loge.hixie.ch

Hixie's Natural Log

2008-01-23 09:31 UTC Mistakes, Sadness, Regret

There were several announcements yesterday.

First: The W3C finally got around to publishing one of the drafts of the HTML5 spec as a "first public working draft" (a misnomer if ever there was one, given the history of HTML5). This is news for one reason and one reason only: it starts the W3C patent policy clock, which means that within a few months we will know if any of the browser vendors have patents they wish to use to block progress on the Web. Still, a step forwards.

Second: The syntax for Microsoft's plans for yet another quirks mode switch in IE8 were announced. Basically they are offering authors the option to pick a specific set of bugs, defaulting to IE7's. The idea is that with each new major IE version, they can decide to simply freeze their last set of bugs forever.

If Web authors actually use this feature, and if IE doesn't keep losing market share, then eventually this will cause serious problems for IE's competitors — instead of just having to contend with reverse-engineering IE's quirks mode and making the specs compatible with IE's standards mode, the other browser vendors are going to have to reverse engineer every major IE browser version, and end up implementing these same bug modes themselves. It might actually be quite an effective way of dramatically increasing the costs of entering or competing in the browser market. (This is what we call "anti-competitive", or "evil".)

It will also increase the complexity of authoring by an order of magnitude. Big sites will become locked in to particular IE version numbers, unable to upgrade their content for fear of it breaking. Imagine in 18 years — only twice the current lifetime of the Web! — designers will not have to learn just HTML, they'll have to learn 4, 5, maybe 10 different versions of HTML, DOM, CSS, and JS, just to be able to maintain the various different pages that people have written, as they move from job to job.

I mentioned all this on public-html last April, pointing out that if Microsoft was really interested in not breaking the Web they would instead send technical comments on the HTML5 spec, explaining what exactly the spec requires that is incompatible with deployed content. (Microsoft have yet to send any technical feedback on HTML5 at all, 8 months later.)

I've been shocked to see several people in the industry supporting this move, including people whom I have met personally and whom I know know better, but I'm in no position to criticise people who should have known better. I'm glad to see that at least people from Opera, from Mozilla (continued), from Webkit, and even from the WaSP, and from the community as a whole (if the comments on Slashdot and other sites are representative) see this for what it is.

There are several directions we can go in from here. We could prematurely claim that our pages want IE8's new quirks mode, which would likely cause pages to change rendering in IE8 as compared to IE7. However, that's mostly a futile exercise, as either few people will do this, and it won't matter, or a lot of people will do this, and Microsoft will just change the syntax before IE8 comes out.

We could use the "edge" feature that is apparently being provided to always trigger the latest mode. However, that would be even worse: if enough people use this feature, then Microsoft will feel compelled to just make "edge" equivalent to "IE8" and introduce a new way to trigger the "latest" mode.

This is what happened with the original DOCTYPE-switched "standards mode": many people wanted their pages to use the latest standards, but found that they ran into bugs in IE6, so they worked around those bugs with hacks — which relied on simple parsing bugs — to pass content specifically to IE6. With IE7, many of the simple parsing bugs that these hacks relied on were fixed, but the bigger underlying problems that the hacks were working around weren't. The pages thus broke in IE7. Microsoft's reaction was to make "standards mode" mean "IE7" mode, and to introduce a new mode ("IE8"). The same will happen if so many people use "edge" that a significant number of pages break in IE8 or IE9.

We could encourage everyone to actually use this feature, but actually then we're just contributing to making the syntax legitimate, and we end up fragmenting the Web, on Microsoft's terms. This is possibly the worst outcome.

Finally, we could just ignore the feature altogether, continuing to use JS compatibility libraries for the time being, the same way that everyone has been doing for years. Authors would also have to support IE7 anyway, at least for the forseeable future, so it wouldn't be an additional cost. This would make the experience on IE worse than on other browsers, but not so much worse as to turn users away from the sites themselves. Microsoft would find themselves having to support a number of rendering modes that were not being used, which is not a cost-effective measure; they would find their market share eroding, as customers switched to browsers that actually followed standards; and they would find their developers still asking for standards compliance that was actually compliant to the specs and interoperable with other browsers.

