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December 30, 2006

Barbarism revisited

A shade over year ago I wrote this post about the death penalty, occasioned by the imminent execution of a young australian, Nguyen Tuong Van.

In it I observed that the death penalty in and of itself, regardless of the victim is barbaric. In principle. In an of itself. Divorced from arguments of its efficacy (typically specious when investigated with any rigor), its very existence demeans us all and diminishes our humanity, and our civilisation.

It's difficult to imagine a better candidate for the death penalty than a hated tyrant, willing to liquidate individually and collectively tens of thousands, perhaps many more.

But, as little lamented as he will be, by me or just about any one else, I must, in all integrity, register my protest at his imminent execution. I find it pretty much impossible to feel any particular personal sympathy for his plight, nor the consequences to those who might conceivably be close to him, the way I certainly did for Nguyen, and his close family.

But the death penalty is always wrong. It always diminishes us, as individuals, and as a civilisation. Its day will pass, and future generations will wonder at our barbarity.

December 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

December 29, 2006

Web Directions Discount Deadline Extended to January 14 - but hurry!

Web Directions North is almost upon us -- with attendees coming from all over the world, some great sponsors helping to make the event even more special (look out for the soon to be anounced closing night party), and of course, a bumper snow fall is making the after-conference ski trip look better all the time.

But that discount pricing deadline of $895CDN (about $USD770), originally scheduled to end on December 31st, is looming. Because it's a tricky time of year, with all those public holidays, we've had some requests to extend it. We heard you, and the deadline for this pricing is now midnight, January 14th Pacific time.

And as one last holiday bonus, if you sign up by January 5th you'll get a chance at winning either a free spot at one of our workshops, or one of two spots on our ski trip, so don't delay!

December 29, 2006 in webdirections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 21, 2006

Jumping at shadows

My father, who is one of the people I admire most in the world (which I guess one should, but I really do, for so many reasons I couldn't begin to go into) was until quite recently a pharmacist. He'd had his pharmacy in the same place, out in the west of Sydney, for over 40 years. In Australia, and probably elsewhere too, Pharmacists administer a methadone program - methadone is a treatment which seems to have some efficacy in helping heroin addicts manage their addiction, and hopefully get on with their lives.
But as you can imagine, this, and many of the other medicines a pharmacist dispenses, can make a pharmacy a very attractive proposition for shoplifting, break-ins (as a kid dad was not infrequently called out by the local police after a break in, and drove more or less an hour each way in the middle of the night to deal with the situation) and holdups. I know dad was held up more than once - probably many more times than we knew, by people with knives, and guns. I can't imagine how I'd cope, but it never impacted on how dad was with us, his 6, at times surely very trying kids. That's just one tiny part of why I admire him so much.

The point of this ramble is a story dad told me, it must be nearly 20 years ago, about how, after he was held up one time, some tiny little thing (I can't exactly recall what, but I seem to remember it being some dust or other powder dad had unsettled rising up in a puff) triggered a really strong reaction - I guess these days we'd probably more likely recognize it as a post traumatic incident response. Primed after the dreadful incident, the smallest thing could trigger a massive adrenaline response.

I was reminded of it when in the Australian Federal Parliament today, there was a "biological agent" scare. What turned out to be harmless white powder was sent to a number of ministerial offices, causing I can only imagine a huge emergency service response. The headline in the major Sydney paper was "Politicians safe after scare".

I can only think that such jumping at shadows would have been unthinkable a decade ago. That all it takes is someone (quite probably some idiot) sending flour (as was sent to the Indonesian Embassy in Australia last year around the height of the interest in the case of an australian on trial in Bali for drug trafficking, who was widely considered to be innocent, but who was sentenced to a long gaol sentence there) for such a response - emergency services, shutting down of parliament, headline news stories, really has to make us wonder whether in a sense we aren't all suffering from some kind of post traumatic stress episode (and being personally familiar with this issue, I'm not simply talking lightly in a figurative sense.) It's nothing compared with what I am sure millions of Iraqi people face daily where the trauma is almost infinitely worse. But the two are, I think, linked. By "taking the war to the terrorists" we felt we could take it away from our heartlands. Over half a decade after the dreadful events of September 11 2001, and coming up on 5 years since the Bali bombing which killed hundreds (among them a friend, whom I came across a memorial to in her home suburb quite by chance the other day), we have, through all that effort, expense, all those lives lost, only found ourselves less secure, more anxious, more likely to jump at shadows.

