Thursday, December 18, 2008

Google Earth with photo-realistic 3D buildings

Oops. Where did the entire fall go? Can't believe the holiday season is on our doorstep and I haven't found time to post on the blog for over a month. There, now I've done it: I have committed the cardinal sin of blogging. I've blogged about not blogging. You are just not supposed to do that...

On a more happy note, I was very excited to see the recent update of the 3D building database in Google Earth that adds tons of photo-realistic building images for several major US cities. This is a view of Boston from above the harbor, with Faneuil Hall on the right:

Boston3D

If you have an iPhone, make sure to also try the Google Earth app for the iPhone, which is pretty amazing, too.

So what does this have to do with XML, you ask? All the buildings are encoded in KML, which is an open XML-based standard for geo-spatial information. And Google has created a huge 3D Warehouse of building images that are available in KML as well as other formats. To learn more about KML, take a look at this tutorial or the KML reference.

FaneuilHallBoston For example, this image on the left is a rendition of the Faneuil Hall model from the 3D Warehouse that was used in the above image on Google Earth. If you download the KML file from the warehouse, it comes in a KMZ archive, which is a ZIP-compressed package file. To explore this file in the XMLSpy XML Editor, all we have to do is add the KMZ file extension under Tools/Options and specify that it is a ZIP conformant file format.

Similarly, add the KML extension and specify that it is XML conformant. Now you can open all KMZ files in XMLSpy, see the files contained in the package, and directly open the KML file to view the XML markup it contains (this is just the beginning of the file):

FaneuilHallKML

More info on the new 3D buildings and a few screenshots of New York can be found on the Google Earth Blog. So get yourself a copy of Google Earth and start exploring...

Friday, October 17, 2008

They just never give up

If there is one thing to be said about the Red Sox, it is this: they never give up. Yesterday's game 5 of the ALCS vs. Tampa Bay was the most amazing baseball game I ever saw. We were fortunate enough to have seats right along the first base line - between first base and the Pesky pole - and experienced the greatest postseason comeback since 1929 first-hand.

The mood before the start of the game was great, with the crowds cheering for 松坂 大輔 (Daisuke Matsuzaka, or "Dice-K" as he is known to Boston Red Sox fans) as he came onto the field to start his warm-up exercises:

Daisuke Matsuzaka warming up

Understandably, the mood turned a bit more somber as the Sox fell behind 5-0 over the first couple of innings and finally were down 7-0 at the top of the 7th inning.

That was the point in time when about 20-25% of the people left Fenway Park, and when the Tampa Bay Rays started cracking open the champagne in their locker room.

But then the Red Sox did the impossible and turned things around. Starting with Dustin Pedroia's line-drive to shallow right field, which got Jed Lowrie home for the first run, the mood in Fenway Park changed. And then David Ortiz made a true comeback possible with his 3-run home run deep into right-field:

DSC00346

From that moment on, nobody sat down in Fenway Park until the single by J.D. Drew at the bottom of the 9th that allowed Kevin Youkilis to score, giving the Sox their 8-7 win and a ticket back to Florida for game 6.

This game will be an instant classic in baseball history, no doubt!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jason Varitek prevents complete shutout in ALCS game 3

Tonight's game was not exactly the stellar performance we are used to see from Jon Lester. Quite the contrary, actually.

Jason Varitek walking across the field

Jason Varitek, shown here as he walks across the field from the bullpen to the dugout, brought home the only run for the Red Sox in game 3 of the ALCS on Jacoby Ellsbury's sacrificial flyout, avoiding a complete shutout game.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Altova Online Training is back, improved, and still free

I am delighted to report that we have relaunched our Altova Online Training program today. We've used this hiatus of a few months to completely redesign our training program and incorporate all the feedback that we had received in the past.

One of the key requests heard over and over again was that you wanted to be able to consume the training on your schedule and time, rather than having to sign up for a particular class and deal with available seats, time-zone issues, and fitting a 2-3h class into your busy workday.

The new training format solves all these problem, by letting you take the class in a self-service, on-demand, mode whenever you want it. And you can pause and resume the class, if your schedule requires that you break it up into smaller portions.

Best of all, Altova Online Training is still free!

The first class available in the new format is Introduction to MapForce, which is currently available in public BETA. Please take a look at the new class, and let me know what you think about it. Post your comments on this blog, or respond directly to our trainer by using the "Ask Altova" button inside the class software.

See also our announcement on the Altova Blog: Free Altova Online Training is Back!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The longest baseball game I ever sat through

It took me a few days to post this, because I'm still "recovering". This past Sunday I was lucky enough to get a few seats for the ALDS game 3 at Fenway Park. It turned out to be the longest baseball game I ever sat through - and I did, of course, stay until the very end.

Here is a picture of the fog rolling in way past midnight - at the top of the 11th inning:

Top of the 11th inning

When the game finally ended after the 12th inning, it was with the disappointment of a Red Sox loss, but that pain didn't last long, since we won the ALDS series 3-1 the next evening.

And even though the game lasted so long, we all had a great time - and the kids got to school just a ""little bit" too late the next day...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The browser war III

Google Chrome, a new open-source browser from Google that builds in parts on Apple's WebKit and in parts on Mozilla Firefox, was announced yesterday and just launched today at 3:02 pm EDT.

GoogleChromeComic Here is an interesting twist: most of the technical details about Chrome cannot be found in blog postings or technical web documentation, but rather in the form of a comic book. Talk about weird! But the comic is actually full of very interesting details - definitely worth reading, especially if you are a web developer.

Btw, the most interesting thing from a developer's perspective is that Chrome is built on a totally new JavaScript virtual machine called V8. According to the Google Blog:

"We also built a more powerful JavaScript engine, V8, to power the next generation of web applications that aren't even possible in today's browsers."

Steven Vaughan-Nichols has an excellent analysis of why V8 is really the big news, and what Google's motivations are for releasing Chrome. Fred Wilson adds some cloud computing perspective to the mix.

I'd be curious to see what kind of XML processing capabilities are included in V8 and what kind of XSLT stylesheet rendering Chrome is capable of (1.0 or 2.0). Unfortunately, so far Google hasn't released any technical details yet.

