Just trying to make sense of things...

Fowler’s DSL Book Milestone

Wednesday, 21 October 2009 14:08 by jordan.terrell

Martin Fowler just updated his roadmap for his upcoming DSL book.  I can’t wait to get it!

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I Don’t Borrow Books to People

Tuesday, 28 July 2009 23:06 by jordan.terrell

That might sound like an incredibly random and selfish statement, but let me expand on this thought:

I don’t borrow books to people, but I will give them away as a gift.

Telling you this was prompted by a review of the Kindle 2 by Rockford Lhotka. Rocky basically said one thing he doesn’t like about the Kindle is the inability to borrow books to other people – something that is easy to do with a real book.

This doesn’t bother me at all.  Rarely do I borrow books to other people, and this is because I’m very particular about how my books are treated.  For instance, I try not to eat or drink around them in a way that might risk wreaking them.  I also refuse to write on my books.  I’ve seen people borrow books from someone they know and then write their own notes in the margin. In my opinion that is a just a little rude.

The other reason I don’t borrow my books out is because I tend to buy books that have longer term value.  Generally I won’t buy a book about a new technology stack that will be here and gone inside of a year.  I did, however, say “generally” – not never.

I do have a double standard though – I will borrow your book if you let me.  I will treat it will respect and care, and I’ll be sure to set expectations as to when I plan on returning it.

So for those who know and interact with me in real life, don’t take it personal.  However, I might gift a book to you if I’m done with it, or I think you really should read it.

One more thing – someone recently asked if they could borrow my Kindle. Uhhh… Not going to happen!

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Review: Kindle DX

Monday, 13 July 2009 09:16 by jordan.terrell


Six years ago the very thought of reading a book on a electronic device was something I cringed at.  This reaction was not due to a dislike of technology, but because the technology had not matured to a point where the experience even came close to reading a real book.  LCD screens, although having improved, did not work at all outdoors, caused eyestrain, and required much more power than was convenient.

I can’t remember when this happened, but I remember when a technology company made the announcement that they had developed electronic paper that they felt would be viable in a reader device.  The idea of a reader device working just as well outside and inside, having no backlight and thus causing no eyestrain, and requiring power only when the paper needed to be updated (i.e. turn the page) – all of this intrigued me.  However, I made the assumption that such technology would not be available to consumers for 10-15 years.

Then came the first-generation Kindle. Guess I was wrong on the timeline.  Everything about it sounded (to me) like a viable platform.  However, content for the Kindle became my next issue.  It seemed like the Kindle’s content was heavily weighted toward the crowd most interested in the latest New York Times Best Sellers.  As I looked through the content that most interested me (mostly technical/reference), almost nothing was available via Kindle.  So, I promptly disregarded the Kindle release.

Then came the second-generation Kindle.  Definitely an improvement over the first generation device.  By this time some of the content I was interested in was starting to become available, but not enough to justify buying the device.  At this point I noticed that the Kindle could have other content converted, as long as you emailed it to a special Kindle email address.  However, I found out that this butchered most technical content.  So, once again, I promptly disregarded the Kindle release.

The DX

A few months later Amazon announced the Kindle DX.  At first glance the biggest distinction I could make is that it was a bigger screen.  Nice, but what really caught my attention was this: “native PDF support”.  Excellent!  There was way more content that I was interested in available in PDF format.  On top of that, I could produce documents in PDF format and use it for giving presentations.

I ordered and received the Kindle DX three weeks ago – it’s been a game changer.  I’ve already finished two books on the Kindle and I’m working on my third.  I’ve been using it for many other purposes as well, one of which is giving a talk off of it.  The PDF support has been phenomenal, and it is THE reason I’ve enjoyed owning the Kindle.  I’ve got way more content on my Kindle than I could probably consume in two years, but that’s okay.  It allows me to carry things along as reference material, and it lets me take advantage of those 5-10 minute gaps between activities to get some reading in.  I’ve even purchased some Kindle content directly from Amazon, which is almost TOO easy to do.

I’m hoping they continue to add support for the PDF format (e.g. searching across multiple PDFs, dictionary lookup of words while reading a PDF). That being said, I strongly recommend the DX, even if you are not interested in technical content.  The PDF support alone makes this a great platform!

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Instructor-Only Materials: Off Limits, For Now

Monday, 18 May 2009 10:09 by jordan.terrell

As I mentioned earlier, I was trying to obtain Instructor-Only materials for an algebra book that I purchased.  I filled out some online forms and sent some emails, but today I got an emailed response telling me that my request was declined.  I called Pearson Education to see if I could change their mind, however, they explained to me that the “Instructor” part of Instructor-Only actually requires you to be a state certified instructor.

At this point it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to check all of my work.  Disappointing, yes – but also understandable.  I have to admit that Pearson was very kind as they explained why I was unable to obtain these materials, and I can imagine they see all kinds of scams from people trying to cheat on their assignments.  So I can’t argue with their reasons for keeping the materials under lock and key.

Maybe I should think about becoming a state certified instructor in elementary algebra?  Hmmm…

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No, I’m Not Going To Cheat On My Math

Monday, 11 May 2009 13:17 by jordan.terrell

For various reasons, I recently bought a Algebra book as part of a self-directed refresher course.  The book I chose is entitled “Elementary and Intermediate Algebra: Concepts and Applications”.  So far it has been a good purchase (I got a significant discount by purchasing it at a Borders store).

Just like many math textbooks, some of the answers are provided in the back.  This is, in part, to help the student see if they are understanding the math by comparing their answers with the expected answers.  However, it only provides the answers to the odd-numbered question, so that a student attending a school isn’t able to cheat on homework assignments.  This isn’t a concern for me since I’m not attending a formal school right now and I’m acting as both the student and the “instructor”.

As a result, I went to find the complete list of answers for the textbook on the publisher’s web site and I found that, although it is available for download, it is a protected resource.  Not really surprising – I wouldn’t want a student to be able to download the answers and enable them to cheat.  In their words: “We are committed to maintaining the integrity of this instructor-only resource.”

The purpose of this blog post is this: I’m going to request access to these instructor-only resources, and I want to be able to point to this very public blog post to show that I’m not trying to cheat, but rather trying to function as multiple roles for myself: student and instructor.  If I was going to cheat, the last thing I would want to do is let everyone know that I’m trying to get the answers.

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Wikipedia: Create Your Own Books

Tuesday, 3 March 2009 11:14 by jordan.terrell

Just when I thought that Wikipedia couldn’t get any more useful than it already is, they added a really cool new feature: Books.  Put more accurately, the ability to take Wikipedia content and create your own books that you can either download as a PDF, or have bound into a real book.  As a test run, I created a single article book based on my latest interest, Electronics.  I’m am very impressed with the quality and formatting of the book.  I’ll have to spend a little more time looking at the more advanced features, but I can see myself using this feature quite a bit.

Very cool!

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Categories:   Embedded Hardware
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What Is Going On

Monday, 2 February 2009 10:02 by jordan.terrell

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was super busy, and as a result my efforts on this blog have been waning.  The good news is that being busy in this case is a good thing.  I’ve managed to stay with my current client for over a year and a half, and there are hopes that I can continue to do so through the rest of the 2009.  I’m also preparing to take my first Microsoft exam.  I’ve always resisted taking the exams because I’ve seen people abuse the system – however there are extenuating circumstances moving me to take the exams, and I’m starting to get into it.  It seems like a review of everything that I’ve been doing for years, but I hope to pick up a few gems along the way.  Hopefully, I will be ready to take the exam before the end of the month.

On the personal front, lots of cool things.  I’m an uncle, three times over – that has been a blast.  Plus, being the uncle, I get to do all the fun stuff, but I can hand them back to “Mom” (sorry sis) when they get cranky!  I plan to be the math/science teacher to all three of them.

As far as technical things go, I’ve found a new interest: designing embedded hardware circuits and integrating them with Microsoft software.  I signed up for BizSpark (excellent program), which will allow me to have access to Microsoft software personally, and host services.  As far as the hardware stuff goes, I’ve learned some really cool things by looking at some hardware and books.

For years there has been such a movement in open source software, but what I didn’t know is the movement towards open source hardware (general purpose microcontroller boards, MP3 players, etc).  A huge community is building up to help people learn about embedded hardware, and to be able to build there own electronics.  At first, it all seems like “magic”, but as I began to learn, it all started to seem almost simple (for basic things - and some not so basic).  Here are some things to look at.

First, Arduino.  I purchased both a Duemilanove (means “2009”) and a Mini.  Through experimenting with these and by looking through Arduino’s web site, I’ve had some hands on experience with integrating hardware.

Second, MAKE Controller.  This controller does some more heavy lifting.  It can natively control motors and servos, and has Ethernet built in.  It also uses this interesting REST-like protocol called Open Sound Control (OSC).  I’ve used this controller a little bit, but I’m more interested in learning about the hardware itself, so I can learn how to incorporate similar things into my own designs. Arduino and the MAKE Controller are open source – both the hardware schematic/board layout and the accompanying software.  If you interested in learning about hardware, I’d look at Arduino first – but even before that I would recommend you read a book or two.

The first book I read was Practical Electronics for Inventors.  This is a really good book.  It had really good coverage of many areas of electronics and allowed you to dive in as deep as you want.  If fact, it goes really deep – at one point the author, Paul Scherz, said in chapter two that the latter half of the chapter was, in some ways, designed to “scare you”.  Indeed it did, but I kept on reading, and Paul was clear that if you didn’t understand some of the math or science, that the rest of the book would still be very useful.  There were a few spots where you can find some errors, but for the most part the book is spot on.  I hope someday to do a more thorough review of this book on my blog.

The second book, which I’m reading right now, is Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers.  It takes more of a basic, prescriptive approach, and doesn’t get into to much detail.  This is probably the book I would recommend you read first if you want some instant gratification, but I would strongly recommend you read Paul’s book afterword to get a strong knowledge foundation.

I’ve started a Hardware Engineering book section on my Resource List, but I may later expand this to a separate resource list, as it may grow large on its own, have more than just a book list (physical tools, software, etc), and some may not be interested in hardware.

To whet your appetite to start learning about hardware, here’s what I’ve figured out so far, many times integrating it with my XP/Vista computers:

I will say this, learning embedded hardware requires more of an investment than a free SDK and a few books, but I’ve found it has been worth it.  I’ve been able to repair some electronics that I otherwise would have replaced or paid someone to fix.  Plus, there are fewer people in hardware design/development, compared to software design/development – so that is bound to set you apart from the crowd.

Apress Books 45+% Off!!!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008 14:26 by jordan.terrell

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a huge book reader (mostly technical in content).  I love to learn new things, and books present, at least to me, and ideal package.  Having said that, you can imagine I get pretty excited when there is a book sale; especially when the discount exceeds 30%.

I'm normally a Borders fan, however Bookpool is having a sale on many new Apress books, all discounted at 45% or more.

I personally recommend the book entitled "Pro C# 2008 and the .NET 3.5 Platform (4th Edition)" by Andrew Troelsen.  The very first edition (based on .NET 1.0 beta) introduced me to .NET.  Since then, this book has grown to include new framework and language features all the way up to .NET 3.5 and C# 3.0 (2008).


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