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Book Review: Fix-It and Forget-It Holiday Main Dishes and Sides by Phyllis Pellman Good


imageFix-It and Forget-It Holiday Main Dishes and Sides by Phyllis Pellman Good is a collection of recipes for the holidays that you cook in your crockpot or slow cooker. This collection of 50 recipes is distilled from a larger collection of 600 recipes published in an earlier book for Christmas. That does not make this book less valuable. It distills the original down to something a little more manageable.

As with all of these Fix It & Forget It books, the recipes are pretty basic with few pictures. The book is divided into two sections: Main Dishes and Sides. The main dishes contain recipes for beef, chicken, turkey, ham, and a handful of other main ingredients. The sides range from beans, corn, yams, and squash to stuffing and potatoes. All recipes include estimates for prep time, cook time, and ideal cooker size. They are laid out logically in order of ingredients, preparation steps, cook time, and tips appropriate to the recipe. The tips section at the end of the book shares some non-cooking tips from the readers for the holiday season.

My thoughts: If you find yourself wanting to prep some main dishes and sides for the holidays, this would be a great resource. You can put your slow cookers to use to prepare some great meals and sides to please your family and guests. I came across several recipes that I want to try, including one almost dessert-like side for Scalloped Pineapple.


Disclaimer: I was provided with a preview copy of this book with no expectations on anyone’s part. The opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by anyone else.


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Review: Make Volume 30 by O’Reilly

Make Volume 30 by O’Reilly is the latest edition in the populate Make Magazine series. If you like to experiment with technology or build your own components, you likely already know about these magazines. If this is your first exposure to them, I’d recommend that you take a trip over to makezine.com to learn more about the various projects that people like to complete or attempt. There are projects for all skill levels at their site.

Volume 30’s main project is to build a radio-controlled stunt plane. It’s lovingly referred to as “The Towel” because the initial project ended up looking as if someone was trying to fly a damp towel. The name stuck. There will be a kit available soon at makershed.com, though it was not ready at time of publication. As always, Make provides a detailed parts list, suggestions on where to obtain the parts, and very detailed instructions with pictures. They estimate that this project will take 4-5 hours to complete once you have all of the parts. It looks like a fun project and my only disappointment was that I’d have appreciated an approximate cost for the parts listing, but considering that they throw in a $100 estimate at the beginning of the article, it’s not a huge deal.

So you’re not interested in a radio-controlled flying wing? There are other projects in the magazine as well besides what you see on the cover. Volume 30 includes projects on making a Yakitori Grill, PVC furniture, hacking IR remotes, and quite a few articles that touch on home automation. If you’re interested in the idea of automating your home, it’s worth looking through this issue for some ideas and to learn more about the various technologies available to you now. The articles touch on the pros and cons of the different technologies to help people figure out what would meet their needs. The home automation articles are not the project of the month so don’t go into the same amount of detail as The Towel, but are still a very informative read.

As always, Make includes lots of shorter articles on smaller projects, interviews with makers (including a short interview with a 10-year-old Maker, Sylvia Todd), and even a “HowToon” on measuring without a ruler by using something with standard dimensions like a piece of paper. That may seem like filler material to some people, but a lot of those little articles are inspiring to get started with a small project if you’re not comfortable with a larger one.

Is Make Volume 30 for everyone? No. If you don’t have any interest in creating something from pretty basic parts or even cutting out those parts yourself, give this a pass. If you like to know how things work or like to tinker or have even built some projects like these, I’d recommend it. Me? I think I’ll be saving up some money and setting aside some parts for “The Towel” because it just looks really cool and supposedly it works well for a beginning project and radio-controlled plane.

* Disclaimer – I was provided with a free e-book from O’Reilly in return for an unbiased review of the magazine. The opinions above are my own and were not influenced by O’Reilly or anyone else.

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Review: “Make: School’s Out Summer Fun Guide” from O’Reilly

You may or may not be familiar with MAKE magazine. If you are and you’re a parent, you already know that the School’s Out Summer Fun Guide is for you. If you aren’t familiar with MAKE, I’ll try to summarize. They bring together a community of people who like to make things – all sorts of things. They make things from the simplest of crafts all the way up to full on projects that require welding, printing your own circuit boards, soldering pieces together, and wiring it all up. The projects published by MAKE magazine are usually within the realm of possibility for the dedicated do-it-yourselfer, though sometimes the price for materials or time involved may be somewhat high. The people who like to make things tend to get the most satisfaction out of the projects they’ve made because they could do it themselves.

I really enjoyed this particular issue of Make. It’s aimed at families – kids and adults working together to make things. The issue is partially in 3-D. If you buy the printed copy, you’ll get your own set of 3D glasses to look at the various pictures printed throughout the magazine. To make it even better, one of the first articles directs you to a website filled with 3D imagery as well as instructions on how to make your own 3D pictures. Steve White contributed his own experiences putting together a 3D movie and photo rig using two webcams and some parts that are relatively easy to find. After this quick foray into 3D imagery, the magazine quickly hits its main target – Summer Fun.

