Business-like, isn't he?



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    Laughing matters to consider in the serious high-tech world

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver
    February 24-March 1, 2004 Issue 748; The High Tech Office column

     The High Tech Office is serious stuff, right? After all, for many of us, our computer gear is our third most expensive purchase, after our house and car. And when your computer goes down in the middle of that job-critical project - which is, of course, when it's most likely to develop problems - it's no laughing matter.

     But just look at how many people use e-mail to send jokes to long lists of people, or the number of Web sites filled with graphics and videos parodying all and sundry. Or take the recent crop of books that has crossed my desk:

     I'm a big fan of Adobe's Photoshop Elements software, a program that offers, in my estimation, 80 per cent of the power of its big sibling Photoshop for 20 per cent of that professional product's price. But while providing a lot of graphics power for the rest of us, PS Elements still comes with a fairly steep learning curve. Wally Wang writes about computers by day, and works at stand-up comedy by night. In Totally Tasteless Photoshop Elements (McGraw Hill/Osborne, $37.95), he manages to combine his two careers, showing readers how to use the software to remove wrinkles and double-chins, or alternatively, to add effects (not listed in Element's Filter menu) like bloat and pucker. His whimsical examples should keep you amused while you're learning how to edit photos and other graphics, at least if you're prepared to include George W. Bush among the topics you find funny.

     If you don't need to pretend to be learning while laughing, O'Reilly's $23.95 The Best of the Joy of Tech by Canadians Nitrozac (aka Liza Schmalcel) and Snaggy (aka Bruce Evans) is a colourful assortment of the duo's geek cartoons, featured on their Web site. No technology sacred-cow remains untargeted, with the book sending up geeks, babes (the authors include both geeks and babes), Microsoft, Apple, Linux and visitors from outer space. Commentary and polls add to the amusement.

     O'Reilly is best known as the publisher of an ongoing series of books for computer programmers; this book may help you relate to the folks in your IT department a little better.

     The Joy of Tech offers equal-opportunity humour, poking fun at corporate Microsoft and Apple, Windows, Unix and Macintosh users without discrimination. Scott Kelby's Macintosh ... The Naked Truth (New Riders, $31.99) makes no attempt at offering something for everyone. Instead, it's aimed at the Mac faithful, promising them a "totally biased look at what it's like to be a Macintosh user in a Windows-dominated world." While Kelby rants, he recognizes that Mac users' relationship with Apple mixes elements of hate with the love. This book is really for every Mac user who feels like he or she has been ignored or belittled by mass-market representatives, from the press to the PC-using salespeople in the minuscule Mac departments of the major retailers to PC users and "the stupid things they say."

     If you're a Mac user, you'll almost certainly relate to Kelby's rants, and perhaps feel better knowing you aren't alone. If you're a PC user, buy a copy for a Mac-user colleague - but read it before you pass it on, to help get a better take on your co-worker's passion.

     Next week, no laughs. Back to business.  


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan