Book Bytes – MyMac Magazine #56

The Best of Online Shopping
by Lisa and Jonathan Price
Ballantine Books
ISBN 0-345-43681-4, 498 pages
$16.00 U.S., $24.00 Canada

I’m becoming fond of these authors, from a previous review and this new title. They are generous, smart, and helpful, in a world that is becoming increasingly selfish. How does this matter in a book about online shopping? Lisa and Jon provide their personal website recommendations, meaning they have spent time at every URL, often completing online transactions to test the sites.

More importantly, this ambitious book begins with a 70-page comprehensive Q&A on all the essential details online shoppers need to optimize the experience, including:

• How do I cancel an order with an online store? (You need to act quickly!)

• Is registration, or membership, primarily a convenience for the store, or for me? (It depends.)

• How can I search for a product if I don’t know a brand name? (Use a unique keyword.)

and dozens more, in the same vein.

Next question: why spend any $$$ for such a book when the web (and now Sherlock II) is overloaded with aides for online commerce? My response: nothing beats a physical book for subject-based browsing, especially when each URL and link has been screened by the hard-working couple. Updates will be posted at the authors’ own website.

My personal favorite topics in the book are: batteries, books, cars, computers, investing, maps, music CDs, travel adventure, and travel planning. (Once I buy that new car, I’m off on an adventure, having invested wisely and loaded up with the best maps and music.)

I am not an ambitious Internet shopper, and I choose my expenditures carefully. If I were looking right now for prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs (7 pages), maternity clothing (3 pages), or video and computer games (5 pages), I would look first in The Best of Online Shopping. The book is affordable, and will pay for itself the first time you use it successfully to buy something via the Internet. RECOMMENDED.

MacMice Rating: 3

InDesign for Macintosh & Windows,
Visual QuickStart Guide
by Sandee Cohen
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35447-0, 295 pages
$17.99 U.S., $26.95 Canada

Will desktop publishing (DTP) readers rush out and cross-grade to Adobe InDesign, then dash to the bookstore for a third-party software manual? If so, which book will they choose, and why? Adobe’s own “Classroom in a Book” on InDesign just arrived at the My Mac loading dock, and it will be reviewed soon here in Book Bytes. First, though, let’s look at this Visual QuickStart Guide.

The December issue of Macworld magazine features an excellent review of InDesign by Deke McClelland, one of our favorite authors. Reading Deke’s informed commentary makes me very happy I’m not a DTP professional who is faced with the dilemma of deciding which high-powered, expensive application to use as my primary workhorse.

Sandee Cohen’s opening section features InDesign’s interface elements and palettes, in clearly-numbered columns. The two-column Visual QuickStart format works well here, with text in the outside columns, and itemized screen shots inside. She continues this technique in subsequent chapters, as readers are introduced to document characteristics, including text and objects.

Graphics are clearly referenced in the instructions, which are delivered in multi-page lessons. Later chapters address working in color, advanced procedures, and comparisons with (you guessed ‘em!) PageMaker and QuarkXPress. Overall, InDesign for Macintosh & Windows, Visual QuickStart Guide packs a potent punch in a pygmy package (sorry, Sandee, I couldn’t resist), with useful tutorials aimed at beginning and intermediate DTP folks.

The author intends to post updates to this book at the Peachpit website, from a link which has the same name as the title. If you already own InDesign, look over this RECOMMENDED book to see if it suits your learning style. If you’re newly considering using the software, the same advice holds. Let me know what you decide, in either case.

MacMice Rating: 3

Acrobat PDF Bible
by Ted Padova
IDG Books Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-3242-1, 702 pages plus CD
$39.99 U.S., $56.99 Canada, £36.99 U.K.

We have several members of the My Mac Magazine editorial team who are familiar with Acrobat 4.0, and use it regularly to create PDF documents. I am not one of these enlightened users. Your humble book reviewer will evaluate some basic aspects of the Acrobat PDF Bible, and hope I can get out of town before the experts get on my trail.

Portable Document Format (PDF) is a cross-platform standard for electronic document distribution. Our magazine recently expanded to PDF, and is now available from our website in both PDF and DocMaker versions. The choice is yours.

Author Ted Padova immediately deals with the overlapping use of component names such as Acrobat 4.0, Adobe Acrobat, Acrobat, and Acrobat Exchange. Then he explains what PDF is, and how it works, followed by a description of each module in the software suite. He sets the tone of a serious, focused resource manual in the IDG “bible” tradition.

