eBooks ... for Science!

I slid into the world of eBooks when a half-price Nook sale collided with O'Reilly's
Day against DRM half-price sale. It was the Perfect Storm that this tight-fisted Luddite needed to take the plunge. I set myself a budget and just as I'd picked out all the books that I allowed myself, O'Reilly decided I'd bought enough to merit a 60% discount, so more books had to be bought. One must stick to the budget!

PubMed is experimenting with ePub formats and they are much easier to read than the customary PDF's, but waiting for everything to be converted (or just trying to find one) would try the patience of even Vladimir.

I have a suggestion for someone with more Impatience than me. (I started this post 5 months ago). Have a look at LaTeXML and then think that with many of the papers submitted in LaTeX and a tool that converts to XML, you're halfway to reading all your latest science down the coffee shop.

Why read journal articles on an eBook?

The advantages are that it avoids the stacks of papers, its nice use of fonts and the inline figures linked to larger versions at the back. arXiv pdf's are in 2 column article format and a right pain to scroll around on. The PubMed article that I ran across was 6 inches of joy, in comparison. It would be even better if there were way of linking to other papers.

The downsides are the superscripted references have no spacing, so that it's difficult to tell if the citation is to references [2] and [3] or to reference [23]. Also, I like to use the touch screen to turn pages and because of the density of references, I have hit a couple of them accidentally. This study may highlight some other pertinent issues, but I haven't read it.

My muddled brain figured that the workflow would be something like:

  1. take LaTeX source
  2. render to XML with LaTeXML (now with improved support for MathML for your equations)
  3. convert to ePub (or .mobi) with your brilliant code.
  4. test on eBook
  5. repeat until beautiful science leaps from the page ... er, screen.
  6. Profit!!!

To get you started, there's a bit of ePub code in DBIx::Class book, but I haven't gotten it to work for me. EBook::EPUB hasn't been developed since Dec 2011, so there's a skeleton and scope to pick up the reins and take it in your own direction.

For those who just want to get started writing ebooks right away, have a look at this article by Bryan Behrenshausen.

In the time that has elapsed since I started this post, the Nook has dropped in price yet again. I believe that B&N are getting out of the hardware business and trying to shift stock. I have continued to buy O'Reilly's ebooks (damn you, Deal of the Day) despite only having read 2.5 of them. The unlimited downloads came in handy when I overwrote my home directory last week. I could go on and compare the differences between the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and the Kindle Paperwhite, but this is a Perl blog, so I'll stop here.

Go and be that wonderful person you are!


Just a Note:

You can write in POD and turn it into a ebook with EBook::MOBI (closed source mobi file for the kindle)

The module just covers the basics (adding images and a toc), no special features.

You could also write plugins for other markups than POD. Plugin authors are highly welcome. Description is in the docs.

Yup, can't stand fixed-layout formats like PDF myself. Prefers good ol' HTML. I don't currently use an e-book reader, the closest thing is my 5" Samsung Galaxy S. When I read a PDF on it, I have to constantly pan/zoom in/zoom out and maintain the device in landscape position.

You should have a look at Pandoc and write in Markdown is converted to HTML, EPUB, PDF and other formats.


I was recently intrigued by pandoc, but I found I was not allowed to join the mailing group. On Chrome, the Subscribe button never appears, no matter now many times I look or refresh.

So I lost interest.

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About Enkidu

user-pic I am a Freelance Scientist** and Perl is my Igor.