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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Excel 2000 Formulas
Publisher: Wiley
Authors: John Walkenbach
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Microsoft Excel 2000 Formulas

This is the only spreadsheet book I've ever purchased. I enjoyed the sections on pivot tables, solver, and especially the creation of surface charts. Having breezed through the book twice I feel fairly confident about creating some truly great spreadsheets.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Beginning C# Objects: From Concepts to Code
Publisher: Apress
Authors: Jacquie Barker, Grant Palmer
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Exactly what I was looking for

I am an ASP/VBScript developer, and I am attempting in my spare time to move to ASP.NET and C#. This book does an excellent job of teaching C# and the fundamentals of object oriented programming. This is the perfect book if you want to establish a strong foundation in C# for yourself.
The author does a great job of holding the reader's hand, and the pace is great. The writing style is smooth and natural, and the author really seems to care about conveying concepts as clearly as possible.
Overall, I'm happily surprised by how easy this book is to learn from, and I think it's ideal for web programmers wondering how to get started in C# and object oriented programming.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
Publisher: New Riders Press
Authors: Steve Krug
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5

Well written: concise and to the point. A quick--yet highly informative--read.

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
Authors: Michael Meyers, Scott Jernigan
Rating: 2/5
Customer opinion - 2 stars out of 5
This book *might* help you pass the A+, don't count on it.

I have heard rave reviews about the Michael Meyers All In One A+ Certification Exam Guide. Everyone (most people had used the 3rd or 4th editions though) told me it was the only thing they needed to pass the A+ with flying colors. Obviously, none of them had passed the 2003 Objectives with the 5th Edition though.

I've spent the past 2 months studying and taking notes from the book and eagerly signed up to take the test as soon as I finished. I felt fairly confident that the book had prepared me, and after taking the exams in the back of the book, I also felt fairly prepared.

I went ahead and downloaded a few PDF files from the site where I bought my voucher from, but they only went over the 2001 Objectives. Needless to say, there was a *LOT* of information missing from the 5th Edition book that was covered in those PDFs. Specific command line diagnostic tools and switches, modem diagnostic codes, a lot more in detailed stuff, etc.

Mainly, the book in general was too broad. It covered and hit all the topics, but nothing in-depth detail, except for maybe SCSI, the history of CPUs, and network types. Granted, if you're trying to become A+ certified, you should obviously at least be somewhat decent with computers and know some of the information.

However, the A+ is all about testing you on a wide variety of different scenarios, with scenarios being the key word here. Meyers claims the A+ is for a tech with less than 6 months of experience. I'll throw the book at any tech with less than 6 months of experience, and can guarantee 85% will not pass. The A+ consists of "John Doe has a problem with component X, what's wrong with it?" along that sort of lines. The book only really prepares you for the conceptual information. The conceptual in turn does help you with those scenario questions, but much more emphasis could have been placed onto that than just concepts.

A very good way to describe this book is as follows: imagine picking up a book to become a mechanic. If this Meyers book was a book about cars, it would teach you the history of cars - the big block high HP days of the '60s and early '70s, the need for fuel efficiency in the late '70s, the SUV/truck boom in the '90s, and the return of high HP/high performance cars in today's world. It would teach you what a tire does. It would teach you what springs and shocks do, and what aftermarket coilovers do. It would teach you how to work the radio, and how to identify the coolant reservoir, the radiator, the AC compressor, the engine, the engine mounts, the rear sway bar, the driveshaft, headers, etc.

You read the book, you take the test, and your heart drops in your throat when the questions are about how to diagnose the car not starting up, what the clicking sound is coming from the right front wheel well when you turn, why the car drips water when you turn it off on a hot day, etc. You're unprepared because the book decided to focus more on the basics than the bread and butter. The book covers the basic troubleshooting, but the number of pages devoted to it a 1100 page book is probably less than 75. That is exactly what the Meyers book does in terms of computers and the A+. It is NOT to say that every troubleshooting question you have no idea about. Obviously, through practical and real world experience, you will know how to do a lot of troubleshooting, or else you wouldn't be trying for your A+. Some of the more in-depth ones or ones you don't deal with on an everyday basis, or ones with a particular solution you'd only know about if you read about it, are the ones I am speaking of.

