The Manga Guide to Statistics

I so enjoyed the last book in this short series that I decided to pick up all of the currently published titles. I’ll review each of them as time goes on. This time around, I will discuss The Manga Guide to Statistics.

Ahh, statistics. The subject that so many of us need to understand, too few grasp, and even fewer seem to enjoy. What better way is there to test the quality of the book than for me to read about something I don’t particularly enjoy and have never been terribly good with?

The book is designed to give an elementary understanding of basic statistical concepts and methods in a creative and approachable manner. I’ll skip to the bottom line and say that I think it succeeds in doing so. The art is very well done, the story line is a bit better than in the Electricity book I reviewed previously, although it bogs down near the end, and the information is presented in a clear and logical manner.

The Manga Guide to Statistics begins by defining various data types and how to determine in which category the data you have belong. Then it digs deeper into understanding numerical (quantitative) data and categorical (qualitative) data. Later, you are guided through normalization, scoring, deviations, probability, relationships between variables, and testing hypotheses. All the standard foundational aspects of statistics are covered in enough depth to give a valid and useful introduction.

One thing I really liked was the appendix, which shows very clearly how to do all of the major calculations using Microsoft Excel, with xls spreadsheets available for download from the publisher’s website. While it would certainly be my preference to not have this topic tied to a specific program from one vendor, I did test out many of the spreadsheets and instructions using OpenOffice.org‘s Calc spreadsheet. Good news! With the exception of menu locations for functions being different and requiring a little bit of not-too-difficult searching, I was able to follow all of the directions I attempted from the appendix using OpenOffice.org Calc. That freed me from an expensive and unnecessary expenditure (or at least from having to find a place and way to use software I don’t want to use).

If you already know statistics pretty well, this book wouldn’t be useful to you. If you are looking for an easy to understand and quality introduction that includes a bit of frivolity, you will find this book both useful and enjoyable. I did.

Sexy Web Design

People following this blog know that I have been doing a lot of research lately to brush up my web site creation and management skills. I’ve been reading about content management systems, JavaScript, systems administration topics and the like. With most of these are things I am well past the novice stage. My biggest weakness in the process is not technical, but design related.

I am not a graphic designer. I am not a web designer. I know I have a lot to learn. That is why I started looking for help. I’ve been reading sites like Smashing Magazine (where I acquired the free design I am currently using on this site) and SitePoint. At some point I ran across a blog by a designer named Elliot Jay Stocks and was floored by how attractive and unique his site is and was wowed by his portfolio.

Last month, I noted on SitePoint that Stocks had written a book called Sexy Web Design to be published immediately. I knew I wanted a copy.

Now that I have read the book, I can honestly say that I am glad to have done so. Perhaps a person with design experience, especially design for the web, might find much of the book basic, I learned a lot. While there is no doubt I have a long way to go, I feel like I have a better sense of where the path is and in what direction I wish to head.

The book is comprised of six easy to read chapters. There are a large number of interesting and beautiful illustrations to enable us to clearly see and understand the design concepts he discusses including interfaces, structure, navigation, and interaction.

This is not a book about code. There are no detailed instructions for making the design happen, although there are some hints and tips for people to keep in mind to make that step easier. This is a book about how to envision and build the look and feel of a site. It is not about the technology, it’s about the appearance and whether it draws you in and is effective in conveying the message and data you want your visitors to receive.

I found the discussions of the design process, planning, research, sketches, layout, and more to be incredibly useful and interesting. I would imagine that people with a design background would find them basic, but again, I’m a complete novice in this area. If you are like me, the book is certainly worth a look.

An interview with Codename

Codename has given us the latest installment in our Ubuntu Community Interviews series. He’s a young guy, polite, friendly, and helpful. He also provides us with an example of thankfulness and service, choosing to help others in the community after recognizing the help he received. Thanks, Mike!

1. Tell as much as you’re willing about your “real” life — name, age, gender, location, family, religion, profession, education, hobbies, etc.

Well to start things off my name is Mike, and I’m 18. I’ve always been kind of a computer guy, the family calls me “The Computer Whiz Kid”. I was around computers as a kid so I’ve always kind of liked them and hence the reason I’ve became very fluent on the Ubuntu Forums. I really don’t have a job, but I’m working on becoming a Network administrator soon, so I’m really excited, and I want to fulfill that goal.

2. When and how did you become interested in computers? in Linux? in Ubuntu?

I became interested in computers at a very young age, I’d probably say when I was 5. The first OS I ever used was probably Windows 3.1 and as a little kid I knew how to run simple commands and go to directories to launch my favorite games, but as time moved on I kept on using Windows until XP came out. The OS wasn’t working out for my needs, so I decided to seek an alternative in 2005 and this is where Linux comes in. I looked at a couple of distributions before looking at Ubuntu. My first distribution I used was Gentoo, I used Gentoo for a little bit and loved it, but I was hearing a lot about “Ubuntu” so I decided to give it a shot. The first thing I loved about it was the interface and the simplicity, so I obviously installed Ubuntu and I loved it, and became my primary OS of choice. At the time I couldn’t believe how easy it was to set everything up and it was an absolutley amazing feeling using an OS that worked almost perfectly for me and fitted my needs.

3. When did you become involved in the forums (or the Ubuntu community)? What’s your role there?

I actually didn’t become involved in the forums until May 2007 I think, I had some video card issues and some very talented people helped me out and since then I just thought I should return the favor that people did for me, which was help others in need. I think my role now at the Ubuntu Forums is network support and general support. When I help someone and that person says “Thanks Codename” there’s no better feeling, for me anyways, because I know now that the problem is obviously solved and they now enjoy Ubuntu without having that issue.

4. Are you an Ubuntu member? If so, how do you contribute? If not, do you plan on becoming one?

Sadly I’m not an Ubuntu member, I do plan on becoming one soon.

5. What distros do you regularly use? What software? What’s your favorite application? Your least favorite?

The distributions I regularly use are probably Sabayon and Ubuntu. I think those two distributions of Linux are really innovative, both have great features and of course very simple. I honestly use a lot of software, but if I had to pick some favorites I’d probably say Pidgin, VLC and Eclipse. I think those programs work flawlessly. Honestly I don’t have a least favorite application. The applications I use I love.

6. What’s your fondest memory from the forums, or from Ubuntu overall? What’s your worst?

My fondest memories of the forums would probably have to be helping people, and receiving satisfaction of helping others that need the help, and when when I see great collaboration going on in the forums, there’s nothing like it. My fondest memory of Ubuntu actually is probably when I got my wireless and video card working! Even though that’s not much, that’s really the only problems I’ve had with Ubuntu, and when I got two things to work, everything worked perfectly. My worst memory with Ubuntu is getting frustrated at the issues I’m having, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from using Linux is patience is the key, and once you have patience you can probably fix any issue you have.

7. What luck have you had introducing new computer users to Ubuntu?

I’ve actually had great luck. I now have at least 3-4 people that I personally know switch to Ubuntu because I’ve stated the advantages of Ubuntu and why they might like the OS. I tell them remember “Linux is not Windows” and if you have any trouble, let me know and usually I don’t hear back from them because everything just works for them, which is an awesome feeling.

8. What would you like to see happen with Linux in the future? with Ubuntu?

I’d definitely like to see Linux in general expand on to the desktop market, which we have kind of seen today. I mean Dell offers computers pre-installed with Ubuntu which is great. I also love the fact that Asus has the option you can buy a Eee PC with Linux pre-installed, I think that’s a step forward. I wish for Ubuntu and Linux in general the best.

9. If there was one thing you could tell all new Ubuntu users, what would it be?

Remember new users, research the forums and have patience, and believe me it will pay off sooner or later. The forums are also a great place to learn and expand your Linux knowledge, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you have researched your question and nothing comes up, then by all means please ask the quetsion and I’m sure one of the talented people on the forums can help you! Just hang in there.

The Manga Guide to Electricity

I picked this book up for fun. I already know a lot about electricity. I have been known to read electron tube spec sheets and circuit designs for fun and amusement. I’ve been known to scrounge around at ham radio festivals and used book stores looking for old design manuals or tech books. You may remember my blog entry about one of my projects where I built a tube-powered guitar amplifier. So, I didn’t buy this book because I needed/wanted to learn the material. I already know it.

I picked up The Manga Guide to Electricity because it looked like a fun way to introduce the topic to a new generation. Guess what? I think it is. The book was originally drawn and written in Japan a few years ago and was only recently translated into English. The story line is okay, but it won’t rank up there with Watchmen and the like. This isn’t a graphic novel. However, it is interesting enough to make a subject that can sometimes be difficult to absorb for new learners more accessible.

The book begins with the assumption of no real background in electricity or electronics. It then builds up to a pretty solid foundation in basic theory and gives a clear understanding of how electricity works and can be created, influenced, and corralled by an engineer or circuit designer to do specific tasks. The book doesn’t teach actual circuit design, but it does give a very clear introduction to very important concepts and components including voltage, potential, current, resistance, Ohm’s Law, capacitance, batteries, magnetism, diodes, rectification, motors, both alternating and direct current, and even the main types of electricity generation in use.

Each chapter starts with a part of a graphic tale that introduces specific concepts for that chapter in a clear and fun manner. Then, to make sure the conceptual understanding can be made solid, each chapter has an additional and more traditional text and diagram section with a more detailed explanation of each concept.

If you know anyone, especially someone who enjoys manga, whether a teenager or a kid at heart, or just someone who appreciates art with their text, who also is interested in a solid and interesting basic introduction to electricity, this book is well worth the read. I recommend it highly and am going to take a closer look at the entire series of manga guides that is still growing.