SC34 Tastes Danger in Japan

Alex Brown, the chap who has the unenviable task of convening the forthcoming BRM in February for Microsoft/ECMA’s OOXML document specification, has posted a few first snippets from the initial meeting of the body called the ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC34 – Document Description and Processing Languages. This is the ISO body that must try and either create a workable standard from ECMA-376 (DIS29500) or throw it out.

In his most recent blog post, covering the opening meetings in Kyoto Japan of the SC34, there are some interesting titbits. I was struck by the list of individuals resigning their posts or stepping down. It’s quite a few people. I don’t know if it is common to lose so many in one go, or how many they represent as a percentage of the total. But still, I found it odd that 4 senior figures all decided to go at the same time. The last one he mentioned is the now famous 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.

So, Martin’s report was not intended to be public. I’m very glad it was. It has basically given credence to what many of us have been saying since this whole farce began; Microsoft has corrupted this ISO process to such an extent that many believe it is now fundamentally broken.

The other point of great interest for me was this:

… 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.

Wow, that’s really interesting! The NB’s comments are supposed to be confidential, but before Microsoft’s attempt to brute-force this particular specification through ISO, come-what-may, it has never been an issue… I wonder why? Anyhow, you can read all the NB’s comments and perhaps help the SC34 by tagging the comments so they may concentrate on the areas of real controversy at: http://www.dis29500.org

And finally, Alex clearly has a sense of humour…

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 is does have its own special frisson …

Let’s hope that the Fugu was as well prepared as the SC34 needs to be next February.

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