Mastering the Fujifilm X-E1 and X-Pro1 – Are you ready for some RAW+JPEG? – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Fujifilm X-E1 and X-Pro1

Rico Pfirstinger
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

As a photographer, I enjoy reading other photographers’ first-person books–even when their books that happen to be how-to texts created to supplement and expand upon the lackluster user manuals typically shipped with new cameras.

Rico Pfirstinger’s latest book is a well-composed guide to learning how to use a new Fujifilm X-E1 or the similar X-Pro1. What are their key hardware differences? The X-Pro1 has a hybrid viewfinder that can show either an optical or electronic image, depending on your preference, and, also unlike the X-E1, the X-Pro1 does not have a built-in flash (which many pro photographers disdain anyway).

The two cameras’ “buttons, dials, menus, and connections” are given big labels and adequate illustrations and explanations, particularly if you are an intermediate, or better, photographer.

Once you get past the initial familiarization tour, Pfirstinger takes you into the process of using the features, picking settings, and dealing with many of the finer points, including how to shoot panoramas and double exposures.

There is one surprise you may not have encountered with some other digital SLR cameras: the ability to do firmware updates. “The X-Pro1 and X-E1 are novel cameras in many ways, and they also exhibit a few quirks,” the author notes. He describes how to determine which firmware version is installed in your camera. Then he outlines how to download newer firmware from a Fujifilm website to your personal computer. From there, you move the newer firmware onto an SD card that first has been formatted in your camera. Then you must carefully follow some steps after the SD card is re-installed in your camera. Once the firmware has been updated, you may also need to follow Pfirstinger’s steps for resetting the frame counter.

The book contains numerous photos by Pfirstinger and some fellow professional photographers, along with information regarding camera and ISO settings, lenses used, and other details relevant to how the images were obtained and processed.

Pfirstinger is a strong advocate for the Fujifilm cameras’ RAW features. “If you spend time in online photography forums,” he explains, “you’ll discover that there’s hardly a debate that generates more controversy and discussion than the question of whether it’s better to shoot in RAW or JPEG format. Since this back-and-forth has been raging for years already, you can assume that there’s no right answer.”

But what the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras (and some other camera brands) offer are settings that enable you to shoot and save in RAW and JPEG at the same time. “Today the RAW file is the digital equivalent of the negative, and a JPEG file is the digital counterpart of a photographic print. This means there are many different possibilities for interpreting a RAW file and ‘developing’ a JPEG from it.”

If you choose to not save RAW files, he contends, you are choosing to “reduce your X-E1 or X-Pro1 to a sort of instant camera….” In other words, you get one JPEG from a shot, and that’s it.  Of course, you can make many copies of that JPEG and edit them in many different ways. But his point is that RAW format lets you focus on composition, focus and exposure and gives you numerous digital post-processing capabilities that you can work with later, “when  you have time to sit in front of a larger monitor to evaluate your images….”

Rico Pfirstinger has a very diverse background as a writer and photographer. According to his website “Fuji Rumors”:

“Rico Pfirstinger studied communications and has been working as journalist, publicist, and photographer since the mid-80s. He has written a number of books on topics as diverse as Adobe PageMaker and sled dogs, and produced a beautiful book of photographs titled Huskies in Action (German version). He has spent time working as the head of a department with the German Burda-Publishing Company and served as chief editor for a winter sports website. After eight years as a freelance film critic and entertainment writer in Los Angeles, Rico now lives in Germany and devotes his time to digital photography and compact camera systems.”

Pfirstinger’s new book includes a chapter on how to connect and use third-party lenses that have appropriate X-mount adapters. It’s not simply a matter of attaching the lenses and firing away. You have to change several menu settings to ensure that a lens is recognized and that the exposure,  focus and certain other features work properly.

Si Dunn

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Scaling Big Data with Hadoop and Solr – A new how-to guide – #bigdata #java #bookreview

Scaling Big Data with Hadoop and Solr

Learn new ways to build efficient, high performance enterprise search repositories for Big Data using Hadoop and Solr
Hrishikesh Karambelkar
(Packt – paperback, Kindle)

This well-presented, step-by-step guide shows how to use Apache Hadoop and Apache Solr to work with Big Data.  Author and software architect Hrishikesh Karambelkar does a good job of explaining Hadoop and Solr, and he illustrates how they can work together to tackle Big Data enterprise search projects.

