Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Web standards, browsers, and the future of the Web

Recently, the CSS working group and the W3C in general have come under fire as Opera launches an assault on Microsoft. A counterculture of pro-proprietary technology advocates has risen up against the web standards movement. The web standards crowd has responded with fire and passion, sending up a rallying cry against what they see as a return to the browser wars of the '90s. All of this begs the question - what are we really trying to do with web standards and the Web in general? James Bennett asks the same question, though more eloquently and with greater background than I present here.

The point of the World Wide Web is to provide people with information. It used to be nothing more spectacular than that. The type of information varied - marketing, scientific studies, news, etc. - but it was all information. With the advent of RIA technologies and new usage of the Web, though, that's starting to change. People are starting to do more than just research and purchase on the Web. The lines between desktop applications and web pages are blurring.

With AIR, Flex, JavaFX, Silverlight, and other possible vehicles for innovative usage of the Web proliferating like mad, we are left with the question - what can't we do with the Web? That question is what drives research and innovation in the Web. It doesn't play as much of a factor, though, in industrial and commercial common usage. For example, when was the last time you overheard any non-developer talking about Web 2.0 or rich internet applications? How many people actually know about and use Google Docs? I'd be willing to wager that not many outside our world do. That will change in the future, of course, as clever and useful new technologies frequently are wont to be adopted.

However, it seems that we - that is, web developers and other Internet professionals - often confuse research with production. The development of other new technologies, such as integrated graphene circuits, is kept largely out of the public eye. While not expressly hidden, there is no attempt made to put such bleeding-edge breakthroughs into immediate public usage.

Web standards and the development of proprietary Web technology is slightly different, but not much. Web standards are supposedly akin to such things as the Railway Group Standards in that they make the Web easier and "safer" to use and develop for. By taking away the difficulties inherent in producing for multiple different platforms, web standards allow developers to spend their time innovating in more specific ways.

The problem is that web standards are not keeping up with technological development, and so developers on the cutting edge are not able to utilize new technologies without resorting to proprietary platforms. Many developers give up on web standards so that they can implement the latest and greatest products of the commercial or open source worlds. I personally would love to see XHTML taken beyond its HTML4.01 roots; the WHATWG tends to agree with me on this. However, with the current leadership of web standards, that simply isn't possible.

We need new standards. The W3C is not keeping up with the pace of development, and therefore should either be revamped or replaced.

Monday, December 17, 2007

T-Mobile must be boycotted.

Normally, I don't post more than once a week. However, after reading about T-Mobile's assault on Net Neutrality on Wired, I had to blog about it.

T-Mobile wants to tell you what websites you can visit. We should tell T-Mobile what it can do with its Terms of Service....and take our money elsewhere.

Why Jorn Barger is wrong and the rest of the world is right.

So, as I was browsing the web for a topic for this week's blog post, I came across an article in Wired that really caught my eye. In it, the inventor of blogging, Jorn Barger, talks about what blogging should have been instead of what it has become. He seems to be of the impression that blogs should be, essentially, reports of interesting links the blogger has seen recently.

Sorry Jorn, but that's what and digg are for now.

Blogs these days frequently come in two flavors - personal diaries and explorations of a particular topic. While links play a major role in most of the latter, they are often completely absent in the former. Blogging has gone beyond its humble origins and developed into something akin to a cross between 18th century coffee houses and digital soap boxes.

Blogging is a powerful social medium. It can be a tremendous platform for conversation on just about any topic. My personal favorites, like productivity, fun, and fitness, have endless possibilities for debate, ideas, and plain craziness. It wouldn't be nearly as much fun, though, without the highly social nature of it all. A conversation isn't a conversation if it's a bunch of links.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fitness full-time

Every day we are inundated with advertisements for Lose Weight Fast diets, exercise regimens, and miracle drugs. Almost all of these products require you to give up a portion of your day to Getting In Shape....or giving up things that you love, like tiramisu.

People two hundred years ago didn't worry about such nonsense. People in other developed nations, like England, France, and New Zealand, don't worry about it either. So why are we obsessed with Diets, Exercise, and Drugs?

It's all because America has shifted from a society of physical activity to one of mental activity. Now, this is not a bad thing in theory...but in practice, it's the root cause of our national obesity epidemic.

So, here's how to get in shape, stay in shape, and actually enjoy it for once. This is targeted primarily towards cubicle zombies, but the philosophy applies to just about everyone.

It's pretty easy. The steps are:

  • Ramp up the activity
  • Choose to avoid one luxury food a week
  • Make food your fuel, not your crutch
  • Play hard
  • Work with your body AND your mind
Ramp up the activity.

