• Books,  Productivity

    A Reading Plan to Reduce My TBR Stack of Books

    I never used to have anything I’d call a TBR (To Be Read) pile of books. Even in grad school  by using a reading plan I managed to keep up with reading for school, work, and still keep the circulation department of multiple libraries busy.

    But now, now I have a colossus of a TBR stack, though most of it is digital these days. That said, I still have somewhere around 15 printed codex books, mostly in my field to read. I’ve had a loose schedule of sorts for years, mostly based on what I’m currently researching, but this year, in part because there are So Many Books, I decided to organize a list and create a reading plan, much like those I made in grad school in order to keep up with long lists of required reading.

    As I compiled my list, which required me to sort through books printed and digital, I was reminded of other reading plans. There were the Great Books sorts of institutionalized plans wherein reading Great Books was thought to be a sure pathway to being a Great Person yourself; these sometimes took the form of actual books produced and accompanied by a reading plan, sometimes by subscription, as in the Harvard Classics l or in the form of a build your own list like The Modern Library. Just search “reading list” and you’ll be overwhelmed with all the lists of books you should read.

    In a similar vein, given the current emphasis on intentionality and reading for personal improvement, just searching the Web for “personal reading plan” will provide you any number of how to guides for creating your plan.1)Not to mention countless schedules for reading the entire Bible over the course of the year; this practice dates back at least to the medieval monastic tradition for Christians, and far longer for Jews.  I even found a nifty 2020 schedule for reading all of Shakespeare during the course of the year.

    image of a reading plan as a checklistI’m in the early stages of my plan as yet, with not much more than a very large multi-page checklist organized by topic/project. Just listing and categorizing the books was exceedingly helpful in creating a plan. I already use Library Thing and Goodreads for book tracking and inspiration. They were useful in this instance in tracking books I have but have not yet read, and what I need to reserve at a library. I use Calibre to sort and categorize and tag ebooks, making it easy to locate all the books I’ve tagged TBR or to put on hold at the library.

    Once I had my checklist of categorized books, the next step was scheduling and finding specific times to read. I generally read fiction at night and for a few hours each weekend. During my week-day working hours, I concentrate on non-fiction and books in my field and related to current writing projects. Even more importantly, I’m blocking out specific times to read specific books. It’s not enough to just put Read Cunliffe’s Ancient Celts second Ed on a to-do list. I need to block out when I’m going to read it (Friday afternoons 12-2). The blocking-out-of-time is one of the most useful techniques I know in terms of actually getting things read or done. I schedule specific items to read an hour or two at a time during the week as part of my regular bullet journal scheduling. I also make sure I always have something queued up on my iPhone for those odd quarter-hours waiting for someone else to do something.

    References   [ + ]

    1. Not to mention countless schedules for reading the entire Bible over the course of the year; this practice dates back at least to the medieval monastic tradition for Christians, and far longer for Jews.
  • Books,  Culture and Society,  Review

    Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner by Joe Kissell

    Cover of Joe Kissell's Take Control of Thanksgiving DinnerIn 2007 Joe Kissell, an able an adept technical writer about all things Macintosh with a serious interest in preparing and consuming good food, turned his geekly technical writing skills to documenting the creation of Thanksgiving dinner. Take Control of Thanksgiving, a guide to planning, shopping, and preparing Thanksgiving dinner is the book I wish I’d had the first time I produced a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

    The version of Take Control of Thanksgiving I read has been updated several times since that first version. Using easily understood language, Kissell outlines exactly how and what to do if you’re responsible for Thanksgiving dinner. He covers planning a menu, organizing a shopping list, and figuring out the cooking and prep schedule for a typical Thanksgiving dinner consisting of roasted turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

    But Kissel doesn’t stop there. One of the basic principles behind Kissell’s how-to guide is that he keeps the need for alternatives in mind. For instance, Kissell, very much aware of the importance of presentation and visual appeal in terms of creating food people want to eat, feels that, properly speaking, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is built around “the traditional Thanksgiving colors  of white, yellow, orange, red, and brown” (TCT 61),  and consequently cheerfully offers not only the “traditional” Green Bean Casserole recipe, but a nifty suggestion for roasting green beans. Throughout Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner, Kissell presents a number of alternates for dishes and cooking styles, and provides for adjusting the menu to suit the idiosyncrasies of guests.

