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Primoz Peterlin

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully romantic, 23 Jun. 2000
This review is from: BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (Audio CD)
This is the record that started all the recent Cuban craze. A simplified version of the story: Son, danzon and bolero were played in thriving clubs in Havana before WWII and in years following it. Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and the rest were masters of the art. Then in 1959 Castro liberated - or invaded, as you like it - Cuba and virtually isolated it from the rest of the world. And while outside the music became MTV-ized and globalized to the point where the music produced in Sweden is indistinguishable from that made in California, the guys in Cuba continued to do what they did best: they played son, danzon and bolero - all until Ry Cooder discovered them in 1997 and turned them into a success that vastly overshadowed his own musical efforts.

Actually, getting them together required some detective work, as some of them have already given up their musical careers. Hardly surprising: Ruben Gonzales is 80, and Compay Segundo is 92. Buena Vista Social Club - named after an actual club in Havana, demolished already for decades - provides an anthological overview of styles played 50 years ago, and the sound you might recognize on your father's (or grandfather's) LP's. Well, almost - Ry Cooder felt the urge to put some personal touch on the whole thing, in form of slide guitar (cf. "Orgullecida"). I wish he could resist the temptation. Still, it's a very beautiful and romantic record, one that makes you ask your sweetheart for a dance.

CD comes with a 48-page booklet, which includes bilingual (Spanish/English) lyrics and some accompanying text. If you like this record, you might also want to check the solo albums that followed. There is also a pseudo-documentary movie by the same name, directed by Wim Wenders. And, go and check whether Afro-Cuban All Stars are touring somewhere near you.

UNIX  PowerTools
UNIX PowerTools
by Tim O'Reilly
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can only afford one book on Unix, this is the one, 2 Jun. 2000
This review is from: UNIX PowerTools (Paperback)
I do not know about you, but for me, a book has to be pretty darn exceptional to persuade me to buy a second edition of a book which I already own the first. Unix Power Tools is one such book. It is simply packed with tons of useful tips which the authors have accumulated over decades of using Unix, and is a sort of `crème de la crème' of O'Reilly reference books.

Praise aside, the book is not for everyone. It is an intermediate level reference, not an introductory tutorial. If your problems are like "How do I delete a file?", you should read something else first, get acquainted with Unix, and then return to it. If, however, the questions you face are more like "How do I delete a file with a null name?", then this is exactly the book for you. Unless there is a real Unix wizard around you, this book is likely to earn you this title in your environment.

The second edition focuses on POSIX systems rather than on SysV/BSD, uses Bash and Tcsh instead of Sh, Ksh and Csh, and has moved from Awk to Perl. The two-colour printing is gone, though. Fortunately, the superb index - one of the best I have seen - is still here, and so are the cross-references in the text. Accompanying CD-ROM might be essential if you are living in the mountains of Tajikistan, but anybody connected to the Internet will probably prefer to download newer versions of software on-line.

by Dava Sobel
Edition: Paperback

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The birth of the chronograph, 17 May 2000
This review is from: Longitude (Paperback)
Latitude and longitude are fundamentally different. Rotation of Earth endows our planet with an axial symmetry. So while finding latitude is relatively easy, determining longitude is not. Save the moon and the planets, the night sky looks exactly the same if you travel along the parallel 15 degrees to the east east, or simply wait for an hour. Without an accurate clock and a sextant, this made navigation on the open sea a black magic. For any expanding overseas empire, this was serious matter. Serious enough that the British Parliament offered a high prize -- several millions dollars in today's money -- in 1714 for solving the longitude problem.

By 1730, the world still did not have any practical and reliable method of finding longitude. By 1760, it had two. One of them, backed by Britain's the most influential astronomers of the time, included a quadrant (later sextant) and tabulated ephemerides. With them, a skilled navigator could have calculated its position within hours, in clear weather. The other method required only an accurate clock. If the clock can tell you your home time, you only need to determine your local noon -- when the shadows are the shortest -- and the difference between the two tells you your longitude. This method was backed by a lone clockmaker, John Harrison. This book is about him, about his life-long pursuit of a reliable, seaworthy chronometer, and his battle with the scientific establishment.

