Older blog entries for simonstl (starting at number 46)

dyork - what kind of micro-lathe are you using to turn pens? I've probably made a dozen, and should get back into it.

The concrete nature of woodworking and the much greater sense of independence I get doing it makes it tempting for all the reasons that make me doubt tech. You can learn from others and teach others in woodworking, but there's not nearly the same sense that your destiny is welded to other people's business decisions.

I'm still programming, still writing, still editing. Just not sure it's what I want to do for my next forty years. (I'm 32.)

Quiet's kind of nice

I've been enjoying myself lately by not participating in a number of things that I should probably care about.

I used to complain here about the madness of URIs, but this fine formulation has let me stop worrying about it. The W3C's Technical Architecture Group (TAG) isn't likely to accept that approach in my lifetime, but that's fine. I've stopped expecting my reality and their reality to have much in common, so I can safely ignore that august body's busy mailing list. I don't need Platonic Forms in my life, thank you very much.

I'm still active, though a little less so, on xml-dev, but even that list feels like it's mellowed a bit. More interestingly, though currently quiet, I started up the xml-hypertext mailing list. It's fairly peaceful there so far, but hopefully it'll grow with time.

Meanwhile, maybe I can get some work done.

Is civility harmful?

Mark Baker has an interesting response to a piece by Elliotte Rusty Harold on Web Services. Mark, despite calling himself a "Tech Curmudgeon", takes issue with Elliotte's use of the word "idiots", and asks "So please folks, try to keep it civil. Comments such as this one only serve to alienate, which is the last thing we need."

I'm not a particularly friendly or polite person, and didn't see Elliotte's comments as anywhere close to out of line. Still, I think I agree with Mark that "Comments such as this one only serve to alienate". Where I part company is that I think alienation is important, and that pretending we like each other more than we really do is likely to produce muddy compromises at best.

In the case of Web Services and XML, it's become clearer and clearer over time that these technologies are barely related and frequently in conflict. Web Services happens to use XML, but they use it quite badly, from the perspective of many XML people. As Elliotte says "Web Services violate the fundamental design of XML". Not only that, but the ambitions of Web Services have been a driving force behind some rather toxic specifications, notably W3C XML Schema. I don't mind saying that Web Services is poisoning XML, turning what was once a simplification into a major new set of complications.

Does that alienate people? Yes! It should. I'd love to get the Web Services folks to rethink their foundations. Failing that, making clear that there are serious points of friction seems like the best course of action - and being civil has little to contribute to that. Forking is not a risk here - it's an opportunity.

Of course, I also found this rant well-worth reading, though it's quite completely over the top. Expecting progress to come in neatly-wrapped boxes with thank-you notes attached seems like a lot too much to ask - and counter-productive, to boot.

Every now and then, something new and interesting surfaces in the world of URIs. The notion of a "probabilistic web" is both different and well-worth considering. Maybe there is something to all those lines about light appearing in the darkest hour.

Eventually it becomes clear that any effort to discuss URLs or URIs is pointless.

Uniform Resource Identifiers are the strangest religion I've encountered on the Web. People use them in all kinds of largely incompatible ways, but somehow we're supposed to believe that since the URL part works and survives things like cache issues, these magical abstractions will solve all our identification problems.

Meanwhile, no one can give me a straight answer on how to identify a representation with a URI reference. The short answer, of course, is that you can't, though the fragment identifier part is amusingly representation-dependent and it seems like a representation must in some sense be a resource itself... but you'd better stay away from that hack of a DOS-like file extension or fall into sin.

The Web as a huge set of Platonic Forms would be hysterically funny if it weren't so throughly sad.

I came to XML for hypertext, and I'm still trying to get there. XLink/XPointer is just not that helpful, but its supporters seem pretty well convinced. Tim Bray, for instance, said:

I reviewed the XLink spec, and I thought about how I'd go about designing markup for multi-ended and out-of-band links, and I thought XLink presented a pretty compelling design for how you'd do those things.

I think disagreement should be accompanied by examples: "here's a better way to do a multi-ended/out-of-band/metadata-loaded hyperlink, and here's why it's better."

Here's phase 1 of that discussion - an initial proposal. The next phases include a more comprehensive example, a formal processing model, and an implementation.

And if that proposal seems like a lot of work to you for linking, don't worry! Micah Dubinko's been working on a much simpler set of linking constructs for in-line linking called SkunkLink. Given the chance, I think SkunkLink will take care of most common linking issues and let those of us interested in stranger stuff focus on difficult questions more cleanly.

After three years of slow change, I've finally gotten around to updating my Outsider's Guide to the W3C. Dealing with the W3C isn't always fun, but knowing how the process works seems important even for those of us unwilling to take vows of silence.

Ah, the pleasant delights of content negotiation.

Taken seriously, content-negotiation is powerful stuff, but most W3C specs seem to either ignore it or go out of their way to avoid it. At first I thought that meant there was something wrong with the W3C specs, but now I just think it means there's a powerful integration issues that no one's been willing to sort out - and maybe jettisoning conneg would be a lot easier for most of the parties.

At the same time, though, putting multiple types of content behind a single URI has gotten much much easier lately, partly thanks to XML and XSLT and partly thanks to the strong foundation provided by Apache itself and frameworks like Cocoon.

Time to turn off my brain for a bit and enjoy the new year as it arrives.

Another good quote from Gustav Stickley that I think works as well for Open Source as for "Home Training in Cabinetwork". It's good to see that stuff from 1905 still has relevance nearly a century later.

The instinct of doing things is a common one, and can be made a source of pleasure, healthy discipline, and usefulness, even when the work is taken up as recreation...

When one has made with his own hands any object of use or ornament there is a sense of personal pride and satisfaction in the result, that no expenditure of money can buy, and this very fact serves to dignify the task and stamp it with individuality. [1]

If you'd rather look forward than backward, you might explore my ORN blog on XML for 2003.

[1] Bavaro, Joseph and Mossman, Thomas. The Furniture of Gustav Stickley (Linden Publishing: 1996), p.89, citing March 1905 issue of The Craftsman.

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