End of a too-long road

We’re finally heading into the last few days before the election, and at this point, I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for either the Democrats or the Republicans. I can’t turn on the TV or radio without some negative piece of crap (worst I’ve ever seen) being played. I’ve just brushed up against the one millionth vicious, barely coherent political brawl in weblog comment threads.

My postwoman, who has become a friend over the last few years, probably will have take a deskjob after this year because her wrists are so bad from delivering the mail. Now, I watch her weighed down by useless political flyers in combination with even more useless Christmas catalogs, and I wince at the pain I see on her face.

We can’t answer our phone anymore, but that’s okay – the political group who is calling has an automated response that talks to our automated response.

Everyone acts as if Wednesday is going to become a political The Day After Tomorrow, and the fate of the world will rest on this election–we’re all going to die if we don’t pick right. Worse, we’re going to go to hell.

Now with all the people hovering over the ballot places (pretending that they know what to do and they’re objective when every damn one has an agenda), what was once a friendly experience is going to turn into the re-creation of the gladiator fights at Rome. Not to mention all the doomsayers saying that no matter what happens Tuesday, the election will be so hotly contested with fouls cried on either side, that we could be deciding this for months.

We’ll have a chance to listen to Ralph Nader whine about how he didn’t get on the polls or get invited to the debates and what’s wrong with the country is the two-party system. You mean, Ralph, you want more parties involved with this? Have you ever seen the Australian political scene with its many parties? Seems to me, they don’t have it easier or more open because there’s more people greedily grabbing at power.

I’m watching the race for governer in this state and I’m seeing a young man who is going to be Bush in about four to eight years, if he wins. I’m sure he’ll give Ashcroft a place at the White House.

All of this is magnified and amplified here until when I read a poem posted in another weblog, it seems less a work of art than an act of defiance.

I woke up with a sour taste in my mouth, and realized it wasn’t something I had eaten, it was what I was reading. Am I a sad, lonely puppy for feeling that whatever this environment was, once upon a time, fresh and new and interesting, has now become the dominion of the professional Neocons and Progressives, the target of corporations, and the gleam in the eyes of the people always on the lookout for the main chance?

Of course, if it has, what’s the harm? After all, if this environment generates opportunities, opportunity is good not bad. We couldn’t stay buried in the amber of obscurity forever; we know this. I think it is just my melancholy mood that makes me see the shadows in the piles of gold, rather than the sparkle of the medal.

We’ve shared so much. The death of a beloved friend to terrorism. Battles with alcoholism and crime and despair–not all winning battles, either. Then there’s the brighter side, with new jobs and rekindled romance with old lovers, and new romance with souls chance met over the wireless void. And the code and silly memes and cat photos; soft, sad reminisces, the loss of family, but the joy of new babies; poetry and art, and silly jokes and gleeful moments; linguistics and irony, and raucus parties all night; our favorite walks, trips, books, and people. And opinion–we are not a shy group when it comes to giving our opinions.

All of what we love is still here, including the friends we’ve made and the writing and photos and technology others have shared, and that we cherish. But there’s a fine film of gray over it now, a faint smell of burnt birth in the distance, and that tinned, shiny hollywood tinsel taste in our mouths.

But next week the US election will be over and all things will be better once that’s past. Right?


Driving in St. Louis

Any car parked longer than 4 hours in the city is considered a parts store.

From Visitor’s Guide to Driving in St. Louis.

Diversity Standards

Accessibility and Geegaws

A good rule of thumb for web design is that indulge your interests in nifty tools–DHTML*, Flash, whatever–but your navigation should never be made up of anything other than a hypertext link, and you should never make your critical content accessible primarily (or only) through a mouse.

Lately, I’m seeing more and more sites use technologies, Flash in particular that violate these rules. As nice as they look, I always wince when I see a dependency on a specific product, focused at a specific audience: internet hip, sighted, and attracted to bright, shiny things.

Learning from DHTML

I didn’t always resist the shiny geegaws myself. When we were studying DHTML after it first came out, we all started using it to create our navigation buttons, and felt pretty cool and very web savvy. Mouse over a top-level button and a small little box would slide out underneath with all your options to click. After static content, this was heady stuff.

Of course, mouseover wasn’t always reliable. Sometimes you’d have to move quickly from the top-level to the sub-topics because leaving the top-level would close the sub-topic box; it then became a game of who could move faster–you or the browser.

This was all until we started running into cross-browser differences and the nightmare that followed for a good 2 or 3 years until Mozilla came along and routed Internet Explorer.

(What do you mean someone is still using IE?)

Then someone came along and said, well, what about blind people or people who can’t use a mouse? After all, it’s pretty difficult to try and tab through a lot of nonsense that doesn’t do anything in order to get to a working link. And if the work is DHTML, well that just mucks with the page reader’s electronic mind, and it doesn’t know what it’s dealing with.

After Google made web search fashionable and especially after it added a thing called pagerank, we found that not using hypertext links to manage our site navigation was actually working counter to seeing our pages show up in the search results, and as highly placed as possible. Pretty geegaw lost its attraction really quick on this one.

Especially when you add in the costs. In the dot-com job I had before it became dot-gone, I was brought in to lead a re-design of an application after another firm had spent close to two million dollars and basically had very little to show for it; all except for a really cool DHTML navigation system. No backend development. Half the pages needed unfinished. No database. No database design. But there were some really cool DHTML and pretty graphics.

Well, we kept what we could and yanked the DHTML and put a system out on the street in about five weeks. With plain old hypertext links.

But still, designers say when showing their latest frufrah, look how cool this all is?

(When I as at that dot-com, I shared an office with the lead web page designer — an art school grad. He was a nice guy and did the Burning Man thing and was all that was hip among designers, and very talented, too. But I still felt like I was sharing the office with someone from another galaxy, especially when it came to priorities. I know he must have felt the same way. Companies should do that more often–house the backend developers with the front-end designers. If both survive the experience, they might learn something from it.)

Let’s see: on the one hand we have cool. On the other hand we have cross-browser compatible, easier to build and maintain, search engine friendly, and accessible.

Bottom line, we came to understand that using DHTML to manage navigation, or to display critical content, was very uncool.

Next Big Thing

Of course, now we have the Next Big Thing in website design, which is Flash and its various incarnations. And it’s true, Flash can help you do some nifty stuff — but it still brings in the same burdens and problems on a page. You have to install the plugin; you have to have special readers for the content; you have to provide an alternative link structure for webbots if you want your pages search engine friendly; and it costs a lot more to design and maintain a Flash navigation system then it does plain old hypertext links.

To work around the accessibility issues one can use page readers that can read Flash, and one can install the plugins to access the navigation buttons; still each of these methods require that the web page reader go through extra effort to access your webpage content; content that supposedly you really want them to access. Site purpose and accessibility, in this case, is sacrificed to site design.

But isn’t design meant to enhance a site, not obscure it? In other words, if Flash and JavaScript hinder access, never use Flash, or JavaScript, or any moving part other than a hypertext link for site navigation–in fact any content that is critical for the site. If you must, have a separate Flash site, but make sure it’s secondary.

The Payoffs in Accessibility and avoiding the Geegaws

I’m not a web designer and I don’t pretend to make the prettiest pages and or use the best CSS and hippest styles; but one thing I have learned over the years is, if you design for those with accessibility challenges in mind, you’ll find that you’ve also created the easiest to build, easiest to maintain, cleanest, most valid, less fragile, and more forward compatible site design. In other words — designing for accessibility ends up being the best approach to designing for style, validity, durability, and economy.

*DHTML is Dynamic HTML, or using scripting language, usually JavaScript to manipulate a page’s contents after it’s been downloaded to the browser.


Our Traveling data

Okay, at this point we have city data through OpenGuides (and thanks to Danny for pointing out the article on the front page.) We have London Tube data through . Jo Walsh gives us the poetic (I like it) oranges and lemons, with descriptions of London churches and their location based on the nursery rhyme:

Oranges and Lemons sing the bells of St Clemens
You owe me five farthings sing the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me sing the bells of Old Bailey
When we are rich sing the bells of Sure Ditch

See? I said that poetry and RDF and the semantic web go together.

