Journey to the Wilderness: A family’s Civil War letters about hope, honor, love, sacrifice, and the despair of death and defeat – #bookreview

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Journey to the Wilderness

War, Memory, and a Southern Family’s Civil War Letters

Frye Gaillard

New South Bookspaperback, Kindle

The Civil War ended 150 years ago. Yet, it remains alive in many aspects of American culture and politics.

For those of us who grew up in the South in the 1940s and 1950s, it was not uncommon to have elderly relatives who had been small children during the war and who still remembered some of the conflict and how it affected their families. It also was not uncommon to hear the war described as if the South had not been defeated. (Indeed, my elementary school was named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and I attended infamous Little Rock Central High at the time when it was forced to re-open and admit black students under the protection of paratroopers sent by  President Eisenhower).

Journey to the Wilderness is structured around an intimate, engrossing collection of Civil War-era letters. They were written by some of Frye Gaillard’s ancestors, including his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Gaillard, and Thomas’s sons, Franklin Gaillard and Richebourg Gaillard, both of whom were officers in the Confederate army.

The letters eloquently capture the high hopes of Southerners as the long fight begins. Then the grim realities of mid-19th-century warfare begin to hit home. As the war stretches out in duration, some of the Gaillards’ letters from the front lines continue to praise the gallantries of Southern infantry and artillery batteries, even in defeat, while condemning the apparent ineffectiveness of Southern cavalry units in certain battles.

At the same time, the two Confederate officers spare few details when describing deaths and injuries witnessed during combat, in such notable battles as Shiloh, Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, and the Wilderness.

The family letters in his book, Frye Gaillard writes, “help paint a portrait of a horrifying time in American history, a time when 622,000 soldiers died on American soil, and when the southern half of the nation–so righteous and defiant when the conflict began–experienced a loss that was measured not only in blood but also in what one of my ancestors called the ‘cruelty and humiliation’ of defeat.”

Frye Gaillard also devotes part of his important book to his own “reflections on war and memory–on how the past lives on in the present, and how it draws us, slowly if we let it, in the painful direction of a more honest truth.”

For anyone drawn to Civil War history and to the conflict’s continuing ramifications, this book is a gem to seek out and read.

Si Dunn

A Home for Wayward Boys: Keeping juvenile offenders in line…with God, rifles and a marching band – #bookreview

 

Home for Wayward Boys

A Home for Wayward Boys

The Early History of the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School

Jerry C. Armor

NewSouth Books – paperback, Kindle

Early in the 20th century, male juvenile offenders in Alabama sometimes were sent to the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School (ABIS), near Birmingham, rather than put into prison with adults. Their crimes ranged from manslaughter to smoking cigarettes as minors. A number of orphans, runaways and victims of broken families also ended up there.

Opened in 1900, the ABIS was a not a “reform school” in the typical sense. The boys’ school had been founded by a dedicated, driven and religious woman, Elizabeth Johnston. And it operated with a very unusual structure: its board of directors consisted entirely of women, at a time when women still could not vote in elections and mostly were expected to just stay home and not get involved in business and politics.

As the ABIS grew, so did what it offered to “wayward boys.” At first, it mainly provided food, a rustic but safe place to sleep, religious services and some hard work doing farming, repairs and other tasks on the school’s sprawling acreage. Soon, however, the ABIS began stressing military discipline and training, too–indeed, issuing army-style uniforms and rifles to young juvenile offenders who had been sent to ABIS by Alabama judges. Then a military marching band evolved and expanded, and it eventually led a parade in Birmingham for President Theodore Roosevelt, played with the U.S. Marine Band in Washington, D.C., and appeared at numerous other events.

As the ABIS gained more buildings and staff, it began offering education in a variety of trades, including tailoring and sewing, painting, barbering, sheet metal work, bakery work, and radio repair.

Many of the youths sent to ABIS as offenders turned their lives around and graduated, and some earned outstanding combat records in World War I and World War II. Some even came back to teach and administrate at ABIS.

Jerry C. Armor’s book is an eye-opening and uplifting look at the 75-year history of the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School. He places a special emphasis on the school’s difficult formative years, as well as on funny, sad and strange anecdotes about how some of the youths ended up there.

Armor details how one woman who sensed she was following God’s calling fearlessly lobbied the Alabama governor and state legislature and begged businesses and various organizations for funds and supplies to start the school and keep it running and growing. And he tells the stories of key leaders within the school who helped it survive and thrive during its colorful, yet little-known, history.

A federal law enacted in the 1970s established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. And that new agency’s “policies, standards, and recommendations…drastically changed how states dealt with troubled youth,” Armor writes. In 1975, he notes, the Alabama Department of Youth Services assumed control of the ABIS and several other facilities in the state.” The campus soon was renamed, and its programs were changed to meet the new requirements.

Armor’s book includes a call to action for citizens of Alabama who are concerned about today’s high rate of recidivism (70%) for juvenile offenders in their state. The rate was considerably lower, he notes, for the youths sent to the Alabama Boys’ Industrial School.

 — Si Dunn

SOFT SKILLS: A very useful ‘life manual’ for software developers – #programming #bookreview

Soft Skills

The Software Developer’s Life Manual

John Z. Sonmez

Manning paperback

I really wish I had had this book when I started a 14-year career in software development and testing. I was hired back in the days when you could get a software job by having a college degree (in anything), a couple of positive references and some decent writing skills. If you could also turn on a computer and bring up the DOS prompt, so much the better.

No matter how many skills you actually had, you were going to spend a couple of months learning your new environment and your new job, while also attending free, company-sponsored training classes (during working hours). Meanwhile, if you had any questions, you could just go ask the C guru down the hall or dour Mister Assembler, who lived in the big, corner cubicle and seemed to have no other life.

I am retired now from the corporate world of software. And when, out of curiosity, I look at today’s help-wanted postings for developers and testers, I am stunned by how much knowledge, training and verifiable skills one person is expected to bring to the table. At least ten jobs, it seems, have been rolled into one.

For that reason and more, I highly recommend Soft Skills by John Z. Sonmez. He believes, he says, in taking “a holistic approach to software development. This means that I think that if you want to be a better software developer—a better anything, really—you need to focus on the entire person, not just one or two areas of your life.”

Sonmez offers up a wealth of how-to information and useful advice covering everything from “hacking” a job interview to developing a personal brand and staying physically fit in a job that requires long hours sitting on one’s butt. He also offers tips for learning new things quickly, staying productive (using a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique)–and investing part of your paycheck so you can retire early or at least have a comfortable cushion if you get laid off and decide to become an independent consultant.

Yes, there is a lot of common advice sense in Soft Skills–the kind of advice you likely have heard before but ignored. Still, Sonmez’s book makes clear, compelling cases for why you really do have to watch out for–and take care of–yourself these days. You seemingly can’t count on an employer to do much of anything anymore, except view you as a unit of cost to be reduced or eliminated as soon as possible.

“Most software developers starting out in their careers make a few huge mistakes,” Sonmez writes. “The biggest of those mistakes, by far, is not treating their software development career as a business. Don’t be fooled; when you set out into the world to write code for a living, you’re no different than the blacksmith of old times setting up shop in a medieval town. Times may have changed, and most of us work for a company, but our skills and our trade belong to us and we can always choose to set up shop somewhere else. This kind of mindset is crucial to managing your career, because when you start to think of yourself as a business, you start to make good business decisions.”

This is a mindset I wish I had acquired and expanded when I got my first job in software and then began to surf the periodic waves of layoffs. If you are new at working in software development or still trying to get your foot in the door, you can get some very good information and guidance from this book. The same goes if your career currently is floundering and needs a reboot. Don’t just hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and go storming out the door. Try reading some of Sonmez’s chapters first–and at least have your resume reworked by experts who can help you boost your personal “brand.”

Si Dunn

 

Cloudera Administration Handbook – How to become an effective Big Data administrator of large Hadoop clusters – #bookreview

 

 

Cloudera Administration Handbook

 Rohit Menon

Packt PublishingKindle, paperback

 

The explosive growth and use of Big Data in business, government, science and other arenas has fueled a strong demand for new Hadoop administrators. The administrators’ key duty is to set up and maintain Hadoop clusters that help process and analyze massive amounts of information.

New Hadoop administrators and those looking to join their ranks especially will want to give good consideration to The Cloudera Administration Handbook by Rohit Menon. This is a well-organized, well-written and solidly illustrated guide to building and maintaining large Apache Hadoop clusters using Cloudera Manager and CDH5.

The author has an extensive computer science background and is a Cloudera Certified Apache Hadoop Developer. He notes that “Cloudera Inc., is a Palo Alto-based American enterprise software company that provides Apache Hadoop-based software, support and services, and training to data-driven enterprises. It is often referred to as the commercial Hadoop company.”

CDH, Menon points out, is the easy shorthand name for a rather awkward software title: “Cloudera’s Distribution Including Apache Hadoop.” CDH is “an enterprise-level distribution including Apache Hadoop and several components of its ecosystem such as Apache Hive, Apache Avro, HBase, and many more. CDH is 100 percent open source,” Menon writes.

The Cloudera Manager, meanwhile, “is a web-browser-based administration tool to manage Apache Hadoop clusters. It is the centralized command center to operate the entire cluster from a single interface. Using Cloudera Manager, the administrator gets visibility for each and every component in the cluster.”

The Cloudera Manager is not explored until nearly halfway into the book, and some may wish it had been explained sooner, since they may be trying to learn it on day one of their new job. However, Menon wants readers first to become familiar with “all the steps and operations needed to set up a cluster via the command line” at a terminal. And these are, of course, important considerations to becoming an effective, knowledgeable and versatile Hadoop Administrator.  (You may not always have access to Cloudera Manager while setting up or troubleshooting a cluster.)

The book’s nine chapters show its well-focused range:

  • Chapter 1: Getting Started with Apache Hadoop
  • Chapter 2: HDFS and MapReduce
  • Chapter 3: Cloudera’s Distribution Including Apache Hadoop
  • Chapter 4: Exploring HDFS Federation and Its High Availability
  • Chapter 5: Using Cloudera Manager
  • Chapter 6: Implementing Security Using Kerberos
  • Chapter 7: Managing an Apache Hadoop Cluster
  • Chapter 8: Cluster Monitoring Using Events and Alerts
  • Chapter 9: Configuring Backups

You will have to bring some hardware and software experience and skills to the table, of course. Apache Hadoop primarily is run on Linux. “So having good Linux skills such as monitoring, troubleshooting, configuration, and security is a must” for a Hadoop administrator, Menon points out. Another requirement is being able to work comfortably with the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and understand Java exceptions.

But those skills and his Cloudera Administration Handbook can take you from “the very basics of Hadoop” to taking up “the responsibilities of a Hadoop administrator and…managing huge Hadoop clusters.”

Si Dunn

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The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York – #bookreview

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

 

The Mob and the City

The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

C. Alexander Hortis

(Prometheus Books, Kindle, hardcover)

 

Forget The Godfather, its sequels and numerous other, famous “Mafia” movies. This excellent book cuts straight through the hype, fictions, and glamorizations to tell “the hidden history of how the street soldiers”–not the godfathers–“of the modern Mafia captured New York City during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.” And its author convincingly argues that “the key formative decade for the Mafia was actually the 1930s”–not “the Prohibition era of the 1920s” as numerous books and movies have had us believe. During the Great Depression-ravaged Thirties, the Sicilian mafiosi , the Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”), rose to become New York’s top crime syndicate, with thousands of foot soldiers and associates eventually “entrenched throughout the economy, neighborhoods, and nightlife of New York.”

The Mob and the City is well-written and superbly researched. C. Alexander Hortis has dug deeply into available resources but also uncovered important new data sources, including previously secret files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. Hortis presents a convincing case that there was (1) never really a “golden age of gangsters” in New York and (2) definitely not much honor among thieves. “The wiseguys,” he writes, “broke every one of their ‘rules,’ trafficked drugs almost from the beginning, became government informers, betrayed each other, lied, and cheated.” Hortis’s story of how New York City’s booming economy also offered the major crime syndicates “an embarrassment of riches” to exploit and plunder is fascinating and eye-opening reading.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Book Burner – A novelist and poet’s engrossing journey to find her creativity and strength – #bookreview

 

Confessions of a Book Burner

Lucha Corpi

 (Arte Público Press – paperback )

 

In the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, a school teacher who knew the Corpi family let little four-year-old Lucha come to class with her older brother and spend each day sitting quietly at the back of the room.

As Lucha watched and listened, she soon began learning how to read and write and also how, literally, to blend into backgrounds.

These skills later would serve her well at a pivotal moment in her adult life, when she suddenly found herself a divorced young mother living in a foreign country, the United States, with a young son to support  while surrounded by racial bias.

Confessions of a Book Burner is a well-written collection of personal essays and stories that reflect on Lucha Corpi’s journey to becoming a novelist, poet and teacher, and then, breaking out of her in-the-background comfort zone, becoming a San Francisco Bay-area activist for bilingual education, women’s rights, and civil rights.

“Throughout my life, no matter where I’ve lived, silence and melancholy have been my friends and allies,” she writes in her memoir. “They’ve aided the internalization of feeling and the introspection necessary to find the variety of incongruent elements in my conscious and subconscious mind that eventually come together to form [a] poem” or other written work.

“Teaching, writing and motherhood, all-consuming aspects of my life, hardly allowed me time to wallow in self-pity or regret,” she adds.

Lucha Corpi is now an internationally recognized novelist, poet, and author of children’s books. Among her works are four novels in the Gloria Damasco Mystery series, which she began after reading “many mystery novels as well as author interviews on the writing of crime fiction….”

She continues: “Every road taken in my search for the reason Chicanas do not write mysteries kept leading me back to the reading corner. Sin lectura no hay ni escritura e literatura–there is no literature without reading and writing.” Her informal surveys of Chicanas and Latinas convinced her that these readers turned away from mysteries because they don’t like stories about crime and guns and women as victims and seldom have read them.

To that, she writes: “I can…assure any Chicana who is now contemplating penning a mystery novel that the writing of crime fiction, when one respects one’s art, is as legitimate as any other kind of writing; that exposing the machinations of a ‘justice system’ which more often than not stacks the deck against women, especially women of color, is not only all right; it is also a way to obtaining justice  for those who won’t or can’t speak for themselves.”

Si Dunn

Improving the Test Process – A Study Guide for ISTQB Expert Level Module – #software #bookreview

Improving the Test Process

Implementing Improvement and Change — A Study Guide for the ISTQB Expert Level Module

Graham Bath and Erik van Veenendaal
(Rocky Nook – paperback, Kindle)

If you are a software tester seeking an important new credential to help boost your career, definitely check out this book. Improving the Test Process can help you complete and pass one of the four modules required by the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB) to achieve “Expert” certification. (Two of the four “Expert” modules will be available in 2014 and 2015, respectively.)

The ISTQB has established three levels in its Certified Tester program: Foundation, Advanced and Expert. “The result,” the two authors state, “is a structure that supports the development of career paths for professional testers.”

Improving the Test Process has 10 chapters and six appendices devoted to that Expert Level module, including an appendix that focuses on what to expect in the module’s certification exam.

The chapters and appendices are:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The Context of Improvement
  • 3. Model-Based Improvement
  • 4. Analytical-Based Improvement
  • 5. Selecting Improvement Approaches
  • 6. Process for Improvement
  • 7. Organization, Roles, and Skills
  • 8. Managing Change
  • 9. Critical Success Factors
  • 10. Adapting to Different Life Cycle Models
  • Appendix A: Glossary
  • Appendix B: Literature and References
  • Appendix C: The Syllabus Parts
  • Appendix D: The Exam
  • Appendix E: Summary of Cognitive Levels (K-Levels)
  • Appendix F: Answers

The “Answers” appendix provides the answers to exercises posted at the end of chapters 2 through 10.

“The definition of a testing expert used by ISTQB,” the authors note, “is ‘a person with the special skills and knowledge representing mastery of a particular testing subject. Being an expert means possessing and displaying special skills and knowledge derived from training and experience.'”

The book’s authors are both long-time professionals in the field of software testing, and they are co-authors of the ISTQB Expert Level syllabus. So they know their subject matter.

In each chapter, they lay out specific learning objectives and follow with technical content and exercises.

Their well-written book is structured so it can be used for two important purposes: (1) as a preparation guide for taking the ISTQB Expert Level certification exam and (2) as a practical guide for experienced testing professionals who want to learn more about how to improve software testing processes.

Si Dunn