Subject: Re: XHTML/XSL
From: <puff -at- guild -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 11 Apr 2001 15:56:40 -0400

> Sam's books are good for beginners, but pretty shallow. ORA books
> generally are harder to learn from, but are much deeper and will
> serve you well as reference works after learning the topic.

I generally agree; although in recent years their quality has
slipped a little, as O'Reilly has widened its product line and started
to publish books directed at less technical folks.

I think the big difference of O'Reilly books is that they assume
you are going to be smart and competent enough to figure it out, or to
go look it up elsewhere. Hence they don't take ten times as long to
say something, or to include an explanatory note or definition every
time they mention a term. Often this is a Good Thing, sometimes it
isn't. For particularly tough topics, I like to have both an O'Reilly
book and a more detailed, step-by-step book to occasionally fall back
on for clarification.

> Sort of like the difference between a textbook for learning german
> and a german-english dictionary. (Though most of what I know about
> reading german comes from Langensheidt's?)

I don't agree. While one of O'Reilly's most popular lines is
their "nutshell" series of reference books, even the nutshell books
are not merely a dictionary, but contain crucial overview and summary
information that ties the topic together. Nutshell or not, the
quintessential O'Reilly books share a common sense of conciseness
(concision?). I have a weird sense of deja vu, like I recently posted
about this same topic, but...

A good writer takes ideas and concepts and makes them accessible
to the reader by presenting them clearly and succinctly. Some ideas
and concepts are too complex for that. A good writer then looks for
ways to present the thing in some limited form, by:

breaking it up into large chunks,

using a metaphor or analogy to illustrate the bones of the thing,
then building from there

breaking it down into different perspectives.

Sometimes, however, things are not really amenable to any of
these approaches - sometimes because they just aren't, sometimes
because you run into chicken and egg problems where A is only
comprehensible in the context of B and B is only comprehensible in the
context of A, etc. These topics seem to come up particularly often in
technology areas, and when they do, the O'Reilly approach is one of
the better ones.

> XHTML is merely HTML recast to fit "normal" XML/SGML.

This may need a bit of clarification for the poster who asked the
initial question. I'm not really familiar with XHTML, but from my
understanding it's mostly an attempt to come up with XML-legal HTML.
XML is somewhat stricter about certain rules of syntax and grammar
than HTML is. The most common two examples I can think of are quoting
and binary/unary tags:

XML requires all attributes to be quoted, i.e. <BODY BG=blue> is
not legal in XML, it MUST always be <BODY BG="blue">.

In HTML it's common to use a <P> tag by itself to create spacing,
but in XML you have to either close all tags (in this example
with a </P>) tag) or use a unary tag (<BR> for example, would be

> XSL is (once again, only my opinion) a much-hyped version of CSS,
> aimed at XML/SGML. My (admittedly incomplete) understanding of it
> is that it makes no sense to say you "create documents in XSL"
> because XSL merely describes the appearance of the document, not its
> content; the document itself resides somewhere apart from XSL.

XSL cotains two different pieces, commonly referred to as XSL-FO
and XSLT. XSL-FO is for presentation formating and is indeed, I am
told, strongly related to CSS. XSLT is for structural transformation.
You would not "create documents in XSL", but you could "code an XSLT
that creates documents", usually on the fly from static documents and
templates or data pulled from a database.

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- guild -dot- net


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