Friday 28 October 2005

The Taming of the Fear

WHEN I WAS TWENTY-ONE away at college in Tucson, I became extremely ill and was hospitalized. No one could figure out what the problem was, and before long I was back in New Jersey with family, where I could barely feed and clothe myself, much less go from physician to physician while my poor mother, bless her, tried desperately to help her suffering daughter.

My folks had made plans before the onset of my illness to take a trip to Spain and Malta, and they really needed the break. They decided to leave me in the house, where my brother Morris, who was staying in New Jersey, could come by and look in on me, and friends and neighbors could do the same.

A Dark and Trembling Night

One night, my mother’s best friend Eda, who is a second mother to me to this day, spent time with me during a very bad episode. I was extremely ill, and very, very frightened. I called her for support, and she came over and sat with me for hours, holding my trembling hand. I talked to her about how I was so terribly afraid of what was happening to me.

That the diagnosis was so long in coming wasn’t helping, particularly as my symptoms were becoming worse. I was in pain constantly, I was unable to eat regularly, sit up, or concentrate for any period of time beyond a few minutes. I began having seizures, became emotionally labile, and was sometimes unable to form sentences properly, the words coming out all mixed up.

I wasn’t just afraid, I was out and out terrified. I didn’t want to die. I was a young woman who had always had so much energy. What had happened to me? What was happening to me?

Eda is a biologist. Her outlook on the world is very practical in many ways, and we talked about fear that long night. She told me that fear is not only part of life; it is life’s motivating factor. She explained to me about the “flight or fight” phenomenon, which is actually the body’s way of managing threats. When we feel stressed or threatened, adrenaline and other hormones begin to flood the body, preparing it to run or fight, whichever is necessary.

Eda explained to me that based on this, her belief is that all human emotion is based on fear, including love. At 21 years of age, I had an extremely difficult time with this concept. I still had a very romantic version of what love was supposed to be, despite already having suffered several heartbreaks in my short life. I grappled with this thought for many, many years to come.

Heart Parts

About seven years later I was back in Tucson, after spending nearly a decade being house and bed-bound, in hospitals, through multiple surgeries and chemotherapies, through many health crises, one of which very nearly cost me my life.

I began to venture out into the world, cautiously, slowly, and fearfully. Trying to find my footing and rebuild some semblance of normalcy into my life, I volunteered a few hours a week at a local women’s art gallery, where I quickly made friends.

One woman I became particularly close with, Lucia, also had very serious medical problems. She had been born with a heart defect, and had been through multiple surgeries to replace valves within her heart.

Remembering what Eda had told me about fear, still struggling with depression and confusion in trying to find myself and open up to a world in which I’d missed many vital years of growth, rites of passage and so on, I talked to Lucia about fear.

Fear, Lucia said, was a presence we could never rid ourselves of. However, with skill and patience, we could learn to manage fear by re-orienting our relationship with it. She took me through a role-playing exercise in which I envisioned fear in human form. She had me sit in a chair and visualize fear as sitting across from me, and begin a dialog.

“Fear” I began, feeling awkward but curious as to where this would lead. “I’m angry at you. You’ve controlled my life for a very long time, and in many ways, I feel paralyzed by your power.”

Fear responded with complete silence. What now?

Lucia told me to tell fear that I had respect for the role that fear played in my life, but I was no longer going to allow fear to stop me from moving forward.

“Fear” I continued. “I do respect you. I do see that at times you’ve been my friend, protecting me from harm. I see at times that you hold a power for me, should I need you to help me fight, or run, whichever is necessary.”

Fear responded again. And again, the response was complete silence.

“Fear” I said. “I no longer will allow you to dominate my decisions. I know you will always be with me, but I hope you and I will talk things over before you take control of situations where I don’t need you to.”

More silence. I walked away doubting that the exercise had any impact.

Courage, My Sisters and Brothers

A few months later, I met a woman named Patty who was to become one of the most important people to ever grace my life. Patty is an amazing musician, a talented guitarist with a stunning voice. She’s also a great writer, a warm, loving, adventuresome and independent woman. Patty has spent her life in a wheelchair because she was born with Spina Bifida, an opening of the spine that left her legs atrophied and without feeling.

I first met Patty online, and reading through her bio on a local BBS (back in the days before the Web, my pretties) I thought to myself “my god, this woman sounds like me!” She talked about her love of music, her songwriting, and her disability. I emailed her and she wrote back.

