Friday, 15 November 2013

Hacking Web Apps

Title: Hacking Web Apps
Author: Mike Shema
Publisher: Syngress

Hacking Web Apps Book Cover

Got a website? Maybe it's just displaying a few static pages, maybe it's running a pretty fancy web app. You're proud of what you've made, it looks nice and it's bulletproof, right? Wrong.
In Hacking Web Apps, Mike Shema shows how security on your average site is an illusion. In reading this book I was frankly amazed at how many ways there are to attack a site. Some of them you will know - denial of service, cross scripting attacks, all make the news. Lurking in the background though are the other attacks, the ones that don't make the headlines but are very much as real a threat as anything reported in the media. 

Indeed, some of the very things that are supposed to make data, and the web in general more secure such as cryptography, can be an entry point for would-be attackers if implemented poorly. Client-side validation, implementation errors in cryptography and insufficient randomness can all be exploited to allow an attacker access to otherwise protected information. Add to this other points of failure / access, such as the browser, the OS and techniques such as clickjacking and you might wonder if the web should just be shut down and we all go back to using real banks and writing letters and so forth.

Not to worry for help is at hand. The author provides countermeasures for the various attacks and points of failure listed in the book. For the most part they’re pretty easy to follow and to implement. If you have a website, or are building one, I highly recommend reading this book if you’ve got anything to lose. And even if you don’t have anything to lose, and just don’t want the hassle of fixing your site after some kid breaks in and puts some garbage up on your home page, read it and follow the instructions.

Rating
An excellent read, the author describes each potential issue or attack and then proceeds to dissect how it works, following up with preventative measures to stop the attack from happening (again). If you work with website design, read it. If you don’t, ensure that your designer has read it! A hearty 5/5 for this particular book, it’s clearly written with links to a lot of tools and resources. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Software Requirements, Third Edition

Title: Software Requirements, Third Edition
Author: Karl Wiegers and Joy Beatty
Publisher: Microsoft Press


Although it’s been a long time since I studied SSADM, I've worked in the IT industry for some 18 years now and I remember the painful lessons learned in Trinity College all those years ago - and the even more painful lessons learned from ambiguous or incomplete requirements in the years since.

The authors of Software Requirements, Third Edition have clearly felt this pain too and have sought to minimise the amount of painful lessons learned by following good methodologies, learning from mistakes and learning how to work with the customer and all relevant stakeholders. They then kindly shared this knowledge in the form of this offering from Microsoft Press.

This is not a boring title droning on about how to obtain requirements however; the authors have looked at every facet of requirements gathering and requirements analysis and present information on every stage to the readers. Software Requirements, Third Edition begins most chapters with an anecdote - or perhaps horror story is more apt - which serve to highlight the need for the specific topic covered in the coming chapter. At the end of each chapter is a 'Next Steps' section which give you practical exercises to do to reinforce what you have learned.

I'm an advocate of humour in teaching as it helps to engage the audience that you’re trying to teach, makes it a little easier for your audience to focus and even makes it a little more bearable for the teacher too. As such, it’s always nice to find little gems in a book, as was the case here. Coming from initially a science background I loved the following comment in one of the case studies “The synthetic chemist who first makes the new chemical (he’s a real person, but a synthetic chemist)” and general witticisms offered throughout such as “It’s important to recognize the value of recording vital requirements information in a shareable form, rather than treating it as oral tradition around the project campfire” and headings such as “When bad requirements happen to good people”.

Software Requirements, Third Edition mostly assumes that you have experience in project management but still takes the time to explain the fundamentals, albeit at a high level. With that having been said, don't expect to use this as a learning text with zero prior knowledge - you won't be completely lost but you will find that it is outside of the scope of this book to teach you everything from scratch.

Rating

For it's horror stories alone I'd rate this 5/5, this book is a must for anyone involved in determining requirements. Buy it, read it, laugh at the 'horror stories' and then prepare for a similar fate if you don't heed the content! 

"Software Requirements", Third Edition can be found on the O'Reilly website

Thanks for reading!

Andy



I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Designing For Change

Title: Designing For Behavior Change
Author: Stephen Wendel
Publisher: O'Reilly Media.


