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Product: Book - Paperback
Title: Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus
Publisher: Sams
Authors: Andre Lamothe
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
Great Book, just a little unorganized.

I just finished reading this book and at its end I found myself torn between whether or not to recommend it. As I was going through the book I had to force myself to continue reading and at many times I was very confused. Lamothe covers a huge amount of information in this book, so I expected to be confused. Even though the book seems thrown together and none of the sample source code on the CD worked, I learned a huge ammount of information about game programming theory, WIN32 programming, and DirectX. I highly recommend this book if you have the patience to figure it out and have a very strong backround in C/C++.

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: MCAD/MCSD Self-Paced Training Kit: Developing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual C# .NET, Second Edition
Publisher: Microsoft Press
Authors: Microsoft Corporation, Jeff Webb, Microsoft Corporation
Rating: 2/5
Customer opinion - 2 stars out of 5
Prepares you for using ASP.NET but not for passing the cert

Microsoft approaches certification exams the same way that the Educational Testing Service approaches SAT, GMAT and GRE college entrance exams.
ETS discourages people from using SAT preparation classes and books and, rather, encourages people to just work on their verbal and quantitative skills. They suggest that doing so is enough to do well on the exams. We all know better.
Microsoft takes the approach that, if you have a good mastery of the subject being tested then that is all you need to pass the certs. The Microsoft Self-Paced Training Kits (known as the "redbooks") do a reasonable job of teaching you the concepts of ASP.NET (and WinForms and the VB.NET/C# language and other tested topics), but they do a poor job of preparing you for the certs.
It's true that, if you review vocabulary words a lot and practice intermediate algebra and 10th grade geometry problems in the weeks preceding your SATs you may improve your score by 3 or 4%. But if you use that time to review sample test questions and analyze the structure and logic behind SAT questions using Princeton Review or Kaplan etc., then you will improve your score by considerably more than a few percentage points. The same goes for Microsoft certs. If you master the topic being tested (in this case, Web apps, ASP.NET), you may still pass the exam or, at least, slightly increase your score. But knowing the topic is not enough. You must know the exam, as well. This thinking goes against Microsoft's view of their own certification exams. Microsoft's thinking and point-of-view is reflected in their "redbooks."
Therefore, if all you want is to learn ASP.NET using either of the dialects of the VB.NET/C# language, then this book is OK (if a bit pricey compared to other "cert prep" books). But if you are looking for certification preparation (as opposed to just learning the topic), then a combination of one of the cert prep products such as TestKing or Transcender along with a book like Kalani (ISBN: 0789728222) is a much better approach. These tools will help you pass the exam. Kalani, in particualr, will help you master the topic AS WELL AS prepare you for the exam. TestKing and/or Transcender will give you practice with close-to-actual exam questions. No, they don't repeat real questions but they do give you examples of the TYPES of question to expect and give you practice with the nuances, languages and tricks that are part of the cert exam questions.
You can't pass the certs without understanding the topics (and I would never hire anyone who passed the exam by memorizing questions -- believe me, I can tell). But knowing the topics alone is usually not enough. The "redbooks" teach the concepts and prepare you for using the ASP.NET tools, but the "redbooks" do not prepare you for the exams.
If the books were cheaper (or if you can share with 2 or 3 friends), and your goal was just to learn how to program (but not necessarily pass a cert) then I would recommend this book for learning the topic. For cert preparation, however, use something else.

Product: Book - Hardcover
Title: Building Professional Services: The Sirens' Song
Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR
Authors: Mitch Peterson, Steve O'Connor, Harris Kern, Thomas E. Lah
Rating: 5/5
Customer opinion - 5 stars out of 5

This is a book that fills a sorely needed gap in the computer consulting industry, and is especially valuable for start-up consulting companies, established companies that want to achieve higher profitability, and for internal IT organizations that are seeking a way to move from a cost center to a profit center.
Regardless of your goals or motivations, the first two chapters helps you to clarify your objectives, decide on the appropriate business model and mission statement, and introduces key concepts that will be used throughout the book. One of the most effective techniques in this section of the book is the way the authors lead you through framing your mission and goals and employing a service alignment risk factor to test the clarity of your mission and how it aligns to other business processes. This is especially important if technical services is not your core business.
Chapters 3 and 4 are, in my opinion, the heart of the book because they address revenue and profitability, and organizational structure - two areas with which many companies struggle. The information in these chapters will show you what you need to do to become and remain profitable, as well as how to best organize your resources to deliver in accordance with your chosen business model. For start-ups Chapter 3 provides an excellent framework for business plan pro formas. Chapter 5, Selling, thoroughly covers the critical success factors and metrics for selling services.
In chapters 6 through 8 services delivery, productizing and promotion are given the same thorough and insightful treatment. Of particular value is the customer engagement workflow that is provided in Chapter 11, and the four phases of professional services given in chapter 12. The phases provide a path by establishing basic implementation services as a service offering, then building upon these to provide integration services, consulting services and productized services - each phase represents an increase in what you offer customers (external or internal). For each of the phases the authors address the following factors: value proposition, profitability triangle focus, critical skills, required operational infrastructure, target mix, revenue growth rate, target gross margin and target operating profit.
I like the way that these (and all of the chapters) end with sample budgets and issues to watch, and the key financial models provided in Appendix D.
While this book is, in my opinion, the best starting point for anyone who is involved in establishing and managing technical services or starting a consulting company, "PSA: Professional Services Automation" by Rudolf Melik, et al is the second book you should read. That book complements this one, and also covers automating the professional services organization after it has been established.

Product: Book - Paperback
Title: The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
Publisher: Anchor
Rating: 4/5
Customer opinion - 4 stars out of 5
I didn't know what I didn't know

Very interesting reading. I expected a book that would end with a basic lesson modern in cryptography, and instead got a wonderful history of all forms of secrecy and information hiding. The best part is that it was fun too! This book will interest amateur linguists, computer programmers, mathematicials, historians, and policitians. There's just so much perspective and insight here. The book gets a little slow at times, but if you make it all the way to the end you'll find your self equipped to talk about a whole range of topics you never knew existed.