iPad 2: The Missing Manual (It’s here!)

iPad 2: The Missing Manual
By J.D. Biersdorfer
(O’Reilly, $24.99 US, $28.99 CAN)
Amazon link: http://amzn.to/mwXfN6

Each new addition to O’Reilly‘s “The Missing Manual” series has a telling tagllne: “The book that should have been in the box.”

Users of the iPad 2 definitely may wish they had received this book in their Apple box. It is well-organized and well-illustrated and engagingly written by J.D. Biersdorfer, the popular “Gadgetwise” columnist for the New York Times and best-selling author of several previous tech books, including: iPad: The Missing Manual; iPod: The Missing Manual; and The iPod Shuffle Fan Book: Life Is a Playlist.

Along with the iPad 2, Biersdorfer’s new book also covers the original iPad and is structured to help you locate the right buttons, connectors and Home Screen icons once you have an iPad in your hands.

“Odds are,” the author notes wryly, “you had that iPad out of its box about 5 seconds after you got it, running your hands over its smooth edges, admiring its tapered thinness and high-gloss screen.”

But, with little else to guide you, you may not know what to do first to make it work and then set it up correctly. As the O’Reilly book points out, “there’s still no printed guide to using its features” — not in the iPad 2’s box.

Yes, you can boot up your PC, go online and find iPad setup and features information. You can even print out some pages, punch some holes, and stack the paper in a three-ring binder for future reference. But why bother? This book is an excellent, convenient and affordable guide to everything you need to know to become adept at using and enjoying your iPad 2.

Early on, it covers mastering iTunes, “your iPad’s best friend. You can do just about everything with your digital media here….”

The book also shows you how to find, buy, download, use, troubleshoot and uninstall apps.

Some of the other “important stuff” it covers includes:

1. Building your media library, by filling your iPad with music, ebooks, movies, photos, TV shows and other materials.

2. Using the iPad 2’s new still camera, video camera and Photo Booth app to create your own media projects.

3. Getting online and surfing via wi-fi or wi-fi + 3G.

4. Making video calls using the iPad 2’s video cameras and FaceTime app.

5.  Sending and receiving email messages using any of your email accounts.

6. Discovering iPad tricks and workarounds for problems or limitations.

All in all, this is a fine, comforting and informative guide for new iPad users. Along with smooth writing, step-by-step procedures  and logical structure, it also has a good index and numerous illustrations and screen shots.

Those who have owned the popular tablets for a while likely can also find some new tricks and helpful information in O’Reilly’s iPad 2: The Missing Manual by J.D. Biersdorfer.

The book is available in paperback and Kindle editions. O’Reilly also offers it via Safari Books Online

Si Dunn

Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal

 Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal
By James D. Hornfischer
(Bantam Books, $30.00)
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/giTclq
Kindle Link: http://amzn.to/fKzayj

Guadalcanal typically is remembered as a small Pacific island where U.S. Marines stayed locked in savage combat for months with tenacious, desperate Japanese defenders during World War II. U.S. Army troops, however, also fought heroically in the battle for Guadalcanal, which stretched from Aug. 7, 1942, to Feb. 9, 1943.

But as military historian James D. Hornfischer makes starkly clear in his new book Neptune’s Inferno, the U.S. Navy actually bore the biggest brunt of the fighting. The Navy also made the greatest sacrifices during the protracted campaign that is now remembered as a turning point in the Pacific theater of the war. 

“When it was all said and done at Guadalcanal,” Hornfischer notes in his book, “three sailors would die at sea for every infantryman who fell ashore.”

Much of the fighting focused on Guadalcanal’s airfield, which could be used to threaten or protect key sea lanes between the United States, Australia and New Zealand. U.S. Marines seized the airfield and part of the island in a surprise landing that drove Japanese defenders inland.

During the next six months, seven major sea battles ensued as the Imperial Japanese Navy attempted to destroy American planes and reinforce Guadalcanal’s Japanese troops, so they could retake the airfield.

Five of the encounters were fearsome, grinding night clashes. And, more than once, American ships blasted each other, as well as enemy warships, in the chaotic darkness. In the two daylight battles, carrier-based and land-based aircraft ultimately won the day for the Allies.

The toll of ships, men and aircraft was horrific on both sides. As Hornfischer makes grimly clear, torpedoes and shells ripped through hulls and thick armor plates and ended dozens or even hundreds of lives in an instant. The U.S. Navy lost 25 major warships, including two aircraft carriers and several cruisers and destroyers, as well as numerous smaller vessels. Australia’s losses included its heavy cruiser Canberra. Japanese ship losses included an aircraft carrier, two battleships, several cruisers and other vessels, including six submarines.

