Getting the Fastest Question Response

I always want to be sure that you get fast, courteous responses to your book-specific questions. Even though I don’t check my e-mail every day, I do check it most days of the week, so that’s the fastest way to contact me regarding issues that you have with my books. Of course, you can make the response even faster by doing a few simple things when sending your email:

  • Be sure to include the name of the book and the book edition in the message subject line.
  • Tell me which page, figure, or listing number to look at in the book.
  • Document the steps you took.
  • Provide me with the exact error message you’re seeing.
  • Tell me about your platform (operating system, the version of any software you’re using, and so on).

If you provide these basic pieces of information, I can usually answer your questions much faster—often without asking for additional information. E-mail communication can be difficult at times because it lacks that in person body language element and you can’t show me what you’re seeing on your machine. Remote diagnostics are harder than you might think.

It’s also important that you understand that I focus on book-specific questions. I’ve discussed this issue before in Sending Comments on My Books and Sending Comments and Asking Questions. The bottom line is that I want you to be happy with your book experience, but I also don’t have time to provide free consulting. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about contacting me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Selecting a Computer Book

Readers contact me on a regular basis about selecting a computer book. I often think they want a precise recommendation from me (and some do ask me to provide a specific recommendation). However, I can’t choose a book for you or any other reader for a number of reasons. Most important of all, I don’t know how you learn. There are other issues too. For example, I can’t always guess from the e-mail precisely how you intend to use the book or what sort of information you need from it. In short, my best guess probably won’t be good enough.

Originally, I tried to handle the situation by providing a blog post entitled, “Techniques for Choosing a Technical Book.” The blog post worked well for a while, but it still doesn’t really answer reader needs. For example, readers would often act oddly if I didn’t recommend one of my own books, even though I knew from the reader query that my book would only solve part of their need and there was a better option out there. (Part of creating a book proposal is to look at the competition in depth and determine how your book will fill a niche that the competition doesn’t. I try to be honest with readers in this regard so that when they do buy a book, they’re happy with the purchase.) With this in mind, I wrote a series of three articles that examines the whole question of selecting a computer book in significantly more detail:

The goal of these three articles is to provide you with the best possible information about selecting and using a computer book. The thing I’ve noticed most often when I receive complaint e-mails is that even when a reader does select a truly usable computer book, sometimes they don’t get the most out of it. A purchase is only as good as the value you receive from it. These articles are designed to increase your satisfaction by helping you use the books more effectively.

Choosing and then using a computer book effectively will help you gain new marketable skills and insights into the computer industry. Overall, it’s my goal to help you earn more money or live a better life when I write a computer book. In other words, my goal is to help you gain something of value—something that you can later say improved your life in some way. Of course, I’m always refining my skills and choosing new techniques based on reader needs at any given time. That’s why I always want to hear from you at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Sending e-Mail My Way

The e-mail was emphatic and I felt bad that I had missed the original missive, but the original had no subject line and I’m leery of opening e-mail without a subject line—it could contain anything. When you send me e-mail, please be sure that it contains a subject. I need to know at the outset that you have a question about one of my books—that the e-mail is legitimate. Otherwise, it ends up in my Junk Mail folder and won’t ever see the light of day. Adding a subject doesn’t take much time and helps me organize my responses to readers. I still receive upwards of 65 e-mails every day and I answer each of them. Having a subject helps me work more efficiently and also makes it possible for me to provide you with better responses.

While we’re on the topic of e-mail, I do encourage you to write me about any book-specific issue that you encounter. It’s always my goal to provide you with the best possible reading experience. I’ll always take your e-mail seriously, answer it as fully as is possible, and provide the fastest response that I can. All this said, I won’t answer e-mails that are outside the boundaries of good social communication. For example, I won’t answer these sorts of e-mails:

  • Please don’t ask me for free consulting. I do provide paid consulting services and will provide you with a bid for consulting services should you require them.
  • Keep any e-mail you send book- or blog-specific. Yes, I’ve had some interesting off-topic conversations, but for the most part, I much prefer to provide a service to people who have purchased my books or read posts in this blog.
  • No, I won’t do your homework for you. Your homework is for your benefit, not mine.
  • I’ll ignore any e-mail that calls my parentage into question or uses inappropriate language. Yes, I understand that you’re essentially anonymous, but courtesy is for everyone, even people online.
  • I don’t perform free code reviews. If you need a code review and would like to hire me, we can discuss my rates.

I truly do try to provide a valuable service through my books, my e-mail correspondence, and this blog. All that I’m asking is that you treat these resources with the respect they deserve. Please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com if you have any questions.

 

Sending Comments and Asking Questions

Anyone who reads my blog for very long understands that supporting my books is a big deal for me. I actively work with my readers because I realize that you have the choice of using books written by other authors. Let’s just say that my support system is one of the reasons you really do want to buy my books. My blog not only answers common questions you have, but also adds examples and other information to the information you already receive through my books, so make sure you keep you eyes peeled for additional information here as well.

The last time I discussed this topic was in 2011 in my Contact Me, Please! post. The same things apply now as they did then. I’ll answer your book-specific questions as soon as I possibly can and in as much detail as I can. However, I won’t write your school term paper for you, accept a marriage proposal, or provide free consulting (amongst other things readers have asked me to do in the past). If you’re having problems with an example or can’t find the book’s source code, please be sure to ask because I want your experience with my books to be nothing less than phenomenal.

I also encourage you to be a beta reader. You can see the posts I’ve made for several recent books. The biggest reason for me to ask readers to participate in the book building process is to ensure you get the book you want. I also want to avoid Errors in Writing. As far as I know, I’m the only technical author on the planet that invites reader comment during the writing process, but I truly feel your input is essential, so I request it in every way I can. As I get new book contracts, you’ll continue to see requests for beta readers posted on my blog.

You can always contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com with any comments and questions you have. This includes both books and blog posts. Let me know about any concerns you might have and I’ll do my best to solve them. In the meantime, happy reading !

 

Sending Comments on My Books

I regularly receive a stack of e-mail about my books. Readers question everything and it makes me happy to see that they’re reviewing my books so closely. It means that I’m accomplishing my principle goal, helping you understand computers in every possible way so that you can be more productive and accomplish tasks with less effort. When I make something easier for someone and they tell me about it, the grin extends from one side of my face to another. It really makes my day.

Some readers are still asking me if it’s OK to send me comments. I definitely want to see any constructive comment that you have. Anything that helps me understand your needs better or corrects errors in my writing makes it possible for me to write better books. As I mentioned in my Contact Me, Please!, I really do want to hear from you. The main element that I need to obtain a usable comment is that it’s constructive. A comment that says, “This book really stinks!” doesn’t tell me anything. Here are some of the things you can do to create a constructive comment:

 

  • What book are you reading?
  • Which page contains the error?
  • What do you view as an error on that page?
  • How would you fix the error?
  • What sort of system are you running?
  • Are you using the correct version of the software (the same version that appears in the book)?
  • When did you encounter the problem?


The more information you provide, the easier it is for me to understand the issue and provide you with feedback. In many cases, I’ll upload the fix to my blog so that everyone can benefit from the response (so be sure you keep an eye on my blog for new entries). I work hard to ensure that my books are as error free as possible, but everyone makes mistakes. Also remember that sometimes mitigating factors, such as differences in software versions or anticipated hardware, make it appear that there is an error in the book when you’re really looking at a different in environment. Help me provide you with better books—send me comments!

There are a few things that I won’t do for you. I won’t help you pass an exam at school. Your learning experience is important to me, which means that I want you to continue your education by working through the instruction on your own. I also don’t provide free consulting. This means I won’t check the code that you created on your own for errors. I’ll help you with any book-specific question, but I draw the line at that point. Let me know if you have any input or insights on my books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Contact Me, Please!

I ran across an online review of one of my books the other day. The author was mainly complimentary, but said he couldn’t contact me using e-mail and found that he felt alone in using my book. He obviously had unsolved questions and felt that he had been left alone to solve them by himself. Of all of the complaints I receive about my books, not being able to contact me for help is the one that hurts worst.

