Legal E– PUB?

I suppose it’s natural that I wonder every so often how well EPUB could be used to represent acts, regulations, case law and all the other (boring to everyone else) documents that are critical to the field. I did get my first “real” data job in legal publishing, after all.

And, yes, I realize how sad it must sound that I spend my free time thinking about translating legal documents to EPUB.

But whatever your sympathies, I spent a little time looking at the problems again by tinkering with some legislation I pulled off the web, so thought I’d recap what I was finding.

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The meaning of… links

To return to basics for a moment, I’ve been feeling the need to chime in that hyperlinks should speak for themselves, whether you are using an assistive technology or not. So let the chiming begin!

I tend to think of this requirement as up there in familiarity with including alternative text for images, but then my bubble keeps getting popped. A couple of times recently, even.

But I’m not going to throw stones only at others today, as one instance I came across was on the home page for this site.

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MathML Support in EPUB

Can you have an ebook format for education that doesn’t support math? (Note: it’s a rhetorical question!)

Math is pervasive, despite the common perception that it’s only for STEM. Even novels have been known to include equations from time-to-time.

And yet consumer-end MathML support in digital works is still lacking, despite two decades of work in W3C. If you want the whole story, Peter Krautzberger has written a fantastic article on the history of MathML and support in browsers that I’d highly recommend reading. I’m not going to attempt anything similar today, as there’s nothing of value a math neophyte like me could add.

Rather, what has me thinking MathML is the upcoming second EDUPUB conference, and the lack of consistent rendering, and voicing, of math in EPUB reading systems. In particular, how do we effect real change?

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Semantically Structuring HTML

I don’t know what has me thinking about the use of the epub:type attribute to structure HTML markup today, except for the obvious sad fact that I like thinking about markup issues.

The attribute is increasingly being used to build a kind of semantic scaffolding to prop up the generic markup that is HTML — going beyond simple semantic inflection of structures into semantic markup models where there are required parent and child relationships.

It’s not a new idea, but can it succeed in EPUB?
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Hyperlink to non-standard resource …

If you’ve seen this message from epubcheck, you know where this post is going.

It’s easy to get tripped up on EPUB’s web-like, but not quite web, quirks, as what is valid to do on in a web page isn’t always valid to do in an EPUB. Particularly when it comes to linking to resources, as you have to follow EPUB’s core media type requirements.

If epubcheck has spewed the “hyperlink to non-standard resource” message at you, it’s because you can only have internal links go to XHTML or SVG documents, at least without a fallback.

But don’t fret. There are some easy, and not-so-easy, workarounds to this problem, which is what I’m going to look at.

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What a little birdy didn’t tell me…

Every now and again I receive emails from twitter that someone has mentioned me or one of these blog posts, and I get slightly ashamed that I’ve never embraced the platform.

It happened again the other day when there was a small series of tweets about the post I did on DAISY to EPUB migration. While those messages didn’t call for a response, I feel bad that people might think I’m actively following twitter and snubbing them.

I’m not even sure if my lack of activity betrays that I don’t actively use the platform, either, as lurkers seem to outnumber posters.

This, then, is my apology in advance for all future transgressions in the twitterverse.
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Who’s afraid of the world wide web?

There are certain aspects of EPUB 3 that are underspecified by default.

The navigation document I detailed in the last post is one example. While the rules for structuring the markup are delineated in the specification, the specification itself is not out to mandate the presentation.

Scripting is another example, but in a slightly different way. JavaScript is already well defined, so the flexibility doesn’t come from under-specification of the technology, but from flexibility to restrict what a script can do. Although this flexibility was given with best of intentions, content creators are now finding themselves at the mercy of the lowest common support denominator.
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Tables of Contents Revisited

Alas… I don’t think I can say I learned while working on the best practices book that no matter how detailed you think you’ve reviewed your prose, some flubs will make it through.

Only because I learned that lesson a long time ago when I first got into publishing. I’ve seen notes from an author to an editor in a final print run, after all. (Thankfully, the editor wasn’t me!)

It doesn’t surprise me, then, that some errata has been noted, or that I’m the one reporting some of it. You can only hope that your mistakes are small, and the errata haven’t been all that critical to date.

That said, when you make an error, there’s no point running from it, and the two bits of errata that most bother me are both in the navigation chapter. I just gave a brief synopsis of one of the issues in the IDPF forums, so I figured I’d take a little more time to outline them both here.

And maybe take a look at a couple of additional clarifications we tried to make during the 3.0.1 revision, as grasping the in-spine and out-of-spine uses is proving to be generally confusing.

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The death of headers and footers… for now

Page headerIf you’ve ever tried to create custom headers and footers for your ebook, you probably realized pretty quickly that it’s a near impossible task. Although reading systems generate their own headers and footers, control over them has never been afforded to the people creating the content.

The EPUB specification has, for a long time, included the custom CSS values oeb-page-head and oeb-page-foot for the display property. Control over the headers and footers was ostensibly given to content creators by setting these values on an element containing the header or footer. I’d typically give an example of how this is done, except…

Despite the best intentions of the specification, no one’s implemented the feature in a reading system (or not very well, as Digital Editions has an awkward attempt at them). But optimism prevailed, and the functionality has persisted through revisions without any real-world application. That is, until 3.0.1.

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Some Nuances of Media Overlays

Although support for text and audio synchronization in EPUB reading systems still isn’t complete or perfect, we’ve been learning more about the optimal ways to generate the content.

I keep having conversations about overlays and then keep forgetting to write down what the issues and resolutions are, so decided to make that the topic for the day.

This post will probably be a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas, so you’ll just have to bear with me.

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