Several of us had a chance to meet with Ken
Holman over the weekend. He was brought to
the party by John Deneen, and he was quite
happy to meet Doug. He very much wants to
make whatever contribution he can, which
pretty much makes him "one of the team".
Ken is very knowledgable about XML and related
disciplines. And he is, or has been, very
active at OASIS (Organization for the Advancement
of Structured Information Standards). He is
looking forward to helping us define an interchange
standard, and shepard it through the various
committees, and so on.
He also has a remarkable flair for design.
He picked up a rough sense of what we were about
in fairly short order, and began making insightful
observations based on his past design experience.
Here are some of the technical points he developed
during the meeting...
* XPATH is a basic structure-identification
* XPOINTER uses that representation mechanism,
and builds on it to add concepts like a
structure-range (from struct X to struct Y)
* XSL/XSLT also uses XPATH as part of its
* XSLT is a translation mechanism that can
generate XML, which can then be parsed.
* XSL is the format-presentation layer. It defines
a ton of constructs that can be used to specify
how material prints, or is displayed.
* RELAX is a very nice schema definition mechanism
that defines a theory-based representation
mechanism that lets you construct DTD *diffs*
and DTD *unions*. Unions let you modularize
DTDs, and ensure that a document conforms to
the result of combining them.)
* SCHEMATRON is an assertion-based validation
mechanism. Using that mechanisms makes it possible
to validate assertions like "mixed content
containing text and inline elements occurs only
before substructure elements, never between or
[For me, this one was worth the price of
dmission. It totally solves the XML limitation
described in my paper on XML Editor Design.]
* Most application designs define an application-
specific language, and parse that. They tend
to consider XSLT as an afterthought. To make
use of it, a different representatiion is
parsed, written out as XML, and then reparsed
into the app.
* But XSLT can quite easily produce SAX or
DOM output *directly*. So the kind of design
Ken recommends, uses XSL and a style sheet
to process any particular XML data. The result
becomes SAX events or a DOM in the app, so
that part of the app doesn't change. But now
you can process any other variant of the
XML that encodes the information, simply by
creating a new stylesheet, without a big
peformance hit -- the result is roughly
equivalent to having defined that language (or
any other variant) as the "reference langauge"
for the application.
* Ken declared emphatically that DEFINING THE XML
EARLY ON IS INAPPROPRIATE. He's seen the mistake
made dozens of times, and counsels his clients
against it. His take on the matter is that XML
IS AN INTERCHANGE STANDARD and that the core of
the application is the services it provides.
Therefore, the only sequence that works in the
real world is to define those services, and *then*
come up with an XML form for the data that needs
to be interchanged.
* In terms of the OHS, Ken's approach had some
remarkable implications for the design. Rather
than attempting to define a DTD for a "normal
form" OHS document, Ken suggests focusing on
the services, and building (or at least desiging)
those services. So for example, we need granular
addressibility. And we want it to apply to legacy
documents. Ok, then, the system requires
mechanisms for adding addresses to a legacy
document! The orginal document continues its
existence, unchanged. The OHS contains a pointer
to it, along with a collection of addresses that
point into it. The "HyperDocument" you view in
the "HyperScope" is then the product of those
addresses applied to that document.
* Note that we have *not* defined a DTD for a
HyperDocument. We have defined functionality.
Now, when it comes to interchange data, how
does that happen? Well, what do you need to
send? You need to send a pointer to the original
document, at a minimum -- or possibly the
document itself if it is inaccessible. And you
need to send the additional information (like
the addresses) that are necessary to carry out
* Ken's point here, is that XML definition is
dictated by functional needs -- by what you
need to transmit to provide the desired services,
and the resulting XML definition is far removed
from any sort of "HyperDocument definition" we
may construct at the outset.
[Note: From personal experience, I concur
wholeheartedly. The orginal stab I took at
XML syntax for such a document looks nothing
like the node library I am currently constructing.
More instructively, none of the last 4 versions
of that library look very much like any of the
Ken also talked about topic maps for a bit.
(Although I have yet to "get" them, Ken was very big
on them, and mentioned Jack Park's advocacy several
times in this context.)
What I gleaned from our short forays into the
* Topic maps provide a way of defining the
semantic content of a structure or, perhaps
more accurately, it is a way of specifying the
syntax that is used to represent different
semantic constructs. (I believe that is
accurate, although I didn't quite get how
More info: http://www.topicmaps.org
* Ken suspects we want to use topic maps to
define the OHS interchange mechansims.
(Again, I don't see how that works, exactly,
but I suspect that he and Jack will be
able to arrive at a meeting of the minds.)
* My one little "aha" on the subject is that
if XSLT + a stylesheet can be used as the
input to an application, then if the input
is defined using a topic map, then anyone
can use any syntax they want to encode the
data -- the syntax will be transformed by
XSLT for use by the application anyway, and
that translation will be governed by the
topic map. (I think that is somewhere
within a Silicon-valley commute of being
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