Category Archives: Book and Music Reviews

Affinity Publisher: What I wish I’d known earlier

I recently downloaded a free ten-day trial of Affinity Publisher and used it instead of InDesign to lay out a 300 page manuscript. I liked the program so well I bought it, as well as its companion programs (“Photo” and “Designer”). I am no expert at page layout and book design, although I’ve done it for each of my books (about a dozen books total, some using Pagemaker, some Quark, some InDesign). While my frustrations are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share a few things I learned after much googling and trial and error that would have simplified my life had I figured them out quicker.

1. Yes, Affinity can open InDesign files but ONLY if you first export them to InDesign Markup Language (IDML). This is easy to do, it’s built into InDesign, but you have to do it before you try to open the file in Affinity.

2. Affinity Photo apparently DOES open Photoshop files, and Affinity Designer DOES open Illustrator files, but I haven’t really tried them. Along with Affinity Publisher, the three programs work together in a cool way, as if they were a single program. I bought all three programs, even though I mostly use InDesign, because the total price was less than $200 with no subscription. Plus, Adobe’s “Creative Cloud” has been clogging up my computer. Since I never intentionally use the cloud, I’d like to eliminate the ap and the maddening notice that “Creative Cloud is needed to resolve this problem.”

3. Exporting to PDF. InDesign saves a pdf file using the file name, so after exporting you have one original file, and a second pdf file with the same name but the suffix pdf. Affinity Publisher replaces your original file with a pdf version. That isn’t what I wanted, so it surprised me. Now I save the file with a different name before exporting. So the original might be “Book.” After I tweak it I save it but also save it as a new file “Book2” which I export to pdf. Then I can return to “Book” to make more edits. This may be silly, because Affinity Publisher will open PDF files, but I just don’t know yet.

4. I wanted a page layout with letter-sized facing pages and a larger interior gutter so I could spiral bind it. No problem, it worked great. But when I sent the pdf to an Office Depot type printing company, it defaulted to printing two pages on each letter sized sheet. It was an easy fix, but I had to pay the printer for my ignorance. Here’s the fix: after I was done creating a file with facing pages (including bigger margins on the binding side of each page) and ready to export to pdf, I just went back to the document setup and unchecked “facing pages.” Worked great. If I had been sending it to a book printer, I would have set up the original pages differently, perhaps on 8.5 x 22” sheets.

5. Resizing photos in A. Pub. In my older (CS5) version of InDesign, when I added a photo to a document, I could resize it just by grabbing a corner and moving diagonally in or out. First time I tried that in APub, the photo did not remain proportionate. Turns out you select the photo, then go to “properties” to determine how resizing will behave. Only four choices, you check one, so it only took a few seconds to figure it out.

6. There are SO MANY online tutorials, both by Affinity and by others, that I now believe any confusion has already been addressed several times. Worth noting is that the company that makes the program is British, so sometimes the search words and terminology are a little different. Google would find “how to use the elevator” for example, but similar tutorials might be labeled “how to use the lift.” If I intended to spend a lot of time using the programs and wanted to look under the bonnet, I’d sure start by spending a weekend watching tutorials.

7. One disadvantage of APub over InDesign is that it can’t directly export to the mobi format for Kindle, or epub for the other readers. I think they didn’t want to make the program more complex and expensive, but it’s kind of a bummer. On the other hand, the free Calibre program can make the conversion for you, so unless you spend all day every day creating Kindle versions, it’s probably not a deal-breaker.

8. After watching a few video tutorials, I am stunned at the power of these programs and how easy they are to use. Part of my wide-eyed “Dorothy-in-Oz” amazement is that my own programs are old and out of date, and I never used all the features anyway. So watching experts fly around the screen changing boundary shapes, creating shortcuts and page templates felt like riding my bicycle to watch The Enterprise beam folks aboard.

Some graphic artist/book designers—who have used design programs for many years—have posted negative reviews. They say the Adobe programs contain more powerful features that Affinity can’t compete with. I’m sure they’re correct, and if you make a living as a designer, the subscription cost is probably well worth it. But for creating occasional brochures and business cards, and designing a few books per year, I think I’ll be happy with my one-time (less than) $200 investment. Especially compared to paying more than that every year for an Adobe subscription.


This is from my friend Paul Martin Beck, an author, musician, and moose aficionado:

“One addition here from personal experience: I got Affinity Designer (not Publisher, mind you) specifically because of its ability to open all of my old FreeHand documents. (I lament the death of FreeHand to this day.) It _does_ open FreeHand 10 documents, nothing earlier. But, and it’s a big butt, when it opens them it doesn’t include embedded images (e.g. TIFF files) that were placed in those documents. That makes it mostly useless for the one thing I really had hoped it would do.”


The company that makes Affinity is Serif. Here’s info from their website:


The Indiana Jones of Iodine

A review of “The Iodine Trail: Exploring Iodine Deficiency and its Prevention around the World” by John B. Stanbury. Review by Kenn Amdahl

John Stanbury is the Indiana Jones of iodine researchers; his life would make a great movie. Over decades, he traveled to dozens of countries, meeting stars and dictators and local tribesmen while documenting and studying the effects of iodine deficiency in local populations. This book is only partly about the science. It feels more like his journal, his letters, his notes. If you read it with the mind set that you have opened a box of notes that Indiana Jones’ transcribed while on adventure and can use those to write the blockbuster screenplay, you’ll love it. If you’re hoping for an action packed adventure story itself, or a scientific abstract about iodine deficiency, you’ll be disappointed. It’s sort of in between. Continue reading →

Remembering Ann Sheridan

I mentioned to my father, who is 88, that I’d seen the movie “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Sometimes he recalls things from long ago better than more recent things; I thought maybe he’d seen it in his youth and we could talk about it.  He didn’t think he ever saw the film. I ran through some of the cast members to remind him, saying it was fun to see them when they were so young. Bette Davis and Jimmy Durante seemed like kids. When I mentioned the young siren Ann Sheridan, he stopped me. “I saw her once,” he said. “In person.” Continue reading →

The Color Green

Every so often, I google my own name. Mostly this is to locate people who have scanned one of my books and are selling the PDF without the inconvenience of paying me a royalty. I am not kind to those people. I get too many hits (some days 50,000, some days 12,000. No idea why it changes so dramatically)  to look at each of them (and let’s face it, most of them come from this website and Facebook). So I restrict most searches to mentions made within the last week. Today’s search contained some eye-openers. Continue reading →

E.B. White visits Vegas

Last week in Las Vegas  I did something I never do: I bet 20 bucks on today’s Bronco game. I don’t really have a “problem,” I can stop whenever I want. But it demonstrates that I do have a dark side, no matter how delightfully perky my image is with other people. Even though I’ve now dipped my toe into Tony Soprano depravity, I desperately hoped that at least the calories you eat in Vegas stay in Vegas, but it appears that at least ten pounds worth of them travel home with you. Apparently, one cannot believe everything one sees on TV. Continue reading →

More Free Books

So, the experiment of giving away free books to readers of this blog in hopes they’d consider posting reviews on Amazon or their own blog worked very well. Several very nice reviews resulted. Thank you very much to all who participated. Your kind words made me feel like a Real Writer, for a while at least.

I did not get many requests for the two math books. Interesting. Can it be possible that people would rather read a funny novel than learn about calculus? Who would have thought?

At any rate, both Algebra Unplugged and Calculus for Cats could use more recent (favorable) reviews. Therefore, if you know some student who is struggling with either subject and who likes to read, let me know and I’ll send them a free copy. If they like the book, perhaps they could post a brief review on on Amazon or Barnes and or any blog, magazine or newsletter to which they have access. All I’d ask is, if they DON’T like the book, they just don’t post anything.  If you’ve been secretly curious about algebra or calculus yourself, I’d send you a copy on the same conditions. It will arrive in an unmarked brown envelope to prevent embarrassment.

Obviously, I can’t afford to just give away free books forever, so this offer is only good until I change my mind.