Publicious Links: The Eagle Has Landed Edition

As I wrote before, I am eight kinds of geek. Kind number 4 is space geek. I am an unabashed fanboy of the Apollo astronauts. Among my space geek collection I have Neil Armstrong’s autograph and a lunar module pencil sharpener. ’Nuff said. This week’s anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission has brought a ton of space goodies to share. So tear open a bag of freeze dried ice cream and read on.

John Nack has a nice set of space links, including my favorite, We Choose the Moon, where you can follow along with the mission in real time. For those of us too young to remember or experience it for ourselves, this is as close as we’re going to get to the feeling of witnessing the moon landing.

Spacefacts has a nice map of the roamings of Armstrong and Aldrin.

Astronautix (aka Encyclopedia Astronautica) is a great resource, boasting over 25,000 pages of content, including day-by-day accounts of the space race, astronaut and engineer bios, detailed breakdowns of hardware, and a Paths Not Taken section of canceled designs and missions to make you wonder what if…

Ninfinger has a huge collection of space models, as does Apollo Maniacs. You can even to try your hand at making a papercraft lunar module.

BoingBoing has links to newly-restored video of the One Small Step.

In fairness, not everyone saw Apollo 11 as mankind’s greatest moment. Witness, Gil Scott Heron’s Whitey On The Moon.

OK, on to the publishing tech links.

Adobe Genesis is an attempt at taming the tangled desktop via Flex. It allows users to create persistent personal portals (try saying that three times fast). It’s newer than new (you can’t get it even a beta yet), but as I understand it, the idea is to break applications and web services into tiles and assemble just the piece you need for your workflow in one window. Fill your plate from a workflow salad bar, if you will. Here’s a better explanation.

Need to learn (or deal with) TeX or MathML in a browser? Check out the MathML browser test, where you can see examples of rendered math and click on them to get the code.

Would you like to create a custom blog theme, without the coding chores? Check out Artisteer. Thanks to her geekness,  Anne-Marie Concepcion for the tip.

The 80’s pretentious-pop band the Fixx once asked “Are We Ourselves (And Do We Really Know)?” It’s a real question now as the importance of social media continues to rise. When anyone can grab any username, how do you KNOW who’s who? Protect your name/brand, and claim your name. You can check the availability of usernames/IDs on tons of social media sites at Knowem.com. You may also discover new social media sites you want to join. Thanks to PrepressPilgrim for the idea.

Francesomugnai.com has the 30 Most Interesting Photoshop Tutorials of 2009 (so far).

I leave you a trio of posts from InDesign Secrets (none of which is mine…I’ve been sitting in a tin can, far above the world).

Fritz posted about the amazing folding calculator. If you need to set up InDesign templates for folded publications, you really should check it out. It’s also a very cool example of what you can do with an interactive PDF.

David posted a fun 2-part series on A Trip to Adobe, in which we get to see InDesign in its native habitat of Seattle. Beware the Fremont Troll!

Till next time, take your protein pills and put your helmet on.

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Publicious Links: The Moonwalking In Threes Edition

They say celebrity deaths come in threes. I say, you see what you want to see. But this past week was pretty hard on 20th century cultural icons. If you’ve lost track of who’s still with us, consult Dead or Alive? Oh, nevermind, I’ll save you the trip: Abe Vigoda still walks the earth.

First off, poor Ed McMahon. The guy spends decades in the public spotlight as Carson’s sidekick. Night after night, and with Memorex precision, he delivers the chiseled-in-the-collective-memory line, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” For a side gig, he props up a molten Jerry Lewis every Labor Day for the final timpani. He even has the cartoonish celebrity second act with Star Search and the thing that wasn’t quite Publisher’s Clearinghouse. And when he dies, he gets two seconds of attention.

Next up, poor Farrah. I never quite got the obsession with her or her bodacious hair. Yes, Farrah was incredibly beautiful. But I had only one true love during my single-digit years, and that was Lindsay Wagner, aka Jaime Sommers, the true, be-scarfed Bionic Woman. Still, the impact of Farrah’s locks and teeth is undeniable. And happily, she earned major props for her acting craft as well as her looks. So she got four seconds of attention this week.

