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2013 round-up

2013 was a fun year. It saw my 5 year anniversary at Opera – which I actually missed when it came about, all the more surprising when I consider that I’ve never done one job for this long. (Previous records were Programmer/ Analyst at AT&T from 1988-92, Teacher at Amnuay Silpa School, Bangkok from 1996-2000 and Web bloke at The Law Society from 2004 until starting with Opera in ’08.)

As befits a tech company, I didn’t receive a carriage clock or gold watch. Instead, my CEO began following me on twitter. So now, I always wear a tie when tweeting. Just a tie.

Professionally it’s been an interesting and fun year. I got to visit Italy, Spain and Romania for the first time. Spain saw me in Barcelona twice, although the first time doesn’t really count as I was trussed up in a business suit and incarcerated at Mobile World Congress to leverage synergies in an aircraft hanger-sized conference venue. I have yet to go inside Sagrada Familia, so if any Barcelona conference wishes to have me in 2014, you know where to find me.

I also was invited to return to Scotland, Russia, Germany and The Netherlands and had the “fun” of two week-long trips to West USA in three weeks. Jetlag-a-rama. All worth it though, to mix with people who make the Web.

I’ve been spending time working directly with Opera’s desktop team. In 2013 we moved from using our own Presto rendering engine to using the open-source Chromium engine, and rethinking all of the features and UI. Results have been encouraging, but there’s more to do, so I’ve been working on gathering feedback, community engagement and planning next releases.

Working in products has been as interesting as I hoped it would be. Users talk very little about Web Standards – which has been my focus (=obsession) previously, but are very vocal about features and UI. I think this an encouraging sign for the Web generally; as browsers auto-update faster and rendering engines become more interoperable, there are fewer sites requiring specific browsers (although just as many breaking the web by requiring an iPad/ iPhone).

Due to the shocking revelations from Edward Snowden, In 2013 I’ve gone from the kind of person who mocked tinfoil hatters to someone who’s checking the signature of a Tails ISO. At Handheld Conference, my friend Aral Balkan announced IndiePhone, a new design-led, open-source Operating System and phone. I look forward to seeing how it develops, but fear that the tendrils of the NSA are too enmeshed in the infrastructure of the web to allow anyone to be free of intrusive surveillance unless they join the tinfoil-hatters in setting up the kind of countermeasures that consumers won’t understand or be able to do.

All the best for 2014!

The Tax Return Blues

I’m trying to do my self-assessment tax form. I’m not a stupid man, so it shouldn’t be too hard (and I got a grade B Maths O Level in 1983!) and I want to be fair and pay my share. My salary is PAYE but I have a small amount of extra income from a book I wrote 4 years ago – and, as it’s a tech book, it’s quite old so the sums are small.

That, plus derisory rates of interest from money I save (as breadwinner in a Hard Working British Family™, I save for a rainy day) means I have to fill in a form. Once again, it’s defeated me. Why, for example, do I have to tell them how many dollars I was paid in royalties? The money hits my bank in pounds, so I note it down like a good boy in pounds so I can pay income tax on it in pounds. So I can’t fill that bit in. How do I record my ISA savings which are tax free (there’s only a place to record net interest and gross interest).

The whole thing seems like a conspiracy to create jobs for accountants. I have nothing against accountants (except for my karate sparring partner Mohammed, because he’s loads better than me), but I shouldn’t need a professional to record a few hundred quid in book royalties and ISA interest.

And the website is so shockingly rubbish it’s embarrassing to be in the web industry.

So, tomorrow, like every other bloody year, I’ll call their overloaded phone help line and be coached through the form, at great expense to the tax payer.

Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success

Some of you may know this already, but I can now announce it publicly. 2014 approaches, and promises to be an astrologically significant year as Jupiter turns retrograde, just as Saturn reaches the mid-point of Scorpio and as Mars enters Libra.

The primary effect of karmic Saturn spending virtually all of 2014 in fellow Water sign, Scorpio is that I don’t have enough money. Therefore, I’ve been doing some serious study and am now a Reikimaster (7th dan) Aromatherapy Chakra Realignment Lifecoach.

If you’re rich and consider yourself “Quite Spiritual”, you’re invited to one of my workshops. The first, which will take place on the Spring Equinox near Glastonbury Tor where the leylines meet, is Secrets of Mayan flower remedy healing: channelling the crystal tarot for wealth and success.

In this two day Meditative Chakra Healing and Negative Energy Banishment Retreat™, you’ll learn:

This warm, friendly, creative, meditative space costs just £499+VAT. Mung Beans and Scrumpy are provided (bring your own roach material).

Please indicate your interest below. (Note, we don’t take Bitcoin as that’s pie-in-the-sky nonsense).

Where’s my bloody Christmas card?

You haven’t got one from me. But don’t feel weepy or left-out; nobody has. I don’t send them. Not just because I’m a miserable old curmudgeon (though I am) but because I think it’s silly to spend money on cards, money to send them (often via plane) so you can put it in a landfill after 10 days.

So instead every year I give the money I would have spent to a charity. This year it’s going to the MS Society of the UK, which funds research into multiple sclerosis causes and treatments, and educates the newly-diagnosed, their friends/ family and employers. That service was invaluable to me when I was diagnosed.