I want you to be able to contact me. In fact, I check several times a day, five days a week (Monday through Friday) for reader e-mail and try my best to provide same day support. The only exception is when I’m out of the office on vacation (I’m striving to provide an automated message to let you know when I expect to return to answer your question). Even then, the first day back from vacation is spent answering reader e-mail. Your comments, questions, and general observations are incredibly important to me. Just in case you haven’t seen it in the book, my e-mail address is:

John@JohnMuellerBooks.com

If you purchase one of my books, you’ll see my e-mail address in at least two places: About the Author and the last chapter of the book as a bare minimum. I try to make it a point to mention my e-mail address five or six times in the book. In at least some cases, you’ll also find my e-mail address on the back cover.

Despite my best efforts, you may find it hard to reach me. If you can’t reach me for whatever reason, contact the publisher. Every publisher I work with has a Web site with a contact page. Normally, the publisher supports a forum in addition to an e-mail address (plus other contact methods that vary by publisher). If you contact the publisher, you can be sure that the publisher will contact me. The publisher knows it’s in its best interest to send any reader queries my way as quickly as possible.

At this point in time, I want to wipe out the “I couldn’t contact the author” complaint from the face of the earth. If you have anything to say about one of my books, don’t be afraid to contact me and say whatever is on your mind. You may be surprised to find that I care deeply about your needs and want to be sure you get the best possible use from my books.

That said, there are some people who try to take advantage of me. I won’t provide free consulting and no, I really am not a marriage prospect (I’ve been happily married for 31 years now). I truly don’t have time to debug your personal project, no matter how much it might interest me (and believe me, you readers have come up with some truly amazing projects over the years). However, if you have any question about my book, the source code, additional materials, or anything of that sort, please contact me, rather than assume I won’t treat you right.

Now, here’s an opportunity to tell me how to improve my books. If there is some other place that you’d like to see my e-mail address, tell me about it. I truly want to hear from you. Let me know where it would help to see my e-mail address so that you can contact me about my books whenever you want. I’ll be waiting to hear from you at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Source Code Download Issues

Most of my books include source code. The source code is made available on the publisher’s Web site and you download it from there. I always recommend downloading the source code to reduce the potential for errors. Typos are the number one source of problems for readers who work with the source code in my books. A single mistyped word will cause the application to fail in some way. If the reader is lucky, the compiler will catch the error and provide a clear message saying what’s wrong (such as the fact that the .ResX file is missing), but often that isn’t the case and then the reader becomes frustrated with the unworkable code. Sometimes the error isn’t even the reader’s fault—errors do creep into books (see my Errors in Writing post for details). The point is to use the fully tested downloadable source code whenever possible to save yourself time and effort.

 

There is another good incentive to download the source code. The reason to work through the source code in your debugger is to discover how it works through actual tracing. To help accomplish this task, the source code examples are carefully crafted to provide an optimal learning experience and they include features such as additional comments to help enhance the learning experience (see my Handling Source Code in Books post for details).


However, what happens when the downloaded source doesn’t appear to work either? Some readers have complained that the downloaded example won’t compile. Normally, the problem is one of a missing file. Firewalls and other network security features can strip out files and some organizations are proactive about stripping out anything that even looks binary. Consequently, the downloaded ZIP containing the source code is missing solution (.SLN), project (.CSProj or .VBProj), resource (.ResX), or other files. The project won’t compile with missing files. The best course of action is to try to download the source code from another systemone that isn’t inhibited by the network security features that stripped out the files.

 

Missing .DLL files aren’t normally an indication of a failed download. In most cases, missing .DLL files are part of a library or third party product you must install. The book will always include instructions on where to obtain these required add-ons and how to install them. Make sure you install any required additions as part of your system setup.


Sometimes a reader doesn’t have another way to download the file. Asking me to send the source code to you won’t help because the same features that strip out the files from the publisher site will also strip them out of the e-mail I send containing the files. In most cases, the firewall still downloads the actual source code. Create the project using the instructions from the book, and then copy and paste the source from the downloaded files into this new project. It’s not a perfect solution, but it should still work better (and faster) than typing all of the source code by hand.

A few readers have asked that I create a disk containing the source code and mail it to them. I’m not set up to perform this kind of support and the costs would be prohibitive. Unfortunately, if all else fails, you may have to try typing the source in by hand, but it should be your last option because typos really can ruin the learning experience. I’m always open to suggestions for making your reading experience better. If someone has a magic bullet solution that will help others get the downloaded source code in one piece, please let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Techniques for Choosing a Technical Book

I often get e-mails from potential readers asking whether a book I’ve written is the right choice for them. I try my best to ask about their needs and provide an unbiased answer. It’s in my best interest to provide the best answer I can, rather than make a quick sale and have to deal with a discontented reader later. However, in all honesty, it’s hard for me to be completely unbiased because I know my books better than any other book out there. I’ve spent many hours carefully crafting my books and know them quite well. Even when I read a work written by someone else, which I do regularly, I’m less familiar with it. Still, I do try my best to provide a good answer.

Getting a potential reader to make a good selection is still the best scenario in my mind. A number of readers have asked that I provide them with some specific technique for doing this, but all I can offer is a partial solution. The technical content of a book is only part of the solution for any reader. A reader must also consider the author’s method of presenting material and writing style. The use of teaching aids is also important. You must ask whether you want a book that contains questions or activities at the end of each chaptermany readers learn more by doing, than by reading. Communication, even in books, is a two-way process. The author often communicates ideas in subtle ways that help some readers and offend others. When a reader writes to an author, the author picks up subtle hints on how to improve the next book. It’s an ongoing process.

Everyone begins looking for a book by viewing the cover. Something about the title tells you that this could be a helpful book. The cover design and text tell you something about the book’s content from a marketer’s perspective. If you stop here, however, be prepared for disappointment. I’ve had more than a few covers that just didn’t do justice to the content of my book and a few that ended up misleading some part of the reader population. Believe me when I say that it’s never my goal to mislead anyoneI want my readers fully informed before making the purchase and happy with the book they receive. Covers are incredibly hard to get right because there is so little space on them to convey information that’s truly useful to everyone.

When I select a book, I normally begin by reading the Introduction. This important bit of reading is only seven or eight pages long in most cases, but usually characterizes the author’s attempt to convey everything the book contains as an overview. Reading the Introduction tells you about the author’s writing style and informs you about skills required to use the book successfully. You also discover special equipment and software that you need to use the book. If you find yourself disagreeing with the Introduction, you can be certain that you won’t like the rest of the book either.

Next, I look at the Table of Contents to determine whether the topic I need is covered in sufficient detail to warrant a purchase. A book’s title and cover material is often deceiving. The Table of Contents tells me more about the book content from the author’s perspective. I go through the entire Table of Contents just to see what sorts of interesting information the author has decided to include. I may also thumb through the index to determine more about topics covered in the book. It’s important to note that the index is normally created by a professional indexer and not the author, so the index may not tell you everything you need to know, but it’s a great place to see the sorts of topics the author has chosen to discuss.

Finally, I go to the specific chapters that I feel provide the information that I want from the book. I’ll eventually read most of the book, but these chapters are my main reason for buying the book today, so that’s where I look. I probably won’t read the entire chapter in the store (or online using Amazon’s Look Inside feature), but I’ll scan it and pay attention to particulars such as the code provided in examples or figures used for explanation. I’ll read segments of the discussion to see how much information the author provides and how the information is conveyed.

I know that many people consider my approach too time consuming. It is a time consuming approach, but I find that I make fewer bad purchases using this technique. I’ve had more than a few people write to me to ask why I didn’t cover a particular topic in my book and I have to wonder why they didn’t realize that the material was missing when they made the purchase. A few readers have literally written that they ran into the store during lunchtime, looked at the cover and decided the book must include what they need, put down their hard earned money to buy the book, ran back to work, and only then bothered to look inside. If you truly are pressed for time, please do write before buying one of my books. I’ll provide you with the least biased answer I can. However, the best way to buy a book is to make your own decision using the techniques found in this post. Let me know your ideas about buying books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Errors in Writing

I get upwards of 65 e-mails about my books on most days. Some of the conversations I have with readers are amazing and many readers have continued to write me for years. It’s gratifying to know that my books are helping people—it’s the reason I continue writing. Although I make a living from writing, I could easily make more money doing just about anything else. The thought that I might help someone do something special is why I stay in this business. When I actually hear about some bit of information that has really helped someone, it makes my day. I just can’t get the smile off my face afterward.