First and foremost - as this is an early release there were numerous formatting issues and some spelling mistakes but this was to be expected, "Early Release - Raw and Unedited" emblazoned on the front of the book does somewhat suggest potential issues. As such, I'll stick solely to the content.

Stephen Wendel guides us adeptly through the inner workings of our lazy minds and shows us how to maximise our chances of effective designs for behaviour change by paving the way to good design with excellent theory, references and his own experiences to draw upon.

In the preface, the author clearly defines the scope of this book and, most importantly, the audience for whom the book has been written and the types of changes that the book can help you to achieve in your designs. If you're planning world domination by brainwashing people through your apps then this book is not for you (indeed bad news for you in general as the author reveals that it is in fact quite difficult to coerce people to do something that they don't want to). If, however, you genuinely want to help people to develop better habits then read on. 

In order to effect change, the person looking to design for change needs to understand how the mind makes decisions and why it makes the decisions that it does make and not others. Once this has been discussed (with some fascinating data / anecdotes from studies), the author then introduces strategies for actually changing behaviour. 

Armed with this knowledge, you are then taught how to take the theory already learned and apply to the people that you want to reach, in a logical progression that begins with figuring out what exactly you want to do, how to do it and then continues on to how to actually implement it, solicit feedback and continually refine your product.

Even if you never hope to develop a product for behaviour change, this book is a fascinating read that illustrates how we as a species tend to think and how people try to use that information (for both good and bad) to influence our decisions. If you are hoping to develop a product for behaviour change then get this book without delay.

I'm quite delighted, apart from the sterling content of the book, at the use of humour too. Little things like the summary of each chapter being referred to as "On a Napkin" make it all a more pleasant read. I was also delighted to see references to Brian Wansink, another excellent author on behaviour (and a funny guy too)

If you're looking to help people with behaviour (not addictions) or are just interested in the topic then get this book, you won't regret it.

Rating

A hearty 5/5, this book is a fascinating read. Buy it, read it and then go read the material that he's linked or referenced. 


"Designing For Behaviour Change" can be found on the O'Reilly website. 

Thanks for reading!

Andy



I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

O'Reilly Blogger Program

In order to ensure a healthy amount of up-to-date books and topics I have joined the O'Reilly blogger program. This program is effectively the trade of a book for a review, though O'Reilly impose no restrictions on the review, reviews can be negative or positive. Where a book has been received as part of the review program I'll clearly mark it as such.

Thanks for reading!

Andy

Friday, 6 September 2013

Learning SQL (Master SQL Fundamentals)

Author: Alan Beaulieu
Publisher: O'Reilly
ISBN: 978-0-596-80219-6
Format: E-Book


Content

So, what does the book actually cover? Well, pretty much everything you'd expect a book with the tagline 'Master SQL Fundamentals', truth be told. The problem with tech books is that there's usually no surprise in the title. Oh well, c'est la vie, as problems go it's far from being the worst in the world!

The following chapter list will give you an idea of what topics made it into the book with a very brief breakdown of each chapter to follow below.

  1. A Little Background
    Introduction to Databases
    What Is SQL?
    What Is MySQL?
    What’s in Store
  2. Creating and Populating a Database
    Creating a MySQL Database
    Using the mysql Command-Line Tool
    MySQL Data Types
    Table Creation
    Populating and Modifying Tables
    When Good Statements Go Bad
    The Bank Schema
  3. Query Primer
    Query Mechanics
    Query Clauses
    The select Clause
    The from Clause
    The where Clause
    The group by and having Clauses
    The order by Clause
  4. Filtering
    Condition Evaluation
    Building a Condition
    Condition Types
    Null: That Four-Letter Word
  5. Querying Multiple Tables
    What Is a Join?
    Joining Three or More Tables
    Self-Joins
    Equi-Joins Versus Non-Equi-Joins
    Join Conditions Versus Filter Conditions
  6. Working with Sets
    Set Theory Primer
    Set Theory in Practice
    Set Operators
    Set Operation Rules
  7. Data Generation, Conversion, and Manipulation
    Working with String Data
    Working with Numeric Data
    Working with Temporal Data
    Conversion Functions
  8. Grouping and Aggregates
    Grouping Concepts
    Aggregate Functions
    Generating Groups
    Group Filter Conditions
  9. Subqueries
    What Is a Subquery?
    Subquery Types
    Noncorrelated Subqueries
    Correlated Subqueries
    When to Use Subqueries
    Subquery Wrap-up
  10. 10 Joins Revisited
    Outer Joins
    Cross Joins
    Natural Joins
  11. Conditional Logic
    What Is Conditional Logic?
    The Case Expression
    Case Expression Examples
  12. Transactions
    Multiuser Databases
    What Is a Transaction?
  13. Indexes and Constraints
    Indexes
    Constraints
  14. Views
    What Are Views?
    Why Use Views
    Updatable Views
  15. Metadata
    Data About Data
    Information_Schema
    Working with Metadata

