Journal tags: eu

15

sparkline

Union

The nation I live in has decided to impose sanctions on itself. The government has yet to figure out the exact details. It won’t be good.

Today marks the day that the ironically-named Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland officially leaves the European Union. Nothing will change on a day to day basis (until the end of this year, when the shit really hits the fan).

Looking back on 2019, I had the pleasure and privelige of places that will remain in the European Union. Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Utrecht, Miltown Malbay, Kinsale, Madrid, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Antwerp, Berlin, Vienna, Cobh.

Maybe I should do a farewell tour in 2020.

Grüße aus Hamburg!

Auf Wiedersehen, Düsseldorf!

Going for a stroll in Utrecht at dusk.

The road to Miltown.

Checked in at Kinsale Harbour. with Jessica

Checked in at La Casa del Bacalao. Tapas! — with Jessica

Hello Amsterdam!

Indoor aviation.

Guten Tag, Frankfurt.

Catch you later, Antwerp.

The Ballardian exterior of Tempelhof.

Losing my religion.

Boats in Cobh.

Marty’s mashup

While the Interaction 19 event was a bit of a mixed bag overall, there were some standout speakers.

Marty Neumeier was unsurprisingly excellent. I’d seen him speak before, at UX London a few years back, so I knew he’d be good. He has a very reassuring, avuncular manner when he’s speaking. You know the way that there are some people you could just listen to all day? He’s one of those.

Marty’s talk at Interaction 19 was particularly interesting because it was about his new book. Now, why would that be of particular interest? Well, this new book—Scramble—is a business book, but it’s written in the style of a thriller. He wanted it to be like one of those airport books that people read as a guilty pleasure.

One rainy night in December, young CEO David Stone is inexplicably called back to the office. The company’s chairman tells him that the board members have reached the end of their patience. If David can’t produce a viable turnaround plan in five weeks, he’s out of a job. His only hope is to try something new. But what?

I love this idea!

I’ve talked before about borrowing narrative structures from literature and film and applying them to blog posts and conference talks—techniques like flashback, in media res, etc.—so I really like the idea of taking an entire genre and applying it to a technical topic.

The closest I’ve seen is the comic that Scott McCloud wrote for the release of Google Chrome back in 2008. But how about a romantic comedy about service workers? Or a detective novel about CSS grid?

I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about Marty Neumeier’s book next time I’m struggling to put a conference talk together.

In the meantime, if you want to learn from the master storyteller himself, Clearleft are running a two-day Brand Master Workshop with Marty on March 14th and 15th at The Barbican in London. Early bird tickets are on sale until this Thursday, so don’t dilly-dally if you were thinking about nabbing your spot.

Vienna

Back in December 1997, when Jessica and I were living in Freiburg, Dan came to visit. Together, we boarded a train east to Vienna. There we would ring in the new year to the sounds of the Salonorchester Alhambra, the band that Dan’s brother Andrew was playing in (and the band that would later be my first paying client when I made their website—I’ve still got the files lying around somewhere).

That was a fun New Year’s ball …although I remember my mortification when we went for gulash beforehand and I got a drop on the pristine tux that I had borrowed from Andrew.

My other memory of that trip was going to the Kunsthistorisches Museum to see the amazing Bruegel collection. It’s hard to imagine that ever being topped, but then this year, they put together a “once in a lifetime” collection, gathering even more Bruegel masterpieces together in Vienna.

Jessica got the crazy idea in her head that we could go there. In a day.

Looking at the flights, it turned out to be not such a crazy idea after all. Sure, it meant an early start, but it was doable. We booked our museum tickets, and then we booked plane tickets.

That’s how we ended up going to Vienna for the day this past Monday. It was maybe more time than I’d normally like to spend in airports in a 24 hour period, but it was fun. We landed, went into town for a wiener schnitzel, and then it was off to the museum for an afternoon of medieval masterpieces. Hunters in the Snow, the Tower of Babel, and a newly restored Triumph of Death sent from the Prado were just some of the highlights.

