Archive for November, 2007

Friday, November 30th, 2007

4 things I’ve learned writing (mostly) 4 novels

If you want to get anything done, give it to a busy person…

In my life, I’ve started four novels, completed my goals on three, gotten to “The End” on two, and completely flamed out on one.

The first was in 2001. I hadn’t written much since high school. Something clicked in my head that made me realize that writing wasn’t some kind of black art (as one particular teacher had drilled into his credulous students). It was doable. You take pencil and paper and write one word after another. VoilĂ . I was so taken with this simple idea that every single thing I ever learned about writing went out the window. I had Swifties, danglers, tell-vs-show, you name it. There’s enough material in there for several Bulwer-Lytton contests. By the time I had 70 hand-written pages, the thing collapsed under it’s own weight and the story reached an abrupt, borderline-surrealistic “ending” to abuse the term. I have evidence that I even typed it all in and pressed on for a 2nd draft.

By 2003 my non-fiction book was published–my writing career was under way! Part of the elaborate book proposal dance involved me writing some online articles, including one piece of fiction that was well-received in the tiny circle that was its intended audience. At this stage I adopted electronic writing, and ditched my crashy Windows laptop for a Mac, a vast improvement.

In 2005 I discovered NaNoWriMo, and though I thought it would be a lost cause, I signed up. No way it could be as bad as the previous attempt. I had a new job, and was able to skip a few lunches to write, not to mention intense evenings and weekends. The end goal is 50,000 words during the 30 days of November, that’s 1,666 and two-thirds words per day. All of the prior month I spent outlining, making maps, creating my universe. I used the simplest of tools, my text editor and one file per chapter. I learned that the command wc *.txt could easily give me a combined word count. To my surprise, it worked. I reemerged into daylight with a completed a full story arc loosely based on the earlier story, and ended up with just over 50,000 words. The text itself was very rough, but I read the whole thing out loud in a podcast to edit it. In terms of improvement, it was huge, but still far from publishable.

2006 and another NaNoWriMo rolled around, and I took off on a more ambitious storyline with far fewer notes going into it. The story itself involved the same general characters of the previous two episodes, but with a deeper, more mature feeling to it. In short, I finally wrote a piece of fiction to be proud about afterwards, though when I hit 50,000 words I felt really burned out; hit “save” and left the story arc unfinished.

The pull to dig in to an intensive 2nd draft of the story was immense, but just too many things were going on, including a new arrival in the family and a new set of job responsibilities. I never got more than a few dozen pages into the rewrite. When NaNoWriMo 2007 came upon me, I had a tough choice…do I write something fresh, or try to rework the previous novel? Fresh. A completely new story line, new characters, new setting, new everything. As of a few days ago, I finished the draft, compressing parts of the story as needed to meet both the 50 kiloword goal and the complete story arc. In preparation, I read a number of books, but as far as written outlines, maps, etc. go, almost nothing happened before November 1. I saved enough of the “fun stuff” that a second revision of this story will be a joy. Overall, another improvement year-over-year.

There’s only one kink to the “if you want to get something done…” idea: my slides for the XML Conference talk I have in a few days are still unfinished… -m

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

XPath 2.0 implementation details

Well, my plans for a series of postings about details of implementing XPath 2.0 fell rather short, so let’s skip straight to the good stuff.

An article by Mike Kay giving the details of the Saxon architecture. On the surface it’s about performance, but it also has an excellent section in internals. Worth a look. This has been quite influential for me, and maybe you too. -m

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Amazon’s most valuable IP

Or, why the Kindle cost $399 at launch.

What is Amazon’s most valuable IP?

How about a list of registered users who are guaranteed as willing to pay a premium price for a nifty gadget (I mean “service”) along with the exclusive privilege of buying more things from Amazon? Somewhere in Amazon’s database land, alongside all the details and purchasing history they already have for each customer, there’s a single bit called something like owns_kindle. Those bearing this mark are the ur-early-adopters, the loyalists, the customers with a vary large net future value. The marketers dream. Opt-in isn’t even an issue–what Kindle owner won’t be interested in special offers and exclusive deals for their special device? Where else are they going to go?

That one bit alone is probably worth another $400, making it the most valuable IP in terms of dollars-per-byte that Amazon holds. Even if they do a drastic price cut soon (and such price cuts will at some point be inevitable to sustain the market), even if they refund half of the difference to the early adopters, they will come away with super-sized smiles. -m

P.S. s/Kindle/iPhone/ and s/Amazon/Apple/ and this entire post still holds.

P.P.S. There is a pretty good play Apple could make here around an ebook reader. Tie it to the same wireless service plan that the iPhone uses, make books available through the iTunes store (including tons of Gutenberg/public domain content/creative commons for free), and put it on a very slick designed piece of hardware. But even in this case, it will initially sell for a premium price for the reasons above. Game on!

