The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

BOOKS I LIKE - some reviews of books I've been reading and using:

Degunking Windows, Joli Ballew and Jeff Duntemann, Paraglyph Press, 2004 .
I use both WinXP and Linux for multimedia work; recently, I've also been
using an old Win98 machine which I put on the network here (DSL + WiFi). I
recently wrote for, and received, a review copy of Degunking Windows - and
can luckily recommend this completely. It's absolutely necessary for
anyone running XP. The user level is Novice to Intermediate, which means
it's just about for everyone who is unused to playing with the Windows

Windows XP is somewhat of a mess; there are temporary files all over the
place, things that don't work particularly well, animations and other
"effects" that consume resources and slow the system up, duplicate and
other key problems in the registry (which contains information on just how
the system is supposed to run), and so forth. Since I'm using a laptop
which is all of two years old, and since I do almost all my sound/video
editing on it (as well as live performance), I need to have Windows
running as lean and fast as possible - I also need it _not_ to crash in
the middle of a production!

Degunking Windows is perfect in this regard, especially if you don't have,
for example, TweakUI and other tools already at your disposal. Even though
I'm in the advanced user category (I hope by now!), I found a number of
useful suggestions; by the time I was done, I had increased my freespace
(on a 30 gigabyte drive) from 10.2 to 15.8 gigabytes. This, coupled with
my recent use of GNU software tools in the terminal ("console") window,
has sped up my production work considerably, from video rendering to text
manipulation. I highly recommend this book to _anyone_ with WinXP,
especially if you're using your computer for more than email and surfing
(although there are good sections on both as well).

Linux in a Nutshell, A Desktop Quick Reference, 4th edition, Ellen Siever,
Stephen Figgins, and Aaron Weber, O'Reilly, 2003 . Well, this is now
enormous, over 900 pages long, which gives a good indication of the growth
of Linux. At one point, I would have recommended this to beginners - at
this point, it's better for intermediate or advanced users, I think, who
would need the full set of commands (and it's not even that!), with their
options. It covers the KDE and Gnome desktops; RCS and CVS for project
control; there are sections on bash and tcsh, on sed and gawk and vi and
its varieties and Emacs, etc. etc. It's still an amazingly quick lookup
when you need something in a hurry.

Speaking of which, I've now been using Fedora from RedHat, problem free,
for quite a while. I would switch fully to linux, but it's terrible for
multimedia video applications, relatively poor for sound as well. There's
no Quicktime for linux, except a version which runs Quicktime uncompressed
- which isn't all that useful. On the other hand, for text, programming (I
think, not being a programmer), 3D modeling with Blender, Gimp image
manipulation, etc. etc., there's nothing better and it's absolutely
stable. And the number of Net tools, of all sorts, available makes it
indispensable. I again want to mention the Zaurus PDA, which I take with
me everywhere, and do a fair amount of my work on - and it's linux-based;
you can download just about everything you need for it (for example, I
have Kismet, perl, dig, pico, wget, etc. etc.).

I also mentioned before the GNU disks for Windows, which allow a full set
of linux tools to be installed on anything from Win3.1 through XP; I think
some of them will even run on older DOS machines.

Wireless Hacks, 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools, Rob Flickenger
O'Reilly, 2003 . The whole Hacks series from O'Reilly is great and
relatively new. This one deals with hands-on hardware and software
suggestions, including ways to make antennas, how to add on antennas to
laptops, long line-of-sight connections, WiFi and Bluetooth information
including incredible software, etc. It's interesting that Wireless is
paralleling old-time ham radio - people are building all sorts of wireless
gadgets, having hotspot contests (there were and probably still are DXing
- distance reception - contests for ham radio operators), forming
temporary communities, etc. (Somewhere there's a Phd thesis here; both
media are characterized to some extent by make-shift or bricolage hacking
approaches.) I love this book - and in fact love the whole wireless
revolution - it's incredibly exciting to have the world at one's finger-
tips, one's mind extending through the palm into a huge cerebral database
of humanity which is still growing, probably exponentially. Azure is from
Huntington Beach; with the Zaurus PDA, just about anywhere in New York, we
can immediately view the coast about a mile from her parents' home,
weather, surfers and all.

Other books I use regularly are Amazon Hacks and Google Hacks, both of
which I've described before. I really recommend these as well.

Mastering Regular Expressions, 2nd edition, Jeffrey Friedl, O'Reilly, 2002
. Wow, this is a fairly long and detailed handbook for those of us who
otherwise might have an afternoon free. For those who don't know, a
regular expression is a _framework_ which filters or sorts in any number
of ways. For example [0-9] can represent any single digit number. As in
DOS, etc., * is a "wildcard." An example is (?<=\d)(?=(\d\d\d)+$) found on
p. 65. Expressions are used with commands such as tr, grep, sed, awk, and
just about any language - they're found all over perl. They provide
shortcuts for complex text manipulation. For example, if I wanted to
eliminate all blank lines in this file ("foo"), I might enter, at the
prompt, grep -v ^$ foo > bar, and that would do it.

This book gives you far more information than you might ever need - but
it's nice to know it's there.

The New Media Reader, eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, MIT,
2003 . Personally, I find this book incredibly useful. It was the subject
of a full month on the Empyre mailing list, during which the term "New
Media" (and others) was debated; a similar debate has now opened on
Nettime. The book has what might be considered primordial articles by
Billy Kluver, Ivan Sutherland, Raymond Williams, McLuhan, Joseph
Weizenbaum (yay! Eliza), among others. It goes roughly through 1994, with
the disk going through 1996; the idea is to develop the roots and possible
foundations of a discourse before the 'explosion' of online art. The
layout is excellent, as is the accompanying cdrom.

I do wish there were more on MOOs and MUDs etc. in it, but there are
selections from Brenda Laurel and Sherry Turkle. On the other hand, the
term "New Media" has become a grab-bag (as has "postmodernism" for
example) for just about every techno-cultural change, that it's hard to
know where any book should begin and end. My own interest is along the
lines of phenomenology and psychoanalysis, as well as early environments
(some of which are on the disk), and there's an enormous amount to keep me

In this regard, by the way, I want also to mention Jon Marshall's work on
the Cybermind email list - he's been writing on it and analyzing for
years, and I think this sort of thing - following an online community in
depth - is enormously valuable in understanding, not only "online" per se,
but the very nature of culture and consciousness.


Classical Chinese Literature, An Anthology of Translations, Volume I: From
Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty, eds. John Minford and Joseph S. M. Lau,
Columbia and Chinese University, 2000 . I'd seen this around, but never
could afford it until I found it at Mercer Street Books here in New York.
It's over 1100 pages of literary materials, some given in several trans-
lations and numerous European languages, including French, Latin, German,
etc. The result is an odd but extremely useful dialectic among cultures;
some of the translations are hundreds of years old.

The reason I tend towards these enormous anthologies, is that I'm a
sinophile, but not sinologist; I'm introduced to works I'd never see
otherwise. There's even a section of the Thousand Character Essay in here.
The comparative translations are incredibly useful, by the way, since I
have a feeling that things like the Book of Songs/Odes are generally

Along these lines, I'm also reading the full version of Wu Cheng'en's
Journey to the West - part of which Waley translated as Monkey. I'm now on
page 1857 out of 2300 plus. There are four paperback volumes, translated
by W. J. F.  Jenner, put out by the Foreign Languages Press, Peking. I
cannot recommend this work enough - it's brilliant and incessant and one
really needs to go through the full 100 chapters, with their poems,
cosmological allusions, and so forth, to understand the work. It's been
quite useful as an aid to understanding a great many other works as well,
since there is much Taoist/Buddhist magic in it, not to mention lamaism,
Confucism, and so forth. (By the way, the Foreign Language Press now
prints a great number of translations of classic texts for very little
money - do check them out.)

Domesday Book, A Complete Translation, various, 1992, Penguin, 2002 . I'd
never read nor seen the Domesday book before this, and it's mainly an
account from 1086 of tax roles and demographics across Norman England. On
the other hand, if you have patience with this, you'll learn more about
the roots of Anglo-American culture, than from any other source I can
think of. It's amazing that this full accounting of a nation-in-the-making
has survived for close to a thousand years - and that it was even compiled
at all. For me, it relates well to much earlier Sumerian, Akkadian,
Babylonian, etc. temple and landholding records. It's fascinating to pick
up (well it's over 1400 pages of small print) and read at will.

Hegemony or Survival, America's Quest for Global Dominance, Noam Chomsky,
Metropolitan, 2003 . I'm slowly moving through this, trying not to commit
suicide. The book is simultaneously a warning and an account of what went
wrong and continues to go wrong. Anything on American Empire is worth
reading as is Hannah Arendt on imperialism for that matter. Chomsky's
account of nuclear strategy is the most frightening thing of all.

The problem is - what to do with the book? The account is enormous and
furious and there's nowhere to go but do check out .

I Ching, James Legge translation reorganized by Raymond Vanover, Mentor,
1971 . I'm not so much interested in the predictive nature of the work, as
I am in the appendices which reflect Chinese cosmogony. Legge does his
best translation work with Confucian texts, but at least he's not turning
the I Ching into a Jungian treatise, for which I'm grateful. This is an
older Mentor paperback and I highly recommend it if you can find it. I
appreciate the technical nature of the notes as well.

Kievan Russia, George Vernadsky, Yale, 1948, paperback, 1976 . I realize
this is old, but since I'm a fan of The Russian Primary Chronicle
(translated by Samuel Cross in two quite old editions as well), this is
great as background reading. Obviously, most North Americans know little
about Russian history (not to mention philosophy - and there are a number
of anthologies available here), and this helps a great deal. I have no
idea how the field has progressed, but the book is eminently readable and

Biogeochemistry, An Analysis of Global Change, second edition, William H.
Schlesinger, Academic Press, 1997-97 . All I can say is get this book if
you're interested in issues of global warming, pollution, planetary cycles
of elements, and so forth. It's one of the most detailed accounts I've
read, and gives clear examples of the complexity of the world ecosystem
and its biomes. Be warned this is a technical book, and requires close
attention to the text.

Finally, The Mary Shelley Reader, eds. Betty T. Bennett & Charles E.
Robinson, Oxford, 1990. I'm a fan, this is a great collection, including
the original 1818 version of Frankenstein, letters, reviews, and so forth.
Buy it! Now I'm reading some of Keats' letters - I love these people!


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