There’s a website to accompany the exhibition called Inside Bruegel. You can zoom on each painting to see the incredible detail. You can even compare the infrared and x-ray views. Dive in and explore the world of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The Battle between Carnival and Lent

An nth-letter selector in CSS

Variable fonts are a very exciting and powerful new addition to the toolbox of web design. They was very much at the centre of discussion at this year’s Ampersand conference.

A lot of the demonstrations of the power of variable fonts are showing how it can be used to make letter-by-letter adjustments. The Ampersand website itself does this with the logo. See also: the brilliant demos by Mandy. It’s getting to the point where logotypes can be sculpted and adjusted just-so using CSS and raw text—no images required.

I find this to be thrilling, but there’s a fly in the ointment. In order to style something in CSS, you need a selector to target it. If you’re going to style individual letters, you need to wrap each one in an HTML element so that you can then select it in CSS.

For the Ampersand logo, we had to wrap each letter in a span (and then, becuase that might cause each letter to be read out individually instead of all of them as a single word, we applied some ARIA shenanigans to the containing element). There’s even a JavaScript library—Splitting.js—that will do this for you.

But if the whole point of using HTML is that the content is accessible, copyable, and pastable, isn’t a bit of a shame that we then compromise the markup—and the accessibility—by wrapping individual letters in presentational tags?

What if there were an ::nth-letter selector in CSS?

There’s some prior art here. We’ve already got ::first-letter (and now the initial-letter property or whatever it ends up being called). If we can target the first letter in a piece of text, why not the second, or third, or nth?

It raises some questions. What constitutes a letter? Would it be better if we talked about ::first-character, ::initial-character, ::nth-character, and so on?

Even then, there are some tricksy things to figure out. What’s the third character in this piece of markup?

<p>AB<span>CD</span>EF</p>

Is it “C”, becuase that’s the third character regardless of nesting? Or is it “E”, becuase techically that’s the third character token that’s a direct child of the parent element?

I imagine that implementing ::nth-letter (or ::nth-character) would be quite complex so there would probably be very little appetite for it from browser makers. But it doesn’t seem as problematic as some selectors we’ve already got.

Take ::first-line, for example. That violates one of the biggest issues in adding new CSS selectors: it’s a selector that depends on layout.

Think about it. The browser has to first calculate how many characters are in the first line of an element (like, say, a paragraph). Having figured that out, the browser can then apply the styles declared in the ::first-line selector. But those styles may involve font sizing updates that changes the number of characters in the first line. Paradox!

(Technically, only a subset of CSS of properties can be applied to ::first-line, but that subset includes font-size so the paradox remains.)

I checked to see if ::first-line was included in one of my favourite documents: Incomplete List of Mistakes in the Design of CSS. It isn’t.

So compared to the logic-bending paradoxes of ::first-line, an ::nth-letter selector would be relatively straightforward. But that in itself isn’t a good enough reason for it to exist. As the CSS Working Group FAQs say:

The fact that we’ve made one mistake isn’t an argument for repeating the mistake.

A new selector needs to solve specific use cases. I would argue that all the letter-by-letter uses of variable fonts that we’re seeing demonstrate the use cases, and the number of these examples is only going to increase. The very fact that JavaScript libraries exist to solve this problem shows that there’s a need here (and we’ve seen the pattern of common JavaScript use-cases ending up in CSS before—rollovers, animation, etc.).

Now, I know that browser makers would like us to figure out how proposed CSS features should work by polyfilling a solution with Houdini. But would that work for a selector? I don’t know much about Houdini so I asked Una. She pointed me to a proposal by Greg and Tab for a full-on parser in Houdini. But that’s a loooong way off. Until then, we must petition our case to the browser gods.

This is not a new suggestion.

Anne Van Kesteren proposed ::nth-letter way back in 2003:

While I’m talking about CSS, I would also like to have ::nth-line(n), ::nth-letter(n) and ::nth-word(n), any thoughts?

Trent called for ::nth-letter in January 2011:

I think this would be the ideal solution from a web designer’s perspective. No javascript would be required, and 100% of the styling would be handled right where it should be—in the CSS.

Chris repeated the call in October of 2011:

Of all of these “new” selectors, ::nth-letter is likely the most useful.

In 2012, Bram linked to a blog post (now unavailable) from Adobe indicating that they were working on ::nth-letter for Webkit. That was the last anyone’s seen of this elusive pseudo-element.

In 2013, Chris (again) included ::nth-letter in his wishlist for CSS. So say we all.

Contact

I left the office one evening a few weeks back, and while I was walking up the street, James Box cycled past, waving a hearty good evening to me. I didn’t see him at first. I was in a state of maximum distraction. For one thing, there was someone walking down the street with a magnificent Irish wolfhound. If that weren’t enough to dominate my brain, I also had headphones in my ears through which I was listening to an audio version of a TED talk by Donald Hoffman called Do we really see reality as it is?

It’s fascinating—if mind-bending—stuff. It sounds like the kind of thing that’s used to justify Deepak Chopra style adventures in la-la land, but Hoffman is deliberately taking a rigorous approach. He knows his claims are outrageous, but he welcomes all attempts to falsify his hypotheses.

I’m not noticing this just from a short TED talk. It’s been one of those strange examples of synchronicity where his work has been popping up on my radar multiple times. There’s an article in Quanta magazine that was also republished in The Atlantic. And there’s a really good interview on the You Are Not So Smart podcast that I huffduffed a while back.

But the most unexpected place that Hoffman popped up was when I was diving down a SETI (or METI) rabbit hole. There I was reading about the Cosmic Call project and Lincos when I came across this article: Why ‘Arrival’ Is Wrong About the Possibility of Talking with Space Aliens, with its subtitle “Human efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials are doomed to failure, expert says.” The expert in question pulling apart the numbers in the Drake equation turned out to be none other than Donald Hoffmann.

A few years ago, at a SETI Institute conference on interstellar communication, Hoffman appeared on the bill after a presentation by radio astronomer Frank Drake, who pioneered the search for alien civilizations in 1960. Drake showed the audience dozens of images that had been launched into space aboard NASA’s Voyager probes in the 1970s. Each picture was carefully chosen to be clearly and easily understood by other intelligent beings, he told the crowd.

After Drake spoke, Hoffman took the stage and “politely explained how every one of the images would be infinitely ambiguous to extraterrestrials,” he recalls.

I’m sure he’s quite right. But let’s face it, the Voyager golden record was never really about communicating with an alien intelligence …it was about how we present ourself.

Pseudo and pseudon’t

I like CSS pseudo-classes. They come in handy for adding little enhancements to interfaces based on interaction.

Take the form-related pseudo-classes, for example: :valid, :invalid, :required, :in-range, and many more.

Let’s say I want to adjust the appearance of an element based on whether it has been filled in correctly. I might have an input element like this:

<input type="email" required>

Then I can write some CSS to put green border on it once it meets the minimum requirements for validity:

input:valid {
  border: 1px solid green;
}

That works, but somewhat annoyingly, the appearance will change while the user is still typing in the field (as soon as the user types an @ symbol, the border goes green). That can be distracting, or downright annoying.

I only want to display the green border when the input is valid and the field is not focused. Luckily for me, those last two words (“not focused”) map nicely to some more pseudo-classes: not and focus:

input:not(:focus):valid {
  border: 1px solid green;
}

If I want to get really fancy, I could display an icon next to form fields that have been filled in. But to do that, I’d need more than a pseudo-class; I’d need a pseudo-element, like :after

input:not(:focus):valid::after {
  content: '✓';
}

…except that won’t work. It turns out that you can’t add generated content to replaced elements like form fields. I’d have to add a regular element into my markup, like this:

<input type="email" required>
<span></span>

So I could style it with:

input:not(:focus):valid + span::after {
  content: '✓';
}

But that feels icky.

