Mandalas

Art and religion has many regions of overlap. It is an organic interaction that leads to much richness in cultures. One can just think of all the Byzantine art as an example.

Among the forms of art associated with Eastern religions, one finds the mandala. It is an abstract pattern, usually circular in design and often has some symmetries. Its meaning is some way associated with the universe, however, there’s more to it. Part of the whole significance is the actual creation process of a mandala. A person would tend to start from the centre and work his way outward. In this way, it represents how the individual is being connected with the universe. At least, that is what I understood from what I read about it.

These days one often encounter mandalas in various non-religious contexts. It may even be regarded as a theme in abstract design. One can for instance notice them in adult colouring books.

It is fun to makes one’s own design for a mandala and to let the creative juices flow. The one above I made using POV-Ray. One can play with the colours. Here I decided to make it look like a metal wire construction. The reflection at the bottom did not come out so nicely.

Playing with pictures

Perhaps it is the journey I followed through life. Perhaps it is just an innate yearning to be creative. Don’t really know why, but I like to create pictures.

So, I just uploaded a new picture for the banner on my blog. For this one, I used POV-Ray. It is a ray-tracing program. One produces a text files (a *.pov file) that contains the descriptions of the objects in the scene that one wants to render. Then the program would produce the image from this file. It is a bit like writing a program.

There are other programs that provide front-ends or graphic user interfaces with which on can create the images for ray tracing. But I like the text-file based approach. It is somehow cleaner.

Although some things are rather challenging to create in this medium, one can in principle create anything this way. Some of the images that people produce are jaw-dropping amazing. I’m just playing.

Self-publishing with Latex

No doubt, it is challenging to follow the self-publication route. One encounters so many hoops to jump through. At times I felt that I simply do not know how to overcome the obstacles. What made it difficult for me perhaps was the fact that I wanted to publish my book using Latex.

Often the obstacles that one encounters are simply a matter of not know what to do. It is for this reason that the resources available on the web are of great value. There are too many to list, addressing various aspects in the process. However, some steps in the process still presents obstacles for which there is little or no help available. Those I encountered are specifically related to my choice to use Latex.

Here, I’ll give some advice to those that want to follow the same path I did using Latex. I like Latex. Having used it in my career to write technical articles for peer reviewed journals, I am comfortable with it. The alternative tends to annoy and frustrate me, especially when those wysiwyg editors try to be clever. Latex is especially good with cross-referencing. It also allows one the flexibility to do the interior design. But perhaps it best feature is … it is free! (Yes, I’m an open source junky.)

Although I did not find much help with using Latex for self-publication, there are resources for using Latex for whatever purpose. One that I can single out is the tex stack exchange. There one can pose questions or search of answers to similar questions.

The first step is obvious to write the book. My favorite text editor for this purpose is UltraEdit. (I bought it many years ago when it was still shareware.)

After this step there two paths that one can follow depending on the format that you aim for. Either one can produce an ebook or a printed book. I did both, however for the ebook one would convert the book into an html-based file. In the process, one basically loses all the Latex formatting. So, here I focus on the printing process.

To publish the book as a print-on-demand book, one can use various online printing services. I chose Amazon and IngramSpark. Both require print-ready PDF files. What does that mean? Here I learned something new. All PDF files are not the same. There are ISO standards for PDF files. (Who knew?) For PDF files that are intended for printing, one gets different so-called PDF/X formats. At first this presented a severe challenge to me. Then I found out that there is a pdfx.sty package that allows one to compile a Latex file in the required PDF/X format using the pdflatex command. That solved the problem.

One also needs to provide cover files in the required PDF/X format. For this you would probably not use Latex. I produced the graphics for the cover file using POV-Ray. The challenge was then to get this graphic file, which is a png file into the PDF/X format. After almost loosing my mind, I finally figured out how to do this.

There are several steps to achieve the final result. A png file only support RGB colours (the way it is produced by a computer screen). For printing one needs convert the image into CMYK colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and “key”, which is black). The image is then stored in an jpeg or tiff file. There is a very handy free software package that runs on command-line called ImageMagick. It can convert the png to jpeg or tiff and do all sort of other things that may help you to get the format right.

These graphic images must now be incorporated into a cover file and saved as a PDF/X. So one needs a design package. At one point I thought I’d have no other choice but to fork out the money for one of these exorbitantly expensive design packages. Then I found that I can use a free software package called Scribus to do the job. It allows you to compile the cover file with the correct dimensions and save it in the required PDF/X format.

There are more hoops to jump through, such as getting the ISBN number and setting up the financial aspects. But for these there are various resources available. For those like myself publishing from South Africa, I can recommend the blog by Rachel Morgan. The information she provided helped me very much.