Archive for November, 2007

PAS 124 – too many standards?

I must admit, my heart sank a little when I read that another web “standard” is being written—this time it’s PAS 24:

British web compliance expert Magus Ltd, has commissioned BSI British Standards to develop a Publicly Available Specification (PAS 124) for web standards. Web standards govern the effectiveness, function and appearance of a website, and include: brand, legal, accessibility, search engine optimisation (SEO), usability and technical standards.

I don’t know that the world needs another standard—but if there must be one, I’d like to do my best to make sure it’s a good one. So I offered my services, along with the ever-accommodating Patrick “Herb” Lauke (the Web Standards tubgirl to my accessibility goatse) and we’re now on the review panel, along with other standards luminaries like Shell, Unilever, Institute of Directors and Interbrand.

@media Ajax

I decided to miss the main @media bash this year, as I have a reasonable generalist overview of trends on the web. However, I’ve a great Ajax/JavaScript-shaped hole in my knowledge so I decided to go to the specialist Ajax bash instead, where a whole host of beautiful people had gathered. I’m glad I did; it was very well organised, and at sometime during the two days, a penny dropped in my head and I began to “get” the Ajax methodology.

I learned

  • jQuery is really really cool and really elegant. The decision to base it on css selectors is inspired. I’m genuinely looking forward to using it, and finding excuses to do stuff in JavaScript (which is why so much evil Ajax exists, of course).
  • Everyone talks about accessibility and Ajax—which is great—but still no-one really knows how to do it. These best we got was Derek Featherstone vouching for the Gez Lemon/ Steve Faulkner method, which is brilliant but a total hack.
  • Stuart Langridge is really funny, and also man enough to publicly reverse a previously-held opinion.
  • JavaScript support in IE will get much better when Screaming Monkey is released and it plugs the Mozilla JS engine into Internet Explorer. Or something; it was pretty techie. Anyway, it’s A Good Thing.
  • You should never let a non-keynote speaker do a meandering philosophical ramble, even if he did invent Dojo.
  • Specialist programming conferences, even @media ones, have a much higher beard count than generalist conferences (and far fewer foxy chicks).

A good couple of days to meet up with friends old and new and learn stuff at the same time.

More write-ups

The pencil test

My friend Cynj is proud that, at 35, she still passes “the pencil test”:

  1. you take one pencil and one bosom
  2. lift bosom and place pencil below it
  3. release bosom
  4. if the pencil is held in place by said bosom you have failed the pencil test, but if the pencil falls to the floor you have passed.

Congratulations, Cynj. Today is my 41st birthday, and I’m convinced that I would fail…

The Sex Pistols

That nice Jule Howell invited me to go and see the first night of the Sex Pistols’ reunion gigs. As I was just a little too young and provincial to see them back in 1976, I couldn’t resist the chance for a little nostalgia. For a band whose premise was a musical “burn the museums”, there’s a special irony in their being a nostalgia act, yet that’s what they are (bear in mind that we’re as far away now from the release of Never Mind The Bollocks than it was from the end of the second world war).

There was a real air of expectation in Brixton. The pubs were full of forty-somethings having conversations like “Did you see Sham in Southend in ’79?” and “…so that’s when Sid punched me”. The excitement was not completely scuppered by the miserable shitty venue with its two rows of corporate hospitality seats in front of us, and scowling bouncers telling everyone to “remain seated at all times”.

The (crappy) support band were dispensed with, Dame Vera Lynne’s “There’ll always be an England” concluded on the P.A., and out came the band—at which point the bouncers gave up on the “seated at all times” rule and retreated to the sidelines.

Age has mellowed Johnny Rotten. He actually hugged Glenn Matlock on stage and told us that “we fucking love each other”, told us that Matlock, Jones and Cook are “a fucking good band” and—heartwarmingly—that he is “one lucky cunt” because of them. Don’t believe me? Check out my video:

Age has improved Matlock, Cook and Jones’ musicianship. A guy behind was commenting that they were immeasurably better than they were 30 years ago, and they were certainly tight, well-rehearsed and oh so loud. Rotten, on the other hand, had a book of lyrics bought onto the stage by a flunky, and still managed to fuck up the words to No Feelings, Liar and (for chrissakes!) Anarchy in the UK. You’d’ve thought that someone who’s made a mint for thirty years on the same dozen songs would know the damn words! Never mind, though; it was the occasion that mattered.

