Mstation Book Reviews
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Mon, 27 Feb 2006

Secret Life of Trees

Colin Tudge - The Secret Life of Trees: How They Live and Why They Matter
Published by the Penguin Group, Penguin Books Ltd, London 2005

Colin Tudge is currently a full time writer (author of such works as The Variety of Life and So Shall We Reap), public speaker and BBC radio documentary maker with a passionate interest in the natural world, having studied zoology at Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and visiting Research Fellow at the Centre of Philosophy at the London School of Economics.

The subject of his book, The Secret Life of Trees, should really come as no surprise but the word "secret" suggests that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Throughout its various chapters, Tudge covers all aspects of trees; starting with how life began; the definition of a tree in comparison with other plants; an explanation of those complicated Latin/Greek classifications; how trees live and evolve; how they have affected the world around them, including the evolution of the human race; the social life of trees; and how we should work with trees in the future.

What I found brilliant about this book is that it is more than a mere biology textbook (although I would certainly recommend it to any student). I have to admit that I had never really considered the significance of trees in the world around us to any great extent before us, and initially found its over 400 pages slightly intimidating, but I was pleasantly surprised. Firstly because the book is very well explained and even those who may not have a biology degree will be able to follow the subject matter. Secondly, there was so much fascinating information that many people would probably not come across or consider otherwise - for example, to what extent trees have affected evolution, ultimately influencing the development of human intelligence, or that trees are aware of their surroundings and actually have a form of memory. But what I enjoyed most about this book was how the author managed to make the subject humorous, leaving the reader pondering such philosophical matters as the meaning of life and our interconnectedness with the natural world. One quote that I feel sums this idea up, regarding the fact that trees may seem at a disadvantage not having brains reads as follows:

"But then, a tree might ask, why bother with brains and all the expense and angst that goes with them, when you can run your life just as well without?"

M. North

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Running Mac OS X Tiger

J.D. Davidson, J. Deraleau, Running Mac OS X Tiger,

Pretty good this one. There are a whole bunch of books available to help users get more out of OS X but usually they are aimed at gently introducing low-level users to something a bit more. This one is labelled "A no-compromise power user's guide to the Mac". Nuff said.

The book starts with an interesting history of the Mac OS and elaborates on the NEXT/BSD marriage that ended up as the new OS X. We then have a very thorough lookthrough of the various aspects of the OS including file systems, networking, the terminal, and monitoring the system, amongst many other topics. When you're done, you'll know your stuff and it would be a very useful adjunct to the book shelf just to look up bits as needed.

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Retro Gaming Hacks

Chris Kohler, Retro Gaming Hacks, O'Reilly

In addition to everything else, this is a pretty good guide to some of the old gaming consoles. The book starts off by examining them in some detail: where to get them, different models etc. It also lists some of the most desirable consoles so if you trip over something in the attic you might have a few more clues than you did.

Next we deal with all sorts of emulators for playing different sorts of games right there on your PC. What you need is outlined along with what to do.

There's a brief section on writing your own adventure games and MUDs, and even how to write a DOS game. You can tell from that the book isn't OS specific. There are mentions of things to do with Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. Then we're onto hacking some of the games themselves. There's a lot here for keen gamers with an interest beyond the latest commercial release.

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Open Sources 2.0

DiBona, Cooper, Stone, Eds. Open Sources 2.0: The Continuing Evolution, 

Here is a broad summary of what Open Source means and can mean today. In a series of essays many aspects of the movement are set forth for those who need to know or those that are just plain interested ... and everyone should be interested. The idea of collaborative development can be applied in many areas other than software -- gene manipulation and health care for one. News gathering is another. If you look at the aggregate of quality RSS feeds, what is that other than collaborative news gathering. Finding the quality is another question and making it happen another, and that is all nicely illustrated in an essay about Groklaw.

Business types should especially read this to get a better understanding of what it all means: OS after all isn't against people making money. There are people who are like that but their banner isn't Open Source.

It's pretty good geek reading as well with some nice history essays and some thoroughly technical ones as well. Bleepfest 06 will be a part-day and night event that will be like the Demos of old and where people can have the option to display what they're doing "off stage" to small groups around them or to plug into the PA and be an "event". Events will have time spaces between them so that everybody else isn't drowned out. The object is to attract people who like to play with music as well as people who are quite serious about it. The object is also to create a fun and friendly environment where people can wander around and get new ideas. The event is Operating System Agnostic! bring along your Linux Box, Mac, or Windows machine, or PDA ... or old Atari or Spectrum even!

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Bob Parks, Makers, O'Reilly

If you've seen the magazine Make you'll know what this is about ... which is people making all kinds of interesting things using some interesting components. This book is a hardback with nice glossy photos and features a variety of people and their projects. It is more an interesting overview than a howto however and instructions are not included. There are URLs given though, so people can delve further if they want. Most of all it is inspirational and some flavor of each person involved makes it interesting in that way as well. The projects include a spherical sleep-in treehouse, clocks based on nixies, a bedroom tornado machine, a voice-actuated blender, and much more.

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Linux Multimedia Hacks

Kyle Rankin, Linux Multimedia Hacks, O'Reilly

Everyone knows that here is a lot can be done with Linux and a lot you can make it do if you have a little knowledge. This book is to do with images, audio, and video, and there's a rich assortment of things to do -- even for people who already have a few clues.

Organise your photos; do neat stuff with command line tools; make a screen capture movie -- that's just a small sampling from the image section. Audio includes format conversion and DJing, ripping CDs and using an iPod with Linux. The emphasis here is on normal user level things rather than audio experts' but there's probably something there for them a s well. In the video line there's plenty to do with handling DVD's, mythTV and the like.

There's lot to play with here.

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