Therefore I recommend not including the meta tag, or, if you are forced to include it, making sure it says "IE=7", even once IE8 ships. This seems to me to be the best way to show your support for an open, interoperable Web on the long term.

It will be interesting to see whether IE8 really supports Acid2, since that test page doesn't include any of the special magic words being proposed here. Will they hard-code the URI? Will they check every page against a fingerprint and if it matches the fingerprint of the Acid2 page, trigger the IE8 quirks mode instead of the IE7 quirks mode?

Third: Well, not really an announcement, but Sjoerd Visscher pointed out something that for some reason I had never heard of, and which nobody I have spoken to about it since has ever heard of: using document.createElement() with the tag name of an unknown tag causes IE7's HTML parser to start parsing that tag differently. This piece of information makes building an HTML5 compatibility shim for IE7 far easier than had previously been assumed. This is probably the most noteworthy news of the day. I don't really know why I didn't know this before.

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2008-01-14 09:01 UTC The competition for you to come up with the best test for Acid3

As many of you will have heard by now, I've been working on the next Acid Test. Acid Tests are a way to encourage browser vendors to focus on interoperability. With the Box Acid Test, Todd Fahrner highlighted the CSS box model, and the resulting interoperability was one of the first big successes of the movement towards having browsers properly implement Web standards. Acid2 tested a broader range of technologies, but primarily it was focused on the static processing of HTML and the static rendering of CSS.

With Acid3, we are focusing on the dynamic side of the Web. I have a work in progress which consists of a few rendering tests and 84 subtests, little functions that test specific things from script. But I'd like to have a round 100. That's where you come in. I'm announcing a competition to fill the last sixteen tests!

You have one week to submit one or more tests that fulfill all the following criteria:

  1. The test must consist of the body of a JavaScript function which returns 5 when the test passes, and which throws an exception otherwise. It doesn't matter what kind of exception.
  2. The test must compile with no syntax errors in Firefox 2, IE 7, Opera 9.25, and Safari 3. (You can use eval() to test things that are related to syntax errors, though.)
  3. The test must not crash any of Firefox 2, IE 7, Opera 9.25, and Safari 3.
  4. The test must fail (throw an exception) in either a Firefox trunk build from January 2008 or a Webkit trunk build from January 2008 (or, ideally, both). (Opera and IE are failing plenty of tests already, I don't want to add more tests that only fail in one of those. Of course if you find something that fails in Firefox or Webkit and Opera or IE, so much the better.)
  5. The behaviour expected by the test must be justifiable using only standards that were in the Candidate Recommendation stage or better in 2004. This includes JavaScript (ECMAScript 3), many W3C specs, RFCs, etc.
  6. You must be willing to put your test into the public domain. (I don't want us to end up with any copyright problems later!)

To write your test, you can use the test development console. In fact, I strongly recommend it. To see some example tests, you can look at the source of the current draft.

If you have a test that fulfills all the above conditions, e-mail it to me (ian@hixie.ch), along with a brief justification citing chapter and verse from the relevant specs you are using, and telling me which build of Webkit or Firefox fails the test.

I will then make the 16 final tests from the best submissions, and will put the names of the people who submitted those tests into the JS comments in the test as recognition.

Good luck, and thanks in advance!

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2007-12-06 12:07 UTC Evolution in the species "companies"

Evolution is evident and well-known in biological species, and can be seen in artifical environments quite easily, but evolution actually applies to any environment with moderately well-defined entities that have moderately measurable properties, where these entities appear and disappear over time.

For example, companies, as a species, are subject to evolution. They are born, they live, they die; and they each have unique properties (different ways that they operate) which determine their characteristics. Actually, the whole of the species "group of people with a common agenda" is subject to evolution, but let's look specifically at companies that try to convince people to use their products or services in the software industry, since that's what I'm familiar with.

For a long time, the software industry consisted primarily of one kind of company. First the company would be founded with an idea, and then the company would get venture capital funding, which would be used to fund software development, the fruits of which would be sold to customers, and the money raised from those sales would fund further development of more software, and the cycle continued.

