February 2010 Archives

Beginning Silverlight 3

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Click for availability and more information Beginning Silverlight 3, by Robert Lair
 
Preamble: For those who are not yet aware, Silverlight is Microsoft's development platform for creating Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). It is also a direct competitor to Adobe's long-running Flash platform (first released in 1996), and while both platforms have their particular strengths, I'll leave the --often heated-- debate of such to the better-informed and more experienced proponents of each. It is worth mentioning however that while Silverlight is only a few years old (currently at version 3, with version 4 in beta) it's been making steady gains in terms of browser penetration and developer adoption, and it appears that it won't be too long before its installation base is on par with that of Flash. With that said, anyone looking to develop RIAs in Silverlight need not be put off by its currently-lower-than-Flash's market penetration stats; its user base is steadily gaining and the installation itself is at least as painless as Flash's with a small browser plug-in for users to download.

So, on to the review then.

If you are already familiar with C#, the .NET Framework and Visual Studio then you'll have an excellent leg up on learning Silverlight. But knowing how to use these technologies is not a prerequisite to learning Microsoft's new platform (though you will need to learn them later if you want to do anything truly meaningful with the technology); in Beginning Silverlight 3, Robert Lair will guide you through the basics of learning Silverlight on the presumption that you are indeed a rank beginner. Lair begins with an overview of what Silverlight is and its benefits as a development platform. He also gives a brief overview of the features new to Silverlight 3, as well as a rundown of the programs (all either free or with an ample trial period) that you will need to download in order to get started with the book and learning Silverlight. Subsequent chapters cover such topics as Visual Studio, Expression Blend (which makes creating Silverlight interfaces MUCH easier than using Visual Studio alone), XAML (the markup language used to build Silverlight application interfaces), the various controls, layout management, navigation and deep-linking, transformations and animation, data-access, -storage and -binding options available in Silverlight, as well as how to create your own custom controls and how to deploy your finished Silverlight applications. While Lair's coverage of the subject matter does feel adequate, one gets the impression (rightfully so) that there is much more potential to Silverlight than what is covered in this book, and Lair makes multiple references to the next book in the series, Pro Silverlight 3 in C#, for those who want to continue exploring the technology's possibilities.

I found Lair's book relatively easy to follow, with only a couple of exceptions. The chapters on Data Access and Custom Controls were a little complex for me, though admittedly I'm still learning C# and the .NET Framework and some of the more advanced programming concepts are currently over my head. I can't fault Lair's descriptions of the aforementioned programming code though I am sure a more experienced programmer would be able to follow along, but the chapters in question did seem slightly too advanced for a "beginner" book. Regardless, it was still helpful to have examples of the more advanced concepts presented even if only to be able to refer back to them again at a later time.

Lair's presentation is clear and concise. The diagrams he provides work well to illustrate the various concepts and examples covered. I did encounter the odd typo here and there that seemed like faulty "search and replace" attempts when updating the previous version of his book for Silverlight 3, but they didn't detract from the text. What I liked best, aside from the clear descriptions and explanations, were the "hands-on" examples where Lair guides the reader through the process of creating different Silverlight applications. As a relative beginner to programming I find that "learning by doing" works best for me, as opposed to only being given descriptions of programming theory and code snippets and expected to just "get it". I can't imagine a "beginner" book without the hands-on exercises, and apart from the clear writing and the comprehensive content, they are the other major reason why I recommend Beginning Silverlight 3 to anyone intending to learn Silverlight.
-Will

Cluny Brown

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Click for availability and more information Cluny Brown, by Margery Sharp
 
Amusing story of upstairs-downstairs set in pre-WWII England . Cluny, from a very respectable, lower-class family, doesn't know her place. To the consternation of the uncle who raised her, she takes tea at the Ritz just to see what it's like. Other incidents lead her uncle to place her in service as a parlor-maid (untrained) in an English country manor. She is courted by the highly respected local chemist and seems to have found her place. But... Her story is interwoven with that of the manor family and of their guest - a Polish writer who is persona non grata at home and in Nazi Germany. Very enjoyable.
-Nancy

To Begin the World Over Again

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Click for availability and more information To Begin the World Over Again, by John C. Hulsman
 
The modern Middle East has certainly been a boiling cauldron of troubles for the United States for decades. Becoming familiar with the Twentieth Century personalities and politics of that region can be essential to understanding the current Middle Eastern situation in which this country finds itself. John C. Hulsman, in his book To Begin the World Over Again, has written a concise and highly readable biography of T. E. Lawrence, who was one of the major players in establishing the modern state of Iraq in the years after World War I. Stripping away the glorified myths of Lawrence created by David Lean's great movie Lawrence of Arabia (also available at The Greenwich Library), Hulsman details the exploits of Lawrence as a leader of the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I, the development of his passionate beliefs after the war that Britain and France should honor certain agreements those countries made to the Arabs in return for their support during the war against the German-allied Ottoman Empire, and his role in the creating the nation of Iraq. So much of what Lawrence's thinking on how to handle the complexities of the Middle East sheds valuable light on the Middle East situation of today. Hulsman has done a great job in giving the reader a clear history of a chapter in recent Middle Eastern history and To Begin the World Again highly recommended.
-Roy

There's Something About St. Tropez

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Click for availability and more information There's Something About St. Tropez, by Elizabeth Adler
 
Quirky characters abound in Elizabeth Adler's sequel to One of Those Malibu Nights. Private Investigator Mac Reilly, star of a popular television mystery show, and his fiancée, Sunny Alvarez, are looking forward to spending a month at a villa they've rented in St. Tropez. Sunny arrives first, at the doors of an abandoned villa, only to discover that they've been scammed, along with a number of other tourists who thought they were renting a fancy house on the French Riviera. The characters include Belinda Lord, the estranged wife of a Russian mobster, Texas rancher Billy Bashford, and his eight-year-old daughter, Laureen. After Mac arrives, Sunny and Mac move to a nearby Hotel, where they help protect Belinda from her nasty husband and become entangled in some art thefts in St. Tropez, a murder, and a number of other mysteries that seem to surround Villa Chez La Violette. The author does such a fantastic job describing the scenery of St. Tropez that I could almost smell the salt air and the suntan lotion while reading this book!
-Debbie O.

