Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No DHTML, Please

HTML5 logo mocked up as DHTML logo.The trend continues where I speak to clients, vendors, young developers fresh out of college, and even the teachers/professors who instruct them and they don't understand that HTML5 and CSS3 aren't the same specification. I have repeatedly shown an HTML 4.01 site with CSS3 to explain that they are each distinct specifications which can be applied in different combinations of different versions. This is further complicated when JavaScript is folded into the mix — some folks even think jQuery is part of the HTML5 specification.

I am repeating a request that when we who know better (developers, tech writers, robots named Frank) speak about discrete specifications, we refer to them as such.

When I talk to another developer about a feature, I want to know that when one of us says "HTML5" we are both talking about that particular specification. When we use terms like "WOFF" or "WebGL" I have comfort knowing the developer has a particular set of technical standards in mind, but when one of us says "HTML5" we each have to pause to consider what related specification the other might actually mean.

It seems fair to raise what sounds like a semantic point when we are discussing a specification that is all about encoding content in semantic and structural elements. I don't think I should let this go, otherwise it feels like I have failed the semantic goal of HTML right at the outset.

What Motivated the Mini-Rant

Another free and fantastical service was released to the web development community on Tuesday, HTML5 Please. The same folks who also brought us sites like HTML5 Boilerplate, Modernizr and CSS3 Please are the fine team behind this resource. And this is part of the reason why I am so frustrated. Each of them knows the difference between HTML, CSS, and unrelated specifications like WOFF, SVG, Geolocation, WebGL, and so on.

In a (Google-doc-brokered) conversation with Ian Devlin (author of HTML5 Multimedia: Develop and Design), Paul Irish (one of the folks behind HTML5 Please) agreed to add a disclaimer to the site for the chronically unlikely-to-read-any-specifications-or-bother-to-know-the-differences-among-them. Mr. Irish made short work of it, too:

While named HTML5 Please, this site discusses features beyond the HTML5 specification, coming from CSS, SVG, and the greater Open Web Platform umbrella.

On Wednesday I went back to the site and noticed that the disclaimer was gone. I tweeted about it and was ultimately directed to a bug/issue report that provided justification for its removal:

[…] However, HTML5 represents an umbrella term for all new technologies (as is inferred from platform.html5.org). Also, the specification itself is now a living standard known as HTML and not HTML5.

Of course I was motivated to leave a comment:

I feel the ship has sailed when trying to communicate this point to the general public, tech writers, bosses, clients, and small children up the street. However, since the site is aimed at developers I think it does a disservice to not remind them that HTML5 means a very particular specification, and that it makes it easier in the future to cite new specifications that will be supported on the site (as they come up), but are otherwise distinct. For those who do know better (me, a couple folks above), it just looks like the site got it wrong and doesn't understand the difference itself.

If we as technical professionals cede the meaning of HTML5 when speaking to other technical professionals, we are falling prey to marketing speak that has no place in discussions about specific technical matters.

That's it, that's the background. I've explained my thoughts on this before and am concerned that HTML5 has become a distilled marketing term that, unlike DHTML and Web 2.0, neither of which shared the exact same name as the version of a technical specification, only leads to confusion when developers are interacting with marketers, bosses, clients and vendors.

You may read previous variations on this rant here:

Update: January 27, 2012

The online version of .net Magazine covered this post with a news bit that has garnered some additional comments. Read it at Dev rallies against HTML5 confusion.

Update: February 3, 2012

Aaron Gustafson wrote a response piece on his blog titled HTML5 is the new DHTML. His is less ranty than mine, so already it's worth a read.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA Blackout Protests Go Forward, So Does SOPA Sponsor

Wikipedia's SOPA/PIPA protest page. Google's SOPA/PIPA protest page. Mozilla's SOPA/PIPA protest page. Reddit's SOPA/PIPA protest page. Craigslist's SOPA/PIPA protest page. Cheezburger Network's SOPA/PIPA protest page.
Some of the sites that "went dark" today to protest SOPA and PIPA.