The band worked their way through note-perfect versions of all their songs except (I think) I Wanna be Me and Satellite, and a reworked version of Belsen was a Gas called Baghdad was a Blast for an encore, and a splendid time was had by all.

Here’s me and Julie—the MS Pistols—all excited on our way to the gig.

Bruce and Julie going up escalators in Brixton tube station

UK government accessibility consultation

The UK government has issued a consultation document on Delivering Inclusive Websites.

It’s not finalised, as the consultation doesn’t end until November 13 (my birthday, by the way …) but in its current state it’s not a bad document; it rehashes PAS 78, recognises that the only way to find out if a website is accessible is to test it and it says that the minimum acceptable level of accessibility is Level-AA of WCAG 1.0—so valid, semantic code becomes mandatory:

The minimum level of accessibility for all Government websites is Level Double-A of the W3C guidelines. Any new site approved by the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Public Engagement and the Delivery of Service must conform to these guidelines from the point of publication.

Continuing standalone sites must achieve this level of accessibility by December 2008. Websites which fail to meet the mandated level of conformance shall be subject to the withdrawal process for .gov.uk domain names…

If these requirements are ever policed (and there’s no guarantee; UK government websites have a sorry track-record), there are huge ramifications for their suppliers. For example, those who manufacture Content Management Systems will be required to ensure that their products produce valid, semantic code and comply with authoring tool accessibility guidelines (ATAG) so that members of staff with disabilities can publish with them:

In order to build an accessible website, authoring tools must produce content that upholds web content accessibility standards. This is especially important if the organisation will be using a Content Management System (CMS) to produce content automatically. This must be taken into account during the procurement of authoring tools and CMS.

So that content authoring is possible for people with the widest range of abilities, it is also important that the interface to the content authoring tools or CMS is also accessible. Accessibility criteria must therefore be specified in the choice and procurement of these systems, in the same way that accessibility is taken into account when commissioning websites.

I confess that I’m rather sceptical that this will see a dramatic change in governmental websites, but it does give an indication that the more clued-up people in the UK government understand that grudging compliance with WCAG 1.0 level A does not constitute “accessibility”.

It should also cause a few discussions within vendor organisations. Microsoft have been commendably open in a discussion about Sharepoint 2007, acknowledging that it won’t be WCAG level A or ATAG-compliant out of the box until the next release in 2009 or 2010.

How many other CMS vendors can really claim to be ATAG-compliant or produce valid code without significant customisation?

Cross-posted to the Web Standards Project, so leave any comments there please.

Marina gets gold and bronze

At the International Sports Kickboxing Association British Open Kickboxing Championships today, my daughter Marina won bronze medal in her weight’s semi-continuous kickboxing. She’s pictured here (right) with her sparring partner Jenna, who won silver (left) and the gold medallist Amber (centre), who comes from Wales (I think).

three eight year old girls, one two in karate headguards, the other holding a trophy

Marina also competed in the light-continuous style, where she contested the gold medal against the equally indomitable Amber. It was an excellent two rounds. Both girls are the same age, but Marina is half a head taller, yet Amber had quick footwork and incredible resilience and bravery. The judges’ decision was split—but the majority decision was that Marina won the title of British Champion.

two eight year old girls in a boxing ring, one holding a trophy

Congratulations to all the fighters, special congratulations to my homegrown champ, and thanks to Pete, our main coach and to Clive who trains us on tuesdays.

Marina at home with trophy and bronze medal

The day also saw a memorable metaphor coined. In the car going to the tournament, Marina told us that her stomach was full of butterflies. On the way home, she told us that she was so excited and proud that it felt as if her tummy was “full of exclamation marks”.