Happy New Year (2013)

Goodbye 2012, hello 2013.

It has been exactly a year since my last blog post, but I thought I should carry on the routine of writing about the year that has gone and the one to come as an aid to my own memory rather than the expectation of anyone reading this.

I’ve had basically the same goals for the last few years, so to start let’s take a look at them.

  • I’ve lost some weight. After losing some towards the end of 2011 I slowly put it all and more back on, reaching probably my heaviest ever weight. Since that point I’ve lost 15.9kg / 35lb / 2 stone 7 pounds, and that is after a fairly indulgent Christmas. Hopefully I can keep this weight off and lose more this year.
  • I’ve finally found a flat to buy. Contracts have been exchanged, and completion will be on the 8th January.
  • I’ve not started playing bass again, but have taken up the violin.
  • Another new hobby is fencing (the bladed weapon variety). I’ve completed a beginners course and plan to do a lot more this year.

Not bad going really. I have a few new goals for this year, which I’ll hopefully be able to (and have the will to) write about at a later date.

The highlight of the past year was my sister’s wedding, which was the best I have ever been to (a completely unbiased opinion, of course), and it was wonderful to be able to play a role in it.

Professionally, I find myself involved more an more in accessibility work. This is a very good thing, and I hope to carry this in to 2013. I’ll be speaking at the CSUN conference for the second year in a row, this time on the subject of Accessibility and the Web Development Process. The last year has seen lots of good work in my day job at the BBC, and I plan to write a bit more about that in the coming months. I’ll have been working at the BBC for 2 years come the end of January, and there is lots more I want to do there so I guess I’ll be sticking around for a while longer.

So long, 2012. Bring on 2013. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year (2012)

Another year gone by, and once again it has been a great one.

In January I started a new job, web developer on the Frameworks team at the BBC. Five years or so ago I came up with a list of three companies I would like to work for. Yahoo! was one of them. Tick. BBC was one of the others. Tick! I’m pleased to say that my expectations have been exceeded, I work with a great bunch of people and enjoy (almost) every day. Starting on Tuesday, my first day back after a Christmas break, I’m going to start work on a very exciting accessibility related project, making my job for the next month or so even more interesting.

In March I co-presented ‘Inclusive Design: Creating Beautiful, Usable & Accessible Websites’ at SXSW Interactive, and the following week had the best conference experience I’ve ever had at CSUN 2011. This year I will be attending again, and also speaking on the subject of Cyberethics and Accessibility.

In July, my first book was published. I’ve had enough time away from writing it to think that I’d like to have a go at the 4th edition, but this time write it from scratch instead of revising a previous edition.

After all that the second half of the year seemed quite quiet, but passed just a quickly.

This year there is one other big occasion I am looking forward to, the wedding of my sister at the end of April.

So, what else has been going on?

  • I finally started to lose weight, still a long way to go, but I’m getting there. My sisters wedding is a big incentive to lose a lot more.
  • Still no place of my own, but I’m a bit more hopeful of buying somewhere this year.
  • I attended a few more gigs in 2011 than I did in 2010. Best of them were: Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden (saw them twice in just over a week), Within Temptation, and Terrorvision (the second time I saw them, although they were good the first time as well).
  • On a related note, I’ve not picked up my bass for an entire year. I really need to buy a new one, but that has been the case for years.
  • Now I’ve started to lose weight I’m hopeful that I can take up Judo again, without damaging my knees every time I play.

So, life is good, and I hope yours is too. Have a great year, everyone.

Published

Today my first book, Beginning CSS: Cascading Style Sheets for Web Design, was released. Published by Wrox, this is the 3rd edition of a popular book that was previously written by Richard York, and I can only hope it is reviewed as favourably as his editions.

Richard gets author credit on the 3rd edition because this a revision, albeit one with lots of new stuff, rather than a rewrite. When Wrox offered me the job of creating the 3rd edition they let me make the decision on whether to revise or rewrite – I choose to revise it as I had no idea of what I was getting myself in to and figured it would be easier than starting with a blank page. In fact I found editing another persons words harder than writing the original copy in the book. If there is a next time, I’ll know better.

