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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
Fun fun fun

A combination of easy-to-understand explanations, history, suspense, and just plain fun made this the best history book I've ever read. Singh starts with Mary Queen of Scots and her fumbled plot to kill Queen Elizabeth. The history behind the plot was explained, and then he back-tracked all the way to the fifth century b.c. to give us an idea of where it all started from in documented history. The author's style of creating suspense surrounding a particular event and then giving you history on that event before he tells you the outcome was an excellent way to keep a non history buff glued to the pages.
The characters were well written within the history. Instead of falling asleep to a list of names and dates, I was saddened to read of the fate of Alan Turing when they discovered his secret, all fired up about the buried treasure surrounding the Beale Papers, and laughing at the quandry of the poor Navajos who were 'captured' by Americans who mistook them for Japanese spies.
The other high quality aspect was the cryptography explanations. Never having known much about cryptography beyond the absolute basics behind Enigma, I found it extremely easy to understand his explanations of how this or that cypher worked, and how historical figures went about cracking them. Even his explanations of how Enigma worked were simple to comprehend. Based on his explanations I'm confident I could create coded messages myself - maybe even decipher one!
It probably has a lot more to do with my ignorance of Egyptology than the authors explanations, but the only portion of the book I didn't like was the explanation of how the hieroglyphs were deciphered. The explanations themselves were clear, but it seemed to me there were some assumptions made about why people in ancient Egypt did certain things that just seemed a bit off to me. The author was clear enough and accurate enough about everything else that I'm assuming the fault is mine, and I'll be reading some Egyptian history sometime soon.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Eclipse
Publisher: O'Reilly
Authors: Steve Holzner
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Great introduction to Java development with Eclipse

If you use Eclipse or any of the expanding list of products based on Eclipse, this book should be on your short list. It is easy to read and follow as the author explains in detail each of the core features which are common across all derivations of Eclipse. The book is geared toward Java developers and will be of limited use to developers who wish to use Eclipse for other languages (which the author essentially admits on page one). It lives up to the claim found in the preface: "It's a programmer-to-programmer book, written to bring you up to speed in Eclipse without wasting time."
If you are new to Eclipse, I would definitely recommend this book. It's a great "bring you up to speed" book. There are a lot of screenshots and code examples to move you through each of the basic features: how to create, debug, test (with JUnit), use source control (with CVS) and build (with Ant).
Depending on how familiar you are with Eclipse (I have been using Eclipse for a couple years), this may not be the book for you. The first hundred pages or so will likely not be anything new - although, I did have an "Oh, yeah - Scrapbook Pages!" moment. If you are interested in using SWT, Tomcat, Struts or Eclipse plug-in development, keep in mind this is more of a "bring you up to speed" than a detailed "how to" description of these topics.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Systems Architecture, Fourth Edition
Publisher: Course Technology
Authors: Stephen D. Burd
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Decent Read

I've been a professional software engineer for over 20 years and recently took a grad course that used this book. I can honestly say I was somewhat dismayed when I read the 2 previous reviews and had to plunk down the cash to buy the book just the same.

Overall, I thought the author's style was easy to read and understand and I thought the book flowed well. The content was, for me, a nice review of topics that I haven't encountered in quite a while in my day to day activities.

Unlike the other reviewers, I don't have any clever one liners that I want to see in print next to my name or want to trash the whole book because of one or two shortcomings.

The book is not "great" but, IMHO, it is pretty good for classroom work. The author does get a little loose with terminology and, at times, you'll encounter some ambiguous content that you have to work a little to get through.

As I said previously, it was a fairly easy read which counts for a lot with me. A lot of these text books are technically accurate but are also a royal pain to try and read while staying awake.

The author (apparently) has a teaching tool available to instructors only that generates test questions. Some of the questions are ambiguous but that generated classroom discussions on the how/why they were ambiguous so we learned more that way as well.

For me, this book was definitely worth it but, then again, I wanted to learn -- not just write a clever and scathing review.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Designing Web Usability : The Practice of Simplicity
Publisher: New Riders Press
Authors: Jakob Nielsen
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5
Refreshingly to the point

From a design standpoint, it's easy to get ticked off at Nielsen- but he's nearly always right on the money. His book is well written, well researched, and extremely relevant and timely. There are no limit of interesting sidebars throughout, and lots of visual examples to hammer home his points. There is so much in the book which rings familiar - a lot of the approach you'd find in the Yale Style Guide or in the huge variety of available web courses, or online commentary. There is a great deal of innovative advice as well. That Nielsen has compiled all of this information into one solid must-read for every web designer is really a gift. I can't wait for the follow-up volume.