These companies die when they run out of money. Since venture capital isn't infinite (investors will stop pouring money in when they realise that they are never going to see any of it again), the key is raising money from software sales. There are several ways of ensuring that a company will get money from software sales:

Each of these strategies has a counter-strategy. For example, to counter an incumbent with a monopoly position, a company "just" has to provide a product of equal value. To counter a competitor with the best product, a company "just" has to provide a product that is better. To counter a competitor with a cheaper product, a company "just" has to lower its prices. To counter a competitor whose users would find it more expensive to switch to the company's new product than they would to upgrade to the newer version of the competition's product, the company "just" has to provide a transition path (if the cost of switching vendor would come from having to convert all existing data, for instance, a company could "just" support the competition's file formats).

Of course, that's often easier said than done. A company can't lower its prices to below its operating costs, as doing so would cause the company to eventually run out of money and die. Similarly, making the best product is significantly more difficult than making a mediocre product, and a company can run out of funds while trying.

It turns out, though, that the rules change when the competiting companies are unequal. If a company has a lot of money, there are a number of tricks it can play to compete with companies with less money:

This is where the evolution comes in. If a big company repeatedly kills all the companies that follow the model I've described so far, then only the companies that use different models will survive.

This isn't all theoretical. Microsoft is a big company, and they've played all the tricks above. Many companies in the software industry have died because they failed to make money, and many of those died because Microsoft starved them of that money by using the tricks described above. (Sometimes, the use of those tricks has been deemed illegal; other times, not. That's besides the point here.)

What's interesting is the effects that Microsoft's strategies have had from an evolutionary standpoint. When we look at the major companies competing with Microsoft today, we find that none of them are actually using the operating model I describe above.

Beating Microsoft by not needing money: Firefox, Apache, and Linux-based operating systems are examples of open source software arising as ways to compete with Microsoft. Microsoft's usual strategies typically don't work with open source software. Microsoft can't undersell open source, as it costs nothing. Furthemore, since the source is independent of the company behind the source, if the company runs out of money another one can simply come along and replace it, continuing from where it left off. Thus, starving the company of money doesn't actually kill the competition; indeed, open source software actually turns this strategy against the big company. It will take a long time, but in due course Microsoft will run out of money if it doesn't make profits, whereas open source projects can continue indefinitely.

Open source is not perfectly safe against the other tactics described above, though. It is still vulnerable to vendor lock-in and FUD, and a better product can still beat it. Projects like Wine help Linux with vendor lock-in, as it allows users using Microsoft Windows to switch to Linux more cheaply than if they had to replace all their software; similarly Open Office implements file format convertors to read Microsoft Office documents; and Samba implements Microsoft's networking protocols to allow a migration to a Linux-based infrastructure without requiring that users switch all their existing infrastructure at the same time.

FUD is heavily used by Microsoft against open source projects (a recent example is this FUD article against Firefox); open source as a development model can mitigate this by leveraging its community to counter such claims.

The biggest difficulty, though, is in creating and maintaining the best product. Nothing especially changed in the browser market in the years just before Firefox 1.0 was released: the market was stagnant after IE6's release, with all the alternatives (Netscape, Opera, etc) being fundamentally not good enough in comparison. Firefox 1.0 was the best product of its time, and that reason, and that reason alone, resulted in its success. All Microsoft have to do to beat Firefox is make a better product, something for which they certainly have the resources. Similarly, all the Linux OS community has to do to beat Windows is create a fundamentally better product from the end user's perspective, while ensuring that the cost of migration is lower than the cost of upgrading Windows.

Microsoft has clearly realised that open source is a new type of competitor, and they just as clearly haven't worked out how to compete with it (which is simply to make a better product). This is probably because they have spent so long as the "big company" that they have forgotten the four ways of making money, and can only remember the tricks for competing with smaller companies.

Microsoft making a superior product wouldn't kill open source, though. It would just make Microsoft money while the open source community and companies themselves developed a better product again. (Just look at open source today: Linux operating systems aren't, from the end user's perspective, fundamentally better than Windows, but Linux OS companies continue with a growing but small set of the users.) Thus the technique of improving only until the competition is dead doesn't work on open source competitiors. Microsoft would have to continuously work to improve its products to compete with open source.

