Book Bytes – MyMac Magazine #58

The Photoshop 5/5.5 Wow! Book
by Linnea Dayton and Jack Davis
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-35371-7, 360 pages plus CD
$49.99 U.S., $74.95 Canada

Book Bytes has been awaiting the arrival of this latest “Wow!” series title for a long time. Now that it’s here, the authors deserve credit for being among the first to cover creative approaches in the latest version of the the application, Photoshop 5.5. If their text and graphics are as much fun to use as the book is to examine, you Photoshoppers are in for a treat.

With a similar format to its predecessors, the content has been completely reworked, with special YELLOW highlights for features new to version 5.5 of Photoshop. Pages utilize a dynamic 2:1 column format, having primary text and examples within the larger inside columns, and enhanced sidebar images and tips in the outside columns. The hundreds of illustrations are beautiful to behold and perfectly conceived to keep readers inspired. Seeing is believing, and I’m a believer.

Design of the chapters is stunning, including liberal use of bulleted and numbered itemized material, with bold type for headings enabling rapid observation of terms and concepts. Newcomers to Photoshop should be thoroughly familiar with the basic operation of their powerful application before attempting the projects in this intermediate-advanced guidebook.

From the opening look at Photoshop’s feature set to Unit Nine’s “Photoshop for the Web,” these authors are brilliant. Other chapters deal with creative tools and techniques in lucid detail. Excuse the hyperbole, but I am having a hard time setting this breathtaking book aside in order to complete my review.

The CD contains tutorial material, with “beginning” versions of the files for many of the techniques shown in the book so readers can start where the authors started. Linnea and Jack also included “ending” versions of the lesson files so users can examine the actual blending modes, layers masks, adjustment layers, layer effects, and alpha channels that go into creating an effect.

The disk also includes teaching and study guides, plus extra goodies such as images and plug-ins which add value to the book and Photoshop itself. I can’t wait to pop in the CD and take it for a test drive, once this review is submitted.

I keep six other Photoshop books handy here in the Book Bytes library. Digital artists are fortunate to have premier cross-platform authors and designers creating such a plethora of exceptional titles. It is an honor to add The Photoshop 5/5.5 Wow! Book to our list of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED books. If you are serious, creative, and intelligent, you owe it to yourself to have this one in your toolbox.

MacMice Rating: 5
Mac OS9 Visual QuickStart Guide
by Maria Langer
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-70004-2, 360 pages
$17.99 U.S., $26.95 Canada

Somebody has to arrive first to the party, and Maria Langer is one of our favorites. With each version and major revision to the mighty Macintosh operating system, she promptly delivers a new Visual QuickStart Guide. Newbies are well advised to consider buying and using her books. Is Mac OS9 different enough to warrant experienced users purchasing this title?

Maria begins at the beginning, with OS9’s new and legacy features, followed by a detailed installation and setup chapter. She then walks readers through the basics of Macintoshiana, with introductory and advanced Finder techniques and tips, plus advice on managing your files.

It’s all here, from SimpleText and printing, to networking and browser essentials. The multiple user aspect of OS9 for both desktop and traveling Macs receives hearty treatment, and lucky Chapter 13 is devoted to Sherlock 2. My personal pick is Chapter 14, “Fine-Tuning Functionality, which intermediate users will consider worth the entire cost of Mac OS9 Visual QuickStart Guide.

The book wraps up with troubleshooting advice, and a quickie appendix on the iBook. I am not a neutral observer, because I consider Maria Langer to be in the highest ranks of Mac authors. Book Bytes expects the very best from her on any and every subject.

Owners of previous editions in this bestseller series will feel at home, as the author anticipates the similarities and differences from earlier versions of the operating system. First time users will appreciate Maria’s attention to detail and the hundreds of screen shots she includes to illustrate the text.

Punch line: if you are using OS9 and are not yet at the advanced level, buy this HIGHLY RECOMMENDED book, read every word, then send me a thank you note.

MacMice Rating: 4
The Little iBook Book
by John Tollett and Robin Williams
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-201-70093-X, 232 pages
$18.99 U.S., $28.50 Canada

Just like the Macintosh it describes, this book is cute, smart, and full of goodies. The authors aim their text and illustrations at a special group of users (see Robin’s comments, which follow mine).

