Mon, 25 Mar 2013
Cisco Routers for the Desperate (2nd edition) - Short Review
Reviewing the second edition of Cisco Routers for the Desperate was quite hard for me as I have very little to add to the Cisco Routers for the Desperate 1st edition review I posted a few years ago. After reading through this update pretty much all those comments still stand. It's an excellent, useful, well written book and the author still has a -distinct- written tone.
I enjoyed the book; I must have considering I bought the second edition! The material has been updated where needed and it's still lacking a section on ACLs so I'll stick to my score of 8/10 for people purchasing this book for the first time and look forward to another refresh in a couple of years time. If you already own the first edition then your choice is a little harder - this book is still an excellent stepping on point for the cost but don't expect much beyond a refresh on the same content.
Disclaimer: Part of my previous review is quoted in the marketing blurb at the front of the book. I did however pay for this book myself.
Sun, 10 Feb 2013
The first four chapters provide brief introductions to AWS and some of its more popular services. While these were fine I'd point people looking for this level of information at the Amazon Webservice Advent 2012 instead. Following this are a handful of more cookbook like chapters that each present a small amount of theory and advice about how to run a given applications on AWS - interspaced with multiple pages of python code. The chapters don't go in to enough details to bring much value to their subjects and the code detracts from the narrative without bringing much technical insight. I was particularly irked at the commented out sections - if you're going to publish a lot of code in a small book then at least be conscious that each line should bring something to the table.
It feels like this book should have been a series of blog posts rather than a printed book. Very disappointing and not recommended. Programming Amazon EC2 Programming Amazon EC2 by the same authors is much better.
Thu, 10 Jan 2013
Puppet Types and Providers - Short Review
Over the years I've realised that tools I can extend always return the effort taken to learn them many times over. While a number of us have worked through the source code of existing Puppet types and providers and the handful of official wiki pages and unofficial blog posts the release of Puppet Types and Providers means that the rest of you won't have to - this book brings most of the power with far, far less of the pain and uncertainty.
The book itself is a short one. Its contents are focused, well chosen examples and explanations that you'll actually be able to find and read when you need them rather than multiple pages covering every part of API trivia. This book may not cover every nook and cranny but I'd have no problem recommending it to co-workers who want to know the how and why of writing their own types and feeling safe that they'd be able to hit the ground running.
There are a couple of things that I'd liked to have seen covered, such as writing tests for your new types and providers, types with composite namevars and maybe an appendix on how to interrogate your puppet catalog (considering how well the short appendix on the ruby debugger comes across I think the authors would have nailed it) but these are things that can be covered in the second edition - or a larger book that covers all the puppet extension points (hint hint O'Reilly). I do think that this book will be one that stays within reach whenever you're doing Puppet work and will be useful for much more than the initial few readthroughs.
A useful, clearly written, book that saves a lot of source code diving and manually compiling information from many disparate online sources. Currently the best place to learn about how puppet types and providers work and how to create your own. 7/10
Building and Testing with Gradle - Short Review
When I picked up this very slim tome I knew nearly nothing about Gradle. Over the hundred odd well written pages of Building and Testing with Gradle I learned enough to understand the basic how, when and whys of the tool.
The book itself covered basic Gradle usage, how it compares to existing tools like maven, how to use ant and your existing ant task toolbox from within it and a basic look at how to write a custom task and integrate your own testing. From a beginners perspective the code samples and explanations made sense (although from these snippets I find Groovy an ugly language) and were mostly small and focused enough to read on a busy train.
The ideal readers are people who are very unfamiliar with this tool and who are looking for a working introduction to the how and why that they can absorb in a single quick sitting. I don't think the book would have much value once you move beyond this level of understanding and are able to put the online docs in to context but for my need it was fine.
Clear, well written and covered the essentials but probably a one off read. 7/10.
Sun, 22 May 2011
VMware vSphere 4.1 HA and DRS deepdive - Short Review
It's been years since I've read a book on VMWare. Between the maturity and ease of use of their GUI tools and my own continual move towards Free virtualisation I've not had the professional need or the spare time to invest but when a book comes as highly recommended as the VMware vSphere 4.1 HA and DRS Technical deepdive does you have to make some room on your (virtual) bookshelf.
