2011
07.17

Virtualization A Managers Guide Virtualization: A Manager’s Guide

is a short ( about 58 pages in the ebook version ) offering from O’Reilly which is targeted towards “managers or subject matter experts outside of information technology (IT)”.   The text generally revolves around the author’s model of virtualization, which breaks the topic into subareas like access virtualization, network virtualization, etc.

While the use of this conceptual model might be compelling to those coming from an engineering or IT background, I believe it to be much less useful for the non-technical manager for whom this book was written.  Layers of services really aren’t as appealing as concrete examples.

One major problem with the work is that it enumerates all the wonderful things virtualization *can* do without parameters around where it *should* do something.   Things may be different in your world, but giving a manager an unqualified statement that “an application designed for an earlier version of the operating system may continue to function on a newer version of the operating system” can be translated as “we never have to upgrade, we’ll use virtualization!”.    This is generally bad.

On a more positive note, the book is well written and could be used by IT staff in preparing briefing materials for presentation to the business side.

Overall, a nice overview if you have never dealt with virtualization, not something you drop into management hands without a filter.

2011
07.06

An Introduction to MapReduceAn Introduction to MapReduce is a video offering from O’Reilly which provides a simple introduction to the use of map-reduce without a great deal of overhead.   The product contains four video segments, starting with a description of the difficulties encountered when using simple scripting against large data sets and swiftly moving into the use of Python scripts to implement a map-reduce job.

From there, the scripts are migrated to the Amazon map-reduce offerings, to demonstrate that the same algorithm can be used in a more sophisticated (Hadoop) environment.   The use of Amazon tools consumes two segments, or approximately half the content of this product.   An Amazon account will therefore be necessary to fully participate in the exercises.

The provided example case (word count from a novel) is easily understood and does not interfere with the concept presentation.   Python is used, but at a novice level, so a deep understanding of that language is not required;  obviously access to a machine with Python installed would be helpful in order to run the jobs locally.

One minor problem with the product is that the related content links mentioned within the video do not appear to have been provided;  these resources are not essential to use of the videos.

Overall, if you’ve had difficulty with the concept of map-reduce, this product would be worth a look; best audience are those who have not (successfully) run a map-reduce job on their own.

2011
07.03

Learning Perl, 6th EditionLearning Perl, 6th Edition is an update to the classic beginner’s text for the Perl language.  Perl version 5.14 features are introduced, although older versions of Perl will suffice for most of the content.

The book is intended to introduce the basic elements of Perl in a tutorial fashion.  It does not teach programming, and  essentially provides the reader with enough language tools to create short Perl scripts.   Most examples are straightforward and easily absorbed, although they are somewhat artificial (Flintstones characters aren’t usually the subjects of Perl scripts).

Each chapter ends with exercises, which are really essential for the beginner to complete – this is where you actually use the language elements and learn to incorporate them into a larger program.

Users who do best working through a single example and building it into a working program may not enjoy this book, due to it’s “bottom-up” approach to Perl.   Without prior Perl experience, you will finish the book having a strong grasp of the building blocks used by the language ( variables, loops, etc .), but will need further reading to round out your education and produce more complex programs.   That is not a negative reflection on the book or it’s context, just a recognition that the approach used is not for everyone.

Overall, excellent work from a highly respected and experienced team of Perl trainers, well worth the time invested by the reader.

 

 

2011
07.01

Managing Infrastructure with Puppet is an exceptionally short “book” from O’Reilly dealing with the  configuration management framework “Puppet”.

With a pagecount of 31 in the ebook edition and a listed price of approximately $25.00, that’s about eighty cents per page, so my expectations were extremely high regarding this work.

Unfortunately, after installing the Puppet packages on an Ubuntu installation per the instructions on page 1, the example on page 3 failed to work for me, nor did any of the example code.  I am not an inexperienced Linux user and yes, I know how to use Google, but I would expect a chapter titled “Getting Started” to have some clue as to things that might go wrong.

There may be wonderful information in this text,  but after the initial failures my interest in it’s content evaporated.   Should I need information on Puppet, I’ll consult the development wiki for the product.

Overall disappointing and not recommended.

2011
06.25

Packet Guide to Core Network Protocols is a book that I wanted to like.   The introduction indicates that this will be an exploration of network packets using Wireshark, and that the focus will be on the core protocols present on most modern networks, and that the intended audience encompasses anyone from network novice on up.

That latter portion of the intro may be the problem.   While there is good information here and the author is a facile communicator, the thought that kept nagging me was “who is the audience for this?”.  Many of the details would already be known to network pros and have been covered in other works;  for a beginner to be studying at this level, they would normally be using a vendor-specific text in a quest for certification.

On the positive side, if you are simply curious about networking, this is a great read.  Exercises are included which can be performed on a local network using open source programs, which is a great way to learn.  Copious references are appended to each chapter for further reading.

This book might also be useful to Cisco certification seekers who are having difficulty with the Cisco-supplied texts and need supplemental material with more hands-on activities.

Overall, not a bad book, but it seems to be searching for an audience.