(Jo was also the first to point to OpenGuides, but I had focused on the oranges and lemons page that Danny pointed out– sorry Jo. Boy, I’m missing important bits and links that are right in front of me, all over the place. However, I’m turning 50 in a couple of weeks, which makes me old and feeble. I have a good excuse now.)

Jo is also working on a project to map the free Wireless network in London. Now that’s going to be essential to the modern day traveler. And blogger.

So now with this existing data, I can travel the Underground, visit a pub, go to church, and blog all about it. That’s a tasty start.

Diversity Voting

Men and women should vote for the same reason

I don’t respond to most of the weblog postings that Halley Suitt writes about women in general. I do think she tends to promote stereotypes as often as not. However, I also think that sometimes she breaks stereotypes by presenting the concept that women can be many things and still be womanly or even girly if that’s what she wants.

But today, I have to write in strong disagreement with her 12 reasons women should vote for Kerry/Edwards. And indirectly, I also disagree with the USA Today story that inspired Halley (link to which will most likely disappear, since it’s to Yahoo News.)


The USA Today article writes:

Women have long tended to shift toward Republicans as they get married, have children, return to regular churchgoing and acquire wealth and mortgages. In 2000, 63% of single women voted for Gore, but only 48% of married women did. As the ranks of female business owners and homeowners grow, fewer may be inclined to lean to the political left.

However, the same can be said for men. Men, if they become business owners, tend to shift to Republican in their voting. That women do so also, just shows this is not a gender-based difference. Also, people of both sexes, as they get older and have kids, especially if they become regular church goers, tend to lean more Republican.

So why are we differentiating between men and women, as if somehow women aren’t of the same species? Why do we focus on the W vote, and totally neglect the M vote?

Instead of disagreeing with USA Today for this differentiation, Halley actually supports it, but thinks the article didn’t go far enough. In this, she was effective, and made good use of arguments and counter-arguments. But she still supports the dichotomy between men and women, as if how we think is so different that we might as well be from different cultures.

She writes:

No woman looking at the pictures of the prisoners of the Abu Ghraib prison can be anything but devastated by this ungodly treatment of humans under Bush’s watch. As a mom I find it disgusting that anyone ever let it happen and then, never took the blame. Those people — despite being our hated enemies — are the sons of some mother somewhere. No person should be treated that way. All mothers know that in their hearts. It makes me cry to imagine it and makes me ashamed to have been a part of it — which as an American I was forced to acknowledge — they did it in my name.

By implication,then, is Halley saying that men, Dads, could look at these photos and not be devestated? That somehow men are immune to feelings of disgust and sadness when seeing another person humiliated? That men can’t see the photos of these men and think of their own sons?

I know that Halley is refuting the Security Mom phenomena, whichs is nothing more than a cold, carefully crafted and fostered necon (yes, I have adopted this word now, I have seen the light) manipulation into making it seem that all women should vote for Bush because all our babies are going to be killed in their schools and in their beds if we don’t. I applaud Halley’s approach, even while I wince at it.

(BTW, yes, your babies are in danger now–if your babies are grown up in and soldiers in Iraq, or if you live in Iraq. Outside of this, your babies are more in danger of being sexually abused, hit by a car, killed by a serial killer, catching a fatal disease, or dying of a bee sting, than killed by terrorism in this country. Frankly the Security Mom agenda–with its images of the frail, semi-sexy, God fearin’ woman holding a German Luger–is a bit of joke.)

Still, returning back to Halley and the USA Today story — is the implication then that there are no Security Dads?

As for voting for Edwards because he’s a ‘babe’ who supports his plump wife — nothing like pointing out how heroic Edwards is because he didn’t dump his wife when she gained weight.

“By gol, that’s a darn brave boy that is. Look at his wife — takes courage, you know that?”

What I don’t understand is why Hilary didn’t dump Bill when he turned into a porker.

Bottom line, we’re more alike than not. If you cut us, do we not all bleed? In fact, can’t we even use each others blood and organs to survive? We are the same species, and though society does enforce subtle behavior differences, we still share the same culture and the same values.

Isn’t it time that we focus more on the candidates and what electing each of them can mean, then our sex, and what it means?