Tag Archives: Books

Should academic paper publishing embrace EPUB?

Sometime last year I was considering home improvement options to our house, I was thinking about building a large, built-in bookshelf in our upstairs study area. I always loved to see lots of books on the wall, and really enjoyed pulling down a book to have a browse on whatever subject interested me from my own personal library. But there was all this discussion regarding ebooks, and I was thinking if this ever caught on big time, then printed books would eventually go the way of the dodo – the end of their 400-year cycle of greatness was at hand, and the new way to read anything was going to be on a digital screen.

I’ve since come to my senses. I love books – the binding, the texture of fine paper, the fact that it doesn’t require a battery or power cord, and even the smell are all plusses in my book. Books have been around a long time, and they’re here to stay. Ebooks are just another channel of distribution for such content, and I believe that both have their place in the modern era.

However, for academic research papers, I think we can safely kill the paper. Particularly, I think it should all begin moving towards the EPUB format. I read a lot of academic papers in my work, and I find myself wishing that more of this stuff were published as EPUBs. In contrast to my love of books above, I think academic research would largely be much better served in a purely electronic format. It’s already going that way from the reader’s point of view, right?

Typically, when academic papers get published electronically, the format of choice is PDF. Or in earlier days, PostScript. If you’re lucky, someone had the foresight to publish their paper as HTML. The advantage of a flexible format such as HTML is that you can resize the fonts. Text can flow. It’s easier to get a clean copy of a text or data segment out of HTML than it is from PDF for quoting in one’s own paper, because copying from PDF tends to yield horrific line break issues and other artifacts on the clipboard.

PDF is, I’m sorry to say, hard to read on smaller screens. PDF expects paper, and refuses to reflow itself into smaller screen sizes such as an iPhone or Android device form factor. It barely passes on the 1024 x 768 iPad screen. Anything smaller, such as most ebook readers, is going to be unacceptable. Having to zoom in and scroll left to right to read one line of text at a time on a mobile device is not what anyone would call a user-friendly reading experience.

EPUB by contrast works great on mobile devices. Using the Stanza reader on iPhone is quite comfortable. iBooks on the iPad platform is a joy to use.

After reading this tweet by Dave Gutelius today, I was reminded of how much I hate printing out all my academic papers in preparation for travel. Flying is reading time, and printing this stuff out and stuffing it in my backpack is time consuming, a waste of paper, and added weight that I don’t want to carry.

Stuffing those papers onto my iPad and using GoodReader is a step in the right direction. But still, all too often the PDFs are formatted for paper, not for screen, and I am still cursing the format. PDF usually assumes letter-sized or A4-sized paper, and most ebook readers have physically far smaller screen sizes. Far better I think to start providing EPUB options for academic research, so that folks like me who need ginormous fonts and such can read with greater ease.

Or, should it just go to straight HTML? At that point, papers might even be able to add a little functionality to the electronic reading experience – change variables in information graphics, show rendered 3D representations of models, and so on. EPUB doesn’t support anything fun like HTML5 DOM handling or Flash, although CSS3 might work depending on the EPUB reader’s implementation. Either way, PDF ain’t fitting the bill ebook readers, and I think this sort of format will be far more important in the coming months and years as ebook-capable mobile devices become more and more commonplace.

Taking a little break

The past three years have been grueling. Working full time, taking classes towards a masters degree, and being a dad all at the same time was taking a toll. The last few months were especially interesting since I was working on a book project on top of everything.

Well, life has returned to a new kind of normal for the past couple of weeks, and it is good to have a little free time again. The masters degree is done – I am now a graduate of of the University of Denver in computer information systems, with concentration in web design and development. And the book is done – an introductory guide to standards-based web development. More on the book details in a later post…

So it is nice to experience a little rest for a change. I actually have had time to relax a bit and get back in touch with cooking, taking the kids on excursions to places like zoo and the Exploratorium, reading a geek book or two that I actually want to read, and of course practicing.

Hey, perhaps I’ll even have more time to post items here in the ‘ol blog! But don’t hold your breath… πŸ˜‰

LibraryThing

LibraryThing is one of my favorite web 2.0 sites. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is Flickr for bookworms. One of my missions is to always have a book that I’m actively reading – something I keep around with a bookmark in it, reading it whenever I get a chance. Turns out LibraryThing is a great way for me to keep a pulse on all of it, if nothing else than to have a visual reminder of what it is I read so that I can stoke some memory of the details for the things I’ve been learning along the way.

