Spectrum Reviews 3: Interactive Media & Online Developer Product/Service Reviews

Special Edition: Book Report

20 November 1997

Reported, written and edited by David Duberman for editorial/subscription inquiries and comments, send mailto:duberman@dnai.com



Welcome to the third edition of Spectrum Reviews. This sister publication to Spectrum, published on an irregular basis for the time being, presents original reviews of software, hardware, books, Web sites, events and more.

Software categories covered in Spectrum Reviews include Web authoring tools, content creation tools (e.g., 2D/3D graphics apps, audio/video production/editing tools), Internet email and Usenet news clients, multimedia clients such as RealSystem, consumer multimedia titles, and, of course, games, both local and online. In the hardware realm, we cover 2D and 3D graphics accelerators, game controllers, mass storage products and more. If you would like to submit a product for coverage in Spectrum Reviews, please send an email inquiry to mailto:duberman@dnai.com

In this special edition of Spectrum Reviews, we offer brief looks at a range of new books for multimedia and Web developers, plus a few on using the Internet for specific purposes. Our first review is a special piece on Esther Dyson's new book, from contributing editor Joseph T. Sinclair. We've divided the remainder of the books into five categories: Using the Web; Graphics; Building the Web; Building Applications; and Using Macromedia Director. For each review, the book title serves as the review title, and is not repeated in the body of the review.



Today's Book Reviews (details below)

--Design for Living

--Educating with the Internet: Using Net Resources at School and Home


--Internet Explorer 4 Bible

--Real World After Effects

--Real World Photoshop 4

--Real World Bryce 2

--click here.

--Creating Killer Web Sites

--Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML 4 in a Week: Fourth Edition

--Using Microsoft FrontPage 98: Special Edition

--Presenting XML

--Java for Dummies

--The Non-Designer's Web Book

--Web Graphics Bible

--Web Animation for Dummies

--Classroom in a Book: Adobe FrameMaker

--GUI Design for Dummies

--Visual J++ Unleashed: Second Edition

--More Java in 21 Days

--Visual C++ 5 Bible

--Macromedia Director 6 for Dummies

--Shockwave for Dummies: 2nd Edition

--Director 6 Demystified

--Macromedia Director 6 and Lingo Interactive

--About Spectrum Reviews


Design for Living

by Joseph T. Sinclair

Reading Esther Dyson's carefully balanced Release 2.0 - A Design for Living in the Digital Age (Broadway Books; $25; ISBN 0-7679-0011-1), one cannot help recall Mr. Gates' The Road Ahead of just two years ago, which barely mentioned the Internet but instead dwelt on the digital accouterments of his $40 million mansion. Dyson makes a significant contribution to giving the Internet some perspective by tempering the Internet hype with generous doses of psychology and common sense. She makes this position look sensible and self-evident---so simple. In fact, everything in the gray no-man's land that makes up the interface between people and cyberspace is terribly complex and requires much thought to sort out. Dyson has done a good job.

For instance, will the 'Net save American K-12 education? Gee, we would sure like to have such a simple answer to that complex problem. But in our hearts, we know it isn't so; and Dyson says as much while stressing that, nonetheless, the 'Net can help.

Can we all work at home as independent agents and still have viable business organizations? It would be nice. But, again, in our hearts, we know it isn't likely. Dyson explains that although working at home part of the time via the 'Net will be an option for many business people, most viable business organizations require a sense of community that can only be fostered by working face to face in the same physical location.

The value for multimedians in Dyson's book, however, is more than personal and social. Her ideas and analyses provide insight into the world of the near future. There will be many successful Internet businesses built on these ideas. When you consider that the Web (a multimedia environment) is the dominant element of the 'Net, this book becomes a fertile source of down-to-earth ideas upon which you can build sensible multimedia (Web) services and products.

The book covers a lot of territory and raises a lot of issues and questions, all of which will affect each of us sooner or later. The book also provides a few answers but leaves enough questions unanswered for you to think things through to find your productive---and perhaps lucrative---cyber niche in the immediate years ahead.


Mr. Sinclair's book, Developing Web Pages for TV HTML, will be published by Charles River Media this winter. He is currently writing a book on Web typography to be published by AP Pro in the spring.

Copyright 1997 Joseph T. Sinclair




Educating with the Internet: Using Net Resources at School and Home $29.95; ISBN 1-886801-70-3

Published by Charles River Media (http://www.charlesriver.com), this new book by Nancy Skomars offers educators of all levels tips and ideas for incorporating the Web into the learning process. The book is comprised mainly of practice lesson plans and sample lesson plans on a variety of subjects, with guidelines to adjust to different computer-student ratios.

