My big project for the summer is to convert my lab handouts and a few of my blog posts into a textbook: Applied Circuits for Bioengineers.
The first task was to take the existing handouts (each a separate LaTeX file) and merge them into a single book-style LaTeX document, with title page, table of contents, chapters, index, and all the other front matter and back matter of a book. I’ve now done that, making a crude split into chapters of background and “Lab” chapters.
The results are not very book-like in terms of content, but I now have a framework to which to add the missing background material. I expect to spend a few hours a day on the book all summer, and somewhat less time on it in fall and winter, so that a complete draft will be ready for the next time I teach the course in Spring 2015.
I’ve not figured out how I will distribute the book when I’m finished—I’ll certainly be giving the PDF for free to students who take my course, but I’ve not decided whether to self-publish the book, work with a professional textbook publisher, work with an electronics hobbyist company, or just dump the book for free on the Internet. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
I’m producing the book using LaTeX—there is a fair amount of math and a lot of figures (64 so far, and probably many more to come), so no other tool I have available is suitable for producing a book-length document of this complexity.
One LaTeX problem I’m running into is that I want the lab assignments to be chapter level objects, but separately numbered from the chapters. Currently I have the ugly approach of making the labs be names of chapters: Chapter 9: Lab 4: Electret Microphones, which I’m really not happy with. But changing the running heads and the table of contents entries is a bit tricky, particularly since some places use just the chapter number, which would have to be replaced by a word plus number. I’ll probably play with things like getting interleaved lab and chapter numbering when I get too tired of writing content.
There will be some rather tedious parts to the writing—like adding index entries, which I may try to bribe my son or some students to do.
This zeroth draft of the book is currently 186 pages, with about 160 pages of content. I expect the book to grow to about 240 pages of content as I add more stuff from my lectures.