Thousands of Allied and Japanese sailors and officers died, and hundreds of planes were shot down. Meanwhile, Guadalcanal’s Japanese defenders never retook the airfield. Instead, their counterattacks were repulsed, and they suffered massive casualties from air assaults, naval gunfire and Marine and Army ground attacks.

Much of Hornfischer’s book focuses on officers and crews of individual battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, recounting how they veered into combat, absorbed savage hits and valiantly kept fighting and struggling to stay afloat. But he also zeroes in on the strategies, indecisions, failures and heroics of task force commanders and ship captains.

“The campaign,” he writes, “featured tight interdependence among warriors of the air, land, and sea.” Yet that interdependence was tenuous and troubled at best. Lives and ships were lost because of inter-service rivalries, jealousies and stubborn attitudes among key admirals and generals.

Some American warship captains made efficient use of a new technology, radar, while others failed to embrace its early-warning capabilities, with fatal consequences.

Another vital technology, radio, also was not used effectively. Ships, aircraft and ground units frequently could not communicate with each other. And important alerts often were delayed, misrouted or ignored.

Neptune’s Inferno is well written, rich with scene-setting details and very clearly the product of extensive research, as well as interviews with some of the battle’s now-aged survivors.

The author’s two previous WWII books, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and Ship of Ghosts, brought him into the major leagues of American military history writers. Neptune’s Inferno is solid proof that he deserves to be there.

Si Dunn


Lone Star Noir: Deep in the (Dark) Heart of Texas

 Fans of noir fiction prefer their stories dark and gritty.

They relish harsh tales told from troubled viewpoints: crime victims, serial killers, suspects, witnesses.

A private eye may be snooping around somewhere nearby. But cops and sheriff’s deputies are not yet on the scene. A terrible act central to the story is just about to be discovered. Or it is just minutes away from happening.

Lone Star Noir fits this story pattern almost perfectly. Fourteen hardboiled short stories, set deep in the darkest heart of Texas, take the book’s readers to life’s ragged edges. You move along grim roads leading “to the tail end of everything,” to places where “a plain bare bulb swings overhead, casting a dizzying light,” and into the company of people who understand “guns and dope and greed and hatred and delusion…” probably better than they understand anything else.

Published by Akashic Books, Lone Star Noir is edited by Bobby Byrd and Johnny Byrd, the co-publishers of Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso.

The book cuts the state into three regions: Gulf Coast Texas, Back Roads Texas, and Big City Texas. Each region in the book, of course, has its own flair for sinister settings.

The stories are new, and most of the 15 writers (one story has two authors) have some kind of connections to the Lone Star State, which Bobby Byrd contends “bleeds noir fiction.”

A cautionary notice: Lone Star Noir is alive with raw language and murderous events. It is definitely not for the easily offended, nor the faint of heart.

Noir fiction can bring you face to face with people you would never want to meet, nor be. And it reminds readers how humanity’s darkest possibilities lie just beneath everyday life’s thin veneer.

Lisa Sandlin’s short story “Phelan’s First Case” focuses on a rookie Beaumont private detective who tries to solve a missing-person mystery in the gloomy Big Thicket north of Houston. Meanwhile, another mystery that could get somebody killed starts unfolding back at his office while he is away.

In “Bottomed Out,” Dean James’ gruesome tale, a Dallas company’s German “troubleshooter” gets a manager fired but also frames him for another employee’s murder.

And Jessica Powers’ short story “Preacher’s Kid” takes the reader inside the mind of a West Texas preacher. He tries and fails to stop his son from drinking, but he has to confront a much deeper and more painful truth about his family.

Akashic Books started its original noir anthology series in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Since then, approximately 40 noir story collections have been published, ranging from Chicago Noir to Paris Noir and Wall Street Noir. More are scheduled, including Cape Cod Noir and Pittsburgh Noir.

According to Bobby Byrd, many people arrive in Texas expecting to see J.R. Ewing or Larry McMurtry characters lurking behind every oil rig and cattle herd.

“The real Texas,” he insists, “hides out in towns and cities like you’ll find in Lone Star Noir.

Maybe, maybe not. In any case, it is infinitely safer to read the book and not go looking for proof — and trouble — at the end of dark Texas roads.

