If I’m not mistaken, few standardistas are aware of the charms of Dean Jackson, who proclaims himself the only W3C employee in the Southern Hemisphere.

A seated Dean Jackson, bald and wearing a blue sweatshirt, smiles

I was prepared to give him stick on Day 1 of Web Essentials. He was seated right behind me, and I spotted his nametag. Ah, yes, W3C: I know how you lot are. I was a frosty bitch for a full half-hour, and how wrong I indeed was.

He works on SVG or something. I dunno what he does exactly. Yes, Dean vaguely resembles Peter Garrett, but ultimately, so do all Australians, up to and including Kath & Kim. The really quite shocking thing is his amalgam of winsome and gentle manner, technical chops (and that’s a story I’m warming up to here), and sheer staggering height. In fact, at the conference’s final piss-up, I took the best seat in the house (on the couch in the mezzanine corner overlooking the bar), while poor Dean, perched on some kind of twee Ikea-manqué ottoman, had to jam himself between the railing and a table. (He wouldn’t move. I asked twice.) The angle formed by hip, knee, and ankle made me think of the really tall guys (they’re always guys) who end up in wheelchairs.

It was explained that Dean inexplicably lives in Canberra and used to play competitive volleyball. I wondered if the heterosexualist volleyballers were the same kind of nutbars the homosexualists are (with a wide gulf between goofball, fun-loving, clueless amateurs and bloodthirsty, gung-ho, super-macho “serious” players), and yes, they are. In fact, Dean got cut from the team because he’s too short.

I thought about this for a second. There was a pause in the conversation. I had a meta-awareness of what I was now forced to say.

“But, Dean,” I told him, “you’re 6′5″.”

“I know,” he said.

It would come in handy later. Much later, in fact, when nearly everyone had gone home and a second couch supported the 21st-century cast of characters comprising me, slouched completely horizontal from neck to waist; Andrew “Dez” Fernandez, the black-looking Australian Indic; and of course Cameron Adams, the insanely-white-skinned Australian Chinese (also Caucasian). You add their ages together and you might come up with mine.

Tired and emotional after one too many snifters of cranberry cocktail, I kept looking at the ceiling of this former hydraulic plant. If those were supposed to be I-beams, why were they 10″ thick and covered with irregular rivets?

Thick, riveted I-beams line a ceiling

I asked Lachlan Hardy and the other lads what gave. We sat around (they sat around and I lounged around) for some minutes trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Decorative or real? Foam models, like a movie set’s, or structural? And then something occurred to me, sort of like realizing that your busty girlfriend is the one who should try squeezing the bartender for freebies.

“Dean, can you check if those I-beams are real or not?”

“What?” he said, then looked up and stood up. A mere ten inches from his fingertips. Putting about five percent effort into it, he hopped up, slapped the beam, declared “It’s metal,” and sat back down.

Glad we found a use for you, dean. Somebody’s gotta.


You may have heard of John Allsopp’s insane closing festivity at Web Essentials ’04, the Web Standards Smackdown or WWWF. Dave Shea refused categorically to get up there. I had to go first, and I believe my ad-libbed monologue may go down in history. (When was the last time you crossed your is and dotted your ts?) Bowman’s shyness gene took over and he didn’t even try. Nigel McFarlane, terrifyingly resembling a black-belt holder in his dense-packed purple shirt, proceeded to trounce me and Bowman by simply reading from notes. I thought we were done for.

But then Armageddon came when Dean Jackson bounded onstage and opened his waiting PowerBook. Oh, fuck, he wrote a presentation.

Dean Jackson leans to inspect PowerBook at podium

He didn’t just do that. He wrote a program to write his presentation. We had had nothing but problems for the first day and a half with the CART system (incorrectly known as captioning), with either a complete crash or up to 4½ minutes’ lagtime. Everybody was surprised and frustrated, but by the second afternoon it was all working.

Just to be on the safe side, Dean’s presentation captioned itself, word after word spitting out on the projector, until the captions decided they had a mind of their own and we all found ourselves listening to Dean’s dead-stock introduction and reading his own computer taking the piss out of him.

Dean’s display reads ‘I'd walk out on this guy if I were you. Oh[,] great. Now he's stopped’; CART display reads ‘Everyone knows you bring a chair to a WWF smackdown. Not only did I bring a chair, I brought slides! So let's get smacking. Unfortunately yesterday when I was giving my presentation the software captioning system wasn't working so I prepared my own’
Dean’s display reads ‘following the script. You paid good money for [this]. I give up’

I nearly plotzed! To say the same thing twice, he smoked us all with an intellect and a savoir-faire.

Dean – by this point already the winner, also still tall and bald – then gave a warm and heartfelt lecturette on using the powers of the W3C for the good of the Web. A motherhood issue, really; who could complain, save for the few malcontents who complain about everything anyway? He reminds me of the ultraconservatives: He’s charismatic (in a different way, admittedly) and difficult to argue against.

Doesn’t the World Wide Web Consortium need more Deano?

Memo to W3C: Pay the damned airfare

Accordingly, I hereby inaugurate the Popular Front to Draft Dean Jackson for South by Southwest.

The W3C has taken a lot of knocks in 2004, many of them from me. But let’s be real here: There isn’t a viable competing standards body. (WHAT TF makes you think there is?) Additionally, whether I or we like it or not, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is the only credible international source for accessibility standards. The old grey mare ain’t what she used to be, but let’s not sell ’er off to the glue factory just yet.

If anybody – anybody – can make a case for the W3C that a skeptical audience might actually believe, it’s Dean Jackson. He has a lulling and seductive way of articulating the ideals of Sir Tim and his lot, yet he is willing to agree with you when you tell him exactly which parts of the W3C’s “Activities” are a load of bollocks. It’s win–win.

We could even imagine a nice long presentation on some allegedly-important technical issue or other (“Is SVG Dead? Who Said It Was Ever Alive?”) that would merely be a cover story to get Dean to Texas for a WWWF-esque smackdown between Dean and one of the many available W3C critics, all of whom are about as lovable as a cactus. It’d be no contest whatsoever. I’d go just to watch the other side walk away thanking Dean for the honour of getting creamed. (Spiked, shurely?!)

So this is a message to whomever signs the expense cheques for Dean Jackson: Just get him in a wheelchair and put him on a plane, billet him at the Santa Fe like the other hepcats, and commence the rehabilitation of the W3C. Act like the W3C finally knows what it’s got going for it.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2004.11.26 15:26. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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