Non-Fiction Textbook Review – How to Get Started as a Technical Writer

  • Title: How to Get Started as a Technical Writer
  • Author: James Gill
  • Subject: Technical Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/24/2013

In a sense this book does exactly what it says on the tin, especially if you include the subtitle questions. But that’s why I loved it. As a person in their early 40s looking at a career change, this book answered all the questions I had, and then some. It also confirmed that I had finally made the right choice in finding a career I’d love. Technical writing seems like the perfect career for a perpetual student with a love of writing.

This book is brief (only 70 pages), clear-cut, and full of no-nonsense advice and information. It’s a practical guide, and although the author occasionally uses personal examples, it does not read like a tell-all book or expose’, rather it’s a plain, common-sense guide to the realities of working in the technical writing field. The author is calm, not condescending, helpful, not hurtful, and has no political agenda other than to answer questions from potential technical writers and offer practical help and advice. It makes for a nice change from several of the “career manuals” out there which seem to think anyone investigating a new career is a potential rival who must be shot down – cruelly.

Most of the chapter titles are questions, and the chapter accurately answers those questions. Additionally, each chapter offers “Do This” assignments, which far from being pointless homework, are practical suggestions for investigating the tech writing field, and also in some cases examples of things to do that can be applied to any new career, whether you are a 24-year old new college graduate, or a 40-something looking to try something new. I really wish I had read this book my senior year in college.

Chapters include:
• Who is this book for?
• How to use this book
• My story
• Why become a Technical Writer?
• What is Technical Writing?
• Life as a technical writer
• Five Must-Have Skills
• Should I get more education or training?
• How do I get experience?
• How do I get hired?
• Putting it all together
• Resources
• Glossary

Again, this is a practical no-nonsense career guide. It’s a helpful tool for the new technical writer. Unlike other writing guides and career books I’ve looked at or read, it’s completely free of condescending talk — and avoids re-hashing advice you find everywhere from Monster to The Ladders. And yes, it’s well written.

My highest recommendation. Oh, and by the way, if you are a perpetual student who loves writing – technical writing might be the career for you!

Advertisements

Book Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

  • Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/18/2014

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is simply a beautiful story. Hauntingly, achingly beautiful. It’s a fairy tale for adults, and I’m not just saying that because it was the catch phase for Gaiman’s Stardust – this book does what a good fairy story or fantasy, or any really good book does – it pulls you in, and immerses you in a world that isn’t quite our world but is close. Every time I opened this book I was immediately pulled in, no matter what else was going on at the time – family members watching TV, noise from the street, a few rainstorms – everything faded away when I read this book. It was totally magical.

The story is a simple one – a man returns home for his father’s funeral. But returning home awakens memories, memories of a not quite happy, and as it turns out, rather unusual, childhood. But to say more would spoil the joy of this incredible novella – and it really is something to experience for oneself.

About halfway through this book it did remind me of the classic children’s book, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. But that is not a criticism – it’s a complement. Terebithia is one of those classics that every child really must read. Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane not only needs to be read by children, but especially needs to be read by adults. It’s just a marvelous experience of a book.

Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane is very atmospheric. It’s driven more by atmosphere than either plot or character. Also, although the story is set in rural Sussex England, somehow, while reading the book, that detail tended to slip my mind – to me the story could have been set in a small Midwestern town – in Iowa, or Michigan, or Minnesota, or Ohio, or Indiana – it just felt very universal, as a good fairy tale should.

This is just a beautiful book. I don’t give five star ratings often – this is just about as close to perfect as it gets. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who Tenth Doctor vol. 6: Sins of the Father

  • Title: Sins of the Father
  • Author: Nick Abadzis
  • Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Eleonora Carlini, Leandro Casco, Simon Fraser, Walter Geovanni, Arianna Florean, Azzurra Florean, Mattia de Lulis, Adele Matera, Rod Fernandes, Gary Caldwell, Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt
  • Line:  Tenth Doctor
  • Characters: Tenth Doctor, Gabby Gonzales, Cindy Wu
  • Collection Date: 2016
  • Publisher: Titan Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/25/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who volume 6 – Sins of the Father is part of Titan Comics continuing adventures of the Tenth Doctor as played on the television series by David Tennant. The series includes two new companions for the Tenth Doctor: Gabby Gonzales and Cindy Wu, her best friend.

