Resources for Rod Stephens’ Visual Basic Programming 24-Hour Trainer

I had previously reviewed Rod Stephens’ Visual Basic Programming 24-Hour Trainer. As part of that review, I had mentioned that Rod provides videos as one of the training methods. These videos add an element not found in most books—a real human talking with you about a particular technique.

For at least some people, the video is probably the most important addition to the learning environment because they actually learn better by watching someone else perform the task. Computer books now have the equivalent of cooking or woodworking shows on television. The popularity of these shows tells just how much people like them and you’ll like Rod’s videos quite a bit.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it, which is the purpose of this post. Rod has graciously made a number of these videos available online. As long as you can access YouTube, you can see the videos. Here’s the links:

 

Give these links a try to determine whether the video method works well for you. If you have any questions about the videos, you can direct them to Rod at http://lists.topica.com/lists/VBHelperQA. Make sure you check out Rod’s main Web site at http://www.vb-helper.com/ for additional resources. Normally, I won’t revisit a review, but in this case, I thought the additional information helpful and chose to share it with you.

 

Getting the Most from Your Technical Reading Experience

There are many ways to work with books. However, in all cases, there is some work involved. No book, no matter how well researched and written, will simply spit out answers without any effort on the reader’s part. It’s true that the author can employ techniques to make the reading experience more pleasurable, productive, or efficient, but in the end, it’s the reader who decides just how much information a book conveys with regard to a specific need.

Of course, the first step is to ensure you get the right book. I’ve already discussed this issue in the Techniques for Choosing a Technical Book post. So, let’s assume that you have possession of a book that’s the best possible match to your needs. It may not be a perfect match, but it offers more than any other book you’ve checked.

Now you have to decide on how to interact with the book. That may seem simple, but many readers fail to discover what they need from a book, even when the book contains the required information in several places. Let’s face it, books are relatively large and it’s easy to lose track of a required bit of information. Without some guideline, the mind wanders and tends not to work very hard.

To obtain the most from a book you need a goal. The goal determines how you approach the book. Someone who is trying to learn a new skill will probably begin at the front of the book and work toward the end. Skipping chapters is akin to skipping classes in collegeyou can’t expect good results if you don’t obtain all of the information. As a contrast, someone who is trying to fix a specific problem under the watchful eye of a boss, probably doesn’t want to waste any more time than necessary finding the required information. This sort of reader will want to locate the section of the book containing the answer quickly. There are some readers though, who really don’t know what they want to dothey lack a goal and are thwarted when the author can’t guess what the reader wants. So, ask yourself why you’re reading the book and create a goal for that particular session. In some cases, you may very well want to wander through the book randomly looking for something interesting, but few people have the time or need to perform this sort of reading with a technical book.

Depending on your goal, you’ll want to determine where to start. Someone who is learning a skill will start in the Introductionnot in Chapter 1. If you don’t read the Introduction, you’ll discover that your educational experience is going to be less helpful. The Introduction is where the author conveys book goals, knowledge requirements, and required training aids. For example, you might not be able to use the educational version of the product you have to learn a new skill with this particular bookit may be necessary to get the released version of the product instead. Researchers and those who simply need the book for reference would do well to check both the Table of Contents and the Index. A book intended solely for reference may include tables in an appendix that provide additional ways to locate information, so you’ll want to find these tables as well.

You’ve likely heard all of the advice for creating a good study environment before, such as turning off the radio. A good study environment also requires focus on your part and the availability of the required equipment. Simply reading about how to perform a task isn’t nearly as good as actually performing the task. Reinforcing the information by putting it into your own words is helpful as well. Everyone learns differently, so it’s important that you take time to discover how you learn. Whatever it takes for you to create a good study environment, you won’t get much out of a book until you create it.

Everyone seems to be in a hurry today, but being in a hurry won’t help with technical information. Hurrying only creates errors. Take time to actually read and understand the materialread it several times if necessary. Work through the material before you act. Yes, I realize that the boss is ready to pound little knots all over your head, but he’s simply going to have to wait. A good solid answer that produces results often requires a little more time up front to create. The book probably has the information you need, but you have to take time to find it.

One of the most important things to remember is that the author isn’t clairvoyant. You won’t find a precise answer to any given question in any book. It’s possible to find an answer that’s close, but in most cases you’ll have to create a solution based on the information the book providesquick answers are rare.

