Buying a book to learn how to use software is often a necessary evil. You can only get so far by poking around and seeing what happens when you push different buttons. A good book can save you a lot of time and frustration, but printed books leave a lot to be desired. Where do you put the book while you read? How do you keep from losing your place when you try out the cool feature you just read about? And perhaps worst of all, how do you find something a week or a month later when you need to refresh your memory? You know it’s in there, you read it once, but now you can’t find it.
As an author (click here for info on my printed books), freedom from the constraints of paper and ink lets me create a far more useful resource. When I wrote “Woodworker’s Guide to SketchUp” three years ago, I designed it myself and added video content to the text and illustrations. My new book “Building Blocks of SketchUp” follows the same premise, but this time around I talked the best designer I know into doing the page layout so it looks a lot better, is easier to read and important things look important. You can download a few sample pages at this link and you can now purchase this new book as a digital PDF download.
The book starts with how to setup the SketchUp program and works through the essential tasks of 3D modeling. It isn’t specific to woodworking or architecture or any specific area. In my live SketchUp classes, I’ve found that people who struggle to learn SketchUp are really wrestling with how the program works and how to navigate in 3D space. Once they know the basics, they can move on to make anything they want. If you’re a wizard at SketchUp you won’t need it, but if you’ve been frustrated by trying to learn on your own or wading through online videos, “Building Blocks of SketchUp” will get you up and running. Here are a few of the things that make it better than a printed book:
The first thing you’ll notice is that there are more than 50 short videos embedded within the text. The videos are always at the bottom of pages, and when you hover your mouse over one a tag appears that says “Click to Activate”. When you do that, the video begins to play and you get to see exactly where to move your cursor and what to click on to make things happen. I talk you through it and tell you what to do and what to look out for. If you put your mouse cursor over the video as it plays, a control box appears so you can pause, stop or play the video a second time. The videos reinforce the text and the images, and when you go back to review the video is often enough to make you say “Ah, now I remember”.
The other advantage of reading on your computer instead of your lap is that finding the information you want is ridiculously easy. In fact there are a bunch of different ways to find information. At the left, you see what it looks like when you open up the “Pages” pane in Adobe Reader. You can scroll through thumbnail views of all the pages. It’s easy to tell which pages have videos because of their location and the yellow tag on the top of each video.
This is a view of one of the pages in a 50-page guide to the basic tools of SketchUp. It’s in a separate section from the 200+ pages of instruction, and it gives you the nuts and bolts of what these tools do and how they do it. It’s something I would have appreciated when I started out. The tool icons are easy to spot in the thumbnail views and a click on a thumbnail takes you to the page.
There is also a search function built into Adobe Reader. Type in a word or two, hit the “Search” button and in a few seconds you’ll see a link to every place in the book that term appears, along with a snippet of adjoining text.
The Table of Contents also consists of live links. Click on a chapter title and Shazam! that page appears in an instant. With a printed reference book, you spend a lot of time thumbing through to look for something specific, and more often than not, you lose your place when you return to SketchUp, or when you go back to the book after practicing.
And that brings us to what I think is the biggest advantage of learning with an enhanced PDF format book on your computer.
As you can see in the screen capture image on the left, I have SketchUp open in one window on my computer and “Building Blocks of SketchUp” open in Adobe Reader in a second window. One click of the mouse switches back and forth so you can read a few pages, watch a short video then practice what you just learned. It really is a great way to learn. We’re working on the finishing touches, filling out the paperwork and getting the files off to the replicator. If you sign up for my newsletter, or subscribe to this blog, you’ll be among the first to know when “Building Blocks of SketchUp” is available.