We’d planned on flying to Xi’an today, but we didn’t realize that in order to pay for tickets with the reservation site we’re using (CTrip.com), we had to pay 24 hours in advance to use a foreign (US) credit card. So we saw some local sites, got oil massages, and fly out tomorrow. We had to make a snap decision about how long to stay there, so we will fly the next morning to Guilin.
Today, M and I hiked along the Great Wall. We hired the same driver several other conventioneers had found, and he dropped us off at Jinshanling, driving to Simatai to wait for us there. We walked and clambered and climbed the Wall for about 14 kilometers, past or through about 35 beacon towers (spaced, apparently, such that no space in between was out of bow range). The Wall was crumbled in places, and breath-takingly steep in others… but that didn’t stop the hordes of locals who greeted us regularly along the way with trinkets, postcards, t-shirts, and drinks; clustered in twos and threes, they cajoled and even followed us. They had a network of secret paths they used to get to and between towers, and they seemed to work together to some extent (“Coke? Beer? Postcard? You buy later…”). We did buy a few things (normally water), more out of sympathy and admiration than need. China is amazingly, aggressively capitalist. The invaders of ages past now make their living from the Wall itself.
The Great Wall itself is impressive, snaking (or rather, dragon-ing) across the mountains, clawing up and down the foothills. While not as old as I had thought (this section was built between 18 and 33 generations ago), it was nonetheless an impressive sight.
My initial frame of reference for Chinese culture was my travel in Japan. I’ve been there 3 or 4 times (twice for a couple weeks at a time, traveling around), have some Japanese friends, and know a bit about their pop culture, so it was by far the Asian country I was most familiar with. Coming to China, I was struck almost immediately by the difference.
The Chinese are really friendly.
The Japanese are often more polite, but rather more reserved. The Chinese may not be as polite, but they seem more genuinely approachable and gregarious. Strikingly so. It seems to me that they are both more polite and more friendly than Americans in general, too. They are helpful and just seem to smile more, and the kids especially are quick to shyly say “hello”. The parents also seem very indulgent of their kids, for what that’s worth, but they kids seem well-behaved nonetheless.
They are also rather taken with M, no doubt because of her fair skin, height, and (if I may say so) beauty. They want to take pictures of her, and with her, quite frequently.
A slightly less wholesome side of this lightness of spirit is the ease with which I’ve seen people here slip into defense or praise of their government, and what might be a complacence about political matters. The propaganda in China, in tourist papers and on TV (and especially regarding the Olympics), is as thick as the air; I need a knife and fork to breathe here sometimes.
On our first day since M arrived, we set out to the Forbidden City, one of the must-sees of Beijing. In front of the hotel, we bumped into a woman who works for Microsoft in the area of accessibility, and we shared a taxi, then decided to hang out the rest of the day. She and I had a surprising amount in common, and bored M silly with talk of standards and accessible graphics. We walked around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and then took a bicycle rickshaw to the hip lake district for dinner and souvenir shopping.
In the Forbidden City, I rented an audio-tour player, and relayed tidbits to them along the way. I learned about various measurement devices there (such as a sundial) which were not merely the official standard for the empire (e.g. for time); one of the roles of the Emperor, was as supreme –even divine– authority of Heaven’s standards on Earth. Perhaps that’s taking it a bit far, but it does emphasize the importance of standards (even arbitrary ones) in making a collection of disparate entities work together, be they formerly independent kingdoms or browsers. It’s worth noting that even today, despite China’s breadth, it has not four or five time zones, but only one.
I’m in Beijing, presenting at the WWW2008 conference. Last night, we attended a banquet at the Great Hall of the People, which (ironically) is hard for most Chinese people to get into. On the long bus ride there, I was rather surprised to see a young man driving a trailer-bike with an anarchy flag flying from a pole.
I’d have loved to grab a picture of this, but we were warned that the security wouldn’t let us in with any camera bigger than a mobile phone. Foolishly, I took them at their word; others brought in SLRs, so it’s clear it wasn’t that serious a matter. One of my colleagues refused to attend, even though he had a ticket, because he didn’t approve of the security screening; I admire his principles.
The banquet was great, with good food and several performances by singers, dancers, musicians, and even a truncated opera. Tim Berners-Lee gave the keynote, and he spoke about the size and rate of growth of the Internet, comparing it in size to the number of neurons and connections in the human brain. He also opined about social networks, urging them to adopt privacy policies that respect the users, with the expectation that that would lead to open systems with open data. He discussed challenges and opportunities in the standards process, pointing out that the very factors that build cohesion and camaraderie in groups serve as bricks in the wall that divides that group from the larger community. Finally, when asked to speculate about how the world would change because of the Web, he was quick to point out that the Web was built by people, by the larger community, and that this distributed effort will allow humanity to experiment with new models of economy, of cooperation, of government, and with science itself; that we could “let a thousand flowers bloom”, and pick the best path forward in all our endeavors.
Since I was Down Under for the annual SVG Sydney F2F anyway, I made plans to meet with some key players in the Annodex Foundation. They are doing some amazing stuff with video on the Web, far ahead of anything I’ve seen elsewhere. I first met Silvia Pfeiffer at the W3C Video on the Web Workshop a couple of months ago. She threw a small barbecue on Saturday, and we met again for dinner and drinks at Coogee Beach on Sunday evening, this time my my friend Andrew Shellshear, who I stayed with over the weekend and who is doing some neat stuff with video himself.
