Archive for May, 2010


I think I’m a little bit in love with Poland.

In the late eighties, I lived opposite a portakabin that was a Polish Club. Somehow I became a member and got to know the old Poles who would go drinking there at weekends. There was an old lady who had a tattoo on her arm from Auschwitz. Jan, the wizened old man who collected the glasses had a photo of himself in his wallet, taken in his Polish Air Force clothing, standing in front of a bi-plane. Over a few Okocim beers, he could be persuaded to tell the story of how, as a resistance partisan, he killed several Nazi soldiers. As we got more drunk, attempting to go across the 14 optics of vodka behind the bar, all the Poles would break out into patriotic songs and tell me how they were looking forward to seeing the homeland again once communism fell.

So, when I was invited to come to speak at the first SparkUp! conference, I jumped at the chance. With a freshly-minted presentation on Web Development 2.0, I arrived in Poznan on Monday afternoon with Remy, Ribot, Andy Budd, Yaili and Matt Biddulph.

Our hosts, Piotr and Krzysztof took us around the postcard-pretty old town of Poznan before a typical Polish dinner (pork-coma ensued) and a few beers.

The day of the conference was organisational perfection in a great modern venue (and this was the first time they’d done a conference!) and then it was party time: lots of Cheeky Bison (Żubrówka and apple juice) and murderous other shots.

Yesterday, I really meant to return to the old town with my camera. But a hangover the size of Gdansk forced me to spend hours in the beautiful 4 saunas, jacuzzi and swimming pool in my hotel.

So, thanks for having me, Poland. The vodka is amazing, the women are beautiful (please address your comments “dear sexist bastard”) and the locals friendly and clueful. I hope to see you again soon.


(Last Updated on 3 June 2010)

What HTML5 is and isn’t

Like “Ajax”, HTML5 has become a bit of an umbrella term. Some people lump all kinds of unrelated technology like SVG, CSS 3, CORS, JavaScript, Geolocation, even webfonts in with it.

Remy and I are guilty too; we talk about Geolocation, Web Workers and Web SQL in our book Introducing HTML5.

Here’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek handy cut-out-and-keep diagram that shows what is and isn’t HTML5, and also showcases my kick-ass design skills.

What's HTML5?

If you’re not busy next week, I’m building an HTML5 page from scratch (with Notepad++ and two visual aids) at Future of Web Design in London on Wednesday.

To the Lib Dems

Yesterday morning, I tweeted “Whoever forms the next government will need support of LIb Dems, and price should be nothing short of full electoral reform.”

This morning, on Pete Aylward’s suggestion I emailed my Lib Dem MP (for whom I voted, if that matters):

“I’d like you to represent my views to Nick Clegg. Please do NOT go into a deal with the Tories and start savaging public services.

“Please support Brown, but make the price of your support a referendum on introducing real voting reform (so number of seats is related to %age of national vote, not tinkering with first past the post as Cameron seems to want to do), and the scrapping of ID cards.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a really fair voting system in place that will radically change Britain in a way that will last much longer than any of us will last. Britain voted for change this is the chance to give it to us.”

Staggeringly, he’s responded by email to say he’s on a train to London to talk to the rest of the party, set out his initial position (remain independent) and suggest I come to a consultation meeting tomorrow or Monday (which I shall, if it fits around my grandmother’s funeral).

(I haven’t reproduced his replies; it seems ill-mannered to do so.)

I’m a bit shocked. The last bloke was Labour, so an MP who talks with (rather than at) constituents is a bit of a novelty round here.

Introducing HTML5 (almost) in the can

Last Friday was our deadline and, with the spec changing all around us, Remy and I got all the chapters in for Introducing HTML5. There’s still much to do; we have to address comments made by our editor Jeff Riley, a copyeditor and our two technical editors Patrick Lauke and Robert Nyman, as well as add information about the brand-new track element.

Some people have asked for a chapter list. Here it is:

  1. Introduction (why HTML5 exists)
  2. Structuring a page (header, footer, nav, aside etc)
  3. Marking up a blog (the outlining algorithm, other new elements, what’s removed, what’s changed, WAI-ARIA, case-study of HTML5ifying The Guardian homepage. This chapter is a monster so we may split it into two.)
  4. Forms
  5. multimedia (video, audio) markup and APIs
  6. canvas
  7. storage
  8. Working offline
  9. Drag and Drop
  10. Geolocation
  11. messages, web workers, web sockets

From the introduction:

Who’s this book for?

No knowledge of HTML5 is assumed, but we expect you’re an experienced (X)HTML author, familiar with the concepts of semantic markup. It doesn’t matter whether you’re more familiar with HTML or XHTML doctypes, but you should be happy coding in any kind of strict markup. While you don’t need to be a JavaScript ninja, you should have an understanding of the increasingly important role it plays in modern web development, and terms like DOM and API won’t make you drop this book in terror and run away.

