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Book Reviews for O'Reilly & Associates

In June 2000, I was asked by one of the Evangelists from O'Reilly and Associates to consider being a book reviewer for them. I accepted and so this page starts that process.

Mac OS X: The Missing Manual
Paperback, Third Printing, February 2002, 596 pages
By David Pogue
© Copyright 2002 by Pogue Press, LLC
ISBN 0-596-00082-0
Review written June 23, 2002
By Donald W. Larson, O'Reilly Book Evangelist
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

In February 2002 I moved over from MacOS 9.1 to the new Apple Operating System MacOS X. It's a major change in usage even with a great user interface like Aqua. Although I'm an Apple user since 1981, I knew I would need a great new reference nearby to help me in the transition from old to new. I asked my O'Reilly contact for the book I'll speak to next.

David Pogue's, "Mac OS X: The Missing Manual", is a tremendous help for anyone moving to the new Mac OS. I've met David when he came to a few of my San Diego Macintosh User Group picnics. He's a great guy and a very talented person. One of his talent's is writing and in the titled book, he expresses the new frontier "X" with clarity.

The book has 21 chapters and six appendices. It covers everything I could think of that a beginner or expert user would love to know about 'X". David begins the transition to the new OS from the vantage point of the user viewing the Aqua experience the first time. He traverses the topics of folders and the Dock, which presents the most visible changes in how information is organized on the hard drive.

He writes about how the programs are different and how AppleScript is supported in new ways. An entire chapter is devoted to the concept of discrete users and how those spaces are kept distinct from one another. This bears witness to the underlying Unix operating system that governs the new machine.

Because Unix is available underneath, David takes the time to explain the permissions concept and how to use the Terminal program to explore the depths of Unix and lead us easily into that new realm.

I initially started reading this book straight through back in February. I found the writing style was easy to follow but I kept getting sidetracked with David's suggestions to try his exercises out. Often one thing leads to another and I lost my reading train-of-thought. I enjoyed his style so much I gave up trying to read straight through. I discovered instead his book is a well-written reference book with a story perspective to it.

For the last few months I grabbed for this book every time I needed a fast answer about MacOS X. David maintains a website with up-to-date information and many free or shareware program listings that accompany the book. I now have a pretty good working knowledge of the book's material. I attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference last May and I'm glad I had absorbed much of the book by then. Many of the presentations at that conference were clear because of the foundation I had learned from the book.

Everyone using MacOS X needs this book. Thanks David!

Rating 10 out of 10. This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would read finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.


Building Wireless Community Networks
Paperback, First Edition, January 2002, 138 pages
By Rob Flickenger
© Copyright 2002 by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 0-596-00204-1
Review written March 3, 2002
By Donald W. Larson, O'Reilly Book Evangelist
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

Anyone who wants to learn about the usage of WiFi, more commonly known as 802.11b wireless should order this book now and read it immediately upon delivery!

Each and every chapter explains is sufficient detail what the new standard is, how to use it and extend the range legally for broadcasts. Anytime someone points out through the purchase of a can of Pringles and then turns that chip container into a radio antenna (with about $10.00 in additional parts) to increase the effective range of WiFi, is a signal (pun intended) that value pricing is just a few steps away.

Rob demonstrates his mastery of the following topics, the understanding of topological maps, db signal loss over distance, firewalls, NAT, and routing as they pertain to WiFi. For those readers who just want to hook up a wireless 802.11b router and configure their network, this book covers that very well.

The book's scope covers the Apple AirPort Base Station and also Linux networks. Also the need for channel separation and bridging of networks for roaming purposes is described.

Then there is the section on the types of external antennas and how to build one from the earlier mentioned Pringles can.

Obviously, wireless brings a whole new set of questions to the security aspect of wireless networks. Rob explains some techniques that should help and provides urls to other community efforts to help find additional resources and support. See NoCat as an example of the latter.

Appendix

This part of the book includes a section on calculating the loss of signal strength over distances from 0.5 to 20.0 miles! Also provides links to community wireless sites and FCC Part 15 Rules governing the spectrum that 802.11b occupies.

Index

Complete and adequate.

General Book Comments

It is my opinion that many neighborhoods could employ the suggested solutions and bypass the big telco's and ISP's to bring unrestricted Internet access to small neighborhood WAN's at a cost lower or equal to what cable and DSL providers offer.

Rob has done an excellent job in presenting this new technology. He takes the time to explain technical details in ways easy for the reader to understand.

Rating 10 out of 10. This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would read finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.


"XSLT Book Review"
Paperback, First Edition, August 2001, 473 pages
By Doug Tidwell
© Copyright 2001 by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
ISBN 0-596-00053-7
Review written February 24, 2002
By Donald W. Larson, O'Reilly Book Evangelist
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

Preface

The book's examples and majority of explanations depend on Apache's Xalan-J XSLT engine with conforming XML parsers, such as Xerces2 Java Parser. Other parsers and processors are briefly addressed.

Chapter 1

This chapter explains the fundamentals of XSLT and XML, including DTD's and Schema's. The author takes the time to break down the fundamentals into easily understood sections, explaining the pros and cons concerning many of the fundamentals.

Examples from the book are available online so that the reader can follow along. Each example is placed in the appropriate Chapter folder and easily identified by page number mapped to its name.

At the end of the chapter, the last page carefully explains how to download the Xalan-J Parser and install it properly. All the examples in the book will work with Xalan-J. I used Xalan-J and Xerces to run my examples on my Macintosh under MacOS 9.1 and MRJ 2.2.5.

Chapter 2

This chapter provides a sample xml file and some variations in stylesheets that illustrate the typical, "Hello World", example file.

The XSLT Processor is explained and discussed as a tree representation of the xml data.

Each step in the transformation process from xml via stylesheet to the resultant output is explained thoroughly. Nodes of the XSLT tree and the elements of the processing are described clearly using XPath components as needed.

A gallery of four other stylesheet transformations is illustrated to render xml to:

  • Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)
  • Java source code
  • Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML)
  • Portable Document Format (PDF) using Formatting Objects (XSL-FO)
Chapter 3

This chapter explains the syntax of XPath, used to describe parts of an xml document:

XPath views the xml as a set of tree nodes. Each of the below nodes is explained clearly with a sample example xml file including an embedded DTD:

  • Root
  • Element
  • Attribute
  • Text
  • Comment
  • Processing instructions
  • Namespace
XPath has several uses:
  • Location paths
  • Setting the context for evaluation
  • Relative and Absolute Expressions that return resultant sets or empty sets if the conditions are not fully met
  • Wildcard features
  • Axes
    • Abbreviated
    • Unabbreviated
  • Predicates
  • Attribute Value Templates
  • Datatypes

A sample stylesheet is provided at the end of the chapter that will transform an xml file into a nested series of html tables for viewing in your browser. That styesheet is very comprehensive and covers most of the subject matter in this chapter.

Chapter 4

This chapter conveys information about branching, passing parameters, and using variables. There are a couple example stylesheets that create new stylesheets as a result! Various programming techniques are mentioned to facilitate dynamic transformations.

Chapter 5

This chapter was read very slowly. J It explains in detail the way XSLT uses links and cross-references so that elements of xml files can be referred in database-like ways. XSLT Extension functions are demonstrated for the reader. Keys and how to generate dynamic keys is explained.

Chapter 6

This chapter covers the ordering of transformations using sort and grouping elements. is used via the "Muench method" shows another way to group xml elements.

Chapter 7

Chapter seven examines the ways to combine xml documents. Various ways are employed to take one xml file and transform it into several other resulting files. It also details using various xml source files and creating one new output file. There is some more coverage of the sorting and grouping techniques explained in Chapter 6.

Chapter 8

There are times when the default transformation handling is not sufficient for your needs. Chapter 8 covers the ground for adding external functionality, using Java and JavaScript. The Saxon Processor is briefly discussed too. Creating JPEG's and how to access a database is described.

