More thoughts by Mat Marquis
The web is awesome. I don’t mean “awesome” in the Ninja-Turtle-parlance sense, either—I mean that the web is something deserving of our awe; like the ocean, like space. Almost all of us are carrying—in our pockets—a tiny sheet of glass that can access thousands of years’ worth of information on an unimaginable range of subjects. Within a matter of minutes, any of us can know damn near anything. I hope that never stops blowing my mind.
I’m constantly amazed by this thing we’re building together, and I consider it a genuine privilege to be able to make a living doing something I care about. If I should ever become jaded about this stuff, I hope that’ll be the same day I find myself a new career. Slowly, I assume, by way of newspaper ads and a red Sharpie.
…They still make both of those, yeah?
This hurts to write. I mean, it literally hurts—my hands are killing me lately. This New England weather, man.
I don’t like to talk about it much, but my skeleton is basically held together with the organic equivalent of kite string and “wishing super hard.” I’ve got a condition called “Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome,” one of the “hypermobility” types. It’s a one-in-tens-of-thousands genetic mutation that more or less makes me Bizarro Wolverine, if you’ll pardon my mixing of comic universes.
It hits everyone a little differently, and I’m fortunate enough not to have any of the particularly nasty kinds—the ones where blood vessels and/or organs are made of stretchy tissue paper, for example. I have a type where the only thing holding my joints in place are the joints themselves, more or less. I’ll partially dislocate things—fingers, wrists, shoulders, ankles—a couple of times a day, just by way of using them normally. The upshot is that it isn’t really painful popping something out of joint, the way it would be if I were put together right—most times I don’t notice. For example, I realized a few days ago that I hold my iPad with my left wrist partially out of joint, and I didn’t even notice. The downside is that my joints hurt, every day, for as long as I’ve known me. I take a lot of Motrin, and I carry a roll of hockey tape with me.
When I was a kid—real young—I had to sleep with metal bars binding my feet together so my hips wouldn’t be out of their sockets all night. My parents were told I’d likely never walk—not normally, anyway—but I lucked out there. A handful of years and a few bad decisions ago, it led to me wrenching up my back bad enough that a partially-herniated disc clamped off my right sciatic nerve. I walked with a limp for a couple of years. The nerve damage wasn’t bad enough that it was permanent, thankfully, but it still aches some days.
I’m not the “degenerative” type, for which I am tremendously thankful—the condition won’t get worse in and of itself. I’m not gonna wake up some morning with one arm over on the other side of the room, knock on wood. It’s gonna cause my joints to wear out a lot faster than they should. When I was twenty or so, a doctor told me I had the joints of a sixty year old. I’m thirty now.
That part scares me; my hands in particular. I need these things to get work done. It wouldn’t be abrupt, but at some point they’ll hurt too much to be useful—someday those joints will be so “old” that they’ll stop working altogether. I mean, they sure as hell aren’t gonna get any better. Every time I hear something “pop” as I reach for a key—even as we speak—it sounds an awful lot like a ticking clock.
Been colder than usual, though, this winter. That’s probably all it is, for now.
That’s probably all it is.
I did Pixelworkers’ Origin Story podcast a few days ago, and it has me thinking. I get uneasy when I think back on how I got here. A smirking kind of uneasy, like telling a bar story about a near-miss and changing the subject before you have time to consider how it might have gone instead. I go over the “if”s once in a while just to reassure myself that they didn’t happen, like touching a wall to help me keep my balance.
If entire generations didn’t live and die to give me a shot at a better life than a framing hammer and a ruined spine.
If the friends I made at Wellesley hadn’t taken in some ratty kid sleeping in his car and taught him how to put together a halfway-convincing “responsible adult” costume.
If not for friends handing me a couple of particularly fortunate gigs.
If I’d wavered; if I’d given up.
If I weren’t so goddamned lucky.
That one echoes. “If I weren’t so lucky.” Not as veiled self-congratulation for whatever successes or a smug celebration of any particularly fortunate standing, but to keep me honest. I worked hard, sure, but where would I be if my luck had been just a little worse at the wrong times? Not here. If I weren’t so goddamned lucky, I don’t know where I’d be right now.
As I write this, I’m on lockdown. “Shelter-in-place.”
It’s the first day that really feels like Spring—the first day that doesn’t just feel like a reprieve from Winter, but the honest-to-God start of Springtime. It would be a beautiful day today.
One town over, the police are chasing down one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing. I woke up to sirens on Mass Ave. and they haven’t stopped yet—not that I’ve noticed, anyway, and I’ve been listening.
There hasn’t been any news in a while. People were tweeting out information on the Police scanner, giving away locations and plans. The scanner has gone silent.
It’s quiet save for the bells of St. John’s church down the street, and the sirens. It’s quiet and I don’t know what to do.
I’ve been doing this—on a very focused topic—for coming up on two years now, and encountered resistance every step of the way. It has been incredibly frustrating, and for a long time occupied every bit as many hours of my free time as a part-time job would, for myself and a handful of other members of my community group. Despite the efforts of dozens of native and web developers, despite tremendous and highly vocal support from the developer community, and despite the formal publication of our proposed spec, we have made next to no real-world progress. When we engage UA representatives, we’re usually met by something to the tune of “you should involve more browser representatives in these discussions” and a prompt end to the discussion we aimed to start. There has been no implementation progress, apart from a Chromium implementation done by one of our members. There is no incentive to help us. We’re largely regarded as pests.
It sounds like a ton of work because it is. It isn’t pleasant work, and you’ll receive very little help along the way. And after putting enough time and effort into it for—literally—several years, you may not make any progress anyway.
I left this comment on a G+ post about getting more web developers involved in web standards, last month.
I should say up-front that I do stand by it: working in web standards is incredibly frustrating. It involves no small amount of interaction with people who seem to have graduated from the Hacker News Commenter School of Diplomacy. We “authors” don’t hold much weight in standards discussions; at least, nowhere near as much as browser representatives do.
Now, do I think more full-time designers and web developers should get involved in standards, after all this glowing endorsement? Absolutely. The fact is, we don’t have the kind of voice we ought to have because we’re not there. “Author preference” is very often used to argue for or against something in a standards discussion, but very few of us are around to agree or disagree. We’re a talking point more than we’re active participants.
Join a mailing list, start a community group; make yourself heard. When you see someone post “I think developers will prefer X,” speak up. When you’re building something and find yourself cursing out some strange syntax or thinking to yourself “this would have made so much more sense if,” don’t chalk it up to someone in web standards dropping the ball. Don’t assume someone with a louder voice than yours is going to keep it from happening again.
Here are the dates of Mat Marquis's future thoughts
- Thursday, 27 June
- Saturday, 27 July
- Tuesday, 27 August
- Friday, 27 September
- Sunday, 27 October
- Wednesday, 27 November
- Friday, 27 December