Maintenance Uptime

Well, that was easy. Both Movable Type and RSS imports in WordPress are apparently idiot-proof. A good chunk of old posts are in here now.

What’s missing is a period from 2003-2005 that I would like to get in here. My historical stuff from that period is in Drupal exported XML (I’d point you to a schema if there were one) and I’ll probably need to write a stylesheet and transform it into RSS, unless someone knows of a Drupal-export-to-WordPress-import that is better and doesn’t involve the gnarly custom queries that most Googlable pages on this topic recommend.

Anyway, Drupal to WordPress war stories welcome, but otherwise I’ll have the rest in here soon.

Holidays and Software Development

Software testing and release time, like a cultural holiday, brings its own traditions and, even if software development is your full-time job, takes you into a state that’s outside of your daily existence. I’m back in school this year, of course, but last year and the year before that I was doing fairly (emotionally, if not cognitively) stressful development around Christmas, and it’s interesting how Christmas season and debugging season can seamlessly mesh into one another, creating an ascetic state of heightened stress that is both frazzled and strangely fuzzy. After about one-half to one week of hammering anxiety and sleeplessness, your nerves become mercifully burnt; you achieve both Zen mind and an odd delirium. Once you experience it, you kind of understand why geek humor tends to be so weird.

The frazzled nerves tend to come more from the ambient business stress than problems in the code. Even the smoothest of releases is a tense thing, with lots of business interests at stake, while debugging these days, at least for Web applications, is often pretty easy. It’s not like the old days — at least, it’s not like the mythology of the old days that I hear about all the time, where you apparently had to decode binary regurgitation on punch cards or something like that. Most development environments and application servers nowadays give you rich and meticulous stack traces that point you exactly where you need to fix the problem.

This is not to say that debugging is never hard work — there are always the invisible goblins, the bugs that mess it all up while expertly hiding themselves from your view. These usually pop up when the system is smoothly executing what you’ve told it to do — it’s just not what you intended to tell it to do.

Then there’s just the crap that happens when your application server, or your Web server, or your third-party libraries are doing things they are not supposed to be doing, and the documentation doesn’t say anything about the error. When I hit those I just have to read this comic over and over until the anxiety goes away.

Teaching Composition with XML

I’m thinking about ways to use XML metaphorically to teach rhetorical or linguistic concepts. The rough idea goes a little something like this:

XML can be described as a semiotic system in the structuralist sense, with an arbitrary relationship between signifier (element tag) and signified (element content). The arbitrariness of it all puts successful communication at risk, hence schemas (or, if you are old school, DTDs), which establish grammars and vocabularies used to govern communication (data exchange). XSLT, depending on its use, can enact either translation (a transform from one document structure — valid or invalid — to a new one validated against a pertinent shared schema) or rhetorical craft (a transform from one valid structure to another for the sake of presentation).

Please note that I haven’t figured out if attributes work in this little setup.