Web Design Workshop
Photoshop Restoration & Retouching

Lynx Eye
The Skeptics Annotated Bible

Lynx Eye
Eric Meyer on CSS

Flash MX Savvy
The Digital Color Printing Handbook
Search Engine Optimization Secrets

Drive-Ins, Gas Stations, The Bright Motels

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Restoration and Retouching
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING. Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier. Writers Digest Books. writersdigest.com. Trade paper, $24.99, 555 pp.

The Complete Guide to Self PublishingTired of being rejected or just ignored by the mainstream publishing industry? Have you thought about self publishing your book? Sure you have. But how would you go about doing it? The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier appears to deliver what its title promises. It starts by relating other writers' success stories in self-publishing (mostly nonfiction, but some novels). It relates how modern authors published their books themselves, and how they were later taken on by well-known publishers like Simon & Schuster. The book also informs you of the stumbling blocks: you must be able to blow your own horn and you need some start-up capital. Depending on what you want for a book, you could spend from a few hundred dollars to over $35,000 to publish it. So how do you get the money? The book provides 31 methods of doing this, most of which I found not too helpful because they involved borrowing money from banks and friends, and getting grants. (These tactics range from the often embarrassing to the remote.) Very useful is the book’s parting section for each chapter, called “Websites, Wisdom, and Whimsy.” Here's a quote by Howard Aiken: “Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.” The authors also include in this section websites like fundsforwriters.com, as well as many other websites in other parts of the book. If you're anything like me, you will probably find this tactic very useful.

There is an entire chapter devoted to e-books. The authors encourage you to explore this new format and its marketing potential for your book. They provide a list of places that publish e-books. (Hint: It's not just Amazon.com.) They did say that that there are no costs associated with creating an e-book, other than editing, layout and cover design. This is not exactly true. Sometimes conversion can be a problem with certain books, like ones with columns. You may have to either pay someone $300 to convert a Microsoft-Word-formatted book into an e-book, or do it yourself (a task that may involve learning HTML to some degree).

A section called “Editing Your Work” provides interesting tips, such as supplying a catchy title and logically organizing the book. Another helpful chapter called “Must Do Important Early Activities” instructs you on the mysterious printing terms “recto,” “verso,” and “signature.” It also informs you about the ins and outs of obtaining your own ISBN and the barcode identifier called “Bookland EAN.” There is so much else in this chapter alone – a description of the publication Forthcoming Books in Print, Library Of Congress catalog card numbers, and prepublication attention-getters like blurbs, trade announcements, and Baker & Taylor – that you won't be tempted to just borrow this book from your local library. You will have to buy it, pure and simple.

For anyone considering going the self-publishing route with their book, The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing is an invaluable resource.

--Peter Bates

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION SECRETS. Danny Dover. Wiley. wiley.com. Trade paper, $34.99, 355 pp.

SEOSearch Engine Optimization Secrets is a good book, not only for those who want to make a career out of search engine optimization (also known as SEO), but also for those website owners who want to attract more traffic to their sites. It is a tricky field to enter, because the search engine such as Google and Bing are constantly changing their rules. Here’s an example: Not long ago, web designers would “stuff” keywords into text, sometimes hiding them in small white characters at the bottom of a page. It worked for a while, until the search engines caught wind of it. According to author Danny Dover, this tactic not only does not work any longer (if it ever did), but it can also get you penalized by the search engines and earn you low rankings on search results.

He also talks about other tips for getting high ranks. Something called the “temporal algorithm” can often get you momentary hits on your website; for example, if a timely news item like Michael Jackson's death makes an appearance on your site, a lot of people will visit your site's seeking information about this event. Another tip is to avoid pitfalls in naming your domain: avoid hyphens, names longer than 15 characters, and generic uncommon domains like.ws and .info. Most helpful is the suggestion to provide good content, stuff people actually want to read such as humor and your own style of tips. He also tells you to avoid Flash, JavaScript (the kind with no HTML alternative), and frames. For example, on my website Bates communications.net, I have HTML links as well as JavaScript links on my pages. If I didn't have both and a non-JavaScript enabled visitor tried to access my pages, they wouldn't be able to do it. In addition, he heartily recommends that webmasters sign up for Google Webmaster Central, that handy control panel for websites with SEO tools. He also lets you in on keyword density tools, both free and fee-based (like that of his company, SEOmoz, the Term Target Tool). (In between tips that you paid for by buying this book, the author inserts plugs for his own SEO business and its tools.)