For example, a Newspaper Search lesson has students find an event in their local paper, and then access other newspapers in different locations and compare the coverage. In addition, there's a useful directory of over 1,300 sites, subdivided into categories such as African Americans Online and Health and Fitness. The accompanying CD-ROM contains more links, new lesson ideas, and a free copy of the Internet Watchdog monitoring software. Highly recommended for those attempting to use the 'Net for pedagogical purposes.




$39.95; ISBN 0-2106-68840-9

Via his Contact Consortium and annual Avatars conference, Bruce Damer is on a mission from cyberspace to spread the word about avatars, which are graphical representations of people in real-time online communities.

Bruce's new book, just out from Peachpit Press, talks about using avatars at home, in the classroom, and at work; designing your own avatar; and staying up to date on the avatar social whirl via the book's companion Web site. He also takes the reader on a grand tour of the major virtual worlds, provides 10 ready-to-run worlds on the accompanying CD, and tells you how to build your own world. This book was a big hit at the recent Avatars conference in San Francisco, with good reason; it's a humdinger. If you're curious about how people can relate to each other in the brave new online world, Avatars! is a must-read.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews



Internet Explorer 4 Bible

$34.99; ISBN 0-7645-3042-9

No sooner does the latest browser hit the streets than there are a couple of zillion books published about it. This one, by veteran writer Christopher Negus, looks like one of the better ones, with information on getting hooked up to the Web, using plug-ins and such, and browsing your computer via Microsoft's unified interface. But hey, if you needed this book, you wouldn't be reading Spectrum, right? Nope, no CD.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews




Real World After Effects

$44.95; ISBN 0-201-68839-5

As was hinted at in a recent Spectrum news item, Adobe's After Effects is one of the most powerful and versatile programs for working with digital video on desktop computers. Now Peachpit Press has issued a book about the latest version, 3.1, by Eric Reinfeld and Sherry London. In 450 information-packed pages the authors provide a variety of tutorials on using the program, plus a good deal of helpful advice on incorporating After Effects with other programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. If you feel you've reached the limits of your understanding of After Effects, get this book and expand your horizons. The CD contains all of the book's project files, plus clip art and demo versions of programs like Painter, Premiere, and, of course, After Effects itself.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews



Real World Photoshop 4

$44.95; ISBN 0-201-68888-3

Adobe Photoshop is an amazing program; simple enough for basic purposes, but with ample power under the hood to satisfy the most demanding professional imagesmiths. So it stands to reason that you just can't get enough information about the program, which is the raison d'etre for this new book from Peachpit Press. Authors David Blatner and Bruce Fraser answer such questions as, "How do I bring out shadow details in my images without blowing away the highlights?" and, "What can I do to reduce the file size of my Web graphics?" The book is primarily oriented toward print applications, with the usual material on selections, color and tonal correction, and scanning. Be that as it may, there's still plenty of useful info here for those using bitmaps in interactive media.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews



Real World Bryce 2

$49.95; ISBN 0-201-69419-0

For some time, MetaCreations' Bryce has been the desktop world's premier landscape image synthesizer, thanks to its wealth of tools and superb rendering engine. As with many MetaCreations tools, the program offers an incredible amount of functionality just under the deceptively simple surface. If you've ever despaired of grokking it all, help is here in the form of this ultra-informative 624-page volume from Peachpit Press. Author Susan A. Kitchens begins with an overview of the program, and then dives into usage, discussing objects, cameras and such. What artists will probably appreciate most is Kitchen's in-depth treatment of textures and materials, complete with color illustrations, which goes a long way toward deciphering those mysteries that have frustrated many. There's also material on specialized rendering techniques, plus pre- and post-processing. The CD-ROM contains tutorial scene files, utility programs, sample images and 3D objects, plus a preview of Planetary Traveler, a motion picture created with Bryce.

Bryce 3D, with added animation capabilities, is on the way, and there are other new features, but most existing features will remain, so the information in this terrific book will still apply.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews



click here.