    One of the things I love about this book, aside from the easy, comfortable, and clear writing, is that there’s a lot of practical help here. Don’t have time for a day of shopping and a day of prep? Joe’s got that covered. Need to cook for more people? See the section explaining how to scale recipes. Worried about a life that includes six months of turkey tetrazzini? It doesn’t have to be that way, if you use Kissell’s very smart “Deal With Leftovers” advice. Plus, in one of the really, smart, helpful user-friendly parts of the Take Control of Thanksgiving ebook is that the book includes a file of shopping guides and prep schedules ready to print and use. Kissell really does cover all the bases—including vegetarians guests, Tofurkey Roasts, and a homemade Polenta Dome.

    It’s very apparent that this is a book written by someone who knows what QA and testing means; these are recipes that have been carefully tested and even adjusted with subsequent editions to make sure that they can be successfully prepared by people besides the author.

    Whether you’re an old hand at cooking the bird for friends and family, someone venturing into a holiday kitchen for the first time, or interested in exploring alternatives, there’s something here for you. And if you want something beyond the basics, this is my dead easy recipe for homemade rolls, and my mom’s Pecan pie.

    Go download the free 33 page .pdf Take Control of Thanksgiving Sample and read the TOC and excerpts at Take Control Books. Or buy the book yourself in multiple formats for a mere $10.00. Take advantage of the fact that you can download the book in multiple formats, and use it while you’re in the kitchen.

    Comments Off on Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner by Joe Kissell
  • Books,  Culture and Society

    Exporting Your Books and Data From Goodreads

    Screen shot of a Goodreads pageI like social networking sites for bibliophiles. I’ve tried most of them. My favorite is LibraryThing.com. Goodreads.com used to be a close second.

    The recent idiocies surrounding Goodreads has had me re-thinking my participation for quite a while. The latest Goodreads faux pas has Goodreads deleting reviews and user’s shelves based on arbitrary criteria about shelf labels referring to authors. There’s a certain irony in that the instructions in the My Shelves sidebar on Goodreads refer to a shelf label “gave-up-on” which could refer to a book or to an author.

    While I don’t know that I’d call this censorship, I do know it’s poor IT policy. It’s also playing into the hands of authors behaving badly by engaging in the author’s big mistake; responding to reviews.

    Reviews aren’t for authors; they’re for readers. Goodreads has very clearly moved from being a site for readers to being a site for authors, and most particularly, for Amazon Kindle Direct and Create Space self-published authors. Deleting “low” rating reviews but not “high” rating reviews is a poor but telling decision. So is deleting users’ shelves with labels that you disagreed with.

    I’m considering deleting my books and profile from Good Reads permanently. I don’t really see them engaging with readers/reviewers honestly, and I do see an increasing interest in exploiting self-published authors to the detriment of readers trying to find the next good book. Mostly, I’ve used Goodreads to track my reading (I don’t rate books as a rule) and get book recommendations from friends.

    Consequently, I’ve been experimenting with importing to and exporting from Goodreads. You can export your data from Goodreads in order to have a backup, or to move your data to another site. Here’s how:

    To Export Your Goodreads data

    1. Log on
    2. Click My Books in the top nav bar
    3. Click Import/Export on the left sidebar
    4. Click Export on the far right

    To Import Your Goodreads Data to LibraryThing

    1. Log on.
    2. Click More in the top navigation bar.
    3. Under “Features” click Import/Export.
    4. Click GoodReads import.
    5. Click “Choose file” and select the file you downloaded earlier.
    6. Click Save (or OK on some OSs).
    7. Wait for processing (which may take a while depending on the server load and your book).
    8. Select your import options regarding duplicates, tags, etc.
    9. Click the Import books button.

    Image of the LibraryThing logo with their tag: What's on your bookshelf?

