September 26, 2006
Introducing Web Directions North - Feb 6-10 2007 Vancouver
Dave Shea, Derek Featherstone, Maxine Sherrin and John Allsopp are proud to annouce Web Directions North 2007. Workshops, a two day conference featuring an amazing lineup of speakers, and two days of skiing and boarding (or just relaxing) at Blackcomb/Whistler.
All the details are available right now at the Web Directions North site.
Tickets will be on sale very soon, but email us at north@webdirections. and you'll get first dibs on the limited number of early-booking discounted tickets, at CAD$795, which is $200 CDN off our standard rate.
Start planning now for what will really be a fantastic event.
September 22, 2006
It's Coming - Monday
September 17, 2006
Diversity in the web professions
Chris Messina started a very big conversation with his post yesterday about the "Future of Web Apps Summit" just held in San Francisco.
Very bluntly titled "The Future of White Boy clubs", Chris ponders the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in web conferences, and by extension the industry more generally, and how it might be addressed. I've weighed in there with a long comment, because it is an important issue which Maxine and I have paid a lot of attention to and taken very seriously for some time.
This year, Web Directions features 40% women presenters, and this year and last, women have been the keynote speakers. Women who can play these roles are in our industry, though they do tend to take some seeking out. Organisers do need to, as Chris and others say, make diversity an important focus, as we have.
I am somewhat surprised that it is we at the fringes, not those at the center, be it the US, or UK, who are making this such a priority. SxSW has definitely made gender and ethnic diversity a very strong issue, but the list of others who have done so is short.
Some argue that the lack of diversity of speakers simply reflects the make up of our industry, but that's definitely not my experience - where a quick glance at our attendee list for Web Directions suggests upwards of 40% are women.
Right now, a lot of the focus on why this is so is on the shortcoming of conference organisers, in not making diversity among speakers a priority. Now, I don't think that's entirely unfair, but it's also easy, and to an extent glib. You know, if you've not tried putting together a conference, it might seem easy from the outside - email a few people to speak, who wouldn't say no?, rent a venue, and the rest takes care of itself. I pointed out in my comment on Chris's post that putting on conferences is a huge financial risk, and as such, we organisers tend to play it safe. Well known speakers do really help get a good turnout to a conference, and a majority of the really well known speakers and writers in our profession are men.
That's not, again, as I pointed out in that post, an excuse, rather an explanation. And I think it is important for people to understand why decisions are made as they are, even if the reasoning and subsequent decision making is flawed, or otherwise problematic.
A great conference is a show, and a great speaker is a performer - they thrill, they entertain, they hold a crowd of hundreds attention for an hour. Very few people, men or women, can do it - not without the inclination, and a lot of hard work.
Speaking is a skill, one which needs to be developed and honed. So there is a responsibility too, of those who wish to speak at conference, to develop those skills, to hone them, to get themselves seen and heard by conference organisers, and others. One of the criteria I have as a conference organiser is I want to know that the speaker is a good communicator, that they can entertain, can educate, can inspire - for their sake, for the audience's sake, and for my sake. Speaking to a crowd of 400 plus is really hard, and not to be taken on lightly. I've spent years building up to be halfway confident or competent at it. So I travel to conferences, and listen to a great many podcasts, in an ongoing effort to hear new and exciting speakers. We do make an effort, albeit surely imperfect.
And you as an audience have a responsibility too. If you think it's not acceptable, then communicate that to the organisers. Chris went to the conference, then criticised it afterwards. But in reality, isn't his attendance an endorsement of the situation? Clearly the circumstance wasn't bad enough to actually change his behavior, although it may well have changed the behavior of others. Who else criticised the organisers? Or the organisers of other recent conferences which also featured few if any women?
And on the other hand, reward those who promote diversity - note it, encourage it, promote their conference. This sounds self serving, sure, but I actually can't recall too much praise for our lineup comprising a far higher percentage of women than just about any other I recall in our industry. It's not why we do it, but you know, that recognition wouldn't hurt either.
Change is very hard work. Each step is effort, and needs to be followed up by more. Blaming someone in particular for a situation is usually pretty easy, particularly when that someone is someone else. In my comment to Chris's post, I pointed out our earlier shortcomings with our first conference, where women were woefully and shamefully under represented. That's something we recognized, and something we set out to rectify.