Most of us use Acrobat Reader fairly often without embracing its depth and features. The author delivers both barrels, with over 80 pages on “Viewing and Searching PDF Files” and “Using Acrobat Reader.” The buyers of this Acrobat PDF Bible will feel their hearts pound upon turning to Part Two: “Creating PDF Documents.”

This 170-page unit is the focal point of the book, covering PDFWriter document creation, Acrobat Distiller, importing/exporting, and Acrobat Exchange. The text is a mixture of useful information and itemized instructions, including plenty of tips and screenshots. I honestly wish I had the personal resources to put the author’s wealth of knowledge to work, but I know when I’m out of my depth. My gut feeling is that he knows his Acrobat through and through.

Part Three looks like fun: “Enhancing PDF Documents,” in which ambitious users can make their Acrobat files exciting and versatile. By the time surviving readers make it to Part Four: “Advanced Acrobat Applications,” they are either hooked or devastated. This book is serious, friends, and worth every cent for the power-user and ambitious learner. Padova’s final 70-page chapter, “Using Plug-ins,” is thick with third-party enhancements to Acrobat 4.0, including a well-designed chart to help users obtain demo software from manufacturers’ websites.

If I knew enough to swim with the big fish, I would certainly RECOMMEND Acrobat PDF Bible for users prepared to learn from the guru’s guru. If this mighty software package is one of your tools of the trade, you should seriously consider owning the book.

Ted Padova adds, via email:

I would say that none of us in the computer applications software world knows all the answers for any given product. I learn something new about Acrobat every time I open the application. The PDF Bible was written for a broad audience of both PC and Mac users with the novice, intermediate, and advanced user in mind. Hopefully there’s a little something the end user, regardless of his/her level of sophistication, will learn each time a page is turned or a new command in the program is explored.

I receive e-mail regularly from readers and answer many questions. When I find recurring questions appearing from different readers, I try to post some tips and techniques on my web site at:

MacMice Rating: 4

Adobe Photoshop 5.5 Web Edition,
Classroom in a Book
by “the staff at Adobe”
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-65895-X, 537 pages plus CD
$45 U.S., $68 Canada

This “classroom in a book” format breaks the Photoshop learning process into sixteen substantial lessons. A center section has color examples of some of the material, plus a gallery of completed art projects. “Web Edition” in the title refers to new info on designing web graphics, which is the major reason for upgrading from Photoshop 5 to version 5.5, as I read in Macworld magazine.

The CD includes the necessary image files to work on the projects. The disk also contains several tutorials and movies to help readers learn more about both the Photoshop and ImageReady components of P5.5.

Every tutorial is itemized, giving the book a genuine classroom look and feel. This approach may be rigid for some creative people, so thumb through the text to determine if your learning style matches the official Adobe methodology. Introductory units cover the basics of Photoshop and its usage on the web in precise, task-based details.

The sixteen projects take users from fundamental get-acquainted exercises through layering, painting, and retouching, to pro-level activities including color management and “Optimizing Images for Web Publication.” The writing style is thorough, but a bit dry and impersonal.

My feeling is that Adobe Photoshop 5.5 Web Edition, Classroom in a Book will serve serious students of this latest upgrade who learn via the itemized format. As new InDesign titles arrive at our Book Bytes warehouse, I’ll do my best to review as many as possible to help you digital artists and photographers decide which books are best for both content and value.

MacMice Rating: 3

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to MP3: Music on the Internet
by Rod Underhill and Nat Gertler
Alpha / Que / Macmillan
ISBN 0-7897-2036-1, 294 pages plus CD
$19.99 U.S., $29.95 Canada, £14.50 U.K.

We don’t have mosquitoes here in southern Arizona, but I’ve been badly bitten by the MP3 bug. If you want an intelligent, extensive discussion of MP3 on the Macintosh, head over to , and follow the recent TidBITS Talk thread on MP3. You will be smarter from doing so.

When this book arrived, I tore open the plastic CD envelope and listened to every musical selection on the disk. Most of them were not to my taste, but on my hard disk I kept performances of a piano quartet by Brahms and the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, both classical works. The majority of the other pieces are popular music, which is distracting when I listen here at my Macintosh, but the range and quality of the music is satisfactory.

What about the text? In spite of the overall bias toward Windows, the authors do recognize the Mac as a viable computing and MP3 platform. For most users, there isn’t too much you need to know to enjoy MP3 technology, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to MP3 provides a decent overview, including software, music downloads, and related matters.

The music business has been changed forever by the proliferation of MP3 music. New applications are appearing every month, which you can find with a search for MP3 at . The entire process has a small learning curve and high satisfaction ratio, so take the plunge and enjoy the ride (sorry about the mixed metaphors, friends).

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to MP3 is best suited for Windozers, so give one to a close friend who uses the alternative platform, then borrow the disk and book for the music and information.

Nat Gertler explained to Book Bytes that the authors decided to focus on Windows and give sidebars for Mac users, directing them toward available software. He added that if the book were being started today, the decision may have been very different, as the options for Mac users have indeed (and happily) been improved.

MacMice Rating: 2

Looking Good in Print, 4th Edition
by Roger C. Parker
Coriolis Group
ISBN 1-56604-856-7, 285 pages
$29.99 U.S., $41.99 Canada

Chapter Thirteen is my lucky starting place, while thumbing through Looking Good in Print initially from back to front. This final chapter is an eye-opener for me, a non-designer. Simply titled “Redesign,” in 20 pages the author takes many sample low-impact, ineffective documents and shows us both before and after, by making them visually exciting and engaging. My favorite is the letterhead for White Mountain Breweries, with Suds McKenzie, Vice President, and Rex Stout, Production Director.

Jumping to the front of the book, the opening “Getting Started” chapter sets the illustrative tone for the entire book. Page after page, the author and his collaborator incorporate text and graphics to cement every aspect of design into the reader’s brain cells. The physical book is a joy to hold and study, with very sharp text and graphics on high-quality paper stock. I consider Looking Good in Print to be exceptional value for money.

I am fascinated with typography, and spent over an hour enjoying the unit on “The Architecture of Type.” Each example is presented with an informed mixture of panache and humor. Every page in this book is itself cleverly designed, including appropriate sidebar tips, white space for notes and sketches, and stimulating illustrations. Ooh, here’s something nifty: a 16-page insert, “Do It In Color,” a crash course in applying ideas from the rest of the text and breaking out of the grayscale mode.

The book is divided into two roughly equal parts, “Elements of Design” and “Putting Your Knowledge to Work.” Students and newcomers will get the most out of the first half, while everyone, including professionals, will benefit from part two. By the time readers get to Chapter Twelve, they’re ready for Parker’s gallery of mistakes in “Common Design Pitfalls,” such as:

• Claustrophobic Borders and Boxes

• Overuse of Rotated Type

• Graphic Gimmickry.

Even though this is the fourth edition of Looking Good in Print, the book is a new one to me. I applaud it, and enthusiastically RECOMMEND the book to designers and students.

MacMice Rating: 4

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Auctions
by Michael Miller
Alpha / Que / Macmillan
ISBN 0-7897-2057-4, 331 pages
$16.99 U.S., $25.95 Canada, £15.99 U.K.

If I go through my entire life without buying or selling anything in an online auction, that will be fine and dandy with me, but I expect I will need a book such as this one sooner rather than later. Last month we reviewed a competing “yellow” title from Dummies Press, and I prefer this “orange” book from Complete Idiot’s.

With each successive Idiot’s book, my opinion of the series rises. Author Michael Miller is a personal favorite, with another title reviewed in this month’s bonus Book Bytes.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Auctions begins with a tearout card listing top five tips for buyers and sellers on one side, and a handy eBay quick reference on the other side. At the other end comes a dozen-page directory of hundreds of online auction sites, listed by name, URL, and type of auction. Good thinking, Michael.

In between are 28 chapters divided into four parts, covering everything readers need to know in order to optimize their online auction experience, and I mean everything. That reminds me of a suggestion: the “complete idiot’s” designation is insulting; how about changing the series title to NEED TO KNOW GUIDES?

What impressed me most when studying the book from cover to cover last week was how savvy the author is, and how well he communicates those skills to his readers. I learned how to prepare for both buying and selling online, and how to conduct myself at every stage of the process. The book is loaded with tips, screenshots, and a bazillion listings of potential auctions, all grouped intelligently.

eBay receives special mention, being the grand old general auction site, and its competitors get ample coverage. More specific sites are here too, including international auctions, sporting goods auctions, jewelry auctions, and plenty more. The physical book incorporates the updated Complete Idiot’s orange design, which makes the look and feel very user friendly.

At such an affordable price, I can’t think of any reason not to strongly RECOMMEND Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Auctions! Now if I can obtain a beige G3 for just $99, I’ll let out a yell heard from Tucson to Taormina.

MacMice Rating: 4

Creating Web Pages with HTML Simplified, 2nd Edition
by maranGraphics
IDG Books Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-6067-0, 225 pages
$24.99 U.S., $32.99 Canada

It’s been a while since one of the visually-exciting maranGraphics books has crossed my doorstep, and I welcome the opportunity to spend time with this title. The purpose of Creating Web Pages with HTML Simplified is to demonstrate in pictures and words how to take a website from concept to completion, with help from hundreds of colorful illustrations and screenshots.

My initial thought is “Why use a lightweight book format to teach a heavyweight subject?” Ah, John, how looks can deceive. The creative maranGraphics team must have worked overtime to put this lesson-based package together, because I followed their instructions and enjoyed the process.

The book is well-suited to people who learn best from visual examples, including students in a classroom situation. The clever drawings are whimsical, but totally accurate. In two-page spreads, readers are taken from a basic HTML introduction all the way to publishing and publicizing their home-grown websites. You must see Creating Web Pages with HTML Simplified to appreciate the imagination and talent that went into its production.

It is fair to consider this book an introductory approach to the topic, when compared to other chubby titles on the Book Bytes shelf. You may want to think of it as a “just enough” manual, meaning either just enough to learn the basics, or just enough to get yourself into a real mess. As with many comparable books, results speak for themselves, and HTML was never intended to be easy to learn.

Some techie items are included, such as a summary of HTML tags, cascading style sheets, and a well-designed web-safe tear-out color chart card. Speaking of design, this book is designed from cover to cover, and is a joy to study. For readers who learn best from image-based lessons, Book Bytes RECOMMENDS Creating Web Pages with HTML Simplified, 2nd Edition.

MacMice Rating: 3


The Little Network Book for Windows and Macintosh
by Lon Poole and John Rizzo
Illustrated by John Grimes
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35378-4, 260 pages
$19.99 U.S., $29.95 Canada

Promoted as “a friendly introduction to small networks” for readers “with little or no knowledge of networks,” this book by two giants of computer journalism is affordably geared to beginning and intermediate networkers, primarily in the home and small office environments. Considering how important networking essentials are, and how geeky most books on the subject are, this title is a welcome addition to the Book Bytes library. Hardware and software are covered in detail, with many helpful illustrations and whimsical cartoons. From “What Makes a Network Work” to “Serious Fun & Games” and troubleshooting, if it ain’t here, you don’t need to know it. Once again, Peachpit’s Little XYZ Series hits a bullseye. Definitely RECOMMENDED.

MacMice Rating: 4

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surfing the Internet with WebTV
by Michael Miller
Alpha / Que / Macmillan
ISBN 0-7897-2041-8, 332 pages
$16.99 U.S., $25.95 Canada, £15.99 U.K.

I have been mildly curious and amused by the non-proliferation of the versatile low-end WebTV phenomenon. Author Michael Miller has found the pulse of this languishing technology to be beating loudly. My friend Sheila is purchasing a WebTV in a few days for her septuagenarian parents, so I’m giving her my copy of this useful book as a present. The price of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surfing the Internet with WebTV is so low, and the quality of information so high, that for all beginning and intermediate WebTV users, Book Bytes strongly RECOMMENDS this new title.

Author Mike Miller adds, via email:

The book covers both WebTV Classic and WebTV Plus, and is the first book on the market to cover the new service upgrades (that added a new interface to the WebTV portal and new home page building capabilities via the PageBuilder feature) and new second-generation WebTV hardware.

Interestingly, the real WebTV users in my family are my parents. I bought them one of the first units several years ago, and upgraded them to WebTV Plus last Christmas. I also know of at least three other friends planning to buy WebTV units for their parents this Christmas. Definitely a bit of an older, non-technology skew in terms of the user base.

Philips just sent me samples of their new Classic and Plus units. Note that if your friend buys one of the new second-generation Classic units, it doesn’t have an RF connection on the back! I find this a surprising omission, as the target demographic is least likely to have “monitor” video/audio inputs on their TVs. Because of its full complement of in/out jacks, the Plus is probably a better choice for ease of hookup.

MacMice Rating: 4

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Digital Photography
by Steven Greenberg
Alpha / Que / Macmillan
ISBN 0-7897-2109-0, 382 pages plus CD
$24.99 U.S., $37.95 Canada, £22.99 U.K.

I nearly fell off my ergonomic chair when I realized the author is a genuine Mac guy through and through, and has cracked the code of this Wintel-centric Complete Idiot’s series. Way to go, Steve! Screenshots are from Mac OS (and it’s about time). The book provides extensive introductory material, then delves deeply into everything you need to know regarding basic digital hardware, software, and loads more. Technical and creative material are presented with skill and style, including many grayscale and color photos. The PhotoDeluxe application is described one tool at a time, and the included CD contains graphics, plug-ins, and sample projects. This is the third RECOMMENDED digital photo title in the Book Bytes archive, and it’s a good choice for beginners and intermediates.

MacMice Rating: 4

Unauthorized Guide to the Internet
by Shannon Turlington
Que Corporation
ISBN 0-7897-1764-6, 512 pages
$17.99 U.S., $26.95 Canada, £12.99 U.S.

I am intrigued by the “unauthorized” concept in this new series of books from Que / Macmillan. What’s the big deal? The goal appears to be a fresh approach to stale information, including hundreds of URLs for links to specific no-nonsense destinations on the web. The book is heavy on charts and itemized mini-tutorials, with useful sidebar tips and tricks printed in narrow outside columns. My feeling is that Unauthorized Guide to the Internet fills a niche for intermediate-level users who are beyond the basics and not yet ready for super-geek. I need to spend more time with this affordable RECOMMENDED book to tap its resources.

MacMice Rating: 3

Quicken 2000 for the Mac, The Official Guide
by Maria Langer
Quicken Press / Osborne
ISBN 0-07-212141-6, 418 pages
$24.99 U.S.

Please read Macworld’s review of Quicken 2000 before you rush out to buy the software or this official guide. Maria’s new title is first off the block, and it covers the personal finance application with her customary excellent writing and graphics. The book’s design is a joy, liberally using black and green colors (get it?) to target specific aspects of Quicken’s windows. If I were upgrading to Q2000/Mac, I would immediately use this title as my companion. From essential setup instructions through investing and online banking to tax planning, it’s all here, presented with clarity and coherence. RECOMMENDED.

MacMice Rating: 4

Yahoo! for Dummies
by Brad Hill
Dummies Press
ISBN 097645-0582-3, 353 pages
$19.99 U.S., $29.99 Canada, £18.99 U.K.

The author’s goal is to make your Yahoo! involvement as personal as possible, by taking advantage of the website’s customizing opportunities. If you’re already a Yahoo! power user you can skip this book, but ambitious newcomers to the web will be delighted with the range and depth of Yahoo!’s services and features: clubs, auctions, messenger experiences, and oodles more. Yahoo! for Dummies is definitely a suitable stocking stuffer. RECOMMENDED.

MacMice Rating: 3

Teach Yourself Photoshop 5 and 5.5
by Jennifer Alspach and Linda Richards
IDG Books Worldwide
ISBN 0-7645-7503-1, 361 pages
$19.99 U.S., $29.99 Canada, £18.99 U.K.

I’ve been consistently impressed with IDG’s “guaranteed or your money back” Teach Yourself series, and this book continues the trend. Photoshop is complicated, and newcomers will benefit from the two-page lessons featuring descriptive text, numbered and bulleted screenshots, online link info, and cross-references to related material in the book. Chapters conclude with Personal Workbook Q&A sections, plus Real-World Applications of the preceding lessons and a Visual Quiz on a specific image. The authors are Macintoshers, and all screenshots are from our favorite operating system. Teach Yourself Photoshop 5 and 5.5 is a RECOMMENDED class act, readers, and as a first-time user of the application, I intend to plunge into every lesson.

MacMice Rating: 4

Looking Good in Presentations, 3rd Edition
by Molly W. Joss
Coriolis Group
ISBN 1-56604-854-0, 321 pages
$29.99 U.S., $43.99 Canada, £27.49 U.K.

I make presentations on a daily basis, as an instructor for the University of Arizona and other colleges, but mine are done with voice, audio tape, slide projector, and colored marking pens. I’m intimidated at the thought of using a computer to conduct a class, so perhaps this book is for me. The author concentrates on preparation and planning, including design and color considerations, followed by text, graphs, and diagrams, plus multimedia and the web. Her writing is thought-provoking, and her illustrations are straightforward. I have a hunch that Looking Good in Presentations is packed with wisdom worthy of extensive reading and study, which I intend to do over semester break. If you are serious about presentations, have a look at this title to determine if Molly’s approach is compatible with yours. RECOMMENDED.

MacMice Rating: 3


Happy holidays, everyone!

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