Git for authors

Using version control is very useful for storing text documents like papers and books. It’s amazing how easy it is to track changes to documents, and communicate these changes with other authors. In my career as a researcher, I’ve had the chance to initiate many colleagues to the use of mercurial and git for storing paper manuscripts. Also, when working on my math books, I’ve had the fortune to work with an editor who understands version control and performed her edits directly to the books’ source repo. This blog post is a brainstorming session on the what a git user interface specific to author’s needs could look like.

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Digital vs. print and the future of books

I’m reading an interesting paper by M. Julee Tanner that compares the cognitive aspect of digital vs. print delivery for book-length material. In summary, the printed book is not dead!

I’ve always thought the print medium (especially typeset by LaTeX) is far superior for learning and comprehension, but I figured this was my “old timer” ways (I’m 32). It seems I’m not the only one though:

Despite decades of work by computer and e-reader engineers and designers to improve the optics, display, and ease of navigation of virtual texts, readers still have a general preference for the print presentation, especially when it comes to longer, more challenging material.

The author states many good things print books have going for them, but the most interesting to me is the following quote:

[…] the greatest difference in metacognitive strategy was also found among the users of e-readers, in their reluctance to review previously read passages by virtually turning back pages. It seems that the perceived unwieldiness of screen-tapping to turn pages did negatively impact comprehension of expository texts on the e-reader platform (Margolin et al., 2013).
Since monitoring one’s understanding while reading, reviewing previously read material if necessary, underlining, and taking marginal notes are so vital to the comprehension of more challenging texts, it is important for students and educators to know how applicable these metacognitive strategies are to virtual texts.

Indeed, think about it—if you’re reading a complicated passage in a math book, wouldn’t you want to flip back and look at the equation which you saw five pages ago? In a printed book you could do that (you could in fact leave you finger on that spread and conveniently flip between the two pages). In a PDF read on the computer, it’s also somewhat passible to flip back (though a bit imprecisely), but on an eBook reader it’s not easy to do.

Learning math/physics (or other cognitively demanding material) from an eBook reader feels a bit like I’m placed in front of a slide deck: information comes, then it’s quickly taken away, leaving me in a disorganized state of mind.

Here’s the full reference: Tanner, M. J. (2014). Digital vs. print: Reading comprehension and the future of the book. SJSU School of Information Student Research Journal, 4(2).


I’m visiting Amsterdam and I saw this young lady on the ferry who was reading a small book. The young lady was stunningly beautiful but ferries being public transport and all I wasn’t about to chat her up. The tiny book continued to intrigue me though, so I mustered the courage to go talk to her. “This is about the business after all—not a pick up line,” I said to myself.

She turned out to be the nicest girl ever and explained to me this book format is called DWARSLEZER, which roughly translates to cross-reader. She even wrote it down for me—because let’s face it, Dutch is a pretty incomprehensible language for anyone non-Dutch.

It seems the first publisher to use this format is Jongbloed who called it the “dwarsligger” meaning “cross-beam” or “cross-bar”. Other publishers (AW Bruna Uitgevers, Dutch Media en Nieuw Amsterdam) have released books in this format and there might  be some legal action going on.

This format is a great idea because it halves the overall size of “the object you carry” or equivalently we can say it doubles the size of the page you read. Also the book she was reading was 500pp-long but no thicker than 1.5cm, so the “bible paper” helps to make the format compact.

Watch out for a dwarslezer edition of the No bullshit guide to math and physics coming soon!