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honestpuck Re:Dood (98 comments)

I am his daughter, my name is Jessica Mary Rose and I wrote that passage, on my own, EVERY SINGLE WORD. If I lie I'll drop dead and die!! If you simply refuse to believe it whatever, dude but I am most definently sure that my dad did not help me, AT ALL!! Anyways It wasn't an assingnment I simply wrote that blurb because I liked the book and wanted other people to know that!! I don't have my own log in so i am using my dad's!!

more than 10 years ago



The LEGO NXT Mindstorms Zoo

honestpuck honestpuck writes  |  more than 6 years ago

honestpuck writes "Animals have taken over my house. Every time I turn around something is hopping, walking or skittering across the floor. I blame No Starch Press and the LEGO company; a NXT MindStorms kit and a copy of "The LEGO NXT Mindstorms Zoo" ("Zoo") by Fay Rhodes has my 15 year old daughter (with previously no real interest in robots or programming) building all sorts of infernal machines.

The release of the latest iteration of LEGO's robot building system, the MindStorms NXT, has brought forward a plethora of new possibilities and books to inform us of them. No Starch seems to be a leader in the field with several volumes including this one. "Zoo" subtitled "A Kid-Friendly Guide to Building Animals with the NXT Robotics System" seems well pitched at the beginner; all the models are easily built and programming the models for the basic behaviours in the book is easy and well explained.

At first impression a retail buyer will suffer some disappointment, the book is designed for those who have the Educational version of the NXT with a the extra Educational Resource Kit so a retail buyer of just the basic kit will be missing some pieces required for the models. On the other hand most NXT owners will have some LEGO already and may have the pieces (I found almost all in my collection) and Rhodes does go to the trouble of telling you which pieces and where to get them. Just keep this in mind if you are intending to give the book as a gift, you may wish to track down and purchase the extra pieces and include them with the gift to avoid disappointment. For those outside the US this might present some problems, I couldn't track down two of the recommended (but not totally necessary) bulk piece packs from Lego Australia. Fortunately Bricklink found a vendor with all the required parts fairly cheaply. If you are still stuck then the companion website for the book has more ideas on parts substitution and a parts list chart (with useful pictures) that tells you what pieces are required for each model and how many are found in each of the sets with links to the Peeron page for each part. Great attention to detail that seems to typify this book.

The book starts with a good introduction, including the aforementioned information on extra pieces and where to get them, before starting in on the first of nine robots.
  • Ribbit, a jumping frog
  • Bunny, a hopping rabbit
  • Sandy, a walking camel
  • Spiderbot, an eight-legged spider that avoids objects and walks forward and backward
  • Snout, a walking alligator that opens and closes its jaws
  • LEGOsaurus, a four-legged, plodding dinosaur
  • Pygmy, a walking elephant that raises and lowers its head
  • Polecat, a skunk on wheels that lifts its tail and shoots "darts"
  • Strutter, a peacock on wheels that turns and flutters its tail feathers

The building instructions are a good size, much more easily read and understood than those from LEGO themselves which I find a little too small and sometimes including too much in each graphic step. I also appreciated the parts guide at the start of each model; when you might have to go hunting through other sets for a piece or an alternate the guide meant you could get this over and done with at the beginning rather than just as you are about to complete the model.

The first few models are also easily built and programmed, getting progressively harder as you go through the book. None are beyond the capabilities of an even moderately experienced LEGO builder. Rhodes also includes a few sidebars showing alternative parts that can be used for some of the harder to source pieces, a nice touch and one that encouraged my daughter to work around a couple of unavailable parts when building Strutter. All the model programming uses LEGO's visual programming environment rather than any of the third party languages and tools. A good choice given the book's likely readers. The model programming is a little harder to do from the instructions, though this is more due to the problems of black and white printing and a click together programming environment than design by either the publisher or author. While I had a little difficulty my daughter's eyes were able to cope and so I don't see this as a significant flaw in the book.

The first model we built was the Spiderbot, the third in the volume, as my daughter wanted to build something that reacted to the environment. After a little trouble getting the walking going perfectly, assisted by the excellent trouble shooting tips in one of the book's appendices, it behaved exactly as 'advertised' walking around the kitchen avoiding obstacles in it's path.

