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Bart Barnard

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Surfaces and Essences
Surfaces and Essences
by Douglas Hofstadter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.25

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much for too little, 1 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Surfaces and Essences (Hardcover)
I wish I could say I was a big fan of Hofstadter. His Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid was one of the first real books I read and put me on the path of philosophy and computer science, his work with Dennet has been a guide throughout my study years, and his Le Ton Beau De Marot is one of the best books on translation that I know of. However, this latest tome (which at almost six hundred pages one is justified in calling it) does not live up to the standard that Hofstadter has set for himself.

The premise of this book is that analogy (metaphors) are at the core of all thinking. As is usual with Hofstadter's work, this premise is tested and demonstrated using linguistics and introspection. Giving examples of the way people communicate, and thereby often misinterpret one another, Hofstadter and Sander show that most if not all language-usage depend on the mutual understanding of analogies. Those analogies in itself are fluid, so that concept-building is an organic process which is in itself influenced by analogy.

Though interesting in itself, the book could have been at least half its size shorter, had not the authors decided to come up with example after example of the point they are trying to make at a specific place. On nearly every page we see examples of situations that are, in the end, not all the difficult to understand or recognise. And those examples are in themselves more often than not described with too much (unnecessary) detail.

In fact, the book they should have come up with would be not that much different from Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (1980). Given the fact that on page 63 they actually refer to this work, it is obvious that they know about it. It is at least strange that Hofstadter and Sander do not give more credit where credit is due.

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
by Hubert Dreyfus
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, promising, 31 Dec. 2013
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Theirs is a noble goal: to give their readers some sense of meaning-giving in our technological driven, meaningless world by reading the western classics. However, they do not really succeed in explaining in what way those classics can help us in our contemporary nihilism, or why exactly those classics were chosen. Rather, they use those classics to describe the radical difference between our empty world and that of Homer, and to give an argument of how that change came about.

That arguments reaches its pinnacle in the penultimate chapter on Melville's Moby Dick. By far the longest chapter in the book (47 pages with 31 pages average per chapter), the authors are clearly of the opinion that this book is the locus classicus for the description of the transition from a theistic to an atheistic worldview - half a century before Nietzsche announced the death of God. Though interesting in itself, the analysis does little more to help us give meaning to our lives than give a lot of parables, ideas, and metaphors which can help us to make sense of our position in an empty world - but not to give meaning to it.

The best part in my opinion is the Conclusion. Here, the authors describe how to excel in some activity (their example is sports) indeed can give meaning to our lives. Like the craftsman who looks at trees and wood with a specific eye, we all should excel in what we do and in this way let specific parts of the world shine to us.

In short, this is an interesting book, though not of the depth and thoroughness that we have come to expect from Hubert Dreyfus. But than again, the book is perhaps targeted at a different audience.

Beginning iOS 6 Development: Exploring the iOS SDK
Beginning iOS 6 Development: Exploring the iOS SDK
by David Mark
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introductory textbook, 30 Jun. 2013
Although I am an experienced developer (more than twenty years experience in a variety of languages and frameworks) I have always thought the learning curve for objective-C and iPhone development too steep for my taste. The few times I have made an 'Hello World' under the guide of introductory textbooks I concluded that perhaps this was a technique that I was growing too old for. I am happy to say that this book has changed that grim future.

Instead of delving right into the aspects that make the iPhone the iPhone (like responsive design, multiple orientations and location based services), this books starts out by describing the most fundamental building blocks of iOS, like outlets and actions. From then on it's on to ever increasing complex UI-elements, starting at buttons, going from pickers to tables and subviews. Giving practical hands-on code to make the things work you are offered the opportunity to get to know your way around xcode, its quirks and balances and different aspects that make it so different from Eclipse or vi. More complex topics, such as data persistence and using the camera and sensors, are introduced beginning the second half of the book, so only after you know your way around.

Coming from a background in software-analysis, I have to say that some of the code in the book should perhaps be organized in a different manner (such as to reduce code duplication and complexity and to get rid of those switches), but for demonstration purposes these minor deficiencies do not stand in the way of getting the message across - actually doing some refactoring on some parts of the code based allowed me to get more understanding of what was going on.

I did this book in two weekends flat, typing out (and eventually understanding) every line of code and now I feel comfortable enough to start developing my own apps (I have a need for one or two, which is why I restarted learning this in the first place) and will definitely be going over the examples in this book again in the process. Also I will make this book obligatory for the next semester, when I will be teaching about Web and Mobile Development at our university.

Fatman FRED iTube Red-i with Speakers
Fatman FRED iTube Red-i with Speakers

4.0 out of 5 stars Very nice home set with just one flaw, 27 Oct. 2011
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Two years ago I decided to sell or give away most of my CD's and vinyl, determined as I was that all I needed to listen to music was a computer with a big hard drive and a good stereo-set. At work, I have the Harman Kardon Soundsticks , but at home I still had the stereo set I used to play my CD's on. As a result, all I ever did was listen to the radio, as it was too cumbersume to keep connecting the Macbook Air to this set using very long audio cables.

After seeing the Fatman Fred iTube in operation, I decided that this was the mising link between the music on the hard drive and the stereo set at my home. I bought an iPod Touch, put the most interesting music on it (plus two apps that enable me to keep listening to the radio stations), bought a Fatman iTube amplifier and connected the two. Now I have all my favourite music at my fingertips.

The sound that comes from this little set is amazing. A very deep sound that has almost the whole spectrum of at least my ears; it is 'warm' and has the ability to fill my whole room with the music. I can be played rather loud without any distortion, but also has a very low starting volume.

There is just one flaw on this set: the speakers are not switched behind a relais, causing them to 'plop' directly when the power is set on and to do some scratching and scrolling a few minutes after the power is set off again, due to the discharging of the two tubes. Apart from that, I am very satisfied with this new addition to my household.

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