Dante’s Dilemma – A solid mystery featuring a blind psychiatrist as investigator – #bookreview

 

Dante’s Dilemma

A Mark Angelotti Novel

Lynne Raimondo

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

Lynne Raimondo puts her legal background and well-honed writing skills solidly to work in Dante’s Dilemma, her third Mark Angelotti novel.

Part of the enjoyment of reading this well-crafted mystery is watching the author stretch to keep Dr. Angelotti, a blind psychiatrist, within the confines of his physical limitations, while he discerns clues by using his mind, his hearing and other senses and paying attention to what others say.

As this story unfolds, Angelotti, an expert in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has had an affair that has wrecked his marriage and reduced his access to his young son. And, testifying as an expert witness for the prosecution in a Chicago murder case associated with domestic violence, he all but helps convict someone who may — or may not — be the killer.

Soon, a link to another homicide emerges, and it has ties to the case where he has testified. And Angelotti now must risk the real possibility of freezing to death in a bad Chicago winter while he tries to find answers to the key question: Is the real murderer already in custody or still out there and about to get away?

Dante’s Dilemma is entertaining mystery fiction, with an intriguingly flawed main character and plenty of twists. And the book illuminates a troubling real-life issue, as well. Domestic violence, author Lynne Raimondo notes in her acknowledgments, “affects an estimated 1.3 million women and their families in the United States annually.”

Si Dunn

 

Click here to get more information about Dante’s Dilemma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elixir in Action: A good guide to the ‘alternative language for the Erlang virtual machine’ – #programming #bookreview

 

 

Elixir in Action

Saša Jurić

Manning – paperback

“Elixir,”  Saša Jurić writes, “is a modern functional programming language for building large-scale, distributed, fault-tolerant systems for the Erlang virtual machine.”

What Elixir really is, of course, is a breath of fresh air for software developers who find it hard or confusing to work with Erlang’s sometimes complicated syntax and conventions.

Erlang has long been almost off the chart–the bottom of the chart–when computer languages are stacked up by popularity.  It began its oddball life in the 1980s as a programming language for the computers in telephone switching systems, specifically Swedish-made, Ericsson telephone switching systems.

Indeed, I first encountered Erlang in the  late 1980s while trying to help Ericsson sell Swedish-made computers to American banks. Back then, I counted my lucky stars that I didn’t have to learn it, because I was a tech writer, not a software developer.

Today, however, Erlang and its Open Telecom Platform (OTP) libraries are gaining new converts among serious practitioners of functional programming. Many of them likewise are drawn to Erlang’s built-in support for concurrency, distribution and fault tolerance.

The digital Swedish meatball known as Erlang turns out to be a powerful choice for providing high reliability and scalability to networked and distributed systems with multi-core processors. Telephone networks require high reliability and flexible scalability. And Erlang was designed to help provide both — without limiting itself to telecom systems.

Some of Erlang’s lack of popularity can be blamed on the language’s somewhat difficult learning curve. But it also has not been heavily promoted to software developers. That has been changing recently as companies and developers learn more about Erlang’s good track record, Saša Jurić points out.

“It powers various large systems and has been doing so for more than two decades, such as the WhatsApp messaging application, the Riak distributed database, the Heroku cloud, the Chef deployment automation system, the RabbitMQ message queue, financial systems, and multiplayer backends. It’s truly a proven technology.”

In Elixir in Action,  Saša Jurić nicely meets his goal of writing a book that brings “programmers new to Elixir and Erlang to the point where they can develop complex systems on their own.” Elixir provides an alternative language based on several other languages, including Ruby and Clojure, as well as Erlang.

Jurić’s how-to guide requires no prior experience with either Erlang or Elixir, but you should be familiar with at least one other programming language, such as JavaScript, C# or Ruby.

His book is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1, “The Language,” offers a high-level overview of Erlang and Elixir. Then it delves into Elixir’s basic building blocks and details common functional programming idioms.
  • Part 2, “The Platform,” focuses on primary aspects of BEAM, the Erlang virtual machine, as well as “how concurrency works and how it can help you build reliable systems.” Indeed, “[c]oncurrency is at the heart and soul of Erlang systems,” Jurić writes. “Almost every nontrivial Erlang-based production system is highly concurrent. Even the programming language is sometimes called a concurrency-oriented language.”
  • Part 3, “Production,”discusses “production aspects of BEAM-powered systems,” as well as “how to package components, reuse third-party libraries, and build a simple web server,” and “how to build a deployable standalone release and how to interact with the running system.”

Elixir in Action does not cover everything. But it provides fine overviews, clear how-to instructions, and compact code examples that illustrate important points. It can get you going in good directions.

“Elixir,” the author emphasizes, “lowers the entry barrier into the Erlang world and improves developer productivity.”

 — Si Dunn

 

Groovy in Action, Second Edition – A hefty how-to guide newly updated for Groovy 2.4 – #programming #bookreview

Groovy in Action, Second Edition

Dierik König and Paul King, with Guillaume Laforge, Hamlet D’Arcy,
Cédric Champeau, Eric Pragt and Jon Skeet

Manning – paperback

Groovy in Action, Second Edition, is not light reading. Indeed, the printed book weighs nearly three and a half pounds and has 880 pages. But it is great reading for anyone who wants to learn, or get better at, the increasingly popular Groovy scripting language that works very smoothly with Java. Indeed, Java’s creator, James Gosling, has hailed Groovy’s “smooth and efficient” integration with Java and called Groovy “an effective implementation language in its own right.” He also has praised the Groovy in Action book as “a clear and detailed exposition of what is groovy about Groovy.”

The Second Edition‘s two main authors and five assisting authors are members of the Groovy core team. And their book spent a lot of time being reviewed and tested by readers in the Manning Early Access Program (MEAP) before it was formally released. So it likely has a better preparation record than many programming books currently on the market.

Groovy in Action‘s front flap indicates that the book covers Groovy 2.4. Groovy recently was up to version 2.4.3, but the programming language has maintained a good track record for supporting backward compatibility. Indeed, I tested random selections of the book’s code samples using version 2.2.0 and its Groovy Console, and programs compiled and ran without problem.

However, if you own the first edition of Groovy in Action, you likely will want to upgrade to the new book. It is, the authors state, “a full rewrite,” with several new chapters, plus  “a few hundred additional pages of genuinely new content.” (And yes, I am upgrading my Groovy installation from 2.2.0 to 2.4.3.)

Despite its heft, the book is nicely structured and easily approached. And its many code examples are mercifully compact, for the most part, and available online, if you prefer. (I actually enjoy keying reasonably short code examples into the Groovy Console.)

The 20 chapters are organized into three major parts:

  • The Groovy Language
  • Around the Groovy Library
  • Applied Groovy

“The Groovy Language” introduces the reader to the language’s basics: its “syntax, grammar, and typical idioms,” plus how to use dynamically typed Groovy as a static language, if desired. The “Around the Groovy Library” reference section focuses on such topics as working with builders and the Groovy Development Kit (GDK), as well as Groovy’s support for database programming and the handling of JSON and XML. And “Applied Groovy” looks at “typical uses cases for Groovy,” including “a thorough exposition of how to use Groovy for test automation,” how to put Groovy to work on multi-core machines in concurrent programming situations, and “using Groovy for domain specific languages.”

In short, there is no shortage of useful content in Groovy in Action, Second Edition.

Si Dunn

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Get Groovy in Action, Second Edition here, at no extra cost.
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R IN ACTION: Data Analysis and Graphics with R, 2nd Edition – #bookreview

R in Action

Data Analysis and Graphics with R

Robert I. Kabacoff

Manning – paperback

Whether data analysis is your field, your current major or your next career-change ambition, you likely should get this book. Free and open source  R is one of the world’s most popular languages for data analysis and visualization. And Robert I. Kabacoff’s updated new edition is, in my opinion, one of the top books out there for getting a handle on R. (I have used and previously reviewed several R how-to books.)

R is relatively easy to install on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux machines. But it is generally considered difficult to learn. Much of that is because of its rich abundance of features and packages, as well as its ability to create many types of graphs. “The base installation,” Kabacoff writes, “provides hundreds of data-management, statistical, and graphical functions out of the box. But some of its most powerful features come from the thousands of extensions (packages) provided by contributing authors.”

Kabacoff concedes: “It can be hard for new users to get a handle on what R is and what it can do.” And: “Even the most experienced R user is surprised to learn about features they were unaware of.”

R in Action, Second Edition, contains more than 200 pages of new material. And it is nicely structured to meet the needs of R beginners, as well as those of us who have some experience and want to gain more.

The book (579 pages in print format) is divided into five major parts. The first part, “Getting Started,” takes the beginner from an installing and trying R to creating data sets, working with graphs, and managing data. Part 2, “Basic Methods,”focuses on graphical and statistical techniques for obtaining basic information about data.”

Part 3, “Intermediate Methods,” moves the reader well beyond “describing the relationship between two variables.” It introduces  regression, analysis of variance, power analysis, intermediate graphs, and resampling statistics and bootstrapping. Part 4 presents “Advanced Methods,” including generalized linear models, principal components and factor analysis, time series, cluster analysis, classification, and advanced methods for missing data.

Part 5, meanwhile, offers how-to information for “Expanding Your Skills.” The topics include: advanced graphics with ggplot2, advanced programming, creating a package, creating dynamic reports, and developing advanced graphics with the lattice program.

A key strength of R in Action, Second Edition is Kabacoff’s use of generally short code examples to illustrate many of the ways that data can be entered, manipulated, analyzed and displayed in graphical form.

The first thing I did, however, was start at the very back of the book, Appendix G, and upgrade my existing version of R to 3.2.1, “World-Famous Astronaut.” The upgrade instructions could have been a little bit clearer, but after hitting a couple of unmentioned prompts and changing a couple of wrong choices, the process turned out to be quick and smooth.

Then I started reading chapters and keying in some of the code examples. I had not used R much recently, so it was fun again to enter some commands and numbers and have nicely formatted graphs suddenly pop open on the screen.