Needless to say, the blogosphere is buzzing with postings...

And to contrast all the excitement, there are also those who say the Chrome is irrelevant (at least until 2010).

Update: Very interesting review by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal just appeared.

Update: Great article in Wired News just came out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nature rules over robotics: Aibo toy-bone repurposed by puppy

Today our puppy discovered the pink toy-bone that originally came with the third generation of the Sony Aibo robotic dog:

DSC04344

Sadly, the Aibo was canceled by Soiny in March 2006, but Fenway, our puppy, took possession and repurposed the pink Aibo toy-bone as a new chew-toy.

It should be noted that the pink bone didn't last long. It's been proved once again: nature rules over robotics...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Water on Mars

Breaking News: The NASA Phoenix lander reported via Twitter that they have a confirmed find of water on Mars. A soil sample containing ice was heated up in the internal TEGA oven and H2O vapors were confirmed. Newsmedia are starting to cover the find as we speak. More social media mentions can be found via TechMeme.

Monday, July 28, 2008

DatabaseSpy better than Toad and DBArtisan

According to Redmond Magazine's new article Redmond Roundup: Tooling Around in Your Database, Altova DatabaseSpy is the Redmond Roundup Champion and beats both Toad for SQL Server and Embarcadero DBArtisan - two products that are over four times more expensive:

RedmondRoundup

The article highlights different aspects of each database tool and comes to the conclusion:

"Each tool has its strengths. DatabaseSpy is the best overall in terms of range of features."

The editors further have this to say about Altova DatabaseSpy:

"At $139 [actually, the correct price is $149] for a permanent license, Database Spy is one of the last great deals available. While it's not perfect, it lets you do anything you may need to do with your databases. If this one doesn't meet all your needs, Altova has a number of other discrete tools for analyzing and modifying database structures.

Overall, Database Spy provides virtually all of the features anyone could need to supplement products that store, log or analyze data in relational databases."

I couldn't agree more - to read the full article click here...

To try DatabaseSpy for free, please download the 30-day fully-featured eval version here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Impressions from PodCamp Boston 3 (#pcb3)

DSC04154 I was at PodCamp Boston 3 yesterday and wanted to briefly share a few impressions here. The funny video is at the bottom, so if you have no patience and just want to hear Chris Brogan, you may scroll down a page or so... :)

The event was held at Harvard Medical School and was completely sold out. Bloggers, Audio and Video Podcasters came together to discuss and present all aspects of Social Media in a community-oriented style.

Even though there was a schedule of formal presentations, a lot of the real action happened in the hallways, coffee breaks, and in several impromptu sessions.

I found most presentations to be very good (e.g. Stever Robbins aka the Get It Done Guy), but some were also a disappointment and I walked out - only to run into people in the hallway and strike up a great conversation. One panel discussion was almost putting me to sleep.

DSC04165 Being a rather podcasting-oriented event you could always find people in the hallway being interviewed by others, and in some cases the interviewer and interviewee would trade roles after a few minutes - it was actually pretty funny to watch.

One thing that was pretty amazing during the event was to observe others in the audience during the presentation sessions: about half the people were working on laptops during the presentation, the rest was on Blackberrys, iPhones, and I saw one person even working on a PSP. I also noticed one person holding an old-fashioned paper-pad. Most laptop and iPhone users were on Twitter reporting live from the event, or looking up whatever the presenter was talking about on Wikipedia, Google, etc. and taking notes.

DSC04167 Probably the best session I was a part of wasn't a scheduled presentation at all. As I took a quick break in the cafeteria, an impromptu event formed (and was promptly twittered about) where a couple of people came together and started a discussion on Old Media vs. New Media. It was a lively discussion that encompassed everything from advertising, journalistic styles, different ad sales strategies and staffing levels, to how Social Media is affecting the way we consume media, respond to advertising, and making purchasing decisions. Several people were recording the session with high-quality video equipment, but then stopped after a while - I guess their memory cards must have been getting full by then.

So I whipped out my trusted old Sony DSC-T50 digital camera and recorded about 20 minutes worth of raw 640x480 video. Not a quality that video podcasters would aim for, but sure enough in those 20 minutes I captured this great statement from Chris Brogan:

I apologize for the bad audio-quality (since I only used the built-in mic), so if you are having trouble hearing it, this is Chris Brogan's insight: "Wait a second. I buy my media. And I watch ads for free. Hmmm..."

The other conclusions reached during the discussion were:

  • that Social Media actually causes large companies to lose control of their brands - and some even argued that they are only losing the illusion of ever having been in control of their brand;
  • that Social Media actually forces companies to focus on creating a great product, because anything less than a great product will be exposed very quickly;
  • that any Old Media company who doesn't "get it" will soon be reduced to irrelevance.

PodCamp Boston 3 is still going on today, but I unfortunately can't make it into town due to the new puppy. If you are also missing the event, you can follow live updates from PodCamp Boston 3 using Twitter Search (aka Summize).

Talking of Twitter, if you'd likee to follow my updates, you can do so here...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fenway: our new puppy

Let me introduce you to Fenway, our newest family member:

IMG_0202

He's a male Portuguese Water Dog, presently 8 weeks old, and the cutest puppy in the world. We got him from Reel Life yesterday and he was part of this litter.

Fenway is a very curious dog and loves to explore his new surroundings:

IMG_0194

But he still has to get used to being on a leash and loves to bite it playfully:

IMG_0198

When we are inside, he loves to cuddle up in our dining/family room - because that's where lots of people are:

photo

More photos are here and I will continue to update that gallery. But I haven't taken out the big camera yet, so these are all iPhone (and not even 3G) pictures...

In case you are wondering about the name: my wife came up with the idea, and we all immediately loved it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Avenue Q and French Open XML

I'm spending a few days in New York with the family and we just saw Avenue Q tonight - absolutely fantastic. I haven't laughed so hard since ... well ... since ... uhm ... probably since seeing Spamalot two years ago.
In an unrelated story, I just saw that Julien Chable has recently published three French articles on his blog about Open XML and using Altova products like XMLSpy and DiffDog:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Recent Reviews of XMLSpy and DatabaseSpy

In the past week I came across two interesting recent reviews of our products in blogs that I wanted to mention briefly:

As always you can download a free 30-day trial version of any of our products to try it yourself.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Open XML (OOXML) Differencing Tools

Doug Mahugh has a posted a great article about Open XML diff tools on his blog today, where he also mentions DiffDog and it's new Open XML diff/merge capabilities that we recently introduced.