Some of the book’s design is a bit annoying. For example, to emphasize a point in text or a cogent snippet, he “highlights” it in dark blue. This is to approximate the old yellow highlighter that we all used in college. However in this case, it makes reading the highlighted text a bit harder. Also, his marginalia is formatted slightly off-kilter and in an informal-looking script. A lot of it could just have likely have been ported to the notes that he does provide, or rewritten as part of the text itself. I also would've liked him to have toned down – or eliminated – his hokey sense of humor, the kind that those “Car Talk” guys use on National Public Radio. Humor's a very subjective thing and people read such books for instruction, not amusement. Also, why did he point users to an introductory SEO article on his website, rather than just insert said article as Chapter 1? Could this have been just an afterthought caused by an oversight? (“Omigosh, we forgot to provide an introductory article to SEO in the book!”)

Despite these flaws, this is a worthwhile book filled with detailed information about how to critically evaluate a client's home page for possible improvement or why to start a blog or write for a content aggregator (like e-zinearticles.com). He says it is a good idea to search on terms relating to a company's brand name that could possibly indicate a bad website, like brand-name sucks and brand name review. (This is very clever, by the way.) If I were optimizing clients’ websites, I would choose this book for its many tips. Unfortunately, it could use a glossary.

--Peter Bates

PHOTOSHOP CS5 RESTORATION AND RETOUCHING. Mark Fitzgerald. Wiley. wiley.com. Trade paper, $44.99, 355 pp.

PhotoshopRetouching photographs can be an arduous and tricky procedure. Photoshop does not necessarily respond in the way that its help files say it does, and quite often the results are unsatisfactory and perplexing. That is why I was happy to read Mark Fitzgerald's Adobe Photoshop CS5 Restoration and Retouching.

This book is superbly well-written and well-organized. FitzGerald wisely starts off with a introductory course in digital editing as it applies to Photoshop. In fact he does it for the first 164 pages. He not only discusses Photoshop but touches upon Adobe Bridge, the organizational software for viewing and categorizing photographs. This Creative Suite product is also capable of performing initial touchups to photographs, but Fitzgerald chooses not to get into that aspect of the product.

Instead, he concentrates on Photoshop itself, that behemoth of options, tactics, plug-ins, and strategies for enhancing old photographs or those you've recently taken under less than favorable conditions. He does not spend time discussing arcane tools like Vanishing Point or Render Clouds but rather those that are most often used. In that respect, I find his book more helpful than most 1000 page reference tomes. By concentrating on what is most commonly used and what is most necessary, like adjustment layers (such as Curves and Levels), and color adjustment tools (Color Balance and Variations). FitzGerald performs a highly needed service. Each section ends with a short one-page Q&A, which is not exactly a summary of the chapter, but adds additional useful information.

The tutorials are splendid. He takes existing photographs and walks you through removing tears, dust, glasses glare, and even changing people's heads from one photograph to the next. He talks about that bugbear of all retouchers: knowing when to stop. If you are charging by the hour, sometimes a client does not want the photograph to be as perfect as your additional hour of labor would make it. They would prefer to have been charged less money. Also, if the final print is going to be only an 8 x 10, you do not have to get out every nasty blotch as if it is going to be a 30 x 40 “ poster.

However, there are two things that I wish he would have included in this book (in addition to discussing Adobe Bridge retouching tools).

One, I wish he would've discussed the most useful addition to Adobe Photoshop CS5 since the previous edition of this book, when it covered Photoshop CS3. I'm talking about Content Aware, that feature that allows you to select a relatively large portion of the photograph, remove it and automatically fill in the hole with the surrounding environment. I've seen entire horses get removed from fields, using this tool. He briefly mentions it in regards to its additional use as an option for the Spot healing brush, yet he doesn't show how to use it, nor does he discuss its operational quirks like he does for other components, such as the Patch Tool.

Two, I wish he would have included a section on other helpful plug-ins. He does discuss one of them, Portraiture 2 by Imagenomic. There are many others that can help. An entire chapter could've been devoted to discussing some interesting retouching plug-ins for Photoshop, such as Akvis Retoucher. Such plug-ins are invaluable in addressing Photoshop's built-in quirks and shortcomings.

