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Short Review: “Digital Capture After Dark” by Quintenz-Fiedler and Scholz, O’Reilly March 4, 2013

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DCADCombine a busy life and short winter days and you don’t have a lot of natural day light to practice photography. So, the “Capture After Dark” part of the title interested me. While we’re talking about the title, let’s start with the bad. I kind of grew allergic of the “digital” adjective in photography books. Most of the time, it’s a cheap way to reprint some old material. And let face it, older photography books are just fine as a learning tool even when using a digital camera: the principles are the same. Books that take the “digital” identity seriously and add specific content (1/3 of this book) often fall in an other trap, by trying hard to be a manual for a specific version of a specific software package. As a result, when released, a big part of the book is either outdated or irrelevant (in the case you prefer to use other software, e.g. FOSS).

Luckily, the other two thirds of the book are about photography. As stated in the introduction, the information “is presented as a variety of techniques regarding equipment choice, technical approach, subject matter, and production practices”. This is certainly the case, and the book is useful and applicable, certainly if you’re relatively new to photography. On the other hand, if you already have replaced a camera because you used it to death, you won’t discover much new: yes, you need a tripod at night and warm clothing :) .

So, if you’re new to photography, I’ll give it a 3 stars out of 5 (1/3 of software manual killed it for me). If you’re not, maybe 2 out of 5: it’s not a bad book and certainly not something very technical of that goes deep in the artistic part of photography. Nevertheless, it’s very fast read and it’s good to see the bits you’ve learn in one document.

Learning PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, and CSS by Robin Nixon, O’Reilly Media October 2, 2012

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Although I was curious about this book, I had mixed expectations. I have no background in web development (beyond playing a little with Catalyst and Drupal) so getting my toes wet with popular web-related technologies can’t hurt. At the same time, I must confess I had serious doubts when I read the title out loud: “PHP”, “MySQL”, “JavaScript”, “CSS”. Learning four technologies as different as two programming languages (one server- and one client-side at that), a relational database and a style sheet language seemed like a little too much, even for a book of 556 pages.

Depending on your expectations, the book may be a hit or a miss. On one hand, if you unrealistically hoped to be a PHP, MySQL, JavaScript and CSS wizard after reading the book: no luck. You’ll need to buy several books about each subject and invest the necessary time to get to know the technologies. But, you probably know this already. If, on the other hand, you just want to scratch the surface but -this is the interesting part- you want to see how these disparate technologies interoperation, then it’s a pretty good read. In the limited space, the author manages to give attention to best practices (e.g. database normalization), something I didn’t expect. The including classical web application mini-project, that uses the 4 technologies, may be a good incentive to those that prefer a more hands-on approach.

Title: Learning PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, and CSS, 2nd Edition
By:obin Nixon
Publisher:O’Reilly Media
Print:August 2012
Pages: 584
Print ISBN: 978-1-4493-1926-7
          ISBN 10:1-4493-1926-2

Book at amazon.co.uk Book at amazon.co.uk
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Review: Programming Perl (4th ed) by Tom Christiansen, brian d foy, Larry Wall, Jon Orwant (O’Reilly Media) August 10, 2012

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If you already program in Perl you know that “Programming Perl” is the de facto reference of the language. I haven’t met Perl Mongers citing randomly from it, but we are not that far from it :). If you’re new to Perl, well now you know what you will be reading soon.

 This brings us to the targeted public of this book and that’s a tricky question. In my opinion, if you’re new to Perl –or new to programming– you are better served by “Learning Perl” (or a similar book). On the other hand, if you are an experienced programmer you’ll learn Perl from “Programming Perl” with a deep understanding of the language as a bonus. But 1184 pages may be a little too much to get your feet wet.

Don’t return the book to Amazon yet if you take the tutorial-road: your copy will serve you well for years to come as reference for the less obvious aspects of the language (and let’s be honest, there are several). So, this book is not a tutorial book. It’s neither, unlike what I just wrote, a pure reference book. The book is very well written, with just enough humour (also: as not “too much”) to make the 1184 pages digestible to get a deeper insight of the language, something that can not be said of many reference books that are written in a “phone book” style.

The previous versions dates from the year 2000 and covers ancient perls preceding the Perl revival and modernisation we’re enjoying today. Well, if this book is so important for the language –the codification of the language as it were– and well written to be enjoyable, the authors should be lucky to not face trial for the Perl riots while waiting for the update of the book. More seriously, the update was indeed urgently needed and kudos to the authors: writing this kind of book (content and reputation) is hard. It helps that Larry, the creator of Perl, is part of the team. A great read.

“Programming Perl, 4th Edition” by Tom Christiansen, brian d foy, Larry Wall, Jon Orwant
O’Reilly Media, February 2012, 1184 pages
Print ISBN: 978-0-596-00492-7, ISBN 10: 0-596-00492-3
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4493-9890-3, ISBN 10: 1-4493-9890-1
Programming Perl @amazon.co.uk

Review: #tweetsmart by J. S. McDougall (O’Reilly Media) March 22, 2012

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Ok. I am new to twitter (@nxadm) and I am not sure I completely grasp the concept. So what’s more promising than a title in the form of a hashtag? The back of the book reads: “#tweetsmart provides the answer [to what to do with twitter] with 25 creative projects to help your business, cause, or organization grow. But this isn’t just another social media marketing book—it’s the anti-marketing how-to community-engagement book”. Does the book deliver? Well, it all boils down to who you are.

The good

It’s certainly a good read. I enjoyed it. It’s short (100 pages), sometimes funny and always extremely to the point, something I appreciate. McDougall is really passionate about the subject and that shows: the author’s style is enthusiastic and upbeat. If you’re a business you’ll be using the oldest marketing tricks in a digital jacket in no time. You’ll reach a much bigger audience that you thought it was possible and it will cost you peanuts. Good.

The bad

So, what if you not own a business? No problem, the back says “business, cause, or organization”, you may think. Nope. Being an free and open source enthusiast involved in a few projects (e.g. Padre, the Perl IDE) it was specifically the “cause or organisation” part that made me curious. Of the 25 recipes, isn’t there at least one applicable to smaller (not commercial) open source projects? Sadly, no. It will help you to sell coffee or burritos, but not reach new users or developers. Did I learn something I didn’t know? Again, no (I repeat: I enjoyed the book).

So the “anti-marketing how-to community-engagement book” epithet may be a little euphemistic. Let’s stick with a “not-annoying and not insulting practical online marketing book for small business”. Sure, it sounds less “cool”, but take it from me, “not annoying and not insulting” part is worth *a lot* when talking about marketing.


Will I recommend it? Well, it depends on who you are. The 3 of 5 stars I give to this book is just an average: it ranges from totally irrelevant for some uses to a fantastic HOWTO to get the online marketing of your business started in no time. You Mileage -May- Will Vary.

25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community
By J. S. McDougall
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Released: February 2012
Pages: 106

Book mini-review: Modern Perl May 3, 2011

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Modern Perl cover Ok. You are really lazy, curious and want to know my opinion? Buy the book. It’s great. If you are less lazy, keep reading.

I was really exited about this book. Even before the book was published, chromatic regularly posted very interesting articles and, maybe more importantly, posed questions. It felt like chromatic was thinking out loud and he welcomed everyone who wanted to take part. The text for the book is open for collaboration and lively discussions took place in his blog. He goes a step further and offers the ebook and pdf version for free. It’s a good feeling to be sure that you are not buying a cat in a bag.

What kind of book is it?  It’s the kind of book that it’s fun to read (sadly this is not that common in the IT world). It’s not the kind of book that offends your intellect by trying too hard to be funny nor the dry stuff that put you into sleep. It’s not a reference. It’s not a tutorial. It’s not the book a would suggest for someone who wants to learn Perl, but it certainly be the one to read after that (if your friend is serious about programming he will not stop at “Learning Perl“).

Because the pdf is freely available you can have a look yourself at the contents, but just glossing over the titles of the chapters gives you a good idea:

  • The Perl Philosophy
  • Perl and Its Community
  • The Perl Language
  • Operators
  • Functions
  • Regular Expressions and Matching
  • Objects
  • Style and Efficacy
  • Managing Real Programs
  • Perl Beyond Syntax
  • What to Avoid
  • What’s Missing

Modern Perl is not the book that teaches you specific technologies du jour. chromatic aims higher and moves the bar from “how” to “why”. By doing so it’s clear that for the author the Modern Perl revival is more than the sum of new CPAN modules fixing what’s broken in Perl 5. It’s a book about understanding the basics of Perl 5. The good and the bad stuff. And how to use this knowledge, a quest for Good Programming. I specially appreciate “The Perl Philosophy” as it manages to explain clearly the basic assumptions of Perl (and at the same time give a valid answer to the “write-only” accusations). Even if you have programmed Perl for a while, you’ll be surprised on how nice it is to see things clearly explained what you probably “kind-of” knew.  chromatic’s inviting style helps a lot.

I pre-ordered the book on Amazon before it came out and I haven’t regretted it for a second. It lives next to my “Perl Best Practices” copy. I appreciate when content providers treat me with respect and not as a pirate (DRM!). That’s why I hope this publishing model is viable (open content, free pdf, free epub, companion site). I don’t mind voting with my wallet.

Buy it at amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, amazon.fr or amazon.com (depending on your country).


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