Monday, June 9, 2008

TechEd, Open XML, and HDR Photography

While being at TechEd in Orlando, FL, last week, I had lunch with Doug Mahugh and we talked about the upcoming ODF support in Office 2007 SP2, the new features in the Open XML SDK, Altova's new support for Open XML diff/merge in DiffDog, creation of Open XML from StyleVision, and data integration and mapping for Open XML in MapForce, as well as various other XML-related topics.

We also talked about some other industry topics and finally came to chat about HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Doug sent me a few links to some of his recent photos, and this one impressed me the most.

I couldn't help it and had to get the software the same day. However, as I had left my Canon SLR camera at home for this trip, I wasn't able to test-drive HDR imaging until I got back home today:

1X5F2686_7_8

Obviously, this isn't a particularly exciting scene - I just shot from our balcony towards the end of the cul-de-sac. I used an automatic exposure bracketing of ±2 and loaded all three images into Photomatix and then played with some settings in the tone-mapping to create some vibrant and surreal colors.

But I still like the result quite a bit - it makes me want to go out and take some HDR photos of Marblehead harbor and experiment with other local scenes where the high dynamic range can come into play nicely.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Creating Open XML (OOXML) Spreadsheet Documents

As Office Open XML (OOXML) gains more wide-spread adoption and popularity - and since it is now an ISO standard - developers will be interested in how easy it is to create Open XML documents directly in their applications, e.g. spreadsheet documents that are compatible with Excel 2007. Most approaches require quite a bit of hand-coding and worrying about the actual OpenXML specifications, but what I want to show you today on the XML Aficionado blog is a way to use MapForce to auto-generate all the source-code (for example in C#) that will produce the desired .xlsx document so that you can integrate it into your applications (and use it royalty-free within your organization).

I will use a very simple example to demonstrate how you can turn some raw sales data in an arbitrary XML format:

SalesDataXML

into a pretty business graph in Excel 2007:

SalesDataGraph

For such a simple use-case you could, of course, simply open the XML file in Excel 2007 directly, but I am only using a simple example to illustrate the process. The true power of this approach is that you can easily work with very complex data in a visual and intuitive manner - and that you can auto-generate the source-code to implement this as part of your application to automate such processes.

So let's open MapForce and insert the XML data file into our working surface where we are going to define the mapping:

MapForceXMLfile

Next we are going to insert an OpenXML spreadsheet document into the work surface of our mapping project - we can either insert an empty spreadsheet, or we can use an example document that we have previously created in Excel to indicate what sheets and what data ranges or labels should be receiving our data:

MapForceExcelTarget

Now it is time to define how the source XML data should be mapped to the target OpenXML document. This particular mapping is just one example - MapForce lets you map between any combination of XML, relational database, EDI, flat-file (e.g. legacy text files), and OpenXML spreadsheet documents. In our case we are going to convert from start-date/end-date ranges in the XML source to months in the OpenXML document and from states to regions:

SalesDataMapping

Once you've defined the whole mapping, this is how your project will look in MapForce - note that underneath the blue-gradient working surface the "Mapping" tab is the one that is presently selected, because I've just defined my mapping between the input and output files:

MapForceScreenshot

To test my mapping - before I auto-generate my program code, I can click on the "Output" tab underneath the working surface, and MapForce opens up Excel 2007 embedded within the same application frame to show me the result that is produced by my mapping:

SalesDataExcelOutput

This Excel table is then used to produce the graph that I showed earlier.

Now I want to auto-generate code in C# for my data integration project that will automate this generation of Excel 2007 OpenXML documents, so the next step is to check the code-gen settings to ensure that I generate it for the correct development environment - in my case Visual Studio .NET 2008 - but MapForce supports many other environments and can also generate code in C++ or Java in addition to C#.

CSharpSetting

OK, now we are ready to generate code. All that is required is using the corresponding command on the File menu, and all the source-code files are placed in a designated output directory, and the corresponding solution file for Visual Studio is generated as well:

MapForceCodeGen

The auto-generated source-code can now be integrated into any application and can be used royalty-free within your organization to automate the creation of Open XML (OOXML) spreadsheet documents.

If you would like to experiment a bit more with this example yourself, you can find all the files used here in the MapForceExamples directory when you download the free 30-day evaluation version of MapForce.

Also, keep in mind that you can use Excel 2007 files (or any other OpenXML spreadsheet documents) in MapForce both as input and output files, so you can create data integration applications and mapping or conversion code for any possible scenario that involves OOXML spreadsheet data, XML, EDI, or relational databases.

Microsoft/Yahoo/Facebook rumors

The blogosphere is buzzing today with rumors on Microsoft intending to buy just the Search portion of Yahoo and then buying Facebook. It's a strange world we are living in, but some argue that the move appears to make sense in a twisted sort-of way.

This should be an interesting week...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Red Sox sweep Brewers 11-7

We got to see another great game of baseball at Fenway Park today. Josh Becket pitched seven innings followed by Delcarmen and Papelbon as the closer.

It was a great pleasure to watch the four home-runs: two by David Ortiz, one by Dustin Pedroia, and one by Kevin Youkilis. This performance by the Red Sox brought the inter-league series finale to a nice close.

We also had the great pleasure of being on the field during batting practice today, and were catching some balls while the Brewers warmed up. In doing so, we were close to the Red Sox bullpen and watched Clay Buchholz as he was working with the pitching coach:

It is the same Clay Buchholz who pitched a no-hitter in September 2007 as only his second start as a rookie for the Red Sox.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

WorldWide Telescope - pretty, but not revolutionary

Microsoft Research has launched a public beta of the WorldWide Telescope (WWT) this week, which has generated considerable buzz in the blogosphere - mainly because über-geek blogger Robert Scoble stated that it made him cry when he saw a preview earlier this year.

