Thursday, November 30, 2006

w1b a11y, Day 2

Well, the most important thing I did this morning was spill coffee on the Ph.D. blind research scientist from Google. You may safely assume that this wasn't how I planned our meeting to go.

After lunch I found a moment to grovel for forgiveness and he was most gracious, so I may survive the rest of the conference.

My appearance as a panelist was fine, uneventful, and thankfully occurred before the coffee incident. We were supposed to be speaking about accessibility management, which is supremely ironic considering that I'm not a manager and that I engaged in legendary power struggles with my previous manager, often about accessibility.

Anyway, I was delighted to be able to work in my counter to yesterday's web zealots:

The question of "how to be accessible" is not difficult. We all already know how to be accessible. It's very simple. Design for Lynx, with no presentation. Use plaintext, semantic tags, maybe an
. Done.


The real question is, newer and richer web technologies are always out there, doing that "emerging" thing that they do. We want to learn them, use them, maybe even help create them. Our users want them. Our bosses want us to provide them to our users. "Don't do that" isn't a strategy, for many reasons. And so the reason we're all here is to figure out how to render more interesting things than plaintext, more interestingly, while remaining accessible.

I was delighted that this point went over more or less well with the group.

It was supported by a back-reference to one of yesterday's presenters, the guy from IBM/W3C who talked about how WCAG 2.0 is moving toward technology-independence; rather than banning certain things (like, helpfully, all of Javascript or all tables), the emphasis is on guidelines to providing accessible content with all technologies.

Today's presenters have been wonderfully concrete: a guy from Adobe and a guy from Yahoo!, both describing actual techniques and strategies for actual web development. Exactly what I'm looking for. Plus, the one from Yahoo! used "a11y" in his slides. Rock on!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

w1b a11y, Day 1

This week I'm attending an invite-only conference on web accessibility. It's sponsored by a UW center, but I still had to apply to get in. I was very pleased to be selected and tomorrow I'm going to be a panelist!

This event is formatted like a workshop/working group, rather than a lecture series (I was going to say "than a conference", but conferring is exactly what we're doing). The purpose of the conference, and the topic of the questions when I applied, involved accessibility for emerging web technologies, rich media, etc.

Our group discussions got off to, in my opinion, a rocky start. Over a "working lunch" (our host explained that the NSF won't pay for meals unless they are "working"), I ended up at a table with two good folks who I can only describe as web religious zealots. I think in my past I've been this kind of zealot, and wow, I must have been incredibly annoying. I deserve to be stuck at a table with people like this occasionally. I have one in my working group, and our table picked up one from another group, and they fed off of each other.

Anyway, he and the other zealot very quickly concluded that the solution to accessibility of rich content is that nobody needs rich content anyway, and if we just stick with the old proven web standards then accessibility is no problem.

Fortunately, the majority of us here don't feel that way, that being why we're here. The discussions the rest of the day were much more productive. Our afternoon presentation covered WCAG 2.0, which I like the sound of even if A List Apart doesn't.

Let me also say the food at Hotel Ändra is superb, even better than the food at Microsoft (which was good). This is my second conference this year, but I haven't managed to get out of western Washington yet. Working on it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dear Santa....

Things I don't want this year:
  • Bearistas. I have more than enough. :)
  • Stuffed animals. Ditto.
  • LEGOs.
Relatively inexpensive things I might enjoy:
  • Amazon Wish List items.
    • Amazon gift certificate would work well, since I get free shipping.
  • Junonia gift certificate so I can get PJs.
  • Wine glasses (6) and water goblets (12) in Javit Rain pattern from
Thanks, Santa!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Slovanská epopej Alfonse Muchy

I'm not really a fan of art for art's sake, but I can get pulled into art by a great story. I visited the Mucha Museum in Prague last year kind of just for something to do that day, not because I knew anything about Mucha or felt particularly strongly about art nouveau or anything. So I guess it is not too surprising that among all the advertising posters and the stylized beautiful women, I fell in love with Mucha's "patriotic" period and the Slav Epic.

Of course, these are the works that are hardest to find prints of, books with, or even very much information about. I couldn't get to the museum where the Slav Epic is housed (several hours outside of Prague, v Moravském Krumlově), so I had hoped to see all of the paintings online when I got home, but couldn't find any web galleries of them anywhere!

