San Francisco, here you come

San Francisco. California’s jewel. America’s prettiest city. Cool fog and hot startups.

I last left San Francisco on September 10th, 2001. It was a good day for flying. I had gone there to speak. Normally when I present at a conference, I stick around, listening to the other speakers and chatting with attendees. But I saw little of that conference and even less of San Francisco, for accompanying me was she who is now my wife. Even from the heights of Coit Tower, I only had eyes for her.

On October 4–5, 2007, I return to the city by the bay for the fourth and final Event Apart conference of 2007. The schedule of presentations, published Monday, outlines a holistic approach to web design rarely seen on conference stages.

There are sessions on writing the user interface and developing effective content strategies (art direction for words, if you will). Sessions on designing and redesigning brands, adding ’zazz to tired layouts, and creating designs that scale to accommodate a thousand users or millions.

Someone who’s actually done it (and at a big company, yet) will share insights on promoting and nurturing standards adoption in the workplace. We’ll find out how CSS really works and what IE7 means to developers. And we’ll learn how to design and structure forms to maximize accessibility, improve semantics, and allow for more flexible styling.

The world’s foremost expert on the subject will tell us what’s wrong with online video captioning (a concern in our increasingly YouTubed world) and how to do it right. And from one of the founders of the usability movement, we’ll gain clues into how people follow the scent of information—and how that knowledge can help us connect users to the content and functions they seek:

…how the quality of links affects whether users click on them; how longer pages actually help users get where they are going faster; the three types of graphics; how users follow a scent; and four ways your design could be blocking their smell.

An Event Apart San Francisco presents one of our most striking speaker line-ups yet: movers from Google and PayPal, shakers from Apple and A List Apart, passionate leaders and experts, all. Plus two big parties, sponsored by Adobe and (mt) Media Temple, where you can network, job-hunt, swap horror stories and phone numbers, or just boogie the night away. Plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on both days, and a dandy bag of swag. All for $795 (reg. $895) during the earlybird savings period through September 7th.

Readers of zeldman.com can take an additional $50 off by using the discount code AEAZELD. Enter that code in the discount coupon area of the registration form to get all of AEA San Francisco for $745. Seating is limited and this opportunity won’t last forever. Don’t leave your seat in San Francisco. Tell your corporate overlord or generous uncle about An Event Apart San Francisco 2007 today.

[tags]aneventapart, aeasf07, design, webdesign, webstandards, conferences, seminars, sanfrancisco[/tags]

The King of Web Standards

In BusinessWeek, senior writer for Innovation & Design Jessie Scanlon has just published “Jeffrey Zeldman: King of Web Standards.” By any standards (heh heh), it is an accurate and well researched article. By the standards of technology journalism, it is exceptional. It might even help designers who aren’t named Jeffrey Zeldman as they struggle to explain the benefits of web standards to their bosses or clients. At the least, its publication in Business Week will command some business people’s attention, and perhaps their respect.

Avoiding the twin dangers of oversimplification that misleads, and pedantry that bores or confuses, Scanlon informs business readers about the markup and code that underlies websites; what went wrong with it in the early days of the web; and how web standards help ensure “that a Web site can be used by someone using any browser and any Web-enabled device.”

Scanlon communicates this information quickly, so as not to waste a business reader’s time, and clearly, without talking down to the reader. This makes her article, not merely a dandy clipping for my scrapbook, but a useful tool of web standards evangelism.

Contributing to the article with their comments are Jeff Veen, manager of user experience for Google’s web applications and former director of Hotwired.com; NYTimes.com design director, subtraction.com author, and grid-meister Khoi Vinh; and Dan Cederholm, founder of SimpleBits and author of Bulletproof Web Design. Dave Shea’s CSS Zen Garden features prominently as well, and rightfully so.

A right sexy slide show accompanies the article.

And lest a BusinessWeek article lull us into complacency, let us here note that the top 20 blogs as measured by Technorati.com fail validation—including one blog Happy Cog designed. (It was valid when we handed it off to the client.)

[tags]design, webdesign, standards, webstandards, webstandardsproject, WaSP, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman, veen, jeffveen, simplebits, dancederholm, bulletproof, khoivinh, subtraction, wired, hotwired, nytimes, happycog, zengarden, css, csszengarden[/tags]

Bang!

Had I known that there was an explosion in midtown Manhattan near where my wife works, and that my wife and daughter were out in the ensuing chaos, I would have been far more anxious during my train ride home from Philadelphia last night.

I had gone to the city of brotherly love on business. One of our party misplaced her iPhone, discovering the loss as we were about to board the train back to New York. The odds against her recovering it would kill a game in Vegas. But it is her only phone and she is about to leave the country, so she stayed behind in hopes of locating it. Anxiety on her account, and some guilt at having boarded the train without her, kept me plenty busy on the ride home.

