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December 29, 2004

If I am only for myself, what am l?

I couldn't say this remotely as well as Maxine (smarter harder working better looking half of westciv) did today at her blog.

In the last couple of years "civilized" governments in the western world have spent hundreds of billions of dollars "liberating" Iraq. Our governments spend hundreds of billions more every year on weapons systems that (thankfully) are rarely if ever used.
Australia alone has a defence budget of around $10 Billion, a staggering amount (about $500 per head for every man woman and child). Goodness knows what the US spends.

Surely catastrophic disasters such as what has happened and is continuing in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, India, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in the Indian ocean must give us pause to ask, are we making the right decisions as to how to spend our wealth?

The essence of Maxine's post is that we happy few, with our internet connections, and leisure time to read and write, are so inordinately fortunate above all because our grasp on comfort, let alone life is not tenuous.

But we are often so complacent, and only dreadful events that end the lives of countless of our fellow human beings even wake us from our privileged slumber.

We spend our lives worrying about trivial crap, like whether there is too little or too much celebration of christmas, or getting upset that people who are attracted to those of the same gender should dare to want to have the same rights as those of us who happen to be attracted to those of a different gender.

Maybe we should get our priorities right.

Let's start by accepting how privileged and fortunate we are. That might help us put the stuff we often complain about in perspective, and then help us focus on the stuff that does matter (IMHO).
Nothing new. Stuff like the vast majority of children in the world getting insufficient nourishment, lacking clean water, missing out on decent educations.
Stuff like preventable diseases killing millions every year.

I don't know why I let it happen. Out of sight out of mind I guess.

My new years resolution is to try harder to keep it in my mind.

Sure I do good things. I do quite a bit of volunteer work in my own community (and I think that is really important, communities that work are better inclined and able to reach out to others). And I sponsor a child in Africa. I hope that helps her and her community a little. I am sure it is better than nothing.

But years ago, in my cynical youth, I used to use the expression "band aids on broken necks" a lot. I guess the point was so often what we do helps little, other than to make us feel a little better.

At the bottom of this all, I think the root cause of so much of the suffering (for want of a better word) in this world, whether it be in poorer parts of our own cities and countries, or in the poorer parts of the developing world is entrenched inequality.
If you start life without resources, without access to education, you know, you have little chance of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps". Hard work counts for little when you are mal nourished, and born into poverty and debt.

Our fundamental challenge is to break cycles of poverty and disempowerment. A pipe dream?

Perhaps, but the story of micro banking, which began in Bangladesh (when I was a kid, Bangladesh was a by-word for poverty) with the Grameen Bank is a phenomenal success. Read a little about it, it is genuinely inspiring. You can even invest in the Grameen Bank (investment, not charity) in the US or Australia.

Things can change ("shift happens") as some wise person once said.

But right now, my feeling is we also need band aids. So if you have a little left in the kitty after all the gifts, food, and enjoyment of the season, god knows there are a lot of people who need it right now. Not only need it, their lives depend on it.

A good overview of things you can do is here

2000 years ago, give or take, a great Jewish sage (no not that one, but the Rabbi Hillel) said

If I am not for myself, who shall be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am l?
If not now, when?

So if not now, when?

December 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

CSS podGuide - Wow, what a response

Sara, my new bride, got me an iPod for my birthday. I can't tell you what a treat this was for me. For years, while slowly building up westciv there was no room for the slightest extravagance. A 6 pack of beer was a special treat, I kid you not. Anything like an iPod was just beyond thinking about.
These days I'm not driving around in a TT (indeed we don't own a car) but things aren't quite as grim as those dark days.

Anyway, there is a point to this ramble.

On our way to the Cook Islands, where we were married, I was playing with my iPod. Listening to all kinds of tunes, avoiding the dire inflight movies, playing the (rather lame) games, and generally taking a poke around.
Then I came across the Notes part in Extras. They sure don't make it a feature of your iPod. And why would you? It's all about the music right?

But then I had a "eureka" moment. What a great place to store handy guides. Over there years I'e programmed in many languages to many many APIs. Each has its own syntax, quirks, things to remember. You simply can't remember everything.

