Tag Archives: guide

BOOK REVIEW: The Manga Guide to Relativity

For a change of pace, No Starch Press sent one of their Manga Guide books, which explain high-level fields like physics and molecular biology but in a manga comic-book format. I read The Manga Guide to Relativity by Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto and others.

The book is unique in that it combines a university-level topic like relativity with a storytelling format like manga, which should not be considered juvenile just because it’s telling the story with pictures and word balloons. The artwork is typical manga style and it’s well-done, though I’m not a manga reader and others who are might think other artists are better.

I was really impressed how the concepts of relativity are explained with clarity. You really can learn more about a topic like relativity with a comic book like this. Not only that, but each section is followed by a few textbook-style pages that explain the section’s content in a more traditional American style. Unfortunately, I’m not a relativity theorist either so I can’t point out any flaws in the book’s teachings. But the content did align with what I know about relativity and I learned some new things about the field.

Non-Japanese readers and manga newbies might find some of the artwork and manga style off-putting. For example, the lessons on relativity are set up by a subplot (shown above) where the student body president is learning relativity in summer school so the rest of the students don’t have to. The weird part is the school’s headmaster will make the boy his personal “secretary” love-slave (my interpretation) if he doesn’t learn relativity. Re-read that sentence again to make sure you read it right. And in another wild plot twist (spoilers ahead!), the school’s superintendent turns out to be a young woman who transforms into various forms including a purse doggy and a Power Ranger-looking robot warrior. I don’t know if all this is typical in manga, but I know it’s not typical in American books.

The Manga Guide to Relativity is fun in any case, so pick it up if you enjoy learning about science and also enjoy manga (or don’t mind jumping into a totally new writing and reading style). It’s only twenty dollars so it’s not priced like most books I review here on Designorati and a good buy for anyone who enjoys learning about the sciences.

The Manga Guide to Relativity
Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto and others
Published by No Starch Press
US $19.95
Rating: 8/10
Click to buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers

Abduzeedo Guide cover

The Internet is an amazing thing—there’s so much inspiration out there now for designers to reflect upon. Designers and illustrators from across the world can show their work to each other. And since it’s easy for anyone to write and publish online, there are many tutorials and articles out there from the best in the field. I’m sure many old-school designers who made their careers without the Internet wonder how much easier it would have been if they had had it.

The Internet is a significant factor in the success—and failure—of the Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers. The book was written by Fábio Sasso, founder of the design blog Abduzeedo.com, and several other illustrators. All of these artists have their own blogs and websites, full of illustrations and articles, and they are prolific online publishers. The book design is very nice—clean, colorful and easy to read. I enjoyed reading it very much.

However, the Inspiration Guide might be the first book I’ve read where some of the content was already familiar to me—because I had seen it on the Internet. In particular, Alex Varanese’s “Alt 1977″ series of illustrations was popular on Twitter and blogs not too long ago. I enjoyed seeing his work then and I still do, but it wasn’t new anymore. The Internet makes it so easy to find content that a book based on online content is at a disadvantage.

The Inspiration Guide is more than just images though, which is its redeeming grace. Many illustrators are interviewed in the Guide, and they are good reading for artists who are early in their careers. (I think they are good for experienced artists too, but they tend to focus on young careers because the artists are relatively young.) There are several tutorials available as well that combine Photoshop and digital tools with real artistry, which I really like. They were fun to do, not too hard or easy, and the results were excellent.

At $40, the Inspiration Guide might be a hard sell for illustrators. (NOTE: Amazon has it listed for $26.) After all, why buy the book when you can see the work online? But I think it’s a good book and it does have some fresh content that Abduzeedo regulars might not know already.

Abduzeedo Inspiration Guide for Designers
Fábio Sasso and others
Published by New Riders
US $39.99
Rating: 8/10

Sometimes It Takes A Detective To Solve CSS

css-detective

It’s probably safe to say that the process of developing a website requires debugging issues that just don’t make sense. Floats don’t clear. Web fonts don’t display. Internet Explorer 6 doesn’t do anything right (at least it’s on its way out). Solutions are sometimes easy to find and apply, but many times a bug doesn’t seem to have a logical solution!

This is why I like the structure and premise of The CSS Detective Guide by Denise R. Jacobs. Bugs can be mysterious and the codebase can look like a crime scene, so why not frame the process with that in mind? The book devotes a couple chapters to general HTML and CSS knowledge and two more to bugs, debugging techniques and things to look for when debugging CSS.

