Review: Old Fart’s Guide to the Mac 2nd Ed. (book)
The idea of this book is interesting: a book about Macs for people who “didn’t grow up with them, paying particular interest to those of us who are over fifty years young.” But the author himself is not “over fifty years young,” and, while it may be the thought that counts, he just doesn’t deliver on his promise.
First, consider the market: you may be a “senior,” over fifty, and you want to buy a computer. You may have recently retired, and want to keep in touch with your children and grandchildren, pursue a hobby, or just learn something new. Or if you are younger, you might want to get a Mac for your parents or grandparents, for the same reason. You want to exchange e-mail, send digital photos and even videos of the kids, use iChat for audio chats to keep the phone bills down, and use the computer as a communication device.
You need a book that takes users from the first steps through to more complex tasks, focusing specifically on the things they want to do with the computer: e-mail, Web browsing, digital photos, and more. Considering the needs and usages of these users should be the first step in creating a book designed for such a specific market.
Novice users need a lot of hand-holding, and also need a lot of pictures and screen shots to help them understand. In this book, the tone of the writing is appropriate, but additional help through graphics is sadly absent. For example, take a section on pointing devices in the chapter entitled “What is a Computer?” The author describes what a mouse is, which is fine, since every desktop computer comes with one, but then goes on to talk about trackballs, trackpads, and tablets. Yet not a single graphic is used to help the reader understand what he’s talking about. The old cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is applicable here. Rather than use a graphic to demonstrate what he is talking about, the author says:
Imagine taking the mouse and turning it upside down, thus exposing the ball. Now envision using your index finger to move the ball, thus directly moving the pointer on the screen. This, in essence, is what a trackball is.
Think how much more effective such an explanation would be with a picture. The author has led his readers to imagine, rather than see, and readers may be confused.
This lack of graphics and screen shots is present throughout the book. Where other books for beginners often use too many screen shots, this one fails by not using enough. And the ones it contains are not very well printed; in addition to the actual printing quality, the paper is not opaque enough, and when there are graphics on both sides of a page they get in the way of each other.
Another aid to the novice is consistent terminology, which is a problem with this book. The author is not consistent in his use of terminology, and, while this is not a major problem, is certainly something to be avoided. When users go to the Apple Help Center and find different terminology, they get confused. The author says, for example, that to change the language of the interface you go to the International “settings panel.” And on the next page, this is called a “preferences panel.” Apple’s terminology for this is “preference pane,” and you’ll find this used throughout the help. It’s bad enough to confuse the reader by giving two names for something within the same section, but it’s even worse when both of these names are non-standard.
But all this pales in comparison with the “incorrect” cover text, which says, “Covers OS 10.3 Panther.” First, that should be “Mac OS X 10.3,” but even worse is the fact that the Panther section is merely an add-on at the back of the book. Nowhere in the many introductions or prefaces does the author point this out, and a user who opens the book to learn how to use their brand new Mac running Panther will be confused at best. All the Finder windows, and many of the preference panes, are different from what is shown and described in the book. Add to that the occasional OS 9 screen shot, and users must be truly confused by what they see.
In essence, this is a “second edition” of a book published in 2002, after the release of Jaguar, with no update other than the final chapter on Panther. One can see, for example, on page 276, the photo of an iPod, which is one of the previous generation models. The prices and capacities mentioned are incorrect as well; this is sloppy work, and one should never update a book without updating everything.
Nevertheless, the writing is good, and the way the author approaches the subject is appropriate for the over-50 market. But this book fails because there was clearly no editor—writing computer books calls for a whole team of professionals, from writer to editor, from layout artist to designer. This book, published by a small press, which seems to be made up essentially of the author and his wife, suffers from a lack of professionalism. The writing is good enough for this to have been a much better book, but the lack of understanding of just what makes a good computer book leads to confusion and is ultimately disappointing.