Si Dunn


The Walter Cronkite You Never Knew

One day about 40 years ago, I almost met Walter Cronkite. I was supposed to receive a news photography award from a state journalism organization. The famous broadcaster was supposed to hand the plaque and check to me and shake my hand. Then he would have dinner with me and the other winners of coveted journalism awards.

But, a few months earlier, I had quit the newspaper where I had taken the award-winning photo. I was now a graduate student, and I was too broke to rent a tuxedo for the presentation ceremony and too broke also to risk driving my wornout car 250 miles to shake Cronkite’s hand. Furthermore, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to quit being a photographer and focus exclusively on writing.

So, I didn’t go. Someone from the newspaper accepted the award on my behalf, added the plaque to an awards wall intended to impress the newspaper’s visitors, and mailed me the check, along with a matching bonus.

For  years afterward, I felt bad that I missed getting to meet Walter Cronkite. But a new book, Conversations with Cronkite by Walter Cronkite and Don Carleton, adds up to much more than a quick handshake and a brief dinner chat. It is like getting to sit and listen to dozens of enjoyable, spirited chats.

It isn’t likely anytime soon that another journalist will be hailed as “the most trusted man in America.”

Before his death in 2009, Walter Cronkite wore that weighty mantle “exceedingly lightly,” writes his friend and CBS News colleague Morley Safer , in the foreword to this revealing and entertaining collection of conversations between the famed broadcaster and Don Carleton, director of the University of Texas at Austin‘s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

Out of the media spotlight, Cronkite “could be as ornery and petty and vain as the rest of us,” Safer adds, “but also a man by nature who could be relied upon to always do the right thing.”

In conversations initially recorded for his 1996 memoir, A Reporter’s Life, Cronkite said he studied journalism at UT in the 1930s, but missed many classes and was “a terrible student.” He finally dropped out, he said, so he could make money doing small jobs for Texas newspapers and radio stations.

Later, he was hired to broadcast Oklahoma college football games. Then he worked for Braniff Airlines and United Press, covering the 1937 New London school explosion in East Texas.

During World War II, his youthful bravado as a war correspondent took him all over, from ship convoys in the treacherous North Atlantic to advancing with ground troops under fire in Europe. He also flew aboard B-17 bombers during raids over Germany. The four-engine planes had no room for passengers, so Cronkite sometimes manned a .50-caliber machine gun and fired at attacking enemy fighters.

After covering the Nuremberg trials and working in Moscow for United Press, Cronkite moved to CBS News and wanted to cover the Korean War but was kept in Washington to do doing news reports in a new medium, television.

Cronkite’s discussions with Carleton provide fascinating looks into the evolution of TV news and how coverage of the 1952 Republican and Democratic presidential conventions helped fuel a national wave of television set purchases.

As Cronkite became a trusted broadcaster and documentary producer, he gained greater access to famous and powerful figures. In the wide-ranging conversations recorded over three years, he reflected on his interviews with several U.S. presidents and world leaders, plus his dramatic coverage of the JFK assassination and the U.S. space program.

Carleton has called the book a “companion” to Cronkite’s memoir. Yet it stands on its own as engrossing reading. And it includes considerable information left out of, or truncated in, A Reporter’s Life.

Proceeds from sales of Conversations with Cronkite will help support the Briscoe Center’s Walter Cronkite Papers and News Media History Archive.


Si Dunn

Fast-Paced Action: By Sea, by Land and by Air

By Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul
(Putnam, $27.95, hardback)

Some fans of Jack Du Brul’s writing think his name should be listed first on the cover of Corsair, a new installment in the popular Oregon Files series.

But, regardless of who actually wrote what within this 437-page action-thriller, the team of Cussler and Du Brul has cranked out an impressive and fast-paced tale. It has surprising twists and turns on almost every page once the story hits full stride (or full speed ahead).

The Oregon is a ship within a ship. On the outside, she appears to be a 560-foot freighter so battered and rusty that Davy Jones’ locker will be the next port of call. Very cleverly hidden inside, however, is a world of surprises. When the ship is commandeered and the crew is seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, the cocky sea criminals have no idea they have climbed aboard an amazing death trap.

In secret compartments deep inside its cargo holds, behind and beneath tightly packed containers and goods, the Oregon has another crew. (The ones now being held at gunpoint by the pirates are actors who happen to be skilled at fighting and killing.) The real crew is manning computers, video monitors, the ship’s enormously powerful high-tech engines, and a staggering array of weapons. The pirates are unaware that their every move now is being watched and that the hidden part of the Oregon’s crew is in complete control of the ship, not them.

