Mstation Book Reviews
Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Mon, 20 Dec 2004

Game Console Hacking:

Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, Atari, & Gamepark 32
Joe Grand
There are plenty of after Christmas projects here for those who find
themselves looking for something to do at that time. As can be seen from
the title, there's a good range of consoles to choose from as well.

The Xbox is very well catered for but the Playstation is not. There's a
section on making a serial port and another on booting code from the
memory card. There's also one on having an independent hard drive. This
could be very useful with the new thinline PS2 as it doesn't have space
for a drive. The instructions don't deal with the new model though.

The Xbox section has quite a lot of projects including how to run Linux.
That one is purely a software hack, so no tools needed there. In the
hardware section there are a number of projects including installing
network LED's on the front of the case, adding a remote reset switch to
a controller and many more.

In the Atari section, one fun project is to take a 2600 case and make it
into a PC and using a wireless mouse and keyboard to control it.

The Nintendo section has projects for the GBA and the old-timer, NES.
There is actually a section on retro-platforms as well.

To top it all off there's quite a good appendix on electrical
engineering which includes what different components do in a circuit
along with some equations.

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AI for Games Developers

David M. Bourg, Glenn Seeman

This is the second book on O'Reilly's games shelf. The first one was
Physics for Games Developers and, somewhat shamefully, M station lost it
at the bottom of a pile and haven't reviewed it yet -- coming up!

The AI book is mainly concerned with weak AI although later in the book
there are sections on Fuzzy Logic and Neural Nets. The start is taken up
with predator following prey algorithms and we're led through a basic
example followed by various improvements to make movement look more
realistic and intelligent. In such a way, our understanding is added to
as we go along. It's also helpful that the examples used relate directly
to games which makes them quite easy to follow if you already know a
little bit about games.

One need this book really fills is that there are precious few AI books
out there with code examples. I saw one other one in the Hands On series
and its examples looked, at a glance, to be truncated. Most are equation
oriented which is fine for their purpose but will have low-level
mathematicians seeking other texts to find out what's going on. So, here
we have a two-in-one and it's useful.

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Symbian series 60 Dev

Developing Series 60 Applications
Addison Wesley 
A Guide for Symbian OS C++ Deveopers
Leigh Edwards, Richard Baker, various

This review gives me a chance to plug an article I did for O'Reilly's on
developing apps for the Symbian series 60 platform. Who, you say? Series
60 is a smartphone platform and there are quite a few of them out there.

When you first look at one of those phones you might get the idea that a
little thing like that might have such a reduced subset of the language
that it might be a bit of a breeze to knock something interesting out.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. This seven hundred plus page book is
a good witness to that. One problem is that there is quite a lot going
on in there, and another is that the SDK is nothing particularly special
in the usability way.

This book takes you right through the general architecture, tools, and
application development itself. The best way to get going is to join up
at, download the appropriate SDK (there are quite a
few), compile and run the Hello World app, and then start reading.

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Building the Perfect PC

RB and BF Thompson
Perfect PC, you say, perfect for what? Don't worry, the authors thought
of that and provide a few different ideals: mainstream PC, SOHO server,
LAN party PC, home theater PC, and a small form factor PC.

It's all interesting too, with reasons given for choices, and scattered
nuggets throughout. One of the main helps is that you get choices for
most components which could save you a whole lot of the time in the shop
as you look at piles of components without any clue whatsoever about
what is good, bad, and acceptable. You'll also get told things like if
you're buying a readymade server, just buy IBM, which is interesting
given what's been happening at other companies.

Each PC project has a seperate section with color photos and lists of
components, and helpful hints along with how much time to allow.

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Mac OS X Powerhound

Pogue Press
Rob Griffiths 

Most of the OS X titles we've seen randomly around the shops start at
too low a level, so while the book might be big and thick, the material
is mostly concerned with the blindingly obvious and so isn't of much
interest. This book starts at a higher level than that, and so people
who already know a bit can find a bit more to go through.

In addition to four hundred and two pages of tips about GUI apps there's
also a section on Unix. It's probably harder to surprise Unix users as
there's so much information available already but most non-guru types
will find a few things they didn't already know.

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The Cult of Mac

No Starch Press 
Leander Kahney

Leander Kahney has had some fun chronicling the weird, the wonderful,
and the not so wonderful of the Apple makers and their acolytes. No
Starch has also had some fun in producing a graphics-rich hardback which
is pretty sure to end up under quite a few Christmas trees.

There are a couple of geography related things you should ignore though.
First, last I heard, the island of Tasmania was quite close to Australia
and so people living there are usually not called Kiwis -- who are from
New Zealand. The other is that the electronics shop area of Tokyo is
called Akihabara, not Akibahara ... and one page later it's mentioned

Anyway, Kahney takes us on a trip through love communes, haircuts,
tatoos, personalities, and some of the machinery. It's sociology rather
than geekery in that it's mostly non-technical. In some ways the whole
Apple thing is almost about the anti-geek, as it's based on ease of use,
looks, and the cool factor. Whatever; this book is fun.

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