‘The Heavens May Fall’ – A Minneapolis mystery-thriller – #bookreview

The Heavens May Fall

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books, paperback, Kindle

In his third novel, The Heavens May Fall, Allen Eskens has created an engrossing tale built around two Minneapolis police investigations and a high-profile murder trial.

In this book, fans of Eskens’s writing will be pleased to see that he has brought along three characters from his previous works: Minneapolis police detective Max Rupert, retired law professor Boady Sanden, and Ben Pruitt, a highly successful criminal defense attorney who is now on trial, charged with murdering his wife.

All three have had dealings in the past–some better than others. This adds more twists and turns to Eskens’s well-written new mystery-thriller. Meanwhile, Eskens’s own courtroom experience brings depth and believability to his fiction. (He is a veteran criminal defense attorney.)

Still, there is one moment in an intense trial scene when I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, how could a crack defense attorney being tried for murder not recall hearing a key bit of testimony in his own trial?”

That awkward moment aside, this novel flows well. The two police investigations begin to intertwine while the courtroom drama plays out. And, the ending unfolds with some startling surprises.

Allen Eskens’s previous books are The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another.

Si Dunn

Learn how to use sensors: ‘Family Projects for Smart Objects’ – #bookreview

Family Projects for Smart Objects

Tabletop Projects That Respond to Your World

John Keefe

Maker Media – paperback, Kindle

Written for parents, teachers and students (including homeschoolers), this nicely presented how-to book shows beginners how to connect a variety of sensors such as thermometers, distance sensors, and light-sensing photo cells to a computer through an Arduino microcontroller and a USB cable.

The Arduino website defines its device as:

“…an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs – light on a sensor, a finger on a button, or a Twitter message – and turn it into an output – activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online. You can tell your board what to do by sending a set of instructions to the microcontroller on the board.”

The book’s “smart objects” projects require a few additional electronic parts found online, plus some free programming software to use with the Arduino. (Arduino programs are called “sketches.”)

Family Projects for Smart Objects contains many how-to steps, photographs and illustrations to help make the projects easy to put together and get running. The Arduino sketches can be downloaded or even hand-typed from code listings in an appendix. Near the front of the book, instructions are provided for loading the Arduino software onto Windows, Linux and Mac computers.

Younger children likely will need close assistance with the projects in this  book. But technically adept older children, working alone or in groups, likely will need only minimal supervision.

Si Dunn




Get Better with Golang: ‘Go in Practice’

Go in Practice

Matt Butcher and Matt Farina

Manning, paperback

Considerable planning, effort and care have gone into writing Go in Practice, a new Golang programming book from Manning and also available from Amazon.

The book’s structure and approach are both geared toward helping Go newbies move beyond the basics. The writing is clear, and the code examples are focused and not overly long.

Go in Practice opens with a concise refresher on the history, advantages and key features of Go. From there, the 11-chapter book moves into areas that include:

  • Well-rounded applications
  • An interface for your applications
  • Taking your applications to the cloud

In each of these major sections, the authors present some 70 useful and practical techniques, such as:

  • Avoiding CLI boilerplate code
  • Using multiple channels
  • Serving subdirectories
  • Incrementally saving a file
  • Custom HTTP error passing
  • Using protocol buffers

These and the other practical techniques are presented in Problem, Solution and Discussion format. And code examples illustrate (and allow you to try out) what is supposed to happen.

If you are still learning the Golang basics, make this one your next book. Stick with Go in Action or some other starter book, for now. But if you know the basics and are now eager to get more serious about learning and applying this versatile programming language, definitely check out Go in Practice.

If you already are using Go as a development language, it can’t hurt you to take a look at this how-to guide, as well. You may pick up some new and useful techniques.

The two authors, by the way, have been described as”key contributors in the Go ecosystem for years.”

— Si Dunn



‘Introducing Data Science’ – A good doorway into the world of processing, analyzing & displaying Big Data – #bookreview

Introducing Data Science

Davy Cielen, Arno D. B. Meysman, and Mohamed Ali

Manning – paperback

The three authors of this book note that “[d]ata science is a very wide field, so wide indeed that a book ten times the size of this one wouldn’t be able to cover it all. For each chapter, we picked a different aspect we find interesting. Some hard decisions had to be made to keep this book from collapsing your bookshelf!”

In their decisions and selections, they have made some good choices. Introducing Data Science is well written and generally well-organized (unless you are overly impatient to get to hands-on tasks).

The book appears to be aimed primarily at individual computer users and persons contemplating possible careers in data science–not those already working in, or heading, big data centers. The book also could be good for managers and others trying to wrap their heads around some data science techniques that could help them cope with swelling mountains of business data.