Despite its small page count this book covers its subject material in a simple, direct and technically clear way. There is very little fluff and while you could find some of the details buried in VMWare KB articles or white papers its presence here in such a well combined and cohesive form more than justifies the books frankly tiny price tag (at least in the kindle store).
I came away from this book with enough of an understanding of the technologies covered to see where they'd fit, the issues we'd need to monitor for and some of the edge cases that would bite us in deployment. And that's a good return for the small investment of time reading this book takes.
The only downside of the book is that it could really do with another editorial pass or two. While this doesn't alter the quality of the technical content it does make the reading experience a little jarring.
If you want to get in to vSphere HA / DRS then this is a recommended read. Score - 7/10
Sun, 12 Dec 2010
Hadoop: The Definitive Guide - Short review
Hadoop is one of those technologies that seems to have forever changed the way parts of the industry work but has had no effect on my actual job. In an attempt to keep myself current for the after techtalk conversations I decided to buy Hadoop: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition by Tom White - and I'm very happy with the choice.
While there are massive amounts of information online about Hadoop and the ecosystem emerging around it I still found HadoopTDG to be a useful book and worth the money (especially on the iPad as it's a bit big for comfortable tube reading). The explanations are clear, there is enough detail without slowing the book to a crawl and some of the more important side projects are covered, showing outsiders like me which subprojects can help build the bridge in to my existing infrastructure.
A good book, covers a lot of ground and provides a good level of detail - 7/10
Thu, 11 Nov 2010
PHP: the Good Parts - Short Review
If you're looking for an introduction to the language then this book's an acceptable choice. It's short, seems to cover all the basics and is readable in a single sitting. If you're coming from another programming language, looking for in-depth advanced PHP knowledge or a book similar to Crockfords then this isn't the book for you.
Score: 6/10 as a beginners book.
Sun, 27 Jun 2010
The ThoughtWorks Anthology - Short Review
The ThoughtWorks Anthology is a collection of short articles and essays written by a number of their employees (some of who are now ex-employees) about software development with a heavily agile slant. The topics range from the very high level "Lush Landscape of Languages" and "What is an Iteration manager anyway" to the more technical and technique focused "Refactoring Ant Build Files" and "Object Calisthenics".
While the general quality of the writing is very good, especially my favourite - 'Object Calisthenics', the biggest problem with a book like this is that a lot of the essays authors, and some of their also knowledgeable co-workers, have personal blogs where this quality of information is available on a (near) daily basis, in both greater depth and more a conversational nature.
Tue, 25 May 2010
Hardening Apache - Short Review
I've had Hardening Apache sitting on my shelves for over five years (Sep 2004 or so Amazon tells me). While I can remember dipping in to it for the Apache chroot chapter it never seemed to progress to the top of the pile, and now I'm cleaning out a lot of my old books I decided to finally give it a chance.
The book is very well written, covers a good range of subjects from building apache from source to adding extra security modules and checking its running state. Those are all good points and if I'd read the book when it came out I'd give it a very decent score, unfortunately I waited to read it.
This is a book that hasn't aged well. The version numbers of apache mentioned, the last update times of the modules (and how many of them have fallen in to the pit of being unmaintained) and the general style of the shell scripts all just come across as very dated and prevent me from recommending this book
Well written but ravaged by time - where's the second edition?
Mon, 24 May 2010
Refactoring Databases - Short Review
Considering the deadlines most of us have to work to it's not surprising how much the idea of refactoring, which by continuously improving the design of code, we make it easier and easier to work with. appeals to us. But why should developers have all the 'fun'? Databases need some love and care too!
It's easier to review this book if we look at it as two smaller books. In the first book, chapters 1 to 5, the authors take you through the details of Refactoring Databases.
