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The Hardware Hacker (Book Review)

March 20, 2017 Comments off

The Hardware HackerThe Hardware Hacker
Adventures in Making & Breaking Hardware
Andrew “bunnie” Huang
$29.95 List. $18.43 Amazon (Prime)

I was excited to hear about this book and receive a copy of it but my feathers fell when I saw a quote by Edward Snowden on the dust jacket. The publisher also place Edward Snowden’s review at the top of the others in the pre-release reviewer’s list. This is not a book about Edward Snowden nor was he a hardware hacker, so I’m not sure what his “endorsement” does for the book except diminish its overall value to me. In fact, even if this book were a 10/10, which it isn’t, this inclusion decreases that review by at least two points right off the top. I was very disappointed to see any mention of Snowden in this book.

The Hardware Hacker is basically a reprint of Andrew Huang’s blog. Most of the information in the book is long outdated and is basically a memoir of stuff he’s done. If you’re looking for this book to actually teach you something, save your money. It’s basically one man’s adventure into various aspects of “hacking” and building things.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of info about DNA, which totally doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. As one Amazon.com reviewer put it, it’s navel-gazing.

I’m sure there’s an audience for this book and it’s decently written, but it’s not a reference book by any stretch. If I had to categorize it, I’d call it technology historical nonfiction.

<rant>Edward Snowden is a fake hacker and a non-security professional. He’s not an authority on anything, especially security. His resume and history are sketchy at best and his claim to “fame” is that he stole documents and revealed them to a journalist, who of course, ran with them. He’s not to be trusted or held up as a hero. He’s a total zero who deserves prison time for treason. He should never be quoted, unless it’s ironically, for any book.</rant>

I guess if you’re interested in “how one guy did it”, then this is a good book. Otherwise, save your money and wait until it’s on the penny list or bargain bin at used book stores. I’m not actually sure why No Starch wanted to publish this book and I’m hoping that they didn’t invest a lot of money in its production. It seems more like something that should have been self-published and sold on Huang’s blog site as an ebook for his followers.

Originally, I was going to create a video review of this book but I just don’t see enough value in it to go to that much trouble. I am not really sure who the audience for this book is supposed to be. If you know who Andrew Huang is, then you’ve already seen this material, except perhaps for the weird DNA-related material. And if you’re like me and never heard of Andrew Huang, then this book is not likely to make you a fan.

I’ve seen some laudatory reviews on Amazon and other sites but I don’t think they’re to be believed. Honest ones like the three-star Amazon review I referred to earlier is more realistic.

I don’t mean any offense to No Starch Press because they have many great books available and generally speaking, I highly recommend them. I also don’t mean any offense to Andrew Huang, who I’m sure is a perfectly nice guy. I’m not sure who’s responsible for the inclusion of the Edward Snowden review and quote on the dust jacket, but that was a poor decision.

Rating: 5/10

Recommendation: If you like historical nonfiction and want to read about how someone else did it, read Huang’s blog and save your money.

Welcome to the Real World (Book Review)

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Welcome to the Real WorldWelcome to the Real World
Finding your place, perfecting your work, and turning your job into your dream career.
Lauren Berger
April 2014
240 pages
$16.99 Cover Price, $11.92 Amazon, $10.67 Kindle

Review Rating: 9/10

Lauren Berger is the founder and CEO of InternQueen.com as well as an author, speaker, and internship expert. Her latest book, Welcome to the Real World, is basically a Lauren Berger brain dump of what she’s learned in her years as the Intern Queen.

The book consists of ten chapters that are full of pertinent information yet very easy to read and to comprehend. I enjoyed reading Welcome to the Real World (Real World) and found that it would be helpful to anyone anywhere along the career path continuum, not just those new to the workforce.

Lauren gives you pointers on workplace behavior, appropriate dress, connecting with others, how to manifest your own personal ‘brand,’ how to organize yourself, and how to juggle all those things that you have to do. Her advice is practical and very much worth more than the few dollars of the book’s cost. Particularly valuable is the chapter titled, “Your Money, Your Finances, Your Life.” In my humble opinion, this should be the first chapter instead of ninth.

I have several reasons for stating that Chapter 9 should have come first: It’s by far the most important chapter for a young person (or a person of any age for that matter), it teaches real life lessons, it’s worth the price of the entire book on its own, and directness of the material.

To explain my “directness” reason, Lauren is direct and to the point in this chapter. There are no gray lines when it comes to finances. You must have discipline and you must have a plan. You have to handle money intelligently, no matter how much or how little you make. She gets to the point in each section without mincing words or adding any extra fluff. She tells it like it is. Read and heed her advice.

This chapter should be up front because young people have short attention spans. The phone buzzes with a new text message, a YouTube video distracts you, an email notification pops up, or you notice something happening on television, and you’ve lost your train of thought. If it were the first chapter, it would be read for sure.

So many young people get into financial problems and it takes years to recover from them. If you read and adhere to the advice given, you’ll be fine.

My favorite chapter, perhaps because of where I am in my career, is Chapter 4, How to Work Your Personal Brand. To me, creating, developing, and working your personal brand is the most important way that you can move up in your company or get a different job outside of your company. You should always be aware of how you portray your personal brand and how others perceive you. Wise advice from Lauren. Mark this chapter and reread it often. Some of the people she mentions pay thousands of dollars to ‘coaches’ to help them develop their brands. You don’t necessarily need to do that. Just read the chapter.

Finally, Lauren wraps it up with Chapter 10: Time to Get Personal, which is more or less a ‘care and feeding’ of you discussion.

In all, the book is very good. Lauren has a lot of good advice to give you and she teaches you how to put her advice into practice. I love the practicality of the book. Oftentimes, books written by what I’ll loosely call “motivational” types, don’t really do anything except boost the personal brands of the writer or alleged writer (most are ghost written, in case you didn’t know that).

If you hadn’t guessed already, I highly recommend Lauren’s book and her website, no matter where you are in your career. There’s something valuable for everyone. The book is a quick read. 240 pages is pretty short and you can manage it in a few evenings. Put down your cell phones and TV remotes and spend a few hours investing in your career.

Categories: Book Review

Leadership Sustainability (Book Review)

April 8, 2013 Comments off

Leadership_SustainabilityLeadership Sustainability
Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make
Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood
April 2013
288 pages
$30.00 Cover Price, $17.49 Amazon, $14.99 Kindle

Review Rating: 9/10

You only have to Google the phrase, “The need for leadership” to find out that there is a hunger for leadership. Anyone can take on the role of leader but what people really want is leadership. What are the characteristics of a good leader? Why does anyone want to become a leader? Why would you want to become a better leader? Who do leaders look to for leadership?

This isn’t the only book on leadership sustainability but it’s the only one that provides you with seven applicable principles or disciplines as the authors call them. From the very first words in the book (Preface), the authors challenge you to become a better leader. You’ve taken the first step by reading the book, Preface included.

“Most good leaders want and try to become better,” the book begins and then goes on to explain how leaders attempt to become better by using leadership coaching, 360-degree feedback and other techniques to magically transform into a better version of themselves. As the authors acknowledge, few leaders ever put their learned techniques into practice over a sustained period of time.

The authors tell you up front what the main purpose of the book is without any guesswork or further exploration: “…to help leaders sustain the changes that they know they should make–this is, to support leadership sustainability.”

Additionally, the authors spare you the pain of consuming all 288 pages before you realize the benefit of their experience and knowledge. They tell you right there in the Preface what the seven disciplines are and a short synopsis of each. If you’re a quick start type, then be sure to read the Preface. Have I emphasized that enough?

Perhaps, if I were to give the authors a bit of advice, I’d tell them to move the Preface to Chapter One and then start the book fresh with the first discipline in Chapter Two.

Leadership Sustainability is a no fluff book that is far from a self-help pep talk from ivory tower types. This book gets to the nitty gritty and exchanges beautiful prose for practical information. If you like a no nonsense approach to your reading, you’ll love it. There’s no suspense, there’s no punch line and there’s no surprise ending but there’s plenty of good practices and clearly defined techniques for increasing your effectiveness as a leader.

Ulrich and Smallwood present you with the seven disciplines in mnemonic format: START ME. Of course, there’s no shortcut to becoming a better leader and the authors acknowledge that. But if you apply yourself and focus on the seven disciplines that they outline, you’ll be able to sustain your leadership focus indefinitely.

The layout of the book makes it easy to use as a reference. After you read through Chapter One’s introduction, background information, reference material and install the STARTME app, you jump right into Chapter Two: Simplicity. Chapter Two is arguably the most important chapter in this book. I suggest that you read it twice to be sure that you understand the concept and benefit of simplicity in leadership.

The following six chapters present the other six disciplines: Time, Accountability, Resources, Tracking, Melioration and Emotion. And trust me, you haven’t explored these topics or concepts satisfactorily until you read their extraordinary presentations from Ulrich and Smallwood. If you think you know what each of the seven disciplines mean, you’re probably close but wrong.

For example, do you know how to build simplicity? Exactly. You need to experience the process for yourself.

In the book’s final chapter, Chapter Nine, you receive a leadership assessment. It’s not a 100 question self-assessment that you can guess the answers to or cheat by looking them up–nor is it a regurgitation of the book’s material in the form of questions. The authors ask you probing and thoughtful questions that you can use to examine yourself, your personality and your leadership style.

For example, one of my favorite questions from Chapter Nine is, “How do you approach failure?” The point of the question is to examine yourself and to answer honestly. How you approach failure is not as important as how you will approach failure moving forward. To grow as a leader, you must always be willing to learn, to build and to assess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

The second part of that question is, “What questions do you ask to show that you are a learner?”

Now that you’ve finished reading the book, go back and read Chapter Two again and see if you can figure out why the authors put simplicity first in the book.

I highly recommend Leadership Sustainability for anyone in a leadership position or for anyone who wants to develop leadership skills.

Review Rating: 9/10
Recommendation: Highest

Adobe Edge Preview 5 (Book Review)

August 17, 2012 Comments off

Adobe Edge Preview 5
The Missing Manual
by Chris Grover
© O’Reilly Media, Inc. 2012
$24.99 Retail, $16.57 Amazon, Kindle Edition $11.99.

Adobe’s software products are like Apache helicopters: Extremely effective and the very best at what they do but very complicated to operate at maximum efficiency.

O’Reilly’s Missing Manual series fills in the blanks and gets you up and running quickly with tips and tutorials to perform the most popular functions with the software. Though this book was recently released (May 16, 2012), Adobe Edge Preview 6.1 is now the current version. However, if you aren’t one of those leading edge (No pun intended) types, then you likely still own Preview 5.

This Missing Manual is an essential desk reference, if you spend any time at all with Preview. The Internet, for all its positives and negatives, is a visual place. Adobe Edge Preview helps you create a more enjoyable visual experience for those who visit your website. The Missing Manual helps you do so painlessly.

After a short introduction to Adobe Edge, Grover dives right into your first animation project. From personal experience, web animation is not an easy thing to do–no matter how good the instructor or the instruction is but Grover certainly makes it seem less difficult and less tedious than it is.

Other techniques outlined in the book are: Learning Timelines, Transitions, HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and JavaScript tricks and techniques for advanced website effects.

Chris Grover manages to pack quite a bit into less than 200 pages. Overall, I like the book, its progression and its abundant graphics and screenshots. I think this book will get you started but for more advanced techniques or in-depth professional Edge work, you’re going to need a bigger book.

If you’re on the fence about buying this book, I’d suggest going with the Kindle version or searching for a used paperback copy. The book isn’t bad but it’s a new book that covers only the basics and you might find yourself wanting more but not getting it here. Buying the paperback version gets you the free ebook version and periodic updates.

Review: 8/10
Recommendation: High

Categories: Book Review

The Intention Economy (Book Review)

July 18, 2012 Comments off

The Intention Economy
When Customers Take Charge
by Doc Searls
© Harvard Business Review Press 2012
$27.00 Retail, $17.82 Amazon.

I was intrigued by the fact that Doc Searls wrote this book, so I asked for a review copy. To my surprise, his assessment and overview of what he calls, “The Intention Economy” is very close to my own opinions. I’ve followed Searls’ writings for years and the book has his voice and the quality of perspective that I’ve come to expect from him. No disappointments here.

This book should probably be used as a supplement to any college-level economics class as required side reading. Its 250 pages are quick reading but chock full of information. In fact, Searls takes you through some history, The Internet, Economics, Vendor Relationship Management, Customer Relationship Management and business in general.

There’s one particular aspect of the book that I really like–at the beginning of each chapter, he has an introductory segment named, “The Argument” that presents the flavor of that chapter’s contents. In the chapter itself, Searls provides support for his “argument” with informative dialog and illustrative specific examples from the business world. At the end of each chapter, he provides his chapter summary named, “So, Then,” which is really your takeaway from the chapter’s contents.

Here’s an example of each from Chapter 7 titled, “Big Data.”

The Argument:

Producing and integrating data sets of all sizes can be a good and useful thing–especially if customers get to do it too, with their own data.

So, Then:

We wouldn’t need to be tracked if we weren’t being cattle And we won’t solve the privacy problem until customers appear to vendors in human form.

If you have any curiosity at all about business, economy or how businesses and consumers will lead tomorrow’s economy, this book is a must read. The most important business conversations in a century are about to take place and if you aren’t informed, you’ll be left behind with last century’s business models guiding you.

You can’t read this book without learning something. Its easy reading style and unpretentious language is equally enjoyable for the armchair observer or the most motivated corporate bigshot. I recommend it for anyone who wants to have a jump on their competition.
Review: 10/10
Recommendation: Highest

Categories: Book Review

The Artist’s Guide to GIMP, Second Edition (Book Review)

July 16, 2012 Comments off

The Artist’s Guide to GIMP, Second Edition
Creative Techniques for Photographers, Artists, and Designers.
by Michael J. Hammel.
© No Starch Press 2012
$39.95 Retail, $21.07 Amazon.

I used to think that Adobe’s Photoshop was the only available advanced creative tool of its kind. And, if you deal with graphic arts people, you might think that too. However, there is a free software program named GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) that has many of the same features as Adobe Photoshop and a few that it doesn’t. If you’ve never heard of GIMP, you need to discover it for yourself.

Although many people associate GIMP with Linux, GIMP actually runs on a variety of operating systems including Windows and Mac OS X. That’s the first “GIMP has it and Photoshop doesn’t” feature that you need to know about. Since 1984, when the first little Mac Classic hit the market, graphic designers assumed that Mac was the only creative platform. Adobe attempted to change that by offering Photoshop on Windows. And, sure, some designers use Photoshop on Windows now.

When Linux became more mainstream, a few clever programmers decided that it’s time that its users have a first class design tool like Photoshop. GIMP was born. Now, you’ll find Linux-powered GIMP stations in Hollywood, in major design firms, architectural offices and in homes.

Since GIMP has become such a widely used graphics manipulation tool, someone needed to create a good book about how to use it. Several books exist that teach users how to use GIMP but The Artist’s Guide to GIMP is unique: It’s aimed directly at creative professionals as well as home hobbyists.

The major problem that this book solves for the reader is that it teaches you how to get the effects and fixes you need on digital images. Face it, digital photography is cool and perfect for the hedonist in us all but do we always take the best photographs with our new $1,000 digital SLR cameras? Certainly not.

GIMP comes to your rescue. Author Hammel shows you how to fix, manipulate and perfect your images.

One of my favorite tutorials is the one he calls “Miniaturizing a Scene.” This is the Tilt-Shift effect that you’re able to get with the old 4×5 format bellows cameras. Today’s cameras can’t quite recreate that same look. But, with GIMP you can come pretty close.

In my opinion, his tutorial on photo restoration is worth ten times the price of the book. Hammel takes you through the entire process of taking an old folded, discolored photo and making it look like you captured it five minutes ago using your new DSLR on monochrome mode. That six pages could put you into your own lucrative photo restoration business. You’ll need a quality scanner, GIMP, The Artist’s Guide to GIMP, 2nd Edition and some business cards.

If that weren’t enough, he also shows you how to take a regular photo and give it an antique look.

Did you ever see those really cool texture effects or interesting shadowed photos and think, “Wow, that must be a great photographer to capture that light and shadow at just the right moment.” Well, it might have been true but as any good analog (film) photographer will tell you, “The magic happens in the darkroom.”

The same goes for digital photography. The magic happens in the digital darkroom or GIMP, as I like to call it.

The book is a different format than other No Starch Press books that I’ve seen. This one is in landscape mode and has a real photograph on the cover. Its 300-ish pages would fill 500 in standard format. So, put on your reading glasses, fire up GIMP on your computer and start working on those photos. Red light not needed.

The book also includes non-photographic techniques as well. Hammel shows you how to create web graphics, type effects and much more.

It would be hard to find someone who knows more about practical GIMP use than Hammel–he has it down. He also knows how to teach you. If I could find one thing wrong with the book, it’s that the format is a bit awkward to use for me. I know why No Starch made it in landscape mode–so that you can have it open while working with it and not have to hold the book open. I get that. But, for me it’s a little flippy-floppy and hard to control, when reading it. There’s no perfect format for a book like this except maybe spiral-bound but they aren’t as durable.

In all, it’s a very good book. You don’t have to read it from front to back–you can hunt for an effect or a fix and use it by itself. I’d like to see some accompanying videos because some of the techniques just don’t come across well in book format so having that extra resource would be very helpful. If those videos are, in fact, available and I just didn’t see them, I apologize in advance and I’ll add a link to them, if needed.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn photo manipulation, advertising style and creating your own web graphics, such as buttons, logos or mouseover menus.

In all, very well done.

Review: 9/10
Recommendation: Highest

Categories: Book Review

Ubuntu Made Easy (Book Review)

July 16, 2012 Comments off

Ubuntu Made Easy
A Project-Based Introduction to Linux
by Rickford Grant with Phil Bull.
© No Starch Press 2012
$34.95 Retail, $19.06 Amazon.

If you’ve never used Linux or the Ubuntu Linux distribution, Ubuntu Made Easy is the book for you. The authors take a light-hearted approach to teaching you the ins and outs of Ubuntu Linux (Includes the latest version 12.04). The book is a good introduction to Linux in general and to Ubuntu specifically. This book would be especially well-suited for middle school, high school, community college or adult continuing education classes. It is also light enough for older readers to comprehend.

I like the book because it leaves out all of the hype and mumbo jumbo that only us geeks get into. The audience for this book is Everyman (and Everywoman) not for computer nerds or techno wizards who already know everything.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a gentler introduction to Linux and how it works from a user’s point of view.

The book seems written by and for people with a bit of attention deficit disorder. But, who has time to pore over lots of words these days? The attention span-deprived will appreciate the no nonsense, no extra words style launched at you by Grant and Bull. If you want to read a novel, read a novel but if you want to get into Linux quickly and become productive than “Ten Days” or “24 Hours,” then you need to find this book.

Like most books from No Starch Press, the book is easy to read and has ample whitespace in the margins for you to take notes. The authors have also taken the time to create a familiar environment for you Windows and Mac folks out there who want to try something different. Perhaps you’ve heard of Linux and want to give it a go or you’ve decided that commercial operating systems are just too stuffy for you.

Grant and Bull make it easy to make the switch from Windows or Mac by giving you the opportunity to install Linux alongside Windows. And, they give many references to Windows and Mac for comparison, which is extremely helpful for those who might have reservations about switching to a foreign environment after so many years with another operating system.

These two guys have been around a while and they understand that making the quantum leap from one operating system to another is no small feat. They loaded the book with what feels like personalized instruction and a lot of pictures of actual, current Linux desktops. The graphics and instructions are clear, simple and easy to follow.

At approximately 400 pages and 22 chapters, including one on troubleshooting, you’ll find everything you need to get started, work productively and enjoy Linux.

Grant and Bull chose well with Ubuntu Linux. It is arguably the best Linux distribution for dabblers, new converts and old pros alike. I personally love Ubuntu Linux and I love this book. It’s well worth the price and, if I ever teach Linux again, it’s the book I’ll use.

Review: 10/10
Recommendation: Highest

NOTE:

The book will be 40% off for the next week when you buy from nostarch.com. Here’s a link to the deal – http://nostar.ch/UME_Promo

 And, when people buy print books directly from http://nostarch.com, we give you the DRM-free ebook (usually PDF, Mobi, and Epub) for free.
Categories: Book Review
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