Recently the authors of Elements of Publishing shared an update. “After ten years in print, our publisher decided against further printings and has reverted the rights to us. We are publishing Elements of Programming in two forms: a free PDF and a no-markup paperback.”
And that’s not the only old book that’s getting a new life on the web…
22 years ago, long-time Slashdot reader Stephen T. Satchell (satch89450) co-authored Linux IP Stacks Commentary, a book commenting the TCP/IP code in Linux kernel 2.0.34. (“Old-timers will remember the Lion’s Unix Commentary, the book published by University xerographic copies on the sly. Same sort of thing.”) But the print edition struggled to update as frequently as the Linux kernel itself, and Satchell wrote a Slashdot post exploring ways to fund a possible update.
At the time Slashdot’s editors noted that “One of the largest complaints about Linux is that there is a lack of high-profile documentation. It would be sad if this publication were not made simply because of the lack of funds (which some people would see as a lack of interest) necessary to complete it.” But that’s how things seemed to end up — until Satchell suddenly reappeared to share this update from 2022:
When I was released from my last job, I tried retirement. Wasn’t for me. I started going crazy with nothing significant to do. So, going through old hard drives (that’s another story), I found the original manuscript files, plus the page proof files, for that two-decade-old book. Aha! Maybe it’s time for an update. But how to keep it fresh, as Torvalds continues to release new updates of the Linux kernel?
Publish it on the Web. Carefully.
After four months (and three job interviews) I have the beginnings of the second edition up and available for reading. At the moment it’s an updated, corrected, and expanded version of the “gray matter”, the exposition portions of the first edition….
The URL for the alpha-beta version of this Web book is satchell.net/ipstacks for your reading pleasure. The companion e-mail address is up and running for you to provide feedback. There is no paywall.
But there’s also an ingenious solution to the problem of updating the text as the code of the kernel keeps changing:
Thanks to the work of Professor Donald Knuth (thank you!) on his WEB and CWEB programming languages, I have made modifications, to devise a method for integrating code from the GIT repository of the Linux kernel without making any modifications (let alone submissions) to said kernel code. The proposed method is described in the About section of the Web book. I have scaffolded the process and it works. But that’s not the hard part.
The hard part is to write the commentary itself, and crib some kind of Markup language to make the commentary publishing quality. The programs I write will integrate the kernel code with the commentary verbiage into a set of Web pages. Or two slightly different sets of web pages, if I want to support a mobile-friendly version of the commentary.
Another reason for making it a web book is that I can write it and publish it as it comes out of my virtual typewriter. No hard deadlines. No waiting for the printers. And while this can save trees, that’s not my intent. The back-of-the-napkin schedule calls for me to to finish the expository text in September, start the Python coding for generating commentary pages at the same time, and start the writing the commentary on the Internet Control Message Protocol in October. By then, Linus should have version 6.0.0 of the Linux kernel released.
I really, really, really don’t want to charge readers to view the web book. Especially as it’s still in the virtual typewriter. There isn’t any commentary (yet). One thing I have done is to make it as mobile-friendly as I can, because I suspect the target audience will want to read this on a smartphone or tablet, and not be forced to resort to a large-screen laptop or desktop. Also, the graphics are lightweight to minimize the cost for people who pay by the kilopacket. (Does anywhere in the world still do this? Inquiring minds want to know.)
I host this web site on a Protectli appliance in my apartment, so I don’t have that continuing expense. The power draw is around 20 watts. My network connection is AT&T fiber — and if it becomes popular I can always upgrade the upstream speed.
The thing is, the cat needs his kibble. I still want to know if there is a source of funding available.
Also, is it worthwhile to make the pages available in a zip file? Then a reader could download a snapshot of the book, and read it off-line.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.