My theater group always uses these for stapling our programs together. It’s a serious workhorse, big and heavy, and the longer reach will allow you to make booklets out of much, much bigger material than the Mini Booklet Stapler. The stapler has a 12″ reach on it, so you can staple anything up to 24″ wide pre-fold (so architectural ‘D’-sized paper could be used, if you felt like it). And unlike the mini model, it takes standard staples. The staplers we use were old when I got involved with this theater group (about 7 or 8 years ago), and they’re still working like brand new. They are made almost entirely out of steel and are incredibly durable. We mostly use them for programs of no more than 6 sheets of standard paper and a heavy high-gloss cover sheet, but we do several hundred of these programs in a batch every couple of months. We also use them for stapling short scripts, say, 20 pages (long scripts get the three-ring binder). There’s a neat little plastic clip on the stapler (which is nicely graduated) that lets you set the width, which makes lining up the fold on your booklets very convenient; you just push your material to the clip and staple. Great for big batches.
There’s an emerging new media I use more and more: an online summary of a conference. Known as liveblogging, it presents a synopsis of each presentation, talk-by-talk, in nearly real time. This saves you time and money traveling to distant cities, and suffering through introductions and equipment failures. At its best, reading the liveblog can be better than attending the talk. All the chaff has been winnowed, and almost every talk captured. (Most conference attendees don’t even get to every talk.) Video recordings of conferences are becoming more popular, but a good liveblog is much quicker to scan and digest. But at its worse, a liveblog will offer little more than snarky comments about the speaker.
At the creation end, you need some skills to separate the best from the worst. Ethan Zuckerman, of Geek Corp, is one of the best conference bloggers alive. He teamed up with Bruno Giussani, another star liveblogger, to produce this free short 6-page PDF booklet on how to blog a conference with effectiveness. When you blog a conference it forces you to pay attention. My first book Out of Control began as an online blog of every talk at the first Artificial Life Conference (although no one called it blogging in 1987). The requisite focus of summarizing each talk clarified many ideas for me, and the response to the “blog” of the conference encouraged me to write a book. Other livebloggers find the same. They listen harder, and remember more.
Get good at this and you have a free pass to many high-priced conferences. Organizers are increasingly looking for first-rate livebloggers to generate press and future attendees. Or, like Ethan you can generate your own audience who follow you because your liveblogging skills.
[This post was originally part of Cool Tool's Five Good eBooks.]
It’s relatively easy to blog good and great speakers: They follow a narrative path through their talks and speak at a pace the audience can understand. It’s harder to blog inexperienced speakers(because they may be too technical, confusing, fast, etc.) and multispeaker panels (because the discussion can take many different unstructured turns). But you don’t need to transcribe the whole talk, you need to capture the gist of it. A 20-minutes talk can often be summarized in a 20-lines post.
Always remember that what you’re writing will be read by people who weren’t in the room, so they haven’t seen the slides, the video, or the gesture. Hence, you have to compensate for the lack of context. Don’t be afraid to create a narrative by saying “He shows a slide with data on …” or “She walks on stage carrying a big suitcase” or “He shows a YouTube video” etc. And if the speaker shows a YouTube video, or a picture, remember that you’re online: Open another browser window, go to YouTube, find that video, and link to it; or go to the speaker’s website, find that picture or another similar or related item, and link to it (or republish the picture within your post). Yes, this requires effective multitasking. It’s at the root of conference blogging.
Conferences usually give out a program ahead of time. Use it to prepare for blogging: Do a quick Google search for each speaker, and save (in the same text file) links to their sites, blogs, and the institutions they’re affiliated with; write a one-or-two-sentences “biography” for each; and for the speakers you’ve never heard of, try to get a general sense of who they are and what they do. To write the mini-biography, use also the speaker information distributed by the conference organizers (booklet, website, etc.). For the key speakers, save a picture on your laptop (from their websites) and pre-format it for Web use, in case you will need it. If you prepare sufficiently, you’ve got the first paragraph of each post almost written ahead of time.
This week I review five ebooks, or to be more precise, five books available in PDF format. That means you can download them instantly, and in four of the cases, for free.