$45; ISBN 1-56205-792-8

Web fashions come and go, but good taste is timeless, as authors Raymond Pirouz and Lynda Weinman set out to prove in this handsome, colorfully-illustrated volume from New Riders Publishing. The book is laden with useful advice, as well as provocative subheadings like "Control Freaks Beware!" and "The Killer Website (Is Dead)." Here's a brief quote from the latter section that exemplifies the author's tone: "When a ... designer's key purpose is to [create] the 'technologically advanced, coolest features ... ', he compromises the integrity of the site and risks losing touch with his target medium." Also, from "Content Is King (Not)": "The Web is wonderful because it allows designers to create little packets of easily digestible, unmistakably branded, and entertaining content worth returning to. In this sense, it is concept, not content, that is king." Got the picture? Then get this book; you won't be sorry.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Creating Killer Web Sites

$49.99; ISBN 1-56830-433-1

Obviously, author David Siegel hasn't read the preceding book, but he's one of the most successful Web designers around, so his advice is certainly worth heeding. (He's also a terrific public speaker, so go see him if you get the opportunity.) Published by Hayden Books, this new edition of the classic Web design text promises to teach you how to "master the art of third-generation site design," covering such topics as style sheets, frames, site structure, Flash and Photoshop. Every chapter has new material, and there are three new chapters that cover transitioning to 5.0 browsers, a detailed style-sheet tutorial and more.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML 4 in a Week: Fourth Edition

$29.99; ISBN 1-57521-336-2

There are lots of apps that let you create Web sites without coding, such as NetObjects Fusion and Microsoft FrontPage, but most experts will tell that if you want to be a true Webmaster, you've got to learn the mother tongue; HTML, that is. In this book from Sams.net Publishing, the indefatigable Laura Lemay tackles the latest version of the Web's own markup language, chatting us up about Dynamic HTML, absolute positioning, CGI scripts, Cascading Style Sheets and much more. Instead of a CD, there's a Web site with source code from the book, links to related info and other goodies.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Using Microsoft FrontPage 98: Special Edition

$49.99; ISBN 0-7897-1343-8

FrontPage 98 hasn't hit the streets yet, but word of mouth on the newest version of Microsoft's Web site creation/management program is that it's a significant improvement over this year's model. In this large (873 pages) volume, published on cheap paper by Que Corp., Dennis Jones and Neil Randall and a cast of thousands (well, not quite, but there are four other authors) cover the ins and outs of Web publishing a la Microsoft. The book's contents are divided into sections such as Understanding the FrontPage Integrated Envronment; Creating and Adapting Graphics with Image Composer; Integrating Microsoft FrontPage 98 and Microsoft Office; and for the hard-core at heart, Using the FrontPage 98 SDK. What's special about this edition? It's not really clear, but we can at least tell about the CD's custom FP templates and wizards, example code from the book, and collections of graphics, sound and video. The authors have obviously done their homework, so if you use FP 98 for your site, check out this book to get a jump on the competition.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Presenting XML

$24.99; ISBN 1-57521-334-6

Ask anyone in the know what the next hot technology in Web site creation is, and chances are they'll tell you it's eXtensible Markup Language (XML).

In this new 391-page book from Sams.net Publishing, author Richard Light teaches the language's basic concepts and technical details. Briefly, XML is an attempt to support generalized markup on the Web, sort of an upgraded version of HTML that's more compatible with SGML, the more rigorous markup language used in the upper echelons of document creation. It's not in general use just yet, but if you like to stay on the cutting edge, you'll start learning about it now, and this book is a great place to begin.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Java for Dummies

$24.99; ISBN 0-7645-0140-2

Java is capable of more than just dressing up the Web, but you have to start somewhere, and applets is as good a place as any. Author Aaron E.

Walsh, a Java developer, begins his book with an introduction to Sun's purportedly cross-platform language, and then talks about how to see Java working on the Web. There's also a useful chapter on various online Java-related resources. Following this is a good deal of material on finding applets you want to use, customizing them, and weaving them into your Web pages. There's also material on JavaScript, and combining scripts and applets. What about programming Java? Not for dummies, apparently, although the CD contains Sun's JDK for Windows and Mac, along with trial versions of commercial programs like RandomNoise Coda, plus lots of shareware goodies.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


The Non-Designer's Web Book

$29.95; ISBN 0-201-68859-X

There are a lot of Web sites out there, some of which look pretty nifty.

Frankly, though, when it comes to good design, most of them ain't got it.

