Perfect Love (Reposted)

Valentine’s Day is that special time to tell others that you love them. Most people associate Valentine’s Day with lovers—romantic love. However, Valentine’s Day can also be about friends telling each other that they’re glad to have each other. The world is a better place when we can express our love to each other, whether that love is for significant others, friends, neighbors, or the person down the street. Everyone needs to feel loved and respected. Even though it’s the day after the event, there is always time to express your love to someone and this is my expression of love to you, my reader.

Perfect love casts out my fear.
Keep your perfect love so near
that I never fear again.
Perfect love for you attain,
‘til my heart with love is filled
and my spirit never chilled.

All around the world I see,
how a perfect love could be,
an answer for mankind’s woes,
when hatred and evil flows,
fueled by fires of doubt and fear,
no one lets the other near.

Open eyes to perfect love,
gift of wonder from above.
A love that gives, never takes,
love that grants others mistakes,
that counts no loss and no gain,
that makes our hearts young again.

Copyright 2012, John Paul Mueller

Creating the Useful Sidebar

There are many styles of writing employed for technical writing. Each style has specific benefits and today’s blog post won’t delve into them. However, many of these styles rely on the sidebar to add interest to the writing.

A problem occurs when an author seeks to present only facts as part of any written piece. Readers can find facts on the Internet. What readers can’t easily find is the specific viewpoint that an author presents, which includes supplementary materials in the form of sidebars. A sidebar adds interest to the writing, but more importantly, it provides background material that augments the topic at hand. For example, when discussing smartphone hardware, a sidebar that provides a brief overview of the communication technologies employed by that hardware can prove useful to the reader. The radio frequency transmission isn’t part of the main topic and some would argue that discussing it doesn’t belong at all in a pure hardware discussion, but the addition of that supplementary material is essential to the piece as a whole. It helps present a particular view of the technology that the reader wouldn’t otherwise receive.

Sidebars shouldn’t become a main topic. A good sidebar is at least one long paragraph, but more commonly two or three paragraphs. Never allow a sidebar to consume more than a page of text. For example, a two or three paragraph overview of the history of a technology is useful—a discourse that spans multiple pages is overkill unless the author is trying to make a particular point (in which case, the discussion should appear in the topic proper).

Depending on the sidebar content, you can include bulleted lists and numbered steps. A sidebar should never include graphics unless the book style accommodates such an addition (which is rare). The idea is not to detract from the piece as a whole, but rather augment it in a specific way—to help direct the reader’s attention in a specific manner. Using visual styles and white space correctly help make the sidebar attractive.

Many authors forget the need to evoke an emotional response in any sort of writing, including technical writing. In making a point, the author needs to express the idea fully by making an emotional appeal. A sidebar can perform this task nicely without creating distractions in the overall writing flow. For example, a piece about implementing accessibility features in an application can include a sidebar that contains a case study about the effects of such an implementation on a specific person or within a real world environment. The point is to help the reader understand the implications of a technology and make its use imperative.

Sidebars are an essential tool in the creation of a usable piece of writing that helps a reader understand a topic in ways that many factual Internet pieces can’t. Using sidebars effectively makes your writing better and more appealing. More importantly, a sidebar presents a unique view that the reader identifies with you as an author and sets your style of writing apart from that of other authors. Let me know your thoughts about sidebars at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

 

Security for Web Developers Released!

My Security for Web Developers book is released and ready for your review! I’m really excited about this book because I was able to explore security in a number of new ways. In addition, I had more technical editor support than just about any other book I’ve written and benefited from the insights of a larger than usual number of beta readers as well. Of course, the success of this book depends on you, the reader, and what I really want to hear is from you. What do you think about this latest book? Do you have any questions about it? Please feel free to contact me about it at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Of course, I’m sure you want to know more about the book before you buy it. Amazon has the usual write-up, which is helpful, but you can also find insights in the beta reader request for this book. Make sure you also check out the blog posts that are already available for this book in the Security for Web Developers category. These value added posts will help you better understand what the book has to offer. More importantly, you get a better idea of what my writing style is like and whether it matches your needs by reading these posts.

Make sure you also get the source code for this book from the O’Reilly site. I highly recommend using the downloadable source, rather than type the code by hand. Typing the code by hand often leads to errors that reduces your ability to learn really cool new techniques. If you encounter errors with the downloaded source, make sure you have the source code placed correctly on your system. When you get to the O’Reilly download page you also find links for viewing the Catalog Page for this book and reporting Errata.

