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Sat, 22 Mar 2014

Project Book Pages

I've been doing my usual quarterly sweep of the always too full bookshelves and hit the usual dilemma of what to keep, what to donate to charity and what to recycle. Among the technical books in this batch is the 'Sendmail Cookbook', something I've always kept as a good luck charm to ward off the evil of needing to work with mail servers with m4 based configuration languages.

Sendmail is one of those projects that I've not kept up with over the years. I have no idea how much has changed since the book was published over a decade ago, 2003 in this case, so I don't know if this is a useful book to pass on or if it's dangerously out of date and should be removed from circulation. It'd be handy if the larger projects maintained a page of books related to the project and a table of how relevant the material is in relation to different versions.

This would not only help me prune my shelves of older, now out of date books, but would help people new to a project pick books that were still relevant for the versions they need to learn.

Posted: 2014/03/22 15:30 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

Mon, 13 Jan 2014

Ansible Configuration Management Book - Short Review

I'm still new to Ansible and while it's been interesting seeing how people are starting to use the tool, picking up bits and pieces from different blog posts is a little too hit and miss for my learning needs. When I spotted Ansible Configuration Management (PacktPub) I decided to take the plunge and see if it could provide me with a more consistent introduction. And it did.

This book makes an ideal first stop for anyone wanting to learn Ansible. While it's a short book (92 pages and even less than that of actual content) it provides a very good introduction and overview of at least your first months experience of Ansible. While none of its coverage is going to be the only coverage of a subject you'll ever need it introduces enough of the concepts and features to be the best starting guide for Ansible I've seen so far. I found that each chapter filled in a number of gaps in my understanding of how Ansible should be used.

If you're looking at introducing Ansible to your team this book is far from the worst way to do it. Its coverage is broad enough that you'll probably get a few re-reads out of it as you bring more of your infrastructure under Ansible control and start to evolve your needs from basic playbooks to more advanced role composition. It's worth noting that this isn't a cookbook, it's not going to hand hold you through using each of the built in modules. For the more experienced sysadmins looking for a quick way to learn Ansible this is a boon as it keeps the page count down.

I'd liked to have seen more coverage of extending Ansible, the last chapter provides a basic introduction but it's not enough for what I need but this'd be a good subject for a second book once the testing tool chain and such as progressed to a more mature place. Score - 7/10

Posted: 2014/01/13 21:50 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

Mon, 06 Jan 2014

Learning AWS OpsWorks - Short Book Review

I picked up a copy of Learning AWS OpsWorks during the PacktPub holiday sale. It was cheap, short and covered a AWS product that I've never had need to dig in to and knew very little about.

The book takes you through creating a basic stack, the layers inside it and deploying an application to managed instances. Its coverage is very high level and doesn't really go beyond a cursory explanation of the services used. As you'd expect from the page count, it doesn't delve in to either the Amazon services you use or how to make chef do your bidding, instead sticking to its focus and giving you just enough information to get the example working and not much else. It's worth mentioning that the console screen shots are already out of date so you need to do a little exploring on your own as you follow the steps.

Learning AWS OpsWorks is a brief but informative high level overview of AWS OpsWorks and how you'd use it to create and manage basic stacks. I don't think it's worth the full price, a Safari account would be quite useful here. It's also very unlikely you'll need to read it more than once so it's not great value for money. It does however present the concepts in an easy to understand way, so if you're looking to pick up basic OpsWorks in a big rush it's the only competition to the official docs.

Posted: 2014/01/06 10:26 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

Wed, 04 Dec 2013

Introduction to Programming in Go - Short Review

I don't often impulse buy technical books. They cost too much and consume too much shelf space to be purchased frivolously but when it's 1.95 for a Kindle book on Go and I'm stuck miles from home it seemed like a good idea.

