Mstation Book Reviews
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Sat, 02 Sep 2006

Ubuntu Hacks

J. Oxer, K. Rankin, B. Childers, Ubuntu Hacks:
Tips and Tools for Exploring, and Tuning Linux, O'Reilly

Ubuntu was put together as an easier to approach Debian and since its launch it has grown ever more popular which has been helped along the way by a lot of promotion and people getting out to events armed with loads of discs to give out. As the title suggests a lot of the hacks in this book can relate to just about any Linux distro.

The book does start with installing Ubuntu and then goes onto potentially more general topics such as the Linux desktop and related areas of syncing PDAs and so forth. It looks at multimedia, laptops, different configurations, package management, security, admin, virtualization, and using it as a server.

In a way the book is quite a good starter view of running Linux.

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The Official Ubuntu Book 

Benjamin Mako Hill and Jono Bacon, et al., Prentice Hall

This book is attempting to provide several things:

A description of the Ubuntu distribution and philosophy
A set of instructions for running Linux on Ubuntu
An introduction to Linux for those who haven't ever run it.

For the first of these, the authors are handicapped a little by not wanting to trash other Linux distributions. So they can't say, "Use Ubuntu, because if you use Debian, you will be either too out of date to use any recent version of fast-moving software, or so bleeding edge that you don't dare upgrade your system." Instead, they say, "The first technical goal of the project, and perhaps the most important one, is the coordination of regular and predictable releases." If you know enough about recent linux history, these two statements are similar, but you can't find out that history by reading this book.

The second goal is pretty well realized, but it's not clear that you should buy this book instead of just using google. The fact that there's no index (although there is a quite detailed table of contents) limits the book's usefulness as a reference.

I've been using Linux almost exclusively since 1996, and participated as a developer and tester on several projects, so I'm the wrong person to judge how well they succeed on the third goal. I did loan the book to a friend who keeps asking me, "How did you learn all these Linux shell commands?" It hasn't yet inspired her to install Ubuntu and see that she too could learn them, but she's a busy woman. As far as I can tell, this is as good a book as any I've seen to give someone like that.

Laura Conrad

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Computer Security

R. Lehtinen, D. Russell, G. Gangemi,
Computer Security Basics 2nd Edition, O'Reilly

This is a good roundup of things to be aware of and things to do to counter the malworlds. As the title says, it does the basics and you you don't get treated to chapters on buffer overflows and such. What you do get is a series of explanations and possible protections.

It starts by looking at the field of computer security in general and then goes through such as access control, viruses, security policy, web attacks, encryption, biometrics, and network security.

Altogether, the depth is good enough to be a starting point for systems administrators and an endpoint for most users. Unfortunately we all need to know a bit about security these days.

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New Media Art

Mark Tribe, Reena Jana, 
New Media Art, Taschen

One has to beware slightly of the utterings of arts writers. It's a field where bucketloads of bullshit aren't unknown and where a critical voice is raised it can be met by patronising reactions. It can all be a bit Emperor's Clothesish... like its sister, the world of fashion (of which it is largely part).

This particular book is quite interesting and highlights a few of the things that have been happening over the last few years, particularly on the web. And there is also a rub - the fandom for Open Source ideas, which is admittedly not too overdone. The basic idea here is that people might share intellectual resources in their projects which might be software, music, or art, but could be almost anything. This idea has been extended by some to mean that no-one should be able to own these things which makes for a philosophical backing for pirate downloading of music or film for example. This also has made for reactions on the other side, by Big Business mostly, that are equally annoying.

Anyway, there are quite a few projects to browse through in this book. Each has some pictures as well as a generous writeup and it is in one of Taschen's cheaper ranges and could serve as inspiration, or at the least, inspiration for a reasonable web browsing session as most projects have website URLs given.

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Linux Troubleshooting

various, Linux Troubleshooting for System
Administrators and Power Users, Prentice Hall/HP

This is really quite good. As they say, this is a book directed at Sys Admins and power users and inbuilt in that title is an assumption that you already know more than a little bit. It could be used by a talented and enquiring beginner but that's not the intention of the thing.

Sensibly enough, the book starts with boot, startup, and shutdown issues, and makes its way from there through sections such as hangs and panics, performance and performance tools, adding storage, device failure, and a bunch more including security and network issues.

Console tools are the tools of choice here and input and output are frequently shown along with a lot of interesting comment and advice. Have you ever struggled with the likes of "dd"? If you even know what it does, this could be a helpful book for you.

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Stanley Crouch, Considering genius, 
Basic Civitas Books

I saw Miles Davis play at the Village Vanguard in NYC when I was quite small. There I was in blazer and tie and with my step-sister in tow. They drew the line at her, who must have looked about ten years old at the time, and sent her back to the Waldorf.

The place was only moderately full, with mostly black men. I settled at the bar with a beer and listened to the great man's phrasings which often brought loud exclamations from the crowd - Oh Yeah! Yeah! The people were really nice to me. This was before the days of the Black Power movement. The price of acceptance there, at that time, was just that you were interested. You dug Miles? You were a friend.

I'm not a jazz expert. At the time I followed West Coast Cool, a mainly white-man's game of soothing fluffiness mostly with names like Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, and Dave Brubeck. Not that I cared what colour their skins were.

Let's join this wonderful book now. The author is a black American who was around for early Miles and has been around since. He starts by giving us an overview and then talks in some detail about the likes of Miles Davis and the earlier Charlie 'Bird' Parker.

Along the way he also lays out what being Black meant. While most white writers tend to make a hash of this, for various reasons including odious political correctness (and in the UK today, not adhering to that line could see a visit from the thought police), Stanley Crouch isn't afraid to say unpalatable truths about his own people where relevant. The arrogant racists of the Black Power movement get a good serve here. In fact, those people almost killed off jazz as a moderately popular music genre.

Not that they are the only villains here but the main point off the thing, the heart, soul, and the joy, is the music itself which is lovingly described, and the people who played it too. (Baron K)

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Final Cut Pro

Rick Young, The Focal Easy Guide to
Final Cut Pro 5, Focal Press

Final Cut Pro is not much like iMovie. The latter is fairly intuitive and the things it does do are easily discoverable. Here at Mstation we used iMovie to create some short promos for the first Bleepfest. Recently we made some for the second Bleepfest and immediately ran into problems. How do you cut to music beats with iMovie? With some difficulty so we decided to try out hand with Final Cut Pro. And that's when we learnt we'd have to RTM.

The manual isn't that bad. It just a little too much detail. We knew what we wanted to do and needed some help. And by curious coincidence we selected this book out of a great pile as being closest to our needs.

The reasons why were that it is reasonably compact and not much hassle to refer to and it is also very good although the first tip we got as to how to cut to beats came off the web. What you do is play through and make markers as you go on the soundtrack and then go from there.

This book first takes you through setting the program up visually and also explains what the many indeciferable GUI widgets do. From there it goes through all the important things you need to know about capture, editing, titles and the like and each portion is well illustrated with screen shots and explanatory asides.

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Dumas, Women's War

Alexandre Dumas, The Women's War,
Penguin Classics

Brought to you by the maker of The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Three Musketeers, this book was recently reprinted to acclaim after years of neglect.

The subject is the civil war called The Fronde which took place in France during the regency of Louis XIV. The women concerned are Louis XIII's widow, Anne of Austria, and the Princess de Conde. There are also Nanon de Lartigues who supports Anne of Austria and the Viscountess de Cambes who supports the rebels. Needless to say, on the way through, we have our share of swashbuckling and romantic dalliance. At one level, you could say this was a conflict between absolute monarchy and more liberal forces. In point of fact it was mostly a conflict between factions when one group felt they had been sidelined. All this paved the way for the very absolutist monarchy of Louis XIV.

So, fun for fans of swashbuckling history here, and something a little more meaty than the usual vacation reading.

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Case Study Houses

Elizabeth A.T. Smith, Case Study Houses,

For those interested in modernist architecture, Taschen have had a very large, quite expensive book of this title out for a while. Now there's a much smaller version in one of their inexpensive lines that's also quite cheap and much easier to store as well. The Case Study houses in question were all built in California after WWII and were an experiment in modernism and also, in many cases, in low cost building to house a burgeoning population. The "form follows function" saying of Mies van der Rowe is very much in operation with these houses and the result is sometimes quite beautiful. Here is not the place to discuss the problem of function definition which makes a lot of this style of place unliked. Anyway, if you do like, you'll certainly like the book.

The small version doesn't have complete floor plans for each house but it's still nice, with a mixture of colour and black and white photos and a writeup for each house.

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Baseball Hacks

Baseball Hacks Tips & Tools for Analyzing and Winning with Statistics 

Joseph Adler, O'Reilly

Many technical books these days are a bit odd in their organization, because their authors know that a lot of why you would have bought a book 20 years ago doesn't apply now that you can just google for information. The O'Reilly Hacks series is an honest attempt to address this problem by providing not just information, but informed guides to where to find information online.

In the case of Baseball, there is now a lot of information online which is useful to fans, and a guide to where to find it is quite interesting. I enjoyed browsing the sites listed in Hack #5, Follow the Game Online, although of course a good links page on the web would be even more user-friendly.

Of course, this isn't exactly what you'd expect from a book with "Hacks" in its title. You'd expect lots of technical stuff that would need or provide some programming background. So there are also hacks like #10, Get a MySQL Database of Player and Team Statistics and #13, Learn Perl. I don't know that these have anything to do with being able to follow baseball better, but if you like baseball and also want to learn more about MySQL or Perl, the instructions here seem clear and well-written. And the examples of what you can do once you've mastered those technical skills are quite a bit more real-world than most textbooks supply. For example, #56, measure park effects, or #40 to #46, various ways to compare batters.

So in summary, if you aren't interested in both programming and baseball, you probably don't want this book, but you aren't who O'Reilly is marketing it to, so you probably wouldn't. If you do want to apply programming to following your favorite team, it's a well-written guide to doing that.

Laura Conrad

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Acoustics and Psychacoustics

D.M. Howard, J. Angus Acoustics and Psychoacoustics 3rd Edition, 
with CD, Focal Press

Focal Press have quite a number of educational books related to audio and video and quite a few of those are used for teaching courses. That is the case with this one also and so the general layout of the thing is to have text followed by a list of further reading, but not section questions.

The book starts with an introduction to the nature of sound and how it behaves in space, and goes on to look at the nature of human hearing, notes and harmony, acoustic models for musical instruments, timbres and environmental considerations, and finally, digital signal processing.

There is also a reasonable scattering of equations through the book, which is entirely apt considering the subject matter, and which shouldn't put casual readers off as they are a further explanation of the story rather than being the story itself.

It is an interesting and accessible treatment altogether although the further reading lists will need to be consulted if you want to explore some of the more advanced topics. For example, the authors state that human hearing is generally confined to 20-20kHz. There's nothing odd about that except that some people (like Rupert Neve) believe in a much extended bandwidth. If the ears do only handle the limited bandwidth, there might be questions about where the extra is absorbed. In any case, that particular topic is still one that is being debated.

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