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renaissance geek (UK)

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Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers
Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers
Price: £15.68

3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but at it's best if you're in the USA, 19 Nov. 2015
There’s a whole lot to like about Junkyard Jam Band: it’s written in an easy manner; has heaps of information on physics, acoustics and electronics; a great introduction to electronics skills and if I called the crash course on musical theory anything other than brilliant I would be under-selling it. However (you knew there was going to be a however didn’t you), for a book about building musical instruments the actual build instructions were, for me, a real weak point. Most of this is geographic. Let me explain: out of the ordinary components usually come with a Digi-Key product number but Digi-Key is a U.S. electronics supplier so if you try to get them from elsewhere you have to factor in shipping times and costs which can both be off putting. Yes you can go down to your local electronics store and get an equivalent part but, if you’re a complete electronics neophyte and the instructions call for part X you may not be happy using equivalent part Y. It’s not just the electronics: the elephant trumpet calls for a 2 quart funnel. I have no idea what that is; funnels to me come in diameters not volumes. The CPVC slide whistle calls for half inch diameter SDR 11 CPVC; the only SDR 11 CPVC I can find is flexible pressurised gas pipe of 90+ mm diameter. A couple of the other builds require the use of a quarter for sizing and, living outside the States, I don’t have any quarters to hand. While I appreciate there is a whole wide internet out there and I could go and seek out the information, books are international items and such basics as the dimensions of a piece of tubing to make a whistle or the radius of a circle to cut are pretty fundamental and should be there front and center.

Geography aside, the builds were very well described with plenty of footnotes where appropriate and some nice pieces of background information, which are neatly boxed off so you can ignore them while you build and read them when you haven’t got glue all over your hands. There are safety pointers where needed through the projects which have just the right amount of unobtrusive warning so new builders can remain safe without being scared off. Some of the photography I found not terribly informative and there were definitely some pictures that would be better as line diagrams and others that could be lost entirely without adversely affecting clarity. The only regular gotcha for the projects is that I think the author’s build times are wildly optimistic, especially if it’s your first attempt.

For the adventurous, most projects have a section called “Tips, Tricks and Mods” which gives you ways to extend the build and new ways to play. There is also often a resources section which gives sources for how to play what you have just built or how to take it further.

You may be looking at this and thinking I’ve written a lot of negative stuff, I must have really disliked Junkyard Jam Band, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s an element of frustration because it feels like a really great book has been relegated to the ranks of merely good by some easily addressed problems. The star rating will, I think, depend where you are in the world. If you’re in the States then it’s a solid four star book if you’re anywhere else, probably a three.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 30, 2015 2:00 PM GMT

The SparkFun Guide to Processing: Create Interactive Art with Code
The SparkFun Guide to Processing: Create Interactive Art with Code
by Derek Runberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE introduction to Processing!, 5 Oct. 2015
Once upon a time, far too many years ago to think about, I was a young nerd at school. I loved the sciences, but I also loved the arts and for a while that was fine. The trouble was once I hit that point where they start giving you careers talks I had to make a decision as to whether I was going to be an arts person or a sciences person. It was a strictly binary choice, no shades of grey allowed. I went the sciences route but I’ve always rather pined for the arts. Things are improving and now there’s a burgeoning community of tech-artists who blend the best that art and digital tools have to offer and one of the digital tools finding favour is Processing.

If Processing is new to you, it’s an open source programming language and environment developed for use by designers and artists. It’s used in both video arts and as a tool in producing interactive installations. The language itself is built on Java (though a much simplified version) and was used as a basis for the Arduino programming environment, so if you’ve used either of these you will find it familiar. Whether it’s completely new or not The Sparkfun Guide To Processing is well worth a look.

The book is project driven and split into 14 chapters each with its own project, which gives you something to show at the end of each one. (You can download the code samples in the book via but I think that you get a better learning experience if you type it in and debug your errors, yourself.) The chapters follow the same structure: an introduction to the topic; an overview of the Processing concepts to be used; a walk through the project code and finally some pointers on how to extend the project. So far, so traditional. Where the book really shines is in its explanations of the conceptual underpinnings of the Processing language. I’ve used Processing a bit before and have some more in depth books on the language but this one clearly explains some of the underlying principles that I had failed to wrap my head around; there were more than a few eureka moments. I’m firmly of the opinion that you can do much more with a sound grounding in the principles of a language than just by knowing the syntax so this book really worked for me.

