What Clean Specs Achieve

Mark Birbeck Mark.Birbeck at iedigital.net
Sat Feb 6 18:36:09 GMT 1999

Simon St.Laurent wrote:
> At 05:53 PM 2/6/99 +0000, Mark Birbeck wrote:
> >Hands up, who has read the Java spec (and that's not the 
> same as reading
> >the nice clear instructions given to you by the people who wrote the
> >compiler)?
> But is anyone here trying to _implement_ Java?  Lots of folks here are
> indeed trying to _implement_ XML 1.0 (parsers and SAX), XLink 
> and XPointer,
> Namespaces, XSL, etc.  It's not like we're only trying to 
> _use_ them, as is
> the case with Java (or SQL, another example that's been 
> bounced around.)  

And that's the point! If you want to write a Java compiler then get down
with all the specs, as well as current theory on compiler writing,
grammars, languages, OO, and so on - because you're going to need it!
And if you want to write an XML parser, or XSL transformer, or your own
DOM then sure, get with the nitty-gritty of the specifications, but you
better also get clued up on language theory - I've seen Umberto Eco
quoted in some places! - meta-information, mark-up languages, and all
the rest of it.

But don't tell me that someone using Office 2000 to write a letter to
their bank manager needs to understand namespaces. And that is not
elitist, colonialist or patronising - I credit people with more
intelligence than wanting to understand quantum physics before they
switch the TV on. The truth is that if people want to be at the leading
edge of thought in *any* discipline, then they better get used to the
idea that nothing worth understanding is ever easy. If it was, it would
be 'common sense' and therefore nothing new. If someone really wants to
write their own parser and they are having trouble understanding
namespaces, they should seriously ask if they are ready for such an

As I keep saying, I'm not arguing for specs that are *more* difficult to
understand - it's not exactly the most profound utterance to say
'clearer is better'. But at the same time I personally don't immediately
try to blame someone else if I don't understand something, and I
particularly don't think anyone *owes* me anything. If the spec writers
are good enough to spare some time and answer some of my questions I am
very grateful, but it is *not* their obligation.

The reality is that I have already saved hundreds of hours of work for
our company by using XML. The hours and hours I spent last year, reading
and re-reading, trying to understand the implications of it all, have
been recovered many, many times over by the speed with which we are now
able to develop web sites with our new tools. I think I have more than
had my money's worth from the 'gobbledy-gook' the spec writers have
produced, and my suspicion is that many people out there have too.

Mark Birbeck
Managing Director
Intra Extra Digital Ltd.
39 Whitfield Street
w: http://www.iedigital.net/
t: 0171 681 4135
e: Mark.Birbeck at iedigital.net

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