Semi-Structured Data and the Web – Day 2

So, after little snow towards the end of the week, it pelted down on Sunday night, leaving the pavements and roads like an ice rink at 6am – I only narrowly avoided sliding down the hill to the tram stop on my backside. It’s at times like this I’m very glad of my thermos mug of tea!

Scheduling around last week’s coursework didn’t go perfectly – we ended up working til late on the Sunday night to finish off the last bits. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet up with my groupmate last week as it was quite late in the day before we actually sorted out the group assignments. It would have been handy to meet up and get a plan of attack together for the week’s coursework, and we were – perhaps – a little uncoordinated. That said, we just about made it, and everything got in on time. 08:55, for a 9am deadline kind of on-time, that is.

Week 1’s coursework consisted of one assessment, which was four questions asking for around a paragraph each on the W3C, DTDs and the like, as well as two assignments. The assignments were much more challenging pieces of work, one involving analysing the namespaces in XML documents using both the SAX (stream-based) and DOM (model-based) XML parser APIs in Java. The other assignment focussed on writing an XML description of the DTD format, then a DTD for the XML description itself.

If, as was stated, the intent of the coursework assignments was to ensure that I read around the subjects, then they were pretty darned successful. The short assessment questions were pretty straightforward, but the assessments had some interesting challenges in there. I’d also say the level of skill in Java programming required was also maybe non-trivial. Unless I did it the dumb/hard way (certainly not beyond the realms of possibility) you needed to be comfortable with recursion, references, the Collections API, and with reading and understanding javadocs.

It was stated that we were expected to put in 11-12 hours of time each week into the coursework… I think I was maybe at the 14 hour mark or somewhere around there by the time we got done.

The lecture format for the day was as last week, 09:00 until 12:30, then 13:45  until about 16:45. That sounds maybe a little painful, but it’s not so bad – the material is probably pretty dry, but the lecturers talk around the slides (yes, the reach of Powerpoint (or whatever the Mac version is) extends into our academic institutions) instead of just reading out the content. You could even go so far as to call the presentation style ‘animated’ at times – falling asleep isn’t really a risk!

Content covered in the morning session included XPath (XML traversal and node selection language) and XQuery (functional query language, uses XPath) and validation of documents against DTDs and XMLSchema. In the afternoon, we looked at some XML formats, like RDF/XML (Resource Description Language, XML syntax – a format for describing things) and OWL/XML (Web Ontology Language – an area Manchester University seems to be very active in, with our lecturers in this course appearing in a lot of author/contributor lists in the W3C documentation).

It’s also been great having a group partner today – someone to share the burden of coffee provision with. It’s just kind of nice to know a face in the lecture theatre, and I got the guided tour of the places I hadn’t been to before, like the MSc computing lab (at least there’s somewhere to plug the laptop in there!) and the common room – which is where the coffee now comes from.

All in, feeling pretty positive right now. The work is challenging, but doable – great combination. (I think – when it gets graded I guess I find out whether that’s true or not!) The material is deep, but has large practical applicability – for a start, I’ve never used SAX before – I sure have now).

Yep, I can do this. Maybe…

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