My whirlwind tour of London was a smash. But, true to form, I will lead my recollection with frustrations.

  1. Toronto has a lot going for it (I’m still here 18 years later), but also many intractable defects, like a wearying and pervasive glum aspect (even transsexualist travel writer Jan Morris notes that nobody smiles here); an absolute inability to chat with strangers (banned by City Bylaw Nº 1); and a syndrome of eternal grasping toward mediocrity. (We’re like Newfoundland: We keep being hoodwinked by megaprojects when it is small-scale continuous improvement, based on good design, that is the actual answer.)

    Hence it should surprise no one that Webstandards.TO has about 40 people on its all-but-dormant mailing list and, on a really good night, attracts 11 people out to a meeting. (On a really bad night, four people. And this is in the biggest city in Canada.) It should surprise no one, but it surprises me. By comparison, the Aussies have actual roadshows to various cities with attendance regularly reaching 50.

    We are, moreover, a centre of some renown in the field of Web accessibility. Did you know the chair of the Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines Working Group is from here? (Additionally, Matt May works on ATAG and UAAG. Do you wonder why I don’t do any work on those? Because they’re being handled.) At the same time, we do utterly dreadful captioning (in some cases unimaginably so) and sometimes-only-barely-passable audio description. Plus we have the perennial problems with disabled lobbyists – blind people don’t know what’s achievable and are content to let the CNIB rule their lives, while deaf people do not actually want accessibility, merely the meeting of their immediate demands.

    I feel as though the work I do, and I as a person, are not supported by my own city. I think my own social club, and certainly the accessibility infrastructure of this town, find me too much trouble to deal with. I am tired of even having that discussion. (It is even worse with WAI. Not only do they telephone me to instruct me to behave, they send along multi-screen E-mails criticizing my sarcasm.)

    Fuck ’em if they can’t take a Joe, OK? Does it particularly matter what you think about my personality? It’s not like we’re trying to live together. This is business.

    I also am aware that everyone described above has a job and makes a good living. You probably think I do, too.

    These facts become crushingly evident whenever I leave town, or rather, when I come back to town. (At least this time I landed at the new Terminal 1. Nothing wallops you with the devastatingly bad design and grinding glumness of Toronto than its old airport terminals.)

    I’ve now done three conferences (and an occasional out-of-town work engagement) where I’m treated like a king, lavished with attention, and accepted not merely as a peer – a fact a lot of people have spent twenty years trying to dispute – but a leader. And, by far most importantly, I am among friends. I am surrounded stem to stern by friends. I have to move friends to sit down. I can’t take the elevator without running into friends. Friends queue up to talk to me! They appreciate my expertise and they think my personality, especially my sense of humour, are valuable and advantageous. I would be less interesting to them if I weren’t this funny.

    Then I get on the plane and come home again, where I sit alone all day, in an admittedly extremely nice loft, and generally fail to make even tiny dents in a palisade of barriers. If you want the most frustrating example (now in its fourth year), I need what amounts to spare change to start a research project and, in response, I am challenged by potential business partners to file complaints against them if I think things are really that bad. They’d rather fight me in a tribunal than pay me to fix a problem for everybody.

  2. Next, and please do not take the following as an inconsequential or humorous aside, I am tired of being the only invert in the room. (Not introvert, people. Invert. Uranian.) I am always the only invert in the room. I can’t believe my recent luck in becoming pals with a noted, also homosexualist, type designer, for example, which is about as unlikely as two albino leopards crossing paths in the veldt. But the fields in which I am knowledgeable are the fields at which my people are the most inept. When it comes to Web development and standards, accessibility, and typography and graphic design, we suck, to use the vulgate. (Or we bite, I suppose.)

    The curious contrary fact is that captioning and description are very gay fields in the U.S., and the only really good sign-language interpreters are queer as a three-dollar coin. (I have simply never met a top-flight interpreter who was not gay or, more likely, lesbian. Not even once. And yes, we’re in your children’s classrooms along with equally gay teachers.)

    My own experience is not inconsistent with the general trend, seeing as how I don’t have a B.Eng., let alone a P.Eng. (hence I cannot wear the iron ring that wells something in my craw whenever I see one). And I am inept at certain basic capacities taken for granted in the fields I am paid to lecture on, like CSS layouts.

    I do what I can with my puny diploma in engineering (and B.A. in linguistics) and whatever skills I’ve been able to cobble together. And it tells you something when I’m about as good as we get.

So: I love you all and I’m scarcely ever happier than when I’m in your company, but, like Christmas morning, you come along too seldom to reverse the general trend. Man does not live by semiannual conferences alone.

Moving right along

  1. STILL: London was exciting, also vaguely reminiscent of Sydney with twice the density and crazier motorists seated on the wrong side of weirder cars. And only the Saabs have their lights on all the time, a strange sight to a Canadian (or a Swede). (I found a perfect spot to bring this up, I thought. ME, walking under a bridge with British: “Since we’re in a darkened underpass—” JEREMY: “ ‘I thought, “Oh, God, my chance has come at last!” ’ ”)

  2. I never left SE1 and barely did anything unrelated to the @media conference. (I did buy Kill Bill Vol. 2 – which I had held in my hand in Sydney and promptly put back on the shelf! – and The Incredibles on DVD with British audio description, which I will now proceed to dissect.)

  3. I don’t know how people survive in London. I can eat for a week on what the worst pizza in London costs, for example.

  4. I will admit that I was thrilled to meet Tom Coates of plasticbag.org fame. Were you aware that he called me both an “asshole” and an “arsehole” via instant messaging in the last year? (Who knew he was fluently bidialectal?) Well, he did, but I like him anyway, and I warned him repeatedly that he would be forcibly met and have a pint irresistibly bought for him, even against his will. And lo did it come to pass. Tom is surprisingly cute and solid and quite adept at remaining comfortable and assured amid twenty people he doesn’t even know. Deservedly part of the A-list. And in the short evening I spent with him, I was no longer the only one in the room.

  5. Additionally, Malarkey was right: Accessibility (and some Web-standards) sites look like shite, mine especially. I spent a year scrounging up favours for a redesign (also a difficult reorganization of 1,200 or more static and database-driven files), and that went nowhere, so now I am saving up the money to simply pay somebody to do it. (Ryan D. Gantz, you’re overdue to get in touch with me after I plugged you halfway to Sunday onstage in Austin.)

  6. The Australians and the Brits and Europeans have one, so why don’t we? Toronto is the worst possible location for a Web-standards conference, given the rampant apathy, but I’m already being lobbied to put one together. I assure you I don’t have the necessary $120,000 line of credit these things require. Nonetheless, I already have a title for it.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.06.14 08:54. 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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