‘A Brilliant Death’ – Murder mystery, coming of age and homage to 1960s small-town Ohio – #bookreview

A Brilliant Death

Robin Yocum

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

Writers often are advised to “Write what you know.” Author Robin Yocum clearly has heeded that advice. This is a well-written mystery that also is a coming-of-age story, plus a fine portrait of simpler times in the American heartland during the mid-1960s.

A Brilliant Death is set in a real-life but now unincorporated village, Brilliant, Ohio. Brilliant is a settlement on the Ohio River near the West Virginia border, in an area where steel mills, coal mines and a glass factory once held sway and Polish and other immigrant names are common.

Yocum’s novel focuses on two teenage friends, Mitch Malone and Travis Baron, as they near adulthood in Brilliant and start trying to uncover the truth behind the death of Travis Baron’s mother when he was still an infant. Along the way, the two youths, both promising athletes, continue growing up, getting into typical teenage scrapes, and nearing the time when they will go off to college or off to the Vietnam War.

They do manage to discover the terrible truth behind Travis’s mother’s death. And what they learn puts both of their lives immediately into danger.  Now they must make difficult choices from options they  hoped they would never have to consider.

Si Dunn

Learning Dart – A solid guide to basic development using Google’s Dart #programming language – #bookreview

Learning Dart

Learn how to program applications with Dart 1.0, a language specifically designed to produce better-structured, high performance applications 

Ivo Balbaert and Dzenan Ridjanovic

(Packt – Kindle, paperback)

 

The programming language Dart was introduced in late 2011 by Google as a potential replacement for aging JavaScript. But JavaScript, of course, has continued to spread all over the Internet and planet since it first appeared in 1995.

Not surprisingly, Google found itself getting some pushback from software developers and others who have a lot of time, education, sweat and money invested into creating, supporting and modernizing files that have .js extensions.

Dart today is billed as “a new platform for scalable web app engineering.” It is a long way from replacing JavaScript. Indeed, it compiles to JavaScript.

At the same time,  Dart is a good and powerful Open Source language. And, while it is not yet seen on most lists of top languages to know, it is gaining momentum and followers in the software world.

“Dart looks instantly familiar to the majority of today’s programmers coming from a Java, C#, or JavaScript/ActionScript background; you will feel at ease with Dart,” write the authors of Learning Dart.

“However, this does not mean it [Dart] is only a copy of what already exists; it takes the best features of the statically typed ‘Java-C#’ world and combines these with features more commonly found in dynamic languages such as JavaScript, Python, and Ruby. On the nimble, dynamic side[,] Dart allows rapid prototyping, evolving into a more structured development familiar to business app developers when application requirements become more complex.”

In their recent book,  Balbaert and Ridjanovic note this about Dart: “Its main emphasis lies on building complex (if necessary), high-performance, and scalable-rich client apps for the modern web.”

Likewise, they point out that  “Dart can also run independently on servers. Because Dart clients and servers can communicate through web sockets (a persistent connection that allows both parties to start sending data at any time), it is in fact an end-to-end solution. It is perfect on the frontend for developing web components with all the necessary application logic, nicely integrated with HTML5 and the browser document model (DOM).

“On the backend server side, it can be used to develop web services, for example, to access databases, or cloud solutions in Google App Engine or other cloud infrastructures. Moreover, it is ready to be used in the multicore world (remember, even your cell phone is multicore nowadays) because a Dart program can divide its work amongst any number of separate processes, called isolates, an actor-based concurrency model as in Erlang.”

Their well-written book, from Packt Publishing, delivers a structured and nicely paced overview of how to use the Dart programming language. The book is suited for inexperienced developers and experienced developers alike who are curious about, or ready to dig into, Dart .

The intended audience, the authors state, includes “…web application programmers, game developers, and other software engineers. Because of its dual focus (Dart and HTML5), the book can appeal to both web developers who want to learn a modern way of developing web applications, and to developers who seek guidance on how to use HTML5.”

Indeed, in the first chapter, you get more than the obligatory “Hello, World!” program. You also learn how to use the Eclipse-based Dart Editor to create some simple command-line and web applications.

