Third party computer books are needed today

Rule Four of computing: "If all else fails, read the manual." This is getting more and more difficult as we purchase new programs for our computers and find that they no longer come with printed instructions.

Some programs come with built in tutorials. These are fine for an overview but I find they don't help much with detail. So how do we learn to use a new program?

An approach I take is to start a simple project and build my knowledge step by step. Many programs have good Help sections and I make use of these. If I am using Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program, for instance, and want to multiply two numbers, I go to the help menu, search for "multiply" and then print out the instructions. Then I take the next step and repeat this procedure.

But what if the Help menu doesn't answer the questions? Now there are other choices. We are fortunate in our community to have a wealth of computer courses. The Community Colleges, the Tustin Adult School and others offer in depth instruction in basic computing as well as most applications programs. Many of these courses are full semester in length and cover much detail. Unfortunately, unless we are going to be serious users of these computer applications, there may be too much detail in these courses and still not enough to help with our particular projects.

Now what? My approach is a visit to MicroCenter's excellent book section. They probably have the best selection of computer books in our area. But they also can have too many books on any one topic. Over time I have found there are certain publishers that help me more than others.

If I am just getting started with a new program and want a fast look, I start with the "Dummies" series. They are published by IDG Books Worldwide ( and cover just about everything. The title may seem strange, but the books give a good overview and are a great starting place with new things.

If you feel that you have moderate computer experience, Peachpit Press ( publishes a wonderful set of books called "Visual Quickstart Guide." These are small books that outline the steps to accomplish computer program projects. They also are excellent for refreshing the memory when a program hasn't been used in a while. I have quite a number of their titles in my library.

Other publishers have excellent material covering most programs in great detail. My suggestion is to go to MicroCenter and browse the titles to find those books that cover your particular interests. I find that I might end up with a half dozen books covering a particular program since each covers a particular area better than others. Spend the time necessary to find the book or books that you understand.

It is just a fact of life that third party books are needed to take full advantage of today's powerful and complex computer programs.

Incidentally, the other rules of computing are: Rule One, "Bill Gates isn't worth $40 billion for being stupid." (There are more things inside a Microsoft program than you can imagine.) Rule Two: "if all else fails, reboot." Rule Three: "have patience."

If you would like to hear more about using new programs, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

Return to Doc's Home Page