Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1 – Practical tips & tricks for better use of the camera’s features – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1
Rico Pfirstinger
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

The X-Pro1, Fujifilm’s first mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor, is popular with many photographers who like its smooth blending of retro, minimalist exterior and top-notch digital technology inside.

Also, if the available Fujinon interchangeable lenses are not enough for you, the X-Pro1 also can be used with adapter rings that accept lenses made by Canon, Nikon, Contax, Leica, and others.

The camera comes with a user manual that includes brief descriptions of every feature. But, notes Rico Pfirstinger in his new book, Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1, “What’s missing are background information and practical tips based on experience. What’s the best way to activate a function? Which settings should you use in different circumstances? Why is the camera exhibiting a certain behavior? And, most important, which functions don’t work the way you would expect them to and how should you handle them?”

His well-written, 266-page book answers these questions and more. And it provides numerous photographs and illustrations to emphasize his points and how-to tips.

The X-Pro1 is not intended to be a beginner’s camera. It does not, for example, include a built-in flash unit. So Pfirstinger’s book likewise is not intended to be a beginner’s how-to manual.

He assumes that this is not your first digital camera, and you possess a reasonably good understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and other matters associated with photography and lighting. Still, his explanations of  features, capabilities, and quirks are clear and concise enough that technically proficient beginners can learn from them.

Bottom line: Yes, keep and refer to the X-Pro1’s standard user guide. But definitely have Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1 in your camera bag, as well. Rico Pfirstinger provides the tips, tricks, in-depth information, and lessons from experience you will  need to really get the best photos with your Fujifilm X-Pro1.

Si Dunn

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Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good! – A hefty, humorous, wide-ranging how-to guide – #erlang #programming #bookreview

Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good!
Fred Hébert
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Two decades ago, I worked for Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, grinding out software specifications, user manuals and other documentation. I was part of a small group in Texas that was supposed to help adapt Swedish-made computers and software to the American banking market.

The coders handled the programming, so I didn’t have to know much code, just how to describe and illustrate the features they were developing. I knew a little assembler, BASIC, and C. But often, the coders worked with what was then a weird-looking proprietary language: Ericcson Language, or Erlang.

For various marketplace reasons, the head Swede suddenly showed up one day, shut our group down, and sent us packing. That was the last time I saw or gave any thought to Erlang.

Until now.

Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good!, recently published by No Starch Press, is a fun yet serious “beginner’s guide” to Erlang. The proprietary language became an open-source language in 1998.

According to the official Erlang website: “Erlang is a programming language used to build massively scalable soft real-time systems with requirements on high availability. Some of its uses are in telecoms, banking, e-commerce, computer telephony and instant messaging. Erlang’s runtime system has built-in support for concurrency, distribution and fault tolerance.”

Erlang today has a cadre of fans and serious practitioners who use it to create a variety of applications. (CouchDB, for example, is written in Erlang.) And numerous big-name companies use Erlang in a variety of ways.

It is a  functional programming language that also supports concurrent programming, and it has a reputation for being difficult to learn, according to Joe Armstrong, who created the first version of Erlang in 1986. (Indeed, the print version of Fred Hébert’s thick new “beginner’s guide” spans 30 chapters and 595 pages, from “Hello, world” all the way to testing and distribution.)

“One of the biggest barriers to learning Erlang,” Armstrong writes in the book’s foreword, “is not so much that the ideas involved are intrinsically difficult but that they are very different from the ideas in most of the other languages that you will have encountered. To learn Erlang, you have to temporarily unlearn what you have learned in other programming languages. Variables do not vary. You’re not supposed to program defensively. Processes are really, really cheap, and you can have thousands of them, or even millions if you feel like it. Oh, and then there is the strange syntax. Erlang doesn’t look like Java; there are no methods or classes and no objects. And wait a minute…even the equals sign doesn’t mean ‘equals’–it means ‘match this pattern.’”

Fortunately, Fred Hébert’s new book is the perfect antidote to Erlang’s tough learning curve. Hébert, the “Erlang User of the Year 2012,”  delivers clear writing, good illustrations, humor, and plenty of short code samples in his well-structured chapters. His long experience as an Erlang programmer and instructor definitely shines through.

