“I want to change the world”

Ex-Opera colleague and now Mozillian Anne van Kesteren writes a splendid little article today in which he says “I want to change the world so that the operating system is the browser and its app market the web” and describes in a little detail how.

I wholeheartedly agree with his aim, but I express my aim slightly differently: I want to change the world so the browser is the Operating System, the app market the web, and I can run any browser (indeed, any software) on a device I own.

Handheld Conference 2013 review

I had a super time at Handheld Conference in Cardiff. Craig Lockwood, the organiser, asked some months ago if I’d be a secret addition to the bill, and sing a couple of funny songs I’d written, and I agreed – last year they had 140 attendees, so i thought that making a twat of myself in front of 140 would be a nice way to end this conference season.

1200 people bought tickets – the event had moved to the Millennium Stadium, which is the biggest stage in Europe.

Reader, I shat myself (figuratively). The first song – Like A Rounded Corner – was fine, although you can hear my voice waver with nerves and I chickened out of any fancy guitar playing.

My second song followed Ling Valentine – the highly successful chinese entrepreneur behind Ling’s Cars, talking about her vile-looking (but hugely profitable) website.

She was pushed on stage inside a BBC dalek, from which she presented her talk, once Jon Hicks and Andy Clarke had removed its top. I had to go on after she’d done a chinese cover version of a Tom Jones song, and was wheeled off, still in her dalek. How could anyone follow that?

The conference had a Hendrix-style rendition of the welsh national anthem, an acrobat, a letter to the web industry written and read out by an 8 year old, and finished with a male voice choir. And the talks were good, too!

Craig announced that this was the last Handheld, which is a shame, but stopping when you’re on top form is a great way to be remembered well. I want to thank him and his partner Amy for putting on a great show and inviting me to be a part of it.

Will leveraging web components in snapchat wearables disrupt the open-source selfie ecosystem over instagram, iOS and github?

No.

Reading List

Bridging the gap between native and web

Standards ‘n’ stuff

Lol

Reading List

Closing the gap between native and web

Standards

Tools’n'stuff

Misc

If Molly Holzschlag has helped you (and if you’re a webdev, she has), please help her pay for her chemotherapy. And then have a think about the morals of a first world society that doesn’t provide this to its citizens.

David Tennant’s Richard II (RSC)

We went to see David Tennant as Richard II in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s eponymous production last night. As a production it was all you’d want from RSC – great actors, impeccably staged. But I can’t get over the feeling that actually, it’s just not a very good play (or it simply hasn’t aged well).

It’s a reasonably early Shakespeare play, almost all in iambic pentameter with very little prose, and a great deal of rhyming couplets (later plays close scenes with a rhyme, but don’t use it throughout). This made a lot of it sound like a Hallmark greeting card poem as the rhyme and rhythm are quite regular.

There’s also a howling clunker of plot, in which one character simply forgets to tell another of the death of the previous King’s widow:

[Servant:] My Lord, I had forgot
To tell your Lordship, to day I came by, and call’d there,
But I shall grieve you to report the rest
[York:] What is’t knave?
[Servant:] An hour before I came, the Duchess died.

I almost laughed out loud at this.

Another problem is that Richard II is a thoroughly unlikeable character. Perhaps it’s a failure of Tennant’s acting or Greg Doran’s direction (but I doubt it; they’re both highly professional) but Richard simply has no redeeming features, so you I didn’t care what happens to him. He’s vain, messianic and treats his nobles badly. He deserves to lose the throne. At least with Richard III, you enjoy his evilness; Richard II just seems rather wet.

On Goethe and “sobbenbunker”

Leaving Germany earlier today, I tweeted a farewell, politely using the native language of those I was farewelling “Ladies of Germany, auf wiedersehen. But don’t cry in your sobbenbunkers: I shall be back to schaden your freudes and zeit your geists asap”.

Two German speakers asked me what “sobbenbunker” means, which surprised me. It simply refers to a room for crying in. German culture invented the word “angst” because Germans spend at least 15% of their day crying over existential worries about the futility of it all. Given that most homes have a dedicated room for the toilet – an activity which normally consumes much less than 15% of the day – it’s unsurprising that middle class Germans had a dedicated room for weeping and sobbing. (Now they get it all out at football matches.)

The “sobbenbunker” was the subject of one of the big song and dance numbers that German poet Goethe wrote in his early draft of “Faust: the musical”. In the song, Mrs Faust learns of her husband’s pact with the devil, and goes off for some angst in the sobbenbunker. Faust sings “My pact with satan is a clunker/ mein Frau ist in der sobbenbunker./ My heart recoils at words she’s spoken: / for me, her fotze is verboten.”