“Google faced the problem of storing and processing big data, and they came up with the MapReduce approach, which is basically a divide-and-conquer strategy for distributed data processing,” Karambelkar notes. “MapReduce is widely accepted by many organizations to run their Big Data computations. Apache Hadoop is the most popular open source Apache licensed implementation of MapReduce….Apache Hadoop enables distributed processing of large datasets across a commodity of clustered servers. It is designed to scale up from single server to thousands of commodity hardware machines, each offering partial computational units and data storage.”

Meanwhile, Karambelkar adds, “Apache Solr is an open source enterprise search application which provides user abilities to search structured as well as unstructured data across the organization.”

His book (128 pages in print format) is structured with five chapters and three appendices:

  • Chapter 1: Processing Big Data Using Hadoop MapReduce
  • Chapter 2: Understanding Solr
  • Chapter 3: Making Big Data Work for Hadoop and Solr
  • Chapter 4: Using Big Data to Build Your Large Indexing
  • Chapter 5: Improving Performance of Search while Scaling with Big Data
  • Appendix A: Use Cases for Big Data Search
  • Appendix B: Creating Enterprise Search Using Apache Solr
  • Appendix C: Sample MapReduce Programs to Build the Solr Indexes

Where the book falls short (and I have noted this about many works by computer-book publishers) is that the author simply assumes everything will go well during the process of downloading and setting up the software–and gives almost no troubleshooting hints. This can happen with books written by software experts that are also are reviewed by software experts. Their systems likely are already optimized and may not throw the error messages that less-experienced users may encounter.

For example, the author states: “Installing Hadoop is a straightforward job with a default setup….” Unfortunately, there are many “flavors” and configurations of Linux running in the world. And Google searches can turn up a variety of problems others have encountered when installing, configuring and running Hadoop.  Getting Solr installed and running likewise is not a simple process for everyone.

If you are ready to plunge in and start dealing with Big Data, Scaling Big Data with Hadoop and Solr definitely can give you some well-focused and important information.  But heed the “Who this book is for” statement on page 2: “This book is primarily aimed at Java programmers, who wish to extend Hadoop platform to make it run as an enterprise search without prior knowledge of Apache Hadoop and Solr.”

And don’t surprised if you have to seek additional how-to details and troubleshooting information from websites and other books, as well as from co-workers and friends who may know Linux, Java and NoSQL databases better than you do (whether you want to admit it or not).

Si Dunn

Mastering the Nikon D7100 – Another fine how-to from ‘Digital Darrell’ – #photography #bookreview

Mastering the Nikon D7100

Darrell Young
(Rocky Nook Press – paperback, Kindle)

I love Nikon cameras, and I love the high-quality Nikon how-to books that Darrell Young–“Digital Darrell”–writes for Rocky Nook Press and Nikonians Press.

One of the reasons I like Digital Darrell’s works is that he used to be a 35mm film photographer and understands the shock and awe of making the awkward transition from film and wet chemicals to digital imagery.

Years ago, when I worked as a photographer for newspapers, I charged into action carrying up to four black-body Nikons, each with a different Nikkor lens and some with bulky motor drives. Every camera was freshly loaded with 35mm film, typically Kodak Tri-X. And I tried to have at least 20 spare rolls of film in my jacket pockets or taped, in little film cans, to some of the carrying straps that crisscrossed my body (and frequently got tangled up as I quickly let go of, say, a Nikon with a 24mm lens and grabbed a Nikon with a 300mm lens and motor drive).

When covering fast-moving news events, there was no time to swap lenses. There also was no excuse for running out of film. And you had to know your cameras well enough that you could roughly set the focus, count f-stops and shutter speed clicks, cock the shutter and verify your flash synchronization setting by feel, all while jogging to the next vantage point to photograph the President of the United States or an angry protest march or fire crews fighting a big pipeline blaze.

After I left the news business and sold off most of my film cameras, I eventually and reluctantly made the move to digital cameras–black-bodied Nikons, of course. And my initial reaction to what I saw through the viewfinders and on the camera bodies and lenses themselves was a mixture of confusion, depression and anger. The most polite translation of my thoughts was: “What the &%$#@ is all of this &^%#>!!!???” I was ready to throw the cameras against the nearest wall and go back to a future where film was still king.