Beating Microsoft by not allowing vendor lock-in: Google's operating practices differ from the typical software vendor in that the main service that Google provides is completely devoid of any vendor lock-in potential. Google beat the search engines before it by being better than they were, and Google could easily lose all its users overnight if a much better search engine was to be developed. The only reason Google has a majority market share is that it is the best. Microsoft's usual strategies don't work against this kind of company: they can't lock the users into their alternative, and so the users have a truly free choice as to which service to use, Microsoft's or the competition's, and they usually pick the better alternative.

Google has also learnt the zero cost trick: by charging advertisers instead of charging users, Google can get a large market share of users, which is needed to sell to advertisers. Google's search engine users don't care how many advertisers publish ads through Google, so even if Microsoft undercut Google on the advertiser side, it still wouldn't reduce the number of users on the search side. In addition, because the advertisers want to advertise on the site with the users, and because advertisers could just use both advertising systems, undercutting on the advertising side doesn't actually hurt Google. (Making advertising free on Microsoft's network would just lead to advertisers advertising on both networks, which would hurt Microsoft, since they would be footing the bill, but not Google, who would still be making money.)

The FUD strategy depends on the credibility of the company spreading it, but Google is widely trusted, so FUD doesn't work very effectively against Google either.

As noted above, though, there is a simple way in which Microsoft (or any other company) could compete with Google: make a better product. In fact, since Google's entire strategy — intentionally or not — is based on not allowing vendor lock-in, any better product which is also free would almost immediately beat Google. Naturally, Google invests heavily in making sure it continuously improves. (Note that unlike with open source, which could probably continue indefinitely under a superior competitor, it isn't clear that Google actually could survive for long once it lost its users to a competitor.)

Beating Microsoft just by being better: This brings me to my third example, Apple. Apple has died and been reborn several times, as far as I can tell, but its most recent strategy is based almost exclusively on one concept: making the best product for the user, and doing so in several different markets at once. This technique is difficult, because it requires constant high-quality development. However, it is very effective against a big company like Microsoft that has, by and large, stopped relying on quality to compete.

As a corollary, Apple has found an interesting counter-strategy to the big-company strategy of undercutting the competition until it is starved. It sells its products with very high profit margins, and sells these products in a small number of very separate markets. Thus, it doesn't have to sell many units to survive at all, and it doesn't need to sell any units in any one area so long as it sells enough in another area. So for example, Microsoft couldn't compete with the iPod by giving away the Zune: even if most users would stop buying iPods and would instead just get the free, or nearly free, Zune, the net effect would just be that Microsoft would lose lots of money and Apple would wait with few ill effects.

Apple's switch to intel enabled Boot Camp and products like VMWare Fusion, to mitigate the problems of Microsoft's attempts at vendor lock-in. (Apple also plays its own mild games of vendor lock-in to prevent users from leaving Apple products once they make the switch.)

Apple has, even more than Google, become somewhat immune to Microsoft FUD purely on the basis of its own credibility. By almost never pre-announcing products, by repeatedly delivering products of high quality, and by a management of the media so adept as to be aweinspiring, Apple has managed to almost completely neutralise any FUD attempt against them.

But again, there is one way that Apple is vulnerable. If Microsoft were to make a truly superior product, Apple would lose users. However, unless this strategy was applied to all of Apple's products simultaneously, it wouldn't kill Apple, it would only starve one particular part of the company. All Apple would have to do to come back is make a significantly better product again.

Conclusion: The companies that couldn't beat Microsoft have all died, and evolution has resulted in three very different types of companies that are each immune to Microsoft's strategies in their own way. Yet all are still vulnerable to the same thing: a better product.

For the end users, this is a good position for the industry to be in.

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2007-09-26 10:52 UTC A low-bandwidth, high-latency, high-cost, and unreliable data channel

I like food, and I'm not really good at the creative art of cooking (though I'm a fine sous-chef), so I eat out at restaurants a lot. I usually pay by credit card. In the US, waiters have a minimum wage below the normal minimum wage, and thus you always have to tip, and so you never pay what the bill says (and I usually tip well, unless the service or food was appalling, even outside the US).

