Christopher Moore’s “Lamb”

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Jan 282005

The bookclub picked Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal as our December book – the timing being roughly appropriate. The book is a fanciful novel, depicting Christ’s life in a somewhat preposterous but enjoyable way. It spends most of its time in the 30 years between Christ’s birth and the beginning of his ministry, and has extravagant stories told in a light-hearted way, as would befit someone who was a normal human trying to cope with being Christ’s friend.

Most of the bookclub members enjoyed the book, but there was a definite correlation between knowledge of the Gospels and the level of enjoyment. Those who knew how the Gospel authors had depicted any given event found the occasionally almost farcical alternative version funny, whereas the others didn’t quite get it in several cases. We spent some time at bookclub comparing the versions of stories, discussing the real role of Mary Magdalene and the fact that she wasn’t a harlot (despite what the Catholic Church and various translations of the Bible claimed), touching on the “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” and “da Vinci Code” versions of Christ’s relationship with Mary Magdalene, and postulating why Leviticus has so many laws about behaviour with animals.

Christopher Moore was worried about the church reaction to the book, but it was, I gather, almost exclusively positive. The book does depict Christ (Joshua) in a positive way; Joshua is very human as well as being divine. He gets angry at God, cares about his friends, is slightly naive and very curious. The descriptions of his behaviour differ from those in the Gospels by including more of the emotion, which makes Joshua more likeable and more approachable. The book won’t make anyone become a Christian, but it won’t turn them off, either.

Corporate Blogs and Wikis

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Jan 262005

I’m writing an article for the March issue of the Gilbane Report on some of the uses of blogs and wikis in the corporate world. The Gilbane report appears monthly and concentrates on enterprise content management and related issues at a management level. It used to carry a fairly hefty subscription charge; since January 2005 the articles are now all available free of charge. I wrote an article for the Gilbane Report back in October 2002; the curious may wish to look at The Role of XML in Content Management.

As part of my research for this article, I’d like to hear from anyone who can tell me more about what blogs and wikis really are be used for in the corporate world. I have enough information about PR aspects or, more generally, outward-facing aspects of using blogs, but not enough real information about real companies using blogs or wikis internally. I asked about Using Blogs for Project Management and got lots of “nice idea but we couldn’t quite get it to work” emails. I can think of lots of uses for blogs but what I’d like to be able to highlight are things that people in companies are actually finding useful, rather than nice ideas that might work. Ditto for wikis – they seem to have lots of potential but is anyone realising that potential?

If you are using blogs and/or wikis in the corporate world (apart from for PR; I have lots of people to talk to about that), please let me know. You can send an email, or use the comment form on this site.

Note: when I write an article of this form, I combine things that people are saying into my own interpretation. If I quote someone directly, they will be named with the quote. All sources are listed in the acknowledgements. Once the article is published, I’ll email all sources with the link to the article, and I’ll blog it as well.

Stanislaw Lem’s “Solaris”

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Jan 192005

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is science fiction more in keeping with “2001: A Space Odyssey” than with most other types of science fiction. It’s more concerned with exploring boundaries of thought and imagination than with placing humans in contact with aliens who speak an understandable language and act with understandable motives. The alien body here is an entire planet which throughout the book acts with motives the humans can only guess at.

The cover of the book (which comes from the 2002 movie of the same name) would lead one to assume the book is a romance, which would be false. There is a little of the romantic in it, especially towards the end, but it’s not a “love in the universe” book.

The bookclub had mixed feelings about “Solaris”, at least in part because the book is unevenly written. The pages upon pages of description of planetary formations could probably have been edited down substantially (and in fact, even those who enjoyed the book skipped over most of the geographical descriptions), while much of the rest of the book leaves you wondering due to lack of detail (which I assume was deliberate). To make the most of “Solaris” you have to be prepared to concentrate, so it’s not really suitable for airplane fodder (unless you have good headphones to block out the noise).

