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Expert Shell Scripting
by Ron Peters


Apress
1 edition
January 6th, 2009
320 pages

Reviewed by Katrina Owen, June 2009
  (8 of 10)


Expert Shell Scripting helps bridge the gap between following a recipe and truly solving problems.

It's not a cookbook, and it doesn't teach basic programming structures. As such, it would probably frustrate beginners. Where this book shines is that it adds context and ties concepts together beautifully.

A full chapter on debugging, for example explores different approaches to troubleshooting, comparing and contrasting the various approaches, discussing where each approach might be appropriate, pointing out pitfalls and gotchas along the way. Another chapter deals with comparisons and tests, making sense of the intricacies and subtleties of comparing different types of things and the myriad of ways of doing it well, or doing it wrong. The book covers a wide range of topics, from command line switches and options, variable setting, date/time manipulation, text processing, and data redirection, scheduling, interaction, and automation.

The progression is swift, and the book ends with a section of gems that the author has spent years accumulating.

It is perfect for the programmer who has never written shell scripts (or just dabbled), since it quickly takes you beyond syntax and structures and bring you to the point where you can actually DO stuff in the shell. If you are an intermediate shell scripter it will probably fill in many gaps and catapult you to a higher level of competence.

Highly recommended.

More info at Amazon.com




Secrets of the Rock Star Programmers: Riding the IT Crest
by Ed Burns


McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
1 edition
February 2008
352 pages

Reviewed by Jeanne Boyarsky, May 2008
  (6 of 10)


"Secrets of the Rock Star Programmers: Riding the IT Crest" is a series of 13 (or 14) interviews with different people that are known in the programming community. The fourteenth is for "Weird Al Yankovic" which has nothing to do with programming, so I won't count it.

Even after reading the book, I'm not sure what criteria was used in determining who is a Rock Star Programmer. It seems to be some combination of successful software developer, entrepreneur, those with a fanbase, some specific skills and being in the right place at the right time (riding the crest.) Then there are the exceptions such as Herb Schildt who is a programming educator and author.

I would have enjoyed this more as a series of articles than as a book. I felt the chapters jumped around a lot and had different voices. Largely due to the dynamic in individual interviews. Some interviews flowed well and others had a number of disfluencies ("right", "okay", etc.)

The author was trying to tie everything together. He adds cross references, observations when interviewees say similar or contrasting things. There is a table in the back to direct you to which interviewees answered a given question.

Some themes in the book are knowledge of ignorance, the right thing vs the quick thing, a non-IT plan B, continual optimization of environment, outsourcing and personal/professional balance. Many of the interviewees gave their thoughts on their expertise which was nice. It left me wanting more though. I think that is because I would read a book on the topic to get the opinions.

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McGraw-Hill Osborne Media
1 edition
February 2008
352 pages

Reviewed by Katrina Owen, May 2008
  (6 of 10)


The list of Rock Stars in "The Secrets of Rock Star Programmers" seems somewhat arbitrary. Probably great programmers, but not all of them would have come to mind if someone asked me who I considered Rock Star programmers, and many of the names that do come to mind aren't listed. Then again, who am I to judge, huh?

Did I learn anything? Well, nothing technical, at any rate. I learned a little bit about the lives and personalities and careers of a few programmers I've heard of, a couple of author's whose books I've read, and it inspired me to think a bit about my own mindset and what inspires me or frustrates me or helps me do things better.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this rather informal book which explores how some programmers approach their craft.

So in short: No secrets appear to have been revealed, and after reading the book, I'm not quite certain what qualifies a programmer as being of rock star quality.

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Programming the Raspberry Pi: Getting Started with Python
by Simon Monk


McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics
1 edition
October 2012
192 pages

Reviewed by Pat Farell, February 2013
  (8 of 10)



This is a fairly good first level introduction to the use of Python on a Raspberry-PI. Since the Raspberry-PI is a complete computer for $35, the ability to write real programs on it, and control embedded devices (motors, LEDs, etc.) is a great learning tool.

It provides a concise overview of how to program in python, starting with "hello world" and discussing the usual topics covered in a Pyhton 101 class. It covers some basic Linux topics (shell commands, apt-get) that are needed if the reader has not been exposed to Linux. It also provides a few examples/projects for using the python code on a Raspberry-PI to do direct IO to devices.

I knocked a couple of horseshows off the rating because it feels like a standard introductory python book, with just a few Raspberry-PI specific items tacked on. If it had more on the R-PI, it would have received a perfect score.

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The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging
by The editors of the Huffington Post


Simon & Schuster
1 edition
December 2008
240 pages

Reviewed by Jeanne Boyarsky, January 2009
  (6 of 10)


"The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging" has three parts - one of which was what I expected based on the cover.

The first part covers the basics with tips and examples. I really liked this part including the relevant quotes. The suggestions and reasons were clear and logical. And I liked seeing Arianna Huffington's writing voice really is the same as her speaking voice. The rest one voice - a rarity in multi-author books.

The second part covers the history and growth of the Huffington Post along with the relationship of blogging to newspapers. While this was very interesting, I was surprised by it's presence in what appeared to be a "how to" type book.

The third part contains useful links and a glossary which are expected in a book. Then are about 30 pages of Huffington Post blog entries. I'm not a big fan of reading stuff in book form that is verbatim online. I can read as much of Huffington Post as I want on their website.

There were a couple ways I felt like I was reading a printed blog rather than a book. The margins were huge - for quotes (although I was ready to imagine ads.) And one place referred to a story "below" that turned out to be five pages later. In a book, "below" means on the same page.

Overall I have mixed feelings so I went with a rating right in the middle.

More info at Amazon.com




Programming Groovy: Dynamic Productivity for the Java Developer
by Venkat Subramaniam


Pragmatic Bookshelf
1 edition
April 2008
318 pages

Reviewed by Ernest J. Friedman-Hill, May 2008
  (7 of 10)


We live in an increasingly informal and familiar world. Perfect strangers want to call me by my first name, and waiters pull up a chair and join me at table while I hear about today's specials. Perhaps it's inevitable, then, that technical books like "Programming Groovy" are becoming commonplace.

This is a reasonable, if informal, introduction to the Groovy language. Although I haven't had the opportunity to do much with Groovy myself, I suspect that this book wouldn't help if I painted myself into a newbie's corner; I would want a more detailed language guide to refer to.

On a personal level, I didn't like this book. The author's conspiratorial winks and constant insistence that he understands what I know, want, and need, grated on me throughout. Because in fact, he did not know that I wanted more detail, more rigor, more formality, than he was offering. He did not know that I wanted a description of the Groovy language itself, rather than repeated assurances that it's "just like Java" interspersed with multiple demonstrations of the ways in which it's more assuredly not. He did not seem to know (as all authors of scripting-language books seem not to know) that modern IDEs completely obviate the need to type Java syntax in manually.

It's not my cup of tea, but if you do a lot of texting, or have a Twitter account, I'm betting you'll love this book.

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Upgrading to Microsoft Office 2007 - Illustrated Brief (Illustrated Series)
by Mary-Terese Cozzola, Barbara Clemens, Barbara Waxer


Course Technology
1 edition
August 2007
152 pages

Reviewed by Jeanne Boyarsky, October 2008
  (6 of 10)


"Upgrading to Microsoft Office 2007" is a short 125 page book that gets you up to speed on where Microsoft moved the features. Or maybe it's 62 pages - Course Technology uses the same format as Murach does where one side of the page is the text and the other is the pictures.

The book is intended for experienced Office 2003 users and assumes you are familiar with the concepts already. Parts of it moved a bit slowly for an experienced user though. It covers Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

The book does cover the new features in Office 2007 well. For the most part, it covers the new locations of common features well. There were a few times I couldn't find a feature with the instructions and the picture didn't cover it. There were also a few times the book referred to locations that were not the same on my screen resolution (page numbers in the sample files and column numbers on the ribbon.) The appendix mapping 2003 menu options to the ribbon was excellent.

While the book was good, I think you can get a lot of the material from free training such as Microsoft's interactive menu map. If you favor books, the book was fine and covers what you would expect it to.

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In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters
by Merrill Chapman, Merrill Chapman


Apress
second edition
September 2006
408 pages

Reviewed by Ulf Dittmer, December 2006
  (9 of 10)


This highly readable book provides an overview of major blunders hardware and software companies have made since the evolution of small computers in the mid 70s. Not all examples are marketing failures - management, development and sales also often contributed. The book provides examples of various kinds of business mistakes, be it product positioning, burning one's own brand, mistreating the customer base, being caught in a bubble, underestimating the competition and others. Amongst the companies studied are IBM, Digital Research, Apple, Microsoft, MicroPro, Ashton-Tate, Siebel, Borland, Intel, Motorola, Google, Novell and Netscape. Taken together, the case studies also provide a kind of abridged history of microcomputing. Two concluding chapters try to distill the essence of the mistakes made, and how they may have been avoided. Even though hindsight is 20/20, there are a number of valuable lessons, not always new ones, sometimes just forgotten ones.

At 350 pages the book is nicely shorter than the usual crop of high-tech books, but it still contains a lot of material that is covered in-depth. The authors manages not to get lost in technical arcana, and makes his points clearly, and in a light style that is accessible even to those without a programming background.

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Apress
1 edition
July 2003
256 pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, October 2004
  (9 of 10)


I would qualify this book as a great marketing antipattern repository. All the true stories reported by Rick Chapman illustrate the worst practices in high-tech marketing he experienced over the past twenty years. With an entertaining narrative style, he immerses you in the corporate life of the big companies he worked at and delivers a fair dose of crispy details about some scary war stories that you wouldn't believe they actually happened. You would think that companies like IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Borland to cite a few, have never made stupid mistakes. Well, you're wrong! As the saying goes, ?nobody?s perfect?. This statement gets all its sense when applied to people working for big corporations that have the money and the brain cells, but despite this, still manage to shoot themselves in the feet. Money doesn?t buy you anything, but it is isually a good magnet for stupid managers, so watch out!