Have fun with my latest book! I’m really looking forward to hearing your comments. Thank you, in advance, for your continued support.

 

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.

 

Selecting a Computer Book

Readers contact me on a regular basis about selecting a computer book. I often think they want a precise recommendation from me (and some do ask me to provide a specific recommendation). However, I can’t choose a book for you or any other reader for a number of reasons. Most important of all, I don’t know how you learn. There are other issues too. For example, I can’t always guess from the e-mail precisely how you intend to use the book or what sort of information you need from it. In short, my best guess probably won’t be good enough.

Originally, I tried to handle the situation by providing a blog post entitled, “Techniques for Choosing a Technical Book.” The blog post worked well for a while, but it still doesn’t really answer reader needs. For example, readers would often act oddly if I didn’t recommend one of my own books, even though I knew from the reader query that my book would only solve part of their need and there was a better option out there. (Part of creating a book proposal is to look at the competition in depth and determine how your book will fill a niche that the competition doesn’t. I try to be honest with readers in this regard so that when they do buy a book, they’re happy with the purchase.) With this in mind, I wrote a series of three articles that examines the whole question of selecting a computer book in significantly more detail:

The goal of these three articles is to provide you with the best possible information about selecting and using a computer book. The thing I’ve noticed most often when I receive complaint e-mails is that even when a reader does select a truly usable computer book, sometimes they don’t get the most out of it. A purchase is only as good as the value you receive from it. These articles are designed to increase your satisfaction by helping you use the books more effectively.

Choosing and then using a computer book effectively will help you gain new marketable skills and insights into the computer industry. Overall, it’s my goal to help you earn more money or live a better life when I write a computer book. In other words, my goal is to help you gain something of value—something that you can later say improved your life in some way. Of course, I’m always refining my skills and choosing new techniques based on reader needs at any given time. That’s why I always want to hear from you at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Perfect Love (Reposted)

I had a number of requests to post this poem again for Valentine’s Day. It’s my hope that you find perfect love during this Valentine’s Day celebration.

Perfect love casts out my fear.
Keep your perfect love so near
that I never fear again.
Perfect love for you attain,
‘til my heart with love is filled
and my spirit never chilled.

All around the world I see,
how a perfect love could be,
an answer for mankind’s woes,
when hatred and evil flows,
fueled by fires of doubt and fear,
no one lets the other near.

Open eyes to perfect love,
gift of wonder from above.
A love that gives, never takes,
love that grants others mistakes,
that counts no loss and no gain,
that makes our hearts young again.

Copyright 2012, John Paul Mueller

 

The Art of Observation and Writing

People watching is a favorite activity of mine. No, I don’t sit at the bench at the mall and make snide remarks about people’s attire. I’m also not too interested in the exceptions to the rule—someone doing something so absurd that it falls well outside the range of normal human activity. (Although, I must admit that the guy who ended up in a fountain because he wasn’t looking as he was texting, was sort of funny.) No, I’m more interested in how normal people react in normal ways to normal situations. Observation is a key tool for any author because seeing how people act and react is an essential part of communicating thoughts and ideas to them. I can’t see my reader during the reading of one of my books, so observation helps inform me outside of that environment.

On one particular day, I was watching a young couple argue. The precise reason for the argument isn’t known to me and it’s immaterial anyway. The two of them argued for quite some time, each insisting the other wasn’t listening. Both went off in a huff. I’ve always hoped that they made up. The things that struck me was that the two people communicated differently. The wife’s communication was both vocal and emotional. However, it was her body language that said the most. The husband was stiff as a board and you could tell that he had built defenses against any encroaching information that might conflict with his preconceived ideas of how the communication should go. However, he did use his hands quite a lot and did make really good eye contact. His choice of words was the key ingredient in his communication. Two people, communicating two completely different ways, and neither of them hearing the other.

Books are like that sometimes. I get e-mail from my readers that makes it obvious that I didn’t choose the correct manner of communication. Yes, the information they’re requesting is most definitely in the book, but they didn’t see it because the information didn’t appear in a form that attracted attention. In some cases, the reader did see the information, but couldn’t understand it. In a worst case scenario, the reader saw the information, read it, thought it was understandable, and then didn’t apply it correctly. In many cases, I find that the reader really didn’t understand the information after all.

