25 November 2011

Book Review--Head First jQuery

Head First jQuery
Ryan Benedetti & Ronan Cranley

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

A basic introduction to jQuery and scripting

jQuery is fast becoming one of the most useful and popular JavaScript frameworks being used and being developed for future markets with jQuery mobile (see book review/blog post here.)  One of the best features of jQuery, in my opinion, is that it allows you to learn and use a scripting language that doesn't depend upon the browser develops to update their JavaScript libraries with each release of the browser---which often means that some of the selectors don't work right with all of the browsers (IE in particular.)  Instead jQuery is file that lives on a server somewhere that the webpage calls upon, much like how PHP works.  It's still a client side scripting language, but in some ways acts like a server side.  In this massive book (over 450 pages) and over 11 chapters the reader will learn how to download and setup jQuery and introduce the basics of jQuery. The later chapters briefly introduce AJAX, PHP, MySQL, JSON, and XML and how they work with jQuery to build a more interactive webpage. There also a couple of apendecies to help you get a test environment set up on your local computer.  One thing to note about this book is that you do need experience with webdesign and it does help to have some experience with scripting languages. 

One of the first things that stands out about this book (and the Head First series in general) is the bright, colorful, and plentiful images used to help illustrate concepts and how jQuery works.  They also provide illustrations on how to walk through the specific problem at hand, which is often nice to see in a visual format...even if it is just notes on a pad of paper.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it's written in a clear easy to understand language, it's written for the novice programmer--one that's still learning how programming works and for someone that's looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation--a client wants work done on their website-- walk you through how to solve the problem step by step, and with illustrations to help you solve the problem.  This method can be a very helpful way to introduce aspects of jQuery as it walks through problems that you might encounter when building/developing your website and ways that jQuery can over come that problem. 

But like every "Head First" title the illustrations won't work for everyone.  I find it helps if you're coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that thT images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions. 

Overall this is a fairly good introduction book and easy to read if you're coming from a nontraditional programming background (and are left brain) then this might just be the book for you to learn more about scripting languages.  If you're more right brain then you might want to look for a more traditional book on jQuery, such as "Learning jQuery, Third Edition" from Pact.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

17 November 2011

Initial Kindle Fire impressions

I've had my Kindle Fire for just about a day now and thought I'd offer my initial impressions.

First, as so many others have said, if you're looking for a replacement for a laptop...don't.  This isn't meant to be that or an iPad killer (whatever that's supposed to mean.)  What it is meant to be is a solid little tablet that you can read, listen to music, watch videos, and surf the web a bit and it does this really well.

First off books:  I've only played with other ereaders before, but I really like how they display on the Fire.  The screen is easy to read on no matter where I've been (office/home/a bit outdoors) and it's easy to navigate through the pages.  I really enjoy how easy it is to find specific titles of new books and they offer some nice lists of top free books (mostly things out of copyright so a lot of classics) that are easy to get to.  I've also tested briefly and been able to access the books without wifi, even though they don't seem to be actually stored on the device (don't ask me how I'm not sure...)

One thing that I have been curious about is how comics/graphic novels would show up on an ereader, since so many of them weren't designed with the ereader in mind.  And I've tested it briefly and it isn't bad, but it's still not as good as having the actual book.  You have to double tap on images to get them to expand and then they're a bit blurry.  Not the fault of Amazon, just how the publisher encoded the books.  So for me, reading comics is still a bit of hit or miss on this device.

Movies: This was one of the features that intrigued me was being able to watch movies on the device and it works really well.  Clear, crisp colors, it displays well on the screen and it's easy to navigate through the Amazon library.  I've also tested the Netflix app (which is a bit buggy) but it worked well also.  The sound came out perfectly clear on this as well.  I can imagine using this feature anywhere where I can access wifi just to entertain myself for a bit.  I've not tried extensively with streaming sites, such as Hulu or the History channel, but brief test with free Hulu doesn't work on this device (not the fault of Amazon though...)

Music is easy to use and I love that it connects to the Amazon cloud.  It's easy to store all of your CD's there and purchase new ones and have access through one device instead of putting it on multiple.  If you're going somewhere without wifi though you'd have to download it to the device and that uses up storage so it's a bit of a mix there.  The sound quality for some of the songs that I listened to came out a bit tinny.  I'm not sure why it was different than the shows, but just something that I noticed.

