Blender Master Class – Excellent hands-on guide to modeling, sculpting, materials & rendering – #bookreview

Blender Master Class
A Hands-On Guide to Modeling, Sculpting, Materials, and Rendering
Ben Simonds
(No Starch Press, paperback, Kindle)

This excellent hands-on guide shows “how to create models and environments in 3D, using two pieces of software: Blender, for 3D design and animation, and GIMP, for 2D image editing.” It covers Blender 2.6x.

The author, Ben Simonds, is a professional 3D artist and co-director of a London-based post-production and computer animation company, Gecko Animation Ltd.

Simonds explains and shows “how to approach and finish your own projects in Blender.” He offers detailed how-to explanations for three of his own projects “to provide the narrative and examples of the tasks required.”

Along with demonstrating how to use Blender and GIMP, he shows “how to block out and create models, sculpt and detail them, texture and create materials, use lighting, and render finished images.”

This 266-page, 15-chapter book is beautifully organized, richly illustrated and well-written, with numerous headings, subheadings, step-by-step lists, and chapter reviews. The accompanying DVD “contains all the files for the projects in this book, including separate .blend files for each project (corresponding to each chapter in the book) and each project in its final state at the end of the chapter (where relevant).

“These resources,” Simonds adds, “should allow you to look in-depth at the workings of each project and to examine how each one takes shape. Also included are the textures used for each project, .blend files with some useful brushes for sculpting and MatCap materials, and a GIMP brush that you can use with your own projects.”

Simonds notes that Blender has many more tools than can be covered in his book. So Blender Master Class “attempts to deal only with the aspects of Blender that are needed to create, texture, and render models as still images. It doesn’t cover Blender’s rigging and animation tools, simulation tools, or the game engine.” For more information, he refers readers to a Blender website.

Blender is a powerful software package, and even experienced artists and designers can struggle while using it to create finished pieces. Blender Master Class can step you smoothly through the entire process of working from concept to completion.

Si Dunn

Jump Start Node.js – A well-written guide for learning Node.js quickly – #programming #bookreview

 Jump Start Node.js
Don Nguyen
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

Don Nguyen’s well-written Node.js book has been in print for a few months and is an excellent text for learning how to put Node.js to work in fast, scalable real-time web applications.

You should have some experience with JavaScript before tackling Node.js. But Nguyen says a “server-side engineer who uses another language such as PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, or .NET” can pick up enough JavaScript from his book to get a good feel for its syntax and idiosyncratic features.

What I like most about the book is how it  jumps right into developing a dynamic working Node.js application that you deploy to a production server. The project is a real-time stock market trading engine that streams live prices into a web browser. Along the way, you learn how to set up and use a NoSQL database (with MongoDB), you learn some functional programming techniques, and you work with Ajax, Express, Mocha, Socket.io, Backbone.js, Twitter Bootstrap, GitHub and Heroku.

The author covers a lot of ground, with clear code examples and good explanations, in just 154 pages. “The main goal of this book,” he notes, “is to transfer the skill set rather than the actual project into the real world. There is a narrow domain of ‘hard’ real-time applications such as a stock exchange where specialized software and hardware are required because microseconds count. However, there is a much larger number of ‘soft’ real-time applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and eBay where microseconds are of small consequence. This is Node.js’s speciality, and you’ll understand how to build these types of applications by the end of this book.”

Note: If you are a Windows user, you will have to install Cygwin before you can start using the Mocha testing framework on page 23. If you use Mac OS X, you will need to have the Xcode Command Line Tools installed. More information related to the book can be found at this SitePoint forum.

Si Dunn

Kindle Fire HD: The Missing Manual, 2nd Edition – Covers new features, how-tos for 7-inch / 8.9-inch tablets – #bookreview

Kindle Fire HD: The Missing Manual, 2nd Edition
Peter Meyers
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

O’Reilly recently has brought out the second edition of Peter Meyers’ popular how-to guide for using the Kindle Fire HD multi-purpose tablet.

The new edition covers the 7-inch and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire models, but does not cover the original, first-generation Kindle Fire that was released in November, 2011. For details of how to use that model, get the first edition of Meyers’ book.

