Friday, April 30, 2010

The USING Series: More than Just a Book

If you are into technical reading or writing, you've probably at least heard of Among other publications, they're responsible for the Unleashed series, and their imprints include Cisco Press, IBM Press, Prentice Hall Professional, and QUE Publishing. While you may use books such as those published by Cisco Press without being overly concerned regarding the presence of a parent organization, you may also be unaware that changes are coming. 

I previously posted here in my blog that my eBook Using GIMP was going to be released within a few months. What I probably didn't spell out, is that it's part of a newly launched book series called Using under the imprint of the aforementioned QUE Publishing. But why should you care? 

To quote the site's blurb notice:
USING is more than just a book: It's the fastest, easiest way to gain the technology skills you're looking for! Don't just read about it: See it, hear it, with step-by-step video tutorials and valuable audio sidebars delivered through the free Web Edition that comes with every USING book. For the price of the book you get online access anywhere with a web connection—no books to carry, content updated as the technology changes, and the benefit of video and audio learning.
My book will be released as an eBook but not in print format, which is described as:
The Web Edition of every USING book is powered by Safari Books Online, allowing you access to the video tutorials and valuable audio sidebars. Plus, you can search the contents of the book, highlight text and attach a note to that text, print your notes and highlights in a custom summary, and cut and paste directly from Safari Books Online.
Some of the upcoming titles include Using LinkedIn, Using Google AdWords and AdSense, and Using Blogger. The whole point of the Using series is that the reader (and I use the term somewhat loosely) accesses the information using multiple media types, including text, video, audio, and web. Topics include a wide range of subjects, from Microsoft Windows 7 and MAC OS X Snow Leopard to Using Google Maps and Google Earth and the already mentioned Using GIMP.
Since this is a brand new series type, QUE wants to promote it as strongly as possible (which I suppose is part of why I'm blogging it). To that end, you've got a terrific opportunity to get a hold of and read these books for free by becoming a reviewer. I may take advantage of this opportunity myself since I have a track record as a technical book reviewer. 

Many of these books are or will become available at Safari, so if that's your reading method of choice, you won't be left out. Stroll over to QUE's Using Series web page and see if you can find something that interests you.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is the Release of Ubuntu 10.04 Delayed?


Today is Thursday, April 29, 2010. It's almost half past six in the morning in the western United States where I live. I started looking about the web for announcements of the production release of Ubuntu 10.04. I didn't find them. Given the time difference between me and Canonical, I figured the mirrors for the production download would be available by now. I decided to go to the source but the Ubuntu Home page still announces Ubuntu 9.10 as the latest production release. I double checked the release schedule and it does say the Lynx should be at final release on the 29th. Am I being impatient?

After I wrote the above paragraph on the news page at the Linux Tutorial, I went to work, still thinking I was being impatient and that the announcement of the release could be forthcoming. I checked again when I got to my workstation and still no change of news. I fired up Google and started searching. Then I found a notice saying [i855] 10.04 rc boots into black/blank screen. I read a number of the comments associated with this announcement (they are legion, so I didn't read all of them. One of the latest, posted yesterday, revealed the following (and the spelling errors are the sole property of the comment writer:

It is critical. People have a bricked laptop after the update. That´s the worst case scenario. Another console aware friend even called me since switchting to the terminal didn´t work as well and he´s a unix guy and had never heard of ubuntus safemode. It´s really pretty bad. Lucid is an aweseom release but this bug is a showstopper imho.

Let´s keep the fingers crossed someone has the balls to delay it. But I doubt it.
Searching for more information, I hit a page at that seems to be more up to date. In fact, the thread is so active that all you have to do is refresh your browser every minute or so to see new posts.

Amid the various posts are specific links to download Ubuntu desktop, both the 32-bit and 64-bit flavors. Don't ask me why this information is so hard to find at

Just for giggles, I clicked the available link to download 32-bit Ubuntu desktop and of course, the page was amazingly slow to load, and when it did, I only saw this: ERROR The requested URL could not be retrieved. In other words, any one with an Internet connection is trying to be the first to download the 10.04 ISO from the mirrors. Good luck with that.

A lot of the posts on the thread dedicated to today's (pending) release state that the links for downloading both the 64-bit and 32- bit versions of Ubuntu keep timing out. Either there's a problem with the release and this is Canonical's method if dealing with it, or the release is available and too many people are trying to download at the same time.

Guess we'll have to wait. The thread on the Ubuntu Forums about the Lucid Lynx release is up to 63 pages as I write this, but another page is added every minute or so. If you want to keep up with the minute-by-minute developments, feel free to visit the thread and watch the progress. For all practical purposes though, you might want to wait and attempt to locate and download Ubuntu 10.04 LTS tomorrow or the next day.

