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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Building Cocoa Applications : A Step by Step Guide
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Simson Garfinkel, Michael K. Mahoney
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Worth the effort

I've been meaning to learn Objective C, Interface Builder and Project Builder for years. From back in the days of Rhapsody, and before when I'd bought books on NextStep programming. Always intended to do so, that is, until I received this book at Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference. And now after typing my way through the book's source code, I'm comfortable with Objective C's oddball syntax, understand how to wire up an application in Interface Builder and have confidence I'll soon be making quality Cocoa applications of my own. I've already started writing a freedb client.
Obviously, it would be nice for me if the book explored network programming or the IOKit, but it concentrated on the fundamentals which nearly all applications share: windows, menus, drawing, printing, preferences, clipboards, documents, icons, etc. I can figure it out from here.
So get off the fence, it's time to learn Cocoa.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: REALbasic: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Matt Neuburg
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Even better than I'd hoped for!

Matt's descriptions are excellent. Basic enough for a beginner to understand but with lots of substance and insight to keep the old timers intrigued. He uses real world examples with practical uses and provides a plethora of sample code on his web site.
Matt has probed every nook and cranny of RealBasic and his book provides an excellent tour of how to get the most out this wonderful tool.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Introducing Maya 6: 3D for Beginners
Publisher: Sybex Inc
Authors: Dariush Derakhshani
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
A good primer

I found this book to be a useful Maya primer, combining both practical lessons with a broad explanation of some of the theory behind using one tool or method over another.

Note that this book is a very general introduction and does not go into any one area in particular depth (I recommend the other dedicated Alias publications for that).

There are a few errors and places where the author seems to have skipped a step but nothing drastic. Perhaps the biggest issue I have with this book is that the illustrations are black and white (actually, more grey and white). Whilst I understand that this keeps the cost down, given that the default Maya interface is largely grey'ish in colour, it can make figuring out what has been "selected" on an object, particularly vertices or CVs, a little difficult. Perhaps in future Sybex could place color illustrations on the accompanying DVD.

Overall a good book and one that has certainly whetted my appetite for some of the more advanced features, such as dynamics and particles. I recommened reading this before moving on to the specialist books on modelling, rigging etc.

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: Simulations and the Future of Learning : An Innovative (and Perhaps Revolutionary) Approach to e-Learning
Publisher: Pfeiffer
Authors: Clark Aldrich
Rating: 3/5
Customer opinion - 3 stars out of 5
Infotainment and Evangelism

High profile e-learning industry analyst Clark Aldrich became disenchanted with the yawning gap between the promise of e-learning and the reality. Attracted by the potential application of computer gaming techniques for training simulation purposes, he quit his job with the Gartner Group and joined a project team attempting to design a computer-based leadership development simulation. The result was Simulearn's Virtual Leader. Aldrich's book recounts the experience in this book.

Despite the promise of the title, the book is a curious mix of speculation, case study, and product promotion. Aldrich provides accessible frameworks for thinking about the underlying design considerations for the development of simulations, and some useful insights into the analysis of content and development of simulation architecture. Yet the book is not a tool kit or primer for would-be designers - the advice is rarely actionable - nor is it a deep study of the concepts and application of simulation models. As such its greatest value is as an introductory case study into aspects of simulation design. The case in question is the development of Simulearn's Virtual Leader product, and the book gives little insight into other forms of electronic or other simulations. The author is a Vice President of Simulearn, so his views are not impartial.

Aldrich makes some refreshingly provocative assertions: e-learning has failed to deliver because it's not sufficiently user-focused - it has been sold to senior managers as means of lowering the cost of training, rather than enriching the value of learning. Aldrich believes that education and vocational training are too "linear", emphasizing the acquisition of facts in a sequential, guided way rather than "open-ended", allowing the development of decision-making, interpersonal communication and creative capabilities required for success in work. In contrast, simulations offer rich combinations of linear, cyclical and open-ended learning, with the freedom to make mistakes, try new approaches and hone skills in a secure environment.

The book is often entertaining. Aldrich's account of the analysis of the leadership content in order to arrive at an underlying simulation model and architecture is amusing - framed as a quest to find the meaning of leadership and render it into electronic simulation, with himself as hero. It is slightly clouded by digressions on the nature of leadership - Aldrich seems to approach the subject with little background, and is suprised to find that (to paraphrase Warren Bennis) so much been written by so many to so little effect.

A number of glaring issues go unexamined: the leadership model and the simulation design of Virtual Leader require a standard of behaviour and ethics that are possibly more ideology than reality. Success in Virual Leader requires a degree of conventional virtue that most organizations espouse but is not always practiced by those in power. A fundamentally Machiavellian approach apparently won't work in Virtual Leader, but it is arguably an effective means of gaining and retaining power in most organisations. The player's experience of Virtual Leader is not evident from the descriptions -despite extensive descriptions of the design process and interface, the book gives little insight into how the player interacts with the game.

Aldrich is evangelical, which gives his writing energy and persuasive power, but like many evangelists, he is strong on belief and short on evidence for his views. While he is right to question the validity of conventional models of education and learning, his opinions are largely speculation, or based on the anecdotal evidence of others or his own experience.

And despite the evangelism, if Aldrich's predictions hold true, most organisations will never design a simulation using his approach. They are prohibitively expensive, costing many millions of dollars. At best, they may purchase an off-the-shelf simulation, and customise it to some extent, which is possibly one of the promotional intentions of the book.