by Cye H. Waldman, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1997 Cye Waldman. All rights reserved.
"The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves."
E. M. Forster
My particular interest in the Web has always been in authoring Web pages. My experience has been that there isnt anything worth knowing about this pursuit that cannot be found in books. That has been the overriding reason for my interest in all manner of books about authoring for the Web. It has also inspired me to develop the WWWiz book list, where you can find over 3,500 titles on Web development in more than 20 languages.
In this column Ill be calling out some of the more notable titles that have crossed my desk. These brief reviews are intended to spark your imagination and inspire you to think beyond your current Web authoring efforts. To learn more about these books visit their Web sites.
The Book ReviewsWeb Design Template Sourcebook by Lisa Schmeiser (New Riders, $45/CD-ROM) boasts over 300 Web page templates for getting your Web site started. After an obligatory skills primer covering the basics of HTML the author gets into the meat of the book. There are chapters on Text-Heavy Materials (e.g., annual reports, business plans, papers, magazine articles, etc.); Frequently Updated Contents (e.g., news releases, announcements, calendars); Corporate/Promotional Web Sites (e.g., company reports, media kits, brochures, and catalogs); Forms (e.g., order forms and surveys); and Multifunctional sites (a bit of everything). The book finished off with some alternatives to HTML templates with an overview of the emerging technologies of dynamic HTML, style sheets, and layering. Of course, the templates come with complete source code on the CD-ROM and you can use them as-is or as a jumping-off point for your own creative juices.
Winn L. Rosch Hardware Bible, Premiere Edition by Winn L. Rosch (Sams Publishing, $65/CD-ROM) is an exhaustive book on all aspects of PC hardware. The book can be read at many levels depending on your own level of technical expertise. For the novice it can provide a general background on the workings of a microprocessor or memory or hard disks. The expert can benefit from the detailed discussions of expansion buses and networks. There are 25 chapters covering every aspect of your system. Unlike the previous edition of the book, this one is Internet-aware throughout. The book is so large (over 1200 pages) that they have relegated some of the information to the CD-ROM, so it contains the complete text of the book and then some. In fact, there are five complete appendices on the CD-ROM that aren't available in the print version. These include chapters on PC History and Health and Safety. Moreover, the CD-ROM is in HTML format for easy access with your favorite browser. All-in-all this is a fun book just to browse through on paper or on screen.
The Web Publishing and Programming Resource Kit (Sams.net, $150/3 CD-ROMs) is Sams.net's magnum opus on Web publishing. This set contains seven original texts and 3 CD-ROMs. All of the books are new, i.e., they didn't just grab a bunch of old books and repackage them. The set was obviously carefully planned and coordinated. The seven volumes in the set are
Curiously, Sams.net has also just come out with another complete Web publishing set, Laura Lemay's Electronic Web Workshop (Sams.net, $60/2 CD-ROMs). This set contains only one book Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML 3.2 in a Week, 3rd Ed. by Laura Lemay but has ten searchable books plus a collection of Web publishing tools on the two CD-ROMs. The ten books on the first CD-ROM contains over 6500 pages of information, they are:
I don't have this set so I can't make a fair comparison of these two approaches to the "total" Web library. There are some differences worth noting. First, one set is heavily oriented toward printed material whereas the other in pricipally available only on CD-ROM. Second, the Lemay set has some older material which will soon be replaced by new software releases such as Frontpage 98 and Netscape Composer (replacing Navigator Gold). So with a substantial price difference it's a toss-up. Another question is how much reading you can stand to do from acomputer screen.
O'Reilly & Associates has just released its Java Language Reference, 2nd Ed. by Mark Grand thus completing the trilogy of reference books on the Java programming language, Version 1.1. The other books in the series are Java Fundamental Classes Reference by Mark Grand and Jonathan Knudsen and Java AWT Reference by John Zukowski. The Java Language Reference is just that, a guide to the definitions, syntax, and control structures of the language. The second edition includes updated information on the new Java features. The book is not intended as a tutorial on the language and is geared for serious programmers. The ten chapters in the book cover the data types, expressions, declarations, control structures, program structure, threads, exception handling, and a lengthy chapter (almost half the book) on the java.lang package. The book is riddled with railroad diagrams and code snippets to illustrate the important points.