The process of writing / revising a book was interesting, a combination of frustration, hard work and satisfaction. I spent over 6 months knowing that whenever I was doing anything in my spare time other than writing that I had something I should be doing. At the same time browser vendors don’t have the good grace to stop working on their products (not even Microsoft!) so that the book doesn’t get out of date so quickly. While everything I wrote applies perfectly well to the latest versions of browsers, the deadline for the last chapter was just before the release of both IE9 and Firefox 4, and I knew nothing about IE10 or Firefox 5.

When I was done it was a great relief, but only a few weeks after I was already missing it, and couldn’t stop myself working on a chapter outline for another book. Whether I’ll ever write it is a different matter.

For now I can only hope that someone, somewhere, learns a thing or two about CSS from this book, and that they go on to enjoy creating websites as much as I do.

BBC

I am proud to be able to say that from tomorrow, 24th January 2011, I will be an employee of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

I will be working as a web developer on the Frameworks team, part of the Future Media and Technology Group. The BBC have long been on the list of organizations I wanted to work for (a list that included Yahoo! incidentally) so I am very excited about this new job.

I’ll be on the same team as one former colleague from the Yahoo! Front Doors team, Andrew ‘Bob’ Brockhust, and will hopefully get to work with other former Yahoo!s Neil Crosby, David Dorward and Mike Whitaker, who have also joined the BBC over the last few years. I’m also looking forward to meeting many more smart and talented people, and to having the opportunity to develop some great things with them.

Happy New Year (2011)!

Another year has passed, and I’d like to look backward and forward in time, to the year gone and the year yet to come.

While 2010 was another great year for me it feels as if it has been a lead up to what I hope is an even better 2011. Some of the good stuff has been as a consequence of writing on this site, so let’s start there.

As with the previous year I started strong with the quantity (and hopefully improving quality) of my posts, with 3 posts in January receiving favourable reactions. Arguably more important in terms of my future however was a post titled Accessibility is a human right. This led to Sandi Wassmer getting in contact with me, asking if she could quote me in an upcoming presentation. Of course I agreed, and eventually we met and found that we have a common cause. Thanks to Sandi I have become involved in the Department for Business Innovation & Skills e-Accessibility Forum. You can read all about it on the site, and I will write further on this in the future, needless to say I am excited to be involved.

Even more exciting is that Sandi and I will be co-presenting at SXSWi on the subject of “Inclusive Design: Building the Web for All“! This is a topic that Sandi proposed, so it is an honour to be asked to work with her on it. Right now it’s hard to believe that this is happening, in time I expect that feeling to be replace with abject terror.

On the subject of conference speaking it was a great pleasure for me to talk at Think Visibility back in September. I think the small number of people who made the decision to miss one of the main attractions to hear me talk enjoyed and appreciated what I had to say about web accessibility, which is not bad going at a conference predominantly about SEO, so it was a very enjoyable and useful experience for me. Thanks Dom.

I also spoke at London Web on the subject of accessibility in large companies as warmup for a presentation from Remy Sharp. Remy is a seriously nice guy and I sincerely hope that 2011 treats him better than 2010.

During the year I started working on my first book, revising Beginning CSS: Cascading Style Sheets for Web Design for its 3rd edition. I must thank my former colleague Nicholas Zakas for suggesting me to Wrox for this work. It has not been easy at times, but it has been another great experience. There is still plenty more to be done on it, but it should be released sometime in May.

In August I said farewell to Yahoo!. Working for Yahoo! was a life changing experience. None of the great things I have already talked about would have been possible with out my time there, a list which I must add my evolvement in the W3C Education and Outreach Working Group. I’ll have more to say on my career after Yahoo! very soon.

