Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Buy My Book! (Please?)

223888 cover_df.pdf (3 pages).jpgThis week, my book Professional Ruby on Rails will be officially released. You can see sample chapters here, and you can buy the book at Amazon (affiliate link).

This book is designed to meet the needs of an intermediate to advanced Ruby on Rails user. The first wave of Rails books could not assume that the user had any pre-existing knowledge of Rails. As a result, they spent a lot of time covering the basics. The target reader for this book is somebody who has already read one of the basic books and now has to apply this knowledge to building a complete web site all the way from conception to deployment.

Written over the summer and fall, all the sample code in the book uses Rails 2.x, specifically including RESTful structures, respond_to, new migrations, cookie-based sessions, and other new features.

The book covers the kinds of tasks that nearly every site needs to handle -- user models, database performance, time zones and internationalization, creating common JavaScript navigation elements, REST web services, and graphics. Where there are commonly used plugins to support those features, the book covers those as well.

In addition to the application itself, there are other parts of the Rails life cycle. The book covers many of these issues including how to manage a Subversion repository, how to use Rake to simplify common tasks, Capistrano for deployment, RailsBench and profiling tools, generators, and plugins.

I wanted to include comprehensive and integrated coverage of automated testing. In addition to a chapter dedicated to advanced testing tools, nearly all of the sample code in the book is presented with its associated tests first. I believe this promotes the use of test-driven development and gives examples of how to test complex Rails code.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. If you are a Rails programmer, this book will improve your programs, and hopefully save you time and effort. If you're interested, please check out the samples, and buy the book. Thanks.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

10 Print "Favorite Books, 2007"

For my first real non-techy post on this site (I'm a little nervous about that....), here's one of my favorite things to write about -- a list of favorite books that I read in 2007.

All the books on this list were published recently enough to qualify as "new". I also group books in the same series more or less on whim. My tastes... well, they tend toward Fantasy and SF, beyond that, you'll just have to infer from the list.

First up, the honorable mention, all these books are definitely recommended. All links are to Amazon affiliate pages.

Honorable Mention

  • Cursor's Fury, Jim Butcher. This is book three of the Codex Alera series (book four came out in January '08). The series is notable for likable characters, tight plotting, and a very interesting fantasy world based on the Roman empire. This particular book has a well handled reveal of secrets, including clues that had been staring the reader in the face since page one of the first book.

  • Extras, Scott Westerfeld. Book four of Westerfeld's exceptional YA Uglies series. Maybe down a slight notch from the first three, but still an interesting and fun book. Westerfeld has a knack for aligning his SF worlds with the concerns of his YA readers, but the book is also worth reading for adults.

  • First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde. This one is book five in a series, in this case Fforde's funny and off-the-wall Thursday Next books. It's about fifteen years later, Thursday is still fighting bad guys in and out of books, in this case, she's assisted by two different fictional versions of herself. This series is kind of like what Douglas Adams might have come up with if he had decided to parody the English Lit canon. Only with more croquet, dodoes, vampires, and neanderthals. This book also has a great (read: clever and silly) time travel paradox.

  • Ha'penny, Jo Walton. Much less funny, this is a sequel to Farthing, Walton's alternate history world where the British made peace with Nazi Germany in 1940, ceding the rest of the continent to German control. Like the first book, this is chilling in it's matter-of-factness as Britain increasingly becomes a police state. (There aren't many more disturbing phrases in an alternate history than "President Lindburgh"...).

  • Halting State, Charles Stross. The only non-series book in the entire Honorable Mention list. That's really odd. Near fiction SF that takes off from a daring bank robbery inside a World of Warcraft like virtual game. Moving forward from there, the stakes get much higher, since anybody who can crack the encryption used in the game can do... well, pretty much anything. This was the last book to fall off the final nominee list, it's an excellent, mind-warping SF book. Stross is kind of hit-and-miss, this is one of his hits.

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora & Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch. Right up until the actual last book I read in 2007, this was my favorite new author of the year. It's a dark series (projected to seven books) about elaborate con games in an urban fantasy environment. The first one reads like a violent cross between The Sting and China Mieville, the second one start that way, but veers off into a long pirate digression. The first book, on it's own, would probably have squeaked in the nominee list, the second one is a little weaker, but still has its moments.

  • Melusine & The Virtu, Sarah Monette. One novel, published in two parts. Another dark fantasy, an extremely well written mood and character piece about two half-brothers, one a wizard gone insane, the other an assassin turned cat burglar. (Boy, that makes it sound kind of goofy -- it's not.) The book oozes atmosphere.

  • Ragamuffin, Tobias Buckell. Sequel to Crystal Rain, this book opens up the universe and has a much more space-opera feel. Includes a fantastic SF set piece that takes place down the axis line of a cylindrical space-station, involving Newton's second law and machine guns.

Also recommended, to one degree or another:

Always by Nicola Griffith, Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill, Kusheil's Justice by Jaqueline Carey (last book off the above list), Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier, The Merchant's War by Charles Stross, Precious Dragon by Liz Williams, The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold, Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson, Spook Countryby WIlliam Gibson, The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, The Sword Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe, and White Night by Jim Butcher

The following books are the actual nominees for whatever mythical award I give out -- my favorite books of the year. This was an excellent year, all of these books are highly recommended.

  • Blindsight, Peter Watts. The essential quote about Watts is from James Nicoll, "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." This is a grim book about the limitations of the human mind -- if you think your mind is actually good at stuff, be prepared to have that idea debunked forcefully. This is a first contact book with a very alien race, but it's completely subversive to the normal ideas of a first contact book. And it has SF vampires.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K, Rowling. Odds are that you've already read this if you have even the slightest interest, either way you're probably not interested in what I have to say about this one. I just wanted to point out that, as a longtime Potter fan and Rowling supporter, I was a little worried that she wouldn't stick the landing. She did -- the book is a very satisfying end to the story.

