Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Review of The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra

Linear algebra was one of the few classes I made a B in while I was in college and for whatever reason, I just had a very difficult time grasping some of the concepts. Since it's useful to know in my field, I figured it might come back to haunt me someday. When I saw this book, I was a bit skeptical because I have never been a fan of manga and made fun of those that liked it, despite being half Japanese. I have to say, I'm impressed with how the content is presented.
Instead of dry text with basic examples, the storyline goes to help keep the reader interested in the topic as it leaves you waiting to see what happens in the story while learning the various topics that are taught in the storyline.
If you already know a little about matrices, the first half of the book will go quickly and is a fast read. The rest will take a little bit of thought but it does a good job explaining abstract concepts.
The quality of the presentation of the material in this book have piqued my interest in the other topics in the series, something that may be useful as our own children begin to learn more about advanced math and science.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Safe C++

I have been programming in Arduino a lot lately and keep running into a lot of problems as I compile the code. That's where Safe C++ comes in really handy.
This is a good reference for anyone that's looking to become a better programmer by knowing what the basic pitfalls are. If you're learning to program, this probably isn't going to be for you but if you already know how to program and are learning a new language or brushing up on one, this works out well for C++.
Ultimately for Safe C++, you really should know the language beforehand as it goes through some important things such as pointers. If you know what a pointer is an how to use it, then you should be able to use this book just fine.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Make: School's Out Summer Fun Guide

Okay, so, I gave the magazine a two star review but I have a very good reason for it and it's not due to the content. The problem with this issue is that almost every image related to any of the articles is in 3D and it completely messes with your eyes. Maybe if I had 3D glasses and could view it that way, it would be better but getting through this was very difficult and almost gave me a headache. I'm sure for kids with the right glasses, it would be fun but how many people, especially parents, are going to go through this with glasses on? If I weren't all that interested in the contents, I would have completely skipped this issue just looking at the cover as that was enough to make my head hurt.
The contents were pretty good. A lot were simple projects for kids to do over the summer with their parents. It's something nice that I'm sure many people who like to make things will enjoy. It's written at a lower level to make it easier for kids to understand and that is commendable. However, I have to say it's a hard read with all the red and blue pictures throughout the book.
If you're really looking for projects and can't find them anywhere else, this is a nice resource. If you rip all the 3D images out and still have a semblance of a magazine with good instructions, this is also a nice resource. If you can't stand 3D images, avoid this like the plague.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 30

I had a chance to read this at the store and it drew me in because it was the Smart Home issue. I have since received a copy through the O'Reilly Blogger program and have a great, simple reference for DIY home automation. I have been interested in trying to automate my home for a few years now and this has some interesting tidbits to help you along the way to making your home "smarter."
Unlike other dedicated books, the tutorials in this aren't quite as comprehensive but if you know what you're doing, the information in this magazine is more than enough to get you going. As usual with a lot of the Make magazines, the pictures in it are great and really make for a good magazine.
The 12,000-mile universal remote caught my attention as well as the homemade security system and smart thermostat. Those will definitely be put to good use.
None of this comes really cheap as you have to buy a lot of components to get things working but it's definitely something to get the wheels going.
All-in-all, a good magazine to get you started on a smarter home.
Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Android Cookbook

Don't worry everyone, I just finished that awesome Tonka project but had to do this in between posts so bear with me. I'll get videos up soon of more Tonka runs in a few more days if the weather holds up to get some video.
So, I have been a big fan of the Cookbooks for various languages and am also a fan of Android Cookbook by Ian F. Darwin.
If you know how to program, this is perfect to learn how to program for the Android OS. If there's something specific you need to find out how to do, this has great examples on how to do just about anything. I found it was a great reference to have on hand for those times I had a question about how to figure something out.
I would definitely recommend this to anyone that might be on the fence about it. It's a keeper just like my Arduino Cookbook.
Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Getting Started with RFID

