Oh look it’s not just us Semantic Web dweebs who noticed

A List Apart has a new article out on the Semantics in HTML5. John Allsopp writes

We’ll start by posing the question: “why are we inventing these new elements?” A reasonable answer would be: “because HTML lacks semantic richness, and by adding these elements, we increase the semantic richness of HTML—that can’t be bad, can it?”

By adding these elements, we are addressing the need for greater semantic capability in HTML, but only within a narrow scope. No matter how many elements we bolt on, we will always think of more semantic goodness to add to HTML. And so, having added as many new elements as we like, we still won’t have solved the problem. We don’t need to add specific terms to the vocabulary of HTML, we need to add a mechanism that allows semantic richness to be added to a document as required. In technical terms, we need to make HTML extensible. HTML 5 proposes no mechanism for extensibility.

On reading of which, I hurt my head by banging it, suddenly and with force, against my desk.


Amazon VOD on Roku

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

A favorite game with Roku owners is to guess which service will be added to the box, first. The game is now over, because evidently, Amazon’s Video On Demand is going to be the next video entry for the Roku boxes.

This puts the box on par with AppleTV in offerings. Well, actually a little beyond AppleTV, with Netflix streaming. Add Hulu and Roku is a video killer.

Programming Languages

Practice…but not typing

A post by Karl Martino reminded me of Jeff Atwood’s We are typists first, programmers second. Atwood was responding, in hearty agreement, to a post by Steve Yegge, who wrote

I was trying to figure out which is the most important computer science course a CS student could ever take, and eventually realized it’s Typing 101.

The really great engineers I know, the ones who build great things, they can type.

As I wrote in Karl’s comments, saying that fast typing is what makes a great programmer is little different than saying what makes a good carpenter is how fast they swing their hammers.

Fast typing is a by-product of extensive creation, whether that creation is web page markup, a stylesheet, or code. The more we create code, web pages, and designs, the more efficient we get with all of the tools used, including but not limited to, typing.

In addition, times have changed. I have no doubts that today’s generation of kids are speed demons on the keyboard—whether it’s on their cellphone or attached to their computers. A typing class would most likely slow them down.

If anything, what we should be encouraging is more practice with problem solving—the ability to figure something out on one’s own, without having to Google an answer or ask friends on Twitter—not typing.


Tweaking makes perfect

Not long ago, Tim O’Reilly posted a discussion thread about the importance of practice, and one of the participants in the thread, my long-time editor, Simon St. Laurent, reiterated his interest in practicing this year—both on the trumpet, and in his coding.

I never left programming the way I left trumpet. I simply stopped playing trumpet after eighth grade. I’ve gone back and forth with programming since sixth grade, getting totally into it for a year or two at a time and then departing out of frustration, distraction, or the need to do something else. At O’Reilly, I’m exposed to programming constantly – I edit and write computer books after all! – but editorial is a long ways from actually programming. Even writing books about programming is a seriously meta- activity, one that requires more attention on the communications than on the code. (The code has to be right, but – though this may depend on the audience – the explanations have to do a lot more than the code.) My work isn’t programming practice.

One place I practice is with this site. I still have hopes that I can transform my work with this site into some paying work. At a minimum, I enjoy the tweaking and it keeps me occupied.

In addition, I also frequently re-design this site. Doing so allows me to explore new uses of technology, such as the use of SVG for site design, and JavaScript and RDFa in support of semantics. The practice also helps me improve my use of XHTML and CSS, including how to deal with IE without necessarily having to incorporate massive amounts of workaround code. Luckily, the “in” design concepts today are based on a minimalist design, so if my site is legible and clean in IE, it doesn’t matter if it’s plain.

I’m not practicing with every hot technology; I’ve made choices with how I spend my time. Yes for PHP, Python, JavaScript, CSS, SVG, RDFa, various web services, and XHTML. No on .Net, Ruby, Java, and cloud computing. A maybe on HTML5 and C++. Not necessarily the best decisions, perhaps, as Java and .Net are where the money is made, and the folks in Silicon Valley drool when you mention “cloud”, but I really don’t like the technologies or the environments.

Practice is essential for keeping our skills sharp, but that’s not the only reason it’s important. It’s also a way to constructively deal with the constant barrage of unhappy news we’re subjected to. We may not have any control over warring nations, global warming, or the state of economy, but we do have some control over how we live our lives. And that includes finding pieces of ourselves that can be improved with practice.


Crestwood mall and intelligent thinking

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The mall closest to where I live is the Crestwood Mall, a rather sad, indoor mall that has lost much of its business in the last few years. Last year it was purchased and the new owners will be converting it into an outdoor, village like setting, which I think is a great idea. However, they have to wait until the long-term leases expire, which means that we’re stuck with the sad, indoor mall for another 3-5 years.

Enter a little creative thinking.

The owners of the mall contacted several art groups with a question: if we convert the large, vacant department store into an artist area, could you use the space? Not only were the artists interested, the owners received more applications than they could grant.

The area that used to be the large Dillard’s Department store is now the new ArtSpace: a theater, dance studio, and artist gallery, where the artists get the space for nominal rent, as long as they pay the utilities and fix the area up. The mall owners fill the dead space, and attract new visitors. The artists get a communal area that is guaranteed to attract people from far and wide, because nothing like this has ever been done before. From the Post Dispatch Story:

Those that have started to move in include Laumeier Sculpture Park, DaySpring School of the Arts, Jeane Vogel Fine Art, Marble Stage Theatre, the Hangar and the bookstore I Don’t Want to Kiss a Llama.

In exchange for the space, the arts groups agree to decorate the shop windows, a convenient way to call attention to their work. They have to pay for utilities, but the rent “is just north of nothing,” said Son, in some cases as low as $50 a month […] Each space will be arranged to suit its group’s needs. For example, Son expects several dance companies to share one of the big spaces. One painter — who enjoys talking to visitors while he works — plans to turn his space into a studio; another group of artists plans to work elsewhere, but show and sell their paintings in a collective gallery. A fabric artist, a jewelry designer and an organization that recycles industrial materials for school art projects will be ArtSpace neighbors, too.

Absolutely brilliant idea. This ensures that not only will the mall attendance dramatically pick up, which will be healthy for the existing stores and restaurants, but the art groups get an excellent chance for exposure to a wider audience.