This volume opens with the Doctor and his companions on vacation in New Orleans in the Jazz Age. Gabby is enjoying herself, but she’s concerned about the Doctor as well, since it’s unusual for him to spend so much time essentially doing nothing. Meanwhile, Cindy has fallen hard for a jazz musician, Roscoe Ruskin. Gabby takes the Doctor to a club, thinking they will hear Roscoe play, then Cindy will be able to introduce her boyfriend. But it isn’t to be, as Roscoe is attacked by a parasitic alien that steals his ability to play music. The Doctor is called in to investigate why Roscoe is suddenly ill, and discovers the same thing has been happening to other musicians, both at the current club and at others. Then the club is attacked. The being, now able to manifest, is similar to a Nocturne. Gabby helps fight it off, using her Santee music box, and creates a shield – but everyone in the club is knocked conscious or killed. Gabby awakes to see the Doctor about to board the TARDIS and she insists on coming along.

The Doctor and Gabby take the TARDIS to Chicago, where the possessed Roscoe and the woman (and host of the parasitic entity) who attacked the club have gone. In the 1920s, Chicago had the most advanced recording studios of the age. Gabby and the Doctor have to stop the entity from recording it’s song which can wreck havoc and spark an invasion. They succeed but at a terrible cost and Roscoe dies, having sacrificed himself to stop the invasion. The woman recovers. The Doctor and Gabby return to New Orleans, bringing the woman home as well as Roscoe’s body, and having to tell a now devastated Cindy what happened.

There is a short interlude where the Doctor takes Cindy and Gabby home to talk to their respective families. The Doctor makes a favorable impression on Gabby’s mother, and Gabby’s trip home is happy and successful. For Cindy, not so much – she looks for any record of Roscoe and barely finds him, just a reference to the Storyville players. But Cindy’s relationship with her family is more complex and less happy than Gabby’s. It’s a short trip and interlude and then the new TARDIS crew is off again.

In the TARDIS, Anubis arrives asking the Doctor to visit him and Dorothy Bell. Dorothy is now able to look into parallel dimensions – an ability of the Osirans, and it frightens her. They reach the spaceship where Anubis and Dorothy are, catch-up a bit, and have a meal, then Anubis asks the Doctor to track down some difficult to obtain elements for him. Gabby stays with Dorothy and Cindy goes in the TARDIS with the Doctor.

The easy trip, however, turns out to not be so easy. There is turbulence on the TARDIS and it is dragged to a location incredibly early in Time. The TARDIS materializes, and the Doctor asks Cindy to stay inside while he investigates. Meanwhile, Gabby and Dorothy find disturbing Sutekh and Anubis graffiti on the Sutekh statue in the garden. While waiting for the Doctor, the Doctor’s warning hologram appears and urges her to leave the TARDIS where she meets a strange android with a blank ball for a head. The android is, of course, hostile. Cindy runs off to see herself approaching the Doctor – she shouts a warning, just in time for the Doctor to attack the android with his sonic screwdriver. But they then see a cult throwing people into the Untempered Schism. They are on Gallifrey, in it’s distant past – but even at it’s most primitive, the Doctor insists this is wrong. The Doctor is captured by more of the faceless androids, and threatened with execution.

Cindy is sent off – and with the help of the Doctor’s hologram in the TARDIS flies to his rescue. In the TARDIS they again set off to obtain what Anubis needs. Meanwhile, it has gone dark where Gabby and Dorothy are – even though as it’s a spaceship it should have artificial light. Anubis is confronted with Sutekh.