He concedes that, while Erlang “does some things very well,” it definitely is “no silver bullet and will be particularly bad at things like image and signal processing, operating system device drivers, and other functions.” However: “It will shine at things like large software for server use (for example, queue middleware, web servers, real-time bidding and distributed database implementations), doing some  lifting coupled with other languages, higher-level protocol implementation, and so on.”

At the same time, he urges coders to “not necessarily limit yourself to server software with Erlang. People have done unexpected and surprising things with it.”

Si Dunn

HDRI, Digital Zone System, Canon EOS 5D Mark III – 3 new #photography books – #bookreview

Rocky Nook, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., recently has released three handsome new how-to works focused on digital photography and image processing.

The books are: The HDRI Handbook 2.0, The Digital Zone System, and Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The HDRI Handbook 2.0
Christian Bloch
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

Every chapter has been significantly updated in this new edition showing how to use high dynamic range imaging (HDRI) “to digitally capture, store, and edit the full luminosity range of a scene.”

Author Christian Bloch notes: “We’re talking about all visible light there, from direct sunlight down to the finest shadow detail.” Using HDRI, “[t]he old problem of over- and underexposure—which is never fully solved in analog photography—is elegantly bypassed.”

This is not a quick guide. Its 659 pages (in print format) cover everything from “the ideas and concepts behind HDR imaging” to tone mapping (“where you learn to create superior prints from HDR images”) to using HDR images in 3D rendering.

If you are ready to learn how to use HDRI in photographs or computer graphics projects, definitely get this well-written book. It is packed with tips, tricks, step-by-step tutorials, stunning images, and other useful information. Even if you already have some experience with HDRI, you can learn new things and improve current skills using this updated guide.

The Digital Zone System
Robert Fisher
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

In famed photographer Ansel Adams’s Zone System for film cameras (which many people still use), the mantra is: “Expose for the shadows; develop for the highlights.” The goal is to capture more details in the shadow areas without losing too many details in the highlight areas.

Of course, much of the artistry of Ansel Adams resided also in his ability to convert his low-contrast negatives into stunning prints using photographic chemicals in “wet” labs.

The Digital Zone System is a methodology for using Photoshop, Lightroom and other digital photography tools to echo the spirit and goals of Adams’s Zone System (which he used primarily with large-format, black-and-white film).

Much of this book’s focus is on showing how to gain greater control over digital images by isolating and adjusting colors and luminance values within specific areas.

One of the important goals of teaching the Digital Zone System is to help speed up workflow and reduce the tedium caused by using traditional methods (such as layer masks) in Photoshop. Zone masks, Fisher notes, are “self-feathering,” so they can give you “smooth transitions and maintain smooth tonal gradations or transitions in your images.”

While color photography is emphasized, the author also shows how to convert digital color images to black-and-white images and apply the Digital Zone System to enhance tonal separations, sharpness, and other aspects.

“Wet lab” film purists no doubt will disagree. But the Digital Zone System described in Robert Fisher’s book can help open the way to creating and producing stunning photographs in color and black-and-white.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
James Johnson
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

James “Jim” Johnson’s new book is a solid, well-written how-to guide to using “the latest in the famed series of Canon EOS 5D full-frame DSLR cameras.” The book , Johnson states, is aimed squarely at “photographers who are comfortable with basic photography, but who need an understanding of the myriad features, functions, options, and settings available with the EOS 5D Mk III camera.”

The 5D Mark III, photographer Juergen Gulbins writes in the book’s Foreword, “may be used for portrait, landscape, and sports as well as for studio work.” And it offers “dramatic” improvements over the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, he adds.

The 22.3 MP resolution is “sufficient for all kinds of photography,” and it allows for print sizes well beyond 17 inches by 24 inches–“if you have a sharp, well-focused image,” Gulbins emphasizes.

James Johnson’s nicely illustrated text starts with what you’ll get in a Canon EOS 5D Mark III package. Then it moves to showing and explaining the purpose and operation of each of the camera’s buttons, connectors, switches and dials. After that, you get some pointers on digital photography, including focus and exposure, while also learning to use the camera’s rich range of menus. And the camera’s video-shooting capabilities and its in-camera photo processing features are explained, as well.

For example, in the section on Live View, the author hails it as “probably the most straightforward implementation of shooting with the LCD monitor that I’ve come across.” But he also cautions: “The LCD monitor uses a great deal of battery power, so when in Live View, you will want to watch the remaining charge level a bit more closely than usual.”

