No Sleep Till Brooklyn

Sometimes a potent mix of wanderlust and the allure of an unanswered “what if” question causes change to happen. I recently moved from San Francisco to New York, and I recently transitioned from my full-time role at Mozilla to a part-time consulting role.

Of course, soon after I left, the Giants are making a World Series run, making me long to be near Willie Mays plaza. I love San Francisco, with its micro-climates, improbable topography, and draconian parking inspectors. I spent one third of my adult life here. I worked with inspiring people to advance the reach and capability of a massively hyper-connected world; I played enthusiastically (if not adeptly) in the magnificent outdoors; I got up to all the usual urban shenanigans in my twenties, even getting my heart broken and wizened; and — at the great risk of courting the obvious metaphor — I emerged from the fog of a prolonged adolescence into what I hope will pass for maturity. I’ll miss the City by the Bay. There’s no place like it in all the world.

Within reason, I relish change, and seek it out whenever I feel I’m getting lulled into complacency. I’ve wanted to explore non-technical projects for a long time now, and the best way to do that was to leave the epicenter of technology for a while. My childhood brought with it much travel; I was raised in India, Hong Kong, Ethiopia, Russia, China, and France, with some time in Canada. I often dodge direct questions about where I grew up, preferring the quick version of the story, but I am sticking to the facts when I tell people that San Francisco is the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place. So why, then, New York?

I’ll spare you my romantic observations about cities. E.B. White (of Strunk and White and Charlotte’s Web fame) said it much better than I ever can back in 1948 (but you should read him in 2010, since his words have aged so well). A small snippet:

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”

For the next conceivable while, then, I’ll be a settler. I’ll bring to New York my “what if” questions, and see what happens when I pursue the answers with passion.

The transition does mean I’ll miss the people I worked with over the years, particularly at Mozilla, a project I grew up with almost right out of college. Few things compare to the thrill of contributing to something that you really believe in. Mozilla paved the way for what is now the triumph of open-source on the web over a closed-source monopoly. Not working on it full-time means that I’ll no longer be associated with some things, like being the Chair of the WebGL WG or being front and center for developer relations. But it also means I can take on some manageable tasks and make sure they get chaperoned through to completion.

I’m in what seems to be a a bigger pond now — a chaotic, crowded one with four seasons and a subway and even more draconian parking inspectors. The Fall is lovely here, and I am optimistic.

Tantek Çelik Working With Mozilla

When we tell the story of how the web is advanced, we encounter a lot of personalities — passionate advocates of the open web, who have been doing needle-moving things since the fractious era of the (first) browser wars. Tantek Çelik is one such personality, and I’m pleased to say that he’s going to be working with Mozilla as a consultant for a few months to help us out with important projects in the CSS and identity space. Both are his sweet spots. Long-time Mac users will recall with fondness IE 5 for Mac, which Tantek was responsible for. At the time, it pushed the CSS envelope even further than IE on Windows did (making Tantek our favorite renegade Microsoft engineer). He’s also the progenitor of the CSS Box Model Hack, former CTO of Technorati, as well as one of the forces behind

Tantek and I first met as competitors in 2002 at an event called Meet the Makers (organized by Jason Calacanis and Brian Alvey), where he was the IE guy and I was the Netscape guy. Along with Doug Bowman (who had just redesigned the Wired news site with pure CSS), we were on a panel at that event discussing web standards with a bunch of web developers. And while at that time we each worked for organizations whose fierce competition characterized the early evolution of the web (*sigh with Netscape moving from underdog to extinction), I was struck by how motivated Tantek was to get standards right.

It is remarkable what the passage of time can do. Not only are we furthering common goals for the betterment of the web, as we have in the past, but now we’re both working in various capacities for Mozilla. Tantek will help us out with the CSS3 Flex Box Model, figuring out what the right thing to do with respect to stylable HTML5 form controls are, and help us with fundamental questions of identity and the open social web in connection with the account manager initiative in Firefox.

Update 1: here’s a bit on C|Net about Mozilla working with Tantek.

Update 2: here’s a Belorussian translation of this blog post.

No Browser Wars in Austin

This year, I’m not moderating the Browser Wars Panel at SxSW. I did it for three years in a row, and maybe three time’s a charm. It got written up by PC Magazine each time, and that felt great. The truth is, I can no longer be unbiased (I work for Mozilla on Firefox now). What’s even more true is that I’m so occupied with standards-body issues that I’m concerned I no longer have my ear right on the pulse of what web developers want. Last year, Jeremy provoked a riot when he “threw some shit at the fan” (his words) about font formats. Me, I largely kept the peace, but couldn’t resist a little school-boyish bullying of Chris Wilson (then still the IE guy) about a few things, and I also got accused of going easy on Darin, the Google guy.

What makes a compelling story for me is the browser peace, though. The web as a platform (“The Web Platform”) wins through consensus about standardization. I blogged recently about standards in the device era. What I didn’t touch on is whether patents will thwart the attempt to build out the promise of a seamlessly interoperable web. I’m not moderating a discussion dubbed “Browser Wars” this year, but I’ll leave last year’s attendees (as proxies for their browser companies) some fly-by notes:

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Bangalore DevDay

These are excerpted from my notes each night while traveling through India on Mozilla work.

February 28, 2010

We’re in Bangalore. I’m excited to have sethb and ragavan hang with me in my home town, meet some of my friends, and generally get some exposure to the city where my parents live.

We got a chance to visit a Bollywood studio in Mumbai, actually had a celebrity sighting or two, and met some amazing people. But the Mozilla DevDay we are organizing in Bangalore is really the main part of our trip. We’ve “co-organized” the event with Mahiti, an open-source non-profit based in Bangalore, and the Centre for Internet Society. We bought plenty of schwag: t-shirts, wrist bands, posters, and even a few Firefox plushies. We’re expecting over 200 people (at least!) at the National Institute of Advanced Studies campus, where the event is held.

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Pune and Mumbai

Excerpted from my nightly notes as I traveled through India on Mozilla work. This part covers our voyage to Pune and Mumbai.

February 21

The guy working at the bakery knows where it is, or so he says. He gesticulates emphatically, pointing to the alley behind the neon INRI above the cross, which serves as an illuminating reminder that we’re in a big Roman Catholic neighborhood. I’ve been leading sethb and pike on a tour of Mumbai’s narrow winding lanes, all to further the discourse about the Open Web. We’re in Chuim Village on a Sunday night, after having left GNUnify 2010 in Pune. We’re on our way to the offices and are following Sanjay Bhangar’s detailed directions. We’re here to talk to some of the Mozilla Mumbai community about HTML5, video, and emerging web technologies, and to ingest beer and delicious biriyani. We find out that Jan Gerber (who wrote Firefogg) and Sebastian Luetgert are in Mumbai as well, representing the impressive movie database and working with It promises to be a very interesting evening, if we can actually find the place.

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An annotated anthology of Arun Ranganathan's Web noise.