Older blog entries for Ankh (starting at number 142)

I'm in Brisbane for XML Query Working Group meetings, kindly hosted by DSTC on the Queensland University Campus. I and some colleagues also spoke at a workshop on Friday.

Much more thinking about XML things than open source things of late, although as usual I've been following Mandrake Linux (cooker). We're slowly getting to the point where more and more of users' needs are met, but meeting 80% of everyone's needs is not as good as meeting all of the needs of 80% of people.

Someone wrote to me recently to ask for an office suite and database to help her run her small business. I don't think postgresql or mysql arethe sort of thing she had in mind :-) although OpenOffice will probably meet her needs in practice, perhaps along with gnumeric. We still don't have anything like Quark or InDesign, although scribus is starting to approach an old version of PageMaker, and passportout is also interesting for a more technical user.

The open source world can meet most of the day to day needs of a great number of people, which is a solid and remarkable achievement. It's not clear to me that computers have anywhere reached anything like their full potential, and meeting all of the uses people might ever have for computers is obviously not possible, so the right question is to ask where the growth in computing capability is most aligned with people's needs. That's somewhere that open source does seemto have a clar advantage.


steved, I've been interested in the reciprocality project for a while, even though the Web site isn't perhaps as grokkable as I'd wish ;-)

haruspex, well, Bush is now a Kingit seems.

Clyde and I were sick over christmas, so we didn't do anything. We might have a late Christmas in a day or two.

It's interesting (for a massochist like me at least) to watch discussions on the xml-dev mailing list about restricted XPath patterns. Someone wanted to design a language, and saved development time by using an XML-based syntax and a SAX-based parser. It's a perfectly valid use of XML, and a good reminder of why we don't have a single data model: he takes SAX events and builds the equivalent of a parse tree for his language.

Next year has to be (for me at least) the opening of public discussions on what comes after XML 1.1, XML Schema 1.1, XPath 2, XSLT 2, XQuery 1.0 and 1.1, XSL-FO 1.1, and generally where W3C should be going with XML.

In the mean-time my 2.6.8 kernel has a problem when the system gets too busy: the system clock jumps back an hour, then a few seconds later jumps forward again! I'm not sure why but it really confuses X and also sound players. The whole system (including the console, not just X) freezes while it does this. I'm wondered for a while if it was using free disk space on my cheap external USB disk for swap, and having to wait for the disk to spin up, but a program that accessed the disk every few seconds didn't seem to help. Maybe I'll try a newer kernel.

I spent some time thinking about timezones, dates, XML attributes and elements, and XML Schema. I'm not sure that was very productive or enlightening but it was more interesting than it might sound.

I've also spent some time comparing the Deviant Art and PhotoSIG art community sites. I've been trying to understand what makes online communities succeed or fail. Part of it seems to involve a mixture of self-policing and community ratings combined with a reward or status system. Where the community Web site doesn't have an obvious rating for people, the yusers often invent one (e.g. Pageviews on Deviant Art, an essentially irrelevent statistic). I'd like to see a standardised format for a community trust metric, so people can say, I'm a top-tier Deviant Art contributer (or whatever) and aggregate that with their Advogato Journeyer and Slashdot Gigaflamer status :-) perhaps to give them status on some other site, or to help build federated identities.

raph - One of the difficulties with greyscale fonts in the past has been how to print them on one-bit-per-pixel device such as a laser printer or typesetter. Print has generally been seen as the objective of type design for most people in the past.

Another difficulty is that early windowing systems had 1-bit-per-pixel APIs that made it hard to change.

It's a pain because it also precluded colour outline fonts.

10 Dec 2004 (updated 12 Dec 2004 at 01:24 UTC) »

[update: this didn't make it onto the recentlog page before, I think, for what little it's worth.]

Voted for gnome board, then left for meetings in Boston and Ottawa, and the mail server I share with my brother promptly stopped working. Or more precisely the router where it's hosted imploded. The Internet ate my homework. Must be the wrong sort of snow.

The first meeting in Boston were a W3C Architecture Team face to face meeting in the oddly-shaped Stata Centre at MIT.

The BBC were there filming in preparation for the next meeting, the W3C's 10th Birthday Party. So there was a brief glimpse of me on the BBC news at ten, it seems. I'm sorry if I spoilt your dinner.

The 10th anniversary was interesting, although seeing most of the W3C Team wearing suits was a little freaky. I even wore shoes and socks. Sometimes you have to make compromises :-)

Then we had an Advisory Committee meeting, at which the organizations involved in the W3C, the Working Group chairs and the W3C staff (the "Team") all get together. Well, a lot of them do.

There's a difficult balance in running a consortium for developing open, public, freely available standards. How do you get the stakeholders around the table and also get public participation and buy-in? It varies from technology to technology, and works better in some cases than others. After the AC meetings we had a Team Day, and for part of that we wandered around Boston interviewing people. It's surprising how few people know that W3C does anything more than HTML and CSS, or that working groups have to deal with public comments. Well, sometimes it's surprising, and sometimes it's a reminder that W3C doesn't have a large marketing budget, and the staff don't have enough time to do enough outreach right now.

