Step away from the ‘smartphone’ and try using your hands and mind to make something – #bookreview

The Make: Series of How-to Books

A British scientist made headlines a few years ago when she warned that young people no longer make or repair things. It has become all too easy for them now, she cautioned, to simply throw away old or broken devices and buy new ones.

A key point was that many things currently being discarded could be fixed or refurbished and put to new uses. It would just take a little effort, a little learning, and some imagination.

I ran into some of that “no longer make or repair things” attitude a few years ago while working temporarily as a substitute teacher. If you have ever been a substitute in a public high school or middle school, you likely know that students often view “subs” as an excuse to pay absolutely no attention to anything he or she says.

When I could get no interest or response to the day’s assigned work in a science class, I tried introducing a challenge: Imagine you have become stranded on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean, and you have just a few items with which to try to survive and attract the attention of a passing ship. The items ranged from coconuts and palm fronds to a pocket mirror, a small magnifying glass, a couple of cups, some string and a safety-pin.

I figured the kids might come up with some clever ways to (1) crack open the coconuts for food and liquid, (2) start a fire using a magnifying glass and dried palm fronds, (3) use the string and safety-pin to catch a fish to cook over the fire, (4) use the cups to boil seawater and capture the steam to make a little drinking water, and (5) prepare a separate pile of palm fronds to burn as a rescue signal to a passing ship.

Ha. At first, the students seemed intrigued and engaged by the challenge. They immediately started calling out survival “strategies.” Unfortunately, most of their ideas started with two concepts: “First, I’d go to the mall and buy…” or “First, I’d go online and buy….”

The reality of being stranded in isolation without immediate communication did not even register with them at first. When they did begin to try to imagine surviving without their smartphones, they quickly ran out of ideas and became sullen or antagonistic toward me.

This experience also became the straw that finally broke the back of my desire to continue as a substitute teacher. I had grown up at a time when making, tinkering, building, and repairing all were noble pursuits for a teenager interested in science, electronics, space and engineering. If I wanted a shortwave radio or a new type of model airplane or a small rocket I could launch in my back yard, I built them from scratch or combined pieces of previous projects. None of this experience registered with my students. And my next attempts to stir up enthusiasm for making and repairing things similarly fell flat.

Make It So?

Do you worry that your kids are growing up not knowing how to make things or fix things? Do you fret that you no longer remember how to make things or fix things?

Working with your hands, eyes and brain – and not just mindlessly swiping an index finger across a tiny screen – can be both physically and mentally rewarding.

Of course, the web is alive with “how to” information for making or repairing almost anything. And I make occasional pilgrimages to public libraries and bookstores to find reference materials and instruction books related to specific projects.

I am an unabashed fan of the “Make:” series of books from Maker Media. I don’t build all of their projects, but I do try out some of them. And I enjoy reading about zany, yet sometimes practical, stuff such as (1) how to use a magnet to tell if money is counterfeit, (2) how to create artwork that actually does something, using just a handful of electronic components, (3) how to generate electric power with several lemons connected in series, or (4) how to make some really good paper airplanes and paper helicopters. The “Make:” books consistently feature clear, well-organized instructional text, illustrations and photographs of how things go together.

Books such as Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff (2nd edition), Easy 1+2+3 Projects, and Planes, Gliders, and Paper Rockets can appeal to parents and children who are in elementary school or older. For older kids and their parents, or for would-be engineers, Make: books such as Bluetooth, Getting Started with Intel Edison, and 3D Printing Projects can be helpful and enlightening how-to guides. Books on numerous other topics also are offered.

Do your kids (and/or you) seem unhealthily addicted now to clutching and staring at smartphones all day? You may want to try putting the devices aside and seeing what you can create with your hands, your mind, some household materials and a few readily available gadgets that don’t require pricey data plans and contracts.

You can do it! Power off now! (Okay, for just a few minutes at first if you insist and if you have a really bad case of smartphone withdrawal.)

— Si Dunn

Will “Smart” Device Dependence Make You Increasingly Dumb?

I strolled into my favorite Austin Starbucks recently and noticed a startling sight. Every person standing in line or sitting at tables simultaneously had their head down as if in group prayer. All at the same moment were staring at their smartphones.

I pulled out my own phone, dramatically flipped it open, held it aloft, and waved it in silent protest. No one got the joke, because no one noticed.

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We’ve all seen people become panic-stricken and helpless when they realize they have lost or forgotten their “smart” device, or had it stolen. “Everything—my whole life—is on there!” one friend wailed recently. “All my pictures, my personal information, my contacts. And—oh, god–work emails! I don’t know what to do!” She kept frantically digging through her big purse, which also contained “everything,” including papers from work, so she could keep working at home after she got off work. When I called her phone from my phone, we found her “smart” phone buried deep beneath makeup containers and assorted other purse rubble.