I just downloaded the beta version myself and it is indeed pretty. Think of Google Earth, but looking outward at the universe rather than at our planet here. You can scroll and zoom and explore and see the night sky in much more detail than most people have ever experienced in a planetarium. It has a detailed database of astronomical objects, including stars, planets, constellations, and galaxies. You can use a search function to find any celestial object, or you can use the locator pane that points out noteworthy objects in your current field of view.

And it comes with great guided tours - slides, pictures from different wavelength images, and narration - that give you expert insights into little corners of the universe you didn't know about. And it allows you to control your actual telescope to zoom in on the same object you are viewing on your computer. And it's free. So it's a nice educational tool, no doubt.

But does it make me cry?

Hardly, if you consider that it has all been done before. For the avid hobby astronomer such features have already been available for quite a while. Starry Night Software does exactly what the WWT does, i.e. it lets you explore the night sky and provides guided tours to various astronomical events, controls your telescope, and it has far more features than the WWT. The only difference is that you have to buy Starry Night on a CD/DVD and install it on your computer, whereas you use WWT like you are using Google Earth: with a thin client viewer and all the data resides on the web.

The one thing I do like about the WWT is that any tours created in the software are, of course, stored in XML format. Microsoft hasn't yet published the specifications or schema for them, but I was able to create a short tour myself and then edited it further with our XMLSpy XML Editor.

So what is so innovative about the WWT that it warrants such a buzz? All it does is apply the thin client viewer plus cloud database approach to an astronomy application. That is certainly not revolutionary - I'd say it's not even original. Why you need a research lab to do it, is beyond me. It sure is a pretty application, but it simply doesn't deserve the hype and attention.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Inbox Zero

This is a bit off-topic and might even be old news for some, but I recently stumbled across this video of a great e-mail productivity enhancing talk titled "Inbox Zero" by Merlin Mann. For further information, see his series of blog postings on the same topic on 43folders.com.

This very closely reflects my personal policy of dealing with e-mail, with the main difference being that once I'm done processing a message, I archive my e-mail into a variety of hierarchical folders instead of just one big archive folder - primarily for easier retrieval from a mobile device.

Another productivity tip for e-mail: keep your replies short and sweet. Maybe as short as five.sentenc.es? I haven't managed to adopt that one yet...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Zoom H4 Portable Digital Audio Recorder Review

I recently bought the Zoom H4 Digital Audio Recorder for use both as a field stereo recorder for interviews during trade shows, and also as a 4-track recorder for a local a-cappella group.

H4_black This weekend I put the recorder through its paces and recorded a few different scenarios under varying background-noise levels and recording conditions, as well as different dynamic ranges. However, none were made in a studio setting, so these samples all reflect open spaces or a regular building without any sound-insulation or echo-cancellation. All recordings were done with the recorder held in hand. For even higher quality recordings, the device comes with a tripod mount.

Here are a few sample recordings that were done in 44.1 kHz sampling, 16-bit format and later converted to MP3 format after the editing process - use your favorite media player to listen to them. For the outdoor examples I walked through Marblehead this weekend and recorded a few different audio scenes: ocean waves on the beach and crashing against a seawall (MP3), docks at the town landing and harbor noises (MP3), patrons at the local Starbucks engaged in various conversations (MP3), children at the carnival in town (MP3), more carnival impressions (MP3). Some of these outdoor settings were especially difficult recording environments due to the wind today, which was quite strong at times. However, the noise guard that comes with the recorder worked well and reduced wind noises to a minimum.

For the indoor recordings, I have two samples of my son practicing on the drums: Seven Nation Army (MP3) as well as a drum pattern from some Linkin Park song (MP3). Those were particularly tricky to record because of the dynamic range, but in the end I found the right gain setting during recording and then the right mixing approach in the audio software. Last, but not least, to test the vocal recording-quality of the device my wife offered a short rendition of the chorus from the song Ukulele Lady (MP3) by Richard Whiting & Gus Kahn on her ukulele.

After returning from the field work, It was easily possible to transfer the audio data to the PC either using a USB cable, or by plugging the SD card into a card-reader attached to the PC - both methods worked fine.

Overall I'm very impressed with the results from this handy little audio recorder. It offers different quality settings, different gain levels, and has very nice built-in microphones in an X/Y pattern, so you get great spatial separation of the channels. From direct recording to MP3 for quick podcasting work to high-quality stereo recording with 96 kHz sampling in 24-bit resolution, the device has a broad range of applications and nicely delivers the corresponding quality.

There is just one glitch in the device that can at times be annoying: when turning the power-switch to the "On" position, the device normally takes a few seconds to boot, but sometimes the screen just stays dark. Another power cycle usually fixes the problem.

Also, the accompanying software that came with the recorder is an OEM-version of Cubase LE and it is over 2 years old, so it simply doesn't work on Vista. I tried to upgrade to the latest full version of Cubase 4, but the Steinberg website didn't offer any downloads or online upgrades - big mistake! However, I was able to simply use Audacity to edit the audio files produced and then encoded them to MP3 format using Lame

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Creating Open XML documents from XML and database data

The latest release 2008r2 of StyleVision gives users important new functionality for creating advanced stylesheets to publish XML and database data in Word 2007, which uses the new Open XML (OOXML) data format, as well as simpler processes for publishing the same source content in other formats. And, to further ease the transition for developers and designers working with OOXML, we have just reduced the price of StyleVision considerably. As adoption of Open XML increases, StyleVision developers will be ready with a powerful tool for publishing XML and database data in what is sure to be the most predominant end-user document format, now that Open XML has been approved as an ISO standard.

Here is how the process works:

  1. Open your existing XML document or connect to an existing relational database to populate the source pane in StyleVision:
    Sources
  2. Drag & drop elements from the source pane into the design pane and apply styles to them, thereby creating a meta stylesheet for producing the desired output formatting:
    DragDrop
  3. Click on one of the preview tabs underneath the design pane to preview the output in any of the supported output formats (Open XML for Word 2007, HTML, PDF, and RTF) - all outputs are automatically created from one and the same visual design:
    OpenXMLpreview
  4. Save the generated output file(s) as well as the specific stylesheets that have been auto-generated to render your data in the desired output formats again and again...

