Saturday, October 30, 2004

Mikey and His Dancing Teeth

Mikey had his day at the dentist on Wednesday and everything went beautifully. We took him to Schneider Children's Hospital and Dr. Charlie performed almost 4 hours worth of dental work while Mikey was under general anesthesia. Mikey had two root canals, four teeth filled, two teeth pulled, and eight teeth crowned with stainless steel caps. His mouth looks great! Everyone at Schneider was great. The anesthesiologist came out and talked to us about Mikey's history and assured Michel that he done this "at least once before." The intern who was working with Dr. Charlie was very nice and Dr. Charlie was, of course, the best. After the surgery he gave us his home number and his cell number and told us to call him and let him know how Mikey was doing because he wouldn't be able to sleep until he heard from us.

We also got good news on Mikey's ears. After Dr. Charlie was finished, the ENT took a look in Mikey's ears. He had a torn ear drum but it has completely healed. The ENT said that other than a little bit of wax, which he removed, everything looked beautiful in Mikey's ears. We thought for sure that Mikey was going to need surgery to repair his ear drum so this is really good news.

Mikey's pulmonologist was worried about Mikey being under for so long so Mikey spent the night at the hospital. Michel stayed with him but Mikey slept most of the night (although Michel didn't sleep much at all). His breathing was perfect through the whole night and we brought him home the next morning. The whole thing went as well as we could have hoped.

Am I Helpful?

If you will take a look at my Amazon page, you will see that I have reached a major milestone. After almost 3 years of writing reviews for Amazon, I have reached 1,000 helpful votes. That means that 1,000 times, someone has clicked the little "yes" button next to the question, "Was this review helpful to you?" which is underneath each of my reviews.

You might be saying, "But Amazon has millions of customers. How can 1,000 measly votes be of any significance?" All I have to say is that getting votes on Amazon is not easy. I know that people read the reviews. Authors complain about them. Professional reviewers revile them. And customers read them but ignore the vote buttons under them. And the small group of dedicated Amazon reviewers write large number of reviews, discuss votes and treasure votes and complain on their dedicated forum that no one votes. With a bit over 125 reviews on Amazon, I guess I fall into that group of dedicated reviewers.

The ranking system on Amazon is a little strange. Votes are important, obviously, but ranking isn't based just on the number of votes. How the votes are distributed across your reviews is also critical. Once you achieve a certain number of votes on one item, additional votes don't count towards your ranking, although they do count towards ego stroking. Take a look at John E. Fracisco's Page. He has almost 7,000 votes but almost all of them are for a single review, his joke review of The Story About Ping (see the bottom of his Amazon page). So even though he has more than 6 times as many votes as I do, he is ranked at almost 90,000 while I am in the top 800 Amazon reviewers. Also, too many votes from the same person either in one day or overall don't improve your ranking. Stuff the ballot box and Amazon ignores the votes.

So anyway, let me thank all the people who have found my reviews helpful, especially those who have expressed it with a vote and let me apologize to all the people who have not found my reviews helpful. To them I promise to try to do better. Finally and especially to the authors whose books I have panned all I can promise is that I try to be honest in all of my reviews.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Review - Java Studio Creator Field Guide

Java Studio Creator Field GuideJava Studio Creator Field Guide
by Gail Anderson, Paul Anderson

5 out of 5 stars

Sun's Java Studio Creator makes use of JavaServer Faces (JSF) to allow visual development similar to the way Microsoft's Visual Studio allows visual development of ASP based sites. It is an easy to use IDE that allows you to drag and drop JSF components, validators, and converters to design a web application. Much of the code required for a web site is automatically generated for you as you visually develop and additional classes can be generated or hand written (depending on their complexity) using the tool. This book will not teach you JSF but it will teach you how to use the IDE and quickly create web applications. This book is a well-written and easy to follow step-by-step tutorial to using this new IDE.

The book starts with a chapter on Java that can be easily ignored. The next chapter gives a quick introduction to the IDE. The authors demonstrate many of the basic techniques and show how to use the visual features to create navigation for a multi-page web site. The third chapter discusses each of the JSF components that are available in the IDE. Chapters four and five demonstrate how to use these components to build a web application. The examples are simple but they show how to integrate the generated code with custom beans (that can also be generated). Chapters six and seven show how to integrate Web Services and databases into your application. Chapter eight looks at internationalization and writing custom validators. The final chapter covers debugging.

If you have a copy of the software and want to utilize it to the fullest then this book is well worth buying. If you don't have the software then look at ISBN 0131499947 to purchase the book and the software together.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Prentice Hall.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Review - J2ME Games with MIDP2

J2ME Games with MIDP2J2ME Games with MIDP2
by Carol Hamer

5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. The author does a solid job of explaining everything you need to know to write games for MIDP devices. If you are familiar with Jonathan Knudsen's book on J2ME (probably the best book on the subject), this book expands the single games chapter into a fun and interesting book.

