Tag Archives: Books

Book Recommendation – “Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself” by Alan Alda

I read Alan Alda’s first autobiography, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and knew that he had come out with a sequel but hadn’t gotten around to it. Then I found the unabridged audio version at a book sale and snapped it up. I haven’t been disappointed.

5174XKtys4L._SL250_The first book ended with Alda’s near death on a mountaintop in Chile due to an life-threatening medical crisis. The second book, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, picks up where it left off and chronicles his search for meaning after surviving the crisis and recognizing he had gotten a second chance. He did this, in part, by going through some of his older writings, including the commencement addresses he’d written to deliver at his daughters’ college graduations and remembering the insights he “didn’t know he knew”. This was something that resonated with me because of the small amount of writing I’ve  done over the years and my own efforts to put some of my insights and lessons into words.

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‘Your First Guide to Database Design’ – Now available in Adobe PDF!

firstguidecoverMy latest book is now available on Scribd.com in Adobe PDF format. That means that even if you don’t have a Kindle or a Nook, you can STILL learn how to organize any kind of information and create your own database applications. In a world so completely dependent on the flow of information, this is a valuable career skill and a valuable perspective on how your own information is managed by others. Your First Guide to Database Design is written to present the concepts involved in database design in a clear and logical manner using everyday examples and is available for only $9.99, far less than the average technology guide. Check out the free preview on Scribd.com! If you’d like more information first, you can also check out the book’s official page on AndrewComeau.com which contains links to the free PDF preview and all the locations where you can purchase the book for the Kindle and Nook as well.

Finally Published!

firstguidecoverIt’s finally here!  Your First Guide to Database Design is now available on Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com.  Another PDF version will soon be available for purchase on Scribd.com.

Your First Guide to Database Design is a clear, easy-to-use guide to relational database design for both beginners and I.T. professionals who need to know how to organize and store any amount of information on any subject. Whether you’re using SQL Server, MySQL or another database software, this book will show you how to model the data, create a system of tables and use Structured Query Language (SQL) to read and write to your new database. Your First Guide to Database Design uses multiple examples including the Job Search Plus database to help the average user understand the principles behind database design.

For more information, check out the official book page or the support page on AndrewComeau.com. The support page includes full-size diagrams of example databases used in the book and will be updated with answers to reader questions so be sure to bookmark it!

On software design …

firstguidecover In my upcoming book, Your First Guide to Database Design, my goal is to provide a clear guide for users at all  levels of experience on how to organize their data into an efficient database, regardless of whether they’re using a desktop database like Microsoft Access or a network software such as MySQL.

The first chapter starts out with the basic definition of a database and the various ways in which information is stored and transferred in modern systems. The rest of the book takes the user through clear, logical steps of modeling the data and creating a new database that can be used for analysis and reporting.

One of the perks of writing a book, and especially of being a self-published author, is that you can occasionally speak out on things that are important to you. An example of this can be found in the chapter on designing a user interface for your database application …

“Software users don’t like surprises as much as some designers seem to think and what looks cool and innovative to you as the designer can confuse and annoy the user. Many people have experienced this annoyance first-hand in the last few years as a certain leading software company has repeatedly reorganized the look and feel of its software products, leaving many users with the burden of having to re-learn how to do the same things they’ve always done.

“In my experience, many everyday computer users know enough to get their jobs done and that’s as much as they want to know. These people find more delight in getting their work done so they can go home to their families or out for the evening than they do in the latest tech trends. They’re far more interested in their own hobbies and diversions than they are in the ways in which a software company has found to make its products look more exciting in order to stay relevant in the marketplace. They find no joy whatsoever in playing hide-and-seek with the software functions they need. Some of them, like me, are getting to a point where the ever-escalating pace of change isn’t quite as thrilling as it used to be and familiar things are a lot more comforting. Maybe they have certain disabilities that make radical changes harder to cope with.

“What all this means to you as a designer is that your first priority, after making sure that the program doesn’t crash on start-up, is to design an interface that your users can be comfortable using everyday. It doesn’t matter if you are a lone developer creating database applications for your office to use, a corporate programmer designing enterprise software for the entire company or a software engineer designing the next software sensation; your users are your customers. Without them, your work is an intellectual exercise at best. If you deliver a product to them that causes confusion and pain, they will eventually find a way to go elsewhere.

“Does this mean that every program should look the same and that no new designs should ever be tried? Absolutely not! In over 20 years of working with computer technology, I’ve seen incredible changes in the way people interact with software. The keys to the successful changes are that they are incremental, they are useful and they are somehow already familiar to the user, whether they evolve from current designs or resemble something else in the user’s life. The concept of a desktop with folders and documents wasn’t hard for the average user to grasp. Users love relatively simple menus with clear options that they can navigate through the same way they navigate streets and building corridors. They don’t love lots of keyboard shortcuts they have to memorize or ‘helpful’ features that intrude when they’re trying to do something else. Touch screens that enable a user to move between pages or programs with a swipe of a finger or enlarge a picture by using two fingers to stretch it are fun and intuitive meaning that the steps make sense to the user because they’re likely what the user would have tried anyway.”

Writing a book, or at least doing it properly, is a fair amount of work and I’ve been working on this one for a a few months now. My goal is to have it published as an ebook by the first week of October. Check out the book’s official page for continuing updates.

 

Focus …

Browsing the bookstore today, I came across an interesting selection called “The Startup Playbook” by David Kidder and Reid Hoffman. It’s a collection of success stories from prominent startups today including AOL, Flickr and LinkedIn. Reading the Kindle sample later (I use the physical bookstore just to see what’s new. They’re way overpriced.) I found this interesting quote:

“How confidently do you value your focus, your most passionate efforts (not simply your passion), your time? If you value them highly, quit every activity that steals time without contributing to the important goals that grow and enrich your life. The physical and intellectual time recovered will be re-purposed into your greatest gifts and efforts, leading to dramatic personal and economic returns.”

That one quote pretty much sold me on the book. It echoes an idea that hit me over the head sometime ago which I’ve kept in mind and shared ever since even if I haven’t been able to fully practice it. The old adage says that time is money but time is not money; it’s infinitely more precious. I’ve wasted money over the years on things I didn’t need and that knowledge doesn’t hurt nearly as much as knowing the time I’ve wasted and can never replace. Money in the bank can be counted but tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Even over the last few months, I’ve let myself be snagged by a lot of time-wasters from Facebook to resentments I’ve held onto and I’m finally realizing the price that I’m paying for that baggage in terms of progress and self-confidence. It’s easy to whine about not being motivated but motivation only comes from exercising a little self-control and making ourselves take that first step and then the next.

So I’ve found another book for the reading list once I get some of the old stuff cleared off my desk.

In my off hours …

I’ve been re-reading Robert A. Heinlein’s Expanded Universe, a collection of his short stories and articles from throughout his writing career. I first read this book as a teenager and skimmed over some of the parts that just didn’t hold my attention at the time but, as I’ve found before, some books will say different things to you at different times in your life.

Heinlein was acknowledged as the American master of science fiction but this collection also contains other material that he wrote as he was trying to break away from the sci-fi pulp magazines in the 40s. In the process, he dabbled in mystery stories and political writing, finally returning to science fiction with a more developed style that often incorporated his own personal philosophy.

In addition to a fine selection of reading material from one of America’s most respected authors, Expanded Universe is valuable for its historical perspective. The earliest pieces date back to before World War II and Heinlein’s political writing provides details on post-war life and the thoughts and fears that many experienced at the dawn of the Cold War.