Books: A User's Report
In this column, I've endeavored to answer a repeated question, survey a comprehensive premier package, and examine a popular technology. Specifically, this issue's reviews include Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Eighth Edition by Scott Mueller (Que Corporation); Perl Resource Kit, UNIX Edition (O'Reilly Software); and The Internet Phone Connection by Cheryl Kirk (Osborne/McGraw-Hill).
Upgrading and Repairing PCs
by Scott Mueller
Readers often email questions regarding book recommendations on specific topics and new developments. The most frequent topic is computer hardware; inquiries about it range from "how does it work?" through maintenance and upgrading legacy systems to relatively new products. In Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Mueller addresses all of these topics and explains many others. The book is divided into six primary sections, plus one for the Appendixes. The sections include the Introduction, Primary System Components, Input/Output Hardware, Mass Storage, System Assembly Maintenance, and Troubleshooting and Diagnostics. The Introduction describes Personal Computer Background, an Overview of System Features and Components, and System Teardown and Inspection. Primary System Components discusses Motherboards, Bus Slots and I/O Cards, Microprocessor Types and Specifications, Memory, and The Power Supply; Input/Output Hardware examines Input Devices, Video Display Hardware, Communications and Networking, and Audio Hardware. The contiguous section on Mass Storage explores Floppy Disk Drives, Hard Disk Drives, Hard Disk Interfaces, Hard Disk Drive Installation, CD-ROM Drives, and Tape and Other Mass-Storage Drives. Mueller reviews Building a System and Portable Systems in System Assembly Maintenance, and illustrates Software and Hardware Diagnostic Tools, Operating Systems Software and Troubleshooting, IBM Personal Computer Family Hardware, and A Final Word in the concluding Troubleshooting and Diagnostics section. The Appendixes include (A) A Vendor List and (B) A Glossary.
The accompanying CD-ROM is a complete reference in itself. It contains Que's Technical Reference Bookshelf and furnishes complete electronic versions of Windows 95 Installation and Configuration Handbook; Windows NT 4.0 Installation and Configuration Handbook; Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Fourth Edition; Upgrading and Repairing Networks; Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Sixth Edition; and Upgrading and Repairing Macs.
Mueller logically approaches each concept and clearly explains it; his informal style addresses both the novice and the experienced technician. Web site addresses (URLs) are presented throughout the book for further information on the various topics or products. Numerous figures, diagrams, and tables provide the reader with helpful (and often necessary) information for upgrading, maintaining, and troubleshooting computers. Mueller's expertise should also be useful to the systems analyst as a resource for assessing the best products for specific environments. The CD-ROM (which I installed and used) presents the other books in Adobe Acrobat format and is easy to use and customize. Upgrading and Repairing PCs, Eighth Edition, provides a valuable and essential reference for an administrator or anyone interested in upgrading their current system. It is an outstanding book on a complex subject. Anyone contemplating an upgrade should reference this book before opening the computer case!
Perl Resource Kit
CD-ROM and reference books combination
This inaugural and complete distribution of Perl software and documentation contains five individual elements: the Perl Utilities Guide, Programming with Perl Modules, Perl Module Reference (volumes one and two), the Perl CD-ROM, and an issue of The Perl Journal. The Perl Utilities Guide by Brian Jepson outlines the contents of the Perl Resource Kit and provides the documentation for the software included on the CD-ROM. Among the utilities contained on the CD-ROM is the most recent version of Perl, a new tool (JPL) written by Larry Wall for the Perl Resource Kit, and a searchable mirror of CPAN (the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network.) JPL is a new Java/Perl interface that permits programmers to combine Java and Perl within an application. In the Perl Utilities Guide, Jepson addresses: Welcome to the Perl Resource Kit; Installing the Resource Kit Software; Perlez-vous Java? Using JPL; Going all AWT: Using the Java Abstract Window Toolkit with Perl; JPL and Applets: Using JPL with RMI; and Advanced JPL: SQL Databases and Dynamic Images. The Appendices contain (A) a JPL Reference and (B) Selected Articles from The Perl Journal.