With this excellent guidebook in hand, you can toss aside the camera’s problematic instruction manual and get some real-world explanations from an experienced photographer who also happens to be an experienced technical writer.

— Si Dunn

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Mac Kung Fu – Kick productivity into higher gear with 400+ tips, tricks – #bookreview

Mac Kung Fu, 2nd Edition
Kier Thomas
(Pragmatic Bookshelf – Paperback, Kindle)

More than a hundred new tips and tricks have been packed into the new edition of Kier Thomas’s popular how-to guide for OS X Mountain Lion.

His book now offers “Over 400 Tips, Tricks, Hints, and Hacks for Apple OS X.” And it includes tips for some of Mountain Lion’s newest tools, including iCloud, Notifications, Reminders, and Calendar.

Kier Thomas has earned his good reputation the hard way, by writing nearly a dozen computer books, as well as blogging professionally for sites such as Macworld and PC World.

Mac Kung Fu, 2nd Edition, is structured so you can simply open it, scan the long list of tips, and pick the ones you want to learn and use next. You can use the book in any order you desire.

For example, maybe you’ve grown tired of the “yellow legal paper” color of the Notes app. There’s no way to change the hue in the Preferences dialog box. But if you follow Thomas’s steps in Tip 132, you can change it to white. And Thomas shows you how to change it back to its default color – just in case you decide to sell your Mac to a lawyer.

Tip 82, “Preview Widgets,” deals with a way around another “feature” that can be irritating. “If you download new Dashboard widgets, you have to install them to your Dashboard before you can run them. This is counterintuitive,” Thomas notes, “because it might transpire that the widget isn’t much use, in which case you have to go through the work of installing it.” With the tips he provides, you can test a widget and simply drag it to Trash if you don’t want to keep it.

OS X does not include a download manager, “a program whose job it is to take care of downloads, including resuming those that stall or fail,” Thomas says. But Tip 173 shows how to use the Terminal window and curl command to efficiently monitor and manage file downloads.

OS X Mountain Lion users likely will find many useful tips and tricks in Kier Thomas’s well-written new book. Just flip it open to the table of contents and start working your way down the long list of new things to try. Or randomly open the book to any page. Either way, you’ll find many new ways to boost your productivity and enhance the pleasures of using OS X Mountain Lion.

Si Dunn

Make something new, with MakerBot or Raspberry Pi – #bookreview #programming #diy

O’Reilly has released two new books to help you get started with two hot new products: the MakerBot desktop 3D printer and the Raspberry Pi, a tiny, inexpensive computer the size of a credit card.

Here are short reviews of the two how-to guides:

Getting Started with MakerBot
Bre Pettis, Anna Kaziunas France & Jay Shergill
(O’Reilly –
paperback, Kindle)

The MakerBot 3D printer has captured worldwide attention for its ability to replicate objects such as game pieces, knobs and other plastic parts no longer available from manufacturers, and its use also to produce small art works.

“In our consumer-focused, disposable world, a MakerBot is a revitalizing force for all your broken things,” the authors state. (One of them, Bre Pettis, is one of MakerBot’s creators.)

The MakerBot machine, however, also can be a revitalizing force for artistic endeavors and, in some cases, dreams of self-employment. It is, after all, essentially a small factory in a box.

Getting Started with MakerBot introduces the machine and things you can make with it from your own designs or from designs downloaded from the web. “Though the underlying engineering principles behind a MakerBot are quite complex, in a nutshell, a MakerBot is a very precise, robotic hot glue gun mounted to a very precise, robotic positioning system,” the three writers point out.

In 213 pages, the book covers the basics, from history to set-up, and then shows you how to “print 10 useful objects right away.” It also introduces how to design your own 3D objects, using SketchUp, Autodesk 123D, OpenSCAD, and some other tools.

Getting Started with MakerBot is well-written, heavily illustrated, and organized to help you advance from unboxing a MakerBot to turning out products and creations and becoming a significant citizen of the “Thingiverse”—where “one must share designs…but all are welcome to reap the bounty of shared digital designs for physical objects.”

***

Getting Started with Raspberry Pi
Matt Richardson & Shawn Wallace
O’Reilly –
paperback, Kindle)

The Raspberry Pi “is meant as an educational tool to encourage kids to experiment with computers.” But many adults are latching to the tiny device as well, because it comes preloaded with interpreters and compilers for several programming languages, including Python, Scratch, C, Ruby, Java, and Perl. Its operating system is Linux Raspbian.