Today I find that there's a fantastic little site with information about the Slav Epic, and a gallery. I'm also excited, I think, to learn that the Slav Epic is moving back to Prague where it can be seen and appreciated. There's some controversy about the architecture and about whether the new exhibit will be a cheesy tourist trap, but I have trouble imagining the cheesy tourists really flocking to learn about the heart of the Slavic past, especially if they can have their fill of advertising posters at the gift shop right off Na Příkopě.

Still can't find much online about Mucha's Masonic art, pointers welcome. :)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Smith College Fall Social

There are a lot of things about Smith College that make me feel like I'm in over my head. My super-studious first year roommate was one. Social events with Seattle-area alumnae are another.

So I got this invitation to something called a Smith College Fall Social Event. This is anxiety-inducing on so many levels that it practically requires a war plan.

Part 1: the look

What to wear to a Smith College Fall Social Event? In Eastern Star I make it a point to wear a skirt or dress to almost everything. (What I'm trying to convey by doing this is a topic for another post, possibly on another blog.) In any case, Smith feels like exactly the opposite. I want to look successful (trousers and shaped jacket), dressy (no jeans), yet fun (loud orange print top).

I have a bit of time between work and the event, and Madison Park is nearby, so I decide to stop in the Aveda store at U Village to redeem a free sample card (for unrelated hand cream). In the throes of Smith College inadequacy, I decide to check out tinted moisturizer, which is—gasp—makeup, though only just barely. It looks pretty good, though flat, so I try a cream blush. No escaping it now, I'm wearing makeup. It looks great. I feel great. I blame Carmindy.

(It occurs to me later that trying brand-new cosmetics half an hour before a big event is probably not the best idea; fortunately, I don't suffer any surprise allergic reactions this time.)

Part 2: the location

I've been doing a fair amount of work as an admissions representative this year, so my co-workers ask whether this social is being held at my house. Horrors! No way! This is at the home of a 1953 alumna who is also a member of the Board of Trustees. It's in Madison Park, near Broadmoor. Probably some mansion, I say, chuckling. No, I'm kidding, but I'm sure it's a nice place.

OK, it's totally at a mansion.

Not just a mansion, either, but a vaulted concrete creation more like a modern art museum (dropped in the middle of a neighborhood full of mansions). I feel like Fraulein Maria arriving at the Von Trapp house with her battered straw hat and guitar, singing "I Have Confidence" as I drive up but finishing on "oh, help," as I reach the front gate.

Our hostess is petite, dressed in a black ruffled tuxedo shirt and vibrant purple print velvet pants. She looks like one of her own art acquisitions. We hear that she frequently leads her guests on guided art tours, but the crowd's too big this time so we have to explore the pieces on our own.

The entire roof of the house seems to be vaulted glass, and there's at least one elevator. The upstairs bedrooms have views of both the Evergreen Point (520) Floating Bridge and the Lacey V. Murrow (I-90) Floating Bridgeplex (making "panoramic" redundant).

Part 3: the program

Is this one of those parties where you arrive on time, or fashionably late? My Eastern Star training has me suspecting "a program," i.e., at least perhaps a formal greeting by the hostess or a short talk, if not a full agenda. I decide to get there on time. This works excellently for scoring a parking space in the neighborhood, but there does not turn out to be a program. It really is a Fall Social Event and the only item on the agenda is mingling.

Part 4: the generations

One of the reasons I stress out about Smith College social events is that I'm so awkward around my Smith peers. Two problems: one, hardly anybody from the late 1980s/early 1990s era ever attends these things, and two, I find 1990s alumnae difficult to talk to. I'm not sure why, but we wade through the obligatory small talk about our career/family choices, we commiserate about the dining room consolidations, and then things dead-end in the vicinity of the new Campus Center. I wonder if it's because you never know what's going to offend a 1990s Smithie (but you know something will)? Plus, the existence of alumnae after about 1995 makes me feel really, really old (hi Eszter!).

Once it becomes clear that this really is a purely social event, at which mingling is expected, I decide to take some advice from noted anthropologist Rick Steves: choose to be an extrovert; it's the only way you'll have any fun. I dive in. I start barging into small circles of alumnae I don't know.

I get great news from the official Alumnae Admissions Coordinators (who are a lot of fun in spite of being 1990s like me): they've interviewed at least two, possibly three, of my recruits from the south end. Holy cow, my outreach program is working! I express my desire to singlehandedly drain the financial aid pool dry and they agree.