Update: See this clever flexbox technique by Hugo Giraudel for a potential solution.

Slight return

I’ve been in a contemplative mood lately, probably because I’ve been time travelling.

This year’s dConstruct—which wrapped up just under two weeks ago—marked ten continuous years of running the event. Ten years!

It feels like a lot happened ten years ago. 2005 was the year that Andy, Richard, and I started Clearleft. The evening after dConstruct this year, we threw a party to mark our decadal milestone. What happened at the Clearleft birthday party stays at the Clearleft birthday party.

I had already been living in Brighton for five years before Clearleft was born. That means I’ve been here for fifteen years now. Before that I was living in Freiburg in the heart of Germany’s Black Forest—that’s where Jessica and I first met. In one of those funny twists of fate, we found ourselves travelling back to Freiburg last week, the day after the Clearleft party. It’s like I was going further and further back in my own timeline.

I was in Freiburg to speak at Smashing Conference. I wasn’t on the line-up though. I was the mystery speaker. I took my mysterious duties seriously, so much so that I didn’t even tell Andy, who was also speaking at the event (it was worth it for the look on his face).

Once Smashing Conference was over, Jessica and I made our way to Prague for the Web Expo. When the website for the conference went live, it looked like a Clearleft school reunion: me, Andy H, Cennydd, Anna, and Paul were all on the home page.

I had been to Prague before …but I had never been to the Czech Republic.

That’s right—the last time I was in Prague, it was still in Czechoslovakia. I was there in the early nineties, just a few years after the Velvet Revolution. I was hitch-hiking and busking my way around Europe with my friend Polly (she played fiddle, I played mandolin). When I visit foreign countries now, I get to stay in hotel rooms and speak at conferences. Back then, I sang for my supper and slept wherever I could find a dry spot—usually in a park or on the outskirts of town, far from activity. I remember how cold it was on that first visit to Prague. We snuck into an apartment building to sleep in the basement.

But I also remember extraordinary acts of kindness. When we left Prague, we travelled south towards Austria. We were picked up by an old man in an old car who insisted we should stay the night at his house with his family. He didn’t have much, but he opened up his home to us. We could barely communicate, but it didn’t matter. I will never forget his name: Pan Karel Šimáček.

I remember walking over the border into Austria. That switchover was probably the biggest culture shock of the whole trip. There was quite a disparity in wealth between the two countries.

When we reached Vienna, we met another couple who were travelling through Europe. But whereas Polly and I were travelling out of choice, they were in desperate search of somewhere to call home. Their country, Yugoslavia, was breaking up. One of them was Serbian. The other was Croatian. They were in love. They couldn’t return to where they had come from, but they had nowhere to go. They peppered us with questions. “Do you think England would give us asylum?” I didn’t know what to say.

A few weeks later, we were crossing over the alps down into Italy. We got stuck at a service station for two full days. There wasn’t much there, but I remember there was a Bureau de Change with LCD numbers showing the conversion rates for the many currencies of Europe. Yugoslavia was in the list, but its LCD numbers weren’t illuminated.

The tragedy of the commons

Flickr Commons is a wonderful thing. That’s why I’m concerned:

Y’know, I’m worried about what will happen to my own photos when Flickr inevitably goes down the tubes (there are still some good people there fighting the good fight, but they’re in the minority and they’re battling against the douchiest of Silicon Valley managerial types who have been brought in to increase “engagement” by stripping away everything that makes Flickr special) …but what really worries me is what’s going to happen to Flickr Commons. It’s an unbelievably important and valuable resource.

The Brooklyn Museum is taking pre-emptive measures:

As of today, we have left Flickr (including The Commons).

Unfortunately, they didn’t just leave their Flickr collection; they razed it to the ground. All those links, all those comments, and all those annotations have been wiped out.

They’ve moved their images over to Wikimedia Commons …for now. It turns out that they have a very cavalier attitude towards online storage (a worrying trait for a museum). They’re jumping out of the frying pan of Flickr and into the fire of Tumblr:

In the past few months, we’ve been testing Tumblr and it’s been a much better channel for this type of content.

