Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable – Eugene G. Windchy’s new book is a true “must read” – #bookreview

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable

Eugene G. Windchy

(iUniverse - paperback, Kindle)

You may not agree with every opinion, conclusion or finding expressed in this book, but it is a remarkable work that definitely should be read and given thoughtful consideration.

Twelve American Wars: Nine of them Avoidable offers eye-opening looks at how the United States has blundered, pushed itself or gotten itself dragged into a dozen different wars between the late 1700s and today and how three-fourths of those wars could have been avoided.

Eugene G. Windchy is a superb researcher, and his well-known book Tonkin Gulf has long had special meaning for me. I spent nearly a year in the South China Sea and Tonkin Gulf aboard a destroyer, starting three days after the still-controversial Tonkin Gulf incidents in 1964. I was amazed at what Windchy was able to dig up about those “attacks” and what they ultimately helped trigger: massive expansion of the Vietnam War. Much of what he reported jibed strongly with what I knew and had experienced, but I was forbidden, for many years, to discuss my involvement because of secrecy restrictions.

Windchy’s new book quickly digs beneath the short, glossy, generally laudatory paragraphs we have read in American history textbooks. Indeed, you may be both amazed and distressed when you ponder his descriptions of how and why a dozen significant wars involving the United States actually got started and how at least nine of the wars realistically could have been avoided.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

Photoshop CC and Lightroom – An elegant, well-focused how-to handbook from Rocky Nook – #photography #bookreview

 

Photoshop CC and Lightroom

A Photographer’s Handbook

Stephen Laskevitch

(Rocky Nook - paperback, Kindle)

 

Stephen Laskevitch’s Photoshop CC and Lightroom is an excellent how-to book that both instructs and inspires.

This elegant new how-to book from Rocky Nook is aimed at digital photographers and graphics designers “who want to learn the basic tools and image editing steps within Photoshop and Lightroom to recreate professional looking images.” However, the book also is recommended for “a wide range of technicians and office workers who simply want to do more effective image editing.”

As a sometimes-photographer and not-frequent-enough user of feature-rich Photoshop, I definitely need how-to books like this to keep me on track with the features that I “know,” while also reminding me that there are many useful features I have not yet tried or learned. Fortunately, Laskevitch, an Adobe Certified Instructor, deliberately avoids the common tendency to showcase just the  “wow-factor Photoshop techniques.” Instead, he emphasizes “all the key techniques for good image editing: using layers and layer blending, color correction, printer profiles, and more.”

His book is richly illustrated with photographs that can inspire you to pick up your camera and go shoot. And it has plenty of how-to illustrations and steps for using the 2014 release of Photoshop CC, plus its companions: Bridge, Camera Raw, and Lightroom 5, as you process, enhance and preserve your images.

Bridge is a tool that lets you examine, sort, rate and organize the images in a folder. Adobe Camera Raw provides a few settings that can be selected or adjusted, and Laskevitch recommends shooting in RAW format, unless shooting snapshots. “One of the biggst advantages of RAW files,” he emphasizes, “is that they have more than 8 bits per channel of information and can therefore be edited more than JPEG files.” Lightroom, meanwhile, is “a photographer-friendly database application” that helps you keep track of your images and where you have stored them.

Photoshop CC and Lightroom is divided into two parts and ten chapters:

The Setup

  • Important Terms & Concepts
  • System Configuration
  • The Interface: A Hands-On Tour

The Workflow

  • Capture & Import
  • Organizing & Archiving Images
  • Global Adjustments
  • Local Adjustments
  • Cleaning & Retouching
  • Creative Edits & Alternatives
  • Output

“Output,” Laskevitch notes, “is the creation of what I call deliverables, whether that is a print, a book, a web site, or a digital file. Printing should be easier than it is, especially after all of these years of digital imaging. Improved with each release of Photoshop, the method I outline is simpler than ever. But since it uses profiles tht describe your printer’s characteristics to achineve stunning consistency and optimal results, you’ll have to keep focused nonetheless. This method,” he explains,” can also allaow you to experiment with many more papers than your printer manufacturer supplies.”

You do not have to have any prior Photoshop experience to benefit from Photoshop CC and Lightroom: A Photographer’s Handbook. And Photoshop works with either Windows or Mac computers, the author points out. Also, many (but not all) of the worfklows and techniques he describes can be used with previous versions of the software products, as well.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

Java 8 in Action – Ready for lambdas, streams and functional-style programming? #bookreview

 

Java 8 in Action

Lambdas, streams, and functional-style programming

Raoul-Gabriel Urma, Mario Fusco, Alan Mycroft

(Manning - paperback)

 Java 8, we were sometimes assured, would just be Java 7 with a few slick new (or past-due) features added.

Actually, now that it’s here, Java 8 represents “the biggest change to Java in the 18 years since Java 1.0 was released,” the three authors of this fine new book point out.

Of course, news of “big changes” seldom sits well with developers who have spent countless hours learning and getting comfortable with one particular version of a programming language.

And many coders and companies will continue sticking with Java 7 for a while longer, because it still works. But the adoption pace for Java 8 keeps picking up. So, to misquote an old sci-fi slogan, resistance soon will become somewhat futile.

Lambdas, streams, and functional-style programming capabilities are Java 8’s headline additions. And there are some other major and minor additions, as well, including default methods and a new Date and Time API.

Java 8 in Action does an excellent job of introducing these new capabilities, and the book offers many short code examples and other illustrations to show how to put the new Java 8 capabilities to work.

Indeed, short (and shorter!) code is one of the hallmarks of Java 8. “In Java 8 you can write more concise code that reads a lot closer to the problem statement,” the writers emphasize. To illustrate that point, they offer a five-line example of verbose Java 7 code and follow it with a one-line Java 8 code example that accomplishes the same thing. Other examples also drive home the coding efficiencies that Java 8 can offer.

Lambdas, also known as anonymous functions, enable you to skip writing method definitions that will only be used once. The authors note that “passing code is currently tedious and verbose in Java [meaning 7 and earlier]. Well, good news! Lambdas fix this problem: they let you pass code in a concise way. Lambdas technically don’t let you do anything you couldn’t do prior to Java 8. But you no longer have to write clumsy code using anonymous classes to benefit from behavior parameterization!”

The new Streams API makes it much easier to work with collections in Java and provides “a much different way to process data in comparison to the Collections API.” Using the Streams API, “you don’t need to think in terms of loops at all. The data processing happens internally inside the library.”

Meanwhile, if you are a diehard object-oriented programmer, you may be leery of the term “functional programming” and the notion of using functions as values. (“In practice, you can’t completely program in pure functional style in Java,” the authors note. Instead, you will learn how to write “functional-style programs” in which you hide the side effects.)

With Java 8, “two core ideas from functional programming…are now part of Java: using methods and lambdas as first-class values, and the idea that calls to functions or methods can be efficiently and safely executed in parallel in the absence of mutable shared state. Both of these ideas are exploited by the new Streams API,” the writers state.  Also, in Java 8, they add, “there’s an Optional class that, if used consistently can help you avoid NullPointer exceptions.”

This review barely dents the surface of this excellent how-to book’s contents. Whether you are learning Java now or you are a Java developer who wants to keep your coding skills up-to-date and sharp, Java 8 in Action should be a book you will read soon.

Si Dunn

Cloudera Administration Handbook – How to become an effective Big Data administrator of large Hadoop clusters – #bookreview

 

 

Cloudera Administration Handbook

 Rohit Menon

Packt PublishingKindle, paperback

 

The explosive growth and use of Big Data in business, government, science and other arenas has fueled a strong demand for new Hadoop administrators. The administrators’ key duty is to set up and maintain Hadoop clusters that help process and analyze massive amounts of information.

