‘Hollow Man’: Mark Pryor’s new psychological thriller exposes our inner sociopath – #fiction #bookreview

 

Hollow Man

Mark Pryor

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

By day, Dominic is a tough prosecutor working in a Texas district attorney’s office. That means he can carry a badge and a gun when he’s not in court getting convictions. By night, he is guitar player and singer with a British accent who is trying to make it big in the highly competitive live-music scene in Austin, Texas. Day and night, however, Dominic is something else entirely: a hidden sociopath who wants to commit a crime.

In Hollow Man, driven in part by several sudden and upsetting changes in his life, Dominic finally decides to take that plunge, setting up what he thinks will be a simple heist that will net a lot of cash. But first, for practice, he needs to break into a pub.

“I wanted to practice,” he says in the book. “I couldn’t do a run-through of the theft itself. It had too many moving parts and also was a matter of planning, not practice. No, I wanted to test myself so I’d know how it felt to be a criminal. After so many years of resisting that very temptation, I needed to break the seal, give up my virginity, phrase it how you will.”

But the break-in goes awry, and so does the supposedly well-planned heist. Indeed, it turns into capital murder. And what happens next becomes a chilling, engrossing journey into the mind of a man whose “fear response is almost zero. If someone close to me is in danger, or even if I am, it’s as stressful as a game of chess.”

In Mark Pryor’s new standalone psychological thriller, the danger and tension just keep rising. And Hollow Man‘s ending is both a masterful and shocking surprise.

Si Dunn

 

Unity in Action: A top-notch how-to guide for game developers – #gamedev #programming

Unity in Action

Joseph Hocking

Manning – paperback

Unity, the cross-platform game development environment, is easy to download and get running. But it definitely is not easy to learn without some help.

Fortunately, Joe Hocking’s Unity in Action makes it reasonably straightforward to learn how to develop games in 3D, as well as with Unity’s new 2D capabilities. The book takes the reader from “Hello, World” all the way to “Putting the parts together into a complete game” and then “Deploying your game to players’ devices.”

Even with this fine book, however, game development can be hard and complicated work. There are many different elements to consider, such as “Adding enemies and projectiles to the 3D game”, “Developing graphics for your game”, “Adding interactive devices and items within the game,” and putting sound effects and music into your game. Hocking’s book does a good job of showing how to handle these tasks, plus many more.

You may have heard Unity described as a game development environment where you don’t have to know how to program. Yes, you might be able to create some games without programming skills. But, “to produce commercial titles” using Unity, you definitely need some programming experience, Hocking emphasizes. In this case, you should have some knowledge of C#, but a background in some other object-oriented (OO) programming language will be helpful if you are new to C#, he adds.

Hocking’s book has many examples, illustrations, headings and subheadings. But step-by-step listings are sparse. Therefore, be prepared to read the text closely and, if necessary, develop lists of steps yourself. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it is not really a criticism of the book. Game development, after all, is not something that you can, nor should, just dive into and speed through, step by step. It requires a lot of careful planning and thought before you start.

Unity in Action wastes no time. It gets right to the essential stuff you need to know. And it can get you into action reasonably fast as a game developer. But “reasonably fast” in this case must be defined by how quickly you personally can learn to handle Unity, plus the myriad tasks of planning, creating, testing, revising and distributing a game.

Si Dunn

 

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