The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

September 7, 2004

Reviews of Books and Others that I like

Here's the latest selection of works that have fascinated me. Not all are
new - I feel I should apologize a bit for the enthusiasm -

Giant Brains, or Machines that Think, Edmund C. Berkeley, John Wiley,
1949. This is the first book written to make computers understandable to
the general public. It covers both analog and digital machines, focusing
on Eniac, Simon, and other early implementations. Input and output
devices, delay lines, and various types of memory are described. The book
also discusses the future of computers. I find it completely fascinating -
my copy came from for $13 which is a bargain. Berkeley himself was
important in the early history of computing; he's not a popularizer.

The Beginnings of Japanese Art, Namio Egami, Weatherhill, 1973. This is
part of the Heibonsha Survey of Japanese Art - thirty some volumes, which
are now sold separately. They're wonderful - written by Japanese experts,
they cover periods and architectures in detail. This one focuses on Yayoi,
Jomon, tumuli, haniwa, etc. - brilliantly. The reproductions are good
enough for research. You can usually find the series at 2nd-hand bookshops
- check it out.

Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, edited by
Geach and Black, Oxford, 1952. All my life I believed that Frege felt
'defeated' by Russell's paradox - that's clearly not the case, as
indicated by Frege's reply at length, translated here. The book is
difficult but still worth reading, not only as history, but as a valuable
analysis of sense and meaning, sign and symbol, and so forth.

We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People, Dan
Gillmor, O'Reilly, 7/94. O'Reilly's publications have always fascinated me
- their books on linux, more recently on Macs. They have been increasingly
presenting a phenomenology of 'porousness' - peer-to-peer, blogging, etc. -
books dealing with, not only open source, but open knowledge, open
knowledge management/manageriality, and here, open journalism. You could
see this at work at the recent 'republican' convention demonstrations; you
can see it every day on the Net. I love this book. Parts of it seem overly
simplistic or optimistic - but it's all we have, in a way - this form of
_breathing_ and exchange that involves webcams, camera phones, sms, blogs,
and almost daily new forms of journalism and journalistic expertise. Do
check out this book; it gives one both guidelines and a sense of hope in
terms of the future of free information and information-dissemination.

Vel, Alan Sondheim, BlazeVOX, 2004. I had to put this in; it's the second
publish-on-demand work I've had, and looks beautiful. It still awaits
blurbs and intro, but is available now. Contents cover the phenomenology
of motion capture and virtuality, as well as the application of equations
to texts. Some of my more difficult\tensioned work, but something I love
to read over again as well, unusual for me.

Islands in the Clickstream: Reflections on Life in a Virtual World,
Richard Thieme, Syngress, 2004 (distributed by O'Reilly). Richard Thieme
was an Episcopal priest, and this book makes me happy (not necessarily
related). It reads like Teilhard de Chardin meets internetworking, without
any of de Chardin's metaphysical flights. It reminds me constantly of the
origin and potential of the net. These are columns from but they're also 'writings' in the broadest sense of
the term. Chapters include Computer-Mediated Living: The Digital Filter;
Hacking and the Passion for Knowledge; Digital Spirituality; and Mostly
True Predictions. At this point on the Net, we need to feel better about
ourselves - need to remind ourselves of its positivity and potential for a
better world of close-to-transparent communications. I get tired of
deconstruction; this work moves in the other direction, and wisely.

The Best of SAILTrim, edited by Charles Mason, Sail, 1975 (1985). I'm not
a sailor, and never will be. When I'm taken on a sailboat, the world opens
up. Years ago I accidently made it to the Australian win in the America's
Cup at Newport - I was at the pre-race trials. Racing is a tricky
business, especially the construction and configuration of the sails
themselves - and this book describes the aerodynamics at work in detail. I
don't understand a lot of it - even the chapter titles can be arcane -
'The Mainsail Leech,' 'The Virtue of "Jiffy" Reefing,' and my favorite,
'The Boom Vang.' Needless to say this is really fun to read - I try to
'Picture a broach and knockdown aboard a distance racing yacht.' without
getting too far, but loving it.

Honkin' on Bobo, Aerosmith, 2004, Baby, Please Don't Go - and the first
time I heard this it _literally_ took my breath away.

I'm working my way through Sally Pryor's Postcards from Writing (pre-
release),, which deals with graphemes, graphism, and
'the boundaries between written texts and pictures.' This is a cdrom which
takes a great deal of work, but is highly worthwhile - it's based on the
theories of Roy Harris, a highly controversial figure in contemporary
linguistics. I definitely recommend this - apologies for not completing
the work, but I wanted to get this out - and you could get in touch with
her at Sally Pryor <>. More later.

8 Ball Chicks, Gini Sikes, Knopf, 1998. I could not put this book down and
probably learned more about gang culture from it than from any other
source. It's not theoretical; it raises a lot of questions about the role
of author/ity that aren't quite answered, but what it offers is one of the
most intense reading/life experiences I've encountered. : Forrest Gander and Kent
Johnson, Jaime Saenz, Some Days in the Life of The Night: Notes from
Bolivia, June 20-30, 2004 . This work deserves wide attention. Johnson's
project for years has been maurading the edge-phenomena of literature,
taste, poetry, and institutionalization; and here, Gander and Johnson (I
feel odd using last names) brilliantly construct and/or report on the
history/anthropology/phenomenology/literature of Jaime Saenz. Please give
this a read! This is not a review, but a request. So often, amazing works
like this are passed by - literature is growing exponentially on the web
(like everything else), and it's hard to track, hard to take the time. But
this piece, like everything in fact that the authors do, is worth it. I've
alway been fascinated by issues of authorship, especially when I'm ill at
ease in relation to them, and this is an instance. Saenz' relationship to
fascism is almost literally, uncanny. (The poetry, for example, , is rather brilliant too.)

The Nonsense Book of Riddles, Rhymes, Tongue Twisters, and Jokes from
American Folklore, edited by Duncan Emrich, illustrated by Eb Ohlsson,
Four Winds Press, 1970. An AMAZING collection, childhood Oulipo\Perec but
much more fun. Well, not really Oulipo/Perec, but I can't resist the
forward: 'I pity the river, / I pity the brook, / I pity the one that
takes this book.' (etc.)

In these dark times, it's best to look for a little light, at least enough
to fuel the residing despair into action. I'm rereading Sinclair Lewis' It
Can't Happen Here (from 1935), and its fictional account of the growth of
fascism in the US is far too familiar and convincing. So I'm also
rereading Gilgamesh in the Andrew George translation (Penguin 1999), which
is not only as complete as can be, but gives a lot of Sumerian material as
well. Check out both.

And in passing - The Logical Syntax of Language, Rudolf Carnap, Routledge,
1937 - perhaps because the orderly world appears beautiful; Maya Visual
Quickstart Guide, Danny Riddell and Andrew S. Britt, Peachpit, 2002,
becase these things allow me to work at a furious pace; Immersed in
Technology: Art and Virtual Environments, edited by Mary Anne Moser with
Douglas MacLeod, MIT, 1996, because it's prescient and the theory's great
(Hayles, Dyson, Stone, Ronell, and others); and Mary Shelley's The Last
Man - one of the strangest 19th-century books I've ever read -

- Alan

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