Oh Yeah…Audiobooks

Audiobooks at audible.com!
In 2002, I joined Audible and began binging on Audiobooks. We had recently moved to a new house which tripled my commute to 30 minutes, so I retasked the 15″ woofers in my 16 year old little truck to the spoken word. I felt like I was making the most of my car time, and was selective enough that I enjoyed most of what I was reading. Or hearing. Or whatever it is.

In the year or two to follow, podcasts began taking root, soon blooming into a cultural norm. I found that words that were meant for listening were often easier to follow than words meant for reading. I filled my soap bar shaped iPod with recorded live audio, usually from conferences or churches, that had been published as podcasts. Soon after, studio recordings meant for podcasting, like TWiT and later, 5by5, joined my subscription queue.

I’ve not had a commute to a particular place for many years now, but still find enough time in my car to fill my ears with things that interest me. And maybe even things that make me a better me.

As 2011 was wrapping up, I revisited audiobooks. I wanted to return to the longer form exploration of ideas that books could offer. The longer format makes for a larger exploration of a theme, and the ideas explored have more permanence, shaping my thinking in ways that may matter for months or years, instead of weeks.

(I’m not done with podcasts, for sure. I still subscribe to a number of tech and general interest podcasts using Instacast. Some of these podcasters I even call friends. Heck…I even co-host a (kind-of) monthly podcast. But I’ve started listening to podcasts more while sitting at my desk making websites. The conversational nature is easier to follow than an audiobook with while I’m engaged in other tasks.)

I’ve found a treasure of downloadable Audiobooks are available through my local library. I’ve also rejoined Audible to get a monthly credit — the most difficult thing is choosing how to use it each month — and the Audible iPhone app is great.

Some types of books work better in audio than others. Those that hold my attention best are narrative formats like memoir or biography. (And I suppose fiction too, though I haven’t tried it.) Books based around practical ideas work well for me too — right now I’m reading Moonwalking With Einstein, by Joshua Foer. Books that are more conceptual, like philosophy or theology, don’t work as well, and I’d prefer to hunch over those with the means to highlight and take notes as I go.

Reading is good. When I don’t read, when I don’t engage with the ideas that come from others, my own idea flow begins to dwindle. I’ve spent more time making websites the last few years, and had less time to read. Thankfully, audiobooks are making up for some of that — I’ve already worked through five of them in 2012.

If you want to give Audible a try, I recommend it. (The Audible links here are affiliate links, in the interest of disclosure.) But I’d also suggest you take a look at your local library. You might find a few months worth of commutes there.

iPad at Work

That David Sparks guy. Wow.

It was only last February I wrote up a review of Mac at Work, which David had been kind enough to send to me. Here we are less than a year later, and I’ve stepped out my front door to find another padded envelope waiting for me. This time it’s a copy of David’s latest manifesto, iPad at Work.

It might seem ambitious to call a practical technology book a manifesto, but you might not feel the same after reading it. David’s thorough writing (as usual) will quiet any skeptics who might say that an iPad is not a useful tool for someone in almost any line of work. As he did with Mac at Work, David breaks his thoughts up into the general tasks one might need to engage with in their career. Chapters cover a breadth of topics like email, travel, task management, enterprise, presentations, and of course, writing. Within each chapter, David shows how the iPad is able to slice through each task using either core iOS tools or some of the best apps from the app store. In a new twist in this book, which I’m sure many will find helpful, he goes into a little more detail about his particular setup, and what he finds works best for him.

I still use the original iPad I bought in April 2010 everyday. At least once a month, it becomes new to me all over again when I find a new app to work with and introduce to my workflows…and also my relaxflows. Reading through iPad at Work compressed several such discoveries into a few days, an experience I expect will be common for most readers.

What is best about this book is that is a labor of love. It is some kind of cyborg love child spawned by David and his iPad. David isn’t writing to be published, and he’s not writing for a check. He’s a lawyer, and he uses his iPad at work everyday. He’s passionate about this stuff, and its contagious.