So, I have been curious about learning how to use RFID for various projects and finally had a chance to learn a little bit about it by getting a hold of a nice book called Getting Started with RFID by Tom Igoe. It's really only a very basic starter book. For those looking for something more in-depth, you'll definitely want to go elsewhere.
I got a copy of it and was happy that I could learn the basics so quickly but was also disappointed that there were really only 27 pages of material. Yes, 27 pages. At least it gets you going quickly and is quite useful if you know a little about Arduino and electronics.
The first project shows how to interface an RFID with Processing. The second is essentially the same but connects to an Arduino and outputs everything on the serial monitor instead of going through Processing.
Other than being short, one of my gripes is that the few pictures it has, the schematics if you want to call them that, are basically hand-drawn sketches. I thought the book was less professional that it could have been had a high resolution picture or a proper schematic (possibly in fritzing) been used but that was up to the author.
Overall, it's a quick, easy read that only take 30 minutes max to go through, and that includes connecting everything up and getting it running. I wouldn't pay much for something like this as there's not much substance but if you can get a deal on it, then it's a handy starter reference to have around.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Making Android Accessories with IOIO

Okay, here goes another quick book review. This will probably be the last for a while as I have other projects I want to work on.
This book does a good job getting a person new to Android, and a little bit of hardware, acclimated to the world of open source integration. However, if you are a beginner to electronics, I would start with something else first.
The author assumes the reader has a basic knowledge of electronics such as soldering. You'll have to do a little bit of soldering to get the IOIO board together. It's nothing difficult but if you haven't done it before, you don't want to risk ruining a board because it's your first.
Not having programmed for Android before but being curious on how it might be, I thought this would be a good way to see if it might be for me. The author does a good job explaining how to go about installing the software, setting it up, and then how to do everything you need to interface the IOIO board to your Android phone of choice so you can connect to the outside world through sensors or HMI interaction.
Overall, I think it's a good book to get you up and going on an Android and does a good job explaining how to interface with the world using the IOIO. It gets you going on the basics but leaves more advanced projects up to you.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 29

Make: Technology on Your Time Volume 29 by Mark Frauenfelder is a great reference for anyone looking to do little projects on their own at home. In my mind, this is more a magazine than a book per se but it gives a lot of good ideas that give you a start to other projects you might not have pursued otherwise.
I really like how they talk a lot about the Maker movement and how they highlight projects others have done. It also gives good outlines on how to do various projects along with the hardware you need and how to go about putting it all together. That, I believe, is the best part of Make.
It is a nice read to go through and is really more of a magazine. That magazine feel is nice in that you can read something quickly and put it down without feeling like you have to review what you just read to keep going unlike most other learning books. Just pick up and go.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of DIY Satellite Platforms by Sandy Antunes

So, as a book reviewer, I thought this one sounded really interesting. Sandy Antunes makes a great attempt to explain how to put a micro satellite into space so you can do your own space experiments. The idea is great and very intriguing but there is one downfall that will prevent most people from really entering this hobby: cost. With a minimum $12k to start out, not including launch costs, this is a very expensive hobby that will be out of reach for many.
As a guide to explaining the basics of what is necessary to get started and what kind of conditions your satellite will need to endure, it does a nice job of giving you the basics of what to watch for. It's an interesting read that will pique the interest of anyone considering space-based experiments.

Personally, I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised, with the book because of the high cost of entry into the hobby. Having used the Arduino for lost cost projects, I thought I might be able to get into this hobby at a low cost considering the fact that the Arduino was used as part of the project. It is still very low cost comparative to other satellite systems that are launched but still much out of reach for me, which was disappointing.

Overall, the book is a nice gateway into this out of the world hobby, but it does come at a cost that I, and most others, will not be able to afford. Too bad I can't participate but then again, I don't really have time to do more than I already do!

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Environmental Monitoring with Arduino by Emily Gertz and Patrick Di Justo

So, it's been quite a while but I finally got around to going through another book to review. This time, it was Environmental Monitoring with Arduino by Emily Gertz and Patrick Di Justo. I've become a little more familiar with Arduino so I didn't really need this book but I got it more to see how it handled really beginner type information. For the most part, I think they did a pretty good job.
It starts off by going through some really basic information that is fundamental to programming and engineering in general. Sometimes we engineers take that for granted and assume everyone will take those same steps. That's a nice little prelude to the rest of the book.
The first chapter is titled "The World's Shortest Electronics Primer" and that pretty much sums it up and unfortunately, this is where there is the only real glaring mistake that I found in the entire book. The first example they step a reader through is blinking an LED, which is really the first thing anyone does with an Arduino. Without actually connecting up any hardware, it would be easy to run this sketch but instead, the authors try to help out the reader by explaining how to create their first circuit. I'm sure their intentions were good but they connected an LED from an output to ground without the use of a resistor.
No, it won't burn up the Arduino and no it shouldn't burn up the LED in an instant but that's poor practice and might be construed as another way to connect an LED to a circuit. Later in the book the proper way to connect an LED is shown but with two conflicting examples, a novice would take the easier route by not using a resistor because "it worked for the first example so why not do it again?" It's bad practice and design.
Aside from that issue, the rest of the book did an admirable job of teaching a novice how to connect up simple circuits and program the Arduino to make it do something with the circuit. Occasionally, there were a few somewhat related but not really relavent tangents that I thought could have been omitted from the book (e.g., save the whales from noise pollution) but that's more my opinion that it didn't belong more than anything else. Others may appreciate those tidbits.
The "Things to Try" at the end of each chapter were nice exercises for the reader to try but there were a few that would really be difficult to do even for a more advanced programmer and designer (e.g., waterproofing a sound sensing circuit for underwater use). As nice as the idea sounds, actually executing the idea will be quite the difficult task, especially for a novice.
One nice potential addition to the book would have been a full parts list up from or as an appendix that outlined all the parts used in the book and where to get each part. They do list out each part in the respective chapters but a consolidated list would be nice.
Overall, I thought the book did a good job of outlining the basics of sensing the environment. It should be a good book worth looking at for anyone interested in sensors but only as a basic primer to sensing as there are a lot of other things to consider when setting up a sensing circuit.
Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Make: Arduino Bots and Gadgets by Kimmo Karvinen and Tero Karvinen

For anyone looking for a good step-by-step process of how to create any of these given projects, this is an excellent book assuming you know about programming in Arduino. It assumes you know about Arduino but if you don't know Python, don't sweat, it goes over the basics to get you going. The beginning of the book gives you a good set of requirements to know what to expect from the book as well as what the authors expect from a reader. They even tell you the best way to read the book. Then they go into a list of what you should have to be able to complete the projects in the book. The parts are listed out in each project but the first chapter tells you what you should have to help you build the projects and is a handy reference for anyone looking to do DIY work.
The projects included in the book are good for a wide variety of people. If you're only interested in one project, you might not be all that interested in getting the book but if there is more than one that you might consider putting together, it's a worthwhile investment. I was especially intrigued by the interactive painting project as it interfaced with Python and the smart home project as I had considered doing that myself before I even ran across the book.
What I find to be the best point of this book is the pictures in each chapter. I received the pdf version of the book and every picture is in full color and good quality unlike many other books I have gone through. When I went through the book, I was really taken back by the pictures and that really added to the experience of going through this book and will be handy reference in the future.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who may be interested in more than one of these projects. You may be able to find some plans or come up with your own for free but if you don't know where to start or want step-by-step directions, this is a great book to get you going.

Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

My Review of Arduino Cookbook

Create your own robots, toys, remote controllers, alarms, detectors, and many other projects with the Arduino device. This simple microcontroller board lets artists and designers build a variety of amazing objects and prototypes that interact with the physical world. With this book, you can dive...
Excellent Arduino Reference
Okay, so I have another book review to do. I blew through this book but it took less time because I was really into it and it helps that I understood a whole lot about it already so it was more a matter of going through the code to see what was going on.
So, the book I'm talking about is the Arduino Cookbook by Michael Margolis. If you have a little programming experience, want to learn the Arduino, and can read the instructions given, this is the book for you. I found this to be a very thorough book in getting people new to Arduino up to speed and gives great examples on how to do just about anything you would want. Even if you know the Arduino, it's a great reference for other projects you may want to do in the future.

