Monday, July 19, 2010

Theoretical Physics Reference Book

Today I fulfilled my old dream --- I just created my first book! Here is how it looks like:

More images
here.

Here is the source code of the book: http://github.com/certik/theoretical-physics, the repository contains a branch 'master' with the code and 'gh-pages' with the generated html pages, that are hosted at github, at the url theoretical-physics.net.

Then I published the book at Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/product/hardcover/theoretical-physics-reference/11612144, I wanted a hardcover book, so I setup a project at Lulu, used some Lulu templates for the cover and that was it. Lulu's price for the book is $19.20 (166 black & white pages, hardcover), then I can set my own price and the rest of the money probably goes to me. I set the price to $20, because Lulu has free shipping for orders $20 or more. You can also download the pdf (for free) at the above link (or just use my git repository). So far this didn't cost me anything.

I have then ordered the book myself (just like anybody else would, at the above address) and it arrived today. It's a regular hardcover book. Beautiful, you can browse the pictures above. It smells deliciously (that you have to believe me). And all that it cost me was $19.20.

As for the contents itself, you can browse it online at theoretical-physics.net, essentially it's most of my physics notes, that I collected over the years. I'd like to treat books like software --- release early release often. This is my first release and I would call it beta. The main purpose of it was to see if everything goes through, how long it takes (the date inside the book is July 4, 2010, I created and ordered it on July 5, got the physical book on July 19) and what the quality is (excellent). I also wanted to see how the pages correspond to the pdf (you can see for yourself on the photos, click on the picasa link above).

Now I need to improve the first pages a bit, as well as the last pages, improve the index, write some foreword and so on. I also need to think how to better organize the contents itself and generally improve it. I also need to figure out some versioning scheme, so far this is version 0.1. I think I'll do edition 1, edition 2, edition 3, and so on. And whenever I feel that I have added enough new content, I'll just publish it as a new edition. So if you want to buy it, I suggest to wait for my 1.0 version, that will have the mentioned improvements.

It'd be also cool to have all the editions online somehow and create nice webpages for it (currently theoretical-physics.net points directly to the book html itself).

So far the book is just text. I still need to figure out how to handle pictures and also whether or not to use program examples (in Python, using sympy, scipy, etc.). So far I am inclining not to put there any program codes, as then I don't need to maintain them.

Overall I am very pleased with the quality, up to some minor issues that I mentioned above, everything else end up just fine. I think we have come a long way from the discovery of the printing press. Anybody can now create a book for free, and if you want to hold the hardcopy in your hands, it costs around $20. You don't need to order certain amounts of books, nor partner with some publisher etc. I think that's just awesome.
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