simonstl is currently certified at Master level.

Name: Simon St.Laurent
Member since: 2002-04-12 13:00:58
Last Login: 2009-04-07 12:29:27

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I focus my efforts on XML and XML-related projects. I came to XML from Web development and to Web development from HyperCard. I've written a small pile of books and currently edit books rather than write them. Nearly all of my programming is in Java, typically small MPL-licensed projects dealing with XML processing of various kinds. You can also visit my O'Reilly Network Weblogs.


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It's been a long time since I've posted, and a large part of that is that I'm doing less programming. I don't really call myself a programmer - rather, I'm someone who writes code when the tools I want aren't already available.

I've shifted gears from XML to GPS at the moment, and I'm currently working on making a Pocket PC with a bluetooth GPS into a data-collection system. Dealing with the .NET Compact Framework is interesting, especially as the books all seem to assume that readers are experienced .NET programmers moving on the bigger challenge of the Compact Framework.

That is, of course, backwards for me. I haven't done .NET before, and the .NET Compact Framework appeals because it's simpler than the larger frameworks. Makes it feel like I'm swimming upstream, though.

In the end, though, I'm hoping to have software I can hand to anyone with a Pocket PC, even if they're not geeky genius enough to run Linux on it. We'll see!

Land of Abandoned Dreams - Dan York asks "What made people abandon their dreams?" and their farms in upstate NY.

I'm not sure that people precisely abandoned their dreams here - some moved on to follow those dreams someplace else, and in other cases dreams weren't shared across generations. Upstate New York's farms have been emptying out since about 1820, when there were massive migrations to the west. Better land called, and New York's own massive internal improvement, the Erie Canal, reduced the cost of getting goods from those farms to markets in the east.

There are still farms up there, as there are all over the state, but it's not easy to keep them going. Even here in central New York (where the weather and land are slightly more encouraging), figuring out ways to keep farming an active local business is difficult.

There are some bright spots, though. Organic farming has very different economics and is generally less conducive to enormous scale than industrial farming. (Much New York terrain tends to encourage smaller-scale farms.) The higher prices for organic food offer better prospects for some farmers. I also feel like there's more active farming north of the border, though that's just based on what little I've seen from my car. There's no simple answer to it.

If you can't stand XML, it's possible that you just don't like markup, have problems that need other answers (like RDF, perhaps), or just don't like pointy brackets.

It's also possible that markup is a good solution to the problems you have, but the many spiky tools that have been sold as "XML" are driving you away. If that's the case, my piece on "Sane XML" might be helpful.

4 Jan 2004 (updated 4 Jan 2004 at 02:03 UTC) »

It's a new year, and I've been thinking about where to put my energy.

XML, great stuff though I still think it is, is pretty much complete. I think we've learned over the past few years that the stuff that was actually a simplification of existing practice was good, and the rest should be used cautiously or (in the case of W3C XML Schema and specs it's infiltrating) ignored. The RELAX NG folks have created a sane schema language, the interesting action in the space has largely moved away from the W3C, and we're now at the point where everyone can create whatever vocabulary they like.

Not that they create particularly good vocabularies, especially if they focus on W3C XML Schema as the path to new vocabularies, but there's only so much I can do to keep people from banging their heads against the wall.

So if XML is no longer my main technical focus, what's next?

I have two main areas of interest at the moment, one even more abstract than XML and one more (well, mostly) concrete.

On the abstract side, I've been reading Christopher Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language, as well as the first volume of The Nature of Order. It's a lot more exciting than the Gang of Four Design Patterns work that derives from it, and I think I'll write a lot this year on how programmers can learn to do better work by taking aesthetics seriously, on a lot of different levels.

On the more concrete side, I've been looking into mapping and computing. I've been writing a blog that focuses strictly on one 96 square mile town, and maps are an important part of that, especially given the planning process that's currently in motion here. It's been interesting to see how most of the road network was in place by 1900, but a few key changes have had dramatic impact. I'm also sorting through the avalanche of census data that's available from the 2000 census, examining it both through GIS tools and through databases.

Between those two things (and a healthy continuing dose of XML, I'm sure), it should be a good 2004.

I just sealed my driveway. Two days of cleaning, prep work, and finally applying the sealer.

I should be so careful in my programming.

(Now let's just hope it doesn't rain before the sealer sets.)

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