Monday. My trip began with a flight to Düsseldorf,
Germany. At Oslo airport I replied to some WHATWG feedback and then
ran into Timo (from Opera's marketing arm), who was coincidentally was
also going to Düsseldorf. Once there, we had dinner at an italian
restaurant that apparently opened only a few weeks ago, called Vapiano (at Martin Luth Platz, 28).
An unorthodox place: you get an RF-enabled card when you arrive, and
you order food by visiting the pasta, pizza, and bar counters where
they cook the food for you while you stand there watching them. Quite
fun, very good food.
When I ordered my drink, I ordered in German (that is to say, I
just said orangensaft!). When the bartender then
tried to tell me he was temporarily out of orange, we had a to go back
to the "negotiate a communication protocol" stage, because, unlike in
Oslo, not everyone here speaks English. Thankfully, it turned out he
was fluent in French, like me, so the problem was neatly solved. A
It seems Germany is much like France and America: the assumption is
that everyone speaks the native language, and if they don't, that's
their problem. I much prefer the Norwegian attitude, which is that the
default language is the native language, but if someone doesn't speak
that, then a common alternative (typically English) is used instead.
However, it does make learning the language a lot harder, since you
don't use it nearly as much.
We didn't dine alone, Timo had arranged to meet Timur (from
Vodaphone, who coincidentally is also hosting the CDFWG meeting I'm
attending here) and one of his colleagues. Amongst other things, we
talked about the industry, the Mobile Web, the Desktop Web,
and whether and how they should or could merge.
One of the Web's biggest problems right now, insofar as the Mobile
world goes, is that most of the content Out There has been designed
with horrendously poor presentational markup which only fits on
desktop screens. The CNN home page is often taken as an example. A
megabyte of tables and font tags. This is the same problem faced by
disabled users, of course; markup which doesn't handle small screens
well handles speech and braille renderings even worse. How to fix
this, I have no idea. What's clear to me is that switching to other
markup languages — XHTML, SVG, XForms, whatever — won't
help address this: people will write garbage whatever the format is.
You just have to look at the typical quality of shareware on Windows
for an example of that. (That's not to say that those languages might
not be helpful to address other problems, just that it won't
remove the fact that most content is garbage.)
After dinner we went our separate ways and I checked in to my
hotel, the Courtyard Marriott. It seems fine. Sadly, the wireless
Internet access is not free.
Tuesday. Today was the first day of the Compound
Document Formats working group face-to-face meeting. We talked about
At lunchtime we took a trip through one of the older Vodafone
buildings, where they hack a quite unusual lift. Instead of a shaft
with a car suspended on a cable which stops at floors on request and
then is raised or lowered to the destination floor, this building has
cabins that are continuously driven around in a loop, without stopping
on any floor. There is an "up" shaft and a "down" shaft, and the
cabins arrive at the top of the building and move to the "down" shaft,
get to the bottom and move to the "up" shaft, in a continuous cycle.
To use the system, you just jump into one of these cabins as it
approaches your floor, then jump off when it passes the floor on which
you want to get off.
It's pretty funky and definitely less scary than I would have
thought. One wonders what happens if you slip and get stuck, but I
didn't see any blood marks so I presume that that doesn't happen much.
(I would probably have the same thought if someone came up with the
concept of manually-controlled high-speed motorised vehicles today:
surely putting people in control of such contraptions would lead to
horrible deaths and destruction.) (Then again, it does, and I do have
that thought. Bad example.)
Near the Vodafone tower is the TV tower, which has a strip of
blinking lights running all the way up. I had thought they were purely
decorative until someone mentioned that it was a digital decimal clock
— and indeed it is. The lights are separated into three groups,
the seconds at the bottom, the minutes in the middle, and the hours at
the top. Each section is further divided into two groups of lights
representing the two digits, tens at the top of the section and units
at the bottom of the section. Each group represents a decimal digit by
illuminating as many lights as the value of the digit. So when the
tower has (reading the groups of light from the bottom) five lights
illuminated, no lights illuminated, four lights illuminated, one
light illuminated, nine lights illuminated, and one final light
illuminated, it means the time is 19:14:05.
It's surprising how quickly you learn to read that clock. It's also
quite mesmerising; every minute when the seconds roll over to 00 the
entire tower puts on a very short light show, which seems to range
from simply blinking all the lights once, to lighting differently
coloured lights in a sequence up the tower.