We planned a meeting, so I went to her house with my guitars one summer afternoon. I walked in the door, and we both looked at each other and just knew that something profound was about to happen. We tuned up, and began to play. What followed was something that left us in absolute awe! We were matched musically in such a way that is truly unique in this world. It was an amazing, immediate, and deeply spiritual connection.

We began to write music together. We were sitting around one night and our friend Mark gave us our name, which we immediately knew was spot-on. “Courage Sisters” began to play live venues around Tucson and gained a nice following of friends and supporters.

Patty has since moved to another state, and I miss her terribly at times, but I will never forget the impact my experiences with her have had on my life. I gained so much confidence and strength during my years with her; I’d never be doing what I’m doing now without her influence, no question.


It’s now many years later, and I still talk with fear on a regular basis. But, I also understand something about courage. I experience fear as often as anyone, but since that day, talking to fear, and by seeing others who worked with fear daily and learned to tame its sometimes-disrespectful hold, something did begin to change in me.

Instead of remaining paralyzed, I began to move forward in my life, to blossom and change and grow and nurture myself and in turn, learn to give back to the world in some relevant way.

Most people are unaware that I’ve been chronically ill since the age of 21 (that will make it 22 years this January, now the majority of my life), and that I live with significant levels of pain and fatigue every day. Yet, I get up every day and I live, and I do it to such a degree that people are typically astonished to hear about my medical circumstances, largely because I have no real reason to discuss them except in rare, relevant times such as this.

I travel the world, I seek out experiences in which to share my passion for technology and life, to experience completely fun, and joy as well as pain.

Sometimes, I know I take things too far. I work too hard and play too hard, I run myself into dangerous fatigue. I often wonder not if but when I will again collapse. I wonder, but I’m not afraid, for I know one thing, and that’s by having a relationship with fear rather than letting fear own me, I am living a very full life, one so rich as to seem enviable to others who see me as strong and fearless.

I am not fearless, and I am only sometimes strong. What I think I am today is courageous.

Like Patty, I will not be held by the bounds of limitations. I will find ways through, around, and beyond, no matter what. Fear need not rule our days.

If you find yourself fearful and afraid to blossom, grow and change, I hope you will take my experiences to heart: Sit down and have a long talk with fear. Don’t worry if fear doesn’t answer immediately. Let fear know of your respect, and ask for fear’s respect in kind.

I promise you this. Your life, like mine, will only be the richer for it.

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Posted by:   Molly | 21:56 | Comments (45)

Soft Waves on Perfect Sand


Soft Waves on Perfect Sand

I’ve posted pictures from my recent Geek Cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. A gorgeous journey of light and color. I hope you enjoy them!

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Posted by:   Molly | 09:29 | Comments (14)

Tuesday 25 October 2005

Comment Addiction and Blog Post Quality

PEOPLE ONLY LOVE ME WHEN I’M FUNNY. Either that or very geeky. Or when I combine the two. But spill my heart or start to cry and it’s apparently about as yummy as toxic waste.

Either that, or my server was down too long yesterday and only two comments arrived in 24 hours in response to my Of Pride and Sorrow post, which I felt was, well, very heartfelt.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking that I now measure the worth of my blog posts by how many comments they get. This probably isn’t a good idea, since some of the best things I’ve written have gone unsung, and some of the worst things have gotten lots of attention. Conclusion? You just can’t predict people’s responses, and sometimes it’s the emotional stuff they do respond to but don’t post a response to since they don’t wish to or know how to articulate their feelings in a forum such as a blog.

Have I become a comment addict? If I don’t see at least five comments and at best 50 per post, I suffer from withdrawals. I’ve a highly addictive personality as it is and I don’t need any more things to be addicted to, thank you very much. But aside from the comment addiction, the issue of allowing the quantity or even quality of commentary to drive my content is at core a repugnant thought.

After all, certain blogs occupy a different space than the professional Web site or corporate blog. I use my blog as a means of self-expression, which of course includes funny stuff, geeky stuff, sad stuff, mean stuff, and just general Molly stuff.

I’m pondering this state of affairs and would enjoy your thoughts. I love comment love, this is why I have comments on my blog. Do I compromise my self-expression in order to get more of it, or would that just be an addict’s behavior? If you see certain trends from your blog readership, do you or would you be more precise in addressing what your audience likes just to get the comment love?

And yes, for the record: I’m wondering how many comments this post will get.