Much has been written about how the Internet is changing the fabric of our society, but the late Timothy Leary's vision of cybeculture is unique. The path from "turn on, tune in, drop out" of the 60's to "turn on, tune in, boot up" of the 90's is not a striaght one. Chaos & Cyberculture by Timoth Leary (Ronin Publishing, $20) is a collection of articles and essays (by Leary and others) from the past decade describing how the computer is revolutionizing communication and empowering the individual. This book touches on those topics most others shy away from: drugs, sex, religion, and politics. There are also interviews with the likes of WIlliam S. Burroughs and David Byrne. Embrace chaos!
My overriding feeling in reviewing these books is that I'm glad I learned HTML when there were maybe 30(?) HTML tags instead of God knows how many there are now. For that matter, I'm glad I started with personal computers in 1978 with a an Apple ][. (And that was before there were any modems for PCs.) Learning new things as they came out has been easy. The prospect of buying a computer and having to come up to speed now on everything at once is quite terrifying.
For a total change of pace take a look at The Interactive Book, A Guide to the Interactive Revolution by Celia Pearce (New Riders, $40). I don't know what to make of this book. It's a collection of essays on the interactive revolution as perceived by the author, a self-proclaimed member of the "digiterati," or "artificial intelligentsia" as she likes to call it. I thought this was very funny because I put the emphasis on the word artificial. Besides, how many people do you know who tell you they are a member of the intelligentsia? Do they have a degree for that? Anyway, there is plenty to read here. I'll leave it for you to separate the useful from the digibable. (Hey, I made that up!)
The time-space continuum has not allowed me to review the following books that I also thought were of interest:
Moths to the Flame: The Seductions of Computer Technology by Gregory J.E. Rawlins (MIT Press, $10) explores the potential future impacts of computer technology. The first few chapters looks at the "local" aspects of computer technology: privacy, virtual reality, publishing, and computer networks. The remaining chapters look at the "global" social issues such as warfare, jobs, and the future itself. The book is well-written and often humorous. Rawlins brings us an interesting perspective on the future written in an accessible style. Moths to the Flame is now available in paperback for only $10. I have previously recommended Rawlins's more recent book Slaves of the Machine here as well.
JDBC Database Access With Java: A Tutorial and Annotated Reference by Graham Hamilton, Rick Cattell, and Maydene Fisher (Addison-Wesley, $38) is both a tutorial and reference manual for JDBC, the programming interface that allows you to access databases from Java. The authors recommend some knowledge of both Java and SQL (if you have to ask this isn't for you!). Basically, JDBC allows you access a remote database, process data via SQL statements, and publish the results on a Web site. I'm not a database person so I can't appreciate the details, but it's apparent that the tutorial is replete with many examples and sample code and the reference manual contains an extensive listing of the classes, interfaces, methods, and fields, with explanations of what they mean and do with many examples of their usage.
The Photoshop Plug-ins Book by Daniel Gray (Ventana, $40/CD-ROM) shows you how to get more out of Photoshop with plug-ins. Everybody knows Photoshop is the de facto standard graphics manipulation program. But did you you know there are literally dozens of third-party plug-ins you can use to enhance it capabilities? This book covers most of the plug-ins available for Photoshop 4.0. Each of the 42 chapters covers one or more plug-ins with a description of who should use it, what it does, why to use it, and how to use it. One entire section of six chapters is on plug-ins for optimizing images for the Web. There is also a guide to additional plug-ins not covered in the book. The companion multi-platform CD-ROM contains over 30 plug-ins (or, at least, demo versions) plus Internet links for more plug-ins and useful sites. Also note that many of the plug-ins are compatible with other graphics programs as well.
Cye H. Waldman, Ph.D. is a technical and engineering consultant based in Encinitas, CA, and a chronic Webaholic.