General

I presented my session on the transition to eBooks for tech comm professionals at the ASTC(NSW) Conference in Sydney on November 2-3, 2012. This page contains links to reference material and tools I mentioned in the presentation.

Tools mentioned in the presentation

  • Sigil - A WYSIWYG eBook editor to produce manually crafted ePub books.
  • Calibre - An eBook management tool also used to convert ePub books to other formats including Amazon's mobi and ASW.
  • epubcheck - A tool for validating ePub files.
  • Adobe Digital Editions - An eBook management tool that can be used to test ePub books on a PC.
  • Kindle Previewer - PC software that emulates many of the Kindle devices used for testing purposes.
  • Author-it - A Component Content Management System (CCMS) that publishes content to multiple formats.
  • The Author-it ePub post processor I demonstrated is still in development and testing. I will announce when it is available on this website and my twitter feed.

Other Resources

  • Help Authoring Tool Matrix - See which Help Authoring Tools (HATs) support eBooks (not a complete list, but covers the popular tools).
  • Sigil Tutorial - Basic tutorial to create an ePub book using Sigil.
  • E-Book Formatting for Novelists by K.C. May – a free eBook (although aimed at novelists) that gives practical, clear instructions for creating an eBook using Microsoft Word. Available for free both at Kobo and Amazon.
  • MobileRead Wiki - An excellent wiki with lots of eProduction information, help, and tips.
  • epubtest.com - A self-proclaimed complete list of ePub devices, tools, and applications.
  • eBook Ninjas - A regular podcast with news and information from the world of eBook development and production.
  • Advanced ePub tutorial - A tutorial to create an ePub book from scratch using nothing more than a text editor. Not for the faint-hearted – this is the nitty gritty technical tutorial.

Finally, as I mentioned in my presentation, if you are looking for a low-maintenance, friendly, and gentle pet, consider an ex-racing greyhound from Friends of the Hound or another greyhound rescue organisation.

Our Bob, adopted from Friends of the Hound.

In the past few months, I have become increasingly interested in mobile publishing formats. The two 'flavours' I have been experimenting with are browser-based content for mobile devices (phones and tablets) and eBooks (ePub, Mobi, and other common formats).

It is a complex path to follow. There are numerous devices, numerous standards (and non-standards) and lots of subtleties. Just when you think you have it working on one device, you try it on another, and it is broken. Add on top of that the pace at which the technology and standards are changing it can become overwhelming.

Because of this, there are many design and process decisions that you need to make. Developing for the lowest common denominator seems to be the safest and least painful option. For example, image size and how tables are formatted. This does limit what you can do in the output, but it does make for a more consistent end-user experience.

In addition to getting the formatting right, another big effort is putting together a repeatable process with as little manual intervention as possible. For this, I leveraged technologies I already know well (Author-it, .NET, VB scripting) and some new technologies (JSON, Python, and jQuery Mobile). The tool chain I have hobbled together is, at the moment, a little tenuous, but it does work.

As a prototype, I decided to create a mini book using content from the South Korea Wikitravel page (I am going for a holiday there in April). To see the results of my efforts, use the following links:

The following screen shots are some samples of how the mobile help output looks.

Mobile Help ExampleMobile Help Example

As a side note, Author-it is planning on supporting publishing mobile help natively from Author-it. From what I have heard it is going to be called TouchHelp and here are a couple of screen shots from a development version of the output (not even in Beta yet).

Author-it TouchHelp ExampleAuthor-it TouchHelp Example

Author-it TouchHelp ExampleAuthor-it TouchHelp Example

My latest tech fetish is GPS. I know I am a little late in the game for this, but I recently had to put together a training course for GPS devices (Trimble Nomad and Yumas) and it peaked my interest. That, coupled with me getting my first real smart phone, has meant that I have been obsessed with any app that has some kind of location-aware feature.

One of the first apps I found on the Google Marketplace was My Tracks. Basically, before you go for a run, bike ride, or drive you fire up the app and start recording your 'tracks'.

En-route, it can either sit silently in the background or you can view your location and the path you are taking. You can also look at aggregated statistics for your journey (for example, average speed, total moving time, total distance travelled), insert points that record the aggregated statistics up until that point, or view some of the stats in graph form.

After you have completed your journey, you can easily upload it to your Google Maps account or review it on your phone. Or you can tell the world about your trip by sharing it on Twitter (and it has its own hash tag #MyTracks).

My Tracks, is an amazingly feature rich application, especially considering it is free. And it ticks another of my software 'boxes' by being open source.

I do wonder how long I will continue to use it (that is, how long my GPS fetish will last) but I can see it becoming part of my (lately, somewhat hap hazard) fitness regime.

I have always liked to keep lists. Whether it is for work using a ticketing system or at home on the back of an envelope, I need a system of some sort that tracks what I need do to.

When it comes to organising the jobs for my one-person consultancy I need something in between. As much as I'd love to have a full-blown work request system (and don't think that I haven't considered it), somewhere in between that and an envelope is required.

Enter Task Coach.Task Coach Icon

Task Coach is ideal to organise one person's jobs. You can set up tasks giving them start dates, end dates, and priorities. This means you can easily organise your work and see the deadlines approaching and where you should concentrate your efforts. Tasks can also be assigned to multiple categories, so, for example, you can separate out billable and non-billable tasks or have a different category for each client.

Task Coach Date Tracking

Another big feature that I use is effort tracking to record the amount of time I spend on each job. I can start tracking by clicking the Task Coach icon in the system tray and selecting the job. You can also manually enter time against a job (if you forget to start tracking).

Task Coach Time Tracking

It is dead easy to get started with it, but has loads of features that you discover along the way. Others include, setting task prerequisites, recurring tasks, and attachments (although I haven't figured out exactly how this feature is meant to work). There are also a myriad of ways to display the task information (timeline, calendar, and even a task map).

My basic workflow with Task Coach is:

  • As I hear about an opportunity I create a task. I tag it with a 'Lead' category so I can easily go back and see what opportunities I need to follow up. I also record any time against the task during this stage (to track how much time I spend on business development and help cost that into the job, if it comes though).
  • Before I start the work, I do my estimate and enter the budget.
  • As I work on the job I use the in-built timer to track my effort. It is also a good way to keep notes about what I have done – which can then be used on the invoice.
  • When I am invoicing I look at the tracked effort and either use the total hours to invoice (if billing by the hour) or review how good my estimation was (if doing a fixed quote).

Overall, it fits well with my small-time operation and personal workflow.

Task Coach is free, can run off a USB drive, and is regularly updated by its developers Frank Niessink and Jérôme Laheurte (and a bunch of translators). It is available on Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and even on the iPhone. I wonder when the Android version is coming ;)

I am please to introduce my new business Segue Consulting.

Segue Consulting provides professional technical communication, Author-it consulting, and online communication services.

We specialise in:

  • Developing complex technical documentation and training
  • Developing online help systems (both integrated and web-based)
  • Deploying and customising Author-it
  • Deploying content management systems (CMS)
  • Developing and deploying websites.

I also have a new email address. To contact me, please use the contact form on the site.

Please visit the site and contact me if I can help you in any way.

Segue Consulting

Eliminate repetitive, mundane, and time-consuming tasks when publishing from Author-it Cloud

Find out more

Segue Consulting

Providing professional technical communication, Author-it consulting, and online communication services.

We are one of only two Author-it certified consultants in Australia.

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