Today is the day that a collection of popular web sites, some shown above, have "blacked out" in protest of both SOPA and PIPA. The general public knows very little of these bills, and with only minor media coverage over the last few days (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox appear on the list of SOPA supporters, as reported by Media Matters) many feel this is the only way the general public will be made aware.

But has this changed anything?

Contrary to the shouts of victory over SOPA across the web (and even some mainstream news outlets when it looked like it was a sure thing and they could report on it without upsetting owners), the bill's sponsor isn't giving up. I am absolutely one to say "I told you so," because I did on Monday.

Rep. Lamar Smith released a statement on his site yesterday to say that markup hearings would resume in February:

To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy.

Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.

I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property.

In response to the scheduled outage of Wikipedia today to protest SOPA, Rep. Smith yesterday afternoon made it clear that he isn't impressed:

It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.

You may recall my post from last week where I feel Rep. Smith is ignoring evidence, so I am suspect (understatement) of his assertion that today's web site blackouts are nothing more than misinformation and publicity stunts.

PIPA isn't left floundering, either. On January 24 the U.S. Senate votes on it.

Related

A Flash-embedded video from Media Matters, "MSNBC's Hayes Addresses Lack Of SOPA Coverage By Major News Networks:"

Updates

From the LA Times (January 18, 2012, 1:19 pm EST):

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act in the Senate, while Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said they were pulling their names from the companion House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Vice, which is typically a NSFW site, has a great piece showing how PIPA co-sponsor Roy Blunt, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, Florida congressman/SOPA co-sponsor Dennis Ross and Ohio senator and PIPA co-sponsor Sherrod Brown have (or had, since some of these have been scrubbed) content on their online presences that violate existing copyright laws. As the author notes, there will probably be more (remember that SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith was already caught violating copyright laws last week):

There's many many many more (from almost every single PIPA co-sponsor's site, in fact), but without actually getting written confirmation from the copyright owners in question, I'm unable to post anything here.

CNN reported another senator pulled his support:

"We can find a solution that will protect lawful content. But this bill is flawed & that's why I'm withdrawing my support. #SOPA #PIPA," Republican Sen. Roy Blunt wrote on his official Twitter page.

The NY Times says even more are opposed, though it doesn't indicate just how many of them flipped their position from supporting PIPA or SOPA:

Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.

Creative America, made of entertainment industry unions and studios, posted a video on Vimeo last month to argue that SOPA and PIPA protect American jobs and intellectual property. The comments on the Vimeo page suggest the web might be the wrong audience.

The Communications Director for Senator Harry Reid tweeted this morning (Friday, January 20) that the PIPA vote has been postponed:

Senator Reid, in statement this morning: "In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the PROTECT IP Act."

We should keep in mind that postponing is different than canceling it, and the very next tweet suggests it will be back soon:

Reid: "Amercns rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for their work. I'm optimistic that we can reach compromise on PIPA in coming wks"

This afternoon (still Friday, January 20) Rep. Smiths' office released a statement that I can only presume is about SOPA (since Smith is SOPA's sponsor) despite the confusing title referencing PIPA (Statement from Chairman Smith on Senate Delay of Vote on PROTECT IP Act):

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today issued the following statement in response to the Senate decision to postpone consideration of legislation to help combat online piracy.

[…]

The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.

Again, the use of pronouns and indefinite articles confuses me, since the statement nowhere explicitly says that he is sitting on SOPA. Other media outlets are content to state that Smith has pulled SOPA.

Either way, both SOPA and PIPA are postponed. Which I take to mean it's only temporary and once the furor dies down you can expect to see these again, perhaps under different names.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HTML5 Will Play Nice with Translation

HTML5 Logo with character for Chinese number 5.Back in late 2009 I wrote a little something talking about Google Translate and the risks associated with relying on machine translation for anything critical ("Facebook and Google Want to Translate Your Site"). I even offered some examples of things that are tough to translate.

