Making eBooks with Texinfo and Calibre

While I greatly enjoy reading, eBooks have mostly eluded me — I still prefer gazing upon ink printed on processed tree pulp, or when electronic texts are convenient, plain old HTML. But as an author, it seems questionable to ignore the multitudes of people who do favor reading on their Kindles and Nooks and iPads.

But how best to support those? I’ve done most of my serious writing by typing Texinfo word processing commands into GNU Emacs. Fortunately, it appears that I can continue writing with my ancient tools, thanks to file format conversion programs like Calibre.

I experimented using the most recent edition of The GNU C Reference Manual. The GNU Texinfo toolchain already easily produces PDF and HTML output, so I loaded the single-page HTML file into Calibre. From there, Calibre can produce a variety of eBook outputs, including the ubiquitous ePub and Mobi file formats.

The resulting ePub file I could view using Apple iBooks on my Mac laptop; delightfully, it looks like other ePub eBooks that I have seen. I don’t have a Kindle, but I presume that Calibre did an equally good job of converting to the Mobi file format.

So hooray! This toolchain will allow me to use my familiar writing workflow to produce eBook content in formats desired by readers who opt for electronic reading devices.

Acoustic Samples Sunbird

IMG_3478.JPGWorking on a music recording project, I picked up a copy of the Sunbird guitar virtual instrument from Acoustic Samples. I’ve had mixed results with virtual instruments in the past: all of the online demos from the manufacturer sound excellent, but once I try to use the instrument in the context of my own project, I am not always as impressed. Usually drums and keyboard instruments turn out pretty good, and I hadn’t had much experience yet with guitars, but carefully watching the tutorial videos, it appeared that the Sunbird would be a good choice.

And indeed it was; this is easily one of the best virtual instruments I’ve encountered. It sounds about as realistic as I could imagine, and the interface is exceptionally playable in real-time. While it just models the one basic instrument sound, that of a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar, it nevertheless comes with ample settings that you can change to narrow in on exactly the tone you want: play with fingers or with a pick; adjust the the duration of a strum from a quick almost instantaneous block chord to a spaced out arpeggio; melody mode, for playing solo lines rather than chords; adjust the sloppiness with which the chord is fingered, for an ostensibly more life-like performance.

Getting a hang of all of the options and how to use them takes some time, but it doesn’t take long to be able to use the Sunbird guitar instrument to make perfectly useful rhythm guitar tracks. Having bought it two days ago, I’ve already used it on several songs for my current project… none of which I can share just yet (as it’s not my own personal project), so I whipped together a quick demo of strumming with the Sunbird.

Black Friday sales are coming up soon, and it may well be discounted, but even at the full price of $149 USD, it’s well worth it.

Why Code by Hand When You Have Storyboards?

Brick path winding through the treesContinuing to acquaint myself with the latest developments in iOS programming, some words in Apple’s documentation made me reconsider coding interfaces by hand if it wasn’t strictly necessary. I brought up a test application created from a template using both the Swift language and storyboards, and poked around on it until I was satisfied that I had no idea what I was doing.

I found a tutorial video covering some basics of using storyboards, and immediately was enlightened. Tonight I made another test application and, armed with what I learned from the video and some other resources, somewhat more confidently plowed my way to graphically designing application page flow and connecting view objects to Swift code.

While my initial foray into hand-coding interfaces started as a particular business product requirement, and turned into a personal habit, I feel my iOS programming thought patterns shifting. Storyboards will clearly help me churn out iOS productivity software faster than I have in the past.

[I imagine that most iOS programmers would have never seriously considered not using storyboards in the first place...]