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Reviews Written by
Christopher B. Browne "cbbrowne" (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada)

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Flinx's Folly
Flinx's Folly
by Alan Dean Foster
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 2.72

3.0 out of 5 stars Flinx meets, well, everyone, and becomes the Fifth Element, May 9 2004
This review is from: Flinx's Folly (Hardcover)
I "panned" the previous Flinx book, _Reunion_, as being little more than a placeholder.
This one does a tad better, as it actually is something of a "reunion" with Flinx meeting up with several of the past favorite characters. Unfortunately, it's all pretty rushed.
And the story is being transformed to Flinx as an unwitting "Fifth Element" (ala Luc Besson), albeit without a Gary Oldham to play the central Zorg "bad guy." Well, actually, the "corporate VP" would have fit that fairly well, except that he's a too-easily vanquished monster that started the story masquerading as a thoughtful wannabe-fiance.
Did I mention that the story seems rushed?
I get the sense that Foster isn't really interested in Flinx anymore except as a salable franchise. There's a clear way to progress the story, because there's the "Fifth Element" thing; Flinx as the not-totally-understood weapon against the Ultimate Evil.
Unfortunately, the results aren't as engaging as the earlier books in the "Saga."

Linux Shell Scripting with Bash
Linux Shell Scripting with Bash
by Ken O. Burtch
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 44.67
33 used & new from CDN$ 13.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-motivated guide to use of Bash for scripting, Feb. 20 2004
This is pretty comprehensive book that guides the reader on how to use Bash for a wide variety of purposes.
It is very well-motivated; each chapter introduces the area it examines with an interesting anecdote, and presents a reasonably rich set of examples of how to use Bash along with other Unix tools to solve the problem at hand.
It is not solely about Bash; it shows the use of process control tools like ps, kill, and such, text manipulation tools like grep, sort, cut, sed, and such, and version control using CVS. This is all well and proper: One of the major uses of shell scripting is to paste together other programs, and these examples support that.
Well done...

"Spy Game (Widescreen, Collector's Edition)" (Bilingual)
"Spy Game (Widescreen, Collector's Edition)" (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Robert Redford
Price: CDN$ 9.88
66 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Actually something of a spy story, July 6 2003
It's Nathan Muir's (Redford) last day at the CIA, and his former protege, Tom Bishop (Pitt), has gotten himself caught by the Chinese trying to break someone out of prison.
So begins this interesting movie that goes through the history of Muir teaching Bishop the "rules" of how to live through a career running operations at the CIA.
Unlike the typical "spy flick," this one doesn't involve Muir fighting off a succession of sexy chicks in order to triumph over some chortling villain. He never leaves the office until the very end.
It is entirely entertaining to watch Muir explain his "rules," only to, on his last day, break them, one by one.
Even more entertaining, in a rewatch, is to try to figure out just how many times he speaks bald-faced lies, and, better still, how often the people lied to choose to accept the lies, even when they know better. There are numerous occasions where his rescue attempt could have unravelled if someone found it in their interests to poke holes in his lies.
It's a bit of a period piece; Muir is one of the bloody-handed "operational guys" from the days when the CIA was pretty clear about their need to act on the world stage. His successors are nowhere near as clearly bloody-minded, as the CIA has since moved into more of an "analytical" model. Of course, a Bishop, dead in a Chinese prison, is as dead whichever group leaves him to die...
Also interesting is that Muir presents a pretty strong apologia for doing bloody deeds. His character believes that, nasty or not, they are doing needful things. It is by no means clear that the successors have any better ethics than he had.
The stories about ex-wives keep popping out of the woodwork, supplying considerable humorous material. The REAL story emerges only at the very end, leaving no time to reflect on Muir's REAL character. He behaves throughout as one who well deserves to have wives leaving him, in droves. Reality is that all anyone sees, most of the time, is the facade that Muir wanted them to see, and it's worth reflecting on how different his internal reality is from the impressions you start with.
At the end, the story is a pack of lies, with a few flashes, here and there, of Muir's REAL character. In a sense, he is a failure, since he only rarely gets to express his real beliefs. This is a little like the "About Schmidt" character, who, after years of hiding his true desires, completely fails to express the things he believes truly important.
But unlike Schmidt, Muir does have enough courage to act on his convictions to actually make some difference.