The net effect of this is that you basically get to decide how much you pay. Indeed, credit card bills at restaurants have a space where you fill in how much you want to pay.

I don't like doing arithmetic, especially not of the kind "$85.47 * 1.17", and so I just approximate. $85.47 is about $90, 15% of $90 is about 15, round to down to cancel out the earlier approximations gives about $100. So I pay $100.00 and go on my merry way.

One day I looked at my bank statement and it was something like:

POS Trans ZIBIBBO PALO ALTO CAUS $76.00
POS Trans CHEESECAKE PALO ALTO CAUS $40.00
POS Trans OUTBACK #0514 CUPERTINO CAUS $210.00
POS Trans BROOKFIELD'S REST #2 SACRAMENTO CAUS $34.00

Look at all those zero cents... there are data bits there, lying unused! It struck me that with every single restaurant transaction I could set the cents field to some number under my control, thus allowing me to communicate with myself at a later date!

This would be really useful as a way of sending ratings information back to myself, so that I could later review the restaurants online or otherwise keep track of where I would want to go back to or where I would want to avoid (since I eat out a lot, restaurants somewhat blend together in my memory).

We can set any number from 0 to 99. In binary, that's 0b0000000 to 0b1100011. In other words, we have seven bits to play with, except that if both of the high bits are set, then we lose bits 3, 4, and 5.

There are five things I wanted to be able to communicate. The first was the number of guests, so that I can divide the price by how many people I was paying for, to determine the price-per-person. The second was the rating, whether I should go back or not. The last three were whether the restaurant had wifi, whether they were suitable for vegetarians (Carey is vegetarian), and whether they had drinks I liked (I don't drink addictive drinks, drinks containing mind-altering drugs, carbonated drinks, and drinks containing high fructose corn syrup, which basically excludes almost anything you can buy in the US in many cheap restaurants, and even some fancy ones).

If we consider the rating to be a four-state flag, with values "avoid", "ok", "good", "awesome", and if we limit ourselves to being able to specify 0, 1, 2, or "more than 2" guests (in addition to me), and if we establish that if we want to avoid the place in future then it really doesn't matter whether the restaurant had Internet, a vegetarian selection, or good drinks, then we can neatly fit this into our contstrained not-quite-7-bit bitfield like this:

64 32 16 8 4 2 1
r d v i g

...where:

r

The rating, according to the following scale:

0 awesome
32 good
64 ok
96 avoid (and ensure d, v, and i are set to 0)
d

Whether drinks are good or not (set means they are good)

v

Whether a vegetarian selection is available (set means there are vegetarian options)

i

Whether free wifi Internet access is available (set means wifi is available)

g

How many guests were paid for in the transaction:

0 just me
1 me and one guests
2 me and two guests
3 me and three or more guests

I did this, and used it for a while. I quickly discovered that something was wrong. The numbers in my bank statement made no sense, for example dinners with more than 2 guests at locations where I knew that I had been with just one person.

I changed to a new scheme. Instead of encoding data in the cents field, I instead just store the last two digits of the dollar amount into the cents field. A checksum, if you will. So if it cost around $34 with tip, then I put $34.34, or if it cost $122, then I put $122.22. I do this reliably now, on all restaurant transactions.

What I've found is a shocking number of restaurants don't charge me what I write. For a while I thought I just had bad handwriting, but I then went out of my way to write very clear numbers and that didn't help. For example, Zibibbo's in Palo Alto. I remember very clearly writing $77.77, but was charged $76.95. That's not the original amount without tip (which was probably closer to $65), it's not what I wrote, what the heck is it? On the other hand, the other time I went, they charged me $865.65, exactly what I wrote. A cafe in Monterey (Portola Cafe) charged me $18.28. Either they charged me ¢10 too much, or they gave me a $10 discount. The Melting Pot, San Jose, charged me $70.54. Where did the .54 come from? Why not take the remaining ¢16? Pasta Pomodoro did the same trick as Portola, charging me $37.47. But two months before that, they charged me $34.31, which is probably ¢3 less than I wrote. Why am I getting overcharged sometimes and undercharged others? In Hawaii, the majority of restaurants ignored the tip altogether, just charging me the original amount regardless of what I wrote. Are people in Hawaii so relaxed that they don't need the extra money from tips?

My theory is that it is because I don't write an explicit tip, I just give the total. Maybe restaurants need the tip as well as the total, and so to save time they just work out a round dollar tip that is close to what I wrote, and charge me that. My next step, to test this theory, is to start always writing the actual tip amount in.

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2007-09-04 08:48 UTC Fire, a two-hour weekend, accessibility, and other rants

Somewhere over the rainbow,
Way up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.

The explosion during the man's burn was quite the surprise, but I'm glad they delayed the derrick's burn until after the man because otherwise the man would have been a non-event in comparison. Holy Hannah.

This year wasn't quite as enjoyable as last year, but mostly that was just because of the weather: I didn't get to go around the deep playa and jump on art cars as much as I'd have liked.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

While I was away, late last week, while nobody was looking at the #whatwg channel, and in stark contrast to the Burning Man atmosphere, someone visited and asked a question which went unanswered. The log went like this:

--> Nicklas18 (i=Nicklas1@c-f54ce155.28-2-64736c13.cust.bredbandsbolaget.se) has joined #whatwg
<Nicklas18> Why leave the sense of logic at the door?
<Nicklas18> Does that mean that you are not logical?
<Nicklas18> Shouldn't people in charge of making a standard have common sense?
<Nicklas18> Hello?
<Nicklas18> Fucking retards.
<Nicklas18> Suck my huge cock.
<-- Nicklas18 has left #whatwg

(The /topic in the #whatwg channel says "Please leave your sense of logic at the door, thanks!", for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has tried working with Web browsers for more than about 5 minutes.)

The sun is shining,
It's a lovely day,
A perfect morning
For a kid to play,

Carey and I have now seen Avenue Q twice, once on Broadway and once in San Francisco. I love this show. Everyone should see it.

The internet is really really great.
I’ve got a fast connection so i don’t have to wait.
There's always some new site;
I browse all day and night;
It's like i’m surfing at the speed of light.

Work on HTML5 progresses at a measurable pace — literally, now, since I'm measuring the number of e-mails I have outstanding on a regular basis to determine how well I'm hitting my quarterly targets. (Answer: Not as well as I'd like, but not as badly as I'd feared.) As a side-effect of writing the code to trawl my IMAP folders to count the outstanding e-mails, I wrote a tool that also exposes the folders on the Web (after having filtered out the confidential feedback I get, of course). I was hoping this would address some of the complaints about lack of transparency, and indeed a number of WHATWG contributors were interested, gave helpful feedback, and even wrote their own frontends using the tool's APIs. However, from the W3C corner of the HTML5 communities I only got complaints. The most notable complaint was that the tool didn't work in IE, which was apparently a problem not because it actually stopped anyone from accessing the page (I haven't received any complaints from anyone who actually couldn't get to the page) but because it might potentially stop users of old accessibility tools that only work with IE from accessing the page.

When you help others,
You can’t help helping yourself!
Every time you
Do good deeds
You’re also serving
Your own needs.

I've actually been using the latest version of JAWS (the popular Windows screen reader software for blind people) recently, as part of my work on HTML5. From a usability point of view it is possibly the worst software I have ever used. I'm still horrified at how bad the accessibility situation is. All this time I've been hearing people worried about whether or not Web pages have longdesc attributes specified or whatnot, when in fact the biggest problems facing blind users are so much more fundamental as to make image-related issues seem almost trivial in comparison.

For example, JAWS will happily take the last sentence of a paragraph, and the first sentence of the next paragraph, and run them into each other as one sentence, if there's no full stop at the end of the first paragraph. If you really want to make your Web pages more readable to blind users, forget longdesc or even alt, or even markup of any kind, just make sure you're using full punctuation! And that's just one example. Browsing the Web with JAWS is a horrifying experience not because of the poor state of the Web, which is admittedly very poor indeed from the point of view of semantic and accessible markup, but because of the terrifyingly poor state of the screen reader software.

