Lunchtime Links

Going to the O’Reilly conference was like going to Supermarket for Lunchtime Links. Grab a shopping cart and we’ll see if we can sneak 15 items in the 10 Links or Less aisle. Check the labels for how many of our items have the magical “social” ingredient. “Social” is the high-fructose corn syrup of new media.

Shelfari is a social network site devoted to reading. You create a bookshelf with areas for the books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. You can write reviews and give star ratings à la Netflix. You can connect with others and share your bookish experiences and discover new things. You can also try to make yourself look smarter and cooler than you really are by putting One Hundred Years of Solitude on your shelf and leaving off Garfield Beefs Up! You’re welcome to check out my Shelfari page, where I will attempt to look smarter and cooler than I really am.

The unfortunately named Bookglutton is an online social reading site where you can read books (mostly public domain oldies) in a window called an “unbound reader.” The book is displayed in the middle, and on either side you can open windows for chat with other people reading the book, or leave/read comments. You can start or join reading groups devoted to authors or subjects. You can also upload your own work for people to find and read. I would’ve called it BookJunky or something.

Feedbooks is a universal e-reading platform for mobile devices. You can download free e-books and share your own content. The thing I’m most curious about: the ability to create your own customized newspapers from RSS feeds and widgets. I love my RSS, but its crying out for something that brings it organization and design.

Bookworm is an O’Reilly site where users can create their own online library and read eBooks on their browser or mobile device. You can store your eBooks on Bookworm and download them when you want to read them in your iPhone (via the Stanza app).

Espresso Book Machine is a print on demand machine that makes paperback while-U-wait. It takes about 4 minutes to churn out an average book. The quality is indistinguishable from something you’d buy in a book store. At the O’Reilly show they had one with a clear side, so we could see how it works. Watching it in action is weirdly hypnotic. It was the most simultaneously amazing and boring experience of my life. (“This is incredible; when will it be over?”) Sort of like watching microwave popcorn. The makers humbly state, “What Gutenberg’s press did for Europe in the 15th century, digitization and the Espresso Book Machine will do for the world tomorrow.”

Buzzmachine is the blog of Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? Jeff blogs about new media and the ways in which is is changing (or could change) business, journalism, the universe, you. Lotsa Big Ideers from smart people. Good stuff.

Institute for the Future of the Book is a “think and do tank” based on the premise that print is dead, we need to deal with that and positively shape those tools that will replace it. In their mission statement, they state one of their goals is to build tools for “ordinary, non-technical people to assemble complex, elegant and durable electronic documents without having to master overly complicated applications or seek the help of programmers.” Hmmm, wonder if they’re hiring.

CommentPress is one of the tools created by the Institute for the Future of the Book. It is a WordPress theme that re-orients the comments on the page to enable social interaction around long-form texts.

Safari Rough Cuts is a social, interactive publishing service that gives you access to pre-published manuscripts on technology topics from O’Reilly. Authors submit their working manuscript, which you can read and comment on to help to shape the final book. Call it CrowdEdit.

E-Ink is an electronic paper display technology with a paper-like high contrast appearance, low power consumption, and a taste just like raspberries (just kiddin’). It’s the technology behind the Plastic Logic reader.

IDPF is the standards body responsible for ePub. Lots of publishing companies, technology companines, and publishing technology companies are members. Important because ePub is going to be the standard format for eBooks.

The DAISY Pipeline is an open source collaborative software development project hosted by the Daisy Consortium. It includes includes beta versions of tools for the transformation of documents between different formats: “uptransforms” (non-XML text to XML), “crosstransforms” (XML-grammar to XML-grammar), and “downtransforms” (XML to non-xml deliverable format).

Adobe Digital Editions is a free RIA (Rich Internet Application) for viewing and managing eBooks and other digital publications in ePub and PDF/A formats. Although it’s free, it’s not DRM-free. You can use it with eBooks you download from your public library. Here’s the FAQ.

Bonus Quiz!

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PR = Publicious Reading

A few books caught my attention enough to being ’em home from the ‘brary this week.

First up: PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences by Deirdre Breakenridge

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I am a little skeptical, since the Web moves so fast, and this book was published a long time ago—2008 for goodness’ sake! Put it this way, Twitter doesn’t show up till page 245, and there’s no index entry on hashtags. Actually, I fear that Twitter is already being diminished by marketing types, so maybe it’s a good thing. Anyway, I like the topic.

Random quote: “…we need data that shows how people are connected. Online social networks, blogs, mobile phone call records, e-mail servers, patent databases, and co-publishing databases are typical data sources that have information about how people are connected. We take this data and apply proprietary algorithms to create social network maps and indices.”

*WTH?  Is wiretapping now a marketing tool?

I probably won’t have time to do a proper review, but I’ll at least do the commuter’s skim and post my notes.

Cross-Promotional Log Rolling, vol. 1

Admittedly, there’s been a dearth of tasty content here of late. Sorry to be so dearthy. It’s not like I’ve been lazy. I put in mongo hours prepping for the InDesign Master Class, and put up a few posts at InDesignSecrets. I did a deep dive to the depths of InDesign’s Check Spelling Thing, which I’ve never liked. Found out today that it works better on Windows. Grrrr. Did some more InDewhining on the Gradient panel lameness. Chimed in on a really weird “feature” that can silently upsample 72 ppi images into crummy-looking high-res, when they interact with transparency. And so on. I’m still reading Click; hope some of you are too. It’s good. Lastly, I’m working on a big project that I’ll bust out with a couple weeks before Christmas. Save a little $; it’s going to be a wonderful virtual stocking stuffer for the geeks on your list. Hmm, maybe I can get Cinnamon to make me a purple InDesign man-purse. “It’s European!” On second though, nah.