With this book in hand, you may be impatient to open it to the first chapter and dive headfirst into slicing, dicing, and graphing data. Try to curb your enthusiasm for a little while. Books from Manning generally avoid the “jump in now, swim later” approach. Instead, you get some overviews, explanations and theory first. Then you start getting to the heart of the matter. Some like this approach, while others get impatient with it.

In Introducing Data Science, your “First steps in big data” start happening in chapter five, after you’ve first delved into the data science process: 1. Setting the research goal; 2. Retrieving data; 3. Data preparation, 4. Data exploration; 5. Data modeling; and 6. Presentation and automation.

The “First steps” chapter also is preceded by chapters on machine learning and how to handle large data files on a single computer.

Once you get to Chapter 5, however, your “First steps” start moving pretty quickly. You are shown how to work (at the sandbox level) with two big data applications, Hadoop and Spark. And you get examples of how even Python can be used to write big data jobs.

From there, you march on to (1) the use of NoSQL databases and graph databases, (2) text mining and text analytics, and (3) data visualization and creating a small data science application.

It should be noted and emphasized, however, that the concluding pages of chapter 1 do present “An introductory working example of Hadoop.” The authors explain how to run “a small [Hadoop] application in a big data context,” using a Hortonworks Sandbox image inside a VirtualBox.

It’s not grand, but it is a start in a book that otherwise would take four chapters to get to the first hands-on part.

Near the beginning of their book, the authors also include a worthy quote from Morpheus in “The Matrix”: “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

This book can be a good entry door to the huge and rapidly changing field of data science,  if you are willing to go through it and do the work it presents.

Si Dunn

‘Spear of Light’ – Human vs. post-human on a planet facing destruction – #scifi #bookreview

Spear of Light

The Glittering Edge, Book Two

Brenda Cooper

Pyr – Kindle, paperback

Spear of Light is the second book in The Glittering Edge duology. And it has been my introduction to Brenda Cooper’s science-fiction writing.

For the most part, I am impressed. While I missed Edge of Dark, the duology’s first book, I am pleased at how smoothly I was drawn into Spear of Light, a complex but engrossing tale of humans, post-humans, and robots on the “re-wilded” planet, Nym. This second book in the duology stands nicely on its own.

The general flow of the novel is summarized on other sites, such as Amazon and Pyr, so I won’t rehash it here. But a lone ranger, Charlie Windar, wants desperately to save his rebuilt planet and is caught in the middle of an approaching war between the post-humans (the Next) and the Shining Revolution, a group of humans who want to attack the Next, no matter if it means Nym will be wrecked (again) in the process.

Meanwhile, the Next, who previously were banished from Nym’s solar system and later returned in force, are now quickly building a massive new city on Nym. And the humans caught between the Next and the Shining Revolution cannot figure out why the Next seem driven, this time, to uncover something mysterious within Nym’s ancient history.

(Thanks, Pyr, for sending a review copy.)

Si Dunn


Some Book Choices for ‘National Week of Making,’ June 17-23, 2016 – #books #WeekofMaking

The White House and the University of the District of Columbia are two of the sites helping spotlight the National Week of Making, June 17-23, 2016.

“America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs,” a White House news release recently stated.

“Empowering students and adults to create, innovate, tinker, and make their ideas and solutions into reality is at the heart of the Maker Movement.”

Step Away from that SmartPhone and Make Something! 

Do you worry that your children or grandchildren now spend too much time messing with cellphones and game players and no time learning basic life skills such as how to work with tools to create or repair things?

Do you worry that you have become a slave to time-wasting digital distractions and have lost touch with how to make stuff, repair things or create something new from available materials?

It may be time to be come a maker, too, and an advocate for others who need to expand their horizons beyond the devices clutched tightly in their hands.

Some How-to-Make-Something Book Selections

In recognition of National Week of Making and the third annual White House Maker Faire, here are some books from Maker Media that can help you and others get into (or back into) the art, science and fun of making things and learning useful skills.

Start Making!

A Guide to Engaging Young People in Maker Activities

Danielle Martin and Alisha Panjwani

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Making is “the process of creating projects based on your ideas and interest,” the authors emphasize. “This Start Making! guide offers a series of creative do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that introduce young people to the basics of circuitry, coding, crafting, and engineering.”

Start Making! describes “a series of activity sessions that you can adapt to your situation” as an organizer and/or leader of activities for children and teens. “You can offer your own version of Start Making! activities in your home, at the library, at an after-school club, at the local community center, or anywhere else young people can gather to work on projects together.”


Kids Learn by Making Stuff, 2nd Edition

Curt Gabrielson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Giving kids the time, opportunity and motivation to tinker with things (and make things from other things) can have big educational payoffs, the author, a science teacher, contends.

