Recycled Nursery Rhymes and Songs for Secular Babies

Here are a few things I sing to Dorian (who is now six months old) along with more conventional fare like "Guten Abend, gute' Nacht" (the Brahms Lullaby), "You Are My Sunshine", and "Veni, veni Emmanuel":

Air: Three Blind Mice
Dor-i-an, Dor-i-an
See who I am, see who I am,
I am the Drool- and the Burpinator,
I am the Fart- and the Poopinator,
I am the Squeal- and the Howlinator,
I'll be baaaack, I'll be baaaack.

Air: Puttin' on the Ritz
Who's that baby, what is he doin'
He's my grandson, he is a-chewin'
Dor-i-an . . . Chewin' on his bib.

Who's that baby, where is he goin'
I don't know and there is no knowin'
Dor-i-an . . . Chewin' on his bib.

Air: Jesus Loves Me
Grandpa loves me, this I know,
'Cause his caring tells me so,
Little me with him belongs,
Till I'm bold and brave and strong.

Yes, Grandpa loves me (3x)
His caring tells me so.

(This gets changed to Grandma or Mommy or even Grownups on occasion.)

Air: Deck the Halls
Fast away the bottle's draining,
  Do-do-do-do-do, do-do-ri-an.
On the bib the drips are raining,
  Do-do-do-do-do, do-do-ri-an.
Soon the back we will be pounding,
  Do-do-do, do-do-do, Do-ri-an.
And the burps will be resounding,
  Do-do-do-do-do, do-do-ri-an.

Air: Tell Me Why
Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me why the sky's so blue,
Tell me, oh tell me, just why I love you.

Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
Tropism makes the ivy twine,
Scattering makes the sky so blue,
Gonadal hormones are why I love you.

(This is the only one I didn't make up myself.)


Converting Restricted XML to Good-Quality JSON

Here's some ideas for converting restricted forms of XML to good-quality JSON. The restrictions are as follows:
  • The XML can't contain mixed content (elements with both children/attributes and text).
  • The XML cannot depend on the order of child elements with distinct names (order dependence in children with the same name is okay).
  • There can't be any attributes with the same name as child elements.
  • There can't be any elements or attributes that differ only in their namespace names.
You also need to know the following things for each child element:
  • Whether it MUST appear at most once (a singleton element) or MAY appear more than once (a multiplex element).
  • Whether it only contains text (an element with simple type) or child elements and/or attributes (an element with complex-type).
Now, to convert the XML to JSON, apply these rules recursively:
  • A singleton element of simple type, and likewise an attribute, is converted to a JSON simple value: a number or boolean if syntactically possible, otherwise a string.
  • A multiplex object of simple type is converted to a JSON array of simple values.
  • A singleton element of complex type is converted to a JSON object that maps the local names of child elements and attributes to their content. Namespace names are discarded.
  • A multiplex element of complex type is mapped to a JSON array of JSON objects that map the local names of child elements and attributes to their content. Namespace names are discarded.
Comments are very welcome.


I before E except after C

Here's a better version of the little poem. I don't know who wrote it; I touched it up a bit for better rhythm:

When IE and EI both say EE,
Who can tell which it should be?
After C, use E then I;
Otherwise IE will apply.
Some exceptions we may note
Which one needs to learn by rote:
Protein, caffeine, weird, and seize,
And in the U.S., leisure, please.


Dorian Sion Cowan

My grandson Dorian was born at 9:08 PM yesterday, June 17, 2008 (New York time). He weighed 9 lb 0.9 oz (4110 g) at birth, and was 22 inches (56 cm) long. And he is the Best Baby In The World.

(Well, when I say that, I make a mental reservation in favor of Irene, Dorian's mommy, who is now almost 21 but was certainly the Best Baby in her day.)

Baby and mother are doing wonderfully well -- Dorian is starting to breastfeed very nicely, and already knows a great many Proto-Indo-European roots. Irene's Caesarean incision is still very sore, and the IV is in her hand, not her arm, which makes handling him a little awkward for her. Her best friends have been hovering around the two of them, and so have Gale and I as far as we have been able. They will be coming home Friday morning.