One real-world example I did not list was when I used machine translation to process a page with someone's name. The first name we'll say was "Bill," but the last name was definitely "Belt." Somehow instead of "Bill Belt" being retained as his name throughout the article, he was renamed to "Bill of Leather Strap."

This particular example is one step closer to being a thing of the past. In the latest W3C Open Web Platform Weekly Summary, a new attribute has been announced for HTML5 that will allow authors to exclude specific content from being translated — for any service that will honor it. The announcement:

A global translate attribute will be added to HTML5. The values are yes or no with the same inheritance policy than the lang attribute. The goal is to specify if a piece of text should or not should not be translated automatically.

Of course, if I want to exclude Bill Belt from being translated, I'll probably have to wrap his name in a span in order to throw a translate="no" in there since I doubt I'll have an otherwise semantic or structural element in place already. This does, however, offer a far better solution than the previous suggestion of using a class to achieve the same effect.

To be fair, Google Translate already has its own support for excluding content from automatic translation, specifically using class="notranslate". Head over to the Google Translate Help page and expand the bottom-most option, "General information for webmasters" (nice to see they make it easy for a direct link).

If you are curious about the process this went through to become a change for HTML5, you can see the bug report that started it all back on April 4, 2011: Bug 12417 - HTML5 is missing attribute for specifying translatability of content.

I don't believe that machine translation is ever a good way to translate or localize content for anything more than casual use. For example, legal matters, healthcare, and things like that are poor candidates for machine translation (I have far more to say on this point in the post linked above). For organizations that do provide manual human translation, this attribute can be a boon to them as well, allowing them to understand pieces of content that do not need to be processed, saving time, effort and cost to everyone in the translation workflow.

As developers it's our responsibility to make sure it is used correctly, most likely by helping to train content authors.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Don't Think SOPA or PIPA Are Dead Yet


Image brazenly stolen from Virtual Shackles where it was posted with more commentary. I could be in violation of SOPA and PIPA by using this image. This image was also referenced in the petition against SOPA.

Last week I wrote a post titled "SOPA Sponsor Ignoring the Evidence." In it I attempt to dismantle the argument that the sponsor of the SOPA bill uses to ignore those who disagree with the bill. I suggest you read it for more background and context before I dive in below.

If you've been following the SOPA and PIPA trends on the web, then you probably saw the horribly mis-titled Mashable post, Victory for SOPA Opponents: DNS Blocking Struck From Bill, a couple days ago. Not victory by any means, but Rep. Lamar Smith revisiting the bill he sponsored was certainly a good sign.

PIPA had a similar falter a couple days before that, when Sen. Patrick Leahy suggested the bill needs more study before it is put to a vote. This news was covered in the more appropriately titled Author of Controversial Piracy Bill Now Says 'More Study' Needed from the Wall Street Journal.

On Saturday the White House weighed in on two petitions that have been circulating asking for the President to veto these two bills ("VETO the SOPA bill and any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information" and "Stop the E-PARASITE Act"). I suggest you ignore the hype from the media and tech outlets and read the full response, "Obama Administration Responds to We the People Petitions on SOPA and Online Piracy."

The response was jointly penned by Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff and uses some great-sounding language (emphasis theirs):

Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.

[…]

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security.

But read on to see that the White House is not only not explicitly stating that these two proposed laws be dropped, but is still calling for legislation by the end of the year:

That is why the Administration calls on all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders while staying true to the principles outlined above in this response. We should never let criminals hide behind a hollow embrace of legitimate American values.

The next statement suggests that instead of fighting SOPA and PIPA, the burden is on us as citizens to brainstorm better ways to address online piracy:

So, rather than just look at how legislation can be stopped, ask yourself: Where do we go from here? Don't limit your opinion to what's the wrong thing to do, ask yourself what's right. Already, many members of Congress are asking for public input around the issue.