The last issue in the collected volume might be from the Doctor Who Comics Day special. It’s three very brief adventures, one for each of the last three modern Doctors (10, 11, 12). The Tenth Doctor, Gabby and Cindy confront aliens trying to infiltrate a Roman conclave in 111 A.D. The second short feature has the Eleventh Doctor and Alice in Philadelphia in 1789, where they run into Zombie French Werewolves. And the third has the Twelfth Doctor at Comic Con in the present. It’s the Twelfth Doctor who puts everything together and realises that a WordRider has been trapped on Earth. It’s a being that hides in words, and it’s being is a syllable – in this case, “con” – as in “Confederation, Conclave, convention” etc. The Doctor rescues the being and brings it home via TARDIS.

Sins of the Father is a good graphic novel, and less of a mish-mash of stories than the previous volume. The Anubis-Sutekh story is starting to pay off and will no doubt come to a conclusion in the next volume, War of Gods. I enjoyed the first story – the use of music and it’s importance to Gabby and Cindy was very well-done, as was Cindy’s ill-fated romance. It was also nice to see the Doctor take a vacation, though it does become a busman’s holiday, because: Doctor Who. The conversations between Dorothy and Gabby were also well done. Overall, this volume has a lot of characterization of the Doctor’s companions and it benefited from that.

Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: FrostFire

  • Title: FrostFire
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters: Vicki, Cinder (guest), First Doctor, Steven, Jane Austen (guest)
  • Cast: Maureen O’Brien, Keith Drinkel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 09/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** Frostfire is the very first title in the Big Finish Doctor Who Companion Chronicles, and it does show a little bit in technical details – more about that at the end of the review. This story features the First Doctor (as played on the television show Doctor Who by William Hartnell) and his companions Vicki and Steven. The story is narrated by Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) who is literally telling a story to an unseen monster whom the CD jewel case identifies as “Cinder”, however, he is never identified in the story itself.

The story begins with the Doctor landing in London, where he, Steven and Vicki attend the 1814 Frost Fair. They meet Jane Austen at the fair, and among the novelty acts and food, they are harassed by a strange Italian and rescued by a British gentleman, Sir Joseph Mallard, and his wife, Lady Georgiana. The Doctor, Steven, Vicki, the couple, and Ms. Austen are drawn in to see a Cabinet of Curiosities show, only to discover amidst the kitsch and fakery, a genuine Phoenix egg. The Phoenix, however is not a creature of fire – but of ice. It entraps Georgiana and also captures Vicki’s attention. The Phoenix goes on a rampage, killing with ice. Jane Austen takes everyone to her brother’s house, offering an escape from the creature and lodgings for the TARDIS crew since she’s discovered they have no lodgings or plans in London yet.

Once at Jane Austen’s brother’s house, Georgiana takes ill – and the harassing Italian returns to bother her. The party is going well, until the Phoenix shows up in the fireplace, sucking the heat out of the room (literally). A chimney sweep boy falls out of the fireplace, unharmed, but Georgiana is entranced by the Phoenix and gets captured. Vicki is freaked out because she thought the creature wanted her as well.

The Doctor, Steven, and Georgiana’s husband, Joseph, head to a men’s club to look for news. Jane Austen, Vicki, and the chimney sweep boy, investigate on their own – discovering many people and animals of London have been frozen solid by the creature. They end up at a church, and find the egg and Lady Georgiana. When the Doctor and Steven arrive – Georgiana takes Joseph away, and the Doctor and company track them to the Royal Mint. The creature had planned to use the furnace that is normally used to melt metals for coins, to be born. This plan is ultimately thwarted, and Georgiana and her husband rescued. During the fracas to stop the Phoenix and snuff out the fire of the furnace, Vicki is hit in the eye by a cinder.

The story pulls back, as it has a few times throughout the telling, and we meet the mysterious guest in Vicki’s basement – a cinder of the Phoenix. Vicki, now living in Cartridge with Troilus, as Lady Cressida, knows eventually the Phoenix egg will be found in Tunis, and taken to the Frost Fair where the entire cycle will begin again.

