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reading (3 items)
Book list by boldfish
Published 12 years, 10 months ago

Recent reviews

Designing with Web Standards review

Posted : 12 years, 10 months ago on 5 September 2005 06:55 (A review of Designing with Web Standards)

Do you design or develop?

Web designer or Web developer, either way you should read this book, the designers to grasp and understand the underlying structure of the sea change in Web design that's been underway for the last few years and the developers for clarity and streamlining of code and work practices that the book explains so well.

No self respecting Web designer can afford to ignore Web Standards any longer and this book is aimed fairly and squarely at converting old school designers to new ways of working.

I say designers advisedly though, because this isn't a book about design as such, more about construction. I draw the distinction to clarify a potentially misleading book title.

Now if you're happy that form follows function you can probably accept the design part of the title, but if you're looking for artistic inspiration and discussions on the visual aesthetics, you won't find it here. Nor will you find much help if you're relying on a WYSIWYG editor to design your Web sites, there's just a very short section on how some WYSIWG tools are now supporting Web Standards, with both Dreamweaver MX and Adobe GoLive cited as standards compliant editors.

This is most definitely a book about the nuts and bolts of the Web, about separating presentation from structure and about semantics and accessibility.

Zeldman also advocates that behaviors should also be extracted from your structure and presentation and by using standards like ECMAscript and theW3C DOM will enable you to create sophisticated cross browser effects.

Having said that, it does hold a lot of useful insight for the concerned visual Web designer and the enlightened ones who see the need to “get with the program” will find much to help them.
Chapters and Scope
Table of Contents

* Introduction
* Part I - Houston, We Have a Problem
* Before You Begin
* 1 99.9% of Web sites Are Obsolete
* 2 Designing and Building with Standards
* 3 The Trouble with Standards
* 4 XML Conquers the World (And Other Web Standards Success Stories)

* Part II - Designing and Building
* 5 Modern Markup
* 6 XHTML: Restructuring the Web
* 7 Tighter, Firmer Pages Guaranteed: Structure and Meta-Structure in Strict and Hybrid Markup
* 8 XHTML by Example: A Hybrid Layout (Part I)
* 9 CSS Basics
* 10 CSS in Action: A Hybrid Layout (Part II)
* 11 Working with Browsers Part I: DOCTYPE Switching and Standards Mode
* 12 Working with Browsers Part II: Box Models, Bugs, and Workarounds
* 13 Working with Browsers Part III: Typography
* 14 Accessibility Basics
* 15 Working with DOM-Based Scripts
* 16 A CSS Redesign

* Part III - Back End
* A Modern Browsers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
* Index

Where we've been

The book divides itself into two sections, the first four chapters concentrating on where we've been and why we need to change the way we're working. If you've already accepted the need to change you can skip part 1 completely, saving it instead to quote passages from to non-believing bosses and clients.

If you're new to Web design it's a very useful primer on why we're in the mess we are today and why we need to change the way we design our Web sites.
Where we're going

The second and larger section of the book covers everything you need to know to get started in standards based Web design, but it's more overview than in-depth tutorial and transitional rather than strict in it's recommendations for how to code.

The sections on DOCTYPE and the Box Model clear up some of the more common confusions that “new to standards” designers have and the CSS Redesign section works through a real life Web site conversion from old style tabled layouts to new and improved table less CSS, presentation separated from structure nirvana.

There are one or two sections where current thinking has outpaced publication, e.g the Farnher Image replacement technique, and I couldn't quite agree with Zeldmans insistence on the use of pixels rather than ems as a typographical unit.
Readable and enjoyable

All in all, though, it meets its objectives well, explaining with humor and a light touch how the world of Web design is changing and I'm sure it will help convert the Web standards cynics.

There's a lot of humor injected here, initially it helps moisten the dryness of the subject material to make it easier to digest, but after a while, if you're reading cover to cover, it's a bit like pineapple on pizza, overused and slightly disturbing.
Summing up

A good read from one of the industry's most respected Guru's, a great tool for converting skeptical bosses and colleagues but not a reference book by any means. Start out with this book and you'll be comfortably guided in the right direction, but you'll soon be looking for more depth and support.