What this book isn’t

This book is not a reference book. We don’t go through each element or API in a linear fashion, discussing each fully and then moving on. The specification does that job in mind-numbing, tear-jerking, but absolutely essential detail. What the specification doesn’t try to do is teach how to use each element or API or how they work in the context of each other. We’ll build up examples, discussing new topics as we go, and return to them later when there are new things to note.

You’ll also realise, from the title and the fact that you’re comfortably holding this book without requiring a forklift, that this book is not comprehensive. Explaining a specification that needs 900 pages to print (by comparison, the first HTML spec was three pages long) in a medium-sized book would require Tardis-like technologywhich would be coolor microscopic fontswhich wouldn’t.

The publishers are intransigent about page-count, so there’s lots that we can’t put in (but we cover the important things that are being implemented today). There also wasn’t room for “sexy photos of the authors looking dreamy lying on fluffy shag pile animal pelts, 70s style” that one HTML5 Doctor requested, although we may have a contest in which the lucky winner gets 2 hours in which to take such photographs.

Marjorie Whitehead 8 March 1917 – 28 April 2010

My nan died this week, aged 93. It’ll be odd at the next family gathering not having the family matriarch there.

She was a feminist before the term was coined, her philosophy was that any woman worth her salt can do anything she puts her mind to’. She left school at 14 and started working for Cadbury‘s, who were a Quaker benevolent employer who insisted their child employees do a day’s schooling a week (all paid for by Cadbury’s). They also had a grant system whereby employees could apply for funds to further their education; my Nan and her younger sister, Beryl, applied for funds to cycle round Europe. “Who with?” they were asked. “Just us”, they replied and were granted £10 to travel Germany and Austria by bicycle, with backpacks. The passport is dated 1936 (it’s signed by Anthony Eden), and the sisters had a great time (refusing to Heil Hitler, however) and returned safely to the UK just before the War broke out.

In 1940 she joined the Women’s Land Army (as most of the men were fighting, but the country still needed feeding) and learned to drive a tractor and milk cows. She and Stan were married in 1944 just after D-day. She didn’t return to work at Cadbury’s (although it was a very enlightened employer, married women were not allowed to work there: they should be at home.)

My mum was born on the first Sunday of peace in 1945, then in 1948 they moved into the house where my uncle and aunt were born, where my grandfather died (after his cancer was diagnosed as terminal, my Nan took him home and nursed him herself) and Nan lived the rest of her life.

She worked as a nurse at Rubery Hill Asylum (as mental hospitals were known). Wine-making was a favourite pastime. As a boy, I was often sent down to Whitfields the greengrocers in the village to collect some mouldy oranges to be made into wine. At some point in in the 80s, there was the Great Demi-john Explosion which resulted in a colourful stain in the kitchen ceiling. She was also active in her church, as a Guide leader in the Girl Guides and volunteered to help teach adult literacy in her area.

We lived close by, and my parents worked so my brother and I spent most of their school holidays with Nan and Grandpa. They would take us on picnics on the Old Hills, Clent or the Malverns and we’d pick blackberries.

After my grandfather died in 1980, Nan took sole responsibility for the large fruit and vegetables plot and greenhouse they’d built, producing melons, tomatoes and soft fruit. She also made regular trips to the north of Scotland to her sister’s small-holding in Inverness.

She enjoyed holidays in Italy, Turkey, Austria and Canada. Her last adventure was a trip to Australia at the age of 86 to attend my cousin’s wedding in Sydney. She’d often asked me to take her to Bangkok, but the heat and her increasing frailty meant that it was impossible, but she loved to receive gifts from places I’d visited.

As she turned 90, she was becoming frustrated with her inability to walk far, do her gardening or enjoy the activities she’d always enjoyed, although her mental faculties remained intact. While never maudlin (she was a practical, commonsense-like woman), she often said that she was tired, had done all she was going to do and was ready to die.

Her 93rd birthday party was, it turned out, her last and she was very happy that all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were able to get together. A few weeks after that, my mother called an ambulance as Nan had become breathless. As she had a problem with one of her heart valves, she was admitted to the Coronary Ward where she died peacefully.

A life that lasts 93 years, from the First World War to the computer age is hard to sum up. She didn’t dwell in the past, and didn’t become reactionary (she had unsuccessfully stood to be a Council member for the Liberal party). She was positive about technology (although she felt there were far too many cars around). She loved to try different cultures and cuisines, judged people on who they were rather than their religion or skin colour and believed in courtesy, respect, tolerance and hard work.