I wish it were possible to create some form of instant mental transfer of precise data. Perhaps someday it will become the norm to do so, but I hope I’m not around. Part of the joy of technical reading is obtaining the author’s point of view and then creating your own permutations of that information. Working through problems creatively is a challengeone that I hope people working in technical areas continue to enjoy. If you have any pointers to getting more from a technical reading experience, let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Rod Stephens’ Visual Basic Programming 24-Hour Trainer

Learning a new skill, such as programminglearning it quickly and easily, is much harder than it sounds, but “Rod Stephens’ Visual Basic 24-Hour Trainer” makes the task considerably easier. The book begins with possibly the best Introduction I’ve ever seen. The author tells you precisely how to use his book to learn how to code in Visual Basic in a short interval. Additionally, he makes it clear what the book won’t tell you. This is most definitely a book for the rank beginnersomeone who has never written code before and the author makes it clear that better educated developers need not apply. (More advanced readers will benefit more from another of Rod’s books, “Visual Basic 2010 Programmer’s Reference“.)

The chapters tell you how to perform most basic tasks associated with desktop applications. You won’t find any Web development techniques in this book, but the author makes that clear in the Introduction. The reason for focusing on the desktop is that it provides a controlled environment that works anywhereno Internet connection required, no special setup needed. All you need is your system and Visual Basic.

The first chapter is the usual description of how to get Visual Basic installed on your system. Rod discusses a few different options and doesn’t wimp out by covering only Visual Basic 2010 Express Edition like many beginner books do. Because of the target audience for this book, Visual Basic 2010 Express Edition works fine.

The book takes the usual college approach of starting with a basic application, working through variables and structures, and then moving toward more complex application types. You learn all of the basics of working with classes, printing documents, working with the clipboard, and other usual fare for a book of this type. Rod does provide a couple of nice perks such as working with LINQ and databases using the entity framework. The goal is to learn how to use Visual Basic at a basic level, so these exercises will serve the reader well. Someone looking to start by creating a relatively complex example almost immediately will be disappointed. I know that some readers look for this approach now and Rod’s book definitely won’t serve their needs; this book is more traditional (and proven) in its approach.

Each of the chapters provides several methods to learn the material. You can read about the technique, try it yourself on your machine, work through exercises, and even watch a video. Most readers will find a technique that works well for them. Rod suggests using some or ideally all of the techniques to obtain a better learning experience.

The videos are a nice touch and Rod does them well. The longest video I watched came in at 17 minutes, the shortest at 4 minutes. He has a nice speaking voice and an easy manner of approaching the topic. The reader should definitely feel at ease during the presentation. Rod doesn’t resort to humor to cover up a lack of depth in his book. It’s not that he’s incredibly serioushe’s simply straightforward and businesslike in his approach.

Will you actually get through this book in 24 hours as the title says? I doubt it. I tried out a number of the chapters and found that I averaged about an hour in doing them fully (including the exercises) at a rapid pace. There are 39 chapters in the book for a total of 39 hours of training as a minimum. Even if you attack the book at a rabbit-like pace and skip some of the features, you still won’t get through it in 24 hours and manage to gain anything worthwhile. I’d suggest setting aside at least 40 hours of focused time to get through this tome.

The bottom line is that this is a great book for the rank novice to learn a new skill and discover the joys of programming. It’s not the sort of book that anyone who has written code before will want and it’s also not the sort of book that the impatient reader will find helpful. Rod has done a marvelous job of presenting a complex topic in a manner that will help most people get up to speed working with Visual Basic in a short time.
 

Techniques for Choosing a Technical Book

I often get e-mails from potential readers asking whether a book I’ve written is the right choice for them. I try my best to ask about their needs and provide an unbiased answer. It’s in my best interest to provide the best answer I can, rather than make a quick sale and have to deal with a discontented reader later. However, in all honesty, it’s hard for me to be completely unbiased because I know my books better than any other book out there. I’ve spent many hours carefully crafting my books and know them quite well. Even when I read a work written by someone else, which I do regularly, I’m less familiar with it. Still, I do try my best to provide a good answer.

Getting a potential reader to make a good selection is still the best scenario in my mind. A number of readers have asked that I provide them with some specific technique for doing this, but all I can offer is a partial solution. The technical content of a book is only part of the solution for any reader. A reader must also consider the author’s method of presenting material and writing style. The use of teaching aids is also important. You must ask whether you want a book that contains questions or activities at the end of each chaptermany readers learn more by doing, than by reading. Communication, even in books, is a two-way process. The author often communicates ideas in subtle ways that help some readers and offend others. When a reader writes to an author, the author picks up subtle hints on how to improve the next book. It’s an ongoing process.

Everyone begins looking for a book by viewing the cover. Something about the title tells you that this could be a helpful book. The cover design and text tell you something about the book’s content from a marketer’s perspective. If you stop here, however, be prepared for disappointment. I’ve had more than a few covers that just didn’t do justice to the content of my book and a few that ended up misleading some part of the reader population. Believe me when I say that it’s never my goal to mislead anyoneI want my readers fully informed before making the purchase and happy with the book they receive. Covers are incredibly hard to get right because there is so little space on them to convey information that’s truly useful to everyone.

