Archive for October, 2012

Colin Lawson 21 April 1946 – 9 October 2012

I’m delighted to have arrived in Cape Town to speak at Content Strategy Forum with luminaries such as Kristina Halvorson, Luke Wroblewski, Relly Annett-Baker, and Cennydd Bowles (and many others whom I’m really looking forward to hearing).

But I’m sad that I’m missing the funeral of my uncle, Colin Lawson. Colin was my Dad’s younger brother – a lovely gentleman who ran a bike shop (Lawson’s Cycles in Christchurch) and played guitar in his local area.

In the early 60s, he was rhythm guitarist in a band called The Saxons, named by my Dad. Here they are, circa 1964: left to right unknown, Colin Lawson, unknown, Frank Smith, Roger Mabey (names gleaned from David St John’s site):

monochrome picture of five young men, posing with instruments in classic 60s style band pose

a different shot of the above pose

Their significant claim to fame was that they supported the Rolling Stones when they came to Southampton. Claims to fame don’t tell the real story, however; Colin was devoted husband to Barbara and father to Ruth and Guy.

It was Colin who taught me the most important lesson when I began learning the guitar (in the summer of ’82 after my O levels when I went to stay with him and Barbara). I’d wondered why I had to do all the pesky chord fingering with my left hand, when I’m right-handed. He explained my “lead” hand was used for strumming, which is far harder than fretting chords. Once I’d learned the chords and they were second nature, it was the rhythm that made a good guitarist. Of course, he was right, and I’ve never looked back.

Thanks, Col!

Five years or so ago he was diagnosed with cancer. There were several years of chemotherapy and blood transfusions, throughout which he remained upbeat (“I’ve felt better but looking forward” were the last words he said to me on the phone). Eventually, he succumbed, having been out to the pub for the last time less than a week before he died.

Colin Lawson: RIP (Riff in Peace).

Too scared of kettling to march

I used to love going on peaceful demos when I was a kid. Aged about 14, I’d be on a coach once a month to London, or Greenham Common or some US military base to march in support of CND, Troops Out or against the National Front.

When today’s anti-austerity marches were announced, my wife and I thought it would be great to march as a family, to show the government how we feel.

But I’m ashamed to say that I got cold feet. Recently, the Metropolitan Police have taken to “kettling” demonstrators. Wikipedia defines kettling as “a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving. The tactic has proved controversial, not least because it has resulted in the detention of ordinary bystanders as well as protestors.”

There have been reports of people being kettled for hours with no access to food, or to toilets. As a chap with Multiple Sclerosis, being contained with no access to the loo is unlikely to end well. More importantly, it’s likely to traumatise my kids, particularly my son who has learning difficulties.

So, we decided not to go. And I hate it that fear of the police has prevented four people expressing their opinion.

(It’s too late to help us now, but there’s an app called Sukey “designed to keep people safe, mobile and informed during demonstrations. We crowdsource updates from twitter and other online and offline sources in order to provide our users with a timely overview of what is going on at a demonstration”.)

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Thoughts on Adobe Edge

Last week, I dragged my snot-filled carcass down to London for a day-long presentation by Adobe called Create The Web.

I’m an occasional user of Adobe products: I used Dreamweaver in my last job (and was a beta tester for a previous version), and use Photoshop from time-to-time, although use about 2% of its capabilities. I also have some chums at Adobe, but they’re weedier than me so didn’t try to threaten me to be nice to them.

In passing, it’s interesting to note that while Twitter has lots of griping about Adobe products, they managed to get about 800 people into a Leicester Square cinema for a full-day product pitch. That suggests Adobe retains significant mindshare.

I was there because I wanted to see their new Edge range, as the tools that authors use to make websites directly affect the quality of the code of those sites, which directly affects the interoperability of the Web. I was therefore watching the day from two occasionally opposing perspectives: firstly, as the representative of a browser vendor that is sometimes disadvantaged by developers not using the correct prefixes etc, but also as a web author who, all other things being equal, prefers to use IDEs than type in code.

The decline of Flash has not diminished the appetite of site owners and developers for eye-candy and movie-like effects. That’s why Adobe is pushing for lots of new effects in CSS: cool stuff like CSS Filters and CSS Compositing and Blending and also anachronistic “we wish the Web were print” specs like CSS Regions.

Regardless of your opinions on Flash as a technology or plug-in, there’s no denying that the Flash Pro development IDE beats coding canvas in raw JavaScript. It’s also true (according to my good chum and co-author, Remington Sharp) that those developers just coming to canvas and motion graphics now are bumping up against problems that the Flash developers solved decade ago.

Therefore, Adobe has made a very smart move by making the new tools for animating stuff feel familiar to Flash developers. This was explicitly called out: Flash devs, your skills are not dead; the technology might be, but your experience and creativity are still in demand. This is true, and a shrewd business strategy.

(A word about product nomenclature and confusion: the DHTML tool that was called Adobe Edge is now called “Edge Animate”. “Edge” now refers to the whole suite of new Adobe tools. Animate seems to produce DHTML, flying <div>s around with CSS and JavaScript. Apparently, the Flash IDE can produce “HTML5” output, but that’s <canvas>. If your stuff involves text, use Animate so the text remains text and is therefore accessible.)

