Why Not?

Monday May 12, 2008

A case of the general for the specific and for not getting it at all...

So I just read this article about the AbiSource project in the Google Summer of Code. The article as a whole was neither here nor there, but the joke headline:

"AbiWord developers show strong support for OOXML"

and closing paragraph:

"Interestingly, we did receive quite a few applications about improving OOXML support, while we got zero OpenDocument related proposals. Apparently the support for the OpenDocument ISO standard isn't strong enough in the F/OSS community to actually make an effort to improve support for it. Even when paid. Food for thought."

between them annoyed me greatly...

I could go on about the difference between OpenDocument (the widely supported standard ISO26300) and OOXML (the not supported standard - note MS Office 2007 does not support the proposed standard version of OOXML, and in particular nothing like the strict version. which is the one you should use for new documents as opposed to importing legacy ones).

I feel unable to avoid mentioning that the fact there are already a number of F/OSS (Free/Open Source Software) implementations of OpenDocument, like OpenOffice and KOffice, which may blunt demand for an AbiWord one.

But mostly I was annoyed because someone had made the mistake of slipping from the specific case to the general; actually it would be more accurate to say

"...the support for the OpenDocument ISO standard isn't strong enough in the AbiSource community to actually make an effort to improve support for it. Even when paid. Food for thought."

And this is a criticism of the AbiSource community. Without open standards the rest will be history; AbiSource developers need to have excellent support for the word processor portions of ODF and strongly consider making it the default format. Not doing so perpetuates the "you must be able to read the file, it's .doc" mentality that is currently the norm.

NB: the author of the news article has my utmost respect as one of the main developers of libwpd which allows a number of packages to happily open WordPerfect files...

Thursday Feb 21, 2008

A question of trowels

More a fable, maybe, for archaeologists; a series of questions about trowel choice, what makes one good or bad, and what guides the final choice.

Suppose you were working on an away site, or more precisely a site, far, far, away; maybe in a country unfamiliar to you and the rest of the excavation team. Let's say Ghana.

Then through an unfortunate incident you suffer a loss of trowels and have to venture out to purchase some new ones. After looking around a few hardware shops, you find one that will do the job. It isn't the same as the preferred trowel you and the team have been using for years, but you cannot find anywhere to purchase an identical replacement, so money changes hands and back you go to the excavation with your new trowels.

Using this new trowel is initially uncomfortable – the handle is a different shape, the blade angles are different, and so is the weight and balance. These differences are enough to start making your hand feel sore, maybe even causing a blister, and it is different enough to slow you down and even to force a few mistakes. That said, after a few hours it doesn't feel so bad; after a few days the new trowel feels OK and allows you to do a reasonable job.

Let's call this replacement trowel “The Ghana Trowel”.

Now on another dig far, far away, you again suffer an unfortunate loss of trowels. This time you are in Malaysia, and the only trowel you can find is quite different, downright unusual in appearance and feel. But someone on the team knows how to use this particular trowel well. It turns out to be adjustable with a bit of effort, in fact so adjustable that with time and the help of the expert in the group and a few people she knows, this Malaysian trowel can be customised to the point that it encompasses all the best aspects of any trowel you ever used, with no drawbacks; it promises to become more or less the platonic ideal of trowels.

Let's call this one “Trowel of Malaysia”.

Yet another far far away dig, yet another unfortunate loss of trowels (this repeated loss of trowels is starting to sound a little careless...). Trowels available here, Washington State in the USA, are the same make as your preferred trowel but are a new, very shiny, replacement model and come in terribly stylish boxes. A pretty good trowel in use, a step forward from its predecessor, the old preferred trowel, but the handle design is so very, very shiny the trowel can only be used in conjunction with a special glove, only available from the same manufacturer.

Let's call this “Trowel USA”.

Now let's suppose that the preferred trowel costs £12, and The Ghana Trowel costs £10. Would you decide that from that point on you would only buy the new trowel?

What if the preferred trowels cost £12 and Trowel of Malaysia costs £12. Would you consider changing?

Trowel USA costs £12, the glove another £2. A worthwhile option?

What if the preferred trowels cost £100, its successor, Trowel USA (including glove) £200, The Ghana Trowel £80 and Trowel of Malaysia was completely free. Which would you choose then?

Now substitute any given software package for the trowels...

Wednesday Dec 19, 2007

New processes and procedures for survey

But when developing new things it is often beneficial to start by looking at old ways. It is also often useful to start with the basics. In this case very old and very basic. Rob Weir, a technical blogger who works for IBM, may have initiated a revolution in archaeological survey with this post:

The Right and Lawful Rood

Thursday Jun 14, 2007

A limiting date

Excel explicitly does not support dates before 1900

[Read More]

Saturday May 19, 2007

Taking computers from (under-privileged) children

From One Laptop Per Child to One Laptop Per Archaeologist

[Read More]

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