Bookblog: Writing a book about Web accessibility

2005.02.18  Well, I already wrote the book. But when I moved from one Web host to another, the PHP database that ran this Weblog, held together by mucilage and duct tape, blew up. The Bookblog archives have been offline for the better part of a year.

However, I dug them up and am re-posting them here as a single static file. I don’t like the permalinks very much, but it may not be worth it to fix them. (You can actually link to anything on this page if you view the source code. I know that’s a bit much to ask for most people.)


Numbers are in

2003.04.07  Permanent Link  Well, the first sales and royalty statement is in. Royalties: Of course I’m in the hole – computer-book authors always are, save for Danish authors, who don’t need the money anyway. Sales: On track if they remain at that level, worrisome if not.

Also, though the first translation was supposed to be Korean, I note a listing for a Czech translation. First I’ve heard of it. I sent some mail over.

The new year as an author

2002.12.30  Permanent Link  I enjoyed a wee Xmassy moment on the 23rd as I located a single copy of my book in a big-box bookstore. Probably just the right quantity. The typical person denies a book exists until he or she finds it in a large commercial bookstore. Such persons can no longer live in denial.

According to reports I am unable to corroborate in the many books I have consulted but wish to believe anyway, I live next to the oldest street in Toronto. I have had to get used to the hood, and it to me; I live here, passing through, a phrase that seems to epitomize history reasonably well. I terminate my first (partial) year as an author. My rank in history has evolved from puny to small.

Things are improving, then. Slowly.

Unintentional self-parody

2002.11.10  Permanent Link  Before the book was published, I toyed with the idea of writing a parody Amazon “customer review” from the kind of person who hates absolutely everything about my approach. That kind of parody almost writes itself. I decided it might be tempting fate, plus Mikey the N said I shouldn’t, so it never saw the light of day.


The book is only three weeks old and already, life imitates art! Here’s to you, Terry J. King!

It’s a boy (or moral equivalent)!

2002.10.16  Permanent Link  The book is here. Marc and I spent the afternoon flipping unbelievingly through actual printed copies of the book I wrote and he designed. We are flummoxed by the fact that a year and a half of effort has resulted, as we promised, in “a beautiful object you will love to read.” It is and you will.

Now comes the task of promotion. Expect quite substantial and prolonged updates to this site over the next weeks and months.

Overdue labour

2002.10.01  Permanent Link  [Heavy resigned sigh, vacant look into the offset middle distance] I dunno... I have not lived up to my commitment to pull an Anthony Burgess and act as though I have a fatal brain tumour. (I do not. But I told myself I would act that way.)

My “issue” is procrastination. I am an honest vegan straightedger. What other vices could I have? This one’s big enough.


Addiction is taking a box that my parents gave me engraved with the words GRADUATE WITH HONORS and using it to store pot, pipes, papers, cigarettes, rolling tobacco, and ashtrays.

The problem with self-employment is the lack of structure, which manifests itself in the lack of milestones. Actual milestones could be dug up, as perhaps by comparing file sizes on the project you’ve been nibbling away at for weeks. But if proof of your existence can be measured in bytes, you’ve got a problem.

Graduation is a milestone, one that brings into relief a constant, your parents. I didn’t attend either of my graduations. (B.A. in linguistics, diploma in engineering.)

I do not remember my last birthday party, and I haven’t been near a Christmas tree in five years.

But now a milestone beckons: Publication of the book.

Am I being a downer? I’m trying not to be a downer.

From the associate publisher (dates re-rendered in words for clarity):

Your book is scheduled to be bound about October 8 (give or take a day or two).... We’ll have your book in our warehouse on about October 15 which means it will get to bookstores about 14 days from there (by the time it goes through their warehouses and such).

October 29 due date?

Building Accessible Websites: The Hallowe’en Edition!

Actually, that’s a pretty good milestone, come to think of it. I can dress up as my own cover illustration. I am perhaps not altogether sure about the wig.

But what am I going to do to celebrate? I asked this already:

“How does a nondrinker celebrate finishing the book he’s writing, 141,000 words later?” I asked the 6′5″, salt-’n’-pepper-haired forklift operator at the Eagle last night. “I dunno,” he said irritably in his dead-giveaway gay voice. “Eat a chocolate bar.”

Well, I’m eating bittersweet chocolate as I write this. Does it count?

By the end of the month, I will have the capacity of holding the “beautiful object you will love to read” in my own two hands. (The same holds true for Marc, the designer.) While still an inanimate object, possessing the finished book will embody the Barkerian principle that we are artists because, though conventionally barren, we need to reproduce. One’s baby will have been delivered to the world, Hoovered clean, and finally unloaded from the incubator.

I don’t know what I’m going to do at that point. What is there to do?

I dunno.

Sweet mother of God, it’s done

2002.08.26  Permanent Link  All 2,000-odd corrections have been entered into HTML and Quark (that is, 4,000 corrections – you try that sometime). Marc has reflowed the book, a horribly tedious and manual process in Quark due to its inability to accept advanced line- and paragraph-break logic. The cover is done to our satisfaction.

HTML files have not been completely assembled, but all the various headers and metadata (Dublin Core, link tags, the whole shebang) are ready.

Hoping for September publication. For frigging real, folks.

1,800 down, 200 to go, and counting

2002.08.02  Permanent Link  The accessibility author finds that his eyeballs congeal after appraising two chapters of Moveable Type– and self-edited copy in the run of a day. Do keep in mind we are talking about 2,000 changes inked and penciled onto a book by Moveable Type (five different colour schemes – red pen for mandatory flat-out errors, green pen for suggestions, green highlighter for font questions, red highlighter for ligatures and ranging figures, and pencil for widows and orphans), plus a hundred or so of my own corrections in a separate book. All must be entered in HTML here and later re-entered in Quark – across town, when Marc and I start to collapse after three hours.

The books are 500 pages long and weigh four pounds each. The Kinko’s Velo® binding is the only way to go with masses of paper of this sort. Next time, I get masonite covers.

I start Chapter 14 tomorrow.

The scarifying part?

The scarifying part is that, in two distinct editing cycles, copy I know perfectly well I added to the book in one location never made it to another location. It happened again in the last two weeks, even after being on highest practicable DefCon to avoid its recurrence.

Inevitably, another full read of the book will be necessary. This at least I can do myself. With great tedium, but by myself.

I have, incidentally, suggested three full book ideas since signing my contract. All three are keepers. The latest one might actually be kept, and you’re gonna love it. You think Marc and I are typographically obsessive now?

The proof of the pudding is in the text

2002.10.01  Permanent Link  When one leads the massively-parallel “multimedia” life<hyphen>style of the modern accessibility author, time can have a tendency to slip through the neck of the hourglass.

What, therefore, you may ask, is our mission status?

Our mission status is:

Moveable has returned its proofed pages of the book. Terrifying, consternating accuracy was apprehended in Moveable’s 2,000 or more corrections. I had separately done my own read. That gives us two corrected submasters to deal with. Later, in the Building Accessible Websites Pyjama-Party World Tour™, we will compare both submasters to see if we can spot a single page that both of us left alone. Otherwise every page has an error or, much more likely, as many errors as facets on the eye of a fruitfly, each of which must be assessed and acted on – look at it, decide if the correction is valid, then actually do it, all of which is not to be underestimated.

Moveable provided expert design opinions on request; fed corrections to the book’s Canadian English (what is the right way to write “upper and lower case”?); spotted every lining figure that should be ranging, every missed ligature (including ct/st ligatures), every use of curled rather than neutral quotation marks and vice-versa.

(You mean your computer book doesn’t use ranging figures and ligatures and flubs the distinction between curled and neutral quotes?)

Moveable suggested wording changes by the dozen, some quasi-telepathically identical to my own; Moveable actually researched the title of the Madonna song and confirmed that it is in fact “Deeper and Deeper” rather than what I had written, “Deeper & Deeper.”

Scarifying, shurely?!

If you are writing or publishing a book and have not budgeted for Moveable’s proofing, what you are actually doing is glorified laser printing. With a mere eight known errors that Moveable missed (we caught them anyway), we are enormously confident of publishing a solid, rich, beautiful, and accurate book.

And we hired “Dive Into” Mark Pilgrim as accessibility-related technical editor. His “30 Days to a More Accessible Weblog” series has cemented his status as a solid, rich, beautiful, and accurate combined HTML/accessibility expert (by all indications).

Marc and I have, moreover, added 17 or more solid, rich, beautiful, and accurate illustrations, and endured ages of solid, rich, beautiful, and accurate text reflow in Quark Xpress. We can think of no better way to expend irreplaceable hours than in wrestling with solid, rich, beautiful, and accurate Quark Xpress, the absolute love of our lives.

It’s all happening. It is. Wait till you see what you get.

Where is the damned book?

2002.05.10  Permanent Link  The damned book is again being proofed. Then the suggested corrections will have to be entered, plus necessary updates. (It is no longer true that Flash is inaccessible, as I have documented elsewhere.)

Yes, the book is delayed, for reasons that are, in most cases, understandable. Do not draw the conclusion that there are any “problems” holding the book back. Such “problems” are almost all production-related and in many cases impinge on my fanatically high standards. Nouveaux Riders, Moveable Type, my collaborators (not coauthors), and I are going to extraordinary lengths to weed errors out of the book and create a beautiful object you will love to read.

There is nothing wrong. It is all merely taking time.

Your patience will be rewarded. Mine had better be, I’ll tell you that.

The illustrated book

2002.04.14  Permanent Link  Where’s the book? The book remains in the composition stage. This week we add more illos and pull quotes; unflub some small text sections; and send the whole shebang in to Moveable Type for proofing.

And as for another book with a title deliberately selected to cause confusion in the marketplace, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. And God help the authors if I should ever be found in the same room with them. “Open mike” are words that should strike fear into their hearts. Don’t think I do not mean it.

Massively-parallel production cycle begins

2002.03.21  Permanent Link  You want news? You got news. What amounts to final copy for the book has been submitted to New Riders in typeset form. It will now be indexed and proofed in-house. Moveable Type has a somewhat underwhelming site but it is the absolute best typesetting house in the business; Moveable will also proof the book. That merely scratches the surface of what this powerhouse can do, but that’s what they’re signed up for. I’ve known the cats there for a while, by the way, and am pleased to finally benefit from their expertise. I am hell-bent to stamp out errors, you see.

Further small revisions are inevitable before the book is actually printed, but in gestational terms, our water has broken and the baby’s coming.

Update from the undead

2002.01.11  Permanent Link  Absence of updates should not be mistaken for absence of activity.

I’ve learned that not one but two competing books are in progress. I am delighted to hear that. As I have consistently maintained, the greater the number of books on the market on Web accessibility, the more apparent it will be that mine’s the best. (If you want to write yet another book, let me know and I’ll hook you up with publishers.) And in any event, realistically, anyone serious about Web accessibility will buy all the available books. Previous books on the topic justify and validate the topic and trigger a demand for even more books.

Here’s what I don’t get: The authors are writing these books under Kremlin-style secrecy. Now, how laughably pre-Internet is that? The day you sign the book contract is the day your project ceases to be secret. Promote the bejeezus out of it. How is this not self-evident?

Final editing is in process, and production shall begin shortly. I am presently slaving away attempting to locate, annotate, and write cutlines for what could be over a hundred illustrations for the book. Such a task is far more onerous than writing the book in the first place. No, really – I mean that.

Buy ’er

2002.08.26  Permanent Link  Affiliate programs are mostly set up, so go preorder the damned book.

The gay divorcé

2001.10.25  Permanent Link  Just as I know two men who had their boyfriends murdered (and a third whose bf died accidentally), I know two other men whose wives peremptorily announced they wanted a divorce. In each case, it was summarily declared that life had been insufferable for years (for the entire marriage, in fact); she felt “dominated,” presumably in all the wrong ways, and “suffocated.” But all the while, there were no indications whatsoever. It came as a surprise, rather like an attack by four sets of teeth in a Sigourney Weaver franchise.

