As you well know, dear reader, I am a freelancer, and as freelancers well know
Contracts Must Die. Thanks to the kind support of Adobe, Google, and Microsoft, I have
had an interesting two-year run being part of the W3C Team and shepherding the HTML5
specification towards Recommendation. As August goes, these two years too will end.
Waiting for the singularity
With all these Web@25, W3C@20, WHAT@10, and of course Robin@37 worldwide celebrations it seems
like as good a time as any to take a few minutes for musings about where we’ll be ten years
from now. The content here is not meant to be particularly serious (or anywhere near
complete), but I operate under conservative assumptions, for instance that the world doesn’t get
overrun by an evil AI in the meantime. I’m also not interested in every other small detail.
These are some of my opinions, and while I very, very much welcome opinionated disagreement I
certainly don’t mind that part of them may feel outrageous to some — nor how wrong they turn
out to be.
Evil geniuses, be it in history or fiction, tend to distinguish themselves through some
unique trait that hallmarks their own personal expertise beyond the generic,
run-of-the-mill apparatus of evil. Dracula has dread, Torquemada has torture, Carly Rae
Call Me Maybe. If ever an evil genius were to rise from the ranks of the
standards community, there is no shade of a doubt for me that her evil specificity will be
In 1937, Walter Lippmann wrote
The Good Society which captured with stunning
lucidity the politics of his time. And as many potent political texts, it echoes well
beyond its era. One of my favourite quotes from it is:
Austening ourselves to the full Brontë
Allow me, Dear Reader, to kick off with a remarkable statement that will no doubt keep you
astonished for days to come: I really, really don't like DRM. I want a third
party to be allowed to control my ownership of my books, movies, and music just as much
as I wish Ikea were allowed to come reclaim tables and cupboards from my home, Uniqlo to
snatch clothes off my hunky pecs, or Tanziti Abdelfattah (the baker around the corner) to
grab his baguette right out of my toaster.
Let us start off with Boltzmann Brains. Imagine a universe that is nothing more than a diffuse
cloud of stuff, without any structure to speak of. Perhaps it is at the heat death end of a
universe such as ours, perhaps it is because no such structure has emerged yet. That does not
matter. It also does not matter what the "stuff" is. It can be lots of elementary particles,
the sort that we know of; it can be some variant from another universe; or it can just be a
chaotic primordial bit soup, just raw random information.The latter type of
ur-chaos can match a good definition of nothing, but that’s the topic for
another blog post. What this diffuse universe is made of is irrelevant to the
argument made here.
I've long been very much in love with the semantic web vision. Or at least, that's
what I've been telling myself. I really like the idea of having lots of data out there,
with links between items, in a way that I can process. Easily. And I can't say I care
whether it's branded with capital "S" & "W" or not, or whether it becomes
Data on the Web. I'm definitely not amongst the most knowledgeable on the topic, and
it so happens (totally by chance) that I've only been involved with the existing fruits of this
technology in relatively minor ways. But the point is: I've always been deeply fond of the
idea, and I've been waiting. A lot.
Centre de Formatage des Entreprises
J'ai déménagé. Pas vraiment récemment, non, mais comme chacun le sait, le déménagement
est un de ces évènements de vie propices à faire fleurir le chaos, et en l'instance
qui nous concerne ici quelques séquelles demeurent. Heureusement que nous bénéficions
d'un service public fort pour nous épauler dans ces moments difficiles en nous permettant
de rester focalisés sur l'innovation, la croissance, et l'inversion de la courbe du
chômage. En l'occurrence, pour un indépendant comme moi, cette démarche passe par le
guichet unique de l'URSSAF qui se charge de répandre l'information nouvelle là où il faut.
W3C Specifications Should Use an Open License
The web standards community has been discussing using an open license for W3C standards for
quite some time now. We've had a long time to look at this from quite a few angles. Having
contemplated the arguments, I still feel that the fears that power the anti-forking sentiment,
even though they stem from a desire to help the web, are both unfounded and powerfully
counter-productive. Further, I believe that the world has changed a lot since the W3C Document
License came into effect — and with the
Copyright Experiment in HTML Working Group now is a good time to take this evolution into account.
As I've argued before (in French),
there are good reasons for ebooks to actually be sold at higher prices than pbooks. If you
reason purely in terms of manufacturing costs, it makes very little sense — but if manufacturing cost
influenced much beyond the minimal price that an item may be sold at we would have a very different
pricing landscape than the one we know. For starters, the price of Microsoft Office would be hard to evaluate
given that, as we all know, each new version is just an increasingly fancy wrapper around the same
page-numbering and bullet-indenting bugs that we already paid for fifteen years ago.
