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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sorting, analyzing, and editing 2012 as a whole

Around this time last year, I started working on compiling all of my 2011 posts into a single electronic book. This was a direct response to feedback I had received asking me if I could batch it up somehow. It was better than trying to catch up on old posts via the web page.

It took a while to do this. I had to figure out exactly how the publishing process worked from end to end. Ultimately, I had to write a new "renderer" to take the existing flat text files for each of these posts. It's driven by a config file which either contains settings like the title or points to filenames with content. That's how it finds the "intro" at the beginning and the "about" at the end.

This renderer is also responsible for reading a list of sections, each with a title and a list of posts. Here's an extract from the first section:

section {
  title: "User Interfaces and User Experiences (UI and UX)"
  post_id: "2011/05/08/visions"
  post_id: "2011/05/23/userswant"
  post_id: "2011/06/14/xmencoding"

This list then forms the table of contents at the very beginning, and sets the stage for the work loop which actually glues in all of the posts. Each post is parsed into HTML, much like when the web pages or Atom feed (or protofeed!) is built, but with a few differences: all links to other posts inside the book are changed to "#" type links, and some non-ebook-compatible things are stripped out or otherwise reformatted.

Before each post, I have it emit an anchor with a name attribute. Then, any post which does a link to another can just point at that anchor. In the event the target post is not in that book for whatever reason, it will just generate a link back to here. That means if you're on your Kindle (or whatever) and see a link to a post, you can just click on it. If it's in the book, you wind up somewhere else in the book. If not, it'll kick off your web browser and bring you out here.

This year, I'm back at it. This time, it's all of the posts from 2012 which are on the table, and it's a far bigger job. Whereas "The Bozo Loop" was built from about 250 posts, this new one is up over 450 at the moment. It makes sense given that 2011 was a partial year of writing which only began when I quit (in May), and 2012 was all the way through.

In response to some of the reviews, I've set things up to include more "glue" to tie all of the posts together. It's new content which doesn't show up anywhere else. There is also a distinct effort to explain who I am, what I do, and why I do it as a response to another review.

At the end of the day, it might still be seen as a "collection of blog posts", but I hope the quality and depth of my writing will make up for the fact that I publish things online before cutting them loose to the whole world in a book.

I mean, I could just do all of this stuff in seclusion, offline, and then release a compilation of everything now and then as a book, but would that really be an improvement?

The new book is not quite ready yet. I still have to finish writing more new material for each section, and then there is at least one more proofreading pass to handle. There's also the matter of coming up with a cover -- this time I don't have an iPad, so it shouldn't look anything like the first book's "Charlie Brown color scheme" cover.

Rest assured I will let everyone know once I get this thing done. I'm looking forward to having the cycles back to make more /edu/ recordings and generally experiment with some new ideas.

If you have some great idea regarding something I should do in book #2, now is the time to send me a note.

It's a lot of work but I hope everyone will enjoy it.

Hang in there. I'll have another update soon.