Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday liberty blogging - Time for European Civil Society

By reading the news these days, I can't stop asking myself "Why don't they discuss those questions at a more European level?"

Problems of unemployment could be discussed better at a bigger scale. Problems of milk price should be discussed on multiple countries that produce milk. Problems of European universities versus giant universities from China or the US should be discussed among a council of university managers...

Indeed, Europe has working institutions, working agencies, awfully efficient lobbies, working-so-far agricultural policies... but we don't have a working civil society.

You could count famous European-wide NGOs, labour unions, newspapers, political forums... on the fingers of one hand! Few exist and most are unknown to Europeans.

OK, there are some problems to solve: languages, different definitions of words (like the English "liberal" very different from the French "libéral")... but I think those problems can be solved. I think the real problem is the hidden agenda of people with national interests and no transnational interests.

For this reason, I think it would be wise to encourage initiatives like "transnational regions", administrative regions that spread on two or more countries, for instance a region that includes parts of France and Spain, across the Pyrénées. The possibility to have a quantity of political power on transnational scale will help a new civil society emerge.

It's time for a European Civil Society!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Javascript and PDF

Have a look at Google's answer when both "PDF" and "Javascript" are in the search box. When I did, I got 4 results out of 10 concerned with security faults.
So, here is my initial question: Why should Javascript be put inside PDF files?
Answer: it's in the ISO norm defining PDF 1.7, with no precise details, but at least references to more detailed documents.

It's long known to web developers that Javascript is a nest for problems, especially when it's not correctly documented. Yet Adobe looks to develop forward the possibilities of its software, its file formats and that's normal. However I would wish they did it differently. First, that they did not melt innovations under a unique "PDF" name, which refers to a format that users choose primarily because it's supposed to be portable, simple and solid like rock. Then, that they did not activate Javascript by default. Few users really require it and even they recommend to deactivate it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Can new MS Office format replace correctly old MS Office format?

A few friends of mine are concerned that the new MS Office format OOXML (discutably standardized as ISO/IEC 29500) might not replace correctly the previous one. Should they change their organizations' practices to the new OOXML or stay put with the old .doc, .xls, .ppt and so forth?

One assumption was that Microsoft would write the file format to allow for a correct representation of all the previous content. This was in their interest because they then could say to their customers that the transition would be seamless.

However they were criticized for including say "direct representation of old formats" rather than "complete representation" of the same data. Or more simply, they made OOXML represent the mechanisms of the old .doc and .xls, rather than provide something to represent the same information in a unique, coherent new architecture. This means that the OOXML format inherits a lot of the complexity and some bugz and patchz of the previous formats. But it's not my point today.

My point is that when doing this, they forgot things (due to the high complexity of the previous formats I suppose), which made a subcomitee of the ISO say that it is "impossible to fully represent some of the corpus of existing documents in [OOXML] ISO/IEC 29500". So to the questions of my friends about switching to OOXML, my answer is: wait and see.

If there is one thing I am sure about, it's that we have a lot to see from MS competitors: IBM has its own branch of office suite linked to, Oracle has just bought Sun's and Google will not let go of online edition.

If there is one thing I am convinced about, it's that OOXML is not a mandatory shift so far.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A rant against podcasts

I'm fed up with the news articles that give you content in the form of podcasts*. I want text back.
* equals "recorded voice", for simple

Here is why:
  1. The only advantage I get over text is the voice of the reader or the interviewed guy. It's not an advantage at all.
  2. Text underlines what's most important. Voice gives me all, interesting and uninteresting. It's the sign of a lazy news reporter.
  3. With text, I can rewind or go fast forward in a blink, without even a mouse click. I can read the same sentence three times if I don't get its meaning easily.
  4. When I get a text, many paragraphs appear on my screen at once, so I can just take a two-seconds-look and tell whether the article is about a matter of my interest or not. With a podcast, I have to listen to it during thirty seconds or more to be sure.
  5. If I am looking for a precise subject, I can press Ctrl+F and look for a word in a text. The same is not possible in a podcast. In most cases, I can search the content of the text directly from my search engine. The podcast is not integrated with search engines.
  6. I am a fast reader, I can read and understand a text three times faster than a good speaker speaks it. (And if he spoke it so fast, I would probably not understand him...)
  7. When I read news, I have ten tabs open at the same time, a RSS reader, a few PDFs loading... Podcasts are using my bandwidth for something that could be done in a few hundred bytes! I call it abusing my bandwidth.
I hope the fashion of reporting news in podcasts will decrease with time. Who knows?