However, Goethe removed the song before publication. Although at heart, he was a light entertainer, he was constantly stung by criticism from serious High German artists that he was dumbing-down the culture. Beethoven and Brecht were particularly scathing, deliberately re-naming him “Goatse” in interviews to show their disdain. In an attempt to rid himself of his low-brow image, he took all the songs out of “Faust: the musical”, and reinvented it as a rather dull treatise on good and evil.

On prostitution

Mariya tweeted a link to an article on why young women in rural China become mistresses of older men, which reminded me of living next door to a paid mistress in Thailand, and she prompted me to blog about it. So here goes. Names are changed, by the way.

When I moved to Thailand in 1996 to help set up a school, I took a 3 month rent on a small room in a new hotel near my work. On my floor there was only one other resident, a very well-dressed, attractive woman in her mid-20s. We soon became friends, leaving our doors open and popping in and out of each other’s rooms to chat, gossip, eat, drink beer and smoke.

Lek didn’t seem to work, but attended college every day to learn how to cook, went out most nights and, frankly, seemed to have more disposable income than I had. This was surprising for two reasons; firstly, most Westerners employed in Bangkok with work permits earned three or four times what the locals earned. Secondly, while there were many Thai kids with rich parents, they tended to be fair-skinned, whereas Lek was dark-skinned and from the impoverished Southern provinces of Thailand where a long-running terrorism campaign to secede from Thailand and join muslim Malaysia had damaged the area.

I asked her about it, and she told me straight: she had an older, Western boyfriend called Mike who was posted to work in Thailand in some big engineering project. Mike was married, but his wife was back in England with their kids. Mike paid for the apartment, her college course and took care of her living expenses. In return, she was his mistress. She was to be available for sex, going out to parties or weekends away. The sole stipulation was that she was not to have sex with anyone else (a wise move; in the late 90s, HIV was rife in Thailand). She didn’t love Mike, although she liked him – she viewed it purely as a business relationship. Mike, however, did get jealous of me (until we lied and told him I’m gay); I found lots of Westerners who had mistresses or picked up prostitutes deluded themselves that they were emotionally involved rather than simply buying a service.

Before I’d met Lek, I had always assumed that prostitution was a sordid business of trafficked or abused women being forced into it by a pimp. It had never occurred to me that it could be voluntary. I asked Lek if she felt exploited. “Absolutely not”, she answered. She explained that she had a sister, a year younger, still living in the home village “in the jungle” (as she put it). Her sister had four children by a man who beat her when he was drunk, and who forced her to wear a veil. “I have a nice apartment, I’m getting an education. Mike is a good guy who treats me well, we go to parties where I meet lots of people, I’ve learned English and have friends from all over the world. This is freedom – don’t pity me.”

Who was I to argue?

It made me wonder, though, why we still get so squeamish about sex. If someone works with their bodies to entertain by dancing, or gymnastics, or sports, we don’t pity them. Neither do we condescend to other people who look after others’ physical needs for money – we don’t pity a person who cooks food or others, or cuts their hair, or massages their aches, or looks after their teeth. So why do we look down on people who voluntarily offer sexual services?

Reading List

A bumper reading list as I forgot to press “publish” on it last week.

Closing the gap

A look at some discussions and emerging standards that attempt to close the gap between usability of web and usability of native apps:

Standards

Interesting

Chicken, chorizo, sausages and winter veg in orange juice

Not to be outdone by Sil’s 15 Minute Meals done by an idiot, here’s the lunch I cooked my yesterday for my brood as a change from normal roasts, to unanimous acclaim and a request to do it for Xmas dinner.

Ingredients

Get a large baking dish, and pre-heat the oven to about gas mark 5.

Lay the chicken in the baking dish. Cut sausages into 3 pieces, and throw them into the tray. Chop chorizo into fingernail sized chunks, throw them on. Peel and chop the squash, carrots and parsnips into decent-sized chunks – about half the size of your thumb (too small and they’ll disintegrate). Throw it all on. Ditto olives and pickled chillis.

Juice the oranges and pour it over everything, drizzle olive oil over it all (not too much as the meat will produce its own fat).

Finely chop garlic, some orange zest and pour it over. Add some salt, and black pepper and lots of sage and thyme. Wuffle it around with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is oiled and seasoned. If you like tang, put pickled chillis on the top. Don’t chop them; that way, they’re easily identifiable and can be removed for people who like the flavour they impart but don’t want to eat chunks of palate-scouring chilli.

Put it in the oven. Open bottle of wine to let it breathe. Drink a glass of it to test it. 25 mins later, turn everything over in the dish and put it back.

About 1 hour after you turned the oven on, put the kettle on and boil some water. While it’s boiling, put peas and broccoli in a microwavable bowl, add 2 tbsp of water, cover and nuke for 5 mins.

Serve everything. Use juices left in pan, veg water, a glug of wine and water from kettle plus a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot to make gravy. Eat it all.

Total cost, excluding wine, about £15 for 4 people.