That said though, my guess is that this will be a book bought for it's promise and referred to in bite size chunks, which purpose it serves exceedingly well.

* Paperback 456 pages (June 5, 2003)
* Publisher: New Riders
* ISBN: 0735712018

Tony Crockford is a UK based Web designer, founder member of MACCAWS and can be found helping out the CSS newbies on the UK freelancers list

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The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks, and Hacks review

Posted : 12 years, 10 months ago on 5 September 2005 06:53 (A review of The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks, and Hacks)

I hate CSS

If you've been on any Web design mailing lists or forums in the last year or so, you will have heard (seen?) the anguished cry — “I hate CSS!” Most often it's from an experienced Web designer, frustrated by the lack of cross browser support for CSS, lamenting the broken rendering of his latest site design.

Is this you? Have you had a brief affair with CSS and fallen out big time? Tempted by the promise of easy maintenance and accessible, search-engine friendly Web sites? Then, having fallen foul of some malicious browser quirk, returned to the tables and font tags you know best?

If you hate CSS this book is for you, it will guide you gently, removing one stumbling block at a time, to a more pleasant relationship with CSS, where you may just find that instead of hating CSS, you will actually fall in love what it can do for you.

The full table of contents is too long to reproduce here, but you can examine it at the publishers site

1. Getting Started with CSS
2. Text Styling and Other Basics
3. CSS and Images
4. Navigation
5. Tabular Data
6. Forms and User Interfaces
7. Browser and Device Support
8. CSS Positioning and Layout
9. Experimentation, Browser Specific CSS, and Future Techniques

A brief summary of the contents:

* Answers to 22 questions about text styling & other basics
* 8 Answers to common questions about image formatting
* 9 Tips for using CSS for navigation elements
* 8 Hints for using CSS with Tabular Data
* 11 Ways to use CSS for Forms and User Interfaces
* 19 Solutions to Cross-Browser Compatibility issues
* 14 Essential Tricks to using CSS to replace tables for layout
* 12 Experimental or Browser-Specific CSS Hacks

(Which adds up to 103, so I guess the book title is playing safe.)
Rachel, show me the way

The book is a surprisingly easy read, with plenty of white space, illustrations and code samples. It follows a predictable format, with question, solution and discussion sections on each topic.

Its real strength is in the structure and flow of the book, you could even read it cover to cover if you are so inclined, but I suspect most designers will be dipping into the book for help with specific issues as they build their sites. Either way it succeeds rather well.

Whilst the book is targeted at designers with some knowledge of CSS, the early chapters act as a refresher and gentle introduction, so don't be put off if this is your first CSS book.

The chapters on tables and forms pay particular attention to accessibility issues and take a grown up Web standards approach — Clearly and concisely explaining how and why you should include the caption and summary attributes in your table element and how to effectively use label, fieldset and legend elements in your forms
What I liked

I like the easy flow and the feeling of being gently guided. There are plenty of extra tips and the advice is current and carefully controlled to retain a simplicity and ease of understanding.

I particularly liked the section in Chapter seven entitled “I think I've found a CSS bug! What do I do?” which has some great suggestions for troubleshooting:

1. Take a break.
2. Validate your style sheet and document.
3. Isolate the problem.
4. Search the Web.
5. Ask for help.

All excellent advice and in the “ask for help” section there's a simple list of guidelines for posting your question to a forum or a mailing list which are well worth a read:

“If you haven't managed to find a solution as you've moved through the above steps, ask for help. Even the most experienced developers hit problems that they just can't see past. Sometimes, just talking through the issue with a bunch of people who haven't been staring at it all week can help you resolve the problem, or come up with new ideas to test — even if no-one has an immediate solution.

