REGARDING A Story
All about "LabVIEW The Book" -- (this is a long post)
It's story time again... but first, an advertisement. As many of you know I
wrote a book on LabVIEW and it's coming to a bookstore near you (soon). Here,
once again, are the particulars:
"LabVIEW Graphical Programming", Johnson, Gary W. NY:1994, McGraw-Hill.
ISBN 0-07-032692-2. Hardcover, 500 pages, 350 illustrations. Cost: about
It SHOULD be on the store shelves sometime in *LATE JUNE*, assuming that
there are no more printing problems. It will have broad distribution, so
place an order at your local bookstore if you want it, or place an order by
calling McGraw-Hill at 800-722-4726. There will eventually be translations,
probably into French, German, and Japanese, but that remains to be seen.
Topics covered include the history of LV, all about signal conditioning, how
to write an application, how to write a driver, how to write a data
acquisition application, using the DAQ library, physics applications, process
control applications, data visualization and image processing, and automated
test applications. All very practical stuff based on real-world experience.
Definitely not a rehash of the LV manuals. It is platform-independent (even
though I'm a MacHead), is written around LV 3.0, and includes a diskette (DOS
format with .LLBs) with a bunch of utility VIs.
Enough with the facts. I was thinking that some of you might be interested in
the story behind the book, so here it is.
Once upon a time, I was minding my own business, playing LV consultant, and
having fun helping people at LLNL and elsewhere with their LV applications.
Then one day, Jack MacCrisken (one of the LV authors and a friend of mine)
suggested that I might write I book. "Unthinkable!," said I. "I was in
bonehead English in high school!" But, he pointed out, my tech writing style
is okey-dokey, and actually fun to read. So he dropped by my house one
evening with a quick outline and I decided to go ahead with the project.
National Instruments helped a great deal with the project. They helped me
find a publisher by making it clear that this is a serious product that needs
a book-- BADLY. Once we landed McGraw-Hill, we set up an agreement that the
book would be desktop published, hopefully saving production time (I'm not
convinced that it did, but we sure had tighter control of the layout and
review process). And yes, I will receive royalites for each copy sold; that's
standard publishing practice. Trouble is, you don't make much on technical
books (not enough of a market). Only the Stephen Kings and Tom Clanceys of
theworld get rich.
So I started writing in April of 1992. LabVIEW was shipping version 2.2.1
(Mac only at that time), so that's what I started writing about. A few months
later, version 2.5 (PC and Sun) appeared, so my target shifted to that. A few
months later, version 3.0 beta appeared, so my target shifted to THAT. And
the target kept on moving... Not only did the LabVIEW application keep
changing, but all the indispensable third-party stuff kept coming out in new
versions, and the driver library standards kept changing, and... I ended up
completely rewriting one chapter three times, and a couple of others twice,
which was rather frustrating.
It took about a month to write a typical chapter, working maybe 25 hours a
week in my "spare time." Actually, all I did was go to work, then come home
and sit at the computer all evening for two years. No consulting jobs at all
during that period, so my "toy budget" had to suffer. During the whole time,
I kept collecting ideas from this mailgroup and anywhere else I could obtain
input. I gotta say, gang, that info-labview is the most polite, helpful, and
enjoyable mailgroup I've ever heard of, and the book is a much more valuable
product as a result.
Here are some technical production details. I started working with Mac IIfx,
then moved up to a Quadra 950 about halfway through. I have 40 MB of RAM (I
boot from RAM disk for better performance), a 1 GB disk, and a 16" display.
Text entry and all draft page layout was done in Microsoft Word. Screen
captures were taken with ScreenShot, pasted into Deneba Canvas, annotated
and/or modified, then exported as Adobe Illustrator files. Line art was
created in Illustrator by Katharine Decker at NI. After fixups were applied,
Illustrator EPS files were then dropped into the main document which was
managed by FrameMaker. All production was done on the Mac. Draft output came
from a LaserWriter IIg. The whole mess was shipped on three 128 MB optical
disks to the publisher for Linotronic output at 1200 DPI. We sent many things
back and forth between me and NI via FTP, saving much time and expense.
New-Age publishing in action.
Reviewers were mostly NI folks, particularly Monnie Anderson, who is an
incredible nit-picker, and by far my most valuable resource. I would always
dread the big Fed-X package on my doorstep; there were HUNDREDS of marked-up
pages for each chapter. I also had the help of some reviewers here at LLNL.
We were originally going to send out review copies to other outsiders, but
ran into a horrible time crunch. The editor, Tom Chamberlain at NI, was
overloaded with LV3 and LabWindows/CVI manuals, which complicated our
schedule to no end. Realize that the LV manuals alone encompass about 2000
So we edited. And we reviewed. And we modified. Month after month. And keep
in mind that the "target" kept changing all the time; I would add a paragraph
about some new feature, then find out it was deleted or modified, which
affected something else, etc. It's a real challenge, this software
documentation business. I have TREMENDOUS admiration for other authors who
have gone before me.
Finally, out popped a pretty good-looking final draft. You can blame me for
the indexing job: I put the index entry codes right into the Word document,
and FrameMaker picked them up. Trish Hill at NI did the page layout work and
fixed up the index as best she could.
So I survived "swallowing the elephant," as Jack MacCrisken called it. Next
up: a revised edition when LV 4 is ready to go. Funny, I suddenly feel very
But there's more. Remember that technical illustrator I mentioned, Katharine
Decker? We're getting married on May 21 in Austin, Texas, then moving back
here to Livermore, CA. How's that for a long-distance, high-tech romance?
I want to thank all of you on the info-labview mailgroup for your valuable
input, and especially Tom for running this on-line party. And thanks to the
LabVIEW development team at NI. They're the brightest, most creative,
fun-loving bunch of hackers I've ever met. Here's to 'em!
Gary W. Johnson, electronics engineer and hopeless LabVIEW addict
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)
P.O. Box 808, L-352
Livermore, CA 94550