Just one geek's opinions and epiphanies

Coders At Work

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I recently finished reading Coders at Work, written by Peter Seibel (@peterseibel), and published by Apress. What an amazing book to read, I can't even begin to express how much I actually enjoyed this book, and I know I am gushing, but this was a real treat for me.

I have always been amazed by the past of computing, the idea of computers as large as houses, filling entire warehouses for simple punch card technology, hell punch cards! I love hearing the stories of how things were, getting the first networks going, writing the first program for any technology, making something that everyone everywhere now uses and doesn't think twice about why it works the way it works.

In Coders At Work Peter Seibel interviews some of the legends of technology including Peter Norvig (Director of Research at Google Inc.), Jamie Zawinkski (major Mozilla contributor, @jwz), and plenty more.

The book was written in the same tune as Writers at Work, and Founders at Work, to showcase the beginnings of coding, and to give an idea of how the world of coding as we know it has come to be.

There is no magic code revealed in the book, and there are no tutorials, just a bunch of old hackers explaining why they did what they did and how and what they learned from the experience.

As of this writing Apress hasn't made available a sample chapter, which is too bad, it would be a great tease and only make you want more of this book.

To give you an idea of what you would be investing in, here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book, where Peter is interviewing Jamie Zawinski an early Netscape/Mozilla developer. Peter has asked Zawinski about working with Peter Norvig at Berkely, here is his response:

Yeah. That was a very strange job. They had a whole bunch of grad students who’d been doing research on natural language understanding; they were basically linguists who did some programming. So they wanted someone to take these bits and pieces of code they’d left behind and integrate them into one thing that actually worked. That was incredibly difficult because I didn’t have the background to understand what in the world they were doing. So this would happen a lot: I’d be looking at something; I’d be completely stuck. I have no idea what this means, where do I go from here, what do I have to read to understand this. So I’d ask Peter. He’d be nice about it—he’d say, “It totally makes sense that you don’t understand that yet. I’ll sit down and explain it to you Tuesday.” So now I’ve got nothing to do. So I spent a lot of time working on windows system stuff and poking around with screen savers and just the kind of UI stuff that I’d been doing for fun before. After six or eight months of that it just felt like, wow, I’m really just wasting my time. I’m not doing anything for them, and I just felt like I was on vacation. There have been times when I was working really a lot when I’d look back at that and I’m like, “Why did you quit the vacation job? What is wrong with you? They were paying you to write screen savers!”

A good deal of the book is great history of how integrated the coding world really is, and you see a lot of the progression of technology through the book.

If you are the sort of person who enjoys sitting with the masters of your field, and listening to the stories and pondering what it would have been like to have to program everything in Assembly, or possibly in LISP, then you have to read Coders at Work, and then leave it in your reading room, and make sure others get a chance to read it as well.

Applied Security Visualization

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="Applied Security Visualization by Raffael Marty (Addison-Wesley)"]Applied Security Visualization by Raffael Marty (Addison-Wesley)[/caption]

Raffael Marty is very excited about the visualization of security data, this fact shines out of every chapter of Applied Security Visualization. Raffael, cheif security strategist and senior product manager for Splunk, walks you through the collection, parsing, and displaying of security data for the purpose of learning what you can as fast as you can from your visualizations.

The overall information gained from this book is priceless. Knowing where to look for your security information, and more importantly how to interperate that data. Raffael is quick to explain throughout the book the different places you would look for specific data. He explains the different logging details of different vendors, and why each vendor make the choices they did. He is also quick to point out how to expand reporting from the default, and most times, limited reporting of logs.

The information contained in this book is really great, and there is a ton of it, however, getting to the information you care about and need to know takes time and some serious determination. To put it bluntly, this book is extremely boring. It took me about twice the normal time I take to read a book this size. Partially due to the fact that there is so much detailed information and you will spend a lot of time flipping back and forth through to book to remember exactly why Raffael is doing something. If you are really into security, and you wish to know more about you network, security or really any general logged information, this book will guide you to it, and show you exactly what you want to know, or better yet, exactly what you don't know.

