Reviews

Review: The Creative Entrepreneur

Recently I've had a growing interest in finding books that help creatives grow their own business. They seem to be few and far between. I reviewed Craft, Inc. last year and found it a great resource for starting your own business. However, while it covered many aspects of running a business, I found that it wasn't good for actually teaching you how to set-up and create your own business from conception to reality. Enter Lisa Sonora Beam and The Creative Entrepreneur. Billed as a "DIY Visual Guidebook for Making Business Ideas Real", this book not only teaches readers the fundamentals of building a business to match their creative dream, but it presents the core business concepts in a way that makes them easy for creative personalities to understand.

The Creative Entrepreneur developed out of workshops that Beam created and offered "creatives" who wanted to take their craft and turn them into viable business opportunities. She does not believe that artists need to starve in order to succeed. This book is her legacy; it shows artists that they, too, can grasp business concepts that turn their artistic visions into concrete and functioning business plans—no matter what they are. At first glance, this book looks more like an art technique book than a business fundamentals primer. Don't let the shiny fool you; The Creative Entrepreneur packs an informative punch. Beam introduces the book by explaining how the visual journalling process aides in the process of business creation. She encourages readers to follow along with the exercises in this book, just as if they were sitting in on one of her workshops.

Review: Tagging, People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web

Two years ago, I wrote a two-part series on tagging. A tag is like a keyword. Tags help you sort things by groups to which you assign meaning to. You can assign multiple tags to a single item so it becomes meaningful in different groups. Ever since I stumbled upon the idea of tagging, I've been fascinated. Then I found out about Gene Smith's Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web. A book that I hoped would shed some more light on the tagging phenomenon.

As I patiently waited for the book to arrive, I imagined that it would expand upon various tag methodologies and how one could get more out of using a tagging system or site. There is a bit of that in the book, but it is not Smith's main goal. Instead, Tagging takes the reader on a survey of various tagging methodologies and how various online sites use tagging systems to achieve their goals. He studies these techniques in a way that would help software coders create their own tag systems.

Smith writes his material from a coder's perspective. The book's structure is very linear, as each chapter builds upon the knowledge presented in the last. Chapters 1-5 do go into details on what tagging is, why tagging is important, how folksonomies work, and what tag interfaces look like. Chapters 6 and 7 dive down into the nitty-gritty of how tag system are put together with code. These two chapters give guidelines, business analysis, and technical details (GUI, navigational, and code snippets) to help programmers design and develop their own tagging system for an Intranet or home-brew web application. Finally, Smith includes three case study appendixes. Here he analyzes and compares various social bookmarking sites, media sharing sites, and personal information management systems.

I wish I could recommend Tagging for everyone, but I can't. I think this book offers software developers the biggest benefit. It was an enjoyable but hard read for me. Since I’m not a coder, much of the tech and code discussions didn't make sense to my non-codery brain. I'll be giving this one to kender to read, and maybe he and his company can get more out of it than I did. Tagging is published by New Riders and the book retails for $39.99.

Review: Tarot for Writers

Those of you new to D*I*Y Planner in the past year or two may or may not know about my tarot love affair. I'd have to say it goes beyond the metaphysical. I use the cards for more than divination: journaling with the cards and involving them in my creative writing, for example. In 2006, I wrote about how tarot can help generate story ideas. Rkfoster also wrote about tarot and paper-based planning.

I consistently tell people that the cards are an excellent writer's companion. The pictures speak to the imagination, the cards weave stories when set side by side in a reading. In addition, the symbolism just begs to be written about in a narrative form. I've always wanted to write a book on tarot--one that goes into detail on using the cards for creative inspiration. However, Corrine Kenner beat me to it. Her Tarot for Writers demystifies tarot and shows writers how to use a deck in fueling their creativity and writing practice. Tarot for Writers is jam packed with techniques, writing samples, and reference sections on both the meanings and symbols found in tarot.

The book has three main sections. Part one gives you the low-down on what tarot cards are, their history, and how to use them. Kenner introduces tarot in a way that doesn't confuse or scare people who have never worked with a deck before. Part two gets to the fun stuff. These seven chapters discuss prompts, games, spreads and general information on applying the tarot to every aspect of the writing craft from plot to characters to setting and more. There's even a chapter on using a tarot deck as your own Writing Coach. Part three takes you on a card-by-card tour of what each card means, its literary connections and archetypes, and gives a list of prompts to kickstart the muse. Finally, Kenner ends with a glossary of tarot terms and symbolism--which for me was a nice touch. I tend to use a lot of symbolism in my own work and I can see myself using the symbolism glossary as a handy reference guide.

Review: Power of Less

I’ve been a huge fan of Leo Babauta’s ZenHabits for awhile now. His combination of Buddhist zen philosophy and advise on living “less” has helped me gain some insight and perspective on freeing myself and time. When he announced he was writing a book, I knew it was going to be special. The Power of Less was released last month and it is, indeed, something special.

The Power of Less is very well written and clearly organized. At 170 pages long, it’s a pretty quick read (at least for me). Which makes the book a living testament that Babauta puts what his methodology to good use. The introduction sets the tone by giving you the reasons why “less” is more. Today’s world runs at breakneck speed. Our jobs ask us to do more, give more, and stay longer to get these things done. The answer isn’t to do more or be faster— it’s to do less. Babauta likens his process to haiku, where you have to strip the non-essential information and dig down to find the core, or what matters most. What Babauta does with his book, then, is to take you through writing a haiku for your life. Using six simple principles. Less is the new more and when you put Babauta’s six principles to work, you’ll learn how to be more effective by doing less.

Shoot-out Review: Cheap Fountain Pens, The Next Generation: Chapter 1: Pilot Petit 1

When Doug started his Cheap Pen Reviews, I foolishly offered to review a few more that I had purchased in recent months.

Through my participation at D*I*Y Planner, I rediscovered fountain pens. I really forget how I first found this site. But I recall at some point, someone mentioned fountain pens and I got re-hooked. An old, neglected hobby of mine is calligraphy, so I have had a lot of experience with various ink pens, mostly dip pens due to the sort of inks I would use. I recall using a Schaeffer cartridge pen way back in high school (late 60's).

While cruising the internet looking for new pens to try and play with, I stumbled across JetPens. This site sells all sorts of Japanese-style pens: from fountain to gellies. I ordered a Pilot Petit1 and a Ohto Tasche Fountain Pen. This review covers the Pilot Petit1. I will review the Tasche next.

Credit where due: I have copied the following review format from Fountain Pen Network. Thanks, guys.

Ok, deep breath, back straight, knees together, hands over head, and jump in...

Review: Wikipatterns by Stewart Mader

Information architecture, or how we structure data, intrigues me. When I am online, I love using my RSS feeds to keep me up-to-date with all the blogs and sites that interest me; I love looking at websites and their navigation structures (it shows me how each person uses the web and web tools to organize their interests); and I love collaboration tools. Tools like wikis, that help disseminate and organize information in organic systems.

Wikipatterns, by Stewart Mader, gives readers a guide to using and implementing wikis in their organization. This is a book for non-techies, as it tells you how to use a wiki with your projects, rather than how to install or extend the wiki software with plug-ins. This slim book starts out by offering what a wiki is and what it can offer your project. It then takes the reader through championing and implementing a new wiki. It also covers tips and tricks on getting people to quickly use your wiki and how to avoid or minimize obstacles that could tear down your wiki usage.

Review: Developing Story Ideas

Developing Story Ideas, by Michael Rabiger, tackles the question that plagues most writers today: where do you get your ideas. This book is his valiant attempt at an answer. It's also a textbook, aimed for use in screenwriting classrooms. I saw it on the textbook shelves for the Art Institute of Portland while perusing books at Powell's. The title was enough to intrigue me and I knew that I needed a copy. Despite the book's goal to provide exercises and structure to fit a classroom setting, Rabiger recognizes that the work could be read and used by the solo writer. He also recognizes that the text can be used to apply to all sorts of storytelling formats: screenplays, novels, short stories, memoirs.

Rabiger's premise is that you can use your life, the situations you've been in, the people that have come into contact with you, your dreams (both goal based and night time meanderings), and your imagination to create amazing stories. The chapters are structured similarly: introducing a topic and then diving straight into three or four exercises (that you can do on your own or in a classroom setting) that show you how to use or develop the concept being discussed. Concepts in later chapters build off and use elements of earlier ones. Developing Story Ideas also includes chapters dedicated to the tools of the trade, reviewing current/past works of others, and revising your works into standard formats.

Shoot-out Review: 3 Cheap Fountain Pens, Part III - Parker Reflex

Cheap Fountain PensIn my quest to find an inexpensive and economical fountain pen, I've previously looked at two options. The Pilot Vpen (a.k.a., Varsity) is quite an ordinary looking pen with a good nib, but no way of refilling its ink, and the unique look of Bic Select X Pen was otherwise betrayed by its cheap materials and the various ergonomic factors that made my hand cramp. Last on my list is the Parker Reflex (the red pen on the left). Can Parker pull off a quality starter pen for less than $10, or will all three of these writing instruments be confined to my junk drawer (a.k.a., the pen graveyard)?

Whereas the body of the Vpen looks like a regular wavy-paint dollar-store rollerball and the X Pen looks like a retro submarine, the Parker Reflex is much more spartan in its design. Its unassuming outside appearance is essentially a long and thick coloured stick, its only design attributes being a glossy plastic body, an inlaid matte black plastic round at either end, and a wide stainless steel spring clip in the shape of a stylized arrow (a Parker trademark). The plastic on my candy apple red model is somewhat pearlescent under bright light, a not unpleasant effect when matched against the clip and end pieces.

Review: Myndology Bare Notebooks

Myndology Bare NotebooksEvery now and then I get a notebook that's a joy to use. It could be for many reasons, including paper quality, design, sizing, ease of use, uncommon personal preferences, ideology, loyalty or --yes-- even the buy-in from marketing and advertising. Since I actually work in a marketing firm, I like to think I'm more skeptical in this regard than most, but the rest of the qualities can coalesce into a notebook that's a real pleasure to write in. The hunt for such a beast continues daily, and each week I try another handful.

When Jason from Myndology offered to send me a few samples of their "Bare" line of notebooks, I hadn't very high hopes. In fact, because they were designed from the ground up to be "environmentally responsible," I was prepared for the worst. Several other recycled products sent to me for review have barely seen a line of ink before I passed them off to other less demanding users. Most of them are fountain pen unfriendly (to say the least), with excessive bleeding to the point where I can't use an overleaf. Glued bindings often become unstuck, the fibres of cover and paper start to fall apart in damp air, and some earthy but impractical thing gets in my way, e.g., a scratchy hemp bookmark, a brittle dried flower, or --heaven forbid-- an actual acorn or pine cone hot-glued to the front. Plus, the design generally falls into one of two categories: recycled book covers (usually random, but you're more likely to get a low-budget Harlequin knockoff than "A Farewell to Arms"); or a piece of cardboard that looks like the back of a cheap steno pad. Given past experience, and that Myndology is currently a sponsor of DIYPlanner.com, I was a little concerned that writing a Bare review might prove precarious....