Thursday, March 3, 2011

DoggyBook update

I have been making progress on converting the Handbook of Biomass Engine Systems. I have actually been doing it off-site and updating the site periodically, since I came across some really good free tools for doing the job locally. One is a program called Calibre. It can convert any ebook format into any other, and has an excellent book organizer/library system. I would rank it as the Itunes of ebooks. The other tool is a program called Sigil. This is a full up ebook editor. The program is basic but easy to use. Sigil uses the Epub format, which seems to be the most common type. It takes a little poking around to figure out what an ebook is actually made of. The bottom line surprised me a little. Most ebooks are actually based on HTML, the same as a webpage. The specific type is called XHTML, and an ebook is just a collection of these pages, usually one for each chapter, plus some labeling/metadata, a stylesheet, and whatever images you included. All zipped up in a containing folder. So the nitty-gritty of editing can be a lot like editing basic HTML (no fancy webpage stuff, it's mostly text); Sigil offers WYSIWYG as well as straight code editing. It is easy to work with. Unfortunately, trial-and-error can be slow, because the file must be converted to MOBI for the Kindle (done with Calibre), then the old file must be manually deleted and the new file inserted. Kindle is not really designed to have "updated" versions of books; the assumption is that once a book is loaded you don't need to change it.

Another issue I have run into is the e-conversion of tables. The Kindle's screen being very small, anything that doesn't "wrap" well has to either shrink, making it hard to read, or be reformatted somehow. For now I have just inserted them as images, meaning they shrink to fit the page. At least the information is there, and will be distributed with the book. As for reformatting all the tables, the brilliant idea lightbulb has yet to go off. I may think of something yet.

Since ebooks are based around HTML, it seems like there should be a good way do make a simple website into an ebook fairly quickly. I am thinking of the MetroWiki, of course. And if DoggyBook could have a dynamic link that allowed me to grab the current content for compiling and ebook, I would go back to online editing.

Rambling thoughts.....