Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

Book Review: Generation MySpace

September 23, 2007

Generation MySpace, Helping Your Teen Survive Online Adolescence, by Candice M. Kelsey, Marlow & Company, 2007. Available from Amazon, among others.

“Sheesh! Another MySpace thing! Mom, MySpace is really not that big a deal!” –My son, on seeing the book.

And therein is the point of the book. This is not a book for teens; it is an attempt to bridge the generation gap between parents and their children, using MySpace as the point of departure.

The author is a middle school teacher in California who has supplemented her personal experience with extensive research. There are no footnotes, but expert commentary and research is well documented within the text. There is also a “Resources” section at the back of the book, listing sources by chapter, as well as a “Recommended Reading, Surfing, and Viewing” section, also broken down by chapter.

There are few holds barred as the author delves into the current world of teens. In the first chapter the author points out that it’s not all about MySpace, it’s about social networking sites, of which MySpace is the largest. She then proceeds to explain why social networking is so important to teens and how it fits into the overall picture of their lives. In doing so, she exposes the terms and terminology they use and their current cultural context. Although she gives frequent warnings, if you are not prepared for language that would have been offensive in prior generations, you may want to skip this book and try one of the others available.

But the author is not trying to shock as much as to wave red flags. She and many experts say MySpace is not the problem, it is simply a symptom of a larger cultural shift. Kelsey believes, and offers good documentation, that the shift is driven by media and consumerism. With the red flags she also offers advice on dealing with the negative issues surrounding MySpace. The first step, also recommended by other authors of MySpace books, is to visit this part of a teen’s “world” by creating a MySpace account and looking around. There is a guided tour through the process, beginning with Chapter 2, “Pimped Out: Anatomy of a Profile.” The author recommends not going straight to your child’s profile, but using the experience to understand the world of today’s teens by seeing it through their eyes. There is a chapter later in the book devoted to assessing your child’s MySpace involvement, and strategies to use.

Overall, the book is well written and well documented, promoting strategies that are recommended by experts for dealing with teens and MySpace. The book overall also has an alarmist tone, and uses very frank language. For the clueless parent (including the one(s) thinking, “Not MY teen!”), this is probably a good thing. But it may not be the book for every parent. If you want a full picture of the teen world and teens on MySpace, this book should top your list. If you’d rather not know all the gory details, but still want to know how to approach MySpace, consider something like MySpace Unraveled, by Larry Magid and Anne Collier (reviewed here).

Back to the beginning quote: he’s right. I have two teens on MySpace, and for them it isn’t a big deal. It’s their world. I also have a MySpace account, which I set up over a year ago to find out what it was all about. They, and their friends, seemed to think it was awesome that I was in MySpace.

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.

Book Review: CSS Cookbook, 2nd Edition

December 31, 2006

CSS Cookbook, Second Edition, by Christopher Schmitt, O’Reilly Media, 2006.

First things first. You should have some experience with Cascading Style Sheets before diving into this book. It will not teach you CSS, but you will learn some really nifty shortcuts and tricks using CSS. The book assumes its readers “possess some web design or development experience either as a hobbyist, student, or professional.” Take the assumption seriously. But even if you’re an expert at CSS, don’t overlook the book. It should make a handy resource, especially in terms of interoperability.

For those of you who are weak or rusty with CSS, the first chapter provides a good refresher. Go lightly through it, however, since there are some errata which can leave you scratching your head. Most of the errata in the rest of the book is obvious and doesn’t detract from the content, although the typos can be a bit annoying.

The book is structured in a problem-solution format, categorized by type. For instance, “Creating a Hanging Indent,” a handy technique to know, is in the Web Typography section (Chapter 2). It begins with a statement of the problem, “You want to create a hanging indent,” offers a solution (in this case, pretty brief), then goes into a lengthy discussion of the problems, workarounds and related issues (such as, in this case, paired hanging indents). The “problems” range from fairly simple and obvious to complex, using javascript. I should probably note that there is very little explanation of the javascript when it is included in solutions or discussions. The assumption is that you already have some knowledge about it. I should probably also note that when javascript is included, there are instructions on where to obtain the needed code, and how to include it.

Many of the solutions also include using images. Again, there is the assumption you know how to create or modify the image needed. Like the solutions using javascript, the instructions typically tell you where to get the needed image. But some, like the “Rounding Corners” techniques, tell you to create a rounded corners design, then tell you how to modify it for the solution.

On the issue of cross-browser compatibility, there is a very handy section (Chapter 11) on Hacks, Workarounds, and Troubleshooting, and a section in the index with tables showing the implementation of CSS elements in different platforms and browsers (also available from O’Reilly Media as a pdf file). But compatibility issues, if there are any, are also dealt with in each problem-solution set. IE 7 is also included in the discussions.

On the whole, except for the typos and errata (which, unfortunately, were not listed on O’Reilly’s site at the time of this writing), this is a good, solid reference book. I like the discussion part of the solutions, which not only explain the how and why, but often give alternatives and discuss issues which impact implementing the solution (such as validation, and compatibility). While not a book to start out with, it is definitely a book to expand your knowledge and skills.

Book Review: Learning Javascript

December 4, 2006

Learning Javascript, by Shelley Powers, O’Reilly, 2006.

This is not a book for beginners. Let me repeat: this is not a book for beginners. Although the Preface states, “Readers of this book should be familiar with web page technology, including CSS and HTML/XHTML … [p]revious programming experience isn’t required, though some sections may require extra review if you have no previous exposure to programming,” there is a strong assumption from the start that the reader at least (a) has some experience with current programming concepts and practices, (b) has some experience with web page coding and practices, or (c) has a lot of time to learn (a) and (b) while working through the book. That said, however, this really is an excellent resource.

I fall into categories (a) and (b) above, but I’m rusty when it comes to javascript, and wanted something of a refresher. Instead, the book had the effect of dropping me into a working laboratory where everything, though nicely explained, remained confusing for quite a way into the book. But by the time the author got to the complex stuff, it all made sense and fell together perfectly, rather like finally understanding how all the tools in that laboratory make everything work so smoothly.

The book seems fast paced, and often left me wishing there were more detailed explanations of some of the examples. But the concepts and examples are interwoven, so just working through the book brought some understanding. The end of each chapter has review questions, with the answers at the end of the book, for those who find that helpful. But what impressed me was that the errata sheet is already available at O’Reilly. There are a few errata, and they’ll be handy to know if you’re trying the examples given in the book. Additional resources are also sprinkled throughout the book which all appear to still be working.

The author’s practical bias comes through very strongly in the book. In the introduction, and throughout the book, there are frequent “best practices.” Paramount to her philosophy of best practices is the admonition, “whatever JavaScript functionality you create, it must not come between your site and your site’s visitors.” Consequently, she often recommends solutions other than javascript to ensure accessibility by all types of browsers and users. There are also good discussions of the issues surrounding using javascript, especially the cross platform issues and what is on the horizon. Because of the browser compatibility issues, the author covers work-arounds each step of the way, with different options and a discussion of what works best and why.

If book titles are supposed to be descriptive of the content, I’m not so sure “Learning Javascript” is the best title for this book, although it fits well if one thinks of it as learning another programming language. You’ll find this book a lot more helpful if your familiarity with web technology includes using CSS and XHTML, or if you have some experience with another programming language.