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Posted by:   Molly | 03:06 | Comments (73)

Sunday 23 October 2005

Of Pride and Sorrow

AT DINNER TONIGHT in my hotel here in Jackson, Mississippi where I’m working for the week with the Mississippi State IT Department, I observed my fellow diners and found myself deeply moved by what I saw.

Many readers might not be aware that Jackson was not only hit by Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans as well as Biloxi and other Gulf Coast cities and towns, but it is currently serving as one of the locations that the U.S. government has relocated those left homeless and jobless by the storm. Many of these folks are in hotels with funds provided by U.S. government agencies. They are waiting for news as to where, when and how the U.S. government and insurance representatives will get them back to work and help them rebuild their lives.

History is filled with stories of displaced people, and of course my Jewish upbringing was not without its many lessons of exactly that. Yet, I’m a middle class child and have rarely wanted for food or shelter or a place to call home. It is an unimaginable experience for me. I feel tremendous pain for what has happened, and I am angry at an administration that hasn’t been prepared or perhaps even concerned enough to ensure that people, no matter their economic status, are taken care of. If my country, supposedly the wealthiest and most resourceful on earth, cannot take better care of its people, what on earth are we doing with all that money and all those resources?

With another major storm about to hit Florida, and predictions that continuing serious meteorological and geological events are expected in the next years to come, I feel overwhelmed with sadness. I am also impressed by the people I meet who seem to be stronger than I believe I could ever be if faced with the same losses.

I’m struck by a raw sense of irony that along with being a temporary haven for many storm victims, Jackson is the last stop for many U.S. Marine, Army, and Navy recruits on their way to boot camp. In the restaurant tonight there was a group of 15 or so young men undergoing this particular right of passage.

All of them young enough to be my sons, I couldn’t help but stare at them in a sense of astonishment as they head off to experiences that could either enrich their lives via education and a chance to see the world, or leave them wounded or dead in a war that defies any sense of logic I possess. When I look at these young men – so recently boys, really – what I see and feel is honored by their courage and fearful for their futures. I can only imagine what their own mothers and families must feel right now.

Pride and sorrow seem like such disparate emotions, but they are co-existing within me as I sit and recall my emotions looking over that room full of people and wondering where their lives will take them next. I can only hope, as we all can, that we’ll figure out how to do this better in the future.

I always have believed the Web, with its ability to be used as a force for good in this world, can be used to help better distribute not only goods and services, but information and aid to all those who need. I’m reminded of Jeff Veen‘s Have Hay / Need Hay usability example from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Have resources? Need resources? I hope readers will agree that this is a model we as Web developers and global citizens will focus on more and more as we continue refining our skills, working toward a better Web, a healthier world and never, ever forgetting the human face of what it is we do.

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Posted by:   Molly | 18:13 | Comments (9)

Thursday 20 October 2005

Geek Dinner: London

IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE IN LONDON on 24 November 2005, come join me and as many geeks as the location can bear for an evening of socializing. I’m being honored with a Geek Dinner! If you’re unfamiliar with Geek Dinners, they are get togethers with well-known geeks and blogger types such as Robert Scoble and Tim O’Reilly in which we get to eat, drink and make merry with like-minded friends.

Well, okay, not everyone’s like-minded, but that’s part of the fun, too. Thanks to the ever-energetic Ian Forrester for putting this together! It is recommended that you comment on the Geek Dinner announcement thread in order to be registered..

I look forward to seeing you there!

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Posted by:   Molly | 04:10 | Comments (20)

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Web Design and Development Personality Indicators

I’VE HAD ENOUGH! Frustrated with the range of attitudes and opinions I deal with as a standards-oriented educator, I’ve decided to begin a project (very) loosely based on the Meyers-Briggs personality indicators. So, dear readers, I’m hoping you’ll help me add and refine my categories, but I’m off to a start with the following:

  • OFAD. Old Fart Anti-Design. These are the guys (and I mean guys) that were on the Web as early as 1991. Almost all physicists at major research institutions, they’re the ones who helped Tim Berners-Lee refine the Web and were the first adopters. Mostly long in the tooth now, some are still kicking and they can be described as the anti-designers. These aren’t even purists – today’s approaches seem foreign and sometimes frightening to them. They long for the days of Lynx, really, but barring glowing text on a terminal and HTML authored in Vi or Emacs, their idea of Web design is default gray backgrounds, default text, maybe a list, and the apex of old fart visual design: a horizontal rule. Fortunately, this is a very rare breed and usually they can be ignored because unless they’ve progressed somewhat, they have precious little to offer the contemporary, standards-oriented Web designer or developer.
  • OSVD. Old Skool Visual Designer. These are the folks that refuse to see beyond their nested-tables-spacer-GIF design. In fact, you can find them at a variety of ad agencies and teaching at conferences all over the world, still excited when they create a design in Photoshop and use the so-called HTML export utility. These designers are often extremely hostile toward standardistas largely because the idea of change or looking at code is so traumatic that they hold on to the Old Skool methodology as if it were a lifeboat on a stormy sea. Unfortunately, this breed isn’t rare enough.
  • TTLM. Trying To Learn More. In this category are the good men and women who might still be serving it up Old Skool but are open to learning, open to growth yet struggling with standards related concepts and the snakepit of browser challenges of contemporary Web design and development. These brave souls are not in the majority, but they are to be lauded and assisted for their willingness to venture forth and expand their horizons.
  • SAVD. Standards Aware Visual Designer. These people are designing with standards in mind – creating beautiful sites for the screen, working toward achieving accessible sites, examining usability and human factors, and very possibly beginning or already designing for alternative devices and media types. A very rare breed, and if you are reading this post it’s very highly likely you’re either one your own fine self, know all their names or have Zeldman’s personal phone number memorized.
  • SASS. Standards Aware Structural Semanticist. These personalities are very code-centric, with little interest (or more often, skill) in presentation but lots of interest in the proper structuring of documents, use of meaningful markup, microformats, Semantic Web and the like. At their most compulsive, they can become purists to the point of having unrealistic expectations of the more worldly Web worker. Also a rare breed, SASS personalities are extremely important to the good of the Web but sometimes need to be reminded that smart structure and semantics can happily co-exist with visual design.
  • SACE. Standards Aware Cutting Edge. Whether visual designers or code-centric or both, these are the folks that design first for Firefox, Safari and Opera and work around IE 6.0 only because they have to. Given their druthers, sites would be built using practically no markup and lots of attribute selectors, just because they like the idea. A rare breed worth watching, but also in need of reminders that the rest of the world just ain’t there yet, and in fact, really are lagging behind.

Hybrids are not unusual, either. I sort of live between the SASS and the SAVD personalities, with not enough real design skill to execute great visual designs, but enough savvy to appreciate beautiful, standards-based Web sites. There’s probably a personality type for people like me, but it’s very difficult to assess my own character, so I’ll leave it there for now.

As I’m typing this, I’m on a ship in the Eastern Caribbean teaching CSS on a Geek Cruise. The ship, the MS Zuiderdam, is just in the process of docking at Road Town, Tortola, in the British Virgin Isles. I’m sure you all feel really sorry for me right now.

It’s just past dawn and I’m up at the very top of the ship where there happens to be WiFi at the going rate of 40 cents USD per minute, so you’ll forgive me if I leave you now with the following questions: Are you one of these personality types, and if so, which? Do you have a personality type you’d like to add to my little list?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 04:45 | Comments (91)

Wednesday 12 October 2005

Relatively Positioning an Elephant

UNINTENTIONAL HUMOR is often the funniest. I’m co-presenting with Eric Meyer at the always-fabulous UI Conference (celebrating its 10th year!) and Eric, describing positioning, inadvertently said:

“Here’s how we relatively position an elephant”

Now, Eric’s known for his oft subtle humor, but this was more a we-just-finished-lunch-so-we-all-need-a-nap situation. It came flying out of his mouth, no humor intended, instead of the word element.

Oh, it was a funny moment, and I’m compelled to share it with everyone! But, I’m left wondering: Just how does one relatively position an elephant?

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Posted by:   Molly | 13:21 | Comments (69)

Tuesday 11 October 2005

Ego Naming

EGO SURFING ROUND THE WEB this morning, it occurred to me I have been called some odd things by people. Now, I’ve worked at least two of them into bios, so the perpetuation of these oddities is in part my fault, but let’s take a look, shall we?

One of the Top 25 Most Influential Women of the Web

This one was bestowed to me by webgrrls back in some ungodly Web year like 1998 1997. What’s really depressing about this one is – quick – name the other 24.


One of the Greatest Digerati

What the &%^k does this mean? Really? I didn’t have much of a clue so I went (where else?) to Wikipedia and looked it up. Here I learned a few interesting things. The word is considered a portmanteau, which is a word formed with both the sound and meaning of two other words, in this case digital and literati. Oh, the other word for portmanteau is Frankenword, which just cracks me up. Reading the Wikipedia definition, I suppose I fit the bill. But it sounds so self masturbatory* that I think I’m going to drop it from my bio.