The other six chapters in the book are case studies with real-world code and bugs that Denise walks through and solves with the reader. This is the kind of book that would have benefitted greatly by providing live code that the reader could load on their computer, test and revise, but even though the book has a companion website (www.cssdetectiveguide.com) there is no code to download and work with. It is mentioned that files and live versions of the cases are “coming soon,” but the book was published in April.

HTML and CSS code is published within the book so readers have at least that to go on when learning how to debug the CSS. I thought the case studies were quite good, with several bugs in each—some specific to Internet Explorer but many others that apply to all browsers, or to other browsers like Firefox.

I think many CSS books on the market are more high-level or experimental (Dan Cederholm’s books come to mind) and don’t focus on the nitty-gritty details of CSS bug fixes. Dan’s books are exceptional resources for CSS pros but The CSS Detective Guide is written for those learning CSS or those wanting to improve their debugging techniques. It’s also fun to read thanks to the mystery/detective/crime story angle, which I think is a nice touch in a technical book.

The CSS Detective Guide
Denise R. Jacobs
Published by New Riders
Rating: 9/10

Dom Sagolla’s 140 Characters: Fragmented Writing Creates A Difficult Book

140characters

The thought of reviewing 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form excited me in several ways. Author Dom Sagolla is not only a respected Twitter user (almost 10,000 users) but he was one of the engineers on the original “twttr” project, so he has a trove of stories and insight into the creation of this brilliant media. I later learned he’s “an English major at heart,” having a writing degree from Swarthmore College. Besides these points, being a writer myself I was intrigued by the notion of “a style guide for the short form,” thinking this book could have something in common with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, one of the great rulebooks for great writing. 140 Characters could have been another timeless book….

Writing style breaks the book

…But I found 140 Characters to be ultimately a disappointment, a difficult book to read—too many random thoughts, not enough organization, and difficult to digest. I felt like I was reading a collection of quotations or sentences, each one making sense and seeming to be a valuable bit of insight, but not gelling together into a well-structured book. I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but began to suspect that perhaps the book was rushed to publication. I later learned from Dom that this was true: in a direct message on Twitter, he told me he “wrote it from a sense of responsibility, in 3 months.” He also confirms this on page 68 of the book. 140 Characters could have benefited greatly from an extra three months of writing time.

But the book, despite its short writing time, suffers from something worse: the fragmented writing style itself. Only a sentence or two is devoted to an idea at any one time. It reminds me of the “stream of consciousness” method of writing, which can work well in fiction and drama but doesn’t do well with non-fiction and guides like 140 Characters. On page 68 Dom admitted to not just the short writing period but also some writer’s block, and described how he adopted a fragmented writing style (as he declared on Twitter):

“Fragment. Then there is a sentence. Sentences become paragraphs. Inch by inch, a book is written.”

It’s an interesting theory of writing but 140 Characters is a weaker book because of it. Some sections of the book are fully fleshed out in paragraph form, but most is a series of thoughts on a variety of Twitter topics: followers, retweeting, tweeting frequency, capital letters, “small society,” and a hundred other topics including writing for the short form, which is what the book is supposed to be about. Chapter 10 is about the only consistent coverage of this last topic, and it’s an interesting read, but the rest is a melange of random thoughts on related topics.

Other annoyances

There were a couple other aspects of 140 Characters I found annoying:

  • Sometimes a tweet is placed beside a paragraph, as if it is supporting the point, but the connection isn’t clear:

    “Someone is always there to read and listen. There is always an audience for anything. Never doubt that.”

    ((supporting_tweet)) Shut up, or I’ll blog you.

    or:

    “@DarthVader is the original gangster.”

    ((supporting_tweet)) “Away for a few days & when return I have 50K+ followers. Pretty meh for a backwater world. On Coruscant I’ve got 1.2 trillion.”

    I’m sure the connection is clear to Dom, but not necessarily to me or other readers.

  • 140 Characters is structured around chapters and sections titled with single words. “Value”. “Master”. “Branch”. “Iterate”. They are terms Dom uses for particular methods or actions, but they are not explained very well and are confusing. Sometimes the meaning is clear enough but the chapter doesn’t match the title. Chapter 17, “Iterate,” is a particularly weird example: the first couple paragraphs illustrate the meaning of “iterate” (which I think is a good process for any kind of improvement) but the rest of the chapter has nothing to do with improvements through iteration, focusing on unrelated topics as where to write, casual gaming, Threadless Twitter Tees, referencing one’s home state, and “being the change you want to see in the world.” And I had been looking forward to this chapter on iteration.

