The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

Recent books, emphasis on computers, philosophy

I am still reviewing books that O'Reilly sends me. The arrangement is 
ideal; I'm under no obligation to like the books - on the other hand, I 
don't ask to review books that are outside my field of interest, and what 
I do find is often of interest. Many of the ones that have come in 
recently will be of value to new media artists interested in expanding 
either their internal computer environment, or the external potential for 
controlled installations made somewhat on the fly.

Here are the recent entrants, in no particular order; the computer books 
come first, since I'm feeling utilitarian at the moment. (Sudden fear: Is 
that the right word?)

PC Hacks, 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools, Jim Aspinwall, O'Reilly. 
Okay, this one really _is_ industrial, and I'd recommend making the hacks 
first on an older machine. That said, this digs deeper into the bios, 
memory, etc. than other books I've seen. I want to eventually create a 
pseudo-lan machine for installations and presentations - and this book 
would be of considerable value, since I can start and modify from the 
ground up, not losing too much in the process. There's terrific 
information on heat sinks, cpu speedups, video, etc.

By the way, why do any of this? Because one can tailor a machine to his or 
her specs - which can be critical, for example, for laptop performance, 
heavy video processing, muxing, what have you. For this reason, I also 
want to recommend the ExtremeTech series of books from Wiley - the one I'm 
using - which, again, is highly detailed, is

Hacking Windows XP, Steve Cinshak, Wiley. Like the first book, this is 
$24.99 - it was marked down 40% at Barnes and Noble. The book deals a lot 
with bootup speeds and configurations, speeding up the boot screen, making 
the computer more responsive, increasing speed, etc. Some of the info is 
found in a number of other books; here, it's extremely detailed, and I've 
had no problem applying things to my WinXP multimedia machine.

Spam Kings, O'Reilly, Brian McWilliams. I said that I probably could not 
review this, since it doesn't cover things like the 'nigerian' spams. They 
sent it anyway. I must say the book is astounding in the weirdness it 
uncovers, and in the apparent messiness of spam history. At times spam 
fighters change sides, or work both against - what? It's like a paean to 
postmodernity. Individual histories, identities, spam offers, ISPs, etc., 
are changed at the drop of a hat; there are prosecutions, but they're 
somewhat ineffective. The book shows, guess what, that Bush's spam law is 
basically useless. I'd try to find this on Amazon. It's hardbound $22.95, 
and is one of the books I'll pass on - a terrific read, but no reason to 
return to it.

Smart home Hacks, Tips & Tools for Automating Your House, Gordon Meyer, 
O'Reilly. Well, this is fantastic for someone with a smart home; ours is 
particularly dumb, without a tv remote, and many kludged computer 
thingies. But I will end up using this book constantly - since the hacks, 
which cover things that go on with movement change, light change, 
temperature change, logic change, etc. etc., are cheap, and applicable to 
art installations of all sorts. If you have a real hardware techie to work 
with, you probably won't need this - but I do. Next year, I hope to hook 
some of these things up with motion capture, and then... Anyway, this book 
is already proving indispensable - if you do any sort of digital media 
work and you want potentially cheap fixes, take a look.

Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses, Jeff Duntemann, Paraglyph. This, 
and similar books, are invaluable if you use Outlook or Eudora or any mail 
program that involves downloading; I haven't needed it, since I use unix 
(which on a practical level, is incredibly configurable, eliminates a 
whole lot of spam/virus problems, etc.). But I wanted to see this, since I 
help people with computers on a fairly regular basis, and this is to be 
recommended for a mid-level user who wants to streamline and clean up his 
or her Net connections. It talks about 'strategy' which I like a lot - not 
assuming that all email users are the same, and emphasizing knowledge 
management from the Inbox on. I might add that a small business owner 
would use this to advantage. On the other hand, if you don't use a 
download program, and/or don't have much spam (this is useful for people 
using Yahoo etc. who are filtering), then this isn't really necessary. 
Good chapters by the way on viruses, worms, trojans, and other critters.