In the emerging world of digital books, PDF formatted books is not really considered an ebook variant because they don’t work so well on a handheld ebook device, such as the new Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader. Most PDFs are designed around a letter or magazine page size, which means they are easy to read on a desktop or laptop monitor, but not quite transferable to a smaller screen. That’s okay with me because despite trying a few of the ebook readers, I still read digital books on my computer screen. To date I have not been willing to carry around yet another device to read books with.
If you are reading on a computer screen, then why even mess with PDFs? And for that matter, why even mess with a book? I recommend both books and PDFs because they offer several advantages over a web site.
1) A book (even without its paper pages) is a long argument that coheres as a whole, and whose argument or story is made by integrating well-selected parts. When a book works, it contains a satisfaction and thoroughness that comes from the completeness of a book, a wholeness that is rarely found in the assembled pieces found on a website. A book, unlike a website, tries to embrace a particular subject and say: here it is, at least as of now. Not every query needs or deserves a book, but often I find a book — not necessarily one bound in covers — an ideal guide to a subject or story.
2) A PDF is able to retain the highly evolved grammar, design and syntax that one thousand years of bookmaking has attained. Because of the idiosyncratic way web browsers work, designers do not have full control of what you as a reader see on the web. The web page, including its fonts, font sizes, and placement of material and size of the window, partly depends on the viewer’s preferences. In my experience as a reader, a web designer, and a book designer, the reading experience on paper — and PDFs — is much more refined and elegant. As a publisher and designer I can direct the flow of attention with better tools (font choices, rules, lines, columns) and better control. The benefit to me as a reader is that this sophisticated design translates into increased clarity, smoothness, comprehension, and enjoyment.
3) A PDF book provides both the holistic virtues of a book, and its highly-evolved design, but also offers three of the advantages of the web: instant access, hyperlinking, and the potential to be free (see my discussion of True Films in the next entry).
These five qualities make PDF books pretty attractive to me. In addition the five PDF books I review below (in the next five entries, including Tips for Conference Bloggers, The Personal MBA, HDR, and Motion Mountain) represent the best in the instructional arts. They tackle subjects that paper books are to slow to attend to, or too niche to bother with. That fact they are free (with one exception) is just a sweet bonus.
I make my living with words, more or less, but from time to time, I mix metaphors, indulge in incorrect idioms, and certainly fall back on tired phrases, believe it or not. This book of short explanations of thousands of clichés is a handy, quick reference any crossword puzzler, Scrabblehead, blogger, editor, or copywriter will enjoy. It’s like the Cliff Notes of what’s buried deep in the OED. I’ve always been into etymology — after all, it’s history for word nerds — so the best aspect of this text, to me, is getting at which clichés are Shakespearean, Biblical, Great Depression-era, etc. We’re often taught in English classes to avoid clichés and hackneyed phrases like the plague. Thumbing through this book, you realize they’re so ingrained in our everyday discourse that it’s easy to forget some are even clichés (i.e. “no problem”). When push comes to shove, no matter how you slice it, I’d wager you’d be hard pressed to write or say anything of length that doesn’t have at least one. Surely identifying them would be a good way to temper usage. Live and learn!
more or less Approximately. This term has been around since the thirteenth century and still serves as an inexact answer. It also has been subject to numerous word plays, such as “More or less, but rather less than more” (Phoebe’s comment on her betrothal to Wilfred, W.S. Gilbert, The Yeomen of the Guard); “A little more than kin and less than kind” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.2); and “Less is more” (the simpler the better; Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”).
believe it or not Appearances to the contrary, it is true. Already a common phrase by then, in December 1918, it became the title of a cartoon series originally drawn by Robert LeRoy Ripley (1893-1949). It appeared in American newspapers for many years and was continued even after Ripley’s death. Each drawing represented a seemingly unbelievable but allegedly true event or phenomenon, such as a two-headed chicken or a three-legged cat.
avoid like the plague, to To stay away from, assiduously shun. The scourge of western Europe on numerous occasions, the plague, although poorly understood, was known to be contagious even in the time of St. Jerome (A.D. 345-420), who wrote, “Avoid, as you would the plague, a clergyman who is also a man of business.”