Ah yes, quirks. I admire Fitzgerald for talking about the quirks of some of Photoshop's tools and how you have to be aware of “gotchas” like smudging, and the fact that the Spot Healing Brush “works best in areas that are low in detail such as backgrounds.” Other how-to books simply give you instructions, making you feel like an idiot if these instructions don't work exactly as described.

This is an excellent book, and probably the best one about retouching Photoshop on the market today. It is not perfect, but it's pretty close.

--Peter Bates


Drive-Ins, Gas Stations, The Bright Motels. Wendy Drexler. Puddinghouse Press. Chapbook, $10.75, 32 pp.

Drive-ins,What a savvy concept for a chapbook: growing up in Colorado, seen retrospectively through the eyes of a child. Wendy Drexler’s Drive-Ins, Gas Stations, The Bright Motels, although only 32 pages long, is a thoroughly sage portrait of her as a child, her thought patterns, her trying to make sense of her parent’s divorce and her mother’s dating, and her own maturing body. There is humor too, as when she satirizes ‘50s mores in “Mommy’s Boyfriends”:

“. . . I tell him
I want her to marry Jack.
After, Mommy says I can hate
Norman if I like, just be polite.”

To add authenticity, she includes a poignant letter from her childhood: “Letter to my Mother on her Honeymoon.” Nice choice. It’s got memorable lines that only a child would write, like “Fellow cut his hind foot and it’s a bloody mess.”

Drexler includes the mundane, like her difficulty with knives and dishwashers, as well as the highly confounding component of growing up. In “At the Drive-in I Ask My Father About Sex," she zeros in on the her father's candor. To his credit, when asked at the drive-in how babies are made, he gives a clinical rather than typically deceptive reply:

“there’s another hole that’s not
for peeing where the penis goes in
and where the baby comes out.
I want to see, I run to the ladies room . . . . ”

I’m not sure “Western Motel” quite belongs in this collection, since it’s inspired by an Edward Hopper painting and has nothing to do with Wendy’s youth. However, it’s notable for its asking of powerful questions, like: “Which is hardest? To be the one/or the only one?”

You’d expect a book of this sort to have an apt concluding poem and it does. In “Leaving Colorado” the author exhorts herself to leave the past, down to the physical topography she remembers, the rocks, and finally the river: “Love the river for daring to leave.” This is a stunning first collection, one that presages enhanced profundity and irony in the future from Drexler.

Order by check from:

Wendy Drexler

60 Glendale Rd.
Belmont, MA 02478-2922

--Peter Bates

THE DIGITAL COLOR PRINTING HANDBOOK. Tim Daly. Amphoto Books . Trade paper, $24.95, 156 pp.

DigitalIf you ever found yourself a bit lost navigating the tricky terrain of digital printing, this book should help you out. It certainly did me. I immediately benefitted with Daly's advice to obtain a third-party aftermarket driver for my Epson film scanner. This product, Silverfast, does a better job of getting the picture in shipshape than does the driver that came with my scanner. It has also saved me hours of fiddling around in Photoshop. That is only one of the many tips this book provides. Each one follows a set format: a one-to-three page tip, complete with procedures and sample photographs. With this book, you get practical tips like how to replace color in a picture and how to deal with the new duotone and Photo Filter features of Photoshop CS2. There are also generic tips culled from the old analog photography days, like using test strips and taking proper care of your lens. The book does contain arcane artistic tips, like using inverting color, creating "distressed color," and using the Channel Mixer. Toward the end of the book, some of the tips, like "Using Transfer Paper" and "Autochrome" become so specialized I can't imagine using them on a regular basis. But perhaps they'd be fun things to try. This book is worth purchasing. If you end up integrating one tip into your photographic arsenal (as I did with the scanner software), it is certainly worth it.

