‘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.”

Tinkering

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

 

Java Testing with Spock: A good (and sometimes Groovy) guide to using this powerful testing framework – #programming #java

Java Testing with Spock

Konstantinos Kapelonis

Manning, paperback

 

Spock, the author states, is “a comprehensive testing framework for Java (and Groovy) code that can help you automate the boring, repetitive, and manual process of testing a software application. Spock is comprehensive because it’s a union of existing testing libraries”—specifically JUnit, Mockito and JBehave. It also is influenced by several others.

What is Spock’s main advantage in test scenarios? “When things go wrong,” Konstantinos Kapelonis notes, “Spock gives as much detail as possible on the inner workings of the code at the time of the failure.”

Spock is written in Groovy, and just mentioning that language, as well as the Gradle build tool, may give a little heartburn to hardcore Java developers who don’t want to learn them. But others find Groovy refreshingly efficient and Gradle easy to use. In any case, using Groovy (and Gradle) with this book is “optional,” the author emphasizes. As noted in Appendix A, “It’s perfectly possible to use Spock in your Java project without installing Groovy itself.”

To emphasize that point, Kapelonis shows how to use Spock with the Maven build tool first, before he delves into how to use Spock with the Gradle build tool.

The book is divided into three major parts: (1) Foundations and brief tour of Spock; (2) Structuring Spock tests; and (3) Spock in the Enterprise.

Two appendices deal with installing and using Spock, plus getting your IDE set up, and using the book’s example files.

Java Testing with Spock is a comprehensive guide to learning how to do Java (and Groovy) testing with Spock, and it is generally well written and adequately illustrated.

I chose to try the Groovy-Gradle approach, with Eclipse as my IDE. And I did run into some awkward moments trying to get Eclipse Mars.2 to play correctly. The Groovy-Gradle plug-in from the Eclipse Marketplace was for earlier versions of Eclipse, and so was the Spock plug-in. After some tinkering and reconfiguring, I was able to get things working together and do some Java and Groovy tests. To be fair, I was doing this on a kludged-together Windows 10 machine that definitely is no development powerhouse. And I did not have time to try out the Maven approach, but I have used Maven in the past, and the author’s instructions and examples for Maven look solid.

Java Testing with Spock is a good, helpful how-to book for anyone who wants to know more about putting the Spock testing framework to good use at all levels of Java development.

Si Dunn

Manning’s ‘MongoDB in Action’ has been updated for version 3.0 – #programming #bookreview

MongoDB in Action, Second Edition

Covers MongoDB version 3.0

Kyle Banker

Manning, paperback

Yes, this updated edition of MongoDB in Action is aimed at software developers. However, the book wisely does not ignore those of us who are more casual users of MongoDB.

Indeed, this is a fine how-to book for MongoDB newcomers and casual users, too, particularly if you are patient and willing to read through an introductory chapter focusing on “MongoDB’s history, design goals, and application use cases.”

Many people, of course, just want to jump straight into downloading the software, running it, and playing with it for a while before getting down to any serious stuff such as application use cases. So this book’s Appendix A is the place to go first, so you can get MongoDB onto your Linux, Mac, or Windows computer.  Then, after MongoDB is installed, you can jump back to Chapter 2 to start learning how to use the JavaScript shell.

After that, things quickly  start getting more “practical.” For example, Chapter 3 introduces “Writing programs using MongoDB.” Here, Ruby is employed to work with the MongoDB API. But the author notes: “MongoDB, Inc. provides officially supported, Apache-licensed MongoDB drivers for all of the most popular programming languages. The driver examples in the book use Ruby, but the principles we’ll illustrate are universal and easily transferable to other drivers. Throughout the book we’ll illustrate most commands with the JavaScript shell, but examples of using MongoDB from within an application will be in Ruby.”

I won’t try to sum up everything in this well-written, 13-chapter book. I have used older, 2.X versions of MongoDB in MEAN stack applications. And, separately, I have worked a bit with Ruby and MongoDB. But in each case, I haven’t needed to learn all that much about MongoDB itself, mainly just ensure that it is storing data that can be accessed in the right place and updated, saved or deleted as needed. So this book, written for 3.0.X (and earlier and later) MongoDB releases is an eye-opener for me and one that I will keep around for reference and more learning now that I have upgraded to 3.2.

Part 1 of MongoDB in Action, 2nd edition “provides a broad, practical introduction to MongoDB.” Part 2 delivers “a deep exploration of MongoDB’s document data model.” Part 3, meanwhile, examines MongoDB “from the database administrator’s perspective. This means we’ll cover all the things you need to know about performance, deployments, fault tolerance, and scalability.”

The book’s author knows that readers with some MongoDB experience will not read the book straight through. Instead, they will tackle chapters in many different orders and will even skip some chapters. And this is okay. MongoDB in Action: Second Edition is a book many of us will be happy to have handy whenever we need to get a better grip on some new aspect of working with this very popular open-source document database.

One cautionary note: The author points out that “as of MongoDB v3.0, 32-bit binaries will no longer be supported.” Of course, some 3.X 32-bit binaries are still out there, and you can install them. But you will get a lot of warning messages from MongoDB. So, download a 64-bit binary if your system will support it.

