Just one geek's opinions and epiphanies

Book Review: Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers, 2nd Edition

Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scraping

If you have been reading my reviews for any amount of time you know that I love tech books, and I usually give them pretty glowing reviews, especially No Starch books. They are informative, teach you things, make you think outside the box. I love No Starch books.

Alright, now that you know I love No Starch I am sad to report I have found the bad apple in the bunch. Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers. I didn't come to this point of view lightly, I really tried to find the good in this book, and there is some, however it is overshadowed by what I consider to be a pretty lame mistake on the authors part.

Webbots, Spiders, and Screen Scrapers is all about the what, how and why of webbots, spiders and screen scrapers. Basically a guide to why you need them, how to make them, and what they should be doing. It is a great reference as to what webbots are, and you can learn a thing or two while reading this book.

My gripe is pretty simple, and there is a work around for it, but here it is. The author, Michael Schrenk, didn't teach us all about writing webbots, spiders and screen scrapers. The book was meant to be an tool in teaching the PHP/cURL involved in writing these bots. Instead the author wrote a library of functions and tells you to include it, and then uses the book as an almost 400 page reference to his own library.

Sure you could open the library up and read though the code and get an idea of what is going on, but really that wasn't the point of the book. The point of the book was to show you how to use PHP and cURL to build your own bots, and spiders. What you get is a book that tells you how to build HIS bots and spiders. Furthermore the library comes with disclaimers about bugs in the code, instead of fixes to the code. So now you have a book that won't teach you to code PHP /cURL webbots, and it gives you code that may or may not work for what you are doing.

The silver lining in all of this is that the book did come with the library and if you are inclined to open it up and read through the code, then you can get a sense of what you really wanted to know in the first place. How to handle pages as files, how to parse for information, and how to store the information you pulled. I really would have liked the book to have been more about the building of the library than a reference to the library.

LEGO Technic Idea Books

As we grow up and get more mature some things become taboo and thought childish if to be partaken in as an adult, LEGO building being one of these activities. Let's be honest, every time you see a pile of LEGOs all you can really think about is digging in and seeing what you can build in the time available. Maybe a car, maybe a house, maybe the final battle of Mordor from Lord of the Rings? But alas, this is taboo.

In the fight against adulthood No Starch Press has come forward with a beacon of hope, a shining sword thrown directly into the heart of the beast that is adulthood, and sent it running, that sword? LEGO Technic Idea Books. A three part series that simply shows you more about LEGOs than you really ever thought about.

The three books are Simple Machines, Wheeled Wonders, and Fantastic Contraptions. They focus heavily on the Technic line of LEGOs but a lot of the stuff in all three books can be done without any Technics pieces at all.

Written by 42 year LEGO building veteran Yoshihito Isogawa, known for computer manuals he wrote while at Tokyo University of Science, and two time grand prize winner of Japan Manual Contest held by the Japan Technical Communicators Association.

If you are looking for long words, this is not a set of books for you. Comprised of hundreds of full color photos of LEGO pieces and how they fit together, and their purpose there is hardly a word past the intro of the books. This is pleasant as it means even your kids (yeah, they play with LEGOs too) can pick up the books and flip through them and learn a thing of two.

I was particularly impressed with the note to parents explaining that playing with LEGOs and praising the works of your children can be a strong relationship, and educational tool. I think it is great that they remembered that geeks have kids too!

I personally will find hours of enjoyment and success thanks to these books from No Starch Press, and I hope you will pick these up too and learn with me.

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Glyde.com: Book Sale

So a while back I found a cool little site called Glyde, and their About Us page really sums up what they are all about:

Glyde.com is a new marketplace that combines the great deals of a person-to-person online marketplace with the ease, simplicity, and safety of a retail store.

So I think the best thing about Glyde is they already know 95% of the details for anything you want to sell on their site, and they make doing business super easy.

Start a Sale

Getting started is easy, simply sign up (free), and start listing products. You can sell DVDs, CDs, Games (console) and Books. Listing is as easy as typing in the title of the product, or ISBN (or other unique identifier). They will load your store with all the images and descriptions you need.

