07 August 2008

ActiveMQ In Action - Free Chapters Available

If you're a user of Apache ActiveMQ then ActiveMQ In Action will be of interest to you. Not only because we're really focused on helping folks understand and use ActiveMQ, but also because Manning is offering early access to the chapter FOR FREE!

Recently Rob Davies, Dejan Bosanac and myself have embarked on writing a book about Apache ActiveMQ. The first few chapters are now available via the Manning Early Access Program in PDF form with more to come throughout the next few months. These chapters are raw and straight from the authoring/editing cycle so you're really getting an early look into them. There's even a forum for discussion of the book where you can ask questions and make suggestions if you have any.

And Now a Rant on the Writing Process...

It has been fun writing this book so far because we're not using a word processor - yay! When drawing up the proposal for the book, we agreed to utilize DocBook for writing the book. For this purpose, I believe all three of us have wound up using the XMLMind XML Editor because it supports DocBook so well. With the help of an article titled Getting Productive with XMLMind, so far it has been a pleasant experience.

This is a big departure from the other books I've written which were for other publishers and the writing process was very focused on the editors instead of authors. With the first three books I wrote, I was required to use Microsoft Word because that's what tool all of the editors used. The experience of many back-and-forth editing sessions with many people only helped me loath using Word even more. The usability of Word is just not very productive, especially once the document is so incredibly littered with change tracking and comments that it's barely readable. And it's binary format is a real pain in the ass because it can't be diffed or versioned easily.

The processes I've used with Word were really a dead end because once the document is in the Word format, it can't be easily transformed into other formats for the benefit of the technical authors. This is what caused a productivity nightmare for the authors because there was no real round-trip authoring/editing cycle because of this. There are only two solutions to this problem and neither of the publishers were willing to make any changes:

  1. Transform the Word doc to another format at every cycle of the authoring/editing cycle - This is a real non-starter because too much information is lost in the transformation and wouldn't make it out of or back into the Word format. IMO, this is where all word processors fail because the editing information is so tightly tied to the content itself. This is exactly why I like using diff and patch so much and why I write most things in just plain text of some sort. Diffs are completely separate from the source but patch is smart enough to semantically match many things. (If you're not familiar with diff and patch and you're interested, see something like Comparing and Merging Files with GNU diff and patch).

  2. Change the way the editors work, i.e., no more use of Word for editing - This is usually not workable because of the time, effort and cost involved with re-training editors in using different tools.

However, much to my surprise, Manning has already taken the second path I mentioned above! Its editors are perfectly OK with us using DocBook as the content format for the book and they even use XMLMind themselves. Unfortunately the content management system we use for authoring leaves a lot to be desired, but that's a different rant ;-).

As much as XMLMind is still a separate tool requiring point-and-click (I like my hands to stay on the keyboard which is why I'm a VIM nut), I've found it to be much more productive than Word already. I think in large part this is due to the fact that it doesn't have nearly as many bells and whistles as Word therefore there's just less crap in the document. XMLMind is very focused on the content and less focused on the eye candy which I really like - a tool that more or less stays out of your way.

If you've read this far into my rant, I congratulate you. This topic is near to me because I've spent so much time writing and putting together presentations in the last few years mainly using processes and tools that just aggravated the shit out of me. I could go on and on about this topic but for now I'll spare you the details. I know that Jason and I have discussed this at length in the past because it has affected us so much. Maybe I'll continue this later in a separate entry another time.


  1. Pretty cool that you can take your writing back down to a text-diffable format these days with a progressive publisher like Manning. I'll go grab the EA chapter and take a look...

  2. XMLMind is the best for XML WYSIWYG editing, especially for a well defined format like DocBook.

    The oXygen XML editor also has good WYSIWG editing with DocBook. But it shines with customized XML formats when you need to edit the the CSS and DTD.