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Mstation Book Reviews
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Mon, 01 May 2006

Tom Wolfe - Charlotte Simmons

Tom Wolfe, I am Charlotte Simmons,
Picador

This new one from Tom Wolfe is relatively new out in paperback and concerns the life of a very bright girl from the sticks of North Carolina going on to a prestigious college full of ... swine! All of Tom Wolfe's trademark exclamations, clever asides and observation make for something that some people have found very funny and others might find somewhat depressing. There are geeks and jocks, frat boys and preppies, and back-country neandrathals -- and almost none of them have any human appeal whatsoever. But maybe that's funny in itself.

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PSP Hacks

C.K. Sample III, PSP Hacks, O'Reilly

This could be useful not only for those that have a PSP but also for those thinking of getting one, to see just what it might be capable of in addition to it's stock features of playing games, listening to music, and watching the (doomed, it seems) umd movies.

In this 298 page (with index) book you can learn to do all sorts of things from the very basic (keeping it clean) to things such as connecting to a wifi network, amplifying the audio outs, building strange cases, plus the ins and outs of running "homebrew" software. You can also learn how to create your own PSP web portal and make a javascipt screen keyboard as well ... plus a wole lot more.

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Opus Dei

John L. Allen, Opus Dei: The Truth about
its Rituals, Secrets and Power, Penguin

Notice of Opus Dei came to the general public through Dan Brown's fantastically successful fiction book, The Da Vinci Code. In it, Opus Dei (latin for "work of God") is a secret society that is party to the general frolics that go on. This, in turn, led to a lot of stupid journalism that in turn captured the minds of ... some people.

In this book, John Allen, a well-known Vatican correspondent has a very detailed look at Opus Dei and what they really stand for. First of all, they are not especially secret. A quick search on Google will no doubt turn up your local branch complete with contacts and mission statement. Aha, you say, but once you're in; that's when the secret missions start! Well, maybe, although the secret mission is more likely to be to get more buns but don't tell Nora.

One of the very appealing ideas behind Opus Dei is the sanctification of ordinary life and work. In other words, you don't rape and pillage all week and then meekly kneel at the altar on Sundays and expect, if not redemption, then a somewhat indirect word from God that it is alright to be smug. This philosophy of life and work is also a nice antidote to the tabloid philosophy that no-one's work has any importance at all -- a ridiculous nihilism that denies the reality that, in modern society, we are all dependent on one another. And this does especially include those who do more menial work. "God is in the details" takes on a fuller meaning here.

Less appealing to quite a number of everyday Catholics is a very strict adherence to the doctrines of the church -- not all Catholics agree, for example, with doctrines to do with abortion or contraception, or women in the priesthood, or even the necessity of going to Mass on a weekly basis.

Quite revealing in the book, is the actual daily religious practise of the members. Far from just applying the idea that the work of everyday life is sacred, there is quite a lot of time devoted to prayer and the like, including daily communion.

Needless to say a book like this will not allay the fears of conspiracy theorists but the rest of us are better informed after reading it and it's also a good guide to the ways in which quite a large section of humanity thinks -- the large section being not Opus Dei, who number around 84,000 for the whole world, but the Catholic church itself.

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Java History

Sun Microsystems, Hello World(s)! From Code to Culture:
A 10 Year Celebration of Java Technology,
available from Pearson Education

This is a nicely produced hardback that sets out the ten years of Java from idea stage to where it is today (on a whole lot of cellphones for a start). It is not a technical book but more of a PR celebration with lots of big photos and nice graphics and a nice story of how it all happened, complete with some false starts and redeployments and then on to some heady success.

This being a book from Sun itself, you don't hear too much about what people don't like about it -- which is mostly that it carries its Virtual Machine wherever it goes, and there are circumstances where that can be irksome. Nevertheless, there has been an aspect of fun to this language which has been part clever promotion and part that it is a lot nicer than C++ to use ... even if it is suitable for entirely different jobs.

If you are a big Java fan, you'll probably find this book to be worth the hun.

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Freakonomics

Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner Freakonomics,
Penguin

Now out in paperback, this best-selling book entertains by looking beyond the obvious. Freakonomics isn't a discipline and the cases in the book have only one thing in common -- a search for hidden truth looking beyond conventional wisdom.

One of the cases is the recent fall in the US crime rate. Was this due to clever police and clever politicians? Was it due to economic factors? Levitt's conclusion was that it was due to Roe vs Wade which made abortions widely available and as a result many would-be criminals just weren't born. What the implications are for somewhere like the UK where a single mother might use a baby to get state supplied housing are easy to figure out. Needless to say Right-to-Lifers and conservative Christians haven't liked Levitt's explanation one bit.

It is a fun book with nice demonstrations of braininess at work.

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Extreme PC's

Ben Hardwidge, Building Extreme PC's:
The Complete Guide to Moddingand Custom PC's,
O'Reilly

This larger format paperback is actually a bit more than a guide to modding PC's. It's also a pretty reasonable tech history of the PC with lots of illustrations. This sort of thing can be fairly useful if you've missed out on some of the recent development chapters of the PC.

The idea though is to banish the beige box and get as wild as you want in doing so. There are lots of photos to act as inspiration and descriptions of the different things people have done along with ways of getting the things done.

The first part of the book looks at aspects of what is done, including video cards, overclocking, water cooling, and various useful tools. After that there's an assortment of modded PC's to contemplate and possibly inspire. Even if you don't like all the designs, most people who would be looking at this book will admire the craftsmanship involved.

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DJ Handbook

Charles Slaney, The DJ Handbook, 2nd Edition,  PC Publishing

This is a great little book. It covers technical plus some social aspects of becoming and being a DJ. Charles Slaney looks first of all at just what a DJ is, then the biz part, and then onto various technical aspects including equipment and technique. Along the way he looks at room accoustics and even includes pictures of various connectors while talking about their use.

You'll also learn how to set up the balance of a mixer and amps and the very basis of sound. Quite a lot is packed into the 109 pages (incl index) that makes up the book.

The whole story is lucidly and sometimes entertainingly told. If you're interested in DJing, this is the best book we've seen on the topic.

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Adicolor

from Adidas, Adicolor

This graphically rich, thick little A5 book, presents the Adidas range in 7 different color ranges with different colored paper for each. The whole thing is the celebration of a n idea to collaborate with well-known creatives from around the world to produce "original and totally unique pieces based on iconic footwear and apparel from the past".

It's quite a sumptious production that fans of the brand will want to have. But how? It won't be on sale in bookstores or at the neighborhood sneaker emporium. Best bet is to head for a fashion enclave or beg Adidas.

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21st Century House

Jonathon Bell, 21st Century House, 
Laurence King

This is a look to see just what the 21st century might be offering in the way of new trends in houses. In his learned opening section, Jonathon Bell, casts his eye around at "star" houses made by architects to appeal to the architectural media (and not particularly made for actual people) and comes away unimpressed. He's also unimpressed by the standards of bureacratic taste-making, which in the UK have led to the prevalence of something called "planning-pastche".

The opening essay is followed by features on a number of houses which are accompanied by nice colour photos. These house are split into divisions: The iconic house, city house, practical house, and the future house. Most are interesting in one way or another and some might even be inspirational if you're thinking of building.

One aspect that is mentioned but isn't as underlined as it might be is the coming shift in energy suppliers. While electricity and gas might still come down the same lines, there is a feeling around that the people owning the cables and pipes aren't necessarily the people with the correct solutions.

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