Content-wise, you get a pretty thorough grounding in what you need to get started. The book starts with installation and drawing simple images before moving onto dynamic and interactive art. From there it moves onto slightly more complex areas such as working with text, processing images and manipulating video. Part of the utility of Processing is not just what it can do out of the box but also using the copious available libraries, working with external data sources and connecting it to other pieces of hardware. These are covered by projects using the Minim sound library, reading and using JSON format data and interfacing with Arduino.

Of course no book is perfect and there are a few minor quibbles with The Sparkfun Guide To Processing. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s a big strip across the back saying “Covers Processing 2”; Processing is now in version 3. In all fairness, the first full release of Processing 3 was after the book’s release, but it has been in beta for a while now. This shouldn’t be a problem as everything in the book seems to work with Processing 3; but it may put off some users who might think that they are buying an obsolete product. Secondly the coverage of object oriented programming is scant to the point of being non-existent. There is an excellent description of what classes and objects are but you never actually write either, which is missing a powerful part of the language. You don’t actually need to write in an object oriented way to get things done in Processing but it does make things easier when you work with larger and more complex programs. Finally, some of the final chapter on hooking processing up to an Arduino is specific to a Sparkfun product (perhaps not unreasonably as this is The Sparkfun Guide To Processing) but I would have preferred to see it address the vanilla Arduino board.

Quibbles aside, this is the best introduction to Processing I’ve seen. In fact I may go as far as to say it’s the best introduction to any programming language I’ve seen. It’s clear, concise and engagingly written. If you thinking about getting into digital art then this book definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf.

In summary, all I can say is arty nerdy types rejoice; someone’s got your back! Bravo for No Starch Press; bravo for Sparkfun and most of all bravo for Derek Runberg.

An Intimate Education: A charity anthology for Erotic World Book Day
An Intimate Education: A charity anthology for Erotic World Book Day

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb book for a great cause, 10 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
An Intimate Education is a wonderful anthology. It gathers together a wide range of erotic authors, both well known and new, to produce a broad and enticing collection. Content runs the gamut from gentle seductions to full on BDSM scenes. While it's hard to say there's something for everyone when talking about erotica where the scope of tastes is so wide, this is about as close as you can get.

The writing itself is literate and by turns gentle, warm, funny witty, passionate thought provoking and above all hot! Although the stories are short they all have character, so there is no need to worry about a stream of "wham-bam-thank-you mr-or-mam" pieces. I have personal favourites, such as the marvelous "The Perfect Crime" by Oleander Plume, but every story was well worth of reading.

Not only is An Intimate Education a good read in itself you'll certainly find some authors that really click for you and will provide a jumping off point into previously uncharted areas of erotica.

If all that wasn't enough you also get the warm and fuzzy feeling from having donated to the charity Brook which works tirelessly to provide sexual health and education advice to the under 25s. I cannot recommend the anthology, or the charity, highly enough.

The Makerspace Workbench: Tools, Technologies, and Techniques for Making
The Makerspace Workbench: Tools, Technologies, and Techniques for Making

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts but too much emphasis on niche elements., 12 Feb. 2014
The Makerspace Workbench is a bit of a mixed bag and, at the risk of stating the obvious, what you will get out of it very much depend on how you intend to use your Makerspace. I’ll write this review from the point of view of a general user though do be aware that depending on your needs this may not be appropriate for you. Firstly what’s good; the book is well written, well illustrated, has an excellent index (seriously, never underestimate the power of a good index!), provides a good planning and layout tools for your Makerspace, has a good coverage of hand tools and their uses and a very good chapter on building circuits. Not so good, from my point of view, is the excessive chapter on laser engravers (I see these as a nice to have not an essential), a somewhat confused chapter on 3D printers (I couldn’t work out if it was a how to use, how to make or how to repair chapter or all three) and no coverage of a number of tools or procedures like lathes, mills, routers, brazing, welding or vacuum forming. There is also a large chapter on using your Makerspace as an educational environment which while it’s a good chapter in itself I question whether it’s appropriate in this book. From a British point of view there’s also the problem you run across in a lot of U.S. oriented technical books which are that some of the requirements for projects aren’t easily available, many of the recommended suppliers are U.S. based so you can’t use them or if you can it gets really expensive really quickly and the supplied measurements are typically Imperial (confusingly called English!) where most of the stuff we have access to comes in metric sizes.

