England 2006

Please excuse the lack of updates lately. I had been touring around the greater London area with my wife for our second anniversary. No, we weren't there for @media like everyone else (though that would've been nice), but we did manage to catch the very first London Web Standards Group Meet-up. Now that I'm back in the ol' US of A, I will summarize what's been going on. For those who are curious, there are photos on Flickr here: England 2006.

Touring London

While in London, we did all the typical tourist type stuff. We saw Buckingham Palace from the outside, since they weren't offering tours as the Queen is currently residing there. We saw the whole ceremonial changing of the guard, which was cool how they exaggeratedly stomp their feet. What struck me as odd though, is that they still have police nearby armed with machine guns. This led me to believe that the guys in the big hats are just there for show.

Speaking of shows, we got to see Guys and Dolls, which was originally a Broadway play, and takes place on Broadway in the story. This rendition was put on at the Picadilly Theater and had previously starred Ewan McGregor. Currently, it is starring Patrick Swayze, though he was not performing on the day we attended. It was a good show nonetheless, and also featured Adam Cooper who played the grown-up version of Billy Elliot in that movie.

We also saw the national portrait gallery, but didn't take any pictures because flash photography is prohibited. It was great to be able to see these original artworks, and read about the stories behind each of the depicted characters. I got to see the original painting of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, that appears in many of our seminary textbooks. They even had one of George Washington, the description of which was notably curt: "Leader of the American Revolution, 1st President of the USA."

We traveled to the nearby Greenwich and went to their maritime museum. Here, there were quite a few exhibits, showing the proud naval history of Great Britain. We got to learn all about Horatio Nelson, who was the war hero at the Battle of Trafalgar. The museum had a really nice interactive map that played out an overhead view of the battle in real-time with voice-overs. It had a cool interface that allowed you to wave your hand over parts of the map, which would cause info windows to pop-up near your hand, telling more about particular vessels. Think of it like a real world version of Sweet Titles.

While in Greenwich we also stopped by their observatory and saw many of the telescopes that have been used throughout the years. At part of the space exhibit, I couldn't resist being a typical boastful American, and joked that there weren't any photos of a British moon landing. It was a really nice area though, with a view of the entire London landscape. I got to stand on each side of the Prime Meridian, the beginning point for Greenwich Mean Time, by which the rest of the world measures its time zones: GMT +/– 0:00.

Web Standards Meet-up

We got there a bit early, due to nervousness that we might not be able to find the place. It was good though, as we were able to talk to Tim Huegdon for awhile before people started arriving. Olga was also able to put a name to a face for Chris Mills, who I have been telling her about due to the in-progress planning around co-authoring a book about Textpattern for friends of ED.

As the host, Stuart Colville opened up with some thank-you's and by telling how it came about. Various Australian Web Standards Group meetings helped to kick things off and were the inspiration for the London event. He made an open invitation to those who might want to be speakers at future London WSG events. After that, he introduced Andy Budd as the inaugural speaker.

Nuts + Bolts:

Andy was sporting a nice Cork'd t-shirt. He recounted joining the WSG in February of 2004 as the third or fourth member from the United Kingdom. Now there are over 400 members in the UK. He urged others to get involved and post their questions, suggestions and bug fixes. He wanted to be honest about the pros and cons of web standards. He was a bit controversial perhaps, but first gave a history of standards, and where they're heading.

He started with an example of the screw, and how before settling on an international standard, it was a pain to try to mix and match parts from various countries. It was particularly troublesome for Britain to use American aid during World War II, because all of our vehicles had to be re-outfitted for use with their hardware. In the end, this is what forced standardization around the American methods, leading to universal interchangeability.

This analogy was carried through for other examples of de-facto standards such as the video tape. There was competition initially between Sony's Betamax and JVC's VHS format. VHS ultimately won out though, because JVC made VHS "open-source" so to speak, whereas Sony kept their's proprietary, not unlike how they are handling things in the music industry.

