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

Help support the work of reviewing books. Click here to buy the book:  Kindle, paperback

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.

 

Halley – This fine, intense #YA novel explores the harsh lives that women and children faced in 1930s rural Georgia – #bookreview

Halley

Faye Gibbons

(NewSouth Books - hardcover, Kindle)

 

Life was tough in the mountains of  northeast Georgia during the Great Depression. And it was particularly hard for women, who had virtually no rights and no say in important matters, especially if they were unmarried. The rural mountain life also was tough for children, who were expected to work hard, always obey, not be heard, and waste no time on enjoyment or fun.

In Faye Gibbons’ excellent new young-adult novel, a hard, unforgiving brand of backwoods religion also holds sway in young Halley’s life. Her father, Jim Owenby, recently has died, and Halley, her mother Kate, and her young brother Robbie have been forced to move in with Kate’s mother and father. Halley’s grandfather, Pa Franklin, is a backwoods fundamentalist preacher who cuts no one any slack. He is quick to judge, criticize, preach, punish and condemn. In his eyes, the road to hell is very short and most people already are on it.

Pa Franklin also takes, or tries to take, any money earned by his wife, his daughter and his granddaughter. And he even reads their mail and sometimes throws it away before they can see it. It is his way, he thinks, of protecting them from their own helplessness.

The author grew up in northern Georgia, in a large mountain family, and she has gotten to know many of the region’s people, mill towns, and other communities. Her central character, Halley Owenby, is fourteen and dreams mainly of getting an education and somehow gaining a level of control over her own life.

The actions and confrontations that unfold in this new book are gritty, intense and sometimes dark. Yet the combined powers of hope, love, honesty and stubborn effort finally shine through and light the way to brighter possibilities for Halley and those around her.

Faye Gibbons is a superb storyteller and writer, with a fine-tuned ear for regional speech, a sharp eye for detail, and an unhidden love for her characters–even the ones who make us shudder, cringe and tighten our fists in frustration at their repeated refusals to listen, think, and change.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halley

Blind Moon Alley – John Florio’s 2nd Jersey Leo novel is a noir knockout – #bookreview

 

 

Blind Moon Alley

A Jersey Leo Novel

John Florio

(Seventh Street Books - paperback, Kindle)

 

Jersey Leo absolutely is a misfit in Prohibition-era, Depression-ravaged Philadelphia. He is a mixed-race albino who works behind the bar at the Ink Well, a speakeasy where the customers include seedy criminals and tough cops looking both for booze and bribes.

Jersey Leo breaks the law every time he pours a drink. He also knows how to use a gun and brass knuckles. And he isn’t above hiding an escaped convict.

Yet he also has genuine notions of right and wrong within his dark world where bread lines and desperation are just around the corner. Mostly, he just wants to stay out of trouble, he claims. “No, I’m not out to rid our streets of crime and corruption. All I want to do is pour some moon, make a little dough, and if the stars align, spend a bit of time with a certain five-foot-two-inch coat checker whose eyes haven’t seen enough of the real world to stop sparkling.”

Of course, that’s not how life works out in Jersey Leo’s underworld, where his street name is “Snowball.” He makes a solemn promise to a cop-killer friend now facing execution in the electric chair, and soon that promise has him running from crooked cops and trying to flee Philadelphia with a speakeasy siren named Myra. She was his grammar-school crush, he’s reasonably sure he loves her again, and he wants to take her to the West Coast, far from the murdering crowd in Philly. Yet there suddenly are more forces and complications at work than Snowball can comprehend or handle once he tries to scrape up their escape money.

Blind Moon Alley, the second Jersey Leo novel, is a thriller rich with thrills–and chills. (The series’ debut novel is Sugar Pop Moon, published last year.) John Florio is a fine writer with a smooth, taut style and tone that quickly bring to mind Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and even Robert B. Parker.  Jersey Leo, however, is not a detective. He is just, in his words, “a genetic milkshake with one too many scoops of vanilla, a piano keyboard with no sharps or flats, a punch line to an inside joke that I’ve never been in on.” He might shoot you if he has to. Or, he might give you his last dollar if he knows you are having a harder time surviving than he is.

Si Dunn