When you post to a forum or mailing list, remember these rules of thumb:

* If the list or forum has archives, search them first, just in case you're about to ask one of those questions that's asked at least once a day.
* Make sure that your CSS and HTML validates; otherwise, the answer you'll get is most likely to be, “go and validate your document and see if that helps.”
* Upload an example to a location to which you can link. If you manage to reproduce the problem outside a complex layout, so much the better — this will make it easier for others to work out what's going on.
* Explain what you've tried so far in the message. This saves the recipients of your message from pursuing those same dead-ends again, and shows that you've attempted to fix the problem yourself before asking for help.
* Give your message a descriptive subject line. People are more likely to read a post entitled, “Duplicate boxes appearing in IE5” than one that screams, “HELP!” Good titles also make the list archives more useful, as people can see at a glance the titles of posts in a thread.
* Be polite and to the point.
* Be patient while you wait for answers. If you don't receive a reply after a day or so, and it's a busy list, it is usually acceptable to post again with the word “REPOST” in the subject line. Posts can be overlooked in particularly large boards, and this is a polite way to remind users that you have not received any assistance with your problem.
* When you receive answers, try implementing the poster's suggestions. Don't get upset or angry if the recommendations don't work, or you feel that the poster is asking you to try very basic things. I've seen threads go on for many posts with different posters weighing in to help someone solve a problem, and continuing the discussion until a solution is solved. Give people a chance to help!
* If you find a solution — or you don't, and decide instead to change your design to avoid the problem — post back to the thread to explain what worked and what didn't. This shows good manners towards those who helped you, but will also help anyone who searches the archive for information on the same problem. It's very frustrating to search an archive and find several possible solutions to a problem, but to not know which (if any) was successful!”

I also liked the simple clarity of the code samples and the obvious care that has been taken to create solutions that are: uncomplicated, avoid CSS hacks and maintain the separation of content and presentation.
What I'm not sure about

On my first scan of the book, I felt there were a few areas that needed more depth and sometimes I wasn't quite sure if the solution offered was the best one. I say not sure because it was just a feeling, a feeling that diminished as I read more of the book.

So to be fair, I think that in order to best serve the confused and frustrated designer, this book stops in just the right places and includes plenty of recommendations for where to seek further assistance and find more in depth advice to some of the questions posed.
Summing up

The first four chapters are available as a PDF file in exchange for your email address. So, are the other 5 chapters worth buying the book for? Most definitely yes, especially if you hate CSS.

If you've been struggling with building Web sites using Web standards and CSS, you really must buy this book. It's packed full with useful, real life advice, hints and tips, clearly laid out and carefully explained.

If you're already in love with CSS I doubt you'll learn much new, but it will be a handy reference and quick start guide for those “I forgot how to...” moments.

Go get a copy. Now!
About the Author

Rachel Andrew is the Director of edgeofmyseat.com, a Web solutions company in the UK. She is a member of the Web Standards Project, serving on the Dreamweaver Task force.

Rachel's writing credits include: Dreamweaver Developer's Instant Troubleshooter (Apress), Dreamweaver MX Design Projects (Apress), Dynamic Dreamweaver MX (glasshaus), Fundamental Web Design And Development Skills (glasshaus)

* ISBN: 0-9579218-8-8
* Page Count: 376
* Author: Rachel Andrew
* Edition: 1st (November 2004)
* Book Website: [Link removed - login to see]

Tony Crockford is a UK based Web Developer, founder member of MACCAWS and can be found helping out the CSS newbies on the UK freelancers list

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Stylin' with CSS: A Designer's Guide review

Posted : 12 years, 10 months ago on 5 September 2005 06:51 (A review of Stylin' with CSS: A Designer's Guide)

This is the book that I wished for when I first started using CSS in 1999. A book that explains what CSS does, rather than what it is and one that shows you how to do stuff with CSS. If you’ve been looking for a book to get you started, this is it.

It’s a really good book, not quite a great book, but a really, really good book.

Well written, easy to read and packed full of useful information, it’s almost perfect for the CSS newbie and has clear explanations of some of the trickier to grasp CSS concepts that will, no doubt, provide some “aha!” moments for Web designers who have been using CSS for some time.

What makes it a good book? Let’s see...

A natural flow makes this book easy to read and understand, each chapter begins with a preface illustrating what you will learn. All code samples are clearly annotated with a concise explanation about what each section does.