Wednesday. Today we discussed issues facing
compound documents, and made some test cases
for the same. On our way to lunch we passed by the funky lifts again,
and this time some of us took the opportunity to go through the
wrap-around: entering the "down" cabins on the bottom floor. I can now
report that the cabins are quite safe to be in when they switch shaft,
just as the little sign next to them claims.
Before dinner we watched part of Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote. I
was surprised as to how little new stuff Apple announced this time.
Still, my next laptop will almost definitely be a Mac. Almost every
technical problem I've seen at the last few face-to-face meetings I've
been to have been resolved by Macs — from acting as a wireless
router, to solving problems with cross-over cables, it always seems to
be the Mac users who fix the problems fastest. Mac users also keep
telling me how great their computer is; most recently, for example,
Nadia. I rarely if ever hear Windows and GNU users proclaiming
feelings of love for their computers.
In the evening Vodafone took us out to a fancy restaurant where we
had very good food and drinks.
Thursday. Not much to report from the meeting
today, the most interesting event being an impromptu break when a
helicopter landed across the river from our conference room. Still, we
addressed some major issues.
While watching CNN tonight (BBC World was available on Monday and
Tuesday but for some reason the channel went dead here some time on
Wednesday) I saw an advert which seemed quite insane. It was a spot
for CNN.com, the Web site. The screenshots clearly used IE, though
— despite the fact that CNN.com is part of a company that itself
provides at least two browsers (AOL and Netscape), and has funded the
development of at least four more (Firefox, Seamonkey, Camino, and the
Netscape-branded Firefox). The funniest thing, though, is that you
can see a Netscape link in the screenshot. If employees of the
company itself can't take the time to download the browser to use it
in its own advertising material, how can they expect anyone else to do
Friday. Dean and I met for an hour or two this
morning to talk about my SVG last call comments. A very productive
discussion at a Starbucks.
In the afternoon I walked around Düsseldorf looking for board
games. I found plenty of shops selling them, but none of them had any
of the games I wanted, sadly. I also found several shops selling
Märklin stock, which is cool; Obviously Märklin is bigger in its home
country than in the rest of the world.
I did make one purchase, though, SG-1 Season 7. I've been waiting
for that to come out for months. It's a different box set format than
my other seasons, and there is a chance the menus might be in German,
but so long as the special features haven't been dubbed I don't think
I really care. I'm assuming it isn't out in Oslo yet. It wasn't
available when I left on Monday.
I was tempted to also buy a portable DVD player to watch the
episodes on the flight. I saw several for under ~400, but
unfortunately I didn't have enough cash left (and still lack a credit
card). Probably a good thing.
Düsseldorf isn't that pretty, although its old town is ok. On par
with Oslo. After walking around enough that my feet threatened to go
on strike I took the subway and the train to the airport. It's boring
with no particularly interesting shops, but on the plus side it has
comfortable seating, is reasonably clean, and mostly quiet.
Sadly the signs depicting cigarettes with a red line diagonally
bisecting them don't seem to mean the same thing in Germany as in
My reading material for the flight is a book I got for my birthday
a few weeks ago, Café-crime à Champel. It's a
crime novel based in Geneva, my home town. I like what I've read so
far, but that's not much, as this week has been pretty busy.
A few hours later...
Unfortunately, I just finished the book and I'm still at
Düsseldorf, so I don't know what I'll be doing on the flight. Good
— Ce n'est pas possible! dit-il. Ce n'est pas croyable! On
ne trouve de telles coïncidences que dans les livres!
I know, it's not really funny, but it was so out of character for
the book that I laughed out loud, much to the consternation of the
people around me in the waiting lounge.
I'm starting to think I should spend less time in airports. I just
got polled for a consumer survey for the second time in the last year.
They didn't even really ask me any interesting questions, I don't know
what information they were trying to obtain.
Work-wise my first priority this year will have to be completing
the Web Forms 2 and Web Apps 1 proposals, as well as continuing my
involvement with the CSS, XBL, CDF, and Linking working groups at the
W3C, and continuing to send last call comments on drafts from other
2004 was a year of conflict for the W3C. From my perspective it
start back in 2003 with the publication of XForms despite several W3C
members being quite vocally against it (this was the original catalyst
for the Web Forms 2 work). Then in early 2004 Microsoft hyped Longhorn
and Avalon, their bold attempt at replacing the Web with a
pure-Microsoft infrastructure. In June, the W3C responded by holding a
workshop. I attended
that meeting, as did a bunch of other people from the Web browser side
of things. We mostly agreed on what needed to be done, but
unfortunately for us the majority of the people at that meeting
weren't directly Web browser people, and we were outvoted.
