books, technology

Book Reviews: Arduino Robots, The Modern Web, and How They’re Going to Change Your Life

Hanna-Barbera had it right all along – we really are moving into the age of The Jetsons. Flying cars may not be at a hovercraft lot near you just yet, but robots are on the rise and the modern web is about to change how and with whom you communicate, online and off.

Yesterday Fast Company ran a series of articles on robots and future tech trends. The articles included discussions about robots as teachers of collaboration, machines that are out to improve our lives in deeply emotional ways, and the creepy tech that wants to record our every word like an episode of Big Brother. I was particularly keen to hear their perspective because I have had my eyes fixed on two new books published by No Starch Press: Arduino Workshop: A Hands-on Introduction with 65 Projects and The Modern Web: Multi-device Web Development with HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript.

When I first enrolled at Penn as an undergraduate, I was in the engineering school. I switched to the College of Arts and Sciences as a sophomore because I spent my first year alone in an underground classroom full of people who had a hard time looking me, or anyone else for that matter, in the eye. Thankfully, undergraduate engineering classes have come a long way since then! Despite my exit from engineering, I’ve remained deeply interested in how technology drives society, and No Starch Press books are exactly for people like me.

Fun, informative, and gloriously off-beat, these two volumes in particular are for those looking to go beyond a surface knowledge of technology. They are for those of us to like to be down in the weeds building a solid foundation of technical knowledge so that we can rise up stronger and armed with the information to understand just how these platforms work. They’re for tinkerers, makers, and developers in the broadest sense of the terms.

The Modern Web
You’ve worked through your Codecademy lessons, taken a Coursera course on coding, hopped over to General Assembly for a meetup, and now you want to go further. The Modern Web is for you. Author Peter Gasston is very honest about his audience. You need a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Javascript to make the most use of this book. Peter is taking you to the next level beyond the basics. His main goal is to get you out of the mindset of device class.  “Don’t think of building a site for web and mobile. Think of building a site that works everywhere.” The lines between screens are blurring at a fast and furious pace. Our thinking as developers has to morph in the same way and at an even fast rate so we can stay on top of the latest developments in our fields.

Now that we’re clear on Peter’s purpose and audience, the book is organized in layers that mimics the underpinning of web development itself. He starts off basic and powerful definitions of terms and then uses those terms to explain the structures of the web (HTML). Those structures pave the way to visual design and display (CSS) which naturally lead us to behaviors (Javascript). Now that we have structures, display, and behavior, we can actually work on the pipes that get our content to as wide an audience as possible (APIs). He then touches on multi-sensory aesthetics through an exploration of images, graphics, web apps, and multimedia content.

To wrap a bright shiny bow around this book, Peter lets down his development hair and goes into the future. From is perspective, we are still in the infancy of the web and it’s still very much a digital wild west where disruptors and innovations stand to shake everything up. His advice – developers, stay informed and be a part of the conversation wherever and however you can.

Arduino Workshop
Author Mary Shelley was so ahead of her time when she wrote Frankenstein. We are born loving robots. We’re intrigued by getting a machine to do what we want it to do. After all, remote control cars and model planes, the darlings of childhood play, are forms of robots. We tell them to do something, and they do it, no questions asked. This is exactly why kids, and adults, are addicted to their mobile devices. We click something, it opens, and then we tell the machine to do something that it willingly does (most of the time). It’s empowering to make technology work for us.

Not content to just buy a programmable machine, we’re now getting up to our elbows in parts to actually build robots. The Arduino board, a cute, convenient contraption is a gateway product to help us get under the hood of our favorite gadgets and gizmos, and then it helps us craft our own. It fits comfortably into the palm of your hand but don’t be deceived by its size. Download some free, complementary software and it packs a powerful punch in its small frame. Created in 2005, it’s moved beyond its robot hobbyist status and into the mainstream maker movement.

Now that you’ve got an Arduino board (cost ~ $30) and the free software, the book gives you a brief background on project design and electricity and then you’re off to the races with 65 projects to get this little computer to work for you. You’re going to learn how to code, make lights blink at your will, create digital displays of information and images, build simple robots, remote controls, and GPS-enabled applications. Each project has detailed instructions and illustrations so they’re approachable for beginners.

To get a sense of how others in the global Arudino community are using Arduino, take a look at the Instructables site where people have shared their creations. The sky’s the limit now has a whole new meaning!

8 thoughts on “Book Reviews: Arduino Robots, The Modern Web, and How They’re Going to Change Your Life”

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