How to keep a geological field notebook

A very tangible field notebook (via fieldnotebookcom)

Following on from the paper versus digital notebook conversation the other day I came across this post describing how to keep a geological field notebook. What I liked was how few of the characteristics and possible uses of a geologists field notebook they list actually have to do with the content and how many are to do with the form!

“A well-kept field notebook can function not only as a recording device in the field, but as a scale for photographs, an umbrella, a signal, and most importantly, as a guidebook for the next time one is schlepping through the same area. The notebook itself should be small and easy to carry, and preferably a bright colour, making it hard to lose. It should be bound so the pages will not fall out, and have a hard cover, so that one can write in it easily. Also, because geologists work in all sorts of weather and locations, the notebook should be waterproof, with synthetic or coated paper on which pencil marks will remain legible when wet.”

A field notebook being used to show the scale of a mineralised water droplet (via;

The author then describes the type of content you might want to include in your geological notebook and formats you might want to use (and very sensible advice it seems too) Of more interest to me though is the discussion that followed on from this post where the first person asked “can one not have a digital note book ?”and was told that while you could have a digital notebook..

“your trusty notebook cannot get a virus, cannot crash or freeze, will not run out of batteries, is generally impervious to moisture (see bit in the entry about using pencil – though biro isn’t bad), does not require backups or upgrades (other than a new one once that one is full) is easily archived and retrieved, can be used as a fly swat, impromtu dinner plate, signalling device, flat plane for getting an average dip using the compass-clino, scale in photographs… oh, and it doesn’t break when put in rucksack or pockets along with rocks, hammers, tape measures, lunch etc…”

Which I think pretty much covers all of the ways in which paper notebooks can be used – though of course computer notebooks can do some of these tasks too. (And the authors did say that digital notebooks do have their advantages to geologists such as GPS and GIS.) Now I’m going to go away and think about how I can make a bookleteer eBook that can function as a signalling device, dinner place, fly swat and umbrella..

A notebook being used as a plate (via

p.s. I have to admit, partly I wanted to write about this post because it begins with this sentence.. “A geologist’s field notebook is analogous to the hitch-hiker’s towel – it is indispensable.”

examples publishing on demand

Excavations in the Temple Precinct of Dangeil, Sudan

This recently published eBook by Julie Anderson and Salah Mohamed Ahmed describes the progress of the Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project in Dangeil, Sudan. Julie is Assistant Keeper of Sudanese and Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum and Salah works for the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, Sudan and the eBook was written for a conference Julie attended. It was then printed at A5 size using the bookleteer Publish and Print on Demand. Download the A3 / Ledger PDFs here.

The eBook is full of rich details about the site in Dangeil (which sounds huge – 300x400m) and the remarkable and beautiful statues and buildings they’ve uncovered there. Intriguingly the site consists of several mounds covered with fragments of red bricks, sandstone, pot shards and plaster and each mound represents a well-preserved ancient building. It’s even possible to see traces of colour left on the stones.

As well as describing the buildings there are also fascinating insights into the rituals, food, rulers and everyday life of the temple, including the information that the Kushite language, Meoitic Meroitic, is one of the few remaining languages in the world which has not yet been translated. And running all through the book are casual glimpses into the detective work of the archeologist.

The idea is that Salah will now translate the eBook into Arabic so it can be distributed to schools around the archeological site to help them understand what’s going on and what has been uncovered. Which would be very exciting for bookleteer because that would allow us to produce our first eBook using the Arabic font and right-to-left reading that we worked so hard to include!

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notebooks vs notebooks

I took the photo above in the Kenrokuen gardens, Kanazawa. We were standing beside the lake at the centre of these beautiful and historic gardens when I saw these two ladies. Standing side-by-side one lady was sketching what she could see using a pencil and paper notebook, the other was using her mobile phone to photograph the same view.

I was reminded of this picture when I read this post suggesting that pen and paper are mightier than the laptop. It describes a meeting of high-powered business men in which paper notebooks outnumbered the electronic version. The blog author, David Hornik, describes what he sees as the advantages of a paper notebook.

“Notebooks have certain enviable characteristics. They are instant on — even faster than a laptop with a solid state drive. They have virtually unlimited storage — just boot a new notebook when the pages are filled. And they perform better than tape for archival storage. Direct sunlight is no problem for a bright white piece of paper. And power management is rarely a problem (although your pen may run out of ink). Notebooks don’t require any connectivity. They aren’t susceptible to viruses. And they are highly portable. [1]

[1] I realize Notebooks aren’t perfect. They perform about as well as laptops when exposed to the elements. They are a terrible collaboration tool. And I have yet to see an effective way to backup your notebooks.”

Obviously, this is a relevant topic for bookleteer which uses digital processes to produce paper notebooks and it got me thinking – what are the pluses and minuses of paper vs computer notebooks?