That triggered the creation of the WHATWG, which when you peel away the
fancy words is really just a public mailing list for discussing
proposals that the W3C didn't want discussed in a W3C context. There
obviously is a lot of interest in what the WHATWG is proposing, since
the last time I checked we had over 400 subscribers (which is on par
with some of the big W3C mailing lists, which vary from 200 to 600
subscribers) and discussion on the list is quite active.
Right from the start I set out to reply to every single e-mail sent
to the WHATWG list,
although recently I've had to ammend that to replying to all the
e-mails sent to that list that aren't simply part of threads debating
the pros and cons of competing proposals (with those, I just pick out
the e-mails that introduce significant new points). Still, I have some
200 odd e-mails that are awaiting my reply, so this is going to be
keeping me busy for a while.
The comments received for Web Forms 2 in the last month or so have
all been pretty editorial, or pointing out loopholes that I forgot, or
asking for new features. The first two types of comments I happily
fix, the last type of comment I've been delaying until Web Forms 3
(assuming there is one) because at some point we have to have a
feature freeze or we'll never publish this thing.
The important thing, though, is the lack of substantial "this will
never work because..." comments that the first draft got. It seems the
proposal has reached a stable stage where even if people don't agree
that the ideas in it are particularly good, they do agree that they
would at least work in theory.
I expect we'll publish another call for comments in a few weeks
(there have been a lot of comments in the last few weeks, even if they
were just editorial), and assuming that the response to that is even
quieter than the last call for comments, we'll move on to the next
stage: call for implementations and/or (ideally) submission to a
standards organisation. Exactly what we do will depend on the
This week I'm in Dusseldorf for a W3C meeting at the Vodafone
offices, where we are to be discussing compound documents and arguing
about (amongst other things) whether everyone should be using XHTML
Mobile Profile or XHTML Basic, and whether everyone should be using
CSS Mobile Profile or the WAP CSS Profile, and whether everyone should
be using SVG 1.1 Tiny or SVG 1.2 Tiny.
Personally I doubt it'll matter much what we decide. XHTML and SVG
don't work in any useful way with WinIE6 out of the box, so authors
aren't going to be using them any time soon. Author: "How do I get
this effect on my Web page?" Me: "You use this piece of CSS." Author:
"Does it work in IE?" Me: "No." Author: "Nevermind, then." is a
conversation I've had too many times. Given the membership of the CDF
group (e.g. the meeting next week is being held at Vodafone) I'm
guessing that what we're really discussing is the format that mobile
phone network providers will be using to provide custom content to
their handsets, and has little to do with the public Web.
Meanwhile, competition in the Web browser market is getting
interesting. Microsoft are doing something, although what it
is is anyone's guess. It could just be a PR exercise, or it could be a
minor UI update for Longhorn, or it could be a UI overhaul which will
be backported to their older operating systems when Longhorn comes
out. Who knows. What is reasonably certain is that they won't be doing
any significant work on their rendering engine.
Mozilla are moving on with their Mozilla 2.0 and Firefox projects:
has added experimental multicolumn CSS support; Ben is off doing major
rewrites of the prefs dialog which will probably put every other
browser (except Safari, of course) to shame; not to mention all the
other small fixes that continuously go in.
Safari is bound to have been getting major updates too, and the
Tiger release date (which is probably also the release date of
Safari-with-dashboard-etc) is bound to be announced at the big
exposition this week. The question is whether they spent the last six
months adding stunning new features, or if they spent the time fixing
the bugs in the code they announced last time.
Opera meanwhile are working on Opera 8.0, with the new Voice
features — finally a browser that supports Speech CSS. I won't
say any more lest I accidentally say something we haven't announced
The new year comes at a convenient time for me emotionally
speaking, marking the conclusion of one chapter and the coming of
several opportunities. Over the end of 2004 I learnt a lot about
myself, and I now want to test this new knowledge and maturity "in the
One of the things I learnt was that I cared much too much about
what people thought of me. This concern ended up so extreme that it
mentally paralysed me on several occasions. I've also come to realise
that my own happiness depends on more than just other people's
happiness; that my happiness in and of itself matters. Henceforth I
will be significantly less concerned with others' opinions of me, and
will instead focus on what I want from life.
At least, that's my intention. Changing one's personality is not a
trivial process. Faking it is hard enough; making a real change, one
that makes a real difference to how you deal with people, requires a
concerted effort. Otherwise all you need is some random small thing to
trigger a memory and boom, you fall back to your old habits.
