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2016 January 7

Counting pages

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:30
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I just read in Dan Graur’s blog, his post about how publishers report the sizes of his textbooks:

On the Numbering of Pages in Textbooks

American students are apparently afraid of books with too many pages. The solution that publishers have came up with to is to number different sections of the book separately.

Thus my previous book, the second edition of Fundamentals of Molecular Evolution was listed as xiv + 481 pp. That is, 14 pages of front material (title, acknowledgements, dedication) plus 481 pages of text. This was a significant increase in pages from the first edition, which was listed as xv + 284 pp.

My newest book, Molecular and Genome Evolution, which was published with the same publishing house, is listed as xvii + 612 pp + 54 LC + 34 I, in other words 17 pages of front material, 612 pages of text, 54 pages of references, and 34 pages of index. It seems that 612 is significantly less terrifying than 690 (or 707 if one includes everything in the book).  

Under this system, the current draft of my book is xxiv + 270 pp + 6 LC + 4 I—not counting the colophon, which is after the index.  Should the appendix have been in the 270 pp, where I put it, or in the “LC” count? Should the blank pages that exist only so that chapters start on a right-hand page be counted, as I did, or not?

Obviously, my book is much lighter weight than Prof. Graur’s (if weight means anything in an e-book-only publication), and I clearly need to beef up the index (though maybe not to four times the current length, which is what it would take to be comparable to his index/text ratio).

But 54 pages of references seems excessive for a textbook—even one with 612 content pages. No student is going to look up even 1% of those references. That depth of references is more appropriate for review article or a research monograph than for a textbook. Of course, many scientists don’t really distinguish between research monographs and textbooks, so perhaps it really is a research monograph, in which case the level of citation seems appropriate.

Perhaps Prof. Graur’s book, probably aimed at grad students or postdocs, is not typical of books aimed at college freshmen and sophomores. Looking at a textbook I happen to have on the floor by my desk, Matter and Interactions, which I haven’t put away since teaching/learning physics from it 3 years ago, I see xxiv + 1080 pp + 19 I, not counting the endpapers, which add another 3 pages of text (useful reference material).  This book seems to have no references—not at the end, not in each chapter, and not even occasional pointers to more information for curious readers. The indexing rate is 1.76%,which is only slightly more than my 1.48%, so I may not be as far off the mark in the amount of indexing I’ve done as I feared.

2015 December 22

Small updates to book

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:56
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I released a couple more small updates to my book today:

  • revised Chapter 25 (Electrodes) and electrode lab
  • small additions to loudspeaker lab to remove several TODO comments
  • cleaned up many (but not all) overfull-box LaTeX errors

I’ll try to get Chapter 27 (EKGs) and the EKG lab redone by the end of 2015, completing the rewrite that I started in June 2015.  After finishing this pass, I’ll raise the minimum price on the book (probably to $3.99 from $2.99), though the book still won’t be “finished”—I’ll still have 46 TODO comments to resolve.

If anyone is waiting for me to finish the book before buying it, remember that as long as I’m publishing it with leanpub, buying a copy entitles you to all updates for free, so you might as well get it now, before I raise the price.

2015 December 14

Sabbatical leave application 2016

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:33
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I’ve got to write an application for sabbatical leave and submit it before 2016 March 11.   My plans are to take sabbatical leave for fall quarters at ⅔ or 5/9 pay for the next five years, to gradually drain the accumulated sabbatical leave credits, rather than spending them all at once getting two quarters off at full pay.  If I do that, I can retire after Winter 2021 with one unused sabbatical credit (which is a little left as you can get, as you have to return to the university for at least as long as the duration of your last sabbatical).

It is better for the department for me to take sabbatical at partial pay, as the savings in salary is returned to the department as Temporary Academic Staffing (TAS) funds, which can be used for hiring lecturers.  If I took salary at full pay, the department would get nothing, and if I took leave without pay, they’d get my full salary—at ⅔ salary they get  the remaining ⅓, which should be enough to hire 1.5 lecturers to replace me for that quarter (and cover the 1.4 courses that I’d not be teaching).

The sabbatical leave form is only for the Fall 2016 leave and asks a lot of questions, some of which are difficult to answer briefly.

