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I have done (or am working on) several book-sized objects, notably:

Note: Remember that Internet books make great gifts!


The New Users Guide to EDITOR and RUNOFF

I wrote this during my year at Prime Computer as a tech writer (1977-1978).. Although I was hired as editor for the tech pubs group, I got assigned to write a user guide for Prime's EDITOR text editor (line-oriented, preceding CRTs, y'know) and RUNOFF (like DEC's nroff, Multic's roff, Unix nroff/troff, etc.) text formatter -- a task which the previous several tech writers had not solved.

Here's the cover, in color, and here's the full manual for the typeset version of my manual.

While technically a technical manual, it had unusual (for the time) features including:

  • Original cartoon art (by Brian Bradley) (I've got the main one -- page 1-4 - framed and hanging in my office. I commend you to the art on (pages in the Acrobat file) on pages 8, 10, 13, 15, 17 (the famous "Nixon" reference), 18, 58, and 86.
  • An introduction (by Tony Lewis) done in the form of song lyrics (to the tune of "How Beautifully Blue The Sky" from Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance).
  • The author's name (mine, in this case) prominently featured
  • Quotes from Alice in Wonderland, Edgar Allen Poe, and other literary sources
  • Humorous and occasionally obscure references, remarks and examples, plus a few in-jokes. I took some examples from a book I've got on Frog-raising, and created the fictitious Raniburger Big Bake-Off for some examples. Browsing through, I see a G.B. Kliban reference (Genghis & Sylvia Khan), an Asimov cite (Harry Selden, 2 Foundation Place, Trantnor, Ohio).

    (After I left, they ended up revising many of the Editor examples -- I'd used Jabberwocky, and they found that too many readers didn't know the poem well enough to spot the deliberate errors.)

The manual represented several "firsts" at Prime, including:

  • First manual on Ed/Runoff that actually made sense, and could be read/used by non-tech staff. (Until I wrote this, for example, the secretarial/typing pool in the tech pubs department was using only six or seven Runoff commands -- and at least two of those incorrectly. The highest praise I received was hearing one typist tell a new pool hire, "Here, read this.")
  • First manual to be typeset
  • First manual to include author's name

The astute reader will notice that my first Internet book bears many conceptually stylistic similarities to my Prime manual. (The critic-oriented may choose to view this as a dubious form of techno-literary forshadowing; the more cynical as self-plagiarism or stylistic narrowness. Poo.)

Not surprisingly, The New User's Guide to the B-shell (bsh), one of the manuals I did while a technical writer at Bolt Beranek & Newman, a.k.a. BBN (which got bought by GTE in 1997) had many similarities of motif and method.

Gratifyingly enough, there are still some people around who remember my Prime manual fondly.


The Internet Guide For New Users

My first book (title sometimes abbreviated as IG4NU or tIG4NU), published by McGraw-Hill. There are over 100,000 copies in print, not counting the Italian and Japanese translations. I had been (sigh) working on the second edition (see below)... Don't try this at home.

The first edition of The Internet Guide for New Users first rolled off the presses in August 1993, just in time for the INTEROP conference/trade show then being held in San Francisco. (The copyright is 1994, for publisher-type reasons.) The ISBN # for the trade paperback is 007-016-511-4; for the hardcover, the ISBN # is 007-016-510-6. The original B&W illustrations are by science fiction and fantasy artist Hannah M.G. Shapero.

The intent of the book, as the title suggests, was to be for NEW users --people who:

  • may never have used networks or on-line services or e-mail (or Unix!) before
  • may not yet have had (or know they have) Internet access
  • had at minimum a DOS, Windows, Mac, Amiga or other personal computer, modem and VT100 emulator telecom software (or PPP/SLIP and TCP/IP w/GUI for those who want to go higher-end)
  • were willing to spend about a dollar a day for some form of account.

The first edition of The Internet Guide for New Users is admittedly less than current. Heck, it came out nearly four years ago...and a lot has changed in that time. Netscape had not yet been born, ditto Win95, and Microsoft had yet to acknowledge the existance of the Internet in any meaningful way. I did mention Mosaic and give a screen shot of it...but Gopher (remember Gopher?) was still in its final heyday, and the Web still new.

So the first edition, unsurprisingly, focussed much more on command-line-oriented clients, Unix, and shell access (all of which I still use regularly), and gives little attention to the Web, graphic browsers like Mosaic, or PPP/SLIP accounts -- none of these were meaningfully, affordably available when this version was wrapped up.

The book has been very well received by the Internet community and in general. Jerry Pournelle named it "Book of the Month" in his column in Byte, March 1994. It's not perfect -- I'm all too well aware of its flaws and shortcomings -- but it was one of the first comprehensive books about the Internet available (Ed Krol's Whole Internet Catalog from O'Reilly & Co. came out first), and I'm proud of it for what it was and still is.

But, as I'm the first to admit, this edition's time is past; while much of the information in the book is still true, the focus of the book no longer reflects where people nor the Internet is today. Assuming you can even find a copy in a store (libraries bought a lot of these, and I have some in my back room I'd be happy to sell you -- autographed, even!), I don't recommend you get this as your first Internet book. (But see below.)


Dern's Internet Guide for New Users

(And For Not-So-New Users ... and Also For Intranet Users)

Depending on your perspective, this would have been either a second edition of The Internet Guide for New Users ...or a brand new book.

For various reasons, it didn't happen... and now (2006) it's way too late in the game for it to be worth updating. (I'm open to doing it, but I don't see publishers finding it a valid financial proposition.)

Here's what I said about this intended revision, back when I thought it would happen...

It's based on the first edition of tIG4NU, but encompasses the new breed of computer user who comes to the Internet with different (usually less) computer and network experience, is armed with one of the now-ubiquitous graphic browsers like Netscape, or Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and has a fast, affordably-priced account, and a computer that can do fancy images, sound, and video. (It's still also relevant to, and aimed at, shell-account users with command-line, ASCII-only Unix clients.)

Like the first edition, I've gone into detail on how to choose and ISP and get an account, how to use e-mail and Usenet and so on, and "enough Unix to survive as an Internet user."

I've also added lots of new information, like stuff on the search engines, "Internet-speak," and understanding what "searching the net" means, a sample/starter home page, plus a chapter with 500 or so URLs, and more.

Watch DernWeb for announcements and an area that works with the book content (like many of the URLs). If you've already got a copy of the first edition, getting this one also may be worth it -- but hang onto that first edition (especially the ones with the yellow covers), it's a valuable Internet Collectible. (Well, maybe.)


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Last modified: Monday, 12-Mar-2012 23:28:31 EDT