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Andrew Johnston "(www.andrewj.com/books)" (LEATHERHEAD United Kingdom)
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Expert Systems: An introduction
Expert Systems: An introduction
Price: £0.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Zero value, 5 Jun. 2016
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This is a complete waste of time. It's a few pages in length, with no real content. The "sample" only includes the two title pages. Save yourself £1


All Tide Up (Patrick Finn Island Thrillers Book 2)
All Tide Up (Patrick Finn Island Thrillers Book 2)
Price: £3.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Another great farce, 25 April 2016
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Like it's predecessor, Man Up!, this is a knock-about farce based around the capable but somewhat cursed sports agent, Patrick Flynn. This time the key protegé is a nymphomaniac Russian tennis player, but otherwise the cast of gangsters, hit-men (& -women) and scam artists hasn't changed much. So much the better for that. Several of the key characters miraculously make it through from the first book to the second, and if you want to understand how then you first need to read the author's even more farcical short story Icy Hot.

This style of comedy writing is difficult to pull off, and can mis-fire, but Alex Cay seems to have it off pat. The body count continues to be high, but sometimes (not always) with a slapstick element which invokes a lighter cartoonish tone. The sex scenes are moderately graphic, but provide both the prime driver for several of the female characters and a fair element of the humour. However as long as you are comfortable with a fairly adult style then you will enjoy and frequently laugh out loud at this outlandish tale.

It's always encouraging when someone takes note and acts on a review. The author personally asked me to review his first book, and I happily did so noting that I'd like to see a change of location, fewer detailed American sports references, and a couple of stylistic tweaks. He has delivered on all those requests, and that makes the book all the more readable. Thanks for listening, Alex!

A great holiday read. I look forward to the next instalment.


The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?
The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and intriguing review of the state of SETI, 23 April 2016
This book is a review, at the 50 year point, of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and a consideration of how it may evolve in the future, by the scientist who heads several of its key committees. It's a wide-ranging discussion which provides some answers for Enrico Fermi's great challenge ("Where is everybody?"), and prompts the reader to consider how much we really know given how much our knowledge has advanced and changed since SETI was established in the early 1960s.

The early part of the book is focused on the current evidence for other forms of intelligent life, considering what we know of its genesis, the evidence (or rather profound lack thereof) for any second start either on earth or in the solar system, and whether evolution will naturally or regularly produce intelligent, scientific and technical species. Here Davies takes a fairly negative view, although he acknowledges that we have simply failed to uncover evidence from our earth-based viewpoint, and that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

The latter part looks at the potential forms of a "galactic diaspora", accounting for our vastly increased knowledge of alternative information carriers, information systems, machines and engineered probes including the conventional, the biological and those based on nano-technology. Again there's no evidence yet, but this section explains that alien signals or probes might just be too different, or too small, for us to detect. The conclusion is that we need SETI to avoid being athropocentric, and especially not "1960s radio astronomer centric".

The final chapters explain the current state of preparation for First Contact (which seems to consist mainly of international committees sending telegrams to each other, and may not be up to the arrival of city-sized spaceships over the capital cities of the UN Security Council :)). The author also discusses what form of messages we should choose if and when we do send any ourselves. The assertion that only key mathematical and physical theorems are guaranteed to bridge all scientific species is a sound one, but maybe misses the point that the Pioneer plaques and similar are just as much an expression of our humanity to ourselves as a serious attempt to communicate with minimum ambiguity.

While the book is inspiring and thought-provoking, it's also a bit frustrating in places. Davies asserts correctly that the Earth is progressively becoming "radio silent" to long-distance observers, but blames this entirely on the move to put major long distance communication channels into cables. A more complete explanation is that our world is full of vastly more wireless communication that 50 years ago, but as we adopt spread-spectrum and encryption technologies and get better at using low power and highly directed signals the "overspill" into space is much more difficult to detect. Similarly he presents an explanation of Galactic Inflation I haven't read before (the absence of magnetic monopoles), but fails to present the more common justifications.

