19 Dec 2007 9 am eastern

Let me hear your standards body talk

Jeremy Keith’s “Year Zero” beautifully explains why the W3C needs our backs, not our bullets.

The W3C is maddeningly opaque and its lieutenants will sometimes march madly into the sea, but it is all that stands between us and the whirlwind.

Slow the W3C will always be. Slow comes with the territory. If you glimpse even a hint of the level of detail required to craft usable standards, you’ll understand the slowness and maybe even be grateful for it—as you’d be grateful for a surgeon who takes his time while operating on your pancreas.

But the secrecy (which makes us read bad things into the slowness) must and will change. To my knowledge, the W3C has been working on its transparency problems for at least two years and making real change—just very slowly (there’s that word again) and incrementally and hence not at all obviously.

Key decision makers within the W3C intend to do much more, but they need to get their colleagues on board, and consensus-building is a bitch. A slow bitch.

If designers and developers are more aware of the problems than of the fact that the W3C is working to solve them, it’s because the W3C is not great at outreach. If they were great at outreach, we wouldn’t have needed a Web Standards Project to persuade browser makers to implement the specs and designers and developers to use them.

Designers sometimes compare the slow pace of standards with the fast pace of, say, Flash. But it is like comparing the output of the United Nations to the laws passed by a small benevolent dictatorship. When a company owns a technology, it can move fast. When a hundred companies that mistrust each other need to agree to every detail of a technology that only exists insofar as their phones and browsers support it, surprise, surprise, the pace is quite slow.

The W3C is working on its speed issues, too. It’s been forced to work on them by outside groups and by the success of microformats. But detailed interoperability of profound technologies no company owns is never going to happen half as fast as we’d like.

You want instant gratification, buy an iPod. You want standards that work, help. Or at least stop shouting.

[tags]w3c, standards, webstandards[/tags]

Filed under: Design, development, industry, Standards

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15 Dec 2007 12 am eastern

Re: CSS Unworking Group

Dear Andy:

I’m glad you’re expressing your concerns so forcefully; the web standards movement is painfully in need of leaders.

But like others I don’t see a connection between Opera’s lawsuit and your call for the disbanding of the CSS working group.

Apple and Microsoft and Netscape and Sun and Opera have been suing each other since the W3C started. What lawyers do has never stopped developers from Apple and Microsoft and Netscape and Sun and Opera from working together to craft W3C and ECMA specs.

And even if this time is different—even if, just this once, the existence of a lawsuit will stop a working group from working—I’m not sure it’s practical or advisable to cut browser makers out of the equation. For one thing, have you seen what the W3C comes up with when browser developers aren’t involved?

I can’t comment on the merits of Opera’s legal action because it is a legal action and I’m not a lawyer, let alone a lawyer versed in European antitrust law.

Based on past history, I don’t think the lawsuit will prevent the members of the CSS working group from doing their jobs. If it does, then the title of your post will be borne out, and Bert Bos, as group leader, will take action.

The web standards movement needs leaders who are passionate, but their leadership must also make sense. Proposing change when the change makes sense is good. Proposing change because you are disappointed and frustrated isn’t good enough. Anger can be brilliantly motivating; but anger is not a strategy.

[tags]webstandards, css, working group, opera, microsoft, antitrust, lawsuit, browsers[/tags]

Filed under: industry, Microsoft, Standards

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14 Dec 2007 8 am eastern

Adios, Technorati?

Without my permission, Technorati has stuck my photo and its logo in the sidebar of my site’s front page.

Technorati, when it works, provides useful services to blogs and their readers, such as the ability to track third-party responses to a post. (Google Blog Search works the same street, and refreshes more frequently.)

Technorati also indexes “authority,” which is its word for popularity as determined by the number of Technorati users who mark your site as a favorite.

Sooner or later, almost everyone with a blog “claims” it on Technorati by inserting a small piece of JavaScript into their template.

Until recently, that small piece of JavaScript helped Technorati keep track of your site, and that was all it did.

You could configure the script to show your picture and Technorati’s logo but you didn’t have to, and I chose not to.

Technorati called the script an “embed.”

In the last few days, Technorati apparenty converted its “embeds” to “widgets.”

Widgets do more than embeds, and I’m sure they’ll delight some blog owners. But I am not delighted. I wasn’t asked, or even notified. Through investigation (AKA random clicking) I found the widgets page and “customized” my widget not to show my photo and Technorati’s logo (i.e. I manually opted out of something I had previously already opted out of).

Except the opt-out didn’t take. My photo and Technorati’s logo are still stuck in my front page’s sidebar.

I’ll give Technorati a few days to clear its cache (or its head). If there’s still junk in my sidebar come Monday, then it’s adios, Technorati.

[tags]technorati, widgets, opt-in, opt-out, blogs, blogging, blogosphere[/tags]

Filed under: Blogs and Blogging, industry, technorati, widgets, work

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13 Dec 2007 8 pm eastern

Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for

Dragging my cheap three-wheeled suitcase home from Penn Station after a Boston business trip late Tuesday night, I passed three businessmen standing in the middle of Park Avenue with their raincoats awry. White, pushing 40, a few beers past sober. The one who slightly resembled Larry of the Three Stooges was trying to keep the party going.

“One more fucking beer,” he said. “Come on. I’ll fucking pay for it, motherfucker.”

Ever since Pulp Fiction electrified audiences and changed the film industry, every putz pushing 40 with a few beers in him thinks he is Samuel L. Jackson. Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for.

[tags]reallife, myglamorouslife, putz, pulpfiction, tarantino, pennstation, samuelljackson, zeldman[/tags]

Filed under: film, glamorous

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12 Dec 2007 4 pm eastern

Homeownership is a privilege, not a right

I need five certified checks for tomorrow’s closing. To get them, I’ve come to the Chase Bank nearest me with my checkbook, a pen, and a list of payees and dollar amounts I culled from a half-dozen of our lawyer’s e-mails.

(Names changed to protect the innocent: Dewey and Howe are the seller’s lawyers. Prescott is our lawyer. Lincoln is our mortgage broker.)

Dewey and Howe were supposed to send final figures well in advance of closing. Instead they’ve chosen not to correspond with us. As one of New York’s five oldest law firms, they only busy themselves when Tildens and Vanderbilts are involved.

Waiting in a long line gets me six pieces of paper to fill out. There’s an inch of free desk space by the front door, which is propped open to better circulate the December winds. The seventh time the December winds blow my paperwork across the lobby, I kick the doorstop across Park Avenue and pull the front door closed, not caring who sees me do it.

Now that the paperwork isn’t flying, I can find out what the bank needs from me before it will issue the certified checks.

One thing it needs is the addresses of the payees. Who knew? Not me, not our lawyer.

I call Prescott; he looks up the addresses on the internet while I scribble. (He can’t tell me the addresses by looking at paperwork, because Dewey and Howe haven’t sent any.)

I’m sweating and my writing hand is beginning to cramp.

Prescott, whose AOL e-mail account was having problems earlier in the day, is now receiving a flurry of messages from Lincoln the mortgage broker. In-between looking up payee addresses, Prescott tells me what’s in Lincoln’s e-mails.

What’s in Lincoln’s e-mails is an additional $5500 in fees that will be owed to various parties on top of the original cash motherload we paid at the beginning of this mess and the second two-ton payload we’re converting into certified checks at this moment. In the absurd economy of middle-class Manhattan home-buying, nearly overlooking an extra $5500 is like forgetting to mention the dollar charge for gift-wrap.

The throbbing Christmas music that has accompanied all action thus far seems inappropriately sedate as I cross the lobby perspiring like a bridegroom, bearing my newly filled-out forms.

Now I’m looking at two cashiers and praying I did the addition right. (Long story. Short version: you have to subtotal all the amounts yourself before this bank will issue you more than one certified check at once.)

Now I’m looking at three cashiers working on my certified check order. The one twenty years younger than me is the senior cashier in charge.

The third cashier working on my order says I have nice handwriting.

Now it’s just me and the littlest cashier.

Now I have my five certified checks.

Now I have to proofread them against the payee list I compiled earlier. Thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand and 44 cents.

Amused by my aura of suppressed hysteria, the littlest cashier says have a nice day.

Thank you, I say, meaning it.

[tags]sentfrommyiphone, homebuying, homeownership, NYC, apartment, home, bank, banking[/tags]

Filed under: experience, family, glamorous, homeownership, poverty

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5 Dec 2007 1 pm eastern

Stealing design

Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop.

[tags]design, experience[/tags]

Filed under: Design, experience, maturity, wisdom

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3 Dec 2007 10 pm eastern

ALA 250: HTML 5, design for flow

In Issue No. 250 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

A Preview of HTML 5

Who’s afraid of HTML 5? Not Lachlan Hunt! As both a front-end web developer and a contributor to HTML 5, he tells us what we can expect from the emerging markup specification, whose goals include more flexibility and greater interoperability.

Designing For Flow

Ask a web designer what makes a site great, and you’re likely to hear “ease of use.” Jim Ramsey begs to differ. Web applications in particular, he tells us, work best and engage most profoundly when they challenge users to overcome difficulties.

[tags]flow, design, alistapart, HTML5, W3C, standards, webstandards, specifications, markup, forpeoplewhomakewebsites[/tags]

Filed under: A List Apart, Design, Standards

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2 Dec 2007 10 am eastern

No heat at $5,000/month

Libertarians blame rent stabilization for the problems of tenants in cities like New York, but there are few rent stabilized apartments left in this town or this building. Most people in this building pay $4000 to $5000 a month for a “luxury rental” the size of a working-class Hoosier’s garage. Certainly the fee the landlord collects is luxurious. Nothing else about the place is. Particularly not luxurious is the lack of heat, now in its second day. Snow falls, arctic winds blow, but the $5000/month luxury building is as cold as a dead seal.

The building once employed a certified plumber capable of fixing the constant leaks and other woes that plague this building and are common to poorly maintained high-rise apartments thrown up in the go-go 1970s. But the managing agent was always six months late paying the plumber’s bill, and often argued about the charges months after they were incurred.

“I’ll pay for one guy,” the managing agent would tell the plumber six months after the plumber used three guys to fix an emergency in the building.

In cheating the licensed plumber, the managing agent did not act on the tenants’ behalf or with their knowledge or consent.

Eventually the competent licensed plumber grew tired of losing money every time he saved the building from disaster, and stopped accepting jobs here. The competent licensed plumber’s competent licensed colleagues did likewise. Thus the building placed its tenants at the mercies of the incompetent.

In the past 24 hours, four different low-cost plumbing companies have come to this luxury high-rise to fix its unconscionable heating problem. As a result of their efforts, the doctor’s office in the lobby has been flooded, and a pipe broke on the third floor, filling a tenant’s apartment with steam and pouring boiling water on her floor. Into this boiling water the tenant stepped when the steam she mistook for the smoke of a fire awoke her. I am grateful to hear that she is not seriously injured. Meanwhile, there is still no heat, and our daughter is sick with a hacking cough.

N.B. As a long-time tenant, I do not pay anything like $4,000 or $5,000 a month, but most people in the building do.

[tags]NYC, landlords, tenants, tenant rights, competence[/tags]

Filed under: cities, family, glamorous, homeownership, wealth

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30 Nov 2007 10 am eastern

A date with Sandra Bernhard

Today was the day we were supposed to close on our new home. We were going to pack Sunday and move Monday. Then we were going to fill the Happy Cog New York office with furniture and computers. And then we were going to Boston to talk for 60 minutes, and to Washington, DC to listen for 90.

We’re still going to Boston and DC, but the rest of the schedule has called in sick. We can’t close today because we got a better mortgage from a nicer (but slower) bank, and the nicer (but slower) bank must produce a bowel movement in the shape of a swan before issuing our check.