I stumbled across Garann Means's excellent blog
post “no country for old hackers”
and sure enough it resonates deeply. Web hacking used to be a pretty damn daft calling when you
consider what you could actually do, but it sure was fun. It's certainly true that
with great power comes, well, stuff that's a bit too easy. Code that works the first time over.
Tricks that, erm, what tricks? You just google what you want to do, download the right library,
and your problem's solved before you even knew you had one. But all is not lost!
A little while back you might recall that Paul Rouget posted a little demo about
Experimenting with HTML5 and native controls.
The title is broad but much of the content is about a cool demo of what can be done if browsers
implement the HTML
menu element. Allowing a site to integrate with the native UI
is a powerful approach to making the web easier to use and increase its world domination but
it naturally comes with its share of potential security issues.
Interfaces regularly require constant identifiers. You have a node and you want to know if it's
an element or a comment. You have a message and you want to know if it's email or SMS. That makes
sense. What baffles me is why in designing these APIs we insist on naming things with numbers
when we could name them with, you know, names.
On peut faire confiance à la filière de l'édition pour bien choisir ses mots. Homothétique.
Le vocable est peu courant. Mon respectable Dictionnaire historique de la langue française
n'en fait pas état. Au Dictionnaire des mathématiques figure bien un article, mais je ne pourrais
le citer ici sans devoir vous parler aussi d'espace affine, de corps commutatif, d'endomorphisme
et d'automorphisme, et de von Koch — l'ensemble étant moins sexy qu'il ne sonne. Cet usage est
donc novateur; il s'agit ici de décrire les livres électroniques reproduisant à l'identique
des œuvres imprimées, tout en admettant quelques enrichissements, le filigrane de l'idée voulant
que la transposition numérique n'apporte à elle seule aucun changement. C'est là une belle histoire
qu'il s'agit de classer au rayon fiction.
Watching a consensus-based process at work can be quite inspiring. From the outside I mean. Far
from the madding crowd of bicker and squabble. And in fast-forward montage. But inspiring it is.
More importantly, as is often claimed of Wikipedia, while it may very well work in practice, it
can never work in theory. This doesn't keep some of us from theorising about it anyway.
Web Applications Security
There is a lot of thinking going on around the possibility of using well-known Web technologies
in order to create not-served-from-HTTP, not-running-in-the-browser, having-access-to-powerful-additional-APIs
applications. I very much applaud the first two aspects, the third is more problematic. Not served
from HTTP is great because there's a bunch of stuff that I just want to do locally. Some things are
great for the cloud, but I like my local drive and there's a lot of information on it that I want to
stay there. Not running in the browser is good too (even if it's using the same engine) — frankly there
are only so many tabs you can handle. Heightened access is, however, something that we should be
a lot more careful about.
Sometimes words have interesting origins. According to his
Wikipedia entry, Draco was a 7th
century BCE Athenian legislator who replaced the system of oral law and blood feud with a written
code, posted clearly in public so that none could ignore it. By our lily-livered modern criteria,
his laws are deemed harsh because the few offences that didn't call for meting out the death penalty
enslaved their authors. But putting his deeds in context, one has to admit that a written,
shared law that is not subject to arbitrary interpretation and the whims of elders is very much a
The process of getting a technology standardised and adopted (not necessarily in that order)
across a broad spectrum of industry and community can be a complex one, with many failure
points. Amongst the problems that a group may face is when the opinions of some (louder)
members can give the impression that they represent the group's consensus, causing those who
disagree to leave post-haste (it's not as if there wasn't a lot of work to be done elsewhere
already). And as we all know, once someone has formed a negative opinion and discussed it
around them, it can be very difficult to change it back no matter what the facts say — all
you get from there on is confirmation bias.
It's always good to stat the year with a little humour. It's cold and damp outside,
the new year party was a disappointment despite you not expecting anything from it,
and, if you're me, you went to Spain on vacation and never one to go without having
tried local world-renowned specialties you came back with a nasty strain of influenza.
All in all, it's a good moment for some cheering up.
