Archive.org Community Media – free, cloud publishing

Archive dot LorgArchive.org is now a great way to publish your eBooks.

You probably know Archive.org as a repository for live music or their Wayback Machine.

communityTextArchive.org also has a community media section where you can upload your eBook. It is an easy, open way to publish your students’ ‘zines, eBooks or student newspaper. One of the best features is that it allows you to embed your document in your website without advertisements.

For most people, the simplest way is to upload a PDF/Acrobat file of their ebook. I prefer the Comic Book Archive format and that works as well.

The only downside I can think of is that Archive.org has NSFW (or school) content. But, if your ebook is embedded on your own site, your students needn’t visit Archive.org or even be aware that it exists.

 


Tool: archive.org Community Media

Description: repository for self-published eBook

License: Creative Commons

Alternatives: Google Drive, Scribd, others

Usefulness: very

TiddlyWiki – an easy, super-portable personal wiki.

I have been using TiddlyWiki since about 2006 and have yet to find an easier and more elegant way to create browser-based manuals, documentation, eBooks, etc.

If you have ever contributed to Wikipedia, then you have all the skills needed to use TiddlyWiki right away. You may need to refer to the manual for text-formatting codes but, beyond that, it’s almost completely intuitive. A cool feature about TiddlyWiki is that you can instantly create a hyperlink by SmashingAnyWordsTogether. (<- just like this)

It has very basic features – standard text formatting, tables and images. (Images work best if they are on an external web server, like Flickr.)

Navigation features are very strong: between hyperlinks, a side-bar menu and tags, it is very easy for your readers to surf around your document. As an experiment, I plugged the whole bible into TiddlyWiki and even that was not too big. I could navigate by book, chapter and verse quickly and efficiently.

Installation is as easy as downloading the file to your desktop and re-naming it.

This makes it highly portable, so you can pass it around on a thumb drive, email it, or keep it in DropBox or on an FTP or WebDav server.

For example, I’ve used TiddlyWiki for a college assignment, put it on a thumb drive, used it as a class presentation and then handed the thumb drive to the professor for grading. While other people struggled to get their presentations working, mine sailed through with no problems.

TiddlyWiki’s main weakness is that it is browser-based. (also its greatest strength!) This might be a problem on phones and some eBook readers which don’t handle web pages well. A second weakness is exporting documents. While it is easy to copy-and-paste a single TiddlyWiki page, it’s a nuisance exporting a long document with multiple pages (like the bible.)

Lastly, it is not truly collaborative like, let’s say, Google Docs. Realistically, only one person can be editing a document at a time. If you accidentally get two versions of the same document going, it will be a nuisance to reconcile it (the same problem as word processor documents).

But, if you want to create something like a school handbook or training manual, with lots of links and cross-references, it’s a great tool.


Tools:  TiddlyWiki
Description:  personal web page
Alternatives: many, including Google Sites,
License: BSD (free, open source)
Rating: highly useful.

Calligra Suite – ambitious but uneven office and productivity tools

Calliga_logoI spent a few days playing with the Calligra Suite and am very impressed with the variety of its modules. It’s one of the most ambitious open-source applications I’ve seen.

It is a project of KDE and has Windows, tablet and phone versions but I only tested the Linux version.

As expected, it offers the standard modules: word processor (“Writer”); spreadsheet (“Sheets”); database (“Kexi”); and presentation (“Stage”), compatible with the OpenOffice file standard.

What makes Calligra so impressive is the other modules it offers: mind mapping (“Braindump”); flowchart/diagramming (“Flow”); vector drawing (“Karbon”); project management (“Plan”); paint (“Krita”); and eBook composer (“Author”).

calligre_modules

I played with the modules that might be useful in a library setting. My impression varied a lot depending on the module. One module worked very well, a couple were OK and others are just not ready.

Writer requires a bit of a learning curve because it’s organized around frames, somewhat like Framemaker. (Calligra calls them “shapes”) It’s not difficult but requires un-learning MS Word or LibreOffice Writer. Shapes/frames allows a higher level of formatting control which I appreciate. I find graphics in MS Word extremely frustrating. Mixing text and graphics is almost effortless in Calligra Writer.

Calligra Writer imports and exports to the standard formats and directly imports (only) from Google Docs. This worked fine with a relatively simple document.

But other things don’t work so well. Writer behaved erratically at times, even considering my inexperience with the product. It crashed once. I was excited to see that Writer exports to both ePub and .mobi (Kindle) but I was disappointed with the results.

My suggestion to the developers: Writer should be positioned as a desktop publishing program and Calligra should add a lightweight, super-easy, word-processor. Just the basics. This would give users a less-painful way to start using Calligra. The suite could also use Dreamweaver-type web authoring module.

I was excited to try the Author module which is designed to create ebooks and textbooks. The world needs an ebook authoring program where a single master document can be exported to multiple common formats (ePub,kindle,html,PDF,doc,etc) with a click or two. I was motivated enough to endure about four or five crashes, when one crash is too many. The web site acknowledges that Author is an early release.

Sheets was the same — it seems more developed but had erratic behavior and a crash. Braindump worked well-enough but wasn’t what I need in a mind-mapping program. Mostly it’s just a drawing program when I need a program that guides thinking and adds structure to brainstorming. It does use an interesting-but-initially-confusing, expanding “white board” approach.

Krita — the stand-out in the suite

Calligra_krita_example_womanAfter all that, the Krita paint program was a delight! It’s the one module that I will keep using. You may consider installing this as a stand-alone program.

It worked perfectly with my drawing tablet, never crashed and the features were intuitive.   I’ll write a longer review after I use it more.

See the Krita website for some impressive examples of what can be done with this module.  The site includes some interesting interviews with artists using Krita.

Conclusion – an A for effort

I didn’t play much with all the other modules but I doubt my impression of Calligra would change — it’s not ready for work or school. If you use it, consider yourself a beta user. This may not be true for all the modules (like Krita) but others are just not ready.  By the way, being a beta user is good citizenship in the open source community.

That being said, I want to affirm the Calligra development team. This project has impressive potential and should be developed to maturity. I’ll be checking back!


Tool: Caligra Suite 2.6
Description: office and productivity suite
License: GPL
Alternatives: LibreOffice, Sigil, GIMP, Inkscape, more
Rating: mostly not useful.

Digital Dewey — organize your digital collection like your physical library

The Digital Dewey Project 1.0

DigitalDeweyLogoThis project is a “zipped” collection of folders which mirrors the Dewey Decimal System as listed by Wikipedia. It has approximately 2500 folders and nested sub-folders, one for every major Dewey subject. Version 1.0 doesn’t go down to the decimal level but may in the future.

Users can unzip these folders on to their hard drive and organize their digital collection by dropping the documents in the appropriate folder.

The inspiration for this project happened when I was digitizing documents for a speciality library where scans of documents were simply dumped into one gigantic file folder. While this works fine if the documents are hyper-linked to an OPAC entry, it is almost useless for browsing. If a library were to use the Digital Dewey system, a user could browse through the digital collection similar to how they browse in a physical library. Be sure to set the file permissions to read-only.

Get the Zip File

dotEPUB – cloud-based ebook creation

dotEPUB_logo

  dotEPUB is “software in the cloud” that I have become totally dependent on for my personal ebook reading.

With just a click-or-two, it turns a web article into an ePub for use on my ebook reader. I don’t like reading long articles on my computer, so easily moving them to my ebook reader is very handy.

(Click here for a side-note about an overlooked use of ebook readers.)

dotEPUB has several tools that integrate with your browser to convert an web page into a ePub or a mobi (Kindle) file. dotEPUB works well with most web pages and is flawless with pages that have a “print” feature.

The ePub created by dotEPUB is usually fine, as is, but if you want to tweak or annotate it, you can open the ePub file with Sigil and edit it from there.

I use dotEPUB’s javascript “bookmarklet” that sits on the web browser’s bookmark toolbar. When you get to a web page you want to read later, it’s as simple as clicking the bookmark and the rest of the process is automated. When the ePub has been created and saved, you transfer the file to your ebook reader as you usually would (USB cable, email, etc).

The site has number of other tools which I have not used. A possibly useful tool is a an ePub creation button you can add to your website or WordPress blog. It also as tools for iPads.

dotEPUB Creator Another is the web-based “Creator” which creates a formatted ePub using a simplified mark-up language similar to that of a wiki. No software to install.


