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NOTE TO TOOL OWNERS: In this blog I will occasionally make statements about products that you will take exception to. My intent is to always be factual and accurate. If I have made a statement that you consider to be incorrect or innaccurate, please bring it to my attention and, once I have verified my error, I will post the appropriate correction.

And before you get too exercised, please read the post, date 9 Feb 2006, titled "All Tools Suck".

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Getting Started: Who the Hell are You and Why Should I Care What You Think?

I am starting this blog for a number of reasons. First, I need an outlet for my technical thoughts that go beyond the narrow scope of my day-to-day job. Second, I wanted to experiment with this form of communication (blogging) in a technical, rather than strictly personal, context. Finally, I'm curious about how the AdSense feature works and whether or not it is useful, moral, effective, ineffective, and so on.

So to start, who the heck am I and why do I think I have any business blogging about any subject, much less XML and stuff?

I am W. Eliot Kimber, AKA "Dr. Macro." I've been doing markup-based writing and publishing for over 25 years now. I was an early user of SGML and a long-time member of the SGML and XML standards community. I was an early user of the original HyTime standard (ISO/IEC 10744:1992) and out of that started working with Dr. Charles Goldfarb and Dr. Steve Newcomb as a co-editor of the HyTime standard and member of the SGML standard committee. Out of that work I was asked to be a founding member of what became the XML Work Group at the W3C.

In my day job I started as a technical writer at IBM's Research Triangle Park facility and migrated into a tools support role, developing tools to support the use of GML for the development of large, complex technical manuals (and where I got the nickname "Dr. Macro" for my facility with xedit macros [the IBM mainframe editor, not the PC editor of the same name. Kedit is the PC version of the mainframe xedit]. Out of that work I was asked, along with Don Day (still of IBM and late of DITA fame) and Wayne Wohler (still at IBM as far as I know), to develop the forward-looking SGML follow-on to IBM's GML application, BookMaster. Before that I worked with Wayne as IBM's representative to the industry group that eventually became the progenitors of DocBook (I forget the name of that committee, but it involved a number of people who would later have significant input to the XML standard). I used to write a lot (I mean a lot) in the various public fora related to SGML and XML technologies (see self-serving google link below) but the last few years I've been too tired and too busy with interesting project work to post quite so much, pretty much confining my public posts to factual stuff related XSL-FO. I used to present papers at the various SGML and XML industry conferences but not so much any more (especially now that I'm a father).

I left IBM in 1994 to work as a systems integration consultant for a small company called Passage Systems (now long dead). I've been doing essentially that job ever since, since 1996 at ISOGEN in its various incarnations. In that role I've designed a variety of systems for managing, authoring, and publishing SGML and XML to print, HTML, online help, even help files for Symbian mobile phones. I've developed DTDs and schemas, written heinous Perl scripts (death before Perl), hacked FrameMaker, beaten my head against any number piece-of-crap content management tools, learned new standards, new programming languages, designed and implemented a content management system that wasn't quite such a piece of crap (but that got tied up in an intractible intellectual property tangle so the code still sits on a shelf, unusable by anybody), abandoned technologies that seemed to have such promise (I'm talking to you, DSSSL), met and worked with no end of amazing people (I'm talking to you Truly Donovan and James Clark and Norm Walsh and Jon Bosak and Tim Bray and Charles Goldfarb and Steve Newcomb and Peter Newcomb and Steve DeRose and Jeff Suttor and Joe Alfonso and Marcy Thompson and John Heintz and on and on (cue orchestra as announcer intros commercial break and the next award)...

Most of my career has been, in one way or another, as a developer and integrator of tools that support document authoring, management, and publishing using the available standards of the day (de-jure, je-facto, or corporate). This experience has been rewarding and painful. Out of the rewards I think I've gained some useful wisdom that I'd like to capture in the hope that it might be of value to others.

Out of the pain I've developed a deep vitriolic frustration and bitterness that can only find expression in outbursts of barely-controlled ranting.

This blog will reflect both the pain and the pleasure, the agony and the ecstacy. I've made more mistakes than most and had my share of successes. I've learned a lot of hard lessons. And I'm just arrogant enough to think that my opinion has serious weight (or maybe more than arrogant enough--it's a tough quality to measure accurately). I've learned how to test software well and I think I've learned how to do good software engineering. I've learned, mostly, how not to totally alienate my clients and prospects. I've learned to bite my tounge when I really wanted to say something pointed. I've learned that the smile of a little girl at the end of the day is way more important than any line of code that might or might not get written.

With this background you might reasonably ask: why do you keep trying? Why don't you just admit defeat and get a comfortable 9-5 job as a Java hack? Damn good question. Part of the answer is that I am too much of an idealist to let it go. I still feel that there is some hope for standards in a world filled with venal software vendors and I just can't stand back and let people's data get trapped in the proprietary spike pits that have historically been the norm. I'm also cheap and I just refuse to pay (or let my clients pay) huge bank for features that should not be so expensive.

So I keep trying.

My current standards-related activities include:

- Active member of the XSL Formatting Objects subgroup of the XSL Working Group (W3C)

- Active member of the DITA Technical Committee (OASIS Open)

For the last four or five years my day-to-day work has focused almost exclusively on building XSL-FO-based publishing systems for various clients, mostly in the consumer electronics area. For the last year I've been working on a new Innodata Isogen product offering that attempts to take generalized composition of XML to a new level of generality.

Here's what can you expect from this blog:

  • More or less random posts about what I think good practice is

  • Rants about tools, technologies, and practices that I think are wrong, dangerous, misguided, evil or that otherwise need ranting about

  • Praise about tools, technologies and practices that I think are right, of high value, and worthy of praise or otherwise need talking up

  • The occasional random thought with possibly only tangential relation to the technical subject at hand

What you will not find in this blog:

  • Rambling musings about my feelings, what I ate today, the music I'm listening to, or any of the other tedious personal crap that clogs so many other blogs. For that you can go to my family blog: Woods-Kimber New Family Adventure

  • Predictable frequency of posts. I've long since stopped pretending that I can be consistent about this sort of thing. So bite me.

  • Craven objectivity. For that you need to hire me as a consultant, at which point I am obligated by my employer's relationship to its partners to be fair and objective to a fault when it comes to various tools. While I would never intentionally trash a product or tool just because I'm being a dick that day, I do sometimes reveal uncomfortable truths that may be inconsistent with the marketing message of the supplier or considered opinions of the engineers responsible. Deal with it.

So what else is it useful to know about me?

So enough about me, let's get to a rant...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I like your writing already..

"at the of the day" - think an "end" is missing there.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Eliot Kimber said...

Thanks, I've corrected the post.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

u know what sucks? when your boss bans you from using macros at work because then "you might become too dependent on them" - and then what, forget the valuable lessons manual data entry have taught me??? Ooof....
Do you know anything about macros for an antiquated mainframe like AS4000?

5:46 PM  
Blogger Eliot Kimber said...

Do I know anything about macros for the AS400? Negative. Anything I might have known about proprietary IBM systems and software I forgot a long time ago.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy birthday old coot, from one old tool to another.

-- matching on yahoo

11:35 PM  

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