Which brings me to the King of Pop. What more can anyone say about the Curious Case of Michael Jackson? I was a teenager in the 80s, but it never occurred to me to actually buy Thriller. It would be like buying air. I watched MTV for about four years straight, without blinking, from 1982-1985. I heard Thriller on a daily, if not hourly basis, for years on end. It was like life in a prison in the Phillipines. Now I watch this video of him auditioning for Berry Gordy at age ten, channelling James Brown with such precision that it freaks me out. For his otherworldly talent, this ten year old kid got his childhood replaced with showbiz, and became the most famous person on the planet. The unraveling that occurred afterward, is amazing to me, only in that it took so long.

So to Ed, Farrah, and Michael, I will picture you three moonwalking off the stage together. Rest in peace.

Oops, in my self-indulgence, I forgot this is a blog about publishing technology. How about some links?

First, GridIron Software has just released Flow. It is way cooler than sliced bread. How would you like for your files to know how they are all related? Images know which InDesign layouts they’ve been placed in. PDFs know which documents they were created from. You say you only remember the name of a layer in a Photoshop file? No problem, you can find it. And so on and so on. I don’t like to throw around the word “amazing,” but Flow really is A-freaking-mazing. I’ve installed the trial version and I think living without it is going to be impossible from here on out.

From the how did we ever live without Photoshop category, part 1: Gizmodo has 65 Ancient Video Games I Wish Existed.

From the how did we ever live without Photoshop category, part 2: Wonkette has Sarah Palin’s quixotic and hopeless war vs. Photoshop.

Ever wonder how Adobe came to be? Wonder what it might have to do with Xerox? Check out a nice little bio of founder John Warnock.

Here’s a couple of my recent posts from InDesign Secrets: Honey, I Blew Up the Color Panel, Bridge Font Blind Spot, and Eye Candy, Part 5: Blending a la Mode.

As the digital revolution comes full circle, the phrase “Web to Print” is going to be heard a lot. Bitstream’s Pageflex Storefront uses InDesign Server to power its piece of the Web to Print pie.

GREP Master Peter Kahrel has posted a brilliant tutorial on Dealing With Long GREP Expressions. My advice: caffeinate heavily before reading.

At work, I was asked to evaluate someone’s choice of 100c70m drop shadows. My evaluation was “um, no.” Here’s how to make a blue shadow in real life.

Brian Lawler (author of the Official Adobe Print Publishing Guide) has posted an interesting idea for using Photoshop’s Count tool.

From the It’s A Small World, But I Wouldn’t Want to Print It Dept: How about a digital archive that contains all the peer-reviewed mathematical literature ever published? That’s about 100 million pages. No sweat, say the folks behind the Digital Mathematics Library Project.

Print and prepress guru par excellence Steve Werner is giving a eSeminar on InDesign Best Prepress Practices on July 1. If you miss it, you can catch the recorded version.

Thomas Silkjær has posted a nice set of highly-organized pre-defined styles for InDesign, which you can modify to suit your own needs.

ShapeCollage is a nifty, free tool for making collages out of your photos. You can arrange any number of pictures into any shape.

Popular Science has a prototype color-picking pen, that mimics Photoshop’s eyedropper. It’s supposed to scan the color of any real life object and then recreate that color with ink. Too bad the desinger needs a remedial lesson in the physics of subtractive color and CMYK. Still, it’s a mind-blowing concept.

Cross-Promotional Log-rolling, vol. 3

The new issue of InDesign Magazine is out on virtual newstands throught the cosmos. It sports 14 pages of awesome tips and tricks, info on handing off InDesign content to Flash developers, and a review of InMath by yours truly. So if you ever find yourself having to do this:

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Read this. And tell ’em Mike sent ya.

MathType + iWork = ?

Huh. Just saw that Design Science, makers of MathType, MathFlow, MathPlayer, and MathBurger (just kiddin’—I’m hungry), announced that MathType works with Apple’s iWork ’09 suite. Pages, Keynote, and Numbers now all support MathType. Apparently it was announced at MacWorld in SF, but I didn’t know till now. This is weird. For years I have wished for some of MathType’s capabilities in InDesign, and now I get them in iWork. Wished for a pony, got a puppy. That’s OK, puppies are cool. Of course, I’ll hold off on joy till I see how this puppy works. Seems like I can save iWork as Word. But maybe not .docx? Dunno. I’ll find out because I’m going to get Apple’s “Box Set” of iLife, iWork, and Leopard. I’m notorious for losing my OSX install discs, so having a back-up is good, and the kids are pining away for the latest versions of all the iLife apps. Whatever happened to crayons? When I get iWork working, I’ll try out MathType with it and report back here. Man, what’s next—DITA support in GarageBand?