So good book or bad book? Well from a general point of view the first chunk of the book is very useful, the next chunk depends largely on whether you have a laser engraver and 3D printer (which are admittedly the sexy part of Making that gets all the attention) and the final chunk depends on whether you teach. If you’re interested in metal working then there’s very little that will be of use to you here. It’s quite hard to give an overall assessment. The quality of the writing is very high and the bits that were relevant to me were very well done but for my purposes there was too much on expensive tools at the expense of some basics which I just found somewhat frustrating. For me it’s a three star book but if you are a heavy laser engraver or 3D printer or a teacher it may be a four or even five.

One general note, I think it really is worth spending the extra couple of quid and getting a paper copy of technical books as you’ll probably find yourself doing lot of flipping backwards and forwards between bits and scribbling notes in the margin which is just not as easy to do in e-formats.

Doing Data Science: Straight Talk from the Frontline
Doing Data Science: Straight Talk from the Frontline
by Cathy O'Neil
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.75

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very readable and comprehensive grounding., 4 Dec. 2013
Doing Data Science is actually a bit of an oddity; an easy read in a deeply technical field. The book is based on a series of lectures and aims to inform the reader how data science works rather than simply providing a cookbook of recipes to carry out processes. For me this approach worked very well; after trawling through endless examples and documents of the data science flavour of the year map reduce I can finally say that I understand the process. Of course if you are labouring under a pointy haired boss who has heard the term data science in a meeting and is pressing you to use all its latest and greatest techniques this approach may seem a bit frivolous, but it's well worth the investment. Understanding the process will speed up your implementations and will also inform you as to what approaches are valid with what you want to do. I've played with the big data hero du jour map-reduce a few times and never really knew what I was doing; having read Doing Data Science I have a reasonable clue as to what is supposed to happen so I can at least sanity check my next attempt rather than just try and hack example scripts and read impenetrable howtos.

Not only is Doing Data Science informative it's also a light and engaging read which is no mean feat in a domain that tends towards the dry and dusty. The authors have certainly done an excellent job of bringing together a thorough grounding in the data science domain and pull together a lot of data from different areas into a book that is coherent and eminently readable. If I do have any grouch it's the title; I would have been inclined to call it Understanding Data Science rather than Doing Data Science which I think covers the content a little more accurately. Overall though I would thoroughly recommend Doing Data Science to anyone interested in understanding the field rather than simply implementing it.

Battery for Dell XPS 14 L401X 312-1123 J70W7 JWPHF 11.10V mah 4400mAh
Battery for Dell XPS 14 L401X 312-1123 J70W7 JWPHF 11.10V mah 4400mAh
Offered by EPC (UK) GRP LTD
Price: £10.50

5.0 out of 5 stars What a lot for not a lot!, 14 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Quarter of the price of one with a DELL name on it and works perfectly well. Gives me 3 hours usage on a charge and I like a bright screen. The only problem I can find is when I boot the computers tells me it doesn't know what the battery is and can't charge it - then uses it as normal and charges it!

Python Cookbook
Python Cookbook
by David Beazley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.08

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Python Domestic Science Textbook?, 23 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Python Cookbook (Paperback)
A few years ago now I was working in a job that required me to code in PERL. My PERL is passable but no better than that so when I found a copy of the PERL cookbook it was something of a life saver and constant companion. The PERL cookbook is deeply pragmatic and addresses real world problems with the language almost as an afterthought. (Which now I think about is actually a pretty good description of PERL anyway!) The Python cookbook is a very different beast and is much more an exercise in learning the intricacies and nuances of the language. I'm not sure cookbook is the right title - if the PERL Cookbook is a cookbook then the Python Cookbook is more of a domestic science textbook. A bit deeper, a bit dryer and not so focused on immediate problems. This is no way meant to imply that it's a bad book, on the contrary it's a very good book just not entirely what I was expecting.