First come photos and screenshots of ports for setting the AirPort, synching with a Palm Organizer, and for logging into the Internet. Next we learn about the iBook’s keyboard and its modifier keys. Pages in The Little iBook Book are designed to make best use of outside columns for a steady stream of tricks, tips, and graphics. The method is effective, and the look is attractive. Hardware and software are covered together, which makes sense for most readers.

John and Robin’s detailed chapters on the finer points of Internet connectivity and file sharing should be memorized by all iBook owners, as should the subsequent in-depth sections covering email. Chapters Eight and Nine are my personal favorites, in which a range of gizmos and procedures for using the iBook both at home and on the road are pictured and described.

This book concludes with units on mobile printing and faxing, on using the computer in foreign countries, plus additional helpful hints. What’s missing? Plenty! There is no tutorial material on the iBook’s Mac OS system software. Readers new to the Macintosh will need to obtain another book to learn how to get farther than first base.

Should we complain? No, because the information in The Little iBook Book is solid and the price is reasonable. Total newcomers to the Mac need lots of help, and there are several outstanding books and websites dedicated to their education. (Let me know if you need suggestions.) Experienced users can hit the ground running, armed with this straightforward book.

Robin Williams explains to Book Bytes:

The book is really for Mac users who are getting this machine as a second computer, and so are familiar with the basic Mac hardware and software. John Tollett and I really did not aim this book at newbies. That’s why the user level on the back cover says “Beginnerish” instead of “Beginner,” and that’s why we left out all the system stuff. The point of the book is really how to travel with the iBook, since that’s the major purpose for getting this particular computer.

Our preferred slant on the material is not how it appeals to brand-new users, but on how it appeals to people who want to connect from school, from home, or from the office; then how to send a fax from the plane, email from France, surf the web in your hotel, or log on through a pay phone. (In fact, the book is useful for anyone with any Mac laptop.)

I didn’t do application tutorial stuff because, after all, the iBook is still just a Mac and the application stuff is exactly the same as on any other Mac, and I’ve already written that in other books. Rather than write an iBook book like all the others (or repeat information I’ve already written in other books), John and I decided to focus on what’s different, and more importantly, the “i” for Internet and the “Book” for portability–let’s hit the road with this thing! There is extensive information about how to use FAXstf, and lots of info about using Palm Organizer, Apple CD Audio Player, Netscape, Internet Explorer, and AOL.

Hope that clarifies things. I would just hate for brand-new users to think this was the best book for them. It’s really for road warriors (or as John T. prefers, road rats).

MacMice Rating: 3
Adobe InDesign Classroom in a Book
by “the staff of Adobe”
Adobe Press
ISBN 0-201-65893-3, 437 pages plus CD
$45 U.S., $68 Canada

Now that Peachpit Press is handling distribution of Adobe’s books, Book Bytes has the opportunity to examine many titles in this series. Previous reviews covered the strengths and weaknesses of the Classroom in a Book concept. InDesign is the new kid on the desktop publishing (DTP) block, and its users may benefit from such a comprehensive tutorial approach.

Each of the twelve meaty lessons has a valuable visual counterpart on the enclosed disk. Chapters take readers through every step necessary for the designated project. The itemized text instructions flow into the software work files from the CD.

The most valuable part of Adobe InDesign Classroom in a Book is the least auspicious. The first hundred pages cover introductory and fundamental material that every user should know. Remaining chapters include lessons on the most common items an InDesigner works with, including text, typography, graphics, colors, frames, and a whole bunch more.

Pages are printed on high-quality paper, with loads of white space for scribbling and doodling. The plentiful illustrations and screen shots are first-rate. Chapters conclude with “on your own” lessons, followed by review questions and answers. A center section features brilliant, helpful color images from the book and disk, itemized by chapter. I am impressed by the production quality and attention to detail.

Last time I visited, I noticed that books in this series are big sellers. This is the best title from Adobe which I have had the privilege to review, and Book Bytes certainly RECOMMENDS Adobe InDesign Classroom in a Book for newcomers to InDesign, especially readers who learn via itemized lessons linked to CD content.

MacMice Rating: 3
The Cathedral & the Bazaar:
Musings on Linux and Open Source
by an Accidental Revolutionary
by Eric S. Raymond
O’Reilly and Associates
ISBN 1-56592-724-9, 268 pages
$19.95 U.S., $29.95 Canada

Open source means collaborative, non-proprietary software development. Its most famous living example is Linux, an industrial-strength application which is undergoing 24/7 coding and revision by talented volunteer software engineers.