An Introduction to Programming in Go is a well written guide to your first hour in Go. While you can probably find coverage of the same material on the web, having it all nicely curated in one place is worth the money for someone like me who just wants a little taster and overview. The book covers all the language basics, types, variables, data structures, pointers, structs and, most interesting to me, the native concurrency methods.

While I personally don't have an immediate use for Go, at $WORK we have a couple of projects written in it so being able to understand the basics from such a quick read is a lovely thing. I can see myself re-reading this little book each time I'm called on to work with a Go based team as a terse refresher.

This book won't teach you everything you need to know about Go in its slender 166 pages but it does provide a nice, quick peek at Go code and its more immediately useful standard library. For people with no Go exposure I'd give this book 7/10

Posted: 2013/12/04 00:15 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

Mon, 26 Aug 2013

Heroku: Up and Running - Short Review

Disclaimer: I read the early release version of this book. Some details may change between the version I read the final, published one.

The first two chapters of Heroku: Up and Running are my favourite of the book. After the usual selling and explanation of virtual servers and the arrival of 'The Cloud' the authors cover the concept, culture and technical architecture of Heroku. The technical details of a closed company are never covered as deeply as you'd like but the material here is interesting, explains quite a lot of Herokus main technology and approaches and how th platform has evolved to enhance an opinionated work flow that seems to suit many developers.

In chapter 3 you get a walk through on the performance and scaling issues that come with most cloud architecture based applications. While there's nothing amazingly new here for the more experienced readers the coverage is perfectly fine and if you've never had these issues before it's a great first read to help you get your head around them. Chapter 4 explains Herokus take on regions and how to duplicate your application over multiple locations.

Chapter 5 contains a grab-bag of information on one of Herokus most impressive features, its hosted PostgreSQL offering. This is the closest match to Amazons MySQL RDS I've seen for people that want to run PostgreSQL and while this section won't teach you the database it does cover a lot of the more important concerns of running it under Heroku.

The final three chapters of the book, deployment, 'when it goes wrong' and Buildpacks help round out the basic knowledge you'll need to start using Heroku for your own applications and give you some good starting points for when your first couple of pushes have issues.

I had no exposure to Heroku before reading this book and now I've finished it I feel like I know enough to both evaluate its offerings (as of now, the cloud platforms change quite rapidly) and host a basic application on a very sensibly built hosted architecture. The writing is clear and focused and the coverage is broad but not very deep. If you're new to Heroku this book will do exactly what the title claims - in just a lunch break or two.

I really enjoyed the first couple of chapters but I don't think it has any re-read value so I'm going to give this a 6/10. I'd love to see a more general book about building and operating a PaaS by the same authors.

Posted: 2013/08/26 18:17 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

Bandit Algorithms for Website Optimization - Short Review

It's been quite a while since I've been heavily involved in large scale A/B testing frameworks and after reading Bandit Algorithms for Website Optimization I feel like I've been shown a whole new toolkit in under 90 pages.

This slim book quickly explains the basic principles of A/B testing and then introduces both one of the major problems with it, sending traffic to an inefficient option, and presents three algorithms based on studies of the multi-armed bandit problem that will introduce you to new, faster, ways to determine which trials are worth investigation and further exploration.

The code examples are all in python and very easy to read even for people without much experience of the language. The editing is a tiny bit lacking but the book itself is an enjoyable, easy read that introduced me to some great ideas, provides a solid formal terminology for things I only knew the basics of and a good reading list of advanced topics. 7/10.

Posted: 2013/08/26 16:03 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

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.

Posted: 2013/03/25 16:25 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

Sun, 10 Feb 2013

Resilience and Reliability on AWS - book review

With a title like Resilience and Reliability on AWS I had quite high expectations for this slim book. Unfortunately, they were not met.

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.

Posted: 2013/02/10 16:23 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

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

Posted: 2013/01/10 21:34 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

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.

Posted: 2013/01/10 21:15 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

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

Posted: 2011/05/22 08:49 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

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

Posted: 2010/12/12 09:12 | /books | Permanent link to this entry

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