Chapter 1 opens you up to what a database is which sets the scene for the rest of the book. Our protagonist....oh wait, wrong book, sorry! The author discusses in brief non-relational database systems followed by the relational database model. What SQL is exactly can be found defined here too along with a very broad overview of SQL statement classes.

Creating and populating a database is the name of the game in the second chapter. The author has kindly added instructions for installing mySQL 6.0 but alas the instructions are out of date now. This is somewhat irrelevant though as pretty much any version will work and there's a ton of how-to documents on the internet that describe how to install the newest versions. Data type, character sets and table design are touched upon with a very basic introduction to normalisation too. This is not a criticism though, this book is about learning SQL - hence the title - and there are volumes of books on the topic of normalisation. Creating and modifying tables and their contents is also discussed and, more interestingly, the author covers some of the pitfalls and common errors that are seen when working with SQL statements.

In the third chapter, you are introduced to a query primer which sets out to inform you how each query is handled, from the server checking your access rights to the various tables and other objects, to the query optimiser which decides on the execution plan to use for your particular query. The topic of hints (for the optimisers) is also touched upon with a brief note on this for each of the main RDBMS systems. Once the theory of how it runs is dispensed with, the meatier topics of clauses, aliases, distinct values, subqueries, views, table links, the where clause, group by and having clauses, order by clause and sorting clauses are discussed.

Filtering in chapter four covers useful things like not deleting every record in your database (or setting every given field to have the same value).The author covers the use of parentheses to make intent clear (both to you and the DBMS), the NOT operator, building conditions, condition types, (equality, inequality, range, etc.) search expressions (wild cards and regex) and the 'joys' of NULL.

As you'll often find yourself needing data from more than one table at a time, the fifth chapter delves into the world of the JOIN keyword and teaches you how to select from multiple tables at a basic level. Inner joins are discussed along with how to tell the optimiser to to use a particular order. Join conditions versus filter conditions are also demonstrated.

Chapter 6 covers working with sets and this is where you FINALLY get to use those Venn diagrams that you learned at school (It's ok, I'll wait while you Google 'Venn diagrams', it's probably been as long for you as it was for me). UNION and UNION ALL are demonstrated, as well as the Intersect and Except operators. Set operator rules are introduced too, such as sorting compound queries and set operations / precedence. 

While not exactly the sexiest of topics, chapter 7 deals with working with character (string generation and manipulation via functions), numeric (arithmetic functions, handling signed numbers and controlling number precision) and temporal data (string representations of temporal data, string-to-date conversions and temporal functions). Conversion using CAST is also covered.

As not all data that you will retrieve from the database will be in its raw form Chapter 8 introduces the concepts of grouping data. GROUP BY and, by extension, HAVING, aggregate functions (MIN, MAX, AVG, SUM, COUNT), implicit versus explicit groups, counting distinct values and using expressions are all discussed here. Once again our friend NULL puts in an appearance, in the form of a cautionary tale of ensuring to cater for it. Finally ROLLUP is discussed with a reminder of the use of the having clause for filtering with groups.
    Subqueries (queries within queries) are a powerful feature of SQL and are covered here in chapter 9. The author discusses different types (e.g. noncorrelated and scalar) and how some can be used on one side of an equality condition. Additional operators that can be used with subqueries are introduced : the IN and NOT IN operators, the ALL operator and the ANY operator. Correlated subqueries are then examined and a previous example is reworked (a common theme throughout the text) to show how these subqueries work.The author also covers the question of when to use a subquery. A lot is covered in this chapter.

