Archive for December, 2007

Kayaking in Laos, Cambodia recommendations

My Bangkok next-door neighbour and friend, Steve Van Beek has some spaces left on his fantastic kayak tours in South East Asia. I can absolutely recommend these; Steve has lived in Thailand for thirty years and I’ve met no-one else who knows the language, culture and geography as well as he does.

Prices below cover all accommodations, transportation, inflatable kayaks, equipment, meals, and guiding. They don’t include transportation to the starting point, visa fees, nor accommodation before or after the trip. It also assumes a minimum of five paddlers. Please contact Steve directly if you’re interested.

Paddle the 4,000 Islands of Laos

Jan. 16-29 (Wed.to Sun.) and Feb. 13-17 (Wed.-Sun.): Five days paddling through the 4,000 islands created where the Mekong, barred by a fault line, braids to 14 km. wide. The geologic slip has created Southeast Asia’s largest waterfalls (more water than Niagara) an obstruction which blocks navigation. US$940.

Down a Winding River to a Mekong Gem

Jan. 25-27 (Fri-Sun), 2008: This trip combines the beauty of the foothills surrounding Luang Prabang with the charm of paddling into one of the most beautiful towns in Asia. We’ll sleep in homestays and experience village life, visit a beautiful waterfall, run some rapids, visit a quiet Buddhist monastery, and pay our respects at the grave of one of Asia’s most fearless explorers, Henri Mouhot. Along the way, we’ll see how villagers and fishermen utilize the river in their daily lives. US$490.

Cambodia: Siem Reap recommendations

While I’m busy recommending South-East Asian fun, I recall that I had a tricky time finding recommendations about Cambodia that weren’t aimed at cheapskate backpackers or sex tourists. So here’s my recommendations; I don’t claim that these are cheaper or better than their competitors, only that they met my needs. They were accurate in August 2007.

Siem Reap hotel

I stayed at the Golden Orange hotel. It’s US$1 by tuk-tuk to the main bar street or a 15 minute amble, and costs US$20 per night (for the twin room, rather than per person). I booked three nights and got a free airport pickup and free breakfast every day.

Rooms were very clean, with aircon and ensuite with hot shower, a fridge and free water. There was free internet. The staff arranged my tuktuk driver for three days, my bus to Phnom Penh and a massage, all at decent prices. I was so comfortable, I extended my stay by a night.

Only slight downside is that the owner’s wife has a small pet dog which patrols the second floor at night. It’s entirely harmless, but can bark occasionally so light sleepers should ask for a different floor.

Siem Reap restaurant and dancing

I thoroughly enjoyed the apsara dancing upstairs at the Temple Bar. It was free to those eating or drinking. The US$5 Khmer buffet was very good, too— as was the fish amok served in a coconut.

Cambodia: Phnom Penh recommendations

Phnom Penh hotel

I stayed at the Tonle Sap Guesthouse, a few metres from Sisowath Quay. It was a functional and clean room for US$18. The Pickled Parrot bar downstairs had good food and beer, and the owners were very helpful about organising a taxi for me to see the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng.

Phnom Penh restaurants

I was very well fed round the corner from my hotel at La Volpaia, which was recommended to me by an Aussie NGO worker. I had great Italian food in aircon splendour, and a glass of good (chilled!) red wine, for about US$12.

For breakfast, I enjoyed watching the world passing by on Sisowath Quay from the pavement tables of Rendezvous, a French establishment.

IE8, Opera, CSS and Standards getting in a tizzy

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle lately over the Opera complaint that Microsoft is a monopolist that doesn’t uphold Web Standards. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who believes that it’s perfectly feasible for Microsoft and Opera to continue to work with each other on CSS, regardless of their current spat.

While I share Andy Clarke’s frustration about the glacial pace of change, I think the idea of having web professionals oust the browser manufacturers from main specification process, relegating them to “a Technical Advisory Panel to look over the Project’s proposals” is unworkable and potentially more cumbersome. Imagine if you’re hired to develop a website for a large oganisation and play no part in the specification process, but merely get a spec arrived at by competing, squabbling end-users who then say “implement this”. Without the active, day-to-day involvement of the browser vendors, specs would be slower, less coherent and probably unworkable. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter when CSS3 becomes a recommendation, it won’t magically upgrade all the browsers; the spec is only useful when (and if) it is actually implemented by the vendors.

I’m also glad that Opera have raised the stakes with a complaint to the European Union. A few frustrated outbursts aside, I’ve never been anti-Microsoft—but I am most definitely anti-monopoly. A monopoly can never benefit consumers, and it must be forced to compete. That force can’t come from the market (it’s a monopoly), so must come from government or similar organisation.

When Microsoft had a competitor in Netscape, it innovated: Internet Explorer had the best CSS support and IE6 was a marvellous browser that ushered in the era of CSS-based design. But once Microsoft killed Netscape, Internet Explorer stagnated , causinng the woe that we still partly feel today. But 18 months ago there was a convincing new competitor in Firefox, Microsoft began innovating again—and look! IE8 passes Acid2!

So I’m glad that Opera are trying to break Microsoft’s monopoly. Being British, I also admire the plucky Norwegian underdog, and I’m personally convinced that Opera are concerned at the highest level with upholding standards. I’m persuaded by Molly of the sincerity of the I.E. team, but I have no faith that those at the top of Microsoft would give a shit about standards if their profits or monopoly were threatened.

