Vincent Spiewak

...If it had not been for my aunt, it is very unlikely that I would have taken on this challenge alone.

Vincent Spiewak speaking at the DAISY2009 Conference in Leipzig, GermanyI was asked what inspired me to develop odt2dtbook and then to take it another step further to odt2daisy. My great aunt, Denise Marchand, was my inspiration, and this is my story.

My aunt (in fact she's the aunt of my mother, but I consider her as my aunt also) Denise Marchand, began to progressively lose 90% of her ability to see due to macular degeneration in 1997. She started to use audio tapes to read books, but she wasn't satisfied because of the lack of navigation that has always been a problem with books on tape. When I visited her in 1997, I quickly understood that this was not the only problem with books on tape - the other very big problem was that only a very small percentage of published books were actually available on audio tapes.

I started programming as a hobby in 1999 and then received a Bachelor's degree in Computer Sciences in 2007 at UPMC (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris). Following this I applied for a Master's degree in Computer Sciences at UPMC. During the first year of the Master's, you have to select a project from a list of proposed topics and work on it for the last six months of the degree. Denise Marchand, Vincent Spiewak's great aunt One of them was " to DAISY XML". I googled the word DAISY and immediately understood that DAISY is the replacement for audio tapes/CDs that my aunt used, that it was the standard for digital talking books.

So, I decided to work on " to DAISY XML". I was the only student interested in it, so I started to develop the project alone (normally, the projects in the list are for groups of 2 or 4 students) in January 2008 under the name odt2dtbook. I had no knowledge in extension mechanism, Uno API (language for, DAISY XML, or ODT. I downloaded the dtbook2005-3.dtd and the DAISY Structure Guidelines, the Developer Guide, and the OASIS ODT Specifications, and started to study DAISY XML and ODT format. If it had not been for my aunt, it is very unlikely that I would have taken on this challenge alone.

It was very tight. My goal was to provide for my university (but also for the DAISY community) a result in the next six months, but I was aware of the challenge and knew what a great step forward it would be to include a "Save as DAISY" feature into a mainstream, open source, office software. I submitted my first version around April - it was the beta 0.4 version of odt2dtbook. That same week, Peter Korn, the Sun Accessibility Architect, sent me an email and asked me for more information about this project. Markus Gylling, Chief Technology Officer for the DAISY Consortium, also sent me an email to ask me more information and how we could collaborate.

Odt2DAISY logoIt was a great surprise to see that my work was of interest to others, my work on ODT to DAISY. It was a real pleasure to be contacted by an ODT TC Member and a DAISY Member, and moreover, they are famous and respected in their domain.

The next month, Greg Kearney also sent me an email. He helped me a lot with odt2dtbook/odt2daisy by testing and reviewing it. He also suggested some features to me, including the "advanced page numbering" feature, DAISY 2.02 support, etc.

After this six month mission, odt2dtbook was a small DAISY XML exporter, but it still did not have support for page numbering. I kept working on it and finally, on October 13, 2008, I launched odt2dtbook 1.0. The university was very pleased with my 'six month mission', and I received the best rate that year (a rating of 19.5 out of a possible 20).

One Sunday, probably the first of June, 2008, I saw by chance the SUN Community Innovation Program on the website. I had only two weeks to complete all of the documents necessary to apply.

In October, the odt2dtbook project won a Gold Award from the Sun Microsystems Community Innovation Program in the Technical/Extensions category. The cash prize was $13,750 (10000€), and the money was shared by my supervisor and me. I went to Conference (OOoCon 2008) in Beijing with some of the prize money.

In September 2008 I started the second year of my Master's degree in TA specialty (Technologies Applicatives). I tried to fix the bugs in odt2dtbook during this year, but it was really hard as the TA specialty requires a lot of work - that's probably why the Master's degree in TA is one of the best IT degrees in France. I tried to 'bugfix' odt2dtbook and release 1.1 and 1.2 versions, but found a lot of 'regression' bugs.

ÆGIS logo In June 2009, after completing my Master's in TA, I had to do an internship of six months to validate it. Peter Korn proposed an internship to me, to make ODT to Full DAISY at KUL (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) within the framework of the ÆGIS (Open Accessibility Everywhere: Groundwork, Infrastructure, Standards) Technologies Applicatives project. I met him in Paris, and during a dinner we decided to change the name of odt2dtbook to odt2daisy so that people would more quickly know what it was.

My work was based on Unit Testing at KUL. I authored 166 files in ODT, then converted them into DAISY. I tried to cover the whole ODT specification with all of these files. I reviewed them and saw where the bugs were. Now I use this set of ODT/DAISY files to test my projects. I launch the conversion of the 166 odt files into DAISY and compare the result to the DAISY files I have already reviewed. If they are not similar, I know that there is something wrong. It allowed me to detect/patch around 20 bugs with this process.

Then I tried to include the DAISY Pipeline Lite into the odt2dtbook extension. The Pipeline Lite was only available for Mac OS X and Windows, so I made a version for Linux and Solaris using the Mac OS X version (with instructions from Romain Deltour, a developer for the DAISY Consortium). I also made some UI improvements. All changes since odt2dtbook can be found on the website

I would like to thank the people who have helped me:

  • Greg Kearney
  • Romain Deltour
  • Markus Gylling
  • Dominique Burger and the whole BrailleNet team
  • Peter Korn

And of course, special thanks to my dear aunt Denise who passed away two months ago, about two months before the release of odt2daisy.

Editor's Note: Additional information about Vincent's work and the odt2daisy project is provided in the ÆGIS press release. This work done by Vincent over the past six months was with K.U.Leuven DocArch, the Research Group on Document Architecture at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. DocArch does research on information structures and accessibility of information and is also an XML knowledge centre. A separate section for Save as DAISY - has been added to the Projects area of the DAISY website.