All in

Three Saturdays ago, my father had a heart attack. Last Saturday, we rushed our baby daughter to the emergency room. In-between, my wife had to undergo scary and uncomfortable medical tests.

Everybody is fine, even my dad (truth in advertising: aspirin really can save your life) but my once-brown goatee has gone shock-white.

Everybody is fine, so take a deep breath and savor the unusually high pollen count.

Something else took place in these same tense two weeks: I finished my book. Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition (DWWS 2e) left my hands last night and will reach shelves this summer.

When I agreed to write DWWS 2e, I mistook the job for a quick spruce-up. After all, what I’d said in the first edition about the benefits of standards-based design was still true: accessibility and semantics make your content easier to find and faster and cheaper to distribute. And the browser most people used when I wrote the first edition hadn’t changed in five years, so how tough a rewrite could I be facing? I figured I was looking at an updated screenshot or two, a changed URL, and maybe a couple of sticky notes.

About four months into the grueling (but also magically riveting) process, I realized that what I was doing was writing a book.

A lot of 2e will be familiar to the book’s fans, but a lot is new. And new is work. New is infinite wash-loads of work. Messy, exhausting. At some point in the infinite rinsing and lathering I was told the book had to be finished by last night. And so it has been.

I wouldn’t have made it alone. Erin and Ethan were right in there, carrying me.

I finished. I finished while grappling with sudden existential crises involving the people I love most. But then, my mother died while I was finishing my first book. Books kill.

This is me being cheerful after completing a rather strong second edition.

2e! 2e! My father and daughter and wife are well. My book is good. My song is sung.

WCAG 2: the clock is ticking

This week’s A List Apart leads with accessibility expert Joe Clark’s detailed critique of the proposed WCAG 2 guidelines.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 is an international standard for making sites accessible to people with disabilities. Many nations adhere to WCAG 1.0 as law.

That’s great, except that WCAG 1.0 is seven years old, and parts of it are murkily conceived. The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) committee has toiled for years to offer a second-generation spec that is clearer and more up-to-date. WCAG 2.0 is the result. It was presented to the web community for comment a few weeks ago and achieves “Candidate Recommendation” status at the end of this month.

Although WCAG 2 has its supporters, and although good people have worked hard on it, Joe Clark believes “the fundamentals of WCAG 2 are nearly impossible for a working standards-compliant developer to understand,” with untestable success criteria and strange new definitions that don’t map to concepts like “page,” “site,” or “valid.”

Because WCAG 1.0 forms the basis of international law and because the standard’s goal is to serve the disabled, the success or failure of WCAG 2 matters to all who use, own, or make websites. Whether you end up agreeing or disagreeing with Joe Clark’s assessment, time is short and the stakes are incredibly high. I urge every web designer to read this article.

Also in this triple issue of A List Apart (and only overshadowed here because the clock on WCAG 2 is ticking) are two other exceptionally fine articles:

World Grows Small: Open Standards for the Global Web

by Molly E. Holzschlag

Molly Holzschlag explains how the practices you already use to create standards-based, accessible websites can serve you in the growing field of internationalization.

Community Creators, Secure Your Code! Part II

by Niklas Bivald

In part two of his two-part series on protecting your community site from malicious cross-site scripting attacks, Niklas Bivald rolls up his trousers and wades into the JavaScript.

Through a glass, lightly

The men had called a strike. A 25-foot-tall rat, representing Management, had been inflated in front of the offending place of business.

Our little blonde daughter, just 20 months old, rolled up in her stroller and observed the giant rat.

“Mouse!” she cried, clapping her tiny hands. “Mouse! Mouse! Mouse!”

A block down the road, the strikers could still hear her laughing and clapping.

“Mouse! Mouse! Mouse!”

Of writing and rosters

Events called me away, but I return, bringing news.

