Farewell Symposium ‘Declarative Amsterdam’ for Steven Pemberton

CWI celebrates the career of Web pioneer and CWI researcher Steven Pemberton on 4 October with the symposium ‘Declarative Amsterdam’. He is well-known for his pioneering work on (X)HTML, CSS and XForms – a Web language that can possibly speed up programming time 10 times.

Publication date: 04-10-2019

CWI celebrates the career of Web pioneer and CWI researcher Steven Pemberton on 4 October 2019 with the symposium ‘Declarative Amsterdam’. Pemberton is, among others, well-known for his pioneering work on (X)HTML, CSS and XForms and for the inspiring lectures he gives all over the world. His farewell symposium starts with Pemberton’s own tutorial on XForms – a Web language that can possibly speed up programming time 10 times.

Steven Pemberton (1953), who was born in the UK, has been working at CWI for over 36 years. There he not only co-designed ABC – the programming language that Python is based on, but also  web technologies such as CSS, HTML, XHTML, RDFa and XForms. Pemberton organised two workshops at the first Web Conference at CERN in 1994. He was chair of the W3C HTML working group for a decade, and still chairs the XForms working group. He has also been a member of the ODF technical committee.

Human-computer interaction was also important to Steven Pemberton: which issues should be addressed to improve computers and programs for ‘non-computer people’? He was a member of the SIGCHI Executive Committee for a decade, editor in chief of the SIGCHI Bulletin, and ACM/interactions and he chaired the CHI conference in 1997.

As Steven Pemberton is great in popularizing science, media were always keen to interview him. There are several videos of him telling about the early times of the open Internet in Europe, of which he was one of the first users, and he also figured, for instance, in the children’s TV programme Willem Wever. Many people enjoyed his speeches during the Internet New Year’s Events from ISOC.nl, RIPE NCC and other organizations, his Freelance Friday New Year’s Lectures and his presentations during CWI’s Open Days at the Amsterdam Science Park, like the one he will give on the day after his symposium.

The farewell symposium is all about declarative languages. Pemberton: “In the 50s, when the first programming languages were designed, computers cost millions, and relatively, programmers were almost free. Programming languages reflected that: it didn't matter if it took a long time to program, as long as the resulting program ran as fast as possible. Now, that relationship has been reversed: compared to the cost of programmers, computers are almost free. And yet we are still programming them in direct descendants of the programming languages from the 50's: we are still telling the computers step by step how to solve the problem.”

He continues: “Declarative programming is a new approach to applications. Rather than describing exactly how to reach the solution, it describes what the solution should look like, and leaves more of the administrative parts of the program to the computer. One of the few declarative programming languages available is XForms, this month celebrating its tenth anniversary in its current instantiation. It is a W3C standard, and despite its name is not only about forms. Large projects, at large companies such as the National Health Service, the BBC and Xerox, have shown that by using XForms, programming time and cost of applications can be reduced to a tenth! My tutorial introduces XForms, and shows several amazing applications that can be written in only a few dozen lines.”

Although the symposium celebrates his retirement, Pemberton points out  that he is only retiring *de jure* but not *de facto*, and has no  intention of stopping his research, nor his lectures, and has a string of  lectures lined up into next year. Quoting Tom Stoppard he says "Every exit  is an entrance somewhere else."

Pemberton has done his research in the Distributed and Interactive Systems research group of CWI.


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Picture: Hollandse Hoogte.