The White Queen: A Cousin's War Novel

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Click for availability and more information The White Queen: A Cousin's War Novel , by Philippa Gregory
 
Fans of historical fiction, and especially those who are enthralled with medieval England, will rejoice that Philippa Gregory has begun a new series which centers on the Plantagenets, who ruled England from the 12th through the 15th centuries. The White Queen is Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who married Edward IV, a member of the York branch of the Plantagenets. Gregory spins Elizabeth's life's tale with all the historically rich detail and interesting writing that has endeared her to legions of readers for years. The subtitle, "A Cousin's War Novel", captures so much of Plantagenet rule over England as various branches of that royal family battled each other for control of the English throne. Yet, with her customary skill, Gregory makes Elizabeth's years as the White Queen and Edward's warring with his royal cousins in The War of the Roses come alive so well. The ending leaves one waiting for the next installment. As with her series on the Tudors, who followed the Plantagenets in ruling England, Gregory gives the reader a wonderfully entertaining and rewarding reading experience.
-Roy

A Serious Man

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Click for availability and more information A Serious Man
 
So here we have it, a perfect bookend to Fargo. It's Jewish cousin, so to speak. A Serious Man is a bit more dark and a little less comical but in both films the Coen Brothers return to their native Minnesota to gently poke fun at people.

Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a late 1960s version of Job. His problems just won't quit. His wife is leaving him for a schmuck and has booted him out of the house, he's worried about getting tenure, his pothead son is getting bar mitzvahed in a week and isn't quite with the program, he has become attracted to the sultry but distant lady next door and his brother Arthur has come to stay with the family, bringing with him tons of personal baggage and a cyst that won't stop draining. And there's more. One of Larry's students who is flunking his physics class thrusts an envelope full of money at him, urging him to change his grade to a passing one. Larry needs the money (he has a bar mitzvah to pay for, he has to pay for the hotel he now lives in and he needs lawyer fees for his no-good brother) but is conflicted.

In an effort to come terms with his predicament he sees a series of Rabbis, each one less helpful than the other. Larry's life becomes filled with uncertainty and, while hoping to find solace in his religion, it appears none can be found.

I know it doesn't sound funny but it is. It's serious in the way it looks at the question of faith but also hilarious in an awkward sort of way. It also seems personal in a way that the recent Coen Brothers movies haven't. I'll take it any day over No Country for Old Men or Burn After Reading. I'm still laughing about the tormenting phone calls Larry gets from the guy from the Columbia Record Club. I'll never think of Santana the same way again.
-Stephen

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Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

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Click for availability and more information Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu, by Lee Goldberg
 
Every once in a while, I like to do some recreational reading instead of educational or biographical. Since I was a big fan of the television show "Monk", I was very pleased when my wife, Linda, brought home Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu by Lee Goldberg. The compulsive-obsessive detective takes over as police captain when the regular cops call in sick with the "Blue Flu" during contract negotiations. He is left with a motley crew of characters who have to help him solve a series of murders. One woman is paranoid, and thinks everything is a government conspiracy. One man is extremely violent in his arrests. Another can't remember what happened two seconds ago! Meanwhile, he incurs the wrath of union members who consider him a "scab" for assuming the position. Someone has gone on a murder spree, and has the odd habit of only taking the left running shoe. Goldberg captures Monk's character and crime solving ability perfectly. This is an easy, quick and entertaining read. Although the TV series is over, you can still enjoy reading the Monk series. Check them out from the paperback section.
-Carl

Weezer Changes the World

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Click for availability and more information Weezer Changes the World, by David McPhail
 
Weezer's just an ordinary dog that loves to play with his friend Billy, chew toys, and bark...until during a storm something "striking" happens to Weezer. He has changed, and because of that, so will the world. I'm a fan of David McPhail's stories, his ink and water color illustrations (Pigs a Plenty, The Day the Sheep Showed Up and Big Brown Bear) and Weezer is a new favorite of mine. The small dog develops new habits including averting natural disasters, holding benefit concerts for the poor, curing diseases, and negotiating world peace. This picture book will work best for kindergartners and elementary grades, who will enjoy the illustrations, the humor and the story of how one individual, no matter how small, can make a difference in the world.
-Deirdre

Cairo Modern

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Click for availability and more information Cairo Modern, by Naguib Mahfouz
 
This novel is very fascinating. The main character is a sworn nihilist; he experiences a shift of ideologies. He grows a heart and feels emotions as a result of a sudden forced involvement with Ishan; a girl from the university whom he had always coveted. The main character becomes a hypocrite and enjoys the "high societal life." His ambitions grow larger, and then losses it all in one vengeful blow from a neighbor. Based in the 1930's, Cairo Modern is an intriguing read. You won't be able to put the book down. Some of the character's 180 degree life changes, as well as a 360 change of the main character will keep you nail biting!
-Marilynn R.

Thunder from the Sea

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Click for availability and more information Thunder from the Sea, by Joan Hiatt Harlow
 
Tom rescued the beautiful Newfoundland, a dog he always dreamed of having. Now he may have to return him to his rightful owner.
-Deirdre

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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