Electronic Publications

There are various forms of electronic publication, some suitable for specific display devices only. My main concern, however, is with those suitable for an ordinary desktop computer, which leaves basically two formats – PDF and EPUB.

Of the two, although PDF was first available, and is in widespread use, it is not so easy to use as EPUB. The PDF file is treated initially as one long scroll, with all the attendant problems of getting from one part to another. Using books with pages makes much more sense, and the EPUB format goes one better, normally displaying 3 pages at a time. A single click of the “Right Arrow” key takes us to the next batch of 3 pages, and the “Left Arrow” takes us 3 pages back

Furthermore, the file size for an EPUB document is about 1/3rd the size of the same file in PDF, as the EPUB format is compressed. Saving disk space and download times are both excellent ideas, and good reasons for choosing EPUB over PDF.

To view EPUB documents, I normally use the Epub Reader extension to the Firefox browser.

It is possible to change from one format to another using special programs. Calibre will convert PDF format to EPUB, but doesn’t do a clean job of it. Although Calibre is excellent for making small corrections – correcting spelling errors in an existing EPUB document, for example – it is not particularly suited for correcting a complete document if the layout is not as desired.

An alternative program, Sigil, does not currently have the ability to convert from PDF to EPUB, but it will accept the output from Calibre when already converted, and is easier to use than Calibre, in my opinion. Sigil uses the F2 key to switch from the code display to the text display. Calibre, on the other hand, uses the same screen area to display both the code and the text.

As far as writing EPUB files from scratch is concerned, I first thought of using Calibre, but that would have been too cumbersome. When you are writing, it is better to use a text program for simplicity. Looking around, I found that there is a “Writer2epub” extension to the Open Office Writer, and that is what I am currently trying out.

After a little experimentation, it is beginning to look quite good. The first attempt produced a document with every single line of text on a new page, but this is easily altered. Select the Metadata button, (the center button of the W2E controls), go to “Document Preferences” and turn off all file splitting. An alternative would be to merge html files using Calibre, but turning off file splitting keeps the number of files to a minimum, and is certainly preferable.

I was so impressed by one book – How Not To Die, by Michael Greger M.D. – that I really put in a lot of effort to convert it. It was only available in PDF format, and I wanted a nice clean copy in EPUB. After I had converted it in Calibre, I was left with a massive clean-up job, as almost every line required attention for one reason or another. It took me about a week!

I also found that some of my attempts to clean up were actually making matters worse. In both programs, Calibre and Sigil, you have the chance to make changes in either the code or the text display. Experience shows that making changes in the text display can lead to “code bloat”, and your file sizes become significantly larger to no useful purpose.

For example, where text is in italics, you may find the instruction for italic has been duplicated for different parts of the same word. This happens where the text that is affected by the instruction is moved, and the part that is moved requires the instruction to be added separately.

Similarly, problems can and do occur with Span. When moving text in text display mode, the Span instruction, and all sorts of unnecessary text control codes, may be added. If you are working in text display mode, you will not see this happen, and your file sizes may increase dramatically.

As a matter of policy, it pays to check the part of the document you are working on in code display mode, and then you can see where “Search and Replace” can be put to good use.

Is it worth the effort?

That very much depends on whether you have the time to spare, or not. I have lots of time, being retired, and am always looking for things to do. I also like a challenge, and since I started this conversion process have become quite proficient at it.

Your situation will probably be very different, so if you have better things to do with your time, use PDF!


Video File Conversion

It is not always possible to use video files on all devices. Although modern mobile phones do a grand job with most formats, sometimes it is necessary to convert to another format they can handle better. There are a number of programs available to do this, some of them paid, some of them free. Some will do the conversion on your own computer, while others require you to upload the file to the Internet, (or at least provide the url.), for the processing to be done elsewhere, and the result downloaded.

My personal preference is always to work on my own computer. Having downloaded the video once already, I fail to see why I should pay for the bandwidth to download it a second time in converted form.

One of the programs I normally use for this purpose became unusable for some reason, and I was able to recover it, so I looked for an alternative.

Movavi offered a 7-day trial, with the restriction that it would periodically show adverts for Movavi during the replay. I tried this out, and threw it away – it was hideous.

I looked for recommendations on the Internet, and came up with a program called “Any Video Converter”, (AVC). This was free, and easy to download, so I decided to try it out.

A few minutes and 49,6 mb later, I was ready install. The installation was straightforward enough, and so was loading the program to be converted, but then came the tricky part – selecting the output format. These people have really gone overboard on options. For example, for Samsung mobile phones, there is a choice of 18 versions, another 4 for Samsung tablets, 10 for android phones, 19 for android tablets, etc., etc. So you make a choice, and get started.

One of the things that puzzled me was the slow reaction time of the program after it had already been started. It was several minutes before an indication of 1% completion was indicated, and the next change was certainly not going to happen very quickly. I had almost decided that the program was a failure and was about to kill it when the first indication of movement indicated that it was actually alive and doing something.

This type of behaviour is very unusual in my experience, and I wondered what could be the cause. A quick look at the computer loading in Task Manager showed the problem immediately. AVC was loading the computer up to 100% continuously! This one program was using 2 Intel Pentium cores running at 3.3 Ghz almost completely, and was taking over 41/2 hours to convert a video file of 1.39 Gb.

I was already aware that video conversions were time-consuming, but not to this extent! I’ll see what the result is before passing final judgement,.

The final file size is 5.76 Gb, more than 4 times the size of the original file. Considering that a conversion targeting a mobile phone with correspondingly small screen size compared to a desktop computer, the final file should have been considerably smaller than the original 1.39Gb. The file is too big to fit in the target phone!

On balance, I think that AVC fails, and I need a new converter!