What I like about the book

I haven’t said much yet in favor of 140 Characters, but there are many small gems to be found in the text. They won’t always help you with Twitter (“Don’t lie”? “Exercise”?!) but some will make you think about what you use Twitter for, and may spark some personal insights. I am also glad to see a book in the field that attempts to look at Twitter from the writer’s perspective, because I do think there is something about the 140-character medium that has sparked some stellar online writing. I think Dom could have found far better examples to use throughout the book: several are tech bloggers or Dom’s friends from Twitter, and almost none of them approached poetry.

The fact that Dom has connections within Twitter also makes 140 Characters an interesting read, at least in the beginning where he devotes the introduction to a retelling of the creation of Twitter. This was a highlight of the book and describes in vivid detail how the social media phenomenon was created and engineered. Stories like these are always enjoyable for those who use the technology or make their living off of it. I’m reviewing another book right now, BlackBerry Planet, and the fact that I use a BlackBerry makes it very interesting for me. Twitter fanatics will want to pick up a copy of 140 Characters just for the Twitter connection.

Conclusion

140 Characters is a unique book: the subject material and the ambition is well-placed but the unorthodox execution weakened the book, making it an interesting collection of thoughts and meanderings on Twitter but not the well-organized style guide I was hoping for. If you take it for what it is, 140 Characters can be an interesting read, but I wouldn’t expect it to become the “Strunk and White” of social media writers. I would recommend it for Twitter aficionados who love the medium. For those who want to get more out of their Twitter account, 140 Characters may or may not spur some insights.

140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form
Dom Sagolla
Published by Wiley
Rating: 6/10

BOOK REVIEW: YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts

youtube

Producing successful online social media is such a conundrum—producing quality content is one thing, but how do you create something that the online community will make viral? The stakes are higher now that marketing vice-presidents have noticed the power of online social media: companies are producing promotional videos for YouTube and Facebook profiles, hoping people will latch onto them and adopt the brand promise.

So how do you capture this kind of viral devotion? In the case of YouTube, it might make sense to buy YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts. It’s written by a YouTube heavyweight (Alan Lastufka, once one of the 100 Most Subscribed Comedians on YouTube) and an expert on do-it-yourself video production and promotion (Michael W. Dean). Lisa Donovan, a “YouTube star” who parlayed her video bits into a short run on MadTV, says this is “the only YouTube book worth getting.” So the pedigree is there for YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to be a true classic, with unique techniques you won’t find anywhere else.

Proven principles for success

The truth, which the book demonstrates very well, is that the path to success is really based on two simple principles: quality content and quality promotion. YouTube: An Insider’s Guide devotes a lot of pages to storytelling, video direction, shooting, editing and the fundamentals of producing a video people will want to watch. The information in this section is solid but I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t know already—readers who are already experienced producers will not be particularly thrilled by this section.

Fortunately, the majority of pages are dedicated to Alan Lastufka’s deconstruction of YouTube and techniques for YouTube-specific promotion. I learned that YouTube has its own culture and community of users, and by adopting the community one can end up being adopted themselves. Key techniques such as commenting, leveraging third-party social media, the YouTube Partner program and video responses are all covered; very few are covered in depth, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth to begin with. Alan says just enough to make readers dangerous with YouTube.

The author’s rants

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide falls short in some respects. I liked Alan’s writing style, which was authoritative yet fairly informal, but Michael Dean sometimes came across as somewhat…odd. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Chapter 14, “Closing Arguments,” which has almost nothing to do with YouTube and everything to do with Dean’s ramblings about what’s wrong with the Internet, why C-SPAN is better than any news show, what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with “The Man,” and how to life life right among other topics. Now I’m all for personal manifestos, but not in a book like this. The other thing that bothered me a little was the book’s dependence on a handful of YouTube celebrities (Lisa Donovan, Kevin Nalty, Hank Green and a few others) to show the celebrity potential in YouTube. It seems the same seven “celebrities” are discussed over and over, and I had heard of none of them until I read YouTube: An Insider’s Guide. I’m not sure “celebrity” is an accurate word to describe these YouTube users, and it makes me wonder if true fame is achievable within the confines of YouTube.

Conclusion

I recommend YouTube: An Insider’s Guide for anyone looking to start up and promote a YouTube channel with quality content—a casual YouTube user could get some good information by reading this book as well, but it is really written for content creators. There aren’t many books out on the market about YouTube, and this has perhaps the most knowledgeable authors of the bunch so it’s a great buy.

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts
Alan Lastufka and Michael W. Dean
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 8/10
US$29.99