Archiv für November 2005

ODF vs MS XML analyzed

November 29, 2005 - Markus Hoenicka
Alex Hudson, J. David Eisenberg, Bruce D'Arcus and Daniel Carrera posted a nice comparison of the soon-to-be ISO standard OpenDocument XML format and MS XML, the now-submitted-as-an-ECMA-standard Microsoft version of an XML office data format. At a glance, OpenDocument wins hands down, but didn't we experience over and over in the past that Microsoft's presence on 90% of the personal computers world-wide gives sufficient momentum to even the lousiest and stupidest implementation of (graphical interface | web browser | media player | [insert your favourite here]) to leave the well-thought-out and well-implemented stuff to diehards? Seeing Massachusettes start to wobble as soon as Microsoft mentions the word "open" in context with "Office" gives a clue as to how much education is still necessary.

Abuse of Science

November 29, 2005 - Markus Hoenicka
There is an interesting writeup in the New England Journal of Medicine covering one of the topics that all researchers in the biomedical field should be interested in. Meng-Kin Lim starts his essay saying "All technological advancements - from knives and forks to airplanes and rockets - have been exploited for destructive ends". Needless to say that it is not a solution to end research in order to end its abuse, but it is sad to see that there is no real solution to this problem, regardless of the attempts mentioned in the article.
I assume that only a fraction of all research worldwide is conducted to develop outright weapons. However, as just about anything that can be abused will be abused, we're always running the risk to contribute to a kind of research we never wanted to. And while the information was hardly accessible to non-experts until a couple of years ago, most of it is accessible on the internet these days, both for good and for bad. Dr. Lim points out that not even ethical guidelines or even self-imposed ethical conduct will help as there is always the possibility of higher considerations overriding these guidelines. So while we teach terrorists all over the world how to abuse our research, we also have to fear that even legal bodies will abuse the research in order to fight just this threat by the terrorists. The treatment of the captives in Guantanamo can give a hint that not even "unalienable rights" are unalienable if they would hinder the secret services. Now add to this the economic dependency of researchers on public funding, and you get an impression how strictly the members of the scientific community will be able to resist. This is not encouraging.

Converting SGML to XML

November 27, 2005 - Markus Hoenicka
What sounds to be an easy task has some pitfalls, as I had to notice when I attempted to convert the RefDB manual from SGML to XML. The main reason for this move was nxml-mode, which validates your document while you edit it. Besides, I wanted to see whether the processing tools are really up to their task. Processing SGML documents has never been a problem for me, on any platform I tried, for the last couple of years. But whenever I tried I found out the hard way that the XML hype was years ahead of the available tools. Moreover, setting up the XML toolchain was never really easy because it involved several Java tools which are a pain to handle unless you use intelligent wrapper scripts. Fortunately FreeBSD, my main platform for a couple of years, ships most Java tools with a wrapper shell script which greatly simplifies the usage of these tools. So off I went into the realms of XML.

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