Seven Databases in Seven Weeks

I’ve spent some of my free time over the last couple of months researching different databases for a chapter in one of my books. I have some limited experience using some NoSQL options, but must confess that I am not as familiar with many of the newer databases as I would like. As a part of my research, I read this book.

Seven Databases in Seven Weeks: A Guide to Modern Databases and the NoSQL Movement by Eric Redmond and Jim R. Wilson came out earlier in 2012. It is published by The Pragmatic Programmers, as a part of their Pragmatic Bookshelf, which is an impressive and deservedly well-respected series.

My goal in reading this book was to get a better sense of the landscape, to learn the basics of several of the new databases out that have been receiving the lion’s share of the buzz in the computer press. The book did not disappoint, in fact it exceeded my expectations.

All a reader absolutely must know before reading this book is what a database is, but after saying that, I will follow with a quick disclaimer that this is not intended for newbies. The book is written for experienced developers, people who understand software, who know their concepts and how to apply them, but who are interested in the latest developments. The book does not cover things like installation or systems/database administration. Instead, it gives information that surveys the strengths and weaknesses of the new databases to help the experienced developer better understand when, why, and how he or she might find a specific one useful. We have discussions of features, contexts, and pragmatic looks at usefulness. I appreciated the author’s willingness to state not only how specific products could benefit, but also mention when specific products may be unsuitable for a specific project.

Databases covered are these, listed in the order in which you will find them in the book:

  • PostgreSQL
  • Riak
  • HBase
  • MongoDB
  • CouchDB
  • Neo4J
  • Redis

You will notice that there is a nice variety in the types of databases listed. Represented are a standard relational database (PostgreSQL), key-value stores (Riak, Redis), a columnar database (HBase), some document-oriented databases (MongoDB, CouchDB), and even a graph database (Neo4J). The survey is clear, deep, and packed with useful data that makes comparing these vastly different, but often lumped together as “NoSQL” databases, easier.

If you have any reason to use or consider using anything other than a more traditional relational database, and aren’t sure which one to try out of the exploding number of new options, this book will help you make sense of the field and better evaluate your options against your current needs. I recommend it.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

More reviews coming soon

I moved house recently, and I got behind. I have several books in a pile waiting to be read and reviewed, and now that the dust has settled from the move, I’m ready to get back to it. I don’t have a time frame, but in the queue are books on databases, technical writing, and another entry in the Manga Guide series, this one on linear algebra. I’ve read enough of these to be certain they will be worth mentioning, but I also have several more that I haven’t even opened, so there may even be more than those three in the coming weeks.

Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate

As I mentioned in an earlier review of writing-related books, I am a writer. I write for a living. I write technical documentation, books, occasional articles for magazines and websites, and more. This review covers a book that has been helpful to me primarily in technical writing.

Wikis are wonderful. There, I said it right at the beginning. I’m biased. I’ve written documentation using everything from word processors like Microsoft Word and LibreOffice to XML variants like DocBook. I’ve hand-written entire suites of documentation using HTML and XHTML. I’ve also used various wikis, such as MediaWiki, MoinMoin, and the topic of the book in this review, Confluence.

Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication came out earlier in 2012. It was published by XML Press, which specializes on content for technical communicators (also known as technical writers, technical documentation specialists, and so on). The author, Sarah Maddox, works as a technical writer for Atlassian, the creator of Confluence and other software tools.

This book fits a useful niche between marketing materials that are more useful in an early product evaluation stage and technical documentation that is most useful during the implementation stage. Planning your documentation comes in between these two stages and is a vital step that is often poorly documented, especially in terms of planning and creating technical documentation on a wiki. This book gives a wealth of practical advice for this stage.

In addition, Sarah Maddox includes in the book all the information that a complete novice requires. Topics like what is a wiki or how is a wiki used on a day to day basis for technical communication are covered and covered well. The reader receives specific instruction on useful topics like creating content for reuse, using Confluence as your single source for output to other formats, creating templates and styling, importing content from other formats, creating documentation as a team, using a wiki within an Agile context, and performing content reviews on the wiki itself.

I’ve used Confluence to create technical documentation from scratch in previous projects. The best practice guidelines and tips in this book ring true to me from my experiences. My current project uses Confluence as one tool among many. I will be sharing the book with my colleagues to see how we can use it even more effectively.

If you are a technical communicator and are considering Confluence as a medium for documentation, take a look at this book before you do anything. In addition, I believe the book would be useful to share with both technical collaborators like software engineers as well as less technical collaborators like program managers or sales staff. The latter generally have more direct communication with customers, either through software requirements or personal interaction, and the book will help each understand and determine whether Confluence is a good fit for your technical communication, for your company workflow, and also for your sales and bottom line.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

VMware Cookbook, second edition

VMware Cookbook

Just released.

I had the privilege to work with Ryan Troy for both the original and for this second edition of
VMware Cookbook
. With scores of step-by-step solutions, this cookbook helps you work with VMware ESXi in a wide range of network environments. You’ll not only learn the basics—how to pool resources from hardware servers, computer clusters, networks, and storage, and then distribute them among virtual machines—but also how to overcome the stumbling blocks you’ll encounter when you monitor systems, troubleshoot problems, and deal with security.

This expanded second edition covers recent advances in vCloud Director and vShield cloud security. Ideal for system administrators of any level, VMware Cookbook also includes valuable information to help you determine your virtualization needs.

ISBN-13: 978-1449314477

Style Guides

As many of you reading this already know, I am a writer. I write for a living. I write technical documentation, books, occasional articles for magazines and websites, and more. The books in this post have been helpful to me primarily in technical writing.

Style guides exist to help writers reduce the number of decisions they must make as they write. This simplifies the complex task of writing technical documentation, at least a little, by eliminating many of the questions that a good writer must ask. Should my directions use the word “click” or “open” when referring to using the mouse to start a program? Should menu options be set off in sentences using italics or bold text? For many of these sorts of questions, there is no right or wrong answer, there is rather a strong need to choose a form and use it consistently. For other questions, there are strong reasons to choose one format or expression over another, but these are not always easy to remember. This is where style guides help.

The first style guide I used, and which still sits on my desk, is The Chicago Manual of Style, which has been around since the late 1800s. Published by the University of Chicago Press, this manual has been a consistent and well respected guide to good writing for decades. While there is a newer edition available, both in print and online, I still have the 15th Edition sitting on my desk, and it has served me well. However, this is a general-purpose style guide, and most of what I write lately is focused on computer software, which uses terminology not covered by The Chicago Manual of Style. I needed to look further.

The rest of this post will focus on three style guides intended for the computer industry. Each of them cover the vital information a technical writer will need when covering topics related to computers, both hardware and software. These include writing mechanics, formatting, style, procedural directions, writing for an international audience, and so on. They differ primarily in the choices made and the manner in which they themselves are written.

Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry, 3rd Edition came out in 2010. It was published by Sun Technical Publications, which was part of Sun Microsystems. The style is easy to read and clear, not too dry and never frivolous. The book gives clear examples and labels them “correct” and “incorrect” to help the reader. I have used this book for about 18 months and it has served me well. Some unique topics in this book include legal guidelines for protecting copyrights and trademarks, and a description of different types of technical documentation. This is a very good style guide, but I wonder about its future, since Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems was completed a few months after this edition was published.

The IBM Style Guide: Conventions for Writers and Editors came out in 2012. This is the first edition of the book, but it seems safe to assume IBM has had an internal style guide for decades. IBM documentation is always clear, well written, and consistent. This book is formal, always appropriate in tone and style, and gives many examples to show the “correct” and “incorrect” way to express content. This is a style guide worthy of use by anyone who wants to produce professional documentation.

Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th Edition came out in 2012. This style guide surprised me, in several good ways. First, the layout uses more white space, a clearer typeface, and is slightly easier to read than most style guides. It isn’t that the others are bad, but that this one is better. I also like that Microsoft does not label their examples as “correct” or “incorrect,” but instead uses the terms “Microsoft Style” and “Not Microsoft Style.” While it should be understood that this is the ultimate meaning of “correct” and “incorrect” in the books from IBM and Sun, Microsoft comes across as both authoritative and humble at the same time–an impressive feat. Unique topics include writing with accessibility in mind, for content reuse in ways that allow those with non-traditional needs to be able to use the information.

Bottom line

The Chicago Manual of Style is a writer’s standard, but does not explicitly cover the needs of technical writers creating documentation for computer hardware and software. Each of the other three books mentioned here is a quality guide to creating useful documentation that is clear, useful, and appropriately standardized. They all cover the most important topics, but some of them have information not covered by the other two. Using any of the style guides listed here will benefit the technical writer, especially if no style guide is currently being used. If I was starting a new project, I would probably choose the Microsoft style guide, but I want to be clear that all of them are adequate to the task and worth a look if you are seeking guidance.

Disclosure: I was given my copies of Read Me First!, The IBM Style Guide, and Microsoft Manual of Style by the publishers as review copies. I bought my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style years ago when I first got started.