In considering alterative technologies Davies binds himself with our current science, despite the fact that there is significant evidence (the failure to unify General Relativity and Quantum Physics, the lack of any real explanation for Dark Matter and Dark Energy) that there are things about the Cosmos we just don't understand, and which an alien civilisation (or a future humanity) may exploit. While Davies correctly advises against wishful thinking, it would be prudent to accept that just as our own understanding has changed vastly in the last 100 years, it will likely change again in the future, perhaps opening up valid options for, for example, super-light speeds.

However, those criticisms aside, this is an enjoyable, intriguing and well worth-while book. In the final few pages Davies himself observes that there is a contention between the official views of Davies the relatively cautious scientist and Davies the philosopher, human being and SETI enthusiast, and some of the challenges come from presenting and navigating those different viewpoints, which overall is done very well. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it.


Influx
Influx
by Daniel Suarez
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable romp, but largely familiar plot, 15 April 2016
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This review is from: Influx (Paperback)
Daniel Suarez is billed as the new Michael Crichton. While a few of his novels have come onto my radar, this is the first I have read. Based on this showing there's a great deal of promise, but the fairly derivative nature of the plot suggests that at least for now the pure inventiveness of Crichton has yet to be matched.

The basic precept is this: imagine that many of the key inventions we have been patiently awaiting for the last 50 years – controlled fusion, quantum computing, reliable cloning, a generic cure for cancer – have actually been found, but are hidden from the world at large. What warped power and societal structures would that drive? It's a great precept, although here it's turned into a recognisable and predictable plot, with a heroic inventor on the run, while dark forces try to suppress inventions on behalf of the status quo. In some ways it's reminiscent of Chain Reaction, and by pure coincidence I had also just read Catalyst by Boyd Morrison, which while markedly less futuristic tells a similar tale.

My other slight gripe is that this suffers in a few places from "techno-babble", short sections which appear to just be a dumping-ground for a large number of technical terms, which just about boil down to "magic". I know the author is trying to establish the BTC's technological superiority, but that's adequately done by the more detailed examples in the main flow of the text.

That said, this is a clever piece, challenging preconceptions and frequently, even literally, turning them on their heads. As a techno-thriller it's well written, keeping the reader's attention fully engaged from the first page, and I will certainly be reading more of Suarez's books.


Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language
Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Very amusing, but needs a refresh, 13 April 2016
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This is an amusing and enjoyable romp through the history of the English language, and a delight for closet linguisticists like myself. Bill Bryson takes us on a fascinating and funny tour of the history of the English language, how it became a (arguably the) world language, how its usage, spelling and grammar vary with time, location and context, and how it continues to develop. However like this reader it's older than you think...

Amazon have been pushing this book hard recently, and I downloaded the book in Kindle format in the expectation that it was a relatively new work, with an apparent publication date of 2009. However reading the opening chapter I got a strange sense of deja vu, and realised I had read it before, but evidently long before the advent of either e-reading or publishing and cataloguing my own reviews. I reckon I last read this not long after its original publication in 1990, so about a generation ago! It has rewarded a re-read, but has left me thinking how much better a book it might be for an refresh.

A lot has changed in the last 25 years which directly affects our use of language, and particularly English. Foremost in my mind are the end of the Cold War, the rise of the Asian economic powerhouses presenting relatively direct services to the rest of the world, and, above all, the development of the Internet and mobile technologies. The latter have brought the expectation that pretty much any two humans, anywhere, may have both the wish and the technical means to communicate, and across national boundaries will usually use English to do so. Technology has both led and enabled big changes to how we use language, and we increasingly design our messages and evolve our language around the constraints and possibilities of the transmission and consumption platforms. "Thanx", "R U OK" and "GR8" don't appear in this book, but they belong there.

