Mstation Book Reviews
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Mon, 29 Aug 2005

Mac OS X for Unix Geeks

Brian Jepson, Earnest E. Rothman, Mac OS X Tiger for Unix Geeks, O'Reilly

This is quite a nice guide both to the power of the commandline in OS X but also to wrinkles you might have forgotten, as well as some things that you might have thought hadn't made it to OS X.

The arrangement of the book is to first look at the command line in OS X Tiger and then aspects such as the OS X filesystem, startup, X Windows (yes, you can have it), multimedia, and Third Party Tools. After that it looks at compiling and package systems, and then finishs with server and system management.

There are lots of useful hints along the way. One is how to open the Gimp and X Windows in one step from the console. There are many more like it. One hint I didn't find was why none of the breeds of ftp which lurk within Emacs or Xemacs seem to work on OS X. I guess that's a project for another day.

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Web Mapping

Tyler Mitchell, Web Mapping Illustrated: Using Open Source GIS Toolkits, O'Reilly

Ah no, this is not about mapping the web which is kind of an interesting topic that has started a few projects but has not got very big. This book is about mapping the physical world.

The real interest of this is not in scanned maps put on the web but in the manipulation of data to present maps with some degree of interactivity -- driving directions, socio-economic templates, pretty much whatever you like.

After an introduction to cartography we are introduced to some Open Source tools to accomplish this sort of thing. The author clearly loves his subject and it shows. There are also plenty of illustrations and the whole book is printed on a nice semi-gloss paper.

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Silence on the Wire

Michal Zalewski, Silence on the Wire, No Starch Press

It behoves all of us to pay some attention to security issues. If a few more ordinary Joes had some sort of clue, there would be a lot less zombie PCs spewing out distraction and destruction. This book isn't really aimed at ordinary Joe however. It goes beyond the currently obvious as far as quite well educated security people are concerned and looks at other possibilities. As such it makes interesting reading for full-on paranoids, hackers, and people involved in coding and security. All of which might make you think that it's a pity it wasn't a better world as all this sort of work that occupies so many people at the moment is, in the greater scheme of things, pretty much a waste of time.

Intellectual curiosity is another thing though and frequently shuns practicality. Here there are quite a few topics that might interest those inclined -- how your keystrokes can be monitored from a long way away, using timing patterns to reconstruct data, emissions, an ethernet flaw and much more besides. It's the sort of thing that if you're interested, you're interested.

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Rule of Four

Ian Caldwell, Dustin Thomason, the Rule of Four, Arrow

Billed as the Da Vinci Code for people with brains by one reviewer, this is a nice fiction read for vacation time. It starts with a Renaissance text that has defeated many attempts to understand it. Is it coded or is it nonsense written by a crazy person? People do seem to get a little crazy trying to work it out. People die. People get twisted. The main characters are students at Princeton and the story weaves in and out of doings around the campus.

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Rendezvous in Venice

Phillipe Beaussant, Rendezvous in Venice, Pushkin Paper

If the idea of the title appeals to you, so might this beautiful little novel. If Venice appeals, then it is likely that beauty, art, and history might also. The book involves an art expert, his nephew, and two beautiful young women. There isn't actually all that much about Venice, just some allusions to places, churches, and paintings. There are a lot of mentions of various paintings from all around.

One little story is illustrative. A young girl came to Florence who entranced all who saw her. Her name was Simonetta Vespucci, and was a relation of Amerigo. One of her admirers was Boccaccio. In his subsequent paintings, all the females he painted were Simonetta ... as Venus, as ... She died at the age of twenty-three and Boccaccio asked that when he died, he be buried at her feet. He was, and they are still together.

It is all beautifully done with the simple story expanded by a possible lesson for life, and certainly the idea that art without heart, in the beholder especially, is just technique.

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Python Cookbook

Alex Martelli, Anna Martelli Ravenscroft, David Ascher,
Python Cookbook 2nd Edition, O'Reilly

This is quite a serious cookbook. It is more of a Larousse thing than say "Sushi in Ten Minutes" or "Five Easy Snacks for 4AM".

Let's just randomly pick out some recipes from the nearly eight hundred pages of content... Showing a Progress Indicator on a text console, Converting time zones, Terminating a thread, Connecting to IRC and logging messages to disk, Importing a dynamically generated module, and on it goes. There are many, many, more like these and all are presented in a Problem, Solution (with code), Discussion format.

This probably not the first Python book you should buy but it well might be the second if you are at all serious about it.

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Make vol. 02

Make: technology in your time vol. 02

The second edition of Make magazine has lots more DIY technology projects. These include a mouse robot, an Atari cased PC for retro gaming and whatever else takes your fancy, a Mac based HDTV and much more including how to repair your transistor based guitar amp.

This set me to wondering how you'd do a DIY software project. Just copying code is not all that interesting but what about components or Mac OS X "bundles". I'm sure there's room for something there but just exactly what, I'm not sure.

Just as the first one is, this is nicely and clearly laid out for those following the instructions of a project. There are more projects in this issue than the first I think which increases the chances you might want to build something.

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Ebay Hacks

David A. Karp, eBay Hacks, 2nd Edition, O'Reilly

People tell me that eBay is great; that they sell are their unwanted equipment, utencils, and relatives there. I've not had their luck. Most of the time I've tried to use it I seem to end up with bottomfeeders, who after a lot of hemming, hawing, and ffaffing about decide that about 0.05% of a reasonable secondhand value would be about the maximum they could possibly offer.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong so I looked into this book to try and find out what it was. There is a lot of stuff here, ranging from reputation issues and how to handle them to the minutae of bidding and selling. If you fancy yourself as an expert eBay trader then you certainly can't go wrong poring through all 428 pages of it (without the index). There are plenty of scripts along the way as well to get all sorts of tasks done.

I don't think there's any particular secret to dealing on eBay though. There are a lot of bottom feeders there.

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Data Crunching

Greg Wilson, Data Crunching, The Pragmatic Programmers

A lot of people might think of the subject of Data Crunching as being beyond boring ... the sort of thing you outsource and don't miss.

Actually, it's pretty interesting. The sorts of problems that are gone through are almost infinitely scalable and when you look at the small end of the scale, they are applicable to most computer user's lives. Sorting files, searching for things and listing them, changing formats -- all of these sorts of things and more can be tackled including things like searching logs.

Wilson uses Python and Java to illustrate the techniques and there are examples given throughout. In passing we learn quite a lot about things such as databases and how computers treat numbers. In a way, the book is a sort of primer on information storage.

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