Tech Book Review – Zero To Maker

Are you a closet inventor? Have you heard about the strange new thing called 3-D printing and would like to try your hand at it? Do you believe you could create electronic devices to solve problems around Zero To Makerthe home or office? If any of these sounds like you, then you may be a “maker”. Makers are those among us who dream of better ways to do things and creative uses for the objects around us. They are the tinkerers and programmers, the hackers and explorers. If any of this sounds appealing to you, then the book “Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything” by David Lang is a good place for you to start.

Zero to Maker”, published by Maker Media, starts with an overview of the maker phenomena and then gets down to the hands-on nitty-gritty. In contrast to general business style books like “The Maker Movement Manifesto” by Mark Hatch, which stays at a higher more theoretical level, “Zero to Maker” goes in depth with some of the projects and problems that face today’s creators. From the various types of people that you will come in contact with to the different ways of handling specific product problems, the advice given her is concrete and actionable. The next step from here would be actual user manuals for hardware or programming tutorials for system development languages.

When it comes to the maker scene, I am definitely into the computer side of things. I am into the Raspberry PI, the Arduino, and TI’s Launchpad. I guess that makes sense since I am a programmer by trade, but I also like the hardware side of these devices. But, since I have been so preoccupied with software for so many years, my knowledge of basic electronics leaves something to be desired. That is where a book such as this comes in. It doesn’t necessarily tell me everything I need to know about electronics, but it helps lay out a path of where I should go to learn more.

I found Lang’s style easy to read and almost conversational, without become too casual. Making is an area where the excitement of discovery should show through, and it does in this book. Of particular interest is his relating his own journey with the OpenROV project. The path of that project, dealing with underwater robots, from discovery through fruition is one that all makers hope to enjoy.

I would also recommend “Zero to Maker” to parents or teachers who are interested in getting kids interested in engineering, science, or other STEAM fields. (STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) This book might give some ideas on how to motivate those kids and also how to deal with the types of personalities that will be encountered.

Precipice – A Review

Precipice (The Literary Anthology of Write on Edge)As luck would have it, this is a great collection of poems and short stories. The work of over 20 authors, Precipice  brings together tales of luck, both good and bad fortune, from the members of the online writing community “Write on Edge“. You will find everything in this work from fantasy to horror, straight forward fiction to modern poetry. It is not by luck that all of these entries are each enticing in their own way – the panel that selected them has done their job very well. The styles are varied as are the voices and subject matter, but all of the pieces are joined together by the quality of the writing.

Through this book I have gotten some great glimpses into the works of old friends, but I have also learned about new authors I was not familiar with. Precipice is like a stream branching out in many different directions offering me new vistas around every corner. Good stuff and money well spent.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that my buddy Andra Watkins has a story in here, and quite a good tale I might add. In addition, Cameron Garriepy is one of the driving forces behind the book. I love to see my friends do such great work!

Seven Tasty Tales of Terror – A Review of Echoes in Darkness

Echoes in Darkness is Echoes In Darknessthe perfect collection of spine tingling (or stomach twisting) tales for the Halloween season, although actually I would be more than happy to read them any time. The authors of these tales are Angela Amman, Mandy Dawson, Cameron D Garriepy, Kameko Murakami, Kate Shrewsday, Andra Watkins, and Elizabeth Yon. The seven stories here range from the psychological thriller to parental betrayal to the more standard ghost story, but they will all creep into the dark corners of your mind and take up residence there. They will come back out and haunt you when you see an innocent little girl or go to listen to your iPod or even read the classified ads. The stories and styles are all different, but what joins them all together is the talent of the authors. The seven women who weave these tales all have a way with words and know how to use them to their best advantage.

I must admit that I count a few of the contributors as friends, but regardless of that I would highly recommend Echoes in Darkness to all interested in a good read. And consider these tales but appetizers – most of these women have full course books already out or coming out soon that will fulfill your desire for more of what you have tasted here. Do yourself a favor and belly up to this tasty sampling.

Oh, and boo!

Reviews – Two By Neil Gaiman

First let’s talk about “The Ocean at the End of the Lane“.

Ocean at the End of the LaneLet’s just come out with it to start, I love this book. Yes, it is true that I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan anyway, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane made me even more of one. It is a short book and an easy read for most people, but it is a bit hard to classify. By length an narrator, an eleven year old boy, you might be tempted to classify it as a juvenile book, but it is not. By the subject matters dealt with, such as suicide and desire, it is at least Young Adult, if not totally an adult work.

It is interesting to me that Gaiman started writing this work as a short story for his wife, Amanda Palmer. He started writing it as a way to, perhaps, explain who he is and why he is the way he is. It is a very personal story to him, one that is anchored around the edges to his own childhood. But it goes beyond that simple story to become a larger tale of people, the universe, and the way things operate. These subjects could come across as heavy handed except for they are approached from the innocence of this little boy, who is a bit lost and more than a bit brave at the same time.

If you are looking for a book of light and delight and happy endings, this is not what you need to be reading. But if you are want to explore some of life’s larger questions, delve into some of our more hidden emotions, and do so through the un-jaded mind of what might as well be an modern representation of the slightly nerdy, slightly outcast everyman, then this is it.

Fortunately The MilkAnd now “Fortunately The Milk“.

This is a a thoroughly delightful little book. Not at all deep or dark like the previous title. It is aimed probably at ages 6 to 10? Sorry, I am not good at gauging kids books. But, this would make a great book to read out loud to kids. There are lots of fun places to do interesting voices and inflections on odd words. It maybe a bit long to read to them all the way through in one sitting, but there is a great breaking point exactly in the middle. And the illustrations, though all black and white, are fun to look at. You can find lots of tons of little hidden details.

If you have a young kid, or can find one to read to, this book is highly recommended. Or just read it for yourself. You are never too old for a good story book.

The Steampunk of "Vintage Tomorrows" by James H. Carrott, O'Reilly Media

If you check Wikipedia, it defines Steampunk as “a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American ‘Wild West’, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.” Vintage Tomorrows A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology By James H. Carrott, Brian David Johnson So, while science fiction typically looks forward, or at least looks at now with a scientific bent, steampunk is looking back – looking back at possibilities and alternatives. And, in some rare cases, it maybe looking at now but from a historical perspective, again with the alternative of more mechanization instead of computerization.

This brings us to Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology by James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson. (And published by O’Reilly Media who gave me a copy for this review.) Now this book is not a steampunk novel, it is instead a look at all sorts of steampunk works and what they say about us and our future. Many scenarios and devices found in mainstream science fiction have come to reality, everything from submarines to space travel, so what truths might lie in steampunk?
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