Some Book Choices for ‘National Week of Making,’ June 17-23, 2016 – #books #WeekofMaking

The White House and the University of the District of Columbia are two of the sites helping spotlight the National Week of Making, June 17-23, 2016.

“America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs,” a White House news release recently stated.

“Empowering students and adults to create, innovate, tinker, and make their ideas and solutions into reality is at the heart of the Maker Movement.”

Step Away from that SmartPhone and Make Something! 

Do you worry that your children or grandchildren now spend too much time messing with cellphones and game players and no time learning basic life skills such as how to work with tools to create or repair things?

Do you worry that you have become a slave to time-wasting digital distractions and have lost touch with how to make stuff, repair things or create something new from available materials?

It may be time to be come a maker, too, and an advocate for others who need to expand their horizons beyond the devices clutched tightly in their hands.

Some How-to-Make-Something Book Selections

In recognition of National Week of Making and the third annual White House Maker Faire, here are some books from Maker Media that can help you and others get into (or back into) the art, science and fun of making things and learning useful skills.

Start Making!

A Guide to Engaging Young People in Maker Activities

Danielle Martin and Alisha Panjwani

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Making is “the process of creating projects based on your ideas and interest,” the authors emphasize. “This Start Making! guide offers a series of creative do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that introduce young people to the basics of circuitry, coding, crafting, and engineering.”

Start Making! describes “a series of activity sessions that you can adapt to your situation” as an organizer and/or leader of activities for children and teens. “You can offer your own version of Start Making! activities in your home, at the library, at an after-school club, at the local community center, or anywhere else young people can gather to work on projects together.”

Tinkering

Kids Learn by Making Stuff, 2nd Edition

Curt Gabrielson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Giving kids the time, opportunity and motivation to tinker with things (and make things from other things) can have big educational payoffs, the author, a science teacher, contends.

To the question “Are kids learning anything while they are having fun?”, he gives an enthusiastic and lengthy reply: “[H]eck yes they’re learning something, and it may be the most valuable thing they’ve learned all week, and it may raise all sorts of questions in their minds that inspire them to learn more about what they’re tinkering with, and it may start them on a path to a satisfying career, not to mention good fun on their own time, and it may put them in the driver’s seat of their own education by realizing their competence and ability to learn through tinkering, and they may begin to demand more of just this sort of learning opportunity.” Whew!

By the way, don’t just hand this book to a kid and say “Go have fun!” It is mainly written for adults who are willing to help children learn the joys of using their hands and minds to make stuff and try simple experiments.

 

Getting Started with 3D Printing

A Hands-on Guide to the Hardware, Software, and Services Behind the New
Manufacturing Revolution

Liza Wallach Kloski, Nick Kloski, and HoneyPoint3D™

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

In a consumer-grade 3D printer, “thin strand of melted plastic is laid down, layer by layer, on a flat surface where it cools and hardens into an object,” the authors explain.

This book will not turn you into a manufacturing expert, but it does introduce major aspects of 3D printing and shows how to get started with computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing. It also introduces new makers to the two main types of consumer 3D printers: FDM, which use filament for fused deposition modeling, and SLA, which use resin for stereolithography.

Likewise, you learn the benefits of outsourcing your printing to firms with bigger, more expensive machines than a typical home user can afford. Meanwhile, consumer-focused 3D printing service bureaus offer another, less expensive choice. And you can have printing done by a local “hub” source, which may be one person offering to run your project on his or her 3D printer. In any case, you focus on creating a good design and uploading your files, and then your creation gets printed and shipped to you—or you go pick it up.

The book also covers topics such as what supplies you will need, how to get and use free 3D modeling software, how to correct mistakes in your models and prints, and how to lay out a 3D printing workspace.

 

Getting Started with Processing.py

Making Interactive Graphics with Python’s Processing Mode

Allison Parrish, Ben Fry, Casey Reas

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

“Processing.py,” the authors explain, “is an interactive programming and graphics framework for the Python programming language.” This book shows how to create drawings, animations, and interactive images, even if you have never used Python or had any other programming experience.

Processing.py helps make coding more accessible to artists, educators, designers, and beginners. And the book can be used by children, teens, and adults.

Indeed, Getting Started with Processing.py is a good way to introduce a young person to computer programming, because the simple programs that are entered cause images to be created and objects to be moved. And the parameters of the images and objects often can be changed to create new effects.

 

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sidunnVolume 3, Sensors

Charles Platt and Fredrik Jansson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

This final volume in the Encyclopedia of Electronics Components series focuses on a wide range of sensor devices that detect or respond to such factors as light, sound, heat, location, presence, proximity, orientation, oscillation, force, load, human input, gas and liquid properties, and electricity. The text describes what the sensors do, how they work, and how they can be used.