Talk is necessary. But after the words are spoken, the actions which are taken both define us, and change circumstances. Talk alone does not do that.
So what are you going to do to increase diversity in our professions?
September 16, 2006
Free trade agreement redux - I don't like to say "I told you so" but
Nigh on two years ago I wrote, at the time of Australia's entering into a so called free so called trade, so called agreement with the US
I believe the recent US/Australian "free trade agreement" (which is not about free trade, and is no more an agreement than the schoolyard bully and the wimpy nerdy guy "agreeing" that the wimpy guy give all his pocket money to the bully) undermines Australia's ability to adapt to the profoundly changing legal, technical and business landscape created by the current revolutions in intellectual property (IP) thrown up by the increasing digitization of the processes of creation, distribution and use of IP, from software to music to cinema and beyond.
Well, it has come to pass. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that
"The Australia United States Free Trade Agreement requires Australia to prohibit the use of devices and services to circumvent TPMs. Currently Australia does not prohibit the use of devices and services to circumvent TPMs but does prohibit activities in relation to circumvention devices (such as manufacture or sale)," Minter Ellison said in a recent statement.
These would include digital rights management (DRM) systems used by the film, gaming and music industries as well as any applied to the recent generation of gaming consoles.
So there you have it. Entirely, and tediously as predicted, Australia now is required to incorporate US law as our own without debate, in this case the highly controversial Digital Copyright Millenium Act (DCMA) (and any other amendments the U.S congress may seem fir to incorporate in the interests of their corporate paymasters). Why the f#&k do we even have a parliament anymore? Could this possibly be constitutional? We may, as our Prime Minister said "decide who comes to our shores and under what conditions" but apparently we don't decide which laws affect Australians. We've signed a treaty which undermines that. Why is there no outrage? We get worked up about "migrants" and "Australian values". But this represents Australian values I guess.
I sound angry? I'll repeat this bit from Minter Ellison's legal advice "The Australia United States Free Trade Agreement requires Australia" to pass U.S. laws as Australian law without debate.
Why doesn't the free trade agreement oblige the U.S. to repeal the DCMA? Why is that not "harmonisation" of the IP laws of the two countries? That's why I refer to it as a so called free so called trade so called agreement. It was entered into at an executive level without parliamentary vote, it is not about trade, it's about U.S. laws and interests, and and it is not even remotely an agreemment, It's a Fiat from the U.S. to Australia.
If you are not angry you are an idiot.
Where on earth is our opposition in all this? Oh, pandering to nonsensical political non issues like making new Australian citizens take language tests.
BTW, some people argue it's worth this cost, as it helps trade, which helps the country. Trade between Australia and the U.S. fell 3% in the year after we signed this agreement.
Shame on our country. What's next? We'll be forced to adopt U.S. sentencing laws, including the death penalty?
It is a mighty slippery slope when you hand over your sovereignty to another country - and this is precisely what we have done here.
September 07, 2006
Depression in the IT Professions
I wrote this post nearly a year ago, and never quite got round to posting it. Rereading today, having been prompted by the story of a young successful lawyers suicide having suffered from depression, I felt it was time to publish it.
My second ever post on this blog can be found here
In it I mention my psychiatrist. This was a quite deliberate choice. This blog is quite personal. I am not ashamed of the fact that I have been having treatment for depression. However, a smart, successful friend, herself having seen a psychiatrist, emailed me almost right away and questioned whether it was wise that I mention that here. She wrote
I feel that you have to be a little careful in sharing this personal info. There exists such a broad spectrum of psych patients and someone who doesn't know you and who might be considering a business relationship may be given unnecessary/unfair cause for concern.
It was very sensible advice. But I left it in there nonetheless.
I am reasonably open about my depression - in the appropriate circumstances I'll bring it up - recently in ante natal classes (hey there is a bit of a give away, huh?), when the issue of PND (post natal depression) came up, I talked openly about the experience of having depression. In a way, I see it as something of a duty - there is so much ignorance about depression (I know, until suffering from it, or at least becoming aware of the fact I suffered from it, I was woefully ignorant about what depression is. Indeed, I see now that I have suffered fitfully from depression a lot of my life. Perhaps if I had been less ignorant, and the whole issue less stigmatized, I would have dealt with it years ago, and my life in many parts would have been a great deal less unpleasant at times, for me and those around me.)