The book itself is divided into fifteen large sections covering the likes of data structures and algorithms; functions; metaprogramming and concurrency with each section consisting of a number of problems. The problems are structured as a definition of the problem, a solution and a discussion of the solution and how it can be extended. Due to the nature of the Python language a large part of solving the problems lies in knowing which module(s) to include in your code so each problem is generally only a couple of pages, but that is certainly enough to give the solution and reasonably detailed discussion. As with all books of this type there is going to be some complaints of why is X included and not Y and to be honest if you tried to cover all the possible problems a practicing python programmer is likely to run across the book would end up so large as to be unusable. That being said there was, for me at least, one glaring omission. I do a lot of data processing with reasonably large data sets, and with the buzz around big data I'm sure I'm not the only one, and frequently find that I have to break down the data sets or I simply consume all the system resources and the program exits. I would have expected at least some treatment of working with very large data sets which seems to be entirely missing. However this is an issue based on what I use Python for and may very well not matter to you. Even though there may not be exactly the solution you are looking for, there are 260 problems and solutions in the Python cookbook so if you don't learn something new you are probably a certified Python genius and beyond manuals anyway.

There are a couple of quick final points to make about the Python cookbook. Firstly it uses Python 3 and as many very useful third party modules haven't been ported from Python 2.X over to Python 3 yet Python 2.X is still probably still more widely used. Secondly although this is a language learning book it's not aimed at the novice programmer, think of it more as language nuances and inflections for the experienced Pythonista rather than a how to learn Python book and you won't go far wrong.

Arduino Workshop: A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects
Arduino Workshop: A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects
by John Boxall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.61

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be on every Arduino-ists bookshelf!, 22 May 2013
I'll get my gripe out of the way first then I can go on to be positive. I really think Arduino Workshop is under selling itself. It's not just a workshop manual but a tutorial on electronics, programming and Arduino, and a very good one at that. With that out of the way I think you can guess I really rate this book. Being of the somewhat nerdy persuasion I have of course heard of Arduino but given that I tend to play more in the in software arena I only really knew it as a name and general concept rather than as a tool. This book tells you pretty much everything you could want to know about how to pick up and use Arduino. It's written largely as a set of exemplar projects backed up with the appropriate background information about the required components and programs. I very much doubt anyone will go through the book and build all the projects, but then again I don't really think that's what's expected. It's much more likely that most people will thoroughly read the first six chapters which have the basics of the Arduino, circuits and the Arduino programming language (which, for previous programmers out there, looks a lot like C/C++) and then treat the rest of the book as a bit of a pick and mix. There are chapters on touch screens, liquid crystal display, GPS, internet communication and many others so you can select the elements that your project requires, learn how to use them and put them together. And you even have the joy of knowing that when you reach the end of the book you can go onto the author's web site and pick up there where Arduino Workshop left off. Over all this is an excellent resource and one that should be on the shopping list of everyone interested in creating their own Arduino toys and tools.

The Minimalist Photographer
The Minimalist Photographer
by Steve Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Photography not technology..., 22 May 2013
I have to admit I made a couple of mistakes when I got my copy of The Minimalist Photographer. Firstly, I wasn't really aware of minimalist images and have to admit that they aren't really my cup of tea; but that turned out to be a very happy mistake. Photography has always been a slightly nerdy pursuit and it's all too easy to get wrapped up in the technology and lose sight of the actual picture making. This seems to have become even more the case with the advent of digital photography where a workflow might be take as many shots as possible, discard 99.9% of them then Photoshop the remaining 0.1% to within an inch of their pixels; more an application of technology than aesthetics. This is not the approach advocated by The Minimalist Photographer. While the focus is very much on the minimal image the approach could easily be described as minimal in all aspects, from the hardware you use all the way to the post processing you engage in.