From there, the 12-chapter work focuses on topics and software examples that range from variables, classes and libraries, to combining HTML forms with Dart, building games with HTML5 and Dart, developing business apps with Polymer web components, using Dart with MVC web and UI frameworks, working with local data and client-server communications, and creating data-driven web applications using Dart and MySQL or MongoDB.

I have tested some of the book’s code examples both on Linux and Windows machines and have enjoyed working with the Dart Editor. However, I did find a couple of code typos in the print version while hand-typing some of the shorter examples. The better choice is to download and use the book’s code examples found on the Packt website.

One other matter that some new Dartisans may encounter: Norton 360 antivirus software currently tends to throw dart.exe into quarantine on Windows machines–and that stops Dart cold. There is a fairly simple way to retrieve the file from quarantine and tell Norton 360 to let it run. However, check the Dart community page on Google+ for info on that and some other approaches to avoiding the problem.

Learning Dart was published soon after Dart 1.0 was released, and Dart has continued to evolve fairly quickly. (Its stable version was 1.4.3 at the time this was written.) So there will be some small differences in screen displays and other matters.

If you want to learn Dart and get up to speed for using it in application development, Learning Dart can be your handy and solid how-to guide.

Si Dunn

 ***

Ready to get Learning Dart? Click here: Kindlepaperback

River of Angels – An excellent tale of two families and their divided city: Los Angeles – #fiction #bookreview

 

River of Angels

Alejandro Morales

(Arte Público Press, paperback )

 

This third novel by Alejandro Morales is a compelling, evocative portrait of  two very different families whose lives become intertwined through their children, in ways both loving and tragic.

Set in the 19th and 20th centuries, River of Angels is also the story of a burgeoning U.S. city divided by a dangerous river yet   linked by bridges and marriages, as well as shifting economic, cultural and racial balances.

Los Angeles today is divided by many ethnic, political and financial lines. And these divisions have been defined not only by major currents and undercurrents in California and American history but also by the river powerfully described in Morales’s book:  El Río de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de la Porciúncula, “The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula.”

The completion of a bridge over that river in 1887 provided a more convenient way for people to cross from either side, the author makes clear. But the bridge also helped set discriminations into easier motion.

“Most of the Los Angeles residents and people in neighboring communities were soon enjoying the convenience the bridge offered,” Alejandro Morales writes. “Laborers who worked on the west side of the river used the bridge every day to return to their dwellings on the east side. On certain days and hours during the week, it seemed that only workers moved back and forth across the river. Mexicans, blacks and Chinese had settled in the center of the city around the old plaza. However, that was changing, and [after the bridge was built] there was a deliberate and obvious push to house Mexicans on the east side of the river. The City Council made it easier for Mexicans to buy property and build houses on the Eastside.”

Some years later, a savage storm and flooding washed away the first bridge, and two more were built. Meanwhile, as this tale of families makes clear, the growth of Los Angeles’ Anglo population continued to push and squeeze minority groups, including Mexicans, African-Americans, Chinese and Japanese, out of their homes and businesses and into other areas of the city.

“The residents of the original Mexican colonias in Los Angeles proper–near La Placita and other sections newly designated as Anglo-only–were evicted and forced to relocate to the immigrant quarters of Los Angeles that were thought of as Mexican reservations,” Morales writes. “The city’s Anglo population needed the Mexicans for labor. The Mexicans had to live near, but not among, the Anglo families.”

That segregation sets up major tensions and drama within this engrossing novel as two families from widely separate realms are forcibly pulled together.

River of Angels delivers a unique and vivid portrait of Los Angeles at some of its worst and best. At the same time, Alejandro Morales skillfully illuminates racial, cultural, political and economic tensions that can be found today in virtually any other American city, whether a river runs through it or not.

Si Dunn

Mastering Gamification – A 30-day strategy to enhance customer engagement – #business #bookreview

 

Mastering Gamification

Customer Engagement in 30 Days

Scot Harris and Kevin O’Gorman

(Impackt Publishing – Kindle, paperback)

 Gamification is now a popular buzz word in many parts of the business world. This book wisely does not try to cover every angle, but stays focused on one application: “Marketing and sales people are using gamification to improve customer loyalty and engagement, knowing that it will lead to increased profitability,” the authors write.

They emphasize that “gamifying does not mean turning your business or website into a game. As Gamification.org defines it, gamifying is:

‘The presence or addition of game-like characteristics in anything
that has not been traditionally considered a game.’