Even better, it is nice to have a LOT of new things to learn, with a well-written, well-illustrated guidebook in hand.

Si Dunn

 

‘Little Pretty Things': An engrossing new mystery from Lori Rader-Day – #bookreview

 

 

Little Pretty Things

Lori Rader-Day

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

Lori Rader-Day already has proven she can write a good mystery. Her debut book, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Lovey Award for best first novel.

In Little Pretty Things, her forthcoming second novel, the Chicago writer gives us a most unusual investigator: a cart-pushing housekeeper and occasional desk clerk at a rundown cheap motel, the Mid-Night Inn. Juliet Townsend dropped out of college in her first year and went to work at the motel after her father suddenly died and her family’s finances quickly evaporated.

The author sets the scene quickly, with just enough seedy and telling detail. And she gets Juliet Townsend into trouble with the police fairly fast, as well. The housekeeper-desk clerk becomes the chief suspect in the death of a guest who could have easily afforded to stay in a fancier place, but wanted to see Juliet again just before their 10th high school reunion.

Madeline Bell and Juliet had been friends of sorts. Yet Maddy also had been Juliet’s main rival on the Midway, Indiana, high school track team. Maddy always ran faster and won the first-place trophies, while Juliet consistently finished second.

To prove her innocence and find Maddy’s killer, Juliet must somehow get ahead of someone else from her high school class, Courtney Howard, now a police officer who dislikes Juliet and seems determined to nail her for murder.

Available July 7, 2015, Little Pretty Things is an intriguing, entertaining mystery. It is rich with atmosphere, rich with some of the tense realities that people caught in deadend, low-wage jobs often have to face, and rich with desperate determination as Juliet begins her own investigation.

Si Dunn

Will “Smart” Device Dependence Make You Increasingly Dumb?

I strolled into my favorite Austin Starbucks recently and noticed a startling sight. Every person standing in line or sitting at tables simultaneously had their head down as if in group prayer. All at the same moment were staring at their smartphones.

I pulled out my own phone, dramatically flipped it open, held it aloft, and waved it in silent protest. No one got the joke, because no one noticed.

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We’ve all seen people become panic-stricken and helpless when they realize they have lost or forgotten their “smart” device, or had it stolen. “Everything—my whole life—is on there!” one friend wailed recently. “All my pictures, my personal information, my contacts. And—oh, god–work emails! I don’t know what to do!” She kept frantically digging through her big purse, which also contained “everything,” including papers from work, so she could keep working at home after she got off work. When I called her phone from my phone, we found her “smart” phone buried deep beneath makeup containers and assorted other purse rubble.

Many people now use their smartphones for “everything,” from paying a restaurant check (after using the calculator function to split it and calculate the tip) to hailing an Uber ride and remotely controlling their home air conditioning. And, anytime a question is raised in a group, several people will circumvent natural debate or brainstorming by immediately going to Google and reading off some article titles and paragraphs.

Meanwhile, a few unrelated videos also will pop up and be shared:  Cat attacks python! Man sets shoes on fire by standing on hot coals! Ha-ha-ha!

The smartphone video distractions are only going to get worse. As AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson recently told Fortune magazine: “…mobile video…is the real deal,” adding: “Half our mobile network traffic is video now, and it’s really growing fast.”

So, recent statutes banning talking or texting on a digital device while driving are now far behind the curve of progress. (“Sorry, officer, I was not breaking the law. I was watching Game of Thrones while paying no attention to the traffic and scenery around me.”)

Perhaps it is time to ask yourself two serious questions. Are you losing touch with the real world as you become increasingly distracted by your smartphone? And will your growing dependence on its “smart”-ness make you correspondingly “dumb” over time?

Si Dunn

The Bomb Maker’s Son – Book 3 in the Parker Stern series is a deep, engrossing legal thriller

 

 

The Bomb Maker’s Son

A Parker Stern Novel

Robert Rotstein

Seventh Street Bookspaperback, Kindle

 

Los Angeles attorney Parker Stern has lingering stage fright and a not-so-high opinion of himself. “As a child,” he admits, “I was an actor. As an adult, I chose a profession that requires me to take on a role depending on which side is the first to shell out a retainer.”

While he drives a “sagging old Lexus,” he has been successful in both careers, has solid savings, and doesn’t actually need to work. Yet he still believes in searching for truth, helping people find it and presenting it skillfully in court.

In The Bomb Maker’s Son, however, those values are shaken to their deepest core when his estranged mother suddenly shows up and wants her “Parky” to represent an accused bomber who happens to be one of America’s most hated fugitives from justice. The long-time fugitive stands accused of a fatal bombing directed at protesting the Vietnam War. Now, after successfully hiding in plain sight for decades, he  wants to give himself up and face trial.

Parker seldom has done murder trials. Indeed, he hates them. He repeatedly says no to his mother–until she reveals long-kept secrets that set his life spinning in several different directions.

This is the third novel in Robert Rotstein’s burgeoning Parker Stern series. The Bomb Maker’s Son is an excellent tale that can introduce readers to an intriguing and engrossing series already in progress. The two other books are Corrupt Practices and Reckless Disregard.

 — Si Dunn