Tag Archives: internet

Where we touch

I was inspired today by being an inspiration.

I guess I should explain.

In the distant past, I used to be a photographer, before I took up the keyboard. My main forte was still life and small objects, nature isolated. You may recall at the start of this blog in the first posting, I wrote that my photography was why I got interested in the internet in the first place.

I have a  subscription to a tool that tracks any security breach on the internet with my name, so I can see if I am being spoofed anywhere; a useful security tool. This tool alerted me that I was being talked about and I found a student of photography who referenced me. Somewhere, somehow, this person found me in a book or publication and I gave them something to think about, and they turned to their camera to express it. I vaguely recall them emailing me and asking about my picture and I, grateful for the attention and immensely flattered, gave them the best response I could.

So this tool found their reference to me and I am doubly impressed, by A Phan and the image I had a part in helping to bring about, and that we connected through the world, brushed up against each other and contributed to each other’s creative energy. You and I, dear reader, have a similar relationship, via the tool we are now immersed in, me as the author of this piece, and you as the reader. Your presence, even silently, inspires me. This is one small part of the huge mesh of new connections that could not have existed without the internet, depends on it, and becomes the conduit for the types of connections humanity has always desired.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, this IS the new world, the new frontier where humanity will discover, support and reaffirm it’s interrelatedness. We don’t always need the deep soulful connections, like the ones we have with our friends, lovers, family, etc; sometimes it is the wonderful brushing-up against each other, where we share about some specific commonality, that draws us together and helps us understand each other.

See you out there!

What’s in a standard

As mentioned earlier, I run the Web Standards Meetup London and really get a kick out of talking the semantics of web-page creation with the excellent people who come to these meetings. I like combining the ease of a digital meet-space like meetup or facebook or LinkedIn with the pleasure of actively listening or truly interacting with real people in meat-space. Some people might find it too geeky, but for me it’s a perfect example of what makes the internet so interesting, the people involved.

Last night for example, we had an hour long conversation about the relative merits of where and what you put in the h1 tag for particular pages in a site. I have seen (OK, read!) some very passionate but polite discussions in mailing lists and the like about issues like these and, personally, it is important to you and your granny that some people ARE passionate about these questions.

Imagine if the people who were responsible for maintaining their websites were not passionate about the lowly h1 tag, and, by extension, all the other tags involved in creating pages. Actually you don’t have to imagine, as it happens all too often and this lack of passion is the reason that visitors have trouble on their site. Badly formatted code or non semantically structured sites can decrease findability, reduce availability in web searching, and break the appearance of the site for people who use assistive technologies, like blind people with screen readers.

So, thankfully, there are some of us who care, and our clients and friends benefit from it. drop me a line if you want to hear more about it.

Visionary A C Clarke passes into the void

I am of the age where the Apollo project, and humanity’s expedition to the moon, holds a great and lasting fascination that has not diminished and forms a strong basis for my core being. My view of technology, humanity, the planet and the universe are all strongly influenced by those live TV transmissions in 1969, in the hushed and darkened classroom of my youth. I still read much of what the few remaining astronauts of the Apollo missions have to say of their experiences and it has affected their view of humanity and themselves deeply.

There are many men like me; interested in science at that exploratory boyish age in the 60’s, where fascination became reality and we watched enthralled as men walked on the moon. Everyone was talking about what was out there, in space, and what a quantum leap it was for humanity to walk on another heavenly body.

The previous year, 1968 saw the release of a film which changed our view of the universe, technology and humanity in a massive way as well. I’m speaking of 2001:A Space Odyssey, Directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by both Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke. Long before CGI in films, and in an genre which had wilder and cheaper sets and bug-eyed aliens wrestling with heroes to dramatic music, 2001 showed me what space could really be.

Clarke defined a great deal of what the world is today. From describing what was required from satellites in order to be used for modern and earth-spanning telecommunications to being prescient in what he would be seeing in his lifetime and in our hands (the internet, mobile phones, high-speed data, nuclear-powered spacecraft, PDAs, ubiquitous computing, video-conferencing) at a time when William Shatner was the “real” spaceman and aliens were shorthand for communists.

Clarke wrote some amazing books, visually stunning and incredibly descriptive and above all written within the bounds of known scientific precepts. If he had the temerity to imagine into the future or onto other planets, he at least based it on known facts and provable suppositions. He rarely made something up that did not feel completely real and intelligent and made all of it utterly compelling.

In his 90th birthday recollections Clarke says some compelling and prescient things, about technology and its’ responsibility to improve not exploit the planet, but my favourite is his sign-off, in which he humbly quotes Kipling:

“If I have given you delight with all that I have done, let me lie quiet in that night which shall be yours anon. And for the little, little span the dead are borne in mind, seek not to question other than the books I leave behind.”

Thank you, Arthur; I have been delighted.

An expedition into the unknown

I remember the first time I ventured out into the void called the internet, back in 1994.

I had just spent more money than was sensible on a blisteringly fast 28.8k modem for my powerful PowerPC 7100AV (70MHz, 16MB RAM, 250MB HD!), and wandered out into the unknown. I know, I currently have a mobile phone with more power than that now, certainly more storage and definitely more speed, RAM and connectivity; but this isn’t one of those “my how technology has come a long way” blogs. The wondrous thing was the sense of immediate connection with the world. I felt like a new world explorer.

I was a photographer, keen on finding like-minded smudgers out there who wanted to talk lighting and printing techniques. Within a week of painfully configuring the modem with a manual connection string (some of you may remember that slice of arcane coding alchemy!) I discovered the site for Aperture, a photography magazine I highly respected, and ZoneZero, a photography site, early on the scene and still out there. By the end of the next week I managed to have a discussion with the Aperture editor by email, and before the end of the month I was swapping techniques for distressing prints and keeping models comfortable in awkward poses with Joel Peter-Witkin. … Yes, THE Joel Peter-Witkin!

Four letter expletives cannot do justice to the wondrous feeling of being in the middle of everything, connected to my heroes, effectively swapping recipes with the gods. I cannot express enough the amazement I had at finding immediate, friendly and wondrously easy communion with the entire world, for that is how it felt, from my garret studio in London in the mid 90’s. That pretty much made me drop my aspiration to be a highly regarded Commercial Photographer and embark on the road to web expert. ZoneZero was a social network for photographers back in the mid 90’s, and web 2.0 is really what Web 1.0 was supposed to be.

So the question is; do we take this interconnectivity for granted? Is it better to forget that fantastic tingle and stay in the present, glib in the comfort of familiarity, of being an expert? We hear heroin users say the first time they used was the best, and the rest of the addiction is trying to get that initial rush back just one more time. Do I want to be chasing that buzz from the past or be comfortable in my current expertise?

The answer to me is, in true Libran style, both!

I cannot forget what I know (my clients and colleagues would be pretty pissed off for one thing!) but I can try to look at each new site without my cynicism and critical faculties in overdrive. The commercial aspects of photography nearly killed my creative explorations (just how sexy can you really make a box of strepsils and do I really give a f***!) but the practical aspects of website creation continue to make me excited at what can be achieved. The challenges presented to the switched on, “get it” kind of agency I work at keep my veins tingling with the possibilities before me.

As excited as day one, my first hit is refreshed while my progress bar signals the collection of yet another page about to hit my screen with potential. I am still, and will probably continue to be, a fascinated New World explorer.