TODO: ++++ excellent review of early science, and why Western science is different +++ very good start +++ strong narrative, well read ++ interesting theoTODO: ++++ excellent review of early science, and why Western science is different +++ very good start +++ strong narrative, well read ++ interesting theories about the spread of science after the Spanish conquest by Moors (or, if you prefer, the inaptly named Dark Ages) + interesting points about modern science -- I missed somehow the transition between monasteries and universities. Is it that the author does not actually have a good theory for this transition? (Or, likely, it's me.) - lingers towards the end ... the topics of astronomy and medicine could be pet peeves of the author?...more
Overall: 5*. Combined with the magic of real-life, present-day Andalusia, this was a fantastic book to read. The depth of information, the broadness of cultural reference, and the quality of the writing make for an excellent history of the region. Highly recommended!
Barry begins with an short summary, then continues with a truly interesting and well-written early history of the region, starting with early settlements, then going through Roman to Visigoth Iberia. The book continues with detailed accounts of the main events in the region (conquest by Arabs with Berber and other troops, the Umayyad/Almoravid/Almohad Caliphates, the breakdowns into taifas, the Nasrid Granada and the Spanish Reconquista), and concludes with the long and dark aftermath of the Spanish pogroms and eventual expulsion of Jews and Muslims from the region.
Excellent coverage of important sites (now touristic targets), including Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Merida, and Almeria, but also Malaga, and various fortresses and castles. The book led to the stay of an extra day, and to an unplanned (and worthwhile) visit to Almodovar del Rio and to Madinat Al-Zahra, nearby Cordoba.
I also particularly enjoyed the excellent explanation of the interplay tribe-church-state in dark and medieval ages, in Iberia and (more thinly) elsewhere around it. Equally, I have read with interest the excellent analysis of political game, including religious meaning of various actions. Without these two important elements, the history of the region would be difficult to understand, and, for me, the local culture would remain incomprehensible. Why was the Cordoban Mosque built? Why was Madinat Al-Zahra pillaged and Al-Madina Al-Zahira razed? Why did Christian and Arab kingdoms switch allegiance, and fight alongside the religious opposite? Why were pogroms and expulsions taking place, and what was their cultural and economic outcome? etc.
I appreciated, but could not possibly like, the material on the main atrocities, on both sides. Although occupying a modest size in the book, the material is descriptive, and presents well the different horrors occurring under both Islamic and Hispanic occupation of the land. (Turns out medieval times led to Nazi-like atrocities.)
The writing is truly excellent. It is rare to find a history book that is both accessible and informative, and it is rare to find a good presentation of a history that cover a large geographical areas and time spans (readers like me do not have the spatio-temporal references that would allow following the dry text). This book avoids all these issues. The book is accessible to the beginner, especially in the first chapters. The text is accompanied by images illustrating the architectural and cultural artifacts of the era and region. Barry does an exceptional job sorting out and explaining the different actors in this tragedy, on all sides, including how the figures are connected (by family, enmity, or common roots). Without this, the reader could be simply overwhelmed by the avalanche of relevant political and religious figures. There is good coverage of folklore, gossip, legends, which leads to much better familiarity with the region and, for me, to richer visiting experience.
The only negative points are related to the depth of material on science, which is explainable by the size of the book and by the relative lack of interest in it of the general audience, and the lack of more frequent geo-political maps, especially since the polities in al-Andalus changed hands so often. (Several maps are provided, but I could have used more.)
Enough said. Recommended for everyone with an interest in the history of Europe and Arab people. ...more
I got this during a trip to Berlin, while searching for information about the Communist (East) German regime. Alltag in der DDR: so haben wir gelebt iI got this during a trip to Berlin, while searching for information about the Communist (East) German regime. Alltag in der DDR: so haben wir gelebt is a photo-diary, photo-travelogue covering the regrowth period of East Germany (1949-1971). Manfred Beier, photo enthusiast, collected in spite of the regime an astonishingly large collection of photographs, which he has also meticulously labeled; in total, over 60,000 archived pictures. His son is presenting here a selection, with photos covering family life, school, travel in various places and cities, work, free time, and the capital city (East) Berlin.
Overall, interesting to see, but with too few explanations of what the pictures show and with no analysis. This is raw material of importance, with strong similarities of what one would expect to see in any historical footage of the period in any of the countries and regions part of the Western border of the Communist block....more
Imperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns intImperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns into a multi-trip travelogue Ryszard Kapuściński captures the essence of the regime: the corruption, the decay, the bureaucracy, the totalitarian state, but also the beautifully diverse (and thoroughly enslaved and oppressed) people. This dystopian journalism, for modern Russia (1930s through 1990s) is a dystopian and failed state, is made palatable by Kapuściński's ability to tell stories, to blend humour and unexpected anecdote in the darkest of tales. How to move an oversized bust of Lenin into your room and why this is a sure way to prison? Etc.
