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.


XML London 2017

I was invited to join the XML London Programme Committee, probably to shut me up after I spent some of XML Prague talking Charles Foster into making the conference happen again this year. Geert Bormans, Tom Hillman and Andrew Sales have also joined, and Charles remains Chair.

XML London is happening on June 10-11 at University College London. The submission deadline is on March 21 and all you need to produce now is an extended abstract that outlines your full paper, and presentation.


So, today I needed a flowchart editor. Something like Visio, really, but less bloated and available on Linux and Windows. I did a quick Google search.

There’s Dia, obviously. It’s not being developed these days, though, and I never did like it much. Also, it looks bad on a HiDPI screen–my laptop is blessed (or cursed, if you run Java software) with 4k.

The next thing suggested was yEd, developed by yWorks, a company specialising in “the development of professional software solutions that enable the clear visualization of diagrams and networks.” They had an online HTML5 version that I tried and liked, and even better, the desktop software was a) available for Linux, and b) free. Now, yEd is written in Java so a) wasn’t actually all that surprising, but for a company whose bread and butter is diagrams, releasing it for free was.

But Java, you say? What about HiDPI? Well, here’s the best part: while most of their downloads include a prepackaged JRE 8, they also make available the JAR without the JRE, allowing me to run it in an early release JRE 9, and Java 9 has supported HiDPI for quite some time now. And let me just say this: yEd looks great. It’s perfectly scaled, with beautiful icons and a spacey interface.

Plus, on top of the HiDPI goodness, the software itself is great. I’m really pleased.


So many changes already.

I said no to this year’s Göteborg Film Festival, having worked at film festivals since 1987 (and since 1990 at the Draken).

I didn’t submit a paper to XML Prague this year. I was there, though. Naturally.


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.

So, How Was London?

Well, thanks for asking.

XML London was great. There was a lot of focus on XSLT 3.0, with Abel Braaksma discussing the intricacies of processing uninterrupted streams (I really need to get around to playing with streaming transformations soon), and a workshop on XSLT 3.0’s new packaging features with both him and Michael Kay, but also a number of interesting case studies. Special mention should go to Lech Rzedzicki for his brilliant talk on XML, blockchains and regulatory reporting in finance (no, I’m not going to tell you what blockchains are; you should read his paper), but also to John Sheridan and Jim Mangiafico for their presentation of their easier-to-use search language and tools for UK legislation. This latter talk holds a very special interest to me, as I recently wrote something similar if not quite as refined for my client, LexisNexis UK.

Also, my friend Andrew Sales presented a case study on what, on the surface, looked like a migration project but where all the cleverness was actually about making the editing and publishing chains as foolproof as possible. It’s a brilliant solution, one that any fan of meta-programming (code generating code) should appreciate.

And yes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 35mm was a treat, even though the sound was poorer than expected.

London This Week

I’m in London one week out of four, and this week is one of them. Usually, my London visits are all about meeting colleagues face to face and working in an actual office rather than in my basement study, grabbing a pint with friends at The Harrow, and buying too many books at Foyle’s and Waterstone’s. This week, though, I’m adding two things to this already solid plan:

One: I will watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind at BFI Southbank. Close Encounters is my favourite film. I’ve watched it dozens of times in cinemas over the years and probably as many times on video, DVD and Blu-ray. I own almost every version of it in existence (if you have the 35mm or 70mm print and wish to part with them, let me know), but also a fair amount of associated paraphernalia, from books to graphic novels to soundtracks. It’s an amazing film. It’s pure magic.

Two: I will attend XML London. It’s my first time there and it’s nice to attend a conference just for fun (meaning that I have no involvement with it, speaking, reviewing or otherwise). Who knows, I might do a paper for them in the future, but this year, I’ll stay in the background and let others do the talking.

I’m excited.