Mstation Book Reviews
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Tue, 28 Oct 2008

Heroin Diaries

Nikki Sixx with Ian Gittins, the Heroin Diaries: a year in the life of a shattered Rock Star, Pocket Books

The stated credo of this book is that if one person is helped to avoid Mr. Sixx's experience with drugs then 'it will have been worth it'.

Sixx is the bassist in 80's (and still) hair metal band Motley Crue and he outlines his bad habits in some detail as well as numerous escapades which mostly fall under the heading of Yucky People Doings. At least, we suppose, there's a nice symmetry in the fact that they seemed to treat each other in much the same way as they treated other people ... and also, they were as advertised - cretinous barbarians.

So, who might want this book? People who like Mojo magazine might like it as they thought it was funny (!?!). Social anthropologists might love it ... especially budding social workers. HM completists should have it of course ... and then there's that one person who might benefit from it.

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Website Optimization

Andrew B. King, Website Optimization, O'Reilly

Yes, you guessed, this is a guide to optimizing websites both in terms of the physical performance in a browser and also in terms of search engines.

An aside here is how quickly we seem to accept a situation as normal. Take search engines - One would expect that search engines would semantically parse pages and be able to provide some sort of useful overview. Also, we might expect that algorithims scanning links would immediately be able discount the most obvious cheaters. This is far from the case and woe be it to anyone who thinks they can hide the crux of a page in paragraph three and still be usefully indexed.

... which tidily leads us back to the book while we wait for improvements in the search world. The present reality is that you do need to do something and this book will guide you through excactly what.

It starts by looking at search engine optimization and gives examples of how to deal with the appropriate Meta tags, "content" and "keywords". Keywords is a huge area by itself with all sorts of tools available for sussing out their potential - not much point is using a keyword that generates one search a week if you can honestly use one that generates a thousand. "Honestly" is quite a big word here but at least in this area there are some signs that body text is checked to see if it's true.

The keyword thing also leads into the Adwords side of things and there's a fair bit to be said that people who purchase ads on Google will find interesting. The whole keyword thing, of course, just underlines the failure (so far) of semantic parsing ... quite conveniently for Google, perhaps.

There's a lot more to the book including quite a large section on optimizing the site itself in terms of loading times and code. There's also a fair sized section on web analytics and if you never quite grasped what a bounce rate was, this book will help you. All in all, if you have a website, then this book will be of interest.

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Sonic Youth

David Browne, Goodbye 20th Century: a biography of Sonic Youth, Da Capo Press

Sonic Youth have inspired great devotion along with great confusion. Originally the babies of the NYC art crowd and a sort of outgrowth of the punk/hardcore scene, they asked considerable questions about just what a song was and how it might be delivered. Their answers included many song-like things along with a fair sampling of pieces that were closer to noise music. And all with a certain sort of Downtown attitude.

The confusion was heightened by Sonic Youth's balancing act on the art/commerce high wire ... this was a part of their interest as well.

This book traces all the members of the band (Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Renaldo and Steve Shelley) and pretty much all the band's doings ... and along the way, the music scene of the time. And so we get a fairly good view of one of the more interesting periods in the history of music in New York. That it's a scene that has all but disappeared makes it more poignant. And in that line one might wonder that its eradication at the hands of big easy corporate money bidding property prices through the roof ... no wait! ... might we see a return to the old days now - days when a struggling artist could live in Manhattan? Days when a struggling venue might survive on small takings? Who knows?

From the post punk scene we move on through the Grunge and the alt-rock era in which Sonic Youth also played a part - quite a big part in fact as Thurston was an early booster of Nirvana and was instrumental in getting them on one of Geffen's labels.

Another aspect, and quite an endearing one, was their struggle to survive financially. For years they played for peanuts and lived off used tea bags practically. When their breakthrough came it was hardly to superstardom in commercial terms (which, as you can imagine displeased their label) but it was enough to let them live properly and buy houses and apartments and bring up kids. 'Greed is a bit of a waste of time' might be a good heading here for those artists who want to work on their own terms and lead a satisfying life.

So, yes, if you're a Sonic Youth fan then you should have this. If you're generally interested in music and particularly interested in the art/commerce fight then you'll find it interesting as well.

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Wed, 01 Oct 2008


Lucy O'Brien, Madonna: like an icon, Corgi

Your reaction might be - Why would you read that?! Good question! In fact, there are a few reasons: For one, Madonna is a part of recent pop/dance history, and she coincides quite nicely with the putting together of Really Big Music and its current state of whining decline.

For another, she was also part of an interesting club scene in Detroit and New York and in mid-career she had some producers who did some pretty nice work (Orbit, Mirwais) on her songs.

And then there's the question of how such an ordinary singer and actor could reach such commercial heights.

The story's outline will be familiar to lots of people: not especially nice kid from a middle class family looses mother early on, goes a little haywire (by small town standards), gets into clubbing and dance, uses everyone she can get her hands on while searching for her thing, and then, through smart marketing, becomes rich, rich, rich, and famous, famous, etc.

So, why read it, you ask again? Oh OK, you win. (Thunderfinger)

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Le Dossier

trans Sarah Long, Le Dossier How to Survive the English, John Murray

If you're in the mood for a bit of English bashing this could be just the thing but it will give absolutely no joy at all to the likes of Aussie Pommy haters as it will mostly be incomprehensible.

The reason being that the viewpoint is from a Parisian female of supposedly huge brain and with an extremely privileged background - or so the story goes. There's actually a fair chance that this character is made up, but never mind. In any case, the viewpoint is lofty enough to resemble a caricature French person but this is part of the fun.

All the usual culprits get a serve - women's looks and dress (actually, everyone's dress), the manners, the food, the shops (interesting statistic in the book is that 80% of English food is bought in supermarkets whereas the figure for France is 5%), the health system (catch Eurostar home!), the ways of English sex (basic, brutish, and short) which is blamed on Protestants, and of course, there's more, more, more.

It is quite fun and I imagine will be read mostly by English people. (Baron K)

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Desert Island Music

ed. Griel Marcus, Stranded Da Capo Press

It turns out that the lack of literate writing about contemporary music is not a new thing at all. And I don't mean the coverage of the art fringe which is usually more pretentious than actually literate. In the preface to this book mentions the difficulty of finding a place for quality writing circa the late 70's.

The idea here is the desert island disc thing - which one would you take, and why? And so the list is also a bit of a time capsule sent to us from the late 70's. The sort of people that are talked about include the Velvet Underground, Jackson Browne, the Kinks, the Ramones, Van Morrison, and the Stones. There are more!

Who is being talked is interesting of course but how they're talked about is just as interesting - the asides and the sketches of surrounding territory, the descriptions and personal anecdotes. Sometimes you might say it's overdone but mostly it reflects a dialogue between an artist and an intelligent listener.

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