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

 

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Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable – Eugene G. Windchy’s new book is a true “must read” – #bookreview

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable

Eugene G. Windchy

(iUniverse – paperback, Kindle)

You may not agree with every opinion, conclusion or finding expressed in this book, but it is a remarkable work that definitely should be read and given thoughtful consideration.

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable offers eye-opening looks at how the United States has blundered, pushed itself or gotten itself dragged into a dozen different wars between the late 1700s and today and how three-fourths of those wars could have been avoided.

Eugene G. Windchy is a superb researcher, and his well-known book Tonkin Gulf has long had special meaning for me. I spent nearly a year in the South China Sea and Tonkin Gulf aboard a destroyer, starting three days after the still-controversial Tonkin Gulf incidents in 1964. I was amazed at what Windchy was able to dig up about those “attacks” and what they ultimately helped trigger: massive expansion of the Vietnam War. Much of what he reported jibed strongly with what I knew and had experienced, but I was forbidden, for many years, to discuss my involvement because of secrecy restrictions.

Windchy’s new book quickly digs beneath the short, glossy, generally laudatory paragraphs we have read in American history textbooks. Indeed, you may be both amazed and distressed when you ponder his descriptions of how and why a dozen significant wars involving the United States actually got started and how at least nine of the wars realistically could have been avoided.

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

Computing with Quantum Cats – Strange and exciting times are ahead – #science #bookreview

Computing with Quantum Cats

From Colossus to Qubits

John Gribbin

(Prometheus Books – hardcover, Kindle)

John Gribbin’s new book, Computing with Quantum Cats, is an entertaining, informative and definitely eye-opening look at quantum computing’s recent progress, as well as its exciting near-future possibilities.

The “conventional” (a.k.a. “classical”) computers currently on our desktops, in our briefcases, and in our pockets and purses keep getting smaller and faster, yet laden with more features, memory and processing power. “But,” cautions John Gribbin, a veteran science writer, “the process cannot go on indefinitely; there are limits to how powerful, fast and cheap a ‘classical’ computer can be.”CompwithQuantumCats

Already we are cramming a billion transistors into tiny chips and moving much of our data and programs out to the “cloud,” because we are running out of both physical space and memory space on our shrunken devices.

So what’s next, if the end of Moore’s Law is here?

Gribbin predicts that “within a decade the computer world will be turned upside down”–by quantum computers that  “will enable physicists to come to grips with the nature of quantum reality, where communication can occur faster than the speed of light, teleportation is possible, and particles can be in two places at once. The implications are as yet unknowable,” he concedes, “but it is fair to say that the quantum computer represents an advance as far beyond the conventional computer as the conventional computer is beyond the abacus.”

For now, quantum computers are functioning  at a level somewhat equivalent to the early classical computers that, nearly 70 years ago, could perform only rudimentary calculations, yet filled large rooms and required 25 kilowatts or more of electrical power to light up hundreds or thousands of  vacuum tubes. It may be decades or perhaps just a few years until quantum desktop PCs or quantum smartphones become a reality.

What makes quantum computing such a big deal? 

Classical computers, Gribbin writes, “store and manipulate information consisting of “binary digits, or bits. These are like ordinary switches that can be in one of two positions, on or off, up or down. The state of a switch is represented by the numbers 0 and 1, and all the activity of a computer involves changing the settings on those switches in an appropriate way.”

He notes that two “classical” bits can represent any of the four numbers from 0 to 3 (00,01, 10, and 11). But once you start using quantum bits–qubits (pronounced “cubits”)–the scale of possibilities quickly becomes astronomical.

The “quantum switches can be in both states, on and off, at the same time, like Schrodinger’s ‘dead and alive’ cat. In other words, they can store 0 and 1 simultaneously.” Or both can be off or both can be on, creating three possibilities.

“Looking further into the future,” Gribbin continues, “a quantum computer based on a 30-qubit processor would have the equivalent computing power of a conventional machine running at 10 teraflops (trillions of floating-point operations per second)–ten thousand times faster than conventional desktop computers today….” 

His new book presents an enlightening, engrossing blend of facts and speculations about quantum computing, as well as short biographical sketches of key people who have helped quantum computing become a reality.  These range from Alan Turing and John Von Neumann to more recent researchers such as Nobel Prize recipients Tony Leggett and Brian Josephson, to name a few. Their key research efforts also are explored.

The author notes that “the enormous challenge remains of constructing a quantum computer on a scale large enough to beat classical computers at a range of tasks….” He also observes that “many competing approaches are being tried out in an attempt to find the one that works on the scale required.” And he concedes that in a research field now changing very fast, “I’ve no idea what will seem the best bet by the time you read these words, so I shall simply set out a selection of the various [techniques] to give you a flavor of what is going.”

John Gribbin’s other books include In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution, and In Search of the Multiverse.

The need to break enemy codes in World War II gave us classical computers, Gribbin points out. In a curious twist, it may be the need to create truly unbreakable codes that will help usher in quantum computing as a practical reality.

Si Dunn

Our Beautiful, Fragile World – Excellent photographs by an environmental artist – #bookreview

Peter Essick's new book will inspire photographers to work harder and help readers to better understand the fragility of our planet.
Peter Essick’s new book will inspire photographers to work harder, and it will help readers better understand the fragility of our planet.

Our Beautiful, Fragile World

The Nature and Environmental Photographs of Peter Essick
Peter Essick
(Rocky Nookhardcover, Kindle)

Most of us are content to take a photograph and just settle for what we get under the current circumstances.

That’s not how Peter Essick works.

Essick has spent more than 25 years traveling to remote corners of the world, but also to many spots in North America, as a photographer on assignment for National Geographic.

“Many of my successful photographs,” he writes in his noteworthy new book, “are the result of discovering a scene and then going back several times to get the best picture possible.”

Our Beautiful, Fragile World presents a collection of Essick’s excellent nature and environmental photographs. And almost all of the photos are accompanied by a one-page essay explaining where and how an image was taken, what circumstances surrounded the shot, what environmental issues or crises are represented, and what Essick wants readers to take away from the story behind the photograph.

His book likewise contains a technical information section where specific details of each shot are described, including camera (Nikon or Canon), lens, film (typically Fujichrome 100) or digital camera settings, and how he had to work to get the photograph (i.e., use an underwater housing, or shoot from a light plane, or “look for a place where the sunlight was bounding off the sandstone and reflecting golden light on the opposite wall.”

There also is a fine foreword by Jean-Michael Cousteau, son of the famed, late ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. “I feel much hope for the future,” he writes, “when I see the talented work of artists like Peter Essick and understand the message he conveys through his stunning environmental images.”

Our Beautiful, Fragile World will inspire almost any photographer to try to take better nature pictures. And it starkly highlights how we continue to run roughshod over the delicate elements and natural forces that keep us alive on this threatened planet.

Si Dunn