This, of course, has now happened to me. No one’s dead, but divorce papers were filed. I now have not one but two new editrons (an editor and an editrix), and it was all rather shocking and painful. Still and all, I have not in the past apologized and cannot now apologize for my personality. (I actually embody a Piscean duality, as even this humble BOOKBLOG will attest. In like fashion, it yet does and yet does not bother me that I am not to everyone’s taste.)

On the other hand, the accessibility technical editor is onboard alongside the HTML tech editor, whose name a concerted Web search could locate; Eric Meyer and Tantek Çelik have, moreover, forestalled undue embarrassment in my stylesheets chapter. A second access-related book proposal is in process at an affiliated publisher.

As for my other empires of accessibility: The wheels are creaking.

If you’re at all interested, I would suggest watching any of the small number of DVDs with audio description, all of which also invariably carry captions, subtitles, and dubbing in combinations. In lieu of doing genuine work, I spent a day assembling all known facts on this fascinating topic, adding yet again to the litany of self-incriminatingly microdetailed issues on which I am the world’s sole authority.

I did say the wheels were creaking. In truth, I should have much more going on than I actually do.

Official existence

2001.10.15  Permanent Link  In days of yore, a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper on but three occasions: When she is born, when she marries, and when she dies.

Now, though, you don’t exist on the social register until you have your own Amazon book page. And finally, I do. The author blurb may need updating.

I can print!

2001.09.19  Permanent Link  You may well be wondering what in Sam Hill is going on. Currently, I am waiting. The technical editor is tech-editing, but I have received no copy yet. Still. Even though I have been filing since March.

The plan all along was to use two tech editors: One for general HTML technology, another for accessibility. It became impossible to locate an accessibility tech editor sufficiently unaffiliated with the WAI; hiring anyone in tight with the Web Accessibility Initiative would be a clear conflict of interest and would simply invite trouble given that I contradict some of its advice. (Among other things, the fact that such an editor would have inside knowledge of forthcoming criticism would enable the WAI to take special actions they would not otherwise do. To a certain degree, it would tip them off.)

At any rate, one ideal candidate turned me down twice, but someone else was hiding in plain sight all along. Why didn’t I think of him before? He may actually go along with it, assuming he gets over the fact that two skyscrapers were blown to dust virtually in his backyard. This may understandably take a while.

In other news, we will probably use my designer friend for the inside of the book, though he hates the cover (as many will); the included CD-ROM will be fully graphic-designed and will carry custom CD, file, and folder icons, betraying the level of care I am applying here, to say nothing of the coloured Tyvek envelope I want; and, most encouragingly, we will go out-of-house for proofing, details of which will emerge later.

I claimed merely to be waiting. I am also procrastinating, and that means trouble. (“A lesbian without a project is a menace to society” – Scott Thompson.) To my great surprise, the bombing left me slightly fucked-up.

But in other good news, I finally overcame the absolute lack of useful advice from all my Mac-using friends and the various Mac stores I frequent. They all knew for months that I could not print from Girl Power to my old LaserWriter IINT, which lacks Ethernet. All they suggested was buying a new printer, or at least upgrading the parentboard to that of a IIg. I actually bought a IIg board offa eBay, but it did not work; I allegedly installed it wrong, according to the seller, and it has taken months to receive a refund, which to this day I still do not have. I think a not-unsavage evaluation will need to be posted.

In all this time, no one bothered to mention the AsantéTalk adapter that bridges between Ethernet and LocalTalk. I schlepped out and bought one today, and was printing immediately. I have thus gained another reason to hate local computer stores, and will actually take it up with them; they wasted my time, which is actually possible to do even for a self-employed procrastinator.

Yet more competition

2001.09.03  Permanent Link  I received a snatchmail last week declaring:

I stumbled over your Weblog site during a heavy day researching. I’m developing a book on accessibility, so of course I’ve been nosing around wondering if your book is in direct competition – and of course it is, so that settled that question. Then I read your blog entry for the 28th, and saw that you’d had a, well, divergence of opinion with your editor.... So, not being one to sit around until the dust has settled, I’m writing to you to ask you whether you are still publishing with New Riders, or if you’re looking for another publishing house.

Well, I see now it was theoretically unclear that the putative technical editor does not work for New Riders any more than I do, but one wonders: What part of “It will now be exclusively revealed that Round 1 of the book has been finished” do you not understand?

This correspondent then comes within a centimetre of offering to publish the book if New Riders won’t.

If you’re keen on writing a book in competition with mine, do please write me and I’ll hook you up with this correspondent.

I welcome competition, as I have explained before. Why? Well, my book’s gonna be better. The greater the range of rival books the clearer that basic truth becomes.

Navbars à go-go

2001.09.03  Permanent Link  You want to help with the book?

Of course you want to help. Because you know you’ll get a nice wet kiss on the cheek in return. (Meningitis alert, shurely?!)

I’m looking for examples of Web sites using certain user-interface techniques. Two of interest are:

  1. Quite graphically beautiful imagemaps (like Iwan Thomas’s face)
  2. Sites with multiple rows of imagemap navbars (not necessarily Amazon-style tabs). I’ve never seen much beyond four layers, and even that is rare (although Telstra has six!)

Must to avoid: Anything that is both obvious and American. Nonobvious American and obvious foreign and nonobvious foreign are all preferred. English language discouraged, actually.

If any of you visit sites regularly with these features, let me know about them, and/or if you run across any in your travels, ditto. Full acknowledgement in book, of course.

I have a lot of examples myself, but you can never actually have too many, and I kind of want to avoid populating the book with screenshots from Web sites promoting 200-pound strawberry-blond Olympic sprinter d00dz unnecessarily.

Target marketing

2001.10.16  Permanent Link  I opened up my snatchbox the other day and found this message:

From: Melissa Hall – Usablenet
Subject: Web Accessibility News Update from UsableNet and Macromedia

Dear Joe:

I am writing to you as I have some information for you on a technology solution for accessibility and usability by UsableNet. I believe that you are the webmaster at NUblog and thought perhaps our product might be something that would interest your audience.

We have news on a free Dreamweaver extension for testing web sites for accessibility and free seminars where web designers can learn for free the basics of good accessibility design.

My name is Melissa Hall and I have joined the UsableNet team working with Macromedia in order to provide key influencers, like you, a point person to learn about the latest from our company on usability and accessibility. Anything you need I can get you, including product reviews, screen shots and interviews.

So, on to the details. UsableNet and Macromedia have joined to bring practical help to over 1 million users of Dreamweaver and UltraDev. UsableNet offers testing tools and instructional content for accessibility and usability and Macromedia, as we all know, offers Authoring tools and the largest professional web design user base. The beauty of our partnership is the ability to affect how the majority of content is produced.

Your comments and questions are welcome and I hope I can continue to bring you information of interest on this subject.

Details on the following accessibility activities:

  1. Dreamweaver and UltraDev 508 Accessibility Evaluation tool – new version
  2. New Macromedia Accessibility Resource Center
  3. Web Accessibility Seminars – August and September

[Endless flaccid marketing sell job deleted. – Ed.]

Melissa Hall
UsableNet Inc

What an astonishing coincidence!

Like so many other “Webmasters,” I am aswim with this handicapped thing, because it is just too weird for me to understand. I am sure I can talk my boss into footing the bill for whatever kind of training these people are offering, because it must be good – Macromedia’s already behind it, and I’m a big Flash fan. I’ve dealt with a lot of chintzy computer training before (I’m not sleeping with that producer again) and I think it’s really important to work with people who really know their target audience.

I’m man enough to admit there’s a lot I could learn from these people. They’re obviously experts.

Ain’t over till it’s over, &c

2001.10.16  Permanent Link  It will now be exclusively revealed that Round 1 of the book has been finished. One emphasizes that this is not interchangeable with the “Eureka!”-style exclamation “The book is done!” for the simple reason that I still, to this day, have not received any copy back from technical or other editors.

It will further be exclusively revealed that the first choice of tech editor, a man whom I’ve known online for years, who has sent me electronic-mail messages that are, without exaggeration, the absolute cruelest, most vicious, most hateful, and most belittling ever encountered in my ten years online, has shitcanned the editing project. I was boxed into a corner in the first place. I had to accept this choice of tech editor because there were no other options. Months later, all I got back from this online potentate was a set of basic introductory questions, including this complaint:

someone will make a fuss about the fact that a book on accessibility requires at least a post-secondary-school education in order for it to be fully understood, and a good five years of grad school in order to be fully appreciated :)

It’s not that hard to bloody understand.

En tout cas, this editor has left the project to write his own book. (Actually, his second. With each little hint, I turn this entry more and more into a gossip-column blind item.) It is apparent in retrospect that he was just killing time until the ink was dry on his contract, at which point he would announce his departure.

I now have a different tech editor, a rising name in the business, who I’m sure will do a good job after he admits that he derived the title of his forthcoming book and lecture after an article I wrote. He does that, we’ll get along fine.

I must also add a page or two to the end of each chapter, plus fill in a little bit of back matter.

It ain’t over till it’s over. But most of it is over.

I can’t believe it, either.

“How does a nondrinker celebrate finishing the book he’s writing, 141,000 words later?” I asked the 6′5″, salt-’n’-pepper-haired forklift operator at the Eagle last night. “I dunno,” he said irritably in his dead-giveaway gay voice. “Eat a chocolate bar.” Our blue-collar hero, straight out a song by Bruce Springsteen, if only in a parallel universe, became even more irritable, and decided he really had to head out to the “deck” to sit down.

Yes, well, I love you too, honey.

And speaking of wordcounts

2001.08.27  Permanent Link  Yes, I seem to have written 141,000 words.

All in HTML, and all in BBEdit. Yes, I am writing an entire book in HTML. Why? It is easier to upconvert to other formats than it is to clean out the crud of a word processor’s HTML. We have to provide validated XHTML files on the CD-ROM anyway for screen-reader users and everyone else, so I figured it was easier to start clean.

Here are the sizes of the chapters. Not everything is complete yet; all chapters will increase in size; at least one chapter will be radically revised; chapters are not listed in order; back matter remains to be updated.

Wordcounts for Building Accessible Websites
The access manifesto 2,525
How to read this book 873
What this book will teach you 4,548
Why bother? 6,164
What is media access? 1,892
How do people with disabilities use computers? 2,555
The structure of accessible pages 6,766
The image problem 8,032
Navigation 27,488
Text and links 8,102
Forms 8,686
Multimedia 12,234
Stylesheets 5,595
Type and colour 12,293
Tables and frames 14,010
Certification and testing 5,857
Future dreams 4,893
Back matterWordcount
Access and the law 7,550
Language codes 1,256

The observant reader will note that I appear to be showing my cards before the end of betting, but not really. Note no chapters on JavaScript, which I know nothing about, or PDF, which is not yet ready for prime time.

(I’ve written over 5,000 words of an abortive PDF chapter already. PDF accessibility needs its own book; Adobe already offers about 60 pages of consumer-level documentation and a good 40 pages of developer materials, all of which translate into a 250-page book. But the entire system is too primitive to be used, let alone the subject of a book. I am the obvious choice to write it, eventually.)

Why do we write?

2001.08.28  Permanent Link  I had an argument the other week, resulting in the loss of nookie.

The argument concerned my refusal, now nearly ten years old, to sign contracts that give too many rights to publishers, or anyone else, for that matter. Like signing over all rights (an example actually encountered), or all electronic rights, or so-called nonexclusive rights in which I receive no cut of the action when my work is resold. I have gone to enormous lengths to stay consistent with this philosophy, which is not a conceit on my part, or at least it is not merely a conceit. Not only am I right, as high a power as the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with me. So don’t bother arguing (for “expediency,” for “exposure,” for “take the money and run,” for anything), because you’re not going to get anywhere. Even if I entertained the tiniest doubts about the righteousness of this cause, the time to sell out is long since past. I’m in this for the duration.