StyleVision can access data from database tables,views, or you can directly enter a SQL SELECT statement to query only for particular data from a database. This makes StyleVision ideal for flexible database reporting, too.

If you are interested in further details, you can read more about the new features of StyleVision 2008r2 here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New BIG "minor" release of Altova tools

It's called Version 2008 Release 2, but in reality it should be a new major version. Our "problem" is that each year has 12 months whereas our talented engineers are practically cranking out a new major version every 5-6 months. So we have to call one of them the major release and the other one a minor release - but this one is BIG!

We've updated all the tools in the popular Altova MissionKit bundle with tons of new features and usability enhancements that our customers have asked for. I am most excited about the following, which provide big benefits to our users:

  • Very Large File Support: XMLSpy 2008r2 contains a number of advanced optimizations for working with very large files. These result in a reduction of memory consumption by up to 75-80% compared to the previous version when opening and validating XML documents in Text View. This means that you can now open and work with files that are about 4-5 times larger than those supported in the past!!
  • Extended Open XML (OOXML) Support: XMLSpy was the first XML Editor to directly support Open XML in April 2007 and today we are introducing more Open XML support in these products:
    • MapForce 2008r2 now directly supports SpreadsheetML and allows the user to place any Excel 2007 document inside a mapping project to directly transform data from EDI, XML, databases, web services, and legacy text files to Excel 2007 and vice-versa. This new support for Open XML and Excel 2007 is, of course, also available in the automatic code-generation capabilities of MapForce, allowing developers to generate application code for recurring data transformation scenarios in Java, C# and C++.
    • StyleVision 2008r2 now directly supports Open XML output in Word 2007 (WordprocessingML) to allow the user to generate multiple rich output formats from one single stylesheet design. StyleVision supports the generation of stylesheets via an easy-to-use drag&drop interface from XML documents as well as from databases and is the ultimate report designer that can produce output in HTML, PDF, RTF, and Open XML from one visual design. In addition, it allows developers the creation of Authentic forms from the same design to facilitate XML-based data entry across an organization with no deployment cost.
    • DiffDog 2008r2 now supports detailed XML differencing between Open XML documents, including the ability to directly edit and merge changes across those files. In addition, the directory comparison feature now also supports ZIP file types so that directories and ZIP archives can be compared as well.
  • Expanded Modeling Capabilities: UModel 2008r2 now supports the OMG's BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) and is also the first UML tool to ship full support for C# 3.0 and Visual Basic 9.0 - including accurate parsing of new language constructs in these programming languages that directly support XML. UModel does, of course, also continue to fully support Java 6.0 and provides full reverse-engineering and round-tripping for all the above languages.
  • Better Integration Through Global Resources: developers using multiple Altova tools - for example as parts of the MissionKit bundle - can now take advantage of increased integration between these tools. The new Global Resources feature lets a developer define directories, databases, and ancillary files in one central location and those are shared between all applications. In addition, a developer can define multiple deployment scenarios (e.g. test, staging, production) for their XML projects, and also directly connect the output of one application to become the input for another.

The above list has just a few of the highlights that I find most exciting. More details and all the other cool new features can be found on the "What's New" page on the Altova website. There is also a press release being issued today about the new version.

I will also be covering some of these features in more detail on this XML Aficionado blog in the next couple of days - stay tuned...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pheasant Glass

I have previously thrown in a few restaurant reviews in this XML Aficionado blog, but after some careful consideration over a recent vacation trip to the west coast, I came to the conclusion that it makes more sense to collect those in a separate blog and to keep XML Aficionado focused on technology, XML, and the occasional update from the Red Sox.
For those of you interested in restaurant and hotel reviews, please take a look at our new Pheasant Glass blog and read about our recent trip through California with stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Carmel Valley, and San Francisco.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Open XML is now an ISO Standard

The official press-release came out of the ISO offices on April 2nd and Open XML (OOXML) is now an ISO Standard with the official designation IS 29500.

Microsoft issued a press release today, and states that 86% of all voting bodies and 75% of P-members approved the standard - both measures being above the needed thresholds of 75% and 66.7% respectively.

See also the following blog and media reactions today:

There is also an interesting story floating around that Norway allegedly seeks to reverse its Open XML vote to No - but that seems to be irrelevant given the high margins that the tallied outcome has over the minimum requirements for approval as a standard.

To get an early start working with Open XML (IS 29500), check out Altova's support for Open XML in our XMLSpy XML Editor.

You are also invited to read all previous articles on Open XML on this XML Aficionado blog - especially my January 30 tutorial post on Content reuse with Open XML and XSLT.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Phonautograph recording of the oldest sound

Most gadgets that I write about are at the fore-front of technology. This Phonautograph, arguably, doesn't look like such a device at first glance:

But in 1860, when Parisian inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville used his device to record Au Claire de la Lune, it was definitely cutting-edge technology, as his device predates Thomas Edison's work by 17 years. One recording from the above device has now been recovered and can be downloaded as an MP3 file almost 150 years later, and subsequently be played on your computer, or even your iPod or iPhone.

See the related press release and also the First Sounds website and this article on MSNBC for more details...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

LANSA middle-ware integration builds on MapForce

Here is a cool story about an Altova partner, who recently integrated the MapForce mapping and data transformation user interface into their product.

LANSA is a development environment and suite of eBusiness solutions that organizations use to rapidly implement business systems that make effective use of new technologies. From its beginnings as a 4th generation language and repository-based development environment, LANSA has evolved to a family of products and solutions that support IBM iSeries (AS/400), Windows, UNIX and Linux platforms.

LANSA Composer is built on top of LANSA Integrator, the company’s integration toolkit that offers bi-directional data integration through XML, SOAP, and Java services, on IBM System i and other middle-ware platforms.

At its core, LANSA Composer utilizes the MapForce application as its transformation component:

LANSA Composer showing a MapForce transformation

For more details, see the LANSA Case Study on the Altova website for further information. Also, this integration is getting great reviews in the press. For an example, read this article in Database Trends and Applications.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Whitepaper on using Altova Tools with IBM DB2

Altova and IBM jointly published a whitepaper that shows how the integration of Altova tools with DB2 allows users to:

The solutions to the business problems presented in the whitepaper show how DBAs and developers working with real-world XML applications can benefit from the integration of Altova tools with IBM DB2.