no problem That’s fine; you’re welcome; I’d be glad to help. This conversational reply expressing acquiescence and other positive feelings originated in America in the mid-twentieth century. It also has been taken hold in numerous parts of the non-English-speaking world; the author has heard it in France, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Singapore from individuals who otherwise knew almost no English (other than “okay”). Others report having heard it in Russia, where it is often used ironically, Kenya, and China. In Australia, however, it alternates with “no worries” (probably from the 1930s British locution, “not to worry”). The journal American Speech recorded “no problem” in 1963 as an equivalent of NO SWEAT. The OED’s citations include Martin Amis’s Rachel Papers (1973): “He… gave it back to me, saying ‘No problem’ again through his nose.” It has quickly become as ubiquitous and as divorced from the words’ original meaning (i.e. “there is no difficulty”) as HAVE A NICE DAY and TAKE CARE. Indeed, Pico Iyer pointed out that today “‘No problem’ …in every language means that your problems are just beginning” (Time, July 2, 1990).
push comes to shove, if/when If/when matters become serious; when the situation is crucial; IF WORST COMES TO WORST. This term, with its further implication that action should back up words, appears to have originated in African-American English around the middle of the twentieth century. Murtagh and Harris used it in Cast the First Stone (1958): “Some judges talk nice and polite….Then, when push comes to shove, they say, ‘Six months.’”
no matter how you slice it See SLICE THE PIE
slice the pie To share the profits. This metaphor has largely replaced the early-twentieth-century “slice of the melon,” but exists side by side with the more literal PIECE OF THE ACTION. It comes from nineteenth-century America. T.N. Page used a version in Red Rock (1898): “Does he want to keep all the pie for himself?” And the Boston Sunday Herald (1967): “An appellate court victory… cut Wymouth’s total property valuation… to give the town a bigger slice of the sales tax pie.” A related term, “no matter how you slice it,” is a twentieth-century Americanism meaning “no matter how you look at it.” Carl Sandburg used it in The People, Yes (1936): “No matter how thick or how thin you slice it it’s still baloney.”
live and learn Experience is a good teacher. This adage was already stated in the sixteenth century by George Gascoigne in his play Glass of Government and has been repeated many times since, in numerous languages. James Howell’s English Proverbs (1659) expanded it a bit: “One may live and learn, and be hanged and forget all.”
The AlphaSmart is a very lightweight word processor with a four-line screen that runs for over 700 hours on a couple of AA batteries. It holds about 100 pages of text in 8 different files. Text can be easily uploaded to any word processing file. It turns on instantly and is extremely durable. I have used a previous incarnation (the AlphaSmart 3000) for years, and truly appreciate its ruggedness, ease of use, and non-distractibility. When I really just need to write and NOT be fooling around on the Internet, it turns on instantly, runs coolly and silently, and does not tempt me to edit when I should be writing (a computer is much easier for editing, since you can see a larger screen). Still, these have enough editing features to allow me to make important changes on the fly. These were originally designed as inexpensive word processors for schools. Since each of the eight files can be assigned to a different student with his own password, a number of different classes can use the same machines (there’s a bunch of software available for teachers).
I wrote most of my last novel on mine, uploading to the computer every couple of days. I find it much more portable than my laptop, much less distracting, always ready. I wanted something cheap, lightweight, super-sturdy, entirely intuitive, and non-distracting. I didn’t want something hot on my lap, didn’t want to wait for it to boot up, didn’t want to have to recharge batteries. My AlphaSmart 3000 weighs 2 pounds and I’ve dropped it more than twice with no problems. It’s perfect for me. If I try to rough-draft on the computer, I’m daunted by the big blank “page” of the screen and fatally tempted to edit and format as I go. Or, when the going gets rough, tempted to play games or balance my checkbook or get online. My own character defects, of course, but I dare say not all my own. When I’m ready to upload to the computer, I attach a cable between the AlphaSmart and a USB port on my PC (it’s Mac compatible, too) open an MS Word file (or, more usually, a MS Write file, which seems faster for some reason), and hit the “send” key. Then I can sit back and watch what’s in the AlphaSmart file scroll onto the screen in a few minutes. Then I can edit my text, and I don’t usually get distracted when I’m editing. You do have to upload each file separately, but that’s not really a problem. I also bought a piece of software that I can use to download from a text file on the computer to the AlphaSmart, which is useful sometimes.
The version I use is the one that came out just before the Neo, their latest word processor. If I wanted another one, personally, I’d likely buy an older model on eBay rather than get a Neo, only because I can see they’re adding more bells and whistles and I just don’t want them. I should add that I do have a good laptop, but rarely use it; for one thing, I find it a nuisance and a worry to travel with, but it also has an annoying buzz. Writing is hard enough without having to be aware of the medium. When I start working on it, my AlphaSmart just sort of disappears. Without it, I’d draft in longhand. Lots of writers still do, you know.
This service will digitize your old slides, negatives and photographic prints at high quality and at a very cheap price. I’ve been using them to scan my 30-year backlog of photographs and I have been delighted with the results. I’ve used other services to scan my old photos; ScanCafe is by far the best deal. Their prices are fantastic. To scan a slide is just 24 cents, a color negative 19 cents (at the time of this writing).
Here is how it works: You pack up your images and mail them to ScanCafe’s headquarters in Northern California. They count them up, and repackage them before shipping the pieces to India. In India they are scanned, touched up, rotated and then privately posted to your account at their website. You then go through the images online and select which ones you’d like to keep. You are allowed to dismiss (and not pay for) up to 50% of the total for that order. You can reject images because you aren’t happy with how they look online, or simply because you don’t want the image. In the specific case of original photo negatives, there is no reliable way to communicate which image(s) you want on the strip, so ScanCafe will scan the entire strip of negatives. You’ll have to reject the particular frames you don’t want (but no more than 50% of the total order. Combine them with slides to keep your percentage down.)
After you’ve made your selection, Scan Cafe will send the originals back to the US and then from CA they will ship you a DVD/CD with your images and your originals. It takes 7-8 weeks door to door. The quality of scan is great for everything except huge billboard enlargements. The photos are scanned at 3000 dpi which gives a file about the quality of a 7 megapixel digital shot. You can scoop the final jpeg images into iPhoto or Flickr or Blurb books. They are rotated into correct up-down/sideways orientation by hand. They are clean and crisp. I have a Nikon scanner and these $0.19 scans are superior in quality. On the left is a ScanCafe scan cropped for detail, on the right is a Nikon scan. Note the increase dynamic range of the left one, as on the rock. (These two images have been uniformly reduced in resolution to fit on the web.)
So for $25 you can get 100 slides scanned. You’ll need to pay for shipping your box to and fro via UPS, which might total $12, so larger orders amortize that cost. And then there’s the 2 month wait. Clearly this is a tool for dealing with your archive and not a birthday present you need next week. If your photos have sat unused for 10 years a few additional weeks turnaround is not going to hurt. The 50% cut is also meant to encourage you to scan everything and sort later.
These cheap prices have encouraged me to revisit my earlier photo life, and in the spirit of the web, start sharing the treasure now hiding in the basement.
Some people are very concerned about sending their precious originals to India — or anywhere for that matter. They should not be. ScanCafe has a very elaborate tracking and shipping system that would work even if you were shipping jewels. Their scanning facilities in Bangalore (description and photos here) are more organized than you are. I have more trust in this system than I would handing them over to any neighborhood scanner.
As commercial book publishing crashes, personal book publishing is booming. Personal book making entails printing high-quality books in very small quantities, including quantities of one. New technologies permit anyone to print one copy of a softcover or hardcover book, including all-color photo books. These printed-on-demand books are indistinguishable from commercially printed books. In fact, some of the books you buy on Amazon are manufactured with this same technology. You just can’t tell the difference.
However, being able to print as few as one copy — instead of a minimum of a thousand — shifts the economics of bookmaking toward individuals with more passion than money. For the past two years I’ve been producing high-quality books in very small quantities using several different services. I’ve shown these finished books around to many people, including those in the New York publishing industry and media, and everyone has agreed the quality is first class. Several of the photo books I’ve made look like coffee-table artworks, and cost about the same, yet I can produce them one by one on demand. I’ve also made text only books which appear to be store-bought trade paperbacks or hardcover books from the bookstore.
Having tried most of the services available and created dozens of books, I’m ready to recommend the best services to use. My advice is slightly complicated, because the success of book making and book publishing pivots around your aims.
To turn a text manuscript into a regular book, either softcover or hard, I recommend Lulu. Their website has a very thorough step-by-step process which will enable you to make a book with the least amount of money. A 100-page trade softcover book in black and white will cost about $7 to print. Lulu will walk you through the edit, design, and production sequence. They offer templates you can follow. Once in digital form, you can easily order one book or many. Lulu will also offer help in getting your book out into the world, but it can’t really help you market or sell it. That will be your job as a self-publisher. If you are a more sophisticated book maker with your own design skills you can send Lulu a PDF file of your designed book, and simply have them print it, at the same prices. This is the way I use them. Finally, Lulu can also print full color books, including smaller full-color paperbacks. (These could run $20-30 a piece for 150 pages) The overall process of getting a book printed is smooth and fairly hassle free.
My recommendation for the best personal color book printer is Blurb. Blurb produces color books very similar to the iPhoto books you can order from Apple. Using iPhoto Books is slightly easier than using Blurb’s software, particularly if all your photos happen to already be in iPhoto, but it works well enough. The idea is that you can drag images (photos or illustrations) into template book pages, add text or captions where you want to, then hit a button and have the finished book mailed to you. (all these systems work with PCs and Macs)
A few of the books I’ve made in copies of one.
The results from both Apple and Blurb are marvelous. In fact, these books are astounding. That’s because they both use the same back-room engine, the HP Indigo 5000 (as do the other color book makers like Snapfish and MyPublisher). The Indigio is essentially a high-speed, high-quality liquid-toner printer that will print your photo book several pages across. (Lulu on the other hand uses a dry toner process called iGen3 from Xerox) The final result of a Indigo-printed page is a very richly colored, very finely detailed image. It looks like a page from a color magazine. The color-match is pretty close to the image you see on your monitor, with this exception: I’ve notice that printing on paper is far less forgiving of blurred or out of focus images. The human eye notices less-than-perfect sharpness on the page more than on the screen, so you have to be far more ruthless in your editing when making a book.
While Apple and Blurb both produce lovely printed books with well-crafted covers (in quantities of one), Blurb does it for a lot less money. A 100-page book of photographs will cost $100 with Apple iPhoto Books, but only $39 with Blurb. They are currently printed on the same machines. Blurb also offers more options for working directly from PDFs. Recently they announced an easy way to make a printed book version of your blog (or any part of your blog) which I have not tried yet, but will soon. Apple actually subcontracts their bookmaking to MyPublisher, so this is not their focus. Blurb, however, besides having the best prices, is the most dedicated to servicing the widening long-tail of personal book making.
For instance Blurb has noticed that while most people start out by ordering one copy of a personal book, they quickly come back for more. Ordering 50 or more copies is not uncommon. Furthermore, once people discover how easy it is to make a book, they make a lot of them. Maybe several a year. A book has an authority and weight that is not easily dismissed in this digital world. For instance, some people have discovered that by mailing out very nice books out of their reports, business plans, or even Powerpoint presentations they got more attention and calls back because “people won’t throw a book out!”
I’ve also played around with different sized books. MyPublisher offers a truly coffee-table size photobook ($60) that is very impressive. I filled it with snapshots from a trip to Italy we made one year. At the other end of scale, I’ve made a number of itsy-bitsy books the size of a deck of cards with Apple iPhoto and MyPublisher books. I was first handed one of these diminutive works by a photographer who was using this cute booklet as her portfolio. Cool. I’ve made little ones this size devoted to curious themes just to hand out.
There are tons of reasons why people make personal books. Artists can use a clean trim hardcover book as their portable gallery. Cookbooks take on a higher class production when you can add photos of your dishes. I even saw one Blurb-produced book that was a reproduction of a relative’s old typewritten manuscript of poetry. It had a lot of soul. Several friends who were scrapbook enthusiasts decided to switch to classy photobooks (everything is scanned first) when they saw the tidy fit-and-finish of the Blurb books. Photobooks are hot mementos for reunions. We now make a photobook from all our vacations. I attended one hi-tech conference recently at which everyone got an instant Indigo-produced color book summarizing the conference, pictures and all. At some of the foundations I am involved in, we’ve used hard cover color books of a fun meeting or trip as perfect gifts for potential funders. And nowadays Blurb books are inexpensive enough that some high school kids are making their own full-color alternative anti-yearbooks.
Most information in the world today is digital and has no need to ever leave the screen. But the more personal your expression is, and the more personal the audience, the greater the impact you get by making the information tangible. For making text in black and white, use Lulu. For making color pages, use Blurb. Lulu has great online tutorials, and Blurb has released a meta-book, a book which tells you how to make a book. It’s quite well done, with solid advice useful no matter where you get it printed. While you can purchase a Blurb-made hard copy of this book, they also wisely offer a free downloadable PDF version.
A working reverse dictionary is one of the most useful sites out there. We’ve all had those moments when we know there’s a word for some concept, but we don’t know what it is. We need something more than a thesaurus, because we don’t know an equivalent word. Onelook.com‘s reverse dictionary helps. You can even enter wildcards, if you know what part of the word looks like.
I’m not a professional writer, but I write for fun. This tool is indispensable.
Based on comics master Scott McCloud’s recommendation (below), I bought a Cintiq. It does something I’ve always wanted to do since I first saw a computer. This thing is a pen-based tablet that doubles as a monitor. In other words you draw directly on the tablet, just like a paper-based drawing, but digitally. In fact the surface of the Cintq monitor/tablet feels like paper under a pen. Synchrony of image with your movements is almost exact, and the micro difference doesn’t seem to matter. The result is weirdly like ink, or paint, but with all the control and magic of Photoshop. Of course, as a monitor, it will display whatever’s on your computer, whether it’s animation software or a spreadsheet. (You could hook it up to a $500 Mac Mini and have a fabulous digital art studio.) It’s slowly being adopted by film animators and other high-end graphic professionals. A Cintq is expensive ($2,500), big, thick and bulky (it is too fat to sit on your lap like other tablets, but it can lay flat on a desk), but if you are producing digital images for a living, it speeds up your productivity and eases your hurt. It’s fun to use.
Drawing directly on the screen with the Cintiq Tablet made a huge difference in my artwork, and sped up my workflow by at least 30%, maybe more. It also saved me a lot of hand-strain. Apart from the Mac, it’s one of my all-time favorite digital tools.
In 2003-2004, I lost about a year of work to hand strain, using a regular tablet, mouse and keyboard. I’d work for a couple of hours each day on my comics and get these shooting pains up my arm and have trouble holding the pen steady. I got a good deal on a Cintiq (a slightly smaller model than today’s 21″ monster, but equally suited to graphics) at the end of ’04 a couple of months before I had to begin finished pages on the new book. After finishing all 225 pages by early 2006 using a Cintq, I’d had no hand strain at all; even working 11 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Most importantly, I actually *liked* the way the art looked. I was never that comfortable with pen and ink tools, and liked all the digital options I started getting in the mid-90′s, but my work on the old tablet was always wobbly and lame. Now there’s much more control, confidence and warmth to the drawings.
I was an idiot not to buy a Cintiq in ’99 when I first saw them on display at a New York show. I figured I couldn’t afford it, but I wound up losing a lot more time and money by NOT having one.
– Scott McCloud
Electronic documents are a great tool but there are times when you just need printed copies.
FinePrint installs itself as a printer in your Windows system and will intercept print jobs and put up to 8 pages of output on 1 sheet of paper, though this is often unreadable (at least for me – I didn’t pay for the Steve Austin upgrade when I had laser vision surgery).
I find that 2-4 pages per sheet and printing in duplex saves on paper, reduces printing time, saves on toner and makes documents more portable. It’s great for web pages without printing views that use those narrow columns. You can also edit the jobs and remove / reorder jobs and pages.
MS Office and some other applications have a version of this capability now but none are as robust as FinePrint’s. I have been using it since 2000 and have been very happy with the product.