I love my laptop but I don’t carry it more than I have to because it’s heavy (well, heavier than a paperback book), it’s precious – I don’t want it stolen or lost, and it contains *everything* – I don’t want my photos, dissertation, emails, music and to-do lists destroyed by a wayward cup of tea! On the plus side it contains *everything* and I never find I’ve left something important at home. My paper notebooks, on the other hand, are lightweight and tend to be more focused – a work notebook, a sketchbook, a project notebook.. And they hold stuff too – flower petals, tickets, business cards and so on. They’re still vulnerable to a spilt cup of tea but the consequences are probably not so serious.

So perhaps it’s not so much about ‘better’ or ‘worse’ but about being the most appropriate object for the situation or person.

What do you think? Do you prefer paper or computer notebooks? Any opinions welcome..


Cosmo china

Last week Proboscis got back a delivery of PPOD books commissioned by Cosmo China in Bloomsbury, London.  The book commemorates 20 years of Cosmo China and its artists. The shop was begun by Josie Firmin and Christopher Stangeways and produces handpainted ceramics. During it’s lifetime three of Josie’s sisters have painted china for Cosmo (and continue to do so!) as has Josie’s dad, Peter Firmin, who’s perhaps better known as the creator of Bagpuss along with Oliver Postgate.

Pages for Josie Firmin and Peter Firmin from Cosmo China PPOD book

For the anniversary of Cosmo China 20 artists were asked to paint a plate and the book celebrates these special plates and the artists who created them. My favourite part of the book though is the front cover which uses the new attribute of bookleteer that allows you to have a full-cover image and features an illustration of the Cosmo China shop front.

The PPOD book is going to be sold in Cosmo China however because it was made on bookleteer you can download your own copy from

inspiration sharing

For the love of a book shelf

Photographs of Macleods secondhand bookstore, Vancouver, Canada and a bookshelf, from

As if to emphasise James Bridle‘s point that books-as-objects act as souvenirs of the reading time, a few days ago I came across the blog bookshelf porn. The premise of the blog is simple – it shows photographs of bookshelves, contributed by readers, and adds a new picture of two every day. But I never would have imagined the variety of book shelves that exist, or how beautiful they look when they are collected together in this way.

This isn’t all about aesthetics – this is a blog with a message. While there’s very little text on the site occasionally, in between the photographs, there is a quote such as this one from The New Yorker’s The Book Bench writing about Bookshelf porn:

“Featuring a book on your bookshelf is akin to displaying a trophy. You’ve accomplished something in reading a book; it feels like a victory. The opportunity to display your literary conquests in unique or unexpected ways is something I will greatly miss with e-readers.”

This message – that bookshelves have a beauty and purpose that is not found in e-readers – is carried across the site. And looking at the photos I couldn’t really argue with that, however, I am excited to see how e-readers might begin to address that challenge…

inspiration making sharing

Art Space Tokyo: Shared Making

Art Space Tokyo is an intimate guide to the Tokyo art world by Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod and a very beautiful book describing the buildings and neighbourhoods of 12 distinctive Tokyo galleries. There are maps for each of the areas, illustrations of the galleries by Nobumasa Takahashi  (the cover is a composite map of Tokyo by Craig Mod) alongside interviews and essays.

Inside pages from Art Space Tokyo

In the Preface to Art Space Tokyo Ashley and Craig write:

“We believe that art is not just an end goal, but a process involving all manner of people. Aside from the artists themselves, the art world is made up of collectors, curators, architects, businessmen, npo organizations and the patrons — those of us who gain pleasure from simply viewing and interacting with art — all taking part in some way to foster the creation and consumption process.”

Although here they were referring to the people who work in and with galleries and art they also applied this philosophy to the creation of Art Space Tokyo. Originally printed in 2008 the book was sold out by Spring 2009. In 2010 Ashley and Craig decided that they would like to update and reprint the book as well as create a free web edition for the iPad extending the original concept with videos of the spaces and interviews with local characters, sound-recordings that reveal the ambience of the neighbourhoods and rich interactive maps.

Illustration for GA Gallery, Yoyogi / Harajuku

In the spirit of shared making, it was at this point that they turned to Kickstarter as a way to raise the money necessary to achieve their goal. Kickstarter allows people to advertise their project and ask for contributions towards realising it. Requested contributions for any project range from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars – with your reward increasing alongside your contribution. For example, a pledge of $25 Art Space Tokyo would have got you a PDF of the book plus access to all project updates. At the other end of the scale for a pledge of $2500 you would have received all of the rewards of the other pledge amounts (e.g. copy of the book, original artwork) plus a 1-day tour of the art spaces of Tokyo with Craig Mod.

Is this shared making? Well, yes, I think it is.. As they write in the preface art – or making – is a process not just a product and through Kickstarter Ashley and Craig were offering the opportunity to become part of this process. And I hope the benefits were mutual – they got to reprint the book, contributors got a tangible reward (and presumably a warm fuzzy feeling from helping out two artists).

p.s. If you were thinking of contributing you’re too late… Ashley and Craig wanted $15,000. By 1 May when the pledges closed they had 265 backers and had raised $23,790!

inspiration sharing

3 Ways to Share

I came across these three ways to share via Russell Davis who attributes them to Clay Shirky.

Sharing Goods – the hardest to do, because if you give a physical good you no longer have it, you’re deprived of it.

Sharing Services – like giving helping someone across the road – you don’t lose out on physical stuff but it’s an inconvenience.

Sharing Information – like giving someone directions – you don’t lose stuff, it doesn’t take much time, no inconvenience.

Also interesting are Russell’s further thoughts on this where he discusses the relative value of mixtapes vs playlists and how the tangibility of mixtapes actually increases their value.

I find this an incredibly useful way to think about sharing in relation to bookleteer. Give away a printed eBook or StoryCube and you lose that object – but the person you give it to feels valued as a result of that exchange. Email someone an eBook or StoryCube and you don’t lose anything except the time it takes to write the email – but the value may be diluted as a result. Sometimes you won’t have a choice about which way you distribute your eBooks (see A Little Something About Me for one example of why this might be) but when you do the question to ask might be – how do you want the recipient of your eBook to feel..?


How can you have a pop-up book on the iPad?

This was the question I typed into Google as I wondered how the iPad, Kindle and other eBook readers (or rather, developers of eBooks for these platforms) might accommodate the tangible properties of books such as size, paper type, pop-up illustrations and so on, that vary from book to book and make paper books such a pleasure to touch, hold and feel.

In answer to my question Google came up with a couple of examples of projects that claim to be bringing pop-up books to the iPad. The first is Pilgrim’s Progress by Tako Games. Although entirely computer-generated the video that accompanies this eBook suggests that Pilgrim’s Progress combines moving around a 3-dimensional scene that closely resembles a paper pop-up book (the ‘cover’ of the book is a very literal digitisation of an antique leather book) with some dynamic elements such as changing text within the text box. I found it difficult to tell from the video how much of this would be controlled by the reader.

The second suggestion by Google was Alice in Wonderland by AtomicAntelope. While clearly drawing on pop-up books for inspiration this feels like it is also pushing the format into new areas by exploiting the touchscreen to trigger events and, quite beautifully, using the built-in accelerometer and orientation sensors to control visual effects such as flying cards, Alice growing and shrinking and rocking the pigbaby to sleep.

While I have to confess that watching the Alice in Wonderland video made me wish I owned an iPad so I could play with this, I also wonder – if every book feels like an electronic device then, however visually compelling the eBook, won’t this somehow feel like a sensory reduction of the reading experience?


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I’m not sure if Choose Your Own Adventure books count as shared making or shared reading (or both?) but I would certainly claim it as an augmented reading experience. The Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books was published by Bantam books between 1979 and 1998, however, the format was used for several other series of books including Fighting Fantasy (which was the Choose Your Own Adventure books of choice for my brother and I when we were kids).

Genuine Choose Your Own Adventure book covers from a fabulous collection at

In case you’ve never come across them, the premise is that you – the reader – take the role of protagonist in the books and at the end of each short section of narrative you are presented with a number of options representing your next actions. For example, in The Cave of Time, the first choice you are required to make is:

If you decide to start back home, turn to page 4.
If you decide to wait, turn to page 5.

Turning to the page for your chosen option the narrative continues, eventually leading to one of multiple different endings. Like I said, my brother and I read these a lot as kids and while the narratives tend to be quite similar and the range of options can be frustrating (“But why can’t I throw my frying pan at the King of the Ants?!”) they were also truly engaging as we tried to figure out the potential consequences of our actions.

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Of course, the branching structure and constrained options translate easily into computer programs and computer games might be seen as the multimedia, all-bells-and-whistles version of Choose Your Own Adventure. In my current reflection on the nature of books though I begin to wonder if the format of these books creates a different experience for maker/readers? For my brother and I these books were very definitely a collaborative experience – just as computer games can be – but they are also slower paced and with the opportunity to take a sneaky look ahead and see what happens if you choose a particular path. While I wouldn’t say that Choose Your Own Adventure books are more engaging than computer games (we gave them up around the time we got our first computer..) I think they might offer a unique type of reading – constructive, collaborative and accountable.

examples inspiration making

James Bridle: Bookcubes and bookleteer API

A set of Bookcubes generated using the bookleteer API

James Bridle of was one of the participants at the Pitch Up and Publish: Augmented Reading a couple of weeks ago, and he talked a little about the idea of books as symbols and the related BookCube project he’d done using the bookleteer API.

Here, I’ll just give a summary of the project. James has written a post on describing the project which I really recommend you to read because it’s seriously interesting and covers more topics than I describe here…

James started with the idea that the lifespan of a book looks something like the drawing in the image above. There is a short period of the book-as-object acting as it’s own advertisement, then a period of time where you are reading the book and taking in the content, then during the final, and longest, amount of time the book-as-object acts as a souvenir of the reading period.

James has already begun to address the idea of digital souvenirs for eBooks with his bkkeepr project and with the bookleteer API he extended this to create automatically generated Bookcubes. These cubes display the information collected by bkkeepr and includes an image of the book cover. Over time James imagines the Bookcubes to build up on your shelf as a visible and tangible souvenir of your eBook reading. For bookleteer, this is an interesting tangent – instead of being an object to read it becomes an object that marks the fact that reading has taken place – and the content becomes separated from the form.