To understand the content of this book, there is no need to be a marketing guru whose resume reaches the moon. In fact, this book is suitable to pretty much anyone, whether you want to discover which practices to avoid at all costs, or whether you want to laugh out loud and despise those wannabe "deus ex machina" working for big corporations. Grab your copy, sit down comfortably and start turning the pages. You won't regret it, unless of course you were actively involved in one of those shameful and pathetic undertakings :)

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Apress
1 edition
July 2003
256 pages

Reviewed by Michael Ernest, August 2003
  (9 of 10)


It's hard to build a company that is both big and smart; most large companies survive by minimizing their mistakes, or making fewer costly mistakes than the competition, or at least by knowing how to recover from their own. In making light of the 80's blockbuster In Search of Excellence -- which the author admitted 20 years later was written on bogus data -- In Search of Stupidity examines several companies that did nothing to prevent or recover from its mistakes, and willfully so. Each story exemplifies pride in wrongheadedness, a triumph of personality over common sense, or best of all, a belief that markets can be told what they want and who to get it from.

It's great reading. Chapman is merciless, entertaining and yeah, really merciless. Aside from kicking several high-tech losers after the fact, which is fun, he shows how high-tech's own foibles create (when it could prevent) its own sufferings.

For programmers, developers, and other technical types, this book is an eye-opener to the differences between how software gets built and how it gets sold. In particular, Chapman's analysis of Microsoft's market dominance today (and why), along with his excerpted interview with Joel Spolsky are invaluable reading.

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Apress
1 edition
July 2003
256 pages

Reviewed by Thomas Paul, September 2003
  (9 of 10)


Why is Microsoft such a huge company today? It isn't because their products were better or because they cheated other companies out of their rightful place in the market. It's because they weren't as stupid as their competition. Merrill Chapman takes us through the comedy of errors that companies like Digital Research, WordStar, Lotus, and AshtonTate went through as they tossed their market leads aside in fits of stupidity. You can't help but laugh (or cry) at the mistakes these companies made. Example: WordStar was once one of the finest word processing programs in the world. But through stupidity the company ended up owning two competing mediocre products.

You won't find very much analysis of why a particular company made such obviously fatal errors. Why did Borland pay an outrageous sum to buy AshtonTate at a time when it had virtually nothing that Borland needed? You won't find the answer here. What you will find is an amusing, well-written examination of the collapse of good companies under the weight of their serious errors of judgment.

There is a moral to be learned from this book. It isn't necessary to be excellent. In fact, excellence can be expensive and drive up your costs so much that they make your products uncompetitive. The secret is not to be excellent, in fact you don't even have to be very smart. All you need to be is less stupid that your competitors. Just ask Microsoft.

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Marketing Management
by Philip Kotler, Kevin Lane Keller


Prentice Hall
12th edition
January 2006
816 pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, September 2005
  (10 of 10)


Coming up with innovative ideas is one thing. Figuring out how to sell them and to whom is another completely different matter. These colossal tasks are usually tackled by marketing intelligence which has gradually become one of the most vital ingredient for business success and whose effects profoundly influence our day-to-day activities. In order to succeed, it is vital to recognize that marketing is a subtle mix of both art and science where the creative side of marketing actors must always be in constant tension with their formal side.

Marketing Management is commonly recognized as one of the most authoritative book on marketing. This twelfth edition has been updated with actual and up-to-date content. This book will teach you how to create, communicate and deliver value that meet human and social needs in a profitable way as well as how to grow your customer base efficiently. After a solid introduction of marketing concepts, the authors explain how to analyze consumers, identify target markets, build strong brands, elaborate strategies, create pricing strategies, deliver and communicate value, manage mass and personal communications, create successful long-term growth, develop marketing plans, conduct market research and much more.

This book is suited to both marketing instructors as well as highly motivated marketing students in need of well-organized marketing wisdom. Each of the 22 chapters features a comprehensive and illustrative introduction, a couple marketing insights and memos, good and bad real-world examples, interesting debates and discussion exercises.

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The Best Software Writing I
by Joel Spolsky


Apress
1 edition
June 2005
328 pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, September 2005
  (9 of 10)


Joel Spolsky is not only allergic to bad writings but he also strives to keep a safe distance from their authors as often as he can. The only computer sciences graduates he usually hires are the ones who also have an honorable mention in writing. Deploring a huge deficit of efficient communication skills in the software development community, Spolsky expects to remedy to this plague by showing people a couple of what his taste considers to be the best writings on software development published over the past two years.

With this undertaking, Spolsky wants to encourage members of the global software development ecosystem to cultivate their written communication skills in order to achieve maximal effectiveness when sharing their knowledge with other people. The 29 very entertaining and truly appealing essays introduced by Spolsky touch upon various software development topics, such as coding style, lack of documentation, team building, outsourcing, intellectual property, pathetic management strategy, hackers, programming and scripting languages, passion, superfluous hierarchical layers, marketing, testing, hiring hazards and many more.

If you are one of those guys who loves to regularly devour RSS feeds that convey golden wisdom about good and bad experiences of notable people, trust your instinct and get a copy of this book. Your bookshelf will definitely appreciate and welcome this new addition.

