Gas station without pumps

2014 June 14

Zeroth draft of book done

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:02
Tags: ,

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.


  1. I started following since this is cool and will help in my involvement in designing a comp. engineering program. Could you point us to your circuits course syllabus or other information about the level of your students and any prerequisites in the course?

    Comment by chaikens — 2014 June 16 @ 06:55 | Reply

  2. I’ll be interested to read what you decide about distribution channels. I’ve been reading some of the ebooks on self-publishing and am considering doing a guide to teaching CS via Amazon’s author channels or Lulu.

    Comment by Mark Guzdial — 2014 June 16 @ 17:28 | Reply

    • Right now, I’m focussed on adding content and getting minimally acceptable formatting with LaTeX. Because I’m rearranging the order of the labs again, I’ll probably want to do another run of the course before publishing the book, and the course is next scheduled for Spring 2015. After that, I’ll decide on self-publishing, a traditional publisher, one of the vanity presses, or just dumping the PDF on the web. It would probably be helpful to have someone besides me try to teach from the draft of the book also, but I don’t know anyone trying to create a course like this one.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2014 June 16 @ 17:48 | Reply

  3. Where can I preorder a copy? I don’t know anything about publishing, but it sounds like the kind of thing you’d see published by Maker Media.

    Comment by V John — 2014 June 16 @ 18:18 | Reply

    • I’m so far from completing the project that I’m not thinking about pricing, pre-orders, publication, or distribution.

      Make magazine is a good magazine (I subscribe), but the style of their articles and the inaccuracy of technical details does not make me want to adopt Maker Media as a textbook publisher. They aim more at a beginning high-school level (or lower) rather than a college level for their audience. The MakerShed markups are high also.

      If I were to work with someone in the maker community, it would more likely be Sparkfun or Adafruit Industries, putting together a combined parts kit+book.

      If I were to work with a conventional publisher, it would probably someone like O’Reilly, which has a decent range of technical books at reasonable prices. I don’t know how hard it would be to work with them on formatting, though, as I think that they use tools that are much worse than LaTeX for typesetting math.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2014 June 16 @ 19:47 | Reply

  4. […] sounds like an interesting idea, and it probably would have helped me last summer while I was trying to work on my textbook for the bioengineering electronics class.  I ended up practicing all sorts of “creative […]

    Pingback by Faculty writing community | Gas station without pumps — 2014 November 17 @ 20:35 | Reply

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