Overall, a must-read for everyone wanting to understand Russia. Imperium is brilliant analysis coated in excellent writing, a masterclass in realpolitik in understandable terms.
TODO: about Stalin, Beria, Khrushchev,..., Gorbachev. About the population of Siberia. About the planned conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc. About the starvation of millions in Ukraine. About the forced migration of millions. About the murder of intellectuals. About the depredation of Turkestan and its split into five countries. About Moscow, Novgorod, Petersburg. About Baltic states and Belorussia. About the tragedy of conflict set in advance by Russia, to enable it to intervene and occupy later.
The brilliant stories. The brilliant analysis. The brilliant feeling of "this journalist gets it."...more
Part auto-biography, part collection of short columns about cycling (interviews, opinions, the occasional distraction), Gepakt is Mart Smeets' detractPart auto-biography, part collection of short columns about cycling (interviews, opinions, the occasional distraction), Gepakt is Mart Smeets' detraction to his own book De Lance factor. Why a detraction? Because Mart Smeets, a respected figure in the Dutch sports media and a long-lasting leading figure in NOS's De Avondetappe, has written kindly about Lance Armstrong just before the latter's admission of systematic doping.
Overall, I found the book too shallow, too opinionated, too poorly structured to like. But, as always with Martje, full of good banter. Too bad the topic is so serious.
Gepakt starts with a discussion about the role of Mart Smeets in the aftermath of Lance's revelations -- retracting the book (from the nomination to a prestigious Dutch literature award, no less), hiding from the media for a while, being subject to criticism and sometimes even aggression for much longer. Mart claims not having known, not having been able to know, and having fallen for the "he looked me in the eyes and told me he has not doped!" This bio theme is recurrent in his writing, sometimes benign, as when Mart emphasizes his own role in uncovering other cases of doping, sometimes in the form of an aggressive "but why didn't the other media reporters find it?" It's all good, but not the reason I bought the book for.
What I did want to read about it Mart Smeets take on the generalized, systemic doping (and other forms of cheating) in the peloton. There is plenty of material there, including short stories on Zabel, Contador, Riccardo Ricco, Mario Cipolinni, Steven de Jongh, Rasmussen and Rabobank, Franck Schleck, George Hincapie, and Lance Armstrong. But nothing out of ordinary, nothing we wouldn't know about. Perhaps only the (unproven) suspicions about the political reason for which Lance was struck down and about technical doping committed by Fabian Cancellara. There is also material that could be a short history of cycling, focused on the Dutch teams, and anecdotes about some of the greater cyclists who were never caught (in particular Indurain, but also Cadel Evans)....more
I read Game Sound by Karen Collins in a rush, so maybe my review is too harsh: I wanted to understand how sound is produced for (computer and video) gI read Game Sound by Karen Collins in a rush, so maybe my review is too harsh: I wanted to understand how sound is produced for (computer and video) games, how different game genres typical for indie game dev can use sound, what are the typical processes for outsourcing sound production, and what are the main free tools I could use in a start-up or student setting.
Overall, I found answers for roughly a quarter from all my questions, but also found an interesting section on procedural sound generation.
On the positive side, the book covers an interesting and necessary set of topics: Chapters 1-4 set the problem and cover the history of game sound (a bit shallow); Chapter 5 presents the main process for producing game sound (similar but not identical to film sound production); Chapter 6 discusses the inter-licensing of doing between games and the proper music industry (very, very dry); Chapter 7 (mistitled to seem broad, vs the actual content) discussed mainly immersion and why it is not easy to achieve with traditional methods; Chapter 8 (the best, in my opinion) discusses the need for compositional approaches, especially procedural, for game sound, and surveys many previous and current techniques in this area; and Chapter 9 concludes.
I also liked the references, although not so many that I found new (so, my fault). I found really useful material in the chapter about procedural sound generation, so this explains my overall positive rating (which goes contrary to the overall tone of my review).
On the negative side, besides the imbalanced writing style (the dry passages do not match the otherwise good technical writing), the coverage of the subject is imbalanced and often plain shallow. A few examples: a few games, all big-budget and corresponding to AAA titles, are used in most (if not all) explanations; although Chapter 7's title seems to indicate that "genre" will be covered extensively, there is little beyond MMORPG, action, and FPS games; etc. The consequence of this imbalance is that very popular game genres, from casual to action-RTS (MOBAs, including DotA2), are omitted; there is also, for my personal curiosity, the issue of not answering to my main questions.