Like The New York Public Library, the old Pennsylvania Station was a Beaux-Arts masterpiece (photos: concourse and entrance in 1962, two years prior to demolition). An abomination replaced it. Outrage over this desecration gave us laws supporting historic preservation and preventing future desecrations, making the old Pennsylvania Station the Jesus of buildings.

One emerges from the current Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom.

On emerging from Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom, I overheard people discussing 9/11. That seemed odd. New Yorkers don’t talk about 9/11; we leave that to politicians. When I reached home, fifteen minutes’ humid walk later, my doorman was also muttering about 9/11. Odder still.

I expected to find my daughter asleep. Not so.

“Can you tell something happened?” my wife asked.

She had seen the explosion while standing about a mile north of it (just as, on September 11th, 2001, she had seen the twin towers on fire from a position on Fifth Avenue about two miles north of the disaster) and asked two firefighters who were also gazing in its direction if the intersection where it had occurred was known. 41st Street, they said. Reassured that our home had not blown up, she went on to the rendezvous where she was to pick up our daughter from her baby-sitter. Our daughter and her baby-sitter were not there. I can imagine my wife’s reaction to that absence. (I knew nothing about it, sitting in a crowded Amtrak car, discussing a client project, and worrying about a missing iPhone.)

Finally our daughter arrived; her baby-sitter was put in a cab; and my wife and daughter attended a birthday party for one of our daughter’s friends—a younger girl who had just turned two. Pizza and cupcakes were served.

At seven, the party ended, and, as at all children’s parties in New York, the guests were shooed out.

Philadelphia is 100 miles from New York. I made it in an hour. It took my wife and daughter two hours to traverse the single mile home. The subways were out, two avenues were closed, the whole world was taking buses or walking north, away from the disaster. Just below the cutoff and oblivious to it, I walked home knowing nothing except that I had had a good meeting in Philadelphia, and had perhaps overdone it on the huevos rancheros at Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat Restaurant.

Here’s how it looks in a newspaper:

A steam pipe installed in 1924 ruptured in a thunderous explosion shortly before 6 p.m. today, sending steam, water and debris shooting outward and sending clouds of smoke and dust billowing through Midtown Manhattan at the height of the evening rush. One person died of cardiac arrest, and more than 20 others were injured. The authorities ruled out any criminal activity, saying the explosion was apparently caused by a failure of antiquated infrastructure.

How was it for you?

[tags]steampipe, explosion, nyc, newyork, newyorkcity, myglamorouslife[/tags]

Near-death, non-birth

My wife Carrie, in “Things I Learned the Hard Way,” writes about two traumas our family underwent during the final months of 2006. A miscarriage and the near-death of a loved parent do not a happy holiday make. Other intense events—another seriously ill parent, for instance—also colored the period. Both parents have recovered. I haven’t written about any of it. I’m glad Carrie did, and I’m glad it’s behind us.

Comments off. But feel free to comment on Carrie’s site.

Gas

When I walked our dog this morning, two muscular officials were urgently pressing our young doorman to rouse the building’s superintendent on the phone.

The super is a Romanian with a warm heart and an unfortunate resemblance to Saddam Hussein. His voice came blaring up on the intercom.

“The gas leak is in the school,” I heard him say, meaning the high school that abuts our apartment building. “Everything here is hunky-dory.”

“Nothing is hunky-dory,” said the younger of the muscular officials into the intercom. “The leak is in the Chinese restaurant, too. It’s definitely in this building.”

As I worked through the early morning morning, I heard many fire engines.

The Wife called to tell me that a natural gas odor was being reported all over the city. We decided not to panic, and to phone each other again when we knew more.

A while later we knew more. We knew the “smell of gas” was being reported from Battery Park to upper Manhattan, and in parts of New Jersey.

We knew that the smell was not natural gas but mercaptan, a chemical that is injected into natural gas to let people know when there’s a leak.

We knew that some trains to New Jersey were suspended. Some buildings had been evacuated. The subway was still working.

We discussed sending our two-year-old to Brooklyn with a baby-sitter, in case Manhattan blew up.

If we were going to do it, we’d better do it while the subways were still usable. If a state of emergency was declared, the underground would clog with terrified human beings, trampling each other.

We decided, on the basis of no evidence one way or the other, that Manhattan was not going to blow up today.

A little while later, the mayor said the same thing.

Train service to New Jersey was restored before lunchtime.

Nobody knows what caused the smell.

Tanks

During his time in the military, a man I know served in Psychological Operations, or as it is better known, PSYOPS. Psychological Operations are designed to attack the enemy’s morale, undermining confidence and introducing fear.

Stationed at South Korea’s border with the North, my friend’s job was to create soundscapes. By mixing sound effects loops, he created the audio illusion of an apparently endless procession of armored vehicles. To the North Koreans, who could not see what was on the other side, it sounded like an immense army was mobilizing at their border.

My wife recalled this story during a dinner last night at an elegant restaurant. At least, it was elegant until we showed up. Our two-year-old daughter had missed her nap and was conducting a series of terror attacks on the linen, cutlery, and staff.