With a Digital Darrell book, you typically don’t have to think “&^%#>!!!???,” etc. You just look in the table of contents or index, turn to a specific section, and get a clear explanation of a feature and its menu options, plus setting recommendations drawn from Darrell Young’s extensive hands-on experience.

Mastering the Nikon D7100 is a well-written and nicely illustrated guide to this “new flagship DX camera” and its many features and wide ranges of settings.

“The D7100,” Young writes, “has everything an enthusiast photographer needs to bring home incredibly good images, without jumping through hoops. The massive resolution of the 24-megapixel (MP) sensor, with a wide dynamic range and no anti-aliasing (AA or blur) filter, make the D7100 one of the world’s best DX cameras for advanced enthusiast photographers.”

Young continues: “The image is what counts, and the Nikon D7100 can deliver some of the highest-quality images out there. It’s a robust camera body designed to last.”

His new how-to guide (a hefty 539 pages in print format) is structured with 13 well-focused chapters:

  • Basic Camera Setup
  • Playback Menu
  • Shooting Menu
  • Custom Setting Menu
  • Setup Menu
  • Retouch Menu
  • My Menu and Recent Settings
  • Metering, Exposure Modes, and Histogram
  • White Balance
  • Autofocus, AF-Area, and Release Modes
  • Live View Photography
  • Movie Live View
  • Speedlight Flash

Photography beginners take note: For the most part, this is not a guide that shows how to compose better pictures of people, clouds, seascapes or wild animals. There are a few fine photographs positioned at the opening of each chapter. And notes about the images and who took them are presented at the back of the book. But the major emphasis in Mastering the Nikon D7100 is on exactly what the title says — understanding the new camera’s amazing array of features and choosing good menu settings when using them.

Si Dunn

Beautiful LEGO – Photos and insights from some of the LEGO world’s top artists – #bookreview

Beautiful LEGO

Mike Doyle
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Wow! That’s one of the best words to describe the snap-together works of art that can be created using LEGO plastic bricks. Mike Doyle’s excellent new LEGO art book offers some 400 color pictures of everything from a rotary-dial telephone to a Thanksgiving turkey, plus robots, space weapons and a magnificent, futuristic city, constructed by some of the world’s top artists in the LEGO building community. (LEGO®, incidentally, is a trademark of the LEGO Group.)

In his book, Doyle asks several of his fellow artists a key question–Why LEGO?–and gets an intriguing array of answers and insights to accompany the photographs of their creations. Doyle himself says: “It is a medium that offers instant gratification. No matter how large a project is, at the end of the day, I can look at the section I’ve built in its finished state. LEGO is a one-step process; there’s no gluey mess, sanding, or painting to worry about. I just build. This gives me the opportunity, after each session, to assess visually how the piece is working as a whole.”

His book’s eye-catching cover shows a six-foot-tall model titled “Contact,” a movie-like cityscape that took Doyle some 600 hours and 200,000 LEGO bricks to assemble.

Another artist, Arthur Gugick, explains how he constructs LEGO models of landmark buildings such as Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and Notre Dame, after determining the proper scale for each structure. “It often depends upon the scale of a particular element,” he says. “The White House’s scale depended on the scale of the windows. Notre Dame’s scale depended on the scale of the buttresses.” Gugick sometimes has to resort to mathematics and even to writing software while creating his models. “The Roman Coliseum is an ellipse with a width-to-length ratio of 6:7. There is no formula for the circumference of an ellipse like there is for a circle,” he notes. “To find the circumference, I use the arc length formula from calculus. The Dome of the Rock,” he adds, “required a bit of trigonometry. To build the dome accurately, I wrote some software that easily allowed me to build any dome shape.”

Beautiful LEGO is, indeed, a beautiful book, one that will give fans of the plastic bricks many ideas for future projects–and no doubt a few bouts of artistic envy to accompany the inspirations.

