As I wandered the rows of Wordsworths bookstore in Harvard Square this summer during the week of the Boston Macworld Expo, I was astonished at the number of computer books. Many of them, no doubt, do a better job of explaining the program than the program’s manual, and may even be necessary. But then I saw not one, but two books about After Dark?!? "You’ve got to be kidding!" I thought out loud, interrupting three Harvard students engrossed in an intensely personal conversation. They looked at me strangely, so I moved on, but not before noticing that one of the books came from Peachpit, one of my favorite computer book publishers, and the other one was by Ross Scott Rubin, whom I had known back at Cornell.
After the heart-to-hearts had moved on, I went back to look at Ross’s book, "Cool Mac After Dark" ($19.95, ISBN # 0-672-48529-X). It looked as though Ross had done a good job covering the basics of After Dark and the modules, and he also talked about (and included on disk) a selection of the better freeware modules. I made a mental note to ask him later if he was getting rich off this, but I had to leave before I could check out the other book, "Art of Darkness," ($19.95, ISBN # 1-56609-012-1) by Erfert Fenton.
Art of Darkness — The next day at the show the Berkeley Systems people nicely gave me a copy of "Art of Darkness" to review and ease my curiousity about its contents. I took it home and read it in about 15 minutes while doing other things. We’re not talking "War and Peace" here. Like Ross’s book, "Art of Darkness" covered the basics of After Dark and in a traditionally-friendly Peachpit style, gave more detail and history about the various modules. Interestingly, Berkeley Systems endorsed "Art of Darkness" and worked with Ms. Fenton on it, I gather, while at the same time suddenly ceasing to show interest in Ross’s book, which he had in progress at the same time. I guess that’s the way the screensaver ball bounces.
Ms. Fenton writes clearly and fluidly, and may even provide some useful information about After Dark, although I can’t remember any. I think Berkeley Systems and Peachpit intended the book as a vehicle for the collection of ten new modules, including Blackboard, which scrawls either punishment messages like "I will not waste chalk" or tremendously complex scientific equations on the screen; Fractal Forest, which creates fractal trees through the seasons; and four pattern modules, Strange Attractors, Pearls, Spin Brush, and Sunburst. For history buffs there’s ProtoToasters, the first prototype of the now-famous Flying Toasters.
Cool Mac After Dark — "Cool Mac After Dark" comes from Hayden and resembles "Art of Darkness" (or is it the other way around?) in many ways. If anything, Ross’s writing style is even looser than Ms. Fenton’s, and his descriptions of the modules, lacking the information that only Berkeley Systems could provide, serve mainly to entertain. I particularly like his inscrutable description of the More After Dark module Confetti Factory, "Your guess is as good as mine. Say hi to the ducks."
Ross doesn’t delve into combinations you could create with MultiModule, but he does include some files for use with various modules, including a QuickTime movie, a PICS file, a PICT, and even an icon of a cool Mac, should you want one for your duplicate modules. Ross walks you through creating a clever QuicKeys macro that allows you to invoke After Dark with a keystroke. Another salvo in the checkbox war comes from the "Cool Mac After Dark’s" flip movie of the book’s eponymous hero. And, although "Art of Darkness" has two full pages of full-color screenshots, "Cool Mac After Dark" includes six blank pages between the index and the discussion of what’s on the disk. Not even a little message saying "This page intentionally left blank." Completely white, like the White Album, or six White Albums. Yes, that’s right folks, I’m grasping at straws.
From my perspective, the purpose of both of these books is to provide cool modules to a slavering public, of which I’m proud to be a member. For those aren’t as hooked into the networks as I am, the freeware modules included with "Cool Mac After Dark," including the gorgeous Frost & Fire and the mischievous runaway network train NetTrain, serve the same purpose as the Berkeley-sanctioned modules in "Art of Darkness."
Let’s face it, you’re not going to buy either of these books because they are literary masterpieces. I met Erfert Fenton the next day at Macworld and mentioned that I’d read her book the previous night. She said, "Ah, took you about 15 minutes, did it?" You buy these books because they are relatively cheap fixes for your module habit and both provide at least 15 minutes of ocular entertainment. But hey, as addictions go, modules are pretty safe. Thanks for the fix.
Peachpit Press — 800/283-9444 — 510/548-4393
Hayden Books — 800/428-5331 — 317/573-2500