The office move is connected to the house move. The house move is contingent on the closing date.

Chaos! We have furniture being hauled to the wrong buildings on the wrong days. We have deliveries to postpone and shipments to despair on. We have computers and tickets and widgets of all sizes being FedExed to doormen who will ring for us in vain, their lonely vigils mocked by blinking Christmas displays.

But it’s a wonderful life. For, no matter how nutty the next weeks may be, and no matter how many stay-at-home, can-of-bean meals we consume in the coming decades to compensate for the funds we have spent and those we are about to spend, at the end of this nerve-wracking knuckle-cracking tango with lawyers and brokers and bankers and movers, our family will have a home.

[tags]homebuying, homes, nyc, newyorkcity, happycog, moving[/tags]

Filed under: cities, family, glamorous, homeownership, Zeldman

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28 Nov 2007 11 am eastern

Facebook and your privacy

Months after geeks who hate walled gardens hailed Facebook as the great exception, Facebook announces that it is wholesaling our privacy to any turdball with a dirty nickel to spend. So what else is new? And what do we do about it?

In a titled-for-SEO-rather-than-readers article, “Do Facebook users care about “privacy issues?” What about Doubleclick?,” Eric Eldon defends Facebook’s violation of its users’ privacy on the grounds that not many users have protested.

Some may not have protested because the petition against Facebook’s Beacon advertising feature is hosted by Moveon.org, an organization half of America considers a tool of the Antichrist. Many more may not have protested because they don’t know Facebook is violating their privacy. In a prove-nothing survey, no Facebook user I talked to yesterday was aware of the Facebook privacy concerns.

The New York Times explains what Moveon and members of the Facebook group, Facebook: Stop invading my privacy!, are protesting:

MoveOn is objecting to a new advertising technique that Facebook announced a few weeks ago that posts members’ purchases and activities on other websites in their Facebook profiles. Users can choose not to have the information posted from individual sites, or “opt out,” whereas with most Facebook applications associated with external sites, users must proactively choose to participate, or “opt in.” With the Beacon feature, if a user does not specifically decline participation, his or her Facebook friends will get a “news feed” notice about the purchase.

Back to Eldon. The interesting tidbit in his titled-for-SEO article is the suggestion that MoveOn is protesting the wrong thing, and that the problem goes well beyond Facebook:

Facebook uses the cookie it requires for logging into its site to track what you do on other sites, from what we can tell. These cookies are unique identifiers—code sent to each user’s computer from Facebook, and tracked by Facebook when they visit web pages.

In other words, Facebook tracks what you do when you are on websites other than Facebook, and shares that information with its advertisers and your Facebook friends. Hmm, who else does that sound like?

Google’s Doubleclick and Microsoft’s Atlas ad networks also use cookies to track user actions, and this is a long-standing issue for online privacy advocates. In fact, the U.S. Senate is looking into Doubleclick’s privacy issues now. We have not heard MoveOn comment on cookie tracking as it relates to Beacon or any other company that uses cookies to track users.

Spurious “no comment” jibes aside, Eldon has a point. Even if you feel smug for never having joined Facebook, unless you anonymize all your web browsing sessions, refuse to use or accept cookies, turn off images (in case one of them is a “tracker GIF”), and go into the woods with Ted Nugent and a crossbow, Big Advertising already has your number. It knows where you live, where you shop, and how much porn you download.

But that DoubleClick sins doesn’t excuse Facebook from betraying its members’ trusts.

(And yet, what else should we have expected? Did we really think Facebook’s investors just wanted us to have fun? Did we believe if there was a way to make a dirty dollar, they would scorn it on ethical grounds? This isn’t the Well, people.)

Stipulate that we like using Facebook but that we don’t wish to be denuded for the enrichment of goblins. Beyond joining the group and signing the petition, what do we do?

[tags]facebook, privacy, advertising, web advertising, doubleclick, socialnetworking[/tags]

Filed under: business, facebook, industry, privacy

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