In what, exactly?

Why do we write?

The reasons are many. Select whichever one you like. The rationale that resounds strongly for the invert artist was articulated by Clive Barker in a memorable interview on Big Life, the late, lamented CBC alternaculture newsmagazine. (We didn’t know how good we had it. We’ll never see a show like that again.) Seen sashaying down Church St. as if by birthright, unrepentantly puffing a cigar, shot from down below for full master/servant effect, Barker explained his theory, which has the virtue of simplicity: Inverts generally do not have children, but the need to reproduce, to issue our seed unto the world, remains in force. We are still human. We express our impulses differently at times, but the impulses are not different.

Our children, then, become our artworks.

Children leave the nest but carry our essence with them. Artists merely send their kids out into the world without the bother of grade school, band practice, and bailing them out of the drunk tank. Yes, we may hide behind the rationalization of “self-expression,” but the entire purpose of creating art is to get it out to the world. Is it self-expression if you’re the only audience? Hardly. And anyway, even secret diarists know perfectly well that their journals will be discovered, if only posthumously.

This is why we write. In the case of this book, I’m also doing it for the money. But we write to perpetuate our lineage, to extend our lifespans, to bring our babies into the world.

So of course you can’t own my babies. License them, sure. But not own.

The home slog

2001.08.19  Permanent Link  In theory, the book will be finished soon, but the final slog uphill through cold molasses is progressing so slowly that I have opted not to add misery to your lives by going into details. Not today, anyway. Perhaps later this week might do.

“Sarcastic and prickly”

2001.08.22  Permanent Link  I now threaten to attain international-megastar status via the profile of me in which it is alleged I am the king of closed captions.

I will nonetheless confirm the allegation.

12,000 damn words

2001.07.31  Permanent Link  Chapter on Multimedia now out the door. There I was thinking I’d write a few paragraphs saying “Captioning and audio description are too difficult for you even to consider. Hire outside professionals, as long as they’re not Canadian.” So much for that. So much for it after nearly two weeks, at least. That seems to be how long it takes to write a chapter. How chilling.

I suppose I should explain my philosophy of art at a later time, having undergone an unpleasant argument about it with my photographer friend the other week.

What about graphic design, you ask? It is currently contentious. I don’t want to jinx it. But I will say we’re going to beat the shite out of laughably amateur pictographs like those of Apple and GBH.

(Hi, Kynn!)

Pictures worth $1,000

2001.07.15  Permanent Link  I have finally updated and relaunched all my 35 or so accessibility pages so they:

  1. are valid XHTML
  2. look like something designed in the 20th century
  3. are compatible with printing
  4. no longer embarrass me and make me feel like a Geocities “Here’s pictures of my kitty!” calibre of Web author

though that does rather remind me how much I genuinely do want a kitty around the house.

What’s up with the book? Colourblindness and stylesheets chapters out the door. (Both will make waves.) Book cover art largely finalized. (Ditto.) Cover typography and copy undetermined.

Roiling discussions on book typography underway. It’s all gonna boil down to money. I fear I will be forced to pay for the sins of other authors in this “initiative”: “We spent money on them and you tell us their books are full of problems, so we’re not spending that kind of money on anyone else ever again.” Of course, what I want won’t necessarily cost more. I merely anticipate resistance to spending anything beyond the internally-billable cost of the publisher’s in-house professionals.

I have a discount on Jaws, the screen reader, which I will engage assuming I ever get paid.

I am watching, with mounting horror, the increasingly likely requirement in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 to provide graphics. Yes, Virginia, we go from discouraging graphics to requiring them. If your text is too complicated for certain learning-disabled groups to understand, you may be required to draw us a picture. It’s not a done deal, and there is more than a little opposition to this wretched excess, which will single-handedly turn the entire project of Web accessibility into a laughingstock.

The exact phraseology (as far as I can determine from the hopelessly disorganized quicksand that is the Web Accessibility Initiative’s unwieldy thicket of standards documents) goes like this:

Checkpoint 3.4
  1. Illustrations must be designed to portray important concepts or relationships employed in the content.

How’s that for a chilling example of the ambiguities of the passive voice?

One could interpret this to mean “If you provide illustrations, they must be designed to portray important concepts or relationships employed in the content.” It’s just vague enough that the doomsday-scenario interpretation – “For each and every document, you must design illustrations to portray important concepts or relationships employed in the content” – is entirely enforceable.

The putative aim is to ameliorate the impenetrability of text for learning-disabled persons. (WAI physician, heal thyself.) By creating such graphics, we entrain a requirement to make them accessible through alt, title, and longdescription, thereby adding more words.

(There’s a precedent: The wordless bumper at the end of WGBH television programs had to be altered once audio description came into force. A blind person could not know what was going on. So the voice-over “A production of WGBH Boston” was inserted, which then had to be captioned. Fortunately, the recursion ended there.)

I emphasize that no decision has been reached. One could, however, draw many parallels to the takeover of other activist movements by extremist fringe elements. First we dealt with the anti-graphics extremists: Essentially every other accessibility expert on earth is hostile to graphically-rich Web sites. In their conception, graphics simply are not necessary; text removes barriers. (They may tell you otherwise, but deep down it hurts and offends them that the Web in totum does not resemble a 1994 CERN research paper.) Now the learning-disability contingent is on the verge of persuading everyone that illustrations are not merely helpful but necessary. In their conception, words are insufficient; text is a barrier.

Both sides have valid points. I sympathize with both. I wrote an agent provocateur newspaper article back in 1995 (!) that appeared to discount the importance of Web graphics. But here in the real world, we must find ways to make text and graphics and everything else online fully and elegantly accessible. It’s one thing to require an alt text; it’s quite another to require an illustration. The latter is not at all the inevitable converse of the former.

Nothing’s final yet. There is no reason to push the panic button. It is, however, important to understand just what is afoot. (The issue is discussed at length on the W3C-WAI-GL mailing list. Jason White has fairly summarized the range and state of current opinion.)

In other news, I am feeling unappreciated. (Love you too, Kynn.)

I Dream of Dalton

2001.07.07  Permanent Link  What’s the other fun thing about the study of colour vision? (Or the fun thing, if it’s all by itself?) It’s the discipline’s progenitor, John Dalton, about whom you may read at a page that scintillates the eyes but is likely not exactly, not totally, not entirely inaccessible to Daltons.

Daltons, you see, are the colourblind. It’s like Tourette’s or Down’s or something, only not possessive. Except it seems that Dalton possesses them all nonetheless.

Researchers in Daltonism publish an occasional newsletter, ICVS Daltoniana. Ah, Daltoniana. It’s sooo dreamy. It’s John Hurt labelling a loving scrapbook of Jason Priestley clippings BOSTOCKIANA.

It’s Liz Smith moonily doodling Mrs. Rock Hudson over and over in her notebook before securing its locket and drifting off in her nightie.

That John Dalton. He’s so dreamy.


2001.07.06  Permanent Link  After a month’s work, a chapter dedicated largely to colourblindness has left the building. I provide the first-ever genuine, scientifically-verified advice on how to handle colour confusions online. (It took two weeks at the library and rather a lot of telephoning around.)

The really shocking part? There are lots of cases in which you may leave colours confusable if other information remedies the confusion. This tends to contradict official Web Accessibility Initiative diktats, but nobody else has done this degree of research. (Everyone must wait until the book comes out to read it.)

I am also inches away from licensing some useful math, not to mention many plug-ins, cheatsheets, and utilities, to enable really comprehensive simulation of colour deficits for so-called colour-normal designers – way better than the hodgepodge of utilities and simulators we presently deal with online.

And then there’s my radical advice on type size. You won’t believe how simple it all is.

As difficult as everything was to this point, that was all the easy part. It gets worse from here.

By the way, it becomes ever more apparent that the longer you work in the accessibility biz, the more sarcastic and pointed you become. It seems to be the rule, in fact. My sole distinction is being rather quite public about it. Whenever accessibility comes to mind, everyone associates pointedness and sarcasm with me. My image appears next to the entry in the encyclopedia, as it were. Yet I know a raft of other pros in the field who can turn your ears just as red.

What’s up with that?

O’Reilly: Our fingers are in everything

2001.06.19  Permanent Link  Golly. What do we notice over in an annex to the W3C-WAI-GL mailing list?

We need to talk to O’Reilly about writing the Web accessibility O’Reilly book. The techniques are going to be in a relatively disjointed flow. We need to present things in a way that shows techniques interacting with one another. When you are writing a standard on how to do things, there is an accompanying book that says what it means.

(Emphasis added.)

Accordingly, we can expect the appearance of an official Web Accessibility Initiative how-to book from the mighty O’Reilly. Good luck hookin’ up with an editor who can handle something more taxing than getting her nails done.

But wait. Does this not indicate that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are so ill-written, labyrinthine, and impracticable that they require a companion volume?

Isn’t this A Brief History of Time all over again?

It’s one thing for outside observers to deconstruct and elucidate the WCAG morass. We have license. For the standards body itself to write a here’s-what-we-really-meant volume is vaguely improper. The patient is very ill indeed if a treatment like this is countenanced.

It is of course understood that I support the production of nominally rival books and training materials. I actively help other authors, to the point of insult. But an arm’s-length relationship to the Web Accessibility Initiative may remain prudent.

Self-defeating? You don’t say!

2001.06.19  Permanent Link  Here’s a cutie. One notes an article over at some joint called Network World Fusion (not a new raver-kid disco genre, shurely?!). It details the various shitting of bricks underway in the tech industry over the U.S. Section 508 requirements, which take effect Thursday. (But they’re not retroactive, no matter what you’ve heard, so let us maintain decorum.)

En tout cas, don’t you love the sidebar entitled “Accessibility Aids”? It’s a lovely textual table. Except it’s in the form of a GIF image, and nothing is clickable.

Way to go, Network World Fusion! Keep waving those glowsticks!


2001.06.18  Permanent Link  Life has begun again. I am soaking up to my rods and cones in research on colourblindness. I have a theory, quite possibly unworkable, on a new set of advice to give my esteemed readers. I’ve researched a panoply of scientific topics over the years, but this one is making my eyes cross.

In a curious historical coincidence, virtually everyone on earth can see the colour blue. Maybe it’s a good thing blue is the default colour of hyperlinks.

More in due course. The horse is accelerating to full gallop: “They were calling ‘Wildfire.’ ”


2001.06.12  Permanent Link  Some dick wrote in asking for my help in writing a vaguely different accessibility book for some other publisher, which I was all too happy to give. (Why not? Mine is still gonna be better.)

After various snatchmails back and forth, in which I gave all sorts of advice, I get this:

Some might say that you take a risk being so candid on your Web site about difficulties you’re having writing the book and your attitude towards marketing, given that the writing and promotion process is as important as the expertise in pulling a successful book project together. But if I said that, I’d just be nudging you to see if you bite really...

Just why are writing and promotion grouped together in opposition to “pulling a successful book project together,” whatever that means? This kid talks like a Hollywood talent agent.

I was not aware I had an attitude about marketing, apart from “Promote the fork out of it, translate it into every language you possibly can, and let’s do Braille and talking-book versions while we’re at it.” Is it not very late in the Weblog era to suggest that keeping everything bottled up inside – keeping it in the family – has anything going for it?

It’s little zingers like this that test my goodwill and loyalty and threaten to turn me into an enemy forever. I assume this up-and-coming author doesn’t want that. Or, if he doesn’t particularly care, maybe he could just leave me alone.

Further competing authors could of course still get in touch. No hard feelings.

Bargaining, denial, acceptance

2001.06.09  Permanent Link  I had a reassuring telephone conversationette with Vicqué this week. I have no cause for paranoia, it is now concluded, despite having veritably swum in it for a fortnight.

She did not allay every single fear, and refused to rule out certain practices. (When an author has a question about content, the first response should never entail quoting the contract back at the writer.) I feel substantially more reassured, or at least not insubstantially less unreassured.

This means nothing. The impossible “Tables” chapter is now a “Tables and frames” chapter, and I am still hopelessly stuck. The next deadline is two weeks hence. I will be lucky to have produced anything at all by that time.

The six-month plan is not working. It cannot be made to work. Since Vicqué has rewritten Mikey the N’s history and told me the “ship date” for the book is now the end of November rather than October, the gig is up anyway.

If the book is being delayed by up to two calendar months, why am I being squeezed like a Cyclops gangster in Casino?

If final copy changes can be executed as far down the road as earliest September, why the rush for me to produce one-quarter of a 350-page book by June 25?

Oh, but there’s more. U.S. Section 508 regulations kick in four days before that. To cover this issue properly, I will have to wait till the dust settles and discuss reality rather than theory. Reality will require time to assert himself after June 21. Flash accessibility (part of a self-contained chapter) is entirely theoretical at this point; the boy who runs accessibility at Macromedia promised to ring and brief me on Flash 6’s improvements, but that hasn’t happened yet. Adobe is quite literally releasing two new plug-ins a month for PDF, and, while I now have Acrobat for both Macintosh and Windows (and VirtualPC to run Windows), I have not pursued this avenue, a chapter of its own.

Just how am I supposed to get all this done, including illustrations and an entire E-chapter on descriptions of visual imagery, by August?

Answer: I’m not.

I am giving up on the tables chapter for now, for the second time. I will try to write something else.

Since I was eight years old I have had no trouble writing whatsoever. This, in other words, is a first.

Out, damned spot

2001.06.05  Permanent Link  You Know You’ve Got a Problem When:

You wake up around 8:00, still in the throes of a dream of Aussie-indie-cinema complexity, and instantly bash yourself because you “still” haven’t gotten “anything” done. Said self-flagellation takes place while still half-asleep.

This is becoming an abusive relationship.

“Volcanic self-loathing”

2001.06.03  Permanent Link  Where have I been?

Time to invoke the not-Josh half of the Allen Twins:

After a long and jittery day peppered with frustration, unresolved design outcomes and volcanic self-loathing...

Two weeks ago I had a busy early week of meetings, plus a consulting gig with a Major Canadian Broadcaster that went swimmingly.

Since then, I’ve barely been able to get anything done. Photo research, yes. Getting some shooters to sign on, yes. But I haven’t written a jot. Not for the book. I laboured on a piece for A List Apart (my fifth: see “You Own Yourself,” “Flash access: Unclear on the Concept,” “The Web Is Like Canada,” and “Cutting the Cheese”).

Every other minute of the day, I fretted.

What happened to my drum-’n’-bass routine?

What is going on?

Why am I swimming in waves of self-recrimination for spending money? Looking back over my records, I haven’t blown any wads o’ cash. Everything was either necessary or a reasonable indulgence. This is the Maritime heritage coming through again. My friend in Japan has the same psychosis, though its manifestation differs: Dithering about buying an objectively necessary iceBook while pissing away cash reading Wallpaper<asterisk> and pecking away at Internet coffeeshops.

Well, isn’t this what it means to really live? Or are we stuck doing a Bridget Fonda in A Simple Plan? Does that mean we’ll commit any necessary number of murders in hopes of keeping the money?

I don’t want to end up like Bridget Fonda. Having Bill Paxton as a husband simply is not enough.

In the forthcoming payload of chapters, I doubt I’ll be able to finish more than two or three, but they’ll still be 25,000 or more words long. There are a lot of issues at work here, like:

There aren’t a lot of chapters left for me to do, and I think I have two or maybe three deadlines left. I am more or less paralyzed with concern that I’m not going to produce enough for said deadlines.

It is now known that Mikey the N finally reads this blog. No problemo; absolutely everything I write everywhere online is offered with the understanding that it might appear on the front page of the Times one day. But there has been no feedback whatsoever about any of my completed chapters, save for a mention that I flubbed one of them. (“Audio interfaces” was named as a chapter of its own, but there isn’t enough tofu on the bones, so I folded it into the last chapter, “Future dreams.” Vicqué, obsessed as she is with outlines and tables of contents, with which I cannot possibly be bothered, immediately seized on that and rang me, triggering near–cardiac arrest.)

So is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Will I continue to be paralyzed, producing nothing, thus realizing the cause of the paralyzing fear?

I am feeling slightly more mobilized today. Having dinner and sashaying around du Collège last night with sexy redhead wheelchair racer boy Jeff Adams and his surprisingly acceptable Amerikanski army-brat photographertrix gf unit reassured me that an outside world still exists, that life is not limited to an underfurnished prison of an apartment and a Girl Power taskmistress.

Rank perversions

2001.05.20  Permanent Link  The week was replete with perverse media-access phenomena.

Sample: ‘The access manifesto’

2001.05.20  Permanent Link  I feel like posting the whole [expletive] thing, but all of you would blanch at the prospect of reading 70,000 words off a screen or through the unending yammering of synthetic voice.

So here is but one chapter, something that lights a few fires here and there and laugh lustily at the results: “The access manifesto.“

Do you know how long it took me to put together the mildly-revised SAMPLE graphic?

Dean says it’s too long by a third, and Dean knows from length. Retooling. Will be re-posted.

Round 2

2001.05.18  Permanent Link  Round 2 of original chapters have left the building, after travail.

Round 1 of copy encompassed 30,830 words spread over seven chapters. This payload occupies 50,558 words, but in only five chapters. The “Navigation” chapter takes up half of that.

I am expecting Vicqué to tell me I am in breach of the requirement to have submitted 25% of the book. Really? How are we measuring that?

More onerously, the authoress of the showstopping article on Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for Web accessibility has yet to fill out the permission form for inclusion of her article in the book. Technically, Vicqué can declare me in breach of the contract for having submitted the relevant chapter without that paperwork. I rang Mikey the N to that effect today, reaching only his voxmail. I gather everyone knocked off early in Indianapolis today, perhaps to hit the beach.

The issue of “complete” chapters, with every niggling little (or, more relevantly, gargantuan) coding example continues to haunt me as I try to fall asleep. Samples for the “Tables” chapter will require as much work to complete as the chapter itself. Such is my next task.

The possibility, however remote, of being bitch-slapped by a contract-wielding multinational publisher soured my mood considerably until I read the paper and mainlined double espresso. I underwent two more telephone interviews today – one on captioning for Playback (good kid, ignorant, wants to learn more, has TV with decoder, is speaking to a separate “organization” he refused to name), another on the topic of the NUblog–Edelman contretemps.

I realize now I have forgotten relatively large topics in already-submitted chapters. There’s always Rounds 1a and 2a.

Photographers are increasingly going along with my request to include their works.

I sound dour. Yesterday was dour. I met with leading Web-accessibility nabob Jutta Treviranus at UofT, under cloud and in humidity equivalent to the last time I talked to her, when I was accompanied by Paul Arthur, the noted graphic designer.

Paul Arthur: 1924–2001

Paul invented pictographs as we know them and claimed credit for coining the terms signage and wayfinding. (The latter assertion is contradicted in this not-unexcellent article.) In 1996, I edited his book, Effective Environmental Communication Design (EECD), a sequel to the little-read Wayfinding: People, Signs & Architecture, coauthored with Romedi Passini. The latter book dealt with getting around (wayfinding) in the outside world, chiefly around buildings. (When I think of it now, I envision what was known circa the 1960s as the Kennedy compound.) EECD handled wayfinding within buildings.

I had met Paul in researching a story on wayfinding inside the Toronto subway. (It’s a disaster.) I found him cranky and curmudgeonly, demanding nothing but the best. Very much like me, save for a fifty-year age difference.

Editing EECD was a mammoth job, made worse by the fact that Paul was closing up his decades-old design studio, in the process signing on with a disreputable design firm on the outskirts of Rosedale. They never paid him; as a result, he barely paid me. My freelance career was in the tubes due to my refusal to sign contracts that extorted my copyright. (Bet you didn’t know about that. It is, however, public knowledge. And will be very much more public in the weeks to come. I’m also party to the $100-million copyright lawsuit against Thomson.) We got along famously, but the waters in which we swam were tumultuous.

EECD extensively discussed accessibility, and we met up with Jutta for some reason lost to posterity. Something to do with adaptive technology.

We had plans. Paul and a few of his designer friends – in particular, Michael Large, instrumental in forming the Registry of Graphic Designers of Ontario –  imagined an “institute” that researched quantitative and qualitative issues in graphic design. For some reason, I invariably referred to it as the Michael Large Research Institute.

It never got off the ground. In fact, after EECD was done (still not quite publishable, but one more round of work on Paul’s part would have fixed that), I was suddenly barraged with accusations that I WAS IN IT FOR THE MONEY. Actually, I wasn’t.

It’s happened more than once: Things are going fine, when all the while, behind the scenes, a self-contained parallel universe is constructed in which soap-opera nefarious motives rule me. I’m capable of many things, but the kind of duplicity Paul and his cadre had in mind isn’t one of them. I may be a lady, but am I Lady Macbeth?

I always wondered what I had done wrong with Paul. I suppose that is disingenuous. You may presume that I am covering up my Machiavellian past. I cannot prevent baseless presumptions.

When I knew Paul, he had recently been diagnosed with cancer of the spine. Really of the prostate, but it spread. (If you are male and live long enough, you will develop prostate cancer.) Treatment was tolerable and broadly effective. But I learned that Paul passed away last Saturday, May 12, 2001, at age 76. The Toronto Star obituary (link to expire shortly) stated:

“Paul showed his creativity and ingenuity at a very early age.... But it did not turn out to be a financial success... I think his father had to pick up the tab.”

He worked at the National Gallery in Ottawa; designed portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh’s monumental work Portraits of Greatness; and, after Expo 67, was involved with the Discovery Train which went across the country with a collection of “Canadian art and ingenuity.” [I haven’t thought about the Discovery Train in 20 years. Have you?]

He also worked a lot in the United States. But... “while he was doing all these big things, he did smaller assignments, too... the logo for the American Library Association, a silhouette of a head and torso reading a book. It’s used internationally as a library symbol, but he regarded it as so inconsequential it’s not mentioned in the memoirs. I mentioned it one day and he said, ‘Oh, yes, I did that.’ Paul didn’t like being called a designer. I never did get out of him what he preferred to be called.”

Actually, during the many discussions of the formation of the Society of Graphic Designers to which I was privy with Paul and Michael Large, the first and only accreditation program for graphic designers in North America (comparable to architects, engineers, and interior designers), Paul invariably referred to himself and his colleagues as graphic designers. (Michael even hinted I could be “grandfathered” into the Society, as if I were remotely qualified. Accreditation today is stringent.)

So this past week, after experiencing the most detailed and cinematic dream of my life – starring Mike Myers in a dramatic role scolding me for ignoring my mother’s death (an unproven event) – I read of Paul’s death. The miserable weather of my meeting with Jutta weighed heavily, yet again as if in pathetic fallacy, as I cabbed up to Rosedale for the reception.

I spotted Paul’s wife Dinah quickly, thank heavens, and introduced myself. She remembered me. Dinah informed me, to my great surprise, that EECD remained unpublished and Paul had still been working on it. I mentioned that its publication now would be well-timed; navigating in cyberspace has made the difficulty of navigating in meatspace all the more apparent.

I chatted in the kitchen with his daughter and stepson, nursing a Christian cranberry juice and tamping down distraction from the new smooth-top twin-oven range. I noted what I now recognize are original rosewood Eames lounge chairs in the salon.

I had arrived late, and had missed the speeches delivered by friends. There was no interest at all in posting said speeches on the Web. Ever since I knew him, the Royal Ontario Museum had been cataloguing Paul’s papers and memoirs; there was no interest in posting any of those online, either, where they are desperately needed to educate generations of illiterate piker designer kids. (I assume the ROM isn’t even close to finishing its cataloguing. I could ask. I suppose I could ask.)