The editors broke down Summer Fun projects into 8 categories: Combat, Outdoors, Rainy Day, Craft, Music, Pranks, Flight, and Electronics. This section was both great and disappointing. It was great because it gave some wonderful instructions for 8 projects and a lot of inspiring pictures for more. It was disappointing because the remainder of the many projects were to be found online and not in the magazine itself. (To be fair, including those would have turned this magazine into a book.) The online projects include some basic things such as slingshots, kid-safe bamboo swords, stilts, circuits made out of play-dough, drum kits, invisible ink printing, and quite a bit more. There are a lot of great ideas for parents and kids to work together to build some great toys and projects. The Flight section points to a lot of great Rocket projects – water and air for the kids.

Those articles are great for the kids – inspiration on things they can build with some adult help. However, the part I appreciated more than the projects was towards the end of the magazine. Six children who like to make things were profiled, along with their projects. Make interviewed I-Wei Huang, one of the Skylanders artists, for advice on how to stay creative all your life. Several educators then gave their best tips for building and making with kids. If you’re not quite sure how to get started or why you might want to encourage your kids to build things, this is a great read.

Overall, I really liked this magazine. The minor disappointment of having so many projects online was offset by the number of articles and projects that are inspiring to the younger generation. I know that this is something my kid will appreciate and find inspiring. I know that I’m ready to get a list of parts together and get building now.

** I was provided with a review copy of this magazine by O’Reilly in return for an unbiased interview. This did not influence my opinion in any way. (I was actually considering buying a copy of this for myself before being offered the chance to review it.)

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Book Review – SQL Server 2012 Pocket Consultant by William Stanek; O’Reilly Media

William Stanek has written a book to give everyone a quick reference guide for most of the common tasks you’ll do in SQL Server 2012. While a lot of this may be a review for those who are experienced, there are enough changes and new content that is well summarized that this could be a valuable reference for anyone who works with SQL Server 2012.

O’Reilly provides a quick description of this book that says “This pocket-sized guide delivers ready answers for administering SQL Server. Zero in on core support and maintenance tasks using quick-reference tables, instructions, and lists that help you save time and get the job done!” That’s a pretty good description. If you want to completely learn SQL Server, this is not the correct resource for you. However, if you need to administer SQL Server and need a quick reference for the tasks you’ll do regularly, this is a great resource. William Stanek lays out his reference well with tables, code samples, and the quick reasons why you might choose one setting over another.

I appreciated the various examples within each section showing the graphical way to manage your server as well as the SQL and sometimes even PowerShell code to do the same things. William takes care to explain why some settings and choices should be avoided in the sidebars. Those sorts of warnings are great for people who are new to SQL Server or database servers in general. While I’ve worked with SQL Server for many years, I found that this book covers pretty much everything I would want to know as a SQL Server administrator.

This is a “pocket” reference so space is limited. Anyone looking for a hard-core book on SQL Server internals will want to look elsewhere. Likewise, anyone wanting to learn SQL Server will be better off with another resource. William is targeting those who work with SQL Server as administrators. He covers setup, security, policies, indexing, monitoring, jobs, alerts, backups, and similar topics. These are enough to get you started and avoid major pitfalls. I appreciate that he doesn’t follow the official Microsoft statements completely and offers up real-world observations. For example, when he covers backups, he starts by asking a series of questions and directing people towards different considerations for backups, where to store backups, whether to compress them, how often to consider taking them, and the types available. He doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all backup strategy, but directs the reader to make the best choices for their shop while showing them how to get the job done.

My one disappointment with the pocket consultant is that it did not touch on Extended Events for monitoring SQL Server. With these poised to start replacing SQL Profiler traces, they’re going to be very important in the near future. I can understand not mentioning other features of SQL Server as they don’t pertain to the core functionality, but this seemed to be a pretty big omission. It doesn’t detract from the rest of the book, but I think it would have been a valuable inclusion.

To summarize, if you’re new to SQL Server or want a handy reference to administer SQL Server 2012, this is a good resource to consider. If you’d like to get more information or buy a copy of the book, please check out its O’Reilly product page.

* I was provided with a complimentary review copy in return for an unbiased review. The opinions written here are my own.

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Book Review–Manga Guide to Relativity from O’Reilly Publishing


imageI’ve gone through a ton of physics classes while in school and have been a sci-fi fan for a good portion of my life, so this was an interesting topic for me. I have seen the “Manga Guide” series around for a while now, though have mostly ignored them thinking that they were going to be either so high-level that they would be almost useless or so cartoonish that they would miss facts or misrepresent facts.  I was wrong.

The Manga Guide to Relativity starts out as a typical Manga story – big eyes, small mouths, odd plot, strange characters. It quickly moves from the opening premise into actually teaching about relativity and the concepts behind it. The illustrations really help grasp key points about relativity, even if they don’t go very deep. The end of chapter summaries go into more detail about each chapter’s topic to understand more of the facts.

As this book is in the Manga style, I probably wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids. Of course, most younger kids aren’t all that interested in Relativity in the first place so this likely won’t be an issue except for the comics portion. Some of the illustrations may be a bit inappropriate for younger children.

Personally, I enjoyed the book. The PDF read well on my Nook Color. The Manga style worked well to communicate the concepts of relativity and was interesting, if a really strange story. However, strange stories are part of the appeal of Manga in the first place. I’d definitely recommend it to an older student trying to come to grips with relativity – not as a replacement text, but as something to help grasp the basic concepts.

Disclosure – I was provided with a complimentary PDF of this book by O’Reilly in return for an unbiased review. The opinions and thoughts here are my own and were in no way influences by O’Reilly.

Please visit O’Reilly to obtain a copy of The Manga Guide to Relativity.

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