Thursday, February 25, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

I'm sure that I'm not the only person who brought the Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief purely because I liked the look of the film trailer. I always prefer to read the book first so I just had to pick it up. I didn't know much about the series before I started reading so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had a feeling that I might find it aimed at a younger audience that the usual YA books I read but as it turned out I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Percy is a 12 year old boy with dyslexia and ADHD. At the start of the book he is on the verge of being expelled from his 6th school in as many years for behaviour problems. He tries to be good but finds it hard to fit in & always seems to be caught in the middle of strange events.

When on a school trip Percy ends up vaporising his teacher & things start to get really strange. He is struggling to make sense of what is happening around him and is very surprised to discover that the father he never met is actually a Greek God. He ends up at Camp Half Blood - a summer school for demigods and starts to understand the strange things that have happened throughout his life.

He has the usual problems associated with trying to fit in at a new school but starts to feel like he is settling in. The last thing he wants to be is a hero, but when it becomes apparent that Zeus believes he was responsible for stealing his lightning bolt, Percy is left with no choice but to accept a quest. Armed with a magical pen and with the assistance of his friends Grover and Annabeth, it is up to Percy to find the missing lightning bolt and return it to Zeus before the God's start a war.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was a really great read and can be enjoyed by young and old alike. I quickly found myself immersed in the world Rick Riordan has created and the story moved along at a fast pace. I really enjoyed the way Greek mythology was woven into the story & I found it easy to relate to the main characters. I know there have been comparisons to Harry Potter by other reviewers but I didn't even think of that while I was reading the book. Yes there are similarities but you can make comparisons about many books & that doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment I got from reading this book. I'm looking forward to continuing reading this series.

17 inch laptop backpack

My employer bought me this same 17 inch laptop backpack because the standard laptop shoulder bags were aggravating a back injury, after seeing how well this17 inch laptop backpack as endured I've enjoyed it so much I bought one for myself ([...])! To note, this seems to be predominant work backpack now.

I've carried a D630 (14.1") in this for about 2 years so far, lugging it great distances without any complaints. It's comfortable and provides good ventilation. In addition, I've packed it 3 classes worth of material (thick books), 2 water bottles, lunch, and enough accessories/junk that one would expect a full time employee/student could want to carry -- so it has more than enough capacity, more than anyone would use. Given this load however, it does not stay standing and rolls forward but may work with a 17" laptop?

I dinged it a start for capacity because the shoulder cellphone holster wouldn't fit my smartphone (BlackBerry) in this 17 inch laptop backpack. It would fit in the top pocket (velcro) and the calculator (?) pocket in the outer most pocket. It also has a couple of handy holes that let you route your headphones from your mp3 player which is kind of cool but could ruin some headphones as well.

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software

This is a very good book by the famous GOF. I feel that this volume is a must have for the experienced application programmer.

On the way to become a more matured programmer, one begins to realize the relationship between machine and man. For system programming, the code should tip towards machine, that is, the ultimate goal is to make the program be as efficient as it can be. On the application programming side, it should be the other way around, and the code should be as readable as possible even when this means that the code would not be running at the most efficient way possible. Machine time is sacrificed for human developing/maintaining time.

After understanding the relation between close to machine and close to man, one then realizes that the programming concepts including OO, Design Patterns and the like are here to serve the purpose of helping human understand the code and not to help the machine. And only when the complexity introduced by using these concepts are much less than the complexity they reduce should people decide to use them. You must know your goals and what you are doing. Applying Design Patterns for the sake of applying Design Patterns do not necessarily add any benefits, and it could potentially do more damage than good.

I realize that this book is like a grammar book in any language in the sense that you do not study grammar books to learn the language itself. Instead, the best time to study the grammar is when you already know how to speak, listen, read and write at a pretty high level. It will, at this point, when you study grammar, greatly enhance your power and control over the language.

This is a very good book to have on the bookshelf and to open and read from time to time. In fact, it has now become so sort after that it is now at #4 on the bestseller list this week.

See the list here >>

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CouchDB: The Definitive Guide

CouchDB: The Definitive Guide does a good job covering the features that make CouchDB such an exciting technology - schema-free document-based storage, REST API, MapReduce, powerful replication, embedded applications, etc. I'd recommend it for developers with a good background in web programming that are looking for a new way of building and scaling applications. Database administrators will also benefit from its coverage of replication and sharding.

The organization and editing are, unfortunately, not so good. Topics seem strangely ordered, cross references are awkward, and chapters alternate between repeating material unnecessarily and assuming knowledge of material that has not yet been covered. I'd guess this comes from merging the work of three authors, but O'Reilly usually does a better job cleaning up the inevitable collisions with this CouchDB: The Definitive Guide.

That aside, this is still a good introduction to the subject, and will give you enough background to start exploring CouchDB without getting (too) lost. Well worth a place on your NoSQL bookshelf.

Monday, February 22, 2010

World of Warcraft: Stormrage

The book, World of Warcraft: Stormrage, is set in the universe of Warcraft and offers those who know of that universe an in depth look into the life of one of the major characters from that game. We just got our hands on the review copy and the main general release is on the 23-Feb-2010. So, be sure to check it out in your local bookshop or on Amazon.

Those familiar with Warcraft or the World of Warcraft will find that the information given fits in with the "lore" that is known, but with a twist as it also delves into the mind of the young prince and soon to be vessel of the greatest evil that faced the world of Azeroth. Now, with that said, you should be able to get the picture of what this book is about. I don't want to spoil the fun so I would recommend you grab a copy as a true World of Warcraft: Stormrage fan to find out more.

Finally, the book is very understandable and well written so that even those who are not familiar with the universe for which it is written can understand and be captivated by its story line.

See the promo trailer here >>

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 10MP Digital Camera with 12x Wide Angle MEGA Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3 inch LCD (Blue)

My original budget was for a sub $200 model such as Samsung TL320 12MP Digital Camera with 5x Schneider Wide Angle Dual Image Stabilized Zoom and 3.0 inch OLED Screen (Black) or a Nikon Coolpix L100 10MP Digital Camera with 15x Optical Vibration Reduction (VR) Zoom. A friend and I were going on a trip and he bought the coolpix while I bought the zs3. we ended up clicking most of our pictures using my camera since it was better in almost all respects.

Image stabilization, portability, auto focus, richer colors. You name it and this camera kicked the pants off of the coolpix. To top it off the quality of the HD video it shot blew me away. I am a first time camera owner. My folks had a Cybershot that I have handled before. But this is truly a point and click marvel. Set it on Intelligent auto and say good bye to bad photographs.
The good

  1. Excellent point and shoot photos.
  2. Good image stabilization when clicking photos
  3. zooms in video mode
  4. 720p HD video
  5. portable fits easily in your jacket pocket

That bad
1. I hate the fact that Panasonic locked down it's batteries but I took a chance to ordered SterlingTek's battery for this camera even though it had mixed success. I am running firmware 1.2 and the battery worked fine for me.
2. Do not expect too much in low light conditions as is true for all point and shoot camera's
3. No 16:9 aspect ratio setting in Intelligent Auto mode.

Overall I'd recommend this to anybody who is not buying a DSLR.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nikon D3000 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens

I purchased this camera kit about a month ago as my first DSLR. I had been using point and clicks for years and I always had a great deal of disappointment. The D3000 was a very easy transition from point and click to DSLRs. It is very user friendly and offers many of the features you would get on any old camera (highly polished in comparison though). It also offers ease of use to someone, like myself who is interested in photography but doesn't know much of the technical "stuff".

This camera can be as easy as setting it to AUTO and taking fantastic pictures. If you do as I did and try to learn a few technical aspects of photography, you will see that this camera can be used to take absolutely stunning technical shots.

I find that the ergonomics of the body are great, it just seems to fit in your hands as though they were made for each other. I tested out many other cameras before this purchase and found this one to be the most comfortable by far.

I would also like to comment on price. I have read many reviews that says it is overpriced but, you get quite a bit for what you are paying for. I think the price is just fine for what is included.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

Food Rules is a terrific little guide to help you eat better. Most of us probably know on an intellectual level all Pollan says makes sense, but sometimes we need to see something in print to really have that "Ah ha!" moment. The little tips are easy to remember and I know I'll be referencing this book for some time.

A note on Kindle formatting. This Kindle download was very clean and free from editing errors, but it was also clearly put together as an afterthought. The most annoying issue were all the useless pages between 'rules'. I counted 52 'pages' dedicated to drawings of vegetables, etc. They added nothing to the book, IMO, and just plain irritated me. Considering how short the book is, a great percentage was taken up with these uninformative drawings.

The other issue I had with the formatting was that in several chapters, Pollan referenced future or past rules by number, yet they weren't linked to the rule in question. He frequently mentions 'Rule 60' - how difficult would it have been to link to it? Thankfully, the TOC is linked, so you can go there and page through to the rule you want to read to get there, but the teensiest bit of forethought would have made this a much more useful resource on the Kindle.

Honestly, this might be one occasion where the DTB version could be more useful.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System

"On the Brink" is a truly remarkable account from the one person who was at the center of the greatest financial crisis ever faced by our country. Hank Paulson does not judge, promote, condemn or vilify; instead he tells a fascinating account of all the major players and their legitimate concerns and motivations.

His ability to explain complex financial situations, which served him so well when dealing with Congress, makes his book highly readable for anyone with a basic understanding of our economic and political systems. "On the Brink" immediately captures your attention with the near demise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac then doesn't let go as the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve commence their epic struggle to stop the rapidly falling dominoes from bringing down our entire way of life.

Through Paulson's straight forward but intriguing narrative, not only do you gain a true appreciation for the stakes, but you have an insider's view of a complex game fraught with politics, conflicting interests and even international relations. While this book is anything but self serving, you come away knowing simply through the facts, that everything accomplished between September 2008 and January 2009 could never have been done unless this core team of players, guided by Paulson and Bernanke, were dedicated, trustworthy, and extremely competent.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the economic situation that brought our country to the brink and the steps that were taken to keep it from toppling over the edge.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The jQuery Cookbook

The jQuery Cookbook, like the many other Cookbook series of books from O'Reilly proves to be an extremely valuable addition to any web developer's bookshelf. There's nothing unexpected here - it's a book full of practical solutions to hundreds of everyday problems.

The first chapter, "jQuery Basics" is meant to be a crash course introduction to jQuery, but it likely won't suffice if you're new to jQuery, and certainly won't prepare you if you're relatively unfamiliar with javascript in general. This book is primarily intended for the everyday jQuery developer who wants a reference for specific issues that come up in projects.

If you are familiar with jQuery basics, a cover-to-cover reading of this book will take you to the next level, but most developers will only read the entries that pertain to the problems they face during development.

The jQuery Cookbook was written by the jQuery community - people who have faced these issues in their own development and have solved them in the real world. I found that a majority of the recipes were well written and clear with properly tested and working code. All-in-all, the jQuery Cookbook is a useful and reliable resource for practical jQuery development.

Friday, February 12, 2010

World of Warcraft Programming: A Guide and Reference for Creating WoW Addons

James has been in the WoW addon field for years and his addons are second to none. Back a few years ago he took the time to help me with my first addon and I appreciated the help. I owned the first book and happy to add this one to my library.

The books are well written and contain the information you need to begin writing your own addons and more. They are excellent reference books that will keep you writing addons for a long time. They also have a website to cover any changes made to the API by Blizzard.

Plus the cover is by Scott Johnson, what more could you want.

Bouvi (Earthen Ring - AIE)

World of Warcraft Programming: A Guide and Reference for Creating WoW Addons, reviewed by Bernie Fritts "a.k.a. Bouvi.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hacking World of Warcraft (ExtremeTech)

"First let me say this is an extremely well written and useful book. I am very happy I purchased Hacking World of Warcraft.

My primary interest was in understanding and creating addons. I am a  programmer of nearly 25 years experience (yeah, punched cards all the way to C++ and Java) so what I was primarily after was a good intro to World of Warcraft AddOn development. The explanations of XML and lua were well done and useful. and the character position development teaching project well-conceived."

I wrote that to the author when asking him a question about the example I was building. I got a quick and courteous reply, and was able to fix my problem.

About the last third of the book is devoted to AddOn development. It covers the subject well without talking down to an experienced programmer, and seemed to me to also lead the novice in a comprehensible way. A tough line to walk, but they did it well.

As for the rest of the book, I found the list and explanations for the AddOns mentioned well thought out. Admittedly I didn't need it much (I have been playing WoW way too long and knew most of them already) but they would have been very useful when I was first starting to get interested in AddOns.

My only real criticism of this book is its title. The first two thirds are devoted to existing AddOns, not the development of AddOns, and that makes the title more than a little misleading. For me, that two thirds came as an unexpected bonus to the AddOn development section, which met my needs and expectations well.
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