Tiger of the Stripe Blog

Software for Producing Printed Books and eBooks

My main program for producing books is, and has been for many years, Adobe InDesign. It gives great typographical control and produces very good ePub3 files. However, I've never been entirely happy with it, especially since Adobe introduced its expensive subscription model.

Perhaps the biggest problem when producing printed books with InDesign is that, being wedded to the WYSIWYG model, it doesn't have automatic page make-up. Long before InDesign even existed, in the early 1980s, Leslie Lamport had taken Donald Knuth's TeX typesetting program, developed back in the 1960s, and had created a markup language called LaTex. This language allows you to mark up the elements of a book (or article) by function (e.g. chapter, subhead, subsubhead, etc.). Many tedious tasks are automated: numbering of chapters, figures, tables and equations (TeX and LaTeX are partcularly good a mathematical setting) is automatic; instead of placing an illustration at a particular place, you can tell the program to place it somewhere near a particular piece of text, at the top of the page. There are tools for indexing, cross-referencing and creating bibliographies.

Of course, being about forty years old (and being based on an even earlier program), LaTeX is showing its age a bit. When I started using it, you couldn't even use PostScript fonts with it and OpenType fonts hadn't even been invented – and neither had unicode. The remarkable thing is that Donald Knuth, a mathematician, had not only designed TeX but also a program called MetaFont to create the bitmap fonts (and would generate them in the required sizes on the fly).

Fortunately, the large TeX/LaTex community has been coming up with solutions for LaTeX's weaknesses. It is now possible to use OpenType fonts and unicode input. Because LaTeX is well-structured, it is remarkably easy to convert it to ePub3 format and even to convert mathematics to MathML, the format used to display mathematics in ePub3. You can even convert LaTex to XML but I feel that is the wrong way around. If one wants XML, one should start with that and convert it to ePub3 and LaTex, which is also possible. In theory, the conversion from XML to ePub3 should be particularly easy as ePub3 consists of XHTML (a subset of XML) held together with a few other files. However, at the moment, I think that starting with LaTeX is probably simpler.

Once you have an ePub3 file, it takes very little work to prepare it for Apple Books. There are also ways to convert the ePub3 file for Kindle. For Diana Dennis's Finding a Way, I tried to produce the Kindle version using two free programs, Calibre and Sigil, both of which have been available for many years. For some reason, neither produced acceptable results. On previous projects I'd tried Amazon's own Kindle Preview program but it kept crashing on my Mac. However, I downloaded the latest version and it made a really good conversion. I must also applaud Amazon for their new Kindle Create app. It doesn't convert ePub3 files but it offers several other ways to make Kindle books and works very well.

A New Angle on Type Design – JetBrains Mono

For the most part, those of us who concern ourselves with the typography of printed books give very little thought to type design for computer coding. JetBrains, who produce some of the best IDEs (integrated development environments) available, have designed their own, JetBrains Mono – like all such fonts, it is monospaced. https://blog.jetbrains.com/blog/2020/01/15/jetbrai...

Artificial Eyes

Photo Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Set of 50 artificial glass eyes, all shapes and sizes, by E. Muller, Liverpool, English. Detail view. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/Show extended details

Seeing a picture of some artificial eyeballs just now reminded me of visiting Cotswold Collotype many years ago. At one time it was owned by Brooke Bond, the tea people, to print cards (much like cigarette cards) which they put in their packets. The collotype process is screenless and is similar to lithography except that it relies on moisture in the atmosphere. While I was there, I saw sheets of eyes with NHS copyright notices on them. They were destined to be embedded into perspex to make false eyes. The screenless nature of collotype was an advantage as the perspex lens would enlarge the printed image – imagine staring into someone's eyes and seeing halftone dots! It must have been a very long time ago because they only printed blue and grey eyes, which I was told accounted for the vast majority of eyes in the UK. With immigration from many areas where brown eyes predominate, I doubt if that is still the case – my own are hazel.

Oxford University Press used to have a collotype press which was, I think, mostly used for printing illustrations of manuscripts for the Early English Text Society's publications. I have also seen postcards printed by OUP using the process. As far as I know, there are now no collotype presses in the UK.

Parliament not Prorogued after all

To the extent that it allows MPs to frustrate the will of the people, I am not happy that the Supreme Court has decided that Parliament is not prorogued. On the other hand, I must congratulate the court on their well-argued decision and, in particular, Lady Hale for the excellent summary which she presented. This is British justice at its best, even if it makes Brexit even more difficult. It is clearly right that there must be some mechanism to hold the executive to account. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be any way to force MPs to make good their promises!

Project Fear: Drug Shortages

I'm getting so fed up with the BBC. It is running an endless stream of anti-Brexit propaganda at the moment. I think BBC reporters and editors really believe they are being balanced but they are too stupid to see that they are being used by the Project Fear rabble.

This morning they had a doctor campaigning against a no-deal Brexit because it threatened drug suppliers to the NHS. Nobody at the BBC questioned how this could be. Does anyone really believe that a no-deal Brexit could cause drug shortages in the UK? If so, I’d like them to explain why to me. Even Yellowhammer, based on a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ assumed that there was ‘a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside Kent’, while the authorities in France have ridiculed the idea that there would be any delays at the Channel ports. In addition, Dover only accounts for 5% of the UK’s overall tonnage while other ports have plenty of spare capacity. Unfortunately, Project Fear has been so effective that there have already been shortages attributed to Brexit before we have left the EU, with or without a deal!

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