Many people now use their smartphones for “everything,” from paying a restaurant check (after using the calculator function to split it and calculate the tip) to hailing an Uber ride and remotely controlling their home air conditioning. And, anytime a question is raised in a group, several people will circumvent natural debate or brainstorming by immediately going to Google and reading off some article titles and paragraphs.

Meanwhile, a few unrelated videos also will pop up and be shared:  Cat attacks python! Man sets shoes on fire by standing on hot coals! Ha-ha-ha!

The smartphone video distractions are only going to get worse. As AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson recently told Fortune magazine: “…mobile video…is the real deal,” adding: “Half our mobile network traffic is video now, and it’s really growing fast.”

So, recent statutes banning talking or texting on a digital device while driving are now far behind the curve of progress. (“Sorry, officer, I was not breaking the law. I was watching Game of Thrones while paying no attention to the traffic and scenery around me.”)

Perhaps it is time to ask yourself two serious questions. Are you losing touch with the real world as you become increasingly distracted by your smartphone? And will your growing dependence on its “smart”-ness make you correspondingly “dumb” over time?

Si Dunn

Programming iOS 6, 3rd Edition – In with the New, Out with the Old (iOS 5 & Earlier) – #bookreview

Programming iOS 6, 3rd Edition
Matt Neuburg
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

“My book is way bigger than your book.”

Matt Neuburg, author of Programming iOS 6, could make that claim and win almost any book-size contest. The recently published 3rd Edition of his well-respected how-to guide focuses on the “Fundamentals of iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch Development” and now spans 1,154 pages in its paperback edition. It’s definitely much thicker and heavier than any of the devices it covers.

This new edition is centered on iOS 6.1 and xCode 4.6. The author notes that he has “eliminated most references to previous iOS versions.” And he explains: “Many iOS 6 features, of course, do not exist in iOS 5 or before; I usually mention that a new feature is new, but I have not generally addressed the problem of writing backwards-compatible code. The text would become confused and bloated if everything had to be qualified with advice for different versions (‘but if you’re targeting iOS 5.1, do this; if you’re targeting iOS 5.0, do that; if you’re targeting iOS 4.3, do the other’). I believe that I can justify such omissions on the grounds that previous editions of this book exist!”

Indeed they do. Programming iOS 5, which was published in two editions, also covers iOS 4.3 and is available on Amazon.com and through other sources..

“New iOS 6 features are, of course, both explained and adopted” in the new 3rd edition, Neuburg says. “For example, having described NSArray subscripting (in Chapter 10), I then use it consistently, in place of objectAtIndex:, throughout the rest of the book. Aside from this, the book’s structure remains the same as in previous editions, growing where necessary to accommodate explanations of new features, such as autolayout (in Chapter 14), state restoration (in Chapter 19), and collection views (in Chapter 21). Also, in response to reader requests, I have inserted a short example of Core Data programming into Chapter 36.”

Absolute beginners should not start with this book. Get some basic programming experience in C and Objective-C first.

And don’t be surprised that not everything about iOS is covered in a book 1,154 pages long. “It’s far too big to be encompassed in a book even of this size,” Neuburg emphasizes. “There are areas of Cocoa Touch that I have ruthlessly avoided discussing. Some of them would require an entire book of their own. Others you can pick up well enough, when the time comes, from the documentation. This book is only a beginning — the fundamentals.”

Si Dunn

iOS 6 Programming Cookbook – Updated for the new SDK – #iOS #programming #bookreview

iOS 6 Programming Cookbook
Vandad Nahavandipoor
(O’Reilly –
paperback, Kindle)

If you are a new iOS developer, you can learn many things quickly from this hefty book. And even if you are an iOS veteran, you can gain some important new insights.

The iOS 6 cookbook has been completely updated to cover the recently released iOS 6 SDK. And the author is a well-known and well-experienced developer of iOS apps.

The 20-chapter book begins with the basics of programming for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, using Objective-C. But it is not intended for beginners who are just learning to program.

In some forums, debates continue to rage over whether new programmers who want to create iOS apps should dive straight into learning Objective-C or study traditional C first and perhaps other programming languages before tackling Objective-C.

No opinion is offered in this well-written, well-organized book. It is just assumed that “you are comfortable with the iOS development environment and know how to create an app for the iPhone or iPad.”