That David Sparks guy. Wow.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process

Blaine hoganBlaine Hogan makes me sick.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy. I’ve known him for five years, and I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve spent with him. He’s one of the most creatively expressive people I know, and even his Keynote presentations in grad school made me ooh and aah.

It’s not really Blaine that makes me sick, but my envy of how easy it is for him to make great stuff. The book I’m about to tell you about is a great example. Blaine became a new dad this year, and somehow in the midst of that, he found time to write a fantastic little ebook about making stuff. I’ll probably never speak to him again.

The book in question is called Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process. The irony of it is that while I’m disgusted at how easy he makes this look, the book describes how difficult creative work can be, and of course he is right. But he seems to make it look effortless. He’s such a jerk.

I’ll put aside my petty envies and jealousies to tell you that, if you want to make stuff, any kind of stuff, this book is for you. Blaine shares his learnings about creativity from his own work as a stage actor, a TV actor, a creative director, a writer, a human, and a theology student (perhaps the most creative endeavor of all). And he has great reflections. Some of it echoes my own experiences. Much of it details how he has worked through challenges that I’ve only had the slightest glimpses of. All of it is good.

It’s the kind of book that I will revisit from time to time. It will be worth taking an hour every year or so to read back through it to be stimulated, sharpened, encouraged, inspired and butt-kicked. Below are a few of the quotes that did just that for me:

As I poured over my stacks of notes from the last few years, there were five words that kept repeating themselves again and again. These five principals guide every single piece I work on: Surprise Delight Remove Restrain Constraint”

“If I were to boil down the goal of all my creative work it would be this: Move people.”

“Awkwardness creates space for us to transform into better versions of ourselves if we let it. But… Most of us spend our entire lives avoiding awkwardness at all costs.”

See what I mean?

(By the way, Blaine sent me a copy to review, but I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Yada yada yada.)

Review: Mac at Work

Last Thursday, I pulled a bulky envelope from my mailbox, happy to peel back the flap and find David Spark’s new book, Mac at Work (paperback | Kindle). David graciously offered to send me a copy for review a few months ago and I’ve been anticipating it’s arrival. By the time I crawled in bed, I’d skimmed* or intently read every one of the 368 pages.

Macs have surged in popularity in recent years, especially for home users, students, or independent professionals. But there is still some residual (and flawed) thinking that Macs aren’t meant for “real work” that happens in “real workplaces”. As a trial lawyer in an established firm, David has proven otherwise. Mac at Work was written out of his experience in the “real workplace” to show how useful Macs can be in that environment too. (Or as David would say, to show how his Mac gives him an advantage over others in that environment.)

The book is broken into 24 chapters, each focusing on the unique tasks one might need to use a Mac for in almost any work environment. The topics range from choosing the right Mac, to email, to presentations, all the way to advanced topics like automation. (David has a PDF of a sample chapter and the contents hosted on his website.)

One of the best things about using a Mac is the quality software created by independent developers. Clearly, David agrees, as each chapter highlights some of the best software available for any given task. (Yes…this book might end up costing you much more that the cost of the book itself!)

David’s writing isn’t only comprehensive in the breadth of topics, but also in the user level. I’m a prolific user, but I gleaned some tips along the way. My wife is comfortable on her MacBook, but could gain much from David’s writing. And if my dad gets serious about buying a Mac for my mom, I will loan it to them too.

If you are wanting to use a Mac for ‘real work’, this book is worth your time — it also might make a good gift for your IT department. And if you are a home user, a student, or an indy professional, you don’t need to feel left out. You can benefit from David’s experience and wisdom too.

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*Don’t be fooled by my mention of skimming the book. I had a good headstart from years of reading or listened to most of what David has to say on his blog at MacSparky, listening to each episode of MacPowerUsers, and a number of emails and phone calls along the way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Hey Publishers

Hey publishers,

I would like to think of us as friends. I read lots of books, and most of them I purchase so I can mark them up and revisit them. Several of you have been kind enough to send me free books to review. That’s neat, especially when they are books that interest me. Maybe it’s not quite a friendship, but there is some kind of positive relationship based on mutual reciprocity. You can agree we have something here, right?