Anyhow, I sang him a lullaby the night he was born, not that he needed it -- he was pretty well drifting off anyhow. But even though my voice was cracking, I needed to sing it to him. It's by Fred Small, and is called "Everything Possible". This is the slightly altered version of the chorus that Dorian actually got:

You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads,
And know I will love you still.
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around,
Or find one special one,
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Is the love you leave behind you when you're gone.

And this is the second song he heard from me, this morning when I stopped by to see him:

Rockabye Dorian, on the tree-top
When you are fed, your poop will go plop
When you have plopped, your diaper we'll change
And then you'll be cleaned up and happy again.

Okay, it doesn't quite rhyme, but it's his.

Dorian, if you are reading this, you already know your grandfather is a crazy old man who embarrasses the hell out of people. You'll live this one down too.


Essentialist Explanations, 14th edition

As always, posted here. We are getting close to 1000 entries -- keep them coming in!



The following was said of David Ricardo by Maria Edgeworth:

I never argued or discussed a question with any person who argues more fairly, or less for victory and more for truth. He gives full weight to every argument brought against him, and seems not to be on any side of the question for one instant longer than the conviction of his mind is on that side. It seems quite indifferent to him whether you find the truth or whether he finds it, provided it be found.

Or more concisely: He wanted to be right, whether or not he had been right.

Ricardo died at fifty-one. I myself am almost fifty, and if I were to die next year, I hope as much could truthfully be said of me.


On the word "bumblebee"

The story of the word bumblebee is curious, but (contra Mr. Burns of the Simpsons) certainly doesn't lead back to a form like bumbled bee, in the way that ice cream leads back to iced cream, or the American form skim milk descends from the form skimmed milk still current elsewhere. The bee part is transparent, and there is a Middle English verb bomb(e)len, meaning to make a humming sound, presumably of imitative origin. So there you are.

However, it's clear that the older form was humble-bee, where hum(b)le is an intensive of hum, which is also presumably of imitative origin. Whether bumblebee is a new coinage based on bombelen, or whether it is an alteration of humble-bee by dissimilation, or a mixture of both, it's impossible to say.

But when we look in Pokorny's etymological dictionary of Indo-European for hum, we see it under the root kem²-, as expected by Grimm's Law, and with Lithuanian reflexes in k- and Slavic ones in ch- that also refer to humming noises and bees. That certainly does not sound imitative to me -- the sharp sound of [k] is nothing like a bee hum, which has no beginning and no end. So in the end the obvious imitative nature of bumblebee leads to a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

And there remains at least one dangling oddity: Pokorny also lists an Old Persian -- at least I think that's what "Ai." means -- reflex meaning "yak". Yaks grunt (as the Linnaean name Bos grunniens indicates), they don't hum, and what is Old Persian doing with an inherited word for "yak" anyhow? English, like most modern languages, has borrowed its word from Tibetan.


Elements or attributes?

Here's my contribution to the "elements vs. attributes" debate:

General points:

  1. Attributes are more restrictive than elements, and all designs have some elements, so an all-element design is simplest -- which is not the same as best.

  2. In a tree-style data model, elements are typically represented internally as nodes, which use more memory than the strings used to represent attributes. Sometimes the nodes are of different application-specific classes, which in many languages also takes up memory to represent the classes.

  3. When streaming, elements are processed one at a time (possibly even piece by piece, depending on the XML parser you are using), whereas all the attributes of an element and their values are reported at once, which costs memory, particularly if some attribute values are very long.

  4. Both element content and attribute values need to be escaped, so escaping should not be a consideration in the design.

  5. In some programming languages and libraries, processing elements is easier; in others, processing attributes is easier. Beware of using ease of processing as a criterion. In particular, XSLT can handle either with equal facility.

  6. If a piece of data should usually be shown to the user, use an element; if not, use an attribute. (This rule is often violated for one reason or another.)