Programming with Perl Modules by Nate Patwardhan with Clay Irving introduces the concept of modules and their availability through CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive Network). The authors demonstrate how to use modules through the following chapters: Introduction to Perl Modules and PCAN, Parsing Command-Line Arguments, Manipulating Files and Text, the Mail and MIME Modules, Date and Time, Building Graphical Interfaces Using Perl/Tk, Graphics and Plotting, The Database Modules, The Net Modules, News::NNTPClient and News::Newsrc, Web Applications with LWP, Web Server Efficiency, Contributing to CPAN, and Examples.
The Perl Module Reference volumes by Ellen Siever and David Futato provide the reader and programmer with an effective and valuable catalog of existing modules. The modules are documented with the code through pod (Plain Old Documentation) and grouped by category. The first seven categories appear in volume one; the subsequent topics plus the permuted index are in volume two. Siever and Futato organized the books in the following order: Introduction; Perl Core Modules; Development Support; Operating System Interfaces; Networking, Devices, and InterProcess Communication; Data Types and Data Type Utilities; Database Interfaces; User Interfaces; Interfaces to Other Languages; File Names, File Systems, and File Locking; String and Language Text Processing, Parsing, and Searching; Option, Argument, Parameter, and Configuration File Processing; Internationalization and Locale; Authentication, Security, and Encryption; World Wide Web, HTML, HTTP, CGI, and MIME; Server and Daemon Utilities; Archiving and Compression; Image, Pixmap, and Bitmap Manipulation; Mail and Usenet News; Control Flow Utilities; File Handle, Directory Handle, and I/O Stream Utilities; Microsoft Windows Modules; Miscellaneous Modules, and the Permuted Index. Most of the module entries follow a pattern of Synopsis, Description, and Author information. Optional data may include Bugs, Copyright, and How It Works.
The Perl Resource Kit also contains the Fall 1997 copy of The Perl Journal (http://tpj.com). This excellent publication (resized especially for the Perl Resource Kit) is dedicated to Perl programming issues, questions, and developments. (It has also been previously lauded in this column as a superb periodical). Anyone interested in the Perl language should subscribe to The Perl Journal.
The Perl Resource Kit features an extraordinary combination of software and reference materials. It provides all new documentation in an extremely well-written style and format. Although there are four separate texts and so four authors, the works are seamlessly intertwined and appear as one cohesive unit. Larry Wall's JPL utility is an impressive bonus to an already amazing package. The first standard distribution of Perl is an outstanding and distinguished contribution to the existing Perl library, both online and offline. The Perl Resource Kit is an essential tool for anyone programming in Perl.
The Internet Phone Connection
by Cheryl Kirk
The theory of computer communication is not a new idea. Electronic mail (and checking for it) has become part of the everyday routine for many people. Even the thought of talking via computer is not unusual. We've all heard sound files. However, there is often a chasm between accepting the theory of an idea and its practice. More families and friends separated by distance are seeing computer microphones and speakers in a new light. Cheryl Kirk relates her own experiences with this technology and discusses the problems and solutions that she discovered. She discusses the procedures to follow through the following chapters: An Introduction to Internet Phones; The History and Future of Internet Phones; Building Your Internet Phone; The Components You'll Need; How to Make the Connection; A Few Words About Sound Compression; Internet Phone Software Products; Putting the Internet Phone Programs to Work; Gadgets, Gizmos, and Other Great Things for Internet Phones; Tips and Tricks for Optimizing Your Internet Phone Connection; and More Telephony and Audio Products. The Appendix provides Instructions for Using the CD-ROM and a Glossary.
I have tried an Internet phone and succeeded in communicating with it. (I admit that it also took a few tech support calls, learning how to talk into a microphone correctly, and putting the volume control at 100%.) Kirk addresses the simple facts that seem complex at the time, such as sound compression, in an enthusiastic and understandable manner. Her writing style is enjoyable and her research and knowledge extensive. She provides an excellent and thorough demonstration and description of the topic. I recommend this book for everyone interested in utilizing Internet telephone communication.
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).