Category Archives: Balisage

Balisage 2017

In Rockville, MD, for this year’s Balisage conference. Yesterday, I gave a talk on my current project at LexisNexis, migrating legal commentary in RTF format to XML. The talk seemed to go well, with people laughing in the right places, asking excellent questions, and listening and participating, and I’m just so very pleased at being here again.

Balisage is an institution where markup practitioners gather to listen to each other telling stories and giving talks. It’s a geek holiday, the kind that you look forward to every year. You meet old friends and make new ones, you exchange ideas, you play games, and you talk about pretty much everything. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and everyone is included.

This shows whenever a first-timer presents. You tend to be deathly nervous but that passes because the audience wants you to succeed. I still remember my first time; I’ve never seen so many encouraging smiles in an audience as at Balisage. I knew I couldn’t go wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the follow-up discussion is without edge. Often, the guy who wrote the book on your subject is in the audience, quite literally, and you’d better do your homework well because these guys know what they are talking about.

I love Balisage.

 

Sixth Year in a Row

I’m pleased to tell you that my paper was accepted at Balisage. This, as far as I remember, is my sixth consecutive year speaking at Balisage, and my seventh overall paper (yes, I submitted two papers one year because I desperately wanted to be there and my employer would only finance the trip if I was speaking).

My paper? Oh, it’s about a huge migration project I’m currently involved in at LexisNexis. More specifically, it’s about the pain you’ll only recognise if you’ve converted RTF to XML on a large scale.

 

Nerves

I’m in Bethesda, MD, just outside of Washington DC, and this year’s Balisage conference starts tomorrow. I’m excited and a bit nervous.

I’ve spent most of today preparing my talk, which is why I’m nervous. It always happens. While planning a paper, I tend to be convinced that it’s the greatest thing ever, or not very far off. While writing it, uneasiness creeps in and while I’m still convinced of the paper’s merits, I am no longer sure I should be the one writing it. I put it off, one day at a time, thinking that I have plenty of time to rediscover the enthusiasm that led me to the subject to begin with and decide I should clean up my computer instead. Or something equally pointless.

This goes on until the last possible moment, that is, a few days before the submission deadline, after which I force myself to write the first draft and submit it, usually minutes before midnight on the final day. A more charitable person might call this “process”, but “terror” is probably closer to the truth.

Completing the second draft, provided that the first is accepted, of course, tends to be similar. If my self-doubt runs sufficiently deep, I will have trouble opening the reviewers’ comments and much more trouble updating the paper itself. Again, a last-minute fix is required and is what usually happens.

Wash, rinse, repeat for the slides.

Which is why I’m writing this instead of finalising the slides.

2016

As 2015 draws to a close, I’m thinking of 2016 and specifically these highlights:

  • The Hateful Eight in 70mm. I haven’t bothered booking Star Wars yet, but there’s no way I’m not going to see Tarantino’s 70mm epic the way it was meant to, in 70mm at the Imperial in Copenhagen. Yes, I know, the roadshow is coming to Stockholm, too, but the Danes still know how to run 70mm shows while the Swedes don’t. Sorry.
  • Göteborg Film Festival. Yes, I’m going to spend another 11 days in a dark projection booth, hitting Play at three-hour intervals.
  • XML Prague. I’ve submitted a paper, but I’m also peer-reviewing other people’s papers as I’m now part of the Program Committee. The conference is in February, starting on a Thursday (the 13th) rather than a Friday and ending on a Saturday rather than a Sunday, allowing you and your better half to enjoy Prague on Valentine’s Day. Get your festival passes now, folks.
  • Balisage is between August 1-5. I’m definitely going; a year without Balisage would just be too weird.

Balisage 2015

It’s the first day of Balisage (I missed the pre-conference symposium, sadly), and it’s a lot like a markup holiday. It’s great meeting old friends and new, and the two talks so far promise another great conference.

