What should I do?

by Rick Jelliffe

I'm at a little loss to know what to put in this blog at the moment.

  • Tim Bray and some other readers want me to get off technical details ("nitpicking" one called it!) and consider "elephant in the room"; but someone has to examine technical claims.

  • A reader has asked about Groklaw: but I need to get on with paid jobs. (I've got the Wikipedia one, a Schematron pilot project for a national government, some document processing work, some updated versions of the Topologi utilities, and probably some training notes to prepare.) I've mentioned the things that interest me (the strange claim about bitmaps, the whole issue of contradiction) and I suppose MS will have someone working to compile a rebuttal; if it comes up in the Wikipedia material I might do something, but I don't know if this blog is the right place in any case. On the other hand, the clock is ticking...

  • Other people have sent me questions about Wikipedia and ISO procedures. OK for Wikipedia, but for a blog? ZZZZZ

  • The schematron-love-in maillist has been contributing quite a few changes to the early beta (some nice catches!) which I need to fold into the source code for ISO Schematron. It would be nice to blog about that.

  • There has been discussion of a Technical Corrigendum for ISO Schematron. Murata Makoto-sensei has found some issues while doing the Japanese translation for the JIS standard that would be good to fold in, to keep them in synch.

  • And, of most interest to new readers, I guess, I could blog listing the Wikipedia changes I suggest or make. But there is the discussion pages on Wikipedia where anyone can read. On the other hand, if I do that it would lay me open to charges that I was using the blog for my temporary corporate overlords (WIFOW).

So what should I do? (Flames will be removed, unless they are funny :-))


M. David Peterson
2007-02-02 02:35:28
How 'bout combining them all together into one big task,

You could write the changes necessary for the ISO Schmematron reference implementation, and then use this combined with another transformation file to parse through Wikipedia, looking for patterns of inconsistency to then assert whether these same inconsistencies match that of the claims made by the folks at Groklaw, outputting the result as a blog entry. You could then take that same transformation file, take it to ISO, fasttrack it to standardization using the term "ISO GrokThis!", using a pink Elephant as the mascot.

I think the only thing missing is the Japanese translation for the JIS standard... Not sure how to bring that into the picture here, so you may be on your own for that one. ;)

David Megginson
2007-02-02 03:43:38
How about posting questions and proposed changes for Wikipedia to your blog first, and collecting feedback from the comments and pings? That would make for a very public process, and give you more of a chance to document your thoughts than you can in Wikipedia change comments.
Rick Jelliffe
2007-02-02 04:00:19
Dave (M7n no P6n): The advantage of adding suggestions to the Wikipedia discussion pages sooner rather than later is because then other editors can make the changes, which lets me off the hook from having to make any direct edits. Most of the little changes I have suggested so far have been accepted. As for comments and pings, there is already a great website set up to do that: it is called Wikipedia!
2007-02-02 05:24:03
Let it go.

1) You are not a perpetrator. You are the guinea for a cultural conflict. There is no elephant that wasn't there before you were hired and that elephant just may be a pink elephant anyway conjured up by the market forces others represent even as they want to appear otherwise. "Qui bono?" must sometimes be answered by "Consider the source." Sad but so.

2) That conflict will move on to other dramas because the forces driving it are unresolved and you can't resolve them.

3) Be the example of clear thinking and technical excellence. That will do more to keep others in line.

4) State your goals on your blog and stick to them. Otherwise let the blogs grind without you. The press is obsessed with 'next' and this event is already 'previous'. You can't clear their history lists anyway.

There are worse things in the realm of becoming a public personna. Be glad you aren't the Premier of Italy having to write apologies to your wife in the press for complimenting another woman. Now that would be a great story.

Dare Obasanjo
2007-02-02 10:11:52
I can understand that you are an XML and standards geek which is why I've been interested in your blog posts about ODF and OOXML for that reason.

As for the other stuff, my advice to you is not to let your readers dictate what you right especially if it gets you deeper entangled in a fight that is not your own (i.e. Sun/IBM vs. Microsoft in a fight for billions of dollars in revenue from selling products to governments).

2007-02-02 11:32:09
I'm with Len and Dare on this one. I think your looking for ground truth and fact-checking is great, and it is valuable when something strikes you hard enough that you are moved to address it.