 Tool: dotEPUB

 Description: cloud-based tool for ePub creation

 License: free to use

 Alternatives: Sigil, Calibre

 Rating: very useful

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Sigil – for ePub creation

Sigil logoWhile ePubs are all over the Internet, work with almost all eBook readers and are a great open format, OpenSource tools to create them are few.
The most common one is seems to be Calibre which I have used a lot.   Calibre is especially useful for conversion between eBook formats but for ePub creation, I find the lesser known Sigil to be more intuitive and efficient.
Sigil only does one thing — create ePub documents. While not as slick as a modern word processor, it has the intuitive feel of a word processor, circa 1995.
Sigil Screenshot
Sigil plays to the strength of the ePub format by encouraging the user to use styles which continue to look nice on a wide variety of readers.   The ePub format is excellent for long-form documents like books, board reports, manuals, etc and Sigil gives you the tools to structure your document for efficient navigation.  You can easily add chapters, footnotes, cross-links, etc.
Sigil allows for images but this is not a strength of the ePub format. Small graphs or photos should be fine but if you are turning a scanned document into an ebook, consider the CBA format.
A weakness of Sigil is its limited import ability.  Mostly, it just accepts HTML or plain text files.
While you can export your LibreOffice (or other) word processor document to HTML and then import it into Sigil, I usually copy-and-paste my document straight into Sigil, one chapter at a time.  This works quite well if your formatting needs are simple.
If you want to adopt the ePub format (and I encourage you to do so!)  then Sigil is worth a try before you buy a commercial product or pay to have it done for you.

Tool: Sigil
Description: Cross-platform tool for ePub creation
License: GNU, free and opensource
Alternatives: Calibre
Rating: very useful

ePub – open file format for eBooks

ePub is an eBook file format which allows text to be reflowed and resized to fit almost any screen or device.

In an era where your document might be read on a gigantic computer monitor or a tiny iPod, this is a huge advantage.

While ePubs can include graphics, it’s best for text-intensive files. While not good for graphic novels or an art book, it can handle just about anything you would create in Word or LibreOffice from a short poem to a full novel.  It would be a very good way to publish syllabus, for example.

Reading ePubs: ePub is an open standard and is the native file format for Nook and Sony Reader eBook readers. (Sadly, Kindle has its own format.) Other devices will need an ePub reader/app.  iPad users have iBooks which I haven’t used but seems cool. Google Play offers an app for Android users. On Windows and Linux, I use Calibre.

Creating ePubs: For creating files, Pages (OsX) and Abobe InDesign directly support ePub. Most users will need Calibre or Sigil to convert their word processor document to an ePub. It’s not difficult but it is an extra step. Sigil is my favorite. If you are a little geeky, ePub is form of XHTML and there are number of tools for that format.

I expect that ePub will be much better supported in the near future and will be an enduring file format. Google Books, Project Gutenberg and my local library use ePub. I suspect that many more will follow.

 


Tool: ePub
Description: a file format for eBooks
License: free and open-source.
Alternatives: PDF, .mobi (for kindle), HTML, RTF
Rating: very useful

Comic Book Archive – publish scanned documents

Comic Book Archive logo

 

 

 

 

 

Leave it the hacker community to create a simple, elegant way to deliver media – in this case, (mostly) pirated scans of comic books.

However, their tools for piracy could also be great for creating student’s ebooks – especially ones made of drawings and other art. (ePub is still probably the best choice for text-based documents.)

The format is called Comic Book Archive and you probably have the tools to create them.

To make a Comic Book Archive (CBA):

  • scan (or photograph) your original documents (jpeg, gif, bmp or tiff),
  • name the files alphabetically
  • “zip” them into a compressed file
  • change extension to .cbz.

It’s that easy!

Here is a CBA I did of a child’s ‘zine.

There are several free CBA readers for all the OS’s, including phones.

Here is Wikipedia’s list of CBA readers

An attractive feature of CBAs is that JPEGs and Zip files will not be orphaned any time soon, so even if CBAs stop being used, your documents will easily convert to whatever new format is in vogue.

TIFFs are the preferred format for archival scans but you will get smaller files with jpeg of gif.

The only caution I can think of is that the default resolution of flatbed scanners would make a very big file. You probably want to scan at a fairly low resolution, especially if you expect your ebook to be read on phones. Some experimentation may be needed. A program like IrfanView easily re-sizes scans.

I installed Comix for Ubuntu and it worked flawlessly. (it’s in the repository)

 


Tool:

Comic Book Archive

Description: a simple way for sharing scans of documents

License: file format is free and open-source.  Most viewers are free.

Alternatives: PDF, ePub,

Rating: very useful