The reception was nearing its scheduled close. The Woman’s Intuition was of two minds: Creep out or say goodbye to Dinah. I figured it ought to be high-class all the way. I asked Dinah if, in the fullness of time (say a month), I should ring her to discuss publishing EECD. Oh, it will take me longer than that to decide, she told me. In the fullness of time, then, I said. I shook hands and collected my coat.

All the while, Dinah held open the door for me, and we kibbitzed about the “Newfoundland summer” weather conditions. Was she being gracious or getting me the hell out? Paul was the kind of man who would hold a grudge. It is possible he spent the last five years – his last five years – fuming about me.

Soundtrack to progress

2001.05.09  Permanent Link  The routine, and it works pretty well, works as follows:

Get up surprisingly early. First time in years I have spontaneously awoken around 0800, as in days of yore. Must be a sign of stability. Check mail. Possibly have another nap. Go out for double espresso. Get back. Just as the world becomes frazzled due to caffeine and protein crash, have some luncheonette, which I now reliably have in the house.

Harness Girl Power. Literally. I now have embodied, almost to the utmost detail, the image in the iMac marketing campaign of said computer linked by umbilicus to headphones. I have the exact same headphones, which are slighly tight on the flanks of the occiput, inducing eventual headache.

At this point I am working. I am also cursing myself for putting off phoning people and pursuing other empires, but that is merely a matter of degree, no more. I am writing as fast as I can, which is not very fast. There’s certainly enough of it: The “Navigation” chapter alone is 23,030 words and counting, which turns out to be a mere 36 pages in Univers 10/11 in a leading word processor. I guess I shouldn’t be so proud of myself. Pride is a sin anyway.

While working, I dial up an online radio station. Usually something playing drum & bass. Neurofunk offers three (only Nº 1 is worth it) and is dead reliable, except for sound dropouts. The occasional show over at 1Groove is tolerated – “Just Jungle,” but not “Renegade Airwaves”; “Sound:Escape” lost it when silken-voiced Kresh left.

Who started me on the opiate of drum & bass? A 6-foot-5 trialsinist from my old biketrials club, of which the only online remnant is this situationist history, an experiment in hyperlinkage, with over 260 <a href>s. He dragged me out to the Comfort Zone. I let him. Later he let me do what I wanted.

I stuck with the music, while he didn’t stick with me, preferring to plug Ajax girls and moon over his unavailable heterosexualist friend (proof, right there, of his real drive).

It was marginally amusing being the second-oldest cat in the place, the top spot going to a hipster-GQ type in tight stretchy high-street outfits with matching girlfriend. Eyes snapped to attention when a magically talented toaster took to the stage, extemporaneously vocalizing to DJ spinning. (He “delivers from the source, as in the only source of art, which I only rarely have tapped. The concept came from Michael Stipe, in fact. I always get in trouble when discussing this; people grow antsy at the supernatural overtones. But I’m telling you, there is a source and one local fellow has direct, on-command access to it.”)

The weekly d&b radio shows were heard. (One was helmed by the host who’s the toaster with the mostest, name unknown to this very day.) “Detonator” clued me into Mocean Worker, alias Adam Dorn, with an impeccable jazz pedigree, who has often been heard at the Black Eagle.

“Brown Paper Bag” by Roni Size was seen on television, in which a man can cause time to stutter back and forth in pause mode by twisting the propmaster descendant of a L’eggs egg. How amusing to watch the King streetcar stagger back and forth in a British music video filmed here.

The stage, then, was set.

I listen to d&b now and I have had to ask myself why. The answer is the formlessness and structurelessness of the genre. Traditional musics offer too plausible a distraction from the unending slog of writing. In rock music, the song begins and ends, and before it does, there is rhythm. In pop music (pace Neil Tennant, far more reliable as a source of lasting pleasure because it will not pretend to be important), you have rhythm and catchiness. Unite the two (in power pop, in pop-punk) and you’re really toast. And not with the most.

D&B, an essentially autistic musical genre, cannot decide where it wants to be, let alone go, from one second to the next. It flows unendingly. You sit down, it plays, you never need to get up. Eternal sounds in nature, like the sea or the wind, would sound like d&b if hopped up technologically, if you had a kind of microscope that sped time and scrunched little sine waves. D&B helps you pass the time without feeling like your life is dripping away.

This whole realization has weighed heavily on me. I used to write about music, way back in the day, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. (The phrase “dancing about architecture” will now be ritually dropped, as if to placate rockist readers. Don Pyle is the sole writer to deploy the cliché properly in 30 years.) It also got me nowhere, really. A file I recently deleted from (which I might as well reinstate) asserted:

Why am I not taking advantage of the freedom of the Web to go nuts and churn ’em out as often as whimsy strikes me?

Well, because whimsy isn’t striking, for one thing. During my four-and-a-half-year tenure as a columnist writing for some 20,000 possible readers, I received almost no feedback whatsoever, apart from the regular meddling of Xtra’s ignorant editors. I think total reader mail numbered fewer than ten letters during all that time – effectively zero, in other words. I ran occasional contests for the hell of it and as a way of estimating readership, and even in a contest that gave away three sets of a dozen CDs – more than $120 worth – I barely received enough entries to justify a random draw. (I think five people entered.) The prevailing impression was that virtually no one was reading my work. (Another option – that it was widely read and so well-accepted that readers couldn’t come up with criticisms or comments or even slavering fanmail – strikes me as farfetched.)

This reader disconection had the effect of making it quite difficult to actually produce the columns – even at the luxurious rate of one a month, even with carte blanche. The fact that the stories I wrote are of such consistently high quality (only two or three out of 56 even flirted with disaster) is, I think, a tribute to the solidity of the column and my approach to it. That doesn’t make writing new columns any easier....

Finally, I give feelings of isolation and futility, possibly even resignation, considerable credit for the drought in new Queer in Your Ear columns. Writing for virtually no one is scarcely worth the trouble.

And just the other day I reacquainted myself with the province of Toronto’s own Popped and its sibling site (though unbilled as such) called RockCritics. God, talk about giving rockist tough guys enough rope to hang themselves. It reminded me once again of how volcanically I despise the almost Gaian consensus of tedious intellectual heterosexualist “rock critic” boys (Dave Bidini, come on down!), who all have exactly the same tastes, drink the same liquor and do exactly the same drugs, and dress in the same second-hand squalor that passes for cool.

They’re outright nauseating. GQ (back to them again) eviscerated the critical consensus in an article many trimesters ago, pointing out how Richard Thompson and Lucinda Williams are at best marginally talented and quite literally nothing to write home about. But the rock boys lionize those two, and so many more. I know this firsthand, because I’ve hung out with them, and put up with them as editors (Peter Howell and Gavin Edwards, come on down!).

With the sole exception of Barry Walters, even the fags have precisely the same tastes, putting rock critics on the same footing as yuppies in domains where inverts and heterosexualists are snobs to the same degree.

I was invited to write for the Eye annual rock critics’ poll. Repeatedly. It’s an honour. Another honouree, many years ago (proof unavailable online), wrote in saying “I deny being a critic.” A fair philosophy. I rocked the rockist boat by listing the Pet Shop Boys’ Very as album of the year, 1995. But that’s just me. It couldn’t be great, could it? Not in the shadow of Pearl Jam.

RockCritics interviewed Rock Critics about “disco.” The only respondents who made any sense whatsoever were the girl and the fellow who kept name-dropping Montreal and Quebec. But I must say Chuck Eddy was the one who nailed it.

In general, I get the feeling that a lot of artsy techno subcultures (especially drum’n’bass and Intelligent Whatever It Is, maybe, but don’t quote me on that) are afraid of hooks. Which means they’re afraid of the pleasure without which parties wouldn’t be parties. Which is such a fucking stupid thing to think that I won’t dignify it with an argument.

The only way I can get any work done is to deny myself the party-boy pleasure of hooks. Wow. As though I miss my weekends back in the frat. I think back to the days of the first Pavement record and get all misty.

Rock-critic boys need to take it up the arse. Or somewhere else that might shut them the fuck up.

Video playlist: Roni Size & Reprazent, “Dirty Beats,” repeatedly and over and over.

Photo permission Q&A

2001.05.07  Permanent Link  My entreaties to photographers and illustrators to license images for adaptation into textual forms are not going over big, so I wrote an entire photo permission Q&A.


2001.05.04  Permanent Link  I am now officially worried that I am working too slowly to meet the next filing deadline, whose exact date I have not looked up in a while so as not to inculcate further angst.

I am working assiduously. Every single day. Except: Today I received my second paycheque (via poste escargot; it was sposta be couriered), so I engaged in a now-familiar cycle of binge consumerism. Apart from buying a saucepan (yes! Paderno!), a formidable psychic barrier was crossed: Actual music was procured. The quintessential nonessential purchase. (Panique Celtique de Manau and the long-sought, long-cherished 69 Love Songs by a conceit of Stephin Merritt.) And Line (“Liné”), the de facto homosexualist sports porn from the fairies who gave birth, as if parthenogenetically, to Wallpaper<asterisk>.

For the first time ever, I will be able to afford to see more than one picture at the homosexualist film festival.

I should be happy.

I’m not unhappy. I am just concerned. The “Navigation” chapter is overrun with vexing details. The current showstopper concerns the integration of tabindex and accesskey in database-driven pages. Rudy Limeback has helped me out. But I feel I will let my readers down without giving full instructions on how to accomplish it in various content-management systems, with which I am supposedly au courant. In reality, with the labyrinthine, almost Machiavellian complexities of the Big Two content-management systems (of which I know nothing, a state that will never be remedied), I may have to settle for letting down my readers.

Photographers and agencies are not reacting well to my requests for free licenses of their works to use as learning materials for writing alt, title, and longdescriptions. I am not concerned. In some cases disappointed, but not concerned.

I am maintaining my authorial voice in the book, but reality is seeping in. I wrote something along the following lines, and wondered where it came from. It was a bit maladroit. Then the next morning I awoke with the exact words singing in my head to make it stronger. I got right up and fixed it.

If you add accesskey, then, you are really coding for a future utopia where:

A lot to ask for. While we’re at it, I have always wanted a Manx cat, and it must be admitted that I have been waiting for a strapping red-haired man with a firm handshake to walk into my life for a very long time.

I mean, I can dream, can’t I?

Do not punch, Bruce Lee tells us. Punch through.

I am hoping, for the love of God, to get the “Navigation” chapter done shortly. Then figure out what the hell to do next. “Tables”?

A ray of unalloyed good news: I have located a not-unstunning article, by two lawyers, describing exactly how the Americans with Disabilites Act quite plainly requires that Web sites in the United States be accessible. Exactly and quite plainly. It’s fantastic, and one of the authoresses is willing to license its adaptation in the book. Here’s the citation:

“ADA and the Internet: Must Websites be accessible to the disabled?” (Americans with Disabilities Act)
Dana Whitehead McKee and Deborah T. Fleischaker
Maryland Bar Journal, Nov.–Dec. 2000, v33 i6 p34–36

You pretty much have to reside within the kill circle of an ICBM targeting the dome of the Capitol Building to have access to that journal. Some law libraries’ online databases can show you a PDF. But the first widespread access to this gem will, one hopes, be in my book.

Shouldn’t I be happy? I should be happy. I’m not unhappy.

How many kinds of snowflakes?

2001.04.30  Permanent Link  Out late last night, doing the Black Eagle, where I now worry about meeting the overwrought nouveau-régime dress code, what with my vegan Doc Martens, Mississauga Girls Hockey bomber jacket, and hats. I got up as usual, and was a wreck all day. Trolled the Bay and the very impressive new Eaton[’]s for saucepans, came home with Ryerson Review of Journalism and Men instead.

Typical housewife shopping experience, really.

“The image problem,” the chapter in my book (this Weblog does concern an actual book) covering accessible graphics, will be supplemented by a raft of images with alt, title, and longdesc prewritten, to use as learning examples.