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Seeing What's Next
by Clayton M. Christensen, et al


Harvard Business School Press
1 edition
May 2004
312 pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, June 2005
  (9 of 10)


Having innovative ideas is one thing. Developing, positioning and selling those innovations are completely different matters, which necessitate a sound and well-researched knowledge of the market. How many times have you told yourself "Wow, this is a great thing, I'm pretty sure people need that"? How many times have you realized that the idea you had was not the next big thing anymore because the market changed in unexpected ways and you were incapable of correctly interpreting those stimuli and adapting yourself?

In "Seeing what's next", the authors adopt a highly pragmatic approach and teach you how to use the theories of innovation for listening to the market and its actors in order to correctly interpret and capitalize on the signals it is sending. Using real-world case studies from five large industrial sectors, such as telecommunications and health care, they show you how to decorticate macro and micro facts that happened in the past in order to help you predict how your industry is expected to change in the future, how to come up with highly inventive business models and how you can make your pioneering company become tomorrow's market leader.

Small print for mystic readers: This book is based on sound scientific theories. It is not a crystal ball and it does not provide any stock buy/sell recommendations. This book will help you tune all your senses to the correct frequency for listening to market signals in a productive and static-less way.

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10 Technologies Every Executive Needs to Know
by Dermot McCormack, Fergal O'Byrne


Aspatore Books
1 edition
January 2004
pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, July 2005
  (8 of 10)


Nowadays, almost all businesses heavily depend on technology for carrying out their everyday chores. According to the pace at which new technologies emerge and current ones become obsolete, it is safe to say that most modern executives have a hard time figuring out which technologies are good for their business and which are not. In order to remedy to this, Dermot McCormack and Fergal O'Byrne have put together a nice and concise summary of the top ten technologies every self-conscious executive should be aware of.

In this book, the authors make an excellent job at giving sense to some obscure buzzwords and at demystifying cutting-edge technologies, such as, web services, nanotechnology, security, grid computing, Linux, RFID, WiFi, XML, CRM, J2EE and .NET. For each topic, the authors provide a detailed summary, a couple of facts to watch out for the future, a top ten cheat sheet for immediate use, a timeline providing an estimation of when the technology will be mature, frequently asked questions as well as a host of useful pieces of information you might need.

If you are an executive without a sound IT background and you find yourself repeatedly yawning in those technical meetings, you should definitely get a copy of this book. Be aware, though, that this book does not go into the gory details of the introduced technologies as its goal is only to give you enough information for assessing whether a given technology may benefit to your business or not.

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A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT
by T. F. Peterson


The MIT Press
1 edition
March 2003
190 pages

Reviewed by Margarita Isayeva, April 2004
  (8 of 10)


The term "hack" exists at least since fifties, and at first it had nothing to do with computers, designating "any activity that lead to an interesting and unusual solution, or caused nondestructive mischief". "A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT" uses the word "hack" in this broad term. It describes hacks performed by MIT students since 1920-s. Descriptions can vary in length from a couple of pages to a single sentence: "On a steamy August day in 1987, hackers erect a papier-mache snowman on the small dome." The writing style is rather dry, factual, and detached, which, frankly, makes dull reading. Other challenges include MIT proprietary vocabulary (hint: don't neglect "Glossary of MIT Vernacular" at the end of the book) and numerous "see ..." links, which do not provide page numbers, but send you to search the contents table instead. Yet another complain: big part of the hacks is classified as "visual", and it would help if you could really see an artifact, which is difficult with mostly black-and-white and often low-quality photos.

After so many struggles, I became a victim of the Stockholm syndrome -- I liked the book. Or, more accurate, I liked the content (to get some taste check Al Gore Buzzword Bingo or the Case of the Disappearing President's Office on IHTFP Gallery site). It would be great to have a new edition, in better print and with more editorial efforts put in it.

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Blog On - The Essential Guide to Building Dynamic Weblogs
by Todd Stauffer


McGraw-Hill
1 edition
October 2002
361 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, October 2003
  (9 of 10)


This is a well-structured, practical and fairly comprehensive look at blogging. It covers everything from the basic question of whether you need a weblog, through how to set up and use some of the popular software offerings, to writing, tweaking, and publicizing your blog. There's also a small section on using blogs in business. The author comes over as someone who knows his stuff; I like the clear line drawn between using a hosted service, and running your blog on your own machine, for example.

As with any book which gives such precise installation and operation details, this one is likely to date quickly when the available software changes. It also has only thin coverage of more lasting social and community aspects, so if you find a copy that's several years old, make sure the bulk of the book still makes sense before buying. It's not a secret, but the book has a strong affiliation with the pMachine blogging software, and in places this seems to crowd out alternative approaches.

In general, a solid and worthwhile book for a beginner to blogging. This book gives you all the tools and knowledge to get started, but once you decide that blogging is for you and want to take it further, make sure to check out a wider range of software and deeper books such as Powazek's "Design for Community" and Blood's "The Weblog Handbook".

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Blogging - Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content
by Biz Stone


New Riders
1 edition
September 2002
336 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, July 2003
  (7 of 10)


This book tries to cover all aspects of blogging, from a bit of history, through creating and managing a small personal journal, to using blog technology as a corporate marketing tool. Along the way it covers an interesting variety of hints, tips and suggestions on how to make a blog look stylish, how to draw more visitors, and so on. It even covers an overview of using and writing blog-related applications and some thoughts about what might come next.