They’ve been going for 60 years, and I’m proud to support them. I hope that you’ll be pleased with where your Christmas card actually went.

So, dear reader, whatever you celebrate (or don’t) I wish you a happy and lovely 2014.

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News from a parallel universe

It’s been reported the United States of Yemen has killed 14 unarmed civilians attending a wedding party in America’s rural Al’a-Baama province.

Yemeni officials would not corroborate the reports, but it’s known that they have been using unmanned drones to bomb targets in America, United Kingdom and France, killing many civilians and children.

Yemen, along with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other permanent members of the UN Security Council, accuses America of causing instability in the Middle East and around the world, tolerating extremists who advocate invasion of other nations to export their state religion, “Capitalism”.

America is regarded as a failing state by Yemen. America’s President, Barack Obama, is the first from its sizeable black minority that was, until the 1960s, segregated from its white majority and which still makes up a disproportionate number of its prison population (which is the highest incarceration rate in the world).

A Yemeni government official noted that President Obama is dangerously weak, and unable to control the huge numbers of weapons circulating unchecked inside the country. There are regular reports of massacres in schools in the country but the government is unable or unwilling to intervene.

Analysts report that the growing influence of fundamentalist Christianist preachers – many closely linked to members of the ruling elite – has systemetically eroded the rights of women and gay people. The concentration of the nation’s wealth into the hands of a few oligarchical dynasties has left a large minority without access even to healthcare.

There were furious anti-Yemeni riots in America’s capital, Washington DC. American security experts have argued that drones have on numerous occasions have directly played into the Christianists’ favor, turning peaceful tribal communities into vengeful killers.

Reporter Bruce Lawson is a citizen of the UK, but was born in Yemen.

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To those who tell me aspartame, coffee cause Multiple Sclerosis

I’m not shy about talking about having multiple sclerosis (largely because I have supportive employers so I’m not constantly in fear of being fired as many disabled people are). So from time to time I get blog comments or emails from crazies who tell me that multiple sclerosis is caused by coffee/ aspartame/ invisible MS rays from the evil Quaziquarg, Lord of the Quarg People.

These people simply don’t understand the nature of scientific cause and effect. My fist and their noses would serve admirably to demonstrate how this process works.

Here’s what the UK Food Standards Agency says about aspartame. Here’s information about a far more dangerous substance, Dihydrogen Monoxide – armchair scientists, circulate it around Facebook now!

Why does HTML footer take role=”contentinfo”?

Evangelia Dendramis asked me “why use role=contentinfo instead of role=footer for <footer>?”

role attributes are from the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) spec, and not part of HTML(5), although they’re allowed in pages. They’re developed by different groups, and for different reasons. ARIA is a bridging technlogy for any markup language – HTML4, SVG or HTML5 to “plugin” accessibility information that isn’t part of the host language:

WAI-ARIA is intended to be a bridging technology. It clarifies semantics to assistive technologies when authors create new types of objects, via style and script, that are not yet directly supported by the language of the page…

It is expected that, over time, host languages will evolve to provide semantics for objects that currently can only be declared with WAI-ARIA. This is natural and desirable, as one goal of WAI-ARIA is to help stimulate the emergence of more semantic and accessible markup. When native semantics for a given feature become available, it is appropriate for authors to use the native feature and stop using WAI-ARIA for that feature.

contentinfo is defined as an ARIA landmark on a page. It’s primarily there so assistive technology can allow a user to navigate around. The ARIA spec describes contentinfo as

A large perceivable region that contains information about the parent document. Examples of information included in this region of the page are copyrights and links to privacy statements. Within any document or application, the author SHOULD mark no more than one element with the contentinfo role.

This is a good description of a page footer, but HTML5 allows as many <footer> elements as you want:

The footer element represents a footer for its nearest ancestor sectioning content or sectioning root element. A footer typically contains information about its section such as who wrote it, links to related documents, copyright data, and the like.

The HTML5 <footer> does give “content info” but does so about its parent, which may be one of many <article>s or <section>s. Another element that gives information about the content it’s in is the <address> element, which may (but doesn’t have to) take an ARIA role of contentinfo.

So there’s not a 1-to-1 correspondence between <footer> and role="contentinfo". This is exactly the same as the correspondence as we see between <header> and role="banner". So it’s probably less confusing that the HTML5 element and the ARIA roles have different names.

It seems that the name <footer> was adopted as it was the most common class name found in a billion web pages analysed in 2005 by Ian Hickson, HTML5 editor. Arguably, contentinfo is a better “semantic” name (after all, information about content doesn’t have to be below the content it refers to, which is what “footer” implies), but “footer” is what people were already using. Anyway, the naming of the new HTML5 elements is done now. There’s no use in bikeshedding once the ship has sailed, as Captain MixedMetaphor says.

The HTML5 spec says that a “footer element that is not a descendant of an article or section element” (that is, the footer for the whole page) has a default implicit ARIA semantic of contentinfo. That is, assistive technologies are supposed to infer that role without the author specifying it. Good; that’s the way it should be.

However, until all do, you give a helping hand by explicitly adding that role on the page-wide footer.