Chapter 9

The author, Doug Tidwell, is the author of the IBM developerWorks web site tutorial product, "Toot-O-Matic". Doug explains the source code that drives Toot-O-Matic and makes it easy top create web-based tutorials. I personally have benefited from Doug's other contributions on IBM's developerWork's site that implements Toot-O-Matic.

Using Toot-O-Matic exercises your entire understanding of this book. I will be looking at it in the many months to come.

Appendices A; B; C; and D

The book contains four appendixes with examples for each particular element or function of XSLT, XPath. That in itself is a very important toolset!

Glossary and Index

Very nicely done.

General Book Comments

I appreciate the time it takes to write a book when the very technologies one writes about is changing rapidly. Doug has done a very good job explaining the titles XML technology with very descriptive narrative and excellent examples. I look forward to more of Doug's writings in print and online.

I found this book to be an excellent learning reference. I only found three examples that did not run as expected. I tried several times to get in touch with the author to ask for some assistance, but I never reached him. In any case, the examples indeed illustrate the technologies very well.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would read finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.

Macintosh Source Code Examples Online

MacOS 9.1 Sample Code for most of the book's examples is available ready to run using JBindery 2.2. You will need to download and install the Xerces and Xalan tools from Apache XML Project to run these examples. When the Console window appears, the application has finished and you may quit to see the output files. See that link page for more instructions. Using the double-clickable JBindery 2.2 applications allows the Macintosh-Java novice to explore XML and XSLT easily. :-)

These same MacOS X double-clickable examples may appear as I find time to create them. Occasionaly check my new site, Time Out Of Mind for availability and location.

Don's Supplementary Resources

Below are additional sources to help anyone learn more about these technologies.

XSLT Tutorial http://zvon.org/xxl/XSLTutorial/Books/Book1/index.html

XSLT Reference http://zvon.org/xxl/XSLTreference/Output/index.html

XSL Formatting Objects http://www.dpawson.co.uk/xsl/sect3/bk/index.html

XML Validation http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/features/xmlvalidatorform.html

Formatting Objects (XSL-FO). FOP is the world's first print formatter driven by XSL formatting objects. It is a Java application that reads a formatting object tree and then turns it into a PDF document. The formatting object tree can be in the form of an XML document (output by an XSLT engine like XT or Xalan) or can be passed in memory as a DOM Document or (in the case of XT) SAX events.

XML Pointer Language (XPointer). XPointer, which is based on the XML Path Language (XPath), supports addressing into the internal structures of XML documents and external parsed entities. It allows for examination of a hierarchical document structure and choice of its internal parts based on various properties, such as element types, attribute values, character content, and relative position.
http://www.w3.org/TR/xptr/

XML Linking Language (XLink). This specification defines the XML Linking Language (XLink), which allows elements to be inserted into XML documents in order to create and describe links between resources. It uses XML syntax to create structures that can describe links similar to the simple unidirectional hyperlinks of today's HTML, as well as more sophisticated links.
http://www.w3.org/TR/xlink/


HTTP Pocket Reference
Paperback, First printing, 80 pages
By Clinton Wong
Published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
Copyright © 2000
ISBN: I-56592-862-8

Review written: August 18, 2000
By Donald W. Larson
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

The Internet is in full swing, more and more people are starting to create content for the web using some of the new HTML (HyperText Markup Language) tools available. For those that want to understand what goes on underneath the hood, this book is an excellent reference.

Underneath the hood in this case refers to how the browser sends and receives information to a HTTP (HyperText Transport Protocol) server where the content is primarily managed. For anyone wanting to understand the communications of the messages between the browser and the server, one must understand the protocols underlying the communication process. Typically, system administrators, web site developers, and software engineers need to know this topic very well.

Essentially this book delves into great detail surrounding the basic message transactions: Requests, Responses, and the Parsing of those categories. Static web pages (files, usually ending in .html), web forms, and cgi functionality rely on the proper sequence of commands being issued and understood between the browser and server. The book explains every command and response/ error code that is exchanged in the dialog (headers) comprising the transactions. As such, the book also serves as a handy encyclopedia of terms and definitions concerning HTTP.