Of course, I’m constantly striving to improve my writing and I do everything I can to help the editors that work with me do a better job too. Good editors are the author’s friend and keep him from looking like an idiot to the reading public. In fact, it’s the search for better ways to accomplish tasks that has led me to create the beta reader program. Essentially, a beta reader is someone who reads my books as I write them and provides feedback. The extra pair of eyes can make a big difference. Beta readers who provide constructive feedback on at least three chapters receive my thanks in the book’s Acknowledgments and a free copy of the published book. (If you’d like to be a beta reader, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com for additional details.)

You’d think that with all the pairs of eyes looking at my books, they’d come out error free. After all, it isn’t just me looking at the book, but several editors and the beta readers as well. Unfortunate as it might seem, my books still come out with an error or two in them. The more technical the topic, the greater the opportunity for errors to creep in. Naturally, the errors are amazingly easy for just about everyone else to pick up! (I must admit to asking myself how I could have missed something so utterly obvious.) When there is an error found in the book, I’ll provide the information to the publisher so it’s fixed in the next printing. The error will also appear on the book’s errata page on the publisher’s site. If the error is significant enough, I’ll blog about it as well. In short, I want you to have a good reading experience so I’ll do everything I can to hunt the errors down and correct them.

However, not every seeming error is actually an error. There are times where an apparent error is simply a difference of opinion or possibly a configuration difference between my system and the reader’s system. I’ll still try to figure these errors out, but I can’t always guarantee that I’ll fix things in your favor. After all, another reader has probably found still other results or has yet another opinion on how I should present material in the book.

The long and short of things is that despite my best efforts, you’ll probably encounter an error or two in my books and I apologize for them in advance. We’ll also continue have differences of opinion and that’s usually the source for new ideas and new ways of viewing things. I’m honest enough to admit that I do need your help in creating better books, so I’ll always listen to you and think about what you have to say. I hope that you’ll continue to read my books and do amazing things with the information you find therein. The results of your researches are truly the reason I remain in this business and I realize that we’re in this together. Thanks for your continued support!

 

Is E-mail Dead?

I keep reading articles that tell me that e-mail is dead. In fact, there was one today on ComputerWorld that describes a company that is moving from e-mail to social media as an exclusive option. Currently, I don’t use any of the options mentioned in the article and don’t have time (or the inclination) to start using them. Don’t get me wrong, social media probably solves problems for some part of the population, it just hasn’t worked out well for me. I can’t see myself outputting tweets about my daily activities and some of the articled I read about Facebook are just plain scary.

My main problem with most modern communication solutions is that they’re overly intrusive. I was in the bathroom the other day and a guy was engaging in business while sitting on the commode; he just couldn’t be bothered to turn his cellphone off to take care of personal matters. That’s just one of many scenarios I’d prefer to avoid. There is strong evidence to conclude that our society has become preoccupied with communication, to the detriment of all. Just how many people died last year from texting accidents? According to the Washington Post, 28 percent of accidents now occur while people are texting or talking on a cellphone. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to talk with someone that badly.

I have to wonder how well social media will work for business needs. Social media assumes a level of connectivity that I’m simply not willing to allow. E-mail works better because someone can send me a message and I can handle it later; at my convenience. More importantly, I can handle the e-mail at a time when I’m not distracted by something else. In addition, I can provide a thoughtful answer; one that I’ve researched and thought through carefully. E-mail also provides me with a permanent written record that I can reference later when I have questions about the discussion.

There is some evidence to say that social media is actually costing business big dollars. For example, the BBC claims that social media is costing business £1.4bn. Other articles are equally certain that social media can save businesses money. I’d say it would be pretty tough to come up with a precise statement either pro or con when it comes to social media’s cost to business, but I know the personal cost. I tried a few solutions as an experiment and found that I was considerably less productive using them than turning it all off and using e-mail. Of course, that’s me, you may very well find that using social media makes you more productive; each person is different.

Personally, I don’t see e-mail as a dead communication technology. If anything, it’s becoming more important to me as I age and my memory becomes less dependable. As far as I’m concerned, the always connected nature of most social media today simply isn’t a good solution if you want to be productive. So, what’s your take on social media? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.