Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML

I have reviewed many HTML books over the past few years. Each one presents the information in basically the same way. Item name followed by a description and example. This book takes a new approach to teaching what can be a dry subject, HTML. I am calling their approach creative; that is their style of presenting the information differs from the norm. The colors, the fonts, the layout, the examples, they are all very creative.

Today, just as in 1995, HTML is the key to making any web site. Are there tools to do it automatically? Yes, there are such tools. However if you use the tools without understanding how they work and what they produce, you will never fully understand how to create a web page properly.

Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML

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The book starts with a basic understanding of HTML using a fictional company, Starbuzz. The authors show you how to create a file on both Mac and PC and each bit of code is displayed in a large, easily readable font.

Chapter four is something not always found in a basic HTML book. This chapter explains how the web page “works.” What I mean is that they discuss URL’s, root folders, FTP, linking, default pages, domain names, etc. This chapter is the transition to actual live web pages vs. working on your local machine.

I am glad to see that the authors discuss code compliance and validation. If you read my blog entries, you can see how important I think this is. In fact, code compliance and validation separates the coders from the wannabes. They show examples of how to use the W3C validator and make corrections to obtain compliance. Included in this discussion is the dreaded Doctype. They even have a crossword puzzle on page 262 that will help get the compliance issues to sink in.

The next topic the book covers is XHTML. I disagree with the authors on the flow of information here. I would have discussed CSS and then XHTML. I consider writing XHTML advanced and to offer one quick chapter on it might not do the new coder any justice.

The largest chunk of the book covers CSS. The components of CSS (headings, images, elements, identification, paragraphs) are all included. These chapters are the best example of the clear descriptions and explanations using examples and creation of sample web sites. I really like the size of the text for the examples, it is very readable and the annotations make it easy to understand inside the context of the code.

The next block of chapters discuss layout using DIV. This is where it is at today. I tried to fight it for a few years, but no more. When creating a new web site, you should look at using DIV. While it might not be right in every situation, it sure does make things more accessible. The book shows how to create several DIV layouts, two-column, three-column. Also included is a discussion on relative and absolute positioning.

The last chapters cover additional information about using XHTML. I still think that the prior XHTML discussion belongs with this piece. The authors explain how to create lists and forms using XHTML and CSS. This should wet your appetite for more thorough XHTML reading.

In summary, I think this book is well worth a purchase for the new web developer or designer. While even the most experienced developer would pick up a trick or two, the book really lends itself to a newbie. The book is about 600 pages and there is value to each page. The games and puzzles are a nice break from the traditional and offer a way to really get the information learned in the chapter to stick. I would easily consider this book the most fun reading I have done about HTML/CSS/XHTML ever.

Product Rating:

Company:
O’Reilly

Requirements:
n/a

Pricing:
34.95

Reviewed by:
Allen

Competition:
n/a

Pros:
Creativity, new media methods, just under 700 pages and very clear explanations of some complicated subjects.

Cons:
If you like traditional books, this one is not for you.

Bottom Line:
Certainly an interesting book and worth a look for its creative teaching methods.

CSS Instant Results

First off this book is not for beginners. To understand what’s going on, you’re going to need to know html, css, and a little bit of javascript. If you don’t know these things, this book will be hard, and maybe impossible to follow. The book starts off a dive right in approach, and doesn’t waste any time.

This book is good for someone who needs to learn a few specific things, that they can do with CSS. The book has 10 chapters and each chapter focuses on a new topic. This is the kind of book, where you don’t have to read through the whole thing, instead you can just pick a chapter, and learn about that specific topic.

CSS Instant Results

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There were a few notable chapters, which I’ll mention here, that will be of use to anyone who buys this book. The others may not be as useful, so I’ve refrained from mentioning them. The chapters I’m not going to talk have to do with custom borders, applying css to a webmail application, styling a web-based file viewer, and styling of a calendar.

The first chapter focuses on tabs. It goes through how to make tabs with css, and how to display different things in different things with different tabs, using iframes. It goes really in depth with the code, but there is little explanation of what’s going on after the code starts.

Chapter two is really the most basic, yet most useful and important chapters of the book. It is about multi-columned layouts. It goes over the code, and then talks about common errors that people run into. I really like how the author explains some of the things in this chapter.