    I’m a fan of LibraryThing; I paid the $25.00 lifetime membership fee, and have bought several CueCat scanners for libraries to make entering books a simply matter of scanning, then copying and pasting barcodes into the LibraryThing add a book field. I like the features of the site, I like LibraryThing’s emphasis on actually reading and thinking about books, and I like the attitude about community and giving back. Plus, Tim Spaulding, the developer and founder, is a medievalist.

    Amazon owns Goodreads and Shelfari. Amazon also owns a minority chunk of LibraryThing via Amazon’s purchase of ABE Books, who own 40%. Tim Spaulding is still the majority owner of LibraryThing, and he strikes me as fiercely protective of his users (and that’s a very important quality).

    There’s a fairly new European site called booklikes.com. I’ve joined it largely out of curiosity, but it too accepts GoodReads exported files. You need to register, then look at your profile; on the far right of the top navigation bar is a gear icon; click it, then click the Import tab. You can import files exported from GoodReads or LibraryThing to Booklikes. There’s an interesting discussion of Booklikes at The Digital Reader; do read the comments and follow the links.

    The import can take a few hours, so be patient. Here’s a post from BookLikes explaining the import process.goodreads_booksI like social networking sites for bibliophiles. I’ve tried most of them. The recent idiocies surrounding Goodreads has had me re-thinking my participation for quite a while. The latest Goodreads faux pas has Goodreads deleting reviews and user’s shelves based on arbitrary criteria about shelf labels referring to authors. There’s a certain irony in that the instructions in the My Shelves sidebar on Goodreads refer to a shelf label “gave-up-on” which could refer to a book or to an author.

    While I don’t know that I’d call this censorship, I do know it’s poor IT policy. It’s also playing into the hands of authors behaving badly by engaging in the author’s big mistake; responding to reviews.

    Reviews aren’t for authors; they’re for readers. Goodreads has very clearly moved from being a site for readers to being a site for authors, and most particularly, for Amazon Kindle Direct and Create Space self-published authors. Deleting “low” rating reviews but not “high” rating reviews is a poor but telling decision. So is deleting users’ shelves with labels that (i.e. labels for groups of books)

    I’m probably going to delete my books and profile from Good Reads permanently. I don’t really see them engaging with readers/reviewers honestly, and I do see an increasing interest in exploiting self-published authors to the detriment of readers trying to find the next good book.

    Consequently, I’ve been experimenting with importing to and from Goodreads. You can export your data from Goodreads in order to have a backup, or to move your data to another site. Here’s how:

    To Export Your Goodreads data

    1. Log on
    2. Click My Books in the top nav bar
    3. Click Import/Export on the left sidebar
    4. Click Export on the far right

    To Import Your Goodreads Data to LibraryThing

    1. Log on.
    2. Click More in the top navigation bar.
    3. Under “Features” click Import/Export.
    4. Click GoodReads import.
    5. Click “Choose file” and select the file you downloaded earlier.
    6. Click Save (or OK on some OSs).
    7. Wait for processing (which may take a while depending on the server load and your book).
    8. Select your import options regarding duplicates, tags, etc.
    9. Click the Import books button.

    LibraryThing.com

    Image of the LibraryThing logo with their tag: What's on your bookshelf?

    I’m a fan of LibraryThing; I paid the $25.00 lifetime membership fee, and have bought several CueCat scanners for libraries and for freinds to make entering books a simply matter of scanning, then copying and pasting barcodes into the LibraryThing add a book field.

    I like the features of the LibraryThing site, I like LibraryThing’s emphasis on actually reading and thinking about books, and I like the attitude about community and giving back. Plus, Tim Spaulding, the developer and founder, is a medievalist.

    Amazon owns Goodreads and Shelfari. Amazon also owns a minority chunk of LibraryThing via Amazon’s purchase of ABE Books, who own 40%. Tim Spaulding is still the majority owner of LibraryThing, and he strikes me as fiercely protective of his users and the LibraryThing community (and that’s a very important quality).

    There’s a fairly new European site called booklikes.com. I’ve joined it largely out of curiosity, but it too accepts GoodReads exported files. You need to register, then look at your profile; on the far right of the top navigation bar is a gear icon; click it, then click the Import tab. You can import files exported from GoodReads or LibraryThing to Booklikes. There’s an interesting discussion of Booklikes at The Digital Reader; do read the comments and follow the links.

