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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Hacker's Diet now available for iPad, iPhone, and other EPUB devices

I have just posted, for “bleeding edge” early adopters who wish to give it a try, a test edition of my book, The Hacker's Diet, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. This fifth edition is in the EPUB open document format which is compatible with the iBooks application on the Apple iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch; Sony Reader; Barnes and Noble Nook; and a variety of other electronic book devices and mobile platforms. EPUB books may be opened directly with a Web browser using the EPUBReader add-on for Firefox or the eBook Reader widget for Opera, although users of desktop and notebook computers with Internet connectivity will probably prefer to read the Web edition of the book, due to its more flexible navigation options.

If your Web browser has an EPUB-compatible plug-in installed, you can open the book simply by clicking on the The Hacker's Diet EPUB Edition link. Otherwise, use your browser's idiom to download the abovementioned file to your computer and then transfer it to your reading device according to the manufacturer's directions. For the iPad and iPhone (etc.), just drag the downloaded hackdiet.epub file to iTunes, where you should see it in the “Books” section. Then connect your reading device to the computer and the book should be transferred to it by the Sync process. If the book is not installed, make sure that you've enabled syncing books to that device, and that if you've opted not to sync all books in your library to the device, that The Hacker's Diet is checked to be copied. You must also, of course, have the Apple iBooks application installed on the device; if it's missing, go to the App Store and install it—it's free.

The Hacker's Diet EPUB edition contains no “Digital Rights Management” constraints: you are free to install it on as many devices as you wish, transfer it among them (if their hardware and software so permit), and pass on copies to others. It should be compatible with any EPUB reader hardware and software which can open standards-compliant unrestricted files. But, of course, one never knows, does one? I have tested this edition extensively on the iPad, to a cursory extent on the iPhone (where it works surprisingly well, although for some of the busier tables you'll want to turn the phone into landscape mode), with the EPUBReader add-on for Firefox, and with the built-in viewing tools of the Calibre and Sigil applications I used in producing this edition. If it doesn't work on your device or looks awful, that's why there's a Feedback button!

This edition was produced by converting the original HTML fourth edition to an EPUB archive with Calibre, then editing with Sigil (both applications cited above). After that, the results were extensively hand-edited and batch processed with custom Perl programs to obtain a document which passed XHTML and CSS validation with the W3C validators and steered clear of formatting and rendering eccentricities, at least on the iPad. In the latter stages of the production process, all editing and packaging was done by hand, as I've discovered the editing applications are inclined to unexpectedly improvise upon one's theme, leading unto surprises in the final document. So it has always been with WYSIWYG tools, and so, I suspect, it always shall be. But, hey, I've been saying that for a quarter of a century, and still nobody listens.

The one important thing I've learned from this experience is just how much work is required to turn a Web XHTML document tree which I consider completely satisfactory into an electronic book which meets my standards to release even in a test edition. A good deal of this is due to ill-defined standards, flaky and eccentric interpretations of them by reader software, and unstable production tools. But even putting all of these aside, the presentation is different on a reading device, and the user's expectations are different as to how one navigates the document, and the document structure must be adjusted to meet them. Now I understand why there are so many terrible Kindle editions of excellent books for sale on Amazon's site (often as expensive as the printed book): publishers are not investing what it takes to turn their pre-press edition into a genuinely useful electronic edition (which, hey guys, means that at a minimum the cross-references, notes, table of contents, and index are properly linked to the text. I propose that we denote those costly electronic editions of books which do not do this as BozoBooks™, identify them as such in reviews, and refuse to pay anything close to the print edition price for them).

And to answer the inevitable question, no I do not envision publishing a Kindle edition of this book until and unless the Kindle properly supports HTML/XHTML elements which have been ubiquitous on the Web for a decade and a half. The Hacker's Diet is not a novel. It contains a wealth of information in illustrations and tabular form (a total of 113 tables), and the Kindle doesn't support tables or, to the limited extent it does, mangles even the simplest examples. So, to get your document to display anything remotely useful to the user, you have to convert each table to an image, but then you don't know the resolution or screen size of the device on which the user will be viewing it (as there are a variety of screen sizes on Kindle hardware and Kindle applications for computers can have any screen size at all). I wasted far more time trying to create what I considered an acceptable Kindle edition of this book than it took to produce the EPUB edition I now offer for your scrutiny. I consider the Kindle one of the most important innovations so far in this century, and I buy most of the books I read in that format (although these days I read them with the Kindle application on my iPad). But until there's a way to transfer content to that platform which would have displayed just fine with any screen size or resolution in a Web browser 15 years ago, I don't see it as a viable platform for publishing or reading this book.

Read or download the The Hacker's Diet EPUB Edition.

Posted at January 18, 2011 21:17