Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sams Teach Yourself PHP and MySQL: Video Learning Starter Kit

Author: Sams Publishing
Format: Paperback: 80 pages/ DVD
Publisher: Sams; 1st Paperback/DVD edition (March 6, 2009)
ISBN-10: 067233027X
ISBN-13: 978-0672330278

Frankly, I'd prefer to work with a book or in a classroom setting. I can read faster than a person can speak in a video. OK, that contradicts my preference for the classroom, but in a class context, I can also directly interact with the instructor and the students. I can't exactly do that using a video. I know I keep telling everyone that I'm a visual learner, so you'd think that a DVD would be just about perfect, but I've always found them something of a problem. This isn't to say that video learning is bad in general or that this product is bad in particular. I'm just expressing my personal opinion before I move on.

I was initially excited to discover that I could use the DVD on any Windows, Mac, or Linux computer with a DVD drive. I've had problems with previous video tutorials that included movie files only readable on Windows. The Quick Start Guide reassured me that I wouldn't have a problem using Linux. Then, as I was about to rip open the packaging around the disc itself, I saw a piece of contradictory information. Specifically, the text on the packaging read, All the contents of the PHP and MySQL Video Learning Starter Kit are accessible on any DVD-equipped Windows or Mac OS X computer (emphasis mine). What?

It gets worse (from my point of view, at least). There are instructions on how to install PHP, Apache, and MySQL on both Windows and Mac but not on Linux. This seems rather mysterious considering we're talking about technologies that just thrive on Linux. Of course, if I have the need to install Apache/MySQL/PHP on Linux, I can just use XAMPP, but that's besides the point. I suppose Sams is playing to the majority desktop market, but that doesn't speak to those of us who spend the vast majority of our time using Linux for work and play. In fact, the vast majority of web developers and database people I work with in my "day job" use Linux on the desktop. Oh well. I still need to evaluate and review the content. Firing up one Windows XP computer.

I slipped the disc in my Windows PC and Adobe Flash Player 9 fired up flawlessly. The TOC is divided into Parts I through IV and each part contains various chapters or lessons. Part I for instance, contains the introductory lessons you'd expect, such as Getting to know PHP, Variables, Flow Control, and so on. Each lesson is divided into Lesson, Lab, and Quiz. I chose Flow Control to start with, just to get an idea of how things were presented.

The lesson on Flow Control honed in on conditional statements and loops. I'd recommend taking notes during the video lesson. I need to take notes, even when I read a book, because it's one of the ways I learn and remember the content, besides actually practicing the relevant tasks. The woman's voice reciting the lesson reminded me somewhat of those instructions airline attendants give when telling you, before your flight takes off, what to do in case the aircraft explodes or sinks into a lake. Actually, I felt fortunate that the visual content didn't include the author's appearance, which most of the time, is totally irrelevant. What I did see was pretty much a PowerPoint presentation.

Lesson 3 was fairly short, maybe five minutes or so long. This is another reason to take notes, since the content goes by very fast. To advance to the lab section, you are required to click the available link. This is also a slide show of sorts, but you click through manually, and there's no accompanying voice. Notes come in handy again since, unless you have a perfect memory, you'll need to refer to something as you're solving each problem. Once you complete each lab, you are able to click to see the output. At the end of a lab session, you can either click the link to repeat, or advance to the Quiz. In the quiz, you select an answer, but can't advance until you get the correct one. The quiz wasn't particularly extensive, which is good if you want to focus on material rather than tests, and bad if you need or want to test your memory of concepts and details.

The general formatting of the disc is good; that is, it's logical. I can see this content being used in the classroom to augment a standard curriculum, but I can't imagine learning these technologies using the DVD and Quick Start Guide (90 page mini-book) alone. I guess I'm old fashioned (which you must have guessed by now) in that I need to have access to more detailed content and/or something or someone I can query about what I'm trying to learn. That said, I can see the video answering questions I sometimes have about ambiguous content I've found in books. Having the same content presented in two different ways can fill occasional gaps. That means I'd need to have the full text book to accompany this DVD.

The content is appropriate for beginning students with little to no prior programming and database experience. For me at least, I'd need to have a platform running actual PHP and MySQL to practice on. Getting my hands dirty is the only way I'm able to learn this sort of material. I recommend setting up your system so you can do a little more than the labs suggest, but remember, the instructions for how to do that only cover Windows and Mac computers.

If you explore the disc, you'll find the eBook Teach Yourself PHP in 10 minutes by Chris Newman in PDF format. The book was published in 2005, but is still relevant to PHP 5.0. The eBook also includes some MySQL content, so it'll take you further than the flash material and the mini-book.

For the programming and database beginner, who may eventually want to get into putting together at least some basic web applications, this product should fit the bill. If you get to the point where you've become familiar with, if not mastered the content, I'm sure you'll want to pursue more advanced resources.



  1. Did you even try the disk in your Linux machine?

  2. Nah, I just cut to the chase and viewed the disc on a Windows computer.

  3. If you gave a million chimpanzees a million guitars do you think they could teach themselves blues guitar.


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