An "open standards" meeting in Malaysia

Man, what does a guy have to do to find a technical debate in Malaysia? I've spent 72 hours trying to do exactly that, and am now at the airport headed for home, having never found anyone who actually wanted to discuss any technical details of DIS29500 in general, or Malaysia's submitted comments in particular.

I already blogged about the PIKOM meeting earlier in the week, and then this morning I tried to fit in a stop at the TC4 technical committee meeting where Yoon Kit would be presenting the results of the BRM. My friend Yuk Wai from IASA was attending the meeting, and since I'm an IASA member he asked me to come along and provide some perspective on the details of what happened at the BRM. I've also heard from Ditesh and YK in the last couple of days that they'd like a chance to debate the technical details from the BRM while I'm here, so it seemed like a great chance to do all of the above.

But ... they threw me out before the meeting started. So I'm at the airport a little earlier than expected, and will record what happened while it's very fresh in my mind.

There were about 15 people or so present at 9:00AM, when the meeting was scheduled to start. YK and Ditesh were missing, and for some reason the chair decided to wait for them to arrive. I guess we're just uptight in the US, because I can't imagine waiting 30 minutes for a couple of missing members to show up when you already have most members present, but that's what we did.

When YK and Ditesh showed up, we exchanged pleasantries and I thought the meeting would finally start. But they took the chair out in the hall, and another 20-30 minutes passed before the meeting started. I don't know what was going on in the hall, but the next time the door opened after they returned to the meeting, Hassan Saidin of IBM was out in the hall a few feet from the door. Draw your own conclusions there.

Anyway, when the chair returned he had an interesting bit of business to take care of. He wanted to go around the room and identify the "primary" and "alternate" attendee for each organization present, and ask any others present to leave the room. I've heard several times in the past about my colleagues who have attended TC4 meetings, and about the guest experts who sometimes attend from the member organizations, but suddenly today (after a conference out in the hall) the chair felt there was a need to enforce a rule that only allowed previously designated "primary/alternate" members to attend.

This was confusing to the members, and many questions were asked by them. Interestingly, the questions were often answered by Tan King Ing of MAMPU instead of the chair himself. (Gee, Ian, maybe you're not paranoid after all. :-)) One member asked whether this rule had been enforced in the past, and the MAMPU lady answered for the chair and said "that's not a fair question."

The gist of the long torturous conversation was that there is some rule which had never come up before in TC4, which required that anyone not a designated "primary/alternate" must leave the room when the chair asks them to do so. Kamarul Zaman of RosettaNet pointed out that he had attended previous meetings as an observer when he worked for Intel. No luck -- he had to leave the room "while we conduct business not appropriate for an observer." The representative from PIKOM said that he felt it wasn't fair to call somebody an "observer" if they had to leave at certain times; the lady from MAMPU tried to explain that this was a very reasonable thing to do.

Yuk Wai asked why I couldn't stay, since IASA had sent notification to SIRIM that both he and I would be attending. The chair and secretary eventually decided (in a rambling conversation where they seemed to be making up the rules as they went) that the problem was that the notification didn't say "alternate" before my name. Yuk Wai asked if a fax from IASA that included the word "alternate" would resolve the problem. They said it would, and I left the room while Yuk Wai made a call to try to get a fax sent over with the magical word added.

Stepping out into the hall, I ran into Hassan from IBM, who apparently had decided to bring his laptop to SIRIM's building 3 to get some work done on the 3rd floor right outside the TC4 meeting room this morning. Perhaps this is some sort of hoteling concept IBM uses in Malaysia, I'm not sure.

Anyway, the upshot was that I was left standing out in the hall with a couple of other guys who were forced to leave the room, hanging out with the local IBM rep while top-secret work was going on in the meeting room. "Open" indeed!

I decided to head for the airport, rather than wait to see what procedural tricks they'd dream up next. I went back into the room to get my stuff, and the MAMPU lady was talking, but stopped while I grabbed my laptop and said goodbye. I raced off to the airport, and here I am.

As I said, draw your own conclusions. Mine is that cooler heads have not prevailed in Malaysia. As I type these words, YK is giving a presentation on "what really happened in the BRM" to TC4, with nobody else there to corroborate (or contradict) his version. I won't divulge the top-secret handout he had prepared for everyone in the meeting unless he says it's OK, but it's full of interesting interpretations of obscure issues raised by one or two countries, and characterizations of things that "many countries" or "many NBs" said at the BRM. It seems that the word "many," like the word "open," has a special meaning in TC4's deliberations, since these are things that were raised by maybe 10% of the countries present.

I would not have believed this morning if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. It made me miss debating Rob Weir in V1, to be honest. YK, if you're really so concerned about openness and procedural consistency (as you've said so many times regarding the BRM), you might want to focus that zeal a little closer to home.