Click here to download the whitepaper (PDF).

Monday, March 24, 2008

New York International Autoshow

I spent a day at the NY Autoshow this weekend with my son to take a look at the latest concept cars and the newest production cars from the world's largest and most exclusive automobile brands, and to check in on the progress of UIMA, an XML standard that has the potential to one day be used by cars to communicate with the road and with other cars around them.

Being a technology aficionado, I was very impressed to find more evidence of a move to carbon-fiber and aluminum construction evident with many manufacturers this year. Similarly there was are a lot of new developments with respect to electric and hybrid vehicles that could be seen in New York.

Here is a quick gallery of some of my favorite cars at the show:

Mazda Furai Concept Car

Mazda Furai Concept Car

Saleen Raptor

Saleen Raptor

Audi R8

Audi R8

BMW Concept Car

BMW Concept Car

And my favorite of the entire show - and a great example of the use of carbon-fiber and aluminum in a high-end production vehicle - is the Aston Martin DBS:

Aston Martin DB2

Aston Martin DBS

Sadly, a few revolutionary cars that I would have liked to see were absent from the show, such as the Tesla or the Gibbs Aquada. And a few other high-end car manufacturers were also missing, for example the Koenigsegg or the Pagani Zonda.

But there was a flying car on display. Well, at least a prototype of one. You just can't have a car show without a flying car:

I was also looking in vain for evidence of any production applications of UIMA or other similar software approaches that would allow XML to be used by cars to communicate with the road and other cars around them. But that technology still seems to be a few years in the future before it reaches production vehicles, as UIMA is presently being standardized by and OASIS TC.

The exciting thing about UIMA is, of course, that it is not only based on XML, but being described by a specific domain model in XMI (which can be used in the UModel UML Modeling Tool), and contains specific Web Services descriptions in WSDL (which can be viewed in the XMLSpy XML Editor and utilized in our MapForce data integration tool). Last, but not least, there are semantic web implications with respect to knowledge integration in UIMA (which result in RDF and OWL information that can be viewed and processed in our SemanticWorks RDF and OWL editor). I will be following UIMA closely and will report on any progress in this XML Aficionado blog.

More photos can be found in this gallery on my photo website. And for more news from the New York Autoshow, please refer to the various in-depth reviews on Popular Mechanics...

Friday, March 14, 2008

New Altova web site design

We just launched a cool new web site design for www.altova.com today:

Altova Web Site

It provides easier access to the most requested pages, cleaner navigation, and a more pleasing visual appearance. Go check it out at www.altova.com and let me know if you like it...

Friday, February 29, 2008

ISO BRM ended in Geneva today

The ISO Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) on DIS-29500 - better known as Office Open XML (OOXML) came to a close in Geneva today. I was not there, so I suggest you read some first impressions in these blogs:

One thing is clear: the five days in Geneva were not nearly enough to discuss all the proposed dispositions exhaustively. But that doesn't really matter, because the BRM was never intended to produce a final vote on the standard.

That will happen in the next step of the process: now we get to wait 30 days while the ISO member countries cast their official votes on the adoption of OOXML as an ISO standard.

For a quick summary of the acronyms surrounding OOXML and the ISO process, see my previous post on XML Aficionado.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out of office (and loving it)...

Here's a quick XML Aficionado update from the Caribbean: warm trade winds, blue skies, excellent cocktails. Nothing XML-related to report at all... :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

OOXML vs. ODF - the "battle" is heating up as we get closer to the ISO BRM date

I wrote about the Burton Group's report "What's Up, .DOC?" before on the XML Aficionado blog, and it didn't take long for the ODF Alliance to write a scathing rebuttal to the Burton Group report. Ironically, that rebuttal was published in PDF format, not ODF...

Before we take a look at what happens next, maybe it is time for a short review of the various acronyms and abbreviations that are commonly used in these reports, discussions, and in related blogs:

OOXML Office Open XML is an XML-based file format specification for electronic productivity application documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations, and word processing documents. Originally developed by Microsoft, it is already an Ecma standard and widely used due to its implementation by Microsoft Office 2007. It is currently in the process of being proposed as an ISO standard.
ODF Open Document Format is a file format for electronic office documents, originally developed by Sun for the OpenOffice.org office suite and then later standardized through OASIS and ISO.
ISO International Organization for Standardization
BRM Ballot Resolution Meeting is the ISO process by which comments received during the previous ISO FastTrack vote and letter ballot phase are resolved by the meeting, during which national bodies and the submitting entity (Ecma) will possibly agree on a set of revisions to the originally submitted standard text. The DIS-29500 BRM is scheduled for February 25-29, 2008, in Geneva.
DIS-29500 The official ISO name and standard number for OOXML
OASIS Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards; a non-profit consortium that defines open standards for the global information society
Ecma Originally this was called the European Computer Manufacturers Association, but their new name is Ecma International - European association for standardizing information and communication systems.
XML eXtensible Markup Language as defined by the W3C in 1998. Probably the most important standard of them all, because both OOXML and ODF are built on top of XML. If you don't know it already, you should definitely learn XML... :)

 

So what's new with the OOXML vs. ODF debate now that we are only two weeks away from the ISO BRM? Earlier this week, the Burton Group responded to the ODF Alliance's rebuttal in a series of three postings by Guy Creese on the Collaboration and Content Strategies Blog, and you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In this response, the Burton Group addresses each criticism from the ODF Alliance point by point.

Also, Slashdot reported this week on the Ecma response to the ISO comments and the recent blog post from Russel Ossendryver (an open source and ODF advocate) criticizing the Ecma response.

If you prefer some demos over reading thousands of pages of specifications, you may find these videos interesting that have been posted on YouTube recently: a video of Open XML on the iPhone, as well as a video of Native Open XML support on Mac OS X. Both videos show support of OOXML on Apple's platforms, yet Martin Bekkelund (a proponent of Norway's "no" vote on DIS-29500) writes on his blog today about some headaches he's had with OOXML on the Mac and his iPhone. I was curious about his allegation that a .DOCX on the iPhone produces an error message, so I had to try it myself - and I am happy to report that any .DOCX attachment received on my iPhone (running the 1.1.3 software) displays beautifully and works pretty much exactly like it is shown in the YouTube video above.