The book itself is very person centred rather than technology or technique centred and starts with the question of why do you want to take photos and what sort of photographer do you want to be. While this may seem trite it should actually be the basis for all your decisions as a photographer - your approach is going to be radically different if you are interested in say taking snaps for a blog rather than portrait photography. From there you're led into a discussion of the workflow which is requirements rather than technology based; use the workflow that works for you not that advocated by anyone else. I think this is the only photography book I've seen so far that doesn't fall into line with the "thou must use Photoshop" edict and instead recommends the rather lighter weight and simpler (but perfectly adequate for most purposes) Lightroom. Next up is a chapter on the basics of photography such as exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and metering; while these may be a bit too basic for some they are a nice summary and bit of revision. Of course technology does play a part in photography and the next chapter gives an introduction to the types of cameras available and how to choose a camera that is suitable for your needs including a section on how to critically evaluate a review. For me the next two chapters are the real heart of the book and worth the price of entry alone; light and composition. If you want to take attractive images then these are the two elements that you really need to have at your fingertips. A minimalist image is really an exercise in light and composition so the images included clearly illustrate the text and provide a coherent and well constructed whole. While, as I mentioned earlier, minimalism isn't really my thing I'm certainly going to break out my camera and give it a try simply for the exercise in light and composition. The final section of the book, which is a history and philosophy of photography, isn't exactly filler but will appeal to you more or less depending on your outlook. If you are interesting in making images I doubt it will excite you much however if you are interested in photography as an art form then it gives some very nice background material.

My second mistake was getting the book in electronic format. While that is certainly the way that publishing is going I wouldn't recommend it for art or photography books. The images are too integral to the whole and, for me at least, lose some of their impact when they are on a screen so I would suggest buying the old fashioned paper format.

Masterclass: Professional Studio Photography (Masterclass (Rocky Nook))
Masterclass: Professional Studio Photography (Masterclass (Rocky Nook))
by Dennis Savini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £31.89

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good if slightly intimidating overview, 2 Jan. 2013
First impressions of Masterclass: Professional Studio Photography are that it is a rather lovely product with thick glossy pages, a nice hefty hardback cover and huge high quality images. Content wise it has a general introduction to studio photography followed by eight sections on different studio sub-disciplines; product, still life, industrial, cosmetics, jewellery, drinks, food and portraits photography.

The introductory section covers lighting, cameras, lenses, a little bit about digital enhancement and a rather nice few pages covering running a studio and business. As this is about studio photography the cameras under discussion are large and medium format rather than the more common SLR. This is in keeping with the rest of the book - it is aimed at the professional photographer so the equipment is very much high price and high end. The information is concise and well presented though in places feels more like an overview than an in depth coverage of topics; though that is really to be expected it does sometimes just make you want more.

The main body of the book is a series of what are effectively worked examples of how to produce a studio shot. These examples are grouped into the eight sub disciplines listed above and each sub discipline has its own short introduction covering the pertinent general information.

Each worked example follows the format of the finished image as a full page shot, a description of the inspiration and process of taking the photograph and a diagram showing the layout of the studio. Many, though not all, examples also have additional information such as the digital manipulation used to produce the final image and additional tips such as polishing bottles with turtle wax to produce long lasting beads of condensation. Each example is very well laid out, explained and lavishly illustrated.

If your used to a simple camera and single light source setup then some of the worked examples can be a bit mind boggling with multiple light sources from different angles and via multiple reflectors and diffusers. One thing that was a surprise to me was the amount of post processing and image merging. I naively thought that given the controlled environment of the studio it would be comparatively easy to produce a perfect image with perhaps only a couple of Photoshop tweaks but that appears to be very much not the case. When working with such high resolution and high quality images perfection is very difficult to achieve.

All in all Masterclass: Professional Studio Photography is a lovely and an excellent addition to a professional or serious amateur photographer's bookshelf though is probably best reserved for those who have had at least a little exposure to studio photography as complete neophytes may find it a little intimidating.

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