Saturday, November 6, 2010

Life & Book Updates

Hope my name still rings a bell or two out there. Hello, how are you all doing?

(Echo… Echo…)

I believe the last time I wrote anything here was over two months ago. Coincidentally, this seems just around the same time I last had a minute to breathe.

All sorts of things happened since I last hit the “Publish” button. I began working three days a week, mostly from home; sort of a rough start, as the last time I did anything useful with a computer (other than writing a blog) was over four months prior to that. Nevertheless, I have no reason to complain. Besides, work isn’t really interesting, especially not mine.

So you must be asking yourself what I have been doing in the other 4 days of the week, when I was not working. In retrospect, scanning through the last couple of months, I can say that about %95 of my spare time was used for one and only one purpose.

The Book

Now this book is a clear example for a task that initially seems very simple but at the end proves to be very complex. I have come across so many challenges during the process, sometimes to the point that I was calling out all sorts of swear words towards large-cap USA-based corporations. So, if I may, how about I tell you a bit about the process.

The Principle: As the book’s source exists online, I made it a principle, right from the get-go, that the creation of the book out of information already available digitally would be fully automated. A long career in the software world has taught me that being lazy is an asset; when you’re lazy, you come up with ways to cut your efforts – and what good exactly is a computer if it doesn’t do work for you?

[At this point of this post, I actually started writing about the technical problems I have encountered; after about an hour thinking how do I explain XML, XHTML, XSLT and other software jargon to people who may have no clue about any of this, I gave up]

I did encounter, however, many problems – which is an indication, I believe, that such a thing was really never done before; at least not completely automatically.

One problem, for example, was with my word-processing software. Previously, I had decided to use Open Office – which is free software, aiming to be a replacement for Microsoft Word; a week or so later, I encountered a severe problem with it. I created what’s called a “bug report” (basically, notifying the creator of the software that it has a problem), and got a response basically saying “we’re too busy working on real problems, so, sorry, you’re out of luck”. At that instant I switched to use Microsoft Word, which turned out to have much less problems.

Another problem was how to automatically program the conversion process so the book will be laid-out nicely. For example – ensuring that, in any given page, the title will never be the last line on the page (in such cases, you’d want the title to be “pushed” to the next page).

By far, though, the biggest “fun” I had was after I sent the initial revision to my dear friend Kyle Hawke, who – among other things – is also an acknowledged book editor. He then decided to tell me that in English typography there are at least three types of dashes, some other types of hyphens – and each one should be used under certain circumstances. Decorative quotes (such as “these ones”) are another thing; to make a long story short, the book – while looking not bad at all – looked more like a dump of computerized text than an actual book.

Not a perfectionist like myself would let that slip by; there I went, over the next few weeks, diving into the blog and correcting literally thousands of punctuation marks.

I suppose, that, then it was a great idea to automate the process of creating the book; I’m pretty sure I had to regenerate it well over 200 or 300 times (!), each time with somewhat different settings, until I reached at exactly what I was looking for. Had I went ahead and just used a simple word-processing document right from the get go, I would probably never finish this book. What happens when you work on such a long project, then find out that some “standard” you followed (for example, pictures’ size) doesn’t work for you anymore? You’d have to backtrack and do everything again.

At the end, I reached a situation that almost the entire process of Microsoft Word document creation was automated. The only things I had to do manually (because I didn’t have the time, or the patience, to learn how to automate them) are:

  • Hitting a few keystrokes to generate the Table of Contents;
  • Creating the footer of the pages (this has to be done once, and all pages take the same footer);
  • Slight effect-processing on a few images (the ones at the beginning of each part - “North America” and “Europe”);
  • Generation of footnotes. I used footnotes only for cases when the original blog text had a hyperlink “disguised” as a word (for example, the words “between the quotes” here are actually a disguise to a hyperlink that leads you to Google’s web page). There were 13 such occurrences.

So, from the moment I hit one button to start the entire extravaganza, it took one minute until to start working on the items above, and another 25 minutes to work through those. That’s it.

At the meantime – while working on all of this – I was also looking for publishing options. The first place I looked at was – as a referral from Mr. Arthur Dunk who recommended it to me in a comment to my last blog post. Initially, I was looking at creating a book with a non-standard, quite large page size; did not offer that so I asked for the advice of a local publisher in Toronto.