First Lady of the Web

Okay, this is the one that got me started on this entire train of thought in the first place. It seems to have appeared just last week after WE05. Ryan Short may have been the first perpetrator, but I’m going to forgive him because he wrote a disclaimer about the bestowed title. Somehow, the moniker quickly made it halfway across the world, and Colly used it too in a bit of saucy banter about cocks on sticks.


Then, Andrew Krespanis, who made me nearly break a rib with his hysterical Let there be w007 referred to me as The First Lady of Web Standards. Of course Andrew K. was still a young lad in short pants when we were doing stuff like that and thinking it was cool and not just a source of endless amusement for geeks.

Now here’s the thing. A First Lady is typically the wife of a president or governor, who may or may not attain fame in her own right. Since I’m unmarried, I can’t follow the logic here, unless the assumption is that I’m a). married to the Web or b). married to Web Standards.

I suppose the argument could be made for either, but in that case, where’s my pretty ring**?

*first to name the source and explain the context of that one gets a book

**first to make a quip with “web ring” involved gets hit with a book

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Posted by:   Molly | 03:46 | Comments (25)

Thursday 6 October 2005

CSS2 and CSS2.1 Specificity Clarified

LEST YOU GET SWEPT UP into the stars with the imaginative Malarkey, who puts a cleverly galactic twist on describing CSS specificity, let me stop you with my own unique powers and clear up his errors before you follow his flawed math and find yourself flung back to earth most painfully.

The confusion has to do with the specificity algorithm being different between CSS specifications. Since most standards-based designers and developers are working with CSS2.1 much of the time, I’m going to show how to calculate specificity according to the CSS2.1 specification. This way, you can make your calculations relevant to the kinds of selectors we’re using in contemporary CSS design.

Here’s an easy way to visualize specificity in CSS2.1:

Example Presence of style in document (inline style) # of ID selectors # of class selectors # of Element (type) selectors
p 0, 0, 0, 1
p.warning 0, 0, 1, 1
#content p.warning 0, 1, 1, 1

The final specificity calculations then would be:

  • p = 0, 0, 0, 1
  • p.warning = 0, 0, 1, 1
  • #content p.warning = 0, 1, 1, 1

Other items of specific interest:

  • The universal selector has a specificity of 0, 0, 0, 0
  • Inherited values have null specificity
  • According to the CSS2.1 specification, it can be interpreted that a pseudo element is calculated as an element, a pseudo-class is calculated as a class, and an attribute selector is also calculated as a class. Note that CSS2 says that pseudo elements should be ignored, further confusing the issue
  • As you can see from this chart, if a rule is applied to an element with an inline style, the inline style has higher specificity than anything. So, you’d add a 1 to the beginning of the style in question, let’s say there’s an inline style on some instance of p , that particular selector would then have a specificity of 1, 0, 0, 1, being the most specific rule of the bunch

And, while it seems natural to drop the comma delimiters and count all this as if it were base 10 (which on first glance make sense) the specification clearly states that a “broad” base is necessary – potentially infinite. While it would be rare to have more than 10 individual selectors in a given category, base 10 doesn’t apply when there are more than 10 selectors present. Eric Meyer explains this a whole lot better than I can in his article Link Specificity.

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Posted by:   Molly | 23:37 | Comments (45)

Tuesday 4 October 2005

Back from Oz

WELL I’M BACK FROM AUSTRALIA and I must say I had an incredible time. WE05 was fantastic. A tremendous experience. Now, I’d known from my evolving friendships with Maxine and John and Russ that the experience was going to be a good one. Little did I know I was about to walk into a room and make 350 new best friends!

Can you say “Where the hell am I going to put my blogroll now?”

I want to spend some more time thinking about the conference, my fantastic hosts, my new pals, and Sydney, which I found to be a gorgeous, welcoming city. And I’ll do just that at some point, but for right now I have to keep this short because someone gave me their cold. I haven’t been sick in almost a year so I’m feeling particularly grouchy about it.

I’m going to leave you with a few links for now, and thoughts of love and gratitude to the WE05 team and the fantastic delegates.

Off to make tea. Then sleep for a day or two. I hated leaving Oz, but there truly is no place like home.

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Posted by:   Molly | 07:42 | Comments (24)

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