If you want to put up your own site, but don't know beans when it comes to design, it pays to consult with experts first. This new book from Peachpit Press represents a good opportunity to get advice from two experienced designers for a low, low fee. Authors Robin Williams and John Tollett have created a handsome volume that practices what it preaches, with copious full-color examples of how to do things right and avoiding doing them wrong. Aiming at the rank beginner, they start out with basic introductory material on the Web and discussions of Web vs. print design. If you're already familiar with this stuff, you might want to skip to the chapter on Basic Design Principles for Non-Designers, which highlights alignment, proximity, repetition and contrast. They also talk about interface and navigation, the use of color, and how to prepare images for the Web.

There's no CD, but there is a chart of the 216 Web-safe colors. Highly recommended.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Web Graphics Bible

$49.99; ISBN 0-7645-3055-0

As you've no doubt witnessed, when it comes to adding graphics to your Web site, it's easier to get it wrong than to do it right. Author Ron Wodaski pushes you in the latter direction in this helpful 825-page tome from IDG Books. He covers a wide range of topics, including file formats and compression, creating navigation widgets, adding 3D images and animation, and a good deal more. The CD-ROM includes 22 Web tours of sites that work, plus trial versions of a variety of programs including Fractal Design's Painter, Expression and Detailer; Macromedia Flash; Kai's Power Tools; MetaCreations' Bryce 2, and Digital Frontiers for advanced image compression. If you prefer not to waste your time creating ineffectual Web sites, you could do far worse than to read this book and incorporate its teachings into your work.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Web Animation for Dummies

$24.99; ISBN 0-7645-0195-X

There's no doubt that animation is abused on the Web today; but when applied with taste and restraint, it can effectively enhance your site. In this book, authors Renee LeWinter and Cynthia L. Baron teach the beginner how to do online animation right. They begin with an survey of the various ways of moving Web content, such as GIF 89a, Java and Shockwave, and then move into all-important advice about planning, and the use of characters.

For those who can't draw, there's a helpful discussion on the use of clip art, plus information on converting images with DeBabelizer, and a great deal more. The book is kind of Mac-oriented, but there's plenty here for Windows folks as well. On the CD you'll find Shockwave and Shockwave Flash plug-ins, a trial version of Astound and DeBabelizer.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Classroom in a Book: Adobe FrameMaker

$45; ISBN 1-56830-399-8

In the world of desktop publishing for technical documents, Adobe FrameMaker reigns supreme. But it's not an easy program to use and learn, so the (unnamed) staff of Adobe developed this book to help new and experienced Framers get hip to the new version. Each chapter covers a separate major topic, including graphics, document editing, tables, cross-references and more. Of particular interest to those creating hyperlinked documents with Frame's new capabilities are the two final chapters: Hypertext and PDF, and Web Publishing. As befits the "classroom" concept, there are numerous tutorials as well as review questions. The CD-ROM contains the lesson files. A fun book this isn't, but if you do technical writing, you should probably consider getting it.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews



GUI Design for Dummies

$29.99; ISBN 0-7645-0213-1

We all use graphical user interfaces, or GUIs; and most of us have also cursed at one or more of the devious little suckers. Now you can find out why your pet peeve program is so crappy, or rather, how it could have been better designed. In 337 pages, author/design expert Laura Arlov of Oslo, Norway, takes the reader on a guided tour of the world of GUI design, showing how to develop GUIs for in-house or commercial software, talking about the tendency of GUI design guidelines to fail and how to succeed anyway, and offering advice on what to do about color, layout and graphics if you don't have a graphic designer. She also shows how to find out what makes a program intuitive for people you'll never meet, and how to get on-the-job training in GUI design by conducting usability tests. If you're involved in software development, this book will help you create programs that your customers will thank you for.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Visual J++ Unleashed: Second Edition

$49.99; ISBN 1-57521-356-7

Sun and Microsoft are still waging their little Java battle, but meanwhile developers are using Microsoft's version of the language for creating a variety of tools. To play devil's advocate for a moment: So what if it's not really cross-platform? Develop for Windows, and you've got the lion's share of the market for starters. Authors Bryan Morgan et al cover the gamut of issues the budding Visual J++ developer should know, from customizing the language to GUI programming and the Component Object Model (COM) and the Database Wizard, new in version 1.1 of the language. The CD-ROM includes a trial version of Visual J++ 1.1, plus a number of auxiliary Java development tools and source code from the book.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


More Java in 21 Days

$29.99; ISBN 1-57521-347-8

Lots of Java programmers learned the language from Laura Lemay's Teach Yourself Java in 21 Days, including San Francisco's notorious Craig Newmark. If you've exhausted that massive tome, and have an extra three weeks to kill, here are Michael Morrison and Jerry Ablan to clue you in on the language's more advanced features. This 452-page book from Sams.net Publishing includes material on the AWT and customized components, foundation classes and Java frameworks, advanced database apps with JDBC and, of course, JavaBeans. No CD, but the companion Web site offers source code and examples from the book, plus full-text electronic versions of two other books: Java Unleashed and Maximum Java.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Visual C++ 5 Bible

$39.99; ISBN 0-7645-8022-1

Easy it's not, but if you want to be taken seriously as a programmer these days, you have to know how to program in C++. Authors Paul Yao and Richard C. Leinecker roll up their sleeves and dig into the dirt of Microsoft's version of the ultimate object-oriented language in this 876-page book, with content ranging from the innards of the Windows OS and programming interface to the use of ActiveX controls and third-party libraries. There's an extensive chapter on database connectivity, and lots of material on creating interfaces. The CD-ROM includes a free version of Leinecker's image-processing library, demos of MFC extension libraries, and a trial version of the BoundsChecker 5.0 debugger from NuMega.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews




Macromedia Director 6 for Dummies

$24.99; ISBN 0-7645-0224-7

Macromedia Director is still going strong after all these years, and now there's a Dummies book about the latest version. Author Lauren Steinhauer provides the intrepid beginning multimedia author with helpful advice on using Director 6's new drag-and-drop behaviors to produce interactive multimedia without programming; build cross-platform Director movies for Macs and Windows PCs; use digital video and Director's Lingo programming language and more. Chances are, even if you know Director pretty well, you could learn a thing or two from this book. The CD offers demo versions of Macromedia software and Equilibrium's DeBabelizer graphics-format conversion software, plus lots of shareware programs for Mac and Windows.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Shockwave for Dummies: 2nd Edition

$24.99; ISBN 0-7645-0225-7

With Shockwave, Director authors can create streaming interactive Web extravaganzas, and author Greg Harvey is here to tell us how. His book includes tips and tricks on making small, efficient Shockwave movies; creating animated banners with Flash 2; implementing Web page controls with buttons or hyperlinks for navigating your site; using Director 6 netLingo commands to control Shockwave movies and a good deal more. Besides the software mentioned above, the CD provides demo versions of Sonic Foundry SoundForge XP 4.0 and Flash 2.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Director 6 Demystified

$49.95; ISBN 0-201-68884-0

Macromedia Press, an imprint of Peachpit Press, offers an authoritative book on Director 6. In 1,000+ pages, developer/author Jason Roberts starts out with such Director Essentials as graphics, animation and interactivity.

Without breaking stride, he then delves into 14 chapters on Lingo, covering multiple movies and casts, lists, audio elements, Xtras and XObjects, debugging and much more. This section also includes five project profiles, so the reader can learn from the experience of others. Next, there are three chapters on Shockwave, followed by seven appendices with extensive reference sections on Lingo. The CD includes sound effects and music files, over 50MB of custom textures and patterns, and buttons and other widgets, all royalty-free, plus all tutorial files, demos and shareware. Would-be digital directors as well as experienced authors will undoubtedly find this book essential reading.

Read the Amazon.com Reviews


Macromedia Director 6 and Lingo Interactive

$49.95; ISBN 0-201-69635-5

Even if you don't own Director, this book/2-CD combination from Macromedia/Peachpit Press, subtitled "Official Macromedia Traning," can get you up to speed on the king of interactive media authoring software. The content is fairly basic, covering the creation of multimedia files and importing them into a Director cast; creating animations with transition effects; editing and playing sounds; creating film loops and applying behaviors; using Lingo to let the user branch to different sections of a movie and more. You can read about it, or just let the experts from Macromedia show you how on the CD-ROMs. Owners of older Macs will be pleased to know that a Power Mac is not required, and the software also works on Windows (natch).

Read the Amazon.com Reviews



About Spectrum Reviews

Spectrum Reviews is an independent service published irregularly for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum Reviews covers the tools used to create interactive multimedia applications, and the applications themselves. We love to receive interactive media and online development tools and CD-ROMs for review.

Send review product and press kits by mail to Spectrum Reviews, Attn: David Duberman, 1609 Addison St. #6, Berkeley, CA 94703.

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(c)Copyright 1997 Motion Blur Media. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any for-profit or revenue-generating venue in any form without written permission from the publisher.