Portions of the book explains some of the differences between browsers and the evolving versions of the HTTP Standard, cookies, MIME, authorizations, persistent connections, and client (browser) caching of information. There are certain caveats in these implementations and the book helps point some of them out.

I would like to suggest that for the Second printing, that an index is added to the book. There are a number of places where information should be easily cross-referenced so adding an index is a requirement, in my humble opinion.

Rating: 8 out of 10
This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.


XML Pocket Reference (Note: See review of Second edition below)
Paperback, First printing, 107 pages
By Robert Eckstein
Published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
Copyright © 1999
ISBN: I-56592-709-5

Review written: October 18, 2000
By Donald W. Larson
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

XML is becoming the lingua franca for exchanging information between computer systems. Many Java technologies implement XML as a way to establish properties. XML is a way to disseminate records from databases to XML-aware applications at-large. I found the book to be most helpful and sits beside me as I work on my computer.

The book provides practical examples and then fully explains using those example's line-by-line in most cases. Overviews provide well-rounded understanding as the reader proceeds. The book's index is extensive and most helpful.

Topics include the complete description of DTD's, elements, entities, and attributes. It cleared up some confusion I had about default namespaces and should make it clear to anyone else too. It covers XML Stylesheets and the various XSL stylesheet elements that trigger actions as a XML document is translated. It covers Xlink and XPointer topics, although the author points out these are changing rapidly and may be out-of-date even at the time of printing. The book serves as a handy encyclopedia of terms and definitions concerning XML.

If you are learning about other technologies that incorporate XML, I strongly recommend this book as a companion during your reading, learning, and understanding its uses.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would read finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.


Java and XML
Paperback, First printing, 465 pages
By Brett McLaughlin
Published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
Copyright © June 2000
ISBN: 0-596-00016-2

Review written: November 19, 2000
By Donald W. Larson
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

Java and XML are very important current pieces of technology. Individually, both subjects stand on their own and many books have been written on them. This is the first book I have read where both technologies are combined in a powerful and useful way.

I used the samples from the book on my Macintosh running MRJ 2.2.1 under MacOS 9.0.4. I used the XML Parser for Java and Xalan Processor where I could. The code samples for chapters 1 through 7 are available on my Time Out Of Mind site "XML Projects", however I was not able to run the samples after chapter 7 due to MacOS limitations or the inability to obtain the JDOM compiled binaries from O'Reilly.

Chapter 1 introduces, defines, and describes most of the common components of XML: DTD's (Document Type Definitions), XML Schema (Designed to replace and amplify DTD's), PI's (Programming Instructions), Namespaces (Mappings between element prefix and URI), XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language), XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation), XPath (XML Path Language), XQL (Represent database queries), XSP (Extensible Server Pages).

Further along in Chapter 1, the two models primarily used: SAX (Simple API for XML) and DOM (Document Object Model) are introduced as well as some of the common uses of XML today including some discussion of XML Frameworks.

Chapter 2 uses a base example to explain the parts of an XML file: Header, XML Instructions, Document Type Declarations. It also explains the content in terms of namespaces, elements and attributes. Also what makes XML documents well-formed and valid. Enough detail is provided to understand those concepts. However, I also recommend the XML Pocket Reference (ISBN: I-56592-709-5) be read along in conjunction with this chapter to help solidify the foundation.

Chapter 3 uses the SAX approach and an XML Parser, and takes the reader through in great detail the parsing of the base document. Using the provided Java code, one learns to: instantiate the Reader objects to manage the base document, register the ContentHandler interface, a callback interface used by XML parsers to notify your program of SAX events as they are found in the XML document, use the Document Locator to find elements in the base document, and employ Error Handling techniques.

Chapter 4 continues with SAX and discusses constraining XML through the use of DTD's and Schemas. There are differences in both approaches and sufficient clarity is presented for the reader to see the advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

Chapter 5 speaks to validation issues with a parser using SAX: turning on Validation, output of XML Validation, and describing the DTDHandler Interface.

