Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wrapping Electrons

It was a few days ago and my son and I were sitting on the floor playing cars. We were having a great time. As the the little Mini Cooper crashed into the red truck a thought crossed my mind; these times are fleeting. My son won't be little forever. Remembering these times is important.

We take pictures and tell stories to save these memories for our future. The archiving of our personal libraries is something I worry about. The world is information-rich, but how much of the information is being stored in a permanent way? This is especially true when so much depends on the digital. Our society has started to believe in the permanence of the digital world. In time I think that this will create a digital oubliette where things you thought were permanent prove to be very temporary.

After being frightened by this possibility, I started thinking about Magic Margin. This blog has been a work of several years. In that time I have created over four-hundred posts, took thousands of pictures, and devoted nearly a thousand hours of work. In short, Magic Margin means something to me.

So, I wanted to back it up. I wanted to save my work. Blogger lets you download an XML file of your site and all the corresponding comments. This is a good feature if you want to save it to a hard drive, but I wanted a more permanent solution that didn't offer just another digital file. I dug around the Internet and I found many web sites offering to turn your blog into a printed book. In mind this would be the perfect solution. Prices and options were all over the map, but I came away with the impression that the full-service sites it would be too expensive for a large blog like this. Then, I found BlogBooker.



BlogBooker is a free-to-use blog to PDF converter based on LaTEX and a few other open-source text formatting tools. The process is pretty easy. You upload your site backup XML file, set the date range you would like to archive, pick an output size, and let BlogBooker do its business.

The process is relatively fast. I opted to make my "book" into year volumes with 2010 being the first. It was a short blogging year because it worked out to only be 74 pages. Subsequent years I must have been wordier because 2011 worked out to 290 pages. 

The output file is a PDF paginated correctly. This PDF is suitable for uploading to a print-on-demand service like Lulu. It was Lulu that I picked to print volume I of my opus.


The product turned out nicely. I like the size and feel of a trade paperback and it was fortuitous that I was able to select that. The product looks professional and a gloss full-color cover is standard. The paper feels professional, but the failings of my book is the BlogBooker rendering engine.




All the text is there, but frequently spacing is odd. Also, paragraphs on this blog are separated by a carriage return. BlogBooker strips those out. As the output format is PDF I didn't have a means to edit the content directly. The warts and odd formatting must stay. Since I have Adobe Acrobat Professional, I was able to replace the BlogBooker standard title page with something more to my liking.


I would like to continue with this project, but I need a better way to control the output. I think that I might have to manually go through and set images and text if I want to achieve a higher-quality product. Regardless of the odd hiccoughs, BlogBooker does all the heavy-lifting. I have already completed the second volume. 

In the end I am happy that I have been able to take my digital work and turn it into an analog memory.

17 comments:

  1. This looks very promising. I like this idea, and I have a couple of blogs of my own that would do well to be preserved this way. Thanks for this!

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  2. Now this is a very good idea! I tried backing up my blog the old-fashioned way: typing it. The first year totaled 204 pages typed on my IBM Selectric. I'm still struggling with the copies I wanted to make for my family, and still have to find a way to bind the pages into a half-decent book. I'll definitely give this alternative a try.

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    1. It really is a fairly easy process, but I wish one could tweak individual pages. I like a space between paragraphs and the rending engine does not do that automatically. I cannot imagine typing my blog out in its entirety. Give it a try.

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  3. Hey Ryan, first, fancy thinking about all that in the first place and second, thanks for sharing the info. What a breeze! I might even have a go myself.

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  4. ... Wow. This really impressed me! I just created a first version of the book... this tool works very nicely! But I'm afraid I too will have to split the book in volumes... 1,396 pages so far, and counting!

    Thanks a lot for the tip! I'll spread the word in my blog, too.

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  5. Thank you for such fine information. I often thought about saving my blog just for the sake of having it if the site crashes. However a book would be great.

    Just think of all the obsolete digital files we have today. DOS, W9xversions, Old spredsheet and documents that are in obsolete files, the old 5.25 & 3.5 in floppies. There is more. Plus CDs that are not of archival quality may not hold data as long as desired. Then when the next storage technology arrives CDs will be relegated to the dust bin.

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  6. Ditto with the thanks. I'm already convinced that Blurb books are the solution to keeping photos in the family. I doubt if my family would give a whoop about my blog, but it sure would be fun to thumb through myself once the electrons vanish, kind of like a journal of my ever-changing interests.

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  7. Hi Ryan. Naturally, I'm very interested in this, but would like to get some idea of the costs involved. Even if I just settled on history posts, the result of a huge amount of time and effort in research and writing, there would still be an awful lot of words. I'd have to be quite selective. The book you are holding is a hard copy sent by Lulu, it that right? I don't know how these things work, but I keen to find out.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this, Ryan! I can tell lots of us are interested in this idea, and it is certainly a fine idea. How do typecasts come out looking, though? I am not sure whether the text you show was originally typecasted (I think not?) and I am curious how those looked in the final product.

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  9. Thanks, Ryan! I had given some thought to this a while ago when I saw some outfit offering a similar service on my Photobucket page. It would make good sense to save some of these blog posts, considering the work that we sometimes put into them.

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  10. This is sooo cool! Too bad things like this didn't exist ten years ago (when I was already a frequent blogger). Just like Robert, I'm curious about the costs involved. And how easy is it to just select one category of a blog?

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  11. Ryan: If you have Adobe Acrobat professional, you can export the file to a MS Word document, and then you can edit it as needed.

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    1. I do and that is a good idea. I'll try it here this evening.

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  12. Well, you certainly got the typosphere's attention with this!

    Thanks very much for the tip, and for that great phrase, "digital oubliette."

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  13. Hmm, at the moment Blogger isn't willing to produce an .xml file for me. When I try to download the blog it just presents it in "feed" format. I'll try again some other time.

    At least I have kept all my typecasts, on paper, in a little book.

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    1. That's a bummer. I just ried it on mine and it's working. Computers, however, are not entirely reliable.

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