Tag Archives: book

BOOK REVIEW: The Myths of Innovation Is Far-Reaching, Yet Simple

I was impressed by Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker last year and was excited to get a copy of his 2010 book The Myths of Innovation. Scott has a knack for simplifying the most complex and philosophical topics and writing his findings in a colorful and interesting way, and not necessarily on technology subjects. I wanted to read The Myths of Innovation because I think business and entrepreneurial subjects—which I believe “innovation” is one of them—are some of the hardest to define and resolve, and there’s so many business and self-help books out there on such topics.

The good news is that The Myths of Innovation beats most of them in clarity, originality, writing quality and usefulness. The myths themselves are outlined concisely—”People love new ideas,” “The lone inventor,” “Your boss knows more about innovation than you,” and so on—and Scott makes it seem deceptively easy to see how these myths cloud our vision on what innovation really is and how to achieve it. Everyone seems to think it’s important, and many business leaders talk about it, but very few really understand it and even fewer properly achieve it. Read the book’s epilogue to get a sense of how much “innovation” is spoken about.

As in Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott’s writing style is clear, colorful and full of great detail. I am truly amazed how many anecdotes, stories and citations he can make in his books, on everything from the mouse prototype to Guernica to the Great Potato Famine–and all these things have something to do with a specific point about innovation. The Myths of Innovation is one of the few books where the footnotes provide great reading material—and Scott often makes them funny or otherwise noteworthy.

The last three chapters, consisting of about 20 pages, veer from the scholarly tone of the rest of the book and dives into some real-world techniques for developing an innovative mindset. These include keeping a journal, getting into improv comedy, developing a pitch for your idea or ideas, and even focusing on death (as a reason to fully use the time you have). For me, these chapters fall a little flat and I think it’s because so many other books in your bookstore’s business section provide these same kinds of tips and I’ve heard many of them before. Some of them have been helpful. Some have not. And what works for Scott might not work for you. I believe they are good material to have in a book like this, but the effectiveness of tactical material like this varies with the reader.

The Myths of Innovation, despite my minor complaint with its last section, is a compelling and exceptional book and I highly recommend it for businesspeople—both corporate and creative—who want to look at their approach to innovation with a critical, philosophical eye. I can’t see how anyone would go wrong reading this book.

The Myths of Innovation
Scott Berkun
Published by O’Reilly
US $17.99
Rating: 10/10

BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Photography In Vision & Voice

vision-voice-large

David duChemin‘s Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom would be just another book on Lightroom were it not for the great photography that’s inside. Most Lightroom books boast good photography but I think it’s David’s focus on exotic locations, introspective portraits and quiet moments that unify the material and make the book stand out.

I think the first four chapters are the most important in the book, because they cover the essence and distillation of vision instead of the Lightroom techniques you get in the rest of the book. David’s notion of a “vision-driven workflow” is not really anything new—intention, aesthetics and process—but I like it when authors frame old processes in new ways because it can help readers visualize and refine the rote way they approach things like photography. Other books have done this too, such as Scott Kelby’s seven-point approach to Camera Raw, but that was for photo processing and David’s workflow is for composing and creating images. David will be the first to say it’s not a paint-by-numbers method for making photos, but the exercise of quantifying the process can help improve the process.

The highlights of the book are the 20 case studies that take up the last half of Voice & Vision. These are David’s own photographs and not only do you get to see how he improved the images but also learn the circumstances of their creation—where they were shot at, what was going on at the time, and what David was thinking when he processed them. These glimpses into a real-world situation always interest me and David’s are memorable. He knows how to shoot interesting things and get the most out of them with Lightroom.

The rest of Vision & Voice focuses on Lightroom tips and techniques, and they are well-written and illustrated but do not make a comprehensive Lightroom resource like other books. This is expected since the book has a lot more going in it than just Lightroom tips. If I were buying a gift for a photographer starting out with Lightroom, a good combination would be Vision & Voice with a more comprehensive book like Martin Evening’s The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers. Vision & Voice stands up very well on its own but by its nature it can’t be all things to all people. That is not a bad thing.

Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
David duChemin
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 10/10

BOOK REVIEW: Two iOS App Books

This review covers two books on iPhone and iOS development: Visual Quickstart Guide: Objective-C by Steven Holzner and iPhone App Development: The Missing Manual by Craig Hockenberry. Ironically, the iPhone App Development book was published just after the release of the iPad and nowadays we call this iOS development after the operating system these devices use. This also includes the iPod Touch.

