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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: ActionScript for Flash MX: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Colin Moock
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
a must have

If there is one book that I would recommend for Flash, this would be it. The content is both thorough and well considered.
(Warning though - do not try to read it all in a week. Your head is certain to explode.)

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Beginning ASP Databases
Publisher: Wrox Press
Authors: John Kauffman, Kevin Spencer, Thearon Willis, John Kauffman
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Perfect Reference for New Developers not on the Leading Edge

Let me put my review in perspective. I have been programming in one language or another for over twenty years. I was the project manager for a Fortune 500 company's e-commerce initiative. I do some consulting on the side. In other words, I consider myself to be a veteran programmer.
As you know by now, most programming books fall into one of two categories: expert references, or trivial introductions. Wrox books fall somewhere in between. As a result, these books usually create some controversy over who should read them. I find them to be exactly what I need, and interesting enough to read from cover to cover.
"Beginning ASP Databases" is nearly three years old at the time of this review, an absolute eternity in "Internet time." This book still provides an excellent foundation for novice-to-intermediate ASP programmers, especially those people who don't yet have access to Visual Studio .NET. It can even surprise the self-proclaimed "experts" every now and then.
Despite the word "Beginning" in the title, the author presumes that the reader is familiar with HTML, ASP, as well as relational databases (RDBMS's). These assumptions are spelled out in the Introduction. Many people may choose to overlook this seemingly unimportant section, but Wrox does a good job of positioning their books here. You owe it to your pocketbook to read it first, if you can.
Mr. Kauffman is a college professor, and the content of this book has been refined by his teaching the subject matter numerous times. His writing style is relaxed and easy to read. Along the way, he includes descriptions of those errors that are the most commonly-made by his students. I smiled to myself several times, knowing that I had made many of them, too. Each chapter includes exercises to support the text, and a quiz at the end. The answers are provided at the end of each chapter, which is a welcome feature compared to some of those college texts I read that just beat me up without letting me know if I was right or wrong.
The author briefly mentions competing technologies, such as ColdFusion and PHP. He talks about third-party programs such as Chili!ASP that allow Active Server Pages to run on Apache Web servers, hosted on UNIX platforms. This global perspective was a welcome surprise, as most Wrox books are Microsoft-centric to a fault.
The book shows its age when it comes to describing the installation of an ASP development environment under Windows NT Server, Windows 2000 Workstation/Server, as well as Personal Web Server on Windows 95/98. I will add that you can develop on Peer Web Services on Windows NT Workstation, as well as IIS 5.0 on Windows XP Professional. You won't be able to install PWS on Windows ME without first installing it on Windows 98 and suffering through an ugly upgrade, and I haven't tried Windows XP Home Edition. Contrary to what other reviewers have stated, ODBC is available in Windows XP, under the Control Panel's "Administrative Tools" applet.
The author acknowledges that OLE DB is the more efficient provider to use. Aside from one example in Chapter Six, most of the code uses an ODBC connection. If you prefer to work with the native OLE DB provider, you can make suitable changes to each page, and everything will still work. I believe that using a system DSN is easier, and therefore is more appropriate for a "Beginning" title such as this one.
Although I've worked with ADO recordsets seemingly thousands of times, I still appreciated the refresher. I especially needed to revisit the importance of cursors, and how they can affect a recordset's behavior. The "heavy lift" chapter of the book explains how to create HTML forms that add, modify, and delete data from a database. This functionality lies at the heart of Web-enabling a database. Even though I have coded my own pages to perform these tasks, I still benefited from reading someone else's approach.
The book goes on to cover client-side cookies, when they can be helpful, and how to set them from server-side code. If you have encountered difficulty finding this information concisely explained in one location, then look no further.
I believe that the quality of an application can be determined by the robustness of its error handling. Mr. Kauffman discusses the Error collection specifically, in addition to his advisory warnings and troubleshooting tips within each chapter. This information is invaluable to any new developer. More attention could have been paid to making error handling more portable by creating reusable functions, instead of coding it into each individual page.
Stored Procedures are very interesting, as their judicious use can definitely improve the performance of a Web application. Every book that covers parameterized stored procedures always recommends creating the ADO objects in this order: Connection, Command, and then Parameter. This book is no exception. I prefer to build my Command object first, and then append the parameters before creating the connection. If the user has provided data of the wrong type, then I don't have to expend the valuable server resources to create a connection to the database.
The last two sections cover more tips that the author learned from the school of hard knocks, as well as performance testing suggestions. Although some of the utilities that are mentioned are dated, the remainder of the information is still valuable for a developer of any experience.
"Beginning ASP Databases" turns out to be an excellent resource that covers most of the functionality that is required to web-enable a database. It does not cover security, which is an aspect of database and application development that should always be kept in mind. Most of my criticisms center around my desire for additional information on topics that are rightly reserved for a "Professional" book. These objections aside, it is a ready asset to those who are new to Active Server Pages, and also provides many helpful suggestions to seasoned veterans.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
Publisher: Anchor
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Neatly illustrates the impact of encryption on history

Before Singh's "Code Book" came on the scene, the only other book I knew about is Kahn's "Codebreakers". I don't have the time to read such a large text as Kahn's book, so I was very pleased when this book became available.
Singh has done a very nice job of demonstrating how deep an impact cryptography has on history. He opens the book by recounting Mary Queen of Scots' conspiracy to have Queen Elizabeth murdered and how she attempted to use encryption to cloak her intentions. It was a very exciting way to open the book.
Singh has found the right combination of technical detail, historical detail, and character development.
Singh's explanation of how the German WWII Enigma functioned is exceptional. He made it very easy (and fun) to understand.
Singh's last chapter is also very neat on the subject of quantum cryptography. Though I have a BS in computer science, I'm no physics genius and Singh did a nice job of making (what I consider) difficult physics concepts easy to understand and of showing how they can be applied to modern cryptography.
Although I don't know a thing about "Fermat's last theorem", I've been so pleased with Singh's writing style that I'm considering reading that book also just to see what it is all about.
If you like codes/ciphers and want to read about their impact on history without reading a thousand pages then get this book. You'll be happy you did.

Product: Book - Textbook Binding
Title: Routing TCP/IP Volume I (CCIE Professional Development)
Publisher: Cisco Press
Authors: Jeff Doyle
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
The best book about TCP/IP routing (w/o BGP)

It's simply the best book about TCP/IP routing protocols. I was surprised how many new things I discovered after reading this book. It sounds like a cheap TV commercial :) but in this case it's true. Basically, this book and Halabi's one about BGP - that's all you need to study TCP/IP routing on the CCIE level.