  • The Last Colony, John Scalzi. Book three of the Old Man's War series, paying off on a series of hints in the earlier books that the surrounding universe is much more complex then originally let on. This book has more of an intrigue/spy feel than the earlier two, which were more military. Scalzi is trying very hard to write SF novels that are accessible to people who don't normally read SF. This does not mean the books are dumbed-down or uninteresting, just that you're actually going to be able to recommend them to more people who will enjoy them.

  • The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. This was my favorite new novelist of the year. The funny thing is that I could come up with a list of plot elements that would make this sound like the most derivative thing ever -- it's got a magical university, the kid from nowhere who's the most talented wizard anybody's ever seen, dark forces afoot, the older hero being dragged into the game one more time, takes place in an inn. All that said, the execution of the book is outstanding. The characters are far more interesting then the plain list would suggest, and the sentence by sentence writing is very good.

  • The Queen of Candesce Karl Schroeder. Book Two of Schroeder's Virga series, which takes place on maybe the best SF big object since Ringworld -- a giant, hollow planet, filled inside with atmosphere, and dozens upon dozens of smaller worldlets, the size of small towns and smaller, that spin to create their own gravity. It's a space opera if space had air. This book takes place on a very small, but strange, part of the larger world (the first book was basically an end-to-end tour of the place). The world building is amazingly good, the worldlet that the story takes place on is covered with countries the size of mansions that spend all their time in deep intrigue over centuries-old grudges.

  • Un Lun Dun China Mieville. It seems like this one kind of slipped past a lot of people, maybe they thought it was just another adult writer trying YA because it's a big market. In fact, it's a funny and clever subversive take on Narnia-style other worlds, and it has enough wordplay to qualify it as The Phantom Tollbooth for the 21st century. This is the kind of book where The Chosen One is out of action on page 35, where a character is told that there is a long list of Trials That Must Be Done and says, in effect "I don't have that kind of time, just tell me where the last one is..." You'll never think about fantasy quests in the same way again.

  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon. Alternate history novel on the premise that the US saved 4 million European Jews in World War II and housed them in a protected reserve in Sitka, Alaska. Where they settled in and created a unique, Yiddish-based culture. Only now its 2007, and the lease is running out. On top of all that, it's a murder mystery. I was ready to love this book on premise alone, and the book more than lives up to the premise. As an Ashkenazi Jew, Sitka, Alaska is my lost culture, and Chabon makes it seem absolutely real -- I want to see this place as much as I've ever wanted to visit a fictional book. This just became the first novel ever to be nominated for best novel for both the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, and the SF Writers of America's Nebula award. Hands down, my favorite book of the year. Update: My source for the Edgar/Nebula has made a partial correction, pointing out that "Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass was nominated for the best novel Nebula and won the best paperback original Edgar in 2006". Still, Best Paperback Original is not, I suppose, Best Novel...

Friday, February 22, 2008


Amazon is now saying that Professional Ruby On Rails is in stock! I haven't seen my copies yet, and I suspect Amazon purchases will actually go out next week, but it's a real page and everything.

The link to purchase is right here.

I've also added a running list of errata and updates. Check back on that every now and then.

Much more on the book over the next week.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lesser Known Test Processes

New post on the Pathfinder site. I had fun writing this one. It's on some lesser known variants of test-driven development.


Monday, February 18, 2008

State of the Blog

This is for any intrepid readers out there who have been following this blog for any length of time. Executive summary: this blog should be getting more content (and more varied content) in the future. Really.

Here's the thing. At the moment, I'm trying to maintain the following:

  • This blog
  • Entries on the Pathfinder Agile Ajax Blog.
  • A private blog where I review books and the like.
  • Two Twitter accounts (one for book updates, one for me)
  • Two del.icio.us tags published to blog sidebars.

All of which got neglected during the big book push.

That's clearly an insane amount of stuff to manage, and it was all suffering for it. On top which, dividing blogs between professional and personal/geeky content was not turning out to be pleasant.

That said, I obviously need to continue posting to the Pathfinder blog, what with them paying me and all. So the plan is this:

  • The private blog will no longer be updated. Since it is actually private, I'm pretty much the only person this affects.
  • Some of the topics that I would have posted there will now come here. I'll try to keep a technical focus (or at least a geekfan focus), but I'll be defining that somewhat more broadly.
  • However, issues that fall under Pathfinder's purview (meaning Ruby and Agile topics) will be posted there. I'll continue to add links to those articles on this blog.
  • The twitter account with book updates will no longer be updated -- my "real" account is now the sidebar on this blog.
  • The old del.iciou.us sidebar is also gone. That content will go into the twitter stream.

The goal is 2-3 Twitter updates a day for links or other short thoughts, and 2-3 larger blog articles a week. Fingers crossed on that last one. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hey, Free Book Samples!

As I've mentioned here a few times, I have a book coming out, "Professional Ruby on Rails", available later this month.

If you'd like a sneak peek, Wrox has put some samples online as PDF files. You can also just buy the book.

  • Chapter 1 -- This sets up the sample project used in the book, and talks about the new REST features in Rails.

  • Table of Contents -- Take a look at this to see if your favorite topic is covered.

  • Index -- A more detailed way to see if your favorite topic is covered. Also, maybe you collect indexes...

I'm not sure if the publisher plans on adding more sample content -- if so, I'll update this post.