Another couple, on another day, showed me something else. Nuance is often part of communication. The precise formulation of interaction is important. In this case, the husband was following his wife shopping, but I could tell that his interest lay in his wife, not in what she was buying. She picked a particular item up, looked it over, and put it on the shelf. A little while later, they came back. She picked up the same item, looked at it intently, and then put it back on the self. I was surprised to see the man come back sometime later. He bought the item and almost passed me by while wearing a magnificent grin. When asked what was up, he explained that by observing his wife, he found the perfect gift for her—something she really wanted, but didn’t buy because it was too expensive.

The communication between author and reader is often nuanced in ways that defy simple explanations. Yet, when they’re understood, they seem absurdly simple. It’s the reason I employ beta readers, ask questions on this blog, and maintain statistics for my books. All of these observation techniques tell me how you’d like to receive information from me without my having to ask the question directly. I can provide you with the perfect presentation without saying anything at all.

How do you employ the art of observation? Do you find that it provides an effective means of communicating thoughts that might not receive proper treatment when spoken. Send your ideas on the topic to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Problem with Short Attention Spans and Getting Only What You Want

I read more articles every day that talk about how content is distributed today. It isn’t just one sort of content; it’s every sort of content, from writing to music to videos. Books are presented electronically without any ads or other content to disrupt your reading, magazines are becoming a thing of the past as readers blithely read just the article they want to see, music is presented as individual song downloads, and video is streamed without any of the extras that come with a DVD.

The idea is to package content items individually, in the smallest container possible. People consuming the content need not bother with anything that doesn’t immediately attract their attention. The smaller size ensures they can consume the content in seconds (even in my books, I’ve made the size of the sections smaller because I noted that readers weren’t making it through the material and missing important information). As a result, consumers are getting used to seeing just the content they want and not having to work at all to get it. Spoon feeding consumers content is probably something that marketers love because they can keep the consumer well fed and not asking too many questions. The content is focuses precisely the way the marketing folks want it. At some point, the quality of the content can decrease without anyone actually noticing. The somnolent mutterings of a few is all that will otherwise detract from the utter quiet of a new age of customized consumerism.

Inferior content is a problem, but it’s not the problem that you should consider immediately. Lack of diversity will cause more problems than content quality ever will. When music was distributed in albums, you counted on getting two or possibly three hit songs. Some of the remaining songs were pretty bad. However, you often encountered two or so additional songs that didn’t get played on the radio for whatever reason are were quite good. Because you were forced (after a fashion) to listen to all the songs on the album, it became common to discover the gems that no one really thought to hype. A few of those songs ended up being hits in their own right simply because people were forced to listen to them as part of listening to the album as a whole. With customized content, you never hear the good songs because no one is hyping them.

The lack of diversity affects your growth as a person. When you listen to something unanticipated or read an article that you didn’t think you’d like, you experience the world in a new way. An idea or concept that didn’t occur to you before is now part of your being. However, with today’s marketing model, you’re being cheated out of that opportunity. The marketers have determined what you’ll read, hear, and see. They control the picture. Think about it for a minute and you’ll see that I’m right.

Magazines are headed in the same direction. It won’t be long and paper magazines will be gone. Electronic magazines will almost certainly follow the current trend at some point. You’ll read only the article that you were interested in seeing in the first place. The supposed boring article that will broaden your horizons will never see the light of day because you won’t be exposed to it. Sometimes it’s necessary for some agent to force you to see content that you might not otherwise review. In the past, it was the added content that came as part of magazines, books, CDs, DVDs, and other distribution techniques that provided this force. There is no such force today. You don’t really see any additional content when viewing a streamed movie.

We view content with fewer interruptions and in purer form, deadening our minds to new ideas. At some point, the lack of growth will cause additional problems. People who get used to thinking only within the box that they draw themselves are less likely to create innovative ideas. As a society, our ability to create something entirely new, entirely different, will be diminished due to a lack of diversity in the input we provide to our brains.

The solution to the problem is uncomfortable and requires a level of determination that our society lacks in large part today. Because alternative content is no longer provided as part of the package, it’s imperative that you look for content that you might not otherwise enjoy. This means making a conscious decision to read, hear, and view content that you may not like at the outset, but will find grows on you with exposure. Let’s hope that there are enough people who don’t mind being uncomfortable to make this a reality. What are your thoughts on the methods used to package content today? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Dealing with Acronyms and Abbreviations

My books are packed with acronyms and abbreviations, and readers complain about them all the time. An acronym is a series of letters that shorten a term and you can say. For example, Language INtegrated Query (LINQ) is pronounced “link” so it counts as an acronym. An abbreviation is a shortened version of a term or phrase. For example, MicroSoft Developer Network (MSDN) is an abbreviation because you can’t say the term and must instead say each letter individually. Whether the term is an acronym or an abbreviation, I usually try to define it once every chapter. However, some truly common terms are only defined once in a book and if a term is considered universally known outside computer circles, such as CPU (for Central Processing Unit), I don’t define it at all.