--Peter Bates

FLASH MX SAVVY. Ethan Watrall, Norbert Herber. Sybex. Trade paper, $50, 746 pp. With companion CD.

flashThis is a good beginning-to-intermediate course on using Flash MX. It begins, as it should, at the beginner's level, introducing the novice to the Flash interface and explaining each tool in detail. It's pretty hard to get lost and confused when the authors take a concept like the timeline and give you instructions how to use it, complete with labeled screen shots. Each major part is followed by a "Hands On" section, a tutorial that walks you through the concepts explained in the collection of chapters. What type of information does the book contain? Here's an example: Chapter 7, Creating and Manipulating Reusable Content , explains how to create symbols and how they fit into the Flash MX library. A tutorial for each chapter would have been nice. As a reference book, Flash MX Savvy is fairly good, if you know where to dig. This is one example where a quick read of the book may be helpful before you use it in daily problem-solving. For example, I wanted to create a sequence in which an imported bitmapped image darkens on the timeline. But you cannot simply import a bitmap and use the Properties panel to darken it. You have to convert it to a symbol via the library. The "bitmap" entry in the index doesn't point you in this direction to a procedure you can use to get around this issue. However I did find out how to automatically link to an URL fairly quickly. As an introduction to the complicated world of Flash MX and as a provider of some tips, this book is a good resource.

--Peter Bates

ERIC MEYER ON CSS: MASTERING THE LANGUAGE OF WEB DESIGN. New Riders. www.newriders. Trade paper, $45, 322 pp.

EricThis book is an excellent way to learn CSS. But beware: Its tutorial approach is time-consuming and occasionally frustrating when the examples don't quite match those in the book. (You can download them from his web site.) Yet if you just read it, you don't absorb everything. Cascading style sheets are a subset of HTML and offer the best way to format documents and apply the changes to an entire web site. The best way to learn from this book is to go through it and mark up the items that interest you, such as creating your own CSS rollover buttons without using graphics. Then apply them to the next web page you create. I never knew about the "fixed no repeat" variables that forbid a background image from repeating itself and scrolling with the text. Sometimes Meyer is a little too entranced with the technology and in the case of Chapter 12, "Fixing Your Backgrounds," he actually creates an example that can't be displayed in Internet Explorer for the PC, which 65% of the populatio nuses. (Someone supplied a javascript hack, but I couldn't even get that to work.) Despite such lapses, Meyer's approach is chatty and even fun, if you have the time. Before buying this book, make sure you have a fundamental knowledge of HTML. If you do, it's the best introduction to CSS I've seen.

--Peter Bates

PHOTOSHOP RESTORATION AND RETOUCHING. Katrin Eismann. New Riders. www.newriders. Trade paper, $49.99, 276 pp.

PhotoshopThis book, more than any other I've read, has helped me sharpen my photo retouching skills. Don't be mistaken, this is not a beginner's book. It presupposes some Photoshop knowledge. Yet even the opening chapter is helpful, because it not only provides keyboard shortcuts but explains why to use them (to save your wrists, naturally). In this book you'll learn how to use tools like Adjustment layers to use the Threshold and Curves features, which improve tonal range and contrast. The "Working with Color" chapter is most helpful, providing helpful charts like a CMYK representation of various skin tones so you can reproduce them in your photos. Eismann shows how to forge creative effects like soft focus, which helped me touch up a man's pocked face recently. She also shows how to rebuild old damaged photographs, while supplying no illusions about how hard the work can be. She also helps you develop good work techniques, such as telling you never to work on the original layer, but always on a copy. The book has a companion web site that allows you to download the practice images. If you follow the tutorials, the lessons do stick. It would have been good to have an appendix with information about helpful Photoshop plug-ins (such as Auto FX software). Still, this is an excellent book to provide the intermediate retoucher with the tools needed to accomplish the job.

--Peter Bates

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible, by Steve Wells (ISBN-13: 978-0988245105; 2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches” 1648 pp. $29.95)

Skepticsby Peter Bates

For years I had wondered why nobody had ever done this before. It seems so obvious. Go through the Bible, find all the inconsistencies and contradictions and cross-reference them. As an extra, do it with a bit of wit. Well, it looks like Steve Wells has done it with The Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Have you ever wondered:

How did Judas die?
He hanged himself. Mt 27.3-5
He fell down and his bowels gushed out. Acts 1.18

Does Hell Exist?
Yes, those that don’t go to heaven are tortured forever in Hell. Dan 12.2; Mt 10.28, 13.41-42, 18.8-9, 22.13, 25.41; Mk 9.43-49; Lk 16.19-31; Jn 5.29; 2 Th 1.7-9; Rev 14.10-11, 20.9-10, 15
No, those that don’t go to heaven, just die. Dt 29.20; Ps 1.4-6, 34.16, 37.1-2, 37.20, 69.28; Pr 10.25, 24.20; Ob 16; Rom 6.21, 23; 1 Cor 3.17; 2 Cor 2.15; Gal 6.8; Phil 3.19; Jas 1.15, 4.12, 5.20
Everyone goes to heaven after they die. 1 Cor 15.21-22, 1 Tim 4.10, 1 Jn 2.2