New Hadoop administrators and those looking to join their ranks especially will want to give good consideration to The Cloudera Administration Handbook by Rohit Menon. This is a well-organized, well-written and solidly illustrated guide to building and maintaining large Apache Hadoop clusters using Cloudera Manager and CDH5.

The author has an extensive computer science background and is a Cloudera Certified Apache Hadoop Developer. He notes that “Cloudera Inc., is a Palo Alto-based American enterprise software company that provides Apache Hadoop-based software, support and services, and training to data-driven enterprises. It is often referred to as the commercial Hadoop company.”

CDH, Menon points out, is the easy shorthand name for a rather awkward software title: “Cloudera’s Distribution Including Apache Hadoop.” CDH is “an enterprise-level distribution including Apache Hadoop and several components of its ecosystem such as Apache Hive, Apache Avro, HBase, and many more. CDH is 100 percent open source,” Menon writes.

The Cloudera Manager, meanwhile, “is a web-browser-based administration tool to manage Apache Hadoop clusters. It is the centralized command center to operate the entire cluster from a single interface. Using Cloudera Manager, the administrator gets visibility for each and every component in the cluster.”

The Cloudera Manager is not explored until nearly halfway into the book, and some may wish it had been explained sooner, since they may be trying to learn it on day one of their new job. However, Menon wants readers first to become familiar with “all the steps and operations needed to set up a cluster via the command line” at a terminal. And these are, of course, important considerations to becoming an effective, knowledgeable and versatile Hadoop Administrator.  (You may not always have access to Cloudera Manager while setting up or troubleshooting a cluster.)

The book’s nine chapters show its well-focused range:

  • Chapter 1: Getting Started with Apache Hadoop
  • Chapter 2: HDFS and MapReduce
  • Chapter 3: Cloudera’s Distribution Including Apache Hadoop
  • Chapter 4: Exploring HDFS Federation and Its High Availability
  • Chapter 5: Using Cloudera Manager
  • Chapter 6: Implementing Security Using Kerberos
  • Chapter 7: Managing an Apache Hadoop Cluster
  • Chapter 8: Cluster Monitoring Using Events and Alerts
  • Chapter 9: Configuring Backups

You will have to bring some hardware and software experience and skills to the table, of course. Apache Hadoop primarily is run on Linux. “So having good Linux skills such as monitoring, troubleshooting, configuration, and security is a must” for a Hadoop administrator, Menon points out. Another requirement is being able to work comfortably with the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and understand Java exceptions.

But those skills and his Cloudera Administration Handbook can take you from “the very basics of Hadoop” to taking up “the responsibilities of a Hadoop administrator and…managing huge Hadoop clusters.”

Si Dunn

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The Sun is God – Adrian McKinty takes readers well off the beaten path with this new historical mystery – #bookreview

 

The Sun is God

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books - Kindle, paperback

Take a weird but true exotic setting. Throw in some real people and real murders. Add to the mix a fictional investigator: Will Prior, an ex-military police lieutenant who deliberately got himself cashiered from the British army during the Boer War following a deadly clash with African prisoners. Wrap it all up with a (very) surprising ending.

The Sun is God, Adrian McKinty’s new historical mystery, likely will please and amaze many readers. Trying to track down a murderer in a 1906 German nudist colony off the coast of New Guinea is a stunning and challenging departure from his Detective Sean Duffy trilogy set in the urban battles and enormous tensions of Northern Ireland in the 1980s.

McKinty is in fine form in this book as he offers up a complicated crime story set within a little-remembered slice of pre-World War I history: Part of New Guinea, north of Australia, was a German colony in the year 1906.

It is here that Will Prior is now living with his “servant girl,” Siwa, amid the colony’s failing banana, rubber and tea plantations.  While still willing to swear allegiance to the British Empire, Will now lives under German rule. So, when a German army officer, Captain Hauptmann Kessler, comes to his house one day, Will fears that it is to take back the money Germany previously loaned him to become a plantation owner. Instead, Will learns that the colony’s governor wants him, because of his past military police experience, to go with Captain Kessler to an island where some German nudists claim to have discovered the secret of immortality.