Visual Quickstart Guide: Objective-C, like most Visual Quickstart books, offers a solid introduction to the topic and many exercises to get readers familiar with the programming language. Objective-C is the native language for writing iOS applications and for awhile Apple would not accept apps written with other languages and cross-compiled to Objective-C. This has since changed but many developers believe coding with the native language makes for a better application.

The Visual Quickstart Guide teaches the basic elements of Objective-C but it doesn’t address every aspect of the language. Readers who are new to object-oriented programming will benefit more from this book, which teaches the concept and its implications in iOS development. Experienced developers who know OOP or similar languages like ActionScript 3 can learn a few things from the book but I think there are better resources out there.

The Missing Manual sets itself apart by offering beginning-to-end training for iOS development—everything from installing Xcode to selling apps from the Apple App Store. I really like this aspect of the book, and developers who want to make money with their products will find this very useful. I think there’s less emphasis on Objective-C but part of that is because Craig uses Apple’s developer tools like the Interface Builder to create the applications demonstrated in the book. The obvious downside to this is the fact that Apple’s developer tools are available only on Mac OS X computers—Windows users are out of luck, even though iOS devices are marketed to them too.

Both books are good buys, and as with most things each one offers something a little different. Objective-C is a solid introduction to the language and green developer would find it very useful. The Missing Manual is a more complete resource for iOS development and is written for the entrepreneurial developer who wants to sell apps as much as develop them.

Visual Quickstart Guide: Objective-C
Steven Holzner
Published by Peachpit Press
US $29.99
Rating: 8/10

iPhone App Development: The Missing Manual
Craig Hockenberry
Published by O’Reilly
US $39.99
Rating: 9/10

Comparing the HP EliteBook 8540w and the MacBook Pro

elitebook

I’m a designer so a lot of friends assume I use a Macintosh, which is true. Some also assume I’m a Mac fanatic, which I disagree with: I have used Macs in my work for several years but I started with a Dell PC and have used PCs in various workplaces. I happen to think the Mac operating system is better and Macs provide a subtly better experience for creative pros in particular.

This article is about the 15-inch Hewlett-Packard EliteBook 8540w and how it compares to my 17-inch MacBook Pro, an older model from late 2006. This won’t be a full review—there are reviews out there better than I could write, such as this one—and I won’t be making a purchase recommendation. Consider this article a look at an elite PC laptop by someone who’s only used a Mac laptop in the workplace.

Construction

The HP EliteBook 8540w is built like a truck and takes the term “hardware” seriously. The EliteBook line is the top of HP’s business laptops and I expected solid craftsmanship, but while many PC laptops I come across are slick and plastic the EliteBook is built with brushed aluminum and is very tough. HP calls it their “DuraCase.” The MacBook Pro weighs a little more (3.1kg vs. 2.9kg) but it has a larger monitor. The 15-inch MacBook Pro from the same year weighs 2.5kg. Their sizes are pretty much the same except the MacBook Pro is significantly thinner and a little wider and longer.

elitebook_case

The EliteBook’s DuraCase looks and feels tough. The MacBook Pro is durable too but not to the EliteBook’s level.

The EliteBook looks like a hunk of iron compared to the MacBook Pro, but the EliteBook also accommodates more jacks and connectors in its body. This is an example where HP focuses on function while Apple focuses on form, which should surprise no one. The EliteBook also complies with the MIL-STD 810G military standard, which sets requirements for resistance to vibration, water, dust and temperatures for products used by the U.S. Department of Defense. The well-known Panasonic Toughbook line of laptops meets the same requirements.

Keyboard and Touchpad

One feature I really appreciate on the EliteBook is the extended keyboard with numeric keypad. Numeric entry is so much easier with a keypad, and it also has a specific creative purpose: the page layout application Adobe InDesign requires numbers from the keypad for its character/paragraph styles’ keyboard shortcuts. I have never understood why InDesign does this, but it has been this way for years. Apple won’t produce a wireless version of the extended keyboard, and it’s not on any MacBook Pro.

elitebook_ui

The EliteBook has an impressive user interface, with multiple touch and mouse inputs and a full keyboard and numeric pad. See the blue lights above and to the left of the keyboard? Those are the buttons for the quick apps (see below).

The EliteBook also provides two touch input devices, the Touchpad and also the “TouchStyck” button in the middle of the keyboard. Combined these provide seven buttons—if you count the TouchStyck—and a trackpad. Apple is notorious for limiting the number of input buttons on their hardware. My MacBook Pro has one button and a trackpad, and the newest models don’t have a button at all. They register taps on the trackpad as a button click. The EliteBook keyboard and touchpad can look a little cluttered with all the buttons and input devices, but it does make the computer more versatile and adapt to users’ preferences. However, it’s likely a user will gravitate toward the one input element they like the most.

Power Adapter and Cord

The EliteBook’s power supply/adapter and cord is not very portable or easy to use, which makes traveling with it difficult. The power supply is like a brick compared to the smaller and lightweight Apple equivalent. I’m not sure it would even fit in my laptop bag! The other thing I noticed is Apple’s power supply has its own plug so I can plug it into the wall and not use the other cord. HP’s power supply has no plug so the other cord must be used.

DreamColor display

This EliteBook 8540w sports a new DreamColor display, which is designed to provide more accurate color reproduction. The DreamColor whitepaper (PDF, 3.2MB) explains all the display’s technical details but my personal impression with this DreamColor display is positive. The thing I really notice is the EliteBook puts out much more brightness than the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is four years old though, so these can’t really be compared, but I don’t think the MacBook Pro was as bright as the EliteBook even when it was new. In terms of color, the EliteBook looks like it does a better job of capturing very strong colors including fluorescents and those on the fringes of the RGB and Lab colorspaces.

QuickLook and QuickWeb

One more thing the EliteBook can do that the MacBook Pro cannot is boot specialized applications without booting up the entire unit. This really surprised when I first learned about it, but HP has put this in its laptops before. The two apps are designed to provide timely information quickly without booting up:

  • QuickLook is an Outlook-like interface for calendar, email, contacts and task lists. It caches Outlook data while the computer is running so when it’s launched it can access some data without booting up. QuickLook cannot send mail, but the goal is to give the user information immediately and it can save changes to events, contacts and tasks and sync them with Outlook later.
  • QuickWeb launches a Linux environment and web browser for fast Internet access. This for me was the more useful of the two applications, and the user experience was good.

I should point out these apps don’t boot up instantaneously, but they do avoid the load times associated with Windows. These apps are useful but today many mobile devices and phones have instant connectivity, the same data and push/send capabilities. I wonder if the EliteBook’s apps will lose usefulness as mobile devices continue to develop.

Conclusion

Apple is known for its product design and also for following form over function, but Mac fans wouldn’t have it any other way. However, the EliteBook shows that Macs aren’t the only PCs that are well-designed and I would say the EliteBook was designed with its purpose in mind. It does make for a big and clunky product in some ways but I understand the benefits of this. I found the EliteBook to be a useful laptop and professionals who want an excellent machine for work should look into it.

BOOK REVIEW: Talent Is Not Enough

I think sometimes the designers who stand out in the marketplace, land the most prestigious clients and make the most money aren’t those who have the most brilliant talent. Instead, they’re the ones who can build a brand and a business around their work and handle it professionally. Creative people aren’t always the best businesspeople and so many can struggle with the business side of graphic design.

I used books like the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook when I started my design business, but Shel Perkins’ Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers might be a better book than any I had. It’s almost 450 pages long and very focused on the business of design, and the advice Shel gives is solid. I think it can really set a designer up for business success.

There is some breadth to the topics covered in Talent Is Not Enough: marketing, human resources, cash flow, office management and intellectual property are all covered in the book. Many are essential topics, though some business types—such as sole proprietor—will find some chapters not very useful because they don’t apply to them. I’ll also say that some topics—marketing in particular comes to mind—are not fully covered in this book and should be supplemented with other books and information.

The other criticism I have of the book is it glosses over what I think are the two questions always asked by new creative professionals: “How much should I charge?” and “How should I write my contracts?” The chapter on pricing models is short and doesn’t give any dollar amounts, which is hard to quantify for everyone but help new designers the most. The aforementioned Graphic Artists Guild Handbook did share hourly rates, and it really helped me start my business. It also shared some boilerplate copy for proposals and contracts. Talent Is Not Enough does share contract boilerplate as well, and the copy is well-written, but it’s not clearly marked in the book. Placing the legal documents in an addendum might be helpful in a third edition.

Despite these quibbles, Talent Is Not Enough is a very fine business resource and updated for our times with the second edition. I have over ten years in the industry and I learned new things from this book. A designer just starting out will gain a good business foundation by adding this to his or her other repertoire of books on business development.

Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets for Designers
Shel Perkins
Published by New Riders
US $39.99
Rating: 9/10

-able Peppers You With Tips For Success

I first saw Scott Ginsberg speak a few years back at a funeral directors conference (don’t ask) and then last year he happened to be the speaker for the local young professionals organization that I was a part of for many years. Scott has made a name for himself by permanently wearing a name tag and being a guru on approachability and networking, and in his new book, -able, he is branching out.

