Monday, September 24, 2007

Core JavaServer™ Faces, by David Geary and Cay Horstmann

Core JavaServer™ Faces, by David Geary and Cay Horstmann

I found this to be a concise and informative volume discussing JavaServer Faces. It did a good job of showing both how the technology works and why it can save a developer time and effort. After reading it, I was able to look at a fairly complicated source tree using JSF and quickly make sense of it. As is the case with most technical texts these days it is laden with examples; this is both a blessing and a curse. Because Faces is a web solution, it needs a beefy technology stack to be useful; I thought the stack that the authors chose was discussed in much more detail than was needed. Towards the end of the book, there were a lot of orthogonal tools mentioned as well that seemed very out of place. While interesting, LDAP and Seam don’t have much to do with web front ends. All in all, a solid introduction to JSF.

First Sentence:
Judging from the job advertisements at employment web sites, there are two popular techniques for developing web applications:
  • The “rapid development” style, in which you use a visual development environment, such as Microsoft APS.NET
  • The “hard-core coding” style, in which you write lots of code to support a high-performance backend, such as Java EE (Java Enterprise Edition)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Live From New York, by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

“October 11, 1975. A date which will live in comedy.”

I’ve watched Saturday Night Live off and on since high school. Dennis Miller is still still my favorite Weekend Update anchor (with Norm Macdonald and Chevy Chase close behind), Phil Hartman was the definitive Reagan, and Church Chat was special. Of course, the previous seasons were in heavy rotation as well, and Roseanne Rosannadanna, the Blues Brothers, and the (Candygram) Land Shark quickly became old friends. The more recent casts aren’t as consistently interesting to me (with the notable exception of the Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches) and until Tina Fey came along there hadn’t been a funny woman in the cast since Julia Sweeney. Regardless of the recent downturn, SNL is an important part of our culture and I when I came across this book, subtitled “An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live,” I couldn’t resist picking it up.

At over 600 pages this is a hefty tome, but so interesting I had a tough time putting it down. Instead of a single narrative, we are presented with excerpts of interviews with cast members, writers, executives, and hosts spanning the first thirty years of the show. The excerpts are reasonably short (usually two or three to a page) and loosely linked; when someone mentions something memorable, say when Jean Doumanian took over from Lorne Michaels for a few years, several people will reminisce about the same topic giving us a multi-faceted view. We learn that the original cast was amazingly promiscuous and drug-addled, that pretty much nobody likes Chevy Chase, and that Janeane Garofalo resents her time as a cast member. We hear about the ongoing battles with the network censors, the insane schedules the writers keep to create the sketches, and who the favorite (Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken) and hated (Steven Segal, Milton Berle) hosts are. We also hear about some of the most memorable events of the show, such as when Norm Macdonald accidentally cursed on the air or Sinead O’Connor ripped a photo of the Pope or Nora Dunn’s feud with Andrew Dice Clay. All in all, I found this a fairly honest examination of what happens behind the scenes of a venerated institution. Only one improvement comes to mind: more cowbell!

First Sentence:
Like all show business successes, Saturday Night Live had many fathers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's a Man's World: 800 Jokes from the Guy's (Warped) Point of View, by Judy Brown

This is an odd collection of humor: borderline misogynistic but not obscene, definitely politically incorrect. Many reminded me of the jokes I thought were dirty in fourth grade: not yet pornographic but certainly not to be told in front of my parents, either. Funny stuff, but not for everyone. A sampling of my favorites:

I can’t get past the fact that food is coming out of my wife’s breasts. What was once essentially an entertainment center has now become a juice bar.
—Paul Reiser
The cop asked how fast I was going. I said, “All I know is I spilled beer all over my hooker.”
—Craig Kilborn
Every porno movie should be called “Stuff That Never Happens to You.”
—Richard Jeni
A lady came up to me on the street and pointed at my suede jacket. “Did you know a cow was murdered for that jacket?” she sneered. I replied in a psychotic tone, “I didn’t know there were any witnesses. Now I’ll have to kill you too.”
—Jake Johannsen
Two guys walk into a bar. You’d think one of them would have seen it.
—Daniel Lybra
Dating is hard, and I figured out why. It’s those damn romantic comedies. No guy can be this nice, sweet, and understanding. Here’s a good example, my ex and I get out of a movie and she turns to me and asks, “Why can’t you be more like those guys in the romantic comedies?” So I turned to her and said, “I don’t know, why can’t you be more like the chicks in pornos?”
—Todd Larson
What if God’s a woman? Not only am I going to hell, I’ll never know why.
—Adam Ferrara
I celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast. And then I killed them and took their land.
—Jon Stewart
I was pulled over in Massachusetts for reckless driving. The judge asked me, “Do you know what the penalty for drunk driving in this state is?” I said, “I don’t know. Reelection to the Senate?”
—Emo Philips


First Sentence (from the foreward):
It may no longer be a man’s world exclusively, but for the sake of the little boy in all of you, I’ve constructed a joke version of The Little Rascals’ He-Man Woman Haters Club: a book where male comedians promote masculine humor for guys who may feel nostalgic for those bygone days in which they seemed to get their way.

The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Timothy Ferriss

I’m honestly not sure exactly how I feel about this book. It contains some excellent advice—“don’t tolerate the mediocre” is a phrase that I particularly like—as well as some ethically-challenged advice, such as “get good at being a troublemaker and saying sorry when you screw up.” This duality is common throughout; in some places the advice seems sage and reminiscent of The E-Myth and in others more like a guide for fraudulent used car salesmen or scammers. Regardless, it has sparked interesting discussions with several of my friends.

One concept I really liked was that some kinds of stress are actually healthful and needed for personal growth. Ferriss calls this concept eustress, as in the opposite of distress. Distress refers to stressors which cause pain and suffering, in this context things like destructive criticism and abusive bosses. Eustress is stress that is positive and the stimulus for growth, such as constructive criticism, role models, and physical training. People who avoid all criticism fail. Role models that push us to succeed, to stretch our limits, and to accept risk and grow should be desired. It seems the complete elimination of stress is the main goal of many people these days; I found the idea of eustress a refreshing alternate viewpoint.

A recurring theme in the book is to outsource virtually everything you do; firms like YMII, Elance, and Brickwork India will provide assistants to help you do anything from market research to balancing your checkbook. The idea is that if you get others to do your work, then you have nothing but leisure time! I find this a fascinating idea, but one that doesn’t scale well. Assuming everyone bought into this, who is left to do the work? I suppose that is a problem for future generations, though; for now there is no shortage of people willing to supply labor for outsourcing. There are some ethical issues here too; as a manager when I hire someone I hire for the skills displayed during the interview, not for their ability to outsource assignments. Ferriss puts forth the defense that if the work is getting done the company won’t care, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that rationalization. Again, this makes for excellent discussions with your colleagues!

First Sentence:
His friends, drunk to the point of speaking in tongues, were asleep.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way, by Bruce Campbell

Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way, by Bruce Campbell

This is one of the funniest damn books I’ve read in a long time. I opened it last night and couldn’t put it down until I was done; I often laughed out loud, once even waking up my sleeping wife! Campbell tells us how he landed a part in a Mike Nichols movie and what happens as the production gets underway. What starts as simple research into his role as a doorman ends up with Campbell being chased by the Secret Service, and simple suggestions to the cast and crew result in script changes that increasingly move the lighthearted romantic comedy further from its roots—and closer to something fans of Ash might recognize!

Campbell is at his funniest here: self-deprecating and sly, outrageous and absurd. We see a Buddhist in a fistfight and picking up a one night stand. We see a duel fought outside a southern strip club. An eco-terrorist is captured and a plot to rob the Smithsonian is foiled. There are funny Photoshopped pictures throughout as well; my favorite was the Welcome to Michigan sign that included the phrases, “Great Lakes, Great Times, Ohio State Sucks!” I loved Campbell’s In Chins Could Kill and this one was even better! Groovy!

First Sentence:
I read the e-mail out loud and wrinkled my nose when I got to the “another book of this type” part.

Accidental Empires, by Robert X. Cringley

Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date, by Robert X. Cringely

Accidental Empires tells of the rise of software and the downfall of hardware. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Aldus, and Adobe as well as products such as Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and IBM’s PC family all have their histories told in varying degrees of detail. Those sections are both engrossing and informative. However, when Cringley talks about the individuals involved (especially Gates and Jobs) he comes off as a bit angry; for instance, Gates’ poor personal hygiene and Jobs’ megalomania are often ridiculed—I suspect the intent was humorous but instead it seemed snarky. The book really goes off the rails, though, in the sections where the narcissistic tendencies of the author are in full force. We get Cringley’s opinions on what makes a company succeed or fail and advice for entrepreneurs. We hear many times of the greatness of InfoWorld (Cringley’s employer at the time) and which software luminaries ask Cringley for advice. We even learn his draft number for Vietnam and the fact that he wears cotton briefs instead of boxers. While I’m sure the author’s family was impressed, I wasn’t.

Last updated in 1996, this book is badly dated. NeXT is presented a viable platform, Novell “absolutely controls the PC networking business,” open computing is equated with client-server architectures, and Y2K is predicted to utterly destroy the mainframe industry. Hmmm. (The most unfortunate quote has to be, “Think of Bill Gates as the emir of Kuwait and Steve Jobs as Saddam Hussein.” Considering today’s common perception today that Microsoft is evil and Apple is visionary, this is particularly ironic.) To be fair, I imagine a book written today about current events will appear to be out-of-date in ten years so it is hard to complain too much, but it was a bit distracting.

I picked this up because I liked the subtitle: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date. The style implied by the cover doesn’t disappoint; I found the tone to be funny, informal, and irreverent. If you are interested in a broad overview of the history of the modern software industry, this is an excellent read. If you don’t like smug commentary, though, you might want to look elsewhere.

First Sentence:
Years ago, when you were a kid and I was a kid, something changed in America.

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