Like many who suffer from depression, I was functioning, more or less. Like many, I didn't think things were great, but I was still running my business, competing in sports, living my life. Just none of it really mattered. I got angry about things that really, in hindsight, weren't all that important. I was sick of pretty much everyone and everything. Above all, there was no joy in my life.
The process of dealing with the depression took some time, I guess 6 months before I really turned things around significantly, but much of that was coming to terms with the reality of what was really wrong in my life. That's the hardest part.
We tend to see depression as a very individual thing, something which happens to people, which isolates people, marginalizes them. This is true, but there is also a bigger picture. Certain kinds of personality are far more prone to depression (not just one type, but different types of personalities). Importantly, depression is something that happens to us as a society, and significantly impacts emotionally and economically our society as a whole.
Being reasonably gregarious, I know quite a few people in the IT, particularly the web related professions. And I know from experience that depression is not at all uncommon in these professions. I'd probably go so far as to say, from a purely anecdotal point of view, and with little exaggeration, that it is an epidemic. I've done some basic research to see whether there have been any studies on the correlation of IT Professionals and Depression, but nothing much has come to light, although its certainly an idea that has occurred to others. When I ran the idea by my shrink, and we talked about it for a while, he certainly concurred that it was a reasonable surmise.
You see, in terms both of the kinds of personality prone to depression, and the kinds of environments which seem to trigger or prolong and deepen depressive episodes, an association between the IT industry and depression would, as a lay person, far from surprise me.
While it is easy, and dangerous, to stereotype IT professionals ("geeks") and the kinds of personality that appear to be predisposed to depression, qualities we tend to associate with many IT professionals like obsessiveness, very high standards, social anxiety, creativity, coupled with stressful life circumstances (extremely long hours, arbitrary deadlines, lack of control over many variables of the work environment, lack of job security) seem to be a recipe for disaster when it comes to depression.
As I mentioned, I have a reasonably wide group of friends and acquaintances in our industries, (and outside them as well) both in Australia, and around the world. Talking with people, getting to know them, has given me some insight to how prevalent this problem could well be. Almost everyone has a story about themselves, or colleagues and depression.
Our industry tends to allow us to hide away, in front of our screens, in our cubicles, "pulling all nighters", connecting via email, chat, all great ways to avoid strong social contact outside the workplace. This is not necessarily seen as unusual, or problematic. So it can be easy to hide away from the world, allowing depression to grow quietly, without it being noticed, with everything seeming "OK" to those we deal with.
So why, when I search the web, do I find little if anything about depression in our industry? Maybe there ain't any there, though I very much doubt that. I expect that many have recognized their condition and undergone treatment, but don't want to shout it to the rooftops - I don't blame people for that - I just got turned down for income protection insurance, a man who has never missed a day of work in his life, who only 18 months ago won a state surf lifesaving silver medal, competing against people half my age, with a one sentence reply "our decision was based on your history of depression". Man are they going to regret that sentence ;-)
Or maybe they haven't sought treatment, afraid of the social stigma, anxious of what they will think of themselves. Or maybe, like I was once, they are unaware of the fact there is actually something wrong.
A significant problem for those suffering from depression, is that due to the stigma often associated with the condition, and general societal ignorance, people don't necessarily associate how they are feeling with being depressed, or if they do, are concerned about their own self worth, or the opinions of others, should they seek treatment. This is certainly something I can relate to from personal experience. Ironically, being depressed seems to reduce the chance of us seeking help for the condition. A sense of hopelessness often pervades everything you do - "what's the point of going to my doctor and talking about it? Nothing will change anyway". This too I can recount from personal experience.
So why am I writing this? A couple of things have prompted this post, and for me to take some small steps in trying to put this issue on the agenda for our profession.
Recently, someone I know from our profession took their own life. I know that they had experienced depression in the past, and I guess (that's the best I can do in the circumstances) there was a connection between these two events. Some studies suggest that as many as 10%-15% of people who suffer from depression will commit suicide. That's a rather high mortality rate for any illness. And I didn't want that to happen again, at least without doing what I could to try and stop it happening.
After WE05, and speaking about this with a number of people at the conference, I had more or less decided it was time to do something, when (on a selfish note) the issue with insurance I mentioned above occurred. On a personal level, a man with a young family, looking to provide for them regardless what might happen to me, this is distressing, and something I will fight to rectify. But from a societal point of view this is a disaster - a deliberate, discriminatory decision (based on essentially no real knowledge of my particular circumstances) which means people may well avoid treatment in order to secure insurance, or be punished for taking responsibility for their mental health. A little digging around since this happened to me leads me to suspect that certainly in Australia, "Insurance" companies (shudder quotes used advisedly) simply deny any income protection to anyone who applies, should they "admit" to a history of depression. I'd be surprised if that wasn't the case elsewhere too.
This further stigmatizes and excludes people with depression, particularly those who have the courage to address their condition.
This nasty little episode reinforced just how marginalized the issue of depression really is, and was the final straw. Enough I said to myself.
But what to do?
First, it is ignorance that does the damage. Ignorance of what depression is, how it effects people, how the person next to you, or you yourself might suffer from it, and never know. Ignorance that blames people with an illness for being weak, or lazy, or in some way responsible for their condition.
This ignorance needs to be dispelled.
And with better understanding, hopefully the marginalizing, discriminatory attitudes and practices, as much ours as individuals, as those of institutions like insurance companies, will simply no longer make any sense, in the same way other discriminatory practices, against people on the base of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, are, to some extent, on the wane.
When you suffer from depression, you'll most likely be told by at least some people to "pick yourself up" or "get over it". But that makes as much sense as telling someone with a broken leg to just get over it, once you understand that depression is an illness, a condition of the body, just like any other illness.
There are those who deny even the existence of depression. Claim it is some epidemic of self indulgence by the affluent western middle classes. Again, something founded in ignorance.
What do you really know about depression?
I can almost guarantee that unless you have suffered from it, or known someone very close to you who has, or studied depression professionally, your knowledge will be almost completely wrong. It is something so riddled with misapprehensions, clouded by judgmental thinking, that unless you are forced to rethink years of accumulated assumptions, you simply can't have a clear understanding of it.
Who do you know who has or has suffered from depression? Even if you think "no one", you are almost certainly wrong.
It's also important for people to understand that depression can be treated, and that if you suffer from it, you will feel profoundly better because of that treatment. Not necessarily in a day or week, but in a reasonable time frame. There are many different treatments, depending on the kind of depression, its duration and depth, and which treatment is best for you will very much depend on you and your circumstances. This may involve a drug, something which is greatly stigmatized in our society, partly because of the side effects often associated with first generation "tri-cyclic" anti-depressants. But drugs are not necessarily the treatment you'll receive.
If you are suffering from depression, or feel you might be, and have a good general practitioner (GP), someone you put your faith in, then simply go and speak with them. They won't judge you. You will look back one day on it as one of the best things you ever did. If you don't have that kind of GP, seek one out. Perhaps a friend might recommend a doctor they trust. Perhaps at one of the forums where people discuss depression you might find a recommendation for someone local to you.
But put aside any preconceptions you have, about the nature of the treatment, and its outcomes, they are very likely to mislead you.
If you believe someone you know well may be suffering from depression, then it can be very difficult to help them help themselves. If you are very close to them, their wife, husband, partner, parent, sibling, then it might be an idea to see your GP alone and discuss it with them. They may help with strategies for getting your loved one into some form of treatment. Certainly, forcing someone into treatment is often counter productive.
As the partner of someone suffering from depression, there is also some chance that you too will be effected by depression. It is an extremely stressful event in itself, and whatever stresses your partner is going through, you are likely to be feeling to some extent too. Don't ignore your own health. Often the first step in helping someone else is to help ourselves.
This is only the smallest step, and perhaps the only one I am qualified to take, to put this on the agenda as a profoundly important issue for us as a profession.
There are also many online resources to help you understand depression, how it effects people, what triggers it, the different treatments available. There are sites where you can self assess to see whether you might have a propensity toward depression, or whether you have or even perhaps presently are suffering from a depressive episode.
You can also find forums for discussing depression, as a sufferer, or as someone close to someone suffering.