 “Take particular note of the word ‘characteristics’ in this phrase,” the authors point out . “The purpose of gamifying is not to turn something into a game, but to apply understanding and knowledge about the basic human desires we all have that make us like games to a non-gaming environment, and hopefully to improve our businesses.”

 You may not finish all of the exercises, nor follow all of the suggestions in this well-written book. Yet the well-structured, 30-day plan offered by Harris and O’Gorman still can help you think harder about your business, how customers see it and how they engage–or don’t engage–with the products or services you offer.

 Even if you operate a small enterprise where you are the entire staff, this book can offer some good ideas and useful tips that can help you make more sales and keep customers coming back.

 What the authors aim to do is help you create and “launch a long-range, ongoing, continuous process of attracting the attention of a target audience, drawing them into a social space built around you and your products or services, encouraging them to evangelize about your products or services, and instilling in them an unshakable sense of loyalty.”

 In other words, you learn how to use some gamification techniques to get customers’ attention, keep their attention, and keep them coming back for more of whatever you are selling–three major keys to long-term survival and growth in business.

Si Dunn

South, America – Action, mystery and gritty Southern noir – #bookreview

South, America

A Jack Prine Novel

Rod Davis

(New South Books – paperback, Kindle)

Here’s one way to get yourself into deep trouble: Try to perform a simple act of kindness.

Jack Prine, the central character in this gritty, well-written new mystery novel, reluctantly tries to help a young woman understand what has happened to her brother. And from there, the favor quickly goes downhill, to fear, violence, threats, gunfire and the need to make quick escapes.

Prine lives in New Orleans, and he is, in his own words, “trying to figure out a line on my future….”

As he tries to sort out just what that “line” might be, he has been “doing some freelance writing and the occasional unlicensed PI investigation for a divorce lawyer/ex-Army buddy….”

Early one Sunday morning, Prine has nothing much on his mind except his hangover and a strong need for some Guatemalan coffee. But as he is walking to get the cup of coffee, he discovers a dead body. A man has had the back of his head bashed in. Prine dutifully calls the police and answers the investigator’s questions. Later, Prine gets a phone call from the victim’s sister, Elle Meridian. Reluctantly, he agrees to meet her, so he can tell her more about what he saw and show her where her brother died.

Once they do meet, their attraction for each other develops fairly quickly. And as Jack Prine’s relationship with Elle grows, he soon finds himself drawn into circumstances and dangers he could never have imagined when he first heard her voice on the telephone.

Suddenly, the “unlicensed PI” is having to be a hard-boiled detective. And he and Elle wind up on the run from the vicious and tenacious Dixie Mafia. They race through Alabama and Mississippi on their way back to New Orleans– where no safety awaits them.

South, America is an engrossing tale alive with Southern landscape, thugs, family secrets, voudou, art treasures, racial tensions, sex…and love. And the book’s ending offers an excellent setup for the next Jack Prine novel, hopefully coming soon from Rod Davis.

Si Dunn

 

Adobe Edge Animate – Rocky Nook’s elegant new software how-to guide – #webdesign #bookreview

adobe_edge_animate

Adobe Edge Animate

Using Web Standards to Create Interactive Websites

Simon Widjaja
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

Simon Widjaja’s new book is both elegant and practical. It is elegantly structured and illustrated, and it is practical in its approach to showing how to use Adobe Edge Animate.

That software package, Widjaja says, “is a multimedia authoring tool based on open web standards….Compositions created with Edge Animate can be used in browser applications and apps on mobile devices, but also in digital publications created with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite or Apple iBooks Author.”

Widjaja is an experienced Edge developer, as well as programmer, author, IT trainer, and Flash developer.

Not only does his book show how to design and create animations. He also demonstrates “solutions that go beyond the application’s standard functions,” including “integration into external systems and extensibility with additional frameworks and custom components.”

The Edge Animate runtime, he notes, “is largely based on the popular jQuery JavaScript framework.” So external HTML and JavaScript components can be placed into Edge Animate compositions, and Edge Animate users can create their own components.

The 220-page book (translated from German by Susan Spies) is divided into seven chapters, with numbered subheadings and sub-subheadings. The chapters are:

Chapter 1: Introduction — Contains “basic information on the current status quo in web standards” and how they apply to understanding and using Edge Animate.

Chapter 2: Getting to know the authoring tool – Provides an overview of Edge Animate’s interface and its wide range of functions.

Chapter 3: Design – Shows how to use the functions for creating graphic elements, how to work with assets such as images and fonts, and how to “create more complex layouts.”

Chapter 4: Animation – Introduces the Timeline and the Pin and explains “how to animate  your compositions using keyframes.”

Chapter 5: Interaction – Focuses on Edge Animate’s API and “how to implement various actions.”

Chapter 6: Publication –Explores the “the various publishing options available…in Edge Animate and explains the necessary preparations…for publishing your composition on the web or within a digital publication. Also looks at “how your creative work can be integrated into a content management system.”

Chapter 7: Advanced Tips – Covers “a range of extensions you will need to make your projects perform well on the web.”

Widjaja’s Adobe Edge Animate seems an excellent fit for Rocky Nook’s stated 2014 mission, which is “to publish books on cutting-edge developments in photography, imaging, and technology that really matter, and to focus on practical usage that will enhance capabilities. Our ultimate goal,” the company says, “is to foster image quality.”

With this book and Adobe Edge Animate, you definitely can learn how to boost the quality of images, using effective animated presentations on the web, in apps, and in other publications.

One e-book caution: This book “has complex layouts and has been optimized for reading on devices with larger screens.” In other words, do not try to read it on a phone or small tablet.

Si Dunn

The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook – Good mentoring advice from performers who have succeeded – #bookreview

The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook

What Seasoned Actors Wish They Had Known
Molly Cheek and Debbie Zipp
(Betty Youngs Books – Kindle)

This is not–repeat, not–just another book on how to create a good headshot and resume to wave around so you can attempt to attract a Hollywood or New York talent agent.

The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook offers up information and advice that a number of now-successful actors wish they had received when they were first struggling to get started in Los Angeles or New York.

Molly Cheek and Debbie Zipp are both experienced actresses with considerable movie and television experience. They know the complicated insides of “the business,” and they have collected wit, wisdom and useful how-to advice from several other successful actresses, as well.

“We are the seasoned professionals who have experienced everything in this business except major stardom, and we are here to tell you (and your doubting loved ones) that there exists a wide middle ground between Starving Artist and Angelina Jolie,” the two authors state. “Yes, it IS possible to have a rewarding and balanced life as a working actor. You can make a very nice living wage and have a normal middle class life without anyone outside of the business knowing your name.”

They describe themselves and their book’s contributors as “people who have something realistic and constructive to share with you about becoming an actor. While we…refer to ourselves as actresses, the insights we share are universally applicable to all aspiring performers, male and female. We have been in your shoes and have made our living as actresses for over 30 years. There are tons of books, websites and blogs out there on the craft of acting, auditioning techniques, how to get ahead and the like, but there is so much more to know about creating and sustaining a full life as a working actress [or actor]. And who better to shed some light on this career than women who have lived it?”

Indeed, the personal how-I-made it tales from the authors and their contributors are both entertaining and instructive. Many of them arrived starry-eyed from small towns, ill-equipped or not adequately trained to try out for movie, television or theater careers. Yet they managed to persevere, through a combination of a combination of luck, bluster, faith in themselves, and fortuitous timing.

“When we look back over our careers, what we missed most was a mentor; someone to tell our 18-year-old selves just what we are going to tell you,” the two authors point out.

“Teachers, agents and coaches just aren’t enough to fully arm you to face the mighty challenges in front of you. You need encouragement and real-world perspective from women who have been there; women who came to an acting career from different parts of the country, from different backgrounds, with different stories who have one thing in common: their love for acting and their ability to have been able to make a livable wage in their chosen profession. The tips, advice, and personal stories we share with you are heart-felt and freely given out of love and respect for the pursuit of your dream. In that spirit, we share all that we know and what we wish we had known.”

Their book offers six chapters rich with “mentoring perspective,” covering such topics as the various “handlers” you will encounter (managers, agents, publicists, lawyers and others), sex in the workplace, managing your sporadic money, and maintaining personal integrity “in the great unknown of show business.”

The chapters are:

  •  Chapter 1: Your Strongest Asset: You
  •  Chapter 2: You, The Product
  •  Chapter 3: You, The Person
  •  Chapter 4: The Lows: Surviving the insecurities of show business and learning to separate performer from the person
  •  Chapter 5: The Highs: The importance and joys of the acting profession
  •  Chapter 6: Be Ready for Your “Break-Out” Moment

Los Angeles and New York remain America’s shining beacons of hope and challenge for young, ambitious performers seeking stardom. Yet those cities are not the only places, of course, where movie projects, theater productions, and television shows now seek talented performers and crew members. Much of the information in The Aspiring Actor’s Handbook can apply to your acting aspirations and acting career no matter where you live and perform.

— Si Dunn

2014 Poet’s Market – Yes, you can get published and maybe even make (very little) money – #poetry #bookreview

2014 Poet’s Market

Edited by Robert Lee Brewer
(Writer’s Digest Books – paperback, Kindle)

C’mon, admit it. You hated poetry in high school, and you seldom read it now. Yet, you sometimes find yourself moved to write a poem–or at least attempt to. And you wonder if the ones you actually finish are good enough to get published.

The 27th annual edition of Poet’s Market shows how and where you can submit poems for possible publication (and, much rarer, possible payment for your work). The sites listed include The New Yorker (“which receives approximately 4,000 submissions per month”) and The New England Review (which receives 3,000 to 4,000 poetry submissions per year and accepts about 70 to 80).

Hundreds of other printed and online publications are covered, along with their submission procedures and the types of poetry they are seeking. For example, at the online publication Necrology Shorts: Tales of Macabre and Horror: “We expect deranged, warped, twisted, strange, sadistic, and things that question sanity and reality.”

The 505-page 2014 Writer’s Market contains interviews with poets, a quick and helpful overview of poetic forms, plus 15 fine, well-displayed poems to keep you inspired and/or jealous. And the book contains solid information on how to promote yourself as a poet and give effective poetry readings.

If you are serious about writing poetry–and even if you choose to self-publish your works–you will find a rich array of how-to’s, hints, cautionary tales, marketing tips and other worthwhile resources in the 2014 Poet’s Market.

Si Dunn

Instant Handlebars.js – A short but effective how-to guide – #programming #bookreview

Instant Handlebars.js

Learn how to create and implement HTML templates into your projects using the Handlebars library
Gabriel Manricks
(Packt Publishing – e-book, paperback)

“Short, fast, and focused.” These are the three promises offered for Gabriel Manricks’ new book, Instant Handlebars.js, from Packt Publishing. And, at just 62 pages in print format, it lives up to those vows.

Manricks explains and demonstrates Handlebars using five well-structured sections. First, he introduces Handlebars.js and describes what a templating engine is and does. He notes that “[t]he purpose of using a templating engine such as Handlebars is to generate some kind of viewable content (usually HTML pages), dynamically.” He then shows how to download the Handlebars library and create a “Hello {{name}}” template and a simple helper.

His “Top 6 Features you need to know about” section goes to the heart of Handlebars.js and shows how you can organize large projects and pre-compile templates.

The Top 6 topics include: (1) Expressions—“the core of templates”; (2) Helpers—“[t]hese are where Handlebars gets its extendibility”; (3) Partials—“the building blocks of the template world” and important for modular design; (4) Structuring a Handlebars app—the pros and cons of various potential structures; (5) Pre-compilation—which can lead to “a more optimized and efficient site”; and (6) Logging and comments—“writing clear and debug-able templates and helpers, so you can easily test and maintain them in the future.”

In the book’s final section, “People and places you should get to know,” Manricks describes some individuals and websites you should follow so you can “stay up to date and dive deeper into the Handlebars community.”

Despite its small page count, the book contains numerous short code examples that show how to put Handlebars.js to work in HTML files.

You need at least some modest experience with JavaScript and HTML to get full benefit from this book. You also will make brief use of Node.js to install Handlebars.js.

If you have done any work with Ember.js, you already have picked up some Handlebars.js experience. However, even here, this short, handy guide can help you get a better understanding of how to use Handlebars, with or without Ember.

Instant Handlebars.js can be ordered in e-book or paperback format direct from Packt Publishing’s website. Or, the Kindle version and the paperback can be ordered via Amazon.

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