Published by Addison Wesley, you can pick up Applied Security Visualization by Raffael Marty at Amazon.com.

Linux Administration A Beginner's Guide, Fifth Edition

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="140" caption="Linux Administration: A Beginners Guide"]Linux Administration: A Beginners Guide[/caption]

As Wale Soyinka claims at the beginning, Linux Administration: A Beginner's Guide, Fifth Edition; is a book for beginners, not for "dummies." He assumes you know most of the basic terms and concepts needed to run a modest Windows network. This book explains the "why" for many of the facets in running a Linux server, to further complete your knowledge of your system and to understand the options available to you when setting up and tweaking your server to suit your needs.

It covers so many topics that it understandably doesn't go into a lot of detail on some of them.  But then again, this is not an expert's guide.  It will, however, help you get pretty familiar with the tools you'll need and even provides background information about how certain programs evolved.  The content was kept fresh by the author adding gems of humor and making the text read a lot less like a math book than I expected.

There are plenty of command line examples strewn throughout the book, and human-readable explanations of each option you have available to you. Because sometimes, Linux's man page documentation is too cryptic for those not intimately familiar with an application.  This adds to the book's value as a reference manual for when you can't remember everything you read.

This book filled in a lot of the holes in my education concerning Linux and administration in general.  A good investment for anyone looking to start their own solid Linux server, or a reference book for the more seasoned admin. From reading this book, I feel much more confident in my admin-abilities and have solid ground to reach higher levels of Linux administration.  All of which of course, adds to my value as an employee!

Python Web Development with Django

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Frameworks and patterns are really becoming strong fixtures of the web development community. They are giving developers the ability to do more and do it faster. Django is a great example of a framework that is enabling developers to developer faster. I just a few lines of code you can create a blog (Chapter 2), a photo gallery (Chapter 7) or a content management system (Chapter 8). Where Django is a quick way to learn Python and create great applications, Python Web Development with Django (the book) is a great way to learn Django.

The first chapter is a great quickie on what Python is and about the parts of Python. It's a quick explanation of variables, tuples, lists, and more. The subsequent chapters walk you through all the inner workings of Django.

Jeff Forcier, Paul Bissex, and Wesley Chun really give you a great book, and plenty of great examples of what Django can do. In detail you are shown, explained what each part of Django you are working with is for, and the secrets to it's inner part. Often you are given options and directions on how to expand and change your application.

Probably the sweetest parts of this book is the appendix on Google App Engine. GAE allows the use of Django, and this appendix explains what it takes to add that to the mix so your app can move seamlessly into the cloud with Google App Engine.

The book is published by Addison Wesley in their Developer's Library. Check it out here or at Amazon.com

Book Review: Expert Python Programming (PacktPub)

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="233" caption="Expert Python Programming by Tarek Ziade (PacktPub.com)"]Expert Python Programming by Tarek Ziade (PacktPub.com)[/caption]

Expert Python Programming was not what I was expecting to get from a book about Python. I am not a savvy python programmer yet, and in my quest to become one I picked this book up to read. It certainly is not for beginners, and I mean that. If you are not comfortable you may wish to skip it, if you are daring and have the basics of programming down then you can slip this one into your collection.

Tarek Ziade presents, for the most part, best practices and design patterns. Chapters 8 through 14 really are just that, explaining how to be a really great python programmer. From Test-driven design, to Optimization he covers all the bases and if the suggestions and steps are followed even the worst of programmers (no matter the language) could become an expert programmer.

Chapters 2 and 3 literally blew my mind, I mean that! The concepts aren't earth shattering, but they are really good and indepth. I am glad I had the chance to review the book and read those chapters as they gave me some great insight to the language of Python. 

Overall this book has really opened my eyes to the powers of Python and even more how to be a better programmer in general. Thanks Tarek!

You can pick up this novel of awesome at Amazon.com, or check out more details on the book at PacktPub.com.