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   Re: abstraction

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  • From: "Thomas B. Passin" <tpassin@idsonline.com>
  • To: <rev-bob@gotc.com>, <xml-dev@ic.ac.uk>
  • Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 23:48:42 -0500

From: <rev-bob@gotc.com>
Subject: re: abstraction

> Abstraction is a tool.  It's neither good nor bad in and of itself - no
more than a chainsaw
> is.  However, with any tool, its potential to be Really Good is matched by
potential to be
> Really Bad, and the more powerful it is, the greater *BOTH* of those
potentials are.
> This is what I'm talking about by "danger" in this context; if we give XML
(a really
> powerful structure) a really high level of abstraction (putting that power
in the hands of
> the masses), we will have something really powerful.  This is not
necessarily a good
> thing, and that's all I'm really trying to say.  (A nuclear bomb is really
powerful, but tell
> the people affected by one that its power is beneficial.)

Abstraction is a NECESSARY thing.  How often do you deal with sockets and
packets, for example? No, we usually want to deal with HTTP and XML and XSL
and browsers, which are big-time abstractions of their own. And then sockets
are a big abstraction.  As are objects, functions, etc. Even a GIF image is
a big abstraction, not to mention file systems.

Abstractions cause undue trouble when too many layers get piled up too
"quickly", and especially when the abstraction is not a good match for
what's being abstracted.  For myself, I build some Powerbuilder
applications.  When I create a window, I get a standard window that I can
drag controls into, with a huge amount of machinery already built in.  99%
of the time, that's exactly what I want.  It's a great abstraction, because
it's easy to get something that fits my mental model.  And it's tons easier
and more productive than using MFC, for example, or the Windows API.

But when I write HTML, I generally do it by hand - usually using Cold Fusion
Studio but often with a plain editor.  I'd rather not have to, but I haven't
found tools that match my mental models well enough so far, or I still have
to do too many of the details.  But give me a graphical color palette every
time - there's a useful abstraction.

A high level of abstraction is what makes a lot of this technology
accessible to many of us.  Even sending this email.  I'm going to click on
the Send button to "send" it - now there's a great abstraction!

Tom Passin

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