The book starts with a quick sample showing us how to use the Sun IDE and how to run our games on the emulator and how to download our games to a phone. The author shows a couple of example games, a maze and a jumping game, that give a good overview of the basic techniques games use on MIDP devices. She then expands those examples by showing proper use of threads and shows how to play tones and music during a game. Storing information (such as high scores or user preferences) is demonstrated. Downloading game enhancements such as new levels for a dungeon game are also demonstrated. The book is full of well-commented code samples (worth stealing) that show the techniques being discussed.

The author of this book has a nice, easy to read style of writing. Her enthusiasm for the topic comes through and makes you want to try the many sample games. If you have been spending too much time on enterprise programming then playing around with some MIDP games might be just the antidote and this book will get you started on the fun.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Apress.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Jury Duty

This past week I have been on jury duty. The last time I was on jury duty was a long time ago. That time I had to sit in the waiting area at the court house for a week. I was called for one jury and was rejected. Then back to the waiting area. This time the jury duty was a breeze. They now put you on telephone standby. Each night you call to see if you are to report. They finally got around to my number and I had to report Friday. Apparently Friday isn't a big day for trials. I arrived at 8:30 AM and they showed us a film about jury duty. We filled out saome paperwork and then waited. Around 11 AM I was called to an empanelling room. This is the room where they ask you questions and decide whether they want you for the jury. The case was a malpractice case. Apparently a 42 year old man went to the hospital for a heart attack and died of a brain bleed. Michel suggested that it might have been because of the anti-coagulants they use as treatment for the heart attack. One of the defendants in the case was North Shore Hospital, Michel's employer. Needless to say, it was decided that I wasn't needed. So it was back to the waiting area. Around 12:30 PM they let us out for lunch. Back at 2:00 PM. 2:30 PM they called my name and it was back to the empanelling room. "Thanks a lot... you can go home. Your jury duty is over." So that was it. I have performed my civic duty and I don't have to serve again for six years. This was the third time I have been called for jury duty and I have yet to get on a case. I don't know if that is good or bad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Life Sucks - Part 7

When last we heard from our heroes, life sucked. And so it goes...

So Michel has now passed her three month anniversary of not being able to work. The doctors still don't want her going back, even for light duty. She had to drop her class because she couldn't do the work in the doctor's office. Too bad. I think she really liked working there.

Mikey's dental work is next week. He will be spending the night in the hospital because all the doctors are paranoid about his airway. His ENT wants to bronch him as long as he is there. Why not? The more the merrier.

I always thought maybe God had a bit of sadistic streak in him but now I'm convinced that he enjoys suffering...

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour
and when I die I expect to find him laughing.

--- Depeche Mode

Review - InstallAnywhere Tutorial and Reference

InstallAnywhere Tutorial and ReferenceInstallAnywhere Tutorial and Reference
by Zero G Team

4 out of 5 stars

This book is an excellent guide to using InstallAnywhere no matter which platform you are running or how much experience you have with the product. This is the kind of documentation that you wish that the company would provide especially when you consider the price of the software. According to the introduction, the book was produced from the handouts that Zero G had produced for their three day InstallAnywhere course.

The book starts with a quick introduction and some screen shots showing what running an installer would look like from a customer's point of view. The authors next show a simple example of building an installer. Unfortunately, and this remains true for the rest of the book, no screen shots are included. This means that you must be running the software to take full advantage of the book. No reading this book in the bathtub. The book works well as both a tutorial and reference guide. The authors take you step by step through an exercise explaining each of the options even if they aren't used in this exercise. The instructions for each exercise are very clear. The use of the product is clearly explained while you are using it, which makes the learning "stick".

The book covers everything from the most basic installer all the way up to writing your own custom plug-ins. If you are interested in taking full advantage of the InstallAnywhere software and don't want to spend the money for three days of training, then this book is for you.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Review - Official Eclipse 3.0 FAQs

Official Eclipse 3.0 FAQsOfficial Eclipse 3.0 FAQs
by John Arthorne, Chris Laffra

4 out of 5 stars

The name of this book is a little deceptive as this is really the official FAQs for Eclipse plug-in developers. The book is broken up into chapters with each chapter covering about 20 questions. The first three chapters seem a bit unnecessary as they cover a general overview of Eclipse. Most plug-in developers probably don't need the answers to those questions and most developers not trying their hand at plug-ins won’t need the answers to the remaining 300 questions.

Starting with chapter 4, the book covers many of the questions that plug-in developers will have. The main sections are broken up into a look at the basics of the Rich Client platform including JFace and SWT and specifics on the Eclipse IDE platform. Workbench, editors, perspectives, and views are covered in the general part. The next part goes into more specific details of the Workspace and Resources API and the Java Development Tool API, among other topics. The questions are arranged well so rather than a random collection of questions, each chapter is very readable. Supporting screen shots and source code are provided as needed. The questions selected cover many of the more confusing areas of plug-in development. The answers are well written and easy to follow.

