Towards a Vita(M or Q)L

It’s that time of year, the time when you have to tally up the year’s achievements to make sure your vita is up to date. It’s something I usually reserve for the holidays, because my university requires reports on the calendar year and not the academic year. (But our fiscal year runs from July to July, so, go figure.) The time is coming a little earlier this year because I volunteered to submit my Annual Performance Evaluation, or “ape” as we say around here, as a trial run for the department personnel committee. And, hey, it’s always a good ides to have an up to date vita, n’est-ce pas?

Like a lot of academics, I keep my vita in a monolithic word processing document — it used to be in Microsoft Word, now it’s in Apple Pages. Both are useful for the ease of formatting and pagination, but that’s about it. I have, a time or two, tried to keep the thing in a plain text file, using Markdown for the formatting, but Markdown likes to convert numbers into ordered lists, like this:

2013. Computing Folklore Studies. Mapping over a Century 
of Scholarly Production through Topics. _Journal of American 
Folklore_ 126(502):455–475.

into this:

  1. Computing Folklore Studies. Mapping over a Century of Scholarly Production through Topics. Journal of American Folklore 126(502):455–475.

Right now, I’ve hacked this, without hacking the php script that does the conversion, by adding a forward slash in front of all entries in the on-line version of my vita. To say the least, that is not an ideal solution.

The original problem as I imagined it was how to keep the formatted for paper version of the document in sync with the formatted for the web version. There’s no ready way I have found to go from .docx or .pages to .html. From Pages, you have to go through rtf or epub. Unfortunately, rtf loses all the semantic structure of the documents: the various levels of headings. The epub files that Pages generates are, in my estimation, overly complex, and the program doesn’t really give you any options on how to structure the output. Word’s html output is, er, legendary. (Maybe this has changed, but that would mean installing an additional word processing application on my computer just to handle the vita … well, that and every shared document anyone ever sends me, which is why I keep a version of Word on my office computer.)

Next step? LaTeX, of course!

Well, maybe not. LaTeX is a terrific markup language for generating formatted for paper, or paper-lookalike (PDF), documents, and you can generate html using a script — it’s how I converted the paper that Jonathan Goodwin and I wrote in order to submit to the Journal of American Folklore. But LaTeX isn’t so good at semantics. And, I realized that’s really what I wanted. In fact, here was my wish list:

  • a one-file solution: this could be XML or it could be SQLite or JSON, but what I want is something that can be easily moved, copied, and/or version-controlled, which means
  • an open source format: again, XML, SQLite, or JSON would work here, but I am open to other solutions.

I keep mentioning XML, SQLite, and JSON, because I also want a searchable format that will allow me to produce custom versions of the vita. Many of you know the drill:

  • someone wants to include you in a grant, but the granting agency only wants a two-page version of your vita; or,
  • someone wants a version that only has the last X years of your vita; or,
  • maybe they only want publications and conference papers and really don’t care about the committees on which you have served or the dissertations you have chaired; or,
  • maybe you only want to see what happened in a given year, because you are having a bit of amnesia; or
  • maybe you want to be able to mark certain items that should appear on any version of your vita no matter what the other criteria are (except for by date).

It doesn’t matter. This should be do-able. More importantly, how tired are you of scrolling up and down in the monolithic document that is your vita to insert something somewhere? Wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t matter where you inserted it because the application, or script, took care of the sequencing?

What I am describing, of course, is a database. A very, very simply database. One so simple it could probably be a CSV file, no? I have, and have used, FileMaker, but, to be honest, the application mostly annoys me. Its developers have been slow to update it, and the updates are always more than what I want to pay. (Let’s call that the Adobe effect, shall we?) And, I really don’t want to be beholden, as we say here in the South, to any particular application for access to something as critical to me as an academic as my vita. I’d like to be able to use just about any text editing application to hack on the thing if I have to.

What I am imagining at the moment is going with one of the file formats already mentioned and then putting together a collection of Python scripts, but maybe, just maybe, someone has already done this and is willing to share?

If not, I am filing this under Spring 2014 for a start date. Sorry. The Makers of Things is almost done, and I’ve got the next book waiting in the wings.

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