Price to High?

One thing I find particularly handy about Glyde (beside their very easy to use interface) is the notifications that my products are not within market price. Let's say I list a book for $25 (market value) and two weeks go by and no one buys. As time goes by books lose value and so prices in the market adjust. Glyde doesn't auto adjust your price, but they do tell you what the system considers fair market value and you can decide to accept that and change your price, or ignore it and try to sell your book for more.

Shipping Sucks

Now let's admit that we all hate having to deal with shipping details and figuring out pricing for books etc. Well Glyde makes this easy too! When you sell an item on Glyde they handle the shipping. What they do is mail you an envelope ( or other mail package ) which you put your item into and drop in the mail. That's it! Your item you sold is then sent to the purchaser and all is grand.

Glyde Fees

So how much is this awesome service? Well cheaper than some, and more than others. Glyde takes 10% of the sale (not bad), plus the cost of the shipping materials. The listings are always free.

Go Glyde!

Glyde is really a great way to look at purchasing new media, and I hope to see good things from them in the future.

Head on over to Glyde now for the Utahcon.com Book Sale!

Review: Making it Big is Software

I'd like to first thank the team at InformIT for making books like Making it Big in Software. I love these titles!

Making it Big in Software is a great read, it is something I think that every software developer would have loved to have had when they were breaking into the software world. I know I would have loved to have had it.

Sam Lightstone has put together what could easily be called the blueprint to a successful career in software. He covers college, post-college pre-career, interviewing, resumes, fitting into the work environment, salary discussions, and more, much more.

The book is broken into three parts each covering an aspect of the flow of becoming big player in software, or at least a medium sized player in software.

The book is spattered with great interviews with some of the greatest minds of our time, including:

  • Marissa Mayer, Google VP, Search Products and User Experience
  • Linus Torvalds, Creator, Linux operating system kernel
  • Steve Wozniak, Inventor, Apple computer
  • John Schwarz, CEO, Business Objects
  • James Gosling, Inventor, Java programming language
  • Bjarne Stroustrup, Inventor, C++ programming language

Sam keeps the tone of the book very light, and I found it quite entertaining.

The chapters are broken into sections and each section is only a page or two long, which makes this a great short reader.

I have praised the writers of interview books before, and I will do it again, I think you can learn a lot from the old dogs (and some new dogs). I think that hearing the war stories and the victories and defeats are important in knowing where you are going, and where you are coming from. I love books like this one.

So again thanks to the team at InformIT and Sam Lightsone for taking the time to write Making it Big in Software.

Book Review: Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="190" caption="Pomodoro Technique Illustrated (Book Cover)"]Pomodoro Technique Illustrated (Book Cover)[/caption]

Today I am reviewing Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time which is best summed up by the books official website on The Pragmatic Bookshelf site:

Do you ever look at the clock and wonder where the day went? You spent all this time at work and didn’t come close to getting everything done. Tomorrow, try something new. Use the Pomodoro Technique, originally developed by Francesco Cirillo, to work in focused sprints throughout the day. In Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, Staffan Nöteberg shows you how to organize your work to accomplish more in less time. There’s no need for expensive software or fancy planners. You can get started with nothing more than a piece of paper, a pencil, and a kitchen timer.

The best part of the above statement is that it is 100% true. I haven't had enough time to really evaluate the use of the Pomodoro Technique, but the book really lays it out in a clean an easy to understand way.

Author Staffan Nöteberg has really written a quick read about the Pomodoro Technique, that will allow you to breeze through the book, learning the technique as you go.

The book is short, approx 200 pages total, with each page being an indepenent thought or section. You literally could read a single page each time you sat down and feel good about stopping in the middle of a chapter. The thoughts are clear and expressed in a clean format that really makes the things stick.

The technique itself is really simple. And Staffan's style of writing only makes it even easier to pick up and use.

I would strongly suggest getting Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time if you plan to learn or at least try the Pomodoro Technique, even more so if you plan for the year is to be more productive!

Looks like I wasn't the only one to write a review on this book today either.