<conference time="summer" living="easy"/>

Yesterday I did a brief stint at the XML Summer School. Purely as a member of the audience, I should add, although my boss put the fear of all holy hell into me at the last minute by asking me what my talk was going to be on. One day I will cease being gullible around people in power. And that day I will be made redundant.

The day’s keynote was provided by Tim Bray, who was very interesting indeed, and fairly controversial—he’d have appeared less so if there’d been pinches of salt by every chair during his mock-scientific assessments of various software winners and losers (when he rated AI in almost every category, for example). But then yesterday’s publication of the Atom 1.0 standard meant that everyone was hanging off his every word anyway, so it’s not surprising he was taken fairly literally.

The most enjoyable talk was once again provided by Sean McGrath. Sean’s one for the literary allusions and deep, self-directed irony. He’s also either a pint-pot filled with a slopping quart of Blarney-stone vocabulary, or he enjoys language so much that he must spend half of his talk preparation time cribbing from Brewer’s, etymology dictionaries, scientific dictionaries or the like. A genuine enjoyment of what he’s doing and an exciting (if messy) mix of themes, it managed to keep me almost entirely awake after lunch.

There were one or two points during the day that I disagreed with, almost all minor—I don’t think us all learning an ideogrammatic language like Chinese would provide us with a perfect language as Tim “not Sean, the other one” McGrath suggested, and I especially don’t think the faults of other languages lie in their phonetic spelling at all—but generally it was very illuminating, and a real rollercoaster ride through technology that’s not so much bleeding-edge as shaving-edge: tested and wrought to the point where it’s useful, but still a little dangerous in the wrong hands.

It’s interesting the way that XML is no longer tackling such sideshows as the semantic web—sorry, that wasn’t 1066 And All That enough: I mean of course the Semantic Web, SemanticWeb, SemWeb, Smeb… isn’t that one of the old electricity boards? Anyway, the shift of technical focus means we’d be freer discuss the semantic problems that XML applications raise, in prose, with thought, informally, and unrestricted by such bloated monsters as RDF.

I’ve yet to go to an XML conference where there were the specialities present (and the time available) to really get one’s teeth into anything so subtle and off-topic: maybe if at the next one I stay for the after-lectures drinking session I’ll have the chance, if not necessarily the clarity of thought or the willing listeners. I hate making pompous declarations onto deaf ears.

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