Archive for July, 2008

Standards-based corporate web development

My last project for my previous employers has gone live so here’s a long discussion about the totally redesigned website for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This isn’t to congratulate myself for some stunning new CSS techniques (there aren’t any), nor to solicit your admiring gasps at the beauty of the visual design (it’s rather corporate) but because I think it’s an interesting example of how one small web team tried to square the circle and attempt to use Web Standards and accessible methods in a highly conservative corporate environment.

John Rieger in shirt and tie, Bruce Lawson in Opera t-shirt, and Nedjma Mestari (a female) over dinner

The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority web team: John Rieger, me (now retired), Nedjma Mestari (my replacement)

Continue reading Standards-based corporate web development

Hamlet with David Tennant, Patrick Stewart

When I go and see a Shakespeare play, it usually takes me between five and ten minutes to get my ear attuned to the language, and a little longer to get accustomed to the non-naturalistic acting. Particularly with the tragedies, there is a possibility for histrionics but David Tennant managed to resist them. In fact, sometimes his acting was so understated it was almost TV acting, with its reliance on close-ups rather than the larger-than-life movements and voices required at the theatre. His was a witty, self-aware Hamlet, driven by anger rather than grief. His reserve only broke in the scene in which he and Gertrude have their showdown in her chamber, when you could have heard a pin drop in the full Stratford house. That was a bravura performance.

The whole cast was very strong. Patrick Stewart played the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and the murdering uncle. His was also an impressive performance, but I find him too theatrical, too self-consciously thespian. Penny Downie was excellent as Gertrude, Mark Hadfield supplied welcome comic relief as the gravedigger, but for me the best supporting actor was Oliver Ford Davis as Polonius, played as a pompous forgetful windbag.

This was a cracking production by Greg Doran, directed with verve and an eye for humour, but it was David Tennant’s show—after all, Hamlet speaks 1,507 of the play’s 4,042 lines. I don’t know whether his will be considered an all-time great Hamlet, but it was energetic and enjoyable and showed that he’s far more than just a sexy TV personality (although he is that too of course). Overheard on the way out: a fourteen year old girl breathlessly telling her mother, “Wow! In the second curtain call, he was definitely looking and waving at me!”

Purple, yellow and white

Yesterday, I got my karate purple belt (grade B+!). Marina got hers, too, so we’re both half way to black belt. The first five belts took two and a half years. The next five I estimate will take me six years, and Marina will race ahead of me—which is as it should be.

Nongyaw got her yellow, and James began his martial arts career with his white belt. I’m very proud of us all.

Lawson family, in boxing ring, with young female instructor and 40 year old male instructor

Here’s us with Pete, our instructor, and his daughter Hannah who assists him with the beginners and the children. Thanks guys!

Dear Vista: it’s my computer, not yours

I love my work making and writing about websites and standards. You could almost say I’m married to it. But, as Princess Di said, there are three people in this marriage. The interloper is Windows Vista.

Dear Vista, don’t be jealous of Dreamweaver. If I want to open a file with it, and I even have Dreamweaver already open elsewhere, don’t ask to confirm my action. I know you don’t like Dreamweaver, but I do. And it’s my computer, not yours.

Dear Vista, if I decide to save a file as newreq.pem or newreq.txt or even analsluts.jpg in the root directory, please let me. Don’t tell me that you’ve saved it, but then deny all knowledge when I browse from another app, try to find it through Windows or even tearfully execute a desktop search. You might not like the name I gave the file, or the location I chose, but—dear Vista—it’s my computer, not yours.

Dear Vista, if Millsy sends me a zip of some html and some images, please don’t pretend it’s empty just because he made it on a Mac. I know you get insecure (you’ve always been insecure) but I need those files. And please remember that I’ve got a printer connected. It can get a tiny bit annoying when you lose track of it so I have to uninstall it and reinstall, just to print an email.

Dear Vista, when we first met we set up this machine up together, so you know that there is only one account on it, and it is mine. So if I want to move a file, please don’t haughtily tell me that I do not have permission to do it. I do have permission, because I’m the administrator—which means it’s my computer, not yours.

Congratulations Patrick and Millsy!

I had a lovely weekend in Edinburgh as a guest at the wedding of Patrick Lauke and Karen Hay, where I was able to present them with his’n’hers Hello Kitty lollipops to celebrate their nuptials with.

bride and groom with hello kitty lollipops, one pink and one blue

For someone whose full name is Bruce Cameron, it’s remiss of me that I’d never been north of the border before, and this was a great introduction. Karen is a Scot so the wedding was hibernian: gentlemen in kilts, Haggis wi’ bashed neeps and tatties as part of the wedding breakfast. My hangover was, however, North Korean in its brutality and grim longevity.

It’s surely the only wedding ever at which web accessibility was mentioned in the Best Man’s speech. (Flickr group)

Congratulations also to my old friend and colleague Millsy, whose partner Kirsty gave birth to Elva Violet last week.

Normal misanthropy will return soon to this blog, I promise.

Life insurance, multiple sclerosis and discrimination

With my last job I had life insurance, but when I decided to move to Opera I had to get my own insurance so that my mortgage would be paid off if I shuffle off this mortal coil, reducing the burden on my wife.

So I rang the big brokers, moneysupermarket.com in March this year. A few questions about age, life-style etc and the guy on the phone told me that for a 41 year old non-smoker it should cost me about £50 a month. Then he asked the question “do you have any neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis?”. On my affirmative reply, it was practically as if klaxons started sounding in the call centre.

So in May, a special nurse who does no nursing came to my door to extract some blood from me in order that Legal and General might learn just how risky I am. “You’ll hear from us soon”, said the lady who does nothing but take lepers’ blood.

