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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum : Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity (2nd Edition)
Publisher: Sams
Authors: Alan Cooper
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Escaped Inmate Reviews the System

Author Alan Cooper, "Father of Visual Basic" is- or was- an "inmate" himself. Thus he is able to provide both an insider's and an outsider's perspective on what the inmates do well and what- in order to bring some semblance of sanity back to our computerized existence- they need help with. The inmates here are software engineers- or as they often self-describe, "software designers". But that is exactly the point of this book- that software engineers, because of what they know, how they think, and who they are, are not and can not be "interaction designers".
And an interaction designer is exactly what Cooper is now that he's been "sprung". Yet one of the beauties of this work is that Cooper doesn't take an inmate-bashing approach. He understands that "the creation of software is so intellectually demanding, so all-consuming, that programmers must completely immerse themselves" (16). And therein lies the dilemma- the programmer wants the construction process to be smooth and easy, and the user wants the interaction with the program to be smooth and easy. Yet, as Cooper observes, these two objectives "almost never result in the same program" (16). Cooper reveals the programmer as "caught in a conflict of interest between serving the user's needs and making their programming job easier" (81) when they indeed do try to design. Furthermore, he informs the reader that "anyone untrained in interaction design methods tends towards self-referential design" (87). Thus, if the inmates are as different from the bulk of users as Cooper implies, programmers' design attempts are not only constrained by their deep understanding of the needs of the program, but also by their own points of reference as users.
The solution Cooper proposes here is of an integrated development process that involves an interaction designer from the get go, a model which is distinctly different from that of a designer adding an interface to the product once it is completed. We can illustrate this difference in home-ownership terms.Interface design- what we all are most familiar with- entails moving the furniture around to make the house more accommodating to inhabitants once the house is built and all the furniture already purchased- and it's a house that someone else designed and furniture your family and friends have given you as gifts. Interactive design, on the other hand, is the involvement of an architect and a future homeowner in the development of house plans that truly meet the homeowner's needs. It's a process where each party takes and cedes the lead as they work together to understand each others' perspectives, restrictions, needs, etc., and as a result, the finished product doesn't require add-ons or remodeling to be functional.
With an exploration of "cognitive dissonance", this book speaks to an "older" generation- one (or ones) that were not born into the electronic age, but that have had to adapt into it. I can't imagine that anyone from these generations who reads The Inmates Are Running the Asylum will ever respond the same way to the frustrations they experience as they strive to function with new interactions between themselves and machines. On the other hand, I wonder whether many of the electronic age readers of this book will be able to relate to cognitive dissonance in this context.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Learning PHP 5
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: David Sklar
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Magnificent How-To Guide to Real World PHP

This book is fabulous! I've been programming PHP for some time now, though I've never tackled a large project. And I wasn't really sure how to do it, frankly, until stumbling across Mr. Sklar. After seeing him speak at the last O'Reilly Open Source convention here in Portland, and realizing I'd already read one of his other books, I decided to look at this one.

I was quite surprised! Usually O'Reilly's Learning titles are a little slow, but this one is Perfect. You start with the basics, and he's rather good at not telling you more than you really do need to know, and by the end of the book his examples have built on each other to the point that you have a wonderful and flexible library for passing data between forms, your app, and a database. His explanations are well written and not too wordy. You really come away with a much deeper understanding of the language than any other book I've read can provide.

I highly recommend this title. I'm giving it five stars. Keep up the great work, Mr. Sklar!

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: Numerical Recipes in Fortran
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Authors: William H. Press, Brian P. Flannery, Saul A. Teukolsky, William T. Vetterling
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
A set of numerical routines that may solve your problems

I purchased the "Numerical Recipes The art of Scientific Computing" to learn more about implementing Fourier transforms into my programming applications. I hit the jackpot with this series of books. The companion workbook "Numerical recipes, Routines and Examples in BASIC" provides examples of BASIC code in a printed format. A BASIC (IBM) diskette will save a lot of time typing. Ordering information is provided in the back of the book for obtaining the accessories. The "Numerical Recipes The art of Scientific Computing" series is also available in Pascal and C programming language flavors. This book series is the mother lode for paste-in numerical data reduction and processing routines.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Java Servlet & JSP Cookbook
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Bruce W. Perry
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Very good bridge from theory to practical...

Target AudienceWeb developers who are looking for real-life examples of the use of servlets and JSP.
ContentsThis is a companion-type book that goes beyond strictly reference material to the use of different servlet and JSP features, along with working examples of code to illustrate the concepts.
The book is divided multiple chapters that each cover a different technique or function:
Writing Servlets and JSPs; Deploying Servlets and JSPs; Naming Your Servlets; Using Apache Ant; Altering the Format of JSPs; Dynamically Including Content In Servlets and JSPs; Handling Web Form Data in Servlets and JSPs; Uploading Files; Handling Exceptions in Web Applications; Reading And Setting Cookies; Session Tracking; Integrating JavaScript with Servlets And JSPs; Sending Non-HTML Content; Logging Messages from Servlets and JSPs; Authenticating Clients; Binding, Accessing, and Removing Attributes in Web Applications; Embedding Multimedia in JSPs; Working With The Client Request; Filtering Request and Responses; Managing Email In Servlets and JSPs; Accessing Databases; Using Custom Tag Libraries; Using The JSTL; Internationalization; Using JNDI and Enterprise JavaBeans; Harvesting Web Information; Using the Google and Amazon Web APIs
ReviewI really like the O'Reilly Cookbook series. I read a lot as part of my ongoing study, and often it's easy to understand conceptually what is going on. But making the jump to practical solutions can be difficult at times. The Cookbook series gets plenty of use on my bookshelf as I do my day to day coding. And when it comes to servlet and JSP coding as I continue to learn more about Websphere Application Server, this book will surely become dog-eared like the rest of them. Bruce Perry has done a great job.
As with most Cookbook titles, each chapter in the Servlet And JSP Cookbook is made up of a number of Problem/Solution/Discussion groupings. This format proposes a coding problem, states the solution to solve it, and then devotes the necessary space to discuss the solution both with text and code. By using this format, you can think through a working solution and determine how to apply that technique to your own problem. Perry covers a wide range of problems that will help both the beginner and the experienced coder. For beginners, the solutions for setting cookies with servlets and JSPs may be just what you need to get started. Experienced people will find the internationalization and JNDI/Enterprise JavaBeans solutions useful. I appreciate the fact that coders of all experience levels can get something out of this book.
The only caveat I have on this book is that it is very focused on the Tomcat and WebLogic web application servers. If that's your platform of choice, you're going to get everything this book has to offer. For me, I'm partial to the WebSphere platform. While I will benefit from a lot of this book, there are chapters that will have no appeal to me, such as using the Ant package. I will also need to pay attention to the coding examples to make sure that the techniques are coded correctly for my platform of choice. Even with that warning, I would still highly recommend this book to all coders working in this area.
ConclusionThis is definitely a title that will be useful to you as you learn more about servlet and JSP programming. It will give you the ideas you need to solve real business problems you'll encounter as a developer.