Addendum: I also found some information of a possible release delay at


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

jQuery: Novice to Ninja

Authors: Earle Castledine and Craig Sharkie
Format: Paperback, 300 pages
Publisher: SitePoint; 1st edition (February 22, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0980576857
ISBN-13: 978-0980576856

I was first introduced to jQuery a year or so ago when I read David Sawyer McFarland's JavaScript: The Missing Manual from Pogue Press, which was more about jQuery than learning JavaScript basics (as I had originally assumed). It was a happy accident though, and I discovered how to get a lot more out of JavaScript by leveraging the jQuery framework making my efforts generally more quick and less painful (well, I'm not lightning fast, but I'm not an expert, either). I've been looking for a "pure jQuery" book for a while, but there really aren't a lot of good books on the topic out there. When I saw the Castledine and Sharkie book was available, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Who should read this book? There was the usual blurb in the book's front matter about "If you're a front-end web designer looking to..." which I expected, but what are the minimal qualifications the reader should have before shelling out his or her hard earned dough for this text? Actually, the authors don't come out and say "you need to know JavaScript to such and thus level.." at first. On the other hand, they do say the reader should have intermediate to advanced HTML and CSS skill sets as well as stating some (ah, here it is) "..rudimentary programming knowledge will be helpful." Folks assume that JavaScript is "programming light", but it has the same basic rules and structure as other languages such as Python and PHP, so possessing an understanding in that area would seem to be at least a plus if not something of a requirement. Before I get ahead of myself though, it's time to move into the book proper.

Chapter 1 is pretty much a combination high-level overview for jQuery and an advertisement selling the audience on its virtues. I don't disdain this. After all, if you aren't sold on the value of jQuery for your web designs, why buy the book in the first place, right? If you're at your favorite bookstore (do people still buy books at stores rather than online anymore?) and you're trying to make up your mind about jQuery (let alone this book), skimming the first chapter should help you with your decision.

I actually got a bit of a lesson on CSS and JavaScript in the second chapter as I came across bits about adding and removing classes, event handlers, if statements and such. Like any (more or less) beginning programming book, there's always a struggle in deciding how much to assume your audience knows vs. how much to teach them in the book's content. That often spills over into deciding the style of the book. Should it be heavier on concept or hands on? I usually prefer simple, straightforward numbered steps, but while that can get you creating stuff that works, it's also important to understand why it works. Otherwise, the only thing you've learned is how to follow a list of instructions to create a specific effect. This book seems to combine these two elements, presenting the "steps" as a narrative that also contains the conceptual data.

About a quarter of the way through, I thought I'd see how much value the companion website added to the book. As usual, you can buy the book online from the publisher's site, download the sample code (so you don't have to keyboard all the code examples by hand), submit errata, and post questions on a discussion forum. I was looking for that magic combination between web and hardcopy that would make learning a new language or library streamlined. Unfortunately, I didn't find it. Let's face it, programming is hard for the beginner. I'm not trying to be discouraging, but it takes not only a lot of practice and dedication to learn programming, but you have to possess the ability to conceptualize problems as solvable using programming logic. Not everyone can do that, or at least, some people are better at it than others.

Learning from the book will be relatively easy if you are an experienced web designer with knowledge of HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript (the more the better) and/or are reasonably proficient at web programming (or have the right wiring in your brain pan for this kind of learning). I wouldn't recommend tackling jQuery if you've never written in JavaScript at all before. One person's "easy" is another person's "this is really hard." Heading into this with your expectations grounded in reality will help. To its credit, the book does start you out with a vanilla web site and shows you how to augment it with jQuery, which is the way to do it. Build the structure first, then style it, and then add the action and interaction.

I didn't test the code, so I can't tell you how well it works (and I've encountered books before where it was impossible for the sample code to produce the effect described by the book's text). You probably want to hit the book's web site and review the errata section, making some notes in the book before performing the exercises, just to prevent a few minutes (or hours) trying to solve a problem that's already known and corrected. You can also visit the discussion forum to see if other readers have had common issues with specific areas of the book. Proficiency in learning is all about doing your homework, both within and outside the text.

A lot of people, even experienced developers, will just Google the effect they want to produce, find the relevant jQuery online, download, copy and paste, and then perform a little minor tweaking to get it to work on their site. This book proposes to actually teach you how to write your own jQuery, or at least, teach you how to understand the work of others that you want to use for yourself (with the permission of those "others", of course). Expect to get around halfway through the text before you've learned enough to get you to the point of starting to write your own original code.

Starting out as a jQuery novice is easy. We all start there (assuming we're all trying to learn jQuery). How far you get into the "ninja" range depends on how far you progress into the book and how well you integrate the learning into your programming activities. While I found the book a good jQuery guide for beginners, I don't think it's one-stop-shopping as far as turning the reader into a world-class jQuery guru...not unless the reader sticks with it, goes through the book, goes through certain portions of the book again, and keeps expanding his or her knowledge and experience.

jQuery: Novice to Ninja may not actually make you the master of the art of invisibility, or even the art of jQuery, but it is a very slick book, and the best example of a jQuery book I've seen cross my path yet. If you're looking for jQuery "ninjahood", this book might not garner you that honor all by itself, but it should put you well down the right path to that destination.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Splash in Life's Pond

This small missive departs from my usual fare, but I just had to share it. My daughter is graduating from the University of Puget Sound next month with a degree if Graphic Design. Apparently, our local paper keeps track of such things:

Art work by Jamie Pyles, daughter of Lin and Jim Pyles of Meridian, will be exhibited in the Kittredge Art Gallery during the University of Puget Sound Senior Art Show.

Pyles, a 2006 graduate of Capital High School, uses colored pencils, watercolor and India ink to shows the "personification of a human's impulses and emotions through fantasy-type characters," she said.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Using GIMP

This is jumping the gun slightly, but look for this eBook, written by yours truly, to become available sometime in early Summer. I'll blog more details about the book in a bit.