If you're going to get in shape, you can't just sit in a chair all day, then go home and sit in front of the TV or computer screen. Whenever you can, be physically active. Make sure that if you're spending a day at the office, you move. For example, the recommendation From Above is to get up and move around once every hour. That's not enough, and it can be jarring if you're in the middle of a great idea. Instead, try to be active constantly. Push your chair back and forth. Stretch frequently. Stand up and walk around your office or, if you're conveniently located in a tiny cube, get creative with the objects at your disposal. Tape dispensers make interesting free weights, as do textbooks. The key here is to ramp up the activity. If you do nothing else in this list, do this.

Choose to avoid one luxury food a week.

Anyone who's tried most of the diets out there knows how hard it is to suddenly go without all your favorite foods. So, instead of cutting out everything right away, go gradual. Make a conscious choice to turn down or avoid one luxury food per week. Luxury foods are usually sweets like candy, muffins, and pastries. Foods with high carb counts are good candidates for the chopping block. If you can't just cut something out entirely, try substituting something healthier. Honey makes a good alternative sweetener. My first Chop was to stop buying cappuccinos every morning. Not only did that give me 300 fewer calories a day, it also saved me about $60 a month. The key here is to go gradual. Losing weight fast isn't important. Losing weight permanently is. That said, some people like Tim Ferriss have done some amazing things with minimal-effort, fast weight loss.

Make food your fuel, not your crutch.

A lot of us enjoy food. It's not just necessary to our survival, it's a social activity. For some, it's a coping mechanism. For others, a passion. Whatever your reason for enjoying food, if you're overweight, you enjoy it just a tad too much. Don't worry, though, because you can still enjoy food and lose weight. All you have to do is make food your fuel, not your crutch.

Always eat after being physically active, not before. Eating before you move is like trying to fill a gas tank when it's already full. Some of you might say, "but I'm hungry and tired! I need to eat before I can get active!" First, if you're tired when you get up in the morning, then you definitely need to be more active physically and less active mentally. There has to be a balance there, as with all things. Starting your day with a jog can be inconvenient for some, so try different ways of getting active right away. If you have trouble waking up in the morning, get creative - replace caffeine with dancing. Yes, dancing. You'd be surprised how well dancing wakes you up. Just make sure you warm up those muscles before doing anything too strenuous or you risk injuring yourself, and that doesn't do anyone any good.

If you're tired in the afternoon, take a nap. Unless you're starving - and by this I mean your stomach feels like it's stabbing itself to death with a spoon - try and avoid snacking. If you're really hungry, eat fruit. Fruit has natural sugar that will restore some of that lost energy. But always, always, always remember - food is fuel. Fuel must be used, not stored.

Play hard.

Instead of sitting down in front of the computer all night after a tough day of being on the computer at work, take up a sport. You heard me. Go to your city's Parks & Rec department and sign up for one of their clubs. If you're a little too heavy at the moment to do this without hurting yourself, then take up dancing. Dancing is easier to do at home and will burn just as many calories as sports. "But my guild in WoW will be angry! I can't just abandon them!" If your guild demands your constant presence every night, all night, then you should think long and hard about whether they have your best interests at heart. Do they care about you, or that AoE heal you just happen to have? There's nothing wrong with playing video games, just as long as they don't make up the totality of your nightly entertainment.

On weekends, take up a project that involves working with your body. Something that involves lifting heavy weight - like, say, helping Habitat for Humanity build houses - can really work wonders. Doing something that ends with a finished product and a continual reminder of progress can do great things for your self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. If you're a code monkey who spends the weekends working on personal coding projects, try the same activities in Ramp up the activity for at home. Since you're in your own space, you can go really nuts.

Work with your body AND your mind.

If you're too heavy on the mental side of the physical-mental seesaw, you need to work harder on the physical side to balance out the equation. If it's winter and you live in the suburbs or in a small town, try shoveling your neighbors' sidewalks for them. It can be hard work, but it'll be rewarding in both your neighbors' reactions and in the physical results you get.

Use that brain of yours to come up with new ways to get your body and your mind working in tandem. Martial arts is a great way to do this. Even yoga at home counts, though the social aspect of training with others can be a wonderful bonus.

If you're concentrating hard on developing your body into something you can be proud of, you'll find that your mind will get healthier too. Your concentration, reaction time, creativity, and overall happiness will spike. That ADD you think you have? That's not ADD. It's just a side effect of not being in shape.


Eat well, play hard, and work hard. Do this all the time, and you'll find yourself improving on a daily basis....without really having to think about it too much, or spending hundreds on a silly fad diet. Go do it.