Product: Book - Paperback
Title: The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional
Authors: Peter Szor
This is a very interesting read from both a technology perspective and a psychology perspective. You learn about how viruses work and why, and about the people that write them. It's a fascinating look into a world that we usually only get the one, depressing, view on.
Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Perl Cookbook, Second Edition
Authors: Tom Christiansen, Nathan Torkington
The "Perl Cookbook" condenses into code algorithms that are both beautiful and helpful. Paired with the "Programming Perl" book, which despite problems of organization is undoubtedly the best Perl reference, the cookbook is simply indispensible for both the serious Perl programmer and anyone who wishes to learn how to write Perl naturally.
Every language has a natural idiom; even COBOL. Perl, having convenience so strongly in its genesis, is not very similar to its predecessors in many ways, and along with solutions to individual problems what one learns from the cookbook is how a Perl programmer would write such a program. You learn twice reading these answers: not only how to solve your problem (how do you read a file line by line in reverse? how do you trap signals in your program?) but also what the natural idioms are which both simplify your code and make clearer to you how Perl works.
I reviewed "Programming Perl" and had reservations about it: I have none about this book. It is not a reference to solve all your questions about the language--buy "Programming Perl" for that. It is not a tutorial--for that, get "Learning Perl". What it is is a distillation of some smart people's work in Perl; well-explained, clearly laid out, and highly informative in every area a programmer is likely to work in. Buy it if you love Perl.
Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: Revised Core Rulebook (Star Wars Roleplaying Game)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Authors: Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins, J.D. Wiker, Steve Sansweet
First let me say that I am the webmaster of the Star Wars RPG Database. The first impression I got when opening the book was that it is very stylized. Where the old RPG was very cleanly laid out and almost utilitarian, this one gives the impression of being a document fresh out of the Old Republic, where an artistic flair was found in everything from the spacecraft to the data documents. Additionally, you're introduced to your guide through the book, the silver protocol droid TC-14, from The Phantom Menace, who acted as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi's host aboard the Trade Federation battleship. It feels like a thick book as well, and though it's just my imagination, it seems like the sheer amount of ink used to print this book alone is enough to add a few ounces to the weight.
The book is introduced by Michael A. Stackpole, New York Times Bestselling Author, and the creative genius behind the X-Wing books and comics, as well other Star Wars EU. The introduction is impressive; truly, Mike knows how to capture the feel of the Star Wars universe. Reading the intro, I recaptured that feeling the first time I saw Return of the Jedi in theatres (as a young boy, it was the first of the Holy Trilogy I saw). It's evident that Stackpole understands what roleplaying is, especially in the Star Wars universe. He helps bring the Galaxy to life, and yes Mike, we'll say hi to your friends for you (read the intro to get the reference). The next introduction is done by Bill Slavicsek refers to his work on the Star Wars RPG as "coming full circle" a la Vader and Kenobi; Bill was critical in the creation of the original RPG, and now lending his talents to the WotC version he has brought the game back from what could have been its grave.
The book is organized in a similar way to the D&D 3rd Edition books, and works relatively well if you already are somewhat familiar with the D20 system. If not, this may be the only true downfall of the book. The chapters start with introduction, then go to character generation, the Galaxy information, gamemastering tips, and finally conversion guidelines and the Shadows of Coruscant adventure. The problem with some of the organization (which may be inevitable) is that players new to the D20 system will have to do some page-hopping until they get familiar with D20 terms. Otherwise, the book is reasonably well sectioned off, and allows for easy access to particular sections.
The page layout is, again, not structured like the old WEG book, or even like the new 3rd Edition D&D books. It's a little cluttered at times, but it's not such a bad thing, because the sheer amount of information in this book necessitates that it all be crammed in to so many pages. I would have liked to have seen more pages added so things could be better laid out and spaced, though. I can understand why things were compressed in the interest of production costs. Quotes, tables, sidebars, and images are liberally interspersed with game information, sometimes getting in the way, and even being a little overwhelming at times. Let me stress this again, though: the "page clutter" is primarily due to the fact that this book is packed with information. The quotes are neat, and the sidebars are all very useful, but when reading the book they sometimes tend to disrupt the flow of reading.