The title refers to opposing approaches to software creation. A cathedral (think “Microsoft”) keeps all code and bug testing secret until the company is ready to release a commercial product into the marketplace. A bazaar is an open, self-selected team, in which people’s contributions reinforce one another, under the watchful eye of a “benevolent dictator.”

Eric Raymond told me that the cathedral builders “keep the code secret after release too. If all you have is the binaries, you can’t tell what it’s doing — or how it might be broken.”

In a series of thoughtful, well-written essays, Raymond takes readers from “Why You Should Care” and “A Brief History of Hackerdom” to “Beyond Software?” and “How to Become a Hacker.” He uses the term “hacker” fondly, in reference to computing’s unsung heroes who work all day then code for fun all night, or vice versa.

Book Bytes rarely dips into these waters. If you are looking for the quickest way to perform the latest trick on the snazziest new Macintosh application, try one of the other titles reviewed this month. If you are interested in a true behind-the-scenes look from one who was, and continues to be, near the center of code creation, The Cathedral & the Bazaar will make delightful fireside reading.

I admit to knowing nothing at all about the powerhouse mainframes and Unix kernels Raymond discusses, but I enjoy feeling the reflected glow of very smart people who join together informally to make our world a better place. It will take me several readings to grasp the book’s nuances and feel the impact. If your local library doesn’t have a copy of this title, ask them to purchase one. Alternatively, buy one as a gift for your favorite open-minded programmer.

MacMice Rating: 3
REALbasic: The Definitive Guide
by Matt Neuburg
O’Reilly and Associates
ISBN 1-56592-657-9, 660 pages
$29.95 U.S., $43.95 Canada

A few months ago I received a personal challenge from Matt Neuburg. He wondered why Book Bytes didn’t review his previous book on the powerful Frontier scripting language. I explained that I have neither the expertise nor inclination to learn anything so difficult.

Matt then told me about this REALbasic book, written to help people use its object-oriented language to “Create Your Own Macintosh Applications.” When I again pleaded ignorance, he countered with: “But it’s a beginner’s book. You are the perfect Test Subject. Either I make you an expert or I don’t. Come into my laboratory…!” How could I not rise to the bait?

I have been spending short bursts of time with REALbasic: The Definitive Guide, and the material is starting to sink into my thick skull. My interest in become a software author hasn’t grown, but my appreciation of what goes into making an application from scratch is huge. Even better, I am enjoying reading Matt’s plainspoken, literary prose, in which he takes a complicated subject and makes his companion feel comfortable at every stage of the journey.

For example, in the opening pages the prospective programmer creates a dummy application, with a trial button that beeps and opens a message box that proclaims “Sorry, this application doesn’t do much!” Matt’s use of humor to soften the blows to the brain makes the book feel much more personal than typical programming literature. (Later in REALbasic: The Definitive Guide, he gives readers a philosophical blast from the past, in “Three Pillars of Zen.”)

In 32 chapters, delving deeper from units on the fundamentals and user interface through “Time: Ticks and Microseconds” and “Game Animation: Configuring the SpriteSurface” and “Apple Events and AppleScripts” and much, much more, the patient, diligent reader will become an expert by the time this substantial volume is completed. Read it and reap.

My conclusion is if you are thinking about using REALbasic version 2 as your software development tool, you have an exceptional friend in Professor Neuburg. The software is good, its official manual is less than perfect, and this third-part book is a delight to the eye and brain. Our Book Bytes rating is for people who intend to take the plunge:

MacMice Rating: 4
Harley Hahn Teaches the Internet, 2nd Edition
by Harley Hahn
Que / Macmillan
ISBN 0-78897-2093-0, 528 pages
$19.99 U.S., $29.95 Canada, £14.50 U.K.

I admit it: I like Harley’s books very much, even when they are aimed toward Windows users. I have given copies of the first and second editions of this book to friends and family when they have needed to learn about the Internet from ground zero. If they are MacPersons, I advise them to ask for help when the author’s Windows references are confusing.

Harley is a a friendly, helpful hand-holding guru who pledges to teach his readers the basics of successful Internet participation. He offers his website and a mini yellow pages section, and lots of personal tutorial advice. The 26-page glossary is one of the best ever, including terms for both newcomers (“Web server”) and more advanced users (“H.323” international standard for voice transmission).

