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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

This month I chose an exceptional style book, Bugs in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose, by Lyn Dupré; two second editions, Essential System Administration, by Æleen Frisch, and Inside TCP/IP, by New Riders; The Internet Voyeur: A Guide to Viewing Images on the Internet, by Jim Howard; Instant C Programming, by Ivor Horton; Data Communications: From Basics to Broadband, 2 ed., by William J. Beyda; and C and UNIX: Tools for Software Design, by Martin L. Barrett and Clifford H. Wagner.

Bugs in Writing: A Guide to Debugging Your Prose
by Lyn Dupré
ISBN 0-201-60019-6

Every job occasionally requires some type of writing. Technical positions present no exception to that rule, but they do demand a different, more detailed type of writing. Regular readers of this column may have noticed that I rarely include an acronym without its explanation, or at least its expanded name (exceptions to this may include very familiar acronyms, e.g., TCP/IP or AIX). However, no matter what style the writer employs, certain principles apply. Most of us learned these basic rules in grades six through nine. Since then, we have remembered select sections, but have forgotten most of the fundamentals.

Lyn Dupré addresses specific writing topics in a friendly, readable format, reminiscent of newspaper columns. The issues presented range from general usage, including Adjectives and Adverbs, Redundant Terms, and Placement of Prepositions, to specific practices, such as Better, Best, Worst; Affect Versus Effect; Shall Versus Will; and Its Versus It's. Dupré also examines newer developments in writing, exploring Terms for Human-Computer Interaction, Visual Aids for Presentations, Style Sheets and Spell Checkers, and Gender-Specific Words. Some of the more advanced sections deal with Abstracts, Dissertations, and Authorship on Research Articles.

The author illustrates each of the 150 segments with good, bad, splendid, and ugly examples. The topics are treated briefly and precisely and not only reward leisurely perusal, but also comprise an excellent reference tool. Each segment concludes with "The principle for lucid writing here is...," followed by the essential ideas presented in that section. In the preface, entitled "Read Me: Ear," Dupré states her goal: to develop her readers' ability to hear language. She wants us to be able to discern whether a phrase, sentence, or term is properly used by hearing or seeing it.

Bugs in Writing is a well-organized and useful guide, and Dupré's writing style is fresh and entertaining. Whether the reader writes daily or infrequently, the sections illustrating some of the most frequently misused aspects of the English language will be instructive. This is an ideal reference for the technical professional accustomed to researching minute details; it is an extraordinary reference for the general writing audience.

Essential System Administration
Second Edition
by Æleen Frisch
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 1-56592-127-5

The first edition of Essential System Administration became a landmark reference for system administrators. It not only addressed UNIX System V and BSD (Berkeley Standard Distribution) variants, but also included XENIX, SunOS, and the first substantive information on IBM's AIX operating system. Since October 1991, revisions, upgrades, and significant development have occurred. Consequently, in order to maintain its value to the administrator, Essential System Administration was completely rewritten, not simply modified. The new edition has the same basic organizational plan, so the reader can easily find needed solutions quickly. (This is unlike the minor reorganization in your local supermarket, when finding the milk requires two maps and the aid of Sherlock Holmes.)

Since the book is often a training tool for novice administrators, Frisch addresses the fundamental concepts of UNIX system administration. She introduces both simple daily tasks and complex procedures. She has expanded the sections detailing networking, electronic mail, kernel configuration, and security. Frisch examines the new world of the multi-vendor administrator and discusses the most recent major UNIX platforms: SunOS 4.1.4, Solaris 2.4, AIX 4, Digital UNIX 3, SCO UNIX 3, HP-UX 9 and 10, IRIX 6, and Linux 1.3.

Essential System Administration remains a practical guide, and this is its most valuable attribute. It is designed for daily administrative use and for finding a procedure quickly. Frisch's considerable knowledge, coupled with her lucid writing style, has produced a superb reference for any and every UNIX administrator, novice or advanced. It is also an excellent resource for UNIX users.

Inside TCP/IP
Second Edition
New Riders Publishing
ISBN 1-56205-450-3

The second edition of Inside TCP/IP provides the reader with the necessary information to design, maintain, and troubleshoot TCP/IP networks. The efforts of seventeen authors appear in three sections: The Overview, Enumeration, and the Appendices and Glossary. The Overview addresses TCP/IP Routing, Frame Relay and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode as opposed to Adobe Type Manager or Automatic Teller Machines), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), the Domain Name System, sendmail and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), Network Security and IPng - The Next Generation. Part Two: Enumeration includes Connectivity to NetWare, DOS and Windows, Windows NT, OS/2, UNIX, and Windows 95. Appendices and the Glossary also present information on Vendors, RFCs (Requests for Comments), Site Registration, Utilities, and Further Reading.

The primary additions to the second edition are the chapter on IPng and Windows 95 Connectivity. IPng- The Next Generation examines the current definition of IP version 6. An explanation of the existing IP implementation, version 4, introduces the chapter. Connecting to Windows 95 discusses Window 95 networking benefits, configuring TCP/IP both with a LAN (Local Area Network) and a dial-up connection, and the TCP/ IP applications that accompany Windows 95.

The writing style is clear and consistent. (I am amazed that so many individual authors could produce a logical, coherent text). The authors' extensive knowledge and the many figures, tables, and examples make this book worth the attention of every system and network administrator.

The Internet Voyeur A Guide to Viewing Images on the Internet
by Jim Howard
ISBN 0-7821-1655-8
Disk Included

One of the most enticing aspects of the Internet is its vast resource of pictures, animation, and sound. These files feature maps, artwork, pin-ups, cartoons, movie clips, and quotations and are easily accessed. Although the images and sounds may seem easy to obtain, casual users often experience difficulty in accomplishing this. The Internet Voyeur tries to solve those problems and simplify the downloading, decoding, and decompressing processes.