Looking back on my goals for 2010:

  • I’ve not written a whole lot more (although having Opera publish an article on “Web accessibility for cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties” was quite satisfying);
  • I’ve still not found a flat;
  • I’ve not lost any weight, although I did briefly take up Judo before it became clear that my knees can’t take the strain, I need another way to lose weight first unfortunately;
  • I’ve met many people I’ve only previously known online;
  • If anything I’ve spend less time with offline friends, but more time with new and previously online friends;
  • I haven’t bought a new bass guitar yet, and my old one is beyond the point at which it is playable;

So although I’ve achieved rather a lot in the last 12 months it is not what I expected. I think most of these goals will remain in 2011, but with the added excitement of SXSWi, a book release, influencing government policy and who knows what else!

FInally let me wish you a very happy new year. Many thanks to everyone who has helped me or offered me opportunities this last year. If there is anything I can do for you in 2011, just ask!

Yahoo!

Yahoo!

Today is my last day working for Yahoo!

Rather than write a farewell email to my current colleagues I thought I’d write a blog post that former colleagues could also read and comment on, and also serve as a place to give some of my thoughts about working for Yahoo! in general.

I started working for Yahoo! on the 24th of September 2007. Before this I had worked for a small agency style company in the North of England for 7.5 years. It had taken me a long time, but I was excited to be working for a company like Yahoo! for my second ever full time job.

It was clear from day one that I was going to be working with very smart people and while everyone was very welcome it was also clear that I was going to have to prove myself. I think I was able to do that, and soon settled in the job.

I have worked both on Spirit, the previous version of the Yahoo! front page, and also Metro, the current page. On the Metro project I was able to experience working with a large international team on one of the most visited page on the web.

Over time I was able to get involved with YDN who do really fantastic work which is often not appreciated by developers, and the EU Accessibility Task Force which is a group of developers in the Yahoo! London office who have a strong interest in web accessibility. While I don’t think we changed the world we certainly made a nuisance of ourselves within the company, and this group inspired other task forces to be set up around the world, notably in Sunnyvale and Bangalore.

Later I became a representative for Yahoo! on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Education & Outreach Working Group which I will continue working with as an Invited Expert for at least the next 6 months.

Working for Yahoo! has also led to opportunities outside of the office, conference speaking, book writing and government advising amongst them. More on all of this another time.

The point of all of this trumpet blowing is that it is only because I have worked for Yahoo! that any of this has been possible for me. Regardless of what anyone may say about the company it is a truly great place to work. I can honestly tell you that I don’t regret a single minute of my time here. It opens doors for developers, and would advise any web dev who wants to make a name for themselves to spend part of your career here.

At the time I started it was possible to make a strong case for the team of web developers in the London office being the best in the world. Sadly many of the people who made it such a joy to work here have moved on, either to other companies or to the Yahoo! mothership in Sunnyvale. Trust me, the quality is still here but we are losing the quantity, and currently there seems to be little desire to build up the team again. This is why I have decided to move on, and seek a new challenge somewhere else.

To everyone who I have worked with over the just-less-than 3 years I have been here, both in London and in the US, I thank you for everything you have done for me and the friendship you have shown me. I hope that many of you will be lifelong friends and that we will work together again in the future.

I am genuinely saddened to be leaving, but the time is right. Maybe one day I will be back.

Thanks again,

Ian.

p.s.

On Monday I start work at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. If it is only half as great as Yahoo! I will be in a good place.

2010 Q1 report

A quarter of the year has been and gone so now seemed a good time to see how my 2010 has panned out so far.

The biggest news I have is that back in February my employers, Yahoo!, nominated me as a participant in the W3C Education and Outreach Working Group. I’ve been interested in joining this group for some time so it is great to be accepted. As I said at the beginning of the year ‘Education and sharing of knowledge is increasingly becoming important to me’ so this is definitely a step in the direction I want to take.

March marked my tenth year as a professional web developer, a job that I love and can’t imagine not doing. I don’t remember the exact date I started that first job unfortunately, but I can remember how bad I was as it back in March 2000! Luckily for me what we consider bad code now seemed perfectly normal in those days (although there are still people coding like it’s 1999). Since then I’ve gone through several stages of improvement, to the point that I think I can consider myself pretty good at making more internets. There is always room for improvement though, always new things to learn – this is part of the reason that it remains interesting.

