Some Essentials for the Computer Desk: Book Reviews

By Graham K. Rogers

Like the majority of people with access to computers, I am a user and not a programmer. The closest I ever got was in the early 90s when Wanda Sloan had a series on batch files (.bat) and I had fun making these, particularly as the language looked like English.

Apple script Apple created an accessible scripting language -- AppleScript -- that uses English instructions to make things work. I was first interested when Jonas Salling released "Clicker". It used AppleScripts to control applications, via Ericsson mobile phones. Apart from basic instructions, that was as far as I went: there are more knowledgable people out there than me. I wanted to take it that bit further, but needed a book to help me.

That book arrived in my mailbox in the shape of one of O'Reilly's excellent Missing Manual works. Adam Goldstein is to be lauded for its writing. Although readers can treat this as a series of interconnected tutorials, there is no compulsion for this: the good index and chapter titles make it easy to move directly to any specific area.

Just after starting the book, I needed to write a script to eject recalcitrant CDs with a Unix command (drutil). I easily found how to include these commands in a script, and then found a way to save as an application.

Goldstein begins with an overview which explains the use of Script Editor, a utility that is part of an OSX installation. The major part of the book examines scripting tasks and then moves on to "Power User Features." At over 300 pages, this is not a wieldy book and the information is well-balanced: both beginners and the experienced will find something valuable.

Also on my wish list was a way to find out which html commands existed, and how they worked. When I forgot some of the simplest commands I was tracking down books I had owned since before Netscape arrived. Then the Web Programmers Desk Reference landed with a thud in my mailbox.

Web reference This massy book is larger than a Mac mini and about as heavy as my PowerBook; it is also heavy in price. I would wager that, for anyone who creates web sites, this book is worth its weight in gold. This is evident by the subtitle: A complete cross-reference to HTML, CSS and Javascript. Its organisation must have been a monumental task.

After a short chapter listing, there are "Contents in Detail" where, section by section, each command or element is listed with page references. Included are CSS, Object-oriented programming, HTML (alphabetically), event handlers, Javascript properties and Microsoft specifics. There are 15 sections in all and this index spans 25 pages.

At the rear is another 16-page, aphabetical index of HTML, CSS and Javascript listings. The 1068 pages between list and explain (with cross-references) anything and everything for programming web pages: each listing includes an example of use. Each listing shows the browsers that it is compatible with.

This work does one job and it does the job well. If one has any doubts, the data with each element or command gives one a complete understanding of how it will operate in context.

The Cohens are a father and son team: Lázaro, the father, who was a professor at a university in Madrid, has an impressive background in science and art, with a love of computers for good measure. This work that the pair have created together will be open on the desks of many web programmers for a long time to come.


Earlier this year, Apple released iLife '05 and I reviewed the parts of this in March. It was obvious when I first saw the components of the iLife suite that iPhoto particularly had had a major makeover, so is it no surprise that Pogue and Story have been reasonably quick off the mark with another Missing Manual: this one in colour as befits a work on digital photography.

There are four major sections: digital camera basics, iPhoto basics (importing and editing), a section on methods to export and use images, and a section called "iPhoto Stunts." This may be mis-titled as the section includes some advice on file-management, which is a subject in iPhoto that needs some care, with the way that directories and stored images are organised. There are also appendices on trouble-shooting and menus, plus the usual index.

The Missing Manual series from O'Reilly, along with Davide Pogue are a strong and effective franchise and this manual is no exception. As ever, filled with excellent images and (very) high-quality screen shots, this is useful for anyone who desires to get more out of iPhoto than just import and export of images. That there is more, I have no doubt and use many of the abilities of this application. With its latest improvements, the Missing Manual is a most handy text book and reference work that has already arrived on the shelves in Bangkok.

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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