Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Addendum)

Grand Mol
I was going to try and work this into the story as a whole, but somehow it didn’t seem to fit. So I’m sort of wedging it here middle, between these two tales of one city. I think this is really where it belongs.

I also indicated that it would be an anecdote, but it’s developed into kind of an anecdote wrapped in an opinion, so I really wanted to give it the separate attention it deserves.

So anyway, what I had alluded to in Part I, but neglected to elaborate upon in Part II was that within minutes of checking into the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Dallas on Thursday night, I experienced a Grand Mol Seizure.

Aw hell, don’t worry ‘bout me; it was definitely a good thing. What happened to me wasn’t some discombobulation of my central nervous system; nah…nothing like that.

I just met Molly Holzschlag.

You see, Molly isn’t just any ordinary nerd. She’s something else entirely. Remember when I mentioned I had mistakenly assumed that most web types were like me — laid back, kinda quiet and low-key? Meeting Molly is where I really discovered just how wrong I was.

When Molly Holzschlag meets you, you know you’ve been met. Her personality seizes you and holds you like there’s no tomorrow.

Frankly, prior to the conference I’d never heard of her. For that matter, I’d never heard of any of the speakers at the 2007 Webmaster Jam Session, but Trey had. He knew ‘em all, and was absolutely itching to attend the conference, especially since he had missed the inaugural event in 2006. They were like rock stars to him, and well they should be. Now after taking in all they had to offer — especially in the realm of what they’re all doing for the future of my profession — I hold them on just as lofty a pedestal.

But back to Molly…

Trey and I had just checked into our rooms on the 21st floor. It was nearly 9 P.M. and we were obviously famished, having had only the Southwest Airlines ‘Bag-o-Nuts and Soft Drink Dinner Special’ on the flight down from Nashville. We needed to grab some grub. So after taking a few minutes to drop our bags, we met outside our rooms to head downstairs and find a restaurant.

We made our way into the elevator car and punched the ‘L’ button. As the door began to close we heard the voices of two people and looked up to see them quickening their pace towards the elevator door. Trey reached out to hold it open as they happily filed in.

Our lift-mates were a slender gentleman with a quiet demeanor, along with a gregarious, raven-haired lady wearing a broad smile and a dangerous neckline.

“Are you here for the conference?” she inquired.
“Yes,” we replied simultaneously.
“Well I’m Molly Holzschlag. Nice to meet you!” she said extending her hand to us in sequence.
“I know…I read your web site all the time!” Trey offered.

Molly then proceeded to introduce the gentleman she was with, David Storey, who I would learn later works for Opera, the browser manufacturer, which in retrospect made perfect sense.

As I said earlier, Molly isn’t any ordinary nerd; she’s a crusader. As far as I’m concerned she’s as important to what I do as anyone else in the industry.

As we reached the lobby level and disembarked the elevator, we were somewhat tentatively wandering toward to the hotel’s main corridor when Trey sort of pulled me aside.

In an excited whisper he mouthed, “Do you know who that was? MOLLY! You know…MOLLY.COM? She’s one of the main speakers here! She’s HUGE!

Don’t worry, Mol. He was talking about your reputation.

As we continued en masse down the corridor, I learned that we were bound for the same destination.

I overheard Molly inquiring of her companion, “We’re meeting in the sports bar, right? How far down is it?”

Trey and I looked at each other and I said, “Sports Bar…sound good to you?” He nodded affirmatively. About that time we saw a hotel attendant passing in the opposite direction and Trey asked if the restaurant was close by. She pointed down the corridor in the same direction we were walking.

“All the way to the end,” she called out, so we continued on.

When we reached the restaurant, Molly and her friend spotted some people in the lobby corridor who were obviously connected to the conference. They stopped to commiserate while Trey and I continued in and grabbed a table.

Later that evening we witnessed what was obviously a pre-conference mixer there near the restaurant bar, with Molly holding court for most of the evening. When Molly speaks, people listen, and therein lies her importance.

Who is this woman, you ask, and why is she so important?

Molly Holzschlag is a web browser standards evangelist, and in a nutshell, she’s fighting for my job. She is the preeminent conduit between the W3 Consortium and the software companies who make the browsers with which we surf the World Wide Web.

She’s engaged in the daunting task of bringing all these mostly disparate parties together, to make it easier for all of us — particularly web designers.

The number one problem and most gut-wrenchingly frustrating circumstances any web designer faces is the task of making their pages look and behave the same across all web browsers.

Perhaps you’re aware of it, perhaps your not, but all browsers are not created equal.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), the web code technology I have been so late in getting into in my career, was developed to combat the problem of non-extensibility in web pages. Its purpose is to make sure that web page code is clean, understandable by someone who didn’t create it, and is easily portable from one viewing application to the next.

Without going into the exhaustingly long and tedious explanation for why browser incompatibility still exists, allow me to just say that the problem is still there, but Molly is on it like stink on poop.

You may know that software giant Microsoft is the Great Satan in the minds of many, if for no other reason than this one: Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) handles many CSS commands differently than do the Mozilla Firefox and Opera browsers. On the Macintosh side, Safari is somewhat of a different animal as well (pun intended).

As a result, when coding CSS to display the same on all these browsers, it’s necessary to involve work-arounds or ‘hacks’ to get the code to behave properly. Even then, pages don’t always look or work the way they’re supposed to.

This is extremely frustrating for a person like me, who is still in the process of learning CSS to begin with, let alone having to become a hackmaster in the process.

So when Molly is visiting Bill Gates for a summit on browser standards, she’s not just pleading the case of millions, she’s pleading my case. And she’s not just punchin’ a clock here either, people. She’s passionate about what she does. I think she knows it’s her legacy. What an awesome thing that must be, but also what an emotionally taxing burden as well; all the egos; all the red tape; all the corporate bullshit.

At the conference, Molly participated in panel discussions and her own keynote session in which she delivered her State of the Browser Standards address, detailing how the problem could be solved once and for all. Through her diligence, there is hope upon the horizon.

Prior to this 2007 Webmaster Jam Session conference I didn’t know she existed, but now, I’m awfully glad she does.

I’ve met the person.

I’ve seen the passion.

I’ve been seized by Grand Mol.


Also See: The Long Goodbye, Part One
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