Certain questions present themselves. A few of them – “Why do saucepans cost a full month’s rent?” and “Why do we have to import Czechs and Hungarians just to regard an intact prepuce?” – can be discarded as the errant musings of an addled housewife.

Another question does seem relevant: What forms do online graphics take? I came up with a list. What am I forgetting here?

  1. Installer screens
  2. Webcams
  3. Logos
  4. Maps
  5. Hitcounters
  6. Portraits, as of authors, as at Salon
  7. Inscrutable buttons (some are so unclear as to make describing them as “uniconic” laughably inadequate)
  8. Product shots
    1. Clothing: Illustrations
    2. Clothing: Photographs
    3. Hard goods, like tractors or tackle boxes
    4. Furniture
  9. Book, CD, and video covers
  10. Comps
  11. Org charts
  12. IA symbols (think of Jesse James Garrett’s canonical “visual vocabulary”)
  13. Animated GIFs
  14. Function icons like print/mail
  15. Operating-system icons, and derivatives, of the Iconfactory/X Icons ilk
  16. Desktops of operating systems, with optional nesting of the VirtualPC ilk
  17. Screenshots
  18. QuickTime placeholders (with and without actual image)
  19. Comix!
  20. Warning or fabric icons
  21. Altavista-style secret graphical codes you are expected to read and type in
  22. Unix and DOS file listings
  23. Photo albums
  24. Imagemaps
  25. DHTML menus
  26. Help screens
  27. Technical illustrations
  28. Numerical graphs
  29. Nature shots
  30. Shopping carts
  31. Icons meaning “link external to this site,” as seen everywhere at
  32. Service manuals
  33. Banner ads!

...and of course editorial photography and illustration.

I reiterate, what am I forgetting here? This is a tricky issue, because we have to relax and expand our conceptions to imagine every single form and category of graphic image we encounter online, most of which we take for granted now and barely notice.

Back in the saddle

2001.04.28  Permanent Link  Back in the saddle this week (not like Affleck and Damon in Brokeback Mountain, shurely?! – Ed.), chipping away at the interminable Navigation chapter. How many ways are there for the accesskey attribute to fail? And I haven’t even started on tabindex, or imagemaps.

(Must to avoid: Nathan Shedroff. What not to do with graphical navigation.)

I would say that, at the current rate of progress, I will not have completed a high enough percentage of chapters by the next due date. And yes, Vicqué counts them. It is not something I have calculated. It is merely the Women’s Intuition talking, and it has been yapping a lot lately. Why, just yesterday it told me to stop my bike at a blind T-intersection. Two previously-invisible cars were soon revealed dueling it out for room heading in both cross directions. With enough width for one point seven cars, let alone two cars plus some queen on a bike.

A candy-coloured clown othey call multitasking

2001.05.01  Permanent Link  Self-impressed deep thinker Peter Merholz is going on a jag about multitasking.

Humans can attend to only one thing at a time. This doesn’t mean that they can’t receive multiple channels of stimulus – we simultaneously see, smell, touch, hear. Hell, we can even receive multiple types of information from our eyes – that which is the focus of our vision, and the periphery. And we make decisions of action based on these multiple inputs. But we’re not truly multi-tasking. We can only pay attention to a single thing... And if something in my periphery triggers my brain, I then attend to that, and lose focus on whatever I was dealing with.

This is hogwash. I then enjoyed a conversation with the infallible pundit, who honed his skills at Wal-Mart.

The author: Then explain why it is possible to watch a film like The Joy Luck Club and simultaneously follow main audio and video, captions, subtitles, and audio descriptions. And I mean simultaneously.

Merholz: It’s not.

The author: Funny, I’ve done it. And I watch TV shows with simultaneous main audio and video, captions, and audio description all the time, and all of the above save for descriptions several hours a day.

I assume you will now state that, since we read from left to right and top to bottom, and hear things in linear order, I wasn’t actually multitasking. Just how finely do we have to slice time before you’ll concede simultaneity, Peter?

Merholz: It depends on the definition of multitasking. You’re not able to attend to all those streams simultaneously. This doesn’t mean you’re not getting information from them.

The author: Untrue. I watch, listen to, and read all at once. In fact, I’ve been known to type E-mails while doing all the above. I know this phenomenon is foreign to your experience, but not to millions of other people. I think you should put your money where your mouth is, buy a couple of videos, and try it yourself.

Merholz: Feel free to deny all manner of research and a real understanding of experience to your heart’s content. Yes, Joe, you are a superman. Bask in it.

The author: “Real understanding of experience?” I am telling you what actually happens under a set of circumstances you haven’t actually experienced.

Yes, Joe, you are a superman. Bask in it.

Knock off the fucking sarcasm, sunshine. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have the same skill I do: Watch, listen, and read simultaneously. It is not a superhuman skill. It is merely one you are discounting, in part because it disproves your theory, which you advance with Nielsenian absolutism.

If this were some kind of illusion of mine, how come I can spot captioning errors as small as a missing period? Any child can tell you it is possible to read and listen simultaneously. Not in sequence, all at once.

What is with your attitude problem, Peter? You don’t know everything.

If we’re unable to attend to two streams of information simultaneously, how can we watch a play, film, or television show? How can we listen and watch at the same time?

If it were really impossible (or if we rubes, ignorant of Merholz’s absolute truths, were actually misinterpreting serial phenomena as coincident), then conventional film subtitling would not work. If Johann speaks Norwegian, the titles read in English, but sound effects are not rendered in text, how are we able to read and listen and notice the phone is ringing onscreen?

How can bilinguals follow the titles and the original dialogue all at once? How are we able to spot errors in captioning? (I’ve been doing that since 1978. Am I fooling myself into believing I can listen to a word and read it at the same time? Try telling children that at storytime.)

The reality? Accessible media prove that simultaneity of attention is possible and, indeed, easy. And an upcoming project of mine will prove it in spades. I’ll be sure to give Merholz an autographed copy, and smack him – with a big kiss – should we ever actually meet. Won’t he be embarrassed, shocked, and aroused all at once?

Naw. I’m the superman, not him.


2001.04.20  Permanent Link  I deem this to have been my first week of rut. I will have to engage the plan to which I had earnestly cloven before starting to write, a plan later discarded as entirely fanciful: Sticking to a daily schedule. I will be disenchanted doing it, but I will hate myself less.

I am vaguely ashamed of having gotten so little done. The Pekingese within the anaconda growls at me and drools.

Worsening things is the fact that I have no excuses whatsoever anymore: More or less enough money to live on, a new computer, and (as of today) a DSL connection. No excuses remain.

As if in pathetic fallacy, Daniel Alfredsson, the spectacular pan-galactically-jawdropping intellectual captain of the Ottawa Senators, was spotted on television explaining that Alexei Yashin’s refusal to appear for the final team meeting shows how much concern he has for the team, “but I don’t care.” A statuesque, educated, Nordic and quite certainly uncircumcised 200-pounder with five colours of body hair, all of them red, should never be reduced to displaying this degree of disgust. It is like making a little girl cry, it’s that much of a sin.

I feel like the Alexei fucking Yashin, barely bothering to phone it in.

Who is the Daniel Alfredsson?

Nearly four hours of sushi with Jeff last night left us slightly maudlin. We are surprisingly unhappy, the two of us.

i (j), t (z, 7)

2001.04.18  Permanent Link  I am not quite procrastinating. I am just finding myself having a nap in the afternoon, fixing myself some sautéed spinach, garlic, beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and Vegan Rella upon rising, listening with some notable disgust at the ongoing CTV and Global television license renewals, and coming over all queasy thereafter. Just the right moment to eat some dates and soymilk and some chocolate.

So I am not quite procrastinating.

It is claimed, by Mikey the N, that not every tiny detail must be nailed down in each chapter before submitting it, despite the contract’s (and his) declarations to the contrary. I remain unreassured. The necessity of dotting every i (and j) and crossing every t (and z and 7) is much too much. I suppose I might as well concede outright that it is paralyzing, a Pekingese sluicing through an anaconda.

I am trying to work on ancillary matter, like statistics, legal requirements, and photos and illustrations.

Table of contents has been largely settled with Vicqué. It goes something like this, and I am not speaking out of turn, because it’s gonna be posted at Amazon in due course anyway:

  1. The Media Access Manifesto
  2. How do people with disabilities use computers?
  3. Why bother?
  4. How to read this bookWhat this book will teach you
  5. What is media access?
  6. The structure of accessible pages
  7. The image problem
  8. Text and links
  9. Navigation
  10. Type and colour
  11. Tables
  12. Stylesheets
  13. Browsers and devices
  14. Interactivity
  15. Multimedia
  16. Flash and PDF
  17. Audio interfaces
  18. Future dreams
  19. Certification

Appendices: Accessibility and the law ¶ Maguire vs. Sydney Olympics; Language codes; Quick-reference card

Am taking a highlighter to an official, but almost secret, CRTC report on audio description worldwide, itemizing the lies and inaccuracies. I will probably have enough money to appear at the hearing next week. Probably.

Not moist, not garrulous

2001.04.15  Permanent Link  (Garrulous. Garoulou. Garou. Loup-garou.)

The day was bracketed by the reading of first-person accounts of life on death row in Punk Planet and the recollection of a very bad date at what is certainly the blog of the millisecond (that puts absolutely all my efforts to shame), East/West.

Within these parentheses were hours spent putting together a checklist of image and photograph types, sources, and candidates to use as learning examples in the book.

I suppose I might as well drop my pants here. (And if you’re like everyone else, you will be impressed.) The goal is to provide 50 graphics with alt, title, and longdescription all prewritten from which to learn. I will thereby add to the laughably puny scholarship on description techniques (first, second).

A vast range of illustration types will be provided. (Full fantasy list will be posted here once I organize it better.) What I have to do is resist the temptation to load things up with editorial photography merely because it provides the greatest visual interest.

The theory is that this material, plus chapters on language accessibility and quite a range of makeovers of actual sites, will be part of a separate E-book. We’ll see how the publisher reacts to the plan. Unfavourably, I anticipate.

In the course of my work today, I discovered just how few photographers are in any way online. What, they don’t have computers already? At least for Photoshop?

Fittingly for Easter, rivaling Xmas for commercialism and cognitive dissontance from its true spiritual meaning but not quite rivaling Xmas and Gay Pride as loneliest day of the year, I will pull a rabbit half an inch out of a hat and mention that certain mindblowing news may be forthcoming about Photography and the Book. Jinxes are real, and I have enough of them latched onto me, like lamprey eels on the cover of Lard albums, as it is. Be patient.

Only two days till I find out what “questions” Vicqué has in store for me. It’s like waiting for the judge to sentence you. Which was the least of the death-row inmates’ problems.

(I have glanced at the table of contents. I might as well nuke it and start over.)

I have a strong need for more redheads in my life. I am, however, set to have sushi with Jeff on Thursday. It’s a privilege to know him. I wish I could tamp down the urge to show him off. There may be only one of me in the world, but there’s really only one of him, and I know who gets the attention perambulating down the street. It’s like my old friend Brett D. Stewart, now living a deliriously happy life without me.

Yes, I know, pip-pip. I should cheer the heck up.

2001.04.15  Permanent Link  One other problem: Building Accessible Websites is 26 characters long without the spaces. That is too long for a URL even in Finnish agglutinative terms. BAW.{com/org/net} are all taken. I suppose it’s off to the alternadomains I go.

Which do you hate least?, .cx, or .cc? Or something weirder, like the pansy alternadomain, Gigi (.gg)? Then of course there’s always Try dictating that over the phone.

What do you reckon?

A pot to piss in

2001.04.15  Permanent Link  This is not Neil Gaiman’s style of bookblog. He has a pot to piss in.

Here is the actual problem with writing a book. It is not the isolation or the procrastination. It is not, as Mikey the N warned me and I ill-advisedly brushed off, the enormity of the forthcoming task.

It is not having a place to put the Girl Power.

The landlady lent me her ancient glass-topped kitchen table, profoundly vulgar and painfully ugly but absolutely indestructible. I have three of the four matching chairs. Severely faded and threadbare grey material with imprints of large flowers. Tall backs, whose outside upright supports bound vertical posts topped by two horizontal bars, in which are sandwiched a large, a small, and a large ring. The round metal legs are secured by what my engineering education (which I really do have) identifies as redundant diagonal crossmembers. The table matches the chairs.

It was of course a cruel irony that the only surface that stupefies an Apple Pro optical mouse and renders it blind is clear glass. (And mirrors, pace the marketing of Blow.) Nice. Cute.

But soon the woman’s intuition was shouting in my ear: If the landlady, whose name would elicit chuckles and instant images of New Zealand Amazons brandishing breastplates and swinging axes, always requires the table and chairs for holiday “family gatherings,” and if this is Easter coming up, am I not fucked?

Because there is nowhere else to locate one’s Girl Power. Autrement dit, there is no other G-spot. The jalopy and its two monitors sit on a Mad Max/William Gibson–axis assemblage of crumbling Rubbermaid laundry bins, milk crates and the commercially-sold plastic storage bins that are the acceptable middle-class substitute thereof, and wire-mesh baskets found unaccountably sitting out at curbside trash in Little Italy a year ago after a “screening” of Princess Mononoke. (Libretto by... Neil Gaiman.) A clipboard and a small pile of three-by-five cards keep the big monitor level as a soon-to-be-fatal crack propagates through the laundry bin with the sleeplessness of rust.

As of today, the LaserWriter IINT, which cannot be networked to Girl Power, has spent a full year imprinting the outline of the lip of another milk crate into the carpeting.

The audiovisual multimedia home-entertainment centre – in reality, little more than a delivery vehicle for captioning – used to sit on another commercially-sold plastic storage bin (superspecially, on wheels!) until I got my hands on the matching chairs. One listens to the radio piped through the Aiwa Walkperson’s connection from earphone jack to sound input of jalopy to the bigger AV monitor. (Apparently the sound does pass through the entire computer. I still cannot figure out how I got it to work, having scored a bare C in circuits class in engineer school, which I really did graduate from.)

There is no desk. There is a very impressive (quite truly impressive; even Tyler Brûlé would begrudgingly approve) matched troika of modernist armchairs and loveseat in burgundy naugahyde in superb condition save for one dimple caused by an errant brad many years ago. It breaks my heart daily as I notice it anew again and again, Memento-style.

The bed is the landlady’s. There is an oddball modernist twin-tiered round orange wheeled serving cart I snagged from the Goodwill half a decade before such objects went upscale and became objets.

And that is it.

Sure enough, yesterday there’s another of her patented weekend-ruining phone messages asking for the table and chairs. I mean, no problem. I always lug them upstairs and usually downstairs myself in a gesture of goodwill (absolutely none of which counts for anything with her). She needs them Saturday or maybe Sunday morning.

But a certain acquaintance had said he had a spare table. Maybe I could take him up on his offer. He lives over in the photo district on Carlaw. It would be walkable. I leave a voxmail and hope for the best. But of course on Saturday the impatient, jittery landlady caterwauled through my machine: “Would you please acknowledge my request? I’m beginning to worry that I won’t have enough seating for my family.”

Schlepped the table upstairs right then and there. Now I have two computers and no table. My options are to sit on the modernist chair and use the jalopy or sit on the floor and invoke Girl Power, which I have propped onto the other chair. (It sits. On a folded-up blanket. Owned by. The landlady.) It is discovered that an optical mouse works flawlessly on a carpet.

I lined up the acquaintance’s table, which we did not bump through the rear gate until a much-delayed 2000 hours. I’m very anxious and irritable and wondering when I’ll put the money together for real furniture, among other necessities. Right on cue, there she is looking at us through the perfectly-situated North Korean–style kitchen espionage window. Her audacity taking even me by surprise, she walks out onto the porch, but says nothing (possibly she drew conclusions from the only words she heard me tell the acquaintance: “What did I tell you?”) and buggers off. She’s always staking me out. And her parents, whom I quite like (bearing out Coupland’s dictum that Generation X and the elderly get along famously), do always seem to know when I am home so they can deliver the mail.

Skipping a two-year-long source of worry for a moment and damping the mental MP3 playback of “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” while I hunger for an Æron chair and can absolutely justify it, a feeling that pops inchoately to mind several days a week has crystallized into a truth. There are ostensible reasons to write Building Accessible Websites and there is the practical reason: Rebuilding my life. This is Anthony Burgess when he thought he had brain cancer. Except it’s the Bizarro version, with the cancer already in proven remission. It’s like I’m writing for my life anyway. It is not healthy.

What was that about growing a leg?

2001.04.15  Permanent Link  The first environmentally-friendly reusable string shopping bag jam-packed with severed infant heads has been hitched to a winch and, looking for all the world like a blood-soaked provolone cheese (David Boreanaz, come on down!), is now winging its way by Chinook double-rotor helicopter to the greenfields of Indianapolis.

In other words, the first seven chapters of Building Accessible Websites have left the building.

What will Mikey the N and Vicqué do with them?

Well, the first thing Viqué did was to mail me saying she had “a few questions I wanted to discuss with you.” This of course is like getting a message on your machine from your doctor. Why bother calling with good news? My apocalypsist tendencies kick in and I figure I’m in shit again.

(And, when writing the first proposals months ago, I was obsessed with mistyping my phone number, whose sequences induce dyslexia. So what did I do? I mistyped it right on the proposal but got it right everywhere else. That mistyping is now propagating itself yea unto the end of time, and various editors are showing vast unresourcefulness by simply dialing it over and over and over again hoping it will eventually work. One editor failed to give the other editor my full details. I made a mistake, but so did they. Hence Vicqué’s snatchmail warning of questions rather than merely a phone call posing them.)

In reality, I’m sure she’s just concerned about the table of contents, which she advised must be nailed down before I begin writing. But, um, I’ve been writing for a month and the draft table of contents arrived in my snatchbox only on April 9, three days before the first batch of copy was due. It’s supposedly a draft table of contents anyway, so what’s the rush?

I’ve added several introductory chapters. I now:

I also need to write a “Who am I and what horse do I think I rode in on?” chapter to establish qualifications and of course give a kind of Media Access Manifesto®, no doubt cognate with what I’ve written here.

What, if anything, is the problem with all this?

Well, I won’t know that until I hear from Vicqué.

Production was quite a nightmare. The conversion from pseudo-XHTML to genuine XHTML and Woid took hours, as did paper edits and updates. At least one substantive advice chapter left the building with no Bottom-Line Access Advice at the end.

And get this: One completed chapter got left behind! There were so many conversion stages that the eighth chapter quite literally got lost in the shuffle.

(Far Side panel: Astronaut in spacesuit reads sheet of paper on moon as lunar module blasts into space. “Dear Alan: Where were you? We waited and waited and finally decided that –”)

Purge invites binge. Saving up completed chapters and processing them all at once is like an anaconda swallowing a Peke. Not that I wouldn’t approve of such a thing, loathsome animals that they are.

Man at his best!

2001.04.15  Permanent Link  While opening the current Esquire, of which I am somewhat of a fetishist (NUblogs passim: alpha, beta), the Woman’s Intuition spoke loudly. “Wouldn’t it be fun to pitch some kind of article about the sexiness of media access to these smart, putatively heterosexualist sophisticates?” (I did it before. Of course, Vibé mangled it. But that’s every writer’s complaint.)

Picture my surprise.

The Excerpts

The best and worst of culture this month


Narrator: [Catherine] takes a seat in the front of the dimly-lit room.... With her bare legs crossed, her short dress is hiked up to the middle of her thighs.... Correli unconsciously licks his lips.

Correli: Did you ever use drugs with Mr. Boz?

Catherine: Sure.

Gus: What kind of drugs?

Catherine: Cocaine. Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick?

Narrator: With a saucy gaze, Catherine uncrosses her thighs. She briefly exposes her pubic hair, then recrosses her legs. Nick’s gaze shifts from hers to Correli’s. Sweating, the assistant D.A. purses his lips and leans back in his chair.

From a recent video version of Basic Instinct that provides additional narration for the blind

The obvious question is of course “How does DVS handle two guys snogging?” (Think Bruce Willis in The Jackal, one of the early MoPix features.)

Did you know that there are only three DVDs with audio description – possibly a fourth, if reports of Region 2 East is East are true – out of hundreds of films with the description track in the can and ready to go at no additional cost?


2001.04.15  Permanent Link  The grrrlMac has landed. The Woman’s Intuition told me to drop by the computer store on Tuesday. By God, there she was.

(Oh, but quickie question first: What possible reason could there be for a store in the heart of downtown province of Toronto to lose its phone service for days on end? It couldn’t possibly have to do with failing to pay its bill, could it? I had best not get too attached to this particular retailer, despite having been treated as a human being almost without exception.)

“Where’s my computer?” I ask Kristin, after asking how it was hanging. We retire to the register. A grrrlMac box, a blueMac box, and a polkaMac box. Yup, it’s a 500. That’s yours. The grrrly Mac, Kristin sez, playing along. In walk two lads. They’re both exactly five foot seven. Alpha is a study in rather fashionable, aptly-chosen and recherché dark denim, skinheaded, good pair of eyeglasses, and lengthy blond van dyke, acting as cedilla to tobacco-stained teeth. He’s at most 25 and self-evidently has a lot put together.

Beta, his “friend,” is stocky, sports a baseball cap, and wears the kind of backpack and jeanjacket consistent with a sort of uptight invert. And really startlingly well-fitting blue jeans, something not typically associated with red-blooded family men.

He was gonna buy one of those Dalmations, Alpha told me, but went for the blue, kuz he’ll probably end up giving it to his mom. I’m like, These things are too girly even for a real woman. Then the discussion of the errant green streaks in the allegedly Blue Dalmation, which prompted a Bringing Up Baby and made me go all Flower Power.

Some to and fro with Kristin about Ethernet cables and transducers. The lads are walking around and talking too quietly and familiarly. What’s up with that? Is it like the four fellows I espied sashaying down rue de la Reine this week – two tall (again) skinheaded alternafags, a man who could be a squash-playing suburban husband, and contestant number four, a slender man, hard to focus on, almost hiding in plain sight, who reached over and rubbed the husband between the shoulder blades?

I’m sorry, but heterosexualists don’t do that. They also don’t walk down the street with fags. They’ve got reputations at stake. (And, more to the point, fags are too hung up to get to know them.)

The downside for the lads in the Mac shop is that equivalent size makes for uncomfortable sleeping. The phenomenon of creep, as seen in book production, comes up. Ask any Ukrainian doll: You’ve got to be slightly bigger or smaller to fit together well. And, for someone like me, the next increments up and down are just exactly right. One notch down is... five foot seven.

We won’t discuss one notch in the other direction. I haven’t looked up at him since September.

With considerable effort and at the cost of even greater clutter and squalor, the grrrlMac is now networked to the jalopy, which still crashes twice a day. I will say this about the new machine: The screen is too small, but the fact that absolutely everything happens instantaneously is almost making up for it.

Anyway, each morning when I wake up I ask myself, “Am I girly enough for my iMac today?” and the answer is usually yes.

Let’s face facts here. Apple has quite cleverly targeted every group other than tough-guy businessmen and Windows tinkerer-geeks with the new iMac colours. In other words, girls.

So lookit. Why call it Flower Power when Girl Power is what you really mean?

Parody project: Undead!

2001.04.13  Permanent Link  Parodying the Commercial Web is coming together slowly. It ain’t nothing compared to the endless research projects I am stuck doing. All next week, apparently, now that I have a functioning machine. Like: How many disabled computer users are there? (Almost no one has numbers. One will have to correlate among disability, income, and Internet-usage stats.)

Also, it is a slog trying to get my hands on a loaner Windows box on which to run actual screen readers. You think I’m gonna buy one? It’s bad enough letting it into the house.

