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Sun 29 Feb 2004

Joy and Verve, and InDesign

Category : Commentary/IndesignJoyVerve.txt

We slipped into this by chance. Somewhere along the way, putting together the Java course, I decided I need to include a concise description of the Java language, together with an explanation of classes and objects, encapsulation, inheritance, method overriding, and exception handling. Something that a person can get a good grasp of the language with, over a weekend of reading. Something along the line of Java in a Nutshell, the very first (slim) edition of which I bought many years ago, and which did the job for me - i.e., taught me Java over a weekend.

Due to the shortage of time, I quickly extracted just the parts I need, in an effort that will be difficult to defend against charges of plagiarism. So, I'm going to promise that I will make sure all the students are encouraged to buy the now much-fattened book from O'Reilly, and subsequently rewrite all my notes in my own style, with our own examples, for future courses.

But the point I'm getting at is about InDesign. I used InDesign to create that language guide and I always knew I could print out a PDF version to distribute to the students. But then I realised that I could export a "text-selectable" version of the notes using InDesign's export-to-PDF feature.

So I tried it out and, yes, you can select the snippets of code, copy them into BBedit or Xcode, and run them right away. So we're on a roll. We quickly moved in all of our examples, both Java and AppleScript code, and wrote up the tutorials, all in InDesign.

Except for some problems we continue to have with either InDesign or the PDF file, or BBEdit or Xcode, putting in extraneous characters that mess up the purity of the copy and paste process, we can pretty much run the course off the PDF version of the course notes - with all the explanatory pictures, instructions and source code available in one place.

Fortune may, or may not, favour the brave - but we've now got a way to move people quickly through a course - and we're going to find out if it works, or not, soon.

But that's not all about InDesign. If you're on QuarkXPress, PageMaker, or, horrors, still on OS 9, dump them all and move on to inDesign on OS X. It's a high-performance productivity engine. Plus, you get application integration between the Adobe applications that, for once, live up to their marketing hype.

And the Adobe applications really do exploit the OS X platform. While you're designing the look of the page, you may not like the fonts you already have on your system. For example, I felt serif typefaces didn't look quite at home on a page about Java and object-oriented programming. I wanted a clean modern serif-less typeface. I got out the OS X Font Book, looked through all the fonts I have, and loaded in a couple more that I happened to have on my external hard disk. When I got back to InDesign, the new fonts were picked up automatically by the running program. If you use style sheets, it's a snap to switch in the new fonts and see the effects percolate through the document.

So, at one go, I'm writing a manual for computer programmmers, looking through a book about type faces ("The ABC's of Type : A Guide to Contemporary Typefaces" by Allan Haley), and I'm putting it all together in InDesign. So I'm a writer, geek, and designer, all at once.

And, one more thing. It's so easy to build a Table of Contents in InDesign from the style sheets' structure. And you can put in hyperlinks that will lead your reader to other resources on the web, when they're clicked on. Export them all into a PDF document, and you've produced an indexed, free-text searchable book that faithfully represents the look you've designed into the original document. And you've done it just like a pro.

Posted at 9:47AM UTC | permalink

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