Oh, and by the way, Cats With Lightsabers is threatening to win my first poll in a landslide. I can almost smell the singed fur. Help me Obi-Wan Catnippi, you’re my only hope.

My New Pal

During the last year I’ve moved three times at work, and each time I’ve tried to shed some of the sticky detritus of my career in publishing. It’s cube crap, unused in years, but somehow always avoiding the trash bin. Outdated manuals, mystery dongles, piles of spec guide binders, a small moose made of binder clips. Rule of thumb: if you have more loupes than eyes, it’s time to pare down.

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The Non-Designer’s Design Checklist

About a dozen years ago, as I embarked upon my journey into the realm of publishing, I bought a book called The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams. I’m pretty sure it was recommended to me by the guy who taught my first Quark XPress class. I remember thinking it was a fine and fun book. It may have taught me just enough about design to be dangerous. I made up business cards, and took on a couple freelance jobs designing flyers and the like. Years later I had enough confidence to take a side gig designing newspaper ads. Not exactly the peak of the design profession, but it was fun to at least be the guy picking the fonts. I left that job after I’d made enough to buy a second family car, and then spent the better part of a decade forgetting everything I learned from the Non-Designer’s Design Book. So I was happy to stumble upon a copy of the brand new, 3rd edition a few weeks ago.

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The Attack of Captain Buzzkill and the Pancake People

Sounds like the name of a cheesy ’50s horror flick. But actually, it’s my nickname for the book I just finished, The Big Switch by Nick Carr.

I first mentioned him and the book in a post a couple weekends ago. I like my crazy title because Carr documents some futuristic doomsday scenarios that that are actually coming true in the Age of Google.

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A Look Under the Hood of the Hybrid

Got such a good response with the hybrid InCopy-XML workflow, I felt like it was worth revisiting to go into some details. Let’s look at the task of creating a new Schema file with XMLSpy.

In The Grand Schema of Things

The whole reason I start with a Schema and not a DTD is that XMLSpy lets you graphically create Schema. It is a heck of a lot easier for a non-programer to do than writing the code from scratch. But I won’t lie to you. You still need to learn something about XML in general and Schema (with a captial “S”) in particular. It’s not quite as easy as just drawing a diagram of your content model.

Well, you can draw pretty much whatever you want, but if you don’t know the pitfalls, you’ll get validation errors. And without a valid Schema, you can’t create a that user-friendly authoring template that you need to sell your editors on this whole XML workflow thing.

Help!

Learning XMLSpy can be frustrating for someone who’s used to working with programs like Word and the Creative Suite. The rules for making valid code are strict, the error messages and other jargon might as well be written in another language. Which, actually it is. And the Help won’t teach you anything about XML you didn’t already know. It barely teaches you about XMLSpy. It assumes you know all the rules for coding, and just tells you which buttons perform which functions.

You could buy a printed copy of the manual on E-Bay for $108 (Altova doesn’t sell ’em). But instead I would recommend you do the tutorial and then keep something like the O’Reilly book XML in a Nutshell within reach at all times, to serve as a de facto manual. That way you can use that $70 for beer and stand just about the same odds of making a useable Schema.

Namespaces

You need to learn about namespaces right off the bat and make them part of your Schema design so you can use InDesign’s feature of mapping XML attributes to paragraph and character styles. This is necessary since not every paragraph is going to look the same in your layout, but they are still all just paragraphs. I’m not going to get deep into namespaces here since I could devote a few posts to nothing but namespace issues I’ve had.

OK, now that I made it sound hard, let’s make it look easy.

Diagramming a Content Model

We’ll create a basic Schema for a Major League Baseball team, in honor of the World Series Champeen Red Sox. In XMLSpy, choose File > New and pick W3C XSD from the list of file formats.

Enter the name of your root element in our case, baseball_team, and an optional description of it.

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At any time you can choose Text view to see or edit the code. That’s when you’re really glad you don’t need to ever see or edit the code. It’s like opening up the washing machine while it’s running. You just take a peek, maybe throw a pair of socks in there, and close the lid.

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Then click the little blue tree icon to show the Schema diagram. This is where the fun begins.

You now have a wide open field in which to draw out all the children of the root element.

Everything is connected automatically, so you won’t have any loose floating pieces. Now you apply all that stuff you learned in your planning meetings, the elements, the attributes, restrictions and relationships they have. You drag out a connector from the baseball_team element, and choose what kind of child it has.

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In this case, it’s a sequence (indicated by the line of dots) of two elements, players and coaching_staff.

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players is a sequence of position_players and pitchers. position_players is a sequence of infielders, outfielders, and bench, all with an attribute describing the postion they play. You keep going in this manner till you’ve finished diagramming your content model.

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Regarding attributes, if you want to give your editors a pop-up list of values to choose from, enter the legal attribute names in the facets > enumerations tab.

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You can also assign minimum and maximum occurrence values to restrict how many of a certain element you’ll allow. In our example, you have to have at least 3 outfielders on your roster to field a team (and pass a validation test). If no number is shown under an element the schema calls for exactly one of that element. Or you can make an element optional by setting the minimum occurrence to zero, like I did with the assistant_manager and the box outline becomes dashed.

Once you are done, you can convert the Schema to a DTD for importing into InDesign, or showing your friends in the bleacher seats.

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On second thought, don’t show your DTD in the bleacher seats. That conversation probably won’t end well.

Of course the devil’s in the details, and there are plenty more details, but let’s leave it there for now. That wasn’t too painful, was it? We made the engine of the hybrid InCopy-XML workflow, a real live W3C XML Schema, without hand coding it.