Mstation Book Reviews
Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Tue, 01 Mar 2005

Country House

Dominic Bradbury,
New Country House,
Laurence King

Urban people all over the world often think that they'd like to escape, at least for a while. The Net even makes it possible for some professions to stay pretty much where they like and still be able to get necessary work done. So, if you had a chance, what would you build?

This book starts with a survey of what people have done over the ages: from Blenheim Palace to Thoreau's hut at Walden Pond. It points out that while people currently, in a place like the Hamptons, build mock-this and mock-that at a rate of two to one to modernist structures, there is a growing body of original work. This work is mostly more inspired by Thoreau and also modern thought on environmental topics -- such as low use of resources, both in building and sustainability.

The Thoreau inspiration has to do with the buildings being more a part of their surroundings than being a social statement of the importance of their owners (though they do, of course, make a statement) and the idiom is mostly Modernism.

After the survey come the various houses selected and they are split into Organic, Vernacular, New Modern, and Experimental. Architecture geeks will have seen some of them such as the Berman House by Harry Seidler, Casa de Blas, and Okada's house on Mt. Fuji but most will be new.

In the Experimental section is a house by Shigeru Ban which uses polycarbonate as an outer layer, white fireproofed polyethylene "noodles" as a second layer, and removable (for cleaning) white nylon as a third layer. As one goes through the book there are quite a few scalable ideas regarding construction and design.

The book is nicely produced and laid out with lots of illustrations and should provide food for thought for people thinking about doing something sometime.

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Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490 - 1700,
Penguin paperback

Religion! Whoa, what's this? It puts me in mind of the economist John Maynard
Keynes's statement that went something along the lines of 'the minds of
practical men are ruled by long since dead academics'. The point being that
some thoughts become recieved wisdom, or the conventional wisdom, and stay
on beyond their sell-by date.

Here we have not just a portion of the history of the Church but also a portion
of the history of Western thought. This is useful to better understand where
some present day attitudes came from and is also very useful as a background
to Western classical music -- early music was largely Church music. Some people
would just say "was Church music" but we don't know, and can't know, very much
about the oral music traditions. Church music was written down, and handed down
to us.

Diarmid MacCulloch is an Oxford professor and won the Wolfson Prize for History
2004 with this book. It is easy to see why. Despite the fact that Catholics think 
him a little too Protestant and Protestants think him a little bit too showy, this
is one of those works where the sheer quality of scholarship will excite people
who are excited by such things. It's also a pretty good yarn.

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QuickTime for Java

Chris Adamson, Quicktime for Java: A Developer's Notebook,

This is the first of the Developer's Notebook series that has come to Mstation. The idea is that they are no-nonsence guides for deveopers ... stripped and to the point. The Intro to this book even suggests that your knowledge of Java should be pretty good otherwise ... Well, it's not nearly as unfriendly as that might suggest.

Java fans will know that the Media Framework hasn't exactly been the highpoint of the language -- too few codecs and facilities. MP3 was even dropped in 2002 because of legal fears. To the partial rescue came Apple's Quicktime crew with Biscotti which provided a Java layer to make QuickTime calls and also an object oriented API. The problem was that the docs had a QuickTime-centric quality that made them not all that useful to Java people who didn't already know QuickTime. This book sets out to remedy that.

This book takes you through examples of playback and editing and includes special sections on audio and video. In the audio section, for example, it shows how to read information from MP3 and iTunes AAC files as well as coding a level meter and building an audio track from raw samples. It's all interesting and well put together.

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Art of Computer Programming

Donald Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming,
Addison Wesley

This has been out for quite a while, so why review it now?
One answer is that this is the newish revised third edition
and another is that discounts were being offered on the website
recently for this title.

Donald Knuth is one of my comp sci heroes. Faced with a nasty
looking production of an early book, he sat down and developed
TeX which is still widely used and is at least an install option
in most decent Linux disributions. As well as that he wrote this
title and others besides while teaching at Stanford and other places.
He has retired now from active teaching but is still writing.

This title is three hardcover volumes in a slip case. The production
values are very good, as you'd expect, and as well as looking
very nice on the bookshelf, it also makes an excellent bookend.

The three volumes have two chapters each and each chapter is
considered to be a semester's work by Donald Knuth. That gives you
an idea of the density of it and the sort of time you might expect
to need to come to grips with the material.

You don't actually need a full-on maths background (Knuth suggests
high-school algebra as being a useful level) but you do need to be
unafraid of equations and flow diagrams and the like.

The three volumes tackle Fundamental Algorithms, Seminumerical
Algorithms, and Sorting and Searching. We are led through all this
by crisp prose that makes numerous practical asides. Knuth 
doesn't ever lose sight of the object here -- which is computer

Is it about art though? It certainly is about craft. I'll leave
you to dredge up your personal definition of art to judge.

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