Other issues, such as the shallow treatment of the material in tables, and the scarcity of quantified elements (sizes, counts outer prettiest, breakdowns of expected durations for various production steps, rates of completion or other metrics of success, etc.) make this text perhaps less suitable for learning about the actual production of sound. It may also prevent even drier text at points, so perhaps it is to much to ask.
To conclude: a good, no-frills, at points dry and at others shallow introductory course....more
I've read about high-frequency trading (HFT) when the New York Times started to be interested in them; perhaps around 2009-10. I could not easily findI've read about high-frequency trading (HFT) when the New York Times started to be interested in them; perhaps around 2009-10. I could not easily find much material about them, until Michael Lewis published his Flash Boys, early 2014. This is a tabloid-style book about a truly epic topic: HFT is a tech-based approach for trading, which makes the fastest rich (you would expect the market would reward the smartest, in the long run).
Overall, it's the best material I've found on the topic. There are also excellent references, so even more to find out. If only the writing style was not so tabloid-like!
On the positive side, there is much info about HFT, first from a technical perspective, but also looking at the strategy game of the main investors, banks, and middlemen. We learn about the importance of a microsecond, the way to gain it via fiber and microwave communication, the fast algorithms and the trading software. There is much on infrastructure as a service, which is leased by big banks to HFT irrespective of how this would skew the market (the fastest, here the one leasing the computer closest (in networking terms) to the market's computers, always wins). We see a corrupt world that writes its own rules and a government-appointed supervisor that colludes with the firms it's supposed to supervise (see the cliffhanger at the end, about the owners of the microwave array - - Gizmodo's popular analysis). We see big banks playing against its customers in self-owned trading pools. We learn the basic tactics HFT employ to scalp the market. What I liked most was the rather technical analysis of why HFT actually does not increase the liquidity of the market, at least not in a way beneficial to anyone but the HFT shops. Good stuff!
Now, the writing. Its gripping and the pace is in general quite fast, but this is for me the end of the positives. There's too much speculation (sic!), there's too much hatchet job (all HFT traders are bad... except when they meet with Michael, after which they suddenly become clean because they did not understand what they were doing to the market in the first place), there's too many weak similes and metaphors. I could have enjoyed a shorter, crisper treatment of this story, but I've struggled finding the motivation to finish this one (not happening often to me).
For the really negatives... The most annoying was the story of Serge Aleynikov, the Goldman Sachs programmer who got jailed for stealing Goldman trading code (software secrets, I guess), then got acquitted, then got in trouble again for the same facts, then... As a fellow developer (a decade ago, but still there as an arm-chair amateur), I can sympathize with Serge's plight. I can even put up with the "monstrous conspiracy" theory; after all, Serge did spent years in prison for something that got blown over at the trial by Goldman's conniving lawyers and company henchmen. But the argument that stealing the code could not have helped Serge, should he have tried to capitalize on it? Hmhmhm. And it's not the only time when Michael gets the tech world wrong, dead wrong. Because HFT is mainly about tech, this greatly diminished for me the pleasure of reading the book and the credibility of its bank-related claims....more
TODO: +++ what a truly amazing book! +++ the comprehensive survey of over a hundred years of scientific progress is pure delight (250 pages of fast-pacTODO: +++ what a truly amazing book! +++ the comprehensive survey of over a hundred years of scientific progress is pure delight (250 pages of fast-paced discovery) ++ the coverage of a complex, time- and space-distributed, engineering project, which culminated in the routine production of nuclear weapons ++/- the characterization of so many important scientists, politicians, and army officers (perhaps less the Freudian analysis) ++ the excellent analysis of scientific, political, and military events, fortuitous and planned +++ how the atomic bomb was made in the US +++ how the Nazi failed ++ how the 'race' went on in other places ++ the analysis of the misunderstanding, by the US Army, of the science behind the bomb (and the implications of this) + the interplay between politicians and scientists + why Hiroshima, of all places? Why Nagasaki, for the second blast? +++/--- the description of the way the US took the decision to drop the bomb: so many dry, cynical arguments, culminating in the inhuman "we have to justify the immense cost" - (the book is indeed not perfect) I would have liked to know what happened afterwards with the main protagonists (at least the leading 10-15 scientists) -- the book drags on and on in its second half, when dry process meets cynical politics and army stupidity. --- the description of the horrors of the atomic bomb. I'm not sure all the raw and gory accounts were necessary for this book, when so many of the alternatives were relatively glanced over....more