This book does well at communicating the excitement of blogging. If you are not raring to have a go by the end of the book, you're probably not cut out for life on the web. But beware, The world of blogging is astonishingly fast moving and fashion-conscious, so a book such as this can very quickly loose its cutting edge.

The main limitation of this book is the way it concentrates so much on one blogging system (Blogger), and assumes a particular way of working. On the up-side, the system it describes is probably the most popular, but that can so easily change.

If you would like to run a blog using the Blogger software or the Blog*Spot hosting service, and want to really get the most out of it, this is a great book. If you might be interested in other software and approaches, it's less vital, but still contains a lot of useful and interesting material.

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The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman


Basic Books
1 edition
September 2002
272 pages

Reviewed by Dave Mulligan, April 2003
  (9 of 10)


I strongly recommend Donald Norman's "The Design Of Everyday Things" to anyone who needs to design anything, whether it is a teapot or an EJB. Almost all of Norman's examples are of physical, tangible things like doors and refrigerator controls, but the lessons he teaches are easily and obviously applicable to software design, especially UI issues.

Just maybe if more programmers and designers read this book, software in general will become slightly less frustrating to use.

More info at Amazon.com



Basic Books
1 edition
September 2002
272 pages

Reviewed by Margarita Isayeva, April 2003
  (9 of 10)


This is a famous book. Some quotes...
Dan Bricklin (he is the co-creator of VisiCalc) Why Johnny can't program

"In Don Norman's wonderful book "The Psychology of Everyday Things" (now called "The Design of Everyday Things" in paperback) he provides these "principles of good design" (at the end of Chapter 2): Visibility. By looking, the user can tell the state of the device and the alternatives for action. A good conceptual model. The designer provides a good conceptual model for the user, with consistency in the presentation of operations and results and a coherent, consistent system image. Good mappings. It is possible to determine the relationships between actions and results, between controls and their effects, and between the system state and what is visible. Feedback. The user receives full and continuous feedback about the results of actions." This is quote from the book itself:
"Problems of level commonly thwart the correction of error. My collection of slips includes several examples in which a person detects a problem but attempts to correct it at the wrong level.

One frequent example is the nonworking key, reported for me both for cars and homes. Someone goes to his or her car and the key won't work. The first response is to try again, perhaps holding the key more level or straight. Then the key is reversed, tried upside down. When that fails, the key is examined and perhaps another tried in its stead. Then the door is wiggled, shaken, hit. Finally, the person decides that the lock has broken, and walks around the car to try the other door, at which point it is suddenly clear that this is the wrong car.

I all the situations I have examined the error correction mechanism seemed to start at the lowest possible level and slowly works its way higher. Whether this is universally true I do not know, but the hypothesis warrants further examination."

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Essential Blogging
by Cory Doctorow, Rael Dornfest, J Scott Johnson, Shelley Powers, Benjamin Trott, Mena G Trott


O'Reilly
1 edition
August 2002
264 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, June 2003
  (7 of 10)


"Blogging" (the practice of keeping a public on-line journal to record personal thoughts, observations and links), is hot news on the internet these days. Many of the best-known names in the business keep such journals, so it's not surprising that the book publishers want to cash in.

Things in the world of blogging move fast. Minor celebrities rise and fall, new software is continually being released, new jargon is invented. It's hard for a paper book to keep up. There are some aspects of blogging which are gaining some permanancy. Unfortunately, this book only skims those topics, preferring to spend nearly 200 pages describing how to use particular (late 2002) versions of a few blogging tools.

The most incisive and thought-provoking part of the book is the last ten pages - interesting quotes from a range of bloggers. It's the only bit which shows any of the excitement and "buzz" of blogging and gets you wanting to get involved. This is not a bad book. But it's not really the book described in its own advertsing. If you want a rough guide to comparing, installing and using a small selection of the well-known blog software offerings, this book is right for you. If you want a more thoughtful and detailed overview of what blogging is all about, why you should do it, what the terminology means, or how it works "under the hood", keep looking.

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We Blog - Publishing Online with Weblogs
by Paul Bausch, Matthew Haughey, Meg Hourihan


Wiley
1 edition
August 2002
350 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, August 2003
  (9 of 10)


At heart this is a straightforward and workmanlike introduction to blogging (the practice of keeping a public, on-line, journal). It compares features of most of the major blogging tools, describes how to use them, and suggests practical exercises to encourage readers to get started. It even includes a pretty good glossary and simple HTML reference. All this should help make it easy to get started in blogging using this book.

The authors don't stop there, though. They add coverage of all kinds of alternative uses of blog technology, from corporate marketing to blogging for team building. Then they round out the book with chapters on how to publicise and market your own blog, and how to become part of the blogging community. The book also has a chapter on how blogs work, although it seems a bit one-sided, only really covering how one blog system works.

This book is a rounded and well-balanced coverage of all aspects of blogging. It's a little too tied to specific technology, and lacks some raw enthusiasm and sparkle, but still a great book for the first-time blogger.

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Style. Ten lessons in clarity and grace
by Joseph M. Williams


Longman
7th edition
August 2002
288 pages

Reviewed by Margarita Isayeva, December 2002



There is a stereotype that programmers cannot write. My observations prove otherwise: many good programmers are attentive to nuances of language and style. Whether the inverse proposition, that by learning how to write better you become a better programmer, is true or not, the fact that writing skills are important for a programmer career remains true.