Goals update

I had talked about a few other goals back on January 1st:

Speaking more

So far I have been to one BarCamp from which I have had interest to speak at a conference later in the year. Not a bad start, I hope the conference works out.

Write more

I made a good start on this, for some time I managed to post every week. Unfortunately I only managed to keep this up until the 3rd week of February. What I did blog about received favourable responses which is very encouraging. I’m hoping this post will kick start another writing spree.

Flat hunting

Unless I want to live next to a train line (with trains at 3-5 minute intervals) this has not gone any better this year than last. Oh well, nothing to do but carry on looking.

Lose weight

Maybe. Trousers are certainly looser than they were, but I haven’t weighed myself so I could have just changed shape somehow. I haven’t started martial arts training yet, which is a bit disappointing, but I’ll try and find the time over the coming months.

Meet up with people I follow on Twitter

Last week I was able to meet up with David Sloan in Dundee. He is a nice chap, and I hope I’ll get to talk to him in person again sometime soon. Who’s next?

Spend more time with offline friends

If anything I’ve spent less time with people outside of work than usual. This should improve in April as I’ve got plans already.

Learn to play guitar.

I’ve listened to lots of guitar playing, does that count?

Q2 and beyond

I still have plenty to do to succeed with my 2010 goals, although overall I’m quite pleased with progress so far. Writing seems to be key to success for several, so it is where I should focus most of my efforts. There are several pieces of work that I need to complete for other people, so they need to be my priority, but this web log needs attention as well.

Other than that life is, as usual for me, taking care of itself.

Accessibility is a human right

I’d like to add my own thoughts to those expressed by Vlad Alexander’s excellent article Is Web accessibility a human right?.

This is a subject I feel strongly about. A sense of morality is all that I think should be required to find the motivation to make accessible websites, the legal argument means little to me.

I his article Vlad mentions specific parts of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which I will expand upon, but let’s start with Articles 1, 2 and 6:

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

From this we see that human rights respect the dignity of the individual and have no limits or distinctions, and apply to everyone regardless of their status.

Next, let’s look at the three points mentioned in Vlad’s article, the right to choose where we work, the right to access education, and the right to participate in culture.

Article 23.

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

Article 26.

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Article 27.

  1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

I think that is safe to say that an accessible web is necessary to meet all of these goals in 21st century Britain, and much of the rest of the world. Article 27 elegantly does away with the argument that only commercial sites are required to be accessible.

Now, I suspect I’m starting sound rather militant about web accessibility which may seem at odds with some of the points I made in my post about Web accessibility myths, particularly Content that isn’t 100% accessible shouldn’t be published.I strongly believe that all content on the web should be accessible to all who want to access it, but I’m also a pragmatic sort of person who thinks that one of the strengths of the web, and reasons for its success, is that it is an easy platform to publish to.

I would not want to discourage a single person from publishing online, or requiring extensive knowledge of the arcane discipline of web accessibility before they do, but at the same time it is imperative that those of us who call ourselves web developers or web designers as well as the suppliers of content authoring tools do our utmost to educate others and develop responsibly.

It isn’t just the law, it is far more important than that. It is a moral obligation.

Speaking out – public speaking made easy

Last night I attended Speaking out – public speaking made easy organised by Laura North and Christian Heilmann with David Bell, Katie Streten and Christian speaking. Here are my notes.