Test Drive A Hybrid Workflow

You never know where inspiration will come from. Yesterday it came to me in the form of a traffic jam slowing my ride to work. Sitting on the commuter bus, mired in “bumpa-ta-bumpa”, I stared out the window. Life on pause. I imagined the lake of gasoline that was fueling all these cars, puffing out their tailpipes, melting Greenland. Then a shiny red Toyta Prius rolled by. It had a good vibe, like a forward-thinking, best alternative in an otherwise unworkable situation. A hybrid.

This was definitely a sign from the cosmos that it was time to talk about the hybrid XML-InCopy workflow I’d been playing with since last year. I had planned to finish off the cookbook project tonight, but this idea overtook it in my brain. I offer it up now in case any of you out there is stuck in a traffic jam of a publishing workflow, with a line of products and file formats in each other’s way, slowly crawling ahead while the clock ticks ticks ticks.

The point of a hybrid workflow is to combine the virtues of XML and InCopy to give you speed and efficiency that is otherwise impossible. Single-source authoring means multiple print and/or Web products derive and arrive simultaneously from the same set of keystrokes. You author and edit in XML, transform when necessary, and use InCopy to preview your print layouts, where space is finite and styling matters, as you go.

I know there are people out there who have written amazing scripts, or developed plug-ins or workflow systems that can accomplish what I’m going to show you better, faster, with more goodies. But as always, I write about what can you do with the off-the-shelf tools and garden variety skills. Or if you don’t currently possess those skills, you can come by them without completely re-wiring your brain. Perhaps someday Adobe will release the equivalent of an electric car, XML authoring as part of the Creative Suite, and we’ll all be merrily speeding down the Cross-Media Expressway. What follows is my idea of how to do today. And it works. So hop in the hybrid and take it for a spin.

The Pitch

With a W3C XML Schema as the foundation of your workflow, you can develop multiple print and online products simultaneously, and achieve efficiency and savings through content re-use with off-the-shelf tools.

The Tools

To do this you’re going to need InDesign CS3, InCopy CS3, and the Altova MissionKit For XML Developers. The MissionKit is an XML Developer’s equivalent of the Adobe Creative Suite. It’s three applications that work in concert to for the creation and transformation of XML files: XMLSpy, StyleVision, and MapForce. This is a Windows-only package. There is no Mac version, so if you kneel at the altar of Jobs like I do, you need emulation software like Parallels. Syncrosoft’s oXygen is an alternative that runs on the Mac, but only if you don’t need a lot of help writing XSLT. I do. MapForce gives you graphical creation of XSLT, or as I call it, XSLTW (XSL with Training Wheels). I’m not trying to do a commercial for Altova, but their stuff is the only stuff that I know works for everything we’re trying to do.

Step 1: Planning

This is the big one. Map out all your content. Depending on the complexity of your content, this can be a tough job, so you only want to do it once. Spend enough time to get it right, since everything flows downhill from here. Every screw-up or oversight at this stage will echo throughout the workflow in some combination of time, aggravation, or cost. And everyone needs to know that once this is done, there’s no changing the structure, at least not for anyone who wishes to remain with the company.

Your map should show every piece and where it fits into the overall scheme of your project. Map every recombination, and every dependency. Leave no stone unturned. This part can be a real eye opener. If you survive with your sanity intact, you will understand your content better than ever before and maybe discover new ways of using it.

Reverse engineer your own content. Cut up books and move the pieces around as they would move in the digital realm. Follow the life of a lowly paragraph as it appears throughout your product line. Once you grasp the details, you can answer the first key question. What kind of schema best suits your needs: a custom built-from-scratch schema or a generic format? Do you have the time and money to make the former? Do you have the flexibility for the latter? A bad fit might cost you more in the long run. Investigate DocBook and DITA. If you go generic, skip to step 3.