The "Style" book is about basics of non-fiction writing and I found its organization especially congenial to a programmer's mind. Who of us can resist taking a thing to pieces to figure how it works? This is what the author is doing. Although the scope of the book is somewhat limited, of all multi-level Architecture of the Text it focuses mainly on the sentence level, this level is examined well: the mystery of putting words together is revealed and the underlying logic exposed. Some English majors may find its approach too dry and mechanical, but this is exactly what more disciplined minds will appreciate. And while first-order magic of writing is revealed, the higher-order magic is here to intrigue the reader. I read this book twice, first time to educate myself, the second to better educate myself and for a sheer pleasure of reading it. (This text refers to the sixth edition)

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The Weblog Handbook
by Rebecca Blood


Basic Books
1 edition
July 2002
144 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, September 2003
  (8 of 10)


This book is a worthy attempt at a weblog book for adults. It's not in-your-face evangelism about how weblogs are going to change the world. It's not a hands-on guide to installing and using weblog publishing software. It doesn't have a lot to say about how weblog technology works behind the scenes.

What this book does cover (in a measured, thoughtful way), are the personal and social aspects of weblogging. How to think through whether weblogging is for you. The unexpected but practical benefits of running a weblog, like increased self-confidence and improving your writing skills. How to fit researching and maintaining a weblog into your life, and what to do when it turns from a pleasant hobby into a chore. How to deal with both too many and to few readers. How to avoid revealing too much personal information, and how to retain the respect of your readers in the face of wildly differing opinions. Also covered is the author's personal view of the history and development of weblogging, and an attempt to classify weblogs into different types. These aspects, though are secondary to the main focus of the book.

The book handles more like a paperback novel than a typical computer book. It's small, relatively thin, and has no illustrations. The author has a comfortable, easy-reading style, but is occasionally repetitive. I guess that's the fallout from years of condensed and pithy weblog posts.

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Writers' Workshops & the Work of Making Things: Patterns, Poetry...
by Richard Gabriel


Pearson Education
1 edition
June 2002
288 pages

Reviewed by Kyle Brown, July 2002
  (9 of 10)


Every fall, just after school starts, some of the finest minds in object-oriented programming depart for an extraordinary conference in an improbable location. Held at a turn of the century mansion hidden among the corn fields of central Illinois, the PLoP (Pattern Languages of Programs) conference is one of those rare, magical events where everything you know about the way the software world works is turned on its head.

Instead of "acolytes" gathering around the feet of the "master" to hear the same talk that he gives at every other conference, experienced folks like Richard Gabriel, Ralph Johnson, Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham sit and give personalized advice about how the patterns and pattern languages written by first-time authors can be improved and strengthened. It's a place where you might find out one of your dinner companions has written four books on OO design and speaks at conferences twelve times a year, while the other is a new graduate student just getting started in the field.

How does this occur? And why do people keep coming back year after year? The key is in the primary innovation of this conference -- bringing the notion of an Author's Workshop to computer science. Richard Gabriel is the person who introduced that idea to the computer science community, and he writes lucidly and joyfully about the wonder and the terror of Author's workshops in this delightfully agreeable little book.

In this volume, Richard describes how the Author's workshop came out of the creative writing and poetry community, and provides a roadmap for carrying out a writer's workshop. He describes the benefits of the process, and gives sage advice to the participants in such workshops. He draws his stories and examples from his varied experiences in workshops in both communities (software and literature) and explains why such an unlikely way of doing things has come to be so valued and cherished by the software patterns community.

So, if you've wondered why people in the software patterns community are so set on the way they run their conferences, read this book and you'll understand why. But that's not the only value; reading this book can give you insight into how to improve your own writing in any genre, and how to marshall the resources of your communities to improve the quality of your work. I'm hooked on this process, and I'm delighted that I finally have something to refer people to so that I can share some of the magic of this unconventional way of teaching, and learning.

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We've Got Blog
by Rebecca Blood


Basic Books
1 edition
June 2002
176 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, September 2003
  (6 of 10)


I had such great hopes for this book. The list of contributing authors reads like a "who's who" of blogging, and I really enjoyed headliner Rebecca Blood's "Weblog Handbook". Alas, I was to be disappointed. This book is not a grand collaborative effort but merely a collection of unrelated essays, interviews and weblog posts. Some of these articles were new, some were familiar, some were intriguing, some were dull or inconsequential. Worst of all, these articles are mostly available on the web for free, And there's not even a linking paragraph of new content between them. One of the distinguishing characteristics of weblogs is that each rings with the individual tone of the author. Jumbling a bunch of such differing styles together made my head spin.

I find it hard to imagine anyone who will get full value out of this book. Most people will find some of the articles informative or inspiring but also find some a waste of time. A book to check out from the library and dip in to, but not one to keep and cherish.