So can we figure out something reasonable for this whole ebook pricing thing?

I think you provide a valuable service, finding authors who have voices and ideas that need to be heard, and distributing those words to the likes of me. I don’t mind putting money in your pocket for this.

And I certainly don’t mind putting meals on the table for those who are crafting those words. I have several friends who make a living by creating content. I’m thankful for their words, and thankful that they can make a living from forming those words into meaning and wisdom.

But can we figure out something reasonable for this whole ebook pricing thing?

I know I was spoiled in those first few years when Amazon charged $9.99 for most ebooks. I’m still a little resistant to paying more than $9.99, but I’ll own that as my issue, not yours.

I can see how an ebook has added value. Being able to read the book on different devices, or read a book at the same time as my daughter for her book club, or not have to find more space for it on a shelf, or to be able to carry an entire library with me, or to easily search and reference all my notes — all of this adds value to an ebook for me.

But what I’m having trouble with is that I can go on Amazon and buy a brand new physical copy of some of your books, and have it shipped, for less than the ebook version.

Why do I have to pay less for a product that includes the expense of gathering and moving limited natural resources, consuming forests and fossil fuels to put the book in my hands? (And adding to landfills later on.) I understand that in most cases, it’s because Amazon has the freedom to discount the physical book, and you won’t allow them to do the same with the ebook. But this is just silly, and were this a rant, I would even say it’s stupid. (But I’m not the ranting type.)

You should talk to some record companies. They had a crisis around all this digital stuff a few years ago, and they appear to have worked some things out. The movie and TV types might have some valuable input too. They are doing some nifty things with digital delivery.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say is, can we figure out something reasonable for this whole ebook pricing thing?

Book Review: Making Ideas Happen

With a title like Making Ideas Happen, I expected Scott Belsky’s first book would be of great interest to me, and many other Creativityist regulars as well. Belsky is the founder of Behance and the 99%, a conference built around helping creative people execute their ideas.

In the opening chapter, Belsky sums up the content of the book this way:

Far from being some stroke of creative genius, this capacity to make ideas happen can be developed by anyone. You just need to modify your organizational habits, engage a broader community, and develop your leadership capability.

From a broad and general perspective, I enjoyed the book. It’s a book that is exactly as the title describes…a book about how to move ideas from concept to reality. I have enough conversations with others like me to know that most of us don’t have a shortage of ideas, but a shortage of resources to see those ideas through. Saying no to some ideas isn’t a bad thing, but all of us also have ideas that we don’t want to let go of.

I do have some conflicting personal responses to the book. On the one hand, I love that Belsky devoted two thirds of the book to shaping how ideas come about through collaboration and leadership. That’s something I don’t explore enough in my writings here, and in my own projects, so it was an important reminder.

On the other hand, I’m alway interested in the creative habits of others. What workflows are helpful for getting real work done, and which ones just get in the way. The first third of the book is devoted to this; perhaps I want to see things be too granular, but I would have liked to see more of this.

Overall, I don’t know that I would say this was a groundbreaking book. Much of what I read I intuitively understood through experience or common sense, even if it was helpful to have it laid out for me in the words of another. But, it was a good reality check, helping expose areas of my own creative process that need more development.

creating requires doing [the war of art]

This post is the first in what will probably maybe hopefully be a series of reflections on The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

The War of Art is subtitled Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. That is something that author Steven Pressfield apparently knows a little about. He was writing for 17 years before he earned his first paycheck from writing.

It is a fantastic little book that looks simple to read, but stirs you up a great deal. Often, I hardly knew when to quit underlining. As a result, I have collected a number of great quotes and gathered them around common themes. Most of the post in this series will be a few thoughts around some of these quotes.

