"The blues had a baby,
and they called it rock 'n' roll."
-Muddy Waters

designing from scratch

Programming web pages was once a mysterious activity, seemingly left to sorcerers laboring late into the night behind shuttered windows. Today, tools abound for achieving the dynamism expected from the web. There are programs such as FrontPage that allow a person to develop pages without knowing a lick of programming; plug-ins that forgive our ignorance of protocol and lack of attention to detail by delivering for us despite ourselves; tools that do the thinking for us, with more being developed everyday. Welcome to the TV dinner age of web design.

Web Site Wizardry
by Marianne Krcma
Coriolis Group, 1996
ISBN: 1-883577-87-X
$34.99, 414 pp

Back in the day, before building a web page was a process akin to popping a frozen dinner in the microwave, I enrolled in a class on web design through my local community college. The text we were taught from was Marianne Krcma's Web Site Wizardry. It was a great foundation to build from, providing the novice with a thorough introduction to Hypertext Modeling Language (HTML). This was in the days before PHP and MySQL had taken design to a whole new interactive level. Most pages were simple, yet to be enhanced with shopping carts and payment scripts. PayPal was still a dream, E-Bay had barely launched, the creators of Google were still in high school and MySpace was the go-to site for social networking. Not quite the Dark Ages, but close.

Besides being an excellent source for getting started in HTML, Wizardry touches on copyright issues, graphics and sound, it debates design options and downloading versus streaming. With higher internet speeds some of the concerns raised by Krcma regarding downloading times and data limits are moot. But other, more basic design points are not, including thoughts on page layout, font styles and sizes, things all web designers need to give more attention to. Krcma covers frames too (perhaps better than anyone) including tag usage, creating multi-level frames, resizing frames, and offers tips on when and why they should sometimes be avoided altogether.

For all the assistance Wizardry offers the young web developer, the meat of the book is in its HTML strings. Though we might fault Krcma for neglecting databases, she more than makes up for it in other areas. It's what results when a thoughtful designer/publisher brings her experience to a book. A helpful CD-ROM included, we give Wizardry three drops.

PHP and MySQL For Dynamic Web Sites
by Larry Ullman
Peachpit Press, 2003
ISBN: 0-321-18648-6
$24.99, 572 pp

PHP and SQL are considered god-sends for the web. Powerful elements, PHP (originally standing for Personal Home Page, but now PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) can be used to create online forms and surveys for recording client/customer/user information. Structured Query Language (SQL) performs the database end of things, and is the world's most popular open source database application. Taken together, they deliver powerfully dynamic web pages. The beauty of PHP, SQL and MySQL lie in the ease with which they complement each other and work with HTML, making it simple to apply their elements to existing pages. Basically, PHP works through a series of prompts generated by the information a user puts in specific fields when filling out a survey, form, etc.

. . . somewhere between conceptualization and putting it down in writing

his ideas incubated too long as if in a hot oven, resulting in a dry,

uninteresting text that struggles to hold the reader's attention.

Although I'd like to give PHP and MySQL a rave review, I just can't. After struggling with the lessons which are promised to offer "Concise, straightforward steps and explanations [to] the fastest way to learn tasks and concepts", they don't. Or perhaps they do in the author's mind, but somewhere between conceptualization and putting it down in writing his ideas incubated too long as if in a hot oven, resulting in a dry, uninteresting text that struggles to hold the reader's attention. We've come to expect more from a Visual Quickpro Guide. On the upside, although the book is filled with errors, there is a web site which addresses that, with clear corrections and references to the pages on which the errors are found. Helpful, but half a drop is all we can muster.

Adobe InDesign: Classroom in a Book
by The Staff of Adobe
Adobe Press, 1999
ISBN: 0-201-65893-3
$45.00, 439 pp

Adobe InDesign: Classroom in a Book; the title says it all. Published by Adobe Systems to support their hybrid program of word processing and graphics, it's not a bad instruction manual. The lessons are clear, methodical, and the supporting CD-ROM leaves little to accident. But it begs the question: Is there really a need for yet another Adobe program?

Adobe Pagemaker set the industry standard for desktop publishing, and Adobe Photoshop's the coup de maitre of graphics programs. What the nice folks at Adobe have done with InDesign is combined elements of Pagemaker and Photoshop into one program, integrating their two most popular (and powerful) products. Nice, yes, but the real beauty of InDesign is its ease of output across a wide spectrum of devices and formats, such as PDF and HTML. Also, InDesign can be customized with an array of plug-ins offered by Adobe and other vendors as well. Options are good.

As for the Classroom in a Book, it's all right. Adobe has a good track record when it comes to technical support. However, this book's got about as much soul as a corporate financial sheet, and we prefer the color illustrations of Adobe's companion user manual. You'd think they would have figured that out, being as InDesign's all about the ease and use of color. We give it one drop.

posted 02/26/14