Book Bytes – MyMac Magazine #49

Macworld Mac Secrets, 5th Edition
by David Pogue and Joseph Schorr
IDG Book Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-4040-8, 1291 pages plus CD
$49.99 U.S., $69.99 Canada, £42.99 U.K.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, right? In this case, the cover is an understatement: “… unleash the power, … expose the mysteries, … software bonanza, … authoritative, thorough coverage, … expertise and humor … will keep you and your Mac smiling!” No exaggeration, because they are all true.

I left the pre-Macintosh womb at some point between the second and third edition of the Secrets series, nearly six years ago. During my computing infancy and adolescence, these books provided inspiration and motivation to study, experiment, learn, and concentrate on becoming the best possible Macintosher I could be. The two authors are, quite simply, my heroes, and I kiss their “Finders” at every possible opportunity.

Okay. Enough gushing. Is this book good, and is it worth fifty bucks?

Let’s begin with the CD. It has over 500 MB of shareware and commercial applications, including some freebies that are worth more than the cost of the book. There is a lot of useful stuff here, plus some goofball items that are very entertaining (sense of humor required). A “CD” icon is used for cues from the text to the disk.

In five monstrous major sections and 36 lengthy chapters, Pogue and Schorr provide all the essential info to turn readers into certified power users, with the secret facts to make a Mac perform wonders. Every month I am asked if Mac Secrets is more important to own than Mac Bible. The answer is complicated: if you are not really solid on your basics, then memorize the latest version of Peachpit’s Bible. When you are ready for “extra credit” knowledge and muscle-power, head for Secrets. I hope that helps.

I consider the study of Macworld Mac Secrets, 5th Edition to be my equivalent of painting the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Time permitting, I read it from front to back, then spot check it as needed, then start all over again. The fifth edition feels NEW, meaning in its coverage of OS 8 and 8.5 our collective knowledge base is expanded into fresh and exciting territory. Special icons indicate OS-specific material, plus important tips and “strange but true” warnings.

This book is loaded with facts and more facts, and the text is easy to follow. Screen shots are used sparingly and caringly (is that a word?). The sidebars are extremely informative (and often amusing), including True Facts, Macintosh Secrets, and Answer Man goodies.

I’m exhausted. It’s hopeless to try to condense over 1,000 pages and 500 MB into a 400-word summary. Macworld Mac Secrets, 5th Edition defies my attempt at objectivity, friends. Do yourself a big favor: grab your credit card and buy this book soon. Put it to work for you immediately. You will thank me, and I’ll pass on your comments to Joe and David. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Photoshop Studio Secrets, 2nd Edition
by Deke McClelland and Katrin Eismann
IDG Book Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-3271-5, 333 pages plus CD
$49.99 U.S., $69.99 Canada, £42.99 U.K.

Deke, you are amazing. How can you produce so many outstanding books on graphics-based applications in such a short time? What is your secret? Is it yogurt, bean sprouts, tofu, or a heavy diet of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Macworld?

I must begin by explaining that the CD included with this book is a customized, “finished art” disk, which the authors call “your source for movies, voices, and 3-D images.” It is impressive.

The physical book is bursting with colorful art samples on every page, often sequenced from project conception to completion. Even the Contents area is full of artwork, offering examples of the chapters’ finished pieces, each of which is itself a full page before the chapter. Sounds confusing, but seeing is believing.

Deke pays tribute to his 21 collaborators, stating: “Of all the Photoshop books on the market, this is the one I would be the most likely to buy. It… reveals mysteries that were previously outside my range of knowledge on virtually every page, [and] … is a compilation of 21 unique seminars presented by 21 eminent artists.” Coming from him, that is some testimonial.

Every contributor is profiled with photo, brief bio, work history, and contact/URL information. Do these names mean anything to you: Ron Chan, Janie Fitzgerald, or Robert Bowen? Photoshop Studio Secrets has their artwork, plus that of seventeen colleagues.

Each chapter consists of a major project, described in detail by the creator. The authors serve as lively, subjective editors, allowing the artists to speak for themselves much of the time. The book is divided into two parts: General Techniques and Specific Applications, and a few chapter headings are:

• Working Stock Photography into Graphic Art

• Merging Past and Present with Sumi Brushstrokes

• Inventing Photo-Realistic Worlds.

Not being a “graphix guy” I am extremely jealous of the artistic ability of these (mostly Mac) talented folks. In fact, this book is so stunning that I am overwhelmed, and must stop attempting to reduce it to mere words. If you are an experienced Photoshopper who wants to sample a shortcut into Nirvana, consider the purchase and use of Photoshop Studio Secrets, 2nd Edition. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Teach Yourself America Online 4.0
by Charles Bowen with Jennifer Watson
IDG Book Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-7500-7, 382 pages
$19.99 U.S., $28.99 Canada, £18.99 U.K.

If you and everyone you will ever know is totally satisfied with your current ISP, having no plans ever to log into AOL, then skip this review. The rest of you, pay attention.

