Archive for the ‘Book recommendations’ Category


Great deal — and help bushfire victims too

February 12, 2009

SitePoint, an Australian company that publishes many electronic and printed books on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP etc. has a 5-for-1 deal on until Friday 13 February, where you get PDFs of any five of their books for a total of $29.95 US.

ALL proceeds from this special sale will go to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfires Appeal to help the victims of Australia’s worst ever bush fires.

Details about the deal and the cause are here:

Select and order your books here:

They have already raised over $75,000 US in the first 24 hours and aim to raise $100,000 US by Friday. (By Friday morning, they’d raised $180,000 US — details to come on how much they raised by close of business Friday…)

Having just recently experienced a bushfire that threatened my town, I can only say that the devastation in Victoria is beyond belief. Whole towns have been razed, families have been burned alive while trying to escape, more than 200 people have died, and more than an estimated 1 million native Australian animals (koalas, kangaroos, birds, lizards
etc.) and hundreds of thousands of acres of Australia’s unique flora and farms have been lost.

If you want a great deal on some reference books while contributing in a small way to the heartbreaking job of the Red Cross and other relief agencies, then go to the link above, select your 5 books from SitePoint’s large offering (what you see on the blog page is just a sample of 5), and pay your $29.95 US by PayPal or credit card.

The books on offer are tools of the trade for many of us, and as it is a way you can support the victims of this horrible fire, I figured I should let you know about it.

(For other ways to donate to the human and animal carers, see


Dealing with large documents

January 22, 2009

Late last year I attended the ASTC (NSW) annual conference, where Helen Lewis spoke about the revised edition of a book she co-authored with Hilary Hudson: The Don’t Panic guide to annual report production.

I was very impressed with Helen’s presentation — enough to buy the book! It’s very good. While the authors’ focus and point of reference is producing annual reports for large government departments, the advice they offer applies to ANY large document or report for ANY organization. They cover all the bases from estimating time and project planning, to working with printers, editors, indexers, multiple writers, etc.

It’s only a short book (less than 100 pages), very easy to read, and packed full of essential information. It’s a worthy addition to any writer’s library.

You can buy a copy for AU$27.50 direct from the book’s website:

The Don't Panic Guide to annual report production

The Don't Panic Guide to annual report production


Get more clients without advertising

December 13, 2008

My friend Suzanne and her business partner Bruce have written a terrific e-book—”Client Fishing”—on how to get clients you love and who love you back for little more than the cost of a cup of coffee, a postage stamp, a few phone calls, and 20 minutes of your time—and with no money spent on advertising. It’s a method that works because it’s based entirely on the power of word-of-mouth referrals.

Their e-book is aimed at service providers, especially self-employed professionals, and gives you step-by-step instructions on how to get more clients. This is no fancy marketing program that promises the earth and delivers very little while costing you a lot of money (ever wonder why those scam artists sell their techniques instead of doing the doing? Because there’s more money in sucking people in than in actually providing the service they’re talking about!)

Not with Suzanne and Bruce’s e-book. You get the straight talk (after all, it’s subtitled ‘The freelancer’s no-sh*t guide to finding great clients’), no hype, no on-selling of other products, and it will cost you less than $20, which is probably less than you’d pay for a week’s worth of coffees at Starbucks or similar.

You can purchase the e-book direct from their website at:

Cover page of 'Client fishing'

Cover page of 'Client-fishing'


Amazon’s Black Friday Sale!

November 28, 2008

For some amazing Amazon deals, check out Amazon’s Black Friday Sale—it’s only on for a VERY short time (Friday 28 November 2008 in the US)


“Don’t make me think!”

September 13, 2008

If you’re involved in anything to do with human/machine interfaces, be it computer software, hardware design, websites, even a humble retail store sign, then PLEASE get your hands on a copy of Steven Krug’s Don’t make me think! and spend an evening reading it.

It is fairly short, extremely readable, full of common sense and lots of ‘Aha!’ and ‘Of course!’ moments. His basic premise is summed up in the title—if you are designing anything for anybody, make it so simple that they don’t have to think about what they are doing. On a website, for example, that means using a button labeled Search, not Find, or Go, or Look, or anything else that causes the end-user to stop and think about what they may have to do.

While his examples are predominantly web-related, the principles apply to any form of human interface design.

Don’t make me think!

[This article was first published in the December 2003 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]



September 7, 2008

Many of you may have already read the Fish! story, or seen the documentary about the Pike Place fishmongers in Seattle who use play in the workplace to have a great time and to engage their customers—and, by the way, to sell lots of fish.

Although published in 2002, I only recently read one of the companion books—Fish! Tales: Real-Life Stories to Help You Transform Your Workplace and Your Life (by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen, and Philip Strand).

The four key points of the Fish! philosophy are:

  • Play. Have fun and create energy at home or at the office.
  • Make their day. How can you engage fellow employees, customers and make each other’s day?
  • Be present. How can you make sure you are fully available and aware during conversations with people?
  • Choose your attitude. Each day you choose how you are going to act or which ‘side of the bed’ you wake up on. The choice is yours and the way you act affects others.

