Simon St. Laurent

Ithaca, New York

Areas of Expertise:

  • Rails
  • XML
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • documentation

Simon St. Laurent is a web developer, network administrator, computer book author, and XML troublemaker living in the Town of Dryden, NY. His books include Learning Rails, XML: A Primer, XML Elements of Style, Cookies, Office 2003 XML, and the XML Pocket Reference.

You can find his writing on everything from technology to Quakerism to life in Dryden to gardening to New York State politics aggregated at

Introducing Erlang Introducing Erlang
by Simon St. Laurent
September 2012

Learning Rails 3 Learning Rails 3
by Simon St. Laurent , Edd Dumbill , Eric J. Gruber
July 2012
Print: $34.99
Ebook: $27.99

Learning Rails: Live Edition Learning Rails: Live Edition
by Edd Dumbill , Simon St. Laurent
July 2010

Learning Rails Learning Rails
by Simon St. Laurent , Edd Dumbill
November 2008

XML Pocket Reference XML Pocket Reference
by Simon St. Laurent , Michael Fitzgerald
Third Edition August 2005
Print: $9.95
Ebook: $7.99

Office 2003 XML Office 2003 XML
by Evan Lenz , Mary McRae , Simon St. Laurent
May 2004
Print: $44.99

Programming Web Services with XML-RPC Programming Web Services with XML-RPC
by Simon St. Laurent , Joe Johnston , Edd Dumbill
June 2001
Print: $34.95

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Simon blogs at:

CSS keeps growing

October 24 2012

Eric Meyer, the author of CSS: The Definitive Guide (and much more) has taught thousands of people CSS through his books, his talks, and his articles. I’ve always enjoyed hearing his take on the state of CSS, as he manages … read more

Shrinking and stretching the boundaries of markup

August 14 2012

It’s easy to forget that XML started out as a simplification process, trimming SGML into a more manageable and more parseable specification. Once XML reached a broad audience, of course, new specifications piled on top of it to create an … read more

Applying markup to complexity

August 09 2012

When XML exploded onto the scene, it ignited visions of magical communications, simplified document storage, and a whole new wave of application capabilities. Reality has proved calmer, with competition from JSON and other formats tackling a wide variety of problems, … read more

JavaScript and Dart: Can we do better?

May 17 2012

O'Reilly editor Simon St. Laurent talked with Google's Seth Ladd about the challenges of improving the web.  How can we build on JavaScript's ubiquity while addressing performance, team, and scale issues? read more

Understanding Mojito

May 10 2012

O'Reilly editor Simon St. Laurent talked with Yahoo's Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz about the possibilities Node opened and Mojito exploits. Yahoo's Mojito is a different kind of framework: all JavaScript, but running on both the client and the server. read more

Writing Apps as Enriched Documents

June 24 2010

I've been surprising people more people than I expected lately with the revelation that it's possible to write iPhone and Android applications as a pile of HTML and CSS documents with some accompanying JavaScript. I'm far from the first to... read more

Toward a Saner Standards Process

June 10 2010

Shifting to a standards model where developers innovate and users select might produce cleaner standards with less design by committee. read more

Incorporating documentation into development

June 09 2010

A key group of technically savvy people could do a lot to improve projects, not just document them. read more

A Live Edition for Learning Rails

February 17 2010

One of the best things about Rails is that it's under constant development. With the Live Edition of Learning Rails, the book will be able to track that progress and give beginners better access to the latest and greatest Rails has to offer. read more

170 years of tech book publishing, demonstrated

February 16 2010

Some of the most fascinating technical writing I've encountered recently was written 170 years ago. How is that possible? And just how different was it? read more

The Widening HTML5 Chasm

February 15 2010

Recent claims that Adobe is blocking HTML5 are glaringly wrong, reflecting mostly the incompatibilities between the two organizations,the W3C and WHATWG, sharing the process. read more

Web developers can rule the iPad

January 29 2010

Arise, web developers! Our time has come to dominate! read more

How dare Apple...

January 28 2010

The iPad repeats Steve Jobs' all-in-one vision of the 1984 Macintosh 128K in a shiny new package. Does this spell danger for creativity? read more

Why is HTML Suddenly Interesting?

August 26 2009

After a decade of quiet, HTML is a hot topic once again. While there is pent-up demand for new features, the conversation reflects a more basic change in the Web's landscape. read more

Programming Contests, Community, and Business

June 10 2009

Attending the TopCoder Open, the final in-person rounds of an intense programming competition, in support of the TopCoder Cookbook, showed me possibilities that go way beyond programming or books into business models and community I came expecting to see a competition, but found a much more inclusive (and compelling) business… read more

Programming as Live Performance

June 03 2009

As I'm writing this, twenty people are watching their peers write code. They aren't looking over anyone's shoulders, or doing peer programming - they're watching mirrors of screens at the TopCoder Open, seeing exactly how competitors work their way through algorithm problems in C++, Java, and C#. Is this something… read more

Writing a book by competition

May 19 2009

I've worked on lots of collaborative books before. Now, I'm starting on something different: a book written by competition. read more

Personalizing the Learning Conversation

May 05 2009

Twenty years of change are shifting technology from top-down broadcast-model documentation and training to a more conversational approach that shrinks the social distance between teacher and learner, personalizing our experience. read more

Dreaming of Rails as the Next Microsoft Access

May 05 2009

Rails? Microsoft Access? Aren't those from different planets? Well, they may have different origins, but their similarities give me hope. read more

Choosing your application's version of Rails

March 28 2009

Rails updates versions frequently. There are a few different ways to make sure your application is running the version of Rails you think it should be, and to make sure you can run it under the version it expects. read more

Lessons from Saturn's failure

February 18 2009

GM's putting an end to its Saturn line shines a light on the challenge of building "a different kind of company" inside the "usual kind of company", at a time when a lot of web companies are aiming to be different. read more

ISBN adventures

February 16 2009

For most people, ISBNs are random noise on the backs of books, helpful mostly for barcode scanning at the register. For publishing folk, ISBNs can actually be memorable, magic keys for jumping from one system to the next. Of course, there are now two different flavors of ISBN, the obsolete… read more

Learning like teens

February 13 2009

The way I learned computers back in the 1980s doesn't seem that different a path from the way teens are learning now - but both seem very different from the way that adults traditionally learn. Is there a way to improve adult learning by encouraging teen practices? read more

Reviving the Labs - "It's alive...."

February 10 2009

After a long hibernation, O'Reilly Labs has returned, with a mix of software and code that should excite casual ebook readers as well as dedicated publishing technologists. read more

Heroku moves forward and sideways

January 17 2009

I've had a lot of positive feedback from readers for including Heroku in Learning Rails. Its web-based interface is the easiest way I know to get started with Rails programming without getting trapped in installation challenges. They're changing gears a... read more


January 01 2009

My New Year's Resolution for this year is simple: practice. You don't have to achieve (or even aim for) total mastery for the practice to be worthwhile. read more

Installing Instant Rails on Windows

December 22 2008

Instant Rails is getting old, but it's still a quick way to install Rails and start coding. This screencast shows how to download and install Instant Rails, and shows off how it works with a simple example from Chapter 2 of Learning Rails. read more

Templates Offer Rails New Path to Ubiquity

December 16 2008

Rails application templates, just added in Edge Rails, offer Rails developers the chance to spread their wings and bring Rails to new audiences and new capabilities - and might even help Rails lead the next generation of frameworks. read more

Stuck Together

December 15 2008

Bailouts are an awful thing, an admission of drastic failure. They're also a safety valve that can lessen the impact of disaster in a given area on the rest of the system. In the immediate and short term, we need to recognize that it's not just a given group whose… read more

First Steps in Rails (on Heroku)

December 02 2008

If you want to explore Rails, offers an easy way to get started, using a web-based interface that neatly hides the complexity of installation and database management. read more

First Steps into Rails (on the Mac)

November 24 2008

Once you have Rails installed, it's time to explore the foundations of how Rails applications are put together. It's not quite programming yet - it's more looking around to figure out how the pieces fit together. read more

Installing Rails on Ubuntu Hardy Heron (Server)

November 20 2008

Want to install a Rails development environment on a bare-bones Ubuntu server setup? It's not that hard. read more

Installing Rails on Hardy Heron (Desktop)

November 19 2008

One of the most difficult parts of the tech review for Learning Rails was Chapter 1, installing Rails. There are way too many operating systems and choices within those operating systems to provide a straightforward explanation. To help deal with... read more

Frightening transparency

October 10 2008

I'm not very fond of people who claim that markets can solve all of our problems, but at the same time, I think markets can be very effective at one key economic task: setting prices. Our current financial problems derive,... read more

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Simon St. Laurent