Many of us who own Kindles tend to have more than one version in the family: his, hers, and the kids’, for example. And we tend to use just a few of the features over and over–until we suddenly need or want to try another feature and aren’t sure how it works. So it can be good to have both editions of this book on your reference shelf (or in your Kindles).

The new edition includes how to use the front-facing video camera and microphone that were added to the 7-inch and 8.9-inch Fire HD models for video and audio chat capabilities. An HDMI port also is offered on the HD models, so you can hook up a cable and view a Kindle-stored video on a TV screen.

By  the way, if you enjoy audiobooks, they “are now full-fledged members of Team Sync” in the Kindle Fire HD world, the author notes. For example, if you buy a Kindle book and click the “Add Narration” button, you will also get the synchronized audiobook. (The button appears on your Fire’s screen, and the extra charge ranges from free to $3.95, depending on the book.) You can listen to the audiobook played on your Fire HD while driving to work, and then, when you’re ready to read quietly during your lunch break, you can pick up, in the text, right where you left off. The Kindle Fire HD now includes an Audible.com player, as well, and you can link an existing Audible.com account.

This well-written, richly illustrated Missing Manual definitely covers “the important stuff you need to know,” in a well-organized, easy-to-use format. It can help you get the most–and possibly more than you expected–from your Kindle Fire HD.

Si Dunn

Killer UX Design – How to create compelling, user-centered interfaces – #bookreview

Killer UX Design
Jodie Moule
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

The overused term “killer app” tends to kill my curiosity about books with “killer” in the title.

Still,  “killer” title aside, Killer UX Design deserves some attention, particularly if you are struggling to create a better user experience (UX) for products, websites, services, processes, or systems. The eight chapters in this 266-page book provide a well-written “introduction to user experience design.”

The focus, in UX design, is on “understanding the behavior of the eventual users of a product, service, or system. It then seeks to explore the optimal interaction of these elements, in order to design experiences that are memorable, enjoyable, and a little bit ‘wow’,” the author says.

She is a psychologist who co-founded and directs Symplicit, an “experience design consultancy” in Australia. “With the digital and physical worlds merging more than ever before,” she says, “it is vital to understand how technology can enhance the human experience, and not cause frustration or angst at every touchpoint.”

You won’t find JavaScript functions, HTML 5 code, or other programming examples in this book, even though software engineering increasingly is a key factor in UX design. Instead, the tools of choice during initial design phases are: Post-It Notes, index cards, sheets of paper, tape, glue, hand-drawn diagrams and sketches, plus clippings from newspapers, magazines and other materials.

And, you likely will spend time talking with other members of your UX design team, plus potential users of your product, service, or system.

Some of the chapters also deal with prototyping, testing, re-testing and tweaking, and how to modify a design based on what you learn after a product, service, or system has been launched.

A key strength of Killer UX Design is how it  illustrates and explains the real-life — and seldom simple — processes and steps necessary to design an app that is both useful and easy to use.

Si Dunn

Hadoop is hot! Three new how-to books for riding the Big Data elephant – #programming #bookreview

In the world of Big Data, Hadoop has become the hard-charging elephant in the room.

Its big-name users now span the alphabet and include such notables as Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, the New York Times, and Yahoo. Not bad for software named after a child’s toy elephant.

Computer systems that run Hadoop can store, process, and analyze large amounts of data that have been gathered up in many different formats from many different sources.

According to the Apache Software Foundation’s Hadoop website: “The Apache Hadoop software library is a framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models. It is designed to scale up from single servers to thousands of machines, each offering local computation and storage.”

The (well-trained) user defines the Big Data problem that Hadoop will tackle. Then the software handles all aspects of the job completion, including spreading out the problem in small pieces to many different computers, or nodes, in the distributed system for more efficient processing. Hadoop also handles individual node failures, and collects and combines the calculated results from each node.

But you don’t need a collection of hundreds or thousands of computers to run Hadoop. You can learn it, write programs, and do some testing and debugging on a single Linux machine, Windows PC or Mac. The Open Source software can be downloaded here. (Do some research first. You may have use web searches to find detailed installation instructions for your specific system.)