Si Dunn

‘A Brilliant Death’ – Murder mystery, coming of age and homage to 1960s small-town Ohio – #bookreview

A Brilliant Death

Robin Yocum

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

Writers often are advised to “Write what you know.” Author Robin Yocum clearly has heeded that advice. This is a well-written mystery that also is a coming-of-age story, plus a fine portrait of simpler times in the American heartland during the mid-1960s.

A Brilliant Death is set in a real-life but now unincorporated village, Brilliant, Ohio. Brilliant is a settlement on the Ohio River near the West Virginia border, in an area where steel mills, coal mines and a glass factory once held sway and Polish and other immigrant names are common.

Yocum’s novel focuses on two teenage friends, Mitch Malone and Travis Baron, as they near adulthood in Brilliant and start trying to uncover the truth behind the death of Travis Baron’s mother when he was still an infant. Along the way, the two youths, both promising athletes, continue growing up, getting into typical teenage scrapes, and nearing the time when they will go off to college or off to the Vietnam War.

They do manage to discover the terrible truth behind Travis’s mother’s death. And what they learn puts both of their lives immediately into danger.  Now they must make difficult choices from options they  hoped they would never have to consider.

Si Dunn

“Rain Dogs” – Adrian McKinty’s best Sean Duffy murder mystery? #bookreview

Rain Dogs

A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle, audible

Now that I have suckered you into this review with a question, I’m going to give you something of a cop-out answer: Rain Dogs is the best Sean Duffy detective story I have read…since the last Sean Duffy detective story I read, which is Gun Street Girl. I have now read all five Sean Duffy mysteries, and I am a rock-solid fan of each one. Adrian McKinty is one hell of a good novelist, and his Sean Duffy series is first-rate police-procedural fiction.

Rain Dogs did unnerve me for the first few pages–it got off to a bit of a plodding, unexpected start. What? Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is helping protect Mohammed Ali from adoring crowds in Belfast?

And, it takes a while for the mystery Duffy must solve to come into focus. Yet, there is also plenty of introspection and unease on Sean Duffy’s part, and this keeps the reader engrossed and the story moving forward. Duffy has reached a point in his career when midlife crisis suddenly is in full-tilt boogie mode.

He has grown weary of the sameness in his job, weary of the Troubles that keep Protestants, Catholics, and paramilitaries in violent conflict, weary of constantly having to check under his car for mercury tilt switch bombs placed there by one side or the other or by criminals wanting him dead. Meanwhile, it keeps raining, raining, dreary raining. And Beth, the latest woman in his life, has broken off with him and moved out, taking most of what’s left of his heart with her.

Meanwhile, things keep going from really bad to really worse for Duffy, a suburban cop in the Carrickfergus branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). He suddenly finds himself investigating the second “locked room” violent death of his checkered career. This time, it looks a lot like a case of suicide. And there is high-level pressure to wrap up the case quickly and put it away. A big business project with many potential jobs for Northern Ireland is on the line.

But Duffy, even when depressed, drunk or beaten down, cannot let go of the suspicions and strong sense of justice that keep him moving forward.

As a detective and empathetic human being, he never stops pushing against the rising tides of bureaucracy, burnout and self-doubt.

“I stared down at the body again. There was something not quite right about this crime scene, something that I was missing, but try as I might I couldn’t figure out what it was. Had Beth’s departure frazzled me, or was it just thirteen long years of this exhausting profession in this exhausting land?”

Not even pressure and criticism from British government agencies can turn him aside once he has a theory and starts following it.

At one point, after chasing a lead into Finland and back, he is confronted by a shadowy representative of an unnamed British agency that is trying to get him to quit the case, in the name of fifteen hundred potential jobs for Belfast and Northern Ireland:

“You must be aware of your RUC record. A less-than-stellar police career, no real high-profile convictions. The fact that you never found out who killed  Lizzie Fitzpatrick in that other so-called ‘locked room’ incident when you were with Special Branch. The fact that, for the last six years, you’ve been treading water here. A constant source of embarrassment to your superiors, a disappointment to your friends.”

To which Duffy retorts: “Maybe I’m not a great detective, maybe I ‘m not even a good detective, but I am fucking persistent….The UK government might not like it, the Irish government might not like it, but if I can make a case, the RUC will support me and the police down south will support me, too. Cops everywhere love nicking villains.”

Sean Duffy indeed is persistent. That is why he is able to solve cases that many other cops would not recognize, nor have the desire, energy and drive to pursue.

But, again, the strongest driver in Duffy’s life is his personal sense of justice. He will bend rules, strain budgets, knock heads, disobey orders, and sometimes even go around or straight through a few laws to get his hands–or his bullets–on a murderer.

Adrian McKinty fans and readers new to McKinty will find much to relish in Rain Dogs. Duffy is at his driven-down-but-rise-above-it best in this book. And some surprising changes occur in his life. If, with this book, you are new to the Sean Duffy series, get “the Troubles Trilogy” ASAP: The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; and In the Morning I’ll Be Gone. Oh, and don’t miss the trilogy’s fine sequel, Gun Street Girl. One Sean Duffy tale, you may agree, is not enough.

Si Dunn