This is of course what the web went through in the 1990s, with each browser manufacturer offering their own implementation of various features and quirks. In the end, Netscape conceded defeat to Microsoft, and for years IE dominated the scene. From the ashes of Netscape of course rose Firefox, arguably the most standards-compliant browser yet. In the meantime, Microsoft invented the iframe and XMLHttpRequest, which are key in Ajax.

So, while innovation spurred by competition is good, so is the eventual agreement upon a set standard by which we conduct business in a particular industry. Andy's argument is that the standards battle is being won, though it might not be over just yet. The focus then, needs to shift from evangelization to documentation - teaching others how to best use them, as opposed to convincing them that they need to in the first place.

Maintaining JavaScript:

Christian Heilmann was next up to bat, and did a good job following up Andy's talk. Christian took the same pragmatic approach, and pointed out that many of the effects and libraries out there are experimental at best, and that very few seek to solve practical problems. Even fewer actually have decent support and documentation. Because of this, there is inherent danger in letting such libraries do all the work, without understanding the underlying JavaScript.

He talked about how we all love to innovate and do cutting-edge stuff, but we don't really like to maintain other people's code, and certainly don't like writing up boring explanations of how things work. Ironically, much of the work in the web industry at large companies involves maintaining legacy code. Therefore, we should get used to writing documentation or at the very least commenting our code, so that when we or others come back to it, we have some idea of why things were done in certain ways.

His whole presentation sort of whizzed by, and he kept everyone laughing most of the time. I could go more in-depth, but the crux of what he said is also contained in his recent article on Vitamin, entitled The Importance of Maintainable JavaScript. Sprinkle in a few references to drinking and imagine him poking fun at Andy for being a certified diving instructor, and you've got the essence. Also, get his book JavaScript with DOM Scripting and Ajax…

After Party:

The after party was pretty fun, albeit very smokey and unnecessarily loud for a club that didn't have much of a dance floor. The building had the architecture of a restaurant, but was trying to exude the ambiance of a club. Anyway, what made it fun was not so much the location but the people. Faruk and I helped some sorry blokes lose their money in Foosball. I think they were either very bad, drunk or possibly both. We won 6 games to 0.

Brighton / Clearleft

At the WSG after party, I managed to catch up with Jeremy Keith, who invited Olga and I to visit Brighton, which is only about an hour south of London by train. A few days later we spent a night at Jeremy's place. We put my Macbook and his iBook side-by-side, comparing glare (little difference). He showed us around town, and we got to check out Brighton's boardwalk.

I have to say that Andy Budd is quite the tour-guide and connoisseur, insisting that we try "proper" English tea and scones. An experiment ensued, as to whether cream then jam or vice versa makes for the better culinary experience. That remains undetermined and hotly debated in Britain.

Later, I gave Jeremy a run for his money in Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. Sadly, I lost when he answered the final question correctly before me. It was a very close game though, and could have easily gone either way. I can only attribute the loss to my jet-lag and Jeremy's home turf advantage - photo. Ever a gracious host, he rubbed it in by playing the DVD victory sequence.

The next day, we met up with the rest of the web Jedi masters at the Clearleft office (photo here), and saw a bit more of the town. We had some good Thai food and just shot the breeze about web standards, frameworks and miscellany. They were all very hospitable and down-to-earth. Richard even explained to us how cricket works. I have a newfound respect for that game, being that it can drag on and on for up to five days.


If we go again, we won't be staying at Piccadilly Backpacker's Hotel, which is quite possibly the worst hotel I've ever seen. It's in Picadilly Circus, which is the name of that area in the heart of London. So, while it is centrally located, it is also very dirty and noisy. And when they say complimentary breakfast, what they mean is "2 pieces of toast." Despite the acomondations, we did enjoy our trip to London. As a whole, our time in England was great, made all the more memorable by the time spent with our new friends in Brighton.