The Raspberry Pi is not plug-and-play, but it can be connected to – and control –a number of electronic devices. And the list of uses  for the microcomputer keeps growing.

Some owners have made their Raspberry Pi devices into game machines. Others have connected many of the units together to create low-budget supercomputers. Some are using them as web servers. And still others work at the  “bare metal” of a Raspberry Pi to create and test new operating systems. Intriguing new roles for the Raspberry Pi keep appearing, and the surge will continue as more adults and kids start working with the tiny but powerful device.

Getting Started with Raspberry Pi covers the basics of hooking up, programming and running the device. It also provides several starter projects, including how to use a Raspberry Pi as a web server or in other roles.

Once you know what you’re doing, “You can even create your own JSON API for an electronics project!” the authors promise.

The well-written book packs a lot of how-to information into its 160 pages, including working at the command line in Linux, learning to program the device, and creating simple games in Python and Scratch.

— Si Dunn

Learning Cocoa with Objective-C – An excellent how-to guide from two experts – #programming #bookreview

Learning Cocoa with Objective-C, 3rd Edition
Paris Buttfield-Addison and Jon Manning
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

 In some surveys, Objective-C is now the third most popular programming language, up from fifth place in 2011.

O’Reilly recently has published the awaited third edition of Learning Cocoa with Objective-C, with coverage of Xcode 4.2 and iOS 6.

The book’s two authors definitely know the Cocoa framework. They have been developing for it since the Mac first supported it. And their experience and expertise shine forth in this well-written, smoothly organized how-to guide.

They have, they note, “seen the ecosystem of Cocoa and Objective-C development evolve from a small programmer’s niche to one of the most important an d influential development environments in the world.”

Their 339-page, 20-chapter book assumes that you have some programming experience and at least know how to use an OS X and iOS device. Otherwise, it is a solid choice for learning Cocoa with Objective-C from the ground up. It offers clear descriptions and practical exercises, plus numerous code samples, screenshots and other illustrations.

Paris Buttfield-Addison’s and Jon Manning’s bottom-line goal, successfully met here, is to “give you the knowledge, confidence, and appreciation for iOS and OS X development with Cocoa, Cocoa Touch, and Objective-C.”

Si Dunn

Building Web, Cloud, & Mobile Solutions with F# – #programming #bookreview

Building Web, Cloud, & Mobile Solutions with F#
Daniel Mohl
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

F# (pronounced “F-sharp”) is a relatively new functional, open-source programming language developed by Microsoft and the F# Software Foundation. F# can be used to create scalable applications with ASP.NET MVC 4, ASP.NET Web API, Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Azure, HTML5, Web Sockets, CSS3, jQuery Mobile, and other tools.

Daniel Mohl’s Building Web, Cloud, & Mobile Solutions with F# is a well-written guide to “everything you need to know to start building web, cloud, and mobile solutions with F#.” Mohl also give some how-to examples using a range of technologies, libraries, and platforms, including SignalR, CouchDB, RavenDB, MongoDB, and others.

Mohl says his book is “intended for technologists with experience in .NET who have heard about the benefits of F#, have a cursory understanding of the basic syntax, and wish to learn how to combine F# with other technologies to build better web, cloud, and mobile solutions.”

In other words, this should not be your first book about F# or the relevant technologies that also are covered. Mohl recommends Chris Smith’s Programming F#, 3.0 as a first step toward learning the language.

In its 160 pages, Building Web, Cloud, & Mobile Solutions with F# offers five chapters, three appendices, and a number of code samples and screen shots. The chapters and appendices are:

  • 1. Building an ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Application with F#
  • 2. Creating Web Services with F#
  • 3. To the Cloud! Taking Advantage of Azure
  • 4. Constructing Scalable Web and Mobile Solutions
  • 5. Functional Frontend Development
  • Appendix A: Useful Tools and Libraries
  • Appendix B: Useful Websites
  • Appendix C: Client-Site Technologies That Go Well with F#

Mohl’s text also contains numerous links to important and useful websites.

He notes that “the primary focus of this book is on how to use F# to best complement the larger technology stack”, so he spends “a lot more time talking about controllers and models than views. F# provides several unique features that lend themselves well to the creation of various aspects of controllers and models.”

Si Dunn