It would be great to understand whether the wider use of English is driving greater homogenisation of usage and acceptance of obvious simplifications, or whether we are just further "baking in" the idiosyncrasies, and adding a new layer on top. Does the availability of online resources such as dictionaries and thesauruses drive the wider adoption of correct usage, or is this outweighed by the need for simplification of the message? Do tools such as spell checking, predictive text and automated translation increase or decrease individual language skills?

In fairness to Bill Bryson, he does recognise some of these challenges in his final chapter, and makes many of the right calls on general direction, but the book itself is now a period piece the other side of major technological and geopolitical changes.

Despite the fact that Bryson wrote this book when he had been living in Yorkshire for many years, it has a bit of an American focus, typically assuming that the reader knows the American usage but needs the British explaining. Once you've tuned into this it's fine, but it can throw British (and I suspect other) readers slightly at first. Other slight downsides are that like some of Bryson's other books it's arguably a bit too long, and in the last third some of the examples get a bit repetitive, and also some other reviewers suggest that the fact checking, especially around non-English languages, is perhaps a bit suspect.

Having said all that, the books remains highly readable, full of wonderful anecdotes and nuggets of knowledge, and if you accept its horizon, well fills a role which I don't think is met by any other book which I have read. Enjoy it, but acknowledge and forgive that it's slightly showing its age.


Cloud Design Patterns: Prescriptive Architecture Guidance for Cloud Applications (Microsoft patterns & practices)
Cloud Design Patterns: Prescriptive Architecture Guidance for Cloud Applications (Microsoft patterns & practices)
by Alex Homer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £29.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book let down by poor high-level structure, 13 Jun. 2015
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This is a very useful introduction to key cloud concepts and how common challenges can be met. It's also a good overview of how Microsoft technologies may fit into these solutions, but avoids becoming so Microsoft-centric that it becomes useless in other contexts. Unfortunately, however, the overall structure means that this is not a book designed for easy end to end reading. It may work better as a reference work, but that reduces what should have been its primary value.

The book starts with a good introduction and list of the patterns and supporting "guidance" sections, and is then followed first by the patterns, and then the guidance sections (useful technology primers). This is where things break down a bit, as the patterns are presented in alphabetical order, which means a somewhat random mix of topics, followed by the same again for the guidance sections. I attempted to read the book cover to cover over about a week and I found the constant jumping about between topics extremely confusing, and the constant repetition of common content very wearing. In addition by presenting the guidance material at the end it is arguably of less value as most of the concepts have already been covered in related patterns. Ultimately the differentiation between the two is very arbitrary and not helpful. For example is "throttling" really a pattern or a core concept? If "throttling" is a pattern why is "autoscaling" not described as a pattern?

The book would be about 10 times better if it were re-organised into half a dozen "topics" (for example data management, compute resource management, integration, security...), with the relevant guidance and overviews first in each topic, followed by the related patterns which could then be stripped of a lot of repetitive content, and topped off with common cross-reference and further reading material.

This is not just a book about cloud specifics. A lot of the material reflects general good practice building and integrating large systems, even for on-premise deployment, and reinforces my view that "Cloud" is just a special case of this established body of practice. As a result there's quite a lot of overlap with older pattern books especially Enterprise Integration Patterns, which is also directly referenced. The surprisingly substantial content related to message-based integration, confirms my view that this is still the best model for loosely coupled extended portfolios, but I would have appreciated more on the overlap with service technologies.

The overlap with other standard pattern books might have been managed just by referencing them, but this would play against Microsoft's objective of making this material readily available to all readers at low cost.

The book is spectacularly good value for money, especially as you can download it free from Microsoft if you are prepared to do a bit of juggling with document formats. That it forms part of a series also available under similar options is even better. This perpetuates Microsoft's tradition of providing cheap, high-quality guidance to developers and sits in sharp contrast with the high costs of comparable works from not only independent publishers (which may be understandable) but other technology vendors.

