i [heart] massachusetts

6 September 2005, 7:02 pm

Huzzah to Boston Globe for daring to print author Ross Gelbspan’s op-ed piece, the first (to the best of my knowledge) in a major mainstream US media outlet to connect the dots. The severity of the damage done by Katrina is related to the storm’s total energy, which is related to the temperature of the water over which it was germinated. Which is related to. . .? As Tom Lehrer once said, “Now, let’s not always see the same hands.”

Hip, hip, hooray for Eric Kriss,** Secretary of Administration & Finance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for putting some teeth in the Commonwealth’s requirement for open document standards.

The interesting thing about this is that it’s considered at all newsworthy. Most of my readers should be familiar with the basic client/vendor dynamic. Fundamentally, Massachusetts is a client which needs a vendor to provide a service (in this case, creating, maintaining, and distributing documents). It’s a client’s perogative to set any requirements potential vendors must meet in order to qualify. It’s pretty typical for those requirements to include adherence to applicable published standards. But guess who still has the hubris to think the rules don’t apply to them? Anyone? Beuhler?

If you’re geeky enough to keep reading, I’d like to point out a couple things:

  • Massachusetts is not asking for the moon. Microsoft wouldn’t be required to change their proprietary format, just to support exporting to the specified XML format. The Microsoft Office applications still ship with export converters to numerous other formats, and there should be nothing technically hard about writing one for a well-defined standard like XML.
  • Here’s Alan Yates, the Beast of Redmond’s general manager of “Information Worker Business Strategy” as quoted in Information Week: “This proposal acknowledges that Open Document does not address pictures, audio, video, charts, maps, voice, voice-over-IP, and other kinds of data our customers are increasingly putting in documents and archiving.”

    That’s a pledge of allegiance to bloat — to over-complicated, bug-plagued applications that attempt to be everything to everyone, and hamper everyone as a result. If Microsoft were really listening to what customers want, I suspect they might hear something quite different.

    But it’s still suspiciously specious, because it ought to be easy to do what the export converters have always done — ignore everything that can’t be rendered in the target export format. Which makes me wonder if the real problem might not be that supporting any open format at all intrinsically undermines the “Trusted Computing” content control techniques which have been creeping into the Office suite and Microsoft’s operating systems, and which are only likely to get more intrusive and restrictive with the introduction of Longhorn/Vista and Office 12.

  • The mere fact that Microsoft thinks it can push a state of the union around dramatizes the severity of this country’s “all eggs/one basket” problem. Federal over-reliance on Microsoft products presents a clear and present danger to national security. (Just as commercial over-reliance on Microsoft poses an imminent threat to the nation’s economic health.) I only hope someone at the Dept. of Homeland Security wises up to the risks and acts to mitigate them before I’m proven right. Personally, I still think Code Red/Nimda already supplied sufficient proof. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think much more damaging attacks are eminently feasible.

** Based on his name, I’m afraid I have a tendency to imagine this man taking part in the next Kiss reunion tour.

4 comments on “i [heart] massachusetts”

  1. Ezra
    1. the title of your post makes me think of the wonderful, wonderful “I ? Unicode” t-shirts.
    2. have you read Dan “VisiCalc” Bricklin’s excellent essay, “Software that lasts 200 years“? It was inspired by talking to the folks in the Mass government responsible for this.
    3. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the Governor’s plan to bring 2,500 evacuees to Camp Edwards. But I think I’d make a qualified submission for it as another item in your “I [heart] Massachusetts” roundup.
  2. summervillain
    1. Hee.
    2. I’d actually only read excerpts until now. I was also very impressed by the follow-up, Learning From Accidents and a Terrorist Attack, in which he discusses Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents and the 9/11 Commission Report from a systematic analysis perspective. He makes a lot of recommendations that could have been valuable if they’d been implemented before Katrina.
    3. Good point, thanks.
    4. If you care to use list styles in comments, it should work now.
  3. Ezra

    >If you care to use list styles in comments, it should work now.
    ooh, markup. sassy.

    I just tried to do a numbered list the old-fashioned way (with actual numbers, close-parens, and returns). Did it cause WP confusion?

  4. summervillain

    Did it cause WP confusion?

    Not a bit, but it also didn’t wrap neatly with hanging indents. And when I tried to use list styles in my reply, I discovered why WP doesn’t include list markup in the default list of tags permitted in content. Not coz evildoers can perpetrate maliciousness with lists, but coz it breaks the stylesheet. Acourse ever’ change I make just makes it harder for me to eventually upgrade.

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