To the question “Are kids learning anything while they are having fun?”, he gives an enthusiastic and lengthy reply: “[H]eck yes they’re learning something, and it may be the most valuable thing they’ve learned all week, and it may raise all sorts of questions in their minds that inspire them to learn more about what they’re tinkering with, and it may start them on a path to a satisfying career, not to mention good fun on their own time, and it may put them in the driver’s seat of their own education by realizing their competence and ability to learn through tinkering, and they may begin to demand more of just this sort of learning opportunity.” Whew!

By the way, don’t just hand this book to a kid and say “Go have fun!” It is mainly written for adults who are willing to help children learn the joys of using their hands and minds to make stuff and try simple experiments.


Getting Started with 3D Printing

A Hands-on Guide to the Hardware, Software, and Services Behind the New
Manufacturing Revolution

Liza Wallach Kloski, Nick Kloski, and HoneyPoint3D™

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

In a consumer-grade 3D printer, “thin strand of melted plastic is laid down, layer by layer, on a flat surface where it cools and hardens into an object,” the authors explain.

This book will not turn you into a manufacturing expert, but it does introduce major aspects of 3D printing and shows how to get started with computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing. It also introduces new makers to the two main types of consumer 3D printers: FDM, which use filament for fused deposition modeling, and SLA, which use resin for stereolithography.

Likewise, you learn the benefits of outsourcing your printing to firms with bigger, more expensive machines than a typical home user can afford. Meanwhile, consumer-focused 3D printing service bureaus offer another, less expensive choice. And you can have printing done by a local “hub” source, which may be one person offering to run your project on his or her 3D printer. In any case, you focus on creating a good design and uploading your files, and then your creation gets printed and shipped to you—or you go pick it up.

The book also covers topics such as what supplies you will need, how to get and use free 3D modeling software, how to correct mistakes in your models and prints, and how to lay out a 3D printing workspace.


Getting Started with Processing.py

Making Interactive Graphics with Python’s Processing Mode

Allison Parrish, Ben Fry, Casey Reas

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

“Processing.py,” the authors explain, “is an interactive programming and graphics framework for the Python programming language.” This book shows how to create drawings, animations, and interactive images, even if you have never used Python or had any other programming experience.

Processing.py helps make coding more accessible to artists, educators, designers, and beginners. And the book can be used by children, teens, and adults.

Indeed, Getting Started with Processing.py is a good way to introduce a young person to computer programming, because the simple programs that are entered cause images to be created and objects to be moved. And the parameters of the images and objects often can be changed to create new effects.


Encyclopedia of Electronic Components

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sidunnVolume 3, Sensors

Charles Platt and Fredrik Jansson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

This final volume in the Encyclopedia of Electronics Components series focuses on a wide range of sensor devices that detect or respond to such factors as light, sound, heat, location, presence, proximity, orientation, oscillation, force, load, human input, gas and liquid properties, and electricity. The text describes what the sensors do, how they work, and how they can be used.

The authors note that many sensor devices previously were very expensive but “are now as cheap as basic semiconductor components such as a voltage regulator or a logic chip, and they are easy to use in conjunction with microcomputers.”

Si Dunn

‘See Also Deception’: A good addition to the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series #bookreview

See Also Deception

Larry D. Sweazy

Seventh Street Books

As I have mentioned here before, I love mystery stories where the investigator is an ordinary citizen, not a well-trained police detective or a struggling private sleuth beaten down by drunkenness, personal demons, and too many bad cases.

The investigator in See Also Deception, the second novel in the Marjorie Trumaine series, is dealing with than her share of life challenges. She is trying pay bills and scratch out a hardscrabble existence on a farm in rural North Dakota. She also is a full-time caregiver for her husband, Hank, a once-vigorous farmer now paralyzed from the neck down following a hunting accident.

During the very lean months between crops, Marjorie works from home for publishers, as a freelance indexer of books. Her ability to categorize and organize facts and details not only helps her get assignments and pay household bills; it also helps her solve murders in the countryside and in the small town nearby.

Set in the mid-1960s, amid Cold War tensions, See Also Deception has Marjorie struggling with demands at home and struggling with her belief that her friend Calla Elmore, the local librarian, did not shoot herself in the head but was murdered. Local law enforcement officials don’t share Marjorie’s suspicions, of course. So it is up to her to solve the case and prove them wrong.

Larry D. Sweazy, author of this series, is a prize-winning fiction writer who has turned out numerous other books. For the most part, the writing in this novel is very good. But the stark rural setting offers perhaps too many opportunities for internal monologue, once you’ve noted — and re-noted — the jackrabbits scurrying across the unpaved roads and the dust clouds billowing behind Marjorie’s world-weary Studebaker.

On a few occasions, Sweazy also uncorks a sentence that is just a bit too folksy, such as: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away from my questions about Calla’s death any more than a June bug could stay away from the dusk-to-dawn light at the peak of the garage roof.”

Nitpicking aside, however, See Also Deception is an entertaining, engrossing sequel to See Also Murder, the debut novel in the Marjorie Trumaine series.

Si Dunn