Mstation Book Reviews
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Sun, 29 Jan 2006

Sound and Recording

Francis Rumsey, Tim McCormick,
Sound and Recording: an introduction 5th Edition (2006), 
Focal Press

This book is in our new Random Shop so we might be accused of conflict of interest here but the book is in the shop because we think it's worthy rather than being here because it's in the shop!

Anyway, this 569 page book (with index) is one of the more up to date offerings available today. It is used by a number of educational institutions and that will give a clue as to its flavour ... which is a reasonably straightforward presentation of the information. Sections covered are What is sound, Auditory perception, Microphones, Loudspeakers, Mixers, Analogue recording, Noise reduction, Digital audio principles, Digital Recording and Editing systems, Digital audio applications, Power amplifiers, Outboard equipment, MIDI, Timecode and synch, Two channel stereo, and Surround. Thes are supplemented by appendices to do with understanding equipment specs, turntables, and further reading. There is also a "Fact File Directory" which highlights things such as Ohm's law, the precedence effect, fader facts, and a whole lot more. There are diagrams and pictures on the way through.

What this book is essentially about is the basic underpinning: which is why it is styled "an introduction". You won't find any details of working in Pro Tools or Ableton Live or whatever, or any mention of Linux or Mac as a platform. That will need to be in your "further reading" list.

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Skateboard Art

Waterhouse and Penhallow, Concrete to Canvas: Skateboarders' Art,
Laurence King

Why is there such a thing as Skateboarders' art and not, say, inline skaters'? I imagine there is inline skater art but it just hasn't become a body of work. With skateboards there's the board itself to serve as a ready canvas for ideas (and note this book is not about skateboard art) which sort of spurs things along and allows for the advertisment of an identity.

Actually there is no real identity. There is no binding style in these interesting works. There is a great variety, ranging from fuzzy-edged graffitti to meticulously worked drawings of some delicacy. There is a common feel though -- that slightly warped Itchy and Skratchy sort of thing, and there's abundant humour.

So anyway, this is a rich graphical trip through one of today's subcultures.

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Record Label Marketing

Tom Hutchison, Amy Macy, Paul Allen,
Record Label MArketing, Focal Press

This is a fairly serious book on label marketing and takes a look at the sort methods that big labels might employ to market their stuff. Now, if you're not a marketing student, don't clasp your cheeks at the sheer horror of the idea. Actually, the methods used are quite interesting and some of the chart trivia you pick up along the way might also be interesting ... things like the relative sales of CD's, vinyl, singles etc and genre popularity along with the ages of who's actually buying.

All the authors are from Middle Tennessee State University and the book is laid out like the text book it undoubtedly is or will be. We start off with marketing concepts, then look at segments and consumer behaviour, U.S. industry numbers, label operations, profit and loss, how sales are tracked, charts, publicity, and a whole lot more including the internet, and finishing up with marketing plans and the big wide world.

It is nicely written and presented and reflects the reality of the music industry today in how it operates. A lot of people don't like the way the whole thing works but this aspect, people, is interesting by itself.

You can purchase this book in the Mstation Random Shop.

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Powerful Times

Eamonn Kelly, Powerful Times: Rising to the challenge of our
uncertain world, Wharton School Publishing

Eamon Kelly here outlines a fair list of present and looming problems -- sacred and secular, science and non-science, rich and poor. One of his first exhortations is to stop being digital. The nature of the solutions are frequently not on/off or either/or, and the first steps to wisdom include the aquisition of intelligence, and so, unsurprisingly, solutions are not going to be found amongst people who are, wilfully or otherwise, stupid.

Eamon Kelly doesn't actually say that. What he does say is aimed more at the business community and consists of strategies and ways of thinking about things that might be helpful. Of course it goes without saying that maximizing shareholder's wealth is frequently sub-optimal from a macro point of view, in terms of the quality of life of society in general. The "free" market doesn't supply common goods (parks, libraries) and doesn't, except in the extreme long term take care of externalities (pollution for one).

So this actually a very hard place to be. If you have socially conscious statist direction or adhere to strong moral imperatives then companies in other parts of the world will undercut you and unless your area has the critical mass to enable you to survive, you will perish. This is being played out right now in Europe and China.

In the end though, our solutions depend on intelligence -- of leaders, the people who put them there, and media. Intelligence without wisdom or humanity, though, can be just a nasty parlour game, so it's fairly clear what a basic education should consist of if the planet should be saved. What would happen if shoppers used moral imperatives to boycott, for example, China?

An aside here are the last two elections in the USA. Apparently, some twenty percent of people vote. So, somewhere in the region of ten percent of people in the USA gave the world George W. Bush. This is sub-optimality at a high level, and in the book Kelly posits various futures where the USA has lost its preeminence in moral, military, and trade terms on a continuing basis. We'll see how it plays out.

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Podcasting Pocket Guide

various, Podcasting Pocket Guide, O'Reilly

Well, it is a pocket guide so we don't expect an indepth coverage of every aspect, and that's just as well because we don't get it here.

It starts off by giving us some information on what a podcast is and where and how to get them, then passes on into making them, and finishes with some recommended podcasts, most of which probably wouldn't interest Mstation readers.

One general attitude in howto books that have come out that annoys me intensely is the idea that podcasts should conform to some sort of structure or "professional" quality that has its genus firmly in the land of commercial radio -- ridiculous exhortations to have intro bits and enders and that sort of thing. The implication is that, if you don't, you won't get big audiences and, goodness!, if you don't aim at the hugest possible audience then you'd have to be some sort of commie or weirdo wouldn't you?

Seriously, podcasting is for doing exactly what you want. If you'd like a target audience of the exactly five people in the whole world that share your aesthetic, then go for it! Extend the medium and vocabulary by getting "out there". We can do this because we don't need expensive government permission to be on the airwaves and because it costs very little to produce the podcast items.

Of course, if the object of the podcaster is to make money then all this lowest common denominator stuff could be quite useful.

One thing that is left out of most of these books is also a proper explanation of how the feeds work and what it is that people actually subscribe to in terms that might be useful for people putting up their own on their own servers. What is an RSS 2.0 feed? How does it differ from an ordinary feed? How do you create one yourself?

Yes, yes, we'll plug Mstation's podcasts again as well.

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PHP in a Nutshell

Paul Hudson, PHP in a Nutshell. O'Reilly

PHP is a scripting language widely used on the Web that most people will have heard of, and many have used, including Mstation. O'Reilly's Nutshell series is about being a desktop quick reference. With some languages this a bit too terse to be starting of with, and is really meant as a memory refresher. PHP, however, is simple enough that you could possibly start with this and use some on-line resources to top up.

This book goes through the basics and then looks through what the language does by showing code snippets. You will find that PHP 5 has much enhanced object oriented capabilities and other, not so common things, like how to print angled text and draw graphics.

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Mac OS X Tiger

Andy Lester, Chris Stone, Chuck Toporeck, Jason McIntosh,
Mac OS X Tiger in a Nutshell, O'Reilly

This addition to the Nutshell series brings the usual no-nonsense wide coverage to Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) and tells you pretty much all you need to know, or rather reminds you, as the wide coverage is on the terse side for people who are starting with absolutely no knowledge at all.

The book has a Unix command reference followed by sections on the Terminal (console) and the Bash shell. After that are sections about text editing and processing, OS X management, which includes such things as Directory Services and Running Network Services.

The books in this series have long been a desktop books for people involved in System Administration but they, and this one too, could be useful for anyone wanting to get more from their systems, and who usually go glassy-eyed when wading through beginners' books loaded with uninteresting trivialities.

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Mac Music

Keith Gemmell, Making Music on the Apple Mac,
PC Publishing

This slim book is a primer on how to get making music on Macs. As such it's a bit difficult to criticize on the basis of not going into enough detail in various sections. It looks at the various Macs available now, looks at the interfaces and software (including the GarageBand which comes with all Macs) and looks at ways of working.

What it also does is think pretty much inside the box. What about ported Linux apps? What about Supercollider, Pd, Max, and suchlike? What about ... well, the list goes on, and as I said before it's a bit unfair.

So, this is for someone who wants to get going at making music but, for the moment at least, isn't very ambitious in an aesthetic or technical sense. The more ambitious will then have to read elsewhere.

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Parallel Worlds

Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds, Penguin

Parallel worlds indeed! If you like the idea of cosmic weirdness then this is for you -- parallel universes, wormholes, black holes: the whole bit.