Indeed, the Oregon is a ship full of mercenaries of the toughest type. “They typically worked for the (U.S.) government, tackling operations deemed too risky for American soldiers or members of the intelligence community, on a strictly cash-only basis,” the co-authors have written.

When the Somalis take their battered and rusty “prize” upriver to their leader, they are unaware that they are helping the Oregon capture him for the CIA and the World Court.

That operation is just the beginning of the action for the Oregon’s crew of weapons and technology specialists. Led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, chairman of the shadowy “Corporation,” and Max Hanley, its president, the ship soon has to go into harm’s way in a very big way. Their mission is to try to figure out what has happened to the American Secretary of State, whose plane has gone missing somewhere near the Tunisian-Libyan border on the eve of a vitally important peace conference.

What unfolds next is a sequence of unexpected events that tests virtually every weapon the Oregon can muster and almost every new idea her leaders and crew can create — in the heat of battle after battle after battle.

Corsair quickly accelerates to fighting speed for an afternoon or two of engrossing reading. It loses momentum only briefly amid some of the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics. All in all, it is a very satisfying action-thriller. 

 — Si Dunn is a screenwriter, script doctor, book author and book review columnist.


A True (and Truly Good) Tale of Newsprint and Murder


WAR OF WORDS: A True Tale of Newsprint and Murder
By Simon Read
(Union Square Press, $24.95)

You think the newspaper business is tough now? Competing newspapers in mid-19th century San Francisco sometimes fought each other—literally—for circulation and advertising supremacy in a rough-and-tumble city fueled by Gold Rush money, whiskey and gambling and ruled by corruption, vigilantes, violence and scandal. Publishers were beaten or murdered. Editors sometimes faced off with dueling pistols. Mobs angry at articles or editorials surged into newspaper offices and destroyed everything in sight. And, notes author Simon Read in War of Words, “Reporters roamed the streets like rival gang members, many with the reassuring weight of a sidearm against the hip.”

At times, a half dozen or more newspapers battled each other for readers, and there was plenty to write about—or gossip about—in mid-19th-century San Francisco.

“Murder was the news industry’s bread and butter in those early days,” the author writes. “A tale of killing always received priority coverage and was seldom cut or held to make room for copy of a less dramatic nature….In the 1800s, much like today, sex and violence sold newspapers.”

Right in the middle of this newsprint melee, the famed (and recently financially imperiled) San Francisco Chronicle was born “as a throwaway vehicle for theater advertisements and drama critiques” known as the Daily Dramatic Chronicle. It was founded by two brothers, Charles and Michael de Young, members of “a family with an obscure history draped in sordid rumor.”

The de Youngs, however, proved to be adept and lucky businessmen, Simon Read points out in this engaging, entertaining and enlightening historical portrait of San Francisco journalism and the controversial personalities behind it. The de Young brothers paid back their publication’s startup loan just one week after their debut issue on Jan. 16, 1865. They also kept costs low by doing all of the newsgathering, typesetting and publishing themselves. They even gathered up and recycled old issues in clever ways that brought in a little extra money and helped build up their publication’s reputation.

The Daily Dramatic Chronicle soon became a magnet for writers such as Mark Twain, Bret Harte and other Bohemians who later would become famous. It also got an unexpected circulation boost from a tragic event in Washington, D.C., when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The brothers’ newspaper normally went to press after the city’s morning papers had published and long before the afternoon papers appeared. The Daily Dramatic Chronicle was able to hit the streets with fresh headlines and quickly follow up with extra editions as stunned people scrambled to get the latest news about Lincoln’s death. Meanwhile, mobs attacked and destroyed some of San Francisco’s newspapers that had taken pro-Southern or anti-Lincoln stances.

After these dramatic events, and now with fewer competitors, the newspaper kept growing and later was renamed the San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 16, 1869.

But new troubles and controversies were just beginning for what would become San Francisco’s premiere daily newspaper. Simon Read’s new book takes the reader deep inside the turmoil of the San Francisco Chronicle’s early history as a war of words spirals out of control between Charles de Young and Isaac Kalloch, a mayoral candidate and well-known “hellfire preacher” with a scandalous reputation. One man soon would shoot and almost kill the other, and a son of the survivor later would retaliate by shooting and killing his father’s assailant.

The author, a former Bay Area reporter who has written three other books, has done an excellent job of mining colorful quotes and details from newspaper articles, periodicals, magazine articles, and court transcripts from “the time in question.”

WAR OF WORDS: A True Tale of Newsprint and Murder definitely lives up to its title and subtitle.

Si Dunn