Starting a New Job

Starting today, I’m very excited to be working as a technical writer for Canonical. It is a thrill to be able to earn money while learning and writing about something that I am already passionate about: Ubuntu.

Some readers of my blog may not know this: Canonical is the company that provides support and resources to help the open source community make Ubuntu and promote its use across a multitude of devices and use cases.

How Linux Works

This is the Second Edition of How Linux Works: What Every Superuser Should Know and is the only Linux-focused book I can recall that has a strong focus on the computer science, what is happening here and why, big picture instead of the how-tos. The reader does learn how to do things, but only after learning conceptually what is happening. This is something that is sorely lacking in today’s computer education classes and I am thrilled to see the author’s focus here. I am convinced that once a person understands the concept of what a computer is, what it does, and how it does so (from a high level), it is much easier to then learn the mechanics. This is important because the concepts apply across operating systems and across time as those systems change their methodology, say by replacing the System V init program with Upstart or systemd.

This is the sort of book that I would recommend for a user who is new to Linux and wants to understand why things work the way they work, not merely learn how to do things. If there is an immediate need to learn just mechanics, perhaps this should then be the second book to read after reading one that focuses on what to do when. Regardless of when they read it, any Linux user who wants to grow in their comprehension of Linux, its parts, and the entire operating system ecosystem will benefit from this book.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Learn to Program with Minecraft Plugins

My kids love playing Minecraft. I run a server for them. I would love for any of my kids to learn to program (and also to take over the server admin duties from me). This book immediately struck me as having great potential.

Learn to Program with Minecraft Plugins


Learn to Program with Minecraft Plugins: Create Flying Creepers and Flaming Cows in Java
starts slowly, but it says it is going to start slowly. As it must, the book begins with coverage of topics like installation and configuration. This is the only dull part of the whole book, and I don’t think that could be helped.

Once we get to the meat of the material, things pick up considerably. I love how the author chose to give a high level view of each topic first, to orient the reader. While doing so, consistent calming statements are made to reassure the reader that it is not necessary to understand everything being said at this stage. Then, once the big picture is painted, the details are filled in. The accompanying explanations are clear and written in an enjoyable manner.

I love how topics like pseudo-code are explained almost as an aside, but in a way that makes them seem almost obvious, as in “Oh yeah, why wouldn’t a programmer write something like that first to help the process along?”

Each chapter builds on the knowledge from the previous chapters while introducing topics in a logical order.

Almost any programming book will work for a highly motivated and brave student. However, this is one of those special books that I believe to be suitable for a tentative, interested-but-scared sort of student.

I’m impressed by the author’s ability to combine accurate details and descriptions of complex concepts in a way that I’m certain my kids could grasp and later apply to other programming languages and environments, should they wish to. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Author Andy Hunt has deftly proven himself as one who understands. That he is also able to express these ideas to a novice-level audience without talking down to the reader is exceptional.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

Ubuntu Books I Wrote in 2014

Just in time for the end of the year holidays…

I have a new edition of Ubuntu Unleashed 2015 Edition (affiliate link), now available for preorder. This book is intended for intermediate to advanced users.

I also failed to mention on this blog the newest edition of The Official Ubuntu Book (another affiliate link), now in its eighth edition. The book continues to serve as a quality introduction for newcomers to Ubuntu, both the software and the community that surrounds it.

Linux Distro for Kids?

Short, informal survey. Feel free to comment here or via private messages/email. I may not respond to all comments, but will read with appreciation any you make.

What is your favorite Linux distribution that is intended for use by kids, say anywhere between the ages of 8 and 18? If you have more than one, feel free to name each.

Why do you like it?

If your preference for kids is a standard distro and not one intended for that audience, which is it and why?

Android Programming Unleashed

I have a chapter in one of my books, Ubuntu Unleashed, that gives an introduction to using Ubuntu as a foundation for developing for Android. The information in that chapter barely scratches the surface of the topic. As a response to those who are interested in learning more and who ask me for book recommendations, I am writing this review.

Android Programming Unleashed is part of the same series as my book. I’m stating that right up front so that everyone knows that I have a potential conflict of interest. Read my review with that in mind. I’m trying to be unbiased, and I have no direct financial or editorial interest in Android Programming Unleashed, but I am the author of a book in the same series. So, now that that is out of the way, let’s dig in.

Android Programming Unleashed is written by B.M. Harwani. It contains more than 650 well-written pages of useful information written by someone who clearly has experience teaching others. The book is structured in four parts, each of which contain several chapters.

The first part, Fundamentals of Android Development, starts like most development and programming books, with information about installation and a general introduction to the platform, tools, and getting started. It also includes a chapter on the basic widgets used in an Android application, including some standard classes, layouts, controls, and events.

The second part dives in deeper. Building Blocks for Android Application Design contains four chapters that each cover an important aspect like laying out controls, utilizing resources and media, using selection widgets and debugging, and displaying and fetching information using dialogs and fragments.

The third part, Building Menus and Storing Data, completes the basics that are needed for most useful applications. Here you learn how to create interactive menus and various useful options for those menus as well as how to use databases in Android applications.

The fourth part gives you additional information that will enable you to create more complex and interesting applications. Advanced Android Programming: Internet, Entertainment, and Services contains six chapters that cover a wide range of topics. Here you learn about implementing drawing and animation, displaying web pages and maps, communicating with SMS and email, creating and using content providers, creating and consuming services, and publishing Android applications to the Google Play store.

The book is clearly written and complete. It uses the standard tools for Android development, so the installation instructions include information for developing on the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. The figures and illustrations are clear and useful and the book contains numerous code samples. The code samples are also available for download using instructions given in the book’s introduction.

So, whether my book or something else whetted your appetite to code up some apps for Android, this is the book I recommend you take a look at.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?