Offloading this to all U.S. citizens makes it easy for the administration to come back in a year (depending who is in office and his/her leaning) and claim that in the absence of any useful feedback from citizens, both PIPA and SOPA are on the table again as options. At the risk of becoming political, the current administration already signed a bill it had previously threatened to veto because of arguments that law violates the Bill of Rights. He agreed to sign the law simply because a provision was added giving his office the power to choose who is impacted.

Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. It is conceivable that a similar threat against SOPA and PIPA, or in this case a non-threat, will be pushed aside when the administration feels it can be pushed through with much less of a fight.

About the same time on Saturday word came down from House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, who was opposed to SOPA, that SOPA was being shelved for now due to lack of consensus. He could not make the same guarantee about PIPA but could at least weigh in on it:

While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House. Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.

Even if PIPA's sponsor backs away from the bill altogether and it is also shelved, the language is clear from both houses of Congress and from the White House that this isn't the last attempt at legislation we'll see applied to the internet. It behooves us as citizens to pay attention to the next iteration of these bills and challenge them.

Related

Video

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Algonquin Studios Gets Local Press

Photo of article in the paper.

I'm taking an opportunity to brag a little about my company, Algonquin Studios, being featured today in the Business section of our local paper, The Buffalo News. Some of you who read my blog have asked about Algonquin Studios and what we do, and others (or at least the logs tell me so) even visited our web-o-tron site to look over our services. This article, however, does a nice job of talking about some of the other things we do, like our inner city youth soccer program (link added):

Beyond the business side, company officers emphasize the importance of giving back to the community and ensuring their employees have time for their families and their faith.

[…]

The biggest piece of the nonprofit is the Buffalo Soccer Club, which over the years has provided an athletic outlet for nearly 600 young people, most from Buffalo's East Side.

A little nugget of history, including a distilled version of how we got our name (and to think we nearly called ourselves Algonquin Interactive):

The company's three founders are Raines and David M. Thiemecke, who met at Orchard Park High School, and their friend, Adrian A. Roselli, who later attended the University at Buffalo with Raines.

The trio was working in the Internet division of SOFTBANK Services Group when they decided to form their own technology-services company.

The name, an inside joke from their school days, borrows from the Algonquin Round Table, the widely quoted group of writers and other wits who gathered at New York City's Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s.

"We went around, we tried to come up with a good name for what we were going to do, we couldn't come up with anything, so, Algonquin Studios," Raines said.

Sadly, there just wasn't room to go into our college-era weekly concert-series-slash-coffee-house called Algonquin Table, or our every-semester music fest called Algonquinpalooza. If it's not obvious, we've sort of had a theme for a while now.

You can read the full article at the Buffalo News web site (Growth continues for local high-tech sector company) or follow the link on the photo at the top to see the terrible Sunday morning camera phone photo of the article in the paper (or just follow that link).

From the Buffalo News web site…

Image of web abstract of the article.

Monday, January 9, 2012

SOPA Sponsor Ignoring the Evidence

Pls RT: @senatorreid @chuckschumer @mcconnellpress We need u to stand w the Internet and kill #PIPA http://act.demandprogress.org/act/pipa_tweet/?referring_akid=.194196.pE4I30&source=typ-tw via @demandprogress

I tend to avoid addressing politics here or on my Twitter stream, but I think this topic is beyond politics and more about a fundamental lack of understanding of the internet as a whole.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA or H.R. 3261 in the U.S. House of Representatives) and its Senate analogue PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) have been drawing the ire of the internet community for quite a while now. Online efforts to sink the laws have been targeted primarily at SOPA. However, somehow SOPA has been mostly ignored by traditional media outlets, possibly owing to their ownership.

The bill is intended to stop both counterfeit drugs from being sold online and to prevent copyright infringement. The methods described in the bill to accomplish these goals have been repeatedly derided by nearly everybody who has a hand in the internet or a concern over censorship.