    The import can take a few hours, so be patient. Here’s a post from BookLikes explaining the import process.

  • Books,  iOS

    Meet iPhoto for iOS

    Today is the official release date for my new ePub ebook from Peachpit. Meet iPhoto for iOS is a quick introduction to using iPhoto on iOS 6.x to organize, caption, crop, rotate, edit, adjust, and share photos using the iPhoto for the iOS application.

    This really is a quick introduction written to help you start using iPhoto for iOS right away.

    You can read more about Meet iPhoto for iOS here.

  • Books,  Publishing

    Ebook Pricing vs Print Pricing

    It really isn’t that much cheaper to produce an ebook. The binding/printing costs are depending on the book and the binding and the numbers printed somewhere around 1 to 3 bucks a book, for a Robert Jordan Hardcover with foil. The costs up to the point a file is sent to an ebook producer or to a printer are identical—and that’s where most of the costs to make a book occur. Author’s advance is often the single largest item in terms of genre fiction. Then you’ve got designer, cover artist, editor, copy editor, proofer, typesetter—and there may be other costs, depending on the book (indexer, rights licensing, compositor). The ebook has to be formatted, and done properly, it’s not just a matter of running scripts. It needs to be created in multiple formats, usually, with administrative costs related to licensing images, cover art, DRM, and QA. There are additional production costs in terms of staff and software/hardware, and in terms of archiving. The initial costs up to the fork are shared. Honestly, for genre fiction, there’s reason to base the price ebooks pretty closely on the prices for the equivalent paperbacks.

    Now, what I’m not sure of is how much angst there is from publishers about day-and-date release, and issues of libraries buying hardcover in preference to softcover. Book prices at the point of a printed codex book are of three sorts:

    • Raw cost in labor/materials/costs to the publisher.
    • Price the publisher sells the book to retailers/distributors/wholesaler (discounts of various sorts).
    • Price the retailer sells the book to a customer.

    Keep in mind that frequently the author is paid putative royalties on some version of 3, after the publisher has recouped the advance—at which point the publisher may still be trying to (and probably won’t have succeeded) recoup their costs and generate profit. If publishers don’t profit, they can’t pay advances, or make more books.

  • Books,  Culture and Society,  Pedagogy

    It’s Complicated

    This is a really smart article by Mathew Ingram: “Our Relationship with E-Books: It’s Complicated“.

    Ingram quite even-handedly covers the bases on sharing ebooks and ebook annotations, complete with lots of links, in clear language. He notes:

    Will we ever be able to download a digital version of the print book we just bought, and then share that book with friends — or even sell it to someone else at a discounted price, as we can with real books — or share our margin notes and highlights with others, regardless of what e-book reader they use? . . .

    The unfortunate part of all this, of course, is that publishers would likely be able to sell far more books if they made it easier for readers to download, read and share them — or passages from them — with anyone regardless of what device they owned. Until that happens, e-books will continue to be a Balkanized mess of competing standards and sharing silos, and the book-reading public will be the worse for it.

    Go read the whole thing, and do follow the links in his post, because they provide examples that support his central argument.

    Trying to teach with ebooks in an English literature class is almost impossible in terms of using them for analyses by students because they can’t annotate the text, and export their own annotations as notes along with the passage they’re analyzing. Ideally, I’d like a highlighted passage, the annotations or notes associated with the passage and a citation (author, title, chapter and/or section and publication data) to be easily exported. Restricting the excerpt by character or word would be fine; but the practice of not allowing any passages to be copied and pasted is frustrating for teachers, academics, scholars and students.

    Ironically, The Voyager Company’s Expanded books had this feature (among others) in 1992.

  • Books

    Take Control of Using Lion Matt Neuberg

    After upgrading to Mac OS X Lion while following along in Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Upgrading to Lion, I began reading Matt Neuberg’s Take Control of Using Lion, and I’m awfully glad I did.

    cover of Take Control of Using LionOne of the features I love about Take Control books are the Quick Start pages. These pages, which link to specific sections in terms of typical users and what they’re most likely going to want to accomplish first, are extremely useful. Neuberg’s directions to set up the Dock and System Preferences—especially his suggestions about making text easier to read and work with—work particularly well in terms of making every other aspect of using Lion much more pleasant and efficient. His succinct commentary about which new Lion features are particularly innovative, and ways of using them are equally useful, and easy to follow. It’s no easy thing to explain the changes to saving that Resume brings, for instance, but Neuberg manages it quite well.