Growing a leg

2001.04.10  Permanent Link  Back in the olden days, when I thought my only option for an accessibility book was to root out the Henckels paring knife, slice a line in my thumbprint, and press it against Tim O’Reilly’s own little gash while gazing lovingly in his eyes, I obsessed over exactly which animal would appear on my cover. This of course equates to the nouvelle économie fixation with launch parties. Isn’t it more important to throw a rippin’ bash than put out a creditable magazine? Of course. (If you’re Laas Turnball.)

The O’Reilly “<Microdetailed, quasi-obsessive geek topic> in a Nutshell” covers all feature a creature of tangential relevance to the book’s topic. The choice for a crip book is obvious: A starfish missing a leg.

It is not to be, for I will not sign O’Reilly’s damn contract. And not only that, I’m heading in the opposite direction. I’m a starfish who’s growing his legs, one at a time.

Aren’t you loving my literary metaphors?

Yes. Fine. Well.

The first airlift of copy is due on Thursday. I cannot get a fair count of how many chapters I’ve got done. Something like eight or nine. The infamous Tables chapter isn’t one of them. It falls upon me to proof the chapter printouts (this book will express itself in a lot of pulp), do a great deal of file conversion (styled text to ASCII; search and replace the pseudo-HTML I’ve been using into real HTML; validation; “upsell” to Word as a gesture); standardize typography and structure; set up something resembling an index for the documents; and – this is another launchpartyesque dream – automagically burn a CD for my associate editrix, Vicqué.

This bit about standardizing typography is wrecking my life. (How could it not? It’s only been twenty years.) How does one indicate HTML tags and attributes in text? Since the source document is banged out in HTML, a certain degree of recursion is in order. Does this schema make sense?

The standardized structure pertains to exactly where I give my bottom-line advice. At the tail of each chapter, I suppose, on its own page, so people can fast-forward through the exposition and hit the money shot right away. I’m going to go so far as to list What the WAI Sez and What You Should Really Do.

Won’t it be amusing to witness the blood funnelling out of oldschool accessibility champions’ ears when they read my advocated defiance of certain specific and highly-qualified subsections of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines? It will, of course, put some governmental bodies in a bind, because if they are required to meet the letter of the WCAG and I tell them that certain details are ill-advised or nonessential, there’s going to be a lot of muttering about Solomonic choices. (Better than moronic choices, shurely?! – Ed.)

But the occasionally-unrealistic Guidelines put you in an even worse bind. (Occasionally, I emphasize.) For heaven’s sake, the Web Accessibility Initiative insists you mark up the first instance of absolutely every acronym and abbreviation in every document, even if such are unambiguous (even to screen readers) and are universally understood.

The kicker? An example the WAI gives us is... “WWW”! Just how poorly-understood is WWW these days? More than one WAI document gets the definitions of acronyms and abbreviations completely backward. (Only in WAIland is WWW an abbreviation but WAC is an acronym.) There is no understanding that the expansions of certain acronyms and abbreviations are now quite irrelevant. Quick: What are ABS brakes? (Different from ABS plastic?) Is a fax really still a facsimile? (Does that mean a phone is a telephone?)

That sort of thing.

Bring your non-latex gloves, kids. Blood is gonna flow.

Alone again, naturally

2001.04.10  Permanent Link  I had forgotten how the pressures of churning out copy and well-defined deadlines intensify my need for companionship. So-called writer’s block is a displacement phenomenon. Even if what you’re writing has nothing to do with your real life – the maxim “Write what you know” borders on propaganda – you need real life as fuel for writing. Otherwise you become such a bore.

This of course is the lonely homosexualist’s lesson. You want to be interesting and attractive and divertissant. You want to overdo it, eat chocolate for breakfast, do nothing but hang out with the lads so you can interest, attract, and divert them. But of course you need to do some living before any of that’s ever going to happen. You need to live away from the lads if you ever want to live with one.


Où est mon grrlMac?

2001.04.10  Permanent Link  In other news, I still don’t have the grrrlMac, Sympatico demands a faxed-in form (!) before they’ll even put me on the waiting list for high-speed access, and of course Sympatico’s fax-o-gram is nonstandard and will not train with my trusted, bombproof HP OfficeJet. So I may end up submitting pulp application forms by poste escargot in order to receive 21st-century Internet service.

In yet other news, which offends more with the banality of its evil, the Amerikanski Queer as Folk, shot here in full-on imperialist exploitation of the sorry little cul-de-sac called a gay ghetto, or its execrable captioning by Comprehensive Distributors, rumoured to be the only captioner in North America willing to caption super-hardcore XXX porno?

Old news

2001.04.09  Permanent Link  Joining us late? Here’s what I wrote over on my alleged personal blog:

Finally, some good news. (Aren’t you quite tired of the other kind? I sure am.) I have signed on the dotted line with New Riders Publishing and will write a book on the topic of Web accessibility. Finally. At last.

My approach is entirely new and much more realistic and usable than the other two books on the subject, Universal Web Design by Crystal Waters, now out of print, and Mike Paciello’s new Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities. (My claim of superiority is bluster to some degree. I own Waters’s book but have not looked at it in years; I won’t read Paciello’s book. My volume has to be, and will be, entirely original.)

Expect a rather cheeky book, but one that any Web developer, of any expertise and with any budget, can actually learn from and use.

It was a long courtship. I tell you I’m writing a book on Web technology and the first word that pops to mind is of course O’Reilly. No, thank you, but not for lack of trying. I was stuck with an editor who couldn’t read. Still at the proposal stage, I had to tell her the same thing up to three different times. Further, her superiors displayed “resistance” to the entire topic, which was merely projection of geek disdain for the requirement to type so much as an ALT text. (Had these superiors had the honesty to actually say “I don’t think accessibility is important,” I would have had an easier time dealing with them. Don’t piss in my ear and tell me you fail to see a market for the book.)

I especially loved it when a superior editor later described me as “antagonistic.” Yeah, I am – when dealing with twits. Further, the O’Reilly contract process would have resulted in roughly half the money I’m getting from New Riders, and was ludicrously protracted as it was, with months and months of further delays guaranteed.

David Pogue swears by O’Reilly, and indeed got into bed with them for the valuable, well-executed Missing Manual series. I guess things work better for superstar technical feature writers–cum–jugglers than for unheralded authors like me.

Moreover, O’Reilly has spent too much time coaxing parsable English prose out of programmer–geeks. They have no understanding of how to deal with an actual writer. I don’t need to be handheld, and don’t even think of condescending to me.

The next gentleman caller was Apress, whose contract is an ultimatum in drag. I have no confidence whatsoever in their understanding of books and the fallible, illogical human beings called authors. In dealing with Apress, I kept thinking of the little anecdote in Michael Wolff’s Burn Rate: He schleps out to Long Island to swing a deal with CMP, a trade-magazine publisher. CMP executives consider Manhattan a far-off and frightening netherworld, and here was an emissary from across the event horizon sitting in their office.

Wolff mentions publishing – the publishing of books. “You mean like Howard Stern’s book?” he is asked. It occurs to Wolff that such may be the only book the CMP executives have ever bought.

That’s the degree of sophistication down at Apress. They know programming, and they’ve heard of books, and, indeed, Apress “editors” unaccountably sit at the top of an org chart that, when energized, results in something similar to a book, but who’s to say they can actually read, or have any kind of taste or point of view whatsoever? It’s along the same lines of that disagreeable habit of music-industry publicists, referring to record albums as product.

The hamhanded unsophistication of Apress (starting with its rank misuse of Thesis Mono, which they’re so chuffed at having discovered) rankles far more than even the tawdriest outposts of book publishing, like movie tie-ins or those off-name books on Janet Jackson, Siamese cats, or old Jaguars that you find piled high in dollar stores. Joel on Software, Dave Weiner, and the like, with their own unsophistication, naturally fall for Apress’s hollow charms. With Apress and its acolytes, there is a misconception that the ability to actuate a computer keyboard and produce visible words genuinely equates with publishing.

It may come as a surprise to some, but computer books are literature; they are more than instruction manuals. No shame in producing instruction manuals: I’ve written and edited them myself and have gone so far as to review the White Pages. Usable information is a pressing need, and in any event, J.G. Ballard claims instruction manuals form part of the true (“ invisible”) literature of the 20th century, “filled with words but empty of content.” Of course, the 20th century is now history. Computer-book publishing must extend its reach beyond utilitarianism. Instruction manuals must cease to be invisible.

On the other hand, I’ve been treated like an absolute prince by New Riders, in the person of Michael Nolan. The “initiative” of which my book will be a part (Mikey the N forbids me from calling it a series) comprises books by Jeffy the Z, Curtis the C, Stevie the K, and His Royal Highness Richard Saul Wurman, parmi d’autres.

Mikey the N has gotten me pretty much everything I asked for, within the boundaries of corporate publishing, where, rather like Hollywood or the yakuza, certain requests are unthinkable.

Hello, good evening and welcome

2001.04.07  Permanent Link  Hello, good evening and welcome to the maiden voyage of the BOOKBLOG. I’m writing a book about Web accessibility for New Riders Publishing. Building Accessible Websites is scheduled to appear (in print form, with included CD-ROM) in October 2001. An E-book version with exclusive! extras may or may not follow.

International megastar Dean Allen of Textism/Cardigan infamy cooked up this graphic design. It’s one of those newfangled standards-compliant layouts that relies on absolutely no tables – pure divs and stylesheets all the way. It looks smashing in modern graphical browsers, and decrepit in others. (Netscape 4, come on down!) But no matter: All the content is available to any browser. Naturally, every conceivable accessibility feature is in use here, even the mysterious longdesc.

Dean and I are making an important point: A site that uses state-of-the-art features and even buries images of text inside graphics can be perfectly accessible. It’s not a question of either/or: You don’t get advanced standards compliance or an attractive appearance (with specified but overridable typography) or accessibility. Do it right and you get the whole shebang all at once.

What’s not to like?

I know this comes as a shock to oldschool accessibility advocates, but here in the real world we want our Web to look good. Nothing wrong with that, in moderation. As long as the design doesn’t get in the way of understanding, everybody wins. Yes, it is indeed possible to go overboard, as nearly any Flash-based site you could name tends to do. Overwrought design offends, repels, impedes. But it is also possible to go overboard the other way: and Useit are so austere, and wear their hypercorrectness so prominently on their sleeves, that they too have sinned. Overwrought nondesign offends, repels, impedes.

I can understand where the oldschool access advocates are coming from. They simply are not visualists. Well, I am. I score anomalously on Gardner’s scale of multiple intelligences, firing on the seemingly contradictory cylinders of visual and verbal. I am nuts about visual artworks (despite being rather inept at producing them myself) but also can write.

In retrospect, it is unsurprising that the twin passions over my last two decades – graphic design and accessibility – should intertwine. Merely to offer an example, I demand superbly-written films, videos, and programming that look fantastic and come equipped with absolutely the highest-quality captions and descriptions, and subtitles or dubbing where applicable. In short, I want everything and will settle for nothing less.

Is that so much to ask? Not really. Not for my generation and its successors. We can more than handle multimodal stimuli, we crave it. Why else do we surf the Web (or indeed write Weblogs) while simultaneously exchanging ICQs, listening to Bad Religion albums, and watching captioned television on MUTE?

Because, through the presence of electronic media in childhood, our minds evolved past the single tracks that saddled our parents with linear thinking.

Isn’t this what multimedia really means? It rather befuddles the boomers. It oughta. Their brains are wired differently.

Really, the sites that cry for full accessibility are the most adventurous and beautiful ones, which in turn stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the most populist and utilitarian. In the former case, you’ve already got everything else – “content,” looks, pizazz. Accessibility is simply the last piece of the puzzle, the final manifestation of your thorough sophistication. In the latter case, the entire raison d’être is serving the widest audience. You can’t do that without access.

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