More commentary and further information can be found on Michael Desmond's blog, as well as in previous OOXML-related posts on this XML Aficionado blog. Also keep in mind that the best way to learn OOXML is to start experimenting with it, and I recently wrote a longer article on Content reuse with Open XML and XSLT to show exactly how easily it can be done using the built-in OOXML support in your favorite XML Editor.

One thing is certain: everybody will be watching the outcome of the ISO BRM very closely...

Monday, February 11, 2008

XML-People

Tim Bray posted a great story "XML People" about the early days of XML, and the people involved in creating the standard. It's hard to believe that XML is 10 years old already.

Talking of which, XMLSpy is just about 9 years old this month: we launched version 1.3 on 1/24/1999 and version 1.4 followed on 2/15/1999. There was never a version 1.0... :)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Download and install the driver for ... Windows Vista?

I received this curiously strange error message today, after Windows Vista on my desktop computer came back from a blue screen:

VistaErrorMessageAfterBlueScreen

It seems that Windows Vista is asking me to download and install a new driver to run … Windows Vista???

That's the same error message format that you sometimes see when a graphic card or other hardware device malfunctions and Windows recommends that you download and install a new driver for that hardware. But it appears that in this case Windows has a problem running itself...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fifth undersea cable cut: Coincidence?

When I received an e-mail from my father a couple of weeks ago that a ship off the coast of Egypt had severed a fiber-optic undersea cable that carried Internet traffic between Europe, Africa, and Asia, I was, of course, curious to learn that it actually was the second cable being damaged in the area and that it already had a measurable effect on Internet traffic for some organizations: my father is editor-in-chief for Monatshefte Chemie (Chemical Monthly), and he told me that he had already noticed that Chemical Monthly was no longer receiving articles, submissions, or reviews from China, India, Iran, and Egypt.

Imagine my surprise, when I learned last week that a third cable was affected in the region. I was not the only one starting to think that a pattern might emerge here - especially after it became clear that no ships were in the area, which is clearly marked on charts as being a no-anchoring zone.

Even with three cables damaged there is still some value in applying reasonable doubt, and assuming that a natural phenomenon, increased dragging of anchors due to storms in the area, or other accidents might have been contributing factors.
Today, however, the count increased again, as we are learning that a fourth and fifth cable in the region have been damaged. The Khaleej Times has reported the following summary of all the cables involved in the outage:


"A total of five cables being operated by two submarine cable operators have been damaged with a fault in each.

These are SeaMeWe-4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4) near Penang, Malaysia, the FLAG Europe-Asia near Alexandria, FLAG near the Dubai coast, FALCON near Bandar Abbas in Iran and SeaMeWe-4, also near Alexandria."


For the locations of these undersea cables please see the map on the Engadget blog today, which also lists the date of the respective cuts that range from January 23 until today. FLAG also has an update on the status of their two cables on their website and a map showing the FALCON cable locations.

However, it appears that initial reports on Slashdot today that these outages have cut Iran entirely off the Internet are exaggerated and do not appear to be true.

So where does that leave us: the loss of five cables in just two weeks is an awful lot to be a coincidence. As a result, there is an explosion of conspiracy theories trying to explain this, and you can find some of them in the comments on Bruce Schneier's blog. However, as Robert Graham points out in the Errata Security blog today, there isn't necessarily a pattern here, because normally undersea cable outages are not reported widely, so what we are seeing might still be a normal statistical fluke.

So it remains to be seen over the next several days what is behind these cable failures, as we learn more about the repair of these cuts and get reports on what factors might have been contributed to the damage in the first place. Stay tuned to your favorite blog, news website, or check out TechMeme.

One thing is clear, however: the undersea cables are an important part of our global Internet infrastructure, as we are carrying about 90% of the international traffic over these fiber-optic submarine routes, whereas satellites account for just 10%. Nonetheless, traffic is presently being rerouted around those damaged areas and frequently has to take longer routes - sometimes via the US - resulting in lower connectivity ratings on the Internet Traffic Report.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Interesting, but of no commercial value

JP Rangaswami has written a really beautiful posting with the title “Interesting, but of no commercial value”: The problem with emerging social media tools on his confused of calcutta blog today.
The article is a well written tour through the history of computing and the resistance being put up against new and innovative technologies that have the potential to change the way we work, communicate, or do business.
I'll quote just the first few introductory paragraphs here:

I can remember a time when people thought e-mail was a complete waste of time. I can remember a time when spreadsheets and storyboarding software were similarly disdained. In fact, I can even remember a time when no senior executive would be seen dead near a computer. You know something? It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 20 years ago?

I can remember a time when people thought the internet was a complete waste of time. When browsers had no future, when search engines were nothing more than toys. It wasn’t that long ago that Google was something that a few people played with, and the rest thought…. that they were wasting time. I can remember a time when people thought eBay was a plaything, someplace
that people went….to waste time. I can even remember a time when packages marked
Amazon or Fedex were unheard-of in enterprise mail trolleys. You know something? It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 10 years ago.

I can remember a time when people thought social media, software
and networks were a complete waste of time.
When
Facebookers were fools, Twitterers were twits, when even blogs and wikis and IM were viewed with deep suspicion, when everyone thought that the people who were using them…..were wasting time. You know something? It wasn’t that long ago. Maybe it’s still happening now.


I've been in software since 1983 and always was an early adopter, using "stuff" at the bleeding edge of technology. JP is absolutely spot on: at first these new technologies are being ridiculed by "the establishment" - and then they take over the world.
Read the full article on JP's blog.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Microsoft's $45 billion bid for Yahoo

Microsoft has announced just now that they are making a $45 billion bid to acquire Yahoo.

This is directly from the Microsoft press release:

Microsoft Proposes Acquisition of Yahoo! for $31 per Share
Transaction

valued at approximately $44.6 billion in cash and stock; provides 62 percent
premium to current trading price for Yahoo! shareholders; combined entity to
create a more competitive company, providing superior value to shareholders,
better choice and innovation for customers and partners

“We have great respect for Yahoo!, and together we can offer an increasingly exciting set of solutions for consumers, publishers and advertisers while becoming better positioned to compete in the online services market,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “We believe our combination will deliver superior value to our respective shareholders and better choice and innovation to our customers and industry partners.”