This book reiterates the Fish! philosophy, but with real-world examples of companies— large and small—that have incorporated the Fish! way of life. For each area, Lundin et al detail how one company did it, then offer small vignettes (Fish! bait?) of what others have done. Each detailed section is no more than 10 or so pages, and they fit 3 or 4 vignettes to a page, so this is an easy book to dip into when you have a spare moment.

Update (March 2008): I was in Seattle’s Pike Place Markets this month and saw these guys in action. Amazing!

[This article was first published in the December 2005 CyberText Newsletter]


Fonts, typography

August 15, 2008

For a good introductory book to typography, you can’t go past Robin Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Type Book. I read it a few months ago, and even though I thought I knew ‘a bit about type’, I still learned a lot. My assessment: You’ll never look at type the same way again!

While you’re at it, take a look at Robin’s other popular book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book. My assessment: Lots of “of course” moments, but that doesn’t detract from the book. Far from it. This book gives the reasons why some design elements work and other don’t. Lots of examples.


More Bill Bryson books

July 26, 2008

I have now read a few more Bill Bryson books—much later than most people, I know.

He is such an easy writer to read, and has a great eye for the small everyday details that most people miss or take for granted. Two books of his that I read recently and that I highly recommend are Notes from a Big Country (also published under the title: I’m a stranger here myself) and Down Under (also published under the title: In a sunburned country).

Big Country is a collection of articles he wrote when he first returned to the US after 20 years living in Britain. Each is just over two pages, and perfectly captures the everyday life of Americans.

Down Under is about his travels in Australia. It is always interesting to read how others perceive your country, so it was with some trepidation that I came to this book. I loved it—it even made me laugh out loud on a flight!

More from the December 2004 newsletter…

Made in America: An informal history of the English language in the United States is a fascinating layperson’s analysis of the English used in the US and how those words and phrases came to be. Interestingly, I was surprised by how many words are part of Australian English, including many I had assumed originated in the United Kingdom.

A short history of nearly everything is Bryson’s latest book. Despite the title, this book contains little about the inventions of humankind, or even the time that humans have been on Earth. It is a rollicking good read of the scientific origins of our cosmos, our planet, and our biological systems. And it is all done in an effortless style that has you nodding with understanding as he explains concepts such as Einstein’s theory of relativity in plain English. Science at high school should have been this enjoyable!

Don’t be fooled by Bryson’s easy reading style—he references all his claims, and a full bibliography of these references takes up a large section of both books.

And from the June 2005 newsletter…

Yet ANOTHER Bill Bryson book… This time A walk in the woods, the story of his time walking quite a fair section of the one of the longest walking tracks in the world, the Appalachian Trail. As always, Bryson’s books are immensely readable—probably because he writes as though he is chatting to you as a friend. Although he and his friend ultimately walked less than half of the 2000+ mile Trail, it was still a mammoth effort of both mind and body.

[Parts of this article were first published in various CyberText newsletters prior to 2008; links last checked December 2007]



May 20, 2008

It’s frightening how much we spend on books each year: HTML and XML references, usability guides for software and Web design, style guides, technical writing references, and a host of others that we need to help guide us through unfamiliar territory on new projects.

Often we only need a few chapters from a book, but unfortunately, publishers don’t sell books a chapter at a time. Until O’Reilly Books.

Their Safari Bookshelf service ( lets you read O’Reilly books online, keep books on your ‘bookshelf’ for weeks or months at a time, download PDF chapters from selected books, and more—all for less than US$20 a month. Safari offers more than 3,000 books that you can read cover to cover—or just read what you need.

With books ranging from markup and programming languages to e-business and general business to desktop publishing, multimedia and graphics to IT management to human-computer interaction, there’s enough variety on this site to warrant a visit. You may ultimately head to your bookstore to buy that CSS reference book, but at least you can be sure it’s the one you really need before you buy it.

(Thanks to Whitney P for this article)

[This article was first published in the September 2006 CyberText Newsletter; link last checked January 2008]


Is the Help helpful?

March 23, 2008

I’ve been privileged to be a judge in the STC Australia Chapter competition for a few years, and a couple of years ago we gave Jean Hollis Weber’s Is the Help Helpful? book a Distinguished award in the Technical Publications category, and then awarded her book “Best in Show”. Jean’s book was sent to the US to be judged at International level and won an Excellence award.

I had to read Jean’s book because I was a competition judge, but I was so impressed by her practical advice and clear writing that I purchased my own copy.

The book has a GREAT set of checklists and things to consider in a documentation plan—in fact, much of the book is on this topic. I used her downloadable template to put together a plan for a new software product—my manager at the time and I were both blown away as neither of us had realised how much was involved (me, because I just do it; him, because he really had no idea how it all comes together and how much has to be considered).

Jean’s comprehensive checklists also help you and others analyze your Help objectively. The checklists are printed in the book, but you can also download editable copies of them from the publisher’s website (the specific URL is given in the book).

You get a lot of ‘bang’ for your $40 investment!

Shameless plug: You can get Jean’s terrific book (and lots more tech writing books and other cool stuff that I recommend) through my Amazon

And BTW, Jean’s book won an Excellence award at the International level of the STC competitions in 2005-2006, after winning “Best of Show” in the Australia Chapter competition.


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