These are not things dreamt up by sci-fi writers in their cups but serious physicists and cosmologists. Not that anything is proven however. It could well be that all this clever surmise turns out to be an ingeniously created structure that encapsulates all we know but is ... wrong. Or it could be correct. Who knows? As time goes on perhaps more and more hypotheses will be able to be checked empirically and we will have more hard answers.

Along the way you get a history of cosmology that is understandable for a non-scientist, and written in a clear and entertaining manner. Certainly there is a lot here to expand the brain including the thought that even resolution of the many questions raised here that relate to the mechanics of the universe still leaves the very biggest question unanswered.

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Goggle Story

David A.Vise, The Google Story, MacMillan

The last time we reviewed a Google howto book, we said that the next book would probably be Google: The IPO or somesuch, and here it is! Actually it's more than that as it attempts to cover the company and its main actors from inception to nowish.

It is a story with some appeal too: for capitalists and money grubbers it's a wonderful tale about making metric tons of money and for geeks it's a nice tale about smart people getting their own way and actually getting to tell marketing what to do... and a whole lot of other people besides.

For people who have followed Google there isn't that much that is new here, and if you do know a bit you will occasionally get annoyed at the repetitive restating of the same idea during the course of a chapter. Also, I don't really feel the author has got that close to understanding Larry and Sergei and they do come across as media cutouts rather than as real people. Still and all, it is an interesting story which will be enjoyed by quite a few people who aren't that close to proceedings.

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Spam not

Jonathan A. Zdziarski, Ending Spam - Bayesian Content
      Filtering and the Art of Statistical Language Classification,
      No Starch Press

This book claims to be of interest to:

  • People who want to write spam filters
  • People who want to understand spam filters
  • Spammers who want to evade spam filters

Its author is the developer of DSPAM, one of the Baysian Content filtering programs described in the book.

The line the book takes is that spam filters are becoming good enough that evasion is futile. There's a lot of propaganda for statistical filtering as a better solution than other approaches (blacklisting, whitelisting, challenge-response, legal approaches, etc.) If you haven't seen as many successful ingenious attempts to evade your spam filters as you want to, there's a chapter with examples of those.

I have previously been in the category of "people who want to implement effective spam filters without knowing a lot about them". There is actually a chapter directed at poeple like that: "Appendix -- Shining examples of spam filtering". It lists a half dozen programs that can be downloaded for free and used to filter email. I enjoyed trying them out, although I didn't find anything clearly better than what I'd been using before. But I didn't spend all the days and weeks training that are recommended for optimum use.

The explanations of how the filters work (and why they sometimes don't) are well-written. So if you want to know those things, this is a good book.

My conclusion is that this book is not a magic bullet for fixing your spam problem, but is an interesting read for those interested in what programmers are doing about the spam problem.

(Laura Conrad)

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iPod Cult

Leander Kahney, The Cult of iPod, No Starch Press

No doubt about it, the iPod has been a truly amazing success all around the major markets of the world. Who would have thunk that a really nicely designed object could have achieved such success?! Part of the reason has to do with the ease of the whole iPod/iTunes/computer package. People who weren't all that confident in their computer skills found that they really didn't need any in order to get songs online. Those that did have the skills found they could get all sorts of free stuff online as well.

This graphically rich book traces the genus of the thing and looks through various oddities thought up by fans. One of the interesting things is that while the object is hardly a rarity, it still has some cool attached to it and this is spurred along by creative users coming up with anything from skins to silent dance social events.

This whole thing has a while before it plays out but this book is a nice summary of what's happened so far.

You can catch one chapter of the book here at Mstation.

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Comics, Graphic Novels, Manga

ed. Byron Preiss, Howard Zimmerman,
Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics and Manga
St, Martin's Press

This is a nice treat for comic and manga lovers as well as people interested in illustration generally. If you're already a fan then this book might point you towards things you might like to buy and if you're just vaguely interested, it gives quite a number of nice samples of different people's work on something like comic book paper and with lots of colour.

Graphic novel fans might not be quite as impressed as they're used to glossy productions and there seem to be no examples of French work and there is a very rich and long time running graphic novel scene there.

Anyway, it is a nice sampling, with all sorts of styles on show, from humorous to scarey, and from uplifting to vaguely psychotic. Also, the variety of drawing and presentation styles is interesting and even exciting. There is a lot of talent on show.

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