8 February 2011
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Soon after starting to write the Frugalware Linux newsletter I realised that some of the tasks I did could be automated. The bug fixes and security announcements are sections that could be automated, for example. The previous newsletter’s author had created a PHP script which fully automated the production of the security announcements’ table. Since taking over the role I had made only one small change to his script. Several years later I have just started more significant work to automate some aspects of the newsletter’s production. Anyone who had been watching me over that time would have thought I was sitting still. There are two things I am working on at the moment: AsciiDoc-ising the newsletter and automating the production of the bugs status section.
AsciiDoc is a tool written in Python which takes documents written in a “light” markup language and can convert them into HTML, PDF, ePub and several other formats. We currently use it to produce the official Frugalware documentation. So far the newsletter has been written in HTML and handling the markup gets in the way of writing content. This is very much like the reason CSS was invented and has proven so popular. AsciiDoc not only allows the writer to focus on writing but also makes it possible to publish in formats the author may not have considered before. The conversion of the newsletter has been successful so far, although it hasn’t yet been used to produce a published issue. Taking this one step further I am using another feature of AsciiDoc which allows me to have a master document which refers to the various sub-documents. When I run the AsciiDoc tool over the master document, the output is one document which consists of the sub-documents put together. The advantage I have here is that I can write individual pieces, allowing me to focus on smaller pieces at a time. It also means that I can write pieces in advance and quickly assemble several pieces into a completed newsletter.
I am also working to improve the level of automation in producing the newsletter. I have started on a Bash script to produce the bugs activity section. This is already partially automated because I already use a Bash script but the existing script must be edited every time I want to update the statistics. Results so far have been promising so I hope I’ll have this ready in time for the next issue.
I have written this in case readers of the newsletter are interested in the planned improvements. Once this stage of work is done I’d like to review the newsletter’s content to see if it can also be improved. Maybe there are areas of Frugalware that readers would be interested in seeing covered? Until more time is available though, the arrangements will have to remain as they are now.