Unfortunately, making an assumption can be a dangerous thing. I try to err on the side of defining terms too often so that readers can gain maximum benefit from my books with the least amount of effort. However, even making my best efforts, there are times when you might find an acronym or abbreviation that you simply don’t understand in one of my books. When this happens, you can always contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and I’ll be happy to define it for you. My goal is to ensure you have a great reading experience and that you discover everything possible about the topic at hand.

Some people prefer to do things for themselves. Hands on learning produces the best results for them and I do understand the need to address the learning methods each person uses with greatest ease. In this case, you have other options for finding the term you need defined. These sites will provide you with common terms used in my books (depending on the book, you may need to use more than one site):

Of course, there are many other fine online references, but these references should provide what you need in most cases. The worst case scenario would be to use the acronym or abbreviation without really knowing what it means. I encounter this problem all too often. Readers will contact me with a question that I truly can’t understand because of a misused term. Knowing what terms mean is an essential part of clear communication. Given that most of my communication is through e-mail, clear communication saves time and effort for everyone involved.

The question I get asked relatively often about acronyms and abbreviations is why the computer community uses them at all. After all, they’re confusing. Typing the full term every time you wanted to use it would be cumbersome at the least and error prone as well. Using a shorter term means concise communication. Using the terms correctly means precise communication. Every trade has its jargon and those jargon terms were created in order to ensure that two people communicating about a topic could do so in the most precise manner possible. I’ve discussed the need for jargon in the past in posts such as Power Words.

 

Lessons in Intellectual Property Commerce

A lot of people have written to ask why I don’t simply offer my books for free. Of course, that wouldn’t sit well with my publishers, but it brings up other concerns as well. Unfortunately, a lot of people take my books for free even though they aren’t offered that way. Joe finds that he likes my book and gives a copy of his e-book to Sally, who reads it and gives it to Andy. Only the first copy is actually paid for. It’s a problem because I have bills to pay, just like everyone else. So, the price you pay for a book helps (in small part) to keep me writing the books that continue to help you remain productive and to learn really cool new technologies.

I read with interest about some artists offering their works online on a “pay what you want” basis or literally for free. The hope was that this form of distribution would build interest in the person’s offering (book, music, video, art, or whatever else you can imagine), so that the artist could eventually earn income in other ways. It’s not working out very well. I read with interest a story entitled, “Taylor Swift vs. Spotify: Why Music Should Not Be Free” in PC Magazine. The article rambles a little, but the arguments it makes against free intellectual property are compelling. The bottom line is that artists of all stripes need to eat. More importantly, the people who support the artists need to eat as well.

There have been all sorts of efforts to force people to pay for content in this digital age. They’ve all been unsuccessful in generating more income and have served only to cause problems for the artists. What it comes down to is that you need to decide that you want quality content to enjoy—whether that content is written, heard as music, seen as video, or presented in some other form. When I write a book, the book does generate some money for the publisher. However, the book also helps me pay my bills, along with those of the editors who support me. In addition, the money you pay also helps keep bookstores in business. In short, you’re helping to support a lot of people—real people with real needs. This really isn’t about sticking it to some huge corporation out there—it’s a lot more personal than that.

Eventually, you’ll find more quality texts in self-published form, which means that you could get books that I write for a fraction of the price you pay now. However, self-publishing comes with it’s own set of problems that need to be considered. For example, when I start self-publishing material, I’ll have access to fewer editors to help me polish my material and make it the quality product that you’ve come to expect. In addition, I’ll produce less material because now I’ll have to act as my own marketing department as well. My self-published books will only be offered in e-book form unless I contract with a print on demand company (in which case, you’ll end up paying substantially more for the book).

The theft of intellectual property is at an all time high and the problem threatens to become worse, long before it gets better. I need your continued support in order to continue writing the material that you’ve come to expect from me as an author. Of course, I’ll continue to welcome your input about my books and also to provide the free content you’ve come to enjoy in my blog. However, the next time someone offers you a copy of one of my books for free, consider the implications of the act. All it takes a simple no and then a purchase at your local bookstore to help keep me in business. Thank you for your continued help and support.