The Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide – A very good book for intermediate beginners (and up) – #ubuntu #linux #bookreview

The Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide

Sixth Edition

Jonathan Moeller

(Azure Flame Media, LLC – Kindle)

This should not be your first book on how to use Ubuntu, particularly if you consider yourself not much of a computer geek and you are fleeing Microsoft Windows to escape the death throes of XP (or the life throes of Windows 8).

However, The Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide is an excellent how-to book that can add to your enjoyment and mastery of Ubuntu once you are comfortable with opening applications, downloading the latest updates, and doing some basic work at the command line in Linux. In other words, once you are ready to learn more about what else you can do with a PC running Ubuntu (besides typing on it and surfing the web), The Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide definitely can help. (It focuses on Ubuntu version 12.04 — not the latest, but still a good release that will be supported for a few more years.)

Jonathan Moeller spends much of his book showing how to set up an Ubuntu PC as a server platform, for example an Apache web server, a MySQL server, a DHCP server, and an FTP Client and Server, among others. His instructions are clear, and you don’t have to flip from one chapter to another to keep track of all of the steps. He repeats setup steps when necessary to help the reader stay focused on doing a task from start to finish. (I am definitely not a Linux guru, but I have used Moeller’s book thus far to assign some static IPs, set up SAMBA file sharing, set up an Apache web server, and do several other tasks that I’ve wanted to learn. Some reviewers have criticized the author for repeating certain steps for each process. But I appreciate the convenience of staying focused on just one or two pages at a time.)

Meanwhile, later chapters focus on web applications and “the eight best applications for a new Ubuntu desktop installation.” (No spoilers are given here.)

“Hosting web applications,” Moeller writes, “is where Linux really shines….Ubuntu Linux can run a variety of web applications, ranging from simple interactive sites to powerful content management systems.” In his book, he shows “how to install three of the most popular content management systems on an Ubuntu web server — WordPress, MediaWiki, and Drupal” — and explains what a LAMP server is. “LAMP is simply an acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (or Perl and Python).”

The author covers several other useful topics, including how to create a bootable USB flash drive, how to run some Windows software on Ubuntu using the Wine application, and how to manage eBooks on Ubuntu. And he describes how to enjoy some computer games on Ubuntu, even though the “gaming experience” admittedly will not measure up to Windows machines, various mobile devices, or dedicated game consoles such as an XBox or Playstation.

If you have not yet tried Ubuntu and still wonder if you will like Linux or not, start with a book such as Ubuntu Made Easy, which comes with a CD that lets you try Ubuntu 12.04 without actually installing it. (And , if you do like it, you can use the same CD to install Ubuntu on your PC). Then, after you get comfortable with the basics and want to know more, get The Ubuntu Beginner’s Guide.

Si Dunn

Raiders of the Nile – Steven Saylor brings fast-paced action & intrigue to ancient Egypt – #fiction #bookreview

Raiders of the Nile

A Novel of the Ancient World

Steven Saylor

(Minotaur Books – hardcover , Kindle )

Best-selling author Steven Saylor is well-known for his many books, including his Roma Sub Rosa series of historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, starring Gordianus the Finder, a B.C. equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.

Now, in Raiders of the Nile, Saylor again has turned the sundial back a few years and given us a young, pre-Finder Gordianus. In 88 B.C., on his 22nd birthday, Gordianus suddenly has to embark on a truly desperate quest. He must rescue Bethesda, the beautiful young woman he loves,  from fearsome pirates based in the Nile Delta. They have kidnapped Bethesda from the troubled city of Alexandria, where the latest in a string of Egyptian kings named Ptolemy is on a very shaky throne (despite, or perhaps partly because of, his huge girth). And young Gordianus finds that he has just one ally willing to be his John Watson in the Egyptian badlands: a 10-year-old slave boy named Djet.

A pleasingly complex plot unfolds as Gordianus and Djet barely escape death at several turns and have to join the pirate gang not only to save their lives but to have a chance to escape with Bethesda, who is being held for ransom.