    For me, in terms of needing to adjust to using Lion immediately in order to keep on schedule, Neuberg’s helpful discussion of Mission Control was especially useful; I was able to start using Mission Control with Spaces immediately to switch quickly between applications and their windows, and my own Spaces with particular groups of windows for particular tasks.

    The discussion of new Finder options, and Launch Pad and third-party launchers—complete with practical scenarios for why a user might favor one option over another—is thorough and helpful. Another of the things I love about Take Control books is that the authors are very aware that there’s usually several ways to accomplish the same task on a Mac, and they’re very good about discussion multiple methods—and why one way might suit a particular user or scenario. Neuberg is especially aware that users and their objectives are matters that depend on the individual. He adeptly accommodates a variety of users and scenarios. I am especially grateful for the attention paid to using the keyboard instead of the mouse or trackpad. Neuberg’s thoughtful discussion of keyboard shortcuts, and creating new shortcuts is extremely helpful, and not something that I’ve seen explained nearly as well as it is in Take Control of Using Lion.

    The book offers very thorough coverage of Lion, especially in terms of customizing the OS to suit personal preferences; a few other highlights that I found particularly well done are the discussions of font management, something that most users are terribly frustrated by, since the Apple Help for the Font Book is less than adequate. The explanation of Lion’s new Text Substitutions feature is likely to save a number of people from early hair loss from textual frustration. Text Substitutions’ potential for causing extreme irritation is such that I suggest Take Control and Matt Neuberg might explicitly mention Text Substituions in the Quick Start items, instead of subsuming it under Tackle Your Text.

    Take Control of Using Lion is well-written, with easy to understand step by step directions and explanations. I honestly can’t imagine anyone using Mac OS X Lion who wouldn’t find Take Control of Using Lion exceedingly helpful; I say this as someone who has been using a Mac daily since 1989. Matt Neuberg has written a book useful to both the diehard cultists like me, and the new users, both of whom can find what they need easily and quickly.

    Matt Neuberg’s Web site is here. I note that he’s yet another scholar of dead languages who has found a second home in the digital realm. There’s a free .pdf sample of Take Control Of Using Lion you can download. You can purchase Matt Neuberg’s Take Control Of Using Lion here.

  • Books

    The Mac OS X Lion Project Book Scott McNulty

    Cover of Scott McNulty's The Mac OS X Lion Project Book

    I should confess right up front that The Mac OS X Lion Project Book is from Peachpit, my publisher. Scott McNulty has been writing about the Mac for a long time, and I was familiar with his work on the Macworld site, so I was curious about this book. My editor kindly sent me a free digital copy when I asked for a review copy.

    This is a book for people who want to learn how to do stuff and make stuff using Mac OS X Lion. It’s organized into six sections, each of which contains several projects:

    Managing your Mac has projects that, like the entire book, range from the very simply (downloading and installing apps from various sources) to the more complicated and exceedingly useful sections on really learning to use the power of Spotify for searching, customizing your printer’s output and learning the inner workings of the Finder.

    Interacting from a Distance includes step-by-step walkthroughs to using iChat, screen sharing, and remote access, all thoroughly explained using real-life scenarios.

    Managing Media shows you how, step-by-step, to encode or rip DVDs, how to properly rip and encode a season’s worth of a tv series for proper play back from iTunes, and how you can safely move your entire iTunes library to an external drive with more room.

    Making Magic covers basic and intermediate editing and effects in iPhoto, creating a slide show that people will actually want to watch, and creating a basic Web site using Rapid Weaver. That last one is a rather tricky project to lead someone through (I confess I would have gone with Google Sites) but McNulty manages it admirably.

