Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred

Author: David Erik Nelson
Publisher: No Starch Press, 2010
Pages: 360
ISBN: 978-1593272593
Aimed at: Parents who want to introduce kids to electronics and craft
Rating: 4.5
Pros: Motivating projects, good instruction
Cons: Over emphasis on music projects
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead

There is a great deal of fun to be had from craft and electronics projects and this book introduces skills that today's kids might have missed out on

 

There was a time when a book like this one would have been unnecessary. Many of the basic skills discussed would have been covered in school lessons at some stage or other and kids would have done projects of this type on their own but... Today? Who knows? So better to be sure than sorry and this is a collection of well-described projects that can be used as the basis for parent child collaboration. Despite the subtitle "Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids" many of the projects are very basic and not really geeky at all. This isn't a criticism as it widens the scope of the book considerably.

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Part I is called Kid Stuff and the projects are very basic constructional tasks. For example, Project 1 is Lock-a-Latch Treasure Chest and this is basic woodwork - no not dovetail joins but a screwed construction using a plank of pine.  Project 2 is a simple soldering exercise with switches and LEDs in an old cigar box. Project 3 is a squid sock which takes us into the non-geeky area of sewing and soft toys. And so it goes on -  a PVC teepee, an experiment in cheap mesh screen printing, a dice game, a shocking coil and a game of go. All are well described and fairly simple.

Part II is all about building instruments for an Electro-Skiffle Band. The first project is an X-ray drum - if you are wondering where the x-ray fits in the answer is that the film forms the drum head. The other instruments include a thunderdrum, an electric didgeridoo, a dirt cheap amp (based on a single IC), The $10 electric guitar, a spring reverb box, a tremolo effects box, a fuzz box and a synthesizer. As you can tell the electronics content slowly but surely ramps up as you work through the book. It never gets to the point of saying "now let's build a PCB" and everything is soldered together using IC sockets. The only problem with this approach is that the constructor has to be fairly good at soldering if the result isn't going to be a mess. However the photos and diagrams provide a target to aim at.

Part III: The Locomotivated is a collection of projects about making things move. The projects are all fairly simple - cardboard boomerangs, pop can flyer, a water rocket, a heat driven boat,  a small Beam robot, kites and a marshmallow cannon. Some of these projects you might regard as a little dangerous - the pop can flyer involves cutting up a metal can and the marshmallow cannon uses a small vapour explosion and so on.  With adult supervision, however, there is nothing that should be banned and a little excitement is a big motivator when it comes to technology.

There are a few odd things about this book. The first thing is the range of projects - from a soft toy to a small robot. If you don't know anything about electronics, electricity or soldering you might find the "nerd" part of the title accurate. You do have to be able or willing to learn to read a simple circuit diagram..  The second thing that you need to know is that while the book is written in a friendly amusing style it does have some strange turns of phrase that for some people may overstep a line. For example, from page 215

"From the humblest soda-straw spit-wad to the mightiest Nazi-crushing golem, there's an undeniable, universal human thrill to breathing a little life into otherwise inanimate objects"

On the whole I thought the use of a distinctive voice was  acceptable, but you might not. This isn't a book Ned Flanders would share with his boys.

So at the end of the day what is the verdict?

If you have children and the time to engage them simply go and buy the book and get on with it. They will thank you in years to come. Recommended with only slight reservations.

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Practical API Design

Author: Jaroslav Tulach
Publisher: Apress
Pages: 387
ISBN: 978-1430243175
Audience: Java API creators
Rating: 3
Reviewer: Alex Armstrong

A strange topic as not many programmers get the chance to design a public API - but with the influence of the web this is slowly changing. Is this a book you have to re [ ... ]



The Well-Grounded Java Developer

Author:  Benjamin J Evans & Martijn Verburg
Publisher: Manning
Pages: 496
ISBN: 978-1617290060
Audience: Intermediate to advanced Java programmers
Rating: 5
Reviewer: Mike James

What makes a well-grounded Java developer? This book has a clear opinion.


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