This week I've been in Ottawa for XML Binary Characterization meetings. We're trying to work out whether W3C should specify a single format for more efficient and compact interchange of XML. A lot of people want this, and a lot of others don't want the inevitable disruption that a new representation of XML might well cause. I'm beginning to get a much clearer picture of our options.

My husband (Clyde) came with me to Ottawa, and tomorrow we'll wander round the city a bit. We ate tonight at the Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro, and I highly recommend it. Reservations needed.

A piece of good news while I was in the meetings: The Canadian Supreme Court's decision means that the Canadian government is now likely to make clear that same sex marriage is legal. It's already legal in several Provinces, including here in Ontario. The previous prime minister, Jean Chrétien, pointed out that you can't (by definition) have a vote on specific minority rights, since votes are about majority views. Instead, you have to agree to support minority rights, and then the rest follows. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy, and that, too, is inevitable. The unhappy people tend to be in the majority, and therefore tend to think themselves in the right, but being in a majority has nothing to do with whether people are right, wrong, accepting of others or judgemental, loving and compassionate or filled with hate.


DV, try the Adobe SVG viewer. You may need an old build of Mozilla; I have one that works with version 3 of the plugin, mozilla-2003-03-09-svg, if you want. Newer versions don't work reliably for me.

This week we had the W3C 10th Birthday Party in Boston. The BBC filmed us (amongst many others) so I hear there was a brief glimpse of the back of me on the news. Fame at last. Next to top the music charts! Well, OK, maybe not.

Ten years ago seems a long time now, and the first North American Web conference in that crazy old hotel in Chicago with such frenetic excitement is a world away.

During the day itself I often found myself thinking of my former friend and boss at SoftQuad, Yuri Rubinsky - he would have been so delighted in so much that happened with the Web and with XML, and especially with all the progress on accessibility and internationaliszation, although perhaps sad that so many organizations don't quite seem to understand it all.


raph, I suspect xterm (or libXft) is expecting an outline to convolve or do analytical anti-aliasing with, not a greyscale bitmap. The old X server-side font code only ever worked with 1-bit-deep fonts unfortunately. NeWS used to support colour and greyscale Type 3 PostScript fonts, but if you used them with xterm much weirdness ensued! It'd be nice to see them work, though.

nymia, every now and again I try to post something about writing efficient code, to try and remind people that in fact it matters. In some ways my Linux/Gnome desktop feels slower than a Sunview system from over a decade ago (although in other ways it's a huge amount faster of course). Sun worked hard on speeding up their (kernel-based) window system (SunView, predating X or NeWS), and some of the hacks seemed ugly -- not giving a window a mouse event immediately, in case the mouse was just passing over the window; compiling several unrelated applications together into a single program that looked at argv[0] because people usually ran them all, and it increased the amount of shared code, lots of ugliness :-) But sometimes some ugliness gives a big benefit. And sometimes it's the ugliness that makes the desktop sluggish, when people code poorly.

Sometimes a perl program is faster than a C program, either because it uses a better algorithm or because it's using code built-in to Perl and heavily optimised, instead of one-off C code.

badvogato, I have only lived in Canada for 15 years or so, and I don't know coulianou (should I?). I had no idea there was a homoerotic cult around Osama Ben Laden though.

Speaking of us gays reminds me - although more heterosexual people have AIDS than gays these days - this news could be good news for AIDS and HIV sufferers. It doesn't use an expensive US-developed drug, so maybe that's why it wasn't on all the US news media?? Or maybe it's because it's not yet been reported by a reliable and trusted source? Chicken and egg??

Next week I'm away for the World Wide Web Consortium's tenth birthday. It doesn't feel like ten years ago that I heard the news. Hmm, actually, thinking about it, it also feels a huge age ago. I was surrounded by what Tim Bray called Internet Fairy Dust, the hype around the early Web, at the time, and we were working on HoTMetaL, one of the first commercial products for the Web. At the time it was controversial that we made a working version for free download; it doesn't sound very controversial today!

Oops, Galeon crashed when i was writing this. Interestingly, it recovered about half of the diary entry I had written - up to the point where I first hit preview. The crash recovery in Galeon is one of those features that keeps me using this browser - it doesn't crash often, but memory is finite and so is a laptop's battery life.

If I get a new sound card (e.g. an audigy 2) that supports 6 channel audio (5+1 I think) can I use my Monsoon 4-channel speakers, I wonder? The Monsoon speakers were made by Sonigistix, but they seem to have gone out of business and teh speakers are now sold by Eastech, who have a less helpful Web site - although one that works in browsers other than IE, a definite plus for we who use Linux! I have two stereo jacks to plug in to the sound card, going back to the amplifier and thence to four speakers and a woofer.

badvogato, yes, Nick Mountfort's writing (Twisty little passages [Amazon referrer link]) is a lot of fun, as is The New Media Reader [Amazon referrer link]. Nick is fun too, if you get the chance to meet him or hear him speak. We were both at a conference in Santa Barbara a while ago to speak about and discus the challenges facing those involved in trying to archive interactive fiction. They are significant challenges.

MichaelCrawford You're very welcome :-) and after reading yuor diary I have applied for a google adsense account for my pictures scanned from old books. I get maybe 20,000 HTTP hits per day from 1,700 to 2,000 distinct hosts.

Beware that some print publishers think that anyone published on the Web can't be worth printing. That's more so in art and humanities than techical writing I think, but it certainly seems to apply to fiction.

sdodji, here are pictures of Ankh (me) wearing a hat and speaking (in bare feet) at a former Guadec. I should put up a picture of my orange hat with the flashing lights!

New toy: a USB external hard drive. I didn't get the fastest one because this one had an ethernet port, but it turned out that it needs a special driver. They do provide a kernel for Mandrake Linux (which is what I use) but I've ended up sticking it directly on the USB port, so I might as well have got a slightly cheaper drive with more cache. Ah the benefits of hindsight. I wonder also if they've contributed their source code and if it's GPL'd, but I haven't checked.

Also been playing with Gnome 2.8 now it's in Mandrake Cooker (thanks Fred!). I don't have much time to spend compiling stuff or doing system administration, so I give back a little of my time back by helping beta-test the Mandrake distributions. I'd actually give more if I could post messages to the mailing list, but that seems to be a problem with the dns server for the holoweb computer my brother and I share, and he's working on fixing it.

One of the reasons I got involved in Gnome originally was that it seemed to have a greater focus on graphic design and typography than other desktops at that time. I'm pleased to see Raph thinking about font editing again! Gill was the application that persuaded me, even if it wasn't in a useable state at the time as far as I could tell!

yeupou worries about Inkscape and (as I read the post, after boiling it until there is almost nothing left) whether advertising affects people. It does, which is why there's such a large advertising industry in the world today. Control of the media is something some politicians ennjoy, too, of course, whether through totalitarianism or through shared goals with the owners of Fo... er, television channels. :-)

Uraeus, I recognise those borders on your Web page! :-)

And I at least don't feel violated by it, although I obviously can't speak for our organisation as a whole.

We'd like everyone to use valid markup. It'd be a good start if more people simply used well-formed markup. Some of the earlier Web browsers indicated when the user was looking at a page containing syntax errors, but it was not a popular feature.

MichaelCrawford, I read your essay on Living with Schizoaffective Disorder. I applaud you for writing something that must have been so difficult. I'd like to hope that A Beautiful Mind helped a lot of people to let go of some prejudices, but maybe that's hoping too much.

chrisme - early on using Advogato, I posted an article to the rong site altogether - there were two sites using mod_virgule, combined with a bug in the Web browser I was using whereby window titles didn't always get updated properly or something, and the artcle for advogato went instead to the gender and sexual studies academic site. I've since been more cautious!

On people not reading it to the end: It might help to have a clearer indication of how many more pages there are to go, "page 6 of 9" or something: in printed books we have tactile feedack when e've nearly finished, but in a series of separate HTML documents we don't even get a scrollbar.

This leads me to a note on relationships between and within documents.

An early attempt to let authors give the necessary information to user agents ("this is a chapter of this book, here's the table of contents, here's the next and previous chapters) was implemented by SCO for their online help (back when SCO did technical work, I suppose) and partly in Lynx. But it never really took off.

Relationships between documents are useful and important, but neither the simple typed links of HTML (link and a elements with rel and tt>rev</tt> attributes) nor the more powerful RDF havereally taken off to represent them.

I greatly lament the lack of progress in Web browsers in the past decade. Maybe if Mozilla gets more popular we'll see some competition, although what I fear most is... no, I'll leave that one unsaid. After all, I need some sleep!

I was reminded today by something a deviant art person wrote (and no, I'm not Ankh there, someone else got it) that I haven't posted for a while a link to the Simple Path to Live By. I try to follow it, but it's very very hard to live up to such a difficult standard.

My piano is back in tune. I am thikning of getting a Yamaha electronic keyoard, maybe the DGX505 or maybe the S90, does anyone have recommendations? I want to play with some music software, preferably on Linux of course!

raph, will pictures of money do? (there's a larger version linked from the parent page too).

The scans of Centaur look cool; I did briefly try your code, but then went on a trip to working group meetings and forgot! No surprise that you got a lot of interest from the typophiles. How to make money from type design is a major part of most type designers' lives as far as I can tell. They want things like food, shelter for the Mac, and sometimes even shoes!

A week of all-day technical Working Group meetings can be pretty tiring.

ncm - your article didn't mention which programming language to use, and although it's clear the approach I posted isn't what you were thinking of, it doesn't depend on any external libraries. It doesn't need to: dates and times are first-class native datatypes in XPath 2 and hence XQuery.

Date measurement algorithms, like binary search functions, are things that many (most?) people find difficult, and there's a good reason to encourage people to use libraries.

ncm, choice of programming language makes a big difference.

let $second := xdt:dayTimeDuration("P1S"), $time := xs:dateTime("2004-02-29T23:59:59") return $second + $time

works in XQuery (e.g. try it in Saxon).

Admittedly this doesn't have the lexical form you wanted for input or output, but it shows that some problems become a lot easier when one switches language.

It's also pretty easy in Perl :-)

133 older entries...

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!