Feeler for SML (Simple Markup Language)

Steven Champeon schampeo at hesketh.com
Tue Nov 16 22:31:26 GMT 1999

On 16 Nov 1999 rev-bob at gotc.com wrote:
> > I guess what bothers me a bit about this whole discussion is the implicit
> > assumption that it's somehow *bad* to use abstraction to hide the details;
> I suppose I'd have to go with "dangerous" or "hazardous" - not
> necessarily "bad".  A conscientious programmer can use such dangerous
> things to his advantage, but a novice can easily use them as an excuse
> to become brain-dead.  Considering recent history, I have to refer you
> to the horde of "WYSIWYG" HTML editors on the market - editors which try
> to insulate novices from the code.  If these applications were a little
> bit different in their focus - say, ditching the WYSIWYG myth and
> generating good code - then they could serve a good purpose.  As things
> are, though, I cannot consider those applications anything but
> *bad*...precisely because of their level of abstraction.

Funny - I would have thought that it was because they sucked, rather than
because they used abstraction. Let's not ditch Java because it makes use
of design patterns, or DNS because it allows for a nice, friendly,
hierarchical model for four-byte long integers. Similarly, let's not
expect every user of XML to have to think about every tag in their tagset
when they really want to be *authoring* a document.

Stupid abstraction is bad. That doesn't mean abstraction itself is bad. annd
it doesn't mean that you don't want to know about the guts, just that there's
a time and a place for everything.

> If you know what you're doing, shortcuts aren't bad at all.  If your
> tools are trustworthy (unlike the aforementioned website-in-a-box
> tools), they can be valuable.  However, recent experience has taught me
> that the people most likely to produce Web-targeted tools with a high
> degree of abstraction are aiming those tools at precisely those people
> who shouldn't be using them.  It's kinda like handing a stick of
> dynamite and a lighter to a second-grader on the grounds that he doesn't
> know enough to make the explosives for himself.

That's silly. Recent experience has also shown me that poorly designed Web
tools exist at all levels, not just the "Let FrontPage be Your Webmaster"
level. Your metaphor is misleading and dangerous. A more appropriate
metaphor might go like this:

  "It's like a child learning how to talk before he knows the
   rules of proper grammar."

In the former, you're assuming responsibility for someone's lack of knowledge
but your response is to hide it from them for their own safety. In the latter,
the responsibility is still there, but now it's up to you to demonstrate good
grammar and in so doing, ensure that the child learns well.

business: http://hesketh.com ...custom medium- to large-scale web sites
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punditry: http://a.jaundicedeye.com       ...negative forces have value
personal: http://hesketh.com/schampeo/  ...info, projects, random stuff

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