The book does assume some familiarity with Windows Server concepts, for example worker roles vs machine or application instances, and doesn't always explain these terms. A glossary or an clear reference to a suitable external source would have been useful.

At a practical level I'm pleased to see that the Kindle version works well, with internal links hyperlinked and clear diagrams, plus access to each pattern directly from the menu in the Android Kindle app. Offset against this are a few cases of poor proofreading related to problems with document format conversions, in particular with characters like apostrophes turned into garbage character strings.

Overall I found this a useful book, and I'm sure it will become a valuable reference work, but I just wish the authors and editors had paid more attention to the high-level structure for those trying to read it like a traditional book.


Service Design Patterns: Fundamental Design Solutions for SOAP/WSDL and RESTful Web Services (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Fowler))
Service Design Patterns: Fundamental Design Solutions for SOAP/WSDL and RESTful Web Services (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Fowler))
Price: £17.57

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but some practical annoyances, 5 Jun. 2015
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One of the most influential architecture books of the early 00s was Enterprise Integration Patterns by Gregor Hohpe and Bobby Woolf. That book not only provided far and away the best set of patterns and supporting explanations for designers of message-based integration, but it also introduced the concept of a visual pattern language allowing an architecture (or other patterns) to be described as assemblies of existing patterns. While this concept had been in existence for some time, I’m not aware of any other patterns book which realises it so well or consistently. The EIP book became very much my Bible for integration design, but technology has moved on an service-based integration is now the dominant paradigm, and in need of a similar reference work.

The Service Design Patterns is in the same series as the EIP book (and the closely related Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture), and overtly takes the earlier books as a baseline to build an additional set of patterns more directly related to Service-oriented integration. Where the earlier books’ content is relevant, it is just referred to. This helps to build a strong library of patterns, but also actively reinforces the important message that designers of newer integration architectures will do well to heed the lessons of previous generations.

The pattern structure is very similar to the one used in the EIP book, which is helpful. The "Headline" context description is occasionally a bit cryptic, but is usually followed by a very comprehensive section which describes the problem in sufficient detail, with an explanation of why and when alternative approaches may or may not work, and the role of other patterns in the solution. The text can be a little repetitive, especially as the authors try to deliver the specifics of each pattern explicitly for each of three key web service styles, but it’s well written and easily readable.

This is not a very graphical book. Each pattern usually has one or two explanatory diagrams, but they vary in style and usefulness. I was rather sad that the book didn’t try to extend the original EIP concept and try to show the more complex patterns as assemblies of icons representing the simpler ones. I think there may be value in exploring this in later work.

One complaint is the difficulty of navigating within the Kindle edition, or in future using it as a reference work. Internal references to patterns are identified by their page number in the physical book, which is of precisely zero use in the Kindle context. In addition the contents structure which is directly accessible via the Kindle menu only goes to chapter level, not to individual patterns. If you can remember which chapter a pattern is in you can get there via the contents section of index, but this is much more difficult than it should be. In other pattern books any internal references in the Kindle edition are hyperlinked, and I don’t understand why this has not been done here.

To add a further annoyance, the only summary listings of the patterns are presented as multiple small bitmapped graphics, so not easily searchable or extractable for external reference. An early hyperlinked text listing with a summary would be much more useful. Please could the publishers have a look at the Kindle versions of recent pattern books from Microsoft Press to see how this should be done?

A final moan is that the book is quite expensive! I want to get all three books in the series in Kindle format (as well as having the hardcover versions of the two earlier books, purchased before ebooks were a practical reality), and it will cost over £70. This may put less pecunious readers off, especially as there’s so much front matter that the Kindle sample ends before you get to the first real pattern. That would be a shame, as the industry needs less experienced designers to read and absorb these messages.

These practical niggles aside, this is a very good book, and I can recommend it.


