The lost art of using reference books

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snakes“Can you look it up?”

I hear that a lot, from my 7-year-old son, especially when it comes to questions about snakes.

And by “look it up,” he doesn’t mean open a book: He means talk to my phone (in the form of a Google search) or type a query into Google (and find something online, typically at Wikipedia). (more…)

Photography, Tech

24 photos in one little book

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For this month’s book for my 12 Books project, I tried something completely different (well, different from the short story I published as a Kindle book): a tiny photo book. With Printstagram, you’re able to select 24 of your Instagram photos, then get three copies of your book for $10. The books are small: just 1.7 by 1.5 inches. But for the price, it’s a pretty good deal.

Photo book printing has been around for years, but now it’s even more automated and simple. With Printstagram, you don’t even get your photos from your computer’s image collection; you just type in your Instagram login, and Printsagram grabs your images. It’s almost what I’ve come to think of as an “instant book.”

But here’s what’s interesting: It’s also got something in common with the artist’s book — books designed and printed by designers, illustrators, photographers, and other artists. They’re made independently, the print run is small, and they’re intended as works of art. Though I don’t plan on selling my little books, I could see how a photographer might print, say, 50 of these, then sign and inscribe them, and offer them at $10 a pop.

Just another interesting opportunity in the evolving world of the book.

Photography, Writing

Book recommendation: “Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books”

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I’ve been struggling with e-books lately. I keep thinking I should go ahead and join the e-book revolution, just as I have with music and photography and so much else, but I just can’t get into it. I have read e-books, but I still prefer traditional, printed books, for any number of reasons. Certainly one of them is their beauty as objects. That’s one of the reasons I love Leah Price’s book “Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books.” This is a beautiful book, and it’s about, in part, the beauty of books, and the writers who love them. The book puts the spotlight on the personal libraries of 13 novelists, with close-up photos of their shelves. Why do I love (printed) books? This book says it all.


Review: “The Book of Audacity”

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A couple of years ago, I was preparing an audio slideshow with the wonderful tool Slideshare. I needed an audio editor for the audio track, and I wasn’t sure where to start. I had very little experience with audio editing, and a colleague directed me to an open-source tool, Audacity. Though it took me a while to get up to speed with it, once I did I saw the potential in Audacity, which is extremely capable and flexible (and is available for free for the Mac, Windows, and Linux).

Well, it turns out I only worked with a miniscule portion of Audacity’s capabilities.

How did I learn about what’s possible with Audacity? Certainly not from roaming around the application and playing with it. Sure, that’s possible, but it’s also ridiculously time-consuming.

Instead, I turned to “The Book of Audacity: Record, Edit, Mix, and Master with the Free Audio Editor,” author Carla Schroder’s comprehensive guide to anything and everything that’s possible with Audacity.

Audacity is an extremely adaptable tool. It’s particularly useful when you’re on a budget, and you’re looking to explore the possibilities of digital audio editing. You might be looking to produce a relatively simple audio track, like I was, or you might be seeking to do something a bit more complex. Either way, Audacity is likely to help you get the job done.

In “The Book of Audacity” (No Starch Press; $34.95), Schroder provides easy-to-follow instructions for the variety of tasks you can tackle with Audacity. That includes the obvious ones, like making a recording for a podcast or inclusion as a voice-over in a movie or slideshow, but it also includes others you might not have considered (or known you could accomplish with a free tool). These include editing and mastering multitrack recordings, digitizing your album collection (and removing pops and hisses), and developing custom ringtones or special effects.

I particularly appreciated the chapter with this title: “Building a Good Digital Sound Studio on the Cheap.” I’ve been getting into producing more and more multimedia, and as anyone who’s done this knows, top-notch sound quality is essential. Even minor glitches in an audio soundtrack can ruin your narration for a presentation or movie. With Audacity, you’re able to clean up your “ums” and other stumbles, and Schroder’s book helps you do that.

Beyond all of this, “The Book of Audacity” serves as a useful and thorough primer for anyone who’s exploring audio recording and editing. It covers a slew of concepts, from audio DVDs to podcasting to multitrack recording, and it does so with style. It’s a handy and helpful book for fans of Audacity (or newcomers to the software), but it’s also a terrific reference for audiophiles.

(In the interest of full disclosure: My book about iPhone photography, “Create Great iPhone Photos,” is also published by No Starch Press.)