New book ‘Tools’ shows how to cut, shape and assemble wood or plastic projects – #bookreview

Maker Media’s new book Tools is subtitled “How They Work and How to Use Them.” But the Tools title seems a little too broad for what is covered. Most of the tools described in the book’s pages are associated mainly with working with wood or ABS plastic, not with metal or other materials.

That is a minor criticism, however. The book is well written and nicely illustrated with photographs and other graphics that show how to use particular tools and how to avoid creating splits, ragged edges or bad cuts across wood grain.

Even readers who have some experience with do-it-yourself projects can learn some helpful techniques and information from this book. And younger readers who have grown up playing video games and tinkering with cell phone apps rather than making things may be able to learn many useful tool-handling skills from these pages.

Tools presents more than 20 “hands-on projects that don’t require a big investment in time and materials.” The projects range from puzzles and bookcases to picture frames and a Swanee whistle (a slide whistle from 19th century England), as well as an adjustable paper towel dispenser.

Meanwhile, the promise that you won’t need a workshop may be true, because “everything can be done on a kitchen table.” Yet, you might prefer to not risk a good kitchen table while learning tools and building things. One slip of a screwdriver, file or glue pot could permanently damage the table. As the book suggests, however, you can cover part of the kitchen table with a large piece of plywood or Masonite and use that as the work surface.

You start off slow, making a Soma cube puzzle with just a handsaw, a square dowel and some carpenter’s glue. In each chapter, new tools and new challenges are introduced, and the importance of having some mathematical skills quickly becomes apparent as measurements are taken, angles are marked, and various shapes are marked and cut from rectangular pieces of wood or plastic.

Beyond its nonspecific title, Tools nicely meets its goal of helping readers have fun while learning the fundamentals of using numerous workshop tools and materials.

Si Dunn

Tools

How They Work and How to Use Them

Charles Platt

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

 

 

 

 

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‘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

Java 8 in Action – Ready for lambdas, streams and functional-style programming? #bookreview

 

Java 8 in Action

Lambdas, streams, and functional-style programming

Raoul-Gabriel Urma, Mario Fusco, Alan Mycroft

(Manning – paperback)

 Java 8, we were sometimes assured, would just be Java 7 with a few slick new (or past-due) features added.

Actually, now that it’s here, Java 8 represents “the biggest change to Java in the 18 years since Java 1.0 was released,” the three authors of this fine new book point out.

Of course, news of “big changes” seldom sits well with developers who have spent countless hours learning and getting comfortable with one particular version of a programming language.

And many coders and companies will continue sticking with Java 7 for a while longer, because it still works. But the adoption pace for Java 8 keeps picking up. So, to misquote an old sci-fi slogan, resistance soon will become somewhat futile.

Lambdas, streams, and functional-style programming capabilities are Java 8’s headline additions. And there are some other major and minor additions, as well, including default methods and a new Date and Time API.

Java 8 in Action does an excellent job of introducing these new capabilities, and the book offers many short code examples and other illustrations to show how to put the new Java 8 capabilities to work.

Indeed, short (and shorter!) code is one of the hallmarks of Java 8. “In Java 8 you can write more concise code that reads a lot closer to the problem statement,” the writers emphasize. To illustrate that point, they offer a five-line example of verbose Java 7 code and follow it with a one-line Java 8 code example that accomplishes the same thing. Other examples also drive home the coding efficiencies that Java 8 can offer.

Lambdas, also known as anonymous functions, enable you to skip writing method definitions that will only be used once. The authors note that “passing code is currently tedious and verbose in Java [meaning 7 and earlier]. Well, good news! Lambdas fix this problem: they let you pass code in a concise way. Lambdas technically don’t let you do anything you couldn’t do prior to Java 8. But you no longer have to write clumsy code using anonymous classes to benefit from behavior parameterization!”

The new Streams API makes it much easier to work with collections in Java and provides “a much different way to process data in comparison to the Collections API.” Using the Streams API, “you don’t need to think in terms of loops at all. The data processing happens internally inside the library.”

Meanwhile, if you are a diehard object-oriented programmer, you may be leery of the term “functional programming” and the notion of using functions as values. (“In practice, you can’t completely program in pure functional style in Java,” the authors note. Instead, you will learn how to write “functional-style programs” in which you hide the side effects.)

With Java 8, “two core ideas from functional programming…are now part of Java: using methods and lambdas as first-class values, and the idea that calls to functions or methods can be efficiently and safely executed in parallel in the absence of mutable shared state. Both of these ideas are exploited by the new Streams API,” the writers state.  Also, in Java 8, they add, “there’s an Optional class that, if used consistently can help you avoid NullPointer exceptions.”

This review barely dents the surface of this excellent how-to book’s contents. Whether you are learning Java now or you are a Java developer who wants to keep your coding skills up-to-date and sharp, Java 8 in Action should be a book you will read soon.