2011
06.16

Gamification Master Class videoGabe Zichermann on Gamification is a video offering from O’Reilly Publishing dealing with the topic of gamification, or the use of gaming to engage application users in ways which drive traffic and commerce.   The product consists of a series of video segments with a total view time of approximately three (3) hours.  The format is that of a small “classroom” or seminar, with a group of people seated at the table with the presenter (Gabe Zichermann) and able to interact with questions and discussion.

The product would be an appropriate choice for those interested in the concepts behind applications such as Farmville, which draw the user into a virtual world through the use of gaming concepts.   While the information is definitely thought-provoking, it is not applicable in all environments, e.g., if you’re coding mission-critical systems, this stuff isn’t for you.  That said, and while I will probably never implement any of the concepts in my current work, I did find the discussion stimulating and accessible, so from that perspective the product is a good value.

Zichermann has done an outstanding job of preparing supplemental materials, available via links shown within the video segments.    Presentation of the material itself is also smooth and professional, making it a pleasure to watch.

Overall, while not a heavy-duty coders product, definitely a good value for some outside the box brain food.

2011
05.27

50 Tips & Tricks for MongoDB Developers is a new offering from O’Reilly in the shorter (66 pages in the ebook format) but more current format they seem to have recently adopted.

The audience for the book is described as those who know the basics of MongoDB, but need to go further.    In my opinion, it would be most useful to developers or users who have implemented at least one application beyond the samples and quickstart materials at mongodb.org.   If you have not actually used MongoDB for even simple test applications, many of the tips will be academic exercises, nice to know, but not necessarily immediately applicable.

As for the tips themselves, your mileage may vary according to your application needs, but there is a nice mix of topics, from design to optimization.  The author’s writing style is direct and most examples are straightforward and easily assimilated.

Since I have used MongoDB only for testing and small in-house applications, my only gauge of accuracy was in the tips related to indexing.  The text matched my experiences with the product.  Kristina Chodorow, the author,  could be considered somewhat authoritative as she is the maintainer of several Mongo drivers (typos excepted).

Overall, yes, you can find all this information on the internet, but the book will save you time and appears to be offered in e-book format at a reasonable price point.

2011
05.25

An Introduction to Machine Learning with Web Data is a new video offering from O’Reilly with data scientist Hilary Mason delivering the content in seminar format.   At slightly under three hours in length, broken into five segments, the video is a well-paced primer for those new to machine learning.

The example case used is classification of article data retrieved from the New York Times, using Python and various algorithms.  Python 2.x and several modules are used for this purpose, so to follow along you should have access to a machine with that version of Python and the ability to install modules.  Code used in the seminar is available for checkout using git, via Github.  After installing the appropriate Python modules, the provided scripts functioned without errors.    Some experience with Python would make the experience better, but the code is not complex and could be worked out by most programmers.

While the use of mathematics is crucial to analysis, the math used in this presentation is easily understood and contributes to the content ( a positive feature unusual enough to rate high praise ).

Overall this would be a worthwhile purchase for someone interested in machine learning, but who does not have much, if any, hands-on experience with the processes involved.

 

2011
05.24

Network Warrior, Second Edition is an update of the original (2007).   The first volume was well worth reading, and this updated version is definitely on the “must read” list for anyone working with Cisco gear.   Be aware that the book is Cisco-specific with regard to commands and vocabulary.

In the introduction, the author indicates that this book should be valuable to anyone with an entry-level Cisco-based skills (CCNA or better), but in my opinion it could also be useful to IT personnel who interact with network gear and are willing to do some additional background reading.  For example, the book’s lucid explanation of why autonegotiation causes problems could be of immense value to server team/sysadmin types (although obviously the router/switch config command listings are of less value to that audience).

One caveat to this book is that it should probably not be read by those attempting the CCNA or CCENT until *after* successfully taking the exams, unless you are certain you can sort out the Cisco “textbook” material from the “real world” discussions in Network Warrior.

Overall, this is a great book, well written, clearly illustrated and with examples that are hauntingly familiar to anyone who has supported Cisco networks of significant size.

 

2011
05.21

Node.js

Tom Hughes-Croucher on Node is a nine-part video tutorial which is described as showing the viewer how Node.js solves some scaling and speed issues, as well as guiding the viewer from the basics of installation through writing a first application in Node.

After viewing the series, I can say that I have a deeper interest in knowing what Node.js can actually *do*  for me and will be researching it’s potential uses.  That would be because the underlying technology sounds interesting, not because of this video series.

Unfortunately there are too many problems with this offering to give it a positive review.

While Hughes-Croucher obviously understands the framework,  his presentation technique is fairly dry and repetitive.   Code examples are discussed without the relevant portions of the screen being highlighted, which is annoying, and just as you’re typing the content into a Node shell, the presentation switches back to narration.  The examples themselves never really tie into a coherent whole.

Exercises are assigned at the end of several chapters, but a solution is never shown.   I can see that my code either works or does not, but lacking any feedback I have no idea if it’s done in the “Node.js way”.

Overall, this might be OK if presented at a conference, with solutions and more interaction possible, but the video series is not of great value.