Tantek Çelik joins An Event Apart NYC roster
Tantek Çelik has joined the roster of An Event Apart NYC, where he will bring unparalleled insights on microformats and web standards to Code Day, July 11. Tantek is chief technologist at Technorati, co-founder of the microformats movement, creator of the Tasman rendering engine and the Box Model Hack, a contributor to the CSS and XHTML specs, and more. Come meet and learn from the man Meyer and Zeldman call “Master.”
A List Apart 216: Making Time, Sharpening Skills
Issue 216 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, features great articles from Derek Powazek and Ryan Carson. Mr Powazek’s Calling All Designers: Learn to Write! explains why it’s important for user-interface designers to sharpen up their writing skills. And Mr Carson’s Four-Day Week Challenge offers an approach to getting more done in less time. It’s a treat to publish Powazek again and a delight to welcome Carson.

She Blinded Me With Christian Science

Lovely links for a fab Friday.

Ma.gnolia API 1.0
It’s what Willis was talkin’ ’bout.
“Design Matters” with Debbie Millman (audio)
Intelligent audio interviews with leading graphic designers and type designers.
creativebits
“Macintosh design community” blogazine.
“Dear Secretary Small…”
Carl Malamud on the privatization of the commons.
Monkey Do
The attractive, minimalist site of Mike Pick and Tim Murtaugh’s web design and development shop.
Rosenfeld Media’s first book
Rosenfeld Media has signed Donna Maurer to write a book on card sorting. Take a survey to help shape the book. (Note: All Rosenfeld Media books will be created with reader input. Disclosure: I serve on Rosenfeld Media’s advisory board.)
“The Feed Validator is Dead to Me.”
Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress, on the politics of RSS.
Sacramento Bee redesign critique in pictures
“The page has a popover welcome message, tabbed features and a little JavaScript problem.” A critique by Aaron Gustafson, using Flickr.com as a teaching tool. (Interesting on both levels: the critique itself, and this usage of Flickr.)
King Kong reviewed, March 3, 1933
“Miss Wray goes through her ordeal with great courage.”
Daily Show smart. Comedy Central website, not so much.
“We’re sorry, but MotherLoad will only play on PCs with Windows XP or 2000/SP4+.”
The New Yorker reviews “An Inconvenient Truth”
“‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important.”
AIGA: Graphic No More
Christopher Fahey of Behavior Design has mixed feelings about AIGA’s repositioning.
Avalonstar
The blog of Bryan Veloso.
The Pains
Novelist John Sundman, author of Acts of the Apostles (recommended for those who take their sci-fi black) and Cheap Complex Devices, has released this new, Creative-Commons-licensed, illustrated novella.
Converting Flickr content to valid markup
Like it says. Mini-tutorial on Veerle’s blog.
Butt Head!
Nick Fruhling observes that a certain magazine’s masthead requires special care. Via Veer.
Font Finagler for Mac OS X
Clears font caches, thereby often fixing problems in Photoshop, the Finder, etc. The free and possibly best font management tool, Linotype Font Explorer X, also does this, as does Cocktail. Both Font Explorer X and Cocktail are a part of life at Happy Cog — and a fine part of life at that. But if all you need to do is empty your font caches, Font Finagler gets the job done, and how.

May Day, May Day

Every year or two a fresh crop of internet blowhards decides design doesn’t matter. Indeed, they proclaim that bad design is good. Not merely is it good, it is the secret to internet wealth and success, they tell us. Whereas, they assure us, user-friendly, brand-appropriate, professional graphic design — or even mere competence — is the royal road to Failureville.

I don’t understand the siren song of this demonstrably idiotic claim. I don’t know why it seduces a new crop of assh*les each year. I only know it does. And then, just as predictably, all the year’s hot young new media designers get in a huff defending design against the fools who attacked it.

Seems to me it might be better to let the anti-design dummies rant themselves out and roll along their happy ignorant path in search of new things to attack. Such as air. Or babies.

Maybe I am jaded. Or maybe it’s hard to get exercised over inanity you’ve seen recur so many times. The assertion that “bad design is good internet” has been made by one set of dorks after another since at least 1995. One prominent consultant aside, nobody can remember who these blowhards were. They charged full bore into obscurity, as dolts generally do.

So to this year’s hot (under the collar) web designers, remember: next year, you will still be designing beautiful websites. And the people who claim that bad design is good? If they’re lucky, they will be selling apples on the street corner.

In other news

  • It’s May Day. Immigrants protest, and rightfully so.
  • It’s May Day. And that means a reboot.
  • It’s May Day. And that means a reboot.
  • It’s May Day. A day that honors worker’s rights. So it is only fitting that May Day was also the day of the Canadian Union of Public Employees website reboot. Happy May Day! Happy workers! Happy Canadians! Happy Cog redesigned this site.

In other, other news

Registration is now open for An Event Apart NYC.

In other, other, other news

An Event Apart Chicago has sold out. Whee.

Hi, Mom!

MONDAY WOULD HAVE BEEN my mother’s birthday.

In 1993, her brother, my uncle, took me to lunch. We hadn’t seen each other for a while. I was newly sober and raw as a razor burn, but pleased to be coherent and in his company. After some minutes of chit-chat, he leaned forward and said, “I think your mother has Alzheimer’s.”

People emerge from addiction like newborns. I got sober for this? was my immediate, shameful thought. And then:

“Yes,” That Voice Inside Me replied, “you were saved, in part, so you could be present for your mother in her illness.”

And was I present enough? Thirteen years on from my rebirth and my mother’s death sentence, six years on from her passing, I am as confused as any survivor who loves and cannot save.

It is a lousy disease. Especially when you know you’ve got it.

There’s realizing, by the strained smiles that greet you, that you must have said the same thing more than once.

There’s the stage where you’re upset but can’t say why, and people who love you are looking at you with pity, and their pity frightens you and hurts your pride.

You fabricate conflicts with old friends until they stop seeing you, so they will not be there to witness your decline.

Later there is running out of the house, pursued by ghosts.

Then forgetting your grown children’s names. And your husband’s.

Then comes a hideous second infancy.

Then you don’t eat.

At that point you must be placed in a facility. The transition from your home to a “home” is accompanied by the grief, guilt, mourning, rage, and regret of those still actively living. But you are not aware of it.

Or so I hope.

I do not live in the same city as my parents, so showing up involved air travel and schedule coordination — afflictions of the living.

Sometimes my mother came to my city.

The misery was like a layer cake.

There was the time I arrived at the unveiling of my dear aunt’s tombstone to find my mother and father already at the graveside. My mother was crying but did not seem to know for whom.

“Look,” said my father, pointing in my direction in hopes of cheering her up.

My mother looked right at me.

“I know that man,” she said.

A year later she could not talk.

Finally she was like someone in a near-coma. She could sit up. You could wheel her around. That was about it.

“Look, it’s spring,” you would tell her.

“Look, it’s fall, the leaves are changing,” you would tell her.

Near the very end, her hair turned white and she bloated after a lifetime of elegant thinness.

About a month before she died suddenly in her sleep I was visiting her in the Home. She had not spoken for a long time. She did not look you in the eye or notice if you were there. She had stopped eating the ice cream and other treats my father was always bringing her, which she used to eat like a baby from his hands.

Her stereo from home was in the room — another of my father’s ideas — and I popped in a CD she had owned and loved when it was an LP, Frank Sinatra’s “Wee Small Hours.” Not that it would do any good. But you keep trying.

There’s this haunting bluesy saxaphone riff on one of the tracks — a sad, brief volley of notes. Suddenly, as it played, my mother gripped my arm. Then she was gone again. Had it even happened?

Maybe one day I will see her and maybe she will be able to tell me.

She died before September 11th, 2001, and I remember thinking, Well, at least she did not have to see this.

