Better Know A Speaker: Jeremy Keith

Some speakers go the extra mile, and in the case of Jeremy Keith, there will be many, many extra miles—he’ll be making the trek from Brighton, England to present “Be Pure. Be Vigilant. Behave.” at AEA Chicago. He works very hard to make sure that his scripts enhance a site’s usability without wrecking its accessibility. He’s also one of the only speakers in the field who has every one of his recorded talks fully transcribed at his own expense. At his insistence, we met him in deepest shadows of the lower level of a Washington, DC parking garage to ask a few questions.

Who or what has had your attention of late?

I think I have some form of attention deficit order whereby my interest flits from subject to subject like a butterfly. Lately I’ve found myself devoting a lot of my thoughts to social networking (just like everyone else, it seems). I’m also quite intrigued by machine tags and I’ve been playing around with using machine tags and APIs on my site.

But the subject that has me most excited lately is microformats. I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of their potential. The semantic richness offered by microformats has rekindled my love of markup.

Oh, and lolcats. I love lolcats.

You’ll be talking about “applying best practices learned from CSS” to writing good JavaScript. How does a styling language have anything to do with programming?

They both require a similar mindset, in my opinion. Both technologies are subservient to markup. Once you realise this then they don’t seem so different. Sure, one is for presentation and the other is for behaviour but the same best practices apply. As long as you’re applying the principle of progressive enhancement, then the specifics of the technologies become less important. It’s all about separating the layers, making a trife, crafting a three-legged stool, and stretching your analogies.

What do you hope attendees will take away from your talk?

An appreciation of JavaScript as a handy tool to have in the toolbox. Convincing people of that has become distinctly easier over the past couple of years. A few years ago, most designers thought of JavaScript as something inherently inaccessible and hard to code. That perception has changed—mostly thanks to Ajax, I suppose—and I’m glad, but I want to make sure that people don’t get too carried away by the hype. So I hope to show people that DOM Scripting and Ajax can be useful when they’re used correctly and in moderation. I sound like such a wet blanket, don’t I?

What’s it like being part of one of the most successful boutique web consultancies in the UK?

I wouldn’t know. Oh, you mean Clearleft? Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. Working with Richard Rutter every day is its own reward. That guy is crazy smart. Mind you, having to sit next to Andy Budd every day is its own punishment (I kid, I kid). As work environments go, the Clearleft HQ is pretty damn excellent. And not just because of the Aeron chairs and iMacs. We’re so 2.0, even our desks have rounded corners. Really. They do. How sad is that?

Tell us a little bit about Salter Cane.

Salter Cane is the name of the band I play in. We like to think of ourselves as a cross between Johnny Cash and Joy Division, but most people just say we sound like Nick Cave. I play bouzouki and, in answer to the your next question, it’s like a big mandolin. I don’t think there’s enough slide bouzouki in rock music. I aim to change that. If you want to hear some Salter Cane for yourself, you can download some MP3s from