The application form shall be accompanied by a statement providing in detail the following information:

a. A brief history of the project, from inception through progress to date and projection as to completion date. This history shall include a description of the applicant’s preparation and any significant contributions already made in the field of activity with which the project is concerned.

I’m planning to do two things in Summer and Fall 2016: work on my textbook and try to find a bioelectronics project to design, preferably in collaboration with a doctor at UCSF.  Unfortunately, I don’t know any one at UCSF who has a problem that would be interesting for me to work on, and I’m not very good at the networking needed to find such collaborators. I’m also more interested in open hardware than in proprietary development, and that could be a bad mismatch for the UC emphasis on making money off of research developments in the biomedical field.

Even if I’m vague in the request about starting a bioelectronics project, giving a brief history of the textbook development will take some thought—I can’t very well give them the 373 blog posts I’ve written about the course, as they probably want only one or two paragraphs.  I suppose I should mention the times I’ve taught the course, the evolution of the lab handouts into the current draft of the book, and the need for revision based on changing the level and pace of the course next year. The course will be moved from upper division (junior/senior) to lower division (freshman/sophomore), and split into two quarters (2 4-unit courses, replacing the current 5+2-unit course).  The move to lower division means reducing the prerequisites (I’ll still have differential calculus as a prereq, but not calculus-based physics), which in turns means beefing up the background in the text and in the class, to cover the physics that the students won’t have had.

The book may be publishable after the Fall 2016 leave, but I’ll probably want to try using it at the slower pace during Winter and Spring 2017, and revise it Summer and Fall 2017, based on that experience.  I’m still not sure when the project will be “completed”.  There are many milestones along the way: used in the course (done Spring 2015), released to the public (done in draft form starting August 2015), all the “to-do” notes in the text done (maybe never—I keep finding more that needs to be improved), adopted for teaching by someone other than me, available on paper (maybe never—the cost of printing is high relative to PDF distribution, but see Textbook should be on paper), available in EPUB and MOBI formats (maybe never—those formats are awful for math and for scientific graphics), freezing an edition and getting an ISBN, distributing through a professional publisher (maybe never—the textbook publishers take way too big a share of too high a price, providing little in return except their name).

b. Significance of the project as a contribution to knowledge, to art, to a particular profession; or as an expected contribution to the applicant’s increased effectiveness as a teacher and scholar.

I could find no intro electronics textbook that was suitable for bioengineering students at the level I wanted to teach.  Everything that had sufficient design content assumed that the students had already had at least a circuits course and often several low-level analog electronics courses. The books that assumed no prior electronics experience all ended up being “cookbooks”, which had students building things that others designed, or “physics” books, doing demos to illustrate concepts, with no design work in either case. There seems to be a real need for books that get students to design simple electronics without years of preliminary drudgery.

c. Name(s) of the location(s) or institution(s) where the project will be carried on, and the names of authorities, if any, with whom it will be conducted.

Textbook writing will happen at home.  Finding a project to collaborate on with someone else is less definite—I’ll probably try to find collaborators at UCSF, though that will not be easy to arrange, as I don’t want to move to San Francisco, but only visit for a few days at a time every couple of weeks. Stanford would be closer, but the doctors at the Stanford medical school have easy access to Stanford engineering faculty, so finding a fruitful collaboration is likely to be harder.

d. Assurances of cooperation, or authorization to conduct the project, received from individuals, institutions, or agencies.

No authorization is needed for the textbook project, and nothing has been set up yet for doing a collaboration.  It may be that I’ll spend much of the first sabbatical just finding people and setting up mechanisms for later collaborations.

e. Description of all financial support expected during the sabbatical leave, including any fellowship, grant, government-sponsored exchange lectureship, or payment for contract research. (See also APM-740-18 and 740-19.)

No external support expected. I may do small amounts of consulting (well less than the 1-day-a-week limit), if the opportunity arises.

f. Description of University service which will be provided if the applicant proposes to substitute significant University service for some or all of the teaching/instructional requirements of a sabbatical leave in residence (See APM 740-8-b & CAPM 900.700-G)

Not doing a leave in residence, but I may still do some service work at UCSC while on leave, like giving the “Speaking Loudly” workshop for Women in Science and Engineering or helping the advising office with new-student orientation.

2015 August 7

Draft book cover

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:36
Tags: , , ,

I played around last night a bit with creating a book cover, just to have a placeholder on Leanpub until I can get a proper book cover designed.

