Ben Langhinrichs

July, 2006
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Wed 26 Jul 2006, 11:56 PM
Once upon a time (no, not that time, but just a bit later), in another kingdom, there lived a king and queen, surpassing fair herself, truth be told.  This kingdom was peaceful and bountiful, and the palace well tended (and all the children in the kingdom were of above average intelligence, of course), but not all was well with the king and queen.

"Four hundred shekels!?!" fumed the queen.  "Four hundred shekels apiece for a magic carpet ride!  I'd sooner walk."

"Dear, dear,", reasoned the king soothingly. "It would be a dreadfully long walk."

After a good deal of royal discussion, it was decided that the Royal Carriage would be a better choice than walking, and decidely less expensive than the magic carpet, even with the high cost of hay for the horses.  And so, the preparations were made, the handsome and charming younger princes, brothers to the lovely princess, were loaded into the Royal Carriage (handsomely and charmingly complaining about the long trip ahead).  A great many books and royal provisions were loaded up as well, since this was a literate and often hungry royal family, and the trip was underway.  Many adventures were had, and obstacles encountered and overcome, as is the way with such journeys, but eventually the far away kingdom was reached.

Of course, during the course of the trip, the brothers and the king and queen had ample opportunity to discuss many things, such as what they would all like to see in the far away kingdom, how very, very many sheep there were along the way, and what the persistent prince who had called might be like.  The king thought it likely that the prince would be intelligent and interesting, as his daughter was as selective as she was beautiful.  The queen thought that the prince must be quite handsome, but also patient and caring, as no prince with less than saintly patience would have managed to scale the heights of princessly preoccupation for which her daughter was famous.  The younger brother thought it quite certain that the unknown prince must be quite daft, as younger brothers often think even in royal familes, for having chosen this princess, and the older brother kept his counsel to himself.  Thus, the arrival in the far away kingdom found the royal family greatly relieved, but also quite curious.

When the fair and winsome princess saw her family step down from the Royal Carriage, she rushed to them, casting dignity to the wind and throwing her arms around them one by one in turn.  Her smile was a joy to see, and the birds sang in the trees for delight with the happiness of all.  Yet there was something missing.  Where was the prince?  The princess explained that the thoughtful prince had left her to have a few moments alone to greet her royal family, and that they were all to meet in the Public Gardens.

So, off they went, walking along the path to the Public Gardens, talking and catching up as even royal families do when they have been apart.  As they walked into the gardens, the princess cried out with joy, "There he is." and pointed, forgetting for a moment her lessons on princessly decorum. But then, taking a closer look, she stopped, at a momentary and quite unaccustomed loss for words.







The king stared.  The queen stared.  The two brothers stared.  "Father," asked the younger after a moment, "why is the prince standing with a statue of a naked woman?"

The king thought deeply before answering.  He was aware of the gravity of the moment, since while the prince and princess were currently merely interested in each other, they were of an age where interest could grow and he might have to deal with this prince for some time to come.  The choice of how to answer lay heavily on his heart, but then it lightened, and he smiled.

"We must assume," he explained to his youngest son, but loudly enough to be heard by all present, "the prince is a great advocate of the arts, as is shown by his meeting us while standing with a statue.  We must also assume that he has the utmost respect for women, as is shown by his choice of a strong, solid, if slightly mythological, maiden.  Finally, we must assume that he knows that sometimes a woman deserves to be put on a pedestal, as befits a royal princess."

All eyes turned towards the king, and for a moment the princess, queen and brothers stood silent, unsure how to respond.  Then, the princess smiled and let out a delightful peal of laughter.  "I'm so glad you understand, Father," she said, and laughed again.










The princess ran over to the prince, and they came towards the royal family, where he was introduced all around.  The next couple of hours were occupied with getting acquainted and taking the measure of each other, and each member of the royal family decided that the prince was quite a wonderful fellow, although the younger brother might be excused for still thinking the prince a bit daft for the way he looked at the princess.

After a while, the the prince and princess wandered off a short distance and sat together on an overturned log by the side of the path.  The king looked over at the two young people, aware of the obvious affection they felt for each other, and he sighed a deep sigh.  He wondered what the future might bring, but decided there was little he could do about that, and wandered off himself to find his lovely queen and see if they could find an overturned log of their own.