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Milk Dung Spot Light Robot Sphere Snail Bathtub

That was the subject of an email I got this morning. After I headed in to work, I listed to Science Friday, which included the Ig Nobel Prize festivites. One of the winners?

CHEMISTRY: Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin — vanilla fragrance and flavoring — from cow dung.

Ice cream samples were offered to the Laureates present.

Coincidence? Or something greater? -m

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Reducing my online profile

Due to some unauthorized activities on my webspace, I’m trimming my online profile, notably the Brain Attic sites. These were my home base for consulting, which I haven’t been doing for 2+ years. Less surface area exposed means less exposure to the bad guys. This site, and XForms Institute are staying up for now, as should be the email address you are currently using. There will be a few broken links that will take some time to eradicate.

If you notice anything amiss, any unseemly references to ‘viagra’ in my pages etc., email me at “mdubinko” in the reversed “” domain. -m

Update: whoops, looks like I cut a little too deep. Turns out that all my mail was routing through one of the domains I chopped. For several hours overnight email sent to me was bouncing. If you ran into that, please re-sent. -m

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Kindle my disappointment

Where’s Project Gutenberg? One difficulty in launching an ebook platform is the lack of available titles. I keep hearing about 80,000+ titles, but expressed as a percentage of Amazon’s book catalog, it’s minuscule. There should be all kind of public domain titles ready to go on day one. And where’s the Creative Commons books?
There’s some public domain books to be found, but none are free. Take, for example, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a book (in paper form) sitting just out of arm’s reach as I write this, waiting to be read. If I had it on a device, particularly one with a good screen, I’d be more inclined to keep it, and dozens others, on hand in my backback and be ready to read at a moment’s notice. But no.

The problem is the the “we take care of the wireless delivery” part, called Whispernet(tm). It’s not really free, nor bundled in the service price. It’s bundled in to the cost of every media access. Is it fair to pay $9.99 for a New York Times bestseller? Sure. But it sucks to pay $1 for an A-list blog that’s free everywhere else, or to get literally nickeled and dimed for the privelege of “converting” and delivering your own content to your own device.

By the way, who gets the money paid for accessing, say, a CreativeCommons non-commercial licensed blog via the Kindle? Somebody should look into that.

I applaud Amazon for pushing to innovate in a space that badly needs it, but the financial model behind the wireless access encourages the wrong kind of things. Exceptions, like unlimited Wikipedia access (be still my heart!) still need to be hand approved by the gatekeeper. Information wants to be free, it doesn’t want to be a service, though that’s hard to see when the dollar signs get in your eyes.

Many folks are comparing this to the original iPod launch–remember, the huge klunky one with a tiny capacity, black and white screen, and a mechanical click-wheel? There’s some strong points of similarity, but stronger differences. For one, anyone with an iPod can easily rip their existing CDs, not to mention obtain MP3s from other methods (so I hear). There’s nothing like that yet for books.
Where’s the documentation for the new, proprietary ebook format? I don’t care about the DRM crap. I care about being able to create new content, or repackage existing content for which I have the rights, and for that, I’m having trouble coming up with a rationale for an entire new format. I would love to do some cool things with this platform. Perhaps I will some day, though my enthusiasm is somewhat lessened by the difficulties I would face getting anything cool onto the devices. -m

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Kindle as a writing tool?

Amazon announced their ebook reader today, Kindle. Some of the earlier hype I’d read about it suggested that it would be not only a reading tool, but a writing tool as well.


The obvious thing is the keyboard, an immediate non-starter for typing more than a few words. But if an external keyboard is possible, I could still live with it. For now, it seems like an OLPC would better serve my needs for an ultra-portable writing station. And for the same price, I get one and so does somebody else who need it. -m

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Gettysburg Address PowerPoint

As one who, in the all-too-near future, will be hammering out the visuals to go with my talk at XML 2007, this made my day. (be sure to check out the deeper pages too) -m

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Representing structured data on a web page

OK, let me take a step back from specific technologies like RDFa, let’s go through a really simple example.

On a certain web page, I refer to a book. That book has a price of 21.86 US dollars. The page is intended as primarily human-readable, but I want to include machine-readable data too, for a global audience.
What would you do? What specific markup choices would you make? What specific markup would you use? -m

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

RDFa question

What is the difference between placing instanceof=”prefix:val” vs. rel=”prefix:val” on something? How do I decide between the two?

In the example of hEvent data, why is it better/more accurate to use instanceof=”cal:Vevent” instead of a blank node via rel=”cal:Vevent”?


Monday, November 5th, 2007

A better name for CURIEs (?)

“Compact Clark Notation“. (Inspired by reading this) -m

Friday, November 2nd, 2007


Game On. Expect light posting this month. -m