I also intend to continue a recent trend and get out more. I
definitely will be doing more salsa (probably not only during the
course I'm taking), and I also want to find some more groups of board
game players. I'd also love to play in a big band, but I don't know of
any bands that would accept a mediocre Clarinet player whose practices
don't conflict with some of my other engagements.
As part of playing more games I have already organised two evenings
of board- and card- games at my flat last week, and plan to do so
again in future.
(It's very ironic that I have a much more active personal
life now than I did.)
I also want to do something with my model trains. I set them up as
an alarm clock last summer and never really had a chance to do
anything more with them. I'm not sure exactly what to do, though. Last
Sunday I laid out some straight track in our living area so that the
trains are at least on display to some extent, and not just rusting
under my bed. (As a sidenote: be careful when cleaning your bedroom if
you have trains around. I was vacuuming earlier today and sucked up
one of the little cars straight up into the vacuum cleaner. I had to
go poke around in the dust bag to get it back out.)
I need to make something with the track. For that I'll need to just
go and buy more track, of course. There's only so much you can do with
two points, a circle, and a few straights.
Part of the problem is that I'm drowning in cable already. I could
alleviate that a little by replacing the k83 decoders with one
track-mounted digital decoder per point, although that isn't cheap.
But the main source of cabling issues is the sensors. Each one
requires two cables to an s88 decoder, and I already have eight.
That's a lot of cable for one circle and two sidings on a pure-digital
network. Since you can only chain up to four s88 decoders in a row to
one Märklin digital interface unit I guess at least there's an
upper limit of 64 pieces of cable... but that's still a lot of cable
and makes redesigning the layout very awkward.
Sensors are great, though, so it is worth it. I love writing code
that detects where the trains are on the layout and reacts
accordingly. I've always found that getting computers to do things for
me is more satisfying than doing them myself, and all the more so when
the "thing" in question is physically moving stuff around. I've long
dreamt of one day having a huge layout go all the way around my house
at eye-level, all computer-controlled so it does appropriate things
like switch on the train's lights when the room is dark and run around
the bedroom when it's time to wake me up and run to the entrance hall
when visitors ring the doorbell, etc. Maybe I'll even be lucky enough
to find a girl who thinks that living with me and such a setup is a
Hey, a man can dream.
Other projects I have going on include playing Voidwars, writing a
genetic-algorithm client-side NPC for
Voidwars2, and occasionally working on Mozbot. So far,
though, nothing to report on those.
Last week I played a lot of Risk, both Risk 2210 and some version
of Risk with Gods, with friends from work. Risk is a completely
unbalanced game. The more territories you control, the more power you
have to control more territories. The moment you gain the slightest
bit of an edge, the only way you can lose is by making a stupid
mistake. Similarly, the only way you can win if you are unlucky with
the dice and lose ground is to hope your opponents are stupendously
The sad thing is that while the Risk variants (such as Risk 2210)
make the game more fun, they don't really address this fundamental
imbalance, and so they all suffer from the same poor gameplay.
Overall, fun games to play, but ultimately unsatisfying.
On Sunday I played with another group of friends. We played three
games: first a five played Power Grid, then a five player Spank the
Monkey, and finally a three player Tigris & Euphrates.
Power Grid is an awesome game. You're supposed to
run a power grid (surprise!) and to do so you bid for power stations,
buy raw materials (fuel) and connect up cities. It has some very
important game mechanics, such as favouring the smallest player, and
varying the cost of power stations, fuel, and connecting cities based
Favouring the smallest player leads to an interesting game dynamic,
which is that players sometimes actively hold themselves back so as to
have the advantage in the next round. It also makes the game more
interesting all around, because unlike Risk, where once someone in the
lead the odds are very good that they will win, in Power Grid you have
to always look out for the underdog suddenly splurging and buying
everything that you (the lead player) want, sending the prices
sky-rocketing and causing you to fall behind.
The cost variance is done in three different ways for the three
different game components. Power stations are put up for auction, so
the price goes up higher if more people want a particular one. The
price of one type of fuel goes up each time someone buys that kind of
fuel, and goes down again a fixed amount each round. Since you can
stockpile resources, this leads to a speculative market where players
are looking several turns ahead and planning their purchases according
to everyone else's needs. Finally, the cost of buying contracts to
power cities from your power stations goes up as you get further from
your starting position and start overlapping with other players on the
map. Much of the game consists of managing your accounts so that you
don't over-commit funds during the early phases and end up with not
enough money to buy the rights to power a city.