In chapter three and four, the author goes through dynamic drop down menus. Chapter three goes over the basics of dropdown menus, basics of coding, and simple design elements. Then in chapter four, he moves on to more advanced features of dropdown menus.

Chapter five talks about slide shows. This is one of the things that I didn’t know how to do, prior to reading the book. The book did an ‘OK’ job on explaining the topic. I came out of it wondering a little bit about what I had just learned, and had to go back and re-read a few things to really get a grasp on things.

This book in my opinion didn’t really do a good job at getting some of the concepts across. That may be just be, but I think that to follow this book, with precision, you have to have a decent amount of experience in web development. I really don’t think that it’s worth the full $35, and you could find other books out there that help you far more, for a smaller price.

Product Rating:

Company:
Wrox / Wiley

Requirements:
n/a

Pricing:
$34.99

Reviewed by:
Jake Dahn

Competition:
n/a

Pros:
Supplies whole projects, that can be used in real world websites.

Cons:
The book is hard to follow, and it is mostly code, if you’re not already skilled with html, css, and javascript, this book is not for you.

Bottom Line:
If you want a book with whole projects, this is for you. Otherwise there are better options available.

ImageMagik Tricks

Most web developers have dealt with picture and/or image data in one of their applications before – examples include the development of an online gallery, profile pictures (avatars) in community software, photo processing for services, pictures inside articles, etc.

Dealing with this kind of data from PHP, you might know that the bundled GD library is limited indeed and you eventually end up looking elsewhere for a more comprehensive solution.

ImageMagik Tricks

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Here comes ImageMagick (IM) to the rescue.

Background

Many developers have used at least one software which relies on IM’s “convert” utlity.

Examples of this kind of software include the infamous gallery called
“Gallery(2)”, another well known one is called “Coppermine”, the award
winning content management system “Typo3”, community software such as
“phpBB” and “smf”, or even commercial ventures such as “vBulletin”.

Even though my list of examples is very PHP-flavoured, interfaces for ImageMagick are of course also available in other programming languages, such as Perl, Java, C and many more.

ImageMagick is quite a powerful tool, beyond the “convert” utility it includes a couple other helper applications – sometimes far too many. Unfortunately the manual is not always detailed enough when it comes to providing examples of usage.

Since all the capabilities never match up to documentation provided, “ImageMagick Tricks” looked very promising to me at first sight. The book is divided into an introduction starting with a short rundown on the utlities (display, convert, import, animate, composite, montage, mogrify, conjure and identify), then continues to “Installation and Configuration”, followed by more in-depth chapters about the utilities and is concluded by three chapters with “real-life examples”.

Getting into it

I started to read this book over the course of three days on my daily U-Bahn (subway) trip to work. So imagine getting on and off the train, not always having a seat – the book is still very readable and easy to understand – once you get home/to work you itch to try out some of the examples.

Due to the nature of a current project, I found incredibly helpful tips in this book – even though I have five years of working experience with ImageMagick, but I guess the saying that, you really never stop learning, has some truth to it. :-)

The overall style in writing and structure reminded me a lot of the various cookbook-books by O’Reilly – a series I really respect, recommend and adore for its simplicity and helpfulness.

You do not have to learn what you do not want to or need to in order to get down to business and solve problems. For example in the beginning I skipped right through the installation part and only used the examples for “convert” since I did not use “compose” (and all the others) in the project.

And that is what I like.

Last but not least “ImageMagic Tricks” is also a book to refer back to every once in a while. It gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling of security to solve more issues when the demand arises.

Product Rating:

Company:
Packt Publishing

Requirements:
n/a

Pricing:
$31.49

Reviewed by:
Till

Competition:
n/a

Pros:
Easy to read, includes many real-life examples.

Cons:
None.

Bottom Line:
A comprehensive guide not to be missed on your bookshelf when you use ImageMagick.

Homepage Usability

Jakob Nielsen is out to make the web more “usable.” His latest book, “Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed” co-authored with Marie Tahir, takes on the most important page of your site, the homepage. The homepage of a web site is critical, not just because Neilson says so, but because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The authors present 113 homepage usability
guidelines that will make your site easier to use, and then they apply them mercilessly to 50 popular sites.

The preface includes a short description of the role of the homepage followed by some of the common metaphors. The authors explain why a home page could be compared with a magazine cover, a building lobby and a table of contents in a book. They state that since a site review by Nielsen’s group typically costs $10,000, the book’s value is over $500,000. If Nielsen does charge $10k for a homepage review, the sites that are reviewed have saved a lot of money.