The book’s  focus, the author says, is on explaining “frameworks and classes that are available in iOS 6 SDK” and teaching the reader “the latest and greatest APIs. As you know, some users of your apps may still be on older versions of iOS, so please consider those users and choose your APIs wisely, depending on the minimum iOS version that you want to target with your apps.”

Here is the chapter line-up for iOS 6 Programming Cookbook:

  1. The Basics
  2. Implementing Controllers and Views
  3. Auto Layout and the Visual Format Language
  4. Constructing and Using Table Views
  5. Storyboards
  6. Concurrency
  7. Core Location and Maps
  8. Implementing Gesture Recognizers
  9. Networking, JSON, XML, and Twitter
  10. Audio and Video
  11. Address Book
  12. Files and Folder Management
  13. Camera and the Photo Library
  14. Multitasking
  15. Core Data
  16. Dates, Calendars, and Events
  17. Graphics and Animations
  18. Core Motion
  19. iCloud
  20. Pass Kit

Vandad Nahavandipoor’s important new iOS 6 cookbook offers hundreds of how-to examples and code samples that can help solve problems and give well-defined starting points and frameworks for developers at all levels of experience.

The topics and code samples range from the basic, such as testing new iOS apps by running them on the iOS simulator, to the advanced, such as using Apple’s Pass Kit to create digitally signed coupons, tickets or passes that can be delivered to compatible iOS devices running iOS 6 or later.

Si Dunn

iOS SDK Development – A totally new and improved 2nd edition – #programming #bookreview

iOS SDK Development
Chris Adamson and Bill Dudney
(Pragmatic Bookshelf, paperback)

The previous, 2009 edition of this popular how-to book was titled iPhone SDK Development.  But this  new and re-titled second edition is much more than a copy-and-paste, just-make-some-tweaks update.

“[W]e have copied absolutely nothing from the old book,” the authors say. “As we looked at all the changes to the platform—between Xcode 4, iOS 6, and the iPad—we decided that so much had changed that we would be better off starting fresh.”

While they tried to cover virtually everything in their previous book, their new, 274-page edition is much more focused and, yes, it’s more pragmatic.

“This book,” they state, “is about setting you off on the right foot: understanding the fundamentals, getting comfortable with the tools and the concepts, and developing good habits. We’ve put a particular emphasis on the last of these, looking for the kinds of things that aren’t just handy classes or compiler tricks but instead are the values and routines that will help produce better apps. We’re also adopting modern iOS development practices, such as using Objective-C properties exclusively instead of using traditional instance variables and getting private methods out of public header files.”

Two other goals: They want iOS SDK Development “to serve as a prerequisite” for Pragmatic Bookshelf’s other iOS titles; and they hope you will “come away from this book with a firm grasp of the most essential iOS APIs—the UIKit GUI framework and the essential utilities of the Foundation framework—and enough of a sense of where things are and how things work to be able to grab the documentation for interesting looking features and be able to figure it out.”

The book has 10 chapters, with illustrations and short code examples. The chapters are:

  1. Tweetings and Welcome to iOS 6 – Shows how to download and install the SDK and begin working on a first app.
  2. Programming for iOS –Introduces Objective-C and “the two frameworks we use most often in iOS apps: Foundation and UIKit.”
  3. Asynchronicity and Concurrency – Shows “how many of the iOS APIs use asynchronous callbacks and [employ] the Grand Central Dispatch system to handle concurrent execution….”
  4. View Controllers – “…looks at how iOS apps are built on a strong Model-View-Controller (MVC) foundation.”
  5. Table Views – Deals with “the flexible and widely used table view, the linchpin of most iPhone apps that need to present lists of data.
  6. Storyboards and Container Controllers – Covers “how to build a visual road map of the many screens of an app and how to build much of the logic of that navigation and presentation automatically.”
  7. Documents and iCloud – Shows the tools needed “to save our user’s work to the filesystem as well as to Apple’s new iCloud service.”
  8. Drawing and Animating – Explains how to use the Core Graphics framework and Core Animation.
  9. Testing and Fixing Apps – Looks at what can go wrong and how to use the SDK’s tools to fix things.
  10. The App Store and Beyond – Focuses on moving from learning to doing, by maintaining code, running it on devices, submitting it on the App Store, and “managing it after it’s in users’ hands.”

Whether you want to learn how to develop iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch apps, or improve and update your knowledge of the necessary processes, you should read the new, improved iOS SDK Development and keep it within easy reach.

Si Dunn

Adobe Edge Animate: The Missing Manual – #bookreview

Adobe Edge Animate: The Missing Manual
Chris Grover
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

Chris Grover’s well-written and updated new book shows you how to build animated HTML 5 graphics for the iPhone, the iPad, and the Web, using familiar Adobe features. By the sixth page of the first chapter, you are using the software to begin creating your first animation.

The previous edition of this book, covering Adobe Edge Animate Preview 7, was released just two months ago, shortly before Adobe released the 1.0 commercial version of its Edge Animate product. This new edition has been updated and expanded to cover the commercial version.

Prior to the 1.0 release, seven Preview versions of Adobe Edge Animate had been issued as free downloads, and user feedback was gathered so the product could be enhanced and expanded.

Here is what I reported about this book’s Preview 7 edition in an  October, 2012, review:

First, this book can help you get started with the 1.0 commercial version of Adobe Edge Animate. Second, O’Reilly will soon bring out an Adobe Edge Animate “Missing Manual” that covers the new commercial release. And, third, sources at O’Reilly tell me that readers who purchase this Preview 7 edition of Chris Grover’s book will get access to “the e-book version of Adobe Edge Animate the 1.0 version and all of its updates.”

The new edition of Adobe Edge Animate: The Missing Manual has ten chapters organized into five parts, even though page xiv of the paperback version states that the book is “divided into three parts.” (It then lists four parts, instead of  five, or three).  The new part in this edition is titled “Publishing Animate Compositions” and focuses on “Publishing Responsive Web Pages” that will look good “in web browsers of all shapes and sizes….” Here are the new edition’s parts and chapters:

Part One:Working with the Stage

  • Chapter 1: Introducing Adobe Edge Animate
  • Chapter 2: Creating and Animating Art
  • Chapter 3: Adding and Formatting Text

Part Two: Animation with Edge Animate

  • Chapter 4: Learning Timeline and Transition Techniques
  • Chapter 5: Triggering Actions
  • Chapter 6: Working Smart with Symbols

Part Three: Edge Animate with HTML 5 and JavaScript

  • Chapter 7: Working with Basic HTML and CSS
  • Chapter 8: Controlling Your Animations with JavaScript and jQuery
  • Chapter 9: Helpful JavaScript Tricks

Part Four: Publishing Your Composition

  • Chapter 10: Publishing Responsive Web Pages

Part Five: Appendixes

  • Appendix A: Installation and Help
  • Appendix B: Menu by Menu

Where keystrokes are appropriate, Chris Grover lists both and does not make you have to translate between systems, as some how-to manuals do.

“Animate works almost precisely the same in its Macintosh and Windows versions,” he assures. “Every button in every dialog box is exactly the same; the software response to ever command is identical. In this book, the illustrations have been given even-handed treatment, rotating between the two operating systems where Animate is at home (Windows 7 and Mac OS X).”

Si Dunn

For more information: (O’Reilly, paperback, Kindle)

iPhone: The Missing Manual, 6th Edition – Covers all iPhone models with iOS 6 software – #bookreview

iPhone: The Missing Manual, 6th Edition
David Pogue
(O’Reilly, paperback, Kindle)

 

This latest “Missing Manual” from David Pogue covers all iPhone models that have iOS 6 software, including iPhone 5.

The 538-page book is well-written, well-organized, and heavily illustrated with color photographs, illustrations, and screen shots. It also has numerous tips set off in yellow boxes for extra emphasis.

The 6th Edition’s chapters are gathered into five parts:

  • The iPhone as Phone – Focuses on “everything related to phone calls” with the iPhone.
  • Pix, Flix & Apps – “[D]edicated to the iPhone’s built-in software programs, with a special emphasis on its multimedia abilities…also app management….”
  • The iPhone Online – Includes “email, Web browsing, and tethering (that is, letting your phone serve as a sort of Internet antenna for your laptop).”
  • Connections – “…the world beyond the iPhone itself—like the copy of iTunes on your Mac or PC that can fill up the iPhone with music, videos, and photos, and syncing the calendar, address book, and mail settings.” Also covers the iPhone’s control panel, the Settings Program, and other features.
  • Appendixes – Appendix A covers the iPhone setup process; Appendix B looks at accessories such as chargers, car adapters, and carrying cases; Appendix C is a “master compendium of troubleshooting, maintenance, and battery information.”

The new iOS 6 software is available free, Pogue says, and is “the same operating system that runs on the iPad and the iPod Touch.”

He adds: “Why is that important? Because you can run iOS 6 on older iPhone models (the 3GS, 4, and 4S) without having to buy a new phone.” His new book “covers all phones that can run the iOS 6 software: the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5.”

Si Dunn

For more information: paperback, Kindle