Reinventing Fire

Archived Link Thunderbird Extension

August 24, 2011

Filed under: Code,Email,Technical,W3C,Work — Magister @ 12:21 am

This week is our first Geek Week at W3C. The idea is to have a week where we improve our skills, collaborate with each other on prototypes and fun projects that help W3C, and to come up for air from our everyday duties. I’m working on a few projects, some small and some larger.

One of my projects is to make a plugin for Thunderbird, my email client of choice, which exposes the Archived-At email message header field, normally hidden, as a hyperlink. This is useful for W3C work because we often discuss specific email messages during teleconferences (“telcons”), and we want to share links to (or otherwise find or browse to) the message in W3C’s email archives. It’s also handy when you are composing messages and want to drop in links referring to other emails. (I do way too much of both of these.)

I’ve made extensions for Firefox before, but never for Thunderbird, so this was an interesting project for me.

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Retain Accessibility Immediately

June 30, 2011

Filed under: Accessibility,Browsers,Canvas,HTML5,Standards,SVG,Technical,W3C,Work — Magister @ 12:43 am

There has been a heated argument recently on the W3C Canvas API mailing list between accessibility advocates and browser vendors over a pretty tricky topic: should the Canvas API have graphical “objects” to make it more accessible, or should authors use SVG for that? I think it’s a false dichotomy, and I offer a proposal to suggests a way to improve the accessibility potential of the Canvas 2D API by defining how SVG and the Canvas 2D API can be used together.

This brings together some ideas I’ve had for a while, but with some new aspects. This is still a rough overview, but the technical details don’t seem too daunting to me.

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The Timble

June 11, 2011

Filed under: W3C — Magister @ 10:30 pm

Anyone who has seen Tim Berners-Lee do any public speaking knows that he speaks very quickly. Too quickly, in fact, for non-native speakers, and some native speakers, to follow along. The words seem to tumble out of him, long after his mind has moved onto the next thing he’s planning to say, and the thing beyond that. W3C’s communications lead will frequently signal him to slow down, and Tim will step down to a slower-than-normal rate of speech and slowly build back up to his own “normal” auctioneer rate.

It’s not a coincidence that he’s one of the creators of the Web. From working with him at W3C these past few years, I’ve observed that his mind does seem to spin at a few cycles faster than the norm. He makes connections quickly, and even when I don’t agree with his conclusions, I admire his ability to grasp situations rapidly, and to revise his opinions progressively as he is given more information. He also shows a remarkable humanist take on topics, not just a technologist take. The Web, for him, was always less about the technologies involved than about the goals that could be accomplished with those tools; technology is necessary but not sufficient, just a means to an end.

And Tim is impatient to get to that end. It’s reflected in his rate of speech. It’s clear from the way he moved on from the solved problem of HTML (including XHTML and HTML5, mere refinements on the basic approach), to the idea of linked open data. People laughed at the Semantic Web a decade ago, and now companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are scrambling to put their own stamp on it, and governments are deploying it. Once again, Tim was ahead of the game, leading the pack.

On the W3C staff, we laugh about how Tim (or “timbl”, his email shortname and IRC nick) types as quickly as he speaks, with a cornucopia of typos. Sorting out the jumble is left as an exercise to the reader.

Some people can understand the spoken word at an astonishing rate. I once called a blind colleague, who listens to his screen-reading software at treble-speed, and he impatiently told me to speak more quickly. If you’re a seeing (and hearing) person, and you get a chance to listen to a blind person use their screen reader, prepare to be blitzed and dumbfounded. Paragraphs roll by at a modulated buzz, and you’ll be lucky to pick up a word or two; menu navigation is a staccato of half-spoken stutters as familiar items are tripped through like a stone skipping across water. Tim doesn’t speak that fast, thankfully… he speaks just fast enough that you have to listen carefully.

That’s why some of us on the W3C staff have developed a new unit of measurement: the timble. 1 timble is the uppermost rate of speech at which a normal person can understand what’s being said in their native language. On average, I’d guess most people speak in the range of 0.5 to 0.7 timbles; screen-readers are often operated at 2 or even 3 timbles; southerners (I live in North Cackalacky, USA) speak at about 0.4 timbles.

I recently teased TimBL about the timble at dinner in Bilbao, Spain, after he’d given a wonderful presentation at a local Web conference at a very equitable 0.8 timbles. He graciously offered an alternate definition: speech at more than 1 timble is difficult to understand; speech below 1 timble is simply boring.

Getting In Touch

January 29, 2011

Filed under: Browsers,Standards,Tech,Technical,TouchTablet,W3C,Work — Magister @ 4:15 pm

Last week, I published the first draft (and subsequent updates) of the Web Interface specification, which defines touch events. This is the first spec from the new W3C Web Events Working Group.

Peter-Paul Koch (PPK) gave it a positive initial review. Apparently, others thought it was news-worthy as well, because there were a few nice write-ups in various tech sites. Naturally, cnet’s Shank scooped it first (he has his ear to the ground), and it was fairly quickly picked up by macgasm, electronista, and Wired webmonkey.

I thought I’d go into a few of the high-level technical details and future plans for those who are interested.
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Pointers on Background of SVG Borders on Mutiny

August 21, 2010

Filed under: CDF,Standards,SVG,SVG 2,Technical,W3C,Work — Magister @ 5:37 pm

With SVG being integrated more and more into HTML5, both included via <object> and <img> elements, and inline in the same document, some natural questions about SVG and CSS are receiving more focus. This includes box model questions like background and border, and pointer events.

I’m interested in comments from the community on what direction SVG should take.

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Getting to the Point

July 13, 2010

Filed under: Standards,SVG,SVG 2,Tech,W3C,Work — Magister @ 11:18 am

SVG paths have a pretty good set of shape commands, enough to let you draw any 2D shape you might want in an authoring tool: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal straight lines, elliptical arc segments, and cubic and quadratic Bézier curves. Béziers are great, giving you precise control over the position and curve interpolation of each point in a concise format, using control points (“handles”), and are easily chained together to create complex shapes.

But let’s say you have a series of points, and you want to draw a smooth line between them, e.g. for stock data, an audio wave, or a mathematical graphing equation. Béziers are not as handy there, because not all the points needed to define a Bézier spline are on the curve itself. Obviously, you can decompose any set of points into a set of Béziers, but that takes math, and who wants to do that? (Put your hand down, nerd. I’m talking to the normals.)

Sometimes, you just want to lay down a set of points, and let the browser draw a smooth curve (unlike polylines, where each segment is just a straight line between the points). Like this:

Please use a modern browser.
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Slow News Day

Filed under: Meta,Search Engines,Standards,W3C,Work — Magister @ 12:38 am

My last post was slashdotted. Not servers-melting slashdotted, but unusual-volume-of-comments slashdotted. I posted it late on a Saturday night, so I guess they had no other news fit to print.

It was interesting, and a little bit exciting, to be linked from Slashdot. I have no great insights, but a few observations.
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Web Audio Goes to Eleven

May 14, 2010

Filed under: Audio,CDF,Standards,SVG,Tech,Technical,W3C,Work — Magister @ 2:58 pm

I’m really excited about W3C’s new public Audio Incubator Group, just launched today, and open for collaborators, innovators, and instigators. Go take a look for yourself, and see if you can contribute.

To celebrate the occasion, here’s a simple example of an experimental audio inteface, in the world’s first (and worst) audio synthesizer in SVG (you’ll need a special Minefield build to use it). Just click on the keyboard… it’s pretty rough still, but it shows some of the potential:


(standalone SVG file)

For some background, read on after this break…
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