Book Review — Head First HTML5 Progamming

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, HTML5, JavaScript, o'reilly, programming | Posted on 25-09-2013

Head First HTML5 Programming 
Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Robson 
O’Reilly

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I’m looking for a book to help me learn more about a specific programming language, the first place I look is O’Reilly.  And no, I don’t say that because they give me free copies of the books (which I do like).  Instead I look for them because they have series, like the Head First series, that are written for anyone to learn from.  You don’t have to be a master computer programmer to pick up the book and understand how a topic, like HTML5 programming, works.  And that’s one of the great things about the Head First series, is that it’s easy to understand, easy to follow, and lively illustrations make it fun to learn how a new concept works.

This particular book helps walk the reader through some of the new concepts of HTML5 and how it works with JavaScript to provide a more robust and powerful programming language.  Such examples include using the canvas, which allows a user/programmer to create images on the fly, such as repeating circles in a random pattern on a background (the example from the book actually.)  Or utilizing the geolocation API to help figure out data on your users…probably not the best topic to broach with these days, but still could be useful.  This book is not meant to be a complete reference on HTML5 or JavaScript, but a guide to getting started with using the concepts together.

Where this book excels is providing an easy to understand concept of utilizing the new features of HTML5 in conjunction with JavaScript.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it’s written in a clear easy to understand language, it’s written for the novice programmer–one that’s still learning how programming works and for someone that’s looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation to walk through, such as a client that wants to be able to print customized tshirts, and gives you some exercises to walk through to begin understanding the processes that are needed.  Then, at the end of the chapter, they give you the answers and further explanation if one is needed.  By having a somewhat silly concept, I find that it often helps engage my brain into beginning to think about the specific code that I’ll need.  In addition, they also add in other learning concepts, such as using crossword puzzles or mazes.

The caveat of this book is that like every “Head First” title the illustrations won’t work for everyone.  I find it helps if you’re coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that the images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions.

Overall though this was an enjoyable book and one that I’ll keep around to help me better understand some of the concepts of HTML5, and even begin working with them to redesign my own webpage.  Even though it’s 600 pages long, it’s an easy read and helps build a good understanding of HTML5 programming.  I give the book 4 out 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, instructions, kindle fire, missing manual, o'reilly, user guide | Posted on 28-03-2012

Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual
Peter Meyers
O’Reilly Press

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

The bad thing about purchasing the first generation of a device is the lack of material written on how to find all of the hidden features and best use the product. Sure tech geeks and hackers try all kinds of things as soon as they can, but what about the average person that just wants to use the device? And that’s the best thing about this book. It’s written for the nongeek/nontechie so that they can figure out what they can do with the device and the best way to use it.

Written in a clear easy format, Peter includes step by step instructions for navigating the Kindle Fire and provides copious illustrations to help you make sure you’re in the right place. Peter provides information on:

  • How to get started with the device
  • How to get materials on your fire from ebooks to magazines to newspapers
  • How to watch movies
  • How to add music to the device
  • How to open documents such as PDFs and Word files (and more)
  • And perhaps most importantly to readers not familiar with apps, how to find them, load them, and use them.
  • Lastly the appendixes, which provide a number of helpful hints on troubleshooting the device such as getting/using wifi.

One of the things I liked most about the book is that Peter offered feedback on common criticisms of the Kindle Fire, such as the location of the power button, and ways to avoid the problems that people are complaining about, which is a nice addition to the book. My one quibble about Peter’s writing style is that in a few places he mentions something, such as the startup bar, but then says he’ll explain what that is in a few pages. It just caught me off guard that there wasn’t an explanation right on that page and I can see that giving some readers trouble. Overall though it’s written in a logical, easy to follow, straightforward format.

This book is perfect for that person just entering the world of tablets and isn’t quite sure what to do with one. It’s also a good book, even for the tech savvy, to see many of the things that the Kindle Fire can do. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, command line, linux, o'reilly, programming | Posted on 22-02-2012

The Linux Command Line:  A Complete Introduction
William E. Shotts Jr.
No Starch Press

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

The command line can be one of the most intimidating aspects of learning Linux, I know it was for me.  And while the command line gives you an awesome amount of power with using Linux, it also makes it entirely to easy to destroy and delete entire directories without trying.  It’s like what Uncle Ben said in Spider Man “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Learning the command line is one of those things that takes a good guide and clear instructions (and warnings on what not to do), and while I had friends who helped me walk through the process, it still seemed intimidating.  And after reading this book, I wish I had it when I started out.  William makes the command line less intimidating, provides clear instructions, and lets you know the pitfalls to watch out for.

