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Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know
Derek Fagerstrom, Lauren Smith & the Show Me Team
Collins Design, $24.95

I wanted to like this book more than I did. Don’t get me wrong, overall, it’s pretty darn cool. I’m a big fan of both creative information design and comics, and the two forms are used here to fairly impressive effect. It’s just that, trying to present 500 different how-tos, on a staggering number of subjects, almost exclusively in graphical form, is a tall order. I give the authors A+ for effort, but in many cases, a B- in effectively communicating the information required. These are, after all “how-tos,” and if they don’t effectively communicate how to accomplish the task at hand, they fall short.

As a test, I looked up anything I already knew something about. In almost every instance, I found that what was presented landed just shy of communicating the essentials of what one would need to know to satisfyingly complete the project. For instance, for the “Pulling a Perfect Espresso Shot” how-to, it doesn’t say anything about the amount of pressure to apply to the pellet in the porta-filter (extremely important in getting a “perfect” shot) and it uses time (25 seconds) to determine when the shot is pulled, rather than color (which is a far more relevant determinant).

Where this book excels is in giving you an overview of a subject, say wine basics, or basic style tips (for men: how to shine shoes, look dapper in a tie, understand suit fabrics, etc), how to identify cuts of meat — that sort of thing. Also, the more whimsical entries are fun, like how to make a clandestine sidewalk graffiti painter, how to mount an elephant or a camel, how to make a voodoo doll.

I also found the book generally inspiring, the sense of activity and creativity that it encodes, and the colorful and fun way that it attempts to convey the excitement of making things. If nothing else, this book is a great overview, a survey, of things you should know how to do and some things you might want to do just for fun, and after you’ve been introduced to them here, you can hone your skills elsewhere, with stuff you can find online, for instance.

The greatest reason to recommend this book is its cover price. It retails for $25 and is only $16.50 on Amazon. It’s a handsomely-designed, full-color, 320-page tome, for less than a Yuppie Food Coupon. For a bargain like that, how can you afford NOT to have it handy in the outhouse?

Show Me How: 500 Things You Should Know

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Ben Bennett says:

    I got this book for Christmas and while it is shiny and full of information, I have to agree with the reviewer that there is often a “magic here” step that is brushed over.

    Things I dislike:
    – The ingredient pictures at the top are hard to cross-reference with the actual names of the things, and you have to be careful that you don’t miss something critical by mis-guessing what an ingredient is
    – There is no discussion of why things work

    That said, it gives a good overview of how something is done, so you can gauge the work needed. But I would definitely not use it as a reference for actually doing the work.

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