Small thumbnail (150 pixels wide, 220 high)

Full size book cover, 2250 pixels wide by 3300 high.  That's 8.5" by 11" at 300dpi. (click to get full-size image)

Full size book cover, 2250 pixels wide by 3300 high. That’s 8.5″ by 11″ at 300dpi. (click to get full-size image.)

Thumbnail for book cover, 225 pixels wide and 330 high.

Thumbnail for book cover, 225 pixels wide and 330 high.

I’ve included the images here so that people can see them (and make suggestions for improvement or totally different cover designs—this one looks too much like the “generic” product labels of the 1970s). Also, I wanted to have a URL for the tiny icon to put in my sidebar.

Ideally I’d like a design that is visually striking, and that conveys visually that the book is about electronics. It should look OK full size, but also work as a small thumbnail, since that is how Leanpub displays their books.

Book draft available online

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 01:29
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In Lean publishing I said

I’ll think about it for a week, but right now I’m leaning towards doing a pre-release of my book at a very low price on Leanpub.  What do my readers think?  Anyone interested?

Well, that week lasted less than a day.  I’ve put the book up on Leanpub’s book store as

https://leanpub.com/applied_electronics_for_bioengineers

For now, everything is pretty much draft format: I have a temporary cover page, lots of marginal notes to myself about what needs changing, few exercises, and a host of things that need to be done to the book.

The book is only available in PDF format, because I’m developing it in LaTeX, and there is no good way to get LaTeX documents into EPUB and MOBI formats.  From what I’ve seen so far, there is no good way to produce books with a lot of figures and cross references in EPUB and MOBI formats, so I’m stuck with LaTeX at least for the next year.

I dithered for a while about setting a price for the book—I wanted it cheap enough that people who were interested in it would be willing to get a pre-release copy, but not free—since the people would not bother looking at it, even if they got a copy.  I settled on a minimum price of $2.99 and suggested price of $9.99, as representing a fair price for the book in its current draft form.  Those prices probably won’t stop anyone who wants to read the book from getting it, but will discourage random freebie hunters. I do plan to raise the minimum price as the book gets more nearly finished.

The Leanpub model, where purchasers get all updates to the book that are done on Leanpub, means that early purchasers get a real bargain.

I’ve not yet put up a sample chapter or table of contents for the book, but I plan to do that later this week—I’ll probably include all the front matter and two sample chapters (a lab chapter and the associated supporting theory chapter) in the sample.  I’ve not figured out which chapters to include in the sample yet. (If anyone does buy the draft book, I’d welcome suggestions about which chapters to show in the sample.)

I’ll be setting up coupons for  students who take my class to get the book for free, and I’ll make those coupons available to students who have formerly taken the class.  (I’ve not done that yet, since the next class isn’t until Spring 2016, but if there are former students reading this blog, send me e-mail and I’ll set up a coupon code you can use.)

None of the book is set in stone, but some parts are more solid than others—I’m pretty happy with how several of the chapters worked in the Spring 2015 offering of the course, but other labs need complete rewrites, changing the nature of the lab.  The cover page is definitely a placeholder—I threw it together in a couple of hours tonight, just to have something to put on the site. I started an index, but have not really gone through the book looking for what concepts need to be indexed, nor indexed all occurrences of the concepts I’ve started indexing.  A better index is pretty far down on my priority list right now, but I will take suggestions about things that really need indexing—fixing one or two entries in the index could be a good break from more intense writing.

At some point I’ll be putting up a bunch of other files with the book as a “bundle”.  The bundle will include all the gnuplot scripts and programs that I provide to my students, plus Eagle files for the prototyping PC boards.  I might also do a “teacher” bundle that includes all the gnuplot scripts and data files used for generating the figures in the books.  I don’t know whether Leanpub provides a way for purchasers of a book to later upgrade to a bundle that includes the book—but a workaround can probably found using coupons.

One of the reasons for releasing a draft on Leanpub is to get feedback from readers—particularly about things they find incorrect, poorly written, inconsistent, missing, redundant, or just confusing.  That feedback can be on the Leanpub site, by email (Leanpub provides a link), or here on the blog.  Tiny details are probably best done by e-mail, but more substantive suggestions that might be worth discussing (like pedagogical approach or order of the material) may be better done in blog comments.

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