Review: The CSS3 Anthology: Take Your Sites to New Heights

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The CSS3 Anthology: Take Your Sites to New Heights by Rachel Andrew is from SitePoint (2012). This is the 4th edition of this popular book, so you may be familiar with how it works. In case you are not, the book uses a question and answer type of organization. You might have a question such as, “How do I create rollover images in my navigation without using JavaScript?” The book suggests the question, then provides the answer. The answer includes screen shots, both HTML and CSS code examples and some discussion as to how the solution works and how it might be modified.

The title makes no mention of HTML5, but many (not all) the HTML code examples in the book have been updated to HTML5.

The book is organized into chapters, with the questions and answers in each chapter fairly well described by the chapter title, although on one or two occasions I wondered why they chose a particular chapter to explain something. Chapters cover broad topics like CSS basics, text, images, navigation, tabular data, forms, positioning and layout. There’s also a very good chapter on cross-browser techniques.

Chapter names aside, if I were looking for an answer, I would start with the index. For example, when you look for “opacity” in the index, you find it mentioned on 7 different pages. To find the solution I wanted regarding opacity, I would check those 7 pages.

If you are looking for quick solutions to your CSS3 questions, this book probably has them. You’ll find background gradients, multiple backgrounds, text-shadow, box shadow, multicolumn layouts, various polyfils, media queries, transforms, opacity, RGBa transparency, and more included.

I’m not sure this is the book you want to read straight through to learn CSS, but it definitely is a book you would find valuable in implementing new CSS3 properties into your website. And you can learn a lot from reading it straight through, should you do that.

Summary: Easy to use resource with answers to your CSS3 questions.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of The CSS3 Anthology: Take Your Sites to New Heights (rating: 5 stars)

Disclosure: SitePoint provided a review copy of this book, but my opinions are my own.

Review: Head First Mobile Web

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Head First Mobile Web (Brain-Friendly Guides) by Lyza Danger Gardner and Jason Grigsby is from O’Reilly (2012). I confess I got a little excited reading this book, which I haven’t done in a long time with a book I intended to review. The excitement came from the fact that I was learning so much.

Generally, I review books about topics I have some experience and expertise in–mostly HTML and CSS with a few general web categories thrown in. I may learn new things, but I’m mostly looking at what’s covered, how it’s handled, how clear the writing is, how clear the examples are, the overall tone of the writing, and the order in which information is delivered.

But I know little about building for the mobile web as a first (and perhaps only) step in creating a web site or app. Hence, excitement.

If you’ve never used a Head First book before, be prepared for different. There are a lot of images, jokes, exercises, quizzes, reminders, and other techniques you don’t normally see in technical writing. Head First books are written this way because of learning research into how best to help you, the reader, remember and use what you read. As you read, you are expected to work along with the text. Downloadable files are provided to help you put together the mobile web sites discussed in the examples. Here are the topics in the table of contents:

  1. Responsive web design
  2. Mobile first responsive web design
  3. A separate mobile website
  4. Device support
  5. Device databases and classes
  6. Frameworks for mobile (the book example uses jQuery Mobile)
  7. Progressive enhancement, offline mode, and geolocation. This is a very good chapter–the explanation of cache manifests is excellent.
  8. Hybrid mobile apps with PhoneGap
  9. Being future friendly
  10. Appendices include setting up a web server environment, installing WURFL and installing the Android SDK.

In going through these chapters you actually build more than one web site–a responsive one using media queries, a business oriented site with password sign in, and a mobile site with user input and offline uses. There is plenty of discussion about problems, pitfalls and ways to work around them.

I think you could get the information you need to get started building for the mobile web from this book and don’t hesitate to recommend it as a text.

Summary: Good hands-on experience while learning.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Head First Mobile Web (rating: 5 stars)

Review: HTML5 and CSS3 Visual QuickStart Guide

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HTML5 & CSS3 Visual QuickStart Guide (7th Edition) by Elizabeth Castro and Bruce Hyslop is the latest edition in the Visual QuickStart Guide series about HTML and CSS. A couple of changes are immediately noticeable about the book. Elizabeth Castro now has a co-author after producing 6 editions of this book on her own. And the book reflects a change in design Peachpit is putting into all its VQS books with full color and a generally brighter appearance.

