Internet Help: Two Books for the Perplexed

You are probably like me, thinking that you would never need a general reference book on the Internet. You’ve been around from the start, before there was even elm, and you know your way around a Unix prompt. But really, how long has it been since you had to use elm and the vi editor? Now that you’ve got Eudora to handle your email, and you’ve been following each successive release of Netscape Navigator to play with JAVA and VRML, chances are that it’s been a few years since you had to stare at a % and type a command. I know because I’ve been there–my company sent me to Santa Fe, New Mexico for two weeks on a job assignment and I was adrift without my PPP connection. I found Zuma’s Electronic Cafe, an Internet cafe (a place where you can rent time on a computer with an Internet connection), but to check my mail at my home system I was forced to rely on telnet. I remembered how to get connected, and I remembered how to run elm, but as soon as I went to reply to a message and got thrown into a character based editor, I had to admit that I was stumped. Was it CTRL-C to exit, or the ESC key?

That’s where a book like Paul E. Hoffman’s The Internet Instant Reference: Third Edition can come in handy. Hoffman covers those little known commands for the remaining popular character-based software for dealing with the Internet, programs like ee, elm, ftp, lynx, nn, rn, tin, and vi, along with a brief history of the creation of the Internet, the bodies that “govern” it, and coverage of every major Internet focus. While a lot of this will be unnecessary for long-time users, newcomers could benefit greatly from having a single reference source to check for some of the more esoteric aspects of the system.

The Internet Instant Reference is thoroughly researched. Hoffman even surprised me with some of the “governing body” information (I had not known that there as a “Internet Monthly Report” that covered the discussion of standards and forecasts for Internet growth, security, and stability). And, like any great reference work, it is as easy to read for the beginning user as it provides needed information for the experienced.

There’s likely to come a time when a book like this will be unnecessary, given the trend on the Internet to more graphic-based programs that have help for users built-in to the applications themselves. Until that time, however, The Internet Instant Reference can help rescue from the forgotten terrors of the Unix prompt.

In the same vein of books that you really don’t need but somehow still end up being useful is Point, Click and Wow! A Quick Guide to Brilliant Laptop Presentations by Claudyne Wilder and David Fine. There is really nothing in this book that should not be obvious to anyone with common sense, but since so few of us have that important trait these days, it is a good thing that Wilder and Fine have written this book to remind us of it. Designed with the presenter in mind, although with a couple of nods to the presentation creators, Wilder and Fine step through the intricacies of performing a presentation using today’s technology, including the horrors of laptops that stop working just as you stand up in front of an audience, presenters more enamored of their presentation technology that with their topic, and design faux pas like changing colors with every slide and having the text in an eight point font.

Experienced field people will find a lot of this book a rehash of their own problems incorporating the new technology into their business along with some simple guidelines about presentation itself. However, for those who have yet to move from overhead transparencies to the rich world of presentation software, or for those new hires wanting to make an early splash in the field, this covers the basics. Truthfully, it’s not the presentation that makes the product, but just as we are constantly at war trying not to judge a book by its cover, it is often the cover (or the presentation) by which a sale is lost or made, and pity the poor presenter that loses this point.

[Finished 7 May 1996]

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