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Subject: Re: describing fire-rescue actions in xml
From: "G. Ken Holman" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:General discussion of Extensible Markup Language <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 29 Dec 2007 08:38:13 -0500
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At 2007-12-29 11:29 +0100, Karol Krenski wrote:
>I am doing a scientific research for my Phd thesis. The idea is to
>describe fire-rescue operations in a computer-friendly form. My first
>idea was to create a new language and XML came immediately to my mind as
>the language allowing for description of any domain. Last few months I
>was learning about XML, RelaxNG and XSLT technologies. The more I am
>into it, the more doubt arises about choosing the right tools for the
>task.

When you say "tools", are you asking about the appropriateness of the 
technology, or the vendor tools to work with that technology?

>The XML power may come from its ability to exchange documents among
>different organizations, which haven't stuck to a common standard. But
>the National Fire Service will not exchange their documents with outside
>world and can easily agree on one standard - the standard may be
>specified by some headquarters department.

Fine ... so you have a closed environment.  Are all of the 
hardware/software platforms identical in this closed community, or 
can individuals select their own systems?

>The National Fire Service works in computer network environment. Then
>the alternative is to use a relational database and create the language
>using database schemas. This would additionaly allow for faster queries
>if the data would feed the decission support system (which is not my
>main focus). But the big question is 'do database schemas are as much
>descriptive as XML'?

A bigger question might be "descriptive of what?".

>I know nothing about databases and certainly don't
>have the big picture of existing technologies and their applications.

Then it might be difficult to compare.

>I would much prefer to use XML - I am already familiar with it and
>researched XML's applications: SVG and MathMl. What I am really looking
>for is the arguments in XML vs relational databases in favour of the
>first one. Could I please ask you for a comment?

The only description of your information that you have provided is 
"describe fire-rescue operations in a computer-friendly form".

This is very different than describing, say, the lists of ignition 
temperatures for different building materials, or the street numbers 
of residences for a given street.  Not being familiar with your 
world, I'm just trying to guess the kind of information that would be 
looked up in a database, where you have a key value and associated 
lookup values with that key.  Your needs for accessing the 
information lead you to choose the appropriate technology.  A 
relational database seems quite suitable for such lookup/return 
accessibility to such information.

If describing fire-rescue operations are done in one or more human 
languages, then you aren't dealing with atomic values being returned 
from the query of a single key value.  You are instead dealing with 
prose.  And interspersed within that prose is information that has 
meaning (participants, participant roles, equipment, statute 
references, etc.).  Again, ask yourself how are you going to be 
accessing the information, and this will help you choose the 
technology.  Your goals may be to rearrange the information into 
different human languages (for pan-European standardization, or 
Canadian English/French bilingual reasons), with different 
presentations on the web (using XSLT/XHTML) or on paper (using 
XSLT/XSL-FO), or for different audiences (summary procedures for 
management, detailed procedures for safety personnel).

Only you can know how you envisage maintaining this information:

  - where will you find it?
  - how will it be entered into the system?
  - how will it be retrieved from the system?
  - how will it be rearranged into arrangements for different audiences?
  - how will it be presented to each audience?
  - what information needs to be gleaned from each arrangement?
  - (many more...)

Using XML is not a panacea.  It doesn't solve all problems well.  It 
does solve semi-structured and prose information very well.  It 
doesn't solve highly-structured high-speed-lookup tabular structure 
as well as database technology does.

In your experience with SVG and MathML, what is it about your use of 
these vocabularies that XML makes easy?  I suspect these 
semi-structured vocabularies give the power to the user to arrange 
the bits any way they wish in an unstructured fashion, but the bits 
themselves are structured.  Vocabularies like DocBook and DITA are 
structured collections of unstructured bits, where the section 
arrangements are structured but the paragraph contents inside those 
sections are unstructured.

Ask yourself:  are fire-rescue operations an unstructured collection 
of structured bits, or a structured collection of unstructured 
bits?  If not, then perhaps you don't need XML.

If you have a structured collection of structured bits, database 
technology might be more appropriate.

I hope this is helpful.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ken

--
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G. Ken Holman                 mailto:[log in to unmask]
Crane Softwrights Ltd.          http://www.CraneSoftwrights.com/l/
Box 266, Kars, Ontario CANADA K0A-2E0    +1(613)489-0999 (F:-0995)
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