Reinventing Fire

Boston in Winter

January 26, 2007

Filed under: Travel,W3C,Work — Magister @ 12:30 am

I’m here in Boston at a WebAPI Working Group meeting, along with several other WGs. I arrived yesterday afternoon, and headed toward my hotel on the rattletrap subway (part of the “T”… the nation’s oldest mass transportation system, and looks every day of it). The closest stop was across the river from the hotel, so I walked the Boston University Bridge across the Charles River… the river was frozen over, and geese were gathered on the ice. I was pleasantly surprised that it has not been that cold, though when the wind blows it is numbing.

We’re gathered at MIT, in the Stata Center, a misbegotten piece of architecture that looks like it’s a Transformer caught midway between building and airplane forms. I’d hoped to attend the WAF meeting here as well, earlier in the week, but there was just too much to do at work. As it was, I wasn’t quite done with my project (adding annotation functionality to some pregenerated charts), and the short plane rides just weren’t enough time to finish it (I stayed up late last night to dot the i’s and turn it in). I just barely got to my hotel before it was time for me to rush to MIT for the reception. I find that these joint gatherings are really useful… you get to network with others in the W3C, find out what else is going on outside your own corner of the Web, and find opportunities for collaborative efforts that bind the standards world together. Several old friends and acquaintances are here, including Chaals, Anne, and Kjetil from Opera (first time I met Kjetil IRL), Nandini from Sun (the co-chair of the SVG WG), Arun from AOL, and Jim from just about everywhere… as well as lots of other smart people I don’t know quite as well. I also exchanged a few words with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the energetic creator of the World Wide Web, who I’d met once before in Mandelieu, France.

WebAPI is concerned with the programming interfaces (events and methods) that script programmers use in Web development, while WAF is sort of a grab-bag of different higher-level programming languages and formats. In WebAPI, we reviewed the current state of our specification deliverables, and took steps to move a couple of them forward. One of those steps was a silly debate about what the names for some methods would be (some favored shorter names that are easier to type, while I was in the camp that preferred more descriptive albeit longer names… the decision came down on the latter, but I suspect the debate isn’t over). Another spec was waiting on a module to handle keyboard events –an issue with a lot of gotchas and thorny legacy problems, the different kinds of keyboards ranging from non-English keyboards to mobile phone soft keys– and I reluctantly volunteered to split that module off into its own spec, so we could move DOM3 Events forward. I don’t relish working on this spec, since it will involve aligning with a dilapidated patchwork of old interfaces that I personally feel should be discarded in favor of moving forward with a more sensible solution, but legacy content does need to be supported when possible. We also held liaisons with other groups, including SVG, which handed off some bits of its spec in order to concentrate on graphics, and which needs those bits to move forward apace. I was pleased to see Microsoft in attendance in the person of Travis, our newest WG member, and to have the participation of the likes of Marcos (hyperproductive WAF member).

I’ll be here the next couple of days, and hope to see some local friends while I’m here.

Party On

January 21, 2007

Filed under: Parties,Real Life — Magister @ 11:58 pm

When we were hunting for a new house this past Summer and Autumn, M and I wanted a place that would be good for parties. It’s not that we have thrown a lot of parties in the past… it’s that we wanted to change that. Well, we found a great place: spacious living room and kitchen, and a screened-in porch with sliding glass doors that joined the two. And we have had a few small dinners and hosted one Meet-Up. But we haven’t been holding parties, not even a housewarming. This year, that changes!

Our collective New Year’s Resolution was to throw a party a month for the next year. We succeeded –just barely– in that crucial first step… throwing the first party. We screwed up a little, with both of us so busy and thinking the other was sending out the email invitation, we only sent it out on Thursday, the day before the party, so we weren’t surprised that not many folks showed up. But we had fun anyway, and now we’re better prepared for next month.
Next month being Chinese New Year, we’re throwing a Chinese New Year’s Eve party on February 17. What exactly that entails, I have no idea yet, but it’s probably got something to do with dragons, pigs (next year’s Chinese zodiac animal), potstickers, and fireworks.

