SC 34 Meetings, Kyoto 
2007-12-09, 14:13

at Ginkaku-ji Temple

Opening Plenary

Passed with little controversy, though in what I sensed was a somewhat tense and expectant atmosphere. The meeting was well attended, both by (what might be called) the old guard, and by many new members who no doubt represent a wide spectrum of thinking on SC 34’s subject areas. There was no substantive discussion either of Ecma’s proposed maintenance agreement for OOXML (should it become a standard), or of the UK’s proposal to create a new working group for Office document formats. These will most likely be formally addressed in the next SC 34 meeting which will take place in Oslo in April 2008.

Changing of the Guard

The most notable business of the plenary was the appointment of a number of new SC 34 officers.

Our long time chairman, Jim Mason (who unfortunately is not able to attend this meeting) is stepping down from his position. Jim has been chairman for all my time in SC 34 and has proved sage and effective at every turn. The respectful affection in which he is held is best illustrated by the appreciation which SC34 produced to mark the occasion of his 20th year as convenor.

Ken Holman and Jim Mason

Our outgoing Secretariat Manager, Ken Holman, has also been in his role since I first attended SC 34 meetings. Ken has always been a cheerful and able presence, and his XSLT (and more) scripts have produced a fantastic near-real-time view of SC 34’s business – achieving the nearly impossible in taming the mighty bureaucracy of the ISO/IEC process – but then Ken is an acknowledged guru in this area and his XML technologies training is generally considered to be the best in the world. We all look forward to Ken “rejoining the ranks” to work on our ongoing standards production.

Steve Pepper, long-term convenor of WG3, is also stepping aside. While I have not been involved in WG3’s work I (in common with practically everybody in the XML and semantic web space) have been aware of Steve's substantial achievement in developing and evangelising Topic Maps. As was noted in the meeting, his Tao of Topic Maps is the classic introductory text on the subject.

Martin Bryan

Finally, my own working group convenor Martin Bryan is stepping down in anticipation of his retirement next year. Martin has been something of a mentor to me, guiding me along some of the more Byzantine passages of the ISO/IEC process. At the plenary Martin spoke to his paper which has been the subject of some comment in the blogosphere (and which was never intended for public circulation). You could have heard a pin drop as Martin described how in 20 years of ISO involvement he had always enjoyed working with people who, although they might disagree violently, came to meetings as themselves. It would be a great shame, he said, if we got to a state where people came to meetings not as individuals with ideas, but as corporate representatives with positions.

BRM Looms

Meanwhile, the DIS 29500 Ballot Resolution Meeting nears. It appears the meeting is oversubscribed, and so delegations will need to be pruned. I have been beginning to discuss, and take soundings on, the best way to run the meeting itself. Because of the large number of comments and the limited time in which to discuss them, it looks as if a sensible way to proceed will be to batch comments together in related groups and to try and move quickly through uncontentious areas (for example questions of minor textual tweaks, or where Ecma may have simply accepted and straightforwardly implemented a comment). This would leave time for the meeting to deliberate in more depth on the more controversial areas.

Ecma TC45 were meeting in Kyoto in the four days preceding the SC 34 meetings to work on the DIS 29500 responses, and a number of SC 34 delegates attended (I myself did not, for fearing of tainting my neutrality). The feedback I have heard, from those whom I would normally count as OOXML skeptics, was that they were favourably impressed with Ecma’s diligence. As one put it, “I don’t care what their motivation is, what I care about is they take account of our comments and respond properly to them”. That is precisely the kind of politics-free, technically focused view which I hope will characterise the onward process ...

Ecma Secrecy

There seems to have been something of a kerfuffle about the secrecy in which Ecma has supposedly shrouded the standards process. However, the instruction to keep the current to-and-fro between Ecma and NBs confidential came directly from ISO/IEC itself at the October JTC 1 meeting in Brisbane, and is not Ecma’s initiative. It is not Ecma’s responses themselves which are sensitive, but the National Body comments to which they are attached. These are, by ISO/IEC rules, confidential and should not be republished in public. Now, as a matter of fact these comments were published in public for several weeks anyway, but this was an aberration (the current SC 34 web site is not password protected; before the current controversies privacy through obscurity was enough to keep documents confidential). Ecma simply have to follow the rules. And they should have applied to ballot comments on ODF too.

Dicing with Death

Following the opening plenary, JISC very generously treated officers of SC 34 to a delicious banquet, and one of the many course was – somewhat to my surprise – fugu. After some initial reservations (“this restaurant isn’t owned by Microsoft or IBM, is it?’) we tucked in. I must agree with the view that the taste of fugu is itself unremarkable, and I was not aware of an toxin-induced tingling sensation, but eating it does have its own special frisson …

SC 34 Officers' Dinner
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