New CSS Books

by Joe Gillespie — Jan 1, 2003

The trouble with books about Internet technologies is that they go out of date so quickly. The first book about Cascading Style Sheets that I bought was 'Cascading Style Sheets - Designing for the Web' by Håkon Wium Lie and Bert Bos. I don't think the information in it is outdated, it is still a very good CSS primer and general reference, but there are some excellent new books that cover the subject in ways a little more relevant to the latest browsers.

Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation

Cascading Style Sheets

Authors: Owen Briggs, Steven Champeon, Eric Costello, Matt Patterson
Publisher: Glasshaus
ISBN: 1-904151-04-3
Price: $39.99

Grabs the bull by the horns. This is what CSS is really about. After a brief introduction to HTML, and where it came from, the book explains the principles and philosophies behind CSS and goes on to expound the virtues of keeping structure and presentation apart.

It covers the fundamentals like inheritance and cascading and shows the various methods of attaching style sheets to markup. Then there are explanations of CSS syntax and how rules are structured.

There is a section on typography, which really is web typography rather than traditional print typography but gives clear examples along with the actual style sheets used to produce them.

Other chapters cover the CSS Box, cross-browser CSS and troubleshooting - yes, you'll need that. Then there are three detailed projects - a picture gallery, a personal log and an online store, which put all the principles you've learned into real-world contexts. The finished projects can be downloaded from the publisher's site if you don't feel like typing it all in - well, you won't, believe me.

Where some other books provide more of a dry technical reference, this one makes much more interesting reading and tells you the bits you need to know without swamping you with nitty-gritty details. The balance is just about perfect.

Designing CSS Web Pages

Designing CSS Web Pages

Author: Christopher Schmitt
Publisher: New Riders
Website: http://www.cssbook.com
ISBN: 0-7357-1263-8
Price: $29.99

This book covers a lot of the same ground as the previous one but I find it particularly appealing because it has more of a 'graphic design' leaning. The examples in the book are not just basic layouts, they are 'designed' and that is what is missing in a lot of books aimed at the 'web developer' community. Some people are so enthralled with the technology itself they fail to see that it is only the means to an end.

Again we get the 'separating content from design' mantra, fair enough, but then the author takes a slightly different direction choosing to show how CSS can be linked to other technologies such as JavaScript and the not-so-common PNG and SVG graphics file formats. PNG (Portable Network Graphics) is partly supported by most modern browsers and offers many advantages over the GIF format. SVG (Scaleable Vector Graphics) is similar to Flash, but can be scripted directly from JavaScript on the page.

There are many CSS techniques in the W3C specifications that are poorly, inconsistently, or not supported at all, in even the latest browsers. As a practising designer, and not just an academic, Christopher is only too happy to point out the limitations of browsers and explains some of the many pitfalls that await the unwary if you try to push the envelope too far.

The projects, again downloadable from the publisher's Web site, focus on publishing - in business, personal and 'underground' styles. The typography has a lot more pizzazz than any other book I've seen and the attention to detail, even for 'web' typography, is highly commendable.

If you want to separate your content from design and give your styles some style, this is probably the book for you.

PopMonitor

I've been getting huge amounts of spam recently because my name is on a lot of Web sites, two to three hundred junk emails a day. My email program, identifies a lot of it and files it under 'Junk' automatically, but I'd rather not get it at all - and now I don't - thanks to PopMonitor by Leo Makkinje.

PopMonitor is a clever little utility, for Mac only at present, which monitors the emails on the POP mail server before it gets to you. It checks each email looking for certain keywords, or phrases that spammers invariably use - well, they are not very creative people, devious perhaps, but prone to using clichés - thank goodness. It also checks for suspicious attachments - .PIF, .BAT, .EXE files, that can't affect Macs with their viruses anyway, but it's still nice to be able to block them in limbo.

The concepts of 'Trusted' and 'Blocked' are two opposite extremes, which always allow or reject emails based upon the sender's address. For anything in-between, you can use 'filters'.

The program comes with a set of ready-made filters which already handle a large proportion of spam emails, but you can make your own custom filters using a wide set of criteria based upon the header data or body text in the emails.

If you get a lot of spam form Korea, Brazil, Argentina or Nigeria, as I do, and don't expect any legitimate mail from those countries, you can block them globally. If you do have a friend in Brazil, you can add their email address to the 'Trusted' list and it is allowed through.

You can mark obvious spam to be erased from the server immediately or you can flag it as 'possible spam' and read at the message while it's still on the server to verify. Then it can be deleted or bounced if you don't want it and it will never arrive in your in-box.

PopMonitor keeps a log of all the mail it has deleted. The log is useful in two ways. It helps identify common spammers so that you can block them permanently and it lets you fine-tune your filters. If you are too aggressive with your filters, they could block some legitimate mail. The log gives you a chance to check, and rectify, any over-zealous filtering.

Apart from its obvious usefulness, PopMonitor is actually great fun. Think of it as a Space Invaders game. You are using your wits to zap the spam before it reaches you and it's very satisfying to beat it. Every now and then, one gets through to your in-box, dang it, that's one to them, but it's certainly better than hundreds.

If spam doesn't get through, it will eventually wither and die. I think every Mac user should buy PopMonitor. It's certainly the best twenty-five dollars I've spent in a long time.

PopMonitor 2.1
Features Features 95%
Ease of Use Ease of Use 90%
Value for Money Value for Money 95%
'Must Have' factor "Must have" Factor 95%
Manufacturer Vechtwijk Automatisering
Price $25 for Mac only (OS9 and OSX)
Summary Rids your Mac of spam!
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