KillerSites Blog

Nerd Book Reviews

Book Review: Foundation Web Design with Dreamweaver 8

August 2, 2006

Beginners book on using Dreamweaver 8 – but not for beginners to web design.

Web Design with Dreamweaver 8 teaches how to use Dreamweaver to build modern, standards-compliant websites.

This is a great book if you are a web designer (with some experience) ready to take the next step in terms of understanding modern web design methods: as you learn to use Dreamweaver, the author gives concise coverage of various modern web design practices like CSS for layout, semantic web design etc …

Project driven for much of the book, you are guided through a series of common web design task:

  • Styling links with CSS
  • Laying our pages with CSS.
  • Creating and styling forms.

… and much more.

Each project covered, is representative of something you would want to do in the real-world, but not so big to bore the hell out of you …

A good book for anyone who wants to learn how to use Dreamweaver 8.

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Book Review: Web Design in a Nutshell – 3rd edition

August 2, 2006

This book should probably be on any web designers/developers desk.

Web design has changed drastically since this book’s first edition came out … and thankfully Web Design In A Nutshell has been updated accordingly.

As with all of Oreilly’s ‘Nutshell’ books, Web Design In A Nutshell covers each topic in a concise and yet complete manner making it both a great learning title (for people with some web design skills,) and a great reference.

Some of the topics covered:

  • CSS – basics, page layout methods, hacks, tricks etc
  • Accessibility
  • Web graphics

… and so much more.

Besides the core coverage of the material itself, this book is also packed with great references to web sites and other good books on web design.

Get the book.

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Book Review: Programming Ruby

July 25, 2006

The Pragmatic Programmers’ Guide

This is the famous ‘PickAxe’ book that Ruby nerds talk about. A very well written book that is concise and to the point.


This is one of those books that reads very well. I had a hard time putting it down even though the coverage was deep – you’ll learn a lot about Ruby and maybe more about programming in general.

I never give the TOC of a book (that you can easily look up,) but I should mention 2 major divisions:

  1. Part 1 is a tutorial that leads you through the core Ruby language.
  2. Part 2 goes into the Ruby environment – the tools that you have available with Ruby. There’s a lot and they work well.

There is much more (advance Ruby concepts, Ruby reference) but I will leave that for you to look into.


What can I say … if you are using Ruby or you want to learn Ruby, you need to get this book.

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Book Review: AJAX Hacks

June 25, 2006

A collection of AJAX hacks (recipes) coupled with intelligent discussions. A good book to buy for anyone interested in AJAX and modern web application development.

The book begins with a great introduction to AJAX and then provides a useful grab-bag of commonly needed AJAX applications.

For example:

  • Processing Web forms.
  • Validations: credit card numbers, email addresses etc …

What are AJAX ‘hacks’?

AJAX ‘hacks’ are concise code samples that can be used as ‘components (if you will,) that you can plug into your own work.

Besides the usefulness of having a reusable collection like this, you can learn a lot from the ‘hacks’, since each one is coupled with a good discussion.

Some highlights:

  • Ruby on Rails and AJAX discussions
  • Examination of the open source AJAX libraries like Scriptaculous and Rico.
  • The concise and clear coverage of AJAX basics.

As with all O’reilly books, the writing is clear and concise and well presented.

Note: this is not a beginners tutorial … you will need to be able to work with and understand JavaScript.

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Book Review: Programming PHP 2nd Edition

June 23, 2006

Co-written by the guy who invented PHP (Rasmus Lerdorf,) this is a must-buy book for anyone getting into PHP or web programming in general.

What can I say; this book is so well written and to the point, that I found that the information seemed to just flow from the pages.

Who is this book for?

This is not a book for someone just learning how to program; it is for everyone else though.

Both programmers new to PHP, or PHP programmers with (at least) a basic understanding of PHP, will find this book to be very handy to have around.

The book does not try to cover everything about PHP… though it does cover things like:

  • graphics
  • xml
  • pdf
  • databases

… instead it gives the best coverage of the core language I’ve ever read.

Buy the book.

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Book Review: Beyond Java

June 23, 2006

A small book that takes a critical look at Java and other languages (Ruby, PHP, ) at a moment in time.

I say ‘at a moment in time’ because this book will lose relevance very quickly – even more quickly than the typical nerd book.

In a nutshell:

  • You get a brief history lesson on languages and their problems.
  • You get a perspective of the problems that Java developers face.
  • You get perspective on the subject from interviews with several big-wig names in the field.
  • You get an overview of Ruby and Rails.

My complaints:

  • The author likes to introduce his chapters with kayaking stories that are suppose to reflect what he is about to talk about … I would just skip those parts because I am not into kayaking.
  • Question of accuracy: he mentions (page 174) that PHP does not have enough structure. This is a silly statement given that there are SEVERAL PHP frameworks out there that provide the exact same structure as Rails – some even copy Rails.


I liked the book and it was a worthwhile read. It has a few problems but it does open your eyes to things.

That said, the title of the book should have been: ‘Beyond Java and why I love Ruby’.

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Book Review: Ruby For Rails

June 23, 2006

Ruby For Rails connects the dots between Ruby and Rails.