Maureen O’Brien does an excellent job performing Frostfire and having Keith Drinkel as Cinder helps because it gives her someone to react to, and Companion Chronicles always work best as two-handers. However, the entire CD is only four tracks, so some are extremely long, like over 22 minutes long. This was very inconvenient when listening while commuting in the car (I’ve have to start at the beginning of a track and re-listen to a lot before reaching any new material.) Also, this is this the only CD in the series I’ve listened to with no extras, such as interviews.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order FrostFire on CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Thinking with Type

  • Title: Thinking with Type
  • Author: Ellen Lupton
  • Subject: Graphic Design, Typography
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/29/2015

This book wasn’t what I was expecting – but I enjoyed it anyway. The first section was about the history of typography, which was very interesting but not necessary what I wanted to know. Although to me, with no formal graphic design training, I had always assumed that Graphic Design was like Architecture, a field where the emphasis was always on “the hot new thing” with little knowledge or care for the past (other than the “opposite” effect – that is, new trends tend to rebel against the previous trend.) But as someone completely new to Graphic Design, it was nice to see everything laid out from the beginning of hand-painted and copied Illuminated Manuscripts to modern website design.

This book also has a very easy style about introducing information. It doesn’t say, “Now here are the parts of a letterform – memorise them.” Information you want to know is slowly introduced and teased out as various examples are presented. It made for an enjoyable, and quick read. There are a lot of examples in this book, I hesitate to call it a textbook, though it probably is, because it’s also a fun, enjoyable read.

A couple of frustrations – included in the examples were things called “type crimes”, sort of a “What not to do.” Sometimes the two “good” examples and the “bad” example, side-by-side, made it obvious why the “type crime” was a bad idea. But more often, I found myself wondering why the bad example was so bad. To my, admittedly, untrained eye, it didn’t look any worse (or better, usually) than the good examples. Now, part of the reason I’m reading books on graphic design in the first place is to try to train my eye, so to speak, but I can’t do that if it isn’t explained why Option A is so much better than Option B (and if it really is just personal preference or opinion the author should state so). Rules make a lot more sense – if you know why they exist. And rules can be broken if you know what they are, the reason for the rule, and the effect of breaking it – in art and design.

Another frustration was the inclusion of pieces of typography that, while they may be nice pieces of art, or pretty to look at, or really cool – were impossible to read. I’d think that for any sort of graphic design or typesetting, or typography – Rule 1 would be “Can you read it?” Now some of these frankly illegible examples (and I’m not talking about historical documents) were “Art” pieces – so maybe I missed the point, but in modern pieces – say a poster for an art gallery opening, if people can’t read the day, date, time, and location – How on Earth do you expect them to show up? It’s like those advertisements that you see, and remember for being amusing or strange or unusual or just plain weird – but you can’t remember what the product was, much less what company produces it. And, to my mind, it’s even worse – because in other sections of the book, the author does talk about the necessary utility of design – that is, the importance of it being used, and leading the reader to understand the information better. Ellen Lupton’s section on tables, charts, and graphs is especially clear on the subject of how good design can help make information clearer and easier to understand (or by implication, obscure information or even make it misleading.) There is now even a new field that combines information into graphics – Infographics, which when done well, is accurate, makes the point, and is easy to understand. But when Inforgraphics are done poorly – they are difficult to understand. And Infographics, like statistics, also has the capacity to be very misleading.

Anyway, I just wish Lupton had made the importance of making graphic design, especially when typesetting a book, legible – more clear.

Overall, it was a fun, informative, quick read that I don’t regret purchasing. Recommended to graphic design students.

Book Review – Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?

  • Title: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2016

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? is the third book in Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series. Like it’s predecessors – it’s a very intense, but also somewhat violent and depressing read. Quill and his team are back – and everyone is dealing with some pretty heavy stuff from the previous two novels. Quill even suffers a breakdown from the knowledge he gained at the end of the previous book, The Severed Streets.

