Archive for category books

Book: White Stripes

Everett True,

    The White Stripes and the Sound of Mutant Blues

, Omnibus Press

Not just a story of the White Stripes but a detailed history of all the post-Stooges Detroit scene, and complete with the question ‘why would anyone want to live there’. The answer mostly seemed to be ‘because it’s home’.

In this telling, the answer to another question of where the minimalist (in tech terms) urges of the White Stripes came from, becomes obvious. Not so obvious is why it went where it did later.

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Book: Watchmen

Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons,

    The Watchmen

, DC Comics

No ordinary graphic novel this: It has been heaped with praise from all
quarters and, of course, made into a movie that was released this year. The
book is not quite as in-your-face gruesome as the movie, and it’s hardly an
‘up’ thing but it is very well done.

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Book: Cultural Computation

David Columbia,

    The Cultural Logic of Computation

, Harvard University Press

It pays to keep your eyes open in every aspect of life especially when it
comes to freedom. And computers are no different. The conventional wisdom is that
computers are enabling and culturally transparent, and sometimes they are.

This scholarly book, which by the way is not what you’d call an easy
weekend’s read, delves into the works of such as Chomsky (who seems to have
oversimplified in his pronouncements on linguistics) to reveal an inherently
hierarchical structure which when used by government and companies is not
exactly inherently free. And is extremely heirarchical. Most people have had trivial experiences of how this can be… which quite often summed up by some words like
‘oh, we can’t do that, the computer …’

Columbia drills down even further than the likes of Chomsky to Humboldt and
Hegel and many more and if you were to do the backup reading, it could well
become a two semester course.

On the other hand, a skim through would do a lot of people quite a lot of good.

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Book: Semantic Web

Toby Segaran, Colin Evans, Jamie Taylor,

    Programming The Semantic Web

, O’Reilly

The Semantic Web is the idea that information on the web can be brought together
and organised by machines to provide rich new information. The word ’semantic’ means
‘meaning’ and so data can be assembled in a relational sort of way from various
different sources. The first thing that might occur to you are different sorts of
mashups and if you extend your imagination into the future, there might be some
quite exciting things there.

But this is, if not the start, then certainly early days. The authors take you
through how this thing is set up, what sort of databases might be used and code
examples for setting things up. What happens is not that ordinary web pages are
scanned for meaning but rather that backroom databases already established by the
likes of Yahoo and Google. A page might then be constructed from this data for
humans to read.

Quite clearly there are enormous possibilities here and this book is a good
introduction to the present day mechanics.

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Book: Command Line

Neal Stephenson,

    In the Beginning … Was The Command Line

, Perennial

We imagine you need at least a little in the way of geek tendencies to
enjoy this book which actually comes from 2003 and is still a valid
commentary.

Stephenson doesn’t, as you might suspect from the title, spend the whole
time extolling the command line. What he does do is point out the deficiencies and
efficiencies of it as well as some of the problems with the graphic way to go -
the GUI which includes the necessary dumbing-down for it to exist at all.

It’s also funny in parts as he narrates his trip from Microsoft to Mac to
Linux and BeOS. Where he’s gone since 2003 we don’t know.

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books: Guy Davenport

Guy Davenport, The Death of Picasso, Shoemaker & Hoard

Guy Davenport died in 2005. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Merton College Oxford and received a Macarthur (genius) grant for writing late in his career which was mostly spent at the University of Kentucky. He was a deeply learned man and not afraid to show it in his many short stories.

This collection is the last that has been published and includes new works as well as some older ones, and could be taken to be a fair sampling of his output.

His writing is, by turns, poetic, learned, pellucid, abstracted, easy
and difficult – not difficult in the way of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and
such, but requiring that the reader has some patience and some learning of his or her own.There is imagination and beauty, and there is also some shock treatment.

There is, for example, the trilogy starting with the story The Jules
Verne Steam Balloon which stars a character called Hugo which looks to have been based on himself, or some version of himself in a parallel world.

This trilogy has an amazing similarity to the 1978 Danish film Du Er
Ikke Allene (You Are Not Alone). They both take place in a Danish special school in the country. They both have a headmaster’s son, who was an afterthought, who’s name is Kim, and who falls in love with an older boy with a mop of brown curly hair. There is no doubt there is a relationship between the film and the story, but what it is exactly, we’ve not been able to discover. The story is reported to have been first published in 1985, but is this correct? If it is, it would be hard to accuse Davenport of plagiarism as he has taken the basic outline and riffed on it and made it rather more x-rated. He has also introduced various coded and uncoded references to Hellenistic practices which will make some (quite a lot actually) people’s hair stand on end. To say that this is not the morality of the moment would be a pretty fair understatement.