In a nutshell:

This book looks at how Rails uses Ruby, and in so doing, you learn a heck of a lot about Ruby programming.

Ruby For Rails goes into detail about basic Ruby, enough so that I think someone new to Ruby, could learn enough about the language to be able to build web applications. But, the book is not a comprehensive Ruby reference – there are things that are not talked about.

The thing I really liked about the book, is the way the author introduces a concept and then shows you how Ruby or Rails implements that concept in a practical application.

For example:

You are introduced to a Ruby construct called a ‘module’*.

  • You learn what a module is.
  • Why Ruby has modules.
  • How Rails uses modules and why.

I am glad to have this book and think anyone interested in learning Ruby and /or Rails, should get it.

* Ruby modules are programmatic constructs that are like classes (they have methods and constants,) but they are not directly instantiated like a true class.

Instead, modules are created to be inserted into to classes or objects to give the host class or object the extra functionality. Often modules are referred to as ‘mix-ins’ because modules are mixed in to classes.

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Book Review: Sustainable Software Development – An Agile Perspective

May 30, 2006

by: Kevin Tate

Review by Richard Mischook

This book will of some interest to anyone who has ever worked on a team developing any sort of sophisticated software. By sophisticated I mean relatively feature-rich and developed with the expectation of a reasonably long shelf life. By the latter though, I don’t mean a static shelf life; rather a dynamic one where it is expected that the software will need to grow and change in response to the evolving needs of the customer.

Getting to the Point

Sustainable Software Development starts with a strong argument as to why building software cannot and should not be viewed as analogous to building buildings, despite the propensity of many to see things that way. For one thing buildings are not expected to change over time in response to changing requirements (not drastically anyway).

Software on the other hand in an increasingly dynamic business climate must be adaptable to change. In fact change must be relatively easy to accomplish with a low risk of breaking existing functionality. Thus sustainable software development is somewhat different from purely agile development, even if the former borrows heavily from the principles of the latter. Sustainable software must develop the software that the customer needs, and be capable of changing as the needs of the customer change.

The Core of the Book

This book is a great read. It uses numerous small examples to illustrate its point, examples that certainly were quite familiar to me. The causes of unsustainable development were covered in some detail. The meat of the book went into a series of practical and unambiguous practices and principles designed to foster long term sustainable development. In addition to discussing software methodology, the author recognizes the cultural issues (as in corporate culture) that need to be addressed to foster a sustainable software development environment.


This book is a great read even for those who may already be familiar with one of more schools of agile development. It left me charged up and wanting to rush into the office and put these ideas into practice. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: Head Rush AJAX

May 16, 2006

Head Rush AJAX targets web designers who have a basic understanding of JavaScript.

A couple of points:

  • A great book for beginners.
  • This book is not well suited for experienced Web programmers because the pace is probably too slow.

Using clever layouts and graphics, along with an easy to understand writing style, Head Rush AJAX makes AJAX very approachable for web designers.


AJAX is essentially the combination of technologies (JavaScript, DOM, CSS) built into all modern browsers that allows you to create web apps that act like (from the users perspective,) desktop applications – the so-called ‘rich user experience’. AJAX is used to send data to and from the server, and then display it in a web page, in a seamless way.

AJAX is typically coupled with a server-side technology like:

  • PHP
  • Java/J2EE

The server-side languages/environments are used to grab data (say from a database like MySQL) and then hand it off the to AJAX scripts. Wisely, Head Rush AJAX uses PHP as the server-side language to play this role*.

*PHP was the best choice because most web designers are going to jump into PHP over any other language because PHP is easy to learn and is ubiquitous.


By starting with simple concepts and examples, the book gently takes the reader from humble beginnings to (by the end of the book) where the reader should be comfortable creating AJAX based websites.

Some highlights:

  • Great examination of basic concepts.
  • Good tutorial on DOM scripting – a key component of AJAX
  • Nice comparison between AJAX with XML vs. AJAX with JSON – a lightweight JavaScript data format

Probably the best web designer centric book on AJAX.

Stefan Mischook (Web Design Heretic)

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Book review: Professional Ajax

May 6, 2006

A very good book for experienced web application developers who want to jump into this new way of creating a rich user experience with the web browser.

The writing is clear and straight forward. Each chapter begins with a concise (but informative) theoritical introduction, which is then followed with a practical example that is substantive enough to learn the programming behind the theory, yet not too long that you’ll get bored.

Clearly targetting the enterprise developer, this book covers how AJAX works with:

  • XML, XPath and XSLT
  • Web Services
  • JSON: a Javascript data format that is a lighweight alternative to XML

You can read rest of the topics covered in the book’s TOC.


I especially liked a section in chapter two (AJAX Basics) that covers the 3 methods used to create AJAX-like experience:

  • The hidden frame technique – what we used to do, to fake it in the late 90’s
  • The hidden iframe technique.
  • Using the XMLHttpRequest object – true AJAX (IMHO)

It was interesting to see working side-by-side comparisons of the methods available to web developers … and it makes you realize how useful the XMLHttpRequest object is!

What’s even more interesting is how the authors have actually combined these three methods in certain applications to create a more flexible AJAX implementation.


If you are an experienced web developer who wants to learn AJAX, get this book.

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