Next Generation SOA: A Concise Introduction to Service Technology & Service-Orientation (The Prentice Hall Service Technology Series from Thomas Erl)
Next Generation SOA: A Concise Introduction to Service Technology & Service-Orientation (The Prentice Hall Service Technology Series from Thomas Erl)
Price: £11.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Dry, terse text which misses its mark, 28 May 2015
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This book sets out to provide a concise overview of the current state of, and best practices for, Service Oriented Architecture. While it may achieve that for some managerial readers, it is simultaneously too general for those with more background, and may be too terse for those with less technical understanding.

The authors and editors have clearly set themselves the admirable aim of producing a short and concise overview of the field. Unfortunately in the quest for brevity they have ended up with a terse, dry and dense writing style which is very difficult to read. At times it feels almost like a game of "buzzword bingo". I frequently had to re-read sentences several times to understand the authors' intended relationships between the elements, and I'm a very experienced integration architect.

At the same time, for a book on architecture there are very few explanatory diagrams, wordy descriptions being used instead. To add insult to injury a few low-value diagrams such as one depicting the cycle of interaction between business and IT change drivers are used repeatedly, when once would be enough.

The first chapter provide a overview of service orientation and its key principles, characteristics, goals and organisational implications. This is followed by a chapter on service definition and composition. Ironically this part of the book is is quite repetitive, but manages to omit some key concepts. There's no real concrete explanation of what a service is or does – maybe that's taken as read, but a formal definition and some examples would go a long way. Likewise there's nothing at this point on basic concepts such as service contracts and self-description, synchronous vs asynchronous operation or security. The second chapter goes into some detail on the idea of service composition but only really deals with the ideal green-field case where functionality can be developed new aligned exactly to business functions.

The following chapter on the SOA manifesto is better, but again doesn't recognise the realities of real enterprise portfolios, with legacy systems, package solutions and external elements which must be maintained and exploited, and non-functional priorities which must be met.

Chapter 5 deals with service-related technologies and their potential interactions. This is good, and for me represented the core value of the book, but is crying out for some diagrams to supplement the lengthy text. There are good notes on service definition under Model Driven Service Design, but this key topic should really have been a major section in Chapter 3 in its own right. The statements about technical architecture are rather simplistic, with an overall position of "this is expensive and difficult, or just use the cloud" which is not necessarily right for all organisations.

The next chapter, on business models, is very prescriptive. It is also slightly misleading in some places about the role of IT in transactional services - such services are delivered by a business unit, possibly but not necessarily enabled by and carried through an IT service. It would be perfectly viable in some cases for specific services to have a manual implementation. This is well explained in the case study, but not here or in the Business Process Management section of the previous chapter.

The final chapter of the main text is a "case study" describing the wholesale transformation of a car rental company through adoption of service, agile and cloud approaches. It feels slightly contrived, especially in terms of its timeline, the preponderance of successes, and the surprising lack of resistance to CIO-led business change. However it fills a useful gap by explaining much better than the technologies chapter how the different technologies and approaches fit together and build on one another.

Appendix A is a taster for the other books in the series. Unfortunately the content is presented as small images which cannot be resized and are almost unreadable in the Kindle version. It has also been "summarized", with the result that it appears to add very little meaningful detail to what has already been said.

Appendix B is a useful expansion of the main text regarding organisational preparation, maturity levels and governance for SOA. I would personally have been tempted to merge the first two parts to the main text rather than positioning them as an appendix, where they are necessarily repetitive of some material which has already been read.

Appendix C is another taster for one of the other books in the series, this time with an overview of cloud computing. While this is at a fairly high level, it's a useful and well-written overview for those unfamiliar with the concepts.

Overall this is a frustrating book. There is some good material, but missing key "reality checks" and presented in a terse, text-heavy style which makes it harder to read than it should be.