Snowday!

January 18, 2007

Filed under: Real Life — Magister @ 2:55 pm

I was really happy to see the ground covered with snow this morning.  I grew up in the Midwest in the 1970s, and we almost always had a lot of snow every winter (a foot or more at a time, sometimes).  They don’t seem to get as much out there these days (global warming?), and we missed a white Xmas when we were back there.  I didn’t think I’d get to see any snow this year, but lo and behold, we got a nice, manageable inch of powder.  I even saw a snowman in Carrboro while driving to the vet!

Comic Book Theory and Praxis

Filed under: comics,Real Life — Magister @ 1:00 am

Last night, M and I went to see a lecture by comics-theory guru Scott McCloud. He is doing a 50-state lecture tour with his entire family, including his wife and 2 animated daughters (energetic, that is… given that he’s a comics artist, I didn’t want to give the impression that his family is imaginary).

In the early 90s, he wrote a book called “Understanding Comics“, and followed it up in the Internet era with “Reinventing Comics“, which dealt with the potential that the Web offered for the comic form. Both of these books were definitive treatises on the history and nature of the comics form. Now, he has a book called “Making Comics” that puts it all in practice. His lecture summarized all 3 books in an hour and a half, and went very well. His older daughter did a short but amusing slideshow of their tour-to-date afterwards, and he closed the evening with a Q&A session and a book signing.

I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and I was thrilled to see him speak live.  I guess I could have probably seen him speak at a comic book convention or something, but I’m just not that invested in fandom.  I read comics like I read any other literature, I don’t make a lifestyle out of it.  The folks in the audience were mostly design students and faculty, I think, and I had some very interesting conversations before and after the lecture.

The lecture was sponsored by NCSU in Raleigh and Lulu.com, a very hip on-demand print publisher.

WTFipedia!

January 4, 2007

Filed under: Real Life,Tech — Magister @ 8:12 pm

A buddy of mine, Aaron, founded a startup based on some ideas for a content management/communications tool, which morphed into a very nice wiki. The company name is MindTouch, and the wiki is called DekiWiki (“smart wiki” in Japanese and Hawaiian, respectively). The software is an open-source branch off of MediaWiki (though with major improvements in the interface, IMO), and is available for free; the company sells support contracts and special hardware, IIRC. It’s pretty common for a company to give away software for free… my own employer, 6th Sense Analytics, has opened the source code for the SVG charting package I wrote for them, for example, because it’s not our core business. MindTouch is doing pretty well, and has had lots of positive exposure.

So, they did a bit of shameless promotion and posted an article on Wikipedia about it. Nothing wrong with that, there are lots of other wikis described there (including commercial ones).

It got deleted.

They reposted it.

It got deleted.

They asked what was up, and got a series of (lame, contradictory) answers. They tried reposting, and I edited the entry to clarify it and to downplay MindTouch and talk more about the free, open source software itself. When I tried to save the entry, I got a message instead:

“This page has been deleted, and protected to prevent re-creation.”

Say whuuuuuh?

There is supposedly a process whereby pages get marked for deletion, and undergo review. Anyone could have edited out the commercial aspects of the entry (which wasn’t all that egregious, just a blurb on the company itself). But they deleted it without following their own guidelines.

I like Wikipedia, for all its flaws. It’s a successful experiment in massive online collaboration, in my opinion, and I use it all the time. And I’m glad it hasn’t degenerated into an advertising morass. But don’t screw with their bottom line.

I’m not sure I would call this censorship, but it’s too dang close for my tastes. Read the talk page and draw your own conclusions.

Happy New Year!

Filed under: Real Life,Travel — Magister @ 5:46 pm

We did a bit of travel for the holidays this year. For Christmas day, M and I drove down to Orangeburg, South Carolina to see her grandmother, who runs a blueberry farm. The property itself is all decked out in decaying Southern glory, complete with a large ancient manor-esque house, fallow fields, and abandoned outbuildings. Strolling around M’s childhood grounds, we discovered an amazing fungus we’d never seen the like of before. This was one freaky, funky fungus, I’m telling you, and I will devote an entry to it soon, along with some stunning photos.

Then we drove back to fly out of RDU to my hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri. And by “fly”, I mean, we flew from RDU to STL (St. Louis) and took a shuttlebus to JC, 2 hours away. And by “took a shuttlebus to JC”, I mean took a bus to Columbia, 30 miles north of JC. You wouldn’t think a capitol city would be so hard to get to. (To be fair, we could have flown into Columbia Regional Airport, but the leg from STL to COU was too expensive). I normally only see my family once a year, so it was nice to visit them, and see old friends who are still in the area (or who are visiting their own families for the holidays).

One such friend (codename: Jello) had flown in from Hokkaido, Japan, where she teaches English at Sapporo University. Jello and her teacher friend had just driven back from St. Louis, where they saw a Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Botanical Gardens. M’s uncle is a glassblower, and we really like Chihuly, so we made a snap decision to take the bus up a day early and spend New Year’s Eve in St. Louis. We wondered about how to get around and where to leave our luggage, but in the end, it was easy… we just rented a car when we got up there.

The rest of the evening was not as straightforward. When we got up there, the Gardens were closed, although their phone message said they’d be open (or at least, only mentioned Christmas Day as an exclusion). We were really disappointed, since we’d come up specifically to see this (instead of going to a friend’s party). To make matters worse, it was as cold and windy as the dickens! But we tried to make the best of it, and drove downtown to see First Night.

I haven’t spent much time in St. Louis, so I didn’t know where to find dinner. I’m a vegetarian, but usually can eat at most restaurants… however, the ones downtown seemed to all have prepared overpriced meatfests for the occasion. We were referred to Govinda’s, a krishna eatery, but when we found it (on foot, having paid for parking), they were serving the dregs of an unappetizing buffet. But a nice Hindu woman there gave us a ride to Euclid Street, where we found (after a conversation with a waiter at one restaurant) a nice place called Wildflower. Afterwards, we walked (a long ways) back to First Night, which was unfortunately winding down. We took respite from the cold in a theater where The Zany Umbrella Circus was doing a vaudeville act, then continued on to the outdoor stages. Mysteriously, the last act was an DJ playing 80s music while break dancers performed. Break dancers. I swear. But within the hour, the fireworks display signaled midnight and the new year.

We still had hours to kill until our flight took off the next morning at 8, so we looked for an all-night diner. We got a recommendation for the Courtesy Diner, which was small and crowded, and we weren’t really hungry… we just wanted a nice place to chill out and be warm. A nice waitress there directed us to her favorite coffee shop, Cairdeas Coffee in Dogtown (the Irish quarter of St. Louis). We drove by, and to our surprise (this is after midnight, recall) the lights were on and there were people inside. But when we went in, we discovered it wasn’t open for business… they were holding a neighborhood New Year’s Eve party. But they were friendly and invited us in, gave us hot chocolate and wine, and offered us food from their potluck. It was a boisterous, drunken crowd, and we had a great time.

When we were leaving, a couple of hours later, they suggested we go to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, a local institution. The harried staff there served up some rather good pancakes (pecan for M, potato and applesauce for me), and then we drove out to the airport to return the car and check in for our flight. M napped, and I worked a bit on my laptop. I slept all the way home. Our friend B picked us up at the airport, and we were home.

It wasn’t the evening we expected, and we didn’t see the Chilhuly exhibit, but we had fun anyway. When Tennessee Williams wrote, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”, it was in a pretty creepy context. But it really was the basic goodness of people that made a fun time out of what could have been a lousy evening.

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