The last word on which came first, the stories or the film seems to lie with a friend of Davenport’s who states that the allusions to the film were ‘deliberate’. reference.

But this isn’t the theme for the whole collection and critics have
mostly turned a blind eye to this aspect and concentrated on others: asHarpers suggested, he dramatizes with eloquent art, the question ‘what if we were free’.

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books: fashion

Hywel Davies, Modern Menswear, Laurence King

A collection of designers and their clothes of varying degrees
of out-thereness, and varying degrees of wearability depending on
who and where you are. The purpose that this sort of book often
serves is not to put a seller in touch with a buyer but to put
adventurous souls in touch with possible pathways.

Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist, Penguin

This big thick paperback is a collection of photos taken
by the author on various streets around the world … but usually
ones that aren’t that far away from fashion do’s in New York, Paris,
Milan, etc. This might answer the question of why you never see
anyone looking like this at the local supermarket.

The format is a nice one – old and young, boys and girls, and a
multiplicity of styles. Not everyone is cute and not everyone is
thin – something like the real world in fact, except the people
photographed have been chosen by the author for some quality or
other. The result is a nice celebration of, yes, diversity.

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book: Herman Hesse

Herman Hesse, Demian, various

Herman Hesse was a favorite of the hippie generation and many an unread copy of Steppenwolf graced dusty floors. But his liking by some shouldn’t put off those who are interested in spirituality and philosophy generally.

Demian is a story told, first of a young boy and then a young man, as he gropes
with good and evil and tries to find himself in the process. In all this he is guided and sometimes protected by his Daimon, one Max Demian, a sort of ageless boy who
drifts into and out of the picture.

The journey goes from St. Augustine-like contemplations of predestination and sin,
to Gaia-like thoughts of the oneness of everything. But it isn’t as dry as that
sounds: anyone who has grown up a little will follow the journey with some sense of familiarity and discovery. There is also more than a touch of Nietzsche’s ubermensch.

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Book: Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterlng, The Zenith Angle, DelRey

A brilliant computer scientist gets suckered into a telecom
fraud and then, post 9/11, into the machinations of Homeland
Security. In the process he discovers he’s not only an idealistic
geek but a kick-ass warrior. It’s kind of a wet-dream for
people who might normally be afraid to say Boo to a goose.

But it’s a lot more fun than that suggests, and with a nicely
visual denouement that would look very nice on film. There isn’t a
lot of Big Thought here and there are little pockets of right wing
memes but it is a good yarn and intelligent readers will see things
as they are. It is also very American and very pro-American in
major ways and so knee-jerk anti-Americans will not enjoy it … one
bit!

A PS here is that if you’re a travelling American getting sick of
hearing cracks about US influence, you might ask them why they seem
to be always copying our worst features and none of our good ones.

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Book: Diana Ross and the Supremes

Mark Ribowsky, The Supremes: a saga of Motown dreams, success, and betrayal,
Da Capo

If you’re a Supremes fan or a student of pop music or even a social anthropoligist,
you’re going to have a lot of fun with this book. In the first case you’ll learn
everything there is to know about Diane Ross, Mary Wilson, Flo Ballard, Berry Gordy and
a host of others. In the second you’ll find out about the rich social history – the
first real Black invasion of the White pop scene and the first real Black music
potentate. And as for the last, we have the rich background of “the times they are a
changing” … the beginning of the death of segregation, the fight for equality which
still continues even though, who’d a thought it in those days, there is a Black
President right now.

Quite often this sort of book can make your eyes glaze over as single after single
is gone over in trainspotting detail and really, it’s not very interesting. This one
is because there is a balance between the bigger events and the tiny little ones and the
players are interesting of themselves even though the two main characters, Berry Gordy,
the head of Tamla-Motown records and Diane/Diana Ross are quite unlikable. Gordy looks
quite a lot like the unacceptable face of capitalism and gives a lie to the story of
only White record execs ripping off Black musicians. Ross is interested in Ross and comes
across as somewhat trivial and nasty.

Get some CD’s or mp3’s and play them while you read. All this is really about some really
great songs.
(Thunderfinger)

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