Vrenna Second Draft Finished, The Bear in December, OpenDocument, jEdit

by Mike Shea on 22 November 2005

I have officially finished the second draft of Vrenna and the Red Stone and Other Tales. I still have at least one final set of large edits to make and then a full copyedit before I'll be pleased enough to fully publish it. The second draft "Editor's Edition" is available in HTML, text, PDF, OpenDocument, and XML/RSS 2.0 format. I tried rendering an MP3 version using TextAloud and the AT&T voices but I really don't think it does much justice. I may change my mind and release it in mp3 anyway, we'll see.

Why five formats for Vrenna? Each of the five versions (seven if you include mp3 and dead trees) of Vrenna have specific reasons. The HTML version is readable over the web and formatted in XHTML 1.0 Strict for the maximum in backward and forward compatibility. DIVs were placed for each story so it is easy to parse and transform the HTML version into other versions as well. The text version is UTF-8 and easily read in any text editor, portable system, or any other device. It is the most open format but with the least amount of formatting.

The OpenDocument version is the main editable and printable version. It has the most amount of markup and formatting using all of Open Office's powers and skills. The PDF version is the one intended to actually be printed out in a book. This is the version that goes to Lulu for publication.

I also decided to make an XML / RSS 2.0 version. This one offers a different format of markup than XHTML and allows people to read it in news readers or other RSS compatible devices. It also makes it easy to transform. This format was definitely overkill.

With all of the stories in Vrenna and Other Tales written and edited once over, all I have to do now is get a final edit, a copyedit, and it will be done. I'm still hoping to get it out before the end of the year but we will have to see.

I had a nice surprise as well. A long while back I signed a contract with Comstar Media for a story called "The Bear". It's had ups and downs but it finally looks like it is going to get published in the Lycanthropes anthology. Here is the book description for Lycanthropes and a Lycanthropes bio page with my bio on it. They say its coming out next month so keep an eye out! I was worried that this would be a vanity publication (like Vrenna) but the huge amounts of edits and discussions with the editor, Jennifer Andersen, showed me how much work she's doing for this book. I'm excited.

I've paid a lot of attention to OpenDocument since the Massachusetts hoopla. Being an open XML format, it is much more likely that documents written in OpenDocument will last much longer than binary proprietary formats (like MS Word).

OpenDocument isn't without problems, however. First, it's compressed. Compressed files are all but completely irrecoverable if any piece of them is lost. If there is a single bad part of an archive, the rest of it cannot be read. Most good backup, recovery, and archival processes warn against archiving compressed files. For this reason, the text, xml, and html versions are uncompressed but huge (500k instead of 120k for the OpenDocument version).

Second, OpenDocument is extremely complex. I think software spends far too much time trying to worry about the format of a document than we, as humans, really need. I make a tiny change to format on a whim and it adds four hundred new tags and styles. If I ever had to write a tool to actually do anything with the raw XML of an OpenDocument file, I'd hang myself. It is much easier to transform the HTML or XML/RSS versions of Vrenna, in fact I wrote a script that converts the HTML to XML/RSS with about twenty lines of Python code.

OpenDocument is a nice format and it's better than binary propriatary formats, but I don't think there are many groups smart enough to properly deal with the complexity of that markup. We won't see a lot of OpenDocument compatible word processors beyond Open Office and trusting data to a single application is always dangerous. Tons of stuff can deal with HTML and XML/RSS so those are the formats I trust the most.

I spent a lot of time with jEdit, the Java-based text editor, this week. I love opensource applications but I can't see how anyone born after 1970 can ever use programs like Emacs and VI. I use VI on Unix when I have to but neither of them can even properly soft wrap long lines. I don't want to have to write fifteen hundred lines of code to get text-highlighting to work. jEdit is opensource and much more familiar for us Windows-weaned weenies. It's a little clunky at times, and I still think Notetab Pro and HTML Kit are superior editors, Notetab for it's blazing speed and ability to handle huge files and HTML Kit for its highlighting and built-in FTP client. jEdit has an FTP client but its not very good so I'm using FileZilla, also opensource. jEdit does have wonderful code highlighting. Overall, however, I think a native Windows app is still the way to go.