The prince and princess set together on a log

Copyright © 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

Tue 25 Jul 2006, 02:10 PM
Rob Weir of IBM has an excellent blog (which I have mentioned before) called An Antic Disposition, which I enjoy for both the analysis and the clever use of language.  His latest post, Cum mortuis in lingua mortua discusses the obsolete VML (Vector Markup Language), which was rejected as a standard in 1998, and the current SVG, which was accepted as a standard in 2001, and which has gained fairly wide acceptance and maturity since then.  The relevance is that Microsoft has bundled the rejected VML proposal into their Office Open XML proposal.  As Rob says:
Now take a look at Chapter 23, VML, pages 3571-3795 (PDF pages 3669-3893). We see here 224 pages of "VML Reference Material", which appears to be a rehash of the 1999 VML Reference from MSDN, and in this form it hides itself in a 4,081-page OOXML specification, racing through Ecma and then straight into ISO. Is this right? Should a rejected standard from 1998, be fast-tracked to ISO over a successful, widely implemented alternative like SVG?
This is the kind of analysis which needs to be done on the Office Open XML format, and on the Open Document Format as well.  Just accepting either because of where it originated (Microsoft vs. OASIS) is not enough.  A standard should stand on its own, not be judged by its supporters alone (although obviously support for a standard is important as well).

Copyright © 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

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Sun 23 Jul 2006, 09:02 PM
This post shows another difference between Open Document Format (ODF) and Notes rich text, somewhat related to this last post.  Before I start, I must acknowledge that this could be considered a difference between OpenOffice.org's implementation of ODF and the Notes client's implementation of rich text, as both could handle things differently, but it would take a good deal of work in the ODF format to do what the Notes client does.

Difference in how an Image is treated when a border or drop shadow is added.
In both ODF and Notes rich text, you can import a JPEG, such as this one, and they look the same:


Figure 1: An image without borders or shadows in either Notes or OpenOffice.org Writer


Figure 2: Shadow and medium yellow border added  to the image in Notes client

In Notes, the shadow and border are added outside the image, which is left in its original size.  This is handled differently in ODF:


Figure 3: Shadow and medium yellow border added  to the image in OpenOffice.org Writer

If you look closely, you will notice that the border and shadow have been squeezed into the space occupied by the original image, and the image itself has been shrunk.  This can be seen even more dramatically if we exaggerate the border and shadow to much larger values:


Figure 4: Much larger shadow and yellow border added  to the image in Notes client



Figure 5: Much larger shadow and yellow border added  to the image in OpenOffice.org Writer

Very dramatic difference, and there is no easy way (that I have found) to tell Open Office.org Writer to keep the image size the same, or to tell the Notes client to re-size.

I have to say that while I prefer the Notes behavior, I can see some logic to the ODF logic for word processing, where you might need to designate a certain space for an image.  It is still a difficult difference to get used to.

Copyright © 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

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Thu 20 Jul 2006, 10:18 AM
I have been fascinated by the "format war" going on between Open Document Format (ODF) and Office Open XML (OOXML, Microsoft's XML standard), and I thought it would be a good idea to read all I could on the subject.  Problem is, there are way too many sources of information.  Just in the blogosphere, there is a wide range, from Bob Sutor's (IBM) Striking the Right Chord, If You Can Find It with lots of links and some very good high level thinking to Brian Jones' (Microsoft) Open XML Formats compendium on Office Open XML topics to the more opinionated , but often extremely insightful blogs, such as Rob Weir's (IBM) An Antic Disposition and Andy Updegrove's (Gesmer/Updegrove LLP) ConsortiumInfo.org's Standards Blog, to the specialist blogs, such as Bruce D'Arcus' (Miami University of Ohio) darcusblog which touches many topics but focuses very closely on metadata, annotations and citations, etc. etc. etc.  If you also try to read the specifications and news articles and so on, not to mention dive in and see the actual implementations used by OpenOffice.org (ODF) or MS Office 2007 beta (MIcrosoft's Office Open XML), it might be more than a full time job.  I'm trying to prioritize, but it is pretty hard in this early information gathering phase, and it looks like there will be much more noise before there is quiet.  I am starting to understand why riding the wave is sometimes harder than following the wave, but also less fun.  Surf's up, folks!

Copyright © 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

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Wed 19 Jul 2006, 04:40 PM
I was on a status call with the Turtles (really, The Turtle Partnership, the folks who handle our CoexLinks support so capably), and you could practically hear the sweat rolling off them.  They are in merry old England, which is suffering a heat wave of epic proportions, and their air conditioning was on the blink today.  So, spare a thought for the poor, suffering Turtles, who are too darn hot.