The Art of the Metaobject Protocol
The Art of the Metaobject Protocol
by Gregor Kiczales
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 70.92
22 used & new from CDN$ 55.05

4.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative, but less useful than it could be, March 26 2003
As a presentation of how to implement the Metaobject Protocol, this is about as authoritative a presentation of CLOS as can exist, short of being a formal (dry!) standards document.
Unfortunately, it falls way short in motivating the USE of the MOP. It shows how it is implemented, and has some examples of how to modify its behaviour. Which is wonderfully useful if your interest is in building your own implementation of MOP. It is not nearly so useful if you're trying to figure out how to apply it to less extraordinary purposes.
To that end, Keene's book on CLOS, which demonstrates quite a number of usage examples, is a vital companion...

Reunion: A Pip and Flinx Novel
Reunion: A Pip and Flinx Novel
by Alan Dean Foster
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from CDN$ 1.65

2.0 out of 5 stars Yet Another Pip & Flinx Book, June 18 2002
It's long-awaited, and it brings the agendas of the wide question of "what is Flinx here for?" another step forward.
Unfortunately, it feels like something of a place-holder. It resolves very little, as far as the characters are concerned. Flinx figures out a _little_ more about his family, but that hardly seems to justify a whole novel. He explores an interesting planet, but it seems unlikely that the planet will be of continuing interest. The plants of Midworld apparently get in touch with some other aliens, but none of the characters in the book are aware of this in the slightest; in effect, the _real_ story in the story mostly takes place off-stage.
It would have been nice to have some tension added in involving Flinx being reacquainted with some of the Church characters that we actually _liked_, as opposed to just the dysfunctional family members that are rather unlikable.
Hopefully the next episode will come along sooner, and be a bit more satisfying.

Object-Oriented Programming in Common Lisp: A Programmer's Guide to CLOS
Object-Oriented Programming in Common Lisp: A Programmer's Guide to CLOS
by Sonya E. Keene
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 41.55
20 used & new from CDN$ 23.32

4.0 out of 5 stars A good way to understand "why CLOS?", June 18 2002
This is a nice "tutorial style" walk through much of the functionality of CLOS.
It doesn't get into examples that are of _spectacular_ complexity, either in size or in difficulty of concept, but that strikes me as being just fine. The dialect of CLOS in use predates the final version that was released, so a few examples require a little modification to work with modern Lisp releases.
If you're looking to get into the sophistication of redefining your own metaobject protocols, the MOP book is surely more suitable. But for most of us who just need to figure out what CLOS is good for, this book provides a very nice presentation of that.

Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Widescreen Edition) [Import]
Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Widescreen Edition) [Import]
DVD ~ Ewan McGregor
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 72.03
12 used & new from CDN$ 11.95

2.0 out of 5 stars It's Star Wars, but it doesn't make much sense..., Nov. 15 2001
Lucas certainly developed and used a whole horde of new CGI and other special effects technologies in the making of this; it's too bad that the story has so many holes in it.
The clear purpose of it is to introduce us to "He Who Shall Become Darth Vader."
Unfortunately, rather than creating a cast of characters appropriate to him, it ties huge amounts of the story to the "future" characters. R2D2 and C3PO apparently knew "Darth," as a boy, and he spent some "quality" time on Tatooine. This makes the story of "A New Hope" make a whopping lot _less_ sense. Darth Vader _knows_ the robots; he _knows_ Tatooine; he should even have some bittersweet memories of he and his mother living there. Instead, in IV, he chooses to just _ignore_ all this stuff...
Another thing that _really_ irritates me is the whole "Anakin's Mom" part of the story. After Anakin does so much to help out a Princess who RULES A PLANET, they can't imagine the notion of sending back a "Galactic Express" funds transfer to buy his mother out of slavery?
The waffling over whether Anakin should get trained seems pretty nonsensical, too; if the Jedi Council is so worried about him getting training, it would make sense for them to actually Do Something. Maybe put him to death due to the danger. (Pretty amoral, but we know, what with Parts IV-VI that he's going to kill a whopping lot of people, and help throw the empire into deadly chaos. Nipping him "in the bud" would be pretty logical.) Or even to just say "We'll keep him around, at the Jedi Academy; he'll get a Special Training Course." (That would _actually_ amount to keeping him under guard...)
But instead they propose just tossing him away, right when it's clear that there are Dark Jedi Forces that would doubtless be _fabulously_ interested in such a potentially-powerful apprentice.
And the only way Jar Jar is at _all_ forgiveable is if he proves to be some sort of unconscious "Drunken Jedi Master" that hasn't realized who he actually is...