Yesterday, I needed to knock out a 2000 word manuscript, so I turned off everything until I was finished. Afterward, I reflected on twitter…maybe you can relate:

This is a prominent theme in The War of Art: to create something you have to actually do it. And the first do is the hardest do. It’s easy to plan and dream and organize in order to avoid doing. But nothing gets created until you get to work and do it. The best way to get past a block is to create something…even if it’s horrible.

Some of Pressfield’s words on the topic:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

“Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.”

“I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”

I will leave you with my favorite. The day after he finished writing his first book, he went to tell the one person who had been encouraging him in his writing:

Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.”

ignore everybody: and 39 other keys to creativity

Last month, I was thankful to receive a review copy of Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, by Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid). Hugh is the blogger/cartoonist behind GapingVoid.

Ignore Everybody is written as a collection of 40 essays and reflections on life as a creative. I found them to be inspiring, challenging, and encouraging. Hugh made a name for himself drawing cartoons on the back of business cards, but what comes through in the book is that he has continued this work not for money, but for the joy of making something. His reflections motivate me to do the same.

While I read the book straight through in a few days, it could also be used as a creative devotional of sorts. Each reflection is 1-3 pages, and each will leave you with something to think about. Rather than a book to read and leave on the shelf, it’s one that could be kept handy, to be picked up and read in bits to spur some reflection of your own. I bought the Kindle version so that I can have the book handy to do just that.

problem solving 101

As I mentioned last week, today we are a stop for the Post2Post book tour. The featured book is Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People, by Ken Watnabe.

I’ve alluded to it before — I think I find as much inspiration in books written for children as I do in books written for ‘grown-ups’. Perhaps it is because the tone helps the reader, or at least me, put down our guard enough to open ourselves up to what the content might have to say to us.

The same holds true for Problem Solving 101. It was originally written for schoolchildren in Japan. Because of this, the examples might seem a little silly, and the illustrations are, well, whimsical. But all of this only helps to make the message more appealing. So appealing, in fact, that the book quickly became popular with adults in Japan as well.

The story behind the book that is as interesting to me as the book itself. Ken Watanabe was a consultant in a global firm. But as Japan felt the need to rework their educational system to move from memorization to developing more critical thinking skills, Ken wanted to do his part. This book is the result. It comes out of his hope, and desire, that he might be able to make a significant impact for the common good.

For some, this book will a big help. Even in schools in the USA, critical thinking skills aren’t fully developed, and this book will be of great value. For others, Problem Solving 101 might seem overly simple. That was my early impression, but as I continued to work through it, I was challenged to rethink how I approach some of the challenges I face in my own life.

the creative habit

I imagine Merlin Mann has helped sell quite a few copies of The Creative Habit, but his is one of many recommendations I’ve had for this book. Maybe it’s been recommended to you many times as well. Let me add another to the list.

Twyla Tharp is a career creative who has spent decades choreographing. She knows what it means to face the anxiety of starting with nothing, while expectations loom that she will make something. And that experience is what makes this book both rich and readable. It reads as much like a memoir as it does a how-to text. Tharp shares her habits as they have formed over the years. She reflects on the patterns have developed in her creative process, and offers us the bounty of her experience.

Each chapter presents a significant concept or habit in her process. It is broad enough that you can take it and make it your own, not feeling tied to a rigid set of steps of her choosing. Following each chapter are some suggested exercises to help you shape habits of your own.

There is more that I could say…and I will. (Since I’m already in the middle of at least two series, this might not be the best time to start a third. But I’m going to!) In the weeks to come, I will offer some of my own reflections from the book. Rather than speak to her specific themes and chapters, I’m going to share a few common themes that emerged as I reviewed from my notes and underlines from the whole of the book

But, I also have an invitation (queue the organ). I know a number of you have read this book too; many of you recommended it to me. If you’d like to do a guest post with your own reflections on The Creative Habit, the proverbial floor is yours. Contact me and we can work out the details.