What the pirates and their vicious leader don’t know is that they have kidnapped the wrong woman. And if they somehow find out, she, Gordianus and Djet all could be killed on the spot.

It’s the set-up for a lot of intrigue, action and entertainment. And Steven Saylor demonstrates that he is a master at telling fast-paced stories set in the seemingly slow-paced ancient world.

His characters, fortunately, do not speak in hieroglyphics or Latin. Nor do they sound like actors in grainy Old Testament movies. Indeed, they converse in reasonably modern English, which momentarily can be disconcerting the first time you pick up a Steven Saylor novel. But it doesn’t take long to get caught up in the tale and find yourself racing along on the back of a camel you barely can ride, while murderous villagers, also on camels, try to chase you down and hack you into mincemeat.

Saylor, widely recognized as an expert on ancient Roman life and politics, has done extensive research into the lives and politics of some ancient Egyptians, as well as key settings used in Raiders of the Nile. He needed a vacation, he says in the book’s concluding notes, from his long studies of the ancient Romans’ “murder trials, gruesome histories, and self- aggrandizing memoirs.” So he turned to the works of “Greek authors whose books were all about travel and exploration, love and sensual pleasure, religious exaltation and athletic glory.”

One outcome was his 2013 book The Seven Wonders, which brings 18-year-old Gordianus face-to-face with intriguing, challenging, deadly mysteries each time he stops to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Raiders of the Nile is the second prequel novel that points toward how Gordianus eventually will become the famed Finder who solves cases involving prominent historical characters and events in Rome. While researching ancient Greece, Saylor encountered several books, manuscripts and websites that inspired him to look closely at Egypt, too. And that led to the absorbing tale which unfolds in this new book.

One downside to the many plot twists, intrigues, double-crossings, and surprises in Raiders of the Nile is that Saylor must rely on a fairly lengthy ending to wrap everything up and shake Gordianus loose for whatever will come next. Even then, some of the concluding events seem to happen just a bit quickly and conveniently.

Still, fans of Gordianus the Finder will not be disappointed. And readers encountering Gordianus (and Saylor) for the first time will find plenty to enjoy–including a whole series of Gordianus novels to savor.

Steven Saylor definitely knows how to blend imagination, good storytelling, historical accuracy and cultural details into tales of mystery, intrigue, action and, yes, love.

Si Dunn

Our Beautiful, Fragile World – Excellent photographs by an environmental artist – #bookreview

Peter Essick's new book will inspire photographers to work harder and help readers to better understand the fragility of our planet.

Peter Essick’s new book will inspire photographers to work harder, and it will help readers better understand the fragility of our planet.

Our Beautiful, Fragile World

The Nature and Environmental Photographs of Peter Essick
Peter Essick
(Rocky Nookhardcover, Kindle)

Most of us are content to take a photograph and just settle for what we get under the current circumstances.

That’s not how Peter Essick works.

Essick has spent more than 25 years traveling to remote corners of the world, but also to many spots in North America, as a photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

“Many of my successful photographs,” he writes in his noteworthy new book, “are the result of discovering a scene and then going back several times to get the best picture possible.”

Our Beautiful, Fragile World presents a collection of Essick’s excellent nature and environmental photographs. And almost all of the photos are accompanied by a one-page essay explaining where and how an image was taken, what circumstances surrounded the shot, what environmental issues or crises are represented, and what Essick wants readers to take away from the story behind the photograph.

His book likewise contains a technical information section where specific details of each shot are described, including camera (Nikon or Canon), lens, film (typically Fujichrome 100) or digital camera settings, and how he had to work to get the photograph (i.e., use an underwater housing, or shoot from a light plane, or “look for a place where the sunlight was bounding off the sandstone and reflecting golden light on the opposite wall.”

There also is a fine foreword by Jean-Michael Cousteau, son of the famed, late ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. “I feel much hope for the future,” he writes, “when I see the talented work of artists like Peter Essick and understand the message he conveys through his stunning environmental images.”