  7. If you are extending an existing schema, do things by analogy to how things are done in that schema.

  8. Sensible schema languages, meaning RELAX NG, treat elements and attributes symmetrically. Older and cruder schema languages tend to have better support for elements.

Using elements:

  1. If something might appear more than once in a data model, use an element rather than introducing attributes with names like part1, part2, part3 ....

  2. If order matters between two pieces of data, use elements for them: attributes are inherently unordered.

  3. If a piece of data has, or might have, its own substructure, use it in an element: getting substructure into an attribute is always messy. Similarly, if the data is a constituent part of some larger piece of data, put it in an element.

  4. An exception to the previous rule: multiple whitespace-separated tokens can safely be put in an attribute. In principle, the separator can be anything, but schema-language validators are currently only able to handle whitespace, so it's best to stick with that.

  5. If a piece of data extends across multiple lines, use an element: XML parsers will change newlines in attribute values into spaces.

  6. If a piece of data is in a natural language, put it in an element so you can use the xml:lang attribute to label the language being used. Some kinds of natural-language text, like Japanese, also require annotations that are conventionally represented using child elements; right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic may similarly require child elements to manage bidirectionality properly.

Using attributes:

  1. If the data is a code from an enumeration, code list, or controlled vocabulary, put it in an attribute if possible. For example, language tags, currency codes, medical diagnostic codes, etc. are best handled as attributes.

  2. If a piece of data is really metadata on some other piece of data (for example, representing a class or role that the main data serves, or specifying a method of processing it), put it in an attribute if possible.

  3. In particular, if a piece of data is an ID (either a label or a reference to a label elsewhere in the document) for some other piece of data, put the identifying piece in an attribute. When it's a label, use the name xml:id for the attribute.

  4. Hypertext references (hrefs) are conventionally put in attributes.

  5. If a piece of data is applicable to an element and any descendant elements unless it is overridden in some of them, it is conventional to put it in an attribute. Well-known examples are xml:lang, xml:space, xml:base, and namespace declarations.

  6. If terseness is really the most important thing, use attributes, but consider gzip compression instead -- it works very well on documents with highly repetitive structures.

Michael Kay says:

Beginners always ask this question.
Those with a little experience express their opinions passionately.
Experts tell you there is no right answer.

I say:

Newbies always ask:
     "Elements or attributes?
Which will serve me best?"
     Those who know roar like lions;
     Wise hackers smile like tigers.
          --a tanka, or extended haiku

Final words:

Break any or all of these rules rather than create a crude, arbitrary, disgusting mess of a design if that's what following them slavishly would give you. In particular, random mixtures of attributes and child elements are hard to follow and hard to use, though it often makes good sense to use both when the data clearly fall into two different groups such as simple/complex or metadata/data.


Which characters are excluded in XML 5th Edition names?

The list of allowed name characters in the XML 1.0 Fifth Edition looks pretty miscellaneous. The clue to what's really going on is that unlike the rule of earlier XML 1.0 versions, where everything not permitted was forbidden, now everything that is not forbidden is permitted. (I emphasize that this is only about name characters: every character is and always has been permitted in running text and attribute values except the ASCII controls.)

So what's forbidden, and why?

  • The ASCII control characters and their 8-bit counterparts. Obviously.
  • The ASCII and Latin-1 symbolic characters, with the exceptions of hyphen, period, colon, underscore, and middle dot, which have always been permitted in XML names. These characters are commonly used as syntax delimiters either in XML itself or in other languages, and so are excluded.
  • The Greek question mark, which looks like a semicolon and is canonically equivalent to a regular semicolon.
  • The General Punctuation block of Unicode, with the exceptions of the zero-width joiner, zero-width non-joiner, undertie, and character-tie characters, which are required in certain languages to spell words correctly. Various kinds of blank spaces and assorted punctuation don't make sense in names.
  • The various Unicode symbols blocks reserved for "pattern syntax", from U+2190 to U+2BFF. These characters should never appear in identifiers of any sort, as they are reserved for use as syntactic delimiters in future languages that exploit non-ASCII syntax. Many are assigned, some are not.
  • The Ideographic Description Characters block, which is used to describe (not create) uncoded Chinese characters.
  • The surrogate code units (which don't correspond to Unicode characters anyhow) and private-use characters. Using the latter, in names or otherwise, is very bad for interoperability.
  • The Plane 0 non-characters at U+FDD0 to U+FDEF, U+FFFE, and U+FFFF. The non-characters on the other planes are allowed, not because they are a good idea, but to simplify implementation.