I have been learning the Arduino on my own using some tutorials online and found this to be an excellent compliment to what I have been learning. It goes over how to install the software on Windows and Mac and then helps you through the process of connecting up to your board. This can be found online but it's good to see some basics in there. Being extremely rusty on C/C++ programming, there were some nuances to C that I did not know and this book pointed those subtleties out. What I really found impressive in the beginning chapters was the advanced code used by C programmers to make things a little easier, if you happen to know advanced C. I'm in the process of learning C at work so this is great that I get to have fun at home while polishing what I learn at work at the same time.

The latter chapter in the book start to go through many different projects that can be done and gives you the basics of how to do them. You'll need to know a little about what you're wanting to do but gives good references of where to go and look for more information just in case you need to learn a little more before you dive into your project. There's one small project where you learn how to interface a Playstation controller with the computer and then control Google Earth with it. I'm definitely giving that one a try and then will gets called a huge nerd for doing it. Thus is the life of an engineer that has fun at  home with electronics. Oh well.

As good as this book is, there are a few shortcomings I found a little disturbing for anyone that doesn't know much about what they are doing. I found some minor mistakes in the book such as the output to the serial monitor being slightly different than what you would expect. e.g., when parsing out words separated by commas, it shows two of the three words separated but doesn't show the last word. If you code it up as shown, it does it just fine but if you are trying to check against the book, it will be "wrong" because the book is missing part of the output. Also, in the first chapter, it shows how to connect a small speaker to the Arudino and explains how to get a tone out of it but doesn't show how to do any of it in the example code given. The code has a minor omission that with the proper fix, should run the speaker just fine.

I have to say this was a great book and will be wonderful to have around. Thanks again to O'Reilly for sending me a copy to review. I really enjoy this program!
Disclaimer: This book was received as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program. All the comments represent my thoughts and opinions.

Programming Python by Mark Lutz

For those of you that may possibly read my blog, you may have noticed my last post about wanting to learn Python. Well, I have the unique opportunity of reviewing a few technical books as a blogger so I'm going to start putting up some short reviews as they come along. I'm also going to post on some of my nerd projects as I go along as well to keep you up-to-date on what I'm messing around with.
So, on to what I thought about Programming Python by Mark Lutz.

The book is a great tool if you want to delve further into Python but if you're new to programming and trying to learn Python, you'll want to start with Learning Python by Mark Lutz as that will give you the necessary foundation. Then you can move to Programming Python. I was interested in learning the language and didn't realize there was a Learning Python so I got Programming Python instead. Luckily, I've programmed in a couple of languages so I was able to go through the book and learn what I needed to know. I guess being an engineer helps as well since I can figure out some other things on my own if necessary.

In the book, there are many good examples given that explain what you are trying to learn. As with other O'Reilly books I've looked through at the library, this also has plenty of code to help you through all the topics covered in the book. The index is well done and is great as a reference for later on when you need to look something up in a pinch. Something I found even more useful is a digital copy of the book. Using Adobe Reader, you can search through the entire text so if you really need to find something, you can find it quickly, even without the index. I guess that's a plus now that things are going digital.

What I found really interesting is Chapter 20 about the integration of Python with C. Seeing a lot of operational systems use C, that chapter was particularly useful as it helped me better understand how to interface the two languages together. MATLAB is also able to interface with C and it's great, but expensive. Python is free so I can do similar things to MATLAB without the hefty price and I can interface with C. It was a very useful chapter.

Alright, I'm done reviewing for now but I hope to have something a little more detailed in the next review I may do. It'll be a while longer as I've got a ton of other things going on but I hope to review something about an Arduino next time.

Stay tuned...