The book is broken down into four major sections:
Learning the shell
Configuration and the environment
Common tasks and essential tools
Writing Shell Scripts

with easy to navigate chapters.  Some of the chapters include: file navigation, Vi and Vim, environment configuration, command chaining, pattern matching with regular expressions, and more.

Where this book excels is that it is written with the novice in mind and presents the information clearly, with easy to read instructions, and plenty of examples so that you can see what its supposed to look like.  The best part of the examples, William truly presents them as what the reader will see when they first start out vs. using his own personalized environment (which some instructors have a tendency of doing.)  This means that the reader will instantly know where they are in the process.  Even more importantly he tries to eschew the technical jargon that can overwhelm a novice.  While at times he might go overboard with wordage in explaining things, it is still sure to help the novice answer many questions they might have while learning the command line.  

While the chapters may not cover a topic in depth, such as the one on Vi and Vim, they provide the reader with enough information to be comfortable with what they’re learning.  The section that I found most helpful, was the last section dealing with writing shell scripts.  William gives a solid foundation to learning this helpful tool, provides plenty of examples, and makes it seem easy to set up.  Even better, he gives a brief lesson on Regular Expressions, which will help with writing the scripts.

Even though this book is written for the novice user, I still found it a good refresher on what commands do what.  I would highly recommend this book for users just starting out in Linux and for those that need a refresher on how to navigate the command line.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Head First jQuery

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, JavaScript, JQuery, o'reilly, programming | Posted on 25-11-2011

Head First jQuery
Ryan Benedetti & Ronan Cranley
O’Reilly

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

A basic introduction to jQuery and scripting

jQuery is fast becoming one of the most useful and popular JavaScript frameworks being used and being developed for future markets with jQuery mobile (see book review/blog post here.)  One of the best features of jQuery, in my opinion, is that it allows you to learn and use a scripting language that doesn’t depend upon the browser develops to update their JavaScript libraries with each release of the browser—which often means that some of the selectors don’t work right with all of the browsers (IE in particular.)  Instead jQuery is file that lives on a server somewhere that the webpage calls upon, much like how PHP works.  It’s still a client side scripting language, but in some ways acts like a server side.  In this massive book (over 450 pages) and over 11 chapters the reader will learn how to download and setup jQuery and introduce the basics of jQuery. The later chapters briefly introduce AJAX, PHP, MySQL, JSON, and XML and how they work with jQuery to build a more interactive webpage. There also a couple of apendecies to help you get a test environment set up on your local computer.  One thing to note about this book is that you do need experience with webdesign and it does help to have some experience with scripting languages. 

One of the first things that stands out about this book (and the Head First series in general) is the bright, colorful, and plentiful images used to help illustrate concepts and how jQuery works.  They also provide illustrations on how to walk through the specific problem at hand, which is often nice to see in a visual format…even if it is just notes on a pad of paper.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it’s written in a clear easy to understand language, it’s written for the novice programmer–one that’s still learning how programming works and for someone that’s looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation–a client wants work done on their website– walk you through how to solve the problem step by step, and with illustrations to help you solve the problem.  This method can be a very helpful way to introduce aspects of jQuery as it walks through problems that you might encounter when building/developing your website and ways that jQuery can over come that problem. 

But like every “Head First” title the illustrations won’t work for everyone.  I find it helps if you’re coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that thT images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions. 

Overall this is a fairly good introduction book and easy to read if you’re coming from a nontraditional programming background (and are left brain) then this might just be the book for you to learn more about scripting languages.  If you’re more right brain then you might want to look for a more traditional book on jQuery, such as “Learning jQuery, Third Edition” from Pact.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–HTML5: The Missing Manual

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, CSS3, HTML5, o'reilly, programming | Posted on 04-10-2011

A basic introduction to HTML5

HTML5:  The Missing Manual
Matthew MacDonald
O’Reilly

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I start looking at books on programming languages, such as HTML5, I look for a few different things.  1) Easy to read and understand language
2) Clear cut, easy to follow (and correct) examples of code
3) Good additional resources to look at
4) Layout and organization of chapters and subtopics flows well
5) And depending upon the language, an in-depth look at how it works.
While this book doesn’t offer an in-depth look at every aspect of HTML5 (it is meant for beginners) it does meet the first three criteria that I look for and mostly meets the clear organizational path.

This book doesn’t give an in-depth look at HTML5 because what Matthew is trying to do is provide a basic introduction to the various tools and components of HTML5 and how you might be able to use them in your day-to-day work.  And this is where the book excels.  Matthew breaks down the book into three broad themes (meet the new language, creating modern webpages, building web apps with desktop smarts) and further broken down into 12 chapters on each of these broader themes.  Plus he includes a great 4th section with appendices and other additional resources and real world examples of code in use.

In the first section Matthew does a great job of explaining how HTML5 came into being versus the continuation of XHTML and how W3C works to approve code.  This is important to understand in the context of this book as not every standard developed by the committee or shown in this book works with every browser at this time (there is at least one that only works with one browser thus far.)  Matthew does a good job of letting the reader know which standard will work with which browsers and when, if ever, the standard might be widely adapted.  He also does a good job of breaking down the various standards that have the most real world use in building webpages, such as the discussion on semantic tags in Chapter 2.  Matthew provides clear cut examples of code and explains how you might be able to use them.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Book of Ruby

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, o'reilly, Rails, ruby, Ruby on Rails | Posted on 22-09-2011

The Book of Ruby: A Hands-On Guide for the Adventurous
by Huw Collingbourne
No Starch Press 2011

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Thanks to Ruby on Rails, the Ruby programming language is one of the most popular languages at the moment to learn.  But according to the author you can’t just jump into Rails without first learning a bit of Ruby and thus this book was born.  This book was written and developed for the novice to learn the basics of how Ruby works and what some of it’s pitfalls are.  The author points out in the introduction that although Ruby may look deceptively simple to learn, it really isn’t and it is his hope to help people navigate and learn this complex language.  This massive book (over 400 pages) is broken down into 20 chapters each on specific topic of Ruby (such as strings and ranges) and then further broken down into subtopics on the main topic, with screenshots and examples of the language scattered throughout to better help the reader place into context what the code should look like.

First I should say I’m not an experienced programmer (I’ve been learning the languages but don’t have a chance to use them as often as I’d like.)  So what I’m looking for and got out of this book may be different than what others are for.  I’m looking at this book as a way to pick up some of the basics of Ruby to get started with, how it compares with other languages, and what the biggest headaches are about it–so I can’t speak to whether or not there are better (or perhaps more standard) ways of preforming the same function/example that others maybe able to.  What I can say is that, at least the beginning of the book, gave me a good feel for some of the things that the language can do and what the code might look like in the real world (or at least how to recognize that the code I’m looking at is Ruby.)  Huw’s writing style is written to be more non-technical than some other programming books so it’s relatively easy for the novice to understand and follow along.  The later chapters however, didn’t give as much information on a topic as I would have liked, such as the chapter on debugging.  I get that Huw was just trying to give an introduction to the concept, but I think it deserved longer treatment, especially since it’s a book for the novice and this seems like an important part of getting Ruby working correctly.

The other thing that really bothers me about the book is how comments are done in the coding examples in the book.  They are written just like you would find them in real world code, but for me it was confusing at times and just added to the jumble especially when they came on each line.  I just wanted to be able to focus on walking through the Ruby code and not figure out the annotations at that moment.  Perhaps if it had been a different color it would have helped or if it was explained beneath the example (as other programming books have done), but as is some of the coding examples were less than helpful.  So while the beginning of the book provided a somewhat useful introduction on Ruby and what it could do, I know that I can get the same information and examples that are more beneficial to my learning style through some online tutorials and in other books.