The day I realized that I was not alone, that what I felt many others do too, was a very important day in my life. I had felt so alone before that.
Regardless of how you feel right now, do take a look at some of these sites, do try to learn more about depression. The odds that you, or someone close to you, will suffer from depression are high.
Rather than you or them suffering longer than is necessary from ignorance, be in the position to stop it happening before it starts, or to recognize it early, which will usually reduce the severity and length of an episode.
My best wishes to you in your efforts. Know that you aren't alone, and that there is hope.
General Sites about depression
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?link_id=1.3 (Not for Profit organization in Australia)
https://www.depression.com/ (associated with Pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline)
https://depression.about.com/ Comprehensive links about depression, diagnosis, treatment and much more
Symptoms, signs and causes
https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Demystifying_Depression (detailed if somewhat controversial ideas of Depression, worth a read)
Self Testing (better for understanding depression rather than a definitive diagnosis)
Forums, and places to discuss
Some sites about Drugs and Depression
Helping someone with depression
Please add any resources you think are valuable as comments
Quick interesting job for really interesting looking site. Will pay!
Darian from Villagethegame, what looks to be a fascinating and very worthy upcoming web based game is looking for a little bit of designer work.
VillagetheGame.com needs a new blogger template that incorporates the new logo and displays well in Firefox and IE, unlike the current blog that breaks in IE. I need something ASAP, because the website got some media attention way ahead of schedule and caught me off guard. Pay is $200 for what I need immediately and will hopefully lead to hiring you for further projects. Please contact Darian for more details: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (407) 697-6392. (Im guessing that is the US)
Take a look at the site, and if you have some experience with blogger templates (or even if you don't necessarily, they are pretty straightforward) maybe drop Darian a line
September 04, 2006
Web Directions discount pricing ends tonight
Web Directions signups are going really well, and now we've got just a month to go.
Discount pricing of $100 off, at $850 AUD (that's just $650USD or GBP£340, what a bargain) ends tonight at midnight, and after that it's still the very very reasonable price of $950AUD.
For this you get two days absolutely chock full of some of the best speakers in the world on web design, development, interaction design, information architecture, accessibility, Ajax, microformats, RSS, web app development, online communities, and obligatory web 2,0 buzzwords.
The ticket price includes full catering (morning and afternoon tea and lunches both days), two parties (the official reception which includes the awarding of the innaugural McFarlane Prize for Excellence in Australian Web Design, and a closing night party sponsored and hosted by great Aussie technical publishing company Sitepoint, featuring Cam "the man in blue" Adams DJing).
There's a wifi network, the Style Master juice bar for powering up your laptops, and net access iMacs too if you don't want to bring a laptop.
You'll get to meet and mingle with your colleagues and peers from around the country and the world, and help further develop the industry here.
It only happens once a year, so don't kick yourself when you miss out.
If that's not enough, there are 5 whole day workshops, featuring an alll star lineup of international educators, covering interaction design, Ajax and DOM scripting, accessibility, and web design and development, at just $395 each. Take a look and see what these would cost you anywhere else in the world.
The last two years have been a blast, and each year we grow, with a great many returning and bringing more of their colleagues with them. You will not be disappointed.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today and get $100 off
September 03, 2006
Calling all wifi boffins
OK, time to tap into the collective wisdom, intelligence and know how of the readers of "the dog" (might be taking a risk here :-)
From time to time I need to setup an ad hoc wifi network over a reasonably large indoor area (say a theatre foyer and a theatre). Typically, we can get ethernet internet access, but I'd like to hear from people about their reasonably low cost solutions to providing a wifi access in this sort of space. Whenever we have relied on someone else's system, it's been less than ideal, and we usually have no control over that situation whatsoever.
We have Macs as the main systems, which I know can be an issue for some routers etc, and the clients are both mac and windows laptops.
Our initial thought is to just set up an Airport Extreme, but does that really have the range without additional antennae, or bridges? There is an advertised limit of 50 clients - is this a hard or soft limit? Is this optimistic?
If you have any experience, thoughts, tips, links, or suggestions at all, we'd really appreciate it,
Or if your company sets up things like this, and you'd like to be the sponsor of the events we hold in exchange for setting up a network for a day or two, drop us a line as well :-)