The last book of Scott’s that I read was How To Be That Guy, which was specific to business networking and finding one’s business niche. -able covers the broader topic of setting oneself up for success, mostly for business but the tips can also be applied to other aspects of life. I think this plays well for many businesspeople, most of whom in my experience are as competitive and driven outside of work as they are when at work. I think these driven readers will really enjoy -able.

-able is written in a scattershot manner, with 35 chapters on all varieties of accessibility—being findable, engageable, sellable, retweetable, sought-after-able and many others, some of which are real words. They’re also connected to some really zany metaphors:

• “Be more spread-able than syphilis in a steam room”
• “Be more yes-able than Brad Pitt, down on one knee, naked, holding a seven-carat diamond”
• “Be more request-able than ‘Freebird’ at a Florida State frat party”
• “Be more addict-able than crack, but without killing millions of people”

Scott’s prose is an uninhibited kind of writing that you either enjoy or you don’t.

The material itself is thick with several tips for success for each chapter. There’s so many tips and ideas that some tend to repeat themselves, but repetition is the key to learning. Some of Scott’s anecdotal evidence is colorful and interesting, and it’s always worth reading. I do wish though that Scott had more focus in -able, and I don’t think it would have hurt the book if there were 25 strategies instead of 35, larger type, and more writing on implementation and overcoming obstacles. Everyone wants to have top Google rankings and be a master networker, but it’s not easy or everyone would do it. By itself, -able shows the way to success but doesn’t always explain how to capitalize on the knowledge. Perhaps that’s something we all must figure out on our own.

-able is an intriguing book and it certainly has more polish than How To Be That Guy, which was written almost five years ago. Readers who digest these tips and apply them in their daily lives will see real results. But I also think the book is a shotgun blast of good tips that can apply to a variety of life’s situations, and—like a shotgun—the effectiveness of the blast depends on your aim.

-able: 35 Strategies for Increasing the Probability of Success in Business and in Life
Scott Ginsberg
Published by HELLO, my name is Scott!
US $19.95
Rating: 7/10

BOOK REVIEW: No Easy Answers In Taking Stock

I’ve been waiting for a book like Taking Stock: Make money in microstock creating photos that sell, which focuses on selling stock photography. Some clients pay big money for photography but practically all clients who I work with are happy with spending a few dollars—or even $20—on a stock photo. Moreover, the quality of stock photography continues to improve as cameras become more advanced and amateur photographers take in training from people like Scott Kelby, whose business and training seems to focus on photography nowadays.

I haven’t read a book by Rob Sylvan until Taking Stock but I like his style. The writing isn’t particularly flashy or humorous but what Rob nails down is his insider knowledge on the stock photography market. There might be other photographers who have sold more stock photos than him, but Rob has been in the stock photo industry since its early days and understands the history as well as what has worked over time.

Considering that the book is about selling stock photography, I’m disappointed that almost half of the chapters in Taking Stock is general digital photography tips and techniques. There are many other books out on the market that will help you get a good exposure or importing photos into Photoshop Lightroom. Taking Stock is not a large book—220 pages—so these chapters cut into content specific to the stock photography field.

That content specific to stock photography is very good—it’s the kind of information that’s hard to obtain but can mean the difference between success and failure. Knowing what gets photos accepted and rejected, how to approach multiple (or single) photo sources to show your work, and knowing what an inspector will flag as unsuitable are all vital things to know.

If you’re looking to enter the stock photography field, Taking Stock is a good resource. Many serious photographers won’t find much they don’t already know in the chapters on taking good photos and managing their library, but the chapters devoted to the stock photography process are essential to having the best chance for success.

Taking Stock: Make money in microstock creating photos that sell
Rob Sylvan
Published by Peachpit Press
US $29.99
Rating: 8/10

BOOK REVIEW: resonate Combines Timeless Storytelling And Presentation

Two years ago, Nancy Duarte‘s book slide:ology proved to be a great resource for perfecting the visual aspects of presentation—it was well-designed, thorough and the visual material was striking. I didn’t expect anything less from one of the foremost experts on presentation. Nancy’s newest book, resonate, explores the engagement and storytelling aspects of presentation and has the same hallmarks of design and colorful writing set by slide:ology.

I’m a big advocate of stories and storytelling, not only in presentations but in communication in general. I actually have a “creative communications” presentation that I have given a few times. A good story is naturally more compelling and persuasive than just a collection of facts or bullets, and this clearly applies to presentations.

resonate brings strong evidence that a good story makes for a good presentation. There doesn’t seem to be as many case studies in this book as in slide:ology but philosophy from the likes of Joseph Campbell, Syd Field and Aristotle are used to illustrate the storytelling process. The jump from screenwriting and storytelling to presentation design and content is explained in detail and supported well by the case studies.

If there’s one complaint I have about resonate, it is that the art of storytelling is not covered enough in the book. Nancy covers a wide range of material and pages are spent on motivating audiences, improving presentations through practice, using presentations to change the world and not for “evil,” and other topics peripherally related to storytelling. I don’t think I can ding resonate for including these because they are important to the ultimate goal of presenting better, but I think there is more to be explained about the storytelling process and more techniques that could be explored.

resonate is another exceptional book from Nancy. I don’t know where she will go from here as an author—the two aspects of Duarte’s “VisualStory™” method already seem to be covered by slide:ology and resonate—but I hope there’s more aspects of presentation she is ready to write about. resonate was a real treat to read and review.

resonate
Nancy Duarte
Published by Wiley
US $29.95
Rating: 10/10

BOOK REVIEW: Hackers Illustrates Our Early Years

The computer and Internet industries are old enough now that one can feel nostalgic about their early days. Many of us remember the first computer we used (mine was an Apple II Plus) or the year we first used the Internet (1994) and the web browser we used (NCSA Mosaic).

Those who might reminisce about their “computer youth” would enjoy the 25th anniversary edition of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy. I have enjoyed learning about computing history since the 1996 documentary Triumph of the Nerds, and Hackers is more thorough and dives deeper into the very early days of computers in the 1960s and 1970s. Computing used to be a cutting-edge activity isolated to nerds and hackers, but it has been mainstream for years now and the computer industry has enough history behind it now to be studied and enjoyed like any other venture.

Hackers is very well-written—there’s a reason it’s being republished 25 years after its initial release—and what I really appreciate is the fact that the anecdotes and stories are colorful and vibrant. Moreover, the book is thick with interviews from the hackers being portrayed in the book and what they say makes the stories even more memorable. One would think hackers and techies would be bad interview subjects and would focus on mundane technical material, but it’s not true at all. These are people who are passionate about their craft and proud of what they accomplished, and that passion energizes what they say in Hackers. That is what makes this book a joy to read.

There is one significant drawback to the book: it’s quite dated. The original edition was published in 1985, when computer memory was one-hundredth of one percent of what it is now. This anniversary edition does have the 1995 afterword and a new afterword for 2010 but they are small and a quick read. The Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are covered in the original’s pages—Woz has a full chapter devoted to him—but in 1985 their eventual impact with the Macintosh and Apple’s future consumer products had not yet hit the industry. Jobs in particular is only mentioned a few times in the book.

I think the question is whether Hackers is an artifact of its time or should be a history book for the future. There’s no right answer to this question, and today Levy and the publisher O’Reilly have decided to keep Hackers as an artifact of its time, and in that regard it is a beautiful artifact of those early years in hacker history. Those who want to learn about hackers and hacker culture beyond 1985 will want to read other books for the full picture.

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
Steven Levy
Published by O’Reilly
US $21.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: The Social Media Marketing Book

smmb

I’m used to the 600-page behemoths O’Reilly publishes on topics like font encoding and search engine optimization, but the company has also been publishing small, horizontal-format books in the past year on topics like Twitter and now social media. The Social Media Marketing Book is one of those small books, roughly 220 pages with half of them full-page illustrations. I think it’s a good review of social media websites, marketing strategies and community best practices but it’s not as thorough as other books out there, such as Friends With Benefits.

The Social Media Marketing Book has a very broad overview of the social media world which I like—there’s too many types of social media, such as blogging, social networks, media, news and forms, and even virtual worlds which are not covered as often as something like Twitter. This book surveys them all, so it delivers the big picture better than most books. The downside is, with its small size, no one product is covered in fine detail. Twitter, which has had entire books written about it, is covered in less than 20 pages here.

Because of its broad focus, I do not think this book scores very well as a marketing handbook. I expected quite a bit of case studies, strategic ideas and general tactics for each type of social media but sometimes this kind of information is just not there. The section on ratings and reviews, for example, does not delve too much into how reviews can help your business—but it does offer general tips for specific websites like Yelp. This is also beneficial but doesn’t drill as deeply into strategic marketing as I’d like it to.

If you take it for what it is, The Social Media Marketing Book is a good social media overview book. I should point out some sections are more detailed than others and you can score some very good tips not usually known. I’d recommend it for social media users—not necessarily marketing professionals—who want to begin learning how to leverage social media for their businesses.

The Social Media Marketing Book
Dan Zarrella
Published by O’Reilly
US$19.99
Rating: 7/10