Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Best of Instructables Volume 1 by the editors of MAKE magazine and Instructables

O’Reilly Media has been kind enough to include venangago-go in their blogger program.  This is the first of an occasional series of reviews of their books.

Over winter break, the Kid was home and I was raring to do some projects with her.  We make a good team – I’m a big picture idea person and she has great math and problem solving skills and a steady soldering hand.  We share a competitive streak which means we spend a lot of time good-naturedly trying to one-up each other with hacks and embellishments to existing projects.

So, it was a happy day when the Best of Instructables Vol 1 e-book showed up in my in-box.  The book, with its clear approach to a wide variety of projects, is an invaluable collection that will keep makers of all levels busy and intrigued for months.

The 300+ page book is split into sections like Food, Robotics, Photography, Entertainment – 12 chapters in all from simple like preparing a bento lunch to fairly complex robotic projects. 

In the end I decided to tackle on e of the simplest projects – the “Super Simple Light Tent” (pg 74).  Although I was salivating at some of the more intricate projects – the LED pens for light painting photography for instance, we we re coming off building an electric kalimba in a Altoids tin a project wherein the kid saw my hands shaking as I soldered and shook her head sadly.  “Poor old dog,” she said and kindly finished the rest of the connections.   And I needed a new simple light tent, my previous one having met an ignoble end while photographing my mother’s ferrets. (I’ll avoid the gruesome details – the tent had to be burned; we’ll leave it there).

The tent went up quickly  - we were taking photographs an hour after we started.  As an English Prof who often teaches Technical Communication, I spend a good deal of time harping to my undergrads that “how to” writing is the greatest challenge.  The coolest project is useless if the audience can’t figure out how to re-create it.  And this is the overall strength of the book.   Best of nails it with clear tools and materials lists.  The graphics accompanying the directions are clarifying rather than simple illustrative and the book itself (although not in this project) often includes other makers’ riffs – showing off twists on the base project.

Best of Instructables Vol 1 belongs to the long line of project books like the reprints gracing my library: books with titles like Windmills and Wind Motors: How to Build and Use Them.  But while the older books took for granted a fairly deep knowledge of wood and metal working that can sometimes frustrate modern amateur makers, Best of lays it all out in a fashion so that even a shaky, math challenged guy can feel accomplishment.   

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