Diagram of Divergence of Taxa from On the Origin of Species

the pod paper, On the Origin of Species, and the evolution of dark mode press

After many hours of work last week, I have finished and published the pod paper. (As someone who has written and edited in the tech industry, I abhor the term “whitepaper.”) The one you see on the Pool.pm asset viewer is a simplified version of the home page. There is a downloadable ZIP file containing the whole pod tucked inside a fungible token on Cardano.

It has a short post on the home page explaining what it is and why HTML beats PDFs and EPUBs as a format for offline digital publishing. There’s a blank home page and a blank content page to serve as a template for anyone who wants to use it to create their own pods. And there are two tutorials I specifically wrote for beginners who have never fooled around with code before.

the pod is optimized for readability and accessibility

The format is as accessible as I can make it based on everything I’ve learned about accessible web design. I’ve included features to make it the least annoying experience possible for people who use screen readers and keyboard-only navigation. Because screen readers read aloud everything on the page from top to bottom, I included a skip-to-content link. When the page opens, you may hit the tab key and go straight to the beginning of the page content.

The written and image content are copyrighted by me. But the source code is under a Creative Commons Attribution International license, which means you can use it at no cost, adapt it, even sell it, as long as you credit me.

Going forward, all the works I publish through dark mode press will be based on the pod paper template, which will be improved upon as I learn and gain more experience.

found the missing diagram

The first book using this upgraded template will be On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I finished the editing Sunday morning and am excited to build this out into a pod. I went on a hunt for the missing diagram and found not only the original, but also a cleaned-up version with a higher contrast so you can actually see everything.

Diagram of Divergence of Taxa from On the Origin of Species

The SVG version of the Diagram of Divergence of Taxa is a public domain work by Inductiveload and available on Wikimedia Commons. I feel like sending this person a fruit basket, but instead I’ll thank them and send them a link to the book after it’s minted.

editorial decisions for On the Origin of Species

This book is a pretty difficult read. It’s about 500 pages in printed form, and Darwin’s use of language is convoluted. His sentences are crazy long, full of filler words and phrases, and characterized by passive voice.

My dark mode formatting standards for all texts include:

  • Breaking up long paragraphs and removing indents in favor of white space.
  • Using sans-serif typefaces.
  • Removing justification.
  • Using a blockquote HTML element to format shorter quotations.
  • Increasing margins for quotations longer than two paragraphs and removing the quotation marks.

For Darwin, I made a few more changes.

installed subheading structure

At the beginning of each chapter in the original text, there’s a list of topics in paragraph form. It gives the reader a heads up about what’s covered in the chapter, but does nothing to help them navigate.

We use subheadings for that now, so I have used these topic lists to build a subheading structure into the copy and to construct secondary navigation underneath the main content menu.

dismantled and reconstructed sentences

I’ve broken apart long compound sentences by replacing most of the semicolons with periods. Some “sentences” are arguments split by lists of long, awkwardly-worded supporting facts stapled together with semicolons.

From these several reasons, namely, the improbability of man having formerly got seven or eight supposed species of pigeons to breed freely under domestication; these supposed species being quite unknown in a wild state, and their becoming nowhere feral; these species having very abnormal characters in certain respects, as compared with all other Columbidæ, though so like in most other respects to the rock-pigeon; the blue colour and various marks occasionally appearing in all the breeds, both when kept pure and when crossed; the mongrel offspring being perfectly fertile;—from these several reasons, taken together, I can feel no doubt that all our domestic breeds have descended from the Columba livia with its geographical sub-species.

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

I put the two halves of each argument together and bullet-listed the supporting statements. Like this.

From these several reasons, taken together, I can feel no doubt that all our domestic breeds have descended from the Columba livia with its geographical sub-species:

    • The improbability of man having formerly got seven or eight supposed species of pigeons to breed freely under domestication.
    • These supposed species being quite unknown in a wild state, and their becoming nowhere feral.
    • These species having very abnormal characters in certain respects, as compared with all other Columbidæ, though so like in most other respects to the rock-pigeon.
    • The blue colour and various marks occasionally appearing in all the breeds, both when kept pure and when crossed.
    • The mongrel offspring being perfectly fertile.

removed italics

In taxonomy, it’s standard practice to italicize the genus and species names. But italics make text more difficult for people with dyslexia to read. So out they go.

Fun fact: Italic letters were invented in the 1500s by typesetter Francisco Griffo to save paper. Because they slant, they take up less room and typesetters could fit more words in each line. Books used to be printed wholly in italics. Yikes!

cut one sentence because it was racist

There was one sentence that won’t make the dark mode edition because it contains language that is harmful specifically to black people, communities, and cultures. It was given as an example to support an argument that was already supported by other examples, so it’s also unnecessary. Normally I edit with a scalpel, but for such occasions I also have a sword.

Considering how prevalent hate speech has become, I didn’t struggle with that decision. From my perspective, accessibility isn’t just about designing for people using assistive technology. This book contains a wealth of valuable information and ideas, and people should be able to read it without risking injury.

I was also sorely tempted to replace the word “savages,” which appears to be an epithet for indigenous peoples, or cultures that were not yet participating in the industrial revolution and wrecking the planet like “civilized” societies were.

But that’s an inference on my part, and possibly an erroneous one. Since it’s unclear and he uses the term generically, I left it. Darwin was a brilliant naturalist, but also a straight white man from a colonizing nation. Take his views with a grain of salt, and let it be a reminder that no one is exempt from having wrong-headed ideas or saying ignorant things sometimes.

tying up loose ends

I still need to finish the cover art, convert all the chapters to HTML, and fill out the pod template. But none of those things will take long — the hard part is done. By the end of the week, I’ll be proud to present to y’all the dark mode edition of On the Origin of Species.

Don’t know yet which book I’ll do after this. But after the last couple of heavy texts, some fiction is in order. Will look through my public domain books and decide soon.

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