolittle 3. In comparison, their showing She’s the Man on the return flight almost seemed like a blessing. At least it was based on Shakespeare.
So anyway, the new security rules do actually improve a couple of things. For one, getting through the security checkpoint at LAX (terminal 6) in the middle of a Friday afternoon was a breeze, because the most anyone had was a briefcase, so there was a lot less struggling with bags and such. Also, the sudden lack of competition for overhead luggage space meant that boarding was quite smooth, with few if any aisle backups.
The downside, though, is that there is a final complete search of travelers’ bags at the gate (at least in LAX), and that part needs a lot of work. Instead of feeding people through the screening by rows, the way planes are usually boarded, they just told everyone to line up for screening. But they weren’t actually ready to let anyone on the plane, so the screening area was immediately clogged with already-screened passengers (with no real tracking of who’d actually been screened), which brought everything to a halt. It was a good ten minutes before the plane was open for boarding and the process unclogged.
Don’t get me wrong: if you’re going to search everyone for gels and such, doing it at the gate makes a lot more sense than doing it at the main security checkpoint. All I’m saying is that it needs to be done with a little bit of thought. As it was, the screening process at my gate was marginally less organized than an Easter Egg hunt conducted by a crowd of severely ADHD pre-schoolers. It’d be nice to see that improved before I get back on a plane. (That would be tomorrow, as it happens, so I’m not terribly hopeful.)
All this leaves aside the basic lack of common sense the whole situation evinces. Even if there were no more airport security than existed on 10 September 2001, the odds of my dying on a plane, whether by accident or design, would be several orders of magnitude smaller than the chances I’ll be killed driving to the airport. (This was triply true in my case, as I had to drive from outside Los Angeles to LAX in the middle of the day.) With the security that existed before this past week, my survival odds on the plane were greater still. I’m not saying we should just take away all the security, but personally, since Thursday I thought of at least two ways to take down a plane that the current system would be highly unlikely to catch.
At least, I think that’s so. It’s hard to be sure, because airport security is like the ultimate closed-source application. I can’t just say, “Hey, here’s a way to get a bomb past airport security using a medium-size ball of twine and 17 Hello Kitty stickers; how can we address this?” because then maybe I’ve given an idea to the Bad Guys, as though the Bad Guys haven’t been thinking about this a lot longer and harder than I have. The black hats know all about the system’s weaknesses, but we common users have no way to check for bugs without being hauled off to jail—or, if we simply speculate aloud on possible weaknesses and ways to patch them, get accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, whatever the hell that means. (Oh, that’s right: it means doing anything the current administration doesn’t like, including criticism of their decisions and actions. Sorry, I just forgot for a moment.)