Note that the undertie and character tie, the European digits 0-9, and the diacritics in the Combining Characters block are not permitted at the start of a name. Other characters could have sensibly been excluded, particularly combining characters that don't happen to be in the Combining Characters block, but it simplifies implementation to permit them.

This list is intentionally sparse. The new Appendix J gives a simplified set of non-binding suggestions for choosing names that are actually sensible.


Who do I work for?

Well, a company that provides an email service with about 107 users, and a calendar service with about 106 users, and a news syndicate with about 104 sources, and a video sharing facility that displays about 108 video views a day, and an image index with about 109 images. And it connects about 105 advertisers with about 105 online publishers and 103 offline ones, and provides online wallets for about 106 buyers and 105 sellers, and is localized in about 102 interface languages, and employs about 104 people, and is rated 100 in the list of best companies to work for. And it is not best known for any of these things.

Who are they?


Justice at last, part two

The Fifth Edition of XML 1.0 is now a Proposed Edited Recommendation.

So what, you say. Ho hum, you say. A bunch of errata folded in to a new edition, you say. No real change here, you say.

But no, not at all, but quite otherwise. There's a big change here, assuming this PER gets past the W3C membership vote and becomes a full W3C Recommendation. There's something happening here, and what it is is eminently clear.

Justice is coming at last to XML 1.0.

For a long time, the characters used in the markup of an XML document -- element names, attribute names, processing instruction targets, and so on -- have been limited to those that were allowed in Unicode 2.0, which was issued in July 1996. If you wanted your element names in English, or French, or Arabic, or Hindi, or Mandarin Chinese, all was good. But if you wanted them in the national languages of Sri Lanka, or Eritrea, or Cambodia, or in Cantonese Chinese, to say nothing of lots and lots of minority languages, you were simply out of luck -- forever.

Not fair, people.

I tried fixing this the right way, by pushing the XML Core WG of the W3C to issue XML 1.1. It acquired some additional cruft along the way, some good, some in hindsight bad. It was roundly booed and even more roundly ignored. In particular, at least one 800-pound gorilla voted against it at W3C and refused to implement it.

Now it's being done the wrong way. We are simply extending the set of legal name characters to almost every Unicode character, relying on document authors and schema authors not to be idiots about it. Is that an incompatible change to XML 1.0 well-formedness? Hell yes. Is any existing XML 1.0 document going to become not well-formed? Hell no. We learned our lesson on that one.

Who supports this? I won't name names, but XML parser authors and distributors from gorillas to gibbons have been consulted in advance this time, and there are no screaming objections. Some will probably provide an option to turn Fifth Edition support on, others will turn it on by default. Unlike XML 1.1 support, this is actually a simplification: the big table of legal characters in Appendix B just isn't needed any more.

"Hot diggity (or however you say that in Amharic). When can I start using this?" Not so fast. First the W3C has to vote it in -- if they don't, all bets are off. Then implementations have to spread through the XML ecosystem, including not only development but deployment. It'll take years. But it only has to be done once, for all the writing systems that aren't in Unicode yet will all Just Work when they do get implemented.

Ask not what you can do for XML, but what XML can do for you.

It's morning in the world.

(Oh yes: Send comments before 16 May 2008 to xml-editor@w3.org.)

Justice at last

There was an old man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
   But his daughter Nan
   Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

The pair of them went to Manhasset,
The man and his Nan with the asset.
   Pa followed them there
   But they left in a tear
And as for the asset, Manhasset.

