Improving Control over Computer-use: Book Reviews (Excel Hacks; Cascading Style Sheets: the Definitive Guide; Wicked Cool Shell Scripts).
Hawley, David and Raina. Excel Hacks: 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tools. O'Reilly; Sabastopol, CA. US$24.95. ISBN 0-596-00625-X
Meyer, Eric A. Cascading Style Sheets: the Definitive Guide; 2nd Edition. O'Reilly; Sabastopol, CA. US$39.95. ISBN 0-596-00525-3
Taylor, Dave. Wicked Cool Shell Scripts. No Starch Press; San Francisco. US$29.95. ISBN 1-59327-012-7
As an experiment, last year I sat a novice computer user in front of the iMac and said, "Go figure." Within a day or so, he learned to create graphics; a couple of days later, he used images in iMovie. After a week, the whole idea of the computer held no fear; but a plateau was reached. It was as I had expected: a new user can reach a certain level and then more sophisticated help is needed.
The books reviewed here are examples of that. Each of us may reach a certain everyday work-level with our more familiar appplications, but there is often much more that can be wrung from our computers once we have the guidance.
Sometimes I use Excel and a number of Excel clones, but once the students' marks are calculated, my job is complete. I worked once with a mathematician who showed me how to produce charts and graphs and how to milk the statistics. Then I lost his notes. Excel Hacks, like many in the O'Reilly "Hacks" series, provides several ways to increase the efficiency of working in Excel.
Some of the hacks have several ways to tackle a problem: although the cover claims 100 tips, there are more. I particularly liked the hack that enabled one to display a date in the form "4th August 2004" which Excel cannot do.
Even using a simple formula or macro can turn the basic spreadsheet into a document that uses data far more effectively, once you know how: sections on these are large and sophisticated. In line with other books in this series, Excel Hacks is well-illustrated with screen shots (mainly from XP) and with a goood index.
I have been writing web pages for a number of years now and still prefer the hand-written approach. This means, inevitably, that the pages are simpler (but quicker to download) and have limited effects. I prefer information to eye-candy.
I try to impose a certain style over each group of pages that appear on my web-site (teaching, eXtensions, motorcycles) and this means a lot of copy and paste -- much repetition -- as well as rewriting the same code over and over again.
The cascading style sheet means that the coding for the page-style need be written once only, in a script page that is read by the browser: all pages below are displayed in the same way (unless another script page at a lower level over-rides the first). The pages themselves are thus lighter and also quicker to display.
Eric A. Meyer is to be congratulated for the second edition of his work on this area. The concepts are simple to grasp; and the graded development of the chapters makes it easy to follow the approach, from the basic elements of web style through to the more complex.
The tone of the book made reading a pleasure, for what could be a difficult subject. With some web-writing experience, I found that I could imagine the way new sites should be developed to comply with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines. Meyer is not a boring writer.
I would suggest that those who need to write pages for new sites consider a copy of this book, although (on a personal level) I dread rewriting an entire site to comply with new standards. That is going to take some spare time and a deeper reading of Meyer's book to make sure I have it right.
Dave Taylor is obviously a man who enjoys working in UNIX and, like Eric A. Meyer (above) is a witty writer. Trying to make command line work and scripts appear interesting, is no mean task. He also has some firm ideas on what is what in these operating systems, steering the reader away quickly from the C Shell (Csh) which some may not aggree with.
The purpose of Taylor's scripts (indeed, any scripts) is to make work easier. To write a script for UNIX, however, takes a good familiarity with the operating system and the shell. Like Excel Hacks Taylor provides several problems and then provides the solution for each. The scripts themselves are fairly complex and need careful reading and/or copying.
Sections include scripts on Administration of the system (system maintenance and user management) as well as four chapters on Web tasks. When it comes to the chapter on Mac OSX, it is clear that Taylor admires what this UNIX with a graphical user interface is. To some extent, the scripts he provides here may be redundant but from online sources it is clear that many users actually prefer working at the command line in OSX. I can manage, but prefer the easy way out when available.
Wicked Cool Shell Scripts is useful book for a student library or the collection of someone who is beginning to move to Linux or UNIX.
Some readers have asked about ordering books. I would suggest either a local boookshop (which may be slow) or online from the publisher or Amazon using a credit card and with the book sent airmail
For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.
To eXtensions: Book Reviews
To eXtensions: Year One
Back to homepage