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Running Weblogs with Slash
by chromatic, Brian Aker, Dave Krieger


O'Reilly
1 edition
January 2002
282 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, August 2003
  (7 of 10)


"Slashdot" ( http://www.slashdot.com/ ) is one of the busiest sites on the internet. Part newspaper, part bulletin board, part personal journal - just a casual mention on Slashdot has been enough to bring major web sites to their knees. Slashdot has lead the way in the high-traffic mass-participation web, and the software is free to download. This book is about the ideas, challenges and designs which keep Slashdot working. Although the slash software is written in Perl, you don't need to read Perl; there's hardly any source code in the book.

When I first saw this book, I thought it would be dull. Who wants to read documentation for a bunch of Perl scripts? As it turns out, the book is mostly case study and installation/configuration guide. Although obviously aimed at people considering using the open-source "slash" engine for their own sites, reading about how the Slashdot administrators evolved their software to cope with such astonishingly high traffic is quite inspirational. There is a lot of solid wisdom for anyone involved in maintaining web applications on the internet.

If you are designing or improving a public collaborative web application and want to be able to scale to massive traffic, this book is an important addition to your bookshelf. If you are curious about the growth and internals of Slashdot, it's worth a read. If you want a theoretical discussion, code listings, or product comparisons, look elsewhere.

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More Secrets of Consulting
by Gerald M. Weinberg


Dorset House Publishing Company, Incorporated
1 edition
December 2001
216 pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, May 2005
  (9 of 10)


Gerald M. Weinberg, aka the consultant's consultant, is back with another groundbreaking survival guide for consultants. As "Secrets of Consulting"'s twin brother, "More Secrets of Consulting" contributes another load of tips, scenarios, tricks, stories, theorems and axioms to your consultant's toolkit. You will precisely discover how to cope with situations in which you have to deal with burnout situations, negotiation issues, curiosity matters and many more.

The proposed toolkit contains valuable instruments named after descriptive metaphors, such as "the law of the strawberry jam", the "yes/no medallion", the "wishing wand", the "fish-eye lens" and the "oxygen mask" to cite a few. You will figure out how your "wisdom box" can help you decide what's right and wrong for you. You will be able to open interesting and unexplored areas using your "golden key". Your "courage stick" will help you decide whether you should take risks or not in given situations. Make sure you always have your "hourglass" handy or you might run the risk of wasting your precious time on uninteresting matters. You have a hard time managing your inner feelings in a balanced manner? Remember you have a "gyroscope" in your backpack.

If you swallowed "Secrets of Consulting" in no time, you can safely grab a copy of this book because you will certainly love it even more. This is one of those rare books where you can actually feel the experience of the author transpire from a simple trail of ink.

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Design for Community, the art of connecting real people in virtual places
by Derek M. Powazek


Waite Group Press
1 edition
August 2001
336 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, July 2003
  (10 of 10)


This book crops up a lot in recommendations from bloggers, and it's easy to see why. This book is a broad, yet detailed, treatment of how to start, grow, and manage, online communities. A successful online community (such as the thriving javaranch.com) has a real and valuable sense of belonging. This book can help you understand both the 'why' and the 'how'.

Most of the points made in this book are applicable to everything from email lists, through bulletin boards, to blogs, Amazon reviews and beyond. Many are also very thoughtful, such as the discussion of setting "barriers to entry", or the tricky subject of how to gracefully end a community. The book also includes some interviews with people involved in specific online communities. These interviews are not as directly useful as the rest of the book, but are an interesting alternative to the author's style.

If you are at all interested in gathering or supporting a group of real people using online tools, you need this book. It doesn't say much about specific tools or technologies, but it has the elusive quality of "lasting value". I can really imagine myself re-reading and referring to this book in five or even ten years time.

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Waite Group Press
1 edition
August 2001
336 pages

Reviewed by Margarita Isayeva, May 2003
  (9 of 10)


More than once I picked up a book and opened it only to find a pale copy of what was live and blooming in online discussions. For the first time I wasn't disappointed. In this book, uncombed wisdom from the Internet is processed into a fine mixture of practical knowledge, thought-provoking observations, and entertaining stories. It was too difficult to put the book aside to go have dinner, so I was hungry for three evenings. As a trophy, I now have 58 marks in the margins to come back and meditate on.

"Design for Online communities" is intended for web-masters, web-designers, or anybody else who wants to create an online community on their site -- By the last page, they will have a pretty clear idea what they are getting into. The main message: do not underestimate what it will cost you, both in terms of time and emotional recourses.

Online communities are fascinating growing organisms made of three media: "content", "interface", and "people". Each of these affects the others, often in subtle ways. The author gives advice on starting a community: provide content that engenders discussion. Do not separate content (articles, for example) from discussions. Even visual separation (distinct design for a discussion area) may send a message that some discussions are of less importance, and this can inhibit quality of conversation. Be personal. "If the community is constantly reminded that the leaders are all real people, everyone will stay a whole lot friendlier."

What software is available to somebody who would like to host a community (ever noticed that Salon, CNN and the New York Times discussion areas look suspiciously similar?), and which factors should influence your choice. You will even find a discussion about how to close your community so that its participants don't send you death threats (this really happened).