Hadoop is open-source software that is often described as “a Java-based framework for large-scale data processing.” It has a lengthy learning curve that includes getting familiar with Java, if you don’t already know it.

But if you are now ready and eager to take on Hadoop, Packt Publishing recently has unveiled three excellent how-to books that can help you begin and extend your mastery: Hadoop Beginner’s Guide, Hadoop MapReduce Cookbook, and Hadoop Real-World Solutions Cookbook.

Short reviews of each are presented below.

Hadoop Beginner’s Guide
Garry Turkington
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

Garry Turkington’s new book is a detailed, well-structured introduction to Hadoop. It covers everything from the software’s three modes–local standalone mode, pseudo-distributed mode, and fully distributed mode–to running basic jobs, developing simple and advanced MapReduce programs, maintaining clusters of computers, and working with Hive, MySQL, and other tools.

“The developer focuses on expressing the transformation between source and result data sets, and the Hadoop framework manages all aspects of job execution, parallelization, and coordination,” the author writes.

He calls this capability “possibly the most important aspect of Hadoop. The platform takes responsibility for every aspect of executing the processing across the data. After the user defines the key criteria for the job, everything else becomes the responsibility of the system.”

The 374-page book is written well and provides numerous code samples and illustrations. But it  has one drawback for some beginners who want to install and  use Hadoop.  Turkington offers step-by-step instructions for how to perform a Linux installation, specifically Ubuntu. However, he refers Windows and Mac users to an Apache site where there is insufficient how-to information. Web searches become necessary to find more installation details.

Hadoop MapReduce Cookbook
Srinath Perera and Thilina Gunarathne
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

MapReduce “jobs” are an essential part of  how Hadoop is able to crunch huge chunks of Big Data.  The Hadoop MapReduce Cookbook offers “recipes for analyzing large and complex data sets with Hadoop MapReduce.”

MapReduce is a well-known programming model for processing large sets of data. Typically, MapReduce is used within clusters of computers that are configured to perform distributed computing.

In the “Map” portion of the process, a problem is split into many subtasks that are then assigned by a master computer to individual computers known as nodes. (Nodes also can have sub-nodes). During the “Reduce” part of the task, the master computer gathers up the processed data from the nodes, combines it and outputs a response to the problem that was posed to be solved. (MapReduce libraries are now available for many different computer languages, including Hadoop.)

“Hadoop is the most widely known and widely used implementation of the MapReduce paradigm,” the two authors note.

Their 284-page book initially shows how to run Hadoop in local mode, which “does not start any servers but does all the work within the same JVM [Java Virtual Machine]” on a standalone computer. Then, as you gain more experience with MapReduce and the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), they guide you into using Hadoop in more complex, distributed-computing environments.

Echoing the Hadoop Beginner’s Guide, the authors explain how to install Hadoop on Linux machines only.

Hadoop Real-World Solutions Cookbook
Jonathan R. Owens, Jon Lentz and Brian Femiano
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

The Hadoop Real-World Solutions Cookbook assumes you already have some experience with Hadoop. So it jumps straight into helping “developers become more comfortable with, and proficient at solving problems in, the Hadoop space.”

Its goal is to “teach readers how to build solutions using tools such as Apache Hive, Pig, MapReduce, Mahout, Giraph, HDFS, Accumulo, Redis, and Ganglia.”

The 299-page book is packed with code examples and short explanations that help solve specific types of problems. A few randomly selected problem headings:

  • “Using Apache Pig to filter bot traffic from web server logs.”
  • “Using the distributed cache in MapReduce.”
  • “Trim Outliers from the Audioscrobbler dataset using Pig and datafu.” 
  • “Designing a row key to store geographic events in Accumulo.”
  • “Enabling MapReduce jobs to skip bad records.”

The authors use a simple but effective strategy for presenting problems and solutions. First, the problem is clearly described. Then, under a “Getting Ready” heading, they spell out what you need to  solve the problem. That is followed by a “How to do it…” heading where each step is presented and supported by code examples. Then, paragraphs beneath a “How it works…” heading sum up and explain how the problem was solved. Finally, a “There’s more…” heading highlights more explanations and links to additional details.