Si Dunn

BOOK BRIEFS: Movie Stunts, Famous Bandits and a World War I Regiment – #bookreview

Cowboy Stuntman

From Olympic Gold to the Silver Screen
Dean Smith with Mike Cox
(Texas Tech University Press – hardback, Kindle)

Dean Smith won an Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter relays at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Then the 20-year-old returned home to Northwest Texas, where he had been a rodeo cowboy. Later, he dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin, spent time in the Army and briefly played professional football with the Los Angeles Rams. But he dreamed of working in Western movies. He finally got his break in 1957, in Dallas. He met up with a friend from Oklahoma whom he had known as Jim Bumgarner. Bumgarner now called himself James Garner, and he was the star of a new TV show, “Maverick.” Garner got Smith into the Hollywood movie and TV stunt business. More than 50 years later, Smith’s entertaining memoir covers not only his rural Texas years but his long career “doubling” in risky action scenes for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Roy Rogers, Robert Redford, and even Maureen O’Hara.

***

Butch Cassidy: The Lost Years

William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone
(Kensington Books – hardback, Kindle)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid most likely are dead — very dead — by now. But rumors persist that the two famous bandits survived a shootout with Bolivian soldiers after they stole a Bolivian silver mine’s payroll in 1908. Then they escaped back to America and disappeared. Prolific author William W. Johnstone has taken those rumors one step further and created a clever, pleasant novel set in 1950. It features a dedicated young Pinkerton detective who happens to be the son and grandson of Pinkerton agents who tried and failed to track down the famed bandits. But the book’s key character is an 85-year-old West Texas rancher who can spin a very good tale–and who might be, or may not be, be Cassidy himself.

***

They Called Them Soldier Boys

A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I
Gregory W. Ball
(University of North Texas Press – hardback)

Historian Gregory W. Ball’s new book is a well-written study of the 7th Texas Infantry Regiment, its combat experiences in France in World War I, and what happened to many of its soldiers after they returned home to Texas n 1919. One of the Texas National Guard regiments that made up the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division, the 7th Texas  took part in some of World War I’s biggest battles. “What those soldiers experienced, what they felt, and how they expressed themselves to their loved ones back home,” Ball writes, “is important to the history of World War I and of Texas, as their experiences form an important, albeit neglected, part of the Texas military experience.”

Si Dunn

Testing Cloud Services – How to Test SaaS, PaaS and IaaS – #cloud #bookreview

Testing Cloud Services

How to Test SaaS, PaaS & IaaS
Kees Blokland, Jeroen Mengerink and Martin Pol
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

Cloud computing now affects almost all of us, at least indirectly. But some of us have to deal directly with one or more “clouds” on a regular basis. We select or implement particular cloud services for our employers or for our own businesses. Or, we have to maintain those services and fix any problems encountered by co-workers or employees.

Testing Cloud Services, written by three well-experienced test specialists, emphasizes that the time to begin testing SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), or IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) is not after you have made your selections. You should begin testing them during the selection and installation processes and keep testing them regularly once they are live.

“Cloud computing not only poses challenges for testing, it also provides interesting new testing options,” the authors note. “For example, cloud computing can be used for test environments or test tools. It can also mean that all test activities and the test organization as a whole are brought to the cloud. This will be called Testing as a Service.”

Their well-written, six-chapter book deals with numerous topics related to using and testing cloud services, including the role of the test manager, identifying the risks of cloud computing and testing those risks, and picking the right test measures for the chosen services.

In Chapter 5, a significant portion of the book is devoted both to test measures and test management. “Testing SaaS is very different from testing PaaS or IaaS,” the writers state. Much of the lengthy chapter focuses on SaaS, but it also addresses PaaS and IaaS, and the authors describe the following test measures:

  • Testing during selection of cloud services
  • Testing performance
  • Testing security
  • Testing for manageability
  • Testing availability/continuity
  • Testing functionality
  • Testing migrations
  • Testing due to legislation and regulations
  • Testing in production

Particularly if you are a newcomer to choosing, testing, and maintaining cloud services, this book can be an informative and helpful how-to guide.

Si Dunn

Making Java Groovy – An excellent how-to guide for Java developers – #programming #bookreview

Making Java Groovy

Kenneth A. Kousen
(Manning, paperback)

I have looked at a lot of programming how-to texts in recent years, and this is one of the best I have encountered. Kenneth A. Kousen does not try to get readers to abandon aging and bloated Java in favor of a language that’s sleeker, shinier and newer. Instead, he seeks to show us how to use Groovy’s features and capabilities to help simplify Java, to make working with it easier, more efficient and–yes, even a bit more enjoyable. Indeed, Kousen proposes that we should gradually blend more and more Groovy into our Java code. Hence the title, Making Java Groovy.

