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Creating Elegant Reports for GPS XML Data


In our earlier post on XML for Global Positioning Systems, we mentioned that adventurers and athletes might want to use XML data from their devices to keep a record of their trips, or even training sessions leading up a marathon or other special event. Several colleagues responded by offering example files!

Looking through all this data, we realized that plotting elevation changes over time would show interesting results for many activities. We used XMLSpy to create this customized line graph directly from the XML data to show elevation vs. time for an afternoon of bicycling through California wine country. We even applied the vineyard photo as a background image right from the XMLSpy chart settings dialog.

Line chart generated by XMLSpy

Whenever you want to elegantly present data from multiple XML data files based on the same XML Schema, Altova StyleVision is the tool that lets you design a richly featured stylesheet for repeatable output in HTML, RTF, PDF, or Microsoft Word formats. Here’s how we did It for our GPS XML data:

Read more…

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Using the StyleVision Combo Box to Support Data Visibility Requirements


Altova is always on the lookout for ways to help software developers and architects meet the challenges presented by the increasingly complex collection, storage and retrieval requirements of end users. In fact, we recently enhanced the functionality of the combo box in StyleVision to provide developers with additional flexibility around collecting and populating data. There are three ways to define the items in a combo box and their associated XML values – automatically based on a valid schema, manually with a list of populated values and dynamically with an XPath expression. In the latter two scenarios, the value that appears to the end user can be different than the value that will populate the file or database. This feature is particularly useful in cases where the “meaning” of the underlying data isn’t obvious or intelligible to an end user (e.g., a seven digit part number). The values in a combo box can be automatically populated with enumerations from a valid schema. In this case the value that appears to the end user is identical to the XML value that will populate the file or database.Altova StyleVision The functionality is perfect in cases where the elements in the schema provide an accurate reflection of the data content as understood by multiple stakeholders (e.g., end user selects Four to indicate group assignment, which populates the file with the XML value Four). Developers can also populate the combo box manually, defining both the value that appears to the end user and the XML value that will populate the file or database. These values do not need to be the same. So, for example, an end user can select Acme Dishwasher, Stainless while a complex product code populates the file or database used to generate the purchase order. This is an especially useful for collecting standardized data using organization or department-specific taxonomies and supporting multi-lingual applications. Finally, combo boxes can be populated dynamically via XPath expression. Use the same XPath expression to define the values that the end user sees as well as their associated XML values or use different XPath expressions to identify discrete values. If you use different XPath expressions the values the end user sees and their XML values are automatically mapped to one another. In the example below, the end user is prompted to select the group to which he is currently assigned (one, two, three or four). However the group number (not the name) will populate the database. Please note that the values the end user sees could be sorted in alphabetical (or numerical) order if the Sort Values in Authentic box were to be checked. The XPath expressions above produce the output below – the end user selects “Two” but a numeric value is saved to the XML document. The combo box – particularly one that supports the differentiation of values visible to the end user and those that actually populate the database or file – is an invaluable resource in the design of electronic forms. StyleVision automatically generates the stylesheet for an electronic form along with those for HTML, PDF, Word 20007+ and RTF from your template. The Authentic eForm provides an interface for end users to enter and edit XML or database data and is viewable in Authentic View, Altova’s free graphical XML document editor. Have you used enhanced combo box functionality to solve a data entry or population issue? Share it with our active community of StyleVision users by posting to our Facebook wall, commenting here on our blog or joining a discussion in our User Forum on our Website!

