Though it’s Friday back home, it’s Saturday here in Sydney, and it’s been a a long week of meetings. Or meeting, I should say… the first SVG WG F2F of 2007, and my reunion of sorts. I first joined the SVG WG last January, and my first meeting was in Sydney. The winter (read: summer) Sydney meeting, hosted by Canon, has become a tradition. I sure can’t complain. As usual for a face-to-face, we’ve been sequestered in a hotel room all day, though with a beautiful view of Manly Beach right out the sliding doors. At night, we go out for dinner, then back to work, and to sleep. Read on for a day-to-day account of my trip thus far…

Continue reading “Time-Travelogue”

Boston in Winter

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.

Happy New Year!

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.

Speaking at SD West

I just sent in my confirmation letter for my presentation at SD West 2007, a respected technical conference series in Santa Clara, California. I’ll be speaking on (can you guess?) SVG (you got it!) in a talk entitled Scalable Vector Graphics: Shaping Up the Web. The conference will be going on March 19-23, 2007. My company is really working on getting speaking engagements, so I think this may be only one of several that I’ll be doing in 2007. Of course, I will be speaking at –and helping to plan– the SVG Open conference next year as well. I normally give a 101 class introducing SVG there, in addition to a presentation on current projects I’m developing.

Prague, Land of Meat and Beer

…which is not really optimal for a vegetarian who hates beer. In the words of Uncle Tupelo, “Beautiful, as far as I can tell, but your Heaven looks just like my Hell.” There’s only so much fried cheese a man can take, I tell you! But tonight we ate at Lemon Leaf, an asian-fusion place outside the tourist district, and got a great meal for a good price. Inside the touristized zone, you can only get overpriced meatplates (or the aforementioned cheese… I mean, I love cheese, but I think I’ve gained 10 pounds this trip). Oh, and water is more expensive than beer, by far. My theory is that all water in Prague is allocated for the production of beer, and that they have to distill the beer out to extract water; this extra step accounts for the price of plain “gasless” water.

No doubt, though, Prague is a beautiful city, even though it’s clearly been “cleaned up”. Prices are no longer the legendary bargain, for the most part, probably due to the lousy exchange rate of the lowly dollar. But the buildings really are gorgeous, and Mucha, the father of Art Nouveau, is well represented here in his home country (my girlfriend and I love that style).

She wandered around the city while I met with the SVG Working Group in the local Sun offices (though we all went out at night, of course). She scoped out a lot of great sights, and after the meeting ended, we went around the town. She’s been a good sport about seeing some of the places again (in fact, she’s been to Prague before). Today we went to the Bone Church of Kutná Hora (a small town outside Prague), and then wandered the streets when we got back, seeing the tower of the famous First Defenestration of Prague.

We generally did the tourist thing here, seeing the Prgaue Castle (and the nearby erstwhile home of Kafka), the Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarter, the cool astronomological clock (with it’s monkish glockenspiel), a couple museums, took a nighttime boat tour on the Vlatava, and watched one of the many Black Light Theater shows (Ta Fantasticka’s Aspects of Alice show, which took a strangely soft-pornographic twist in the second act). Oh, and just generally wandered around.

I must say that after seeing the chaotic and quirky Morocco, Prague seemed familiar by contrast. Two weeks in Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat, and the conversations there, really was eye-opening (I’ll write more about Morocco later). I’m glad we went to both places. It’s been a long trip, though, and it will be good to get home and get back to work.  Tomorrow, we are going to try to get up early and visit the city one last time before catching our afternoon flight home.

White House

After a rather long set of flights, with a moderate amount of hassle and too-long layovers (7 hours in London… just too little time to be able to spend any time in the city, so we slept instead), we arrived in Casablanca last night.

In the airport, we were immediately set upon by what I thought were people working on commission for hotels and cabs, but were guides in hindsight. The one the more persistently glommed on was a character from central casting, Hasan (the first of 3 Hasans we would meet last night). He recommended a hotel, and I went over to a policeman to see if he could tell me what normal prices were. There we met a voluable Tunisian, Abdul, who had missed his flight back to Scotland, and came along with us.

Hotel Guynemer ended up having more character than an Ibis, but that’s where Hasan started asking for money. I got irritated, because like I said, I hadn’t known he was a guide. But Abdul smoothed things over, and commissioned HAsan himself (though I ended up paying for dinner and drinks at the hotel).

Afterwards, we walked around the town a little, and went to a sort of variety club, with rotating singers (and dancing and ululating patrons) and hookahs. My girlfriend and I went home early, around 2 AM, but Abdul knocked on our door around 5 AM (to ask us if we were asleep), so he was out late. I hope he didn’t miss his flight again.

Hasan was downstairs again today, but we didn’t want to go shopping, so he split. We’re going to check out a mosque and a cathedral, then head out to Marrakech tonight. I’m sure there’s a Rick’s Bar here in Casa, but we’ll have to give it a miss this trip.

We’re Off on the Road to Morocco…

My sweetie and I are heading to Morocco! I have a W3C WebAPI Working Group F2F (face-to-face meeting) in Rabat, Morocco, and then an SVG WG F2F in Prague. How often am I going to get a chance to go to Morocco? So we decided to bookend some vacation on either side of it. We leave tomorrow (with layovers in NYC and London), and will spend some time in Casablanca, then travel to Marrakesh, then Fez, then on to Rabat. I believe that this is the first W3C meeting held on African soil.

We’ll be travelling for almost 3 weeks, returning October 2. Luckily, a good friend has volunteered to mind our house, feed the fish, and water the flowers in case it gets too dry.

I’m pretty excited. I’ve never been to either place (though I was once in Bratislava, pretty close to Prague). Also, this marks Continent #5 for me: I went to Japan in the Fall of 2004, and we travelled around Australia earlier this year. I’ve been to Europe a few times now, as has my girlfriend (though she’s not yet been to Asia, so it’s only Continent #4 for her). Now I only have to get down to South America and Antarctica, and I’ll have visited every continent on Earth! This is a silly little goal of mine. I’d also like to visit sub-Saharan Africa (aka “Real Africa”) and India, my favorite sub-continent. But that’s all far in the future… tomorrow, we fly to Morocco!

We certainly do get around! (Like a Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco-bound).