When I select a book, I normally begin by reading the Introduction. This important bit of reading is only seven or eight pages long in most cases, but usually characterizes the author’s attempt to convey everything the book contains as an overview. Reading the Introduction tells you about the author’s writing style and informs you about skills required to use the book successfully. You also discover special equipment and software that you need to use the book. If you find yourself disagreeing with the Introduction, you can be certain that you won’t like the rest of the book either.

Next, I look at the Table of Contents to determine whether the topic I need is covered in sufficient detail to warrant a purchase. A book’s title and cover material is often deceiving. The Table of Contents tells me more about the book content from the author’s perspective. I go through the entire Table of Contents just to see what sorts of interesting information the author has decided to include. I may also thumb through the index to determine more about topics covered in the book. It’s important to note that the index is normally created by a professional indexer and not the author, so the index may not tell you everything you need to know, but it’s a great place to see the sorts of topics the author has chosen to discuss.

Finally, I go to the specific chapters that I feel provide the information that I want from the book. I’ll eventually read most of the book, but these chapters are my main reason for buying the book today, so that’s where I look. I probably won’t read the entire chapter in the store (or online using Amazon’s Look Inside feature), but I’ll scan it and pay attention to particulars such as the code provided in examples or figures used for explanation. I’ll read segments of the discussion to see how much information the author provides and how the information is conveyed.

I know that many people consider my approach too time consuming. It is a time consuming approach, but I find that I make fewer bad purchases using this technique. I’ve had more than a few people write to me to ask why I didn’t cover a particular topic in my book and I have to wonder why they didn’t realize that the material was missing when they made the purchase. A few readers have literally written that they ran into the store during lunchtime, looked at the cover and decided the book must include what they need, put down their hard earned money to buy the book, ran back to work, and only then bothered to look inside. If you truly are pressed for time, please do write before buying one of my books. I’ll provide you with the least biased answer I can. However, the best way to buy a book is to make your own decision using the techniques found in this post. Let me know your ideas about buying books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Ongoing Education

I was talking to one of the local children the other day who somehow had the idea that getting out of high school or college was the end of the educational process. After all, you immediately go to a job at that point and use the knowledge you’ve gained to make a living. He seemed to think it quite funny when I corrected him by telling him that I learn something new every day. Of course, education is ongoing. Anything that isn’t growing is dead and a form of growth is the increase of both knowledge and wisdom.

Of course, I do obtain daily increases in knowledge. The art of writing technical books is embracing a strategy of learning all the time. I read voraciously, subscribe to word builders, and conduct experiments to see just how things really work (as contrasted to the theoretical discussions in the books and magazines I read). The very act of writing involves learning something new as I discover new ways to express myself in writing and convey information to readers. I’ve picked up books I wrote early in my career and am often appalled at what I considered good writing at the time, but it was good writing given my experience, even though it would be unacceptable today.

Learning is part of every activity in my life and I relish every learning event. So it was this weekend that my wife and I packed our lunch and sent to Get Ready…Get Set…Garden! We look forward to it every year. This year we took classes on hostas (for fun) and horseradish (as part of our self-sufficiency).

Before we went to class though, we just had to spend a little time looking at some of the displays. A personal favorite of mine was the gourds:

Gourds

I’ve always wanted to make some bird houses, but never quite have the time. They actually had a class on the topic this year and I was tempted to take it, but that would have meant missing out on the horseradish class, which I considered more important. Here’s Rebecca and me standing in front of one of the displays:

JohnandRebecca

Well, onto the classes. I found out that there are over 2,000 varieties of hostas, which I found amazing. They originated in Japan, Korea, and China.  It takes five years on average to grow a hosta to full size, but it can take anywhere from three years to ten years depending on the variety. I found out our place for growing them is perfect, but our watering technique probably isn’t, so we’ll spend a little more time watering them this summer. Our presenter went on to discuss techniques for dealing with slugs and quite a few other pests. Most important for me is that I saw some detailed pictures of 50 of the more popular varieties that are easy to get in this area. I’ll be digging out some of the old hostas in my garden and planting new as time allows.

The horseradish session was extremely helpful. I learned an entirely new way to grow horseradish that involves laying the plant on its side for the first six weeks, digging it up partially, removing the suckers, and then reburying it. The result is to get a far bigger root that’s a lot easier to grind into food. I can’t wait to try it out. Of course, our instructor had us sample a number of horseradish dishes while we talked. I’m not sure my breath was all that pleasant when we were finished, but I enjoyed the tasty treats immensely.

So, what are your educational experiences like? Do you grow every day? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.