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New in StyleVision v2010


Over fifteen new features, and they’re not small ones either, they’re the kind that a Marketing Manager has to write about. Several months ago I was groaning (inwardly, of course) about this. But the v2010 release is out, the StyleVision v2010 feature descriptions are written, and now I am genuinely excited to share with all of you the powerful functionality in the "Most Wanted" release. All of these features, I remind you, were directly requested by our customers either in person at the Altova tradeshow booth, or online via our Support Center or user forums – so please keep them coming! I will briefly outline some of the new functionality in StyleVision v2010 below, and make sure you look out for future posts where we will be highlighting specific features in all of the MissionKit tools in more detail. The best news of all though, is that we’ve just released the updated StyleVision online training that covers many of the new features in v2010. StyleVision is a unique tool for designing stylesheets and building reports based on XML and database data and simultaneously publishing them in HTML, RTF, PDF, Word 2007, and/or Authentic e-Forms. Completely new design paradigm To call this a "feature" simply doesn’t do it justice. The StyleVision user interface has been redesigned to give you an alternative method for how you structure your templates. Current users do not panic, this is just an option and you will still be able to use StyleVision in the way that you have learned to love. The rest of you, however, can now approach StyleVision in the same way you do common desktop applications, adding style first and content afterward. Templates can now be created within layout containers, and an optional blueprint image can be inserted as a design guide. clip_image002 Layout containers can: · Be inserted within document templates or encompass the entire document. · Inherit the dimensions of the document section or have user-defined dimensions. · Be assigned any number of style properties (borders, background color, font, etc.). · Contain a blueprint image to serve as a reference template for the design. True electronic form design through absolute positioning Absolute positioning in StyleVision coupled with the new design paradigm mentioned above lets you easily and precisely design templates for electronic forms. You can insert design elements like lines, boxes, text, etc. by specifying their x and y coordinates in the document section. Take a look at the example below – an I-9 form template based on an imported blueprint image – to see how this works. clip_image004 Support for multiple page layouts in the same document This is an extremely important feature for anyone working with print formats in StyleVision where it is not uncommon to find pages with many different requirements in the same document. For example, you may need to intersperse pages of different sizes, landscape and portrait modes, different headers and/or footers, etc. You can now use document sections to specify different layout properties for your templates. clip_image006 Column formatting for print output formats Another great new feature for print output in StyleVision is the ability to add automatically formatted columns in template designs – columns that flow content from the bottom of one column to the top of the next. clip_image007 Inline HTML, XSLT, XSL:FO processing commands And now let’s delve a little into the more technical new features in StyleVision… You can now insert processing commands at virtually any point in your design templates. This gives you the flexibility to call upon functionality that is not necessarily natively supported in StyleVision. clip_image009 Ability to import external XSLT files StyleVision now also allows you to import external XSLT files as part of their template designs. This adds an xsl:import statement to the StyleVision stylesheet and enables you to add your hard coded XSLT files to styles and other integrated features from the StyleVision design interface. clip_image010 Extension templates based on any XPath StyleVision now also supports the use of XPath wildcards: (*, node(), etc.) and the | operator, for example, can now be used for user-designed templates that can output a wide range of variable data based on the referenced XML source code. This allows for full flexibility in selecting nodes and values from any XML location and in any combination within your document(s). clip_image011 Additional new features in StyleVision v2010 That is a brief list of my favorite new features from the StyleVision v2010 "Most Wanted" release, but we have also included many others such as: · Ability to print design templates · XHTML output option · Disable-output-escaping function · Ability to modify output DPI · Support for variables in design · Native code calls (.NET, Java, JavaScript, etc.) in XPath statements   Download a free trial of StyleVision v2010 – or if you have active SMP, download your upgrade today!

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XML & Digital Textbooks


Last Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting article on the front page about digital textbooks for the K-12 market. The piece was undoubtedly partially inspired by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (he’s from California by the way) recently announced initiative that will replace some high school textbooks with digital versions. In fact, compared to standard printed texts, digital textbooks:

  • Can be more quickly and readily updated by publishers
  • Can often be purchased as individual chapters or a complete text
  • Are easier to store and transport, if downloaded to a portable computer
  • Can be combined with other digital materials, such as portions of other textbooks, periodical articles, instructor-provided materials, etc.
  • Can offer enormous cost-savings of because of elimination of materials, shipping and storage costs that are partially passed on to purchasers
  • Provide purchasing and procurement efficiencies
  • May feature learning tools content such as hyperlinks to related learning modules, electronic annotation by students, keyword searches, additional graphics and pop-up modules that furnish additional information

And so XML will finally have a chance to truly demonstrate its power in the K-12 market. For my part, I cannot think of a better example of the efficiencies of XML publishing than for education. Certainly most, if not all, of the major educational publishers are already using XML workflows internally because of benefits like validation, single source publishing, amenability to standards and metadata tagging, etc. XML also gives publishers the ability to easily manage multi-dimensional educational content. Educational content, like textbooks and other learning materials, is usually structured around a fairly simple content model using word forms such as titles, paragraphs, quotes, etc. The second dimension of the content is contextual information – footnotes, glossary terms, highlighting items – anything that may be necessary to target a specific audience. For instance, if a piece of content is to be included in a sixth grade textbook it would have different markup than if it were to be used for an eighth grade classroom. The third dimension of K-12 educational content is the standards dimension. Standards are in most cases on the state level and are used to ensure that teachers know exactly what topics they are teaching in a particular piece of the content, ensuring they are covering the complete set of standards for state aptitude tests, like the MCAS. The standards dimension itself has the potential for further layering as content producers adopt their own standards to guide teachers to other relevant standards and topics that the content is aligned to. XML is particularly well-suited to digital publishing of educational content for its ability to easily separate or layer these dimensions and repurpose it in nearly unlimited ways without the need for rekeying information. For example, one company in the article, CK-12 Foundation, develops free “flexbooks” that can be customized to correlate with state standards. Without XML, this would be a nearly (if not completely) impossible undertaking – with XML you can use many of the existing XML content creation tools to streamline the process. So what has taken so long for the K-12 market to embrace XML-enabled digital learning materials? Well, it appears that the issue is an economical one. We still live in a country where many students do not have access to a computer, and few school districts have the means to provide them. Perhaps in the near future there will be a solution for this problem – and perhaps, just perhaps, California has just taken the first steps to lead us in the right direction. So, where does Altova fit into this equation? Well, the Altova MissionKit offers support for intelligent XML content creation and editing for both technical and non-technical users. These tools give educational publishers and other content contributors the ability to work with structured XML content in a comfortable atmosphere, with easy-to-use interfaces, entry-helpers, drag and drop functionality, and a wide variety of options that make working in a team environment a flexible and even seamless process. Visit the Altova website to read more about the MissionKit – or download a free 30-day trial today!

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