The Owl Said Who

In the middle of the night,
when animals play and fight,
the darkness reigned supreme,
and I heard an owl scream,
Who!

The owl didn’t give a hoot,
or like a crow let out a whoot,
it wasn’t the screech owl’s scream,
but simply, as in a dream,
who.

With the rising of a fog,
I heard the croaking of a frog,
reverberate throughout the wood,
and then the owl, because he could,
said whooo.

As the moon reduced the pall,
It’s glare created shadows tall,
I looked upon the ground below,
for the subject of the low,
when the owl said who?

There he sat upon the limb,
with eyes aglow and visage grim,
his feathers puffed as if to fly,
upon some prey from perch on high,
but all he said was who.

I left him to his thoughts so deep,
of prey afoot that would not keep,
and went to lie upon my bed,
to let sweet dreams fill my head,
and all he said was who!

Copyright 2016, John Paul Mueller

Review of Lost Hero of Cape Cod

The Lost Hero of Cape Cod by Vincent Miles revolves around the life of Asa Eldridge and, to a lesser extent, his bothers John and Oliver. The story takes place in that magic period when the age of sail is ending and the age of steam is beginning. The book is written in a narrative style is that really easy to read and understand. Yes, it includes dates, just as any historical book would contain, but the dates often come with relevant back stories that make them seem a lot easier to remember (or at least more interesting to learn about).

Unlike a lot of non-fiction books on history, this one is packed with all sorts of interesting graphics. You do find lots of pictures of ships, which goes without saying. However, the author thoughtfully includes all sorts of other graphics, such as newspaper clippings, pictures of the various characters, pictures of towns,  and even a series of log entries. The result is one of seeing as well as hearing the history the history that took place.

This is a book of fact, not trumped up fiction adorning itself as fact. The list of notes, bibliography, and illustration credits attest to the author’s diligence in learning as much as is possible about events at the time. Even so, the author makes it clear when the sources used are a bit dubious or incomplete. The facts, however, aren’t dry—they’re quite interesting. For example, I had never realized that anyone in their right mind would try shipping ice to India, yet it happened and this book tells you all about it. The manner in which the facts are presented provide a certain intrigue and excitement. You can actually feel the various groups vying for supremacy of the Atlantic and sneering at those who fail.

Most of the material revolves around the Atlantic and focuses on the established route between New York or Boston and Liverpool. However, you’re also treated to the round the world tour made by Cornelius Vanderbilt and his family (captained by Asa Eldridge, no less). Lost Hero of Cape Cod makes ample use of relatively long quotes to let the characters tell you what happened in their own words. Unfortunately, the quoted sections use a slightly smaller and lighter type that can make them a bit harder to read. Even so, you’ll want to read each quote because they’re all important.

About the only complaint that one could make about this outstanding book is that the author tends toward some repetition, especially near the end of the book. Part of the reason for repetition is that the book is topical, rather than chronological in nature. The repetition is easy to forgive, however, because the book is otherwise expertly written.

I’ve purposely left out some important facts that the book presents because I truly don’t want to ruin your reading experience. Let’s just say that Asa Eldridge is far more important as a historical character than you might initially think, yet he’s all but forgotten from the history books. Vincent Miles wants to overcome that oversight with this detailed account of Asa’s life that you’ll find completely immersive. If, like me, you like nautical history, then you really must get this book.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods (Part 2)

I was a bit surprised by the number of e-mails I received about Naturally Probiotic Foods. It seems that a lot of people are having the same problems as me with our highly processed foods today. One of the main questions I was asked is whether I feel that pasteurization is a bad thing to do. That’s a loaded question. Most food questions come with trade-offs. Pasteurization helps the milk last longer and kills potentially harmful bacteria. When you get raw milk, you must consume it within 7 to 10 days, which is a much shorter time than pasteurized milk. In addition, people with compromised immune systems aren’t good candidates for raw milk because bacteria that would never cause a problem in a healthy person could cause problems with someone who doesn’t have a fully functional immune system. You must also know the farmer or store from which you get the milk. It’s way too easy for raw milk to contain substances that will make you sick. All this said, a lot of people the world over have drunk raw milk literally for centuries and we’re still here. There is a definite trade-off to consider though, so when getting raw milk, shop smart.

Many other items you buy are also pasteurized. For example, it’s entirely possible that the eggs you buy from the store are pasteurized to kill any bacteria on the surface of the egg. When you buy fresh eggs from a farmer or a store that provides such eggs, you do take a small chance of getting sick. The same can be said of any other unpasteurized product you buy. However, to be human is to risk getting sick and you can’t avoid all contact with bacteria. Society has become increasingly germophobic over the years and even that choice creates trade-offs. For example, it’s now thought that a lack of exposure to various germs and bacteria are actually causing problems with children in that they’re exhibiting symptoms like additional allergies. The point is that you must make a smart choice based on your own personal needs—I truly can’t tell anyone whether raw products, such as milk and eggs, are going to cause problems or will help with specific needs.

A number of people have asked what I think about homogenization. I know that when I was growing up, the milk I bought from the store would separate. It was possible to see cream at the top of the glass bottle at some point (often scooped off for coffee and so on). Today, milk doesn’t separate in most cases because of homogenization. Logic tells you that if the milk normally separates (breaks down) and now it doesn’t, that your body is probably going to have a harder time digesting it as well. A number of articles online bear out this fact. However, homogenized milk can cause other problems. For example, a number of sources claim that it can promote cancer. Because I’m not a researcher into this kind of information, I can’t verify these claims, but in reading the information, it does tend to make sense. Over-processing food has certain negative effects and you need to think about the pros and cons of buying it. I found other sites that state the contrary, that homogenization makes milk more digestible. My personal experience doesn’t bear this claim out. In drinking milk that is just pasteurized, I still experience fewer digestive problems than when the milk is also homogenized. However, I’m not you and you are the one who needs to make the required test.

A number of people also asked about alternatives, such as goat’s milk. I personally love goat’s milk as long as it’s cold and not over five days old. After that magic five day mark, the goat’s milk develops a “goaty” taste, some people call it a musky taste. Theoretically, goat’s milk (at least) is more digestible than cow’s milk. At least, that’s the case for me. I can drink goat’s milk without using Lactaid (or a similar product). Again, you need to know the source of your goat or sheep milk in order to be certain that it’s safe to drink. Unlike cow’s milk, goat’s milk actually freezes really well, so when I’m drinking goat’s milk, I keep only enough in the refrigerator for three days and freeze the rest.

Raw foods, those that haven’t been processed, can contain natural probiotics that make them easier to digest. Humans have been consuming these foods for centuries without problem and our bodies are naturally attuned to them. However, processing does have benefits and you truly can’t ignore these benefits. For me, I find that the raw foods work best because of the probiotics they contain. Your experience is likely to be different from mine. Keep those e-mails coming to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Naturally Probiotic Foods

As I’m getting older, I’m finding it helps to have a little assistance in digesting food. Given that I’m into self-sufficiency and tend to look for natural ways of accomplishing what I need to do, I started looking into probiotics. Probiotics can help with things like lactose intolerance, bloating, gas, and other unfortunate (and uncomfortable) digestive ills. Of course, you can get probiotic pills, but in reading the labels, I found that these pills vary greatly in quality and that the best pills tend to cost quite a bit. I also like to save money when I can, so I looked for an alternative. However, before we look at probiotic foods, you need to know that certain foods host certain helpful bacteria and that a specific food may not help your specific problem. If you you truly need a blanket cure for your woes, then you need to get a high quality probiotic pill that contains as many different kinds of helpful bacteria as possible.

The naturally probiotic food that most people know about is yogurt. Unfortunately, not just any yogurt will do. There are actually three kinds (or levels) of yogurt: the kind that doesn’t have any live culture (which is most of them), the kind with live culture (always marked on the label), and the kind that has added digestive aids added (usually only available at health food stores). The kind that most people get, the one without the live culture, doesn’t have any probiotic benefit and won’t help your digestion. The best option to get for the money conscious is a yogurt that is marked as having live culture. I currently have yogurt, instead of milk, with my breakfast cereal, and find that it has gone a long way toward solving certain digestive ills.

It turns out that sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented cabbage dishes have probiotic features. However, what you may not know is that heat kills the helpful bacteria that help with digestion. The only way to get the probiotic effect of sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented cabbage dishes is to eat them fresh (which means making them yourself). That jar you buy in the store isn’t actually fermented in the first place (they use vinegar to simulate fermentation) and it also has been canned, so it doesn’t contain any probiotics.

Fermentation is one of the keys in finding a natural probiotic food in many cases. For example, Japanese miso soup (made with fermented soybean paste) is also naturally probiotic. However, you’re again looking at getting the soup fresh. It’s important to note that many of these foods also contain antioxidants and tend to be high in B vitamins.

Some probiotics don’t actually survive the digestion process in some people without a carrier. You may find that the expensive probiotic pill you buy doesn’t do much because your digestive tract destroys the beneficial bacteria before they actually get to your intestines. If your probiotic pill doesn’t use an enteric coating, you may as well not take it Cheese is a helpful carrier food for probiotics. However, like many other foods, cheese comes with a caveat—you must find a cheese that is made with raw, not pasteurized, milk. Fermented cheeses commonly made with raw milk include Gouda and aged cheddar. Always check the label though to determine whether the cheese is made with raw milk (either goat or cow milk works fine).

If you want to gain the benefits of helpful bacteria and yeasts, then you should look at a beverage such as kefir. Like all of the other foods described in this post, you need to get kefir made from raw, not pasteurized milk. The kefir can act as a carrier to ensure that the helpful bacteria and yeasts survive the digestive tract. Ingesting helpful yeasts can help with a variety of problems, including certain allergies (which is part of the reason that I also use locally obtained honey for some needs—it contains yeasts and pollen that serve to keep allergies low).

Not all cooking techniques destroy probiotics. One such exception is sourdough bread. I wasn’t able to find a lot out about this particular option, except that it must be made with naturally occurring yeasts. In other words, you need a bread that relies on fermentation to obtain the effect as far as I’ve been able to determine from my research, but I’d love to hear from someone who has more details.

Buttermilk and acidophilus milk both have probiotics in them. In this case, someone adds the probiotics to the milk. Theoretically, the milk acts as a carrier for the probiotic to help it get past the digestive tract. My research hasn’t verified what sort of buttermilk you need at this point, nor have I been able to determine whether there are differences in acidophilus milk brands, so this is one of those options that you need to try to determine whether it works for you.

Brine pickles, those made in a crock and left to ferment, contain probiotics. Like other fermented vegetable products, you need to eat this one fresh and not canned. If your pickle recipe calls for vinegar, the result won’t contain any probiotic benefit. Brine pickles, like sauerkraut, rely on salt and water to start the fermentation process.

You can find a host of other food choices, such as tempeh, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, red wine, honey, maple syrup, and legumes that contain probiotic qualities. Each of these options will likely include different helpful bacteria that may or may not make it past your digestive tract. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to know which foods will work best for you because everyone is different. Experimentation is the best way to determine which foods will work best. The big thing to remember is that these foods are less expensive than pills, generally provide some level of nutritional benefit, and can contain other healthful benefits in addition to their probiotic qualities. Let me know about your favorite probiotic foods at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Installing Python Packages (Part 2)

In the Installing Python Packages (Part 1) post, you discovered the easiest method of installing new packages when working with Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. Using the pip command is both fast and easy. However, it doesn’t provide much in the way of feedback when things go wrong. To overcome this issue, you can use the conda command in place of pip when you have Anaconda installed on your system. Like pip, conda supports a wide variety of commands. You can find a listing of these commands at http://conda.pydata.org/docs/using/pkgs.html.

You need to know a few things about working with conda. The first is that you need to open an Anaconda prompt to use it. For example, when working with Windows, you use the Start ⇒ All Programs ⇒ Anaconda<Version> ⇒ Anaconda Prompt command to open a window like the one shown here where you can enter commands. (Your Anaconda Prompt may look different than the one shown based on the platform you use and the version of Anaconda you have installed.)

Use the Anaconda Prompt to gain access to the conda command.
The Anaconda Prompt

You can easily discover the features the conda command supports by typing conda -h and pressing Enter. You see a list of command line switches similar to the ones shown here:

Use the conda command line switches to perform various tasks.
A Listing of Conda Switches

As you can see, there are quite a few tasks you can perform. To determine whether you have a package installed, use the Conda search <package name> command.  For example, if you want to determine if you have Pandas installed, you type Conda search Pandas and press Enter.  You see a list of Pandas versions installed, assuming that Pandas is installed, like this:

Use the search switch to locate a particular package installation.
A Listing of Pandas Information

The information you get from conda is far more in depth than pip provides. To determine what you have installed, just go down the list and determine whether you have the version of Pandas that you need.  If you don’t, then type Conda update pandas and press Enter (notice the case used).  On the other hand, let’s say you want to install BeautifulSoup.  Well, the first time through, try typing Conda install BeautifulSoup and pressing Enter.  You see an error message that tells you what to type like this:

The conda command provides you with helpful error information.
Using Error Information

Since you want to install the latest BeautifulSoup, type Conda install beautiful-soup and press Enter.  After searching for the required update information, conda will ask if you want to proceed.  Type y and press Enter.  You’ll see a whole bunch of activity take place, but eventually, you have a new version of BeautifulSoup, plus all the supporting functionality, installed correctly in the correct locations.  Here’s how things looked on my system:

Conda provides detailed information about the installation process.
Viewing the Result of an Installation

At this point, you have BeautifulSoup installed. Installing other packages follows the same path. Using conda does require a little more expertise than using pip, but you also gain additional flexibility and garner more information. When everything goes well, either tool does an equally good job of getting the installation or update task done, but conda excels in helping you past troublesome installations. Let me know your thoughts about using conda to install the packages required by my books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Supporting Creative People

I work really hard to support my readers and so do many other authors. In fact, most creative people are in creative trades because they like to communicate with others using a variety of methods. The simplest goal is to provide something of intangible value to others—be it a painting, sculpture, dance, music, or writing. It’s well known that creative people are often underpaid (hence the cliché, starving artist). Because the starving artist (and most of them truly are starving) makes little money, it’s important that people do support them whenever possible. That’s why the piracy of Intellectual Property (IP) is such a problem. I’ve written about this topic before from a writing perspective (see Piracy and the Reader), but IP theft has become a serious enough problem that we’re beginning to lose many good creative people simply because they no longer have enough money coming in to make a living.

The problem is that many people would support the creative people whose IP they use, but they don’t really understand that they need to pay for this material. For example, there are many sites online now that offer my books free of charge. Just viewing the site doesn’t provide a clue that anyone is stealing anything. These sites have a clean appearance and simply offer IP in the form of downloadable music, books, and so on. In fact, many of these sites are fully searchable. The reasons that someone would do something like this varies, but it pays to employ some critical thinking when you see something free that possibly looks a bit too good to be true. Many people download viruses, spyware, and other sorts of malware along with their free download. In the long run, it’s actually less expensive to buy the IP, than to have a computer compromised by some of the crud that comes with these free downloads.

For the record, my books are never free. You need to pay for your copy of my book in order to support the various things of value that I provide to you as a reader, including this free blog. It isn’t my goal to become rich—if that were my goal, I’d be in some other line of work (believe me when I say authors aren’t paid particularly well), but I do need to make enough to pay my expenses, just as you do. Even though I know many people do download my books free, I still support everyone that I can with good advice on how to get the most from the books I write. To me, coming in each day and working with all of you is one of the benefits of being an author. I truly do want people to use my books to get ahead in life. If you’d like to discuss the effects of piracy on you as a consumer of IP, please write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Choosing to Use Graphics

Graphics can be a tricky issue in technical writing. Some authors use graphics at the drop of a hat. Often, the graphic shows something that the reader can readily understand from the text or contains nothing of value to the reader. For example, some books contain images of objects that don’t have any intrinsic value of themselves and possibly contain a little text that the author could easily include in the text. However, some authors err to the other extreme. Some abstract concepts lend themselves to pictorial representation. For example, a block diagram can often convey relationships that would be impossible to describe using text alone. Consequently, the issue of whether to use graphics within a text or not often hinges on the graphic’s ability to convey meaning that words alone can’t.

However, the decision to use graphics often involves more than simply conveying information. The quality of the graphic also matters. Graphics that appear too small in the book make it impossible for readers to make out details and render them useless. Designing a graphic that provides all the required details can be time consuming. However, including a less than useful graphic in the book is generally a waste of space. In some cases, the solution is to provide a reference to an external source (such as the Internet) for the graphic, rather than include the graphic directly in the book. Some authors have a strong desire not to use external sources because they tend to change, but using poorly designed graphics that fail to convey the desired information to most readers is equally problematic.

Focusing the graphic is also a problem. When a graphic contains too much detail or contains elements that have nothing to do with the discussion, the message can become lost. Using a cropped graphic helps focus attention and reduces the amount of space the graphic consumes in the book. By focusing reader attention on specific details, it also becomes easier to convey a specific message. Most important of all, keeping individual graphics small (yet easily readable) is essential to allowing use of as many graphics as is needed for the book as a whole.

The bottom line is that authors who use graphics effectively are able to communicate a great deal of information to readers in a modicum of space. In addition, using graphics presents the reader with another way to learn the material. Many people don’t learn well just by reading text, they also require graphics, hands on activities, exercises, and the like in order to learn a topic well. When choosing to use graphics, you must consider all aspects of how the graphic will appear to the reader. Let me know your thought on graphics usage at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Installing Python Packages (Part 1)

My Python-related books, Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies use various libraries to perform book-specific tasks. The books do provide instructions as needed, but, based on reader input, sometimes these instructions aren’t as clear as necessary, located in precisely the right location, or possibly as specific as needed. This post will help you get the packages containing the libraries you need installed in order to get more from the books.

It’s essential to remember that Beginning Programming with Python for Dummies relies on the 3.3.4 version of Python. The other two books rely on Python 2.7.x versions. The reason for using the older version of Python in these two books is that these books rely on libraries that Python 3.x doesn’t support. If you try to install these libraries on Python 3.x, you’ll get an error message of somewhat dubious usefulness.

In most cases, the easiest way to install a package is to open a command prompt with Administrator privileges and rely on the pip (for Python 2.x) or pip3 (for Python 3.x) command to perform the installation. For example, to install BeautifulSoup, you can type pip install beautifulsoup4 and press Enter. Installing any other package follows about the same route.

The only problem with the pip utility is that you don’t get it with every version of Python. When using an older version of Python, such as 3.3.4, you actually need to install the pip utility to use it. Fortunately, the installation instructions at https://pip.pypa.io/en/latest/installing/ aren’t difficult to use and you’ll be up and running in a few minutes.

Some readers have also complained that pip doesn’t provide much information when it comes to errors. The lack of information can prove problematic when an installation doesn’t go as planned. Next week I plan to cover the conda utility that comes with Anaconda. This utility isn’t as easy to use in some respects as pip, but it does provide considerably more information. If you have any questions about using the pip utility with my books, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Mac Gatekeeper Error

A number of my books, such as C++ All-In-One for Dummies, 3rd EditionBeginning Programming with Python For Dummies, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies ask readers to download an IDE or other code and install it on their Mac systems. The problem is that the Mac system won’t always cooperate. For example, you might see an error dialog like the one shown for Code::Blocks:

The Gatekeeper error tells you that it won't allow you to install software from unknown publishers.
Your Mac won’t let you install software.

The problem is one of permissions. The default permissions set for newer Mac systems restrict you to getting your apps from the Mac App Store or from vendors who have signed their files. Fortunately, you can overcome this problem either temporarily or permanently, depending on how you want to use your Mac. The Fix the “App can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer” Error in Mac OS X blog post provides you with illustrated, step-by-step directions to perform the task using either method. Let me know if you encounter any other problems getting your Mac to install the software required to use my books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Using Notes, Tips, and Warnings Effectively

Writing is all about emotion—I’ve mentioned this need quite a few times in the past. There are many ways to create emotion in technical writing. Of course, word choice, sentence structure, and other tools of the trade come into play, just as they do for every other form of writing. You can answer the six questions in a specific way or you can set material aside in a sidebar. However, one of the approaches that is truly different in technical writing is the use of notes, tips, and warnings. In all three cases, you create a single paragraph sidebar-like structure, but the emphasis and nuance of the inclusion is different from other sorts of writing:

  • Notes: Information that you want to include as an aside to the main text. You might choose to document the information source, the location of additional information, or augment parts of the main text in some way. The emotional impact of a note is the feeling of being special. When the reader sees a note, it should evoke a feeling that this is peculiar or extraordinary information that could impact the reader’s use of technology.
  • Tips: Information that is extra in nature. You might choose to include a personal technique that you haven’t seen documented anywhere else, the location of goodies that won’t necessarily affect the reader’s use of technology described in the book, but will add to the readers appreciation of that technology, or some sort of gift-like source, perhaps a free download. The emotional impact of a tip is one of surprise. When a reader sees a tip, it should evoke a sense of getting extra value from the book—something unexpected that adds value to the reading experience. A reader should get the tingly feeling that one gets when receiving an unexpected present.
  • Warnings: Information that is dire in nature. Reserve warnings for those times when a reader’s incorrect action could cause personal, data, or other sorts of damage. The emotional impact of the warning is dread. The reader should see a warning as a notification that incorrect actions are rewarded negatively—they’re the stick that goes with the carrot of notes and tips.

It’s important to remember that these three constructs aren’t the main event. Your body text is still the main event and these three elements serve only to emphasize that material in some way. Depending on the book you write, you may have other specialized paragraphs at your disposal. Each of these unique paragraph types should evoke a particular emotion. Unfortunately, the emotion they should evoke is seldom documented, so you need to figure it out for yourself. It’s essential that you do take the time to discover what emotion the paragraph is supposed to evoke (or simply not use the special paragraph in your writing).

Unlike sidebars, notes, tips, and warnings are rarely more than a paragraph long. You could possibly make an argument for two paragraphs in rare circumstances. The paragraph should contain two or three sentences with the first sentence providing a summary and the second providing details. A third sentence provides ancillary information as needed. The structure and content of your special paragraph should reflect the kind of paragraph you’re creating—as with a good actor, keep your paragraph in character. After all, it’s a performer on the stage of your book and presents the reader with a special feature that is unavailable elsewhere.

Using the special paragraphs at your disposal in the correct way can mean the difference between communicating effectively with your reader and losing the reader’s attention completely. Let me know your thoughts about the use of notes, tips, warnings, and other special paragraphs at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.