Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Showstopper – Book Review

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

I first heard about this book on a programming-related podcast, where the host recommended it enthusiastically and sparked my interest. The book recounts the course of the Windows NT project from the very beginning in the late 80s to the glorious day of release in July 1993. It was (and probably still is) one of the largest and most ambitious software projects undertaken at Microsoft.

The focus of the narrative is on the people working on the project, with technology and business matters in the background. The making of NT is presented as an extremely challenging and demanding endeavor, requiring great commitment from those involved in it, especially the people who shaped the product and the development process.

Some of the heroes of the story are placed in the spotlight and the reader gets to know more about them than just what their job on the project was. Dave Cutler, the lead developer, gets the most attention, which is justified by his role and the effect that he had on other programmers (at one point they built him an altar). A lot is told about how new people joined the project, how teams were formed, how conflicts arose and got resolved, and how being immersed in the stressful work environment affected the personal lives of the participants and their families.

While the book does touch on many technical topics, it presents them on a rather high level and rarely dives into the nitty-gritty details (a code fragment is only shown once or twice throughout the text). A basic understanding of how computers and operating systems work should be sufficient to follow the story.

At all times, it’s apparent that the author took great care to present the story comprehensively and accurately. Many excerpts from messages and memos exchanged between project members are included, and an impressive number of people have been interviewed for the book – their names are collected in a list after the epilogue. The author did his research, no doubt about it.

I found “Showstopper” a very good, amusing read and I recommend it to anyone interested in software projects (especially large-scale ones), or technology in general.

Steve Jobs – Book Review

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

I received Steve Jobs’ biography as a present last Christmas. I was never a fan of him or of Apple, and always found it annoying that he was praised as a great inventor and visionary. When he died, I was one of those saying “Hey, you know who also died? Dennis Ritchie, and he deserves way more recognition than Jobs.”

I expected the book to be another pile of adoration and I probably wouldn’t have even opened it if it wasn’t for a podcast that happened to pop up on my playlist a few weeks earlier. It was an interview with Walter Isaacson, the author of the biography, about his work on the book, and what it was like to work with Jobs when he was writing it.

In the interview, Isaacson told that Jobs asked him to write the biography a number of times, and he finally agreed under the condition that Jobs would not try to take control over it and would allow him to write a true story of his life. If this was true, I thought, then this could actually be a trustworthy biography and not another tribute to the greatest inventor of our times. So when the book got into my hands, I thought I might just as well read it and find out if Isaacson managed to keep it that way.

Well, he very much did. While it’s clear that Isaacson shows considerable respect to Jobs and all the things he managed to achieve, he also reveals his failures and weaknesses, and does not portray him as a superhero kind of figure. Jobs could be a real jerk to those around him, especially to the people that he worked with, and the biography does not pass over that.

The book also describes a good part of the history of home computers and technology in general. The first chapters, which cover the late seventies and early eighties, were almost a nostalgic read for me, since they brought back so many of my own memories from that time (well, the latter part of it, I’m not that old), when I was a little kid fascinated with those magical 8-bit machines.

But regardless of whether you get a kick out of early 80s computers or not, I recommend the biography, as if nothing else, it’s an excellently written, interesting, and sometimes even inspiring story. I truly enjoyed the read, and learned my lesson not to judge a book by how overrated and overpriced the products are that were created by its subject.

Learning jQuery 1.3 – Book Review

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Learning jQuery 1.3I recently had a chance to read “Learning jQuery 1.3″ by Jonathan Chaffer and Karl Swedberg. Having been using jQuery for quite a while in dozens of web development projects, and having released a few plugins, I consider myself an advanced user of this great library. However, my knowledge of jQuery comes almost exclusively from the official online documentation (particularly the API reference) and some occasional reading. So I thought this could be an interesting opportunity to compare my experience-based knowledge with a structured course in a book.

The book is divided into two parts — the first six chapters are a gradual introduction to the concepts of jQuery and its basic features, while the remaining chapters discuss the more advanced topics and show some real-world applications of the library.

I expected the introductory part of the book to be a bit boring, since I already knew all that elementary stuff, but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. The authors have managed to describe the basics (selectors, events, AJAX, etc.) really comprehensively, drawing attention to many details and subtleties. For example, the chapter about effects is nothing like the “how to amaze your visitors with cool effects” approach that many tutorials seem to take — instead, the reader gets a thorough explanation of topics such as custom animations and effect queuing.

The advanced chapters are even more interesting, demonstrating a number of practical examples of how jQuery can enrich users’ experience when dealing with common web application features, such as presenting data in tables and filling out forms. While the examples are quite complicated and lead to code snippets spanning several pages, they remain beginner-friendly, as all the new elements are introduced progressively, starting with the basics and adding more features along the way.

Last but not least, the book includes useful appendices that list numerous valuable online resources and development tools for jQuery users. There is also an excellent appendix on JavaScript closures, which is a very significant (and often misunderstood) subject for jQuery plugin developers, as well as anyone interested in advanced JavaScript programming.

What I consider the greatest strength of the book is the professional approach to web development that the authors take and try to pass to the reader. The book places great emphasis on good web development practices, especially accessibility issues — all the many examples conform to the concepts of graceful degradation and progressive enhancement, and the presented techniques can be safely implemented in accessible web applications.

I highly recommend the book to any present or future jQuery user. If you’re a beginner, it will help you learn jQuery and use it the right way. If you’re experienced, you might be surprised to learn a few new tricks (I was), or at the very least, you will find it an interesting read.

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