One of the immortals, unfortunately, has suddenly turned up quite dead. And while the nudists claim the victim died in his bed from malaria, an official autopsy in the capital of German New Guinea has revealed something quite different: the victim drowned and had bruise marks consistent with a struggle.

Things quickly get even more strange after Will and Kessler arrive and have to camp amid the nudists and share their dangerous diet while they attempt to find clues. There’s sex, yes, and drugs. (But the novel is set 50 years before Elvis Presley, so no rock ‘n’ roll.)  And, once danger erupts for the two investigators, they can’t call for backup, and they definitely can’t hide — not on a very small island that boats seldom visit, because it’s thought to be haunted.

Si Dunn

The Button Man – A fast-paced chase to find and stop an obsessed serial killer – #fiction #bookreview

 

The Button Man

A Hugo Marston Prequel

Mark Pryor

(Seventh Street Books - paperback, Kindle)

 

Fans of Mark Pryor’s investigator Hugo Marston will be delighted with this well-written and fast-paced new prequel to The Bookseller, the novel that started the Marston series. Likewise, The Button Man is an excellent place to start reading if you are seeking a new crime fighter to follow through the streets and countrysides of England and France.

The Button Man takes us back to Marston’s troubled early days as chief of security at the U.S. Embassy in London, before he became chief of security at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

In both cities, Marston has a penchant for going “off the reservation,” so to speak, once he is on a case. Indeed, rather than hang around the embassy grounds, he willingly chases suspects through London, Paris and the English and French countrysides. And, as The Button Man shows, Marston often will ditch protocol, as well as jurisdiction, and risk working alone, free from the bureaucracies of British or French backup, as he moves in for the dangerous showdown.

In The Button Man, the ambassador assigns Marston to protect two well-known Americans while British police investigate them following a highly publicized hit-and-run fatality. But one of the Americans suddenly is found murdered, and the other gives Marston the slip and goes on the run.

When Marston, an ex-FBI profiler, goes after the fugitive, he doesn’t know that his pursuit is about to evolve into something much bigger than he expects. Helped along by secretive young woman with an odd name and by a pheasant-hunting member of the British parliament who’s big on law and order and tight budgets, Marston soon finds himself desperately trying to track down and stop someone different and decidedly more dangerous: an English serial killer who doesn’t agree that the way he murders his victims is a crime.

Si Dunn

Si Dunn’s books include Erwin’s Law and Dark Signals.

 

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York – #bookreview

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

 

The Mob and the City

The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

C. Alexander Hortis

(Prometheus Books, Kindle, hardcover)

 

Forget The Godfather, its sequels and numerous other, famous “Mafia” movies. This excellent book cuts straight through the hype, fictions, and glamorizations to tell “the hidden history of how the street soldiers”–not the godfathers–“of the modern Mafia captured New York City during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.” And its author convincingly argues that “the key formative decade for the Mafia was actually the 1930s”–not “the Prohibition era of the 1920s” as numerous books and movies have had us believe. During the Great Depression-ravaged Thirties, the Sicilian mafiosi , the Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”), rose to become New York’s top crime syndicate, with thousands of foot soldiers and associates eventually “entrenched throughout the economy, neighborhoods, and nightlife of New York.”

The Mob and the City is well-written and superbly researched. C. Alexander Hortis has dug deeply into available resources but also uncovered important new data sources, including previously secret files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. Hortis presents a convincing case that there was (1) never really a “golden age of gangsters” in New York and (2) definitely not much honor among thieves. “The wiseguys,” he writes, “broke every one of their ‘rules,’ trafficked drugs almost from the beginning, became government informers, betrayed each other, lied, and cheated.” Hortis’s story of how New York City’s booming economy also offered the major crime syndicates “an embarrassment of riches” to exploit and plunder is fascinating and eye-opening reading.

Si Dunn