A common preoccupation of philosophy is the study of fallacies. I'm unsure how it became this common,
I can only presume that scaring up a shared definition of what the truth is has over time proven to
be such a dastardly headache-inducing activity that coming up with a list of every way in which one
can be wrong might have seemed easier — if only because not only can you drink at the same time, but
being drunk is actually a superior methodological approach to producing what is indeed a very, very long
list. Or maybe it is because after a few years' worth of honest debate, the young, starry-eyed philosopher
grows tired of having his buttocks handed over to him in separate bags by less honourable wranglers.
Schopenhauer's Art of Being Right
certainly lends credence to the latter.
Putting the wow back into the web
Many of you are likely to be familiar with HTML5 Boilerplate.
If not, I encourage you to check it out, it's a very useful template to bootstrap any HTML5 page you
may wish to produce. It includes a number of tricks and best practices that you probably want to use,
or at the very least be aware of. One of its most useful parts is that it includes a number of shims
that help produce HTML that works pretty much everywhere. I was using it the other day, and though
Hey, wouldn't it be nice if we had the same for SVG?
There are many ways of getting someone to do something that you would like them to. You can ask
nicely, you can put a gun to their head, you can wallow in the dust and kiss their boots. You
can turn on your irresistible Bambi eyes and stare until you prey can only give up. The latter is
my personal superpower, but that's not what brings us together today. What brings us together, on
this page, at this instant, is Bruce Lawson.
Juste un petit mot pour annoncer la publication d'une note sur laquelle j'ai travaillé
ces derniers mois: "Internet, politique et coproduction citoyenne", au think tank
La Fondation pour l'Innovation Politique (ou “Fondapol”
pour les intimes).
As many noticed on Twitter this morning, Google pulled off one of its neat little logo
tricks with a bunch of bouncy balls that fly all over the place. Useless. Very DHTML.
But hey, it works on we the geek crowd.
There are days on which you whip out your text editor, take a deep and fulfilling breath,
set your jaw to its squarest, type line after line of code as clouds drift by in fast motion,
run your code, and it just works. Right there. Right now. Smooth. And then there are days like
today when it seems the Universe is bending itself not just backwards but into exotic topologies
to tell you you shouldn't be writing code. Days, for instance, very much like today.
Le toujours très à propos Stéphane Sire me faisait part il y a peu de la citation qui suit.
Essayez de deviner de qui elle est, où elle est publiée, et la date de sa rédaction avant d'avoir fini
de la lire.
Agence du Patrimoine Immatériel en Exil
Il y a quelques mois, le site de l'Assemblée Nationale s'est vu ajouter une page listant les
projets de loi dont les études d'impact sont
actuellement ouvertes aux contributions. Les internautes peuvent y consulter un dossier et y
déposer une contribution. C'est très limité, on ne sait pas très bien à qui l'on s'adresse, il
n'y a pas vraiment de voie de retour ni de place pour le débat mais ne boudons pas: c'est déjà
un (tout petit) pas en avant.
La semaine dernière je suis allé à la
actifs immatériels publics, leviers de création de richesse et de modernisation de l'Etat
de l'APIE (Agence du Patrimoine Immatériel de l'État).
J'avoue que j'étais assez excité à l'idée d'aller voir de plus près ce qui se trame en matière
d'Open Data en France. Je n'en ai été que plus déçu à la fois par la totale absence du débat annoncé,
et par le peu de vision claire ou prometteuse fournie.
Après avoir pratiqué une politique pour le moins agressive, et justement décriée, à l'encontre d'Internet,
une partie, au moins, des députés de la majorité semble avoir réalisé que ses actions étaient à
rebours de l'évolution de la société et qu'elle paraissait ne manifester pour ces changements que mépris
et incompréhension. En réaction à ce dommageable état de fait, un groupe de travail
“Éthique du Numérique” réunissant deux douzaines de députés UMP
s'est penché sur une politique alternative, se voulant plus en phase avec son
temps. Ce dernier a récemment publié un rapport intitulé “Vive internet! Liberté et règles
dans le monde numérique”. Si son contenu est de qualité inégale, il fait néanmoins preuve d'un
mouvement salutaire dans le sens d'une meilleure compréhension d'Internet par les politiques, et quelles
que soient mes appréciations variées de ses diverses parties je lui reconnaît sincèrement de contenir
suffisamment de matériau pour justifier le bazar de retour que je présente ici.
WebIDL is a schema language for APIs that is
being used (primarily) as part of W3C specifications in order to define various interfaces. If
you've read any recent API specification, you've read WebIDL. It is abstract enough that using
it one could generate interfaces for a great number of programming languages, but given its