Mstation Book Reviews
Valid RSS pre Dec 04 reviews are here

Mon, 30 May 2005

RSS and Atom Feeds

Ben Hammersley, Developing Feeds with RSS and Atom, O'Reilly

This is very topical for us at Mstation as we've been working on getting podcasts going. Podcasts depend on RSS 2.0 and its added tag of "enclosure" to make it happen and right now we're having to manually output rss as our server is missing a vital Perl library to make the thing happen automagically.

Researching the whole thing has been interesting as we started with the word "podcasting" and then dove further and further down until we got to the crucial aspect -- enclosures. I guess if we were to mention another current buzzword that connects with this subject, we could also say "blogs". So, this book is extremely relevant to things a lot of people are doing. It's also relevant to things that people are thinking of doing in this interesting world -- one such mentioned in the book involves grabbing weather information in text format and then converting the text to speech and issuing it as a podcast. Pretty cool.

This book is a reasonable bible for what's happening at the moment although in our special interest area there wasn't a mention of the vital enclosure tag, but there is tons of other information on the specs of RSS and Atom and generating feeds and generally mucking around with them.

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Make - the magazine

Make: technology on your time published by O'Reilly

We've only just got to see the first issue of this new mag from O'Reilly. Quite fun it is too. Last year we had at least two books of geek projects and now we have a magazine as well. As they say "181 pages of D.I.Y. Technology.

It is nicely and clearly laid out as well and some of the projects are kite aerial photography, a video camera stabilizer, a five-in-one network cable, a magnetic stripe reader (well, what we really want is a writer), how to solder, and much, much more including "ten cool gmail hacks" which is part of a section called "online".

In the end, the appeal of this sort of publication depends on whether the projects tickle your fancy but there's also a can-do spirit about such things that make them fun even if the projects aren't something you want to surrender a weekend to.

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Firefox and Thunderbird

Hofmann, Knous, Hedke, Firefox and Thunderbird Garage, Prentice Hall

There are some pretty good reasons for reviewing these two books and the first one is that you most likely shouldn't be using Internet Explorer right now. Although there have been many patches to try and secure it, it is still a security nightmare. Maybe you'd like to go get mozilla right now while you're all excited about it.

Anyway, this book outlines in usable detail why you should be using firefox and/or thunderbird, how to get it, and how to set things up once you have. It also explores how you can customize them, and add to them with extensions. The book is aimed at the curious user who is not already a guru but is detailed enough that even if you have some information already, you should find segments that you didn't know about. It's also a guide to state of the art web browsing.

Scott Granneman, don't click on the blue e! switching to firefox, O'Reilly

This book is aimed at Windows users and will hold their hands while it guides them through the why and how of changing over.

At the beginning there's a nice history of the whole thing that might have you remembering the graduation from gopher to Mosaic and the web and then the first Netscape. Funny how at the time, the idea of Netscape teaming up with AOL seemed like something that would lead exactly nowhere -- and so it proved.

And then along came Internet Explorer, and once it got good enough to keep MS Windows users and make bad times for the opposition, its development pretty much stopped. Mozilla came along in those times and has been under development ever since and, with Firefox, is getting some big numbers as far as users are concerned. Microsoft are making noises about a new IE but who would trust them?

This is your guide to getting out from under with all sorts of notes that are useful at user level.

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Digital Audio

Bruce Fries, Marty Fries, Digital Audio Essentials, O'Reilly

This book is labelled "A Comprehensive Guide to Creating, Recording, Editing. and Sharing Music and Other Audio". It is directed at people who don't know very much to start with -- a newbies guide.

As such, it's fairly ideal. It goes through the practical aspects of playing and making, and recording sounds, and even includes some notes on copyright and formats.

The book starts with basics of digital sound and then goes on to look at equipment needed, connections, ways of playing music, the web, internet radio, portable players, more on digital sound, formats, and then onto capturing and editing.

As podcasting is on our minds at the moment we'd have to say that's a glaring omission but it's likely the book was largely written before that got going -- and it only really got going last September. There's also no mention of Surround sound but that topic is probably rightfully left to something beyond "Essentials".

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Digital Art - Digipop

Karim Rashid, digipop, Taschen

Karim Rashid has been exploring computer art to generate 2D and 3D decoration. In this he declares himself to be in disagreemnt with Adolf Loos's proclamation that "ornamentation is crime". This is part of a modern movement away from what appears to be the anti-humanist thoughts of early modernists. It is, of course, a matter of context in that it was understood or at least presumed by those early twentieth century people that things would be done right -- that the materials and workmanship would actually be better than reasonable. No doubt if they could see some of the atrocities erected in their name, which looked good for approximately one week, they would have a word or two to say.

In any case, pattern and decoration seem somehow to be interesting to humans whether or not they want to paper the walls with it or wear it on their t-shirts. This book has a rich selection of such things and some are curiously exciting and interesting for reasons that seem largely intuitive. The designer/artist attempts to give them reason by referring to big brother surveilance societies and the digital claptrap that enables them. The link is spurious and self-seeking I think. These things are interesting for what they are and make poor billboards except for the tenuous idea that digital means the enabled rebellion of blogs, filesharing, and the web. The fact that people can only be a regular part of those things by being part of that system is a nice irony.

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