If you are a Hadoop beginner, consider the first two books reviewed above. If you have some Hadoop experience, you likely can find some useful tips in book number three

Si Dunn

Core Data, 2nd Edition – Updated for OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6 – #programming #bookreview

Core Data, 2nd Edition
Data Storage and Management for iOS, OS X, and iCloud
Marcus S. Zarra
(Pragmatic Bookshelf – paperback)

“If you plan on writing an application that saves data to disk, then you should take a very long look at Core Data,” urges Marcus S. Zarra, in the new second edition of his Core Data how-to book.

“Core Data,” according to the Mac Developer Library, “provides an infrastructure for change management and for saving objects to and retrieving them from storage.”  It is Apple’s recommended way to persist data. And it is “used daily by millions of customers in a wide variety of applications.”

The new edition of Zarra’s book updates its Core Data development example to an iPhone recipe application (from a desktop recipe application in the first edition). The second edition includes coverage of OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6 and examines changes to multithreading. The author also has added chapters to explore NSFetchedResultsController and iCloud.

If the structure of some of the book’s code examples appear puzzling, pay special attention to Appendix 2. There, Zarra discusses some of the typographical choices necessary to keep lines of code set to fewer than 80 characters wide. And he shows some macros that he uses in his code to speed up development work.

Whether you are just starting out with Core Data or now an old hand at working with it, you likely can learn new things from this well-written how-to guide. Its author is widely regarded as one of the world’s most experienced Core Data application developers.

Si Dunn

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect – To help sort out the chaos of Internet services – #bookreview

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect
Ryan Carter
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

In a digital world increasingly cluttered with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, Open APIs, and social networks, complexity quickly can get out of hand.

“It all starts,” Ryan Carter writes in his new book, “with a simple API that publishes somebody’s status to Facebook, sends a Tweet, or updates a contact in Salesforce. As you start to integrate more and more of these external services with your applications, trying to identify the tasks that one might want to perform when you’re surrounded by SOAP, REST, JSON, XML, GETs, PUTs, POSTs, and DELETEs, can be a real challenge.”

Indeed. But never fear, Mule ESB can ride to your rescue and connect you quickly and easily to the cloud. At least, that’s the marketing claim.

Some truly big-name users, it should be noted, are adding credibility to Mule’s claimed capabilities and usefulness as an Open Source integration platform. They include Adobe, eBay, Hewlett-Packard, J.P. Morgan, T-Mobile, Ericsson, Southwest Airlines, and Nestle, to mention just a few.

Meanwhile, riding Mule to the cloud is the central focus of this compact (105 pages), well-written get-started guide. Its author, Ryan Carter, is both a specialist in integration and APIs and “an appointed Mule champion” who contributes regularly to the MuleSoft community.

“Mule,” Carter points out, “is an integration platform that allows developers to connect applications together quickly and easily, enabling them to exchange data regardless of the different technologies that the applications use. It is also at the core of CloudHub, an Integration Platform as a Service(IPaas). CloudHub allows you to integrate cross-cloud services, create new APIs on top of existing data sources, and integrate on-premise applications with cloud services.”

The book is structured so you start off by building a simple Mule application that will serve “as the base of our examples and introduce some core concepts for those unfamiliar with Mule.” Then Carter shows and illustrates how to “start taking advantage of Mule Cloud Connectors.” He includes numerous code examples, plus some screenshots and diagrams.

The book’s six chapters are:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Cloud Connectors
  3. OAuth Connectivity
  4. Configuration Management
  5. Real-Time Connectivity
  6. Custom Connectivity

Carter emphasizes: “Mule Cloud Connect offers a more maintainable way to work with APIs. Built on top of the Mule and CloudHub integration platforms, Cloud Connectors are service-specific clients that abstract away the complexities of transports and protocols. Many complex but common processes such as authorization and session management work without you having to write a single line of code. Although service-specific, Cloud Connectors all share a common and consistent interface to configure typical API tasks such as OAuth, WebHooks, and connection management. They remove the pain from working with multiple, individual client libraries.”

If Mule does not have a connector for a resource that you need, the book shows you how to create your own.

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect can get you started on a beneficial ride of  discovery, and it can take you onto the trail that leads to solutions.

— Si Dunn