I particularly like the style of writing. Instead of depersonalized "how to" instructions, wisdom is conveyed through story telling based on the author's own significant experience, as well as from communities ranging from the small and unknown, to monsters like Slashdot and Amazon. What worked, what did not -- probably the most honest approach, because nobody can guarantee that your community will be like somebody else's. This "Story Telling" approach makes the book interesting for more seasoned practitioners as well, by exposing them to a wide variety of experiences.

There is a companion site with author's essays, excerpts and all the interviews from this book (interviews with Caleb Clark and Steve Champeon are especially interesting).

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The Human Interface
by Jef Raskin


Addison-Wesley Professional
1 edition
April 2000
256 pages

Reviewed by Margarita Isayeva, January 2003
  (10 of 10)


Jef Raskin is best known as the creator of Apple Macintosh, and his expertise raises his point of view above the level of industry standards. This book is aimed to neither deliver "ready-to-use" recipes, nor to provide ground education in interface design for mainstream programmers. It is more a report of personal experience and insights, perhaps the most stimulating of all genres.

He starts from a brief excurse into cognitive psychology, which will provide explanatory basis for the rest of the book. The main idea: when users work with software, they should be able to keep their locus of attention on their job, not on the interface. They should be able to use the interface habitually, and ultimately interfaces should be designed so that blinds could use them (Donald A. Norman called this concept "invisible computer"). From this, a lot of things are explained: why modes (Cap Lock) are harmful, why adaptable menus a-la late Windows aren't a good idea, what should a user choose first, when he needs to perform an action: operation (verb), or operand (noun)? (Answer: the noun-verb order is better).

He sketches a better file system where files do not need names, dreams about transparent error messages that do not require user to click on meaningless Ok button, but vanish gradually, tells that icons are often more confusing than plain text, explains why Emacs' search mechanism is better than what MS Word offers...

A lot of what he writes about is out of control of an application programmer, but several examples I found directly applicable and very instructive. He examines a design of a Celsius to Fahrenheit temperature converter. The first variant is what any "normal" programmer would probably do: a radio-button to switch between "C to F" and "F to C" modes and two text boxes, one to accept user's input and one to show the results (while reading, calculate how many clicks and key hits will be there). The final variant has no switches; the user types input and the result is immediately shown converted to *both* Celsius to Fahrenheit -- the user chooses what result to look at. Eliminated: a click on a radio-button, a click (or hit on the Tab key) on an input field, a hit on the Enter key. Look meticulous, maybe, but as a former data-entry operator I can appreciate this aspiration for minimalism.

Ok, the way interface design is done -- "because it is always done this way" is flawed, for our current set of standards is far from perfect. What is the advice? Instead of following conventional wisdom, use heuristics from the book, read other books, listen to your users and your own feelings. Perhaps this is the most important lesson -- how much can be seen by simply paying attention, and that you can learn something even when trying to figure out button layout of a BART ticket-vending machine.

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Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams
by Mitchel Resnick


The MIT Press
1 edition
January 1997
181 pages

Reviewed by Frank Carver, September 2003
  (6 of 10)


Subtitled "explorations in massively parellel microworlds", this is a book describing the research of a team at MIT using a version of the educational language "Logo". Running in a simple graphical environment which supports multiple parallel operation of code in the same shared space. Write a few lines of code for an "ant", then let 1000 of them loose. The current version of this "StarLogo" system is written in Java, and available as a free download for anyone to play with.

The use of Logo is both a strength and a weakness of the approach. The strength is that the code is concise and easy to understand. The weakness is that there is only one source of the software, and anyone wishing to try it is limited to the available download. This would not be such a limitation if the book described the same version, but unfortunately things have moved on a lot since the book was written, and few (if any) of the examples will work without alteration.

As well as the development of the StarLogo system, the book covers experiments in emergent behaviour. Typical sections include how parameter and environment changes can affect the growth and development of simulated ant colonies, and a theoretical basis for those "phantom traffic jams" we have all experienced.

This book is certainly interesting if you are interested in developing parallel software simulations, or if you are interested in marginal computer languages, but don't expect the code to work without effort.

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Secrets of Consulting
by Gerald M. Weinberg


Dorset House Publishing Company, Incorporated
1 edition
January 1986
228 pages

Reviewed by Valentin Crettaz, May 2005
  (9 of 10)


The job of consulting companies or individuals is not something that can be taught easily or that one can assimilate in a couple of weeks by reading books or articles. Excelling at it is even harder as consulting missions often require a broad expertise, a rigorous discipline and a great deal of various personal qualities, such as honesty and flexibility. However, finding inspirations by reading the passionate narrations of a very knowledgeable person having a wide-ranging experience of over half a century in the consulting business can help you position yourself and find your way through that somewhat singular environment.

Even though Gerald M. Weinberg wrote this masterpiece twenty years ago, you will be amazed to discover how accurate and up-to-date the content is according to today's agreed upon practices. This book is organized around a long list of easy to grasp rules, laws, theorems and sayings that have been devised by the author himself while on mission over the last fifty years. It is also worth noting that the author harmonizes his wisdom with crispy war stories coming right from the trenches and introducing the how's and why's of a given rule or saying.

If you are just starting in the consulting business or in need of a second or third breath, or if you simply would like to find out whether there is a logic behind the way those alien consultants think and act, you have found yourself a perfect companion.

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The Bunkhouse administrator is Ankit Garg.