    Getting Productive Let me start by noting that I love that McNulty opens with using the free NetNewsWire Lite to walk people through setting up a custom reading list of news and blogs. This is one of those things that if more Mac users knew they could, they would. He follows that with an introduction to TextExpander, which, again, has me cheering. I’m on a tight budget, but TextExpander is worth every cent, and McNulty’s intro is quite decent (though I heartily endorse checking out Take Control of TextExpander for more in depth how-to). I note as well that McNulty is eminently practical in his nice Tip advising readers they can download and try TextExpander for free for thirty days. His discussion about ways to limit distractions while working on a Mac running OS X Lion is quite helpful, and will likely be a highlight for many readers; McNulty is both thoughtful and practical.

    Additional Hardware Required has a solid basic introduction to podcasting using GarageBand. McNulty then discusses using TimeMachine and SuperDuper as a core part of a backup strategy using external hard drives, including covering a crucial step most explanations of backing up omit; Scott McNulty tells you how to restore a folder, step-by-step, something that you really want to know how to do before you need to do it. The explanation of a practical way to create a digital signature in order to sign .pdfs is useful.

    I’d recommend this book for someone new to Lion, someone who likes practical hands-on learning rather more theoretical approaches, and someone who wants to do more with Lion than they’ve been doing. The section on Interacting From A Distance alone is worth the price of admission, even for a long time user. McNulty offers clear instructions, and a genuine awareness of how ordinary people use Macs. Nicely done.

    You can purchase The Mac OS X Lion Project Book from Amazon, or your local bookseller or Peachpit, or iBooks.

    Scott McNulty blogs at Blankbaby, and you can find him on Twitter as @blankbaby.

  • Books

    Take Control of Upgrading to Lion Joe Kissell

    Joe Kissell’s book is hands down the best guide I’ve seen to upgrading to Lion. He takes you through the questions you need to answer before upgrading, downloading the installer and Cover of Joe Kissell's Talke Control of Upgrading to Lionbacking up, as well as the install process itself. Take Control of Upgrading Lion covers how to determine if your hardware is ready for the Lion upgrade, if you’re Rosetta dependency-free, even how to purge your drive of duplicates and archaic leftovers from previous versions of OS X. Perhaps most importantly, Kissell includes an especially helpful section on the initial configuration steps you need to take once you’ve done a basic OS X Lion install.

    Perhaps most helpful of all, Kissel even covers Apple’s new built in Recovery mode if you need to re-install Lion.

    I used Take Control of Upgrading to Lion before, during, and after my own Lion upgrade; it was exceedingly helpful. The one change I’d suggest is perhaps adding a note about moving or copying the Lion Installer before beginning the install to the Quick Start page.

    You can read the table of contents and the introduction to Take Control of Upgrading to Lion.

    Buy Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Upgrading Lion

  • Books,  Software

    Take Control of TextExpander

    TidBITS via their Take Control Books have released a fabulous guide to getting the most out of TextExpander (you can read about TextExpander here); Michael E. Cohen’s Take Control of TextExpander. Like all Take Control books, this one has the Quick Start section, making it easy to set up TextExpander right from the start. Take Control of TextExpander offers complete soup to nuts coverage of TextExpander from downloading and installing to configuring and using AppleScript and Terminal with TextExpander. Cohen consistently offers practical examples, beginning with a step-by-step walk-through for creating your first snippet. Cohen includes examples and explanations for each kind of snippet, and suggestions about how to organize and label your snippets for easy use. There’s a super discussion about backing up your snippets, sharing them, importing other people’s snippets, and more. There’s even an extremely useful Appendix on how to use TextExpander Touch for iOS devices.

    I’m a fan of TakeControl books; they’re well-written, easy to use, and affordable at $10.00 for the ebook versions. Take Control for TextExpander is one of the most useful and easy to follow Take Control books I’ve read. The documentation and help for TextExpander is adequate, but not stellar. This book combines practical and theoretical information, and is so easy to navigate to find exactly what you want, that it made TextExpander far more useful to me far more rapidly than I expected. I’ve been using TextExpander for about a month now, daily, and I’ve gone back to this book a handful of times to find out how to do something, and each time, I’ve found just the information I needed in seconds.

    ETA:

    I forgot to link to the TidBit’s post about the contents of Take Control of TextExpander.

I footnotes