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Computer Scientist at the Department of BioSciences, Rice University

Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

The genius in All of Us

September 7th, 2013 by Boanerges Aleman-Meza

Excerpt of Moira Gunn’s interviewing David Shank on his book The Genius in All of Us:

DAVID: This is all about how to fail. Growing up is all about failing and learning from the failure and developing a good attitude about that. If we tell kids that they are just really good at stuff because they’re born that way, that is a disaster emotionally because they are like “oh. I’m good. I don’t don’t wanna try stuff that feels bad or difficult because I’m just good this stuff and I just stick in that, you know, I’ll just stick in that area”.

MOIRA: You were talking about parenting earlier. One thing that you talk about that I think is really important is, don’t attach love or affection to achievement. [emphasis added]

DAVID: Yeah, this is a, uh, it actually turns out to be a quite a good recipe for creating prodigies, if that’s what you want. You know, if you want someone, what you do is, you get the short term pay off of kids earning that love and affection through this incredible hard work of becoming good at something. And  then they turn into adults, and they don’t know what love is, and they don’t know what human relationships are, because they’ve been taught about this transaction, which is very, it is very harmful.

Link to MP3 file of the interview.

HTML5 Responsive Table Design (Book Review)

June 5th, 2013 by Boanerges Aleman-Meza

Summary: Instant HTML5 Responsive Table Design How-to. The book focuses on making better tables by using responsive design and HTML5 features. Responsive design methods include view/hide columns by means of a button or automatically when a smaller screen is detected (i.e., mobile device), converting tables to graphs (i.e., pie chart), converting tables from matrix form to a paragraph form (easier to read in a tiny screen), loading the table dynamically via JSON and make the table grow upon user request via buttons such as “load more data”.

Tables in HTML should no longer be done the old-way. HTML5 offers features for header, footer, and headings that combined with CSS can make tables look much better as well as having cleaner code (both in HTML and CSS). The books shows how this can be done but also illustrates what can be done with CSS3 in tables, such as formatting odd and even rows differently.

Nowadays it is easy to find JavaScript codes that so something ‘responsive’ on tables. The book walks you through a few such codes, carefully selected, that for example, give the user the option to show/hide columns. From the web-designer point of view, only a few lines get added into a CSS, and by including a JavaScript then magic happens on your tables. The examples worked on my tables just as described in the book. In addition, you can mark which columns are essential and which ones are optional, so that a mobile device having a smaller screen could only show the essential ones automatically. The book is well-versed in “mobile first” development.

As you go deep into the book, you’ll learn how to convert a table dynamically into paragraphs in order to benefit the mobile user having a small screen. I really did enjoy the codes that convert a table to a pie-chart. In one website I maintain, such graphs are not needed but I which they were because they add so much color and liveliness to otherwise plain tables.

One feature explained in the book that my web-designer would love, is that of automatically populating a table from a JSON file, so that the HMTL code is smaller. Even more, the table can grow upon user request by means of a “load more data” button that would facilitate reading a larger table in a mobile device.

Instead of just giving you various recipes, the book also includes a all-at-once example, where various of the responsive-design scenarios already mentioned, are then integrated into one working example.

On the not-so-great side, the book is about tables and only tables. This would not be a book to learn to use JSON file with JavaScript because its audience is the person that wants to ‘update’ the way tables are displayed online, in particular, with the mobile user always being considered. It is also a book that assumes you are familiar with basic HTML, and I’d say that even with no hands-on knowledge of JavaScript, the examples in the book can be implemented in a live-website without problems.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a electronic copy of the book for review. It is a concise book, consisting of approx. 50 with code samples and screenshots. The source codes are available at the publisher’s website.  This review was first posted in Boanerges Aleman-Meza’s blog

Learning Web Design 4th Edition (Book Review)

October 6th, 2012 by Boanerges Aleman-Meza

Summary: Learning Web Design (4th edition) The book tells you not only how to do stuff, it tells you why and when it is right to do so. Proportionally speaking, if the book were 11 pages, you get 1 page for introduction, 3 for HTML, 5 for CSS and 2 for javascript. The book focuses on the important stuff, and says what is good on each. You can always learn the material online via web search, copying examples, etc, but it will take a while to grasp the ‘why’ of its intended usage.

If you already know some of the material and want a refresher on the latest (such as HTML5), simply go to the ‘test yourself’ section at the end of each chapter. The core of the book is the HTML and CSS content. It nicely explains what it’s new in HTML5.

HTML5: the book tells you what to do for browsers that do not support HTML5. It is to the point in just what you need to know. It includes enough for the video tag but not too much. If you need to go deep into canvas tag, get another book.

CSS: the book gives you strategies for page layout, and covers nice stuff such as round corners, transitions, transformations, animations. Finally I was able to fully understand a number of CSS techniques that I have used in my sites.

JavaScript: the book covers enough to practically know what it is and why you may have to learn it in the future. If you need to go deep in JavaScript, get another book. Lastly, a small chapter on web graphics is what I consider ‘filler’ content for people that know nothing about image formats.

The book is big and pretty, in the same way that you can learn genetics online, we all know that the best is to get a genetics book and read through it. Similarly here, you wont regret getting the hard-copy, it is similar to a traditional college book (definitely less pricey than a genetics book). The reader can be a newbie or skilled person in web page design. Newbie will learn in a ‘clean’ way, the skilled person will refresh/learn how to correctly use HTML5 tags and CSS.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book from O’Reilly for review. This review was first posted in Boanerges Aleman-Meza’s blog

Data Analysis with Open Source Tools (Book Review)

August 13th, 2012 by Boanerges Aleman-Meza

Summary: Data Analysis with Open Source Tools is a reference book that explains in detail the many ways to make sense of data. You will find ways to interpret data using statistics, plots, and mathematics. It also covers traditional data mining (simulation, clustering) and fun topics on modeling for making estimates.

You should get this book if your education was below average in statistics and math, or if it was average and you forgot about it already. It is quite good to refresh your memory and to learn interesting stuff that is good to know in case you need it. For example, the time value of money is clearly explained. The author goes in length to warn you of common mistakes in processing data. Every graduate student in a science major should know about the topics covered in this book. That is, read about it once, you will know what it is when someone mentions it (such as k-means), and if needed, go back again to the book for details or pointers for further information.

Once you reach 80% of the book, there are two big appendixes left: one is a refresher on math, the other on additional details on working on data. Throughout, the book has workshops/exercises, but unless you are familiar with Phyton, you might as well skip them (not too big of a loss).

Disclaimer: I was provided a electronic-copy of the book from O’Reilly for review.

Canvas Pocket Reference by David Flanagan (Review)

January 21st, 2011 by Boanerges Aleman-Meza

Summary: The book provides examples to explain feature after feature of canvas, carefully mentioning the concepts behind the feature being explained (strokes, gradients, transparency, text, shadows, etc). This book will explain how things are done and after that, you’ll be able to grab sample code from the web and actually be able to customize it to what you need.

The book contains two chapters that are completely different of each other. The first chapter explains how things work in canvas. For example, whatever you draw uses a style that is defined separately from the drawing code, similar to the separation of content and presentation in HTML/CSS. The way you draw graphics, fill them, color them, etc is different than traditional environments such as Java graphics. At the end of the first chapter, you’ll know what can be done using canvas and how.

The second chapter is a reference of the canvas methods, which will be the details needed once you’re actually coding. Fortunately, there are not that many methods in canvas. If unfamiliar with pocket reference books from O’Reilly, they are small, you can carry it in the back pocket of your jeans. If you do not wear jeans or shorts at work, then you may not be the intended audience for this book. I needed a book that explains how to use bitmap images and do image processing in them. The few pages in the book on those topics made the book worthwhile. I’m looking forward to see the Web when most sites use canvas (instead of Flash and the like) for simple graphic animations or just improved user interfaces.

Disclaimer: I was provided a hard-copy of the book from O’Reilly for review and returned it back after posting the review.

Book Review: HTML5: Up and Running

August 28th, 2010 by Boanerges Aleman-Meza

(this review was posted in Amazon)

The author tells you why HTML5 took for ever to come out. Then, it starts from the simple elements that now have a shorter syntax and new semantic elements that are intended to specify that a web page has articles, sections, header and footer. It always tell you why something exists, which is very helpful as compared to just providing examples with their respective screen shots as other books do or as you would get from finding the examples yourself searching online.

The book will not disappoint you but the support of HTML5 may do so, depending on what you want to really do. For example, it seems too much work to get different versions of a video in order to make it work in most web browsers. It is not a problem of HTML5, it is a problem of lack of agreement among Web browsers and of patents behind (most of) video codecs. The new elements for forms are the best example of lack of browser support on elements that, after a decade, you would imagine would be standard components by now. The microdata elements, actually, attributes instead of elements, show that also after a decade of “Semantic Web”, the semantic markup of content of web pages will likely be based on a practical solution that is easy to implement for the html/web developer, as opposed to other methods that never really took off (such as microformats and RDFa).

The things that seem promising in HTML5 are the canvas, storage for web applications, and geolocation but it will depend on whether you will really need to use it or not. If any of canvas, storage, geolocation or video interests you, and you are new to using them in HTML, then this book is way better way to get it right as opposed to finding examples online.

Disclaimer: I received the e-book HTML5: Up and Running (valid for 30 days) from O’Reilly. I needed to know about the “video” tags anyways because I will be using them in deploying a website with a few hundred of videos soon.