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Submission + - Review of "Best iPad Apps" by Peter Meyers

joel.neely writes: "Horseless carriage." Hold that thought.


I got my iPad as a tool to accomplish things with more mobility and efficiency, not to spend time wandering virtual supermarket aisles looking for the shiniest variation on a theme. Given that, I was immediately attracted to "Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders" ( from O'Reilly. Both the author, Peter Meyers (, and the publisher have the right credentials and reputation to address my need.
The book:

The content is well organized, with chapters (and sections) that support both leisurely browsing and focused navigation: At Work, At Leisure, Creative Corner, At Play, At Home, Out and About, For Your Health.

The reviews typically provide an app's icon (great for quick visual reference), price, reviewed version (important in the fast-moving world of the App Store), publisher, overview, well-organized comments and usage tips, and screen shots for key points.

The rankings Meyers gives were highly consistent with my experience on key apps I regularly use. More important, he is clear about his point of view and why he evaluates as he does—a crucial feature for this type of reference. On my first reading, he introduced me to new and useful possibilities. I will be keeping this book within easy access for ongoing use.

Finally, I must confess a slightly wistful thought that turned out to be premature. I still remember the early days of the World Wide Web, when a variety of printed "yellow-pages to the Web" books appeared. Most of them had a fairly short shelf-life, as the explosive growth of the web left them quickly out of date. I immediately wondered whether this book would have such a future. But...

Horseless carriage?:

In its early days, the automobile was often referred to as a "horseless carriage"; most people only thought of it in terms of what they already knew, and hadn't realized the implications of that new technology. (How many people—and companies—are still trying to think of the web as a magazine, newspaper, radio, television, mailbox, etc. minus some physical attribute, not recognizing it as a new thing that is all and none of the previous media?)

That's why I regard Meyers' preface as one of the most enduring parts of this book.

He gets it.

Meyers explicitly focuses on what makes the iPad a new thing, not just a mobile phone or netbook, and uses that understanding to guide his selection and evaluation of apps that are important, note-worthy, or simply enjoyable to use. And that makes this book useful not only to a "discriminating downloader" like me, it makes it a great reference to an aspiring app developer who needs to understand what makes iPad apps different, and to any technophile (iPad owner or not) who wants to understand better the potential of this new thing.

Comment Follow the links, people! (Score 1) 329 329

The original article, and most of the posts here, can be used to illustrate another important issue: if one makes snap judgments based on partial information, it is easy to be misled. Following the links all the way to (the judge's decision) reveals that the plaintiff failed to achieve a satisfactory rating during student teaching, which contributed to her not getting a teaching certificate. Snyder and Mayer-Schoenberger failed to include that inconvenient fact.

Perhaps before jumping into a stranger's fight (or, in this case, flaming about narrow-minded opposition to free speech), we should take the time to learn more of the facts.

Book Reviews

Submission + - Book Review: R in a Nutshell

joel.neely writes: R is a statistical computing environment that is fully-compliant with state-of-the-art buzzwords: free, open-source, cross-platform, interactive, graphics, objects, closures, higher-order functions, and more. It is supported by an impressive collection of user-supplied modules through CRAN, the "Comprehensive R Archive Network". (Sound familiar?)

And now it has its own O'Reilly Nutshell book, R in a Nutshell, written by Joseph Adler. I am pleased to report that Adler has risen to the challenge of the highly-regarded "Nutshell" franchise. As is traditional for the series, this title mixes introduction, tutorial, and reference material in a style that is well suited to a reader who already has a background in programming, but is a new or occasional user of R.

The book's flow was very effective for addressing the different points of view from which I approached it.

As a curious newcomer to R who wanted to get going quickly, I was well-served by Part 1, which provided an R kickstart. Chapter 1 covers the process of getting and installing R. It is short, to the point, and just works, addressing Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux/Unix with equal attention. Chapter 2, on the R user interface, introduces the range of options for interacting with R: the GUI (both the standard version and some enhanced alternatives), the interactive console, batch mode, and the RExcel package (which supports R inside a certain well-known spreadsheet). Chapter 3 uses a set of interactive examples to provide a quick tour of the R language and environment, establishing a task-oriented theme that carries through the rest of the book. The last chapter of part 1 covers R packages. It summarizes the standard pre-loaded packages, introduces the tools to explore repositories and install additional package, and concludes by explaining how to create new packages.

