What’s been going on, part 1

So, what’s been going on in my life lately? It never feels like much is happening, but somehow I still have a lot to say, so this will be a two- or three-part entry.

Work got exciting a few weeks ago when I had three major programming developments:

First, I had a breakthrough in my understanding of Yapp and Lex (Perl’s yacc and lex clones), and I began using them to create an XPress tags parser. QuarkXPress is one of the two major typesetting programs (the other is Adobe InDesign), and they have their own markup language that’s a real pain to work with. So for a long time I’ve wanted to create a more abstract way of dealing with them.

Basically, for my non-techie readership, parsing means teaching the computer how to understand each part of the text, rather than seeing the file as a meaningless mass of characters, so that I can tell it, “Take this paragraph and move it one paragraph down,” rather than saying, “Take everything between this ‘@Body Text:’ string (which starts a paragraph) and the next newline (which ends a paragraph), and everything between the next ‘@Body Text:’ and newline, and switch them.” Now which of those instructions would you rather have to think about? I thought so. My first two attempts at a parser were pretty messy and I gave up on them, but Yapp and Lex will make things much more orderly.

Second, we had a meeting that Tuesday to talk about putting together an archive of our past material that we can use in future products. They’ve been tossing this idea around for a while now, but I’ve been thinking about it longer, and my boss recommended that they include me in their discussions. The content catalog, as we will call it, will (hopefully) be part of a larger project I’ve been planning practically since I started working there—a hybrid content and project management system. So this meeting delighted me because everything they said played right into my hands! >-) I shall subvert their inefficient and problematic procedures and shove the company to the cutting edge of publishing! AAAAhahahahaaaaa!

*ahem* Anyway, since I already knew how I wanted to do things, when they finished laying out the problem and asked me what form the archive should take, instead of being open minded and suggesting several options like I would normally would, I just told them the content would be put in a database with a web interface. And they basically said, “Okay, sounds good.” I love it when people just agree with what I tell them. 😉

So I now have official approval to start on the content catalog, and I have to give one more presentation to the bosses to get approval for the rest of the system. The catalog isn’t where I expected to start (seems kinda backwards to have all this stuff in a nice system but then have to pull it out of the system and plunk it into Word because the word processing functions aren’t there yet), but I’ll scratch them where they itch. Now I have to learn all about automating databases and writing web applications, and I’m throwing more and more work at the content gatherers to keep them busy while I figure out what I’m doing, hehe. I’m going to have them gather all the content, get it all into a uniform file format, proofread all of it, and then worry about entering it into the system. It will take months. I should have something put together by then. Even sooner, with Ruby on Rails, I bet. 🙂

Third, on Friday we had a meeting to talk about our website. It has problems, mainly the fact that it’s all in Flash and the only person in-house who knows enough to fix it doesn’t have the time. So since I’ll be doing all this web programming anyway, I volunteered to redo the site. We’ll start with regular ol’ text and fancify it later. We have a nice little division of labor too. I’m the site “engineer,” and we’ll have two other people to manage the content and create the graphics. For the text-only version, I had our typesetter create a layout in InDesign, which I turned into HTML. It looks really nice.

By contrast, this week has been a very boring one of copyediting some Bible study guides.

Next up, what’s been happening in the rest of my life!

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