Sunday, September 7, 2014

Gulp! (Book Review)

It could be that I'm the parent of a 7 1/2 year old boy. It could also be that the book has such great footnotes ( when I was in grad school working on a paper for a group project, one of my fellow students commented that I wrote great footnotes), but I found Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal to be very engaging and entertaining, as well as educational.

Gulp is a very approachable "top-to-bottom" tour through the human digestive system. Combining fact, history, some editorial commentary, and much humor you can't help but get pulled into this book, and even pull in those around you. At various points I found myself laughing out loud, leading my wife to comment that I,  have a lot more in common with our 7 year old, or at least that there is a certain timelessness to that sort of humor among certain demographics. The chapter on flatulence was particularly amusing, and was a great example of how Roach uses humor to help us learn about socially awkward topics, and to make details memorable.

One of the charms of this, and the other books of her's that I have read, is that she is adept at staying on the correct side of the boundary between humor that makes us comfortable (and makes facts memorable), and humor that is just awkward. She did a similarly good job with Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

While this isn't the book to read for serious research, it is a good place to learn some fun facts about a subject that is not often discussed in polite company. With footnotes and references, you also have a good starting point in case you want to learn more. The only down side of reading the book is that you may find yourself laughing out loud or at least finding it hard to share a particularly amusing storing with whoever is sitting next to you while you are reading.

Gulp is a great example of how you can be entertained, informed and educated at the same time.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review of Java Performance: The Definitive Guide

While tools and technologies change rapidly, and looking up information online is sometimes the best way to get the information you need, I can be useful to occasionally read a book to get oriented in a subject and discover what you didn't know that you didn't know. For me a good technical book sets the context for the problem and gives you enough information to apply what you learned to harder problems that the book covers, but which also gives you information you can apply immediately.  Java Performance: The Definitive Guide does a good job of both.

Not just about JVM params, the book covers application and algorithm issues, database connectivity, as well as JVM issues such as garbage collection algorithms. What is useful, and sadly rare,  is  that this book not only tells you things you can do,  it also tells you things that you can skip, since not every thing you do has a good cost/ benefit payoff.

With an emphasis  on standard tools, including open source and those that come with the JDK,  you can apply what you learned immediately. The book does not cover every tool, and may not include your favorite, but the discussion has enough  tools to get you started.

This book will be useful for both those new to programming in Java (since performance and resource use area rarely emphasized who you are learning to program) and those who have been programming a while but have not spent as much time thinking about performance as one might like.

I got my copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.