That's why the back of so many developers books are full of appendices, with all kinds of tables - everything from DOM support in browsers to the .NET framework in 12 easy A1 pages :-)

Imagine if you could have all this on one small device, with an easy to use interface? The iPod is perfect for this.

Now, I was on my way to the Cook Islands. I had to wait 'til I got back home 'til I tried it out. As soon as I got back I started looking into it. I discovered that iPod notes even supported linking to other iPod notes. I grabbed our CSS Guide, and BBEdit, and got to grepping, tearing out almost all the HTML (Notes support <title> <p> <br> and <a href="">)

After a couple of hours I had nearly 100 notes ready to go.

Often, you can only tell how good an idea is when you try it out. Like that guy wth the helium balloon and the armchair and the shotgun. Bad idea.
But this one seemed like a really good idea.

It was like alchemy (I've just finished Neal Stephenson's extraordinary Baroque Cycle, where Alchemy is a central character, much like cryptography in Cryptonomicon). You take plain text files, with links in them, put them on a device with a screen of about 8 lines by 25 characters, no text styling, a single font, and you get something really cool and useful.

So that's how the world got our CSS podGuide.

It must have struck a nerve, as westciv is right near the top of blogdex, and a quick look at technorati sees loads of people a linking to it.

Some people, judging by the odd comment I've seen, think this is some kind of publicity stunt, and that there is no value in a podGuide. But even since we released the CSS podGuide I've got even more excited about the possibilities. But I've got to sit down and have a bit of a deeper think about all this, rather than go off (like more than one character in the above mentioned Baroque Cycle) half cocked.

So stay tuned for some news on this front in the next few days, and thanks as always for dropping by.

John

December 16, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 15, 2004

CSS podGuide

Just because it is December, don't think that we at westciv aren't hard at work.

Not content to get our Style Master community site up and running (it's already thriving with dozens of stories and posts and dozens of members after a couple of days), and still working hard on the beta of Style Master 4 (hopefully a public beta will be available in the next few weeks) we've just made available what I'll claim as something of a world first.
We've taken our CSS Guide, and turned it into a podGuide.

What's a podGuide? It's the name we've coined for technical references you can read on your iPod.
Got an iPod? Then in Extras, you'll find a section called Notes. This lets you load text files onto your iPod so you can read on the iPod's screen.

While a few publications are available for the iPod, so far we've found nothing like our guide. It's got a complete overview of CSS, and in-depth info on every property, selector and @rule. All a scroll and click away.

But enough talk, if you've got an iPod that can read Notes (all but the first generation I believe) then head on over to

https://www.westciv.com/news/podguide.html

and grab yourself a copy. That's right its free.

Think of it as a nice little end of year gift from westciv, and the dog.

Now I'm back to Style Master 4.

December 15, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 11, 2004

community

What the web, and deeper still the net has woven into its DNA is a resistance to becoming a broadcast medium. Almost all the media which saturate our lives are broadcast media. They talk, we listen.
But the various media of the internet, newsgroups, email, mailing lists, and the web, are very much about communication. The rise of blogging certainly underscores this, for blogs are almost as much about the conversations they start, among themselves, or with reader comments, as they are about the words of their author.

With communication comes community. Those of us whose lives revolve around the web, probably partake in many such online communities. We have as much in common with those of similar interests and profession across the globe as we do our neighbors across the street. It's these communities which keep us involved online, more than simply the information we have access to, the sites we read.

At westciv, while we've had a site for coming up to a decade, we've also long (indeed longer) been involved with news groups, mailing lists, and other forums for discussion and communication. We've started a couple of mailing lists - css-discuss with Eric Meyer some years ago, and a more beginner oriented CSS mailing list, css-foundations a little later, which we have since rolled into the Web Standards Group. One thing we've often been asked to do, but never quite got round to is start mailing lists, forums and so on related to Style Master.

One of the reasons is that we feel that most existing means for creating onine conversations have many flaws. Mailing lists can quickly become unwieldy - people forget their subscription details, and so list management becomes a complex chore. As a push forum, once something is said, everyone sees it. Nothing can be unsaid, or deleted. As with email more generally, it is a very immediate and quite impersonal format, so nasty episodes can flare up very quickly. Mailing lists need constant vigilance. Pre-moderating posts, in my experience, simply stifles communication, but in unmoderated forums, the danger is one or two people behaving badly can drive many away very quickly.