It is a lousy disease, and one of the lousiest things about it is the way it displaces the memories one would prefer to hold onto. My mother was shrewd, smart, compassionate, hilarious, political, artistic, lively — and loved her family almost to a fault. Those are the things I want to remember, and do, when the damned disease isn’t obliterating all memories not related to death and decline.

I am blessed with a wife and daughter. My mother, who would have adored them, does not know them. My daughter resembles me as I resemble my mother. My daughter’s hands and feet are like my mother’s. Her face is like a bust of my mother my grandfather made. I never knew my grandfather although his photograph smiled opaquely at me from my mother’s piano. A painting of my mother adorns one wall of our apartment.

Will my daughter know my mother as anything besides a painting and a ghost? I think so. For there are things I will teach my daughter that only my mother’s son could teach.

A dollar short and two days late, happy birthday, Mom.

A List Apart 215: triple issue

In a big triple issue of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

A More Accessible Map
by Seth Duffey
Nifty web maps powered by Google and Yahoo! APIs are all the rage. And rage is what a visually impaired user may feel when trying to use them. Is there a way to make beautiful web maps accessible? In a word, yes. Techy designers, you won’t want to miss this step-by-step guide.
Community Creators, Secure Your Code!
by Niklas Bivald
Don’t be like MySpace. Well, okay, be like MySpace in attracting millions of users. But don’t be like them in exposing your site and your users to virtual vandals. Protect your community site from malicious cross-site scripting attacks. Part one of a two-part series.
Everyware: Always Crashing in the Same Car
by Adam Greenfield
Ubiquitous computing is coming. In some ways, it’s already here. Shouldn’t we think about what we want it to be? In our last issue, we published the introduction to Adam Greenfield’s Everyware. In this issue, we run the book’s conclusion.

It’s spring in this part of the world, and this issue’s color scheme by art director Jason Santa Maria reflects that pleasing circumstance. (ALA’s color scheme changes every issue, but you knew that.) Production editor Aaron Gustafson contributed significantly to the issue’s editorial content. Watercolor illustration by Kevin Cornell. Editorial assistance by Erin Lynch. Behind-the-scenes system improvements by Dan Benjamin. Erin Kissane edits the magazine. Published by Happy Cog.

Kottke Joins The Deck

As many who follow the blogosphere know, Jason Kottke recently celebrated a joyous event. That’s right, he was added to The Deck, our targeted ad network for creative, web, and design professionals. Kottke.org will begin running Deck ads in May.

I knew Jason Kottke before he was Jason Kottke. I knew him way back when he was doing nifty web stuff like creating a fake “pick your color” page to let buyers of the then-new, first generation iMac choose a color other than Bondi blue for their hot new fashion computer. At the time, the iMac was only available in one color. Maybe Steve Jobs was an early Kottke fan.

Then Kottke turned all his web attention to blogging. It’s safe to say that most of us who blog have learned from him, and none of us is as good as he is. If there had been no blogging, it would have been necessary for Kottke to invent it.

When we started our new ad network, we all thought Kottke would be a great addition. And now he is.

There are several ways to fund high quality publishing on the web. One way is to charge a subscription fee for for some content. If you’re The New York Times or Advertising Age, you can make paid content work, although it will take trial and error to achieve the right mix of paid and free features at the right price.

Another way is to cover your site in paid advertising. Boing-boing does that, and I am fairly confident that they make money. There is an aesthetic cost and a user experience cost to doing it that way, but if you publish content many people want to read, as Boing-Boing does, you can make the multi-ad approach work, like they do.

With The Deck, we are trying something different. We are not charging for content and we are not plastering our pages with ad after ad after ad. Instead, we place just one ad on every page of a Deck site. The ad is drawn from a shallow pool of advertisers whose products we know to be of the highest quality and relevance to our readers. User experience is not diminished, and the reader knows that the product being advertised is deemed trustworthy by publishers the reader trusts.

A List Apart, 37signals, Daring Fireball, Waxy.org, The Morning News, Kottke.org and Coudal Partners make up The Deck. Limited advertising opportunites are currently available May through July.