Our Beautiful, Fragile World will inspire almost any photographer to try to take better nature pictures. And it starkly highlights how we continue to run roughshod over the delicate elements and natural forces that keep us alive on this threatened planet.

Si Dunn

The Ides of April – An entertaining new Lindsey Davis detective series debut – #mystery #bookreview

The Ides of April

A Flavia Albia Mystery

Lindsey Davis

(Minotaur Books, hardback, paperback, Kindle, Audio CD)

Many fans of the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries set in first-century Rome will delight in this new spin-off series by London author Lindsey Davis. Readers eagerly seeking another unusual detective to follow may relish this series debut, as well.  

In The Ides of April, Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of Falco and Helena Justina, makes her series debut as a private informer in Rome during the reign of Domitian, an emperor who later will be ranked somewhere in the safe middle between the best and worst rulers of the Roman Empire.

The year is A.D. 89, and a young widow named Flavia Albia has taken over Falco’s old apartment and is struggling to build up her business as an investigator. Flavia is British-born and served as nursemaid to Falco’s children before Falco and his “unofficial” wife Helena Justina adopted her.

The pay scale for a private informer is “no win, no fee.” Also: “As a female, I had no rights at all in matters of law, but why let that stop me?” Flavia has two other qualities that work in her favor as a detective in Rome: She doesn’t like to be defeated, and her adoptive parents taught her how to comfortably blend into virtually all levels of society.

Of course, it’s never easy to be a female detective in ancient Rome. As Flavia points out: “Fortune never favoured me and the problem with being a woman was that sometimes I could only obtain business that all the male informers had sniffed and refused.”

One of those “refused” cases, of course, starts out simple and soon turns into a murder investigation that includes the hunter being hunted by the killer.

The cast of characters in The Ides of April extends for two pages, and new readers of a Lindsey Davis novel likely will find themselves frequently flipping back to it for reminders of who exactly Junillus or Robigo or Felix or Serena is.

Indeed, if this is your first exposure to Lindsey Davis’s well-detailed, history-based fiction, you might consider photocopying the extensive cast list and keeping it close at hand so you won’t have to keep flipping back to the front of the book.

One other note. While the setting is ancient Rome, many of the descriptions, attitudes, and dialogue exchanges would not seem out of place in a 21st century English detective novel. This can be at least momentarily jarring for new readers of a Lindsey Davis mystery. However, we must remember that English had not yet been cobbled together in A.D. 89. And, thankfully, the author does not throw a lot of Latin at us.

Fans of Marcus Didius Falco may grumble about Falco being downsized to a much smaller character in this tale. Yet as Lindsey Davis points out on her website:

“After 20 novels, I need a break and have no current plans for a new Falco novel. I am enjoying the ‘spin-off’ series about Flavia Albia….” (The one that will follow The Ides of April will be titled Enemies at Home).

“I am also excited to be writing a ‘QuickRead’ for 2014. These are a special series of short books for adults who came to reading late or who don’t read very much. Mine is called A Cruel Fate and is set in the Civil War.”

So Marcus Didius Falco is not dead. He has just been put out to pasture while Flavia gets an entertaining and engrossing chance to make her mark in the family business.

Si Dunn

Realm of Racket: Learn to Program, One Game at a Time – #Racket #game #programming #bookreview

Realm of Racket
Learn to Program, One Game at a Time!

Matthias Felleisen, David Van Horn, Conrad Barski, M.D., Forrest Bice, Rose DeMaio, Spencer Florence, Feng-Yun Mimi Lin, Scott Lindeman, Nicole Nussbaum, Eric Peterson, and Ryan Plessner
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Formerly known as PLT Scheme, Racket is an offshoot of the Lisp/Scheme family of programming languages. (Lisp, which was first specified in 1958, is the second-oldest high-level programming language, behind FORTRAN).

The (numerous) authors of this 294-page book call Racket “a friendly mutation of Lisp” and tout it as “perfect for all, from those who want to launch their education in computer science to those looking to expand their knowledge and experience in programming.”

