Archive for September, 2010

A couple of HTML5 articles

We haven’t met for a while here, but I haven’t just been sitting around eating chocolates and watching the Jeremy Kyle Show.

I spoke at Over The Air, and met Sir Tim Berners-Lee who asked me to sign a copy of Introducing HTML5 that I gave him (swoon!).

I’ve written HTML5: The Facts And The Myths with Remy for Smashing Magazine, which has attracted lots of comments.

I’ve also done an interview with Remy (the editors have edited me to call him “Sharp” throughout, as though we were both pupils at Eton or something) in which we say crazy things like “you don’t have to use canvas, and you don’t have to immediately switch to HTML5”. It’s called HTML5: The 900-Page Gorilla with a Wide Ensemble.

A nice review of our book was published by Peter Steen Høgenhaug, noting that we “relate every part of HTML5 to accessibility”, which is great as that’s exactly what we set out to do.

I spent last week in Stockholm, giving 4 presentations, checking out the marvellous Vasa Museum and autographing a copy of our book with a picture of a unicorn and a double rainbow (Unicorns, butterflies, ribbons, rainbows & fluffy kittens feature on page 35 of the book).

And there are still quite a few talks to give before the end of 2010!

Review: Interact with Web Standards

(Disclosure: several authors of this book and its technical reviewer are personal friends of mine.)

Once upon a time there was a grassroots group of Web designers and developers called the Web Standards Project (WaSP) that pressured companies such as Microsoft and Adobe to ensure that those companies’ products were more standards-compliant.

They were largely successful; although some companies occasionally relapse, most of the time standards are given more than mere lip-service.

The WaSP then sought to educate Web developers to code to standards, not to browsers. Again, it was broadly successful. While there are many, many developers out there testing only in IE (or doing the 2010 equivalent of testing only in WebKit) it’s easy to find other standards-aware developers out there in the world, and standards are generally understood by professional developers to be the ideal—even if that ideal is not always achievable in a particular project.

The WaSP finally ran out of steam and with Interact became its successor in taking the Standards gospel to the next generation, because learning the right way is so much better than unlearning bad habits. Interact with Web Standards is subtitled “a holistic approach to Web design”: it’s a curriculum to learn from or to teach.

The state of Web education in universities is utterly out-of-step with industry best practice (with some notable and welcome exceptions). Students go into courses in good faith, believing that they’re going to emerge ready to work in the Web industry. Employers, however, find that most graduates are ill-prepared. When I was interviewing for a new member of a team in 2007, I found no candidates whose portfolio sites used valid HTML or which worked cross-browser.

Another employer told me “For the first time ever, this spring we grabbed a couple grads with some solid standards skills”. This means spending time and money training so-called graduates in the discipline that they should already be experts in. “Almost every comp. sci. peep I’ve ever worked with has been around 3 years behind on current tech / standards” says tomnomnom.

The reason is that University Computer Science courses treat the Web as something of an afterthought, and pay no attention to Standards. “I’m a 2004 graduate, and I was actively marked down for using web standards over tables and Java widgets” says Steve Marshall. “We weren’t taught standards in college – it was more ‘here’s dreamweaver, best of luck with it'” adds onepixelout.

The Interact book fulfills a vital need. Like Opera’s complementary Web Standards Curriculum, it is a course textbook, a self-study primer, an on-the-job training manual. Its aim is to equip new entrants to the industry with skills that today’s employers really need: the ability to develop accessible, usable, good-looking web sites that are based on Web Standards so that they work across all browsers, operating systems and across devices.

The pedigree of the book’s authors is excellent: educators, highly-rated conference speakers, industry stalwarts, designers and coders combine to give the reader a well-integrated series of lessons that progresses through project planning, content development, information architecture, HTML, CSS and accessibility. (See table of contents.) The book is also pleasant to read, with attractively designed layout, full colour illustrations and guided “try it out” sections.

Gripes? Not many. There’s little on JavaScript in the book, which is an increasingly important part of Web development (volume 2 perhaps?). There are a couple of minor proofing errors, and I’m not completely convinced that writing for the Web is as different from writing for print as the chapters seem to suggest.

All in all, the book is an very good primer for those beginning their education in Web development, and provides an excellent framework upon which to build knowledge.

