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Conferences

XML 2006: XML in Legislation

Timothy Arnold-Moore of SAIC (I think). Good presenter with a sense of humor.

Magna CartaHe points out again that legislation has a shelf life of hundreds of years and so a typical word processing format, which lasts about 10 years, is really not an option. Look! A picture of the Magna Carta to illustrate his point. Bonus points for use of graphics. Even if he did (as I just did) pull it from Wikipedia.

Best practices for legislation:

  • Updates are made to bills from the floor of the legislative chamber and are thus near-instant.
  • Provide information about bill status, proposed amendments, consolidated form of amendments
  • Provide the “as made” versions as soon as enacted
  • Consolidate amendments unofficially. Side note: The US Code takes more than two years for official updates. (ed: That is pathetic.)

Working with legislative XML requires some heavy lifting in revision tracking. Interesting. They have the proposed act in one document and a separate Change Description Document. They integrate the two to produce the amended version(s).

Nice demo of the Tasmanian EnAct system. This presenter is familiar with the concept of “show, don’t tell.” They use an SAIC product, TeraText, as the foundation.

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XML 2006: Vendor PechaKucha

At its best, the PechaKucha was highly entertaining. At its worst, it was painful, but at least the bad presentations were short.

After about an hour, though, the entertainment value started to wear off and tiredness set in. Perhaps, in the future, these mini-presentations could be interleaved among the other stuff.

Highlights:

  • Ken Holman of Crane Softwrights instructed the audience to yell “bing” as the slides changed behind him.
  • Carlo Minollo (sp?) of DataDirect got up, talked very fast, and was perfectly synchronized with his slides without any apparent effort. (This means, by the way, that he practiced. A lot.)

Lowlights:

  • A series of dreary presentations from Oracle. One presenter said, “Don’t look at me.”
  • Binary XML? Ugh.

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XML 2006: External vs. internal DTDs

The presenter is describing a workflow in which there is an “editorial” DTD and a “delivery” DTD. It makes me cringe on general principle, but I see where they are going with it.

They optimized the editorial DTD for content creators and optimized the delivery DTD for their publishing workflow.

I’d like to see a detailed assessment of why they did this instead of some other approach.

Ah…good question: This decouples the editorial process from the delivery process. Does this buffer the editorial people from what is happening downstream? Answer? Sort of.

In response to a question from me, the major disadvantage to the dual-DTD approach is that the end result XML is extremely loose, so occasionally the output looks weird or search doesn’t work properly. That’s the one thing they’d like to go back and fix, so that the various content contributors have more constraints and better conformance checking.

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XML 2006: Day Two Keynote

Darin McBeath of Reed Elsevier spoke on Unleashing the Power of XML. He had a very interesting survey that was conducted across the organization (I think).

The biggest challenges for publishers?

  • Migration of existing content
  • Training

Main weaknesses of XML?

  • Namespaces
  • Schema is too complex
  • Everyone can do it

He had some data showing that XQuery is gaining in popularity, both at the conference and in general technical discussions.

Finally, a list of why XML is important to publishers:

Several of these warrant entire presentations.

Key phrase: mind the gap. Pay attention to the chasm between the programmers and the content creators. (see my previous post)

Great keynote — a nice big-picture overview, which is exactly what a keynote needs to do.

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XML 2006: Scribus non grata

When presenters at this conference mentioned content creators, their attitudes ranged from dismissive to contemptuous. “Stupid authors” seems to be the universal undercurrent. Authors complain about XML-based publishing systems, authors whine whenever something minor changes, authors don’t understand the glories of XML, and so on.

Perhaps the presenters have forgotten that without authors, there are no documents?

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XML 2006: XML, InCopy, and InDesign

Summary: There is no magic bullet.

The presenter spoke about an inherent conflict between structured content and desktop publishing. That’s an interesting way of phrasing it that I hadn’t seen before.

There are several ways to work with XML and InDesign:

  • InDesign Exchange format (INX): The INX exchange format produces 18,000 lines of XML for a four-page InDesign document. Hehe.
  • Adobe Tagged Text: It’s not XML, but it’s tagged, and might get you started.
  • Manual or semi-automated tagging: reasonable features, but well…manual

This is followed by a lengthy demo of the InDesign XML features. If you need details, try the InDesign and XML Technical Reference white paper (which I wrote a while ago).

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XML for Magazines

Peter Meirs from Time, Inc. They produce their published layouts, then convert the content to PRISM XML, a “standard XML metadata vocabulary for the publishing industry.”

The first presentation today in which XML is clearly an intermediate format, rather than the storage format.

I missed the introduction, so I don’t know whether they explained this. Presumably, they are not ready to make their authors and publishers work in XML editors. Obviously, XML editors won’t support highly designed magazines, but I wonder whether it isn’t possible to create articles and other content in XML and then flow them into Quark or InDesign to produce the magazines.

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Panel, part III

Clyde Hatter of Propylon discusses OpenOffice and XML.

“Most normal people–which includes nobody in this room–would rather eat a plate of broccoli than use an XML editor.”

I like him already.

OpenOffice looks sort of like a modern version of Ventura Publisher, he says.

OpenOffice is in fact an XML editor with a fixed DTD.

“Structured documents can be produced via disciplined use of styles.” Well, yes. But isn’t that the case for any application?

Ah. Constrain OpenOffice further and end up with something that does let you produce useful XML. His case study is the Parliamentary Workbench used by the Irish Parliament. Highlights:

  • Style options are constrained and arranged in palettes.
  • OpenOffice documents are transformed into LegislationML.
  • Legislation is complex because the data model is 700 years old. Hehe.

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Panel, continued

Mark Jacobson of Really Strategies launches into the Word part of the session.

He describes WordML as “a better source to convert Word to XML.” In other words, the WordML is now a reasonable starting point to produce actually useful XML.

“Word-based” XML environments often involve post-processing steps in a real XML editor downstream to clean up the problems that are too difficult to resolve in Word.

The decision to look at Word and XML depends on:

  • Editorial workflow
  • Degree of influence that you have over authors
  • Complexity of requirements
  • One-off content versus maintained content

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XML 2006 panel: Word and OpenOffice for XML authoring

“People have a need to control formatting” says Jon Parsons, of XyEnterprise.

A high-energy, fast-paced walkthrough of word processors versus XML authoring.

And then, the money slide…why put them together?

  • Business needs meet corporate culture
  • People dislike change
  • Technology takes a while but also makes things possible
  • If you win the users, you will win with XML content

So far, he has by far the best presentation skills. And some good content, too.

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