Copyright © 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

Mon 17 Jul 2006, 11:19 PM
Mike MidasBeyond Compare
by Mike Midas, Ace Developer

The day stretched out before me like the Great Wall of China, a thousand miles of mind numbing boredom, and me hell-bent on refusing to take that first step.  That is, until the door opened and in walked a vision straight out of Mao's Little Black Book (the one he didn't publish).  She was petite, if by petite you meant 5'2" and stacked like a couple dozen jets over Beijing, and she had a mysterious smile that would have made the Mona Lisa pack her bags and head home to Momma Mia.  It was like a ray of sunshine came in the window, poured me a drink and started doing the Lion Dance with my heart.

"May I help you?" I asked, and the unspoken words in my question would have made a sailor blush.

"Sir!" she spoke, and her voice carried more than a hint that I could take a long march off a short pier.  "I have a business need and my friend said you might be able to help."

I was in danger of getting whiplash from the rapid change in moods, but I pulled myself together enough to ask what the business need was.  Despite the beating my heart was taking, my head told me I had a job to do.

"We have a Policies and Procedures manual that we have implemented in Lotus Notes, and it works well for workflow and approvals.", she went on.  I just listened, because so far I had nothing to offer but a bruised ego and some day old bagels from Sam's deli on 7th and Grand.

"Our problem is that when a reviewer modifies the document, we can't easily tell what has happened.  Some of these documents are quite long, and may have tables of data, and it is hard to see what has changed."

It wasn't hard for me to see that she had changed from a promising ray of sunshine into a fire breathing dragon, but I guessed that wasn't what she was talking about.

"We have been copying the documents into Microsoft Word so that we can compare them, but this is quite cumbersome, and there is a loss of data when doclinks or images are present.  I have heard that perhaps your Midas Rich Text LSX could provide an answer, perhaps by letting us step through the text and find what has changed, then create a report about which paragraphs are the same and which are different.  It would not be perfect, but it would help us know where to look for changes."

I laughed, and she started as if the laughter was directed at her.  "We can do better than that," I said.  "We can just do a rich text comparison with Midas and show you exactly what has been deleted, added or modified."

"I don't understand," she stammered, "but what would that look like?  What kind of a comparison is it?"

I have to admit, I enjoyed her discomfort.  Two can play at that game, although it isn't my favorite game that two can play at by a long shot.  "Let me show you an example."  I opened our standard Review It! sample database, as I wanted her to have a sample she could take back to the office.  "Here is a rich text field with some text and a table."

Original rich text before changes
Figure 1 - Original rich text before modifications

"Now, I'll make some changes, but don't watch.  Let's see how many you can find."  I quickly made some changes, both to the text before the table and to the tables itself, and even added a row with two merged cells at the bottom of the table.  "OK, now you can look"

Modified rich text without markups
Figure 2 - Modified rich text without any markup

She looked closely at the modifications I had made, and she caught a few, but clearly was embarrassed that she could not find more.  Quickly, I moved on. "Now, let's let Midas compare the fields and show us what the changed with red-lining."

Approver's view of changes - with deletions
Figure 3 - Modifications shown in an approver view, with deletions and modifications

Her eyes popped like a kid watching fireworks for the first time.  "But... but... that is better than Microsoft Word.  It even knew that there was a new row in the table, and it knew that a number with a decimal point was a number.  How did you do that?"

I may not be David Copperfield, but I enjoyed the look of amazement as if I'd made up the trick myself.  Then, suddenly, her  eyes narrowed.  "But what are we to do when we want to show the modified documents to our users?  They will not want to see the deleted parts, and it looks like a great amount of work to remove all the clever strikethroughs."

Like any good card sharp, I let her think she had me for a moment, then pulled the old switcheroo on her.  "No problem!  That was the approver's comparison.  For the public comparison, you just do... this!"

Public view of changes - without deletions
Figure 4 - Modifications shown in a public view, without deletions

She looked for a couple of minutes, and asked a couple of questions just to be clear, and then she smiled.  It might not have seemed like much of a smile to somebody else peering in the window or glancing in the door, but I was pretty sure it was a great leap forward for my evening's prospects.

[NB: Dedicated to Mickey Spillane, a writer beyond compare, who died today at the age of 88.]

Copyright © 2006 Genii Software Ltd.