Eighteen-century mechanics, while far from trivial, is intuitive enough to make explaination of the internal workings of a shiny brass clockwork a wonderful topic. With some diagrams and explanations of Harrison's ingenious inventions, this book could easy become any engineer's dream. Perhaps the illustrated edition (ISBN 0802713440) comes closer to this ideal. Ms. Sobel, although allegedly a science writer, was more interested in the socio-political aspects of the story, and hardly touches the engineering part. Deliberately neglecting the engineering audience, the book is far from being a historical scholarly text either. She writes in an easy-to-read, journalese style. Fair enough, some thirty references are listed in the end for anyone willing to pursue the topic further. So while you cannot claim you've learned a lot of science or history, Longitude still makes a great beach reading. And of course, reading this book is a must for anyone planning to visit the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, where the clocks are exhibited.

The LATEX Companion (Addison-Wesley Series on Tools and Techniques for Computer T)
The LATEX Companion (Addison-Wesley Series on Tools and Techniques for Computer T)
by Frank Mittelbach
Edition: Paperback

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All the things you wish were written in Lamport's guide, 2 May 2000
First, a remark on the title: this is not a companion to the program, but rather a companion to some other book on LaTeX you should have. I bought this book back in 1994, when it was the first book on LaTeX2e, and by now it is thoroughly worn (though the binding is still doing its job well :). However, at the time I bought it, I have already been using LaTeX for six years, and have read Lamport's guide (which is charming, and also the book The Companion intends to accompany) and Kopka and Daly's (which is better organized and more complete).

The LaTeX Companion is something between an advanced course tutorial (could just as well be named Selected Chapters from LaTeX) and a reference book. None of them was ever aimed at beginners, and this one is no exception. LaTeX comes with a rich legacy of add-on macro packages doing various useful and nifty things with lists, floats, tables, formulas, graphics, fonts, indices and bibliographies. This book covers some of them. I would love to see second edition of this book covering more of them. There is a treasure hidden at CTAN, but it is usually hard to find it. The examples are well chosen and it is easy to learn from them. I am less pleased with the index. At 36 pages, it looks very promising, but it rarely led me to the place I sought. During years of use, I mostly figured out where in a book things are, and stopped using it.

Despite the confusing index, the book is worth its (admittedly high) price and you will probably learn many useful things from it. The idea of a thin tutorial and a partly-overlapping "companion book" doesn't appeal to me, though. Personally, I would prefer one single book with a complete treatment of the topic.

Sed & Awk
Sed & Awk
by Dale Dougherty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.50

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Indispensible tools for text manipulation, 2 May 2000
This review is from: Sed & Awk (Paperback)
Unix has earned itself quite a reputation for its potent tools, used for batch editing of text files (like program output). Sed and Awk are two of these tools. Sed is a direct descendent of Ed, the original Unix line editor, which employs <I>regular expressions</I>, a powerful method for description of patterns in text, for operations like substitute, append or delete. Awk is a complete scripting language with programming structures like conditionals, loops, functions etc., developed in 1970's by Alfred Aho, Brian Kernighan and Peter Weinberger (hence A-W-K). The trio has also written a book on Awk.

Dale Dougherty (in the 2nd edition with Arnold Robbins, maintainer of GNU Awk and author of several more books on Awk programming language) have made a good job in making a thoroughly readable tutorial on Sed and Awk. However, it remains a mystery to me how they succeeded to fill no less than 407 pages with it. Mind you, Sed and Awk are not really some big monsters. There exist something like two dozens of operators in Sed (most of them you will probably never use), and the syntax of Awk mimics those of C programming language, so it is likely that you know it already. Once you grok the idea of regular expressions, you should become a proficient user of Awk in about 30 minutes.