Audio and video is being moved around to where the eyeballs and earholes currently are:

We have left iTunesU in favor of sharing content via YouTube and SoundCloud.

I find this quite disturbing. A museum should be exactly the kind of institution that should be taking a thoughtful, considered approach to how it stores content online. Digital preservation should be at the heart of its activities. Instead, it takes a back seat to chasing the fleeting thrill of “engagement.”

Leaving Flickr Commons could have been the perfect opportunity to invest in long-term self-hosting. Instead they’re abandoning the Titanic by hitching a ride on the Hindenberg.

Eventful

The weather is glorious right now here in Brighton. As much as I get wanderlust, I’m more than happy to have been here for most of June and for this lovely July thus far.

Prior to the J months, I made a few European sojourns.

Mid-may was Mobilism time in Amsterdam, although it might turn out that this may have been the final year. That would be a real shame: it’s a great conference, and this year’s was no exception.

As usual, I had a lot of fun moderating a panel. This time it was a general “hot topics” panel featuring Remy, Jake, Wilto, and Dan. Smart, opinionated people: just what I want.

Two weeks after Mobilism, I was back on the continent for Beyond Tellerrand in Düsseldorf. I opened up the show with a new talk. It was quite ranty, but I was pleased with how it turned out, and the audience were very receptive. I’ll see about getting the video transcribed so I can publish the full text here.

Alas, I had to miss the second day of the conference so I could down to Porto for this year’s ESAD web talks, where I reprised the talk I had just debuted in Germany. It was my first time in Portugal and I really liked Porto: there’s a lot to explore and discover there.

Two weeks after that, I gave that same talk one last spin at FFWD.pro in Zagreb. I had never been to Croatia before and Jessica and I wanted to make the most of it, so we tagged on a trip to Dubrovnik. That was quite wonderful. It’s filled with tourists these days, but with good reason: it’s a beautiful medieval place.

With that, my little European getaways came to an end (for now). The only other conference I attended was Brighton’s own Ampersand, which was particularly fun this year. The Clearleft conferences just keep getting better and better.

In fact, this year’s Ampersand might have been the best yet. And this year’s UX London was definitely the best yet. I’d love to say that this year’s dConstruct will be the best yet, but given that last year’s was without doubt the best conference I’ve ever been to, that’s going to be quite a tall order.

Still, with this line-up, I reckon it’s going to be pretty darn great …and it will certainly be good fun. So if you haven’t yet done so, grab a ticket now and I’ll see you here in Brighton in September.

Here’s hoping the weather stays good.

TeuxDeux Part Deux

I’ve tried a few different to-do list apps in my time: Ta-da List, Remember The Milk. They’re all much of a muchness (although Remember The Milk’s inability to remember me on return visits put me off it after a while).

The one that really fits with my mental model is TuexDeux. It’s very, very simple and that’s its strength. It does one thing really well.

Now it has been updated with a few little changes.

TeuxDeux Part Deux on Vimeo

I’m very pleased to see that it has become more flexible and fluid. I’ve said it before but I really think that web apps should aim to be adaptable to the user’s preferred viewing window. With more content-driven sites, such as webzines and news articles, I understand why more control is given to the content creator, but for an application, where usage and interaction is everything, flexibility and adaptability should be paramount, in my opinion.

Anyway, the new changes to TeuxDeux make it better than ever. Although…

If I had one complaint—and this is going to sound kind of weird—it’s that you mark items as done by clicking on them (as if they were links). I kind of miss the feeling of satisfaction that comes with ticking a checkbox to mark an item as done.

I told you it was going to sound kind of weird.

Identity and authority

When Richard talks, I listen. That’s a lesson I learned even before Clearleft existed. Right now Richard is talking about civility online mentioning the specific example of Digg—something I’ve touched on in the past.

If there’s any truth to the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory then anonymity online can exacerbate the lack of civility. A key issue here is identity: you’re more likely to be rude or aggressive when posting an anonymous comment on a blog post than when you’re posting to your own blog—a place that’s associated with you and your online identity.

