Books: A User's Report
This month, I reviewed some second editions: The Internet & World Wide Web: The Rough Guide 2.0 by Angus J. Kennedy (Rough Guides Ltd.) and DNS and BIND by Paul Albitz and Cricket Liu (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc ); a design book for the World Wide Web, computer-based training (CBT), and help pages: Standards for Online Communication by JoAnn T. Hackos and Dawn M. Stevens (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.); and an elementary health book: Computers & Your Health by Joanna Bawa (Celestial Arts).
The Internet & World Wide Web: The Rough Guide 2.0
by Angus J. Kennedy
Rough Guides Ltd.
Distributed by The Penguin Group
The first edition of Kennedy's small (4" x 5 1/2") guide featured a well-written and complete introduction to the fundamental Internet concepts, available utilities, content, and vocabulary. An excellent book for both the novice and the experienced user, the previous edition explained the basics, presented a guide to Newsgroups and the World Wide Web, and provided a history, a glossary, and a list of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The second edition of The Internet & World Wide Web: The Rough Guide 2.0 retains the organization and structure established in the original version. However, Kennedy has revised and expanded the book's focus and contents. In Part One: The Basics, the author covers FAQs, Getting Connected, Online Services and Major ISPs, Email, Mailing Lists, File Transfers (FTP), Usenet Newsgroups, Surfing the World Wide Web, Finding It, Creating Your Own Web Page, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Some of the topics are new additions; others sections have been expanded to reflect the Internet's evolving trends. Kennedy revised existing sections to include more details and specifications and has also provided new approaches to most of the chapters throughout the book. Part Two, The Guide, features mini-directories for both the World Wide Web and Usenet Newsgroups. It also presents a Software Roundup, listing the most popular programs on the Net, with a brief description of each and its corresponding location. In the following section, Contexts, Kennedy furnishes A Brief History of the Internet, Net Language, a Glossary, and Further Reading. The fourth and final section, Directories, contains Internet Service Providers, Cybercafés, Acknowledgments, and the Index.
The Internet & World Wide Web: The Rough Guide 2.0 is a concentrated Internet guru in a petite package. Smaller than the average paperback dictionary or thesaurus, Kennedy's book contains a complete and knowledgeable introduction to the Internet and its utilities. This is a superb addition to any Internet library: the author's writing style is excellent, easily readable, and the contents detail essential and valuable concepts. I highly recommend it.
DNS and BIND
by Paul Albitz and Cricket Liu
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
The Domain Name System (DNS) and the Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) are constantly employed by the Internet. Among other things, DNS enables the computers to map names to numbers. In that way, users don't have to remember that 184.108.40.206 is actually Joyce or Dave. DNS is essentially a distributed database and possesses a structure similar to the graphic representation of the Unix operating system. BIND is the most popular software currently used with DNS. The second edition of DNS and BIND by Albitz and Liu features the 4.8.3 version of BIND as well as the recently released 4.9.4. (The original edition focused on 4.8.3 in addition to two previous versions, 4.8 and 4.8.1.) The authors present the DNS and BIND concepts through the following chapters: Background, How Does DNS Work?, Where Do I Start?, Setting Up BIND, Growing Your Domains, Parenting, Advanced Features and Security, nslookup, Reading BIND Debugging Output, Troubleshooting DNS and BIND, Programming with the Resolver Library Routines, and Miscellaneous. The Appendices include: (A) DNS Message Format and Resource Records; (B) Compiling and Installing BIND on a Sun; (C) Top-Level Domains; (D) Domain Registration Form; (E) in-addr.arpa Registration; and (F) BIND Name Server and Resolver Directives. Albitz and Liu provide the reader, whether system administrator, network administrator, or user, with as much information as he or she needs or wants. They demonstrate how DNS and BIND work, how to configure hosts to use DNS name servers, and how to use the newer security features available in BIND 4.9.4. The authors also illustrate DNS on Windows platforms, including Windows NT, adding domains, host name checking, and troubleshooting using nslookup.
This is an outstanding book. Albitz and Liu describe an essential and seldom documented element of the Internet. The authors approach the topic procedurally, with numerous figures, diagrams, and examples. DNS and BIND, Second Edition is a superb revision of the classic reference. System administrators need this book; interested users will find it enlightening.