The conclusion I really quickly arrived at is, that if I were to go with a publisher, the book would cost such an insane amount of money that I doubt anybody would buy it. It was approximately four times (!) more than what it would cost to produce the book with Therefore, I decided to compromise on the page size – and I’m happy I did, because the end result is just fantastic.

Also at the meantime, I was sending drafts for review to our buddy here Jeroen Gerrits. To whomever of you suffering from amnesia, that’s the same Jeroen with whom I had the pleasure to share 38 of the tour’s 87 shows, including all shows in North-America. Jeroen did a great job providing insights and recommendations from the viewpoint of the reader – and I can’t even begin to tell you how better the book looks now that I incorporated his recommendations.

After announcing last week that the book is done and all that remained was the cover (to be worked on by our Nelly here), I realized a crucial bug in my automated process and some things that still required addressing. That took about a week to fix, and today – November 6, 2010 – is the day when I’m 100% positive that that’s it, the book’s interior is done.

If you want to see what it looks like, here’s a 2-page sample:

Some more information about the book:

  • Total number of pages: 414, with a page size of 8.25” x 10.75”.
  • Total number of pictures: 2,422 within the blog’s text itself, plus 9 more in a few introduction pages. The 2,422 pictures that are a part of the blog itself had to be shrunk in size, in order to make this book anything close to being a regular book rather than a brick.
  • Font used: I actually did quite a bit of research on that, and decided to go with Palatino Linotype.
  • Formats: The book will initially be offered in two hardcover editions: color and black & white. Due to this book being 414 pages long, there obviously is a different in price between the two options, so you can make up your mind which one is better suited for you.

Over the next couple of days, I am going to provide Nelly with what she needs to complete working on the cover; then, a few more procedural issues that shouldn’t take long and the book will be ready.

So, other than the book… a few things have changed. Well, to be more exact – things changed in my intentions, values and what it is that I’m looking for, and now it’s time for action. Quite a few changes will take place over the next couple of months, changes that I initially didn’t think will ever take place.

While some of it is rather personal, one thing I can state for sure: these are my last couple of months in the city of Waterloo, Ontario. There are a couple of options where I am going to move next, and the two options are just about 15,000km apart from each other. Over the next week, I will know for sure which option is the one I’m going to take.

If I said that I’m not at all tense and frightened with it, I’d be lying; anyway, sometimes one reaches the conclusion that even the most “comfortable” bubble isn’t good enough and it’s time to take bigger leaps.

With that, I started being seriously homesick. As in every year, I will be flying home on December 16 for a month; I am counting down the days for the opportunity to once again spend time with the people that matter the most to me – my family – as well as with the so-many friends I have there.

So funny, I tell you. I have been in Canada for eight years now; you might think that this would make me establish strong ties with this wonderful country and diminish my ties with Israel. So funny to realize that exactly – exactly – the opposite has happened. I miss home now more than I ever did, and, quite frankly, I can’t see this paradigm being reversed any time soon.

During my trip back home to Israel, I intend to keep a journal of the visit, as well as places I’m going to visit. I hope you will allow yourselves to take the time and follow my writings from this troubled-yet-brilliant country, with its rude-yet-immensely-warm people. You can say whatever you want about Israel – that it’s a world-politics troublemaker; that its internal politics are a sham; that its society is broken, divided, and headed towards an almost-unavoidable breaking point – but for me, contrary to around 200+ countries worldwide, it is, after all…




EL BLOG DE JU said...

Spain madness remind you how nice was Israel, wasn´t it? LOL

By the way, the link to the book extract doesnt works, it says the file is damaged.

Looking forward to read more about the book.

Anonymous said...

Indeed :-) The Spanish aren't so much different in mentality; as a matter of fact, the resemblance is striking.

About the link - I am suspecting you are using an older version of Adobe Acrobat Reader? It works fine here. Let me know what version of Adobe Reader you're using, and I'll see what I can do.


tini said...

Thanks for the update! The link worked here, I like the layout, great job!


Anonymous said...

Congrats on completing the book-- It looks great! There were plenty of reasons for me to buy it before - but now I can also learn the proper way to uses dashes and hyphens.

I look forward to reading about your future travels.

Best regards.


Anonymous said...

Hello dear Isaac,

finally gave us information, including those relating to your book we have been waiting a long time ... will certainly be one of the favorites from our library!
Pending other news I salute you with friendship and Renato