“Our lives, our businesses, and even our society have been progressively transformed by the Web, and Yahoo! has played a pioneering role by building compelling, high-scale services and infrastructure,” said Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft. “The combination of these two great teams would enable us to jointly deliver a broad range of new experiences to our customers that neither of us would have achieved on our own.”

The Microsoft board of directors sent this offer to the Yahoo board of directors and the letter accompanying the offer is part of the Microsoft press release, too.

If this goes through, it would indeed be a curious transformation of the web. There are two "major" web sites that I rarely ever visit: www.yahoo.com and www.msn.com - imagine how appealing a combination of them would be...

For more blog reactions go to TechMeme.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Content reuse with Open XML and XSLT

While Open XML may not yet be an ISO standard, it is already standardized by ECMA and - even more important - all documents created by Office 2007 are already stored in Open XML by default, so there is an abundance of documents whose content you can now reuse much more easily and productively than ever before. So instead of waiting for the ISO vote or paying too much attention to all the political battles being fought around it, I want to show you how you can already take advantage of Open XML (sometimes also called OOXML or Office Open XML) today.

This is the first article in a series of blog postings that I plan to write about practical Open XML tips & tricks, so I encourage you to subscribe to my XML Aficionado blog (via RSS or via e-mail), if you haven't already done so. This will ensure that you get future articles from this series automatically as soon as I post them.

So let's look at an Open XML document in our favorite XML Editor. For this example I am going to use a WordprocessingML document (.docx) that I have created with Microsoft Office Word 2007. When I open the .docx file in XMLSpy, I immediately get to see the contents of the package file, which is structured according to the Open Packaging Convention.

That's a fancy way of saying that it is a ZIP file that contains specific files and directories that make up the content, structure, styles, relationships, and other parts of the document. Using XMLSpy's built-in capability to open any ZIP-formatted archive, I can directly browse any directory structures inside the ZIP package, add new files to the package, or open any existing XML file contained in the package:

OOXML1

For the purpose of reusing the content from this WordprocessingML example file, I am going to open the 'document.xml' file, which contains the content of the document.

As soon as I double-click the file in the ZIP archive, the XML is displayed in a separate window just like any other XML document and I can use the powerful grid view or text view features of XMLSpy to view or edit the XML data (sometimes it may be useful to invoke the pretty-print function in text view to make the file more easily readable):

OOXML2

This is, of course, a live editing view, so you can not only view the Open XML data, but make any changes to the XML and save it back into the package file.

But now let's look at how we can easily reuse content from this Open XML document using XSLT. XMLSpy ships with a few Open XML example documents as well as example XSLT stylesheets for just that purpose. Let's look at the 'docx2html.xslt' stylesheet, which takes a WordprocessingML document and extracts all paragraphs to turn them into HTML. This example stylesheet is by no means intended to be a fully-featured conversion tool from .docx to HTML. Instead it serves as a blue-print of how to reuse content from a .docx file and hopefully will serve as a starting point for your stylesheet development efforts.

At the core of that XSLT stylesheet we need a <xsl:for-each> loop to iterate over all the <docx:p> elements, which it turns into simple HTML <p> paragraphs. The text inside the paragraphs is grouped into runs of characters that share common attributes, and so we need an inner <xsl:for-each> loop to iterate over those <docx:r> elements and extract the text from their <docx:t> text node children. Thus the most primitive content reuse that only extracts the text of all paragraphs looks like this:

XSLT1

Once we have constructed those loops, we can start to think about perhaps extracting and reusing some style information. To do that, we now emit a <span> HTML element for every <docx:r> run of characters and give it a style attribute, whose value will depend on the <docx:rPr> element, so we use <xsl:apply-templates> to decide what HTML style we want to apply to the <span> elements:

XSLT2

The corresponding templates for the three most common styles (bold, italic, underline) are trivially easy to construct and look like this:

XSLT3

With just a few lines of XSLT and a few templates we have already written a stylesheet that extracts the basic paragraphs and most important styles from a WordprocessingML document and turns them into HTML that can be viewed in the browser view - here is the result produced from running the above XSLT stylesheet on the example WordprocessingML document that you can find in the XMLSpy examples directory:

OOXML4

Similarly, it is quite easy to extend the stylesheet to extract meta information, other styles, or image information from the WordprocessingML document and reuse the content for any modern application scenario, from web publishing via HTML, RSS, or social media formats to mobile web applications and beyond.

"But wait! How can I apply an XSLT stylesheet to an XML document that is stored within a ZIP file?", you might ask.

You can, of course, extract all the XML files using a regular ZIP expander, but there is a much better solution: when you use the document() function in XSLT 2.0 within XMLSpy or with our royalty-free XSLT engine AltovaXML, you can directly access files contained in a ZIP archive by using the "|zip" pipe operator within the filename, e.g. "MyDocument.docx|zip\_rels\.rels" will address the Relationship file ".rels" in the archive directory "\_rels" inside the ZIP package with the file named "MyDocument.docx".

The benefits of using XSLT to reuse content from Open XML documents are obvious: because XSLT is a cornerstone of the core set of XML standards from the W3C, you can apply all your existing XML, XPath, and XSLT know-how and you can use the excellent tools support that is available for these standards. For example, you can easily develop and debug your XSLT stylesheet using the powerful XSLT debugger in XMLSpy, which allows you to single-step through the transformation, set breakpoints on XSLT instructions or even on data nodes in your Open XML document, view the partially generated output, and inspect the state of the XSLT processor in detail as the output document is constructed:

OOXML3

Using the XSLT Debugger eliminates a lot of the pain that is normally associated with XSLT stylesheet development and allows for a very iterative approach to creating and improving stylesheets that facilitate content reuse and repurposing.

To sum it up, reusing content from Open XML documents for a variety of web applications, mobile scenarios, or social media and Web 2.0 contexts is very easy and can be achieved with standard XML-related technologies, such as XSLT.

For additional information on Open XML and how to take advantage of all the content that is now already available in that format, please refer to the following sites: