Books: A User's Report
Each month, the selection of topics and books to include in this column becomes more difficult. In this issue, I chose to include a hardware selection, a Web site construction how-to book, a classic on Internet concepts and implementation, and a security book. Specifically, the books reviewed are: PC Tuning: How to Improve Your PC's Performance - The Smart and Simple Way! by Andreas Voss (Data Becker/Abacus); Poor Richard's Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building A Low-Cost Web Site by Peter Kent (Top Floor Publishing); DNS and BIND, Third Edition by Paul Albitz and Cricket Liu (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.); and Steal This Computer Book: What They Won't Tell You About The Internet by Wallace Wang (No Starch Press).
PC Tuning: How to Improve Your PC's
Performance - The Smart and Simple Way!
By Andreas Voss
Personal computers often present the familiar problem of other major appliances: parts wear out and produce a less efficient result as new technology and implementations develop. However, the diverse parts of a computer that determine its performance quality are more complex than those of a washer, dryer, or oven. (Although the intricacies of each ultimately depends on the user's knowledge base and experience, I know several people who believe a VCR is supposed to flash 12:00 continuously.) The combination of a computer's hardware and software options and capabilities allows the knowledgeable user to individually customize its configuration. In PC Tuning, Voss explores various ways to ensure that your personal computer functions at its optimal level. The author also describes when a computer is past upgrading. Voss addresses the following topics: QuickCheck: Get More Speed Right Away; Upgrading Tips For Older PCs; Recognizing Rip-offs & Buying The Best PC Possible; The Real Power In Your PC: CPUs, RAM, And Chipsets; Increasing Performance With A Better Data Bus, BIOS And Motherboard Tuning - From Correct Configuration To Overclocking; SCSI And EIDE In Plain English; Hard Drive And Removable Drive Secrets; About CD-ROMs and CD-RW; Video Cards And Monitors; and Sound Card Tuning. The CD-ROM provides the user with demonstration and shareware utilities for system information and evaluation.
PC Tuning begins with simple and inexpensive ways to upgrade a computer; each suggestion effectively demonstrates an immediate improvement. Voss illustrates when upgrading offers a viable alternative to a new system and also which upgrades aren't worth either the time or the expense. The author also describes sales techniques and situations to avoid when purchasing a new computer. However, the major part of the book concerns hardware situations. The software aspect of computing changes constantly; new programs, releases, and versions augment or replace existing procedures. Relatively new hardware implementations and standards (i.e., PCI, ATX, NLX, AGP, USB, etc.) require technicians not only to know about these features, but also to recognize the best ways to utilize them. Voss clearly presents both the new and the familiar installation processes, relevant issues, photographs, tables, and screen shots. PC Tuning contains an excellent discussion of the often neglected Tag-RAM and L2 Cache, their purposes, and shows what each looks like and their respective locations on a motherboard. The shaded notes throughout the book detail the ideal concepts and how they are realistically implemented.
With PC Tuning: How To Improve Your PC's Performance - The Smart and Simple Way!, Voss provides an outstanding and well-written addition to the PC hardware and performance libraries. The author examines purchasing considerations, hardware issues and improvements, and BIOS capabilities. PC Tuning should be required reading before any computer upgrade. Every user interested in learning how computers really work and how to enable them to work more effectively and efficiently will appreciate this book and use it often.
Poor Richard's Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building A Low-Cost Web Site
By Peter Kent
Top Floor Publishing
The commercial aspect of the World Wide Web has been utilized by individual businesses with varying degrees of success. This type of venture can work well, but can fail just as easily. The costs of establishing a Web presence can be prohibitive, particularly for the small business owner. Author Peter Kent explains why anyone might want or need a Web site and how to construct one as cheaply as possible. His realistic look at Web sites and their construction is a refreshing return to the basic element of Web page design and also to writing without jargon and unpronounceable acronyms. Kent addresses the individual topics in four major sections: Preparation, Creation, Promotion, and Appendixes. The first part, Preparation, reviews: Do You Really Need a Web Site?, What You Need Before You Start, Where to Put Your Web Site, Finding A Web Host, All About Domain Names, and Registering And Modifying Your Domain. Part II: Creation examines the technical issues more closely through: Designing Your Web Site, An Introduction to HTML, Choosing an Authoring Tool, Creating an Effective Web Site, More Tips for Effective Web Sites, Web Sites are a Two-Way Street - Adding Interaction, Interaction Examples, Taking Orders On-Line, Autoresponding and Mail Forwarding, and Distributing Information Via E-mail. The following section, Promotion, describes how to publicize a newly created site via: Mapping the Internet - Your Essential Research, Registering Your Web Site, Bringing People to Your Site, Electronic Press Releases, Don't Forget Real-World PR, Advertising - Buying and Selling, and Tracking Site Use - Hits and Access Logs. The Appendixes contain: (A) Choosing a Web Host - The Checklist, and (B) Promoting Your Web Site - The Checklist. (Don't overlook the Free Poor Richard's Web Site News and the order form following the index.)