These two inconsistencies alone should be enough to make most Christians question their faith. But there are literally hundreds of them that Wells nails in this book. He also adds witty comments about perplexing events in the Bible, such as this one:“When the Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod would try to kill him, Jesus tells them to tell Herod that he casts out devils, will be perfected on the third day, and will walk around Jerusalem for another couple days or so.” Wells highlights such passages with helpful icons; in this case, a smiley face. Other sections of the Bible are also marked, such as those that are homophobic, violent, and misogynist.

He also puts to rest the myth that the New Testament is somehow more “humane” than the Old Testament, that the god it represents is a kinder and gentler one than the one who smotes his enemies and turns people into pillars of salt. However, in the following passages, the gospel writers approve of slavery: Mt 8.7; Lk 7.2-10, 12.46-47, 17.7-9. How can that be explained away?

Sometimes even the same evangelist contradicts himself. Regarding the issue of the laws of the Old Testament being still binding, Luke says both yes and no within the same verse (Lk 16.16-17)! How did this happen? Either the compilers were execrable proofreaders or multiple authors worked on the same books and didn’t care about inconsistencies. Perhaps they sensed “difficult” passages would be explained away by a cleric. (This happens all the time in Bible study classes.)

If you live in or near the U.S. Bible Belt like I do, this book is an invaluable tool in warding off proselytizers sent to recruit you into one religion or another. About the only thing it doesn't do is tell you how to deal with the cognitive dissonance zealots cling to when you point out inconsistent, illogical, or nonsensical passages in their beloved book.

There is a Kindle version available on Amazon. I managed to obtain the EPUB (Nook) version. It is the same text as the book, but I encountered this stylistic quirk: Sometimes Wells repeats a passage and bolds it without commenting on it. He states in the introduction that he does this to draw our attention to a passage, perhaps one whose oddness is obvious. But couldn't he have just bolded the questionable passage in text, without repeating it? Maybe he could've saved the space for an occasional whimsical illustration.

On the positive side, the Bible citations function also as hotlinks to the passages in question. For those with e-books, it might make sense to purchase the book in the appropriate format, in addition to the hardcover book.

Consumer reviewers have noted that the best format to experience this book is through the iPad/iPhone app. I haven't seen it, but apparently, it is user friendly. Here is a typical screen:

Mr. Wells has created a nice piece of work. Get this book in one format or another and you will experience an infusion of knowledge that may very well change your life.

WEB DESIGN WORKSHOP, Robin Williams, David Rohr. Peachpit Press. www.peachpit.com. Trade paper, $39.99, 372 pp.

WebIf you haven't been inspired to design your own web site lately, pick up this book. It organizes the process from concept to search engine listings. Not a beginner's book--that is the bailiwick of Williams' earlier book, The Non Designer's Web Book-- it tells you how to obtain stock photographs and and spiff them up, organize your page flow, test your web sites, and deal with auto-responders, chat rooms, guest books, and popup menus. Sprinkled throughout are many recommendations for software and other resources. For example, MiniMix and WebIcon from minifont.com are particularly useful as tiny fonts for popup menus and Web Icons for graphics like binoculars and light bulbs. Williams and Rohr also deal with sticky issues like client relationships. Most of the time they give helpful advice, such as mapping out with the client exactly what the site will include so there are no unpleasant surprises down the line. However, sometimes you have to adapt their advice to your situation, such as when they suggest charging for estimates. This doesn't fly well with small businesses who commission small web sites. Also, the authors champion the use of "slicing and dicing," which is an optimization process for 640 x 480 graphic images of a web page using programs such as Adobe Imageready and Macromedia Fireworks. This process allows you more flexibility in designing a web site, but a single page can end up having hundreds of slices requiring much upload time to the server. They should have advised designers to have DSL or cable modems before attempting this process.

Other than these caveats, I recommend this book highly. Like other good books, it provides information as well as it inspires you to greater heights of competance in your artistry.

--Peter Bates