Boomerangs, bad pennies, encores

[10 June 2010]

As of 1 June, W3C is paying for a quarter of my time, to work with the W3C XML Schema working group. Given the current state of XSD 1.1 (the working group is mostly waiting for implementations to be completed before progressing it to Proposed Recommendation), my time will mostly be devoted to work on the XSD 1.1 test suite and whatever else can be done to smooth the path of the implementors.

In the work group, the air has (predictably) been full of the expected boomerang references, Thomas Wolfe quotations, and Terminator jokes, with the occasional mention of encore performances. I leave the imagination of the scene as an exercise to the reader.

“Encore performances?” sneered my evil twin Enrique, when he read this over my shoulder. “I’ll tell you about encore performances!” Long ago, he said, he attended a recital where the pianist’s performance of a very difficult piece was greeted by thunderous applause. The astonished pianist had not prepared an encore, so as an encore he simply played the final piece over again. And the second time, said Enrique, the audience was still wildly enthusiastic. There were further cries of “Encore, encore!”, mixed with others of “Again! Again!” And so he played the piece yet again.

After the third rendition the audience was still calling for more, but Enrique swears he heard the man behind him shouting, above the din, “Again! Again! And you’re gonna keep playing it, until you get it right!”

[Thank you, Enrique, for that vote of confidence. I agree, at least, that it’s worth while to try to get a spec right.]

Three quarters of my time will continue to be spent on consulting and contract work, with a focus on using standards and descriptive markup to help make digital information more widely useful and give it longer life. Just as it’s best to combine theory and practice, if possible, so also it’s helpful to combine standards work with work on practical applications. For example: I just finished a project together with an archival collection at a major U.S. university; they are encoding their finding aids in XML using the Encoded Archival Description, and they are publishing the finding aids on the Web, in XML, with XSLT stylesheets to display them nicely for humans. Because they don’t have a separate EAD-to-HTML translation step, their workflow is simpler: they update a collection record in their archival management system, save the collection description as XML, copy it to their Web server, and it’s published. Their finding-aids site is very cool.

In other words, they are using the Web and XML in just the ways their originators hoped they could be used: for sharing semantically rich information. It’s a great pleasure to work on exploiting the open standards W3C has produced, and I look forward to helping produce more of them.

Day of the dead

[2 November 2009]

Today is the Feast of All Souls, better known where I come from as the Day of the Dead. It’s a useful day to remember the dead.

Today, I am thinking particularly of Donald Walker, Antonio Zampolli, Yuri Rubinsky, each important in different ways to me. Life remains (as I expected when they died) a little harder without them around.

It’s also a good day to think about the death that will come for each of us before long.

Deyr fé,    deyia frœndr,
deyr siálfr it sama;
enn orðztírr    deyr aldregi,
hveim er sér góðan getr.
Deyr fé,    deyia frœndr,
deyr siálfr it sama;
ec veit einn,    at aldri deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern.

What will we leave to those who stay here after us? What would we like to be remembered by?

Balisage is calling …

[5 August 2009]

This week I’m busy trying to wrap things up before heading to Montréal next week for Balisage. Songs from South Pacific keep running through my head, starting of course with “Bali Ha’i” (to which Enrique is working on a contrafacture).

I had meant to post periodically over the summer about papers I’m particularly looking forward to hearing, in the interest of reminding people about the conference and trying to encourage attendance. I only managed one or two, but it seems I needn’t feel guilty, after all. The conference chair, Tommie Usdin of Mulberry Technologies, tells me that we have now pre-registered more people for Balisage 2009 than we have had at any previous Balisage.

So even without my reminding people about what is on the program, people are coming to the conference anyway. Good! But I can’t resist mentioning here: Fabio Vitali and his colleagues have a really super idea for encoding overlapping structures by using RDF (which automatically means that we can try using SPARQL to query such documents). The continuing work on XML representations of overlap in Bielefeld and Lyon continues to bear fruit: Maik Stührenberg and Daniel Jettka of Bielefeld are talking about XStandoff, the successor to the Sekimo General Format (SGF) developed earlier in Bielefeld, while Pierre Edouard Portier and Sylvie Calabretto of Lyon are talking about the problem of constructing documents using formats like Lyon’s MultiX. And Desmond Schmidt of Queensland University of Technology is coming, to talk about his work on overlapping structures in multi-versioned documents.

Norm Walsh and Michael Kay are both talking about pipelines in XML processing. Michael is also chairing a full-day symposium on Monday about efficient processing of XML. (Why did no one from the EXI effort offer a paper?!) Kurt Cagle is talking about XML and linked data (that would be the rebranding of the Semantic Web).

And there’s a lot more. See the program for details.

So this year Balisage will be bigger than ever before.

I hope to see you in Montréal next week!

Another example of the curb-cut effect

[29 June 2009]

The XSD Datatypes spec has a diagram showing the hierarchical derivation relations among the built-in datatypes. The old version (created by Asir Vedamuthu, to whom thanks, and used in XSD 1.0 and in earlier drafts of XSD 1.1) has simple color-coding to distinguish various classes of datatypes (what are now called the special datatypes, the primitives, and the other built-ins).

For the Candidate Recommendation draft of XSD 1.1, though, we needed to make a new drawing to show the built-in datatypes added in 1.1 (anyAtomicType, dateTimeStamp, dayTimeDuration, yearMonthDuration, precisionDecimal).

The new version created for the Candidate Recommendation draft has a new color scheme, which I made with the help of a very nice tool for color, now to be found at (I used the previous version, but the functionality I counted on is still there). This tool (and some others) allows you to see an approximation of the effect of your color scheme for a reader with various forms of color perception deficit (protanopy, deuteranopy, tritanopy, etc.), which means you can try to ensure that the distinctions in your diagrams are visible also to readers with those forms of vision.

I found it remarkable that I ended up with a color scheme I find more attractive than the old one; it’s remarkable how many people have told me they think the same (without realizing the proximate cause of the change).

SVG, of course, makes it easy to make diagrams for which the color scheme can easily be modified. And XSLT makes it easier to generate this diagram and to modify it systematically in various ways (including color scheme). But it’s the idea of universal design that gets the credit for making the diagram visually more attractive.

Universal design: try it sometime. You’ll be glad you did.