I haven’t had a chance to download my copy of Edge Animate yet. Lee Brimelow gave an excellent and entertaining developer-focussed presentation building up an animation and there were a few nasties in the code produced.

For example, it seemed that, by default, the code is simply empty <div>s with everything else injected by JavaScript. This means that someone without JS sees nothing at all. The “static HTML” export (which ought to be the default, in my opinion) at least puts the images in the markup, so a browser without JS sees *something*, albeit it unanimated. That code, however, was invalid: it produced <img>…</img>, and there is no closing </img> tag in HTML5 (or any previus incarnation of HTML, for that matter).

Encouragingly, Ryan from Adobe contacted me after I tweeted about this, asking for further feedback which I gave.

Other products that interested me were PhoneGap Build which allows you to upload a PhoneGap project and receive all the different packages through The Cloud™. I’d definitely use this. Who wants to dick around with all the different SDKs?

Edge Code is built on top of an open-source project started by Adobe called Brackets. Some hard-core developers (eg, those who wouldn’t pee on Dreamweaver if it were on fire) I spoke to seemed impressed. It seems they’re very serious about getting external developers involved; pull requests are reviewed daily; Agile sprints mean a quick iteration time, so your contributed code doesn’t languish interminably, and priority is given to external contributions.

The last product that interested me is Reflow, which isn’t out yet. It’s a drag-and-drop visual editor, which allows you to shrink the “stage” and, when your design starts to fall apart, set a breakpoint (which writes a Media Query) after which you re-design the page for the new page width. I haven’t seen the code that’s produced, but it feels to me an intuitive way for a designer to work.

Overall, it was exciting to see a company working hard to come up with a new strategy. The jury is out on the code it produces; Adobe is very heavily investing in WebKit and one of the presenters’ saying “this also works in old browsers like IE9 and Firefox” makes me uneasy. But it doesn’t have to be bad: Microsoft’s Web Essentials Visual Studio extension does an excellent job of adding all the vendor prefixes, even though Microsoft are heavily investing in IE.

The success of the product will ultimately depend on the price. And I’m curious to see how they’ll integrate with Dreamweaver, which is pricey and currently lacks many of the Edge features.

(Note: this is a personal post and doesn’t reflect the opinion of my employer).

Give Paul Robert Lloyd’s Thoughts on Adobe Edge a read, which prompted me to write this up. Fellow HTML5 Doctor Ian Devlin says PhoneGap Build is Awesome.

On DRM in HTML5

This week, I went to speak at Apps World, a great big “Global Developer Event, Mobile Marketing Conference” (according to its site). It was at Earls Court, full of people in suits (6000 attendees) and there was an average of 9.6 synergies per square meter.

As I was waiting for my panel, I listened to the preceeding talk “Is HTML5 the future?” (answer: “yes”). The first question from the audience was about when Digital Rights Management (DRM) will come to HTML5 “so my company can start using it”. Many of the other attendees were nodding their head in agreement.

At the end of my panel, the moderator Robin Berjon asked us “which feature would you like to see come to HTML soon?” and I rather surprised myself by answering “DRM”.

I don’t want DRM. I dislike DRM. Not particularly because I think everything should be free (I don’t; I like receiving royalties for the best HTML5 book) but because I don’t think it works. The DRM graveyard: A brief history of digital rights management in music demonstrates this excellently.

However, “the suits” believe it does work, and aren’t willing to invest fully in the web stack until there is some attempt at DRM. That’s why Netflix, Google and Microsoft have proposed the Encrypted Media Extensions specification that’s being worked on by the Encrypted Media Task Force of the HTML Working Group at the W3C.

Currently, DRM for video is the province of plugins. About a year ago, Lovefilm moved from Flash to Silverlight:

We’ve been asked to make this change by the Studios who provide us with the films in the first place, because they’re insisting – understandably – that we use robust security to protect their films from piracy, and they see the Silverlight software as more secure than Flash.

Simply put: without meeting their requirements, we’d suddenly have next-to-no films to stream online.

This is a problem for Linux users, as Silverlight doesn’t work on that operating system. It’s potentially a problem for Opera users, too, as Opera isn’t officially supported by Silverlight (although it does work). At least if DRM is moved into HTML rather than plugins, people using smaller browsers or operating systems will be able to choose whether or not to view DRM content. Now, they don’t have any choice at all.

But philosophy aside, ultimately, DRM in HTML is coming. WebKit appears to have started work on it 6 months ago, and Microsoft will presumably add it into Internet Explorer. And if those two giants support DRM, which browser would dare not to support it, and potentially be blocked by video sites? It’s like h264 on mobile: nobody likes it very much, but it’s a reality.

Like an unpleasant medical procedure such as having a catheter inserted, if it must happen it might as well come sooner rather than later.

(This is a personal view and does not reflect that of my employer)

Also see More on DRM in HTML5 in which I belatedly realise that the spec is just a plugin architecture.