While Peachpit can take credit for the new look, I can see the influence of Bruce Hyslop here, too. Having read, dog-eared, and dreamed my way through the first six editions, I see a change in these books that I think Hyslop must be responsible for. There is a different tone, the sidebars are lengthier and pull in a considerable amount of information about HTML5 and CSS3 from blogs and articles by a number of web design experts.

There are 21 chapters taking over 500 pages. Some of the chapters are fairly massive. “Video, Audio, and Other Multimedia” gets a 38 page treatment, “Tables” on merits only 5 pages. The chapter “Defining Selectors” is particularly good. Here’s the full table of contents.

  1. Web Page Building Blocks
  2. Working with Web Page Files
  3. Basic HTML Structure
  4. Text
  5. Images
  6. Links
  7. CSS Building Blocks
  8. Working with Style Sheets
  9. Defining Selectors
  10. Formatting Text with Styles
  11. Layout with Styles
  12. Style Sheets for Mobile to Desktop
  13. Working with Web Fonts
  14. Enhancements with CSS3
  15. Lists
  16. Forms
  17. Video, Audio and Other Multimedia
  18. Tables
  19. Working with Scripts
  20. Testing and Debugging Web Pages
  21. Publishing Your Pages on the Web

If your budget only allows for one HTML5 and CSS3 book, this book is a terrific way to invest your money. I’ve reviewed HTML5 for Web Designers and Introducing HTML5 on this blog. I think this book is better than either of those books. That’s not saying the two books mentioned are not excellent books, because they are. I’ve read both of those books carefully and I still learned new and helpful things from HTML5 and CSS3. Plus, the VQS style is inherently easy to use with each topic detailed in small step-by-step bits. It’s so easy to find the one thing you need to know at any given moment with a VQS book.

Another advantage of this book over the others I mentioned is that it can get a beginner going but it also offers a lot of good information for the experienced HTML and CSS wonk. If you’re teaching either of these topics, this book is classroom gold.

Definitely recommended.

Summary: Complete information about HTML5 and CSS3.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of HTML5 and CSS3 (rating: 5 stars)

Review: Introducing HTML5

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Introducing HTML5 (2nd Edition) by Bruce Lawson and Remy Sharp is from New Riders (2012). The book includes everything from descriptions of new structural elements (like article, nav, and aside) to canvas, data storage, enabling offline, and drag and drop. It even includes some things that are not actually part of HTML5, like geolocation. There are many example codes, lots of JavaScripts and help with using new APIs to make your pages do all sorts of HTML5 tricks and magic.

In my opinion, the core audience for this book is the back-end developer who wants to write the scripts and do the programming to make HTML5 perform services that were not available before. The front-end developers will find the first few chapters helpful, but may be less interested in all the programming details in later chapters. (Front-end folks might consider HTML5 for Web Designers instead.)

The authors get a resounding +1 for including accessibility information about everything they discuss.

Here’s a look at the full table of contents.

  1. Main Structure: basics about doctypes, structural elements and CSS
  2. Text: new structural elements and how to use them properly, the document outline, WAI-ARIA and more
  3. Forms: new input types, new attributes, validation
  4. Video and Audio
  5. Canvas
  6. Data Storage: web storage, Web SQL, and more
  7. Offline: the cache manifest, applicationCache and more
  8. Drag and Drop: how to, interoperability
  9. Geolocation: API methods
  10. Messaging and Workers: chat, messaging, threading
  11. Real Time: web sockets, server-sent events
  12. Polyfilling: Patching Old Browsers to Support HTML5 Today: feature detection, various scripts, Modernizr examples

The book is written with a sense of humor and warmth that keep even the most tedious information from becoming boring. This is done in large part with humorous examples and illustrations. But beyond writing style, these guys really know what they are doing, and they want you to be able to do it, too. If you are looking for help with anything listed above in the book’s contents, you’ll find it here. The code examples from the book are all available for download, making the many snippets of HTML, CSS and JavaScript shown even more easy to use.

Definitely recommended.

Summary: Excellent guide for the developer who wants to put HTML5 to use right now.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Introducting HTML 5 (rating: 5 stars)

Review: Designing for Emotion


Designing for Emotion, written by Aarron Walter, is another of the brief but valuable books from A Book Apart. If you’ve read other books from A Book Apart you know they are high quality work from knowledgeable writers. This one is no exception.