As a polyglot programmer who is always interested in seeing how a new language approaches programs and their construction, I enjoyed Part 2, which described the R language. This section begins with an overview in chapter 5, and then devotes a chapter each to R syntax, R objects, symbols and environments (central to understanding the dynamic nature of R), functions (including higher-order functions), and R's own approach to object-oriented programming. This section closes in chapter 11, with a discussion of techniques and tips for improving performance.

As a busy professional with data sitting on my hard drive that I'd like to understand better, I appreciated Part 3, with its practical emphasis on using R to load, transform, and visualize data. Chapter 12 presented alternatives for loading, editing, and saving data, from the built-in data editor, through file I/O in a variety of formats, to a mature set of database access options. Chapter 13 illustrated a range of techniques for manipulating, organizing, cleaning, and sorting data, in preparation for presentation or more detailed analysis. Chapter 14 introduces the reader to the wealth of graphical presentation options built into the R environment. There are so many charting types and details that this chapter could have been overwhelming, but Adler keeps the interest high and the mood light by drawing on an engaging variety of data: toxic chemical levels, baseball statistics, the topography of Yosemite Valley, demographic data, and even turkey prices. Chapter 15 is devoted to lattice graphics, the R implementation of the "trellis graphics" technique for data visualization developed at Bell Labs. This chapter illustrates the power of lattice graphics by exploring the question of why more babies are born on weekdays than weekends.

As a non-statistician who still occasionally needs to do some number-crunching, I'm sure I'll be returning to Part 4, with its detailed explanations and illustrations of analysis tools and techniques–almost two-hundred pages worth. In chapters 16 through 20, Adler surveys topics in data analysis, probability, statistics, power tests, and regression modeling. As someone who has been offered too many medications and lost fortunes, I found much to enjoy in chapter 21, which used a variety of spam-detection techniques to illustrate the concepts of classification. Chapter 22, on machine learning, discusses several of the data mining techniques that R supports. Chapter 23 covers time series analysis, which may be used to identify trends or periodic patterns in data. Finally, chapter 24 offers an overview of Bioconductor, an open-source project focused on genomic data.

The book closes with a detailed reference to the standard R packages.

This is an impressive piece of work. In a volume of this size (about 650 pages), navigation is crucial, and I found both the organization of the chapters and index up to the task. I was able to follow the instructions and examples through the first several chapters of the book essentially without a hitch, and in the latter chapters the variety of illustrations and data sources added interest to what could have been very dull going.

I won't claim perfection for this book. There were a couple of explanations that could have been clearer, and one or two odd turns of phrase or rough edits. Out of all the code examples that I tried, I found exactly one that didn't seem to work without a minor correction. For a work of this size, that's actually pretty amazing!

As a long-time O'Reilly reader, I see Joseph Adler's R in a Nutshell as a welcome addition to the menagerie.

Comment There is a difference... (Score 5, Insightful) 319 319

...between humor and malicious behavior. We don't excuse a schoolyard bully if he claims, "I was just having fun." Neither should we ignore malicious false statements merely because someone claims, "I was just doing a parody."

Accusations against teachers and principles of sexual misconduct against their students are typically taken very seriously (with good reason). So how is a student who makes such statements, apparently in retaliation for being disciplined at school, that different from a student who retaliates by pulling a fire alarm?

First Person Shooters (Games)

Modern Warfare 2 Surpasses $1 Billion Mark; Dedicated Servers What? 258 258

The Opposable Thumbs blog is running an interesting article contrasting everything Activision did "wrong" in creating and marketing Modern Warfare 2 with the game's unqualified success. Despite price hikes, somewhat shady review practices, exploit frustrations, and the dedicated server fiasco, the game has raked in over a billion dollars in sales. "There was only one way to review Modern Warfare 2: on the Xbox 360, in Santa Barbara, under the watchful eye of Activision. Accepting the paid trip, along with room and board, was the only way you were going to get a review before launch. Joystiq noted that this broke their ethics policy, but they went anyway. Who can say no to a review destined to bring in traffic? Shacknews refused to call their coverage a 'review' because of the ethical issues inherent in the situation, but that stance was unique. The vast majority of news outlets didn't disclose how the review was conducted, or added a disclaimer after the nature of the review was made public. This proved to Activision that if you're big enough, you can dictate the exact terms of any review, and no ethics policy will make news outlets turn you down."

Former Exec Says Electronic Arts "Is In the Wrong Business" 180 180

Mitch Lasky was the executive vice president of Mobile and Online at Electronic Arts until leaving the publisher to work at an investment firm. He now has some harsh things to say about how EA has been run over the past several years, in particular criticizing the decisions of CEO John Riccitiello. Quoting: "EA is in the wrong business, with the wrong cost structure and the wrong team, but somehow they seem to think that it is going to be a smooth, two-year transition from packaged goods to digital. Think again. ... by far the greatest failure of Riccitiello's strategy has been the EA Games division. JR bet his tenure on EA's ability to 'grow their way through the transition' to digital/online with hit packaged goods titles. They honestly believed that they had a decade to make this transition (I think it's more like 2-3 years). Since the recurring-revenue sports titles were already 'booked' (i.e., fully accounted for in the Wall Street estimates) it fell to EA Games to make hits that could move the needle. It's been a very ugly scene, indeed. From Spore, to Dead Space, to Mirror's Edge, to Need for Speed: Undercover, it's been one expensive commercial disappointment for EA Games after another. Not to mention the shut-down of Pandemic, half of the justification for EA's $850MM acquisition of Bioware-Pandemic. And don't think that Dante's Inferno, or Knights of the Old Republic, is going to make it all better. It's a bankrupt strategy."

Whatever Happened To Second Life? 209 209

Barence writes "It's desolate, dirty, and sex is outcast to a separate island. In this article, PC Pro's Barry Collins returns to Second Life to find out what went wrong, and why it's raking in more cash than ever before. It's a follow-up to a feature written three years ago, in which Collins spent a week living inside Second Life to see what the huge fuss at the time was all about. The difference three years can make is eye-opening."

Music By Natural Selection 164 164

maccallr writes "The DarwinTunes experiment needs you! Using an evolutionary algorithm and the ears of you the general public, we've been evolving a four bar loop that started out as pretty dismal primordial auditory soup and now after >27k ratings and 200 generations is sounding pretty good. Given that the only ingredients are sine waves, we're impressed. We got some coverage in the New Scientist CultureLab blog but now things have gone quiet and we'd really appreciate some Slashdotter idle time. We recently upped the maximum 'genome size' and we think that the music is already benefiting from the change."

Simulation of Close Asteroid Fly-By 148 148

c0mpliant writes "NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have released a simulation of the path of an asteroid, named Apophis, that will come very close to Earth in 2029 — the closest predicted approach since humans have monitored for such heavenly bodies. The asteroid caused a bit of a scare when astronomers first announced that it would enter Earth's neighborhood some time in the future. However, since that announcement in 2004, more recent calculations have put the odds of collision at 1 in 250,000."

Canadian Blood Services Promotes Pseudoscience 219 219

trianglecat writes "The not-for-profit agency Canadian Blood Services has a section of their website based on the Japanese cultural belief of ketsueki-gata, which claims that a person's blood group determines or predicts their personality type. Disappointing for a self-proclaimed 'science-based' organization. The Ottawa Skeptics, based in the nation's capital, appear to be taking some action."

Programmable Quantum Computer Created 132 132

An anonymous reader writes "A team at NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) used berylium ions, lasers and electrodes to develop a quantum system that performed 160 randomly chosen routines. Other quantum systems to date have only been able to perform single, prescribed tasks. Other researchers say the system could be scaled up. 'The researchers ran each program 900 times. On average, the quantum computer operated accurately 79 percent of the time, the team reported in their paper.'"

Starbucks Drops T-Mobile For AT&T 207 207

stoolpigeon writes "Ars reports that Starbucks is replacing T-Mobile with AT&T as their Wi-Fi provider. AT&T broadband customers will be able to access the service for free. Starbucks card users will get 2 hours a day free. 2-hour, daily, and monthly rates will be lower than they were with T-Mobile. Starbucks says that their previously announced deal to tie in with iTunes will continue under AT&T. For now AT&T isn't offering free Wi-Fi to iPhone users, but says it expects to accommodate them soon. Quoting the article: 'The companies didn't specify exactly when the rollout would begin, only saying that it would take place this spring... [The company plans] to install all new equipment at Starbucks as part of this agreement, so the changeover won't be as simple as flipping a switch.'"

% APL is a natural extension of assembler language programming; ...and is best for educational purposes. -- A. Perlis