Archive for February, 2003


From the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Don’t be afraid, be ready.”


Norm Coleman

An editorial in today’s Minnesota Daily, “A Test for Norm Coleman“:

With Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s election last November, Minnesotans seemed to affirm a belief that he had reformed his chameleon ways. Minnesotans seemed to forgive past flip-flopping transgressions on issues such as privatization, party affiliation, abortion, a motorized Boundary Waters Canoe Area and education reform. During his campaign, Coleman even stood in firm opposition to President George W. Bush’s proposal to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But after refusing to sign a bipartisan letter to oppose ANWR drilling last Tuesday, Coleman’s hue seems to have changed — again. We’re forced to wonder if the chameleon, now in office, has returned.

Er, yes. Isn’t that obvious? Probably not to anyone who lives outside the Metro area and didn’t have to live with him as mayor. I don’t think people ever really understood his “chameleon ways.” Perhaps now they will.


Budget cuts.

Well, one thing’s clear: assuming that I still have my job after this upcoming round of budget cuts within Minnesota state government, those same cuts make it pretty damn unlikely that I’ll make it to this year’s Open Source Convention. Pity. That was one of the most valuable things that I did last year.

Heck, our own IT conference within MnSCU may not happen. I’m supposed to hear today, but that’s what I was told a couple weeks ago.

I’m going to start saving to go to OSCON next year on my own dime.


Google in Ewmew Fudd

I just noticed that you can set the language in Google preferences to, among other things, Elmer Fudd, Bork! Bork! Bork! (that’s Swedish Chef for you Muppet-ignorant heathens), and Pig Latin. And Klingon, of course.

Once you’ve set it to Elmer Fudd, the language preferences include “BLAH (BLAH)” and “Norwegian (Jibber Jabber).” Too bad, that last one, I’d have expected “Nowwegian (Jibbew Jabbew).”


WebAIM Training 2003, WAVE.

WebAIM is doing another online web accessibility training this year. Last year’s was good (and free) enough that I bought the training materials on CD-ROM. This year’s is not free, but I like some of the things they’re doing, namely breaking it out into tracks. And there’s a handy education discount. Looks worth it.

In case you haven’t tried it, I suggest that you try the updated version of WAVE, an online accessibility tool that is now developed by WebAIM. It’s in beta but is still a far sight better than most other tools.

A lot of people like Bobby. I don’t. The problems that Bobby can check automatically are almost all things that a good markup validator checks for: missing alt text, DOCTYPE declarations, and so on. Most pages turn up a fair number of user checks that need to be done, which is fine except for two things: messages from Bobby are cryptic and unhelpful, and it’s not clear how to evaluate some of what Bobby flags as possible problems (especially to novices). The W3C‘s markup validator has much more helpful messages, even to those who don’t know HTML well.

So how do you do the user checks? That’s where WAVE comes in. Plug in a URL, and WAVE returns tha page at that URL marked up with icons that you can use to evaluate the accessibility of that page. For example, rather than simply flagging missing alt text, WAVE goes a step further and displays the alt text so you can determine whether it’s actually useful. It identifies structural markup (headers, lists, etc.) to help you evaluate whether the page is marked up properly. WAVE calls your attention to mouse-activated JavaScript events, so you can decide whether they should also be keyboard-triggered.

When evaluating and improving the accessibility of a web page, I do at least these two things:

  1. Clean up the markup, with the aid of a validator or HTML Tidy. This alone addresses many/most accessibility problems.
  2. Use WAVE to help identify anything else that needs cleaning up.

There’s always room for improvement, but I find that’s usually enough — or at least is all that automated tools can help with. Other accessibility issues tend to be global in nature, relating to navigation, content, and so on, and require more sophisticated analysis.


Keynote XML Schema

Tempting though it’s been, I have not gone out and bought Apple’s Keynote presentation software. It looks slick, easier to use than PowerPoint, and I like how the presentations look. I’ve held out, though, because

  1. I can think of better ways to spend a hundred bucks.
  2. I don’t make that many presentations.
  3. As much as I love my iBook, the few presentations that I do make need to be made available to people who don’t use Macs. Yes, I could export and import PowerPoint presentations or PDFs, but I’d have to see the interoperability at work before I shelled out.
  4. I’m holding out for a decent OpenOffice port. Alright, the most recent release is pretty good, but still not comfortably workable on my iBook.

Yesterday Apple released Keynote’s XML schema, for those of us who might want to access or create Keynote presentations programatically. This makes Keynote a teensy bit more tempting. The schema is certainly easier to grok than OpenOffice’s XML file format, although that’s not entirely fair since OpenOffice is a suite of applications while Keynote is a stand-alone app. Too, there may be more to come: Apple mentions a “four-part Technical Note ‘Deconstructing a Keynote Document'” that is apparently a work in progress.

So am I planning to buy Keynote? Not unless I start doing enough presentations to merit the price. I don’t think a hundred dollars is extravagant, but still more than I should be tossing around right now. I do have to say that I applaud Apple for making this move. They have been doing such a good job of working with open standards, balancing openness with proprietary needs.

Oh yes. If you’re using Safari, don’t miss the new beta.



Interesting: Googlert

Googlert is an experimental free service that keeps you updated on what the web is saying about you or your interests. It does this by performing regular Google searches on your behalf and sending you email alerts of any new results that appear.

My first question was how they get around the restrictions on the Google Web APIs, mainly the limit of 1000 queries per day. Duh: Googlert uses your Google license key for your searches.


Stay Back.

On the back of a snowplow I saw a sign today: “Stay Back. Stay Alive.” I suppose that’s better than “Stay Back or Die” which is what I would most likely have written. I don’t imagine that would sit well with people.


More stuff to read.

I decided a couple months ago that it was time to renew my acquaintance with either Python or Java, but vacillated between the two for some time. In the end the decision was simple: although Python has some sex appeal, Java makes more sense. It’s much more in keeping with the direction that I want to go as a web developer. Whereas there’s very little that I want to do with Python that I can’t or don’t already do with Perl, there are exciting things happening in the Java world that I’d rather not miss, including some of the most appealing Apache projects. I have a strong suspicion that my employer will be doing quite a bit more with Java in the not-too-distant future, which means that I might be, too — assuming I don’t get laid off in the upcoming budget cuts, god forbid. And I really did miss working with the language. It’s been fun diving back into things.

Then I stumbled into How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python. For a sec I thought this would muddy the waters. But wait! There’s a Java version. And of course there’s always Bruce Eckel’s Thinking in Java.

Thing is, though, the only one of those three that I’m likely to read is the Python one. Go figure. Maybe next year.


If I Had Thumbs Like People Do

This evening I took care of the kid while Kiara was in class. Nothing unusual about that, except we stayed in town instead of going home. We ended up at the TeaSource, where he fussed a bit but eventually settled down so we could read a couple of his favorite books. A couple guys at the next table had a copy of a children’s book that they’ve written and illustrated, due to be published in early March. I mention it here so i don’t lose this information: If I Had Thumbs Like People Do. ISBN 1-4010-8261-0. Looks like a fun book, keep an eye out.

Update: You can buy the book here.

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