One might hope that on those rare occasions when the anxiety strikes close to those decision makers who are responsible for dealing with the situation, that the opportunity arises for a change, a reassessment, to occur. I hold out no hope for that, given the utterly intransigent nature of our government, and particularly prime minister. A profound change will have to occur in our political situation (and despite a profound change in the U.S. political situation a few weeks ago, it seems that things are only going to continue as they are, only more so, in Iraq) for anything to occur which might begin to alleviate the anxieties we all live with now.

But aren't we all sick of jumping at these shadows?

December 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 20, 2006

CSS turns 10

Congratulations to Bert Bos, and Håkon Lie, and all who have since nurtured CSS for the last decade - CSS turned 10 a couple of days back.

There is so much I could say, that I won't say anything at all. CSS certainly changed my life, and certainly changed the web for the better.

To celebrate, there's a new version of the W3 CSS Validator, and a special 10th anniversary site at the W3.

Here's to many more anniversaries.

December 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 14, 2006

Web Directions North Closing Keynote: Jared Spool

Since we announced the conference only one spot has been vacant - our closing keynote speaker. We've been working hard to find a speaker able to close such a star studded lineup, and in Jared Spool we've found just such a speaker.
What we sometimes forget in the web arena is that human computer engineering, user interface design, call it what you will has been around for a long time. Jared has coming up to 20 years of professional user interface engineering experience. His experience is just about unparalleled, and it is a rare privilege for us to be able to bring him to Web Directions North.

Jared is on the faculty of the Tufts University Gordon Institute and teaches seminars on product usability. He is a member of SIGCHI, the Usability Professionals Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the IEEE. Jared is a recognized authority on user interface design and human factors in computing.

Jared will be closing Web Directions North with "The Dawning of the Age of Experience"

Experience design is no longer a nice-to-have luxury of a few organizations with tons of money and exceptional visionary management. It's become commonplace for organizations that build products and web sites. Experience Design is a centerpiece of boardroom discussions and quickly becoming a key performance indicator for many businesses.

However, you can't just hire a couple of "experience designers" and tell them, "Go do that voodoo that you do so well." Today's business environment forces us to build multi-disciplinary teams, compiling a diverse group of skills and experiences to handle the many facets of the technical, business, and user requirements.

In his usual entertaining and insightful manner, Jared will talk about what it takes to build a design team that meets today's needs.

He'll demonstrate how successful Experience Design:

  • Must integrate the needs of the users with the requirements of the business
  • Is learned, but not available through introspection
  • Must be invisible to succeed
  • Is cultural
  • Is multi-discplinary
  • Thrives best in an "educate and administrate" environment

You'll see examples of designs from Apple's iPod, Netflix, the Mayo Clinic, and Southwest Airlines, to name a few.

We are honored to have Jared close Web Directions North, and are really looking forward to "The Dawning of the Age of Experience"

December 14, 2006 in webdirections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 01, 2006

Web 2.0 = the web

Tim O'Reilly (I've been a bit harsh on O'Reilly the organization these last few weeks, but I'm not so egotistical as to think anyone there gives a crap :-) has a post today about the issue of the term web 2.0, and the ideas of naming, meaning, and language more generally.

It's prompted by a discussion he had with Steven White, who doesn't like the term "web 2.0" one bit. Actually, it would be fair to say he hates it with a passion. I don't hate it, I just happento think it's lame - as I did way back here. To me it's just a tired play on the "Business 2.0" idea, and that publication predates the term Web 2.0 by close to a decade. O'Reilly quotes White

So look past the name, which is the ugly schnozzle on the face of a beautiful set of ideas. The name will change as the technology moves on...

The thing is, it already has a name. It's call the World Wide Web, or Web for short. What the web means has changed profoundly over the last decade, and indeed means different things to different people. Idf you asked my mum to define the web, it might be "what I use to read the newspaper and email my kids via my computer". If I were looking for a technical definition, I'd say something like "the vase, almost unimaginably large seas of resources I can access via http".

O'Reilly is very right and astute in his observations about a significant change over the last half a decade in how people use the core technologies of the web (and let's face it those core techologies have not changed all that much in almost the entire history of the web - and yes, I mean CSS in some ways wasn't a big change in the web, even less so flash - the introduction of Javascript was one such change, as was the introduction of inline gif images).

But the web of 91-95 was profoundly different from the post netscape IPO web, probably much more so than the web of today is different from the web of 1999. We all felt pretty comfoprtable using the term Web or "World Wide Web" for those quite profoudly different uses of the same underlying technologies.

Tim Berners-Lee gave us HTTP, HTML, the first web server and browser, and he gave us the name "world wide web" (and I mean quite literally gave). It's served us wqell for 15 years. I think it sill works well. Let's keep using it a little while longer yet eh?

December 1, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack