Review of Shields of PHLEGM

Everyone likes a good laugh and Shields of PHLEGM provides plenty of them. I’m a sucker for a good pun and this book uses them without letup or apology. The author, G. Ernest Smith, also uses satire to effectively poke fun at many of our societies woes without actually addressing any of them directly. No, what you’re left with is a good mystery that takes place sometime in the future when the earth is surrounded by satellites (so there is a science fiction element too). The book isn’t clear on the technology and it doesn’t need to be. The goal is to have a great time and it excels in this area. I actually had to set it down after the first couple of chapters because I ended up with stomach ache (be warned not to read this in a place where you don’t want others to hear you guffaw).

The plot does seem to meander a bit, but really, I didn’t mind. I came to enjoy the character parodies so much that the plot almost became secondary (it does have a good plot, by the way). A few of the jokes became a little old, but not terribly so. The fashion police made nearly constant appearances, which is how they’d probably act, so the behavior wasn’t annoying—it just got a little old. The odd clothing combinations the author came up with really are amazing though and it’s hard to imagine anyone actually dressing that way. Then again, when I see the attire worn by some individuals in public and on television, I must admit the book really isn’t that far off.

I absolutely loved the insulting tone of the smartass phones that made an appearance in the book and have to wonder when such a phone might make a real appearance. Given the things that people are willing to put up with now, I would imagine that this type of smartphone could become a fad at some point—who knows for certain? The fact is that nothing is out of bounds. It sort of reminds me of Blazing Saddles—the author makes fun of everything and everyone with equal punniness.

Some people could possibly take exception to a few bits of language in the book. There isn’t any actual swearing or off color material—at least, it isn’t spelled correctly. That said, you probably don’t want to share this book with anyone underage (not that it was meant for them anyway). This is the sort of book that an adult will enjoy greatly and it truly is adult material.

Is this a good book? Yes, if you like your comedy a bit on the unsophisticated side and really do want a good laugh, then you’ll enjoy this book immensely. Unlike many bits of comedy today, the author doesn’t have to rely on anything unsavory or employ potty humor to get your attention. This book does it the old fashioned way, by viewing the world from a slightly skewed perspective and employing visualizations that really do have you laughing because it’s funny—not because you’re embarrassed. That said, I think the use of a quad ram to act as law enforcement in training was truly inspired. I really do hope this author writes more because I plan to read it. The only real negative about this book is that it was too short—I don’t know that I’ve actually ever said that before.

 

Code::Blocks on the Mac

A lot of Mac users have written to complain about the stability of Code::Blocks 8.02 on the Mac. This is the version used for the 2nd Edition of C++ All-in-One for Dummies. My first recommendation is that you obtain a copy of C++ All-In-One for Dummies, 3rd Edition if at all possible. This edition of the book contains additional installation details, updated examples, and all sorts of extras that will make your C++ learning experience so much better. Of course, not everyone will want to make the upgrade, but I stick by previous posts saying that some examples won’t work as well as they might if you use a different version of Code::Blocks than specified in the books. However, I also feel your pain. I personally didn’t experience stability problems with the 8.02 release and I’m sure others didn’t either, but enough people have complained that I feel obliged to discuss the issue in a post.

The Code::Blocks 13.12 version used for the 3rd Edition book is considerably more stable than the 8.02 version used for the 2nd edition book. If you really must continue using the 2nd edition book with your Mac, I suggest that you update to Code::Blocks 13.12 if you find that the 8.02 version causes you problems. If you go this route, please be sure to read the Using Code::Blocks 13.12 with C++ All-in-One for Dummies post. It provides you with information you absolutely must have in order to use the updated version successfully.

I always want to hear your book-specific input at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Your input helps me create better books and it also allows me to provide posts like this one that help readers work around potential issues. Thank you for your continued support of my books!

 

Build Your Own PC on a Budget Released!

I’ve been building my own computers for many years now. In fact, except for that first PC1 that I purchased many years ago from a friend (and modified until it finally died), I don’t know that I’ve ever purchased a computer for myself that was ready to run the moment it arrived on my doorstep because there is just something so amazing about putting the hardware together, installing the operating system, and seeing it boot for the first time. Many industry pundits say that the desktop PC is dead—replaced by laptops, notebooks, and even smartphones. It’s true that you can perform many computer tasks using these other systems and that many people will never need anything more, but for those of us who truly indulge our inner geek, nothing beats a custom built computer that is literally packed with the best technology available. It’s for those of us who need to satisfy the inner geek that I wrote Build Your Own PC on a Budget.

Of course, if you’re going to take the time and effort to build your own PC, you want it to precisely meet your needs and you want to get a deal on it. Normally, the systems I build for myself run about $2,500.00. I want high end graphics, lots of memory, speedy hard drives, and the best processors. I want a system that provides the maximum in expansion potential and promises a long lifespan. However, that’s me. For this book I wanted to create a computer system with more reasonable goals, so I designed a system around a $750 budget. The results are nothing less than incredible. What I ended up with was a moderately high end system that any gamer would like to have. The system focused on graphics capability so that the person receiving it would be able to work with images with a high degree of accuracy. In addition, this system has all the latest connectivity options, including both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. In short, this is a great workstation and a good gaming system.

Build Your Own PC on a Budget uses this example system throughout to discuss principles. That’s right, the book actually follows the process of building this PC. However, it goes much further. I provide you with guidance on how you can modify this design to meet your specific needs. The question that this book answers most often is how to obtain the PC that you need and want, rather that settle for the PC that someone else designed to sell quickly to meet the needs of most people. You’re special, so you deserve a special PC. That’s what this book is all about.

One of the things that I strove for when putting this book together is clear photographs. Other books that I tried using when I first started building my own PCs often had muddy pictures that proved nearly useless. Pegg Conderman, my photographer for this book, went the extra mile in ensuring that the photos were absolutely clear. (You should have seen the contortions she went through to obtain this goal). I think you’ll agree that the photos really do set this book apart and make it the ultimate in usability.

If you have a strong desire to satisfy your inner geek, this is the book for you. I take you through the process step-by-step. Please let me know about your questions and concerns for this book at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. As with all my books, I want you to be truly happy with the results you get from this book.

 

Review of The Last Great Halloween

Nostalgia in all its forms presents us with a colored view of the past that is both wonderful and comforting. The Last Great Halloween is a Trudy McFarlan novel by Rootie Simms that reminds the reader of what it was like to be young in the 60s and 70s. Although the book seems to be written for youngsters, anyone who reads it knows that it’s really meant to let adults remember their childhoods once again. In fact, the idea is actually presented in the book in a manner that I found quite gracious—that Halloween parties for adults let them become children again for just a little while. I’d be surprised if the adults reading the books to their children didn’t end up spending an interesting afternoon or two reminiscing in a way that children actually find attractive. The book is about building bridges, even though it hides its goal in the clothing of historical fiction.

The writing style flows quite well and I quickly found myself caring about the characters—not just Trudy, but all of the children in the story because they all had a distinct role to play. The characters are quite believable, not by today’s standards, but by the standards of children from that time. The cares, concerns, activities, ventures, and prejudices are all firmly rooted in the time. It’s the issue of prejudice that some readers might find a bit off putting, but I found it quite true of the time. There weren’t any societies of the politically correct at the time—people tended to say and act upon what they really believed, right, wrong, or indifferent. For this reason alone, the book truly is more than good fiction, it’s also good history.

A good book entertains, a great book educates—this one does both. However, I found the discussion of sex education as it was presented in the past a little out of place during my first read. I still think the author could have potentially covered some other topic because the sex education incident never appears again and doesn’t actually add anything to the plot of the book. However, the girl’s view of sex education—a ham handed attempt that usually failed to meet its objective, worked well with the boy’s view that I remember from my school days. The incident does serve to remind those of us who grew up then that education of the time wasn’t everything we keep making it out to be. Even then, some things just weren’t covered very well (and sometimes not at all).

Other than the sex education scene (which you can easily skip if you’re easily offended), the book focuses on Trudy’s party. It doesn’t seem at first that a child’s party would make good fodder for a book, but Trudy is at that age where she’s not quite a child anymore and yet, not quite a teenager either—a tween by today’s reckoning. In addition, her friends add some interesting plot twists and the adults chime in to make matters even more complicated. The book is an incredibly interesting read and I can truly say that I didn’t put it down. I can’t often say that I get quite so immersed in a book. (It also helps that this book is a relatively short read.)

By the end of the book, everything is as it should be—Trudy’s party is an amazing success. Of course, you know that before you even turn the first page. It’s the journey that makes the difference in this book. Everything from collecting and turning pop bottles in to get a little extra cash, to the kinds of puzzles that kids gave away during the time are authentic. It’s a happy book. I finished it in a truly good mood.

Is this a good book or a great book? I feel it’s a great book because it does educate as well as entertain. The author has really done her homework about issues of the time—the political forces and upheaval that people faced during the time that we’d find incomprehensible today, all viewed from the perspective of an eleven year old who isn’t sure whether she really wants a party after all. The book does have a few flaws, but they’re easy to overlook because of the entertainment value the book provides. You do need to read the book with an open mind. This is historical fiction so the characters are products of their time. You can’t judge them by today’s standards.

 

Beta Readers Needed for Machine Learning for Dummies

Do machines really learn, or do they simply give the appearance of learning? What does it actually mean to learn and why would a machine want to do it? Some people are saying that computers will eventually learn in the same manner that children do. However, before we get to that point, it’s important to answer these basic questions and consider the implications of creating machines that can learn.

Like many seemingly new technologies, machine learning actually has its basis in existing technologies. I initially studied about artificial intelligence in 1986 and it had been around for a long time before that. Many of the statistical equations that machine learning relies upon have been around literally for centuries. It’s the application of the technology that differs. Machine learning has the potential to change the way in which the world works. A computer can experience its environment and learn how to avoid making mistakes without any human intervention. By using machine learning techniques, computers can also discover new things and even add new functionality. The computer is at the center of it all, but the computer output affects the actions of machines, such as robots. In reality, the computer learns, but the machine as a whole benefits.

Machine Learning for Dummies assumes that you have at least some math skills and a few programming skills as well. However, you do get all the basics you need to understand and use machine learning as a new way to make computers (and the machines they control) do more. While working through Machine Learning for Dummies you discover these topics:

  • Part I: Introducing How Machines Learn
    • Chapter 1: Getting the Real Story about AI
    • Chapter 2: Learning in the Age of Big Data
    • Chapter 3: Having a Glance at the Future
  • Part II: Preparing Your Learning Tools

    • Chapter 4: Installing a R Distribution
    • Chapter 5: Coding in R Using RStudio
    • Chapter 6: Installing a Python Distribution
    • Chapter 7: Coding in Python Using Anaconda
    • Chapter 8: Exploring Other Machine Learning Tools
  • Part III: Getting Started with the Math Basics

    • Chapter 9: Demystifying the Math behind Machine Learning
    • Chapter 10: Descending the Right Curve
    • Chapter 11: Validating Machine Learning
    • Chapter 12: Starting with Simple Learners
  • Part IV: Learning from Smart and Big Data
    • Chapter 13: Preprocessing Data
    • Chapter 14: Leveraging Similarity
    • Chapter 15: Starting Easy with Linear Models
    • Chapter 16: Hitting Complexity with Neural Networks
    • Chapter 17: Going a Step Beyond using Support Vector Machines
    • Chapter 18: Resorting to Ensembles of Learners
  • Part V: Applying Learning to Real Problems
    • Chapter 19: Classifying Images
    • Chapter 20: Scoring Opinions and Sentiments
    • Chapter 21: Recommending Products and Movies
  • Part VI: The Part of Tens
    • Chapter 22: Ten Machine Learning Packages to Master
    • Chapter 23: Ten Ways to Improve Your Machine Learning Models
    • Online: Ten Ways to Use Machine Learning in Your Organization

As you can see, this book is going to give you a good start in working with machine learning. Because of the subject matter, I really want to avoid making any errors in book, which is where you come into play. I’m looking for beta readers who use math, statistics, or computer science as part of their profession and think they might be able to benefit from the techniques that data science and/or machine learning provide. As a beta reader, you get to see the material as Luca and I write it. Your comments will help us improve the text and make it easier to use.

In consideration of your time and effort, your name will appear in the Acknowledgements (unless you specifically request that we not provide it). You also get to read the book free of charge. Being a beta reader is both fun and educational. If you have any interest in reviewing this book, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and will fill in all the details for you.

 

Missing File from Python for Data Science for Dummies Downloadable Source

A reader recently contacted me regarding a missing file from the downloadable source for Python for Data Science for Dummies. This is the P4DS4D; 01; Quick Overview.ipynb you need for the first chapter. Simply click here to download P4DS4D; 01; Quick Overview.ipynb. I’m also asking the publisher to add the missing file to the downloadable source found on the Dummies site at http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Python-for-Data-Science-For-Dummies.productCd-1118844181,descCd-DOWNLOAD.html. If you encounter any other problems with the book, please be sure to let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Thank you for your patience!

 

Review of Jamie Collins’ Mystical Adventures: Ninelands

There aren’t as many gentle books today as young readers really need. Most of the books out there today seem determined to teach the young reader about all of the ills of life. In doing so, they often rob the child of his or her childhood. Jamie Collins’ Mystical Adventures: Ninelands (Volume 1) is a gentle story, meant to nourish the young reader’s creativity and provide good entertainment. It’s a delightful story that ties together many childhood characters: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy. The idea is that all of these characters are elves and somehow associated with Ninelands. Santa actually appears twice in the book and the latter mention adds to the Santa Claus saga. It’s the kind of story that builds a little on what the reader already knows and then adds to it.

The book is theoretically targeted toward the middle school reader and probably hits the mark from a reading grade level. However, this really isn’t the sort of story a middle school reader would enjoy reading—it isn’t a Harry Potter type story (except that both stories involve the use of magic). For example, the protagonists never really go on any sort of adventure or do anything of note except to explore (with help the help of their mentor) this new place. Yes, there is an attack, but the Alvar patrol (the equivalent of the Ninelands military) thwarts the attack, so the characters really aren’t in any danger. Ninelands will appeal more to a younger, early grade school, reader. The manner in which the book is written, the topics discussed, and the overall tone will make a younger reader feel an almost parental comfort during the reading of the story. It’s a story that offers security—throughout the story the author describes the various security measures in place to keep the characters safe.

This is a fanciful book and exceptionally creative. Characters travel around on spoons and within beams of light. They have snake guardians and magic crystals for communication and other needs. Even though the descriptive text lags terribly for the first quarter of the book, the remainder of the book more than makes up for any deficit. A reader is immersed in a world of wonder—of plants that play games and cats that talk. The one glaring omission is a good description of the main character, Jamie. The book never tells the reader what Jamie looks like to any real degree, so it’s hard to draw a mental image of him.

There are also mentions of things that don’t really get used in the book. The problem is that they’re more distracting than helpful in moving the story along. For example, Jamie plays with a dough boy, but the dough boy is never explained and the reader is left wondering precisely how the dough boy comes into play. The dough boy simply is there, probably a product of magic, but the book never says that this is the case, even at the end when the dough boy makes another appearance. Introducing an object, such as the dough boy, should help move the story along in some way.

The children do make a couple of decisions on their own, such as exploring the attic. Still, everything is immersed in an authoritarian environment. Children are constantly reminded of the rules and they always agree to follow them. Little goes on of an adventurous sort and the well behaved children never really do anything on their own. It’s a world that a younger child would enjoy, but an older child would find constraining to an extreme. Even the clown-like mentor, Minkel, takes on an authoritarian air for much of the book (despite spending a considerable amount of time dancing, which also makes him hard to take seriously).

Believability is stretched a little when Mike and Abby, Jamie’s friends, are told they’ll perform a subordinate role to their friend and they simply accept it without so much as a groan. In fact, they seem quite delighted to help their friend. Younger children love to exist in this sort of world, where there is no selfishness and everyone agrees with everyone else. It’s a supportive kind of view that doesn’t exist in the real world. A book for a middle school reader would be more realistic—Mike and Abby would complain, at least a little, and Jamie would complain a bit more about having to allow his little sister, Megan, help.

Some elements of the book do become annoying. The children spend so much time giving high fives and thumbs up in some areas of the book that it’s hard to believe they get anything accomplished. There is nary a frown mentioned in the book, but people are constantly grinning, smiling, and laughing. It is an exceptionally supportive kind of a book, but in some regards, the author goes too far and it’s easy for the reader to become distracted. In some respects, the book needs to feel a little more natural—a little more like the real world—in order to be believable.

There are some areas of the book where there is also a lot of repetition. The plot slows down to a crawl and sometimes stops altogether. The children stop to gawk at some new attraction and Minkel tells them about it, even if the children haven’t asked anything yet. Then come the rules, more rules, and still more rules beyond that. The children always agree to follow the rules, even if they’ve heard the same rules for the tenth time. Again, it’s the sort of environment that a younger child would enjoy, but I can hear a middle school reader screaming in frustration at some points in the book.

Is Ninelands a good book? Actually, it’s a really good book if you’re in the lower grades of grade school and have someone to read it to you. The fanciful world is quite appealing and I can see younger children getting quite caught up in it. After the first quarter of the book, the level of description really is quite good and I can see it helping the younger reader create mental images of what this wonderful world must be like. I really like the fact that this book doesn’t repeat the same tired vistas found in many other books—there are surprises and new things to explore. It’s the sort of book that a younger child will want read more than once because you really can’t get everything out of the text with just one reading. If you have a younger reader, you really do want to explore Ninelands because it’s fascinating place to visit.

 

Missing Python for Data Science for Dummies Companion Files

For all those long suffering readers who have been missing the companion files for Python for Data Science for Dummies, they’re finally available at http://www.dummies.com/store/product/Python-for-Data-Science-For-Dummies.productCd-1118844181,descCd-DOWNLOAD.html. All you need to do is click the Click to Download link on the page. I’m truly sorry you needed to wait so long. Thank you to everyone who noticed the missing files and also the incorrect link in the book, which now appears in the book errata. Please let me know if you have any problems locating the files or downloading them at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Getting Your Python for Data Science for Dummies Extras

The process of discovering how to use Python to perform data science tasks begins when you get your copy of Python for Data Science for Dummies. Luca and I spent a good deal of time making your data science learning experience easier and even fun. However, it only starts there. Like many of my other books, you can also find online content for Python for Data Science for Dummies in these forms:

I always want to hear your questions about my books. Be sure to write me about them at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your Python for Data Science for Dummies reading experience. Thank you for your continued support.


20 July 2015: Updated to show correct link for the companion files.

 

Beta Readers Needed for Security for Web Developers

Are you worried about your web-based applications, web services, and other web endeavors? Web security becomes a more serious problem on an almost daily basis as witnessed by the surge of truly serious hacking events, so developers are looking for a reference they can use to avoid becoming yet another statistic. Many books give you good advice about part of the security problem or provide solutions so generic they aren’t truly useful. Unfortunately, attacking only part of the problem leaves you open to hacking or other security issues. Developers also need specific advice because general advice will no longer meet current security needs. Security for Web Developers provides specific advice for the HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS developer on all areas of security, including new areas not found in any other book, such as microservices. Consequently, you get a complete view of security changes needed to protect web-based code and keep its data safe. Here’s what you’ll see in this book:

  • Part I: Developing a Security Plan
    • Chapter 1: Defining the Application Environment
    • Chapter 2: Embracing User Needs and Expectations
    • Chapter 3: Getting Third Party Assistance
  • Part II: Applying Successful Coding Practices
    • Chapter 4: Developing Successful Interfaces
    • Chapter 5: Building Reliable Code
    • Chapter 6: Incorporating Libraries
    • Chapter 7: Using APIs with Care
    • Chapter 8: Considering the Use of Microservices
  • Part III: Creating Useful and Efficient Testing Strategies
    • Chapter 9: Thinking Like a Hacker
    • Chapter 10: Creating an API Sandbox
    • Chapter 11: Checking Libraries and APIs for Holes
    • Chapter 12: Using Third Party Testing
  • Part IV: Implementing a Maintenance Cycle
    • Chapter 13: Clearly Defining Upgrade Cycles
    • Chapter 14: Considering Update Options
    • Chapter 15: Considering the Need for Reports
  • Part V: Locating Security Resources
    • Chapter 16: Tracking Current Security Threats
    • Chapter 17: Getting Required Training

This book is designed to meet the needs of a wide group of professionals and non-developers will definitely find it useful. If your job title is web designer, front end developer, UI designer, UX designer, interaction designer, art director, content strategist, dev ops, product manager, SEO specialist, data scientist, software engineer, or computer scientist, then you definitely need this book. I’d love to have your input on it as a beta reader because this book is meant to meet your needs. However, even people with other job specialties should send me an e-mail about reading the book because other perspectives are most definitely helpful!

As always, I want your input to help avoid making any errors in the book. If you have any desire whatsoever to work with any sort of web-based code, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In consideration of your time and effort, your name will appear in the Acknowledgements (unless you specifically request that I not provide it). You also get to read the book free of charge. Being a beta reader is both fun and educational.