I think this is the most useful section of the book for most people, and the only part they'll read start to finish. It covers how the agile development and defensive data worlds can be combined (and has some slightly harsh DBA stereotypes), possible processes to follow and miscellaneous details such as transition periods, how to have two versions of a schema in production (triggers, lots of triggers!) and covers all the basics you'll need to be able to make informed decisions about how refactoring databases can fit in to your work flow.
The rest of the book is filled with the explicit, and quite dry refactorings (and a chapter of transformations). They go in to a surprising level of depth but are mostly common sense and easily understandable from the refactorings name.
The best advice I can give it to have a look at the inside front and back covers. If the refactoring names look interesting but you have no idea how they'd work then the books a good read and you'll come away with some insights in to hands on database refactoring. If you can think of two situations when to use, and just as importantly, not use, each refactoring then the book's too basic for you.
Tue, 30 Mar 2010
HTML & CSS - The Good Parts - Short Review
I'm guessing that if you're reading this then you've seen my very basic website at some point. I learned some HTML and CSS back when Netscape 4 and HTML 3.2 roamed the earth and while some of my very front end gifted co-workers have bought bits of my knowledge up to date I still don't understand how to properly lay out a CSS only multicolumn page without cheating.
I'm not sure if it's because i had vague expectations on what this book would cover or just if I'm not the target market for HTML & CSS The Good Parts but I've read the thing from cover to cover and nothing really stands out to me. All the right words are spoken, content vs style separation is good etc. but none of it feels new to me, the material is not explained in any new way that really gets the message across where other methods have failed and I very nearly gave up on the book half a dozen times. It's not a bad or horribly written book but it's also not one I could pick three best bits out of.
Make sure you have a skim through before you buy. Score 3/10
Sun, 21 Mar 2010
I'd never even heard of this book until Bob used its name in the same sentence as the excellent "Cisco Routers for the Desperate". However while that book is about hands on practical Cisco advice Network Ninja is all about the theory - from IP addressing to routing protocols.
While no one's ever going to confuse 200 easy to read pages with the Stevens books this slender volume is an excellent refresher for the experienced admin who doesn't do too much to the network on a day-to-day basis or for the less experienced admin who wants to know some of the why instead of just the command lines.
An enjoyable and opinionated book that covers a lot of ground in a low page count. Only let down by some bad editing - 7/10
The Book of Xen - Short Review
Although I've been a big fan of virtualization for many years I've mostly been a VMWare man. UML was good for the time but VMWare workstation and GSX always seemed to be better solutions - and they had the benefits of dealing with Windows. At $WORK we looked at using Xen for our new development environment but it never felt very finished, little things like needing to compile your own dhcp client in order to get PXE booting working always felt very wrong.
But now we're looking to move away from VMWare server for certain parts of our infrastructure everything's back on the table so I went looking for a guide through the lands of Xen in the modern world - and I think I found an excellent one in The Book of Xen.
The book takes you through all the aspects of using Xen that you'd expect, from installing it, configuring the guests (DomU in Xen terminology) to making the most out of the networking options and local storage possibilities. Where it goes that extra mile is in sections like 'Beyond Linux', which guides you through using NetBSD and Solaris with Xen, Profiling and benchmarking under Xen and Lessons from the trenches, in which the authors (who run a Xen hosting service) tell you about their real-world aches and pains.
Apart from the chapter on the commercial Citrix XenServer, which I can understand the inclusion of but isn't useful to me, there was something interesting in every chapter. After working through the book I have a good understanding of what needs attention in a Xen hosting setup and what might be weaknesses. All I need now is a similar book for KVM so I can avoid doing all my own research!.
An excellent guide to Xen that brings a lot of useful material into one place - 7/10
Sat, 17 Oct 2009
JRuby Cookbook - Short Review
First a disclaimer, I'm not a heavy Ruby or Java guy. Most of my coding for the last couple of years has been perl and shell - because I write little things that I need right now and those two languages excel at that (CPAN is still THE decision clincher).