But take a breath, and step back from all of this and look at the radically new landscape that surrounds us.

What we see is another browser war, but based on who can uphold standards best. Opera go to the E.U. with a complaint that I.E. doesn’t uphold standards; a day later, I.E. announces that it passes Acid2, even though they knew that a week ago. What can have caused that announcement, other than the impetus to brag about your standards support? The good news is that the browser manufacturers see standards and interoperability as useful armaments rather than troublesome impediments.

So, while the browser manufacturers are upholding standards, what are the Web Standards Project doing? Zeldman writes,

I’m disheartened by the general lack of leadership. I wish The Web Standards Project would either disband or get meaningfully busy.

Now, I’m only a newbie WaSP task force member, not a real, clever WaSP, but my take is that everyone’s been caught off guard—when the traditional enemies are doing your work for you by promoting standards, it’s somewhat disconcerting. And without a real enemy, things fragment in a loose confederation of individuals.

My personal “enemy” is inaccessibility, and James Craig, Patrick Lauke and I fought a battle wth Microformats advocates because some of their patterns are functionally inaccessible. It was a gruelling battle, involving disagreements with other WaSP members, and in the face of overwhelming apathy, we withdrew.

The other problem is with Ajax (“Accessibility Just Ain’t eXciting”). Most Ajax remains fundamentally inaccessible—and despite the valiant efforts of Derek Featherstone, Gez Lemon, Steve Faulkner, Brothercake and Jeremy Keith—few people give a toss.

In the topsy-turvy world where browser manufacturers are promoting standards, many opinion formers and web standards advocates are so transfixed with the shiny shiny Ajax and hCard baubles that they don’t see that they’re in mortal danger of becoming part of the problem.

Who wants to rail with me against the latest marketable sexy Web 2.0 bells and whistles?

Thought not.

I’ll just carry on evangelising semantics and accessibility in the companies that employ me, at workshops, on my blog and hope this current tizzy dies down.

Cambodia Christmas Card

Long-time readers of this site may know that I don’t send Xmas cards to people for a variety of reasons:

  • they create landfill and extra pollution is caused moving millions of them around
  • I’m a Christmas-hating bah-humbugger irreligious pinko
  • it’s a waste of money, which is criminal when so many people have so little.

What I do instead is choose a charidee that means something to me and give it the cash that I used to spend on cards and postage. This year, it’s the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

When I was in Siem Reap earlier this year, there was an outbreak of Dengue hemorrhagic fever which killed many kids, and the hospital was calling for donations of blood and money. My multiple sclerosis prevents me from donating blood, so I’m donating money instead. (Also, I’m marginally less scared of opening my wallet than I am of massive needles.)

The director of the hospital, David Shoemaker, says that his most memorable experience working there is

seeing a kid die in the ER one evening because his parents had spent all day trying to borrow $1 to pay for transportation to get to the hospital.

So that’s your Xmas card—I hope you like it and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope that 2008 is happy and prosperous for you and yours.

Opera complains to Europe over IE lock-in

Opera Chief Technology Officer and co-inventor of CSS, Håkon Wium Lie has written an open letter to the Web community explaining the reasons that Opera has filed an antitrust complaint with the European Union to force Microsoft to support open Web standards in Internet Explorer and to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows and/or carry alternative browsers pre-installed on the desktop.

Their press release says

Opera requests the Commission to implement two remedies to Microsoft’s abusive actions. First, it requests the Commission to obligate Microsoft to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows and/or carry alternative browsers pre-installed on the desktop. Second, it asks the European Commission to require Microsoft to follow fundamental and open Web standards accepted by the Web-authoring communities. The complaint calls on Microsoft to adhere to its own public pronouncements to support these standards, instead of stifling them with its notorious “Embrace, Extend and Extinguish” strategy. Microsoft’s unilateral control over standards in some markets creates a de facto standard that is more costly to support, harder to maintain, and technologically inferior and that can even expose users to security risks.

I wrote this up on the Web Standards Project page, so please comment there.

What I didn’t say there, which I will say here is Woo yeah! Go Opera! Go Opera! Go Opera!

Red-hot anal sluts

I’ve just bought the domain name redhotanalsluts.co.uk. Not because I’m branching into porn, but simply because it gives me a fantastic new email address.

I’ve already enjoyed myself no end by buying two Xmas presents on the phone and giving my email address: “bruce at redhotanalsluts.co.uk – yes, that’s all one word. red. hot. anal. sluts, s-l-u-t-s”

Probably not for the c.v., though.

Hooray for Sudan!

cute teddy bear …from both me and my teddy bear, Shiva Anubis Jesus Zeus Mohammed Buddha Yahweh Jupiter Dalai Lama Odin Jah Wicca Flying Spaghetti Monster (pictured left).

The Sudan is fortunate to have very hard-working clerics. You’d think they would have enough to do, protesting against female circumcision and the Sudanese government’s Darfur genocide. But, valiantly, they’ve recently stayed up really late in order to concentrate on the top-priority stuff—the case of a British primary school teacher jailed for allowing her class of seven year olds to name the class teddy bear “Mohammed”.

When I am an eccentric billionaire philanthropist I shall add Khartoum to my list (which already includes Tehran, Jerusalem, Mumbai and the American mid-west) of places that need me to fund urgent humanitarian airdrops of Richard Dawkins‘ books.