Dozens of side margin notes and commentary add extra detail without cluttering the main content or interrupting the narrative flow. Many of these side notes contain urls for further information on the topic being explained, one of the most important ones to note is the Web site of the book: [Link removed - login to see] where you can download the code snippets and more importantly read the errata notices.

1. XHTML: Giving Structure To Content
2. How CSS works
3. Stylin’ Fonts And Text
4. Positioning Elements
5. Basic Page Layout
6. Advanced Page Layout
7. Creating Interface Components
8. Building Web Sites
9. Appendix: CSS Properties And Values

The first three chapters give a good grounding in the structure of an XHTML document, how CSS works, how to write it, how it cascades and what inheritance is all about.

The author explains why Web standards are a great idea, how to comment your code for later ease of maintenance and how to avoid the usual newbie traps, like “classitis”.

The illustration of document hierarchy and clear and in depth explanation of how to use contextual selectors goes a long way to setting the new CSS user on the path to righteousness. I even learned a thing or two about adjacent sibling selectors and the universal selector that up until now I’d just been blindly using as part of various hacks I’d picked up.

Chapter four covers positioning of elements and includes a good look at the box model.

Page layouts are covered in chapters five and six including the use of some very up to date float clearing techniques.

Chapter seven takes a look at styling lists and form controls and walks the reader through the creation of multiple level dropdown menus. It also sneaks in a very useful and concise explanation of the star hack and the backslash hack

The last chapter brings everything together with a simple Web site build that demonstrates some of the issues a designer will face and how to overcome them.

My first skim through this book impressed me — it seemed to cover all the right ground at a good level of detail and the colour and structure made it easy to read. A book I would have recommended to any Web designer planning to switch to using CSS. Closer inspection, however, left me slightly disappointed.
Why it’s not a great book

Despite its initial promise, there are a number of minor annoyances within the book that I feel stop it from being truly great.

I noticed a number of inconsistencies between the text and the code examples, some of which are picked up in the errata section of the book’s Web site [Link removed - login to see] , which I suggest you make a copy of and update your book, before you get started.

Most of the errata won’t cause that many headaches if you’re following along and you have your wits about you, as they’re mainly in the minor typo range, but a few will throw you completely — the mixup in the code sample on page 146, where a vital part of the Alsett Clearing method is missed out will cause you major problems if you’re using IE on a Mac.

The preface to chapter 4’s illustration of the box model will also be confusing unless you get the updated version from the site. To be fair to the author, it’s a minor editorial error, placing the box border around the content rather than around content+padding, and clarified within the text and figure 4.2. Let’s hope subsequent reprints get it right.

Some other minor niggles that stopped this book from being great for me were the author’s intermittent use of the “alt tag” phrase, which we all know offends the purists — alt is an attribute of the image tag used to provide alternative text for an image element. Ironically the main occurrence of this “offence” is on the page explaining how attribute selectors work.

There’s also a lot of confusing use of tag when describing XHTML elements, it’s a bad habit to get into and it’s important to stick with a single definition for the sake of clarity. It’s not a big thing, but it does confuse, when one minute we’re discussing declaring a style for an element, the next discussing how inline tags can’t contain block level tags; yet in the very next paragraph correctly calling them block level elements (p14) — just to clarify, the tags are the bits within the angle brackets that start and end an element. (see also: [Link removed - login to see]

I also take umbrage at the author’s pronouncement that ‘for all practical purposes, a point is the same as a pixel; (p35)’ and his subsequent references to px dimensioned declaration values as points.(p107)

I imagine that designers from a print background will be disappointed when they find that a point isn’t actually equal to a pixel, quite apart from the problems that declaring dimensions in pts will cause. Sizing fonts is comprehensively covered in chapter 3 and to the author’s merit he recommends using ems and explains all the pros, cons and pitfalls of doing so. However, I do think the difference between points and pixels could have been handled a little better.