Panasonic DMC-GH4EB-K Compact System Camera (Body Only)
Panasonic DMC-GH4EB-K Compact System Camera (Body Only)
Offered by fusion9online

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great little camera, but some odd ergonomics, 9 July 2014
I got this a few days ago. First impressions?
- Same superb stills quality with static subjects as the GX7. Panasonic say that the two sensors are slightly different, and the RAW files are very slightly larger (by about 0.5% in each dimension) but I’m blowed if I understand why as otherwise things seem to be identical.
- It’s a nice size, very slightly larger than the GH2 and GX7, and fits very nicely in my hands.
- It feels like a “professional” camera, capable of taking the odd splash or minor knock without problems. With the 12-35mm lens on it’s officially splashproof and dustproof, although just as with the 7D I’ll probably still put it in a rain cover in very harsh conditions. Also I suspect we won’t be auctioning off 50 year old examples held together with sticky tape, unlike a few Leicas of note…
- It has a great electronic viewfinder, which really is not much different from using an optical one. However I’m not convinced that the colours in in-camera JPEGs completely match the viewfinders, which I thought was supposed to be one of their strengths.
- The ergonomics and haptics are an improvement on the GH2 in some respects, but have ended up as a bit of an odd mix of physical switches, physical buttons and soft buttons or menu choices. Some are an odd compromise – there’s still a physical switch for focus mode, but you have to switch between “single shot” and “follow focus” in the menu system, which is very poor. Overall I much prefer the cleaner model of the GX7, but when I get the programmable elements of the GH4 set up to my satisfaction things may be better.

It’s too early to judge action performance. The frame rate seems to be as high as promised, but I haven’t yet been able to confirm whether the autofocus does the job. I tried shooting some dogs and rabbits last night, but in very low light, which meant even at ISO 6400 I was wide open on my lenses and at too low a shutter speed. More practice required!


MAN UP (Patrick Finn Island Thrillers Book 1)
MAN UP (Patrick Finn Island Thrillers Book 1)
Price: £2.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, but a very high body count!, 29 April 2014
This is a comedy thriller very much affecting the style of Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen’s latest, the hilarious Bad Monkey, uses almost exactly the same Floridan and Bahamian locations, and reading this book almost immediately afterwards did feel a bit like a slightly distorted echo. It would be refreshing to see some authors writing this style of work but against less stereotypical backgrounds, and I hope Alex Cay does so with his future books.

That said, Man Up! is a good example of the genre, and well worth a read. It zips along at a good pace, with enough plot intrigue to keep the reader entertained, even if some twists are rather predictable, and is regularly punctuated with almost slapstick comedy which made me laugh out loud on several occasions.

The central character is a sports agent, and in this case was dealing with ice hockey. In Britain this is very much a minority sport, and the copious ice hockey references and terminology in the first couple of chapters put off at least one reader I know. Keep going and once the real action starts the sports context is no longer such an issue, but if the author wants the widest readership this is something to watch in the future.

I liked the writing style, and was impressed by how Alex Cay had captured the nuances of dialogue for the English characters versus the American ones very well. On a slightly more negative note he has adopted a habit of writing for emphasis One. Word. At. A. Time., which is rather off-putting, and I’d suggest trying to find a smoother alternative.

The book is populated with a range of interesting characters, but in many cases you don’t get to learn much about who they are, or how they have got to where they are, and a bit more background would work well. There are no “supermen”, and a number with very real mental limitations, but almost all the men are enormously well provided in the trouser department, which seems to destroy the good judgement of several otherwise single-minded female characters. I did like the animal characters, including two homosexual bull mastiffs and a shark nick-named Elvis!

This is a tale of stupid wealthy people, corrupt spies and incompetent hitmen, and a large helping of sex and violence more explicit than some other books in this genre is unavoidable. The high body count is actually quite comical, but be prepared for some writing which is not exactly “family friendly”.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I look forward to reading some more of Patrick Finn’s adventures in the future.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you to the author Alex Cay for providing a review copy of this book in Kindle format. I do most of my fiction reading when travelling, and it’s really annoying that most publishers and review commissioners, notably and inexplicably including Amazon themselves, still insist on providing review copies in hardcopy form. Thanks to Alec for doing the right thing.


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