Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

April 18th, 2011:


It’s half-past April. Do you know where your seasons are?

One of ours is missing. My nephew Brian and I woke up this morning to find a blanket of snow on Alles Street, and while Carol out in Crystal Lake reported less, it seems like everybody in greater Chicago got whitened sometime during the night.

So it was a good day to stay inside and continue my ongoing struggle with malformed epubs. I created a number of them a few years back when the epub format was new and the tools barely past primordial, and I’ve been meaning to fix their innards for awhile now. The tools are better these days. One I upgraded just this morning was Sigil, a (mostly) WYSIWYG editor designed specifically for epub-formatted ebooks. Version 0.3.4 (released March 8, 2011) is a huge improvement on 0.2.1, which I’d been using for some time, and if you haven’t upgraded yet, go for it.

Sigil 0.3.4 provided my first look at FlightCrew, an epub format validator created by the Sigil team to do a better job of what the EPubCheck utility does: Test to see if an EPub file is intact, structurally complete, and internally consistent. FlightCrew is installed with Sigil and can be invoked by clicking a button in the Sigil UI. It detects more problems than EPubCheck does, and will tell you things like whether a graphics object shown in the manifest is unreferenced, and whether any essential element of the document is missing. (For some reason, my older epubs had no <language> element, which FlightCrew caught instantly–and then Sigil fixed automatically.) Passing FlightCrew does not mean your epub file is perfect, but it does mean that it will probably render correctly in any epub reader written with half a brain.

Sigil is a good first step toward pure WYSIWYG epub development, and it still has a code view for things not yet doable from the GUI, or imported from an old or incompetent editor. I’m still fooling with my epub edition of Willibald Beyschlag’s The Origin and Development of the Old Catholic Movement 1870-1897, but it now passes FlightCrew and I should post it sometime in the next few days. Better news is that I got my epub of “Whale Meat” clean enough to make available on the B&N Nook store, where you can find it for 99c. The first Copperwood Double went live there today as well, and I’ll have a lot more to say about the project once the book is available on Kindle and in print, which should be within a week or so.

This is my first foray onto the Nook store (with Kindle coming up next) and I will say that the B&N PubIt system was trivial to figure out and use. It does come with some small weirdnesses: The book description and author bio fields for the Nook store give you no way to italicize, so if you mention your other books, you either have to uppercase them or just live with un-italicized titles. There’s also a check box for specifying when an ebook is public domain material, but B&N doesn’t make any distinction between works in the public domain and works derived from public domain sources. Beyschlag’s original article is in the public domain, but I’ve done some edits to make it read more easily, and I would like to retain copyright on the edited text. (This is legal and there’s nothing dicey about it.) I guess it’s not an issue of huge importance, especially if I don’t charge for it.

One thing I looked at today that I don’t recommend is NookStudy. It’s an app for Windows and Mac that establishes a 180-day rental market for ebook textbooks. There is no iPad nor Android version. The app is basically a DRM wrapper for Adobe Digital Editions, and to even install it you have to have an Adobe account. NookStudy ties rented textbooks to specific computers (a maximum of two), not to a user ID, and if you need to change out a computer, you have to do all the legendary begging and pleading that you have to do to move Adobe’s Creative Suite to a new system. Worse, when the 180-day rental period expires, all your marginal notes vanish with the textbook itself. Sniffing around online shows that almost no one is happy with the system, which is a buggy and extremely limited way to use some very expensive ebooks. (The rentals are about the cost of a used copy of the printed book.) It’s not usable outside the US because of longstanding geographic rights issues that plague many areas of book publishing. Publishers are obviously terrified of what ebooks might do to the textbook industry, and in consequence, NookStudy is 40% barbed wire by weight–and made me glad I graduated 37 years ago, when textbooks were printed on rugged stuff and would last forever.