Reinventing Fire

Speaking in the Third Person

August 28, 2011

Filed under: Philosophy,Real Life — Magister @ 2:24 pm

This is just a simple essay on how I see the world, and how I came to that view, the first in a set of posts I’m labeling philosophy. There’s no real point to it, no political or technical agenda… just some reflection and thinking out loud. I’ve never formally studied philosophy, and I’m sure these thoughts are probably not particularly original, but I arrived at them organically through my own life, in what passes for wisdom. Megan, my wife, laughs at me whenever I start a sentence with “I have a theory…”; apparently, I have a lot of theories. I have an active imagination, and I’m very opinionated; I like to try to figure out how the world works.

The way the mind works fascinates me in particular, and my understandings and beliefs about it have changed and evolved significantly through my adult life. I’m recording these thoughts now for the entertainment of some future me.

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.


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.


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.

Recharging Roadtrips

November 27, 2010

Filed under: Real Life,Travel — Magister @ 6:29 am

Last week, Megan and I went to the opening ceremony of the first electric vehicle charging station in North Carolina, on the corner of W. Hargett and Dawson in Raleigh.

Megan wrote up a short blog post about it, and we talked about what this might mean for the future of our national infrastructure.

We have a Prius, so if we got an electric car (I like the Nissan Leaf, and not just because they use SVG on their site), we would probably use the hybrid for longer trips, so we could refuel easily. But in 10 years, that might change. Since it takes around half an hour to fully charge modern electric cars using the class 3 charger (the heavy-duty one), and 4-6 hours using a class 2 charger, electric road-trippers will need something to do while they wait. Megan mentions this in her blog:

Would owners of this type of business be motivated to install charging stations as a way to attract customers and hold them captive while their car is charging?

I could see a whole new class of businesses that cater to waiting customers, that charge the charging, so to speak: movie theaters, theme parks, mini-zoos, gaming parlors (multiplayer videogames or casinos or both), strolling gardens… activities that emphasize a more leisurely pace of travel. The return of the roadside attraction!

Here’s to the retro-future!

Translation Services at a Loss for Words

November 15, 2010

Filed under: Accessibility,Search Engines,SVG,Tech,Technical,Travel,Work — Magister @ 11:27 pm

Text in SVG is text. Visually, you can use webfonts like WOFF or SVG Fonts (where they are supported, like in Opera or the iPhone) to make it look cool, and you can style both the stroke and fill to make it all fancy, or apply filters to pop it out or make it glow or give it a dropshadow, but it’s not just a raster image like many text headers… it’s human- and machine-readable text, as nature intended.

So, SVG is translatable, right?

SVG Game Resources

October 13, 2010

Filed under: Games,SVG,SVG Basics,Technical,Work — Magister @ 12:36 pm

Mozilla is holding an Open Web Games competition. I expect that many of the games will be use the Canvas API, since many programmers are more familiar with the imperative programming mode, and there are some games libraries that have been developed for Canvas or adapted from existing drawing or gaming libraries.

But I’m calling for SVG developers and designers to step up to the plate, as well. SVG has a lot of features that make it easier out of the box to build interfaces, animations, and even games. There is a scene graph, and the DOM event model that gives you free hit detection for pointer events, for example. And I’d love to see someone make an open-web game that’s both accessible and fun…

To help developers along, I thought I’d share a few free, open-source SVG resources that could be useful in building games:

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