Daily Archives: September 3, 2007

George Washington on Standards

As you read this document you are — though you may not appreciate it — making use of thousands of conventions and practices that have been created over the last several decades. Some are informal, but most are formal, in that they have been written down, and are available in the form of documents called standards, or specifications.

For example, there are standards for the power and voltage of the electric current that is used to run computers; the number of wires and connectors that connect various devices such as disk drives, keyboards and displays together; the instructions in the microprocessor that does the computing; the number of pins and function of each that connect the microprocessor to the motherboard; the format of the cd drives; the format and electrical signals sent to and from a hard drive; the conventions that enable your browser to display the billions of documents available on the web; the way you can use a credit card to buy hardware parts; and so forth.

In brief, standards matter.

So if you are ever asked to participate in writing a standard, or to assess the quality of a proposed standard, I suggest you pay careful attention to some observations on the standards process written within a single month over two centuries ago, by George Washington in May, 1787, as he was about to begin his service as the president of the Constitutional Convention, the body whose work resulted in the standard that defined the United States: the document we know as the Constitution of the United States.

The first was part of his opening remarks to the delegates, Washington and the Constitutional Convention:

When sufficient delegates had arrived in Philadelphia to make up a quorum for the Constitutional Convention, George Washington was unanimously elected its president. He accepted the honor reluctantly, protesting his lack of qualification. His opening remarks were addressed to the pride and idealism of the members: “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.”

I first saw these words when I was a graduate student at New York University. One day, while walking across nearby Washington Square Park, I saw them engraved in stone on the top of the monument from which the park takes its name:


The second was written in the same month, but in a private letter that was only recently discovered, early in 2007, George Washington Letter Found in Scrapbook (emphasis added):

“The happiness of this Country depend much upon the deliberations of the federal Convention which is now sitting,” reads the second paragraph of the quill-and-ink letter. “It, however, can only lay the foundation — the community at large must raise the edifice.”

That the delegates heeded his words and understood the importance of an open community in creating an enduring standard can be found in the first words of the document they produced:

We the people …

Wise, Honest, Community. That is the essence of an open standard — all the rest is detail.

A shallow dive into OOXML

I’ve been following the “OOXML affair” casually for the past few months, but a number of recent articles and blog posts prompted me to pay closer attention.

I once spent some time working as part of a strategy group. From time to time we were called on to take a “deep drive,”, by which was meant an intense burst of activity to look into a topic of interest, seek the insight of folks both inside and outside the company, summarize what we found, and produce some recommendations.

I started my own personal dive into OOXML a few days ago, but soon found the waters both mucky and murky and — lest I get sucked into them — decided to make this a shallow dive, and so will write a few brief posts on this matter before shaking myself dry and moving on to other topics.

OOXML, which is shorthand for “Office Open XML,” is a proposed document format created by Microsoft, and is meant to codify the practices and formats used in various versions of Microsoft Office.

The standard itself can be found at Standard ECMA-376 Office Open XML File Formats . It consists of several documents that collectively comprise over six thousand pages when printed out.

My investigation began when I perused Bob Sutor’s Open Blog (which by the way contains a useful introduction to this area, Bob Sutor: Open Standards vs. Open Source), and saw Bob’s post Stephe Walli on Microsoft, OOXML, which cited this part of Walli’s post:

The sad part is that even if the ISO vote actually goes in Microsoft’s favour, it still won’t matter. It buys them a few years of market ignorance at best. This entire two year event is one for the standards text books on how not to respond to a business threatening standard. In the end, Microsoft will need to implement ODF natively. They don’t know it yet, nor do they understand why, but it is just a matter of time.

I then moved on the Walli’s post, Microsoft’s Failures with the OOXML Standard. Near the start it says:

An interesting bit of technical experimentation was published in the past week in the shadow of the vote. It shows something more pragmatically damning than all of Rob Weir’s hard work digging through faults in the OOXML specification.

My interest aroused, I read part of the “technical experimentation” post. I found it both fascinating and consistent with some of the posts I had read by Rob Weir that reported problems with the OOXML specification.

I then decided to take a look at that specification. There’s a summary in Wikipedia, Office Open XML, though it’s worth noting the article notes there is some dispute about the accuracy of the summary, as there is about the quality of the OOXML specification itself.

Other articles and posts of interest include:

Open Packaging Convention.

Microsoft employee offered incentives for OOXML support

Matusow’s Blog: Open XML – The Vote in Sweden

OOXML is not a work in isolation, but an alternative/competitor to the existing “Open Office Specification,” and here a few resources to learn more about that:


OpenDocument technical specification

OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) TC

OpenDocument v1.0 (Second Edition) (ODT format)

OpenDocument v1.0 (Second Edition) (PDF format)

Posting source code in WordPress

I just noticed a short post from WordPress on How do I post source code?.

Let’s take it for a spin:


  println("hello world");


public class Hello {
public static void main(String [] args) {
System.out.println(“hello world”);




<p>This is the first line
<ul>Here follows a list

A useful feature indeed. Thanks to the kind folks at WordPress for providing it.

Katonah Museum of Art Exhibition, Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art

My wife and I recently saw an exhibit, Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art, at the nearby Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, about forty-five miles north of New York City.

According to the museum:

Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art will bring together approximately 85 works of original children’s book illustrations in a comprehensive survey of the best American picture-book art of the last decade. Organized collaboratively by the KMA and The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, the exhibition celebrates the 10th anniversary of our Learning Center and the 5th anniversary of the Carle Museum.

The exhibit began July 1st and runs until the end of October, and includes personal appearances by some of the artists for discussions and book signings.

On display are the original drawings, paintings, watercolors and collages that were then reproduced in making the book. Though the books are wonderful documents in themselves, only by seeing the original works can you fully appreciate the artist’s skill and artistry, something I noted in an earlier post View Bird’s Eye: John James Audubon.

Then again, it’s also evident that these original works — each of which can stand on its own as a work of art — were each created as part of a set, and were also created to be reproduced. This is most evident with the original of one in the pages in Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat,” the one where the first appears at the door. It consists of several layers, one having the typewritten text, the other having ink outline of the key figures, with some percentage markings written in various panels, a direction to the printer.

Part of the show is a reading room filled with some comfortable furniture and copies of the books represented in this show, so you can see how the works were meant to be presented, and also browse through them.

Here are some of the works that I especially enjoyed:

Chris Van Allsburg, illustrator, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Enchanting drawings, each accompanied by a line of text suggesting a story. (This image is on the Museums’ web site about the show.)

David Wiesner, illustrator, Flotsam The notes mention that Weisner is only the second person to win the Caldecott Medal three times. The image in the show — the one at the start of this wonderful book that has a microscope, binoculars, and magnifying glass — shows the judges were not wrong.

Mo Willems, illustrator, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. I laughed out loud while reading this book to myself. This is one of the books in the show created using computers, as the image is a combination of drawing and photography in the form of what is called an “archival inkjet print.”

Bagram Ibatoulline, illustrator, Crossing, Phillip Booth, author. A book about trains in time past, when people passed time watching the trains pass.

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