Lisp has a long learning curve, so the writers have taken special pains to try to make Racket (“a weird-looking programming language,” they concede) approachable and fun by using comics and games built from short code examples.

Their well-written book is aimed at college freshmen readers. But they emphasize “that doesn’t mean you should drop this book if you are a sophomore or an industry professional.” Nor if you are still in high school or simply like to tinker with programming languages for fun and challenge.

“Regardless of your programming background,” they state, “many of the topics in this book will be new to you, and much of what you’ve learned before will appear in a new light.”

Realm of Racket is structured so that you start out programming very simple games and gradually tackle games that are more complex, while learning about such topics as functions, recursion, lambda, lists, structures, loops, testing, and more.

If you are interested in developing special-purpose computer languages that require specific knowledge of specialized fields, Realm of Racket’s  final chapter briefly delves into the field of language engineering. It notes that Racket “makes it particularly easy to create new programming languages, including special-purpose languages.”

Not surprisingly, some people who program in Racket call themselves Racketeers. The open source language and its program development environment (PDE), DrRacket (“Doctor Racket”), can be downloaded from http://racket-lang.org. “Racket can run on Windows, Mac, and *nix* systems,” the authors note.

Realm of Racket can be a fun, challenging book for computer-savvy teens nearing the end of high school or in their first years of college to study computer science or gaming. Younger readers likely won’t stick with it unless they have some helpful, patient guidance from knowledgeable older siblings or adults. Wait until they’ve gotten reasonably good at another language, such as Python, Ruby, C#, or Java, first.

Si Dunn

Book Brief: Short screenplay DEATH ORBIT now on Kindle as a one-act play

With my daughter as co-author, I have spun off a micro-budget one-act play from my short science-fiction screenplay DEATH ORBIT. The Kindle version is now available and briefly on sale for $0.99 USD.

DEATH ORBIT: A Play in One Act is set in the future, in the seedy courtroom of an ice-mining colony. A young law student volunteers to defend an indigent prisoner who is facing the death penalty within a system where corporate money rules and the prosecution can get laws changed in minutes, to its favor.

– Si Dunn

death_orbit_cover3

Go APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) with Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch – #bookreview #amwriting

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book
Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch
(Nononina Press,
Kindle)

Okay, confession time. I know a bit about the book business—what used to be the book business.

Years ago, I was a freelance developmental book editor for a trio of well-known publishing houses; I’ve had a couple of book agents; books I wrote have been put into print by not-so-major publishers (and later dropped out of print); I’ve written hundreds of book reviews; and I’ve self-published a few books and ebooks: nonfiction, fiction and poetry.

To misquote the late actor-comedian W.C. Fields, on the whole, I’d rather be in self-publishing now.  There isn’t much of an alternative.

And not just basic self-publishing but artisanal self-publishing, which Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch define, in their well-written and well-designed new book, as “a new, cool form of publishing…authors lovingly crafting their books with total control over the process.”

Many writers, of course, already are trying to do that, often with abysmal results, because it’s not enough to commit a book to print (or its digital equivalent) and then wait for the world to recognize your genius and surge forward to buy it on Amazon.

To succeed in self-publishing, you really do have to be, as Kawasaki and Welch contend, an APE: an author, a publisher, and an entrepreneur. 

With APE, Kawasaki and Welch aim to “help people take control of their writing careers by publishing their books. The thesis of APE is simple but powerful: When a self-publisher successfully fills three roles—author, publisher and entrepreneur—the potential benefits are greater than with traditional publishing.”

There’s plenty of truth in that. Three publishers turned down my Vietnam War memoir Dark Signals, even after it received a prestigious award. And several other publishers did not bother to respond to my queries. So I published it myself as a CreateSpace paperback and Kindle ebook, both available through Amazon.

It has not been a runaway best-seller; I knew from the outset that I was writing for a limited audience: readers of military memoirs. Yet several hundred copies have been ordered thus far. And a book that I really needed to push out of my soul finally is out there for posterity, with five-star reviews.

No doubt I could have sold more copies at the outset if I had had APE in hand. Knowing the traditional book business is one thing. Knowing the new ways of book creation and marketing are quite another.   