We talked about true video hyperlinking, media metadata and searching and APIs and the Semantic Web and accessibility, proxies and caching and bandwidth, codecs, uploading and streaming, and sundry other things regarding video as a first-class citizen of the Web. This is a hot area to watch for Web standards, because it needs to be done right, and it needs to be open.
I’m here in Sydney to attend the SVG Working Group F2F. This marks the third time I’ve done this trip. When I first joined the SVG WG, I flew here for my first face-to-face meeting, and SVG 1.2 Tiny was in the can, no new features, only such changes as required by Last Call comments; this was a bit frustrating for someone who set out to represent authors, since I really felt some new functionality was needed. But it had already been too long between versions, and SVG 1.2 Tiny just needed to be published before new work could be started, so I took one for the team. I was assured that it would be published and done within months.
Well, the best-laid plans… I was here last January again, and the same situation applied. We’d received an avalanche of Last Call comments, from typos to tweaks to time-wasters to trip-wires. It amounted to a sort of Denial of Specification attack. Many of the comments were valid criticisms (though a few of those couldn’t be helped due to legacy or other dependencies), but an equal number were ideological. But all of them had to be dealt with. This had occupied the past year, and looked to occupy the foreseeable future, but we soldiered on. The biggest chunk of work was dealing with errata for SVG 1.1, and with the test suite and implementor feedback (which is the point of “CR”, the Candidate Recommendation stage of becoming a W3C Recommendation). We also split out some functionality into the WebAPI WG, so it could be more generally used by other Web technologies besides SVG. So last year, it looked like one step up and two steps back.
And now another year has passed. In this last year, I came to work for W3C directly, and the SVG WG has two new Chairs, one each from a desktop and a mobile implementor (Opera and BitFlash). SVG 1.1 is better specified, due to errata, and better implemented, due to good, interoperable native implementations in Opera, Safari/WebKit, and Firefox. SVG 1.2 Tiny is widely deployed on mobile phones (more widely than Flash Lite), due to excellent implementation by BitFlash and Ikivo, and has a good test suite that’s still growing (and will keep growing even after it’s published… can’t have too many tests). We’ve cleaned up the SVG 1.2 Tiny spec, and made progress on ancillary specifications. We’ve pared down what needs doing in order to move forward to the next stage on the Recommendation Track. We’ve learned from past mistakes, and we’re working more openly with implementors and the general public.
And we’re talking about new features. We spent a day this F2F planning several small modules for the next year or so that will add capability to SVG, and make it easier to author compelling content in this iPhone age. SVG was a bit ahead of its time (especially as regards uptake in desktop browsers), but with the delays of the past couple of years, competing technologies are pulling ahead. We’ve got an aggressive plan that includes bringing in more direct feedback from designers and developers, and targeted feature additions.
When I joined the Working Group three years ago, SVG was struggling and morale was low. But now we’re really excited by all the recent progress and the momentum behind SVG. This looks like a good year for SVG.
For the first time, on my third trip to Japan, I saw Mt. Fuji. M and had I tried to see it from Hakone last time I was here, but the weather wasn’t playing along.
The W3C-Keio team was taking a break out on the patio of the office, talking about how beautiful it was in the fall. I saw a few mountains under a white-clouded sky, and asked if Mt. Fuji was visible. They thought I was joking. They pointed out that it was… and that I should get a picture from the other patio, where the radio tower didn’t get in the way. As I was framing the shot, still unclear as to which of the mountains it was, my perception shifted… and I saw that the clouds weren’t clouds, but the snow-covered peak of a monstrous mountain! It was so big, it didn’t even register at first. It reminds me of the islanders (Hawaiians?) who couldn’t see the European ships off the shore… it was just outside their experience.
I arrived in Hamburg today for the CDF F2F, and walked around town a bit. A nice sunny day, and nowhere near as stiflingly hot as Japan. I’d asked the advice of the hotel clerk on where to eat, and she directed me to the non-tourist section of town nearby. As I looked for a veggie-friendly restaurant, I took in the local color… kebab restaurant, fruit stand, sex shop, muslim garment shop, pastry shop, gay bookstore, peepshow kino, church, sex shop, grocery, couple of prostitutes, bar, poster advertising an “orgie”… wait, what the f… er, heck is going here? This is just a normal section of town, but it’s awash with sex… turns out, a little googling later, that Hamburg is like the Las Vegas or Amsterdam of Germany. And I wasn’t even in the red light district of St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn!
On the way back to my hotel, a strange game caught my eye from the window of a cafe. Four guys with racks of chips like little playing cards were turning and tossing and clicking them. I stopped by to look and they motioned me to sit in the wide windowsill of the Turkish tea room, and half explained the game as they played, buying me a cup of tea. When I tried to reciprocate, the barista wouldn’t let me, waving me off with a smile. Friendly folks.
Dateline Tokyo. After about a month, I’m packing up to leave Japan. It’s been a good trip, but busy… I’ve kept notes and taken pictures, and I’ll be posting a short post-mortem travelogue when I get back to the States.