News groups can suffer similar difficulties, and they lack memory, besides that of their participants. I, for some years, posted frequently on the css newsgroup, but sooner or later the same questions become more and more frequent, and the regular contributors more and more impatient, and terse in answering such questions, which new members see as a kind of arrogance or sense of superiority, and occasionally take it upon themselves to make comments along these lines, and low, a nasty little episode occurs. In time, many participants drift away, as the same conversations (pixels are bad/good for instance) go "round and round the mlulberry bush"

I'm not a huge fan of online "forums". I really don't find them all that usable. There are many opensource forum systems available, but none of them have ever much excited me. The only time I use forums at all is when they turn up in a google search result, and then I might read a thread for some specific information. But I've never then subscribed or made them places I frequent.

The one kind of community software I have long thought reasonably good is the slashdot style of news stories with comments. These you can subscribe to with RSS, are searchable, topic based, and just feel a bit more usable to me than hierarchically structured forums. I read a number of slashcode (slashdot's opensource publication software) based sites daily (mostly via RSS) and have done so for some years. So, they get the stickiness vote. Something abou them feels more immedate than forums.

So, for many reasons, we've put off anything along these lines related to Style Master. But that's been a bit hopeless really. There are many thousands of Style Master users, who share much in common, and whose productivity and hopefully enjoyment of using Style Master would potentially benefit greatly from sharing their experience and experiences with Style Master and CSS, and web development more generally.

So it is time to do something about that. For the last few days Maxine and I have been working hard to get a geeklog based community up and running, and it is now ready for public consumption. If you use Style Master, or CSS, please drop by and take a look. We'll try to post frequent articles about using Style Master, but we also allow anyone with an account to post a story, or comment on our or anyone else's stories. And anyone can get an account.

So please drop by and let us know what you think. Look forward to seeing you there,

https://support.westciv.com

or subscribe to the feed

https://support.westciv.com/backend/geeklog.rdf

John

December 11, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 07, 2004

A bit hopeless

Yes, I've been back a week now from the simply wonderful Cook Islands, and have not posted. Sorry, my bad.
In my defence, Sara and I had a wedding celebration on Saturday, and even the most low key of such events is time consuming to say the least.
The gods smiled upon us with the weather, and it was a lovely lovely day, shared with our closest friends and family.

But a little advice to those looking for a holiday destination. Get thee to the Cook Islands as soon as you can. Its beauty cannot be described, but suffice to say every photo you take is a postcard (I've posted a couple below), the people are wonderful, independent, proud, and if you like seafood, its some of the best food you'll ever eat.
This is not your typical resort heavy Polynesian country. Sadly one day it will probably be like that, but before then, just get there.

More posting soon, but for now, enjoy a few snaps of the Cook Islands.

This is the lagoon at Aitutaki. It is 42 km round, unbelievably clear, and full of aquatic life - dozens if not hundreds of different kinds of fish, giant clams, we even saw a Moray eel while snorkelling. The day we went on a tour there were perhaps 5 boats on the whole lagoon. Click for an enlarged version. Aitutakiblog

Sara snapped these canoes at a very chi chi resort on Aitutaki. Just nearby your typical over the water bar, thousand bucks a night kind of place is a totally non descript little house, where you can rent motor scooters, and which sells hambugers, fish burgers and the like. We went on the advice of the people who ran the place we were staying, and to be frank, when we got there thought that we'd either gone to the wrong place, or that our hosts were mad. It was the best burger either Sara or I had ever had. So when in Aitutaki, go to Josies, just near the Samade resort, and do yourself a favour.Canoesclog

This photo is taken as the sun went down over the lagoon, again at Aitutaki, right in front of the place we were staying - "Matriki". You simply have to point your camera and click, and you end up with a post card. The last night on Aitutaki, my birthday, was wthout doubt the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. The western sky was an incredibly deep blue, long after the sun had gone down, while the clouds were a rich red. In the east, a rainbow, and storm clouds glowing red made the whole sky a spectacle I've never seen before. Sadly, we'd left our camera at home while we went out to dinner.Shadowsblog

December 7, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack