Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

ZendCon Notes

I gave a talk on Dojo Wednesday at ZendCon, and when I walked into the room for the talk, there was some disorder as the conference center staff were taking out the tables to fit more chairs in. Even with the extra space, the room was totally packed, thanks in large part to the amazing Dojo integration work that the Zend team has done.

As of Zend Framework 1.6, you can include some trivial code inside your ZF views to pull in Dojo:

< ?
	// setup required dojo elements:

echo $this->dojo(); ?>

Once enabled on your page, ZF 1.6 also includes a full set of helpers to let you set up Dijit components from PHP. The excellent ZF docs has the full story. Perhaps most exciting from my perspective, though, is how simple ZF makes getting up-and-running with Dojo and how nicely it ties in with custom builds and CDN-hosted versions of Dojo as well. Matthew Weier O'Phinney and Will Sinclair recently did a screencast that walks through a lot of these options. If you're considering ZF+Dojo, I strongly recommend you check it out.

The talk I gave on Wed was mostly focused on Dojo and the reasons we built it in the layered way that we have and how you can choose to use Dojo at whatever level of abstraction feels right for your app. Slides are here (5.1MB, PDF):

Matthew Russell Keeps The Good Stuff Coming

Matthew Russell, author of ORA's "Dojo: The Definitive Guide" now has a companion blog where he's posting new widgets complete with screencasts to explain them clearly. His awesome first outing includes a neat reflection widget that builds on AOL's high-performance CDN hosting of Dojo and practices what Dojo preaches about pragmatic progressive enhancement. Awesome stuff!

By The Numbers

Note: contents of this post is after the jump due to its political nature.

I was just noting to Jennifer yesterday a couple of days ago that my biggest frustration with the debate about Palin's transparent misrepresentations about earmarks is that they shouldn't even be the issue. The big lie here is that earmarks, for as vile as they may be, aren't going to actually make a difference to the country's fiscal situation. As I returned from a client site on Friday and fired up my RSS reader for the first time in a week, I found that (as usual) Mark Thoma is already on the case, aptly pointing out in a single post that McCain's "economic policy" prescriptions to date amount to little more than misdirection in the face of what can only be described as a foreclosure crisis, a market melt-down, a flagging dollar which threatens our unique position as the world's reserve currency, huge inflationary pressure due to moribund energy policy, and yawning fiscal deficits (which, yes, have a lot to do with an ill-advised war and deeply regressive tax cutting). The over-compensating assessment by Thoma is that 0.58% of the budget is directed toward earmarks. Will someone please wake me when McCain starts talking about spending priorities which might actually matter?

To see if the McCain campagin was just making hay over a perceived weakness of the opponent, I checked out John McCain's website for his economic "policy". You can't get very far in most of it before noting that it's all about oil and drilling. To wit, even when describing the need to "eliminate wasteful government programs" the McCain policy statement doesn't name a single program to be trimmed. Looking for a detailed set of policy priorities on the McCain site is a dead-end. The oft-repeated claim that a McCain administration's encouragement of drilling as a way to "send a signal to the market" regarding the price of oil is, by all industry accounts, laughable. As the graph (via Mark Thoma, via Grist) makes clear, drilling ain't gonna get us there either:

Claims regarding the encouragement of nuclear power generation capacity completely gloss over the complexities of permitting, time-to-build, and financing these projects, not to mention the as-yet un-finished business of long-term waste disposal, a topic that McCain himself seems to be of two minds about. Solar and other renewables actually have the property of being feasible on a much smaller scale, allowing them to be implemented gradually. For all intents and purposes, even if nuclear were cheaper per KW/hr (it's not), it would still be a risky capital investment (likely borrowed) for any utility – therefore the cost of servicing debt becomes a major factor in the ability for nuclear to take off. Why would any utility exec take the risk on a 5 to 10 yr project with a high likelihood of failure with many of the dominant costs of both construction and operation completely up in the air when you can just additively expand your capacity with solar or wind with lower up-front costs, no waste-disposal risk, and the potential to start producing in the 1-2 yr timeframe? And given this reality, why doesn't the McCain energy policy acknowledge that these alternatives need the same level of government support as drilling and nuclear? And why would McCain not do the easy thing and support the existing (paltry) support that the government offers to these incremental, renewable energy sources?

In reading the McCain policy statments, I'm left with a long list of things that a McCain administration will somehow accomplish without any credible details regarding how these goals will be met. The message here is that John McCain, through completely un-specified means, will meet all of the lofty goals outlined in his policy wish-lists (which, given the lack of detail, is what they amount to). Perhaps we're supposed to believe that his personal character and skill as a politician will somehow overcome the yawning credibility gulf of his statements and the reality that he'll be dealing with a Democratically controlled congress should he win. No politician should, in the heat of a campaign, box themselves in too far by promising specific agendas which they may not be able to deliver on, but the lack of coherent supporting details by the McCain campaign goes directly to the issues of candor and credibility. While I would have voted for him in 2000, there's no way that I can justify supporting a candidate now who is willing to push fairy tales about the economic realities and forces which drive our economy. Seriously, the McCain website still includes the much-derided "gas tax holiday" proposal. When high-school economics is enough to destroy the credibility of your policies, then you're either pandering (a form of lying) or are simply ignorant. What we've got here is not a failure to communicate by the McCain campaign, it's a failure to face reality head-on. It's voodoo economics all over again.

It's no wonder that the McCain campaign is trying to make this election about something other than issues...the senator's written-by-lobbyists policies just won't stand up to anything like the level of scrutiny that the Obama plans will. Is the Obama plan for the economy a slam dunk? No, but it's a damn sight better than McCain's fairy tales.

Thank Goodness...

...for Mark Thoma.

Note: the rest of this post is after the jump due to it's political nature.

When are Dems gonna figure out that the Republicans won't stop playing the refs so long as it works? Remember, this is the party which put Mitt Romney – former venture capitalist, former governor of Massachusetts, and former champion of a government health-care mandate – on a stage 2 nights ago where he mocked "elites" and "east coast liberals" and credulously seemed to suggest that Washington was somehow "liberal" after having his party in un-contested power for 6 of the last 8 years. Since then, they've simply used their position as the barely-minority party in the Senate to filibuster the upper house to a virtual stand-still, hoping we won't notice and will just blame the party "in power" for the Republican's legislative obstructionism. For anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention, the convention in St. Paul was a whiplash of "he said what?!?" moments. Also, some "she said what!?!" head-turners Wednesday night. Indeed, there seems no amount of cognitive dissonance the Republican base cannot swallow hook, line, and sinker. Hearing what sounded like a small, brutish mob drooling at Rudy Giuliani's remarks made me realize how fully gone the John McCain of '00 really is. The guy I would have voted for has already been voted off the island. Like the immigration bill he once sponsored but now won't vote for, I wonder what he now thinks of John McCain '00. At least The Daily Show was on the case:

Also, the Daily Show's gleeful juxtaposition's of conservative commentators tying themselves in knots is truly must-see...well, whatever you call a Flash movie embedded in a page on the interwebs.

For what it's worth, I listened to both conventions (have radio, not TV) and was off-put somewhat by both party's looseness with the truth. A rundown of Obama's speech shows that it's not all inspiration and high-minded idealism on the Dem side, but while I raised my eyebrows and pricked up my ears a few times during the Obama speech, the Republicans got my blood boiling night-after-night. They laid full-bore into the falsehoods, distortions, and seemingly context-free condemnations. The rundown on night 3 and on McCain's speech pick up most of the things that got my goat the most. It really is embarrassing for them how long a list it is.

It's hard caring about issues and policy and watching what any party does with the facts. Regardless, the just-concluded Republican convention has me convinced that this party is irreparable. A group of people this willing to poison the public discourse deserves no quarter, no matter what their stated agenda.

The Appalling State of Tech Journalism: Reflected in the Chrome

Taking a page (or is it a post?) from Brad DeLong's long-running laments on the state of journalism in general, I have been reading the coverage of the Chrome announcement and keep asking myself "why, oh why, can't we have better tech journalism?"

Take, for example, ZDNet's gutter-to-gutter coverage which, I'm afraid, simply ends in the intellectual gutter. Larry Dignan's piece does the profession no favors by simply recycling the tried-and-true blogger formula for traffic generation:

I know about X, Google did Y, which is clearly *all about* X

The best of this flavor of "story" approaches the quality level of a plausible but objectively outlandish conspiracy theory, often pulling together bits of fact with a healthy dose of wild speculation (journalistically couched as the unfounded and unquestioned opinion of some supposedly credible third party).

ZDNet piles all aboard the loony-bin express with Paula Rooney's "analysis" piece, helpfully asking the non-question "is this a prelude to Google acquiring Mozilla?". In what twisted alternate universe would this wild, hair-brained straw-man garner a full 'graf in a legit online publication, let alone a respected print daily? A small, tiny dig into the strategy of Google's Mozilla search placement deal and the infrastructure of the Chrome browser would lead anyone (and everyone) to conclude that Google's interest here is in keeping the browser a viable platform by any means necessary, not that they would ever gain anything by "acquiring" MoCo or MoFo (an even more nutty idea, since it would be difficult for a 501(c)3 organization to transfer resources and assets to a for-profit entity anyway).

The strategic and tactical incoherence continues with the daringly dumb quote:

Larry Dignan of ZDnet suggests that perhaps Google and Mozilla are working together as a tag team to defeat Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and that Google may perhaps purchase the Mozilla Firefox crew and integrate the two code bases to deliver a kock out punch to Microsoft’s IE. Will Mozilla become Google browser labs? Given the close cooperation of the two projects, it’s more than possible.

Ignoring the incestuous and dubious use of a fellow reporter's speculation as a source for an article, the idea that the Google would want much (if any) of the Firefox team (or vice versa) beyond those which they already pulled away. It does Google no good to reduce competition in the browser space, and one can imagine that there's no love lost at Mozilla over Chrome, particularly after Google shunned the Firefox rendering engine, replaced the JavaScript engine, and re-built the entire visual and end-user experience from-scratch with completely different technology (i.e., not XUL). Good sourcing might have fleshed out the idea and perhaps even made a case for the theory, but alas, that seems far too much for ZDNet to produce on deadline. I mean, it's not like they cover technology for a living...gosh, that'd be embarrassing. Quick tip for the next time they want to write this story: Google just became "Google's browser labs" after giving Mozilla a good long run at it. They're still strategically aligned, but Google seems impatient and is likely most interested in having direct leverage in the browser space (first via Gears and now Chrome) instead of the indirect influence they exerted over Firefox when it was still "Plan A".

The coupe-de-disgrace belongs to PC World, though. After laying out 7 sensible, but "we're just cribbing this from the press release, really" reasons to like Chrome they proceed to indulge in 7 forehead-slappingly idiotic reasons why you might consider something announced as a Beta to be...well...a beta. It feels kinda dirty just linking to it. Luckily, the PC World crew was able to get it together enough to publish a scoop-free "I played with it for 5 minutes" piece that WaPo wasn't embarrassed to run, although the "like being there!" aspect really looses it's punch when anyone can download the beta and, well, be there.

At least with Wired you know you'll be getting fawning access journalism without the pretense of objectivity, but damnit, it'll be well written and vaguely cogent.

I won't even start on the blags. It's to depressing. I'll except Ajaxian and Philipp Lenssen here as they added some useful background from the inside perspective and scooped the story (respectively). "Citizen journalism" has a loooong way to go before it earns a place in the 4th estate, though.

Why, oh why, can't we have better tech journalists?

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