Dan W

That's Not a Proper Book

I made a book. Or rather, I printed out a web page as a book.

In the December 1996 issue of Wired there was an article by Neal Stephenson called Mother Earth, Mother Board. It’s about the construction of a single fibre optic cable from the UK to Japan. It’s a good article. Possibly the greatest magazine article ever. But most notably it’s long. Very Long.

It took a lazy New Years Day afternoon to read the entire thing. Reading it in instapaper I had no idea how long it would be. Online articles have little to indicate their length. It’s not the same as being able to see the thickness of a book.

So I printed it. The wired website has a printable version (as well as a no longer working ‘fax me this article’ link). It comes out as 53 A4 pages. Closer to a book than a typical magazine article.

But instead of printing on A4, I reformatted the printable version down to a paperback size and sent it to Lulu. Lulu do print on demand books. They’re laser printed in the same way an office printer would, only the pages are also glued together and guillotined down to paperback size. And the printer isn’t in my house.

Inside it’s just the webpage. There’s no table of contents, index, page numbers, edition notice or any other front & back matter. None of the usual stuff you find in a book padding the content.

I did give it a cover. The cover lacks title, author, ISBN, description, etc. It’s an Azimuthal equidistant map projection of the Earth showing the path of the FLAG cable the article describes. Made using D3.js, the path data for the cable comes from Greg’s Cable Map. I’ve yet to figure out the consequences of putting data released under GPL v3 into a book cover.

There’s only one copy of it, unlike a proper print run. Technically all I’ve done is printed one copy of the web page for personal use. But it feels odd. Books are usually mass produced. With a few clicks I could print off as many copies as I want with no additional work. Scaling atoms like you scale software. And it baffles the author when you ask them to sign it.

Anyway, to answer my initial curiosity, when printed it’s 120 pages long.

Aug 22nd, 2012