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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

A systems administrator's job often includes tasks that go beyond administration. These may include dealing with Web pages and graphics, as well as daily Web administration duties. This month's reviews include a book on the Open Source PHP scripting language, digital photography, a Linux command reference, and a technical interview book. Specifically, the books include: PHP Essentials by Julie C. Meloni (Prima Tech), Easy Digital Photography, Updated Second Edition by Scott Slaughter (Abacus), Linux System Commands by Patrick Volkerding and Keith Reichard (M&T Books), and Programming Interviews Exposed by John Mongan and Noah Suojanen (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).

PHP Essentials
Julie C. Meloni
Prima Tech
ISBN 0-7615-2729-X
363 Pages

The choices of utilities and programs currently available to a Web designer can be overwhelming. The options include page construction tools, clipart, animation, fonts, forms, e-commerce security, and shopping capabilities in boxed or download versions. The user can select an “off-the-rack” package to build a generic site or personally custom design it with HTML, Java, Javascript, Active Server Pages, Perl, and CGI, to name just a few of the tools. Another option is PHP (derived from the original program name, “Personal Home Page Tools”). PHP is a flexible scripting language and interpreter, which can accomplish various tasks. One of the best books that I have read and also enjoyed on this topic is PHP Essentials by Julie C. Meloni.

From the beginning, realizing that not everyone has the luxury of working exclusively on a Linux/UNIX platform, and also that people have different tastes (even when discussing Web servers), the author describes how to install a Web Server and PHP on Windows, UNIX, and Macintosh platforms. Meloni assumes that the reader knows how to install a program on their system, how to download something from the Web, and how to read and follow step-by-step instructions. She illustrates the topics in the following order: Getting Started with PHP; Basic PHP Techniques; Working with Databases; Creating and Populating Database Tables; User Authentication; User Tracking and Session Management; Advanced PHP Techniques: Web-Based Database Administration; and Advanced PHP Techniques: e-Commerce. The Appendices contain: A) Essential PHP Language Reference and B) Getting Support.

In the first section, Getting Started With PHP, the author introduces PHP to those who don't realize its advantages and capabilities and also describes how to obtain a Web Server, PHP3, and MySQL for both UNIX/Linux and Windows platforms. (Due to software restrictions, the Macintosh processes are also covered, but to a lesser extent.) The second chapter, Basic PHP Techniques, demonstrates the fundamental ways to write PHP3 scripts utilizing numerous examples. (The book also covers PHP4, which is completely compatible with the PHP3 examples.) The succeeding chapters effectively provide features that you may (or may not) want to include, such as databases, product catalogs, authentication and security, encryption through PGP or GNUPG, and e-commerce principles.

PHP Essentials is a wonderful book. Julie Meloni shows users how to successfully obtain, install, and configure PHP, demonstrates its implementation through numerous examples, and provides a Web site ( where users can find the scripts and assistance, if necessary. She describes the principles and procedures with a blend of humor, expertise, and enthusiasm, which makes the book both enjoyable to read and an excellent way to learn PHP and the possible components for an e-commerce Web site. The author describes some of the advantages inherent with PHP4 and notes some of the considerations of Open Source projects and development. She also provides the funding site URL for PHP (, since a portion of the royalties from this book are being given to the PHP3 group. Boxed “Notes” are furnished throughout the book, in addition to many code fragments, figures, and examples that the author discusses. PHP Essentials by Julie C. Meloni is a superb introduction to PHP, its basic scripting techniques, and its capabilities from databases and forms to encryption and e-commerce.

Easy Digital Photography
Updated Second Edition
Scott Slaughter
ISBN 1-55755-364-5
345 Pages
CD-ROM Included

Imaging devices have captured the imaginations of computer users. More precisely, users are now easily capturing images of family events, surroundings, and business products and services through imaging devices. Digital cameras and scanners have not only become easier to use, but the quality of their output has also dramatically improved. Accompanying image editing software allows the digital photographer to achieve minute detail and create professional results with the use of artistic effects and filters, combined with varied camera settings. Similarly, a scanner teamed with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software permits the user to convert a printed document to a file that may be edited within a word processor, or to rescue and revitalize a treasured but fading photograph. The uses for digital images range from email and Web pages to personal electronic photo albums.

In the updated Second Edition of Easy Digital Photography, Scott Slaughter addresses the features of digital cameras and scanners and illustrates techniques to effectively produce stunning results. In Part 1: Digital Cameras, he presents The First Frame: Introducing Digital Cameras; Inside a Digital Camera; Selecting a Digital Camera; Other Features to Consider; and Having Fun with a Camera & Other Tips. The second section, Part 2: Scanners, includes The Second Frame: Introducing Scanners; Selecting a Scanner; Tips on Using a Scanner; and Don't Know What to Scan? Try These Ideas. Both of these sections (Parts 1 and 2) offer a consumer's guide to what the advertising acronyms mean and how to select a camera or a scanner, how to use your newly purchased device, and some creative ideas. The following section, Part 3: Image Editors, examines some software guidelines through: Image Editors Are the Digital Darkrooms; Working with Filters and Plug-ins; and Working with Text and Effects. Slaughter describes the essential utilities of image editors, what they mean, and how to use them. The concluding section, Part 4: More Information, highlights additional peripherals in Completing Your Darkroom and how to share your photos via email in Electronic Photo Sharing.

The accompanying CD-ROM contains related freeware and shareware programs in addition to evaluation copies of some programs, such as A Smaller Image (my personal favorite), Envision Publisher, EZ-Pix, Photoline 32, Pixopedia 24 0.35, and Sketch Effect. Slaughter also includes several information-tutorial files that demonstrate various aspects of image editing, including a glossary of terms. Additional resources on the CD-ROM feature several plug-ins and filters by Andrew Buckle, royalty-free images courtesy of Darcy McCandless, and textures files. (I must admit that I had never thought of scanning noodles for visual effects.)

Easy Digital Photography provides basic information about purchasing a camera or scanner and using it with image editing software. The CD-ROM expands upon the fundamentals presented in the book and highlights some of the topics with more detailed procedures and examples in an easy to use format utilizing Adobe Acrobat Reader. Slaughter defines the jargon facing the computer consumer and expertly demonstrates how the user may achieve his or her desired results. This edition discusses the principle and techniques employed by most imaging software; the earlier editions detailed the specific processes of the various editing implementations. Easy Digital Photography is a worthwhile introduction to selecting and using imaging devices and their software. Anyone who has ever received a 12-MB cartoon or a 22" by 16" snapshot will appreciate the author's clear resizing and compression instructions. This book provides a valuable guide and reference to successfully creating and improving electronic images.

Linux System Commands
Patrick Volkerding and Keith Reichard
M&T Books
ISBN 0-7645-4669-4
462 Pages

Most systems and network administrators realize the importance (not to mention the convenience) of command summaries and references. Everyone seems to have a favorite, which they keep within easy reach. It is important that the reader and user likes the format and description of the commands; it is essential that the reference includes the necessary information. Linux System Commands by Patrick Volkerding (creator of Slackware Linux) and Kevin Reichard reflects a comprehensive collection. This book presents the commands with their respective syntax and descriptions combined with several independent sections to explain their uses. Each entry in the book possesses a usage statement, a description of the command, the possible options, any related commands, and examples. The authors also note whether the command is an X Window System command or a GNU Command, plus any Cross-References, Notes, or Tips.

Volkerding and Reichard divide the book into three sections: Part I: Illuminating Linux Procedures, Part II: The Commands, and Part III: Interacting via Linux Shells. The first section, Illuminating Linux Procedures, contains: Linux Structures and Commands; Linux Commands Demystified; Linux/DOS Cross Reference; and Linux Commands A to Z. The authors begin this section with an informative explanation of the Linux command line and some of its fundamental procedures. Linux Commands Demystified displays a list of keywords and their respective commands. The succeeding section shows a list of DOS/Linux command equivalents, demonstrating a common ground between DOS and Linux for the beginner. The concluding section in this part presents an alphabetical list of the commands and the particular section where the command's definition may be found. The second major section provides the command reference. Reminiscent of the original UNIX reference manuals, the commands are organized in seven distinct categories: General-Purpose Commands, File-Management Commands, Text- Processing Commands, Internet/Electronic Mail Commands, Programming Commands, Networking Commands, and Mtools Commands. The concluding chapter in the book briefly discusses shells and default environment variables and their corresponding values.

Whether you start from the back of the book and use the Index or from the front of the book and utilize the keyword or alphabetical listings, you will appreciate this book. Technical reference books are part research and part mindreading; the authors try to anticipate when, who, and why someone will access their books. It's very similar to compiling a book on troubleshooting while everything is working well. With Linux System Commands, Volkerding and Reichard have produced an excellent, well-written, and clearly organized command resource that is a pleasure to use. Every user, administrator, and programmer employing the Linux system will use Linux System Commands to discover new commands and correctly use familiar ones.

Programming Interviews Exposed
John Mongan and Noah Suojanen
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
ISBN 0-471-38356-2
254 Pages

Searching for a technical job differs from the normal job hunting process in many ways. Crafting a technical resume often seems to break all of the traditional resume writing rules. The interviews follow their own patterns, depending on what technical expertise the applicant has and what the company is seeking. In Programming Interviews Exposed, Mongan and Suojanen offer suggestions, hints, answers, and practical techniques to guide a technical professional through the processes associated with programming interviews. They address the following topics and techniques: The Job Application Process; Approaches to Programming Problems; Linked Lists; Trees and Graphs; Arrays and Strings; Recursion; Other Programming Topics; Counting, Measuring, and Ordering Puzzles; Graphical and Spatial Puzzles; Knowledge-Based Questions; and Non-Technical Questions. The Appendix discusses Resumes. The authors present real-world interview problems, lessons, questions, and guidelines to follow. They also include code fragments to demonstrate answers when applicable, as well as some non-technical questions, such as “What are your career goals?” and “Do you have any questions for me?”

The authors demonstrate a good knowledge of programming, the job market, the interview process, and today's technologies. They do not attempt to teach the reader how to program. They do show how to demonstrate programming logic and skills to an interviewer. Mongan and Suojanen illustrate how to recognize and abstract patterns in the interview process and answer them in a distinctive and impressive way, and they also present numerous examples. This is a valuable and worthwhile book for any programmer and job seeker.

About the Author

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 13 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. Her writing has also appeared in Linux Magazine, Performance Computing, and Network Administrator. Elizabeth can be reached at: