General / Language / XML · 2005-01-03

How long is a string?

M. David Peterson kindly welcomes me into the blogosphere and notes many meanings that could be behind “Pushing String” — in particular, one based on drug culture (“Hey man, I’ve got some primo uncut string here, wanna buy some?”). This wasn’t the primary meaning I had in mind! However, it’s got some appeal. (Have you noticed that “pusher” still gets used a bit, but “narc” has disappeared as a locution?)

I did intend for there to be a faint whiff of “pushing” since blogging requires a certain confidence (arrogance?) — I’m perpetrating prose. And, of course, people who read it by means of an RSS feed are using a push model to get this particular string.

The name also taps into the idea that we XMLers had to fight the bias towards fixed-length fields; variable-length “strings” in XML were inconvenient for the database crowd. This is why I thought Lauren’s XML 2004 artwork was so cool — she made mirrored “artwork” tags and they could be moved around to accommodate any length of display.

This is getting pretty far afield, but a concern often paired with the fixed-length one in the old days was the perception that XML was anti-object-oriented, because it was data-revealing rather than data-hiding. Would this be “pushing” XML content down the metaphorical throat of an application? Pushing a string on the stack whether it wants it or not?

(As an aside, I collect pairs of phrases that differ in one seemingly harmless way but have opposite or wildly different meanings. I guess pushing string / pushing a string is one of them. Another is out of the box / outside the box.)

And finally, for me, writing is in fact like pushing string, whereas editing is the activity I naturally gravitate towards. Hey, it’s more fun to improve someone else’s stuff than come up with new material on my own! So this entire venture is an experiment in applying enough discipline to come up with content. I’m trying to follow Ann Althouse’s advice to novice bloggers to “Be concise and write a lot.” I guess I have work to do on that first bit, but I’m hoping the second will cause me to “push string” on a relatively frequent basis.

UPDATE: Thanks, Norm! Uh, I’m not sure I should really take credit for that much richness/sophistication in DocBook, though I’m happy to be fingered as responsible for the removal of the old “onion”-style parameter entities and moving towards “building blocks”… I suppose I’ll have to post about that topic at some point.

UPDATE on 9 Feb 2005: Corrected my apparent dyslexia around fixed- vs. variable-length fields.