David Bell (Merrill Lynch) – Focus on presentation styles and contexts

  • Contexts – style and delivery vary according to type of meeting (small, large, conference) and your role within it (pitching ideas, asking questions).
  • Preparation – the key to being relaxes is to be prepared, focussing on:
    • who your audience is
    • message you want to deliver
    • materials – appropriate slides
    • objective – what is the purpose of the meeting / presentation
  • Style – presentation style determined by:
    • presenters personality
    • audience
    • subject
  • Summary
    • connecting with audience is vital
    • preparation is the key to being relaxed
    • be selective with your material – think big picture
    • your style will develop over time and comes with practice
    • presentations are performances – sometimes they go better than others
    • everyone gets nervous – you aren’t the only one

Katie Streten (Imagination) – Reasons not to like public speaking, and some suggestions for dealing with them

  • Reason 1 – no one will be interested in what I have to say
    • they are there
    • you have been asked to speak
    • think what you can give them
  • Reason 2 – I will go blank
    • prepare – write script long hand
    • read it to people are yourself
    • write card notes
    • highlight key moments
    • don’t practice too much
  • Reason 3 – I’m afraid that everyone will find out that I’m a fraud
    • you’ve been asked to speak
    • everyone thinks this
  • Reason 4 – I will look out over the crowd and freeze
    • don’t look at the crown, pick 3 spots to look at
    • place a friend at the back to smile at you
    • they are more interested in the talk than in you
  • Reason 5 – I will lose my place and stall
    • use card notes
    • practice
    • audience are on your side
    • ‘fess up
  • Reason 6 – I will ask something that everyone else understands
    • most other people are thinking the same thing
    • that’s their problem
    • you are helping someone in the audience
  • Reason 7 – It feels artificial, it should feel like a conversation
    • audience hates it to
    • say ‘Hello’
    • move your arms at waist height
    • don’t have a rigid script
  • Powerpoint
    • bullet points
    • pictures
  • Conclusion
    • people genuinely want to hear what you have to say
    • think about your audience – what can you give them?
    • if all else fails.. try and remember the detail of 1 speech you have heard in your life – no-one can

Christian Heilmann (Yahoo!) – How to inspire as a speaker

Chris has written his own post on the event, which includes a link to his slide deck and video of his presentation.

  • Have a different point of view
  • Find the story that makes the difference
  • Audience and information are more important than the speaker
  • Knowing what the audience needs is the most important part of the presentation
  • Having the right mindset is important – you have nothing to lose
  • How do you get this mindset?
    • know your subject
    • own your talk
    • practice
  • Practice by:
    • loud reading in different character voices
    • listening to audio books
    • listen to yourself
    • Powerpoint Karaoke
    • lightning talks
  • Get inspired by good examples
  • Thinks to avoid
    • imitation
    • reading your slides
    • forgetting the story
    • blinging it up

APIs and accessibility

While there are many things that developers can do to make web applications accessible it remains true that it is near impossible to cater for the needs of all users all of the time. There are simply too many requirements to try and meet, and time pressures alone mean that your application will not be able to deal with them all.

For example, the majority of users of a site like YouTube will benefit from a clean and simple interface, with subtle use of colour which does not distract from the video being played. They may like to have other videos recommended for them to watch. Users with learning difficulties however may benefit from large buttons with strong colours so that they can easily differentiate between them; recommended videos may be an unwanted distraction.

Of course YouTube could provide two different interfaces, but would then also need to design a mechanism to switch between them and from the requirements we have already defined this may necessitate a large colourful button on a clean interface, which somewhat ruins the user experience. And this is just one extra version, it may also need to create a version for low vision users (perhaps a high contrast version), deaf users (more space dedicated to captions), motor control impaired users (larger buttons), and many more. This is not maintainable for most companies, no matter how large.

By offering an Application Programming Interface, usually referred to as an API, which allows access to content and interactions other developers can create their own interfaces catering to a specific need.

One of the best known examples of this in the accessibility world is the work that Antonia Hyde and Christian Heilmann did on Easy YouTube.

Easy YouTube is an interface to YouTube aimed at users with learning difficulties. It has large and colourful buttons, clearly explained controls and an intuitive interface which makes it easy for users to either watch a specific video or search for new videos.

YouTube and Easy YouTube player is a great video demonstrating the difference that an interface designed for a users specific needs can make.

This wouldn’t have been possible had YouTube not provided a method for accessing and interacting with their content, so the next time you are working on a new web app give some thought to providing an API.