Chapter 6 brings out the uses of transforming XML using Xalan and covering: XSL, Formatting Objects, XSL Transformations, XML Path Language (XPath), XSL Templates, Control Structures (Filtering Using XPath, Looping and Iteration, Choosing Elements), User XSL Elements and Attributes, and Copying Data.

Chapter 7 introduces the DOM approach to parsing XML and is the most widely used method for using XML and Java. The weakness of the SAX approach is discussed. I suggest that O'Reilly consider updating source code for this chapter in particular. The errata often does not show clearly where fixes to code need to take place. Complete source code updates should be made to the web site as fixes are made. The DOM explanations cover: DOM and Java, DOM Parsers and Outputs, Nodes and the DOM Tree, modifying a DOM Tree, and memory performance and Gotcha's.

Those first seven chapters form the foundation of the balance of the book's chapters and in their own light thoroughly explain Java and XML.

Chapter 8 expands on the use of O'Reilly's own JDOM library (which really should be distributed in binary format by O'Reilly) which simplifies using XML and Java.

Chapter 9 describes using an XML Frameworks package that runs on Unix and looks very powerful especially the section of Formatting Objects.

Chapter 10 mentions XML-RPC, an approach to send messages between applications instead of using Java's built-in RMI methods. XML-RPC is more lightweight and enables communication between non-Java applications thus overcoming one of the limitations of RMI.

Chapter 11 points out the uses of XML as configuration files, primarily on Unix computers using JDOM, SAX, and DOM.

The last three chapters cover the creation of XML using Java and then how this ties into Business-to-Business real-world applications. Chapter 14 discusses the future of XML Schema and what is to come.

Two Appendices are included to cover the API Reference and the new SAX 2.0 features.

Finally an index is provided to help locate those terms and topics quickly.

I learned a lot from this book and recommend people wanting to understand the two technologies consider purchasing a copy. As I indicated earlier, it would be helpful to readers if O'Reilly would keep the source code updated and provide compiled binaries of their JDOM code.

Rating: 9 out of 10 This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would read finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.


XML Pocket Reference, Second Edition
Paperback, Second printing, 96 pages
By Robert Eckstein with Michael Casabianca
Published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
Copyright © April 2001
ISBN: 0-596-00133-9

Review written: October 22, 2001
By Donald W. Larson
Email: donwlarson@gmail.com
Web Site: http://www.timeoutofmind.com/

XML is becoming the lingua franca for exchanging information between computer systems. Many Java technologies implement XML as a way to establish properties. XML is a way to disseminate records from databases to XML-aware applications at-large. I found this second edition book to be most helpful and sits beside me as I work on my computer.

The book provides practical examples and then fully explains using those example's line-by-line in most cases. Overviews provide well-rounded understanding as the reader proceeds.

Topics include the complete description of DTD's, elements, entities, and attributes. It cleared up some confusion I had about default namespaces and should make it clear to anyone else too.

There are very good updates on XSL and XSLT. The definitions and examples are vey clear. More than half of the book delves into the details of the newest XML technologies.

This edition better covers Xlink, XPointer, and XPaths topics, although as in the first edition,the author points out these are changing rapidly and may be out-of-date even at the time of printing. The book serves as a handy encyclopedia of terms and definitions concerning XML.

The only complaint I have is that this book is missing the index! It is very difficult to believe that a publisher of technical books can include an index in the first edition and omit it completely in the second edition. Who is proofing these books? I can recommend the www.wordco.com company, they can provide complete indexes as needed.

If you are learning about other technologies that incorporate XML, I recommend this book as a companion during your reading, learning, and understanding its uses.

Rating: 6 out of 10 This rating is my own personal value system and as such is very subjective. I think a rating of 5 means I would read finish reading a book. A rating of 10 would indicate I had trouble putting a book down and have no complaints at all about it.

With an index I would have raised the rating to over 9.0. Instead I had to downgrade it to 6. I look forward to a third edition that contains a complete index and the latest information.


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