Just to be clear, when I talk about identity here I’m not talking about the issue of consolidating scattered online identities (a job for OpenID and, to a certain extent, microformats). I’m talking about identity as a basis for trust.

In order for an opinion to carry any weight online, the person posting needs to establish trust. A lot of the time this simply involves providing background material: “this is me, here are my photos, here are my bookmarks, etc.”

If you can’t provide a backstory, it’s becomes very hard to establish trust. Take for example the recent discourse on Flickr when some asshats ripped off Dan’s logo. To begin with, everyone was quite rightly joining the fray in support of Dan—with the exception of the Chief Executive Asshat from the rip-off company. But then some people showed up and started taking the side of the asshat. The other commentators did some quick’n’dirty background checks by simply clicking on the usernames and found empty photo pages. This lack of history pointed pretty strongly to these people simply being sock puppets.

But if your history establishes your identity and consequently your trustworthiness, then how can you instil trust if you’re just showing up to the party? As Kaliya was at pains to point out in her talk at the Web 2.0 Expo:

Trust is not an algorithm.

It’s important to realise that there’s a big difference between trust and authority. Trust is a personal judgement, different for everyone. Authority is a top-down value. There may well be an algorithm for authority—based on past achievements—but on the Web, authority isn’t nearly as important as trust.

Richard’s musings were prompted by an article in The Times that falls victim to the usual trap of mistaking a lack of authority with a lack of merit, citing the usual examples of Wikipedia and political blogs. The argument is based on the idea that someone who is paid to write (encyclopedias, newspapers, whatever) is likely to be more authoritative—and therefore trustworthy—than someone who writes merely because they have a passion for the subject. In my experience, the opposite is true.

Take some recent articles in The Independent:

These articles were written by journalists and so they have authority. Yet they are entirely without merit because the stories are sloppily-researched, hastily written and downright untrue. Authority, in this case, does not equate to merit. I am far more likely to trust a blog post by Ian Betteridge debunking the articles precisely because he wasn’t paid to write it.

The word “amateur” has come to mean “unprofessional and sloppy” in common parlance. But it wasn’t always that way. The word can also be used to refer to someone who does something out of passion and enthusiasm.

The problem with those articles in The Independent is not that they are amateurish: the problem is that they are professional.

Socialising at South by Southwest

Much as I enjoyed the panels and presentations at South by Southwest this year, the real reason for making the trip to Austin is to hang out with fellow geeks. It really is like Summer camp.

There are some people that I consider very good friends that I only get to see at SXSW. I hope that situation will change and I’ll get to see these friends more often but in the meantime, Austin in March is the time and place for me to catch up with my buddies.

At the same time, one of the things I love about SXSW is getting to meet new people. Sometimes these are people I’ve been reading online for years; sometimes they’re complete strangers. Either way, I’m constantly amazed at just how nice everybody is. Is it something specific to geeks or did the human race just get a whole lot more pleasant while my back was turned?

Daytime socialising revolved around lunch, usually something Mexican although the steak as big as my head at the Hoffbrau was probably the lunchtime highlight. The traditional trip to the Iron Works involved the finest minds in JavaScript—a fun and constructive way to gorge on meat while discussing the Document Object Model.

The real fun started in the evening. I donned my trusty cowboy hat and ventured forth, guided by Adactio Austin. My little mashup was of help to quite a few people, which is gratifying to know.

I may be just a little biased but I honestly thought that the Great British Booze-up was the most fun. It wasn’t too loud but it wasn’t too quiet; it wasn’t too crowded but it wasn’t too empty. It was just right. And if everyone else there had just a fraction of the fun that I was having, then it was definitely a success.

As usual with events involving Clearleft, Andy did all the work and the rest of us sat back and took all the credit. For the record, Andy’s the man to thank and I for one welcome our new British Booze-up overlords. I think we’ll have to have another one next year, don’t you?