I recently became involved in a side project that is written in Ruby and Java though and in an excellent timing coincidence a friend returned my previously unread copy of the JRuby Cookbook. The book isn't an introduction to either Java or Ruby (there are already excellent online and dead tree resources for that) but it shows where the two can meet and how to get started at those points. It's not really a book to read back to front but it is a good approach for a cookbook.
If you're curious as to how dynamic languages on static language VMs can complement each other this is a good book to flick through. Score - 6/10 - it's not the book for me right now but it does show a lot of entry points I'll probably come back to later.
Mon, 14 Sep 2009
Sun, 13 Sep 2009
Land The Tech Job You Love - Short Review
When it comes to progressing your technical career there are (IMHO) three main pillars, continuing your technical advancement, networking (with other people, not just wires) and building up your online presence. Land The Tech Job You Love covers all these critical points and expands the other parts of the job seeking process - researching the company, preparing for the interview and how to answer the more ambiguous questions that often come up.
The book is well written and has lots of action points that can help you along the way. I don't think I'd follow all the advice as given, some of it seems very American, but the book does raise a lot of points you should at least be aware of during your job hunt.
Score - 6/10
Mon, 31 Aug 2009
Cloud Application Architectures - Short Review
With all the hype and misdirection around the cloud it's always good to find a little bit of concrete information. If you're interested in the general principles of how the cloud (and Amazon Webservices in particular) could replace some of your existing infrastructure then Cloud Application Architectures isn't a bad place to start.
The book is a slim tome, it's easy to read in a couple of sittings and covers all the basics. The author felt more than a little biased towards the cloud (IMHO) but what do you expect from someone leading the push? The book is well written, clear in making its points and the worst omission / error are a couple of missing figures, but the text works fine without them.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the Berkley Cloud paper (PDF), a great paper for defining terms regarding the cloud, and any of the keynotes by Simon Wardley (especially the one from FrOScon 2009) as other good starting points - both of which are free.
If you're interested in how the cloud could play a part in your environment and want something a little more concrete (and AWS focused) then this book is for you. 7/10.
Sun, 30 Aug 2009
Project California: a Data Center Virtualization Server - Short Review
When it comes to sysadmin buzzwords Project California: a Data Center Virtualization Server ticks a lot of the boxes, which is a little misleading as half the book is about solid hardware level details that are actually rarely covered.
While this makes the first half more than a little dry it does introduce concepts that many of us take for granted, such as why DDR3 is faster than DDR2. The second half takes you through the Cisco UCS stack and where the benefits are. It's a good starting point but I'd hoped for some more meat, maybe even a case-study or two. The book answered some of my questions but it's not amazingly comprehensive so expect to do a lot more digging after you've finished reading it.
The book is self-published (Via Lulu) so it's probably worth mentioning the quality - it's the same as any other book I've bought recently. No better and no worse, which is actually pretty impressive.
6/10 - dry, fills a niche but covers a lot of general material not specific to UCS.
Sat, 21 Feb 2009
GDB Pocket Reference - (Very) Short Review
If you already know GDB then this book might be useful. It's full of command summaries and option listings but lacks an actual introduction or any walk through examples.
A google for GDB tutorials bought back some well written intros with actual sample code I could work through which is probably a more useful approach for most people.
Sat, 03 Jan 2009
The Art of Capacity Planning - Short Review
The only books on capacity planning I've ever skimmed my way through have been dense, dull tomes of long mathematical formulas, advice that's hard to use in any practical way and page counts in the treble digits. Thankfully John Allspaw has bucked this trend with The Art of Capacity Planning and instead written a slender, thought provoking, book.
The main focus of the book is that measurement is good, blind guessing is bad and that capacity planning, like security, is an ongoing process. While a lot of the material is common sense - which is never that common in IT - it's a perfect introduction to capacity planning (and the principles of data collection and graphing) for novice to intermediate system administrators and a handy refresher for the experts in the crowd. I found it oddly reassuring that someone else has a lot of the same thoughts as I do when it comes to these topics.
The Art of Capacity Planning is an easy, engaging read that gets you thinking along the right lines without becoming dull or long winded. Well worth the couple of hours it'll take to read - 8/10