Archive for January, 2007

MySpace books: 3 Reviews

January 26, 2007

MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking, by Larry Magid and Anne Collier, Peachpit Press, 2006.

This stands out as the best of the three books. It is logically organized and well presented, with color screenshots. The authors present a balanced approach to MySpace, without an alarmist attitude, but with very insightful observations and helpful suggestions, backed by cited research. Their approach is based in the reality of the Web and social networking, addressing the issues one needs to know while guiding the reader through setting up a MySpace account and using MySpace resources.

Sprinkled throughout the book are “Key Parenting Points” which speak directly to parental concerns about MySpace features. Their philosophy on dealing with those parental concerns can be summed up by their statement (on page 12), “There is no substitute for engaged parenting…But that engagement…is less about control than it is about communication.” Hence the book is about informing for constructive parenting rather than controlling a teen’s access to MySpace.

The writing style is informal and easy. The authors speak as parents and professionals who are actively involved with teens, parents, and the Web. Their experience shows. It should probably be noted the authors are the directors of the online resource BlogSafety.com. If you need a book about MySpace, this is the one to get.

MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents, by Kevin Farnham and Dale Farnham, How-To Primers, 2006.

This book is written (obviously) from a purely safety perspective. While not entirely alarmist, the authors present guidance on using MySpace from the standpoint of minimizing the risk of contact from members with “malicious” intent. Minimizing that risk is not just about minimizing visibility on MySpace, so there are warnings and advice throughout the book as it steps through the process of signing up and using MySpace.

Notably, the authors’ philosophy on parenting teens using MySpace is to get to know their world to be able to advise them appropriately:

“What’s an appropriate response for parents? To get accustomed to the new world…learn about and teach your teens about the risks, and ideally to enjoy participating with them in this new form of interaction that has become normal for [this] generation.”

The book is intended to be a “user’s manual” with “specific warnings about MySpace dangers and specific methods to minimize the risk that comes with having a MySpace.com account.” As the book moves from introduction to setting up an account and modifying account settings, to using MySpace, there are numbered “Safety Tip” sections after discussions of each feature, giving the authors’ recommendations.

While the book is well written, it speaks primarily to the parent reader, occasionally stepping aside to address teens. While the discussion and tips are good, the focus is so narrow it is easy to begin relegating the whole book to paranoia. I think the better choice of books would be MySpace Unraveled. Although in some areas this book has more information, it is more dated, and lacks screenshots. Still, it is worthy of consideration, especially if your main concern is the safety issue on MySpace.

A Parent’s Guide to MySpace, by Laney Dale, DayDream Publishers, 2006.

There’s not a lot to say about this book. It appears to be self-published. It is rife with errors and typos. The tone alternates between patronizing and inflamatory. There is no documentation. Needless to say, even as short as it is, I had a hard time finishing it. Try one of the other two listed above. Forget about this one.

Book Review: GIMP 2 for Photographers

January 10, 2007

GIMP 2 for Photographers, by Klaus Goelker, Rocky Nook, Inc., 2007, distributed by O’Reilly Media. Also available from Amazon.

This book is a tutorial. As it states right at the beginning of the introduction, it is not a reference guide, but is

designed to facilitate your entry into the world of digital image editing with the help of the GIMP…You will learn the fundamentals of digital editing, familiarize yourself with common image editing tools and their functions, and acquire a working knowledge of the GIMP 2 program.

And that is exactly what it does. The tutorial style is almost like being in a classroom. The steps are explained, then set out in detail, starting with pixels, color, resolution, and file formats. Towards the end of the book there is less explanation, as the exercises build on what has already been learned and focus on new ways to use the tools.

This really is not a beginner book. It assumes a certain amount of knowledge about computers, cameras and scanners. But you don’t have to be an expert in any of those areas. In fact, although the book discusses importing RAW formats and scanning images, the actual editing exercises are done with images included on the CD which comes with the book. Also included on the CD is the entire book in PDF format, copies of what the exercise images should look like after the editing exercises, the GIMP program for Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux (with source files), plugins for the program, and a copy of Irfanview, a free image viewer and conversion tool (for Windows).

Although intended for all formats, the book presents material from a Windows-centric perspective. I worked through the exercises on a Mac, however, and had no problems, thanks to the GIMP having virtually the same interface across platforms.

As seems to be the case with all books, this one is not without a few flaws. There were many typos, although few of them really serious. It would be better if there was an errata page (having marked them all in the book, I could probably put up one myself at this point). Some of the tools could use more explanation. I wish the beautiful, color screenshots were bigger. But my biggest surprise was the book itself: I don’t think I’ve ever had a cover on a brand new book start separating from the book after only one week.

I have been using the GIMP for a couple years already, but there was a lot in the book that was new for me. In fact, I wish I’d read the book a few weeks earlier: it would have saved me a lot of time on a Christmas project! Despite the flaws, and even with the defective cover, I’d recommend it. It will give you more than a working knowledge of the GIMP.