The one thing that does bother me a bit is that there isn't much actual storage space on the device, especially if you want to download movies/music to use while you don't have wifi.  It's only about 6.5 gbs of free space which isn't a lot.  But the nice thing about the Fire is that as long as you have wifi you have access to the cloud so everything is there, which I actually like a lot since wifi is becoming more and more prevalent in the places that I visit.  Would it be nice if it had 3g? Yes, but then we wouldn't have gotten the price that we did.

I found it fairly easy to browse and surf the web and the speed was decent enough for what I was looking at.  I wasn't waiting more than 15 to 20 seconds for most pages to load and it was easy enough to make the page a bit bigger to look at the ext.

Since I'm a librarian I have to take a moment and look at it from a librarian perspective.  And for my two cents this is a great little device for a librarian to have handy (as long as your building has wifi.)  It's easy to browse and surf the web and would be a great little device to have handy while helping patrons in the stacks.  Not only that it's a nice device just to show people how ebooks work, what it's like to stream a movie or music from the cloud.  For my money it's a good device for a library to ease into the tablet market without spending too much.

My one issue is that the controls are a bit buggy sometimes.  I've having to press the button three or four times for it to actually go back, go home, or switch to a different menu.  I'm not sure why this happens, but judging from some of the other reviews and comments I've seen online I'm not the only one.  Perhaps this can just be a software fix somewhere along the way, but I wouldn't let that stop me from recommending this to someone.

This is a great product at a great price.  I had been looking at getting a Kindle or an ipod touch and this device is a good merger of the two.  Other than the somewhat buggy controls it works well, easy to handle, easy to navigate and fits my needs perfectly.

05 November 2011

Talk About a Library day

A couple weeks ago I posted about how libraries need to get better about not standing on the sidelines. So to put my foot where my mouth is or whatever phrase you want to use here's my idea: National (or International) talk about a library day.  We pick a day, say Wednesday January 18 2012, and spread the word.  So what is this National Talk about a library day?  Read on.

Now I know what you’re thinking that this is like National Library week or something like that, but it isn’t.  This isn’t where librarians and libraries talk about themselves.  Nope this is where our users, our patrons, the press, anyone that we can get ahold of will talk about libraries.  Even if it’s just for five minutes or ten minutes or all day, they’ll tell their audience/the world/space aliens/whomever what makes libraries shine for them.  Why do they use us?  What special memory do they have about the library?  Whatever they want to say.  This is the day that our users will talk about us to let the rest of the world know why they should care about us.  
I know that many of our patrons to talk about us anyway, but what about one day where the stories spread like wildfire.  How cool would it be to hear Jon Stewart share a story about libraries? Or see TechCrunch splash up a story about us on the main page?  Or the Mythbusters talk about us?  Or you local postal carrier? 

So who should you tell about International Talk About a Library Day?  Everyone.  Seriously.  
Think local:  newspaper, TV station, school newspaper, local bloggers
Think big: send it to national TV shows (Daily Show anyone?), blogs like Lifehacker, Techcrunch, the Pioneer woman, to twitter, to anywhere and everywhere that you can think of.

Librarians can talk all day about how great and awesome we are. Librarians can say all kinds of things to the administration to politicians, we can share numbers and statistics to the hills run with them, but the power of the voice is even better.  What we need though is our users, our patrons, the people that we serve every day to talk about us.

So what do y'all think? Can we make it happen?

Possible release to send out about
National Talk About a Library Day
Wednesday January 18, 2012.

Dear x (fill in with name group, whatever you like just be nice),

I know, I know y’all probably get emails like this all day long.  And nope this won’t require any money, just a few minutes of your time so please read through (trust me it will be worth your while.)

I’m writing about "National Talk About a Library Day.”  That’s right, talk about a library.  I know, I know you’re probably thinking it doesn’t fit your blog/tv show/whatever, but here’s the thing...it does.  Libraries are a universal place.  You go anywhere and you’ll find one, even if it’s a burro carrying around a sack of books.  Think about the impact that your local library had on you. On your family. On your children.  I don’t need to remind you about it, because its already jumped into your head.  

And this is what National Talk About a Library Day is all about.  A chance for you to share with your audience your favorite memory about libraries or what you like about them or the impact they’ve had in your life.  Whatever you choose.  Even if all you can spare is 5 minutes or one tweet or one blog post, tell your audience.  Tell the world.