To all the people I met this year at South by Southwest: it was an absolute pleasure. And if I couldn’t remember your name in the corridor the next day, please forgive me. I’m not as young as I used to be and the Shiner Bock probably doesn’t prolong the life of my brain cells.

Gillian McKeith is not a doctor

I don’t like contributing something as simple as “me too!” but I just had to +1 Tom’s post on Ben Goldacre on Gillian McKeith. As he puts it:

There are times when I feel that Ben Goldacre—author of the Guardian’s Bad Science column—should be knighted.

I couldn’t agree more. Be sure to visit his website, Bad Science. As a fan of popular science—by which I mean fascinating subjects made accessible to plebs like me—I applaud Ben Goldacre’s sysyphian work in calling the British press on their over-reliance on pseudo-science. His tireless work on exposing the junk science behind the anti-MMR stories alone deserves everyone’s respect and gratitude.

His latest column, A menace to science quite rightly exposes Gillian McKeith—the TV presenter with a surname worryingly similar to my own—as the crackpot that she is. The article concentrates on her ludicrous “scientific” claims rather than focusing on the side-issue that she is completely unqualified, but I’ve decided to title this post Gillian McKeith is not a doctor for the benefit of future Googlers. It’s official:

A regular from my website badscience.net — I can barely contain my pride — took McKeith to the Advertising Standards Authority, complaining about her using the title “doctor” on the basis of a qualification gained by correspondence course from a non-accredited American college. He won.

With any luck, I’ll receive one of McKeith’s famous cease-and-desist threats.

In other news from Tom, he’s feeling mightily jetlagged, the poor bastard. Having just flown back from Vancouver—a time zone difference of eight hours—I should be in a position to commiserate. But, touch wood, I seem to have mercifully escaped the ravages of jetlag.

Museum piece

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the Semantic Web Think Tank this week. Most of the other attendees were there representing museums and—geek that I am—I found it thrilling to be able to chat with people from such venerable institutions as the V&A Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Apart from one focused effort to explain microformats, my contributions were pretty rambling affairs. Still, I thought I’d try to put together a list of things I mentioned while they’re still fresh in my mind.

There was a lot of talk about tagging and folksonomies, including a great demo of the user-contributed content at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. I was chatting with Glenda later on and she pointed me to the steve.museum project, which is described as the first experiment in social tagging of art museum collections. That sounds like exactly what we were talking about at the think tank.

There was also plenty of talk about (uppercase) Semantic Web technologies. Museums have to deal with classifications far beyond the reach of microformats—with the glaring exception of events, which are crying out to be marked up in hCalendar. I don’t envy them the task of classifying and publishing all their data, but I remain convinced that user contributions (a la Wikipedia) can help enormously.

The ugly American

I’m sitting in a big room at XTech 2006 listening to Paul Graham talk about why there aren’t more start-ups in Europe. It’s essentially a Thatcherite screed about why businesses should be able to get away with doing anything they want and treat employees like slaves.

In comparing Europe to the US, Guru Graham points out that the US has a large domestic market. Fair point. The EU — designed to be one big domestic market — suffers, he feels, by the proliferation of languages. However, he also thinks that it won’t be long before Europe is all speaking one language — namely, his. In fact, he said

Even French and German will go the way of Luxembourgish and Irish — spoken only in kitchens and by eccentric nationalists.

What. A. Wanker.

Update: Just to clarify for the Reddit geeks, here’s some context. I’m from Ireland. I speak Irish, albeit not fluently. I’m calling Paul Graham a wanker because I feel personally insulted by his inflammatory comment about speakers of the Irish language. I’m not insulted by his opinions on start-ups or economics or language death — although I may happen to disagree with him. I’m responding as part of the demographic he insulted. If he just said the Irish language will die out, I wouldn’t have got upset. He crossed a line by insulting a group of people — a group that happened to include someone in the audience he was addressing — instead of simply arguing a point or stating an opinion. In short, he crossed the line from simply being opinionated to being a wanker.