Standards for Online Communication
by JoAnn T. Hackos and Dawn M. Stevens
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Every computer user has experienced online communication in one or more of its formats: a World Wide Web site, the corporation's Intranet, computer-based training (CBT), or the help screens of a computer program. This communication may have inspired admiration, criticism, or frustration. Regardless of its effectiveness, someone decided how to implement the design, its graphics, type styles, links, and contents. However, the standards for design and construction are often sacrificed during the pressure of a deadline. Hackos and Stevens attempt to reintroduce theses standards in three sections: Analyzing Your Information Needs, Designing Your Online System, and Implementing Your Design. The introductory chapter, Defining the Process, characterizes the medium and presents the procedures needed for its implementation. (Chapter 1 is not included in the three sections.) Analyzing Your Information Needs (Part 1) identifies the initial decision process. It contains Learning About Your Users' Information Needs, Determining the Stages of Use (Novices, Advanced Beginners, Competent Performers, Proficient Performers, and Expert Performers), Categorizing Information Needs, and Recognizing the Implications of Design Research. (The last provides four case studies.) Part 2, Designing Your Online System, discusses Structuring Your Online System, Adding Hypertext Links, Structuring Your Topics, Testing Your Design and Implementation, and Choosing the Right Tools. In the third section, Implementing Your Design, Hackos and Stevens examine Designing the Information Interface, Ensuring Accessibility, Providing Navigation Aids, Composing Your Topics, Writing for Readability, Adding Graphics, and Moving Forward with Multimedia. The Appendices include: (A) List of Guidelines; (B) Bibliography; and (C) Using the CD-ROM.
The authors address the design features that a developer of a Web site or help page should consider. They do not specifically instruct the designer how to implement each attribute. For example, one suggestion is:
"Be consistent in the format and design of display screens." (page 214)
This includes a uniform appearance and could incorporate margins, rulers, fonts, icons, and hyperlinks. Many Web pages present a familiar set of buttons on the bottom (sidebar or top) of each page. The user relies on these to navigate through the site. The directional buttons can appear as icons or text. However, Hackos and Stevens do not explain how to execute each concept. (If they had, this book would have been an encyclopedia.) Some of the guidelines they define (e.g., topic organization, when to use hypertext links, and how many to use) assists the Web developer in page development and establishes a standard for the reader to judge a site's effectiveness.
Standards for Online Communication addresses the issues that either add to or detract from an online presentation's success. The authors concentrate on the qualities that contribute to an aesthetically pleasing and practical screen and one that is also tailored to its users. Hackos and Stevens have produced a well-written annd easily referenced text. Most of the entries are concise, independent of the other guidelines, and comfortably read. It will be a valuable addition to the presentation, Web design, multimedia training, and technical writing libraries.
Computers & Your Health
by Joanna Bawa
P. O. Box 7123
Berkeley California 94707
The problems of computers and the users' health is a serious issue among both users and the medical profession. Since computers are now everywhere, almost everyone is a user of some magnitude. (There are rare exceptions, I've heard.) Cash registers have been replaced by point of sale systems, almost every office uses computers for some facet of their operation, and even cars have them. The threat of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) can be found everywhere, or so it seems. The nature of the syndrome is not only limited to computer users, but also extends to anyone repeating the same action using the same muscles. In Computers & Your Health, Bawa quotes the first written treatise, which referred to writers. (Now I feel much better about it!) She examines the various problems that computers can cause, plus some preventative strategies in the following chapters: Coping with Computing, Computers: What They Do, How They Hurt, How They Help, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Electromagnetism and the Computing Environment, Computers and Eyestrain, Preventing and Treating Computer Related Health Problems, Children's Health and Computing, and Computers, Health, and the Law.
The problems that accompany the computer age may seem overwhelming, but so has every other set of problems with each new era. The key to solving the problems is to know more about them and their causes. If we know what aspect of computer use causes the individual difficulty, the resulting dilemma can be averted. Each of the specific health issues has a cause and effect, which may be avoided or at least corrected. Bawa devotes one chapter to the solutions.
Any book that reminds a user of the potential dangers has merit. Computers & Your Health touches on each problem area connected with computers. Bawa provides a simple approach for those new to the computer field and its problems. However, there are very few diagrams to illustrate exactly how the injuries occur. The chapters devoted to the prevention, the children, and the law relative to the computer injury and stress are worthwhile. The author does not address the specific posture or habits of the computer user in as much detail as she could have.
About the Author
Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 12 years. She is currently a UNIX and C consultant, and one of her specialties is UNIX education. In addition to her computer science background, she also has a degree in English. Elizabeth can be reached via America Online (email@example.com).