    In chapter 10 we rejoin (boom boom!) the author in a discussion of the JOIN. Outer joins (Left versus Right, Three-Way Outer Joins), cross joins and natural joins all get examined, with an increasing complexity to the SQL statements that build upon everything learned so far. 

    The 11th chapter deals with conditional logic and shows you how to have your SQL branch in different directions depending on the column values or expressions. The CASE expression is introduced here in it's various permutations and the concept of selective aggregation is demonstrated, along with the handling of division by 0 (and other errors). It's not just conditional select statements that are covered however as conditional updates are also demonstrated with more handling of the NULL thrown in for good measure. 

    Multi-user databases, locking, locking granularity (table/page/row) are discussed at high level in chapter 12. Transactions are then introduced and the author shows how to start and stop them, the use of savepoints and rollbacks too. 

    While the focus of this book is learning SQL the author shrewdly points out that there are other feathers in the DBMS that can have an effect on the code that you write, among them indexes and constraints. The 13th chapter therefore touches on the theory of indexes, how to create, alter and delete them and considerations for which type of index to use. Just as importantly the downside of indexes are also discussed to make you aware of potential issues in excessive usage. Constraints are also introduced with an overview of how the major DBMS' treat them. 

    The 'how-to' of view creation, modification etc. is covered in the 14th chapter along with the theory of when to use them and their benefits and limitations. 

    Finally, the 15th chapter deals with metadata. A book in its own right, metadata is essentially data about data and this chapter discusses how the DBMS maintains information about every object in it.s data dictionary / system catalogue. The author discusses how to interpret this data, retrieve it programmatically and the practical uses of doing so for schema generation and deployment verification.

    General Impressions

    A well-structured book with dozens of examples and a logical structure, building on each previous exercise to increase your knowledge of how things work in the world of SQL. While the queries are executed in MySQL (as it's free), the author makes note of syntactical differences in statements between the major players of the database world. The aim of this book is to get you to grips with the basics of SQL and does an admirable job of this. Some of the information is a little dated now and a new edition would be quite welcome but it still sets out to do what it states - help you to learn SQL.

    Conclusion

    An excellent book for beginners, the author gives clear examples and scripts to ensure that you are quickly up and running. Intermediate or advanced users can probably skip this; it's by no means a reference and does not cover all the things you'd need day-to-day if you're either a developer or a heavy end-user but then it is called Learning SQL and not Advanced SQL. If you're new to the language, and want to learn the basics in a structured and well thought-out way, pick up a copy.  

    Rating

    A little dated now but still very useful, the price tag of $31.99 may seem a little hefty for the ebook edition, but given all that you get in this book it'd rate it 4/5.

    Thanks for reading!

    Andy

    Next review will be Designing for Behaviour Change

    Thursday, 29 August 2013

    Android Developer Tools Essentials

    Author: Mike Wolfson
    Publisher: O'Reilly
    ISBN: 978-1-449-32821-4
    Format: E-Book


    Content

    So, what does the book actually cover? Well, the clever tagline suggests everything from Android Studio to ZipAlign which is a pretty impressive claim. Unless of course, the reference there was for just those two tools in which case it's perhaps not so impressive! Fear not, you will be pleased to know that this book covers quite a bit of ground and, consequently, quite a lot of tools.

    The following chapter list will give you an idea of what topics made it into the book with a very brief breakdown of each chapter to follow below.

    1. Getting Started
      Minimum Requirements
      Installing Java
      Installing the Android Software Development Kit
      Developing Without Eclipse
      Configuring a Device for Development
    2. Essential Tools
      SDK Manager
      Android Debug Bridge (ADB
    3. Configuring Devices and Emulators
      Using a Physical Device for Development
      Using an Emulator for Development
      Android Virtual Devices
      Advanced Emulator Configuration
    4. Using Devices and Emulators
      Using the Emulator
      File Explorer
      Developer Tools Application
    5. Developing with Eclipse
      Anatomy of the Eclipse Workspace
      Code Templates
      Properties Editors
      XML Formatter
      The Android Key
      Quick Outline for XML
      Other Essential Eclipse Shortcuts
      Refactor Menu
    6. Developing with Android Studio
      Installing Android Studio
      Anatomy of the Android Studio IDE
      The New Structure of an Android Project
      Creating New Android Components
      Layout Designer and Layout Preview
      Generating an APK
      Interacting with Maven and Gradle
      Version Control Integration
      Migrating from Eclipse
      Android Studio Tips and Tricks
    7. Testing Your Code
      Logcat
      Debugging
      Lint
    8. Simulating Events
      Simulating Location and Routes
      Simulating Telephony Operations
      Changing Networking Parameters
      Using a Device with Sensor Emulation
      Advanced Sensor Testing
      Developer Options Menu
    9. Build Tools
      Compiling Your Code
      Packaging an APK for Release
      Building from the Command Line Using Ant
      Advanced Packaging Steps
      Gradle-Based Build Tools
      Using the Maven Tools
    10. Monitoring System Resources
      Memory Usage in Android
      Dalvik Debug Monitor Server (DDMS)
      Memory Analyzer Tool (MAT)
    11. Working with the User Interface
      Android Layout Basic Concepts
      Editing XML Files Directly
      Working with Graphics
    12. Using the Graphical Editor
      Generating Layouts Using the Graphical Layout Editor
      Palette
      Canvas
      Outline View
      Properties Editor
      Configuration Chooser
    13. Optimizing the User Interface
      Introduction to UI Performance
      Hierarchy Viewer
      Fixing Problems Using Lint
      Application Exerciser Monkey
      Monkeyrunner
    Chapter 1 aims to get your development environment up and running. To this end the author does an admirable job, ensuring the even the smallest of details is covered, such as setting parameters to ensure that the Java Compiler level is compliant with 1.6.  

    Covering the fundamental tools for Android development, the second chapter deals with the SDK manager and ADB. The SDK manager is the tool that, unsurprisingly, manages the Android SDK, allowing the user to both update the SDK and add additional components. ADB is a powerful utility that enables you to interact with your emulator or connected device. While the author does not cover every aspect of the ADB utility he provides links to some of the more pertinent web resources that cover this vast topic.

    Covering the pitfalls and benefits of physical test devices versus virtual devices in chapter 3, the author guides you through customs infighting both physical and virtual devices. Limitations and capabilities of both are discussed, allowing the user to make an informed decision.

    While the creation of emulators was demonstrated in the previous chapter, this chapter employs them to demonstrate their use as an aid to testing your application . The author also takes care to point out best practices for reducing emulator load time and ensuring a consistent start state. File Explorer and Developer Tools Application are also introduced.

    As most of your time is going to be spent developing in Eclipse, the fifth chapter delves into the properties of the Eclipse IDE and exposes some nice shortcuts and options for making your life a lot easier in bespoke application.

    Chapter 6 covers the new Android Studio app. Although the book is new, this is already a little dated due to the frequency of the releases from Google of this application. The author pretty succinctly covers the Android Studio app life cycle and how to migrate from Eclipse, as well as including version control and some nifty hints and tips. 

    Some of the intricacies of debugging for your Android app are addressed in this chapter, which covers the Logcat utility (with a pointer to ensure that you use ProGuard to remove logging statements during packaging), how to set your app to debug and set up debug points and how to configure and use the Lint static analysis tool.

    In chapter 8 the testing challenges faced by various events is delved into. It's not possible to test for every location on the planet for example (unless of course you're superman in which case your time might be better spent saving the world instead of writing apps). As a result the author shows you how to simulate events such as location and routes, telephony operations and networking. The author also shows how you can use sensors on a physical device to interact with an emulator. Finally, the options in the developers options menu are explored with an explanation for most of the options provided.

    Compiling your code and preparing your APK for release is the name of the game here. The author shows you to compile and sign your code as you prepare for release. Code optimization and obfuscation is also covered by way of a more detailed look at the ProGuard tool that was touched upon in Chapter 7. Zipalign is also covered as well as how to get to grips with Gradle-based builds and the Maven tools.

    Chapter 10 introduces the necessary toolsets for monitoring system resources in Android, namely memory usage via the DDM,  utilising the wanalyser, thread tool, heap tool and trace view tool,  as well as showing how to install and use the Memory Analyser Tool (MAT).

    At the heart of any application is its UI. Chapter 11 describes how to create layouts to define the UI, discussing and illustrating important concepts such as Views and ViewGroups and their relationship. The author also discusses resources and their advantages, how to create XML files via templates and how to edit them manually and working with graphics.

    Having covered manually editing layout files in chapter 11 the author now examines generating layouts via the Graphical Layout Editor.

    This final chapter covers poorly performing UI by firstly discussing how Android draws views and how this subsequently affects UI performance. The author goes on to explain the use of hierarchy viewer tools to analyse your UI and the use of monkey to generate random events to test your application.

    General Impressions

    This is quite an impressive book and the author clearly has extensive knowledge of this subject matter and has done a great job in imparting that knowledge to his target audience. The book is generally well laid out with ample screenshots to illustrate key points, lots of notes to warn you of potential pitfalls and enough hyperlinks to related topics to keep even the most click-happy readers satisfied (and more importantly they add value to an already impressive book). My only slight complaints with this book however were the use of URL shorteners for the hyperlinks and the order of the chapters could have been optimised - although that's subjective. I should point out that I have no personal issue with URL shorteners, they just get blocked on some networks, especially corporate ones, and while all the links were current having the full URL can help you track down were the site has relocated a topic or at least let you look at it in the Google cache. These minor points aside it's a top-notch book and I hope that as Android continues to mature the author will review and update as appropriate.

    Conclusion

    If getting the most out of both your development environment and Android application is important to you, and it should be if you're a developer, then pick up a copy of this book. It's that simple. 

    Rating

    With such good content, and a very reasonable price tag of $12.99, I can't give this title less than 5/5.

    Thanks for reading!

    Andy

    Next review will be Learning SQL, 2nd edition

    Wednesday, 21 August 2013

    Beginning Android 4 Application Development

    Author: Wei-Meng Lee
    Publisher: Wrox
    ISBN: 978-1-118-19954-1
    Format: Paperback


    Content

    So, what does the book actually cover? Well, quite a lot as it so happens. I was particularly impressed that the author covered topics such as geocoding and reverse geocoding, which at the time was somewhat difficult to find good examples of. As well as how to get going with developing for Android 4, the author also covers how to publish your application once it's complete - from digitally signing it to publishing it on the app market, so pretty much all the basics are covered.

    The following chapter list will give you an idea of what topics made it into the book with a very brief breakdown of each chapter.

    1. Getting Started With Android Programming
      What Is Android?
      Obtaining The Required Tools
      Creating Your First Android Application
    2. Activities, Fragments and Intents
      Understanding Activities
      Linking Activities Using Intents
      Fragments
    3. Getting To Know The Android User Interface
      Understanding The Components Of A Screen
      Adapting To Display Orientation
      Managing Changes To Screen Orientation
      Utilizing The Action Bar
      Creating The User Interface Programmatically
      Listening For UI Notifications
    4. Designing Your User Interface With Views
      Using Basic Views
      Using Picker Views
      Using List Views To Display Long Lists
      Understanding Specialised Fragments
    5. Displaying Pictures And Menus With Views
      Using Image Views To Display Pictures
      Using Menus With Views
      Some Additional Views
    6. Data Persistence
      Saving And Loading User Preferences
      Persisting Data To Files
      Creating And Using Databases
    7. Content Providers
      Sharing Data In Android
      Using Content Providers
      Creating Your Own Content Providers
      Using The Content Provider
    8. Messaging
      SMS Messaging
      Sending E-mail
    9. Location-Based Services
      Displaying Maps
      Getting Location Data
      Monitoring A Location
      Project - Building A Location Tracer
    10. Networking
      Consuming Web Services Using HTTP
      Consuming JSON Services
      Sockets Programming
    11. Developing Android Services
      Creating Your Own Services
      Establishing Communication Between A Service And An Activity
      Binding Activities To Services
      Understanding Threading
    12. Publishing Android Applications
      Preparing for Publishing
      Deploying APK Files
    • Appendix A: Using Eclipse For Android Development
      Getting Around in Eclipse
      Debugging Your Application
    • Appendix B: Using the Android Emulator
      Uses Of The Android Emulator
      Creating Snapshots
      SD Card Emulation
      Emulating Devices With Different Screen Sizes
      Emulating Physical Capabilities
      Sending SMS Messages To The Emulator
      Making Phone Calls
      Transferring Files Into And Out Of The Emulator
      Resetting The Emulator 
    • Appendix C: Answers To Exercises

    General Impressions

    I initially found this book whilst browsing through my local bookshop here in Dublin on a rare day off from work. The book was one of the first that I had found that dealt with the then new Android 4 SDK and initial glance seemed to be different enough, and helpful enough, to warrant a purchase.

    I was pleasantly surprised once I got home to find out that I was correct. The book delves into the usual pleasantries such as getting started with Android development before dealing with the juicier stuff. As it's an older book (by comparison) at this point, don't expect there to be any reference to the newer Android Studio (which admittedly is still considered to be 'Early Access' - but I'd bet money that Google will eventually drop Eclipse support once this product is well established and has useful things like all the necessary menus built) but there's a nice summary of how to set up the SDK, Eclipse and ADT to get the most unfamiliar of you up and running with Android development.

    Once these pleasantries are out of the way the book dives into the basics of Android, starting with the ubiquitous Activity. Straight away the style of this book becomes evident, the author tells you "Here's what we're going to do", gives the code for it and then sums everything up in a nice post-mortem after the code has been presented. As each example and subsequent post-mortem progresses, the author builds upon each previous notion in a way that minimises repetition while maximizing learning and experience. As with any good book, at the end of each chapter you'll find a summary of what was covered in the chapter and what you ought to have learned.

    So, all-in-all, pretty good right? Well, yes and no. The author does a pretty good job of covering the basics and for an amateur programmer or someone completely new to Android programming, it will probably be enough. I personally found myself wanting a little bit more in places, such as the section for sending / receiving SMS messages. Yes, he does cover these topics in Chapter 8 (Messaging) but there is no reference on how to interact with messages already on the device. I suspect this is not so much an oversight as the fact that Android provides no formal API for dealing with SMS/MMS messages that are stored already, and getting into how to do this involves a complexity a little too high for the average newcomer but it just seemed to be a cop out not to address it at all.

    That gripe aside, this book does generally do an awesome job at what it set out to do - teach you how to get going with Android 4 Application Development.

    Conclusion

    As Android development books go this is a great place to start. You're helped to get up and running (only with Eclipse, this was written pre-Android studio) and gently introduced to the various core aspects of Android and what it means to program for it. Building upon what you've learned in each chapter, you'll be impressed with what you can do by the end of it. It doesn't answer all of the questions you'll have though and, while I suspect newcomers to programming for Android will find it to be a good reference for a while, you'll also find yourself more and more often looking for that little bit more. A reference book this it not though but, fear not, there are plenty of good references out there for you.

    Rating

    With the caveats of this book NOT being for professionals AND being a little dated now, I'd rate it 4.5/5 - you'll find it to be a great starting place and a natural stepping stone to bigger and bolder Android concepts and techniques.

    Thanks for reading!

    Andy

    Next review will be the Android Programming Book: Android Developer Tools Essentials

    Tuesday, 20 August 2013

    Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML

    Authors: Elisabeth Freeman & Eric Freeman
    Publisher: O'Reilly
    ISBN: 0-596-10197-X
    Edition: First
    Format: Paperback

    Cover Page

    General Impressions

    One of my first books when learning HTML was this interesting title. Fear not, unlike my first swimming lesson, you won't be thrown in at the deep end entirely. This title, written using (allegedly) advanced techniques, offers a plethora of amusing annotations to make sure that you don't get too lost.

    The basic premise of these techniques is that there are two ways to learn something - repetition, repetition, repetition, rep... well, you get the idea - or to make the topic more engaging, more interesting, to increase brain activity, to make more neurons fire and thus trick the brain into thinking that something is happening here that it should take note of. They accomplish this in a multitude of ways using different visual styles and techniques to engage the brain and, more importantly, by challenging the reader to apply what they have learned, further stimulating the brain. This is probably where I should add some fancy images and funny quotes and things to reinforce the point but ain't nobody got time for that.

    As it stands, it's a pretty nice concept which I did find quite engaging and did lead me to retain quite a vast deal of it back in 2006 when I was working on a fairly page intensive help site for my employer. As such, if you're new to web technology and are looking for a good entry point into learning then you could do worse than to get hold of a copy of this book. If, however, you're a web guru looking for a reference book you may as well move on now, a point they make no effort to conceal in the beginning of their book.

    Yes, you read correctly, 2006. This is when I first read this book so it goes without saying that as a first edition some of the standards will now have changed. I hope to get my hands on the second edition fairly soon at which point I'll also review it. I still, however, maintain that this is an excellent source for people looking to get started in HTML and CSS.

    Content

    So, what does the book actually cover? Well, the more astute observers among you will have already guessed that the core of the book is HTML and CSS (you know, I probably should explain what those acronyms stand for but I think that the book does a far better job than I would). There is of course a little more to the book than that. The following chapter list will give you an idea of what topics made it into the book with a very brief synopsis of each chapter.
    1. The Language Of the Web
      Basic HTML and Style Introduction
    2. Meeting the 'HT' in HTML
      A little more advanced theory such as attributes
    3. Web Page Construction
      From sketch to Outline
    4. A Trip to Webville
      How to get a domain and publish your pages
    5. Meeting the Media
      Dealing with images
    6. Serious HTML
      Validating pages and adding metadata
    7. Putting the 'X' Into HTML
      What is XHTML and why use it?
    8. Adding A Little Style
      Getting started with Cascading Style Sheets
    9. Expanding Your Vocabulary
      More CSS
    10. Getting Intimate With Elements
      A closer look at the building blocks of a web page
    11. Advanced Web Construction
      Div and Span and serious construction
    12. Arranging Elements
      More Div and Span with multi-column layouts
    13. Getting Tabular
      Dealing with tables in HTML
    14. Getting Interactive
      Submitting data via forms
    15. The Top Ten Topics (We Didn't Cover)
      Some teasers of other topics

    Conclusion

    As you can see from the chapter list, and the general impressions, this is an excellent starting point for any aspiring web designer with little to no experience. It's a gentle learning curve and the authors present the lessons in an engaging and well thought manner with some humour, all combining to help the information be absorbed and retained. If, however, you're looking for a reference or more advanced lessons then this book is probably not for you.

    While the authors rightly point out that this is a HTML book, they do touch on some items like FTP, Domain registration and so on but only to the extent of absolute need to know. There's a good chance that people entirely new to these technologies will need to find additional assistance in learning them. So for any wannabe web designers out there, I'd fully recommend this book if you've never touched a web page before. Perhaps the second edition will be a better choice as it's more up-to-date, if so I'll post a review when I get my hands on it and then link it here as an update.

    Rating

    With the caveats, as mentioned, of this book NOT being for professionals AND being a little dated now, I'd rate it 5/5 - you simply will pick up what they are trying to teach thanks to their engaging style

    Thanks for reading!

    Andy

    Next review will be the Android Programming Book: Beginning Android 4 Development by Wei-Meng Lee



    Sunday, 18 August 2013

    Coming soon

    Having amassed tech books over the years I've decided to post some reviews of them as they're not always reviewed fairly or at all (unlike books about vampires or wizards... ). So, watch this space while I start the word processor up and get cracking on my first reviews. Feedback and criticism welcomed but play nice!

    First review will be Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML

    Thanks for reading!

    Andy