Enough with AJAX already

I read a lot of blogs. It’s about the best way I have of keeping up with the trends in the industry. But there’s one trend out there that’s really beginning to bother me. A lot.

Ajax.

It’s an acronym/abbreviation for “Asynchronous Javascript with XML”. It’s this supposedly wonderful technique that solves a wonderful array of problems by introducing XML into advanced Javascript methods.

News flash, folks, this ain’t new. This has been around since XMLHTTPRequest was introduced with IE 5.0 in March, 1999. (It’s still not officially standardized by anyone, especially the ECMA, who until now has kept up with the specification of the scripting language we generally call “Javascript”.) Despite being available for so long, no-one really put it to use until Google slapped in place for Google Suggest. Suddenly, everyone took notice.

Apparently, having read around a little more about Ajax, I’ve come to a conclusion that I don’t intend to ever use “Ajax”. I’ll use XMLHTTPRequest when needed, and I’ll make a point of using advanced Javascript, again when needed. But I won’t use “Ajax”. Because as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t exist.

Okay, yes, it’s a catchy name — that I won’t deny. But is it worthy of the recognition? Hmm… well, maybe just a little. Enough that it attracts attention and gets people to think about techniques they might not have previously considered. In a way “Ajax” will serve the same purpose “DHTML” once did.

For those of you newer to the field, “DHTML” isn’t a technology. In fact, DHTML mirrors Ajax in many ways. It’s a technique, and the parts aren’t all required. DHTML was a marketing gimmick Microsoft came up with to sell the blending of HTML, CSS, and JScript (remember, Microsoft doesn’t acknowledge Java at all). The idea was that this powerful “new” technology would solve a lot of problems.

When DHTML was first proposed, it caught a lot of buzz in the field. And rightfully so, because at the time, most people were mired in tags, bgcolor attributes, and tables for layout. DHTML would solve those woes and turn people towards the standards they were supposed to use.

It’s odd that Microsoft would be the one to drive many towards standards, especially since they didn’t formalize any of them. (Though Microsoft did come up with a lot of the ideas that are now the standards .) And change we did, though not entirely to Microsoft’s urging — we also have the Web Standards Project and their efforts to thank.

The effect, however, will likely be the same. Ajax will direct those who’d never really thought past simple image replacement scripts to now think about making their sites more functional and more engaging than ever before. XML isn’t a requirement, but it is a convenient part of making it all work. In time, Ajax will likely serve the same purpose DHTML did.

Okay, so maybe I’ve been a little too harsh. Ajax does serve a purpose. And it will continue to be talked about. I just hope the discussion is intelligent and comprehensible. I want the people reading about Ajax to understand that it is not a silver bullet, and what exactly Ajax does and how they can use it.

Mostly because I’m sick of seeing “DHTML” on resumes, and I’m not keen to see “Ajax” show up there with the same level of ignorance.

Writing HTML like it’s 1993

My friend Scott now works for the #2 search engine. He definitely earned the privilege to be called for the job.

Recently, he had the luxury of having Eric Meyer and Molly Holzschlag visit to give a little talk on CSS2. (Things that will probably never happen here, sadly.)

Anyway, Eric made a comment at the end that Scott took a strong liking to:

If you’re writing HTML like Tim Berners-Lee in 1993, you’re doing a good job.
Eric Meyer

I understand where that comment is coming from. Back in 1993, the current standard for HTML was 1.0 (2.0 was only an Internet Draft at the time). That meant that the HTML was exceedingly simple: nothing fancier than the structural elements we needed to build a page. (Tables weren’t spec’d until HTML 3.2.)

For the basis of the quote (at least as I understand it, not having actually spoken with Eric Meyer about this), I completely see the need. Keep your (X)HTML simple and don’t try to use elements for something they weren’t intended for.

That said, I have an issue with this quote: It’s using a standard that wasn’t strict on syntax. The official standard, HTML 1.0, allowed you to create HTML documents that had no closing tags. Though HTML 2.0 took it a step further and listed the closing tags in many cases, it was never really that clear. (I didn’t get into the habit until the mid-90s, myself.)

Why do I have a problem with that? Eric’s not suggesting that people should write malformed code — that much I know without having to talk to him. However, people might construe that malformed code is okay. It isn’t.

We’re dealing with a technology that has allowed us to move to strongly define the markup language. The standard I try to follow XHTML 1.0 (only because not all browsers support XHTML 1.1), and I’m waiting anxiously for XHTML 2.0) is strict, and blissfully so. Not following that standard leads to breakdown in layouts, and in large documents, more work finding the errors. W3C’s validator can only do so much.

Some find strictness hard, because it does require discipline. Once you’ve gotten into the habit, though, is the discipline that bad? If it makes your life easier, if you can code faster as a result (less debugging), and if support becomes less painful, shouldn’t that be a good thing?

Personally, I’d rather write XHTML like it’s 2005 (or 2006, depending on when XHTML 2.0 comes out).

New York Meetings: Heading Home

Yesterday was tough. We did a lot of talking. We didn’t leave the building until we were done. The three of us, Lark, and Jim went for dinner at some steak house. Despite having been out with the client before, I felt oddly nervous. I don’t know why. Maybe because this was nothing to do with marketing, it’s all about technology. It’s weird. And exhausting.

I ate along this morning, as Allard and Mark took their time to get downstairs. We took another car to Mercedes’ New Jersey office and prepared for another day of talking. Most of today would be my thing, namely my current baby, the CSR (Client-Side Rewrite). It’s a massive overhaul to strip out the legacy crap and put in something more solid to keep things moving.

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New York Meetings: Outbound

Leaving Alex this morning wasn’t easy. Given the events of the last couple of days, I would have preferred to stay in bed with her.

But business calls, and I’m off to New York (though Newark) for business meetings with the IT department of our Mercedes client. It’s mostly an educational exchange, as we try pass on a lot of the knowledge we have to the IT group. Exactly why we’re doing this I’m admittedly a little unclear on, but I’m sure it’s all for a good reason.

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Registering at The Bay

Today we went down to register at The Bay (“The Hudson’s Bay Company” to non-Canucks) for our wedding.

It’s a part of the law, I’m sure. Written somewhere in Canada’s constitution of 1982 states that all Canadians engaging in any form of matrimonial planning activities must do so at The Bay. Why The Bay hasn’t capitalized on this and also provided the legal services that go along with all that is beyond me — they could make a killing!

In reality, it’s the best place for Canadians to register. Why? Because there’s a Bay almost everywhere. And you can buy something in one store and have the person pick it up at the one closest to them. Handy if they happen to be on the other side of the continent. And you can’t register at IKEA, which would be such a boon to them that it amazes me that they haven’t done it yet.

Trust is that Alex and I don’t need much. But this is a good time to do upgrades and eliminate some of the old garbage that we’ve been hanging onto for years. We had plans to scan clothes, watches, furniture, kitchen items, you name it. The whole store, top to bottom.

We never made it out of the basement. In other words, bed and kitchen.

The major problem is that laser gun they give you. It’s way too much fun. Just point and ZAP, them item you want (with the quantity) is now on the list. It’s so much fun it’s almost creepy.

What’s not fun is all the decision making. It’s enough to make your head hurt. Do you really want it? Are you sure this is of use? Perhaps it’s something we might not want a year from now? How often will we use it? Is the colour right? It does on ad nauseum. It also takes away the surprise aspect. One of the neat things about presents is that you rarely really know what’s inside. Registration takes out all the surprise. But considering that wedding gifts are more about preparing the couple for a new life, it’s more of a minor thing, I think.

Getting back to the house, I had to pack for a business trip to New York. More Mercedes meetings, but this time at their headquarters. Then it was back over to Alex’s for dinner, after I picked up a few things from Safeway.

I botched the raspberry reduction for the chicken breasts (it’s our early Valentine’s, so I’m trying to do something special). It wasn’t bad per se, but it could have been a lot better. The garlic whipped potatoes were okay, but the skins really nixed the texture — must drop them next time! At least the grilled asparagus turned out well.

Next year, we’ll have to do something more special. Once we’re married.

200 days until I get married

200 days.

It almost doesn’t seem real. Yet in about 28 and a half weeks, Alex and I will become wife and husband.

A year ago, I was stupidly busy. (Not that I’m not now, but still…) I was doing a lot of things that really lent no credence to the notion that one day, I would be standing in front of someone official, pronouncing my betrothal to poor, unsuspecting soul. A year ago, things were dramatically different.

Well, except that I’m even busier than I’ve been in years. And that I’m engaged.

I think back to when I was a teenager, listening to the stories as my friends went on dates, went out and broke up with boyfriends/girlfriends, and lamented the fact that there wasn’t anyone out there for me. All my friends kept telling me was: “It’ll happen when you least expect it” and “When it’s the right person, you’ll know”.

In a superficial way, it’s like that scene in “The Matrix” when Neo talks to the Oracle for the first time. She says that being The One is like being in love: you know it balls to bones. (The Oracle is oddly crude with her choices of words.) The sign behind Neo (which she refers him to) reads “Temet Nosce” — “Know Thyself”.

The first time I saw “The Matrix”, I had no idea what the hell that meant. I mean, I understood the definition, but I really didn’t know what it was to know oneself. Does anyone truly know oneself? They say you can meditate on such things and discover an inner oneness with life and the world, and come to know who and what you are. But let’s be honest — how many people really do that? I take yoga, and the best zen I get is in savasana after a good yoga class. No matter how many paschimottanasanas Lori puts us through (even squashing me flat to the ground — which I come pretty darn close to doing), there’s no sudden burst of: “Holy crap! So that’s what I am!”

And yes, despite all the spiritual soul searching I’ve suffered, nothing has even come remotely close to the epiphany of knowing that I not only love Alex with every quark of my being, but that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. That’s my forward-looking view; if I turn around and see how I got to this point, suddenly I find myself looking in a mirror at what I’ve done, and what I know.

Seeing myself. Knowing myself.

It’s kinda creepy, actually. The insight that comes around as the simple result of knowing that I am so comfortable with someone that the move to give up my former permanently imposed bachelorhood for marriage as being completely natural is like having wandered around for years with smudges on my sunglasses and not noticing, only to take them off and see a world free of distortion and filtering. I see myself as I am, as I was, and as I will be. The potential is there. The wisdom (taken for what its worth) is there. The confidence, the foresight, and the direction are all there.

I wish my *job* were this clear!

All of this I have to owe to Alex. She’s the one who realized that something was there early on. She saw something I had missed, and didn’t see until a couple of months later. In mid-July of last year, things were good. By early September, they were comfortable, like a favourite shirt. By late October, it was like we’d been together for years, not the mere months we’d experienced. And at the beginning of this year, there was no way we were going to let each other go.

200 days.

You could call it the last hurrah before I’m locked down, but I won’t. It’s time that seems like forever right now. Like a kid who reads “Dec 1” on a calendar. Almost there, but still so far away.

I know myself. And I’m excited for the next great chapter of my life.

Mercedes-Benz meetings, going home

Despite having the room to myself, I was really groggy when I got up this morning. I know it wasn’t a result of last night, though, as I didn’t feel any worse for wear. I showered, packed, and checked out (using the television interface — I don’t go to the front desk unless I have to). Running into Jamie on the way down, the two of us hiked directly over to the Tribune building. We didn’t get a chance to go to the office for email.

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Mercedes-Benz meetings, team building

Allard and I hit the restaurant in the main atrium for breakfast, joined shortly thereafter by Christian and a very tired-looking Jules. Powdered eggs aren’t exactly the breakfast of champions. Jules has been up late working on presentations for today. Allard and I are thankfully exempt from any actual presentations. We’re more or less along for the ride.

Actually, me more than Allard. Allard, at least, is the Technical Director. He needs to be there because the client knows who he is. He needs to be there because some of MBIT will be there. Why do *I* need to be there? Well, I can’t say for sure, because I really don’t know, but I think it comes down to the Client-Side Rearchitecture project that I’m spearheading, and that Allard won’t be here tomorrow (he’s only here for a day).

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Mercedes-Benz meetings, Calgary to Chicago

I hate waking up before 6:00. There’s just something fundamentally wrong with it. Today, though, it was necessary. Today, I fly to Chicago.

Was ready for my 6:30 pickup. Allard was collecting me for the trip to the airport. I wasn’t sure if he was going to show up on time, since we’d had no actual solid confirmation of the pickup. At 6:25, I started formulating a backup plan, in the event that Allard was running a little late. His car appeared in front of my house at 6:30, right on the nose, saving me additional grief.

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