What doesn't help is that the bill's sponsor, Lamar Smith, seems to be completely disconnected from the internet as evidenced by Smith's statements on January 2:

The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.
It's a vocal minority. Because they're strident doesn't mean they're either legitimate or large in number. One, they need to read the language. Show me the language. There's nothing they can point to that does what they say it does do. I think their fears are unfounded.

The vocal minority he cites was small enough to not only push GoDaddy to distance itself from the bill, but to ultimately release a statement saying GoDaddy officially opposes SOPA. Reddit helped motivate Congressman Paul Ryan to clarify his stance on SOPA, and Ryan today released a statement opposing SOPA:

I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.

Both Al Gore, the self-professed inventor of the internet, and Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who is credited with inventing the web, have each come out against SOPA and PIPA. In November, Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Zynga, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL all got together for a full page ad in the New York Times to oppose PIPA and SOPA the same day as a SOPA hearing with witnesses slanted in favor of the bill.

Lamar Smith also says there are no "legitimate" concerns that this would harm the internet, nor are there any facts to back them up. Smith needs to only look at the extensive lists compiled across the web on how SOPA is both a technical disaster and an open door for censorship:

Smith also asks for people to point to language in the bill that justifies these concerns. Since the bill is available online, it seems pretty straightforward — except the bill is so vague in parts that it's easier to just point out those sections that lack clarity and leave the door open to lawsuits and poor interpretation by technically uneducated judges.

I am not a trained legal professional, but these passages in particular cause me concern given how vaguely they are worded and how easily they can be misinterpreted.

Sec. 102 c.2.A
A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site.

Sec. 102 c.2.B
A provider of an Internet search engine shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order, designed to prevent the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order, or a portion of such site specified in the order, from being served as a direct hypertext link.

Sec. 102 c.4.A
Attorney General may bring an action for injunctive relief

Sec. 102 c.4.A.i
against any entity served under paragraph (1) that knowingly and willfully fails to comply with the requirements of this subsection to compel such entity to comply with such requirements; or

Sec. 102 c.4.A.ii
against any entity that knowingly and willfully provides or offers to provide a product or service designed or marketed for the circumvention or bypassing of measures described in paragraph (2) [...]

Sec. 107 b
The Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator shall, not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, submit to the Committees on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Senate a report that includes the folowing:

Sec. 107 b.4
An analysis of the adequacy of relying upon foreign governments to pursue legal action against notorious foreign infringers.

Now spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with who co-sponsors SOPA then compare it to the top 20 congressman (ranked by dollar amount) who receive money from lobbying groups in the TV, movies and music sectors.

While you're looking, spend some time to review the list of co-sponsors for PIPA and compare it to the top 20 senators (ranked by dollar amount) who receive money from lobbying groups in the TV, movies and music sectors. Local readers will see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tops the list.

For more information:

  1. A one page SOPA reference (in PDF form) from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  2. 110 law professors write an open letter to Congress (also in PDF) explaining why SOPA is a bad idea.

Links to things you can do:

  1. Hate SOPA? 6 things you can do to stop it
  2. Stop American Censorship
  3. Act Now : This Bill Seriously Screws with the Internet

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why All the Food Photos? (at evolt.org)

Photo of cookies and sipping chocolate.
How can you not share something so tasty?

The Internet has a thing for cats. There's really no denying it, at least when taken in the whole of the internet.

Social media, on the other hand, seems to have a thing for food. While social media is just one aspect of the Internet, we can take comfort that social media's penchant for food is not about cat food or edible cats. It is hard to deny, however, that social media, with its friendliness to instant image uploads, constant quick commentary, and location-based tendency, is dominated by food.

Read the full article at evolt.org

evolt.org I wrote an article for evolt.org yesterday that goes into a little detail on why people do this, along with some of my reasons. Go read the full article, including some of my own food photos, at evolt.org. If you are like me and post photos of your meals, snacks, or other random food bits, feel free to leave some comments here or there with your own reasons. I suspect some of the reasons I listed will look familiar to you.

Photo of wine and TacoVino sign.
Judge by how many of the Social Media Club chapter events center around food.