The authors note that many sensor devices previously were very expensive but “are now as cheap as basic semiconductor components such as a voltage regulator or a logic chip, and they are easy to use in conjunction with microcomputers.”

Si Dunn

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‘See Also Deception’: A good addition to the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series #bookreview

See Also Deception

Larry D. Sweazy

Seventh Street Books

As I have mentioned here before, I love mystery stories where the investigator is an ordinary citizen, not a well-trained police detective or a struggling private sleuth beaten down by drunkenness, personal demons, and too many bad cases.

The investigator in See Also Deception, the second novel in the Marjorie Trumaine series, is dealing with than her share of life challenges. She is trying pay bills and scratch out a hardscrabble existence on a farm in rural North Dakota. She also is a full-time caregiver for her husband, Hank, a once-vigorous farmer now paralyzed from the neck down following a hunting accident.

During the very lean months between crops, Marjorie works from home for publishers, as a freelance indexer of books. Her ability to categorize and organize facts and details not only helps her get assignments and pay household bills; it also helps her solve murders in the countryside and in the small town nearby.

Set in the mid-1960s, amid Cold War tensions, See Also Deception has Marjorie struggling with demands at home and struggling with her belief that her friend Calla Elmore, the local librarian, did not shoot herself in the head but was murdered. Local law enforcement officials don’t share Marjorie’s suspicions, of course. So it is up to her to solve the case and prove them wrong.

Larry D. Sweazy, author of this series, is a prize-winning fiction writer who has turned out numerous other books. For the most part, the writing in this novel is very good. But the stark rural setting offers perhaps too many opportunities for internal monologue, once you’ve noted — and re-noted — the jackrabbits scurrying across the unpaved roads and the dust clouds billowing behind Marjorie’s world-weary Studebaker.

On a few occasions, Sweazy also uncorks a sentence that is just a bit too folksy, such as: “I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away from my questions about Calla’s death any more than a June bug could stay away from the dusk-to-dawn light at the peak of the garage roof.”

Nitpicking aside, however, See Also Deception is an entertaining, engrossing sequel to See Also Murder, the debut novel in the Marjorie Trumaine series.

Si Dunn

 

“Rain Dogs” – Adrian McKinty’s best Sean Duffy murder mystery? #bookreview

Rain Dogs

A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle, audible

Now that I have suckered you into this review with a question, I’m going to give you something of a cop-out answer: Rain Dogs is the best Sean Duffy detective story I have read…since the last Sean Duffy detective story I read, which is Gun Street Girl. I have now read all five Sean Duffy mysteries, and I am a rock-solid fan of each one. Adrian McKinty is one hell of a good novelist, and his Sean Duffy series is first-rate police-procedural fiction.

Rain Dogs did unnerve me for the first few pages–it got off to a bit of a plodding, unexpected start. What? Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is helping protect Mohammed Ali from adoring crowds in Belfast?

And, it takes a while for the mystery Duffy must solve to come into focus. Yet, there is also plenty of introspection and unease on Sean Duffy’s part, and this keeps the reader engrossed and the story moving forward. Duffy has reached a point in his career when midlife crisis suddenly is in full-tilt boogie mode.

He has grown weary of the sameness in his job, weary of the Troubles that keep Protestants, Catholics, and paramilitaries in violent conflict, weary of constantly having to check under his car for mercury tilt switch bombs placed there by one side or the other or by criminals wanting him dead. Meanwhile, it keeps raining, raining, dreary raining. And Beth, the latest woman in his life, has broken off with him and moved out, taking most of what’s left of his heart with her.

Meanwhile, things keep going from really bad to really worse for Duffy, a suburban cop in the Carrickfergus branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). He suddenly finds himself investigating the second “locked room” violent death of his checkered career. This time, it looks a lot like a case of suicide. And there is high-level pressure to wrap up the case quickly and put it away. A big business project with many potential jobs for Northern Ireland is on the line.

But Duffy, even when depressed, drunk or beaten down, cannot let go of the suspicions and strong sense of justice that keep him moving forward.

As a detective and empathetic human being, he never stops pushing against the rising tides of bureaucracy, burnout and self-doubt.

“I stared down at the body again. There was something not quite right about this crime scene, something that I was missing, but try as I might I couldn’t figure out what it was. Had Beth’s departure frazzled me, or was it just thirteen long years of this exhausting profession in this exhausting land?”

Not even pressure and criticism from British government agencies can turn him aside once he has a theory and starts following it.

At one point, after chasing a lead into Finland and back, he is confronted by a shadowy representative of an unnamed British agency that is trying to get him to quit the case, in the name of fifteen hundred potential jobs for Belfast and Northern Ireland:

“You must be aware of your RUC record. A less-than-stellar police career, no real high-profile convictions. The fact that you never found out who killed  Lizzie Fitzpatrick in that other so-called ‘locked room’ incident when you were with Special Branch. The fact that, for the last six years, you’ve been treading water here. A constant source of embarrassment to your superiors, a disappointment to your friends.”

To which Duffy retorts: “Maybe I’m not a great detective, maybe I ‘m not even a good detective, but I am fucking persistent….The UK government might not like it, the Irish government might not like it, but if I can make a case, the RUC will support me and the police down south will support me, too. Cops everywhere love nicking villains.”

Sean Duffy indeed is persistent. That is why he is able to solve cases that many other cops would not recognize, nor have the desire, energy and drive to pursue.

But, again, the strongest driver in Duffy’s life is his personal sense of justice. He will bend rules, strain budgets, knock heads, disobey orders, and sometimes even go around or straight through a few laws to get his hands–or his bullets–on a murderer.

Adrian McKinty fans and readers new to McKinty will find much to relish in Rain Dogs. Duffy is at his driven-down-but-rise-above-it best in this book. And some surprising changes occur in his life. If, with this book, you are new to the Sean Duffy series, get “the Troubles Trilogy” ASAP: The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; and In the Morning I’ll Be Gone. Oh, and don’t miss the trilogy’s fine sequel, Gun Street Girl. One Sean Duffy tale, you may agree, is not enough.

Si Dunn

Getting started with 3D printing? Consider these two new Maker Media books – #bookreview

Many people who want to jump into 3D printing have almost no idea what they actually want to make. Or, they may have projects in mind that far exceed their abilities to fabricate as beginners.

If 3D printing is on your mind (or arriving soon in some shipping boxes and downloads), here are two new books to consider: 3D Printing Projects and 3D CAD with Autodesk 123D.

3D Printing Projects

Toys, Tools, and Contraptions to Print and Build Yourself

Brook Drumm & James Floyd Kelly, with John Baichtal, Rick Winscot, Brian Roe, John Edgar Park, Steven Bolin,
Nick Ernst, and Caleb Cotter

(Maker Media, paperback)

Maker Media’s 3D Printing Projects is written by a team of professionals who have 3D printing newcomers in mind, at first. But their book also includes several more challenging projects that require Arduino or Raspberry Pi boards, motors, servos, or video cameras and other devices. Importantly, all of the projects are designed to be fabricated with small, desktop 3D printers.

The book starts by showing how to fabricate a simple gooseneck lamp that uses an LED light powered by a 9-volt “wall wart.” From there, the projects increase in complexity, to fabricated devices such as a two-axis camera gimbal and a flower-care robot that monitors soil moisture and adds water when the soil gets dry. Numerous photographs, illustrations and how-to steps are provided.

This well-written book shows that much can be done, even at the hobby level, with just a few custom 3D printed parts and some electronics.

 

3D CAD with Autodesk 123D

Design for 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Personal Fabrication

Jesse Harrington Au & Emily Gertz

(Maker Media, paperback)

The first steps to 3D printing include “learning how to design for three dimensions using a computer” and having an idea “where to start,” the authors of this useful book point out.

“Many makers who are accustomed to creating by hand view CAD [computer-aided design] software suspiciously. They may worry that digital design will lack soul, or be perceived as cheating. Neither is true,” Jesse Harrington Au and Emily Gertz insist. “A good CAD program can be just that: an aid in realizing your vision for your project.”

Autodesk 123D is one of several popular “parametric design” software packages on the market. The authors note: “The term parametric refers to the use of design parameters, such as measurements, to construct and control the 3D model. This means you will first create a sketch that has measurements attached to it. Those measurements will be used to construct your solid model using different features such as extrude, revolve, or loft.

“This being said, 123D is also capable of ‘tinkering’: using loosely based measurements while fleshing out the look and feel of your design. The power of this is that it allows you to tweak your model during the design process based on actual measurements.”

The book shows how to navigate CAD programs, and it covers how to work with the cloud-based Autodesk 123D “family of programs that allow you to share models between the different apps.”

3D CAD with Autodesk 123D is richly illustrated and well written, with much of the how-to text contained in short paragraphs that offer clear steps.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

Ionic in Action – A solid guide to building hybrid mobile apps with Ionic and AngularJS – #programming #bookreview

Ionic in Action

Hybrid Mobile Apps with Ionic and AngularJS

Jeremy Wilken

(Manning, paperback)

Ionic in Action is a very good introduction to the Ionic framework, which the author describes as “a combination of tools and utilities….” These tools and utilities enable developers “to quickly build hybrid mobile apps using the same technology used to build websites and web applications, primarily HTML, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript.” Using Ionic, you build “hybrid mobile apps,” which employ a browser window to display the user interface.

Ionic in Action shows how build three different mobile web apps. And, while working on those apps, you encounter virtually every feature that Ionic offers. I recently started learning Ionic, so I am pleased with how this book is organized and impressed that it has some important blessings from Adam Bradley, a co-creator of the Ionic framework.

Ionic is built on top of AngularJS, and it interacts with Cordova. The author of Ionic in Action, Jeremy Wilken, promises that being familiar with AngularJS is “helpful but not required.” However, as someone who has wrestled with AngularJS (and been slammed to the scope mat more than once), I am pleased that this book includes a chapter titled “What you need to know about AngularJS.” And, as in the rest of the book, you learn by doing, not just by reading explanations and looking at illustrations.

In the Angular chapter, you build a basic web application using AngularJS. Of course, one chapter does not take the place of a good AngularJS tutorial. But it provides a useful starting point.

Whether you are working to become a mobile app developer or seeking to improve and widen some existing skills, this is a good book both to learn from and keep handy in your reference library.

Si Dunn

‘Meteor in Action’: A good how-to guide for learning a popular JavaScript framework – #programming #bookreview

 

Meteor in Action

Stephan Hochhaus and Manuel Schoebel

Manning – paperback

I have worked with several JavaScript frameworks, and Meteor has become a favorite, mainly because it is closely related to the MEAN stack family and plays well with MongoDB and Node.js.

As the Meteor in Action authors note: “Meteor runs on top of Node.js and moves the application logic to the browser, which is often referred to as single-page applications. The same language is used across the entire stack, which makes Meteor an isomorphic platform. As a result, the same JavaScript code can be used on the server, the client, and even in the database.”

Meteor is versatile and easy to use, particularly for simple applications. But, like any other JS framework, it does have a learning curve. And there are some inherent weaknesses, as well as strengths, that must be considered when deciding if Meteor is the right choice for a particular project.

Meteor in Action can give you a good grounding in Meteor’s basics, plus solid momentum along the path toward Meteor mastery. The book begins with a polished and not-too-lengthy overview of Meteor’s Open Source framework. Then it shows how to build a small, reactive game application. From there, the major topics include: templates; data; fully reactive editing; users, authentications, and permissions; exchanging data; routing; the package system; advanced server methods; building and debugging; and going into production.

Another reviewer has stated that parts of this book may be outdated soon, because some of the technology associated with Meteor is changing fast. But not every work site immediately will keep up with the latest and “greatest” changes to Meteor software, of course. And, you may encounter applications needing support that are still running earlier releases of Meteor.

This  is a worthy and valuable book for anyone just starting to learn Meteor. And it likewise can be helpful to Meteor users who want better understanding of the framework, how it is put together, and how it can be used effectively in large applications. The two authors of this book have been working with Meteor since the framework’s “infancy” in 2011.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

‘Woman with a Blue Pencil’ – Characters in a mystery novel that is being rewritten find themselves in conflict in a world that keeps changing – #bookreview

 

 

 

Woman with a Blue Pencil

Gordon McAlpine

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

What if the characters in a mystery novel are alive in some other universe, and their world keeps changing, because their book, unknown to them, is being edited and rewritten?

And what if one of those characters is trying to solve a murder, but almost everything he knows or remembers, in his version of 1941 Los Angeles, keeps changing or vanishing? What if the people to whom he has been close suddenly cease to exist or no longer know who he is?

Woman with a Blue Pencil is well-written and cleverly structured. It can make you laugh with pleasure when you realize how the story will unfold along two tracks. And you can get engrossed in the actions and motivations of both main characters as their separate tracks begin to merge, and they come into conflict.

This is an intelligent murder mystery with a heart, a message and a poignant, surprise ending. It is set just before and after the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath, including the now roundly condemned, racism-driven mass roundup and internment of Japanese-American citizens living on the U.S. West Coast.

Behind the two tracks of story in this tale is an ambitious young Nisei (first-generation Japanese-American) writer who has been trying to get his first novel published. Now, suddenly, he has been relocated to one of the internment camps. And the woman with the blue pencil is his book editor in New York. She keeps trying to help him come up with a new plot that replaces his now-unsalable Japanese protagonist with a Korean-American one, plus create a strong, Western-sounding pseudonym that the author can hide behind once his book goes to market in World War II America.

One word sums up this novel-within-novel: Brilliant.

Si Dunn