But I didn’t. On chasing up money supermarket at the end of June (four months after my application), I was told to write a letter to Legal and General telling them where I will travel to for work and pleasure. No-one actually bothered to contact me to ask me for such a letter; presumably most people with MS develop compensatory telepathic powers, so it looks like I’ve missed out there as well.

Today they called to tell me good news: they will insure my life. Bad news: there is 100% loading on the premium even though MS is very unlikely to kill me before my mortgage is paid off.

As well as paying double, they will not give me critical illnes cover (that’s where you get the money on diagnosis of a terminal illness rather than when your toes curl up, so you can have a massive piss-up before you croak). So if I get cancer (which is of course nothing to do with MS), I don’t get a pay out. If you don’t have MS, but are diagnosed with liver cancer/ brain tumour, you do get a payout. This doesn’t seem fair to me; I don’t see a link between MS and cancer, AIDS and other terminal illnesses.

Am I an isolated case? Have you had any discriminatory treatment by the insurance industry because of a disability? (You can write to me privately at “bruce” this domain name if you prefer).

Reality check: it’s just a fucking phone

I haven’t done it in a long time. I’ve held it in. I’ve got a gold star on the chart on my anger management therapist’s wall. But it’s time for a rant! GrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAGGHGH!

I’d quite like an iPhone. I think it’s a nice piece of kit, although the beauty is in the user interface rather than the features. I mean, 2 meg camera with no video? Only 16 Gig of music? Can’t take the battery out? No bluetooth headphones as standard? Lock-in to one carrier? How much?!?!

But what really gets on my moobs is the way that otherwise sensible people get all moist around the gusset about it, standing in line for hours to buy one, and then racing home to fetishise it. Independently-minded people, whose opinion I respect about any other subject, switch off their bullshit-filters and make twitter even more banal than usual with their excited Beatlemaniac squeals and prepubescent worship-squeaks to the monopolists in black polo-necks.

It’s beautifully designed. It’s brilliantly marketed: you are being manipulated and you know you are and you’re still pathetically grateful for it. But it will not give your mouth sex appeal; it will not make you look five pounds thinner. Because it’s just a fucking phone.

This is tongue in cheek. I’m not insulting you personally. This is not my employer talking.

First British Standard for accessibility

On the Web Standards Project site, I’ve announced that Patrick Lauke and I are part of the team drafting BS8878, the first British Standard for web accessibility. Patrick and I are also now the co-leads of the WaSP ATF.

Given that two days ago at a conference, I was mistaken for Patrick, I would like to say this now: there is no truth in the rumour that Patrick and I are siamese twins, joined at the ego. In fact, we’re very very different: I’m short, shaven-headed, portly, uncouth and forty. Patrick’s thirty.

Why isn’t WiFi everywhere?

I’ve only had a laptop for a month, so have only been able to take advantage of WiFi for a very short time, but I already find myself getting irked when I turn on my latop and there’s no WiFI. This is pretty unreasonable of me, as I expect it wherever I am. I was legitimately annoyed to spend $270 for a hotel room at the Marriott in Boston, and then be forced to stump up $12 day to use a wire to check my mail in my room.

I travelled for 6 hours yesterday to London and back – and was grumpy that the local trainline hadn’t provided free WiFi on the train. Nor was there any on the tube! I felt cut off, and that really shocked me.

So, come on Gordon Brown: if you want my vote, surround the UK with free WiFi, turn it inwards so the pesky Frenchies can’t use it too and let me roam free.

Chris Mills’ Web Standards Curriculum

I should say “Opera Web Standards Curriculum“, and share some glory but—displaying the self-effacing modesty that is so characteristic of humble me—in reality this is all Chris Mills’ blood sweat and tears.

Millsy describes it as

a course designed to give anyone a solid grounding in web design/development, no matter who they are—it is completely free to use, accessible, and assumes no previous knowledge. I am mainly aiming this at universities, as I believe the standards of education in web standards to be somewhat lacking at many universities. I’ve heard tales of students being marked down for using web standards in their coursework, because the marking schemes are so outdated; I’ve also heard tales of employers despairing because when they interview university graduates for web–related positions, they find out that the graduates really don’t have a clue about real world web development.

I’ve known Mills a long time; he was there at the start of glasshaus publishing when we tried to persuade the world that web standards were the way forward. We went spectacularly bankrupt, but not before all 10 of us who worked there and all 20 of those who bought our books got the web standards evangelism bug.

Mills says

I wanted to do my bit to help make the Web a better place, and I think this comes back to education, whether that’s teaching people how to collaborate and have more respect for one another, or teaching them how to make their web sites work across platforms and devices, and be accessible to people with disabilities. Web standards are key to the latter, so I decided to try putting my time and energy into something that would help increase the adoption of web standards on the Web today and in the future. It has been floating around my head for a while now, but it has finally come to fruition at Opera—many thanks to my wonderful employers for paying me to do this! One of my dreams has finally been realised.

Of course, it’s not all altrusim from Opera, it’s a long-term plan. What hurts Opera is when big name sites don’t work in the browser. This happens not because there’s anything wrong with the browser but because the website is “optimised” for a less standards-compliant browser. If everyone coded using standards, David-not-Dave Storey could put his feet up and not open the web, one site at a time. So if we can train future web developers in the right way to develop, it’ll enhance Opera’s utility, as well as make the web a better place. Give us the child, and we’ll give you the semantic, standards man.

Well done, Millsy—and now, dear Reader, go and study the Web Standards Curriculum!

Elsewhere