I'm talking to another relatively younger alumna (1980s, I think, who is decidedly introverted and inching her way to the door), when a stately lady from the class of 1943 (clearly also operating on the Rick Steves plan) barges into our small circle and starts up a conversation. My Eastern Star background kicks in and I adore her immediately. We all have a million questions for each other about what Smith was like, and life was like, in our respective eras. It occurs to me that perhaps we 1990s don't find each other as interesting because we aren't different enough and we don't have enough questions to ask.

Later I barge in on some other alumnae, cousins from the late 1940s and early 1950s who actually attended Smith from Seattle, not a very common occurrence. One majored in chemistry! This is why Smith women are so inspiring. Plus, they think I'm "young".

Part 5: the cuisine

Wine and hors d'oeuvres are being passed around on trays by catering staff. Somehow, in my circle-hopping, I manage to be standing with people who all already have wine every time the wine comes around, so I never get offered any. Note for next time: get wine early. (This facilitates the Rick Steves plan, too.)

Tasty treats include tuna tartare (remarkably like Hawaiʻian poke and equally delicious), fingerling potatoes with truffle salt, minced pork on a crisp bruschetta-ish bread, and quince pastries with whipped cream.

After more than an hour of mingling, the formal living/dining room has cleared out and we who remain hypothesize that the party is dying down. I wander toward the door and discover a packed corridor leading to what turns out to be a palatial kitchen overlooking a "casual" dining area for six and a reading/conversation area with (yet another) fireplace. The caterers are working madly at the center island, the footprint of which is larger than many rooms in my house.

Here's where I discover les petites madeleines chocolates, fresh-baked and devoured by alumnae pretty much as soon as a batch emerges from the ovens.

Part 6: the reunions

Around the kitchen, I discover a couple of people I actually know: an early 1990s former neighbor, who looks exactly the same (i.e., gorgeous) as our Smith days; and a real live 1993, whom I sang with in choir and who, it turns out, also goes to St. Mark's (as do all good upper-crust Seattleites, I suspect). The former neighbor used to work for Did you know Maria? we ask, jokingly, referring to the newly-reelected Senator Cantwell, a Reallionaire. "Actually, yeah." I have got to be more careful what I joke about. The choirmate and I exchange email addresses and I get to relate my gossip about the Amherst Regional High School West Side Story debacle.

My boss, a Barnard alumna, asked me to look for a Smithie grad-school friend of hers and I find my target at the "casual" dining table. She works for the city, and we end up deep in conversation about North Highline annexation.

This is one of the best things about being a Smithie: at some random Fall Social Event, one can find someone else who knows the Growth Management Act in detail and is passionate about it (who accurately guesses my lot size from its location) and can meaningfully work through issues of governance, zoning and Detached Accessory Dwelling Units while sipping wine and nibbling tuna tartare in an art gallery mansion.

Can't wait for the next one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Healthy" processed foods: not so much

New York Times: The Package May Say Healthy, but This Grocer Begs to Differ

Hannafords' ratings expose that most processed foods labelled as "healthy" are misleading at best. I'm surprised the grocers haven't been sued or blacklisted.

I don't think we collectively care, unfortunately.
[S]everal customers said they had heard about Guiding Stars in radio advertisements or seen it in the store, but that it had not influenced their purchasing. Several shoppers said they did not see the point.

"I buy whatever it is on my list," said Karen Wilson, 43. "If my kids want Cheerios, I buy them Cheerios and don't look at the stars."
Wow, quality nutrition and quality parenting there.
LiseAnne Deoul, 34, said she liked the idea of Guiding Stars even though the system had not helped her narrow her choices during a quick stop last week to buy pasta.

"All of it was the same," she said. "They all had two stars."
It does not occur to people that this tells you something useful about pasta?

This is why dishonest food labeling works, and why it'll continue to work regardless of what the stores may do.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tales from the road

Waimānalo Beach: sunriseI keep a travel blog, lately updated with tales from my family vacation to Waimānalo Beach on O'ahu.

I also uploaded zillions of photos to Flickr.

Just before we left, I picked up a fabulous little gadget, the Sony GPS-CS1 to geotag photos. It worked really well and Flickr made a cool map out of the results.

We stayed at the Sea Breeze Beach House, which I highly recommend to all!!