(By the way, I lived through the hippie Sixties and remember how weary many of us grew of endlessly hearing the happy word “groovy”–as in “It’s groovy, man, groovy! Everything’s groovy!” I can say honestly that I resisted looking at Groovy, the programming language, for a long time, primarily because of that long-ago, wince-inspiring memory.)

Groovy is an object-oriented programming language that works on the Java platform, and it is intended to complement Java, not replace it. As Guillaume Laforge, the Groovy program manager, explains in his foreword to Kousen’s book: “The idea [behind Groovy] was to empower users to be more productive by removing the boilerplate of Java, and to simplify their programming lives by giving them compelling and straightforward APIs [application programming interfaces] to work with.”

Ken Kousen emphasizes that, among other things, Groovy “adds new capabilities to existing Java classes.” It uses Java libraries. And it makes it easier to work with XML and JSON. Kousen adds that “the Groovy version of a Java class is almost always simpler and cleaner. Groovy is far less verbose and generally easier to read.”

His book has ten chapters and two appendices and is structured into three parts. The first part, titled “Up to Speed with Groovy,” focuses on some long-time Java problems that Groovy addresses and simplifies, and it presents some ways you can use Groovy’s features in Java. The obligatory “Hello, World!” example is presented, but Kousen’s code accesses Google Chart Tools and generates a cool (okay, a groovy) “Hello, World!” 3D pie chart, to which you can add new slices and labels. (But, yes, you do first get the bland and obligatory Groovy shell command-line groovy:000>println ‘Hello, World!’ to verify that your Groovy installation works. Then you get to create the pie chart.)

Kousen is an independent consultant and technical trainer who specializes “in all areas related to Java.” He presents several Java code examples and shows how much shorter they can be made by integrating some Groovy into the mix. “Java historically hasn’t played well with others [other programming languages],” he cautions. But he demonstrates how Java and Groovy can be integrated smoothly to solve some nagging Java irritations and shortcomings.

The book’s second section highlights “Groovy Tools” and emphasizes build processes and testing, “two of the major ways Groovy is often introduced into an organization….”

The third section, “Groovy in the Real World,” describes “the sorts of challenges Java developers face on a regular basis” and how Groovy can help overcome them. The author starts with the Spring framework, “probably the most commonly used open source project in the Java world” and illustrates how “Spring and Groovy are old friends and work together beautifully.”  He also examines: (1) how Groovy interacts with persistent storage; (2) REST-ful web services, “with an emphasis on the JAX-RS 2.0 specification”; and (3) using Groovy in web application development.

The book’s instructions for downloading and installing Groovy are positioned near the back in Appendix A. and seem a bit sparse. But this is okay, since Making Java Groovy is not intended for programming beginners. And I can confirm that writers really don’t like to have to pause a well-written introduction long enough to explain how to download and install the right software for several operating systems.

Following Kousen’s instructions, I installed Groovy fairly easily on a Windows 7 PC, using a Windows EXE installer. He also mentions (too briefly) the Eclipse Marketplace. Since I have Eclipse (with Java and Scala) installed on a Linux machine, I used the Marketplace to get the Groovy and Grails plug-in, too. (My wife did not want Groovy anywhere on her precious Mac, so I did not test that installation.)

“Groovy generates Java bytecodes that are interpreted by a Java virtual machine,” Kousen states. “This means you have to have Java installed to install Groovy.”  Note also: “You need a full Java Development Kit (JDK) rather than a Java Runtime Environment (JRE).” And the Standard Edition (SE) is fine.

Appendix B, “Groovy by Feature,” expands upon Chapter 2’s “Groovy by Example,” and this one seems to be oddly placed. “While some people learn best through short, simple code examples illustrating each concept,” Kousen explains, “others prefer to see basic concepts combined to solve actual problems.” Appendix B “walks through most of the major features of Groovy and provides short snippets of code illustrating them.”

I would be happier if Appendix B had been positioned as Chapter 3, instead. Many people can learn both by feature and by example. And there should be nothing wrong with using one approach to reinforce the other.

But this is minor nitpicking. Making Java Groovy is an excellent how-to guide that I predict will go a long way to help popularize Groovy programming–even among us old guys who still shudder at the verbal excesses of our youth, when we proclaimed “everything” was “groovy.”

Si Dunn