Blog

In which I talk about new books and other projects, and try to figure out how to format these things.  

PDFs, Ebooks and E-readers

One of the ugly secrets of electronic publishing is some electronic book formats are fundamentally incompatible. PDF files are fixed shape with fixed content, so they look just like printed pages, and are used in preparing print books and magazines. E-reader formats (.mobi and e-pub) are fluid in shape, and flow the text to fit on the screener of an e-reader like Kindle. 

The flowing text of e-reader formats lets readers pick a font size that they can read comfortably and fit it onto the cramped screen of a smartphone or the larger screen of an e-reader. They can change the font and/or its size to adjust to different lighting conditions, or when they get tired of reading the same font. It seems like a great idea, and it usually is for books that don't have illustrations.

One problem with illustrations, charts and tables is fitting them onto the screen. Even printed books sometimes wind up with tables printed sideways because they would not fit across the width of the page. E-readers are narrower, so the problem is worse, and gets really hard when someone is reading on a phone. 

Another problem with illustrations is converting a book originally published on paper into e-reader format. The two books have to be formatted completely differently. Today's software makes that easy for all text books if the ebooks are produced at the same time as the print book. Illustrations make it harder because they must be sized and positioned to fit onto different-sized pages, which are fixed in the print book and flowing in the e-reader format. E-reader screens usually are smaller than print books, so many illustrations don't look good, and charts and can get squeezed or hard to read. The more illustrations, and the more complex they are, the messier the results. 

It's even worse when print books are republished, as I have done with Understanding Fiber Optics. The most economical approach is to run the print edition through a high-resolution scanner to produce PDF versions that can be used to produce print-on-demand paper editions, as I have done. It's even less expensive to produce PDF electronic versions, allowing me to sell the PDF version of Understanding Fiber Optics for $9.95 rather than the $39 of the print edition. However, trying to produce an e-reader edition would require redoing the entire page layout process, and would not be able to handle many of the large illustrations in the book. It would also cost far too much for me to produce the inexpensive edition edition I can using PDF. 

New Edition of Understanding Lasers

Thirty years ago, I wrote the first edition of Understanding Lasers for the old Howard W. Sams Company, which published a series of "Understanding" books on technology. I had been writing about lasers for a decade then, and wanted to share what I had learned with other people interested in laser technology. Radio Shack, which at the time was a large chain of electronics stores, put out their own edition of the book. Eventually it went out of print, and I resold the book to IEEE Press, which printed their own version of the first edition while I prepared a second edition that they published in 1994. IEEE Press asked me for a third edition in the 2000s, and by the time I finished it they had partnered with Wiley, which published it jointly in 2008. 

Now Wiley and IEEE Press have published a fourth edition, which has grown to 586 pages. Laser technology has come a long way, but the book is still an entry-level guide to what has become a rich and complex field. I make a point of spelling out acronyms, avoiding complex math, and providing essential background information on physics and optics to help readers new to the field. You can read more about it on my Understanding Lasers page

New Book on the History of Laser Weapons - Update

Prometheus Books published my new book on the history of lasers weapons, Lasers, Death Rays, and the Long Strange Quest for the Ultimate Weapon, on January 8, 2019. You also can read more about it on my page on this site for the book. Prometheus was sold recently to Rowman & Littlefield, so the publisher's page has moved to a new site. I have tried to update all links; please let me know if you find one I missed. 




© Jeff Hecht 2019