Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reading list updated

I keep a list of what I've read, what I'm reading and what I'm fixin' to read over on my personal site. The pace has slowed way down now that I'm no longer riding the bus to work, and I let the list get stale this fall, but tonight I've updated all my recent reads and re-filled the queue with my latest Borders and Amazon acquisitions.

The underlying code for that page is a bit spaghettish, but I'm pretty pleased with how I was able to get it to come out. (Refresh the page a few times to see my cool parlor trick.) The list data is maintained as an XML file and the page is built using JSP and templates. Maybe I'll look into Web 2.0ifying it this year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Remembering Jiji

Five Corners Animal Hospital is the 24-hour emergency clinic where we took Jiji on Christmas Eve (and, this summer, had taken Prissy the ancient Maltese when she was hit by a car on a Sunday). As I've recently discussed, I used to volunteer at a similar after-hours emergency clinic. You really have to admire people who are willing to give up their Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, to make sure that the rest of us have a place to take our pets when they get into the chocolate or the poinsettia, or when we figure out that holding out until Boxing Day was overly optimistic. I euthanized one beloved pet this festive holiday season, but they probably euthanized many more. And, hopefully, saved a few.

VCA Five Corners is a corporate clinic, which I have mixed feelings about. NTEPC is a co-op and I still think their economic model is amazingly cool. But I'm pleased to report that the corporateness doesn't diminish the compassion or professionalism of the staff.

Anyway, on Thursday I got a sympathy card in the mail from Five Corners. That's standard practice and I was pretty much expecting one. What I wasn't expecting was a handmade card inside, decorated all over with hearts and Jiji's name and, in the center, her paw print. Before sending her off to be cremated, they took her paw print. I hardly need to say that I bawled like a baby. I especially loved Jiji's bony little paws, and now I have a life-size memento. I reckon I'll frame the print along with a picture or two of her.

What do you do, I wonder, to say "thanks" to a corporate clinic?

P.S. Thanks, also, to the good friends who gave me a sympathy bouquet today!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Five things meme

I'm not normally the meme type, but I have great respect for Eszter's blog and thus I don't take her tap lightly! Hi Eszter!

I talk so darned much all the time that it's hard for me to imagine any information about me that everybody hasn't already been subjected to, but I'll give it a try. :)

1. My mom is deaf. She speaks almost flawlessly and can lipread most people, but I still functioned as an "interpreter" and handled all the family's phone calls from an early age (five or six). I think it may be similar to how second-generation immigrant children translate for their parents. I suspect this is why I'm so talkative and have always been fairly confident speaking up around my elders. I got in trouble with some adults for correcting Mom's pronunciation in public, but she would always reassure me privately that she wanted me to help her speak perfectly and she welcomed those corrections. I wonder if that's why I'm so contrary now. ;)

I don't sign worth a darn, except for the alphabet and "Silent Night", but I lipread pretty well and I normally watch people's mouths, rather than their eyes, when they talk.

2. For several years in my late 20s, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I volunteered at the North Texas Emergency Pet Clinic¹ in the evenings (after working my day job as a software developer). Chuck and I traveled to Texas A&M University for an open house at their CVM, and I spoke with counselors there and at UW about what it would take for me to pick up remedial science credits before applying to vet school. When we moved back to Seattle, I initially took a job as a clinic receptionist. I ended up abandoning my veterinary aspirations when I got a closer look at the challenging economics of clinic practice and, at the same time, got an offer for an obscenely high-paying job as a software consultant.

I adopted Jiji in part because I figured I could at least put my experience to good use taking care of older pets with special needs.

3. I'm an active member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the proprietor of the only, as far as I know, OES blog on the web.