Si Dunn

Ember.js in Action – An ambitious overview, with glitches – #programming #bookreview

Ember.js in Action

Joachim Haagen Skeie

(Manning – paperback)

 

The Ember.js JavaScript framework has “a steep learning curve,” Joachim Haagen Skeie cautions readers repeatedly in his new book.

Indeed, Ember does. I’ve watched that learning curve confuse and frustrate several experienced JavaScript and Ruby on Rails developers. And I’ve banged my own (thick) skull against the Ember.js framework several times while (1) trying to learn it from an assortment of books and websites, including emberjs.com, and (2) building a few basic apps.

Skeie’s new book is an ambitious overview of software that bills itself as “a framework for creating ambitious web applications.” And Skeie ambitiously does not start out with a lame “Hello, World!” example. Right in Chapter 1, you dive into building a real-world application for creating, editing, posting and deleting notes. ” The source code for the Notes application weighs in at about 200 lines of code and 130 lines of CSS, including the templates and JavaScript source code,” Skeie points out. “You should be able to develop and run this application on any Windows-, Mac-, or Linux-based platform using only a text editor.”

I got  the Notes app to (mostly) run on a Windows machine and a Linux machine. But I can’t get it to save the contents of notes, even though I downloaded the book’s code samples, and my code seems to match what the author highlights in his book. (Still trying to sort out the problem. Perhaps something is wrong in my setups?)

I hate writing mixed reviews. It takes enormous effort and thought to create and finish a book. And I have been looking and hoping for a solid how-to text on Ember. For me, however, this book has two key downsides. First, the code examples are written for Ember.js 1.0.0, and as this review is being written, Ember.js 1.5.1 is the latest release (with 1.6 in beta). Second, the book’s opening chapter is very difficult for beginners to follow.

Some other reviewers also have noticed problems with the book’s example code –which, for me, forms the heart of a good how-to book. And they have taken issue with how the code is presented in the text.

Still, there is much to like here, especially if you are experienced in JavaScript and in model-view-controller (MVC) frameworks and have been curious about Ember.js.

I am fairly new to Ember, so some of the chapters most helpful to me have included using Handlebars js, testing Ember.js applications and creating custom Ember.js components–areas not given much notice in the other Ember books I have read.

If you are new to JavaScript and to frameworks, do not attempt to dive into Ember.js in Action as your first Ember exposure. Start with the Ember.js website and some simpler books first. Then, consider this book.

Hopefully, in the next edition, the all-important opening chapter will be reworked, and the code examples will be presented in a clearer and more complete fashion.

Si Dunn

 

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

Mule in Action, 2nd Edition – Want to be an integration developer? Here’s a good start – #bookreview

 

Mule in Action, Second Edition

David Dossot, John D’Emic, Victor Romero

(Manning – paperback)

 

An enterprise service bus (ESB) can help you link together many different types of platforms and applications–old and new–and keep them communicating and passing data between each other.

“Mule,” this book’s authors note, “is a lightweight, event-driven enterprise service bus and an integration platform and broker.  As such, it resembles more a rich and diverse toolbox than a shrink-wrapped application.”

Mule in Action, Second Edition, is a comprehensive and generally well-written overview of Mule 3 and how to put its open-source building blocks together to create integration solutions and develop them with Mule. The book provides very good focus on sending, receiving, routing, and transforming data, key aspects of an ESB.

More attention, however, could have been paid to clarity and detail in Chapter 1, the all-important chapter that helps Mule newcomers get started and enthused.

This second edition is a recent update of the 2009 first edition. Unfortunately, the Mule screens have changed a bit since the book’s screen shots were created for the new edition. Therefore, some of the how-to instructions and screen images do not match what the user now sees. This gets particularly confusing while trying to learn how to configure a JMS outbound endpoint for the first time, using Mule Studio’s graphical editor. The instructions seem insufficient, and the mismatch of screens can leave a beginner unsure how to proceed.

The same goes for configuring the message setting in the Logger element. The text instructs: “You’ll set the message attribute to print a String followed by the payload of the message, using the Mule Expression Language.” But no example is given. Fortunately, a reviewer on Amazon has posted a correct procedure. In his view, the message attribute should be: We received a message: #[message.payload]  –without any quote marks around it. (It works.)

Of course, this book is not really aimed at beginners–it’s for developers, architects, and managers (even though there will be Mule “beginners” in those ranks). Fortunately, it soon moves away from relying solely on Mule Studio’s graphical editor. The book’s examples, as the authors note, “mostly focus on the XML configurations of flows.” Thus, there are many XML code examples to work with, plus occasional screen shots of the flows as they appear in Mule Studio. And you can use other IDEs to work with the XML, if you prefer.

Indeed, the authors note, “no functionality in the CE version of Mule is dependent on Mule Studio.”

Overall, this is a very good book, and it definitely covers a lot of ground, from “discovering” Mule to becoming a Mule developer of integration applications, and using certain tools (such as business process management systems) to augment the applications you develop. I just wish a little more how-to clarity had been delivered in Chapter 1.

Si Dunn