To give a fair assessment of how much in particular the book applied to the test: my breakdown is:

2003 OS Core Objectives: 30%
2003 Hardware Core Objectives: 50%

That is my honest assessment of what the book covers and/or is useful to the exam. It's a nice reference tool and taught me a lot (historically speaking) about computers that I wasn't aware of, and even taught me a few things I should have known but didn't. But the book is seemingly useless to the exam. The passing scores were a 505 and a 515 on the OS and Hardware, respectively. I received a 652 on the OS and a 696 on the Hardware. I can honestly say - I would *NOT* have passed if I had not done outside studying. I spent this entire week cramming and learning so much from the few other sources I had access to. I would have taken the test later; unfortunately, the vouchers I bought were set to expire in less than 2 weeks after purchase, so I couldn't put off taking the test because Mr. Meyer's book ill-prepared me for the test.

I crammed for the test as much as I could using other resources. Given time, with those other resources/other books, I would have done a lot better. The OS portion - my score was expected, but not the hardware. I only had to stop and think about maybe 7 of the questions on the hardware. Maybe I just rushed through the test too fast because I had a false sense of security. It would be completely unfair to blame my scores solely on the Meyers book, but it is one reason why I didn't do as well as I had hoped. (If you pass the test, you have to wait a minimum of 1 year before retaking it again for a higher score)

In summary, the book only prepares you for the conceptual parts of the test, and a little bit of the troubleshooting. (Percentages listed above) The majority of the A+ is about troubleshooting. Meyer's book only devotes a very small percentage to the end of every chapter to troubleshooting. Maybe 10% of the chapter is devoted towards it. That's it. 10% doesn't cut it when probably 75% of each test is about troubleshooting. I believe the previous editions were a lot more indepth in terms of the information it covered, which is why so many people raved about the 4th Edition. (2001 Objectives) Meyers took a step back with the publication of the 5th Edition. This book was released as a poor effort to cash in on someone studying for the A+ 2003 Objectives.

I can't say what other books available are better than this one, or which one would guarantee/help you pass the test better, but this is not the one to get. If you read all the other reviews of this book - the ones that gave it a positive "yea it's great" - the majority of them haven't even taken the test. They seem to offer little more than "oh it's a thick book so it must be good!" The ones that did "pass" the A+ noticeably didn't list their score. The scores I had were average - I expected at least in the 700s/800s. Sure you can make the point that I passed with 150+ points over the passing grade, but that was in addition to the cramming from a few other sources before the test. My experiences in IT have been probably 8+ years, including building/fixing computers for family/friends, admining and being the sole tech support guy for a Win2K Domain (2 servers) + WinXP client computers, and working in the IT department of a fiber optic drafting branch of Verizon. I would consider myself fairly knowledgeable, and am also currently studying for my MCSA/MCSE.

This book is nice to have for a general overview or a "I never knew that about computers". To pass the A+, if you do insist on using this book to study for it, being that you ignored everything I wrote in my review, do yourself a favor and find at least one other source to review/study. The tests are $91 a piece using a voucher, and $58 for a retake. You can buy this book only, but be prepared to shell out that $58 for the retake voucher. Or, you can buy a totally different book, pass it on the first try by a sizeable margin, and be proud of your accomplishment. Shame on you Meyers, for trying to pass off this book as (in your own words): "...a proven strategy for preparing to take and pass the A+ exams. Try it. It works." Sorry Mike, you failed your readers. You should take your 5th Edition back to the drawing board, actually sit down and look at the A+ w/ 2003 Objectives, and then come back with a 6th Edition that lives up to the "supposedly" legendary status your books have when it comes to the A+.

- Melvin Chu
- melvinchu@msn.com