4. I'm a language geek, although I'm quite terrible at actually speaking languages. I have taken classes in French, Russian and Spanish. Russian was the biggest disappointment; I loved it, but after nearly four years of study, these days I can barely remember two words and one children's song. I do read Cyrillic pretty well, though. I'm a huge fan of modern-traditional Scottish Gaelic music and I've learned phonetic Gaelic so I can sing along (and I've done exactly one a cappella Gaelic gig). I picked up a respectable amount of travelers' German on my trip in 2005 and would like to learn more. I mastered exactly two words in Czech, although I was able to muddle through a few more to fend off a would-be suitor at the Prague train station. I've dabbled in Welsh, Japanese, Danish, Cherokee and Latin. I like to study alphabets and pronunciation so I can handle native people- and place-names even in languages I don't know, such as Polish and Hawai'ian. For no apparent reason, I recently decided to collect the Nicene and/or Apostle's Creed in as many languages as possible, which necessitated installing about a hundred new fonts. I'm considering a new, more useful project to document "excuse me", "thank you" and "please" in as many languages as possible, and maybe "hurry!" in case I ever get cast on "The Amazing Race".

5. I play guitar in a startup quasi-bluegrass band.

Tapping Jana, Jim, Cameron, Siri and LG.

¹ I created their first website and was surprised to find that a lot of the content they're using today was originally written by me!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"He was delicious."

We knew it'd come in handy eventually.

I always thought this was one of the funniest sketches evar on SNL, and I've quoted it regularly ever since. So when the real news finally broke, I found out by someone quoting it back at ME. Thanks to lafe for tracking down the video... I bow to your superior Google-Video-fu....

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown IS Dead

Seriously old-school techno. I've owned this track since it was released, I thought longer ago than 1991, but whatever. In spite of its title/chorus, the lyrics do conclude that James Brown is not actually dead.

There were counter-tracks released by other bands: "James Brown Is Still Alive" and "Who the Fuck is James Brown?" This one had to win the rhetorical argument eventually, though, and on Christmas Day 2006, it finally has.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

RIP Jiji, 1988-2006

We euthanized Jiji this morning, on Christmas Eve.

I would have to say that the many stresses of the windstorm and five-day power outage took their toll on her, but so did the cold winter weather and the passage of time in general.

After three full days in the cold at my power-less house, we both found refuge at my sister's cozy apartment in West Seattle. Jiji seemed her usual self for two more days; don't know if she was masking symptoms, or if something more acute happened while we were not looking. We suspect a seizure or a stroke, brought on by the progression of the kidney disease. In any case, when I brought her home on Wednesday night, she was terribly agitated and in real distress. I couldn't find any way to settle her. She spent all day Thursday, overnight, and most of the day Friday at her vet, where they tested for many things and treated many more... all best guesses, as is so much of veterinary work. Two different doctors mentioned "senility", which turned out to be the key.

When I brought her home again on Friday night, she went right back to the same agitated behavior, and that's when we realized that she truly didn't know where she was (and hadn't on Wednesday, either). Her other ailments weren't the cause of her distress. She was lost, confused and probably scared. She didn't know any of her old favorite places in the house, and she started getting into rooms and climbing on things she had never shown any interest in before. It was like having a different, new cat, and it was hard to accept that she wasn't ever going to sit with me in the same way or share any of my favorite interactions again.

But, we hoped, maybe we could help her re-adjust to her home and build a new relationship. In a way, that worked. She was able to settle in, and in a strange way she still seemed to know us... at least, to know that she could trust us and that we loved her. I imagined that she might be trying to figure out how the heck I knew all her favorite spots to be petted. "You taught me," I told her. She started looking for me in my regular place on the sofa, and would come to me when I sat there. She calmed down. She slept, just in new places.

But she still wasn't feeling well, and couldn't bring herself to eat. Loss of appetite is one of the major signs that the kidneys have failed beyond recovery. I came up with my list of enticements, all the things we would try over the next few days to get her eating again, and we tried all of them. Nothing worked. It wasn't just that they didn't work; it was that whenever we went to the kitchen, she would follow us and meow and wait to be fed. She was hungry, and she knew she needed to eat, but when the food was placed in front of her she just couldn't do it. On Saturday night, I mixed some food with water and managed to get her to swallow 2.5 cc's from a syringe, but her heart wasn't in it.

On Christmas Eve morning she let us know that she was really done. She hadn't touched any food overnight, could barely drink water, lurched and wobbled when she tried to walk, and couldn't hold her head up. I had just finished reading about end-of-life for cats and the telltale head drop. I catalogued all the medicines, treatments and techniques I had available to try on her, and couldn't bring myself to subject her to any of them. It was just enough.

I've never actually had to euthanize a pet before, and the thing I hadn't really figured out was that if the purpose of euthanasia is to prevent a pet from suffering, what that means is, you have to make the decision to euthanize before the pet is clearly suffering, in other words, when the pet still seems to be stable and could be "OK" for some indefinite longer time. I'll never know whether she might have been "OK" through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it was very clear she wasn't going to get any better thereafter, and that meant there wasn't anything left to wait for. Our gift to her was peace, and an end to her disease. At the emergency vet, she nuzzled into the crook of my arm and just seemed so, so tired. It was hard to let her go, but she told us it was time.

Jiji lived nearly nineteen years. Her vet's records (dating back before I adopted her) showed she was born in 1988. She was older than my high school diploma. :) No one I know had ever even heard of a nineteen-year-old cat, much less one so companionable in her eighteenth year, much less one who had been indoor-outdoor for the seventeen years before she came to me! Vets were impressed that she made it seventeen full years before showing any signs of CRF, and that she lasted another full year after the disease emerged (the cat's body compensates so well that by the time symptoms become visible, the kidneys are already 75-80% gone). She was a wonderful cat and a perfect companion. I was so lucky to have her for the year that I did.

Rest in peace, Jiji, wherever you are. I love you.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Unisex baby hell

This is how bad it is. As I was shopping for friends' baby shower this weekend, I mentally applauded them for refusing to know in advance the sex of their baby, especially when I discovered how unbelievably difficult it is to find unisex baby clothes. No matter how many times you tell the relatives you prefer unisex, I thought, they're going to get stereotypically gendered stuff out of desperation because there's nothing else here.

It turns out it's worse than that. These same friends had a similarly-situated expectant friend or relative. Her family decided on their own that it would be a boy, and bought it blue boys' clothes anyway. Hmm... but I'm not sure what it proves that when the baby turned out to be a girl, they decided that the boys' clothes couldn't be used and now they're packed away, waiting for someone else in the family to have a boy. If you decide that your "unisex" girl baby "can't" wear "boys' blue"...?

I ended up going empty-handed to the shower because I hated the only unisex I could find and I wanted to take the time to shop better. Today it's looking like the entire mission is a fool's errand. Witness: >
Apparel & Accessories >
Kids & Baby >
Infant & Toddler >
* Girls
* Boys
* Shoes
Girls, boys, shoes? Surely....
Search >
Infant & Toddler >
"Unisex" >
* "Gerber" Onesie with Matching Cap and Booties (Unisex)
Choose a color:
* Pink
* Blue
I give up. I guess the only way to avoid "gendering" a baby is to let it go naked.

Oh, wait. Hmm. Dammit.

Update: I'm not alone! Rigid lines between boys' things and girls' things removes options

Monday, December 04, 2006

Women's Big Break/LPGA Q School final report

Final standings of Big Break contestants competing at LPGA Q School 2006:

Top 15, earning exempt status:
T10 Sarah Lynn Johnson  BB6  T16  72-73-72-71-70  358  -2
Next 35 and ties, earning non-exempt (conditional) status:
 1  Jeanne Cho          BBV  T19  71-72-72-74-71  360   E
27 Kristina Tucker BBV T50 73-76-71-73-73 366 +6
36 Becky Lucidi BBV T50 77-77-67-72-75 368 +8
37 Ashley Prange BBV T50 69-76-73-75-75 368 +8
Failed to advance to final round:
Ashley Gomes            BB6  CUT  78-76-76-75     305  +17
Also, Big Breakers who failed to advance at Florida Sectional Q School:
Julie Wells             BBV  CUT  80-74           154  +10
Bridget Dwyer BB6 CUT 76-79 155 +11
Dana Lacey BBV CUT 80-76 156 +12
Annie Mallory BB6 DQ 86 86 +14
Nota bene: Kristy McPherson, BB6, already qualified for 2006 exempt status as one of the top 5 finishers on the FUTURES Tour money list.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Women's Big Break/LPGA Q School report

Sort of a "where are they now?" thing.