Kent has established the ultimate Web site reference. Not everyone needs a Web site, either for business or a personal home page, but for those who do (and still think that after reading chapter one), the author describes the procedures step-by-step. He also provides approximately 800 URLs throughout the book. (The reader may jot down those sites of interest or simply copy the complete list of Web references from http://www.poorrichard.com/book/. Kent has compiled the addresses at one site for simplicity and easy access.)
Technical designers often look at the creative possibilities and technological toys available. Additions such as music and animation may or may not add to the site's appearance; however, most commercial sites don't require a virtual representation of the real store to entice shoppers to purchase items. (One of my favorites is the United States Post Office (http://www.usps.com). It doesn't allow me to buy stamps online yet, but it recently provided necessary US/Canadian shipping information, which saved me from re-opening my carefully prepared package at the Post Office.) Following a site's creation, Kent demonstrates how to inform the rest of the world it exists. Unlike the ballpark in Field of Dreams, if you build it, people might come. The author also describes how to register your site, implement a chat room, and track site visitors.
Poor Richard's Web Site is an excellent guide and a refreshing book to read. Kent presents what a site needs and the best ways to obtain those qualities, without acronyms, jargon, or technobabble. He discusses techniques the reader can use in a well-written format and a readable style. He also makes it easy for the reader to access the programs and sites discussed. Anyone even thinking of creating a Web site should read this book; anyone deciding whether to establish a site needs Poor Richard's Web Site. It is the Everyman's Guide to Web site creation, design, and implementation.
DNS and BIND
By Paul Albitz and Cricket Liu
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
Every now and then, I feel a topic is so familiar that everyone knows something about it. (Of course, some don't really want to know, but that is another matter!) DNS and BIND are acronyms that I think everyone reading this column knows, but since I reviewed the second edition (May, 1997), there has been a substantial increase in the number of UNIX and serious Internet users who are also intrigued with administration. Therefore, I am including a slightly more detailed explanation of the terms. (Albitz and Liu provide a much better description.) DNS refers to the Domain Name System, which identifies the organization of data relating to Internet host information. This database prevents two accounts in the same domain from having the same name. BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) is an implementation of DNS. The new edition of DNS and BIND utilizes the new 8.1.2 version of BIND. It also supports 4.9, which most installations currently employ, and references 4.8.3, which is also still in use. The nslookup utility that the authors use is also 8.1.2. (Albitz and Liu note any differences between versions, wherever they may occur.)
Albitz and Liu explain the different aspects of DNS and BIND in the following sequence: Background, How Does DNS Work?, Where Do I Start?, Setting Up BIND, DNS and Electronic Mail, Configuring Hosts, Maintaining BIND, Growing Your Domain, Parenting, Advanced Features and Security, nslookup, Reading BIND Debugging Output, Troubleshooting DNS and BIND, Programming with the Resolver and Name Server 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 Form, and (F) BIND Name Server and Resolver Statements. Every reader should at least glance through the Preface. The authors have thoughtfully provided several alternate reading suggestions, depending on the reader's current knowledge and experience.
DNS and BIND, Third Edition is a superior book in several different ways. Albitz and Liu discuss the topics with their combined extensive knowledge. The also detail the separate versions (4.8.3, 4.9, and 8.1.2) and note when they refer to an attribute that may not apply in one or more releases. An outstanding feature relates to their writing style and their approach to the topics; Albitz and Liu present the concepts in an easily understandable manner and format. This is a superb book concerning a popular subject and its implementation. Anyone interested in DNS or how the Internet works should read this book. It is the definitive DNS and BIND reference.
Steal This Computer Book: What They Won't Tell You About The Internet
By Wallace Wang
No Starch Press
The words viruses and hackers cause fear and paranoia among computer users, particularly beginners. False threats and warnings multiply overnight. In Steal This Computer Book: What They Won't Tell You About The Internet, author Wallace Wang describes the problems facing users and what they can do to protect themselves. He provides security policies for individuals. Wang also illustrates some of the undocumented ways to find information, details con games, spam problems, and more. He divided the book into four sections: Thinking Freely, Breaking Free, Fighting Back, and the Appendices. Part 1: Thinking Freely contains Alternate Sources of News and Information, Terrorist and Espionage Organizations, and Pledging Allegiance: Hatred As Patriotism. In Breaking Free, he addresses Buying Computers and Software On A Shoestring, Hiding Yourself With Encryption And Anonymity, Phone Phreaking, and Don't Keep Me Out. Fighting Back, the third and largest section, explores Stalking And Harassing An Online Service, Waging War On Spam, Getting Your Message Out: Hacking A Web Site, Information Paranoia, Con Games On The Internet, Viruses I: History And Symptoms, Viruses II: Prevention And Care, Writing A Computer Virus, and Hostile Java Applets. The Appendices include: (A) Glossary, (B) Visual Basic 3.0 Source Code for MEGA$HACK, and (C) Additional Resources.
This is an important addition to the existing security books. Wang provides users with ways to protect their computers and their accounts. He also details some of the rationale that may motivate a hacker and also how to correctly and accurately detect a virus. For every problem described, Wang furnishes a way to circumvent or prevent it. Steal This Computer Book is a well-written book that should result in tighter user security and heightened awareness to potential difficulties.
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).