Filling the three roles — author, publisher and entrepreneur — is “challenging, but they are not impossible—especially if people who have done it before explain it to you.” That’s the key premise behind APE. Kawasaki, a successful author, has become a successful self-publisher with help from Shawn Welch, and together, they are now offering up their hard-earned secrets in a 300-page book that many authors will want to read, repeatedly.

Indeed, many of us likely will value APE as a Chicago Manual of Style for self-publishing that also has entertaining writing and dozens of how-to tips thrown in for added value. APE is comprehensive. And it’s very realistic about what it takes to succeed as a self-published author.

Three points in particular stand out for me.

  1. Yes, I have been a professional editor and proofreader of books. But I still should never do the final edits and proofreading of my own text. (Neither should you.) “The self-edited author is as foolish as the self-medicated patient,” Guy Kawasaki points out. Indeed, I have had to create new editions of at least two of my ebooks, because I found glaring typos that I had completely overlooked while doing my “final” edits. As Kawasaki notes: “The going rate for copyediting is $35 per hour, and copyeditors can work their magic at the rate of roughly ten pages per hour (although this can vary depending on the complexity of the material), so you’ll pay approximately $1,000–$1,500 for a three-hundred-page manuscript. This is one of the dumbest places to try to save money, because poor copyediting destroys the quality of your book.” (Unfortunately, you will have to sell a lot of ebooks to cover that cost.)
  2. At least two of my CreateSpace books have boring covers. I am not a graphic artist, and I should not attempt to save money in the future by “designing” my own book covers or settling for one of the available “standard” covers. As Kawasaki notes: “Not to get too metaphysical, but a cover is a window into the soul of your book. In one quick glance, it needs to tell the story of your book and attract people to want to read it. Unless you’re a professional, hire a professional to create a great cover because, in spite of how the old saying goes, you can judge a book by its cover. Or at very least, people will judge a book by its cover.”
  3. While I have dabbled at business for many years, I am not much of an entrepreneur. And I don’t have the soul of a self-promoting guerilla marketer. I grew up believing modesty is a virtue. (Or, perhaps I merely had that notion spanked into my britches when I was an Eisenhower-era kid.) In any case, when my first books were published, others hired by the publishers did the editing, bragging, selling and distribution. Sometimes I talked to small groups of people and signed a few autographs. But mostly, I just stayed home, started a new project, and waited for the (small) checks to arrive. Now, in APE’s chapter on “How to Build an Enchanting Personal Brand,” Kawasaki states: “Call me idealistic, but your platform is only as good as your reality. If you suck as a person, your platform will suck too.” Cool. Memo to self: Improve personal enchantment platform immediately. (By the way, Guy and Shawn, I would add a comma between “suck” and “too.” You’re welcome.) Seriously, if we self-publish books, we have to sell ourselves to readers, right along with, and often ahead of, our books. And the eight chapters of APE’s “Entrepreneur” section provide excellent guidelines on how to do that.

Even if you already know a lot about self-publishing and self-marketing books, if you’ll go APE, you can learn some profitable new tricks from Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.

Si Dunn

Five Dark Riders – A novel rich with history, intrigue, action & romance – #fiction #bookreview

Five Dark Riders
Bill Sloan
(Zipp City Press, paperback, Kindle)

Bill Sloan is an acclaimed historian and veteran newspaper journalist previously nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also is one of America’s best writers of World War II Pacific-theater combat narratives. (His latest, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor, was published in April.)

With Five Dark Riders, his new “fact-based novel,” Sloan demonstrates that he can write engrossing, entertaining historical thrillers, as well.

Drawing upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s real-life 1936 trip to Dallas, Texas, Sloan has concocted an absorbing tale built around American domestic political intrigue, international espionage and an unfolding assassination plot.

In Sloan’s novel, Nazi agents have infiltrated a rural area of Texas where German immigrants first arrived in the 19th century, and pro-German culture and sympathies remain strong as Adolph Hitler continues to gain power. The agents’ goal is to assassinate FDR in Dallas, so Vice President John Nance Garner, an avowed isolationist, will take over the White House and keep the United States from going to war with Germany.

