Chameleon schemas considered harmful

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Despite some warts, XML and the Web have done pretty well. They work and they work well. A large part of that is because both were designed with certain basic principles in mind. This gives them a unifying vision and a clean architecture that solves many problems.

However, when a technology becomes successful it often attracts developers who recognize its success but don’t recognize or understand the underlying reasons for its success. Each one wants to make a change here, an addition there, a deletion somewhere else. Sometimes these suggestions are good and valid. Sometimes they’re not. However, even the suggestions that address real needs and use cases cause problems if they’re made without a deep understanding of the principles of the thing being changed. It’s like modifying a building by knocking down walls, cutting new windows, and erecting an extra bedroom on the roof. If you do this without consulting the original blueprints and understanding of the architectural principles that went into the house design, the best you can hope for is an ugly mess. More likely the whole structure will collapse around you, as the changes weaken the foundation the whole edifice rests upon.

Previous examples include cookies, frames, SOAP, YAML, SimpleXML, binary XML, RSS, and many other cases I could mention. However the latest is coming from a place I really didn’t expect it: the W3C XForms and XHTML working groups. These two are working together to eviscerate XML namespaces, and make it difficult to impossible to process XHTML2 and XForms with standard XML tools like XSLT and DOM.

Saltmarsh Moth Caterpillar

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Fuzzy orange caterpillar

Estigmene acrea, 2006-10-21, Mount Loretto Unique Area

ID not 100% certain

Bat Out of Hell III

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

I just noticed that Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman are releasing Bat Out of Hell III, appropriately enough on Halloween. This team’s been vastly underrated by everyone except the listening public. Their solo efforts have never been very good, ranging from bad to pathetic. (Steinman has done great work with other artists such as Bonnie Tyler too, but a singer he’s not.) However, put the two of them together and you get some of the best hard rock ever performed, even if (or perhaps precisely because) it sounds like it belongs in a Broadway theater instead of a football stadium. Now if only they’d released it on a non-evil label. :-(

Star Trek Economics

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

What Kelley L. Ross and Captain Ed have is a failure of the imagination when examining the economics of Star Trek:

Politically and economically, it operates outside of the realm of science fiction and into fantasy. Nothing in its universe explains how human society manages to build the massive ships that comprise Star Fleet, nor the brilliant technology that enables them. Who builds these things — and how and why? It’s all well and good to say that money no longer exists, but people have to be compensated in some manner — otherwise, the Star Trek society is based on benevolent slavery. The reference to “Imagine” is particularly appropriate; this view of human nature seems particularly flaccid, where all creative impulses have been subordinated and all enterprise has been discouraged, pun particularly intended.

Nonetheless, I think a little thought about the implications of the technologies that exist in the Star Trek universe indicates that the economy doesn’t have to be anything like the fascist state Ross envisions. In fact, it seems likely to be far superior to our own.

Raven Lite Now Free-as-in-Beer

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has decided to release the Raven Lite sound analysis software as free-beer. Previously it cost about $25. I’d been meaning to try this product out since first hearing about it from Don Kroodsma at the ABA Convention back in June. Now maybe I’ll finally get around to it.

The professional version costs $800, which I think is ridiculous. Academic research software like this should be open source. Not only are Cornell and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology large recipients of tax dollars and charitable donations which I think gives them some obligation to open up more to the broader community. Most importantly, you simply get better science when the software is as open as the data.

The Dalek in the Fireplace

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Friday night the Sci Fi channel reran The Girl in the Fireplace, a Doctor Who story in which some alien robots punch a hole through time and space to steal the brain of Madame Pompadour from pre-revolutionary France. This plot makes about as much sense as it sounds. In fact, it makes so little sense that the Doctor repeatedly comments on this fact during the episode. He does save Madame Pompadour of course, and he figures out why the robots needed a human brain, but he never figures out why they wanted Madame Pompadour’s. The audience does get a big clue, though, at the end of the episode that the Doctor never sees; but on reflection I think there’s another meta-reason.