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Book Reviews

Submission + - Pro Silverlight 4: the way tech books should be

jddp writes: A review of Matthew MacDonald's "Pro Silverlight 4 in VB"
ISBN-13: 978-1-4302-3548-4 | Published by Apress. Dec 2010


MacDonald is a programmer's programmer, and this is a model of what a programmer's guide should be. He explains a mass of technical information in considerable detail without losing the big-picture. His clear and concise exposition of concepts and functionality is never confusing or needlessly repetitive. The book's organization is logical, yet the chapters can be read in isolation, as the need or interest arises.

One thing this book doesn't provide is an overview of the subject for a novice trying to get the big-picture. After the briefest of introductions (10 pages), the author leaps right into building applications. Nor does it provide every technical detail you will need to complete your application. (That's why we have the web). However, if you want a book that can take you from having a rough map of the territory to being a self-sufficient Silverlight developer, I highly recommend this one.

Starting from the fundamentals of Silverlight such as XAML, Layout and Elements, McDonald rarely puts a step wrong as he winds through the technical details, progressing to specific functional areas such as such as Animation, Data Binding and Web services. Each chapter provides a brief overview of the functionality addressed before stepping through the programming details. His code examples are concise, but also convey the significance and use of the features very clearly. The examples do not sprawl across pages and pages, as in weaker tutorials, but they do build upon one another when necessary. Working code implementing the examples from the text is available at MacDonald’s personal site for anyone to download — but apparently only in C# (as far as I could see. The VB version may be coming later, just as the VB book lagged the C# version). Due to the intelligent choice, structuring and clear implementation of his examples, I have found them a useful jumping-off point for "real-life" applications on several occasions. The author has gone beyond the scope of the book in at least one case, implemented an “advanced” capability (support for large file up/downloads via a Web Service) that I was specifically interested in.

As mentioned, the book does not contain an extensive technology overview and this is reflected by the absence of many of the buzzwords associated with Silverlight from the index. You will find no mention of RIA services. MVVM is only touched upon in the context of the new SL 4 support for the Command pattern. (Even so, his brief explanation is a great example of MacDonald's lucid and economical expository style. You could trawl the web for a long time without finding such a straightforward explanation.) However, while MacDonald does not attempt to convey any over-arching architectural vision, he is perfectly capable of clarifying some abstract design concepts. In Chapter 4 of the book he is already tackling the intimidating-sounding topics of Dependency Properties, Attached Properties and Routed Events. By the time you’ve read a few pages you’re wondering what all the fuss was about. After less than six pages, MacDonald is working through a meaningful application of attached properties (a custom layout panel). Most of the chapter is devoted a detailed explanation and illustration of Mouse and Keyboard event handling, and to the new Commanding support in SL 4.

A final caveat: This is not a book for someone wanting to catch up on what's new in Silverlight 4. The information is there, but it is dispersed among the relevant sections of the old book, and there is no helpful index. Contrary to the impression given by the back-cover, the very occasional "What's New" boxes don't help much in homing in on new features. In fact, the organization of the material and most of the content is unchanged from the SL 3 edition, so I wouldn't buy this if you already have that book.

While reading this book, I sometimes wished for a wider view: discussions of the merits of different architectures; comparisons to design patterns used in other technologies, and so forth. This book will not be much help in defining the architecture for your next mega-app. This is a book to seize on when you need to get a handle on programming specific Silverlight features fast. You won't learn about every possible shortcut or dead-end on the trail, but you will never have to wonder where the heck you are.

In summary, while this book it isn’t all things to all developers, it is hard to overstate its consistent intelligence and clarity, or its sheer usefulness (to programmers). Programmers just aren’t supposed to be so articulate – are they?