Big Break contestants competing in LPGA Q School 2006, after 4 rounds:
Sarah Lynn Johnson  BB6  T16  72-73-72-71  288    E
Jeanne Cho BBV T19 71-72-72-74 289 +1
Becky Lucidi BBV T50 77-77-67-72 293 +5
Kristina Tucker BBV T50 73-76-71-73 293 +5
Ashley Prange BBV T50 69-76-73-75 293 +5
Ashley Gomes BB6 CUT 78-76-76-75 305 +17
Final round tomorrow! Exempt cards for the top 15 finishers, non-exempt status for the next 35.

Also, Big Breakers who failed to advance at Florida Sectional Q School:
Julie Wells         BBV  CUT  80-74        154  +10
Bridget Dwyer BB6 CUT 76-79 155 +11
Dana Lacey BBV CUT 80-76 156 +12
Annie Mallory BB6 DQ 86 86 +14
Nota bene: Kristy McPherson, BB6, already qualified for 2006 exempt status as one of the top 5 finishers on the FUTURES Tour money list.

Several other BB competitors have retired from competition, but I'm not sure what's happened to all of them. So far none have earned status on the LPGA. No one from BBIII is represented on the FUTURES Tour 2006 Money List at all and none played in any of the Q School tournaments this year.

Friday, December 01, 2006

w1b a11y, Day 3 and wrapup

A smaller crowd today, and a shorter session.

We got a demo from the blind Ph.D. Google guy of his audio desktop, which is a collection of scripts that run the gamut from API-based extensibility of sites to old-school screen-scraping. Basically, he said, out of necessity, he started doing the stuff Greasemonkey does now, about five years before Greasemonkey started doing it. He showed how direct access to content is vastly superior to parsing through a visually-oriented site using a browser rendered by a screenreader, and there's no doubt to me that he's right about that. The problem, for now, is that he has such a poweruser setup that it really isn't useful to blind folks who aren't Ph.D.s at Google.

After the coffee break, we had a free-for-all session. Several of the attendees had websites that we tested, on the big screen, using the Window-Eyes screenreader. This was useful on several levels. First, coming on the heels of the audio desktop demo, it was further proof that direct content beats the clunky screenreader, hands down, and the poor Window-Eyes vendor's protestations didn't help his case any. It's not that his screenreader is such an awful screenreader, as screenreaders go; it's that screenreaders seem like totally the wrong paradigm. I can't help but think of the difference between Signing Exact English and ASL.

The website testing was a bit of déjà vu for me. One after another, websites created by really passionate people, who believed they had really rigorously followed accessibility standards, flunked out when tested with a real live screenreader. Heck, even one of the organizers of the conference, who does these kinds of standards for a living, was surprised by some of the screenreader's behaviors. The same thing happened to me when I, a really passionate person who believed I had really rigorously followed accessibility standards, took my web app to a beta test with a real live blind user and real live JAWS.

I had a lightbulb moment during today's testing session. It isn't just that the accessibility standards are out-of-date, though they are. We are really dealing with two totally different issues, both of which have their analogues in the sighted web. There's standards-based accessibility, the traditional kind, and then there's accessible usability. If you think about the early web, it's clear that these were different things for the sighted world, too, and that one lagged behind the other.

Standards are pretty concrete. Well, OK, less so these days, but still. The problem is, nobody follows them, and the screenreaders know that nobody follows them, so the screenreaders have no choice but to adopt workarounds, which break the standards. (Déjà vu again? Isn't this what some of the early (sighted) browser wars were about?)

But beyond that, standards are not enough. Just like in the sighted web, a perfectly standards-compliant site may be incomprehensible to users; in the case of accessibility, may be incomprehensible to users with screenreaders. Poor organization, badly-designed widgets, counter-intuitive behaviors are not usable. And if a site isn't usable, it isn't accessible, no matter how "compliant" it is.

I doubt very much that I'm the first person to think of accessible usability. It sounds like some of the other (sighted) attendees at this week's conference figured out something along these lines themselves. Screenreader users probably thought of it a long, long time ago.

The problem is, like sighted usability, accessible usability is bound to be much more abstract, less understood, more widely variable among users, and generally debatable for years to come.

And that's even before we attack the paradigm.

This stuff is hard.