The publisher claims this title has “on the spot answers,” is “fast, easy, and visual,” and is “guaranteed, or your money back.” Sounds promising. What’s inside?

America Online has more subscribers than any single Internet provider or online service, because it is easy to use and is loaded with features. This IDG “Teach Yourself” series (not be be confused with Sams’ Publishing series) offers “more answers in less time” than most tutorial-style computer texts, and works very hard at accomplishing this goal.

Every chapter has Personal Workbook questions, with lines for readers’ answers (the official answers are in Appendix Four), plus exercises for “extra practice” and “real world applications” of the preceding material.

The chapters proceed from installation and preferences, through email (including custom formatting and Mail Controls prefs), to AOL’s Keywords, Favorite Places, Chat and Instant Messages, accessing the web, and AOL’s Channels. Examples are from the Windows version of AOL, which is similar to the Mac version, except when covering download procedures.

The task-based, hands-on lessons are well-organized. Units are structured with care and are designed logically, for maximum comprehension. Pages are attractive and informative, varying in appearance, incorporating bullets, cross-references, and online reference information. (Suggestion to publisher: skip the trendy green-grey type, and put us back in the black.)

My personal notes are scribbled with “well-conceived, written, constructed, edited, and designed. Teach Yourself America Online 4.0 certainly is visual, with more than half the book devoted to targeted screen shots. Please understand that this book covers America Online in depth, but does not have much true Internet subject matter. Therefore, I definitely RECOMMEND it for newcomers to AOL, who appreciate the workbook learning method, and who already are familiar with the Macintosh.

Sams Teach Yourself Mac OS 8.5 in 24 Hours
by Rita Lewis and Lisa Lee
Sams Publishing
ISBN 0-672-31335-9, 582 pages
$19.99 U.S., $28.95 Canada, £17.95 U.K.

The price is right, the format is effective, the subject is important to many of us, and the book is… ? We met Rita Lewis two months ago, and we have already determined that Sams’ “Teach Yourself XYZ in 24 hours” is a helpful way for new and intermediate users to learn computer techniques. Should you consider parting with hard-earned cash for this book on OS 8.5?

In order to learn an operating system from the inside, breaking it into a series of “proven one-hour lessons” is a very good idea. Each unit concludes with a summary, term review, troubleshooting Q&A, and then a workshop quiz, with answers provided in the rear of the book. These quizzes contain real-world problems that Mac users must solve every day.

Part One covers all the essentials, plus some goodies including “Customizing Your Mac,” “Optimizing Mac OS 8.5 Performance,” and “Mobile Computing.” The pages are mostly text, with some screen shots and graphics, plus a few tips and sidebar boxes. Part Two progresses from printing through multimedia to “Web Publishing” and “File Sharing.” The Internet dominates the four chapters of Part Three, and the final four “hours” get serious: Java, AppleScript, HFS Plus, and troubleshooting.

Ironically, many Macintoshers don’t approach their system in this systematic way, which is a shame. People tend to learn just what they need to know to perform a few essential tasks, and not embrace the entire computer in a holistic way. In spite of its “textbook” appearance, Sams Teach Yourself Mac OS 8.5 in 24 Hours takes a friendly, methodical approach, and succeeds. If I were entering the world of Macintosh right now, I would be elated to have such a workbook.

Yes, this book is RECOMMENDED, and is best-suited for patient beginning or intermediate-level users who appreciate studying organized lessons.

The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book
by Sharon Steuer
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35399-7, 240 pages plus CD
$44.99 U.S., $67.50 Canada

From the opening “How to use this book” pages to the end paper foldout glossary, keyboard-command section, and CD, author Sharon Steuer aims to provide top-drawer assistance to all levels of Illustrator users. Her dedicated Web site offers URL and email links for all the resources mentioned in The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book.

Over 100 artists and illustrators contributed their talent and support, and they are credited alongside each image they created. The range of artwork is stupendous, and for once I am not exaggerating. This book is both a visual delight and an impressive instruction manual.

If I were to begin today with a registered copy of Illustrator, complete with its user guide, plus The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book, you could bring me daily bread and water for a year or two and I would be content to explore and create with confidence and imagination. Thank you, Sharon! (She is a REAL Mac person too!)

Sidebars, tips, warnings, and screen shots are abundant, as are numbered lessons plus real-world hints and suggestions. Her diversity of in-progress and completed examples is inspiring, especially for less experienced (should I say timid?) folks such as myself.

Illustrator is a muscular application, and the Adobe Illustrator 8 Tour and Training CD that comes with this book includes:

• special Wow! brushes, clip art, and fonts

• a bucketful of demo creation-application software

• custom artwork, lessons, reference charts, and more.

Both basic and advanced techniques are here, with the latter clearly identified. Is it fair to explain that much of this stuff is beyond me, but I know the genuine article when I see it? The paper stock and production values in the book are equally high.

The previous edition of this book won a prestigious publishing industry award, and I consider the new “8th” edition to be superior to its predecessor. If you are a visually creative person, I urge you to examine and consider the purchase of this new The Illustrator 8 Wow! Book, which I definitely RECOMMEND.

AppleScript for the Internet
by Ethan Wilde
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35359-8, 339 pages
$17.95 U.S., $26.95 Canada

It had to happen. I have been avoiding AppleScript as long as possible, and now I must acknowledge its relevance to me and what I do on the Macintosh. With OS 8.x, creating useful scripts is within reach of most accomplished Mac users, and this book aims to get you from first base to home plate on the web without any casualties.

Using scripts to create CGIs (Common Gateway Interfaces) is a particularly useful feature of the “new” AppleScript. As of OS 8.5, AppleScript is fully Power PC-native, dramatically improving script execution speed.

Your System contains the Script Editor, whether you know it or not, and this application is what is used for writing AppleScripts. Wilde quickly takes readers from learning the basics of working with Script Editor into the nuts and bolts of what you do with the darn thing.

Stop right here if you have no interest whatsoever in “techie” or programming activities, because AppleScript is used to create new instructions on your computer. This is far from my personal area of interest, so if I can understand AppleScript for the Internet, I expect most of Book Bytes’ readers will comprehend it.

The tutorials are clearly written, with adjacent screen shots providing visual reinforcement. Tips and sidebars are plentiful, and very beneficial. From “AppleScript on the Desktop” and “Scripting Your Web Browser” the author progresses to working with specific applications, including chapters covering progressively more advanced software (email, FTP, CGIs, and then the heavy-duty web-authoring apps).

I start getting really nervous around the final quarter of the 24 chapters, when attempting to digest “Scripting with Apple Data Detectors” or “Scripting Mail and List Servers.” I know when I am over my depth, but I urge you potential scripters to throw some sand in my face and start building that scripting castle right away, with an ocean of help from AppleScript for the Internet.

Note: If you are planning to write any scripts for the web, the author’s appendices are especially useful, with both a detailed list of “commands, control statements, handlers, references, operators, variable and property assignments, and constants,” and a bunch of URLs for additional resource information. RECOMMENDED.

The PC Bible, Third Edition
by Robert Lauriston
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35382-2, 939 pages
$34.99 U.S., $52.50 Canada

At some point in my next fifty years, I will have to make the acquaintance of a Windows PC, and so will you. This book covers Windows 95, 98, and NT, and is equivalent to the Mac Bible, which is now in its seventh edition.

If you forgot that DOS is the foundation for Windows, turn to the back of the book. Appendix A looks like a million laughs, and is titled: “Tuning AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS.” I hope I never get that cozy with a PC! I had best start at the front.

Much of the introductory material is common-sense computing knowledge, and will be familiar to most of you. Specific URLs are provided for many recommended manufacturers, with few surprises. The author covers both hardware and software, with valuable line-drawing illustrations and screen shots.

The writing is easy to follow, and the book is structured for convenient jumping around, as needed. I can’t get too enthused about the various flavors of Windows, but the author does.

The bulk of The PC Bible, Third Edition consists of practical guidance for common applications, many of which are now cross-platform. The Internet features heavily, and its chapters are among the most interesting, at least for this reviewer. (In fact, I do use Windows computers for web browsing at public libraries; perhaps now I can understand what I’m supposed to be doing!)

The prospect might not thrill Mac users, but if you or anyone you know needs a thorough, comprehensive resource for basic and intermediate-level PC information, The PC Bible, Third Edition is a good choice. RECOMMENDED when working with Windows is required.

The Little PC Book, Third Edition
by Lawrence Magid (Illustrated by John Grimes)
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35366-0, 369 pages
$19.99 U.S., $29.99 Canada

Larry Magid is a high-profile PC journalist. I occasionally hear him on the radio, and read his columns in the computer and mainstream press. With this Little PC Book, he competes conceptually with The Little Mac Book (currently in its fifth edition), just as the PC Bible is based on the Mac Bible.

I credit the illustrator, because this book has adorable cartoons, in addition to many helpful screen shots and sidebars. Take a peek at this book sometime, if only for the drawings. They are delightful, amusing, and consistently instructive.

Using simple lessons, Magid breaks computers (plus Windows and its applications) into easily-understood components. His writing is both lively and informative. I am pleased that he acknowledges the existence of the “other” platform, explaining that “there are really only two kinds of personal computers: computers designed to run Windows, and Macintosh computers.” Thanks, Larry. Every little bit helps. In your next edition, how about pushing the iMac (just kidding).

Other authors and designers of entry-level computer books should pay attention to the use of bold type for important new terms. The writing is clear, basic “newbie” text, with a chatty, first-person tone of voice.

Much of the early material is “generic” computer info. Magid gently eases readers from the shallow end into deeper waters: “Should You Get a Notebook Computer?” asks Chapter 8, with the header: “Before you decide, consider your needs carefully. Notebooks are great, for some people.” A little common sense goes a long way, and this book is loaded with it.

I’ll quit here, before you think I’m going over to the “dark side.” For my twenty bucks, I’ll RECOMMEND the The Little PC Book, Third Edition for all beginning Windows users.


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