What might make my experiences with JAWS even more worrying is that I'm told JAWS is amongst the best of the available screen reader software. It certainly isn't worth its ridiculous $895 price tag (let alone the $1095 price tag for the "professional" version I got). There is a big market opportunity here for someone to make a usable and affordable native speech Web browser or screen reader. Accessibility advocates could do more for accessibility by writing test suites for screen readers to check their basic HTML support (like supporting the p element) than they ever will by trying to educate Web authors.

What do you do with a B.A. in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.

Going back to my earlier comment, though, I'm a little confused as to why several people who have joined the HTML5 community from the W3C HTML WG side are so hostile, while those who joined the community through the WHATWG side are so much more friendly and constructive. A couple of weeks ago I had to temporarily ban someone from the WHATWG list after they repeatedly cross-posted an off-topic flamewar to four mailing lists including the WHATWG list. (They didn't get banned from the other three lists as far as I know.) I was really sad about having to do this, but the health of the community is important, and sometimes extreme measures have to be taken. This is the first time I've had to do that to someone on the WHATWG list, and the list has existed since 2004. (I've set up personal mail filters for people on the WHATWG list before, to ensure that I read certain people's suggestions only once I've read all the other mail, but I've never had to actually ban someone.)

The HTML working group is having a meeting in November. I don't really see the point, but as I told Dan (the chair of the working group), if we do have a meeting, I'd like us to use the unconference style, as that's probably the only useful thing we could do.

Hopefully we'll have the agenda this week, that way I can know whether I can justify going or not. I can't really justify spending Google's money on travel, let alone justify the carbon emissions and the time away from editing the spec, without knowing what exactly the meeting will consist of. If the meeting just consists of us going through open issues and discussing them, then I won't go, since in my experience that's a huge waste of everyone's time unless the issue has already failed to be addressed by more asynchronous methods like e-mail. For technical work like this you really need to be able to sit down and think about issues, and ponder them with a whiteboard; it is very hard to make sure all the applicable research has been done when there is pressure to discuss and reach a decision on a topic in 60 minutes or less. This is especially true since for almost all issues, the first time you look at it you'll find many things you need to research, and it can take days to get all the data you want to make an educated decision.

Using actual data to make decisions about technical issues isn't a very common practice in W3C working groups, which is probably why a lot of the people in the HTML working group who come from a W3C background think a face-to-face meeting is a useful thing to have.

I want you to know
The time that we've spent
How great it's been
How much it's meant.

In July we went to Oslo, Bergen, Geneva, Lourtier, Mamaroneck, Staatsburg, and Hillsdale, to see friends, family, and folk music.

The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival has a sign language interpreter on every stage. Now mind you, this is a music festival, a specifically sound-orientated event. Yet it is highly accessible; all the songs have alternative fallback content for those who cannot hear them. There are several things about this that I noticed.

First: The visual version of the song (lyrics in sign language, and the emotional content of the voice, expressed in the facial expressions and style of the sign language interpreter) doesn't convey the same thing as the original audio version (the melody, the harmony, the percussion, the lyrics, and the emotion in all of those). It is merely a translation of the parts of the audio stream that aren't intrinsically audio-only. Alternative content doesn't necessarily convey everything in the primary medium, nor does it have to to be useful and enjoyed by the target audience.

Second: The sign language interpretation is actually quite fun to watch even if you can hear the music, it's like a kind of interpretative dance. Alternative content is useful to those who don't need it as well.

This isn't just my opinion. It was clear at the festival that the sizeable deaf community present there was fully enjoying the music. The presence of sign language interpreters made them feel part of the event, and conveyed everything that they wanted conveyed. Meanwhile, the hearing patrons enjoyed the music and the sign language — I heard comments from several people to the effect that the sign language interpreters were effectively an intrinsic part of the act. (To the point where even people who didn't necessarily understand sign language had opinions on which interpreter was better.)

It's interesting how the prevailing opinion of Web accessibility experts is so far removed from the existing and successful accessibility practices in the non-tech world.

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