But I don't think you should take any duties from us. I trust you to find what is important enough to speak out about, and in an appropriate forum. That's what has me be your fan.

2007-02-02 12:18:36

When you accept the Microsoft job, there is one thing that will be the difference between success and failure; it will be your autonomy as a contractor. When you are able to genuinely write in the way that you know is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth as you know it, there is no reason why you do not get paid for the privilege.

There is nothing in the notions of either the GFDL or the GPL that prevents it. When you write on Wikipedia, you will be seen with suspicion. For a person who also blogs for O'Reilly, you have the opportunity to demonstrate that a professional can be balanced and write something that is exactly right.

I hope you will pull this off, because that would be a boon :)

Bob DuCharme
2007-02-02 15:12:49
I think you should mostly right about digital "analogs" (pun intended) of old synth technology.

Seriously, in a forum where no one's paying you to write (i.e. a weblog) you write about what you feel like writing about, unless you feel it will alienate the audience that your earlier writing attracted--that's why I don't write about my new favorite CDs or cute things my kids said.

Aristotle Pagaltzis
2007-02-02 17:02:53
If the choice was mine, I'd pick reporting the Schematron work, because that is stuff noone else is remotely as qualified and equipped to cover.

Wikipedia is versioned and fully public, so anyone who has an actual interest in the situation can watch your user contributions page and report on the developments. There's no need to duplicate that information in lots of unrelated channels. If a new uproar rises with previously unaddressed incorrect statements, it might be time to get back to it again, but otherwise, I see no point.

As for the elephant in the room, I'm not sure what Tim expects you to write about - at least if the job is as I understand it, that is, Microsoft excercises absolutely no editorial control over your edits.

So that's how my line of thinking about the matter goes; feel free to consider or ignore it.

2007-02-02 19:21:36
One other thing: conflict is addictive. It stirs up the fight or flight endorphins, mammal morphine. We see lots of that and it is deuce hard to avoid. People who are victims of tragedies go on TV for a week or so and then discover they are inconsolable when the press abandons them. Some go on to make more trouble for the buzz.

What is worse for Ma and Pa and the mates: a week or so of having to explain to their friends why their genius son is suddenly on the Colbert Report, or why he keeps ranting on about how he is being ignored? Better to let the blasts pass over your head while you continue to do excellent technical work.

Besides we know where the elephant is: he left footprints in the peanut butter in the fridge.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-02-03 22:10:49
Len: I hope that's peanut butter he left in the fridge...
Kurt Cagle
2007-02-05 08:08:08

I have, over the years, accepted writing contracts from Microsoft, IBM and others, though have generally been very careful in differentiating between purely technical writing and my techno-political beliefs. It is often an ethical quandry (and occasionally a financial one) and has been one of the more core reasons why I've generally not worked for a large company specifically to use my name to promote their products, unless those products were in alignment with my own beliefs.

I think for intelligent and thoughtful software analysts, this dilemma can often have physical consequences ... most programmers have a fierce sense of ethics, I suspect in part because they need to deal with consistency in their own "world view" in order to have the same mental discipline to write good code. I've often suspected that this is why most programmers have such a profound sense of mistrust for marketing people.

Ignore the flack from those around you and write what you feel comfortable with, and do what you believe is right. If a project is making you feel conflicted, it is not worth the pay, no matter how good the money is ... it will only make it harder for you to be objective, will make it harder for you to concentrate on your work, and ultimately will reduce your own perceptions of your integrity, which is a slippery slope indeed.

As to xml.com, this is a blogging forum - you are not in the pay of anyone here, and while it is a public (and fairly visible) forum, it is also a place to state what you feel is important, not what you think your readership wants to hear. It is a forum with a very technical audience, and that audience in general is "grown-up" enough in general that they should be able to discern meaningful information from blather.

Yours is a unique voice, even among the writers here, because of the degree to which you are shaping significant standards rather than just reporting upon them. I'd love to see more schematron, more on the OOXML ISO deconstruction, more about the standards in general, and more about the Wikipedia controversies. More importantly, however, I want to see more Rick Jelliffe, because I value his impressions, his analysis, and his humor, and because I trust what he writes.

Good luck, and I'll see you in the blogging pages ...

-- Kurt