The only people who can stop the plot are two South Texans who don’t seem to stand much of a chance: Adam Wagner, a mildly disabled World War I combat veteran who now tends to his father’s sheep and goat farm in South Texas, and Elena Velasco, the beautiful and Anglo-distrusting daughter of an Hispanic family that operates a drugstore in a small Texas town.

Adam and Elena decipher the plot while trying to figure out who killed Elena’s cousin, Julio, who Adam had known since Julio was a baby. The local sheriff, an Anglo of German descent, has done little to investigate the young Mexican’s death, and now he has been duped by a close friend who secretly is at the center of the assassination plot. The sheriff has come to believe Adam may be Julio’s killer and may be involved in other crimes, as well. In reality, one of the Nazi agents killed Julio, and Adam and Elena have figured out how and why.

No one in authority, however, will listen to, nor believe, Adam and Elena and relay what they have discovered to the Secret Service. So, in desperation and with very few resources, the two South Texans begin a journey to Dallas to try to stop the plot themselves.

It’s a dangerous gamble. The Nazis want them dead. And the Secret Service has become aware that there may be some kind of plot against FDR and is trying to maintain very tight security in Texas. Meanwhile, the president’s protectors also are having trouble keeping track of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who keeps slipping away from them. And now they have been alerted to the movements of a suspicious, dangerous couple – Adam and Elena – who seem to keep trying to get close to the president, most likely to harm him.

It’s an excellent setup for a thrill-ride finish that’s full of history, intrigue, action, and romance.

Si Dunn

Steven Saylor’s ‘The Seven Wonders’ – A fine intro to Gordianus the Finder, famous sleuth of ancient Rome – #bookreview #in #mystery #fiction

The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World
Steven Saylor
(Minotaur Books, hardback, list price $25.99; Kindle edition, $12.99)

To be honest, until I picked up this book, I had paid zero attention to best-selling author Steven Saylor’s long-running Roma Sub Rosa series of mysteries set in ancient times, in the Roman Empire. The hero in that series’ 10 novels and two short story collections is Gordianus the Finder, Rome’s most sought-after investigator.

I’ve never been keen on stories (or movies) where people run around in togas and sandals, swear upon assorted gods and goddesses, and kill each other with swords or poisons.

Also, my notion of private detectives has tended to go back only as far as Sherlock Holmes. I’ve mainly been a Spenser/Marlowe/Hammer kind of guy. You know, fists and firearms, not swords and sandals.

The Seven Wonders, the new “prequel” to the Roma Sub Rosa series, has, however, just expanded my horizon quite a bit. Saylor has created a mystery- and adventure-packed tale that introduces Gordianus as a young man, before he has assumed the mantle of “The Finder” from his father.

The tale is set in 92 B.C., a time when the Roman Empire still dominates Greece. But rumors of war are afoot (literally), spies are everywhere, and even the most seemingly trustworthy friend cannot really be trusted amid all of the anti-Roman political intrigue.

It is also the year when Gordianus has reached – and at last crossed – the dividing line between childhood and getting to wear the “manly toga” of an adult. He’s now ready to leave home – Rome – and have some adventures.

He soon gets much more than he expects as he travels with his tutor and travel guide, the aging Antipater of Sidon, “one of the most celebrated poets in the world, famed not only for the elegance of his verses but for the almost magical way he could produce them impromptu, as if drawn from the aether.”

A real figure in history, Antipater has been given at least some of the credit for coming up with the famous list of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In the novel, the poet leaves Rome under mysterious circumstances but takes Gordianus along as he revisits each of the Seven Wonders. He carefully tutors the young Roman, yet things quickly and repeatedly go awry. At their first stop, for example, the Greeks’ wondrous Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a young girl drops dead unexpectedly during a major celebration. And Gordianus stealthily investigates, using skills learned from his father, a man who “called himself Finder, because men hired him to find the truth.”