If you do well with having a printed book next to you to help you learn a new language then at least the first part of the book might be useful to you.  If you’re already an experienced programmer or have a bit of Ruby knowledge then you might get better value at looking at online tutorials/schools or other more in depth books.  I will say for me that if I hadn’t been provided a review copy of the book I wouldn’t have picked the book up and I won’t be buying it for my library as I think that are books better suited for my students learning style (and with more information) than this one.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

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Book Review–jQuery Mobile

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, JavaScript, JQuery, o'reilly, Plugin | Posted on 16-07-2011

jQuery Mobile
by Jon Reid
O’Reilly 2011

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Mobile technology is developing at a rapid pace.  Where once people accessed content via mobile webpages they now want to access content via mobile appls.  And for designers this poses a major problem.  How do you design an app that works on all platforms?  Do you pick one and hope for the best? Or do you design for them all?  Thankfully a new option is being developed.  jQuery Mobile, based upon the popular jQuery library, is a package currently being developed that will work on all platforms with no extra programming knowledge needed.  And I for one am really impressed with how easy and simple it is to develop with the current package of jQuery Mobile.  It’s clear that the programmers have put a lot of thought into making it as easy as possible to use, especially since it comes with a CSS style sheet and icons built into the package.

This jQuery Mobile guide may seem short at a 130 pages, but packs a lot of useful content.  The jQuery Mobile package is currently in beta 1 (the book covers alpha 4) and is based upon HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.  Jon states in the introduction this book works best if you’re already have basic familiarity with mobile browsers, the jQuery library, and basic designing for mobile webpages.  Jon provides copious screen shots and sections of code so that the reader can easily see how the package works and how to design their own apps based upon the jQuery package.  The book talks you through the basics of beginning with the package to building a working application that utilizes the Twitter API to design a working jQuery Twitter client that incorporates multiple pages and UI components.  My only real complaint about the book is that there’s no index.  But if you’re using the ebook version of the book it’s easy enough to search and find what you need.

Basically if this your first dive into designing and developing with jQuery you may want to supplement the book with a jQuery guide (great documentation on the web or using something like “jQuery: Novice to Ninja” or “Learning jQuery 1.3“–a bit older but still good content.)  The book dives right into working with the code which is a great way to learn, especially since the author provides lots of examples of how to build the code and what it looks like on the mobile platform.  The book is written in an easy to understand format and that as long as you have some knowledge of how jQuery works you’ll have no trouble following along. 

I’m impressed with how well this short book is written.  It’s easy to use and easy to follow along.  My one note of concern (as some other reviewers have noted as well) is that the book is based upon the Alpha 4 release and we’re now into the Beta 1 release of the program.  That being said I would still recommend this book as a way to get a good idea of what can be done with package.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

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Book Review–Creating a Website, the Missing Manual

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, o'reilly | Posted on 12-07-2011

Creating a Website the missing manual, Third edition
by Matthew MacDonald
O’Reilly 2011

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Matthew writes this book as if the reader has no previous experience with coding and even no experience with really understanding how the web works, i.e. how servers render webpages and understanding how a URL works.  So if you have lots of experience with these areas then this book probably isn’t for you.  If however, you’ve never designed a webpage before or it’s been a long time since you’ve coded this is the book that you want to pick up.  The book is divided into five parts:

  1. Welcome to the web–which covers the basics of how the web works, basic HTML, and uploading your webpage to the web
  2. Building better webpages–covers how to use CSS, add images to the website, and creating pages
  3. Connecting with your audiences
  4. Website Frills–learning and using JavaScript for basic tasks
  5. Appendixes

So by the end of the book the reader is able to know how a webpage works, design their own basic one (and know some good practices for doing so), and learning a little bit beyond the basics with JavaScript.  The book is also accompanied by a website for future updates and an appendixes with online resources for learning more HTML and websites mentioned in the chapters for finding additional resources.

Having previous experience designing webpages I started reading and reviewing this book as a chance to find a guide that would be a handy reference or a bit of a refresher course when my mind decided to go to sleep.   The good:  Each chapter is written in a clear, easy to understand format that covers the basics of getting started.  The bad:   I did have a few problems with some of the information given and how it was worded.  First is that it seems jumpy in some places, he wants you to swim before you can walk.  For example, he starts off with saying create your first webpage and see how it looks in the browser before really discussing how everything is set up.  I get that he wants to provide an example, but I would have told them to take a look at a simple webpage and pointed out the elements to the page first.

He also doesn’t really cover some of the basic programs well, such as FTP applications and text editors.  With FTP programs he just hopes that you’re web provider lets you do it via the browser.  For text editors he only highlights three free programs and misses some really popular ones, such as TextWrangler, textpad+++, or NetBeans.  He also seemed to indicate that the pay ones were better if you were doing more complicated things, which just isn’t quite true.  It was just a bit disappointing to me perhaps, because I come with experience with webdesign.  That being said for someone that is a complete novice at webdesign the book does cover the basics well so that anyway, even a person that has just started using a computer the week before, could pick up the book and begin building a webpage.

Even though it does have a few problems, it’s still a good basic book for the beginner or a good refresher for someone that hasn’t done webpage design in a while.  If you’re looking to get into depth with CSS or JavaScript I would recommend one of O’Reilly’s other books, such as CSS: The Definitive Guide or Head First JavaScript.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Book of CSS3

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, o'reilly | Posted on 22-05-2011

Book of CSS3  
by Peter Gasston
No Starch Press 
2011

I was provided access by O’Reilly Publishing to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Peter writes the book as if you already have experience using and understanding basic CSS concepts and HTML, so if you’re looking for a book to teach you CSS then you’ll want a different guide.  If however, you want a book that shows you some of the features of CSS3 you’re in the right place.  Peter has been writing about CSS3 for over 5 years and in this book he covers some features of CSS3.  Each chapter covers a new feature of CSS3, how to use it in clear and easy to understand code to follow, and which browsers currently support the feature.  Some of the features covered include media queries–which is useful in designing websites for both full screen and mobile use; using gradients with color backgrounds; and 3D transformation, such as having an image rotate around an axis.  The book is also accompanied by a website for future updates and an appendix with online resources to use, learn, and test CSS3.

I really like how this book is written and laid out.  Peter does a good job of explaining in simple, easy to understand language what’s going on with the feature being discussed and how to replicate the feature using the code provided in the examples.  He walks through it step by step, explaining it in simple easy to understand language–no deciphering of incomprehensible technical speak here.  While he can’t highlight every feature, Peter has chosen the ones that are likely to be most useful at this time (and are the most developed/accepted), such as media queries for mobile use, the transitions and animations, gradients, etc.  The appendixes are also helpful as one covers what features are supported by what browsers (even though this duplicates what’s at the end of the chapters it’s nice to have it one place) and an appendix on various web tools that help you generate code as well as test it.

Even though not all of the features can be used at the time, its still a useful book and a handy reference to have around.  Highly recommend it.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Javascript: The Definitive Guide the 6th Edition

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, o'reilly | Posted on 15-05-2011

Javascript: The Definitive Guide the 6th Edition
by David Flanagan
O’Reilly Press  2011

I was provided access by O’Reilly Publishing to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

This is an updated edition to the classic reference book on Javascript to include new information on new standards (such as HTML5 and CSS3), conventions, and frameworks.   Although it is possible to learn Javascript from this book, its really meant more as a reference guide and an explanation of how and why Javascript works the way it does.  For example, the 1st chapter explains in some detail how Javascript works on the client side and how each of the following chapters will relate to this.  The book includes numerous examples of codes to illustrate the concepts and explains the concepts in a clear, easy to follow fashion that doesn’t require a degree in astrophysics to understand.

As I said it’s not really a book to learn Javascript from, for that I would recommend something like “Head First Javascript” (also by O’Reilly press.)  What I do really like about this book is that it is comprehensive in what is possible with Javascript.  While it may not cover the concept in depth, such as the chapter on Jquery, it does give a starting point to the concept.  I know it sounds odd, but I really liked the index.  It is completely through and easy to find the concept or word that I need to make something work correctly in whatever I’m writing.  It’s even better with the book because of the hyperlinks that take you right to the section.

My advice? Buy the ebook version, it’s much easier to search and to follow to specific links vs. trying to find the stuff in the print edition.  Even better, O’Reilly provides multiple formats of the book to suit your needs.  Overall, it’s a good handy reference to have around to answer questions and introduce new concepts.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program