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Archive for May, 2004

Dashboard and Remembrance Agent

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

I stumbled on this Dashboard project last week somehow. From the blurb:

The goal of the dashboard is to automatically show a user useful files and other objects as he goes about his day. While you read email, browse the web, write a document, or talk to your friends on IM, the dashboard does its best to proactively find objects that are relevant to your current activity, and to display them in a friendly way, saving you from digging around through your stuff like a disorganized filing clerk.
This is apparently similar to the emacs Remembrance Agent. Hmm… I wonder if this could be rigged up to present a user with relevant bibliographic records as they author? In an ideal world, does it really make any sense that you have to stop writing, go to another application, type in a search term, etc., etc.? What if those records were simply available you needed them?

Web UI Mockup

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21st, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

I quickly whipped something up as the beginnings of a web entry UI for RefDB or whatever, which is partly what prompted the earlier post. This is all very schematic and incomplete.

Anyway, here’s the first page. So, enter title and choose genre. Based on the latter, the second page is assembled.

There would then be a config file in which would allow for genres to be grouped to present the correct fields. This example would be things like books. If it was a “part” of a monograph (chapter and so forth), there’d thus be two sets of titles and contributors, etc.

Title would carry over to the second page (so it could be for editing existing records too).

Finally, the notes/commenting UI:

I’ve not figured out keywords or proper author handling.



Posted in Uncategorized on May 21st, 2004 by darcusb – 6 Comments

I’ve come to the conclusion that weblogs, wikis and bibliographic databases ought to blur together. Weblogs provide a good way to distribute content (including one’s own notes), and wikis a superior way to author linked structured content.

So here’s a random – maybe even stupid – idea:

How about a bibliographic plug-in for a php/mysql weblog system like WordPress?

Here’s my thinking, using RefDB as the bibliographic database. RefDB has a extended annotation system, complete with a dedicated DTD. The content looks something like a weblog feed, in fact. So, let’s say you have a bibliographic record. The workflow could be:

  1. click “comments” link, and a UI appears exactly like a weblog comment UI
  2. enter comments
  3. choose whether the comments are public or private (something which WordPress already supports)
  4. public comments are then presented as weblog items

Is there any promise here, or do I just need some more coffee?

WordML and Citations

Posted in Uncategorized on May 18th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

Anyone out there interested in making use of Word 2003’s new XML capabilities to format citations? Someone on the BiblioX list is trying to figure out how to do just that, and the initial results are encouraging. I get the feeling that it would just take a couple more people with knowledge of XSLT and maybe VBA to get the beginnings of an Endnote alternative in place.

Maybe making use of Word’s new “Research Pane” GUI would be cool too.

WriteRight: XML and Cocoa

Posted in Uncategorized on May 18th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

TidBITS offers a wishlist by Adam Engst for a writer-friendly word-processor.

Two related comments caught my eye. This:

WriteRight would refocus its style support somewhat. Styles are useful for the control they give over both the look of certain bits of text and other attributes (such as identifying a style that shouldn’t be spell checked, or that should be considered to be a URL). But what’s most important, though, is that styles be easy to define, apply, and modify, and that they be available to other programs. For instance, if InDesign and QuarkXPress can’t read a word processor’s character and paragraph styles, it simply won’t be acceptable for producing documents for layout. WriteRight should also have HTML and XML export features that work from character and paragraph style definitions, since the easier it is to repurpose text, the better.

… and this:

WriteRight must not only read and write Word documents, it must use the Word file format in as close to a native fashion as possible. Realistically, that probably means RTF, though it will need to at least convert Word files from .doc to .rtf format without losing anything.

I’m afraid I must disagree here. Trying to play catch-up with Word is a losing battle. Instead of using RTF to pass data around with services and such, how about using the OpenOffice XML file format? Rather than me explain why, here’s Tim Bray on the OO.o format:

The way that these guys store the data is massively, fiendishly, outrageously clever. They have their own XML tag set, which includes (in one namespace) all the basic word-processing, spreadsheet, and slide-show machinery. Then, for graphics they use SVG, for styles they use XSL-FO, for links they use XLink… you get the picture, they’ve invented the absolute minimum possible.

You know what this is? This is exactly what the people who invented XML thought they (er, we) were doing it for. It’s no secret that the original XML cabal was a bunch of of publishing geeks, and we thought we were building a next-generation general-purpose document format. Except for, the XML world charged off after B2B and Web Services and transactions and RSS and so on, and hey that’s fine, it works well for all those things. But what we had in mind is more or less exactly what OpenOffice is doing.

What if deep support for XML and XSLT was integrated with Cocoa/OS X? It could allow Keynote to be seamlessly upgraded to export/import, say, OpenOffice presentation files, or XHTML. It could allow a developer creating a word-processing app to do something similar. Bundle XSLT files to move back-and-forth between OO.o, XHTML, and WordML. Finally, upgrade system-level XML support to handle the schema languages (particularly RELAX NG), and allow for an application to register its schema with the OS to facilitate better communication of semantically-rich data.