Homepage Usability

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The first chapter in the book covers the 113 homepage guidelines. The guidelines are categorized into groups such as “Communicating the Site’s Purpose” and “Navigation.” The guidelines are well presented and easy to understand. Some of the tips I like include:

  • Include a “Privacy Policy” link – This is critical when gathering any
    personally identifiable information.
  • “Spell out abbreviations in the first instance.” I have seen many
    times where companies use acronyms without definition.
  • “Don’t use generic instructions, such as “Click Here” as a link name.” The authors explain how using meaningful text in links tell users what they will get when they click on the link.
  • “Input boxes should be wide enough for users to see and edit standard
    queries on the site.” I think designers generally put the look over the function. If the typical user would enter 10 characters, make sure the input box can handle same without having to scroll.
  • “Let users choose whether they want to see an animated intro to your
    site.” I agree 100%, a user should be able to select whether they want to enter the site immediately or go through the intro first.

The second chapter takes the principles previously defined and applies them to 50 top web sites. Sites such as FedEx, Accenture, Amazon, CNN, DirecTV, Victoria Secret and others get the full treatment. Each homepage has 4 pages in the book devoted to it.

The first is a screenshot, taken on a PC using Internet Explorer. The next page gives a description and review of the homepage. Also included on this second page, is a very useful pie chart showing the “Breakdown of Screen Real Estate.” The categories include: Self promotional, Filler, Unused, Advertising & sponsorship, Content of interest, Navigation, Welcome & site identity, and Operating System & browser controls. A small screenshot is very useful to see the category breakdown. I am not sure why they included the “Operating system and browser controls” category as this is useless since everyone has a different setup. If I took the screenshots using Netscape running on my Mac, that percentage would be different. On the other hand, this category is always the same 19% which allows the other categories to be accurately represented.

The third and fourth pages of each review pick apart the page piece-by-piece. It seems every site has around twenty items that the authors feel should be corrected.

At the end of the book is an appendix including a small category-colored screenshot from the sites that were reviewed. This allows you to compare the sites at a macro level. Also included are other across-the-board reviewed site elements such as logos, search features, ahopping carts
and popups.

I may not agree with everything Nielsen says, but “Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed” provides good background for further discussion. It seems to be geared more towards the entry-level and intermediate front-end designers and developers. At some point in the near future, my design and development team at work will read this book, at a minimum, for the guidelines and principles. A co-worker of mine pointed out that with all of Nielsen’s usability talk, the book’s physical size is somewhat un-usable. I believe this book is a worthwile purchase for anyone in the web field.

Product Rating:

Company:
New Riders

Requirements:
n/a

Pricing:
$39.99

Reviewed by:
Allen

Competition:
n/a

Pros:
Excellent homepage guidelines and statistics section

Cons:
Weird book size, why do they show browser as part of the page?

Bottom Line:
Worth purchasing and reading… then pass along to an associate for an in-depth usability discussion

40 Digital Photo Retouching Techniques

Book Description

Are you new to digital photography and image editing software? This dazzling, full-color book provides a fun, practical introduction to photo-editing with Photoshop Elements for both home and business users — and anyone who wants to jump right in and enhance their images. Discover forty valuable techniques and hundreds of creativity-inspiring images, plus a CD filled with images for practice and a tryout version of Photoshop Elements 2 — all at an exceptional price. You’ll learn to use the File Browser, change image size, enhance faces, fix blurry images, correct under- and overexposed images, turn photos from color to black-and-white, remove people and objects from photos, add special effects, and much more. Brought to you by Sybex and YoungJin.com, a leading South Korean book publisher founded in 1987. Youngjin.com is known for brilliant graphics and digital photography books, featuring exceptionally stylish designs and high-quality images.

40 Digital Photo Retouching Techniques

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From the Back Cover

Are you new to digital photography and image editing software? This dazzling, full-color book provides a fun, practical introduction to photo-editing with Photoshop Elements for both home and business users’ and anyone who wants to jump right in and enhance their images. Discover forty valuable techniques and hundreds of creativity-inspiring images, plus a CD filled with images for practice and a tryout version of Photoshop Elements, all at an exceptional price. You’ll learn to use the File Browser, change image size, enhance faces, fix blurry images, correct under- and overexposed images, turn photos from color to black-and-white, remove people and objects from photos, add special effects, and much more.

Brought to you by Sybex and YoungJin.com, a leading South Korean book publisher founded in 1987. Youngjin.com is known for brilliant graphics and digital photography books, featuring exceptionally stylish designs and high-quality images.

40 Digital Photo Retouching Techniques will show you how to:

  • Use Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0
  • Correct lighting and contrast
  • Turn color photos into sepia-toned or black-and-white images
  • Color black-and-white photos
  • Remove red eye, eliminate blemishes, and enhance facial features
  • Create studio backgrounds and professional picture packages
  • Clean-up, combine, and resize images
  • Create reflections and text effects
  • Whip up photographic and other special effects
  • Make a web banner
  • Create a photo gallery for the web
  • And more!
Product Rating:

Company:
Sybex

Requirements:
n/a

Pricing:
16.99

Reviewed by:
Allen

Competition:
n/a

Pros:
Created for the beginner, lots of fab techniques

Cons:
Uses Photoshop Elements, not base Photoshop app (tho can be edited to use ps)

Bottom Line:
Nice read and have ready when working with digital photos.

The Photoshop CS Book for Digital Photographers

Scott Kelby is back with this new digital photography book, “The Adobe Photoshop CS Book for Digital Photographers.” Everyone who knows Photoshop knows Scott. I have attended a few seminars and conventions where he was one of the speakers. The back cover describes the book as, “His (Scott) easygoing, plain English style of teaching makes Photoshop fun.” I received this book and have found myself taking digital photos more than ever just to play with Scott’s techniques!

The first two chapters of the book deal with file browser essentials. I learned a lot from this section about how to use the file browser. Probably the coolest thing I learned was how to create digital contact sheets for my digital photo cds. These sheets allow you to print a contact sheet showing what is on the cd. No more will you have to load 10 CD’s to find the picture of Aunt Ida.

The Photoshop CS Book for Digital Photographers

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The next three chapters deal with basic photo elements, namely cropping, resizing, image problems and color correction. Scott demonstrates how to take small photos and make poster-sized prints out of them. Ok, here is my favorite trick from the book, fixing underexposed pictures. Scott shows a before picture where you can barely tell what is in the picture. After applying his techniques, you can clearly tell what is in the picture and no one is the wiser. The “Color Me Badd” section first explains why the default color space is no longer the proper one to select and why changing this before making any color edits is critical.

Chapters 6, 7, and 8 handle techniques for masking photos, retouching portraits, and sculpting. I personally like the tip on how to extract people from their background. This tip allowed me to “change” the background of an image I was in. How many of you have taken pictures with the family only to look at them and realize you have dark circles under your eyes? Scott explains how to remove the dark circles and any other hangover attributes. Here is one tip for all the women (ok and men), removing love handles. Take out excess bulge digitally. I tested this out, but sadly the digital removal does not automatically lead to real-life removal.

Special effects and grayscale are pretty cool too. Scott shows how to “replace the sky.” Another technique I am glad to see in the book is, “Stiching Panoramas Together.” This allows you to take multiple panoramic pictures and stich them together for an awesome huge image. The last of the techniques in the book address professional sharpening techniques. From basic sharpening to extreme edge sharpening, these techniques should be attempted once the previous chapters in the book have been mastered.

The last chapter in the book is the section I think should be called, “protect yourself and get paid.” This chapter shows you how to watermark your images should you need to prove anything to Judge Judy. Scott shows you how to properly show your work to your clients online, how to create picture package layouts and how to send a portfolio presentation to a client. These techniques can also be used for non-business events, i.e. showing your family your pictures.

The first line in this book is, “I had no intentions of writing this book.” I certainly am glad that Scott did because I believe he has written the best digital photography book on the market today. The only drawback is that most of these techniques require Photoshop CS and not everyone has made the upgrade as of yet.

Product Rating:

Company:
New Riders

Requirements:
Photoshop CS

Pricing:
$39.99

Reviewed by:
Allen

Competition:
n/a

Pros:
Easy to use, quick learn, all levels covered

Cons:
Price is a pinch high and you must have Photoshop CS to take full advantage of the book.

Bottom Line:
The best digital photography book on the market.

Pages: