Seven million dollars to win; Some help with your project; Check if `struts’ are in place; Making hacking challenging; No Eclipse of Sun’s product

Books2Byte – March 2004


Seven million dollars to win

D. Murali

There are at least seven ways of making megabucks, if you have a computer and want money. Get cracking on the seven greatest unsolved mathematical puzzles of our time.


HAVE a computer? Want money? And you yell, “Yes, yes!” Okay, here are at least seven ways of making mega bucks. Keith Devlin gives the clues in The Millennium Problems – a book from Granta Books ( that discusses “the seven greatest unsolved mathematical puzzles of our time”.

The back-cover teases: “Still unclimbed, they are probably more difficult to conquer than any real mountains on this earth.” Devlin, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, makes the discussion so easy that it may seem that the $1-million prize offered by the Clay Foundation in 2000 for each of the seven problems is within easy reach.

The problems range from topology to cryptography, computing to aircraft design, from number theory to particle physics. “The P versus NP problem” is about computers. “Is not all math done on computers?” one may wonder, but the author clarifies: “Not actually.

True, most numerical calculations are done on computers, but numerical calculation is only a very small part of mathematics, and not a typical part at that.”

Here are some more surprises: “Although the electronic computer came out of mathematics – the final pieces of the math were worked out in the 1930s, a few years before the first computers were built – the world of computing has hitherto generated only two mathematical problems that would merit inclusion among the world’s most important.”

And, both problems were about computing as a conceptual process rather than any specific computing devices.

One of the two problems asked for proof that certain equations cannot be solved by a computer. Hilbert had included this as number 10 on his 1900 list of tough problems. But this was solved in 1970, and so, that leaves only one. “This is a question about how efficiently computers can solve problems.

Computer scientists divide computational tasks into two main categories: Tasks of type P can be tackled effectively on a computer; tasks of type E could take millions of years to complete. Unfortunately, most of the big computational tasks that arise in industry and commerce fall into a third category, NP, which seems to be intermediate between P and E.” So, what are P, E and NP? Ah, I’m not going to spoil the suspense.

Corporate train wreck


SUCCESS plus success is not necessarily double triumph. Two titans coming together may not end in a happy story always. AOL and Time Warner’s marriage was billed as the ultimate that could happen between the new and the old media, but it turned out to be a major debacle.

For those who wonder what happened after “a company without assets acquired a company without a clue,” Kara Swisher has the clues in There Must be a Pony in Here Somewhere. The book, published by Crown Business (www. Crown Business. com), is about `the messiest merger in history’ with `rollicking narrative’ from the technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal. It begins with her note thus: “Of the myriad problems plaguing the AOL Time Warner merger, perhaps one of the biggest problems was the lack of disclosure among the many players about the motives, business prospects, and simple emotions.”

The tale, in short, was about “a wheezing and increasingly desperate traditional media company, scared of inevitable death (or, worse still, irrelevance) in the hot swirl of digital revolution” marrying “the young, sexy, and possibly sleazy starlet of the new media society.” But disaster ensued in “belly flop proportions by any measure you might care to use”, leading to “one of the greatest train wrecks in corporate history.”

The carnage had many dimensions: “The stock’s 75 per cent drop within two years of the deal’s completion, the vicious purge of the top executives responsible for the merger, the investigations into dicey accounting practices,” to name a few.

Swisher writes: “It felt a bit like I was watching someone fall down a flight of stairs in slow motion, and every bump and thump made me wince.” And in the epilogue she adds: “I’m not sure there is enough perspective in the world to assuage those who had suffered under the disastrous marriage.”

The author, however, is bullish that the Net “will be an even bigger deal in the future than it was when it first burst onto the scene.”

Logic? “The history of technological evolution is proof of that: Innovations first cause a frenzy, and then flame out and are sometimes widely discounted before they ultimately reveal their true power.”

Clean memory


HI-TECH corporations hire a brilliant computer engineer for specialised top-secret projects. His name is Michael Jennings. “Once a job is complete, his short-term memory is routinely erased so as not to divulge any sensitive company information to future clients.” This is from the blurb of Paycheck, a sci-fi work by Philip K.Dick – “now a major motion picture starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman”.

There are artificial brains, robot claws, time ship, parallel time, non-time and so on. The chapter titled `Autofac’ has a discussion on a driverless truck that keeps communicating.

“There has to be some way to get to it,” says a human. “Specific semantic signals are meaningful to it; all we have to do is find those signals. Rediscover, actually. Maybe half a dozen out of a billion possibilities.”

Then the humans play a trick with the truck by messing up with the cargo it brings, but fail. “We humans lose every time,” says one, dejected.

“The truck regarded them calmly, its receptors blank and impassive. It was doing its job. The planetwide network of automatic factories was smoothly performing the task imposed on it five years before, in the days of the Total Global Conflict.”

Well, at last, the humans succeed in getting the truck to depart from its routine, and switch to situation handling.

It pops a message that reads, “State the nature of defect.” The instruction sheets listed rows of possible defects with neat boxes by each. They don’t use any of the given boxes, but use the open space given for further data to write: “The product is thoroughly pizzled.” What’s that?

“It’s a semantic garble – the factory won’t be able to understand it. Maybe we can jam the works.”

A factory representative appeared on the scene and began: “This is a data-collecting machine capable of communicating.”

And it asks for the meaning of `pizzled’ because “it does not exist in the taped vocabulary.”

The human plays a dangerous game: “Pizzled means the condition of a product that is manufactured when no need exists. It indicates the rejection of objects on the grounds that they are no longer wanted.”

Books courtesy: Landmark (

Wednesday, Mar 03, 2004


Some help with your project

D. Murali

There are simple tasks to life, and then there are projects. If you want help with project management, here’s the way.


THERE are simple tasks, and there are projects. Making arrangements for a wedding is a project, and ditto for divorce. Likewise, getting admission in pre-KG, building a house, launching a satellite are all projects. “If you are responsible for project management, you need Project 2003 and the complete information in this comprehensive guide,” states the back cover of Microsoft Office Project 2003 Bible by Elaine Marmel. The book helps one to set up a project, assign tasks, resources, and costs; use Gantt charts and tables at each phase of project development; track project progress with baselines; record actual durations and costs; analyse cost information with PivotTables; and so forth. If you are among those who manage projects “with stacks of outdated to-do lists and colourful hand-drawn wall charts”, and “scribble notes on calendars in pencil”, remember that dates and tasks will change over time. “To manage a project, you need a set of procedures,” states the author. “Project management software automates many of these procedures.”

You have heard of print server, mail server and so forth. What is Project Server? It enables one to manage projects on the intranet or the Internet. “Only the manager must install and use Microsoft Project. Everyone else on the project uses Project Web Access, the Web-based product that connects to the Project Server database.”

Project 2003 is the last version of Project that will allow users to collaborate using e-mail, please note. Thereafter, it is onward march to Web-based ambience. Okay, what to do if the problem is complex? The tip is to create sub-projects and then use the consolidation feature of the software that allows you to insert one project into another. That is why sub-projects are also called inserted projects.

At nearly a thousand pages, reading the book could be your next project.

Web programming


JAY Greenspan and his team have written the second edition ofMySQL/PHP Database Applications. If you’re wondering whether this is at all relevant, the intro has the answer: “No matter what your background, whether you have a history with Visual Basic or COBOL, or maybe just some HTML and JavaScript, your resume is only going to improve with some Web application development experience.” In the authors’ opinion, there is no better combination of tools to have under your belt than PHP and MySQL. For the curious, “HP stands for PHP: Hypertext Pre-processor,” explains “The funny abbreviation follows the style set by Richard Stallmann when he founded GNU (GNU’s not Unix!) As the name says, it’s a pre-processor for hypertext, which is just another word for what most people call Web pages.” Also, “since it is a pre-processor, it runs on the remote web server and processes the Web pages before they arrive to the browser. This makes it a so-called server-side scripting language.”

PHP and MySQL are open source, so the source code for the heart of the applications is available to anyone who wants to see it. “PHP belongs to a class of languages known as middleware. These languages work closely with the Web server to interpret the requests from the Web.” And middleware is where you’ll be doing the bulk of your work, point out the authors. Why PHP? “When it comes to Web programming, all languages do pretty much the same things. They all interact with relational databases, they all work with file systems, and they all interact with Web servers. The question of which language is best is rarely a matter of a language’s ability or inability to perform certain actions. It’s usually a matter of how quickly and easily you can do what you need to do.”

This is a book for the serious learner. You can check if you’re one by reading this: “BerkeleyDB tables come from Sleepycat software. This table type provides transaction support but offers only page-level locking. While these tables are reasonably good, there’s very little reason to use Berkeley tables when InnoDB tables are available… InnoDB tables provide full ACID transaction support and row-level locking.” And if you’ve strayed into the book and finding yourself to be no different from Alice in Wonderland, remember that “the easiest way to get yourself into trouble when coming at an application is not to know exactly what you are trying to achieve.” Don’t forget the aim: to improve the CV.

D-I-Y software


COMMERCIAL applications cost a lot of money. Not always. Satya Sai Kolachina’s “Linux Application Development for the Enterprise” provides a bunch of enterprise Java applications that are commercial-grade. The applications range from desktop to database, TCP to UDP-socket based, Java to CORBA, JSP to J2EE, and so forth. More than half the book is devoted to Java-based work, but it also “serves as a ready reference for most common Linux/UNIX tools” such as vi, grep, awk, sed and so forth.

To make work easier, there are features such as VisualCLX – a component set that is “a wealth of productivity tools and lets the developer tap into the Windows-like development features on the Linux platform.” Examples of components are basic widgets such as edit box, label, list box, combo box, list view, tree view, and such. What is a Data Module? Looks simple enough a question to elicit a guess answer. The author defines: “It is a non-visual component that serves as a container to host other non-visual components.” MDI is not a management development institute, but multiple document interface. “An MDI application contains a main window frame that acts as a container for one or more child windows.” Getting lost? Okay, `sockets’ must be what we see at electrical points. No, “sockets provide the basic communication layer required for two applications running in different address spaces to communicate with each other, thus forming the foundation necessary for distributed application development.”

What about `Remote Method Invocation’?

You may almost want to do that, to pray for Linux development that is as easy as just pressing a button, but “RMI forms the basis of the robust architecture behind the Enterprise JavaBeans.” Kolachina achieves one goal in this handy book: To make you feel confident about launching into commercial space.

Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech (

Wednesday, Mar 10, 2004


Check if `struts’ are in place

D. Murali

When raising physical structures, construction engineers use struts to provide support for each floor of a building. Likewise, software engineers use struts to support each layer of a business application.


SOMEBODY wanted to name the invisible underpinnings of Web applications. The analogy that struck him or her was supports for houses, buildings, and so the name got stuck: Struts. “When raising physical structures, construction engineers use struts to provide support for each floor of a building. Likewise, software engineers use Struts to support each layer of a business application.” This friendly explanation is found in the intro to Struts in Action by Ted Husted and his team. A publication of Dreamtech Press ( , the book has inputs for beginners to professionals, and covers all aspects of Struts framework, demonstrating key Struts features with Artimus (Greek goddess of hunt) and illustrating through case studies. How much does it cost? It’s free, Struts, I mean, because it’s open source that you can look up “Struts relies on standard technologies – such as JavaBeans, Java servlets, and JavaServer Pages (JSP) – that most developers already know how to use.”

Now, what is a framework? It is a reusable, semi-complete application that can be specialised to produce custom applications, explain the authors, citing Johnson. One good reason why developers use frameworks like Struts is “to hide the nasty details behind acronyms like HTTP, CGI, and JSP.” So, the book assures, you don’t need to be an alphabet soup guru, but a working knowledge of these base technologies can help you devise creative solutions to tricky problems.

All of a sudden, the intro whirs to show “Struts from 30,000 feet” to give the big picture. That it uses a Model 2 architecture, ActionServlet controls the navigational flow, Struts Action does not render the response itself but forwards the request on to another resource, and so on. And you wonder when rubber would meet the road. So, the authors launch the first Struts application straightaway: “A simple user registration application.” The recipe requires: An ActionForm, an Action, struts-config.xml file and three pages. “That’s it!” And the Greek goddess Artimus is a Web-based news poster that can also publish its articles as RSS (not the Sangh, but Rich Site Summary). Good fun.

Lingo of models


UNIFIED Modelling Language is not the irritating commentary or blaring music that plays when catwalks are on, but is “an evolutionary general-purpose, tool-supported, and industry-standardised modelling language for specifying, visualising, constructing, and documenting the artefacts of a system-intensive process.” That is a mouthful of definition you would find on the back cover of Guide to Applying the UML by Sinan Si Alhir, a Springer book from Eswar Press ( . Chapter 1 explains that UML’s scope “encompasses fusing the concepts of three of the most prominent methodologies – Grady Booch’s ’93 method, James Rumbaugh’s Object Modelling Technique (OMT), and Ivar Jacobson’s Object-Oriented Software Engineering (OOSE) method.”

That must be a complicated blend of all coding stuff, you fear, but UML isn’t frightening, because it is a modelling language. So, a UML Sentence would have no indented lines but a stick man (the actor), and boxes for container, node and component, plus arrows. Something that resembles cave art. “The UML sentence unites the various model views via their elements… Traceability between model elements enables us to manage change and the resulting complexity due to change.”

A few interesting terms: What is a swimlane? “A region of responsibility for action and subactivity states, but not call states.” And submachine? Not a fast gun, but a normal state with an `include’ declaration within its internal transitions compartment that invokes a state machine defined elsewhere. There is also the lifeline – not only on your palm but also in UML. It represents the existence of an element over time. You read on to stay in the race, lest you become an artefact, but know this much that an artifact is depicted as a stereotyped classifier. Okay, some basic doubt. What is a model? “A description of a system and context from a specific viewpoint and at a specific level of abstraction.” And, abstraction or abstracting involves formulating metaconcepts from a set of non-metaconcepts. Manifestation involves exemplifying or instantiating non-metaconcepts from metaconepts. Instantiation has three variant forms, including classifying, stereotyping, and extending. A book for the meta guys and gals. Are you one such?

Know-how, show-how


AS we slog at call centres and data entry stations, we hitch our sights to the star that promises a better tomorrow when we would be ascending the value chain and doing higher techie things. To help such effort, there would be a transfer of technology, which makes Rajiv Jain’s Guide on Foreign Collaboration: Transfer of Technology a relevant read. Published by India Investment Publication ( , the book discusses the concept of technology, tech transfer, licensing, franchise, know-how, patent, trade mark, and so on. What is high-technology, and what is low, is not something uniform across countries. So, a precise definition is hazardous, observes the author. That also explains why courts have difficulty when dealing with cases that hinge on tech issues. Licensing is one of the ways of technology transfer. “Licensing is the genus and franchising is a species,” writes Jain. “In a licensing agreement, the licensor plays a less dominant role. He is happy as long as royalty flows in as per the agreement. He does not breathe down the neck of the licensee, so to speak, which is often the case in a franchising arrangement.” So, if you are tying up with a hardware or software manufacturer from abroad, think of the pros and cons of licensing versus franchising. Remember however “licensing arrangement of a patent has to be registered with the Controller of Patents to prevent abuse.” What about patenting know-how? No, you can’t, says Jain; so know-how does not yet enjoy any special legal protection, national or international. “Know-how should pass three tests: It should have industrial utility; its secrecy should confer some competitive advantage on the licensee; and it should be proprietary technical information.” While know-how can be reduced to data, drawings and graphs, there is also an intangible part of a composite knowledge, called `show-how’. This justifies the use of non-disclosure clauses in software development teams. Now a tricky problem: Who owns inventions made by employees? It is not unusual that your staff strikes upon a smart algorithm or work around a programming bottleneck innovatively. “Whether the invention made by the employee should belong to the employer depends upon the contractual relationship express or implied, between the employer and the employee,” notes Jain. “In the absence of a special contract, the invention of a servant even though made in the employer’s time, and with the employer’s materials, and at the expense of the employer, does not become the property of the employer.” As a saving, however, “inventions made by employees specifically employed for R&D may in general belong to the employer.” So, read the terms of the contract once again, before laying claim to inventions.

Wednesday, Mar 17, 2004


Making hacking challenging

D. Murali

If you think hacking happens with much drama, you could be mistaken. Hackers are now going about their `business’ as if it were a science. But don’t get intimidated, instead get into their mindset to read them better.


THIS world is not a safe one, however much our netas assure us, so you need to lock your door and take out an insurance policy. Ditto with computer software? “Plug the holes in your Windows infrastructure by seeing it through the eyes of the attacker,” says the back cover of Hacking Windows Server 2003 Exposed by Joel Scambray and Stuart McClure. It has `secrets and solutions’ where “you’ll learn `step-by-step’ how intruders locate targets, gain super-user access, and ransack compromised networks.” Greg Wood writes in his foreword: “Working with the precision of a neurosurgeon, the computational capability of a nuclear physicist and the tenacity of a rookie detective on his first stakeout, hackers dissect complex technologies in their quest to discover and exploit a microscopic network of computer gaffe.” Don’t be intimidated, he instructs; get into their mindset, because that’s what Sun Tzu too taught us. One could, however, be fooled by the popular image of hacking with much drama. “Hacking today is a science. It is a series of tool-enhanced processes methodically executed by criminals. In many cases, hacking has regressed to a state of cut and paste plagiarism.” The least you can do is to make hacking more challenging, says Wood.

For baiters of Bill Gates, the authors have this to say: “Microsoft’s products are designed for maximum ease-of-use, which drives their rampant popularity. What many fail to grasp is that security is a zero-sum game: The easier it is to use something, the more time and effort must go into securing it. Think of security as a continuum between the polar extremes of 100 per cent security on one side and 100 per cent usability on the other, where 100 per cent security equals 0 per cent usability, and 100 per cent usability equates to 0 per cent security.”

The book has `bomb’ icons planted all through, to indicate `attack’; likewise there is an icon for `countermeasure’. Beginning with `foundations’ where the authors discuss the basics of info security and architecture, the book moves on to `profiling’ — that is, footprinting, scanning and enumeration. Then comes the strategy, `divide and conquer’ that includes privilege escalation, cleanup and so on. `Exploiting vulnerable services and clients’ is the next part containing chapters to discuss hacking of IIS and SQL Server, denial of service, physical attacks and so forth. Last comes `playing defense’ to talk about NT Family security features and tools.

The authors wrap up with `the future of Windows security’ that has inputs on the next wave of OS, `code named Longhorn’. Such as: NAT-T, Network Address Translator Traversal; GPMC, Group Policy Management Console; ADAM, Active Directory in Application Mode; MOM, Microsoft Operations Manger; and SMS, Systems Management Server.

This could be your insurance cover for a safer server.

Cross-platform communications

SACHIN becomes the first Indian to score a booming century in Pakistan and Pervez watches the battle in the arena. It seems as if only the other day on both sides of the border a different booming had echoed from the hills, but now we know we can work with each other, daggers sheathed and guns holstered. A similar détente is happening in the software world: They are talking about how Sun and Microsoft can work together! Motivation has come from users who use one proprietary system or the other and feel stuck when they find that the thing is not reusable in another. Dwight Peltzer’s .NET & J2EE Interoperability is `one-of-a-kind resource’ providing solutions to “cross-platform communications between business partners and the transmission of mission-critical enterprise data.”


There are different levels of interoperability, explains chapter 1. You need that within a platform and across platforms, and the book has numerous examples to demonstrate how the two giants can provide application integration. What comes helpful is that “the .NET web services architecture is similar to J2EE 1.4.” However, “Porting the complete .NET platform to Java and reimplementing the entire framework as a set of Java packages is less than satisfactory,” points out the author. A solution may, therefore, lie in “a cross-compiler” translating all .NET source code or binary code. “This translation allows all .NET classes and Java classes to interact seamlessly with each other.”

Perhaps already you are in a reflective mood wondering if there could be seamless integration of the two countries, but you need to know what `reflection’ is. It is “the process of runtime discovery of data types.” Reflection allows you to load an assembly, examine the manifest, and discover all types residing within the assembly, explains Peltzer. With all that work to do, `reflection’ doesn’t seem to be a passive activity.

A major advantage with the author’s style is that he writes quite understandably even for lay readers. A sampler, where he talks about SOA: “What is a service-oriented architecture? Web services reside somewhere on the Internet in a registry. Registries contain numerous web services, and each individual service exposes its own services to requestors (clients). The services represent publishable and discoverable interfaces. An interface is an abstract class containing a function or method declaration, which includes a list of parameters.” Don’t be baffled by the unending J signature, starting from JAAS to JVM, through a maze of more Js such as, JAX, JCA, JCP, JMS, JNDI, JRE, Ja-NET and J-Integra.

A whole chapter is devoted to `best practices, design patterns, security and business solutions’. If you see CAS, don’t be frightened, because it stands for Code Access Security, which is “Microsoft’s answer to preventing untrusted code from performing undesirable actions on systems, resulting in compromise of mission-critical data.”

A book that would enjoy readership in both the camps.

Vote for the mouse


WITH election countdown on, a contest has started for participating in governance. And this is something would-be-rulers should read: Government Online: Opportunities and Challenges by M.P. Gupta, Prabhat Kumar and Jaijit Bhattacharya. “Governments at the Centre, at the State and even at the level of local bodies like Municipalities, and Panchyati Raj Institutions, are not only waking up to the power of leveraging IT for good governance, but are also embracing it,” announces the book. “Distance is no longer variable,” writes F.C. Kohli in his foreword. “IT has increased productivity, effectiveness and transparency.” The preface has poetic lines: “E-governance offers an opportunity to change the mast of a ship for changing its direction.” So, there could be justification in changing governments if they didn’t resort to e-governance. But one wonders if calling India “an IT superpower” would be all right, unless such hype could be bunched with a host of other `shining’ stuff.

The authors have spiced their chapters with numerous case studies such as how Bangladesh put the bytes in birth registration, Germany experimented with kindergartens, and Karnataka’s Bhoomi delivered land titles online. Also dealt with are Beijing’s E-Park, Uganda’s failed electronic voter registration, and Seoul’s anti-corruption project.

A book that is useful not only for e-administrators but also for e-citizens.

Books courtesy: Tata McGraw-Hill,

Wednesday, Mar 24, 2004


No Eclipse of Sun’s product

D. Murali

Sun Microsystems and IBM look at Eclipse as a chance to meet the challenge of Microsoft’s .NET initiative and get Java back to the desktop.


GIFT-WRAPPED as a $40-million bounty from IBM to the Open Source community was Eclipse, a platform for “everything and nothing in particular”. Sun was not too happy when Eclipse came around, and we are not talking about solar eclipse. However, after those initial hiccups, Sun Microsystems and IBM now look at Eclipse as “an important chance to meet the challenge of Microsoft’s .NET initiative, and – most important – to get Java back to the desktop.”

All that input from the intro of Eclipse 2 for Java Developers by Berthold Daum can be sufficiently gripping to get started.

“Because of its plug-in architecture, Eclipse is as adaptable as a chameleon and can find a habitat in quite different environments,” says the author, and I can already see some politicians trying to take a peek at Eclipse.

Those who know about IBM’s WebSphere Application Developer (WSAD) would appreciate that Eclipse, with about 70 plug-ins compared to WSAD’s 500-700, is more like “the community edition”. Be warned, however, that the book assumes readers to have a “good knowledge of Java and object-oriented programming concepts” and examples are “from multimedia area.” If you want to download Eclipse, it is 62 MB plus.

One of the first things you need to get is `perspective’. “We must first open an Eclipse perspective,” guides the author. “Perspectives consist of a combination of windows and tools that is best suited for particular tasks.” And the Java development environment takes over.

Screenshots in the pages do more than explain the sequences; they are enticing, so you would start itching to plunge into Java even if you aren’t Java-literate, because much of the code is pre-generated. There is also a `scrapbook’ where you can try out Java expressions or just jot down a new idea. And `code assistant’ will pop-up a list of expressions to save you from tedious typing.

Chapter 3 implements an `example project’ based on FreeTTS speech synthesizer – to create a GUI that “includes an animated face that moves its lips synchronously with the speech output.” First, “to achieve good lip synchronisation it is necessary to have event notification for single phonemes.”

The author explains in `a short excursion into speech synthesis’ the various steps starting from tokenizer and ending in audio player.

Developers can gain valuable inputs from the chapter on project development that discusses debugging and documentation, plus `JUnit’ that makes it possible to `code a little, test a little’. Among the `advanced topics in project development’ are issues such as teamwork, version management and so on.

Part two of the book is about SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit) and JFace that are Eclipse’s alternatives to Java’s AWT and Swing. And in part three, the author shows how Eclipse can be deployed as a tool platform.

Essential knowledge to be equipped with to avert getting eclipsed.

Java made easy


WITH a character that seems to be stepping straight out of some Shakespearean play, the cover page of JSTL in Action by Shawn Bayern sets the mood before the book goes on to show you “how to produce flexible, powerful Web pages even without knowing any more than HTML.” JSTL stands for JSP Standard Tag Library, and JSP is JavaServer Pages. While JSP hid some of the hard details of writing full-fledged programs, JSTL goes one step further on the ease of use scale.

Chapter 1 begins with `the boring life of a web browser’. To make pages `interesting or interactive’, designers make the `same mistake’ of sending a program code like JavaScript to the web browsers. “In fact, most of the interesting software code on the Web runs on servers.”

Also, it is important to realise that “web browsers and web servers don’t work like chat rooms, where multiple parties might stay connected for hours and transmit data whenever they want to.”

A chapter is devoted to using databases. However, for smaller applications, a useful crutch is sql:setDataSource{gt}, notes the book. “In case your organisation doesn’t have a database for you to use, you can set up a small, free database system call hsqldb.”

Chapter 13 presents a `case study in building a Web site’ that is about constructing a portal. “We’ll essentially use JSTL to create a primitive content-management system that lets us plug in new channels to our master web site.” JSTL for programmers, part 4 of the book, comforts non-programmers: “Be ambitious. Java isn’t that hard to learn, and JSTL is designed to make things easier.” It has many tips, such as: When a page mixes HTML and Java code, the page often becomes difficult to read, edit or test; and, XML files are simple text files, but when programs work with them, they do so using an amazingly large array of strategies.

Recommended action: JSTL ASAP.

Homing in on home page


SO, you’re still hanging on in the outer fringes wondering if you would ever be able to produce your own home page. James Pence knows your problem and comes with an answer: How to do Everything with HTML & XHTML: A Beginner’s Guide. The cover exhorts: “Get your feet wet with all the basics; build and keep your website running smoothly; add style and substance to your site.” And the back cover clarifies: “This book is designed for anybody who has ever wanted to do a Web site, but just hasn’t got any idea where to start.” You’re not a techie, nor one who claims to be an expert, but you are comfortable with your PC, with ability to navigate, copy files, change directories, install software and so on. “You’re past the stage of being afraid that your system might self-destruct if you do something wrong. You’re also willing to learn and not afraid of trying something new. Most important, you really want to be able to design and build your own Web pages.” You nod vigorously, “Yes, yes,” and you know where to start.

The author is a `full-time freelance writer’, a novelist, gospel chalk artist, who uses his talents to reach out to inmates in the Texas prison system. “This is the very best book in the world” is among the reviews.

Where does the X in XHTML come from, you wonder? That is `extensible’. “Because of the explosive growth of the Internet, HTML is being stretched far beyond its capacity. For example, if musicians want to create a Web page with markup for musical notation, they are out of luck – HTML does not have the ability to accommodate this kind of specialisation.” There comes X to help.

With a book like this, there would be little motivation to stay on the fringes.

Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech India P Ltd (

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2004



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