With only 7 chapters and less than 100 pages to tell his tale, writer Aarron Walter gets right to it in a hurry. He explains what emotional design is and how it uses personality, humor, and positive experiences to meet human needs on web sites. Walter infuses the book with personality, humor and positive experiences, too, making it a delight to read. For example,

There’s a very practical reason that emotion and memory are so closely coupled—it keeps us alive. We would be doomed to repeat negative experiences and wouldn’t be able to consciously repeat positive experiences if we had no memory of them. Imagine eating a delicious four-pound log of bacon and not having the sense to eat another the following day. That’s a life not worth living, my friend.

That wasn’t the only remark in the book that made me smile. Walter does practice what he preaches.

He gives examples for each point he makes, giving the reader some real world examples to examine. In the chapter explaining what emotion design is, he points to Wufoo and Betabrand.

In the chapter on designing for humans, he talks about psychological principles that guide the emotional language and imagery web designers might employ. For example, “baby-face-bias”. Baby-face-bias triggers positive emotions with characters with large eyes, small nose and a pronounced forehead. It’s behind the successful imagery used by Brizzly, Twitter, StickyBits, and Walter’s own work at MailChimp. This chapter also talks about the use of contrast and aesthetics.

There’s a chapter on personality. Creating a website with personality gives users a sense of human-to-human interaction. He talks about personas and provides a detailed downloadable worksheet to help you create a design persona for your website. Online examples include Carbonmade and Housing Works.

In the chapter on emotional engagement, Walter talks about surprise, delight, anticipation, and priming. Examples in this chapter include Photojojo and the New Twitter. He discusses the idea of variable rewards from sites like Groupon, but I think the uncertainty of what will come next from the new app Siri on the iPhone 4S—which came out after this book was written—is a terrific example of baked in emotional engagement, surprise, delight and anticipation.

The next chapter is overcoming obstacles. This chapter deals with convincing users to click, sign up, complete the process and keep coming back. He discusses game theory, bribery and a sense of achievement. Mint and Dropbox are the examples described.

In the chapter called Forgiveness, Walter talks about what to do when you screw up, and how to help people overlook your shortcomings. Flickr is the example he uses in this chapter.

The final chapter is about risks and rewards. It talks about the risks of getting started with emotional design, and the rewards. CoffeeCup Software is cited as an example of how to start small with a limited time idea to see if it works. He describes the risk of starting a new site with emotional design in mind from the beginning. Designers can alienate users instead of making them feel good about a site with emotional design. Walter discusses some of those risks. He borrows the phrase progressive enhancement for those who want to work some personality into existing websites. The online example cites Blue Sky Resumes.

Finally, there is a list of resources for those who want to dig into the concepts from this book in more detail. The resources are genrally books about design principles, science, psychology, behavior, the human brain and user experience, but there are some online resources, too.

Summary: Brief but packed with useful concepts and concrete examples.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Designing for Emotion (rating: 5 stars)

Useful links: Image Styles, HTML5 book, web standards

CSS3 Image Styles is a terrific tutorial explaining how to use CSS3 and background images to do some very cool things.

You can now read HTML5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith online. This is an excellent book, go read it. The site is built in HTML5. Look under the covers.

I’d like to examine this infographic of the history of web standards. I can’t zoom it large enough to read. That’s my problem with most infographics. Got any good ideas about how to make it readable?

Review: Moodle for Dummies

Moodle For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech), written by Radana Dvorak is aimed at the institutional user who is required to use Moodle instead of one of the education management systems like Blackboard. It is not meant for the individual user who might want to set up Moodle on his or her own server.

The book consists of screen by screen and menu by menu explanations of Moodle and its capabilities. It covers creating and managing courses, adding modules to courses, administering courses, setting up questions, grading, and more. There are explanations of how to add chat, blogs, and wikis to a course, and of using databases to share material with your students. You can learn how to set up for different languages, set security, and change the appearance of your course. There’s a chapter on getting reports and statistics and viewing your logs.

The last chapter talks about ways to keep your learners involved, but the suggestions are pretty mundane.

There’s nothing very exciting about Moodle for Dummies, but if you need to learn to use Moodle, this book will get you there.

Summary: A utilitarian explanation of absolutely everything you can do with Moodle.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Moodle for Dummies (rating: 4 stars)