I also noticed a complete lack of reference to the use of @import in regard to linked stylesheets, this may have been deliberate to avoid over complication, but it led me to wonder how some of the more advanced CSS examples would fare in older browsers.
In Summary

It’s an easy read, packed with clear explanations, good illustration and pitched at a level suitable for experienced Web designers looking to make the transition from tables to CSS.

It promotes Web standards, the separation of content from presentation and explains the benefits of doing so.

It isn’t a book about design, despite the title, but a designer should have some technical understanding, as the author suggests ‘technical skills are the underpinnings of creative expression’ and this book goes a long way to making those technical skills easy to attain.

Pedantry aside, this is a really good book and worthy of a place on your bookshelf if you are at all interested in using CSS for fun and profit. Just make sure you get the errata and follow some of the author’s suggested links for a deeper understanding of cross browser issues.

Treat yourself — get a copy.
About the Author

Charles Wyke-Smith has been creating Web sites since 1994 and is currently Director of Production at Nacio ([Link removed - login to see], a corporate hosting and development company in Novato, CA.

In 1986, Charles started PRINTZ Electronic Design, which was the first all-computerized design house in San Francisco. The former vice-president of Web development for eStar.com, a celebrity information site, Charles has worked as a Web design consultant for such companies as Wells Fargo, ESPN Videogames, and the University of San Francisco.

An accomplished speaker and instructor, he has also taught multimedia and interface design and spoken at many industry conferences. Charles lives in Napa Valley, CA with his wife Beth and two daughters. In his spare time, he composes and records music in his home studio. Charles has also written one screenplay and is busily working on a second one.

* ISBN: 0321305256
* Page Count: 250 pages
* Author: Charles Wyke-Smith
* Edition: April 2005
* Book Website: [Link removed - login to see]

Tony Crockford is a UK based Web Developer, founder member of MACCAWS and can be found helping out the CSS newbies on the UK freelancers list

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More Eric Meyer on CSS (Voices That Matter) review

Posted : 12 years, 10 months ago on 5 September 2005 06:49 (A review of More Eric Meyer on CSS (Voices That Matter))

Are you right for this book?

I have books on my bookshelf that I've never read. I bought them for the knowledge they contain, somehow hoping that just by having them in my possession would be enough to gain the skills promised by the titles, some sort of magical mind melding technique, all that hidden knowledge leaching silently across the room, lodging permanently in my brain for future retrieval.

When I bought "Eric Meyer on CSS" it wasn't like that, the title didn't promise that it would make me an expert, just that Eric Meyer knew all about CSS and was prepared to share. I actually managed to read it and the magical mind meld did, in fact, take place, so I was really quite excited to discover that there was a sequel - More Eric Meyer on CSS.

I think Eric hates waste, he doesn't want his work to languish unread on bookshelves like mine, so he devotes two whole pages of his introduction helping you to decide if you will benefit from buying the book. If you shop on-line he's published that part of the book on the companion Web site: [Link removed - login to see]

In briefest summary: If you hand code your web pages, you're good with html and have dabbled with CSS but want to take it to the next level, then you qualify to read this book.

On the other hand, if you're a WYSIWG Web designer wishing things would stay the same and wondering what all the Web standards fuss is about then step away now, nothing for you here.
I do, I understand.

There's an ancient Chinese proverb that goes something like "I hear I know, I see I remember, I do I understand." Embracing that philosophy, this is a very hands on book. You could read it on the train, the clear explanations and full color illustration make it pleasant enough, but to really get the benefit you will want to read and "do" at the same time.

If you're like me then you'll want to read it more than once too. Sometimes the step by step approach gives an unexpected effect in your working file and only by reading the next paragraph or two does the reason (and solution) become clear. The hugely positive side of this is that the next time you see the same "mistake" affecting your design, you'll have a much better understanding of why it's doing it and what to do to put it right.

For example, there's a point in project 6 (CSS-driven Drop-Down Menus) where declaring position:relative on the list items suddenly produces a mess of overlapping text on screen. Three paragraphs later it's all sorted out, but the reason for the overlap and how to resolve it is now clearly embedded in my brain.

If you're worrying about a lot of typing, don't. You won't have to type every line of code or make your own graphics, Eric has thoughtfully provided copies of all the project files for you to download from the companion Web site. There are stage by stage file copies too, so cutting and pasting from the next stage of the process into your working file makes things a lot simpler. This is a great timesaver, most of the projects can be worked through in less than a couple of hours.

While there's no need to work the projects in sequence as each one is a standalone project in its own right, there is a process of each project building on elements of the last. So if you're still moving forward with CSS a linear read of the book is a good idea, where those of you looking for a new CSS trick or two will find dipping and diving into the book no problem at all. The addition of an effective and clear index means that using the books as a reference is also enjoyable.
Table of Contents

* Foreword by Douglas Bowman
* Introduction

1. Converting an Existing Page
2. Styling a Photo Collection
3. Styling a Financial Report
4. Positioning in the Background
5. List-Based Menus
6. CSS-Driven Drop-Down Menus
7. Opening the Doors to Attractive Tabs
8. Styling a Weblog
9. Designing a Home Page
10. Designing in the Garden

Real life, Real solutions

Eric has chosen his project topics well, picking up on current design trends and new CSS techniques and applying them to simple but realistic examples.

Not all of the techniques will work cross browser without some CSS hacks, and some of the hacks will cause your code to be invalid. Where this does happen, Eric clearly explains why the hack is needed, how it works and what alternatives there are. The choice, to hack or not to hack, is placed in your hands.

At the end of each project there is a short section called "Branching Out" where Eric issues a challenge or challenges to stretch the techniques you've been shown and take them in different directions, I'd have liked to see an answers section - perhaps that's the next book, or a good idea for a Web site?
So what do you get?

There are two projects that will help you convert an exisiting site, one at the beginning and the other - a CSS Zen Garden contribution (number 100) at the end of the book which demonstrates how to work with a graphic design and html constraints.

Three of the projects cover user interface: Making horizontal or vertical navigation menus from lists; applying resizable tabs to lists as menus; and creating dropdown heirarchical menus without a whiff of javascript.

Project four unravels the mystery of simulating translucent layering, an effective technique, simple but stylish. For the bloggers and self publishers there are two chapters on using CSS in your homepage and styling a blog.

Projects two and three focus on the more specialist needs, styling for a collection of photos, which deals with floats, float alignment and float clearing and styling a financial report, which takes you through the issues of row shading and print styling with CSS.

All in all the book covers the common issues facing Web designers moving to CSS from a table layout background, answering all the questions that appear so frequently on mailing lists and web forums
Extra, Extra, read all about it.

What sets this book apart for me is the abundance of margin notes and "asides".

Throughout the book there are many "asides" - detailed explanations of the technique or alternatives you could choose, they're color coded and can be safely skipped whilst doing the project, but are a very useful addition.

The margin notes come in three forms: note, warning and Web site notes. The latter link the text to the website - which files you need to download etc. Warnings highlight parts of the project that might cause cross browser problems and Notes, my favorites, add little snippets of very useful information.

For example one snippet I picked up from the margin notes was that absolutely positioning an element always generates a block level box, regardless of what sort of box it would have generated normally. Another was that when setting a border on an element you don't need to declare a color, as the border color will be the same as the element color unless specifically declared otherwise.
Summing up
I liked...

* The full color printed screengrabs
* The margin notes
* The aside sections
* The excellent index
* The clear print and simple layout
* The structure of each project
* The project topics
* The companion Web site

I didn't like...

What's not to like? apart from maybe the screenshots were a bit small, but if you're working along they're only there to confirm you're getting it right.

If you fit the aforementioned profile of people that are "right for this book" don't hesitate, go out and get a copy. Oh, and when you've read it, don't just shelve it, take it wherever you go, the bright red cover will make you instantly recognisable as a CSS expert.

* Paperback: 304 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.70 x 9.98 x 7.88
* Publisher: New Riders; (April 8, 2004)
* ISBN: 0735714258
* Web site: [Link removed - login to see]

Tony Crockford is a UK based Web Developer, founder member of MACCAWS and can be found helping out the CSS newbies on the UK freelancers list

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