Howard provides detailed information for the different file formats. A table displaying the various file extensions and what they mean appears on the inside front cover of the book. The author reviews some of the Internet tools for the reader and briefly demonstrates how to use them. He explains the vocabulary that accompanies the different image and sound procedures. He demonstrates downloading and decoding methods, tells how to process archived and compressed files, and reveals where the free utilities can be found. He also identifies some of the more interesting resources on the Net, and reviews proper netiquette for the reader. Specifically, Howard examines MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group sound or animation), Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME), and step-by-step methods for downloading and transmitting binary files.

In addition to identifying various freeware and shareware utilities for the Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX, and noting their locations, Howard illustrates how to use them. The accompanying disk contains Windows utilities for decoding, decompressing, and viewing downloaded multimedia files. The index is detailed and complete. Sidebars highlight warnings or tips, and the examples use the America Online interface, although any of the services can be substituted. The Internet Voyeur will repay any user's examination by simplifying the downloading and decoding processes.

Instant C Programming
by Ivor Horton
Wrox Press
ISBN 1-874416-24-9

Instant C Programming, targeted to programmers familiar with other languages and endeavoring to learn C, fulfills more than one purpose. It provides an excellent review guide for C programmers who either have not used C for some time or are moving from one type of C compiler to another. Each chapter addresses a separate topic, so that the inexperienced C programmer builds on the fundamentals in a logical fashion. Experienced programmers will find a well-organized text that makes it easy to isolate a single topic and even easier to find a single detail within the chapters. Some of the chapters address the following topics: Logic and Loops, Arrays and Pointers, Using Functions, Data Structures, Using Libraries, and File Operations. Necessary appendices include the ASCII table and Keywords in C. Each chapter contains the following structure: an outline of the chapter contents, an introduction to the topic, the body of the chapter, summary, and programming exercises. The thumbprints at the top of every other page indicates the topic of that part of the chapter, rather like the words at the top of a dictionary page.

The substantive material of the book illustrates the power of C in several ways. The many different examples display its versatility; the options illustrate its potential power. Horton explains the varied concepts clearly, logically, and step-by-step, using tables, screen outputs, figures, diagrams, and code examples to help the reader understand the procedures presented. Instant C Programming provides an excellent introduction or review for any programmer interested in C.

Data Communications From Basics to Broadband
Second Edition
by William J. Beyda
Prentice Hall
ISBN 0-13-366923-8
$ 40.00

The world of data communications is constantly changing. Protocols and standards are updated, new hardware is developed, and different trends become popular. Books on data communications increasingly focus on very specific topics. A novice to the field needs a book that explains the fundamental concepts clearly. Beyda's second edition presents the basics of data communications for the beginner and also explores topics designed for the experienced technical professional. Most books merge both levels in the same type of print on the same page. It is the reader's task to separate the two. By contrast, the author has isolated the more advanced material in shaded boxes, enabling the reader to either ignore or read the information.

Beyda introduces the subject with a chapter on Understanding Telecommunications and Basic Data Communications Concepts. He continues with Data Interfaces and Transmission, Improving Data Communications Efficiently, Data Integrity and Security, and Architectures and Protocols. He concludes with Data Transport Networks, Network Management, and Digital Telecommunications. The important elements are all here: modulation, multiplexors, error control, packet switching and local area networks, ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode).

Since the data communications field generates an overabundance of acronyms, Beyda takes care to provide an unusually complete glossary. Each chapter ends with a summary, a section entitled "Terms for Review," and exercises. This excellent book could easily serve as a course book, a general introduction to data communications, or an advanced text. It would be a welcome addition to any network or system administrator's library.

C and UNIX Tools for Software Design
by Martin L. Barrett and Clifford H. Wagner
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
ISBN 0-471-30927-3

This book represents an unusual blending of subjects in that it looks at C and the UNIX operating system together. Many books address these topics separately, but few merge them. Add the subject of software design to the other two, and the text becomes a valuable resource (and also eliminates two other books that the student would normally carry). Each chapter includes separate sections on C and UNIX. Thus, if the curriculum does not include UNIX, the instructor can eliminate that part of the text from the syllabus.

A particular benefit of this book is its discussion of software design. Although students often wonder why software design is important, they usually come to appreciate it for themselves when they're out in the real coding world. (As a student, I took a course entitled Software Tools I, which divided its time among C, UNIX, and the principles of software design. There were texts for C and UNIX, and the instructor wrote the software tools part. I still use ideas from that course and for problems totally unrelated to the programming world.) Barrett and Wagner demonstrate that C and UNIX complement each other well, but remain independent of one another.

Each chapter ends with references, a summary, review problems, and programming problems. The authors include many types of examples, from mathematics, science, accounting, statistics, and image processing. The text is intended for experienced programmers, and gives the reader groundwork for more advanced classes and concepts. The style is clear and logical, and the authors often include bonus principles, such as system design, in the descriptions. I enjoyed this book tremendously. Even though I read it outside of a classroom environment, I appreciated the cross-disciplinary ideas presented. This excellent book will not only provide the reader with C and UNIX knowledge but also with useful tips on various phases of the design process.

About the Author

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 11 years. She is currently a UNIX and C consultant, and one of her specialties is UNIX education. In addition to her cmoputer science background, she also has a degree in English. Elizabeth can be reached via CompuServe at 71603,2201 (Internet format:, or at America Online (