Business-like, isn't he?



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    Engaging reads for high tech summer escapees

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver July 13-19, 2004; issue 768, High Tech Office column

    This week, it's the High Tech Office summer reading list - books to read on the plane, on the beach or just in the yard.

    Summer means taking pictures. With digital cameras increasingly commonplace, books can help you take better digital pix. Julie Adair King's Shoot Like a Pro! (Osborne, $38) is full of real-world digital camera tips, from choosing just enough camera (but not too much), to setting up a digital darkroom, to taking better portraits, still lifes and close-ups. It will help you with the tough shots: low-light and action photos, making panoramas out of multiple shots, and manipulating colours.

    Derrick Story's Digital Photography Hacks (O'Reilly, $44), offers 100 tricks to make the best use of your digital photography gear. Story suggests that these are the tips that the pros have been using for years "to make their pictures look better than yours." (Note that many of these tricks are the same ones that film photographers use as well. Story points out that Ansel Adams "hacked the hell" out of his famous photos to get the prints that grace museum walls and calendars today.

    If you use eBay to buy, and particularly to sell, perhaps turning your hobby into a business on the side, take a peek at David Karp's eBay Hacks (O'Reilly, $39), another set of 100 tricks. You'll see how best to monitor auctions and make the winning bid, how to buy and sell safely, how to tweak your descriptions and images to maximize sales, how to maintain your reputation online and more.

    Publisher Tim O'Reilly is on a mission to rehabilitate the word "hacker." Besides the Hacks series, check out Paul Graham's Hackers & Painters (O'Reilly,$34). Graham, whose start-up Viaweb created software to simplify e-commerce and was purchased by Yahoo. He took the money and ran to Florence to study art. Along the way, he became convinced that programmers are the artists of this Renaissance. His book of essays explores what makes start-ups work (or not) and why Web-based software is the way of the future. He touches on issues from spam filtering to how to make money as a venture capitalist to why nerds are unpopular to how to think forbidden thoughts - and why that's a good thing.

    Of course, some hackers do break into other people's computers. The good guy hackers call that "cracking." Hacking Exposed by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz (Osborne, $75) looks at how it's done and how it can be prevented. Sections cover a range of network operating systems, along with up-to-date wireless networking security and strategies for securing phone PBXs, voice-mail systems, and more. Not a casual read, it's what your network administrator should take along for her or his summer holiday.

    It used to be that when you bought a piece of software a nice big thick book came in the box.

    Those who took the trouble to at least skim the manual saw what the product could do and how to do it. In most cases, these user guides have been replaced by a help file, which in too many cases fails to be helpful, and is virtually impossible to skim.

    David Pogue to the rescue with his Missing Manual series.

    I looked at Mac OS X Panther Edition: The Missing Manual (Pogue Press, $44). It's aimed at users who know which end of the mouse to use, but are prepared to read a bit to get better use of their new software.

    Pogue provides technical information with a sense of humour that was lacking from the user guides that no longer grace software boxes.

    This book, and others in the series are recommended to anyone who wants to learn to do more with their computers, without becoming a (dare I say) hacker.

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