Gracefully upgrading

I am reminded in comments of Steve Champeon’s progressive enhancement, which I actually did cover in my book, “Adding Ajax”. My apologies to Steve for seeming to subvert his subversion of all browsers look the same. I tend to think of Steve’s progressive enhancement in light of the use of JavaScript, but it is also focused at design, too. And, I am embarrassed to admit, I forgot about the concept when I started to write up what I’ve done with my site designs. Blame it on enthusiasm, or advancing age—take your pick.

However, if the concept is so popular with web designers, I have to wonder why every time I mention the use of SVG in web design, I’m met with “Oh, but not every browser supports SVG”? Perhaps IE has become, over time, a handy excuse for not trying something new.

Regardless, the idea of starting plain, and upgrading gracefully did originate with Steve.


The SVG Feed

I had originally created a Planet SVG in order to bring together a feed of SVG items. Once the SVG IG created Planet SVG web site, for all things SVG, I redirected to it.

I still wanted a feed of SVG-related items, so I created the SVG Feed. Currently, the application queries SVG feeds once a day, including my own Delicious SVG-related feed. The latter was my way of ensuring that items related to SVG that aren’t accessible via a feed, or the related feed isn’t specific to SVG, get included.

The SVG Feed has it’s own feed, and uses Planet and Venus software. It only updates daily, as there are not enough items for more frequent updates. If you know of an SVG feed that should be included, send me an email.


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.