Mar 072014

Langara is a loc­al col­lege offer­ing degrees in a num­ber of sub­jects, includ­ing Com­puter Stud­ies. I know one of the instruct­ors there, and he asked me to give a talk at their monthly Com­puter Tech meetup. As a top­ic, I picked Sim­ple Prin­ciples for Web­site Secur­ity, a short­er ver­sion of talks I’ve given at the XML Sum­mer School.

Apart from the fact that I was recov­er­ing from a bout with the vir­u­lent stom­ach bug that seemed to be going round Van­couver at the time, it was fun. A good bunch of people, decent ques­tions, and the stu­dent news­pa­per took advant­age of the oppor­tun­ity to write a column and make a video about basic inter­net secur­ity. One of my aims in this talk is to make the audi­ence para­noid, point­ing out some­times the bad guys really are out to get you, and talk­ing a bit about risk ana­lys­is and the trade-offs involved in writ­ing down strong pass­words (using a pass­word man­ager is bet­ter, of course). And the door prizes for Langara stu­dents were quite impress­ive!

Thanks to Ray­mond for invit­ing me, and Gail and Holly for organ­ising everything. I put the slides up at slide­share if you’re inter­ested.

Aug 272013

For the XML Sum­mer School this year, I’m teach­ing about HTML5, CSS3 and ePub in the Hands-on Web Pub­lish­ing course. The basic premise of the course is to show what tech­no­lo­gies are involved in tak­ing a bunch of Word doc­u­ments or XML files and turn­ing them into a decent-looking web­site or ePub. The course includes les­sons on rel­ev­ant bits of XSLT trans­form­a­tion (since Word is XML under the cov­ers, if you dig deeply enough), script­ing in Ruby to auto­mate as much as pos­sible, and, of course, enough inform­a­tion about HTML and CSS that people can make a decent-looking web­site in class in the hands-on part.

As a start­ing point for the exer­cises, we’ll use a gen­er­ated tem­plate from HTML5 boil­er­plate, since, if you pick the right options, it is rel­at­ively clean and sim­ple to under­stand. Look­ing at the cur­rent com­mon design prac­tices used across a num­ber of options (HTML5 boil­er­plate, Boot­strap, Word­Press tem­plates for example) coupled with web com­pon­ents and the sheer size and num­ber of HTML5-related spe­cific­a­tions from WHATWG and the W3C, I’m won­der­ing just how much more com­plic­ated it can all get before the pen­du­lum starts swinging back again towards sim­pli­city and sep­ar­a­tion of con­tent from pro­cessing. Even a bare-bones tem­plate has a num­ber of lines in it to deal with older ver­sions of IE, or to load some JavaS­cript or (mostly) jQuery lib­rary. It’s no won­der we’re start­ing to see so many frame­works that try to cov­er up all of that com­plex­ity (Boot­strap again, or Ember, for example). 

In the mean­time, at least I have a reas­on­ably con­strained use case to help me decide which of the myri­ad pos­sib­il­it­ies are worth spend­ing time teach­ing, and which are best left for the del­eg­ates to read up on after the class. 

Aug 222012

A large part of my decision to move back to tech­nic­al work, and less pro­ject man­age­ment, was due to how much fun it was last year work­ing on the web applic­a­tions course for the XML Sum­mer School. And now it’s that time of year again to brush up on my cod­ing for this year’s ver­sion. For­tu­nately, although I’m run­ning a bit late in my pre­par­a­tions, Matt has done ster­ling work get­ting the code base work­ing, and Norm and Paul are doing their bits too.

This is all very dif­fer­ent to the health­care doc­u­ment ana­lys­is I’ve been doing recently, so I need to refresh my memory on Ruby, Sinatra, OAu­th, and co, as well as catch up on recent changes (in par­tic­u­lar to OAuth2, which finally made it to RFC not so long ago). Last year I worked through Singing with Sinatra; this year I get to see what Matt did for our XML web pub­lish­ing applic­a­tion (tak­ing XML files, con­vert­ing to HTML for browser view­ing, adding vari­ous webby bells and whistles) before the del­eg­ates do.

I’m mostly talk­ing about the secur­ity and iden­tity aspects of web sites (as well as help­ing out on the oth­er sec­tions), with the stated aim of mak­ing every­one para­noid enough to be care­ful. The hack­ers are get­ting more soph­ist­ic­ated these days, which means web­site coders have to be more care­ful.

Jun 262012

This year’s North­ern Voice was held down­town, and was smal­ler than the last couple of years. I like the small con­fer­ence per­son­ally, it’s easi­er to chat with lots of dif­fer­ent people, the lines at regis­tra­tion aren’t as long, and the con­fer­ence as a whole feels more per­son­al. This is the strength of North­ern Voice for me, it’s a pleas­ant con­trast to large con­fer­ences where key­notes are sold to the spon­sors and there are advert­ising ban­ners every­where. Yes, North­ern Voice has spon­sors who show up and have a pres­ence and may­be even a table, but they are all respect­ful of the spir­it of the con­fer­ence. For which I, at least, am grate­ful.

I spent the first bit of the con­fer­ence help­ing out on the regis­tra­tion table. A cer­tain amount of hec­tic, but not too bad. I then mod­er­ated Martha Rans’ talk on Copy­right for Cana­dians did a good job, I thought, of giv­ing inform­a­tion without over­whelm­ing every­one. The Artists Leg­al Out­reach site has more in-depth inform­a­tion, in what they call toolkits.

Lunch at the W2 cafe was great and the big wooden circles in the middle of the atri­um space were full of people chat­ting while bal­an­cing plates and glasses. After lunch I sat in on Moose­Camp for a while, knit­ting and listen­ing and relax­ing. And singing with Nancy and the ukule­les. I really must get back to singing, it’s been a long time since I sang reg­u­larly.

Another import­ant talk was Daniel Cowen’s talk on pri­vacy. A lot of the sub­ject mat­ter was famil­i­ar to me from my work at Sun, where I was part of a pri­vacy and iden­tity group, but Daniel took it a step fur­ther by see­ing how much someone without spe­cial­ised tools or know­ledge could find out about someone online. In four hours they had a wor­ry­ing amount of inform­a­tion about a woman they code-named “Tara”, enough to run any num­ber of social engin­eer­ing attacks or com­prom­ise any “secret ques­tion” sys­tems. People in the ses­sion were genu­inely shocked at just how much inform­a­tion is avail­able online, and how many details, innoc­u­ous in them­selves, can be added togeth­er.

Fri­day ended with the wine tast­ing and party in the atri­um.

Sat­urday dawned bright and early with Blaine Cook’s won­der­ful key­note, cel­eb­rat­ing diversity in cul­ture, life, and tech­no­logy plat­forms in the face of glob­al­isa­tion and mar­ket forces. He tied togeth­er archi­tec­ture, rain­forest, and people fight­ing to save their cul­ture with the dom­in­a­tion by large plat­forms such as Face­book and Twit­ter to encour­age diversity and inde­pend­ence.

Shane Birley’s key­note was of a dif­fer­ent style but had some of the same under­ly­ing themes, cel­eb­rat­ing indi­vidu­al voice, chart­ing his per­son­al jour­ney online, and encour­aging all of us to try out new ways of com­mu­nic­at­ing and shar­ing who we are. All delivered in inim­it­able Shane style, of course!

All in all, it was a lot of work and I was exhausted by the end of the two days, but it was all worth­while. The energy and enthu­si­asm was obvi­ous with all the dis­cus­sions and inter­ac­tions and it’s also been great to see all the tweets and blog posts con­tin­ue.

May 182011

That was what we put on the front of the t-shirts this year, #nv11. Some bright spark (I for­get who, sorry, the two days blur togeth­er a bit) poin­ted out that the t-shirts were green with NV, which was an impress­ive pun, or at least bet­ter than any­thing I could come up with on my own.

As always, the days were full, and this year I made it to the party at the Aca­dem­ic as well, which gave me a chance to chat to dif­fer­ent people. I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out wheth­er I liked the Moose cock­tail the Aca­dem­ic designed for us or not. The food was good, and the candy bar went down well with every­one.

I man­aged to miss the morn­ing key­note (the school run took pri­or­ity), so for me the ses­sions part of the con­fer­ence star­ted with the first pan­el I mod­er­ated: Court­ing Con­tro­ver­sy: Dan­cing with the Dev­il. Rebec­ca Cole­man, Kazia Mullin, and Lor­raine Murphy had everything so well organ­ised that I didn’t need to do any­thing, I just sat there and watched and listened, pre­pared to help if they needed it (which they didn’t). They have all sum­mar­ised their takes on the pan­el; there are lots of use­ful hints in there as to how to deal with con­tro­ver­sy (and any­one who allows any sorts of com­ments will). I’m glad I got to listen to this one.

I sat in on the Social Media and Online Defam­a­tion: Keep­ing Out of Court pan­el for a bit, some inter­est­ing inform­a­tion there about the upcom­ing Supreme Court decision on wheth­er link­ing to some­thing libel­lous means that you are con­sidered to have libelled someone your­self, which is a fright­en­ing con­cept and will def­in­itely have a chilling effect on spread­ing news if it goes the wrong way. Rob Cot­ting­ham has a sum­mary in car­toon form. It was inter­est­ing com­par­ing this pan­el with the court­ing con­tro­ver­sy one; “play it safe” vs “be brave”.

I didn’t make it to any ses­sions after that on the Fri­day, deal­ing with vari­ous issues or chat­ting with people in the atri­um, but I did make it to the Town­ship 7 winetast­ing, albeit at the end. And then, of course, the party.

The party was fol­lowed by the morn­ing after, being in time to wel­come people to the second day and intro­duce Chris Wilson for his key­note From Dial-up Modems to Post-“Social Media”: A Jour­ney. I enjoyed it, espe­cially when he reminded us all just how fast tech­no­logy has changed and how much of what is avail­able today would have seemed unbe­liev­able 10 or 15 years ago. 

After lunch I mod­er­ated Tim’s Sex, Lies, and Wiki­pe­dia talk, which, of course, didn’t need much mod­er­a­tion. Tim hasn’t writ­ten up his talk, but a search on “Tim Bray wiki­pe­dia #nv11” will bring up lots of sum­mar­ies writ­ten by oth­ers.

Anthony Marco’s Pod­cast­ing with Soul: Try A Little Ten­der­ness was a mix of music and advice on pod­cast­ing. He used the music to show how the same basic mes­sage (or melody) can sound very dif­fer­ent, depend­ing on how it’s presen­ted, and talked about how to get that joy and inspir­a­tion into pod­cast­ing. I found it inter­est­ing, even though I don’t listen to pod­casts, with inspir­a­tion for writ­ten blog­ging as well. 

The last pan­el was Altru­ism vs Nar­ciss­ism: what’s in it for the online review­er? with Mon­ica Miller, Kyrsten Jensen, Nicole Christen, and Mar­ina Antun­es. I ended up ask­ing quite a few ques­tions of the pan­el to get more details on inter­est­ing items. The advice can be best summed up as: keep your integ­rity. Don’t say you like it if you don’t, but also don’t be too harsh on small inde­pend­ents. In some cases, just don’t post a pub­lic review, but in most cases, say what you really think (while stress­ing it’s your opin­ion and exper­i­ence, not Uni­ver­sal Truth). The ses­sion was lower energy than lots, since it was get­ting a little late in the day, and Kyrsten had almost lost her voice, but I think people found it inter­est­ing.

And that was it! North­ern Voice over for another year. 

Apr 182011

Every year, when we start organ­ising North­ern Voice, the ques­tion comes up about key­notes. Key­notes set the tone of a con­fer­ence, they indic­ate some­thing of what the organ­ising com­mit­tee is think­ing, or what they think the com­munity that sup­ports the con­fer­ence might want to hear about. This year, I wanted to find someone as a key­note speak­er who could talk to us about the less sunny side of life, and remind us that some of the per­son­al stor­ies people share online aren’t about good things hap­pen­ing, they’re about life hap­pen­ing, and life isn’t always fair, or easy. The rest of the organ­ising com­mit­tee agreed, and we’re glad that April Smith agreed to present. “Storytelling From the Heart of the City” opens North­ern Voice on Fri­day May 13th. 

The Sat­urday key­note is a dif­fer­ent slant on the web, from Chris Wilson, who’s played a key role in build­ing many of the web tech­no­lo­gies we use every day. I’m not actu­ally sure what he’s going to talk about, but I have no doubt it will be an inter­est­ing view of the web world so many of us now inhab­it, sprinkled with inter­est­ing anec­dotes. I’m look­ing for­ward to it!

Two key­notes, two dif­fer­ent slants on what the web enables, two dif­fer­ent jour­neys. I’m not very good at chron­ic­ling my own jour­ney, but I admire those who do, and I hope (and expect) that the North­ern Voice key­notes will give strength and inspir­a­tion to all of us.