For our second model we jumped into the deep end, going for the final model in the volume, 'Strutter', a peacock who moves on wheels and waves his 'feathers.' This model had a couple of tricky places in the build process but none really challenged my daughter. Once again the programming was easy. With both models that we programmed Rhodes encourages the reader/builder to use the programming environment's ability to chunk code as a block and to develop using a bottom up approach

For the target market the book is almost perfect, with a good tenor and an excellent choice of models to build. It would be an ideal book to buy for someone who has just gone through building the models included by LEGO in the kit. While the book is aimed at the younger end of LEGO's suggested age range for Mindstorms don't let that put you off purchasing a copy — it's the perfect second book for almost any NXT builder and the "Kid-" could be easily dropped from the subtitle. 8 out of 10 for this book, it loses a half for the slight problem in reading the programming details and one and a half for the need to go outside the basic retail kit to find all the parts."

honestpuck honestpuck writes  |  more than 7 years ago

honestpuck writes "About six months ago I switched to using TextMate, a text editor with a clean and well designed interface that hides a great deal of power, replacing both BBEdit and vim. I felt like a baby duck that had been ripped away from its mother, but I was determined to switch to a single editor. I have since become familiar with the power of TextMate and it's extensions. Getting a copy of "TextMate — Power Editing for the Mac" (TPEftM) made me feel like I'd gone from baby duck to Leo DiCaprio, dating a supermodel.

TextMate, like many Mac applications, seems like a simple, easy to use application but underneath the hood it has four types of additions to customize the editing experience — snippets, macros, commands and language grammars — and a method of tying them together into a mode called a bundle. Grammars control syntax colouring, indentation, text folding among other features. TextMate also seems to have been designed from day one to integrate well with Mac OS X and its Unix underpinnings. First, it includes a great command line tool, "mate", that has a couple of neat tricks like automatically creating a project when passed a list of files or a directory name, and a GUI that can easily run shell commands and scripts. TextMate can't give me a list of unique lines in a file but it is trivially easy to pass a selection to 'uniq' and have the results replace the selection, for example.

I don't want to spend half this review describing TextMate, suffice to say that it is an incredibly powerful and conformable editor. The extended features are all well covered by TPEftM.

Taken as a whole this book is a marvelous second volume to the TextMate manual. Though the first section summarizes information covered in the TextMate manual the rest of the book takes a huge leap forward and gives you details on how to get the best from one of the finest text editors it has been my pleasure to use. If you want a well written manual for the advanced and malleable parts of TextMate then this book is pretty good, the details it is missing, such as the plugin API, are covered by the manual and where the manual is thin on detail this book fleshes it out nicely.

It's broken up into three sections, "Editing" which contains three chapters (and the introduction) covering the basics of creating projects and files, moving around, selecting text and find and replace (a nice little regular expresson engine), "Automations" which contains five chapters covering the built in bundles and how to write your own snippets, macros and commands and "Languages" which covers the development of language grammars, preferences and themes.

This is a useful book. It's not a classic, it won't revolutionize your thinking about anything, nor will you learn new coding techniques. It will, however, reward any effort you make towards working through it with a much improved editing experience.

TPEftM is also a hard book, reading it can be almost a chore with the need to digest and try out some fairly complicated topics. TPEftM isn't a great learning aide, it's more a technical manual than a textbook. I wish I could blame the writing but the book is well written and edited, it just has a technical style. At times I thought a lighter touch in the writing would have been good to allay some of the density. It also seems light on examples, while the discussion of each topic is well constructed and understandable a little more attention to the number, length and content of examples would have improved the book's usability.

It is best to give TPEftM a quick read and then use it as a guide to doing some customizing of your TextMate environment. The chapter that I remember well is the one on snippets since I've used the book to guide me in writing several. In fact my first foray into 'programming' TextMate was to alter some snippets in the built-in automation.

The O'Reilly page for the book just contains a book description and some marketing information. For more useful information you can go to the Pragmatic Programmer's page for the book which has a link to download the code, an errata list, a table of contents and links to two excerpts from the book. You can also buy the PDF version or both the PDF and paper versions on the Pragmatic site.

In conclusion this is a great book if you are currently toying with using TextMate as your Mac OS X editor. It is a good book and second manual if you are already a heavy TextMate user and want to know how to get the best out of the programmability of TextMate. So all TextMate users should consider this book a must buy. This is one hunk of extra documentation for TextMate, at only 182 pages it isn't a large book but it is full of information. For your $30 (or less, almost everywhere) you'll have an immediately useful book that will take you months to digest."

honestpuck honestpuck writes  |  more than 7 years ago

honestpuck writes "When reading the foreword of "Rails Cookbook" I felt a strong kinship with Zed Shaw, I too have fond memories of the first edition of "Perl Cookbook" and the way I relied on it once I'd taken the training wheels off. Since that one I have relied on several of the O'Reilly Cookbook series. It is only when I discard the early tutorial and dive in the deep end with a "cookbook on my desk that I really start to learn proficiency.

I know I felt still timorous and unsure when I finished "Agile Web Development with Rails", a marvelous tutorial that introduced me to my first real web development framework (I must have enjoyed it, I just bought the second edition). Since I have volunteered to develop a fairly large and complex web application in Rails I awaited the arrival of my copy of "Rails Cookbook" with hopeful anticipation and bated breath.

Rob Orsini, his fellow contributors (15 in all) and the team at O'Reilly have once again delivered. Compared to the previous titles in the series I've owned "Rails Cookbook" seems to have fewer recipes but as it is tackling an entire application framework and some serious issues some of the solutions and discussions run a lot longer. The book is targeted at programmers who know something about web development but are early in their use of Rails, though it should be helpful to all Rails developers.

The book starts with the early and simple, tackling issues of installation and getting development tools installed in the first two chapters. Despite already deploying a couple of simple Rails apps I found that there was the odd useful tip even in these chapters. The book then covers each of the three main sections of Rails; Active Record, Action View and Action Controller. The rest of the book goes on with large chapters on testing, Javascript, debugging, performance and hosting and deployment. Along the way it also covers REST, Action Mailer, security, plug-ins and graphics.

The extremely large section on Active Record was to me the most useful. I seem to spend an inordinate percentage of my Rails coding time with Active Record and it contains a large part of Rails power so I appreciated the size of this chapter. By contrast the chapter on graphics is almost entirely unread.

It seems obvious that this book should be compared to Pragmatic's "Rails Recipes". The first point of difference is that 'Rails Cookbook' covers installation and setup. The second point is that is 'Recipes' covers Rails 1.1 while 'Cookbook' targets the brand new Rails 1.2. As a project fairly new on the scene Rails is a fast moving target so the six months between the two books makes a difference. Both books have excellent coverage of the various aspects of Rails, with a great deal of overlap. 'Recipes' has more, shorter pieces while 'Cookbook' tends towards longer pieces with more discussion. 'Cookbook' is also more general, with more recipes more likely to be useful in every Rails project you write.

The style is different between the two. Here Cookbook comes off second best, it feels as though tightly edited by a number of hands and ends up lacking personality; functional but cold compared to Recipes. The writing is, however, good. It's easily read, at times it feels like a good textbook. The layout is clean, it is easy to find the information you need from each recipe when you want.

With almost all "cookbook" style books I always seem to be left feeling that a number of the recipes are just a little too obvious and covered well in beginner tutorials. There is some of this in "Rails Cookbook", most notably the first two chapters, but overall the book will be useful to any beginner to intermediate Rails programmer though, of course, it will become less and less useful as you grow in experience. Personally I had a couple of moments where I read a tip and wanted to scream as it demonstrated and explained in a few short sentences and half a page of code what had taken me hours to discover for myself.

You can visit the O'Reilly catalog page for the book where they have the usual stuff, including the chapter on Action Controller which will give you a good feel for the style and content of the book.

The "Cookbook" series all seem to be books worth the price and shelf space. This one is no exception. I'd give it three out of five with an extra half for its timely information on Rails 1.2 and would recommend it for all Rails programmers from the absolute beginner through to all but the most experienced. If you already have a copy of 'Recipes' and are happy with it then you might want to stick with that till either volume is updated for the next major revision of Rails, otherwise you will almost certainly appreciate a copy of 'Cookbook'."

honestpuck honestpuck writes  |  more than 8 years ago

honestpuck writes "I have a confession to make. Over more than twenty years as a programmer I'd never really had my head around object-oriented programming. I started out using C and then tried PHP and Perl and treated both as purely procedural languages (indeed, one Perl guru looked at my code and said "you were a C programmer weren't you"; humbling). Java, JavaScript, C++ and even Objective C had their turn at getting me to convert but none took (though I do code JavaScript under sufferance) until Ruby. A few month ago I started using Rails and became hooked on it and the underlying language. My Rails and Ruby skills have progressed in leaps and bounds. I've already had a good read of "Programming Ruby" and "Agile Web Development with Rails" and enjoyed and learnt from both.

I also have to admit to loving the O'Reilly "Cookbook" series. Several, particularly the "Perl Cookbook", have pride of place on the bookshelf closest to my computer. So the "Ruby Cookbook" by Lucas Carlson and Leonard Richardson was eagerly awaited. The "Cookbook" series are designed to provide you with a plethora of code examples to guide you in writing your own code. I'm definitely a hands-on style of learner and the Cookbook series suits my style — I can start getting my hands dirty with complex problems knowing I have help to code my way of out of the tight spots. This one covers a wide range of tasks from simple, such as walking a directory tree or manipulating text and numbers, through to more complex such as working with AJAX in Ruby on Rails. If you have't previously come across a book in this style then each chapter is broken up into a number of 'recipes' with a problem, a solution and then discussion of the solution.

This sort of book lives and dies by two criteria — the quality of the code and the usefulness of the recipe selection. "Ruby Cookbook" wins on both. The topics covered are wide and leave little, if any, part of the language unexplained. They start with data and structures such as strings and hashes before moving on to code blocks, objects, classes and modules. There is then an intriguing chapter on reflection and metaprogramming that I am still puzzling through before the book moves on to more internet based topics such as XML, HTML, web and internet services and, of course, Rails. The book then proceeds with chapters on the necessary housekeeping of development such as testing, packaging and automating tasks with Rake before finishing with extending Ruby with other languages and system administration tasks. The code is well written; clear and well commented, easily understandable by a virtual newb like me. The discussion is fairly clear, seemingly concise while allowing you to understand the code and how it might be changed for particular purposes.

I'm not going to go into more details as to the contents but instead point you to the book's page at O'Reilly which includes a link to the contents, listnig all the recipes in the book, and two example chapters; Chapter 7 on code blocks and iteration and Chapter 15 devoted to Rails. Together they will give you a good feel for the style and contents of the book.

The book is well written and well edited. I've already tried over a dozen of the recipes and haven't found a single code error, so my faith in the other 300 or so has risen considerably. The discussion that accompanies each recipe is a marvelous way of learning just that little bit more about the language. I found them quite good, though the odd one could do with further explanation if the book is to stand on its own — for example the discussion accompanying the recipe to iterate over a hash was not perfectly clear on the difference between Hash#each and Hash#each_pair.

At more than 800 pages this is a large and extensive volume, though the price may make you wince. Usually programming books this large have at least part of their size dedicated to something I refer to as pseudo-padding, some sort of reference or simple language explanation — this one has neither, all of it is devoted to the recipes.

With Ruby use, thanks in no part to the popularity of Rails, growing by leaps and bounds I'm sure this volume will be a well deserved bestseller. I give it an eight out of ten and recommend it to all but the most expert Ruby programmers. For beginners who, like me, appreciate hands on learning it is a must."



Find all my book reviews

honestpuck honestpuck writes  |  more than 11 years ago

Since the 'Accepted Stories' section of my page is routinely missing some of my reviews I thought I'd insert this link which will find them all for you, eleven as I write this and bound to grow.


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