The Finder’s son soon determines that the young girl was murdered. Meanwhile, another young girl has been blamed and will die if Gordianus can’t solve his first case fast enough. He succeeds in a clever way, kills his first bad guy, and also has his first sexual encounter, thanks to the sensuous generosity of a beautiful slave woman who has helped him trap the murderer.  

There are then six more Wonders to see, and at each stop, Saylor provides the reader with mysteries rich in history, legend, danger, plot twists and engrossing entertainment as the youthful Gordianus struggles to puzzle them out.

Steven Saylor, who lives in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas, is a rare kind of writer, one who deftly blends scholarly detail with fast-paced fiction and makes dead worlds seem to come alive again.

I’m now a Spenser/Marlowe/Hammer/Gordianus kind of guy when it comes to detective fiction. And, thanks to this clever prequel, I’m ready to stop ignoring and start reading the Roma Sub Rosa series.

The Seven Wonders will be available starting June 5, 2012 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

The Developer’s Code – Good advice to live & work by – #programming #bookreview #in

The Developer’s Code: What Real Programmers Do
By Ka Wai Cheung, edited by Brian P. Hogan
(Pragmatic Bookshelf, paperback, list price $29.00)

When Ka Wai Chung is asked to describe what he does for a living, he sometimes responds: “I am a nonaccredited, overly logical psychologist, therapist, mechanic, diplomat, businessman, and teacher working in an industry that is still defining itself each and every day.”

In other words, he works in software development as a programmer. (He is a founding partner at the Chicago-based web development firm We Are Mammoth, Inc.)

His new book is not about writing better code. And yet it is. It’s also about adopting a better approach to life and work so you can write better code and flourish in your career.

For jaded professionals, The Developer’s Code offers some astute advice for reinvigorating a weary career. If you are a newcomer still trying to get started in software development, the book is a handy guide to putting more order, efficiency and productivity into the way you program.

His 142-page book offers more than 50 short essays under major chapter heading such as “Motivation”, “Productivity”, “Complexity”, and “Clients.”

In essay #12, in the “Motivation” chapter, for example, Cheung counsels: “Test your software first thing in the morning. That’s when you’re the freshest and the most motivated to continue building something good.”

He adds: “During the day, we spend so much effort building software that we lose steam testing each piece we write. It gets hard to see the big picture as the day wears on. By late afternoon, we’re too close to the software. Our perception of what makes sense or feels right now competes with fatigue. Also, fatigue makes us miss the small details.”

Cheung’s advice rings true. I spent about 20 years immersed in software development, and I found that I typically did my best testing early in the morning, before co-workers and managers showed up.

Once the daily circus of meetings, banter and office politics got underway, it became increasingly difficult to code and test effectively as the day wore on and time to go home finally drew near — or passed.

Today, of course, it is possible to write and test code 24 hours a day without leaving your house or apartment. But many of Cheung’s gentle counselings apply to that situation, as well. We still need a good balance between work and life away from the job. If we tilt too much toward working long, disorganized hours, our accuracy and efficiency go down, deadlines slip, and project costs climb.

This is not a “how to code” book, of course. But it does not ignore the art of writing good code from scratch. At the same time, it also celebrates the vast array of tools others have written and made freely available.

“To that end,” Cheung writes, “building applications today feels a bit like going to a Walmart; maybe the open source movement is more like a Goodwill store. We can throw all of these great toolsets into our cart, hit the checkout line, and go. Once we get home, we can unwrap all these great bits of code, stitch them together with a helping of our own, and give life to an application. We can get to running software really, really fast today.”

His chapter titled “Clients” is especially important. He emphasizes: “Like any relationship, the client-programmer relationship is a continual work in progress. It gets better when each side of the table understands what matters to the other. Working with clients well starts with understanding the view from their end so that we can start to teach them how things work from ours.” (He includes advice for dealing with stubborn, unhappy clients, too.)

If  you’re serious about having or re-energizing a long-term career in software development, The Developer’s Code definitely should be high on your to-read list.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.