Step 2: Build the Schema File

With the understanding that you gained by mapping your content, you can now build an XML Schema that will guide your authoring, transformation, and output. Why a Schema? Why not a DTD? I have nothing against DTDs. In fact, they are more appropriate for describing book-like things. Schema excel at describing data more than documents. In fact, I love DTDs so much, the other day on the highway I was passed by someone with the license plate 736 DTD, and I thought “hey, that’s cool.” Then I felt the urge to slap myself for being such a geek.

I say use Schema purely because the Altova tools support Schema in ways that they don’t support DTDs. Namely, you can graphically create a Schema in XMLSpy. I feel a little hypocritical because this is the same tool-based thinking I dissed in a previous post. But facts is facts, and until I find another tool that can do this workflow end-to-end with a DTD, I’m sticking to my story. Actually, if you must have a DTD, there is a workaround: build a Schema, then use XMLSpy to convert the Schema to a DTD.

Step 3: Create Authoring Templates

Using StyleVision you take your Schema and apply styling to it to make a user-friendly authoring template. This is something the oXygen can do too. You choose from CSS properties to apply fonts, spacing, and position to your elements. You can make pop-up menus for standardizing choices, and clickable links to insert required elements.

Step 4: Develop Layout Templates

Import sample XML files into InDesign, structure and style it. Set up styles to tags mapping. Make use of the Story Editor to be sure your tagging remains intact and whitespace characters are where they belong.

Step 5: Distribute Authoring Template

Let the writers have at it.

Step 6: Import XML Files into InDesign

And when you do, be sure to maintain the live link, so the XML file appears in the Links panel.

Step 7: Export to InCopy

BUT tell everyone that the InCopy files are untouchable! Hide them. Instead, InCopy users drop the InDesign file onto InCopy to open it directly.

Step 8: Editors Do the InCopy Two Step

Check out the appropriate stories from the InDesign layout. Show the Links panel to see the XML file. Edit in the XML file, save it. Go back to the Links panel and update the link to the XML file. Magic! You have your cake (XML) and eat (publish) it too.

The fact that this works at all is a complete accident–the unintended consequence of 3 InCopy capabilities: access to the links palette (intended for the management of placed images), the ability to use an InDesign layout for preview (so one story can be simultaneously linked to both an XML file and a .incx file), and the ability to maintain a live link to to text files (meant for Word and spreadsheets). Sometimes things just fall into place.

Editors can do some work, like styling, and working with boilerplate (untagged) content in the layout file. But they must understand the fundamental truth that anything they do between the tags in the layout will be wiped out the next time the XML file is saved. Stuff outside the tags, in whitespace elements, remains.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, you still have intact XML files, with the most up-to-date content, ready to be flowed into whatever template or media you need.

Bonus Points

At any point in this workflow you can use MapForce to create XSLT to transform your content, making it fit another purpose. You don’t need automated workflow systems or scripts to make that transformation happen now that InDesign supports XSLT. Examples of what you can do with XSLT: Making HTML for Web presentation, making PDF, making alternative print products by gathering or sorting content according to attributes, making NIMAS files.

Math Doesn’t Add Up

All this is great, but it will not work for you if you need MathML. The only ways to get MathML in and out of InDesign involve scripted solutions, or customized versions of 3rd party plug-ins like MathMagic. I hope that some day InMath, which has always been my favorite equation editor for InDesign, will add MathML support. Design Science’s MathType speaks fluent MathML, and you can place those equations (in EPS format) into an InDesign layout. PowerMath also exists for InDesign but I haven’t tried it out. Note to self: I should do a future post comparing all the different ways to do math in InDesign.

Next Steps

My next project (if ever stop spending all my free time blogging) is to experiment with Office Open XML. Since the new version of Office has XML underlying every file format, why not exploit that, and author in Word, transform OOML to your Schema, then import in InDesign, Web, etc. It should work like a charm, and it’ll probably have authors and editors breathing a sigh of joyful relief that the XML authoring tool they have to use is Word. It may not be the electric car, but it’s pretty close to one of those that runs on old french fry oil. Mmmm, I could go for some fries right now.