In an effort to save the restaurant from destruction and our family from shame, we tried bribing, coddling, and various distractions. When nothing else worked, we resorted to an escalating series of empty threats. Eventually, if only for a moment, we prevailed.

Gently removing sauce from her delicate blouse, my clever wife observed that parenting is like PSYOPS. You want them to think you have the tanks.

Pardon Mon Oncle

Happy Cog: About us
Pardon our size, we are growing.
Sonja Mueller Photography
Photo portfolio with unusual (unique, soothing, rather beautiful, if ultimately unrelated to the content it supports) Flash-based interface. The rich interface almost overshadows the photography.
Deconstructing the Mobile Web

The mobile Web is largely overplayed hype—the clumsy extrapolation of the behavior and use of a basic set of interfaces from one environment to another incompatible one.

10 Things I Learned at Mobile 2.0
  1. Mobile 2.0 = The Web.
  2. The mobile web browser is the next killer app.

Plus eight more things!

Turing Test Proves 2-Year-Olds Not Human

Roger Mason and Cao Li, as part of their Doctoral thesis, have performed the Turing Test on a group of 2-year-old children, both male and female. The results show that of a group of 100 children, none passed the Turing Test.

Q. Why Am I So Angry?
A. Pants.
Are you ready for ISBN-13?
On 1 January 2007, the length of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) will officially change from 10 to 13 digits. Pearson’s online tool quickly translates between 10 and 13-digit ISBNs.
Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense
NY Times: Semantic Web = Web 3.0.
Safari Tidy plugin
Automagically validate the web pages you browse for (x)html compliance. Works great! Recommended.
Flickr: Retro Kid
Astounding photo pool containing thousands of retro images—classic faves to arcane rarities. It’s a themed bazaar for your eyeballs! For yet more visual pleasure and oblique social commentary, see also the Paula Wirth Flickr Groups.
Pimp My Safari
Extend Safari like you extend Firefox.
Gratuitous use of buttocks in music marketing
The song remains the same. Not work-safe.

[tags]mobile web, web 3.0, flickr, happycog, IA, ISBN, semantic web[/tags]

A Jewish King

We’ve begun asking our two-year-old daughter how she’d feel about acquiring a sister or brother. Last night while I was diapering her, she said, “I want a baby.”

“You want a baby?” I said.

“I want a baby!” she said.

“What kind of baby?”

“A Jewish baby,” she said.

I wasn’t sure I’d gotten that.

“You want a what?”

“I want a Jewish baby,” she said. Then amended it: “A Jewish king.”

Now I was sure of what I was hearing, but I wasn’t sure I was awake.

My wife entered as I finished snapping the child’s hippo jammies.

My wife said, “Did I just hear what I think I heard?”

“Uh huh,” I said.

Our attentiveness pleased our daughter.

“I want a Jewish king,” she said.

“Okay, honey,” I said to our daughter, “you’re freaking us out a little bit, now.”

She grinned to show she understood. “Jewish king!” she said.

Children say strange things, many of them meaningless. No doubt that’s the case here. Still, this morning I started checking real estate listings in Bethlehem. Just to be on the safe side.

Kiss the sky

Rose 4:30 am. Wife and Kid in car service 5:30 am—off to airport, then Michigan. The Kid, not yet two, gets airplanes. On Fire Island, during a vacation which ended weeks ago but seems to have taken place in a separate century, she flew a toy airplane “to Jamaica” for several afternoons running. Not only that, she pointed out the real airplanes and helicopters occasionally flying over the island, and distinguished correctly between the two types of airborne vehicle.

Before this same vacation was halfway over, a mini-tornado touched down in nearby Queens, New York, initiating a week of hard rain. To find out if we needed to evacuate the island, we turned on the beach cottage’s small TV and watched the local news broadcasts, which were only slightly less operatic than The Sopranos. Panting TV journalists interrupted their Katrina-like reportage of the weather event to hype airline terror threats that turned out to be pranks or mistakes. When the TV showed three airplanes in a row as part of its “terror in the skies” coverage, The Kid pointed, clapped, and cried, “Airplane! Airplane!”

And when The Wife was called to her ancestral home last week, The Kid, not yet two, understood that Mommy was taking an airplane to give Grandma an all-better kiss.

Now they are both flying to the ancestral home to see Grandma. As I write this, they must be nearing their landing place. But I am not with them. I go to Seattle.

My grandfather, for whom I was named, died in a plane crash when my mother was eleven. The incident colored every moment of her life. I grew up afraid of flying in consequence—convinced I would die like my namesake. I don’t know when I stopped being afraid. I do a lot of flying, and my main worry, when traveling solo, is to be sure I’ve packed a book I love. (When traveling with The Kid, my anxieties revolve around liquids, snacks, diapers, and naps.)

I do a lot of flying, but not nearly as much as I could. I could speak in a different place every week if I said yes. These days I am careful about yes. Not because I fear, but because I love.

Today it’s Seattle. The book I’ve packed is The History of Love.