Simon P. Chappell writes "Every now and then, as a book reviewer, you just have to take a chance. The way it works is that editors ply their wares to you, sending you lists of available books on a regular basis and tempting titles catch your eye. The problem is that until you've committed to review the book, received it and read it, you don't know whether you've found a good one or have just been a victim of drive-by marketing. This was such a book. The title sounded good and I just had to try it out. But would it live up to the name that it bore?" Read the rest of Simon's review.
Most of the books that I review are targeted for programmers and this is no exception to that rule. If you code Java for fun or profit, then this book is for you. That said, as one whose day job is a technical lead for Java development, I actually appreciated the book more than I expected. For a technical lead, just knowing that something is possible and seeing clear examples of how to do it, is a huge relief. When you're the guy who has to lead the efforts to fulfill I.S. management's promises, it's good to know that your team can do some of the things they said we could, using language features in conjunction with available open-source and free libraries.
The back cover calls it an "idea sourcebook" and I'm going to concur with that description. It contains a very wide range of subject matter and so each chapter addresses a portion of that spectrum. The first three chapters cover core Java skills and will be applicable to every reader of the book. The balance of the chapters are more discretionary and will appeal to different readers to differing levels. Each of the chapters brings about a dozen thoughts or tools concerning the subject area to the reader. Most of these tools are explained and short code samples are given for their use.
The first chapter covers the Java language and some of the core APIs. It looks at a few of the forgotten gems of the Java language while mostly looking at some of the fancy new features of Java 5. Chapter two addresses String utilities, primarily through the regular expression capabilities introduced in Java 1.4. String handling is a first order skill, even in these days of objects, so this chapter is very welcome. Chapter three looks at processing XML. Like string handling, XML processing is becoming a first order skill, that even if you don't like (and I don't), it is still important to be able to handle the vast quantity of the stuff that we are surrounded with.
Chapter four looks at the semantic web. This is a world that speaks RDF, RSS and Dublin Core. If you already speak that dialect of geek, this is your chapter. The fifth chapter examines scientific and mathematical applications; calculation engines, arbitrary-precision arithmetic and neural network drivers. Chapter 6 brings us graphics and data visualization; graphing and report generation are the order of the day here. Chapter seven looks at multimedia and synchronization. This is the chapter for learning to make music, having your computer talk back to you and having more fun with threads than you ever thought possible. The last chapter, number eight, is titled "Fun, Integration and Project Ideas". It's a veritable grab bag of ideas, ranging from using Java to control a LEGO robot to writing in JVM Assembly Language.
While I don't wish to steal any thunder from the book, perhaps an example or two would be appropriate at this point? The JScience API is discussed in chapter five and it's unit framework is explored from pages 109 to 111. Calculations with values of differing units can be problematic; just ask any NASA engineer. The JScience framework allows you to work in the appropriate units for a value and have all calculations with those units convert themselves correctly. There are many practical uses for this, but I enjoyed the furlongs per fortnight example that the book provides: did you know that the speed of light in a vacuum is 1,802,617,499,785.253 furlongs per fortnight? In chapter two there is a great example of generating random text. This can be useful for suggesting pronounceable passwords and just such an example is given on pages 34 to 36.
If you have the desire to explore some of the uncharted waters of the Java world, then there's a good chance that you'll like this book. If you are the kind of person who loves to hear about new and interesting things that you can do with Java and are happy to have them served up in a book where they're categorized and presented with code examples, you'll love this book. As I mentioned earlier, this book is also useful for those leading teams of Java programmers; where knowing that something is doable is of great value in and of itself.
If you are one of the large number of Java programmers still working at the 1.4.x level, or who needs to target 1.4.x JVMs, the first chapter will be the least useful of the whole book, with the majority of it's examples based on Java 1.5. If you are not really much of a one for interesting Java coding suggestions, with examples, then perhaps this is not the book that you thought you were looking for.
The book has a website, the cunningly named wickedcooljava.com that provides links to all of the libraries and code projects mentioned in the book.
This is a great book. I loved it, but then I fall into the realm of the perpetually curious and I love to explore new and interesting things to use Java for."
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