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes begins with a murder and (separately) an unusual bank robbery. The novel bit by bit ties together the various crimes that the Team investigates. The murders, even from the beginning, seem to be linked to the famous Sherlock Holmes stories – then the ghost of Holmes is murdered. But as the team investigate and try to prevent further murders – the situation becomes more and more complicated. Then Quill has his breakdown and begins to see Moriarty. However, considering Holmes himself was murdered – this novel doesn’t take the easy and predictable route to a conclusion.

The novel has many twists and turns – which I’m not going to spoil. It is much better to read this book and discover them for yourself.

The characterization in this book is awesome. Several of the characters – Ross, Rebecca Lofthouse, Costain, Sefton, and Quill, all go through major life-changing events. The characters have always made this series of unique crime novels for me – and this novel in particular adds and changes the characters’ experiences (and I cannot wait to read more!). We also, finally, find out more about the previous “Continuing Projects Team” and what happened to them.

I don’t want to spoil the story – but in general terms, the murders in the book are connected by the resemblance to murders in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories – and the fact that the victims had at one point in their lives played Sherlock Holmes. London is also experiencing “Holmes-mania” because three different Sherlock Holmes productions are filming in London at the same time. But that is the background, and the plot – what makes this novel really work is the characters and their own, individual, dramas. Highly recommended!

Non-Fiction Textbook Book Review – Adobe InDesign CC Revealed

  • Title: Adobe InDesign Creative Cloud Revealed
  • Author: Chris Botello
  • Subject: Graphic Design, Adobe InDesign, Software
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/08/2015

This was my textbook for a recent class in Adobe InDesign, at a local Community College. I liked the textbook, and I’ve bought two more in the series. The book starts with the very basics of InDesign – the workspace and adaptable panels, and precedes, chapter by chapter, to go through major features.

Each chapter includes numerous project-type examples you can do with the software (if you have it) and learn along with the book. The end of each chapter has a Skills Review – usually assigned as homework in my class, for practicing the skills explained in the chapter, a Project Builder – one or more more involved exercises, that can be added to a student portfolio, and the Design and Portfolio Project – which are further examples for building a portfolio or discussion-provoking questions about a design. In order to successfully complete any of the skills reviews, Design Projects, Portfolio Projects, or Project Builders, you must be able to download and access the data files for the textbook. For me, these were found on the school server, from the path my instructor gave me. However, going from the other books in the series, there are publicly-accessible websites from the publisher for downloading zip files of the data files.

The chapters included good information, and the skills review and other exercises reinforced the knowledge of each chapter.

There were a few things to watch out for, however:

  1. Sometimes instructions referred to skills one hasn’t learned yet, and were in the subsequent chapters – this happened rarely, but was annoying when it did.
  2. Following the skills reviews step-by-step often involved using different methods to accomplish the exact same goal. Though I understand why multiple techniques towards the same end might be taught, it often became either annoying or boring (who wants to do the same thing three times using slightly different methods?); on rare occasions it even became confusing (I thought I did X by using tool Y – now you’re telling me to use tool C?).
  3. Format of the book/skills review. Sigh. It’s a rectangler book, which opens on the skinny side – depending on your desk, it can be hard to work with, compared to a standard portrait-style book. (Try picturing a landscaped Excel spreadsheet verses a standard Word doc). The font in the skills review sections is a bit too small to read comfortably.
  4. Every once in awhile the printed instructions and the pictures did not match. My guess is the text was revised but some illustrations weren’t updated.

Finally, just for me, personally, I would have liked at least some chances to do more creative things, rather than blindly following instructions. I mean, I did try various things out anyway, but when someone hands you a playbox – it’s a shame when you can’t creatively use the toys.

Overall, a great textbook, and, like I said – I ordered two other books in the series. Recommended.