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

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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