In conclusion, go buy the book if your need to manipulate text files on Unix and you think you need a lengthy tutorial with a gentle learning curve. Otherwise, short references on Awk and Sed, like the ones in <I>Unix Power Tools</I> and a bunch of examples showing some tricks you might not think of, will probably be more useful. In addition, it is good to know that during the nineties, much of the focus has drifted from Awk to Perl, so you might consider a book on Perl as well.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Linux
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Linux
by Manuel Alberto Ricart
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for beginners, too shallow for others, 2 May 2000
Way into late nineties, most books on Linux still read like this: Here is Linux, which is zillion times better than MS-DOS, and here is the command shell, which is so much more powerful than COMMAND.COM in MS-DOS, then here are X Windows, which are like MS Windows in DOS, only better... A reader less acquainted with the history of computing might have asked "Wow, that's cool, but what is this MS-DOS thing you keep mentioning?"

When the first edition of this book appeared in late 1998, Manuel Alberto Ricart was among the first authors to admit that Windows 95 and Windows 98 actually *did* happen. Rather than comparing bare-bones Linux with a historic relic, he instead chose a decent peer for a modern Windows environment: Linux with a desktop environment KDE.

Mr. Ricart starts with the elements of the KDE desktop, spends considerable time explaining basic operations with it, then proceeds to the programs of KDE base suite: file manager, text editor etc. The inevitable command line only comes in in part two. After explaining the basic commands -- file utilities -- some Unix concepts like pipes and regular expressions are discussed, while the programming in command shell is omitted. The section on programming editors Vi and Emacs is probably too short to be useful. The last part, part three, deals with the system administration tasks. Installation of Linux is added as an appendix.

What is the advantage of using command shell despite the existance ofgraphical interface? Mr. Ricart unfortunately cannot give a convincing answer, although it is probably clear to every second reader -- command shell contains a powerful macro language, which is superb for performing repetitive tasks. This is a pity - spending 30-40 more pages on the Bash programming would actually give a meaning for including the complete Part 2. But I guess there has to be something idiotic in each of the books of Complete Idiot's series, right?

Leaving this aside, the book is perhaps the best introduction to Linux for beginners. The Caldera Open Linux distribution that comes with the book has allegedly the most user-friendly installation program -- unless you have some unfortunate exotic hardware, with which it won't work. Bear in mind though that every Linux CD included in a book is likely to be one year old or more when it arrives in your hands, and one year is a long time in Linux development. So the system you have just installed is already outdated... So watch the Web to find out what is really going on.

The Evolution of Cooperation
The Evolution of Cooperation
by Robert Axelrod
Edition: Paperback

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can cooperation emerge among egoistic individuums?, 2 May 2000
Sometimes, the individual benefit seems to conflict with the benefit of the community as a whole, even though the community includes this very individuum. One such example has been formulated as the Prisonner's Dilemma: two suspects, A and B, are arrested, and kept separated so that they cannot communicate. If they continue to cooperate, they will be both sentenced to one year. However, if suspect A cooperates, but suspect B defects, A is going to be sentenced to five years, and suspect B will be released. Vice versa, if B cooperates and A defects, A will be released and B sentenced to five years. Finally, if both defect, they will both be sentenced to three years each.

It is clear that the best solution for both of them is cooperation. On the other hand, each individual is also tempted to maximize his own individual benefit. And each of them benefits most if he decides to defect, which in turn brings the worst possible outcome for both (six years total). So one-shot Prisonner's Dilemma rarely leads to cooperation. Now, what if the very two chaps are later arrested again? Will they cooperate when given another chance? And if they know they will face the same situation every five years? Professor Axelrod tested the iterated Prisonner's Dilemma with computer programs, and investigated under which circumstances cooperation can emerge.

The book is nicely scattered with fragments of game theory and examples from world politics. All in all, as Richard Dawkins has commented in the foreword to the Penguin edition of this book, in breathes with optimism, and is a delight to read. Still, it has one problem, and actually shares it with Dawkins: the book reaches its climax right at the beginning. The book starts with a strong and very convincing idea, but later fails to keep the same pace of dynamic. The idea is splendid, but the structure of the book could be improved.

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