• Home
  • coding skills

Tag: coding skills

What’s your flavour?: Selecting the right XML for your content

This is a guest post from Emily Gibson and Nic Gibson. They are both directors of Corbas Consulting Ltd and each have over 20 years’ publishing experience, mostly in editorial, print and digital production.

Chocolate, vanilla, matcha and strawberry ice cream in the cone on old rustic wooden vintage background.

The other day we were contacted by a client who was really excited about the new digital publishing process they were putting into place, and they wanted some help getting things right. They had bought a database and needed to get their Word documents into the XML language that their database needed. However, the ‘flavour’ of XML that they had chosen wasn’t going to support the content that they were producing. That means that they aren’t going to get the best results and full value from their workflow system.

You see, publishing with XML is not just a matter of deciding to ‘have an XML workflow’. (For a basic description for editors, see, for example, this one in The Chicago Manual of Style.) There are many different ‘flavours’ of XML and you need to pick the one that fits your needs. These needs are defined by the type of content you are publishing and your workflow.

A well styled Word document, for example, can be transformed into a decent XML file. Once you have an XML file, you could simply apply scripts to it to create your output (PDF, HTML for your website, EPUB) – if you have a Word document for your novel, for example, that had Word Styles consistently applied, you can simply run a program to get whatever output you need.

On the other hand, if you have a bunch of journal articles, you could save the files into an XML-aware database and apply those scripts to all your content at once to produce a collection. Whichever system you choose is partly driven by the degree of automation that fits your publishing needs. If you are publishing fifteen monographs a year, there’s not a lot of benefit to an all-singing and all-dancing XML database. If you are publishing several hundred articles a year then there are some big benefits.

The first step is to decide how you are going to go from manuscript to XML and then you need to decide what systems you are going to use to manipulate and transform it.

You need to think about both the structure and the content of your manuscripts when you decide on which flavour of XML you are going to choose. The different flavours of XML are very different in their structure and their expressiveness. The only thing you can be fairly sure of is that there is already one which will meet most of your needs (you don’t need to write it from scratch).

There are different tag sets (the set of elements in an XML language, a.k.a. what’s inside the pointy brackets) that suit different kinds of content, and there are different tools to suit them, too. In the same way that ice cream and sausages are both delicious, but you wouldn’t want them together, not every flavour of XML goes with every kind of content.

Match the content you publish with the appropriate XML language. For example:

Simple Narrative
Pedagogical
Legal
Encyclopedic
Journals

If your content doesn’t have specialised semantics (e.g. legal, programming), the XML variant of HTML5, XHTML (as used in EPUB) is perfectly suitable for a lot of narrative (e.g. novels) and monograph material for EPUB, print and web outputs. The XML variant of HTML5 has the advantage of a smaller, simpler tag set, which makes it easier to work with for simpler content.

XML can help publishers tackle managerial as well as technical challenges. It provides ways to manage the workflow, the interaction between content and people, and the publishing processes, as well as the documents themselves. The features of XML ensure that information and its structure can be controlled and managed.

It can be a complex topic, but many publishing professionals find that knowing about XML – even if they don’t use it every day – is immensely useful. There are a number of places that you can learn about XML, but the XML Summer School, held each year in September, is the best and most comprehensive. It presents a range of XML techniques and applications in workflow, change management, QA, linked data, and document structure control to help publishers manage their content effectively.

The Hands-on Digital Publishing course provides hands-on material and helpful contacts in the world of publishing and XML. This course is chaired by Peter Flynn and taught by Nic GibsonNorm WalshTomos Hillman, and Tony Graham.

For more information, see: http://xmlsummerschool.com/curriculum-2016/xml-in-publishing-2016/

Get with the program: Why and how to start coding

codingYou work in publishing, right? You think you’re creative? What do you spend most of your time at work doing? If you’re in a low-level position, Snowbooks and Bibliocloud founder Emma Barnes suggests your answer is likely to comprise a list of decidedly uncreative tasks.

In a witty, insightful and inspiring talk at the Galley Club this week, Barnes bemoaned the publishing industry habit of hiring bright, creative people and then getting them to do dull and repetitive administrative jobs. As she wrote in the Bookseller last year, if you joined publishing because you wanted to create wonderful books, you’re left wondering “why copying and pasting between Excel, Word and InDesign feature so heavily in this ostensibly creative process”. But Barnes isn’t just a bemoaner, she’s a problem solver. Her solution to this problem? Get coding. Because if you can code, you can automate some of these dull jobs and free up time to do the fun – and important – creative things publishers should be doing.

