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Daily Report

26 November 2002

[6 pm | noon]

In the first James Bond/007 novel, Casino Royale, the hero undergoes torture of a particularly perverse nature: his jimmy gets whacked bloody with a cane rug beater for over an hour. We were reminded of this yesterday while enduring four hours in a dentist’s chair. After the first 14,399 seconds, the taste of blood and old fillings loses its charm. One’s teeth have a peculiar scent when ground to powder by a high-powered drill whose whirrings are not quite loud enough to drown out the Kenny G CDs piped into the dental chamber for your aural pleasure. 14,400 seconds of drills, needles, and Kenny G versus 3600+ seconds of jimmy-whacking. Tough call. Royale is part of a series of James Bond trade paperbacks produced by Penguin and beautifully designed by Richie Fahey and Roseanne Serra. (The Amazon JPEGs do not do it justice. Fahey’s site comes close.) Fleming’s Bond is a descendant of Hammett’s Continental Op and Sam Spade and Chandler’s Marlowe: spartans who live by a code that insulates them from a corrupt and violent world but also prevents them from experiencing love or even simple happiness. It’s as far from Roger Moore’s smirk as you can get, though Connery, in the early Bond films of which Goldfinger is the best, captured some essence of it and spun it with charm. Then again, Connery’s James’s jimmy merely had to contend with laser beams.

Whatever its failings, Netscape 4 made it easy to install digital certificates essential for encrypting sensitive data—which is one reason web pros in the cash-strapped public sector have been stuck with that browser since man first walked upright. Hark! Hope: CREN has partnered with Opera. Hence Opera 7 will include a group certificate signed by CREN, enabling libraries and universities to migrate from a 1997 browser to a modern one that supports standards. (Hat tip: Tanya.)

On the web, self-motivated writer/artists become independent content providers. On the web, information wants to be free but many self-proclaimed content providers eventually seek a form of reimbursement more tangible than reader emails. Can content and cash be reconciled online? Adam Greenfield takes a thoughtful look at this question in “Briefing for a Descent into Heck” in the latest issue of Reservocation Magazine, which also includes an interview with art director/photographer Jordan Crane. It’s embarrassing to keep citing Greenfield’s work, but damned if he doesn’t keep cranking out some of the smartest stuff being written on and about the web.

“At a virtual gathering, you can’t quite smell the pumpkin pie, but you can feel the love.” CitizenX presents its third annual Virtual Grace on Thursday, 28 November at 3:30 PM EST, 12:30 PM Pacific. Turn on, tune in, pass the tofurkey. :::

25 November 2002

[11 am | 10 am]

New in Essentials: Printer-Friendly. Some notes on this site’s print style sheet that may help you design your own.

Photoshop 7 shortcuts for Windows. On the Mac, substitute COMMAND (the Apple key) for CTRL and OPTION for ALT. We hope Team Photoshop will publish a Mac version soon.

Just when you thought you knew how most modern browsers use DOCTYPEs to control the way your site looks and behaves, along comes Gecko’s “Almost Standards” Mode. Read this and bookmark it but don’t sweat it. What it means is that Mozilla, Netscape 7, and other Gecko browsers can be made to treat traditional web layouts the same way IE does, without requiring CSS workarounds. This is a good thing.

Other People’s Stories is a new indie site that publishes tales you’ve heard, overheard, or misheard, and illustrates them with found images. Link via: Harrumph. :::

23–24 November 2002

[Weekend Edition]

My Glamorous Life Number 75: Away. Turbulence, candles, and Brooks Brothers.

We’ve returned from five days in Boston. Defying the economic pressure that has killed many design conferences and prompted others to offer only safe, familiar topics, conference chair Jim Heid showed spunk and vision by adding extra days and vital new features to Web Design World. For the first time ever: an entire day on accessibility and another on web standards. You got two hours of Josh Davis right-braining his way through art as mathematical process. You got Shawn Henry tackling the nuts and bolts of accessibility. You got Tim Bray, co-author of XML, assessing predictors that can help determine which new technologies will gain acceptance in the marketplace and which will join pet rocks and the Lambada. You got a comfy hotel near the commercial charm of Newbury Street and the grandeur of the Boston Public Library. You got complementary high-speed access in every room and complementary wireless access in the conference space. If you missed this Web Design World, keep your eyes peeled for Seattle in 2003.

Adam Greenfield’s “What Lies Beneath: Some Essentials of Capitalism for Designers and IAs” explores the part of the Information Architecture equation that’s generally as ill-defined as the anatomy of a jellyfish. Worth reading.

Greenfield again, observing a nuance of the BBC redesign: “The background color of boxes containing links that you click frequently darkens a little every time you do so. Over time, those options that you use most often will stand out against the background, [creating] a thoroughly individualized map to your path through the space ... as a consequence of your own choices and with no further input required.”

Pixelsurgeon is giving away five copies of K48 (loads in popup window), an NYC-based indie print magazine covering fashion, photography, design, and music that includes a CD culled from New York’s underground electro scene.

If, after reading the manuals, following recommended steps to the letter, and consulting with Mac experts, you were absolutely unable to run OS X on a 20-month-old, top-of-the-line, non-amortized $7,000+ G4 Mac, what would you do? Buy a new Mac of course. Our 1Ghz PowerBook G4 with SuperDrive, 1MB of L3 cache, and 1GB of RAM will arrive in a few weeks. Based on our experiences with Carrie’s Ti-Book, it should run just fine. We can use our dual processor G4 for OS 9 and Windows XP and the new PowerBook for OS X, Unix, and road trips. We can cease our tragicomic efforts to shove the square peg of OS X into the round, bleeding wound of our primary design machine. We can read Splorp to find utilities that may make OS X as useful to us as OS 9 has been. We can stop dissing Steve for selling us a computer and an operating system that go together like peanut butter and bicycle chains. We can stop reading well-intended reader mail that advises us to do things we’ve already tried. We can stop thinking about things that don’t work in the OS space, and get back to worrying about what fails in the browser space. We can tell the security guard at LaGuardia we’ve got a laptop. :::

16–? November 2002

In Issue 155 of A List Apart, for people who make websites: “Flexible Layouts with CSS Positioning.” Want to spend less time on CSS hacking and more time on design? Need your site to look as good on a 160 x 160 PDA screen as it does on a 1024 x 768 PC monitor? Dug Falby shares two techniques for practical grid-building based on CSS’s sometimes abused, often besmirched, and widely misunderstood absolute positioning. Held over from last week: Flash Satay. Have your Flash and web standards, too.

24 hours from this writing, we’ll be landing in Boston for four days of peace, love, and Web Design World, where we’ll deliver three talks, participate in a panel or two, and dig on some of the smartest people in the web industry.

The Truth about Standards

In “The Truth About RDF,” Dave Winer says something that resonates with us:

“I am a disbeliever of anything that requires ... much documentation, head-scratching, hand-waving, and eyes-glazing-over.”

Dave is talking about RDF, but his comment applies to all web technologies. To become a web standard, a technology should:

  1. Solve practical problems. (A standard whose primary purpose is to prove a theory will be of little real use to designers and developers.)
  2. Be easy to understand. (Steep learning curves are okay for applications like Director and Photoshop. But if a web technology is so complex that even experts aren’t sure they understand it, it’s unlikely to be widely adopted or correctly used. If it’s vague as well as complex, the door is opened to incompatible implementations—1997 all over again.)
  3. Be capable of practical implementation. (Don’t expect anyone to take a new technology on faith. Be sure it works before asking companies to base their businesses on it.)
  4. Lend itself to widespread adoption. (A standard that isn’t widely adopted is merely a thesis.)

These principles are as obvious as the notion that a hammer should be hard enough to drive a nail. Yet lately some emerging specifications seem to have wandered away from the idea that standards are supposed to help people solve real problems in practical ways. Some proposed standards (and a few existing ones) smell like science projects to us. Overly complicated and obscure specifications with no rationale and no obvious benefits are more likely to be ignored than adopted.

HTML was basic and inconsistent but it empowered millions. CSS made the grade because it offered design control without bloat while allowing users with special needs to change what they saw. The W3C DOM saved designers and web users from the hell of incompatibility and “Best Viewed With...” banners and gave developers access to the data embedded in web documents. XHTML 1.0 brought consistent rules to traditional web markup and helped it play well with XML applications. These standards made sense because they solved real problems.

To keep making sense, standards must continue to solve real problems. They must not be designed to prove theories or to fix what’s not broken. They must be tested in implementations that have some bearing on the real world of web development. Their documentation must be clear, comprehensible, and free of the vagueness that leads to incompatible implementations based on guesswork. They should discard existing methods only when replacements offer overwhelmingly compelling—and realistic—benefits. And they should strive for compatibility with existing specs. A proposed standard that ignores these principles is an academic exercise. We prefer to take our exercise in the gym. :::

And furthermore

Watch a live webcast of Håkon Wium Lie’s lecture on “Scalable, Beautiful Web Documents” at the MIT Media Lab on Tuesday, 19 November at 4:00 p.m. EST. Håkon is the father of CSS and CTO of Opera.

Worth reading: “Accountability of Accessibility and Usability” by Anitra Pavka. The title’s a mouthful but the content is easy to digest. Pavka examines web accessibility in the light of recent legal challenges and invites our industry to create guidelines instead of waiting for Big Brother to tell us what to do.

From the mailbag: Anonymous Coward asks, “Why do you refer to yourself as ‘we?’” This old page answers that question and others. :::

Default text style.Alternate text style.Georgia on our minds.Watch this space.
A List Apart
Happy Cog Studios

This week in A List Apart Mag: Flexible Layouts with CSS – fluid grids that work. Held over from last week: Flash Satay. Have your Flash and web standards, too.

Current Glamor: Away

Latest Essential: Printer-Friendly

Recent launch: Fox Searchlight Pictures (with Hillman Curtis)

Recent interview: SXSW Interactive Tech Report

The independent content producer refuses to die.