So lately they’ve added a few new features, and one feature I particularly like is that they added a status feature to indicate what is currently being read. Another feature I discovered recently was the ability to post a list to my weblog, as I’ll do here (sorry non-JavaScript-enabled clients:)

As you can see, not a lot of this is fiction – just technical and theoretical mumbo-jumbo for the most part. It is my hope someday to get over the technology goals I currently have, and start reading something more fun, like some more Marquez or Lorca.

Recommended Music Reads

Jason Heath recently noted some book recommendations for musicians from Chicago bassist Greg Sarchet. I have a few of my own that I’d like to add to the mix!

  • Zander, Rosamund, and Benjamin Zander. The Art of Possibility
    –I complained loudly when I was in Ben’s orchestra rehearsals, and thought he was a nut in class. To this day he is one of the most influential figures in my life. This is a must-read.
  • Green, Barry, and W. Gallwey. Inner Game of Music
    –We can’t forget Barry Green’s book!
  • Hofstadter, Douglas. G√∂del, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
    –Because you are an effing geek. Seriously, this book is a key component for my theories on the correlations between music and science.

Happy New Year

I can’t believe it is just hours away from 2006 already. Looking back, 2005 was one of the best. I spent my first year at my dream job, moved into my dream home, practiced a respectable amount of music, completed some study on CSS and PHP, and watched my kids grow up. Dylan began walking and talking, and is hitting his terrible twos a tad early, while Max has been progressing very well and enjoying his preschool activities. Yingwen is fully booked for piano teaching for 2006, and she has a waiting list. Not bad.

One of my long-term goals, and I’m talking decades at this point, was to get the notes for the G minor Violin Sonata by Bach under my fingers on the guitar (transcribed for the instrument in A minor). I found a Bach folio of lute works while browsing bins of old sheet music at Lark in the Morning in Mendocino, California (or were they in Fort Bragg then?) way back sometime in the mid-1980s. I never really got serious about playing classical guitar though until exactly one year ago when I finally went and purchased an instrument. After one year of having the guitar and practicing regularly, I have that piece memorized, as well as most of the Lute Suite No.1 in E minor learned.

I didn’t practice the double bass with as much consistency as I would have liked, although I did practice way more guitar than I expected, and to be fair I did practice the bass a lot in spurts. It is a less resistant path to pick up a guitar and start working on something while the baby sleeps, as opposed to picking up the bass and getting everything set with the music, bow, rosin, metronome, etc. So one goal for 2006 is to spend a little more practice time on the bass – If I can get in a consistent bass practice session in each night then I’ll be very happy. On top of that, I need to find some venues for performance. I have been playing a lot of music “in the lab”, relearning my instruments after a long break, and it’s time to take some of the theory to the real world. Public solo performance is a skill in itself.

Another 2006 goal is to continue the exercise thing that I started back in November, but again with more consistency. I have a treadmill now in my office, and it’s really easy to prop up my PowerBook on a music stand and start watching DVDs during the workout.

One goal that is a bit newer this year is to start with some serious composition and arranging. I’m about halfway done with the first movement of the Bottessini Concerto No.2 arrangement for guitar accompaniment, and have sketches going for a prelude for piano and a string quintet. My aim is to complete the above three items for 2006, and re-orchestrate the variations on a theme by Grieg that I did back in 1986 that won me the Dave Brubeck scholarship award.

Book-wise, I have on my stand three PHP books and one inspirational book written by an old friend (more on that one later.) I’m just about to finish one of the PHP books on security, and the other two are on more advanced concepts. Let’s call this goal “always have a book open”. I also want to try to read more non-geek material for a change. In ten years, I think I read only one book that wasn’t about code or computers, but I used to read tons of novels back in the day. That’s the thing with being an obsessive personality in a technology career: You always feel like you have to stay on top of the trends, and any new book on something interesting winds up in the queue on my nightstand. My thinking the past several years has been: “If it’s not going to help me with my career, then I don’t have time right now.” But now I think it’s time to introduce a little balance in my reading curriculum.

I think that should do it. A bit of playing music, some exercise, and four compositions. Let’s see how we do…