The opening chapters provide background and current information on the Internet and what you can do on it, followed by a lengthy discussion on connectivity. Harley and I part company when he suggests that readers use Windows systems and avoid AOL, but at least he lets you know where he stands.

By Chapter Four the content gets a bit dense, and if you are a casual first-timer, you may have to put on your wading boots to make sense of “How DNS Works for You” or “Case Sensitive Pathnames.” I enjoy reading this stuff, but I’m not sure about the intended audience. The next two units on email have me convinced this book should be subtitled “The Thinking Person’s Guide to the Internet,” because Harley is more of a full-service educator than a Dummies-style kindergarten teacher.

Harley Hahn Teaches the Internet is almost all text, with many tips and sidebars, but no cute graphics. As you read the book, you will receive plenty of value for your money, page after page.

Much of the remainder of this book deals with the web experience, from search engines to personal web page creation; plus an extensive section on Usenet discussion groups. Harley recommends all readers go through his book systematically, but a pick-and-choose approach may work well for you.

Harley is a good teacher, but he might be aiming a bit higher than necessary, in spite of well-researched content. Thumb through the book before making your personal decision. Book Bytes is straddling the fence on rating this title. Harley Hahn Teaches the Internet will be appreciated most by serious Windozers who want to get it right the first time, and it is for them that we rate it:

MacMice Rating: 3

Harley has just published a pipsqueak text that also is geared toward the intelligent newcomer to the net. Note the price and size of this tiny volume:

Harley Hahn’s Read Me First Guide to the Internet
by Harley Hahn
Que Corporation
ISBN 0-7897-2314-X, 124 pages (and 4 inches square)
$5.99 U.S., $8.95 Canada, £4.50 U.K.

For readers (primarily Windows) who like their information smart and concise, Book Bytes is comfortable with a rating of:

MacMice Rating: 2
Net Slaves: True Tales of Working the Web
by Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin
ISBN 0-07-135243-0, 246 pages
$19.95 U.S.

Here we have a hardcover time-capsule, capturing the mid-decade years when the web was beginning its upward thrust. From personal experience and individual interviews, the authors created composite profiles of a range of Internet professionals being burned severely by their work.

One message rings clearly: DO SOMETHING ELSE! If you are young and talented and ambitious and energetic and lucky, you may (fat chance!) find yourself in a fulfilling employment situation leading to prosperity. The odds are slim at best, with much greater probability of a gruesome grind than of a gilded glut of stock options.

Net Slaves is full of potential, both from the hapless burnouts and the gutsy authors, who have been down the same road as their subjects. With its catchy title, attractive dust jacket, and terrific font (Concorde BE), the book promises its readers a heavy dose of reality-check. Does it deliver?

When I was in the music business thirty years ago, I realized many songs were more enjoyable for the performer than the listener. The same feature holds here, because in spite of sizzling zinger introductions to each chapter, the semi-fictitious profiles start out strong and end weakly.

I wanted Net Slaves to be more of a satisfying experience, rather than yesterday’s sad truth. Most potential readers are aware of the pitfalls of sticking one’s tootsies too close to the candle of Internet fortune and fame; those of you who have stars in your eyes will probably not be deterred by the strong inherent warnings in the book (but your family and friends certainly will be alarmed, if they read it before you do).

I don’t want to be too hard on Lessard and Baldwin. Instead, I’ll direct readers to their website and encourage these two plucky journalists to aim for a Silicon Valley update in a year or two, delivered closer to the time frame of the events described.

Bill Lessard tells Book Bytes:

We’ve attempted to rewrite the history of this industry. Instead of the well-documented winners, we’ve focused on the losers, the people you’ll never read about in Wired magazine. If the book seems one-sided, it’s because we wanted to go to the other extreme and allow people to find their own happy medium.

We are not interested in creating literature. The book has the style and tone of pulp fiction. That was purely intentional, right down to story endings, which may seem weak from one angle, but from our perspective, were necessary to bring each chapter to as outrageous a conclusion as possible. Remember, these are “tales” not stories.

Our goal is not to not to discourage people from entering or remaining in this industry. Rather, it’s to show them the other side of the story, to make them feel less alone in their own failures and to drive home the point that they shouldn’t buy into the hype and empower themselves to deal with a “Gold Rush” mentality.

MacMice Rating: 2


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