Submission + - Frank Frazetta, 1928-2010 (comicsbeat.com)

Dave Knott writes: "Frank Frazetta, one of the most renowned comics and fantasy artists of all time, has passed away at the age of 82. Frazetta's early career, circa the 1950s, consisted of comics art in a wide array of venues, including horror and science fiction comics for renowned publishers such as EC Comics and DC Comics, and the comic strip Li'l Abner. Starting in the early 1960s, his work shifted towards illustration for pulp paperback covers, movie posters, and album covers. Fame quickly followed, and his painted art became the template for much of the fantasy art of of the latter 20th century. Frazetta may perhaps be most famous for his painted covers for the 60's era Conan paperbacks, which are considered by many to be the definitive artistic portrayal of that character. In latter years, he had been involved in a recently concluded legal battle between his heirs regarding the disposition of his artwork. Frazetta died of a stroke in a hospital near his home."
PlayStation (Games)

BioShock 2's First DLC Already On Disc 466

An anonymous reader writes with this quote from 1Up: "Trouble is brewing in Rapture. The recently released Sinclair Solutions multiplayer pack for BioShock 2 is facing upset players over the revelation that the content is already on the disc, and the $5 premium is an unlock code. It started when users on the 2K Forums noticed that the content is incredibly small: 24KB on the PC, 103KB on the PlayStation 3, and 108KB on the Xbox 360. 2K Games responded with a post explaining that the decision was made in order to keep the player base intact, without splitting it between the haves and have-nots."

Scientists Say a Dirty Child Is a Healthy Child 331

Researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California have shown that the more germs a child is exposed to, the better their immune system in later life. Their study found that keeping a child's skin too clean impaired the skin's ability to heal itself. From the article: "'These germs are actually good for us,' said Professor Richard Gallo, who led the research. Common bacterial species, known as staphylococci, which can cause inflammation when under the skin, are 'good bacteria' when on the surface, where they can reduce inflammation."

Xbox Live Players Targeted In Denial-of-Service Attacks 77

The BBC reports on a growing trend where some Xbox Live players are launching denial-of-service attacks against those who beat them or otherwise irritate them in games. Quoting: "'The smart thing about these Xbox tools is that they do not attack the Xbox Live network itself,' [Chris Boyd, director of malware research at Facetime Communications said.] He said the tools work by exploiting the way that the Xbox Live network is set up. Game consoles connecting to the Xbox network send data via the net, and for that it needs an IP address. Even better, said Mr Boyd, games played via Xbox Live are not hosted on private servers. The tools mean anyone with a few dollars can boot rivals off Xbox Live. 'Instead,' he said, 'a lot of games on Xbox Live are hosted by players.' ... For $20 (£13) some Xbox Live hackers will remotely access a customer's PC and set up the whole system so it can be run any time they need it. Some offer low rates to add compromised machines to a botnet and increase the amount of data flooding a particular IP address."
Operating Systems

Windows 7 To Be 256-Core Aware 441

unassimilatible writes "As new features of Windows 7 continue to trickle out, ZDNet is now reporting that it will scale to 256 processors. While one has to wonder, like with Vista, how many of the teased features will actually make it into the final OS, I think we can all agree, 256 cores is enough for anybody." This Mark Russinovich interview has some technical details (Silverlight required).
Data Storage

Silencing a Hard Drive Using Household Items 275

Reader Justblair recommends his blog entry detailing how he made a hard drive silencer for a pittance. "This article demonstrates a very easy-to-make hard drive silencer that not only outperforms most commercially available devices, but is cheaper to implement as well. Requiring very little in fabrication skills, it is an ideal addition to a media PC or HTPC. It may even suit you if your head is aching after many hours of being whined at by your hard drive."
The Internet

The Effects of the Cloud On Business, Education 68

g8orade points out two recent articles in The Economist about the rise of cloud computing. The first discusses how software-as-a-service has come to pervade online interactions. "Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a technology visionary at IBM, compares cloud computing to the Cambrian explosion some 500m years ago when the rate of evolution sped up, in part because the cell had been perfected and standardised, allowing evolution to build more complex organisms." The next article examines how the cloud will force a "trade-off between sovereignty and efficiency." Reader pjones contributes news that the Virtual Computer Lab will be supplementing more traditional computer labs at North Carolina State University, and adds, "NCSU's Virtual Computing Lab and IBM are offering the VCL code as a software 'appliance' for use in schools to link to the program. Downloads are available at ibiblio at UNC-Chapel Hill. The VCL also is partnering with Apache.org to make the software available and to allow further community participation in future development."