Of course, you don’t need to know the contents of this book to find a job in the Web. But if you want to rise above the badly-coded, thrown-together sites that plague much of the Web and join the top tier of Web professionals, you need to know the information this book covers.

Elsie Lawson 6 June 1920 – 22 August 2010

My paternal grandmother died two weeks ago, after 90 healthy years. She fell and broke her hip; a week after a hip replacement operation, she was short of breath, had a heart attack and never awoke.

This is the tribute I read at the funeral service.

Black and white photo of Elsie Lawson in 1944 on Flickr

My Nan was born in a pub in Sunderland in 1920 (see photo of her aged 4, in 1924). Her parents, Jim and Polly Walker then moved to nearby Ryhope to help run her grandfather’s pub, The Prince of Wales, on her mother’s side of the family. These were the days where an extended family was the norm…for instance Elsie’s father had 9 siblings who all lived locally and were in tune with all the various family triumphs and tragedies.

My Dad remembers Elsie telling how much she enjoyed her early childhood along with her 3 sisters and one brother – Jim (you’ll find that the name Jim, Jimmy or James crops up a lot in our family) – and even more so when her father took over his own pub the Canterbury Arms in Seaham Harbour, then a thriving mining village on the N.E. coast just south of Sunderland.

In 1934 her older sister, Peggy who was in service in a large house in Gloucester Road, London became ill and Elsie was sent to deputise for her until she recovered. Imagine it! A young girl of 14 in London by herself with a class of people she barely knew. She didn’t last; it was the first time she showed her mettle, rebelled against authority (she hated snobs) and had to be sent home.

When she was 17 she started nurses training at a local sanatorium devoted victims of TB which was then prevalent. Again her stroppy side took over and a kindly Matron advised her to quit nursing as she couldn’t respond to discipline or authority. Must run in the family!But as luck would have it, she met the Grant family who ran a local chemist shop. They became very fond of her and she enjoyed working with them. Her father was not so happy – she and her younger sister Tess were typical young women who loved dressing up, going dancing and, of course, meeting the boys. Many a time he was left pacing behind the front door because his ‘girls’ were still saying goodnight to their latest squeeze on the doorstep after 10pm. How brazen.

But then she met my granddad – another Jim – and started going steady. But war broke out in 1939 and she was sent to work in a munitions factory as part of the war effort. Strangely enough she was posted to a factory in Solihull in the W. Midlands which is only some 3 miles from where my own family and I now live.

Both Elsie and Jim were unhappy about their enforced separation and decided to marry. Jim was a miner at that time and in a reserved occupation. This meant Elsie could give up her war work and return home to take care of him and the household – doesn’t that sound strange these days?

Anyway they married in August 1941, scraped a home together only for it to be destroyed by a nearby bomb in 1942. In 1944 in another home, Elsie’s first son, Jeffrey, my father, was born on her own birthday, 6th June which was also the day of the Normandy D-Day landings. Two years later Colin followed on 21st April.

In the mid ’50’s my Grandpa was diagnosed with the miner’s curse – lung disease although it was only in the early 10% stage then. So bravely, they decided to up sticks and move down to Hampshire where Elsie’s younger sister Betty had gone in 1954 on her traitorous marriage to a Southerner!

A bold and yes, a brave one considering the times – but a good one as it turned out for them and for my dad and his brother, Colin. They grew to love the New Forest and other members of Elsie’s family made similar moves including her older sister Peggy and niece, Moira.

In the late 70’s Elsie and Jim were offered the chance to return ‘home’ to the N.E. and decided to take it. Not a good move – too much had changed, so after some 5 years and Jim’s early retirement at 62, they went back to Hampshire. They were happy there for the next couple of years until Jim had a sudden and fatal heart attack on my 17th birthday, a date I can’t ever forget.

It would be fair to say that a large part of Elsie died then as well. Although she maintained a cheerfulness and generosity in so many ways she was, I think, inwardly lonely but nonetheless grateful to have the supportive love of her sons and, further down the line her daughters in law, grandsons and their wives and, in the last eleven years, four beautiful great grandchildren, two of whom are called James and William – her own husband’s names.

Well Nan, We’ll all miss you but maybe you’ll be sitting somewhere snug right now with a glass of wine in one hand and a fag in the other. You often used to say “I think I’ll just have a little relax”. Well, now you can.