Dune: House Atreides
Dune: House Atreides
by Brian Herbert
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.40
58 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not up to the Works of the Father, Aug. 22 2001
The Original Dune Series (TODS) contained quite spectacular political complexity, and, over a period of thousands of years, the saga revealed many of the secrets of the Bene Gesseret, Tlielaxu, Harkonnen, and Atreides.
TODS has, throughout, the feeling of being a reflection of a rather "static" set of cultures, where everyone's thinking has been _strongly_ influenced by the thousands-of-years-back cataclysm of the Butlerian Jihad.
In contrast, the recent "Dynamic Duo" seem to be trying to fit today's bits of technological advancements into the 50 years that lie just before the advent of Paul Atreides; the natural result is that it suffers from not Feeling Old. Furthermore, the people in the story clearly don't _believe_ in the evils of things like computing; in "TODS," it's SO ingrained as something passed down for generations that it feels like something resonating in their bones. Instead, there's the "bubbly feeling" in this book (and the sequel, House Harkonnen) that Kevin/Brian would be happy having folks doing web searches and such. That just doesn't fit with the "world view" of the Dune Saga. They _should_ have been exploring what sorts of mental, biological, and political artefacts might be used to overcome the utter lack of automation in a universe where people vigorously rejected it so long ago that memory of it only comes from those with ancient traditions.
This book (and sequel) just don't have the feeling that what people are doing is based strongly on traditions passed down for hundreds or thousands of years. And sadly, none of what's introduced is really good enough to become such a tradition.

by Neal Stephenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.88
86 used & new from CDN$ 1.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Complex, "really techie," savagely witty, June 20 2001
This review is from: Cryptonomicon (Paperback)
If you're interested in computing, cryptography, World War II, freedom of information, with a whiff of conspiracy theory, this is a superb vehicle to reading enjoyment.
It is very slightly less "savagely" witty than some of Stephenson's earlier works [Interface and Cobweb leap to mind], but certainly carries on with the common features of:
- Sympathy towards the "technically knowledgeable";
- At some point, dangerously byzantine political "stuff" happens;

- An largely American perspective on the world tempered with two indirections, on the one hand, recognizing that there are a truly unfortunate number of American bigots, and on the other protagonists that somewhat understand and are sympathetic to foreign cultures;
- A fair bit of nearly "over the top" savage wit;
- Protagonists that are not so sweetly nice that the reader is expected to blindly cheer for them. Sometimes we all act like jerks, and that is manifestly true of Stephenson's characters.
Unlike Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, this story is not a "future culture;" it steps between World War II and a somewhat undefined "around now." Those that expect science fiction to indicate spaceships and Captain Kirk making out with alien women will certainly be disappointed. It's a world that is only a few "twists" different from our own, and the historical junctures aren't particularly obvious.

Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming: Case Studies in Common Lisp
Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming: Case Studies in Common Lisp
by Peter Norvig
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 90.16
30 used & new from CDN$ 44.93

5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Reference on WHY to write good Lisp, June 20 2001
This book is equally excellent regardless of whether you wish to regard it as:
a) A historical study of Artificial Intelligence, with USABLE examples of code, or
b) A book presenting techniques for programming in Common Lisp.
As a reference about Common Lisp, it is certainly lacking, but this is no great problem when both the Common Lisp HyperSpec and Steele's book are readily available in electronic form. It provides something more important: SIGNIFICANT examples, and significant discussions on WHY you would use various Lisp idioms, and, fairly often, discussions on HOW pieces of Common Lisp are likely to be implemented. Its discussion of an implementation of the LOOP macro, for instance, provides a very different point of view than the "references" to LOOP. (Contrast too with Graham's books, which largely deprecate the use of LOOP.)
From an AI perspective, it is also very good, providing WORKING SAMPLES for a whole lot of the historically significant AI problems, including Search, PLANNER, symbolic computation, and the likes.
It would be interesting to see parallel works from the following sorts of perspectives:
- The same sorts of AI problems solved using functional languages (e.g. - ML, Haskell), to allow contrasting the use of those more modern languages. Being more "purely functional" has merits; such languages commonly lack macros, which is something of a disadvantage.
- The use of CL to grapple with some other sorts of applications, notably random access to data [e.g. - databases] and rendition of output in HTML/SGML/XML [e.g. - web server].

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