Mr Smith Goes to Washington

My paper submission to this year’s Balisage conference was accepted. It’s about an eXist implementation I did for the Swedish Federation of Farmers (LRF), and while I may not be completely objective, I think the system is very cool. From the conference blurb:

The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) provides its 170,000 members with a web-based service to check compliance with state and EU farming regulations. These checklists are also produced nightly both as generic checklists with more than 130 pages and as individualised checklists for registered members. The system consists of an eXist database coupled with oXygen Author. The checklists and their related contents are edited, stored, and processed, published as PDFs, and exported to the SQL database which stores member registration, feeds the website, and does various other tasks. The system uses XQuery, XSLT, XInclude modularization, an extended XLink linkbase, and other markup technologies. It currently handles more than 40,000 PDF documents a year and many more than that in the web-based forms.

This is the second version of the LRF system. The first, presented at XML Prague in 2013, was XProc-based and represented my somewhat naive trust in the state of XProc in eXist, The new one I rewrote in XQuery, having tested (and failed miserably at using) the XProc module that is now available. XProc in eXist, sadly, is not yet ready for prime time.

Be as it may, I’m really pleased about both the system and my paper. and hope to see you there.

On Reflection

Having reread my recent post on HTML5, I suppose I’d better stress the fact that it was never meant to be a commentary on HTML5 itself. It was a rant, something that happened because of the attitudes I think have increased in tandem with HTML5’s growing popularity. I really don’t know enough HTML5 to have an informed opinion beyond what I see suggested and discussed about it that is related to markup in general. My comments should be read in that light.

Take the addition of document semantics in HTML5 as a case in point. For example, the article and section tags are welcomed additions, as are, in my humble opinion, the fairly minor redefinitions of the em and strong semantics. And there’s some important work being done in the area of extensible semantics for the web (see, for example, Robin Berjon’s XML Prague paper, Distributed Extensibility: Finally Done Right? and the Web Components web page on best practices), which turned out to be a heated topic at Balisage this year because quite a few of its participants are, like me, grumpy old men defending their own turf.

These are steps in the right direction, because they move away from the presentational horror that is the “old” HTML and to a more semantic web. Semantics is about meaning, and meaning is now being added to the web rather than simply empty but oh-so-cool visuals. I should add that some very cool visuals are being added, too, but in, and please pardon the joke, a meaningful way.

But, and maybe this is just me, it’s when those steps are being heralded as original and unique, never thought of before or at least never done right, when history and past (and working) solutions are ignored or misinterpreted because they are part of a standard (XML or even SGML) that is regarded as failed, when I react. Google’s Dominic Denicola provided a case in point when he held a controversial presentation on the subject called Non-Extensible Markup Language at Balisage; unfortunately, only the abstract seems to be available at their website.

That grumpy old men thing, above, is meant as a joke, of course, but I imagine there to be some truth in it. Part of the HTML5 crowd will certainly see it that way because they are trying to solve a very practical problem using a very pragmatic standard. HTML5 is, in part, about keeping old things working while adding new features, and it seems to do the job well. Having to listen to some older markup geeks argue about what XML was actually designed to do must seem to be as being utterly beside the point.

So, what to do? Well, I think it’s largely about education, both for the newer guys to read up on the historical stuff, and the older guys to try to understand why HTML5 is happening the way it is, and then attempting to meet halfway because I’m pretty sure it will benefit both.

Me, I’m in the midst of the reading up phase, and HTML5 – The Missing Manual is an important part of that.

I Should Probably…

Following this year’s Balisage conference, I should probably do a rewrite and update of the whitepaper I presented. It’s on my list of things to do.

On the other hand, I should do an eXist implementation of the version handling system I suggested in that paper. It’s also on my list of things to do.

But then again, I still have to finish my ProXist implementation, the one I presented at XML Prague. It is (you guessed it) on my list.

I have lots of good (well, I think so) ideas first presented at XML conferences, many of which deserve (well, I think so) to live beyond them. After all, a lot of work goes into the papers and the presentations, so shouldn’t I follow up on them more?

My version handling system, for example, should be easy enough to do in eXist. It doesn’t require a revolution, it doesn’t require me to learn how to code in Java, it should be enough to spend a couple of nights writing XQueries and XSLT to produce a usable first version.

ProXist is both simpler and more difficult to finish, but on the other hand, the basic application is already out there and works. It’s a question of rewriting it to be easier for others to test, which basically means redoing it as a standard eXist app.

Yet, instead of doing something about either of them, here I am, writing this blog post. It’s conference procrastination taken to yet another level.

And the next XML Prague deadline is coming up fast.