For many publishers, the word “coding” is almost as terrifying as “maths”. Certainly, when I used to introduce a 2-hour MA Publishing session on coding at Kingston University, the response was usually a mixture of fear, disinterest and irritation that I was forcing students to spend time doing such a dull and difficult thing. If these are your natural responses, try replacing “coding” in your head with words like “carpentry” or “poetry”. Writing code, says Barnes, is “the modern equivalent of being a carpenter”. It’s an opportunity not just to come up with ideas, or to shape them (as editors do with authors’ work), but to make ideas happen yourself.

Coding can definitely be challenging (Barnes uses the phrase “mind-bendingly awful”), but you don’t need to be a maths geek to be good at it. Barnes has publicly admitted to being “useless” at arithmetic. Instead, she brings a love of patterns, words, symmetry and brevity to the activity. “Writing code trips many of the pleasure centres in my brain,” she says. “And I love feeling that I’m doing something meaningful, creating something out of nothing. Plus, the inherent difficulty of writing good code is a source of huge pride”. My former students, when they made things appear on screen in a browser in a matter of minutes, often shared this pride – evidence that if you can get over the fear or disinterest factor, this undeniably creative pursuit can be extremely satisfying. What’s more, publishers’ natural tendency to grammatical “correctness” makes them excellent coders.

Our love of pedantry feels like a perfect match for a pursuit based on strict rules and zero tolerance for inaccuracy. And our love of words reinforces the idea that publishers are natural coders. As Barnes points out, code is written, just like poetry and books are. Code is even created in narrative arcs, which Barnes likens to “reading the best novel ever” if done well. If you appreciate “the careful crafting of a narrative flow, or the finely-edited end-result of a piece of prose, honed and whittled and buffed to perfection,” says Barnes on Digital Book World, then you’ll appreciate good coding too.

For me, Barnes’s almost evangelical talk of creating things and sending them out into the world was enough to get me thinking I should sharpen up my own coding skills. But the value of coding isn’t just this personal satisfaction. If you can code, you can start to automate those decidedly uncreative tasks that fill up your day. And then you can find time to get down to the collaborative, creative business of publishing. What more encouragement do you need? If that’s truly not enough, then the doomsday scenario suggests school-leavers in a decade or so will all be able to code and your old-fashioned spreadsheet skills will look positively archaic on your CV.

So, how to get coding? Here are some of the ways Barnes’ suggests you “start to dabble with code”:

  • Spend just 15 minutes on Try Ruby – a quick and basic online programming tutorial.
  • Try Scratch – a free coding app, designed for kids, that helps you think systematically and build simple games, animations and interactive stories.
  • Read Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial – Barnes claims that if you work through it for half an hour every day for three months, you’ll have built Twitter.
  • Sign up to a Codeacademy or Code School course – free online courses on programming languages. Barnes recommends learning Ruby.
  • Join a coding community like Rails Girls or Code Bar – offering help, advice and events (including free workshops). Barnes and the Bibliocloud team volunteer at Rails Girls.

As a result of attending Barnes’s Galley Club talk, I’ve applied to participate in the free Rails Girls London workshop in June. If I get accepted, I’m expecting a day packed with creativity, challenge, making and – I hope – a sense of pride and achievement. Oh, and a newly enhanced CV too. See you there?

Anna Faherty is a writer, publisher and teacher. She collaborates with global publishers and museums on digital, print, exhibition and training projects and has taught on publishing programmes at Kingston University, Oxford Brookes University and University College London. Anna blogs at http://strategiccontent.co.uk/blog and tweets as @mafunyane.

The code less travelled: Why I became a Rails Girl for the day and why we should all care more about coding

Recently, I seem to have encountered coding at every turn. It all started with an article by Jasmin Kirkbride here on BookMachine, back in April. Today’s children are the true digital natives among us, and now that computing – actual coding, not just learning how to use a computer – has been introduced to England’s National Curriculum it seems likely that when they reach the workforce they’ll be bringing a confident knowledge of coding with them. Now not all of us are going to become code whizz-kids ourselves, but Jasmin is one among many who argue that if we don’t at least learn the basic principles of what goes on under a computer’s bonnet*, we risk becoming increasingly out of touch with our future colleagues.

Continue reading

XML basics … and I do mean basics!

This is a very basic introduction to XML (extensible markup language). If you think that XML is exclusively for techie people or you don’t really know what it is at all, this post is for you.

Continue reading

Get the latest news and event info straight to your inbox

Account


+44 207 183 2399

Incubation at Ravensbourne | 6 Penrose Way | Greenwich Peninsula | SE10 0EW

© 2019 BookMachine We love your books