“Solaris” is about the unknown, and just how limited human imagination is in understanding truly alien species. One member of the bookclub related that to how hard it is to truly know another person, and there’s quite a lot of that in the book as well; the “hero” doesn’t know what is happening to the other humans on the space station and they have no intention of telling him. The secrecy is intense and adds to the atmosphere of lack of understanding and lack of the capability to understand what is happening. Theories abound as to the nature of the alien lifeform, but none quite seem to fit. If you’re feeling in a philosophical mood, or looking for a springboard to think about what it means to be human or even alive, you could do worse than read “Solaris”.

Science fiction written some time ago always runs into some problems where the described future and the real present collide. The sections where the hero is reading reference books (yes, real bound books) on the space station, and complains about how they didn’t have room for all the important books, is noticeable to today’s reader with experience of effectively infinite electronic storage space. And to me the complete lack of women as explorers in the given history of the planet Solaris, and the equally complete lack of women scientists or researchers, dates the book even more. One of the bookclub members commented that these two factors together prove the author’s point, that many things are unimaginable. Even if they become commonplace 30 years later.

XML Conference OAQ

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Jan 102005

This is not going to be a XML 2004 Conference wrap-up, for several reasons. Mostly because other people have written about the conference and the sessions they went to, partly because I didn’t manage to make it to very many sessions myself, and partly because it’s really far too late. The lead-up to the conference is always very intense, the week itself is even more so, and it takes some time before I can collect my thoughts sufficiently to write a posting. I have a few ideas stacked up; this one made it to the top first.

A few people asked me questions about the conference so I figured I may as well answer them here, for posterity, or for general interest. Hence the OAQ. Frequently Asked Questions are answered on the conference web site; Occasionally Asked Questions can be answered on the chair’s blog. By the way, the answers may or may not apply to the XML Conference in any year that I wasn’t or won’t be chair, i.e., any past or future chair may have different ideas on how things should work.

Do you sell keynote slots?
Some conferences do sell keynote slots (usually by guaranteeing a keynote slot to any company that sponsors the conference) but the XML Conference (at least while I’m chairing) doesn’t. Companies that do get keynotes sometimes decide to sponsor the conference, but that’s their decision.
So how do you pick keynote speakers?
There are two categories of keynote speakers – interesting people, preferably with a new or fresh perspective, and people who represent companies where the Planning Committee thinks that conference attendees will be interested in the vision that company has for some part of the XML industry. Sometimes we’re lucky and a speaker falls into both categories!
What guaranteed speaking slots do sponsor companies get?
Sponsor companies up until XML 2004 were guaranteed a product presentation slot where they could talk about their products. For all other talks, they need to go through the same procedure as everybody else and be judged on the quality of the abstract, how well it fits into the program, and how good the speaker is.
“up until XML 2004”? What does that mean?
There’s always the possibility that so many companies will offer to sponsor in any given year that guaranteeing a product presentation slot will no longer be possible. I still have no intention of guaranteeing any company, whether sponsor or not, a speaking slot that isn’t a product presentation slot. Everyone has to earn their slot!
What is a product presentation slot anyway?
A product presentation slot is a 45-minute talk that is freed from the constraint of not talking about products that all other talks need to follow. The idea is that often people really do want to know about products and features in a presentation setting, where someone has time to go through important features. Product presentations are selected differently to other talks; exhibitors on the show floor have preference, talks that showcase products from more than one vendor working together have preference, and products that are based on standards have preference. The product talks are in a special track, so attendees know what they’ll be getting.
Some people do show products in the other talks, what’s with that?
Technical work is often best illustrated by showing a demo. As long as the demo concentrates on the technical aspects of what’s being talked about, and not about whatever cool features the product has, it still qualifies as a non-product talk. This is a fine line that some people manage well and others don’t, which is why session chairs are prepared to stop any talk that goes too far into product demonstration territory when it isn’t meant to.
I’ve noticed lots of product tutorials though – what about those?
The Planning Committee discussed this one quite a lot. We decided that there is room for tutorials on how to use products as long as the products are reasonably popular, and the tutorial is clearly labelled as being about product X from Company Y. This ensures that potential attendees know what they are paying for. If they don’t want a product tutorial, they don’t go to it.
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