The main problem with Power Grid is the rather abrupt endgame. This
could probably be improved by changing two rules.
The power station bidding phase could be changed so that if nobody
bids for any of the stations, they are all thrown out, replaced, and
the bidding phase immediately restarted (instead of doing what the
rules say, which is to just throw out the lowest-price station and
continue with phase two).
Some changes to the winning conditions could also help. The
official rules give as the winning condition "being able to power the
most cities at the end of the first round where a player has
n cities" (for some value of n dependent on the
number of players). This encourages playing with an endgame gambit,
where one player suddenly stops planning for the future, plans to
control n cities by the end of that round, and wins the
game by effectively mis-managing his company.
A more satisfying endgame would probably be something like being
the first to power n or more cities for three consecutive
rounds, with no cities left unpowered during those three rounds.
Break ties as follows: if there is more than one player to have won
according to this winning condition, the person powering the most
cities for those three rounds wins. If two or more players powered the
same number of cities for those rounds, the one who would be able to
power the most cities in the next round (without buying any more fuel)
wins. Repeat that tie breaker until either one of the players can be
declared a winner, or all the tied players have run out of fuel (e.g.
because they both have equally sized renewable fuel power stations).
If there is still a tie, the one with the most money left wins. If
there is still a tie, the game is a tie.
That probably sounded really complicated if you have never played
the game. It'll all become clear once you've played. (I hope.) I
haven't yet playtested these two proposed changes, but I really think
it would help to make the game more enjoyable at the end.
Despite the endgame abruptness, though, Power Grid is still an
The second game we played was Spank the Monkey.
Our game didn't really last long enough for me to form a strong
opinion. It seemed funny but did not really do it for me. For those of
you who are still reading and are curious as to what it is about, it's
a card game in which you have to build a tower of cards to reach a
certain (continuously varying) height from whence you have a random
chance of winning.
Finally we played Tigris & Euphrates. I really
liked that game, once I worked out what on earth it was
about. The rules really don't make much sense when you read them
through, but once you start playing a lot of the rules turn out to be
"obvious". For example, it's blatently obvious to me now that a leader
can only be next to a temple (otherwise how would you resolve internal
conflicts?), that you can't connect two empires with a leader (where
would you put the friendship token?), that a black leader takes
victory points of all colours unless there's a leader of that colour
(blacks are rare, so the black leader has to be good for something
else — but similarly, it can't override a natural colour match,
that would make no sense), that you need a green "farmer" leader to
collect treasures (otherwise you could just put one leader next to
each empire and connect it to the next and get the treasure), etc.
No, seriously, it's a brilliant game. One fun aspect is that your
score is secret, so while other people can see when you
score, unless they are taking notes they really don't know if you're
doing better or worse than you. For the entirety of the game I played,
I guessed that I was far behind the other players, but the uncertainty
stopped it from being depressing like losing at Risk. (Ironically, it
turned out in the end that I was actually quite significantly in the
The winning condition is pretty funny as well and leads to an
interesting game dynamic. During the game, you score little wooden
"victory point" cubes coloured red, green, blue and black. They are
then grouped into sets, a complete set consisting of a single cube of
each colour (one red, one green, one blue and one black). In addition
there are little white cubes called "treasures" which you can treat as
any colour. For example, red, green, white, black counts as a complete
set. At the end of the game you score one point for each complete set
you own, and the winner is the one with the highest score.
So during the whole game you spend most of your time trying to
balance your income of each kind of coloured victory point to make
sure you rake them in at an equal rate. It doesn't help you at all to
have twenty red victory points if you only have three black ones,
because then you can only have a total of three complete sets.
The start seems to consist of small turf wars, the midgame of
significant battles over key parts of the board, and the endgame of
huge devastating attacks that can decimate entire parts of the game
board, each with a corresponding torrent of coloured victory point
cubes going to one person... except that since these blocks of points
are all of a single colour, this can quickly end up leaving you with a
seriously unbalanced income.
Depending on which colour each player most needs, their strategy
will differ, leading to different players fighting for different
things, which is also interesting, especially when one fight can end
up incidentally severing connections in the empire that are actually
needed for another player.
Overall a very good game. I would guess that it is much better
suited for three players than two (which would probably be too boring,
like two-player Risk) or four (which would probably be too chaotic).
I'm currently planning on buying Power Grid, Tigris &
Euphrates, and 1856.