When it comes to graphics, this reviewer has mixed feelings. The images from the movies are, for the most part, of good quality and size. However, a few seem grainy or stretched, and sadly most of the images are ones we've seen before. The Episode I images are very nice, all high-quality and sharp as any digital image. In fact, their quality is as good or better than any other printed Star Wars images I've seen. The artwork, on the other hand, is wonderful. It's an interestingly stylized type or art on the whole, though character designs are all we really see of this new art style. The maps (used as diagrams to illustrate concepts such as firing into melee, line of sight, cover, etc.) are all of superb-quality, as was to be expected after seeing the maps in the D&D books. The New Jedi Order Galaxy map is included, and let me just say the artwork of the Yuuzhan Vong species is intimidating to say the least.
Content-wise, it seems that the folks at Wizards did a great job of giving an acceptable cross-section of information, and at the same time going into enough detail to make the information usable. The Star Wars Galaxy is a vast place, and has been fleshed out by countless authors, making the job of detailing the Galaxy difficult to say the least. The focus on the Rise of the Empire, Rebellion, and New Jedi Order eras give a brief history and provide a "feel" for the Galaxy at that point. Lots of notable NPCs are detailed in this section, though sadly the information of the Yuuzhan Vong themselves is a little sparse. There's enough barebones information to be usable, but it makes me long for a New Jedi Order sourcebook to make that era more accessible.
The content is at the same time overwhelming, but not enough. I want more detail on some sections, but the sheer amount of information already in place is almost impossible to absorb. The Galaxy has never looked better - or bigger. Sadly, it looks like the product lineup for the next year or so isn't going to include much source material beyond the Prequel Era. Still, the book is packed, with every kind of NPC imaginable, many Alien Species, weapons, ships, etc. Again, layout of some stats could use some work, but only because they were compressed to make room for even more information yet.
One thing I feel I must comment on, though, is that the section on the Force is absolutely one of the best pieces of Star Wars writing I've ever read. Approached almost as a dissertation on the aspects of the Force known to the Jedi, it takes a comprehensive and in-depth look at what makes the Force what it is in the Galaxy Far Far Away. Some game notes are included, but what really shines is the intellectual and philosophical way in which the Force is analyzed, supported by quotes from famous Jedi Masters throughout the ages. If you are looking for an impressive read in a roleplaying book, look no further, as this chapter is one of the best reads I've had in a while.
When it comes to the game itself, we already knew a good chunk about the system from the internet and looking at the D20 system in general, but there are a few surprises. One thing that many gamers may like is that plenty of variant rules are presented. Though I won't spill the beans completely, those who felt that the use of AC as opposed to dodging was too restrictive will definitely want to read the variant combat rules, as that issue is specifically addressed. Other complaints that have been voiced will also be addressed in the upcoming book, and I would definitely encourage the naysayers to have a good, long look at the variant rules in this book before making final decisions.
The game retains the cinematic feel it's always had, and may actually surpass its predecessor in this respect, though only time and playing the game will tell. I will say that I look forward to a good Lightsaber duel using the feats system, and the way the Force is handled may better reflect what we saw in the movies (and see in EU) better than the old system. Again, only time will tell, but let's just say the potential is there.
Overall, the impression it gives me is good. I saw a few things that needed improvement, namely layout and other small issues, but there is a lot to like about the book. For one, it's absolutely packed with information. My first, brief "once-over" of the book took an hour, and actually going in-depth took the better part of an afternoon. It's stylish, graphically appealing, and a pleasure to read. The writing is well-done, and though it may lag in a few areas, in others it excels (see my comments above on the chapter on the Force). This book is definitely going to draw in new players, and should please a good portion of veteran SWRPG players and GMs.
Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Knoppix Hacks
Authors: Kyle Rankin
Knoppix is and surely will only ever be a niche product. But what a niche. To some people, there is a compelling fascination with being able to carry around the essence of a computer in a CD. Much less riskier than losing or damaging an entire computer. Plus the fact that a Knoppix version is usually a sturdy, stable linux, can also be appealing.
If this captures your interest, then many of the hacks will be germane. They show some of the possibilities in booting Knoppix up. Like having your Knoppix desktop environment always with you when you work on a computer.
But the book also shows a second allure of Knoppix. Not to the wandering user, but to the sysadmin. Knoppix gives you a bootable linux that can be used to diagnose and [hopefully] repair linux partitions on a disk. These could be mission critical tasks, and it is really nice to be able to do the hacks in the Repair Linux chapter. Most notably recovering deleted files or retrieving files from damaged disks. There are companies that can do the latter. But usually at exorbitant rates. Knoppix is cheaper as a first pass on that problem.