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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Oracle PL/SQL Programming, Third Edition
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Steven Feuerstein
Rating: 3/5
Customer opinion - 3 stars out of 5
Too long for a quick start

O'Reilly publishes good reference books. I always look for one of their books first when I am looking for a book in a given subject area. No one book in their Oracle series has it all, though. Each book covers it's subject area in depth...just make sure you get the right book! If you like the "Whatever For Dummies" kind of books, then O'Reilly books aren't for you. My only knock is that there are more books in the Oracle series than is really necessary...marketing at it's worst! Some of the seperate PL/SQL related books should have been combined into one volume.

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: Classical Electrodynamics
Publisher: Wiley
Authors: John David Jackson
Rating: 2/5
Customer opinion - 2 stars out of 5
What's the purpose?

This is the best physics book I have ever studied, and absolutely indispensable to anyone who has to solve real-world problems in electrodynamics!
Jackson's treatment of physics is elegant and crystal-clear throughout, and he generously includes material on Legendre functions, spherical harmonics, etc. that undergraduates may not have been exposed to. However, when it comes to the mathematical verifications needed to read the book with understanding, he doesn't hold your hand. This is as it should be! Physics is not the same as mathematics, but the latter is an essential tool that every physicist must master.
If you go through the book conscientiously checking and deriving all the equations, you'll end up filling a large notebook (amazingly, I didn't find any errors -- this book is rock-solid reliable). But the great thing is, you'll never have to do this again! Then you can reread Jackson without getting snowed under by what are essentially routine, but sometimes tedious, mathematical verifications; and you'll be free to savor the physics and really appreciate how great the book is. If you want some worked problems, look at The Classical Theory of Fields in the Landau-Lifshitz series. At the end of each chapter in Jackson there are excellent problems that will test your understanding.
The negative reviews of Jackson can only indicate a problem with how physics is taught in graduate school. Jackson's book has to be read carefully at least twice, and preferably N times; perhaps this is too much to expect from harassed graduate students in physics. I'm a mathematician by training and was able to study Jackson's book on my own and enjoy it without being rushed for time or having to worry about being tested. With the possible exception of the volume on quantum mechanics by Landau and Lifshitz, which again requires a lot of mathematical verifications, Jackson's book has no rivals.
It's a pity he didn't write any other physics textbooks.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: When Things Start to Think
Publisher: Owl Books
Authors: Gershenfeld Neil
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Read about Electronic Paper - the "Monitor" of the Future

Neil provided me a draft copy of this book, which I read on the plane after a regular visit to the Media Lab, as a sponsor of the "Things That Think" program. It is pure Gershenfeld, always looking at everyday things from the persective of a futurist. Few experienced in the contemporary and strongly overlapping fields of microelectronics and AI need much convincing that we are only at the beginning of what will be a long and ever-unfolding history of commonplace things that think, in a way that may often be far more limited than human thinking but precisely because of this focus is valuable. Thus, the everyday calculator "knows" a lot more about mathematical algorithms than most of us (who can recall how to evaluate a simple square root?) but it's not very good at poetry.
Gershenfeld reminds us that computers have only just begun to intrude into a domain once the sole province of humans (more generally, the animal kingdom), namely the realm of perception, thought and cognition. Already, they are vastly better at remembering massive amounts of information than we, but have a long way to go before exhibting something like human intelligence. To some extent, this is by design: we have not yet had the courage to endow machines with free will, but that day must come.
This brief apology for a review is to propose a slightly different perspective than that of the other reviewers, who stress the digital nature of these thinking things. Many people, including myself, feel that the road to "true thinking" and more particularly, to machine consciousness, will be by a stronger utilization of techniques that are popularly regarded as obsolete, namely, those based strongly on analog signal processing. True neural networks are of this sort, and there are sound philosophical reasons for claiming that the "von Neumann" architecture of a digital computer can never be conscious. Knowing about the Media Lab work first hand, I can say that Dr. Gershenfeld is well aware that analog techniques are going to be a central theme of the Thinking Things that we will soon be taking for granted. This is not only true in the domain of cognition but most especially in perception, which is about the experiencing of one's environment. This is almost entirely an exercise in analog processing of signals, which is far from a dying art.
Submitted by Dr. Barrie Gilbert, Analog Devices Inc., Corporate sponsor of the THINGS THAT THINK pgogram

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Head First Servlets & JSP
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Bryan Basham, Kathy Sierra, Bert Bates
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
For a broad audience

O'Reilly books are usually so serious. But lately, they've produced a series of Head First books that take a deliberately light hearted look at programming. The most recent is this text, on Java Servlets and JSPs.

There is certainly no shortage of texts on this subject, including from O'Reilly itself. But this book makes generous use of cartoons and other diagrams. The authors go carefully and at a slow pace. Experienced programmers should NOT use this book. Let me say it plainly. But the book wasn't written for them, anyway. Heck, the authors present it at a level suitable for a curious high schooler. Which is no bad thing. Computing should have no age limits. It democratises access to the concepts of servlets and JSPs.

The extensive lists of questions throughout the book are also an attraction. If you're studying for the Sun Exam and need a refresher on this material, consider getting the book just for its questions. Use it for a trial run at the main Exam.