Game Console Hacking, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, Atari, & Gamepark 32, 
Joe Grand (with Frank Thornton, Albert Yarusso), Syngress. The back says 
"Have Fun While Voiding Your Warranty." I wanted to see this, partly out 
of curiosity (it was offered to me via O'Reilly), and partly out of a real 
desire to take a console apart (again, a project put off for a few 
months). You can find some of this stuff at the Salvation Army, not to 
mention E-Bay, and the very idea of making an Atari 2600PC is really 
appealing. You've already get head-starts with some of the components, 
including case, possibly the power-supply, switches, etc. If you have a 
kid into gaming and soldering, this is a book for him or her. There's good 
stuff, by the way, for digital artists on homebrew game development with 
various platforms.

Building the Perfect PC, Thompson & Thompson, O'Reilly. Yes, a section on 
a 'kick-ass LAN party PC,' among others. The guide has color illustrations 
which are the clearest I've ever seen. I haven't yet built a PC from the 
ground up, but have obviously changed components 'and stuff.' But this 
will allow me to decide, first, on one sort of machine I want, and second, 
how to go about a strategy of construction. The machines range from high- 
performance servers through multi-media machines.

A lot of these books reflect, for me, a lack of community; almost all my 
cultural connections are now online, and in the 'real world,' I'm not 
connected with any institution. There's no tech person in my environment, 
no one gaming, no hackers, etc. So the books serve a very useful function 
- guides to a kind of communal knowledge otherwise unavailable. This goes 
for the pc and console mod books, even the smart home hacking one.

Windows XP Power Hound, Preston Gralla, Pogue/O'Reilly. This book is 
slightly 'below' Hacking Windows XP (the Wiley one) and PC Hacks. If you 
purchase any of these, you should decide on what you're doing. I knew the 
material in the Power Hound work, and had already applied most of the 
stuff (for example TweakUI) to my machine. On the other hand, if you are 
just using WinXP, this is definitely the work for you. What you spend on 
this stuff will honestly come back to you in increased productivity. I 
know this sounds idiotic, but it's amazing how highly responsive machines 
will lower your stress level - or direct it in more productive directions. 
This book as well as Hacking Windows XP, by the way, emphasize benchmarks 
and their use.

What I'm basically saying, for better or worse - and this goes for Mac 
users as well - most people, even most digital artists I know, take their 
machines and form factors for granted. What's there is there, just throw 
some more RAM in, and that's all. When I work them them, I often find 
'messes' all over the place - and slow machines which freeze fairly often. 
If you're using PCs with WinXP I highly recommend - I can't say this too 
often - that you get one or more of these or similar books...

Representing the Republic: Mapping the United States, 1600-1900, John 
Rennie Short, Reaktion, 2001. I have one of Jedidiah Morse's early 
American geographies, from 1796 (third edition). Morse was critical in the 
construct of American (read USA) identity, early on; this is the nation 
looking at itself after a couple of decades. The implications of Short's 
book go beyond the work, to the configuration of ideology itself at the 
heart of Empire. Morse is, of course only one of the geographers covered, 
but the one of most interest to me. The book is illustrated with numerous 
maps and other images.

Performance Art, From Futurism to the Present, RoseLee Goldberg, revised 
and enlarged edition, Abrams, 1988. I love this book because of its 
grittiness. I saw an incredible amount of performance in the 70s, and 
participated in some myself. This book covers that era in general, when 
'performance' as a genre didn't exist, and both audience and performer 
(who might for that matter be one and the same) negotiated space and time, 
role and behavior, etc.; nothing could be taken for granted. Performance 
wasn't even a genre in the making; there had been aktions, actions, 
happenings, theatrical 'events,' etc., but nothing particularly fixed. 
What interests me in this material (besides reminiscence) is the 
centrality of the _body_ to the works - a centrality which gets quickly 
consumed by current technohgizmo. Too many works today occur as if 
concept/ual art and performance hadn't existed - it's as if the wheel has 
to be continually reinvented whenever a new mode of distribution comes 
along. This book only begins to cover the ground, by the way - speaking of 
which, I also picked up

The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt, NYU, 1979 - which, 
at this point, everyone interested in new media, digital art, etc. should 
read - not because he precurses, but because he doesn't. There's a 
recapitulation of the earth, dirt, the symbolic within material 
substrates, that's critical - particularly now, when so much of the 
planet's ecosystems are disappearing. This is another way to go, and to go 
edgy, and it would be fascinating to see this approach combined with 
digital work - without, for once, endless discussions of 'mapping.' - I 
can't believe how well he _writes._ And from this it's an easy go to

Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, Second Edition, edited by 
Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood, Forward! by Edward Abbey, 1990. I was in 
Tasmania years ago, and there was an active ecology movement which went 
beyond protest to destruction. I firmly believe in this - what the main- 
stream media calls 'ecoterrorism,' but which seems really the only way to 
stop development. At this point 4 species disappear from the planet - 4 
SPECIES - PER HOUR; almost all of the larger mammals face extinction in 
the wild (if not altogether), etc. I don't see any point in facing 
developers, poachers, etc., peacefully - and this book gives a point by 
point guide to acts of destruction against machinery, home construction, 
and so forth. I might add, while I applaud these acts, I'm by and large a 
coward; I'm afraid of the police, of jail, torture, beatings. All I can do 
is recommend this - like a lot of the other older books, you could find it 
on, or amazon, etc.

I love the projects of Carnap, Quine, etc., and for this reason, love

Future Pasts, The Analytic Tradition in Twentieth-Century Philosophy, 
edited by Juliet Floyd and Sanford Shieh, Oxford, 2001. This book as a 
prescient series of essays by people like Hintikka (on Ernst Mach), Quine, 
Putnam (on Reichenbach), etc., with an afterword by John Rawls. It's 
wonderful, lively. It covers people like Kripke, Turing, Dewey, Carnap, 
Heidegger (of Being and Time), Husserl, Wittgenstein (Tractatus), etc. I 
love this stuff - the hinge of 19-20-21-century philosophy of math and 
science, both of which are emphasized. It's a good read - I'm particularly 
interested in Carnap's notion of tolerance in relation to mathematical 

Mi Fu, Style and the Art of Calligraphy in North Song China, Peter Charles 
Sturman, Yale, 1997. I love the complexity and intertwined philosophical/ 
aesthetic strands of traditional calligraphy; Mi Fu was a bit wild and 
brilliant, coming after the Tang crystallization. There are copious 
reproductions in the book, and an explanation in the introduction of the 
principles of calligraphy; you can't get too lost here. I recommend this 
to anyone interested in 'why calligraphy' in the first place; it's also 
excellent on issues (such as style and naturalness) in aesthetics.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, any one of a number of editions. Weirdly 
makes a LOT of sense, if only humans could live this way. A greater fun to 
read than I would have thought possible. But I do prefer Epictetus, whose 
Enchiridion is a masterpiece of terseness. I have different translations 
but I've been reading Epictetus, Moral Discourses / Enchiridion and 
Fragments, translated by Elizabeth Carter, Everyman, 1910 (1957 reprint). 
I'm sure there are much more accurate versions today, but this book feels 
right, as does the philosophy. 'In our power are opinion, pursuit, desire, 
aversion, and in one word, whatever are our on actions. Not in our power 
are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are 
not our own actions.' The placement of _body_ is critical. It's easy to 
deconstruct this material; it's much more fascinating to read it at 
length, absorb it and its world-view - I never thought stoicism, if such 
it is, could be so enlightening.

I wanted to read a volume of, or drawing on, the Fundamentalism Project, 
and can recommend, highly

Strong Religion, The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World, Gabriel 
Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan. I'm just reading this now, 
and hence can't review it at length, but it makes incredible theological 
and socio-cultural sense out of the various fundamentalist movements which 
are increasingly occupying 'our' attention. The book works through various 
schemata among other things - the chapter titles - The Enclave Culture; 
Fundamentalism: Genus and Species; Explaining Fundamentalisms: Structure, 
Chance, and Choice; Wrestling with the World: Fundamentalist Movements as 
Emergent Systems; Testing the Model: Politics, Ethnicity, and 
Fundamentalist Strategies; and The Prospects of Fundamentalism - give a 
sense of the whole. I believe books such as this one are critical in our 
re/thinking contemporary culture and the future of the planet (whatever 
happened to 'God is dead'?). The only thing missing for me is a biological 
explanation of fixity or the fetishization of a particular structure - 
what Ruskin and Stendhal in different contexts called 'crystallization.' 
But this is _my_ bias - the belief that any structure which can short- 
circuit self-critique, skepticism, thought itself, actually enhances 
species survival; it's biologically harder to live without God than with 
It. Most of the work I've seen doesn't go this direction, however (Gordon 
Allport touches on it in The Nature of Prejudice, and there have been some 
recent studies which escape me..) -

More later; this is already far too long... (not really, however!) -

- Alan

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