I pull my hair out sometimes when I see an interesting Cocoa app like VoodooPad which has “XML export,” but which does not actually support any of the principles of structured markup (the content is just dumb text). I think if Apple improved XML support and evangelized it, that would change. It’s really time for Apple and its developers to understand the potential of XML, and to exploit it!

Deja Vu (Endnote and Word 2004)

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

The majority of the energy I’ve put into open source bibliographic tools and standards over the past two years is a direct consequence of being frustrated with Word vX and its bibliographic companion Endnote. Why was I angry with Endnote producer ISI Researchsoft, in particular? Because Endnote 6 was:

  • very late
  • added no compelling features, and removed others
  • did not initially work with Panther

So … a year later they release what is basically a bug-fix as a full paid upgrade, and guess what? It doesn’t work with the new Office 2004 release!

The is exactly the sort of reason the free software movement exists to begin with!

Update: Official comment (by way of MacFixIt) from ISI:

Due to changes introduced by Microsoft in the newly released Office 2004 for Mac OSX, EndNote’s Cite While You Write (CWYW) tools are not currently compatible with Word 2004…. At this time there are no plans to make EndNote 7 or older versions compatible with Word 2004.

The arrogance of this company is absolutely unbelievable!

Gray Zone

Posted in General on May 16th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

I’ve kept this blog fairly focused on narrow tools and technologies, quite apart from the research and teaching work they enable. I’ve also kept politics out. There’s something to be said for focus.

So, this post is an exception; a political digression, I guess:

A year-and-a-half ago I was teaching an introductory geography course in which we spent a few weeks on issues related to the War on Terror. When the subject of Iraq came up, and my students clearly wanted to know whether I thought the war was a good idea, ethically-supportable, etc., I said something like the following:

I think the notion of invading an impoverished country on the other side of the world based on a vague premise of a “gathering threat” is not only ethically and politically unsupportable and a violation of international law, but is is INSANE! It makes no sense!

So, the Bush Administration – elected by a small minority of U.S. voters (only roughly half actually voted) – went to war anyway against massive opposition, managed to piss off the entire world in the process (including, I might add, many of the people they were claiming to liberate), and then … “the scandal.”

Now, from Seymour Hersh comes an article that claims the abuse of the prisoners was directly related to policy set at the very top of the Pentagon chain-of-command.

Much of my dissertation research involved reading FBI documents related to its regulation of political dissent in the early 1970s. Call me cynical, but despite Pentagon strong claims to the contrary, I will not be surprised if Hersh’s account is later confirmed, just like I wasn’t surprised about the missing WMDs.

But there’s a larger picture here. The issue is not just whether the abuse of prisoners in a single jail in Iraq is legal and ethical and who is responsible, but that it and the entire foreign policy framework in which it sits is in fact undermining the very thing the Bush Administration has been claiming it has been expert at protecting: U.S. security in an era of global markets and global terror.

eXist Wiki/Blog

Posted in Uncategorized on May 10th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

eXist author Wolfgang Meier has put together a combined Wiki and Blog (a Bliki?) for the XML database. Next step, as he says:

What I would like to see: store snips and metadata in eXist. Looking at the code, this seems basically possible. You can configure SnipSnap to store snips in XML, so why not add eXist as a storage backend?
Yes; something like Syncato, but using wiki for markup!

This is the sort of thing we were talking about for scholarly note-taking. It can even export entries as RDF. Nice!

I do find the default SnipSnap markup a bit strange in places, but Wolfgang notes it is configurable.

Learning from CSS: Inheritance, Structure and Bibliographic Formatting

Posted in Uncategorized on May 8th, 2004 by darcusb – Comments Off

Was just reading this interview with web design guru Eric Meyer:

Russ: For designers and developers who are just getting into web standards, what is the most important aspect of css to get a handle on?

Eric: The #1 most important aspect? I’d have to say the “cascading” part, which encompasses not just the cascade but also inheritance, specificity, and selector construction. Once you get all that down, the rest is visual details.

This document explains why:

Inheritance quickly becomes nothing short of vital for applying style information when you consider the following:

  • It reduces recundancy of author effort and storage space because a rule only needs to be declared once for multiple nodes of a document tree. Beyond this, only exceptions to the inherited styles need to be given to override these rules.
  • When a document’s structure will be ambiguous, as is possible in XML markup languages, inheritance will often be the author’s best tool to control rendering with complex documents.

I don’t know why I didn’t make the connection before (duh!), but I suppose this — CSS-like inheritance — is exactly what I was wanting to do with the BiblioX XML formatting spec.

So, I decided to experiment a bit, using span tags with class attributes, and inheritance-based styling. I’ve posted the result here. It makes use of CSS definitions like this:

    .title { font-style:normal; }
    .container-monograph:before { content: "In "; }
    .part .title:before { content: " “"; }
    .part .title:after { content: "”"; }

Now, the trick is, how to adapt this thinking to the BiblioX DTD.