The book includes a CD that can be installed as an Eclipse plug-in so that the answers will always be nearby even when a co-worker borrows your copy of the book. Overall, this book is a valuable aid to have nearby while doing plug-in development.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Review - A Programmer's Guide to Java Certification

A Programmer's Guide to Java CertificationA Programmer's Guide to Java Certification: A Comprehesive Primer, Second Edition
by Khalid Mughal, Rolf Rasmussen

5 out of 5 stars

If you are studying to become a Sun Certified Programmer for the Java 2 Platform 1.4 this book will help you to receive not just a passing grade but an excellent understanding of the intricacies of the Java programming language. Mughal and Rasmussen aren't satisfied with simply giving you a minimal understanding of Java so that you can pass a test. They are interested in helping you to understand the language at a deeper level. After all, it is much easier to pass the certification exam when you actually understand the material rather than when you have simply memorized a lot of details.

I'll give you an example of the level of detail that the book covers. Section 5.2 of the book covers Selection statements. The section starts with a description of the if statement followed by an activity diagram which explains the flow of the statement. The authors then show a simple example followed by a clear explanation of the if statement. Then they do the same with if-else, this time using several examples. The same level of detail follows for the switch statement, again providing clear text, with a simple activity diagram, followed by several well explained examples. Finally, the section ends with several review questions. What this means is that this book can serve you well even after you have passed the certification exam. You will be hard pressed to find a better written reference.

The book covers all the information you need to pass the certification exam and covers the material needed to connect all the pieces together. The included CD has several mock exams with questions that will help you understand the type of questions that you will face on the actual exam. If you do well on the mock exams you will do well on the real thing. Overall, this is an excellent book for studying for the Java certification. But it is such a good reference that you will want to keep it nearby even after you have passed the certification.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Review - J2EE 1.4: The Big Picture

J2EE 1.4: The Big PictureJ2EE 1.4: The Big Picture
by Solveig Haugland, et al

4 out of 5 stars

This is a book that could have been a lot better. The main goal of the book, and one at which it generally succeeds, is to give you an overall view of what J2EE is and how it fits into an overall IT strategy. The advantages and disadvantages of each piece of J2EE are discussed. There is very little code in the book (and what is in there could have easily been left out without any loss of clarity) so if you are looking for a book to show you how to write programs then this is not the book for you.

The book has some serious drawbacks. First, the authors of this book are trying desperately to reach some level of geek coolness with mentions of The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Pulp Fiction, and with the use of deliberate (at least I think it is deliberate) poor grammar and spelling. But after awhile it just gets annoying. The book is probably twice as long as it needed to be because of the authors' desire to try to make the book fun. But unlike the Head First books, the "fun" here just gets tedious and turns short discussions into long and confusing discussions. (Why is a J2EE server like a dolphin? Does it like fish?) The book is also repetitive. For example, the discussion of session beans on page 48 is repeated almost verbatim (including the same picture) on page 139. The book does not cover JavaServer Faces and makes only a minimal mention of Struts. None of the other open source frameworks are discussed at all.

Overall, the information in the book is accurate and there is really no other book on the market that covers the material at this level (which is why it is getting 4 stars and not 3). The authors apparently know their stuff but the book could have been a lot better.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Prentice Hall.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Edward J. Paul

Today is my father's birthday. If he was alive, he would be 90 today. He was born just after the outbreak of World War I, a time that seems like ancient history today. According to the VA, there are only 623 living veterans from that war. His parents were of Czech ancestry, his mother having come to the US in 1901 when she was only 13 years old. My father survived the great influenza outbreak of 1918 that killed more people than World War I. He grew up during prohibition. He told me that when he was little his father used to send him to the speakeasy to get a growler of beer ("growler" was a slang term for a pail of beer). He reached adulthood during the Great Depression which must have been a very difficult time.

He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and was sent to training school in California. He was never sent overseas, partly because of a medical condition and partly because of his age (at 28 he was an old man when he joined up). The closest he came was during the "Battle of the Bulge" when reinforcements were needed. He spent the war in various bases in the west including Tonapah and Walla Walla, Washington.

After the war, he went home, got a job in sheet metal, and married my mom, Helen. They raised three kids, Edward Jr., Barbara, and me. By the time I came along my father was already in his mid-40's so my memories of him are as an older man. I could relate to how Ray Kinsella describes his father in the movie Field of Dreams, a movie that is very personal to me.

By the time I was old enough to relate to my father as an adult, he started suffering the affects of Alzheimer's Disease. He died of the disease in 1996 but by that time he was long gone. I still miss him and I miss mostly that I never got to know him as an adult and so many of my memories of him are tainted by that horrible disease. Happy Birthday, Dad. I know that you are in a better place.