Packs of Robots Will Hunt Down Uncooperative Humans 395

Ostracus writes "The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to 'develop a software/hardware suite that would enable a multi-robot team, together with a human operator, to search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject. The main research task will involve determining the movements of the robot team through the environment to maximize the opportunity to find the subject ... Typical robots for this type of activity are expected to weigh less than 100 Kg and the team would have three to five robots.'" To be fair, they plan to use the Multi-Robot Pursuit System for less nefarious-sounding purposes as well. They note that the robots would "have potential commercialization within search and rescue, fire fighting, reconnaissance, and automated biological, chemical and radiation sensing with mobile platforms."
The Media

Jobs Rumor Debacle Besmirches Citizen Journalism 286

On Friday someone posted a false rumor that Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack on CNN's unverified citizen journalism site, iReport. Apple's stock price went vertical, losing 9% before Apple stepped in and denied the rumor; the stock then recovered most of its loss. The SEC is investigating. PCWorld looks at the hit taken by citizen journalism as a result of this incident. "[The] increasingly blurred line between journalism and rumor is a serious concern for Al Tompkins, the broadcast/online group leader at The Poynter Institute — a specialized school for journalists of all media forms. 'How could you possibly allow just anybody to post just anything under your [CNN] label unless you have blazing billboards that say, "None of this has been verified, we've not looked at any of this, we have no idea if this is true"?' he asks."

Encrypted Images Vulnerable To New Attack 155

rifles only writes "A German techie has found a remarkably simple way to discern some of the content of encrypted volumes containing images. The encrypted images don't reveal themselves totally, but in many cases do let an attacker see the outline of a high-contrast image. The attack works regardless of the encryption algorithm used (the widely-used AES for instance), and affects all utilities that use single symmetric keys. More significant to police around the world struggling with criminal and terrorist use of encryption, the attack also breaks the ability of users to 'hide' separate encrypted volumes inside already encrypted volumes, whose existence can now for the first time be revealed." The discoverer of this attack works for a company making full-disk encryption software; their product, TurboCrypt, has already been enhanced to defeat the attack. Other on-the-fly encryption products will probably be similarly enhanced, as the discoverer asserts: "To our knowledge is the described method free of patents and the author can confirm that he hasn't applied for protection."

Why the Olympics Didn't Melt the Internet 383

perlow tips his blog entry over at ZDNet on why the Internet didn't melt when millions of users streamed 480i video for a week. The short answer is Limelight Networks of Tempe, Arizona. "[W]hy the Internet didn't 'melt' is quite simple — [Limelight is] completely 'off the cloud.' In other words, unlike Akamai and similar content caching providers, their system isn't deployed over the public Internet... Limelight has partnered with over 800 broadband Internet providers worldwide... so that the content is either co-located in the same facility as your ISP's main communications infrastructure, or it leases a dedicated Optical Carrier line so that it actually appears as part of your ISP's internal network. In most cases, you're never even leaving your Tier 1 provider to get the video."

Why Is Adobe Flash On Linux Still Broken? 963

mwilliamson writes "As I sit reading my morning paper online I still cannot view the embedded videos due to auto-detection of my Flash player not working. One in every three or four YouTube videos crashes the browser. I remember sometime back reading that Adobe has a very small development team (possibly only one) working on the Linux port of Flash. It has occurred to me that Flash on Linux is the one major entry barrier controlling acceptance of Linux as a viable desktop operating system. No matter how stably, smoothly, efficiently, and correctly Linux runs on a machine, the public will continue to view it as second-rate if Flash keeps crashing. This is the worst example of being tied down and bound by a crappy 3rd-party product over which no Linux distribution has any control. GNASH is nice, but it just isn't there 100%. I really do have to suspect Adobe's motivation for keeping Flash on Linux in such a deplorable state."

Outages Leave Google Apps Admins In the Hotseat 260

snydeq writes "This week's Google outages left several Google Apps admins in the lurch — and many of them are second-guessing their advocacy for making the switch to hosted apps, InfoWorld reports. The outages, which affected both Gmail and Apps, 'could serve as a deterrent to some IT and business managers who might not be ready to ditch conventional software packages that are installed on their servers,' according to the article. 'If we began to experience a similar outage more than about two or three business hours per quarter, we'd probably make Google Apps and Gmail a backup solution to a locally hosted mail system, if we used it at all,' said one Apps admin. 'And it would likely be years before we'd try a cloud-based collaborative system again from any vendor.' Coupled with recent Apple and Amazon cloud issues, these Google outages are being viewed by some as big wins for Microsoft."

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