He followed them next to Pawtucket,
Nan and her man and the bucket.
   Pa said to the man,
   "You can keep my sweet Nan",
But as for the bucket, Pawtucket.

(This works best if you pronounce "Pa" as "paw", assuming you make any difference between the two -- in New England, there definitely is. If your "aw" sounds like "ah", you can hear the "aw" sound the rest of us use by saying "Awwwwwwwwww!")

Here's the trio's route:
   note the doubling back
      to avoid pursuit.

View Larger Map


Taggle, a TagSoup in C++, available now

A company called JezUK has released Taggle, which is a straight port of TagSoup 1.2 to C++. It's a part of Arabica, a C++ XML toolkit providing SAX, DOM, XPath, and partial XSLT. I have no connection with JezUK (except apparently as source of inspiration).

The author says the code is alpha-quality now, so he'd appreciate lots of testers to shake out bugs. C++ users, go to it! Having a C++ port will be a real enhancement for TagSoup.

The code is currently in public Subversion: you can fetch it with svn co svn://jezuk.dnsalias.net/jezuk/arabica/branches/tagsoup-port.


Revised home page

I've rewritten my home page at http://www.ccil.org/~cowan. Some interesting old things that were on my site but had no pointers from there now have little writeups, and I've reorganized it a bit -- but it's still the ultimate minimalist home page, no pictures or graphics.


TagSoup 1.2 released at long last

There are a great many changes, most of them fixes for long-standing bugs, in this release. Only the most important are listed here; for the rest, see the CHANGES file in the source distribution. Very special thanks to Jojo Dijamco, whose intensive efforts at debugging made this release a usable upgrade rather than a useless mass of undetected bugs.

  • As noted above, I have changed the license to Apache 2.0.

  • The default content model for bogons (unknown elements) is now ANY rather than EMPTY. This is a breaking change, which I have done only because there was so much demand for it. It can be undone on the command line with the --emptybogons switch, or programmatically with parser.setFeature(Parser.emptyBogonsFeature, true).

  • The processing of entity references in attribute values has finally been fixed to do what browsers do. That is, a reference is only recognized if it is properly terminated by a semicolon; otherwise it is treated as plain text. This means that URIs like foo?cdown=32&cup=42 are no longer seen as containing an instance of the ∪ character (whose name happens to be cup).

  • Several new switches have been added:

    • --doctype-system and --doctype-public force a DOCTYPE declaration to be output and allow setting the system and public identifiers.

    • --standalone and --version allow control of the XML declaration that is output. (Note that TagSoup's XML output is always version 1.0, even if you use --version=1.1.)

    • --norootbogons causes unknown elements not to be allowed as the document root element. Instead, they are made children of the default root element (the html element for HTML).

  • The TagSoup core now supports character entities with values above U+FFFF. As a consequence, the HTML schema now supports all 2,210 standard character entities from the 2007-12-14 draft of XML Entity Definitions for Characters, except the 94 which require more than one Unicode character to represent.

  • The SAX events startPrefixMapping and endPrefixMapping are now being reported for all cases of foreign elements and attributes.
  • All bugs around newline processing on Windows should now be gone.

  • A number of content models have been loosened to allow elements to appear in new and non-standard (but commonly found) places. In particular, tables are now allowed inside paragraphs, against the letter of the W3C specification.

  • Since the span element is intended for fine control of appearance using CSS, it should never have been a restartable element. This very long-standing bug has now been fixed.

  • The following non-standard elements are now at least partly supported: bgsound, blink, canvas, comment, listing, marquee, nobr, rbc, rb, rp, rtc, rt, ruby, wbr, xmp.

  • In HTML output mode, boolean attributes like checked are now output as such, rather than in XML style as checked="checked".

  • Runs of < characters such as << and <<< are now handled correctly in text rather than being transformed into extremely bogus start-tags.

Download the TagSoup 1.2 jar file here. It's about 87K long.
Download the full TagSoup 1.2 source here. If you don't have zip, you can use jar to unpack it.
Download the current CHANGES file here.