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Tim Bray on the history of XML

Tim Bray has a terrific piece on the development of XML, now in its tenth year as an official standard. He focuses on the people, not on the technicalities of the standard.

It’s worth it just to re-read Tim’s words about Yuri Rubinsky, an SGML advocate of enormous energy and passion, without a mean bone in his body. Tim puts it better. Yuri died way too young, and I miss him.

It’s also worth it to learn the off-the-mainstage history of XML, of course.

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Tim is a terrific writer. And I’m happy to say that we’ve been friends for a long time (which is somewhere between disclosure and bragging). But, the one thing that put me off in his piece was his providing physical descriptions. I assume they’re accurate, and he writes them with flair, but they struck me as irrelevant. Why does it help me to know that someone is burly and someone else is buxom?

And yet, it does seem to help.

But maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it only seems to help.

As you can tell, I’m torn by this. I’ve occasionally briefly described people in things I’ve written. But I don’t feel quite right about it

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4 Responses to “Tim Bray on the history of XML”

  1. It’s not as if I thought about it much. The title of the piece is after all “XML People” and they are not ghostly disembodied presences, they are instances of actual human flesh. It would seem distinctly weird to me not to describe them.

    I was a little worried that I’d get a hurt note from someone saying “Is *that* how you see me?”, but hasn’t happened yet.

  2. Perhaps it’s the fact that not all of the people have physical descriptions associated with them. Or the appearance/action description ration?

    I think perhaps the problem is that physical descriptions are so subjective–what you choose to focus on, the words chosen for description. Some words are more heavily loaded than others, and as a result can have the effect of jolting you (or at least me) out of the flow of text.

    Photos have some subjectivity too, of course, but (imo) not quite as much.

  3. Who’d I miss, Liz? I think I described ‘em all.

  4. Tim, as I said, I’m torn about this. Bodies count for a lot. Theories of self that ignore the body (can you hear me, Martin Heidegger?) are wrong from conception. Literally. And yet, and yet…

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