Category Archives: Balisage

Procrastination

As I write this, Balisage 2021 is four days away and my presentation less than a week away.

I am writing this instead of the presentation.

My paper is about this recent SGML project of mine. It’s a war story, really, and, to a large degree, a rant. It’s about all the reasons to why SGML is no longer a viable solution and why everyone should do XML instead, and I’m procrastinating endlessly about the presentation, to the extent it feels like being back at the uni, studying for an exam, and how I found the time to (finally) do the dishes and reorganise the bookshelf.

I know what I want to be in it, but the contents differ from the paper that was approved, so I’m a bit hesitant. Not that I don’t always do this before Balisage, I do, but this time feels special and different, and I am wondering where to draw the line. How different from the paper can the presentation be, really? Where’s the line? Is it just the title? The structure? The fact that I have evolved from the me that submitted the paper, that I now know what I didn’t know then, that my views have changed a bit and I really can’t (and won’t) go back?

Is this (shudder) an existential crisis?

I should probably do the dishes now.

Communities

This year’s Balisage conference is over and I miss it. I miss the people and I miss the talks, but above all, I miss the sense of community.

See, this year’s Balisage was all about communities and the softer values of markup. Don’t get me wrong; there were some great talks on markup theory (overlap, anyone?) and how to make JavaScript into something tolerable in a markup context. But above all, there were numerous talks on communities and on what we do and on how we regard our profession.

Steven Pemberton (who held the mic on no less than four occasions) delivered a brilliant talk on the virtues of declarative markup while killing off HTML5, once and for all.

Mary Holstege discussed the metaphors we code by, and how it’s easy to take those metaphors too far. I chose my words very carefully for the rest of the conference.

Bethan Tovey and Norman Walsh invited us all to rediscover our passion for declarative markup with Markup Declaration, a call for arms to unite the community and to find XML and its kin a new home.

Allen Renear discussed the ethics of XML (really!), and I am unable to do that talk justice here. You should have been there.

Abel Braaksma gave us a tour of the declarative (and functional) programming paradigm, and my only complaint is that he should have been allowed at least twice the time to do the topic justice.

And there was yours truly who discussed the virtues of style guides, that perfect complement to schemas and validation.

The list goes on. I can’t possibly mention everyone here, but I could have mentioned at least as many more talks, every one of them every bit as good as those mentioned above.

Balisage, more than anything else, was about the community we inhabit and participate in, and how we all stand a better chance united. It’s not about just SGML or XML, even though both are important; it’s about declarative markup and our chosen field. It’s about all those standards starting with X but also quite a few that do not, and the power offered to us by semantics, and it’s about us all acknowledging each other’s work. And yes, it’s also about JSON and Markdown, and a whole bunch of other things that we may or may not approve of.

So, from one addict to a bunch of other addicts: I miss you.

P.S. You should all look up Developing SGML DTDs. Yes, there was also a book discussion.

My Balisage 2018 Paper

Just finished revising my paper for this year’s Balisage conference.

I have to say, I’m really looking forward to the conference now. In the past, I sometimes forced out a paper because that was the only way for me to attend – my employer would pay only if I presented – but this year’s is what I’ve labelled as my “soapbox paper”. It’s all about my opinions. No new ground, no, say, versioning theory or markup, just me being pissed off about the lack of style guides in today’s (XML-based or otherwise) authoring departments. I don’t just offer my opinions, I provide them as the (absolute) truth.

This will be so much fun.

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.