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Robert Gamble (Falmouth, MA United States)

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Eyre Affair
Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde
Edition: Paperback
126 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Very fun book, but not his best..., April 19 2004
This review is from: Eyre Affair (Paperback)
Well, I did it again. I didn't get into "Star Trek" until "Star Trek III". The first Star Wars movie I saw was "Return of the Jedi", followed by "Empire Strikes Back". I read "Life, the Universe, and Everything" first in the Hitchhiker's Trilogy (of what, 5 books now?) I picked up "Lost in a Good Book" at the recommendation of a friend, even though I was unable to get "The Eyre Affair" at the same bookstore (it was showing in the database, but not on the shelves... oddly appropriate for the series).
What this reinforced was the following:
A) "Lost in a Good Book" was an _excellent_ novel.
B) "The Eyre Affair" is merely a very good one.
It seems that Jasper wasn't quite sure of the writing style he wanted to use in "The Eyre Affair", and while he doesn't do it often, there are switches to 3rd person viewpoints involving people not near the usual 1st person protagonist. These are somewhat jarring as I prefer a book to stay in the same voice throughout. The overall tone is a bit more serious also than his second book, and I found I much preferred the breezier style in "Lost in a Good Book".
Nevertheless, "The Eyre Affair" is a wonderfully fresh and unique style that isn't categorized easily. Alternate history, time travel, detective thriller, humor, romance elements, horror, are all present. The fun part of it all is that even someone who hasn't read the books/poetry referred to in the story can still somehow understand what the 'inside jokes' might be (warning, spoiler in the next part):
For instance, Thursday Next changes the ending of Jane Eyre by her actions within the book itself. Well... she changes it in _her_ world, with camps falling into "The change was for the better" or those who despise her because of it. In actuality, she changes it to match with our reality. Yet, even never having read Jane Eyre, I somehow got the impression that that's what happened.
Simply put, in spite of some growing pains for the series, this is still a quite fun novel which can be enjoyed on a variety of levels.

Exotica (Widescreen)
Exotica (Widescreen)
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 123.16
12 used & new from CDN$ 17.95

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shallow to deep., April 13 2004
This review is from: Exotica (Widescreen) (DVD)
One has to wonder if those who rated this movie poorly 'got it'. I gave this to a co-worker and he was highly confused at the end because he missed a critical link. For myself, I'm not sure what I expected. I knew I liked Mia Kirshner, and the pick-up of the DVD in a bargain bin was a "what the heck" purchase though I'd read reviews that seemed to promise a dark, disturbing, thought provoking movie.
Well, the packaging, as alluded to in the description, makes this seem like a standard erotic thriller. The addition of much of the action taking place in a strip club only seems to reinforce this as being standard, even shallow, fare. It's anything but. It might not be believable as a story, but the characters themselves are. Not only that, but fittingly enough, the shallowest seeming character through much of the film turns out to be potentially the most complex. It wasn't until after the end credits had rolled, and while still wrapping my mind around the whole canvas of the movie, it clicked as to why the character may have acted in a certain way.
I'll add a disclaimer here for anyone interested in the movie. If you are at all squeamish about the concepts of pedophelia, homosexuality, strip clubs, etc... well, just be aware that you might feel highly uncomfortable. I only plead discomfort to the first and parts were painful to watch even though nothing explicitly happens (and as is the case of the whole movie, nothing is anywhere near as simple or obvious as it first appears).
Highly recommended if you want a thought provoking, dark movie that at times makes you do a mental doubletake.

Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
by Martin Fowler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 69.58
52 used & new from CDN$ 45.52

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on a variety of levels., Feb. 13 2004
First, a bit of information about where I'm coming from. 10 years ago I came away with a Computer Science minor but never really utilized the programming skills I'd learned in any of my subsequent jobs (Marine Biology). However, I did dabble in teaching myself C++ and loved the concept of Object Oriented programming. Recently I landed a job working with IDL (Interative Data Language - NOT Corba IDL) which was originally designed to create quick 2D and 3D plots and images for scientists. While still primarily a scientist's language, it has been adding more and more features, including Object Oriented support.
So this means, I'm now a programmer. My new boss really wants almost everything done as an OO design, which I was more than happy about. However, much of my work will be to modify/extend old code which is in every form from procedural to pseudo-OO (uses a few objects here and there but is still mostly procedural). I originally convinced the boss to pick up this book by pointing out the section on converting Procedural Code to OO. Turns out this section is very short, but gives an overview of how to do it using the other refactorings in the book. So it's helpful there.
One place I haven't seen it mentioned in many reviews is the benefit this book can have for someone new to programming professionally (note, I do NOT mean to imply that this is a beginner programmer's book, you should have a good understanding of OO programming already). It has already had many benefits for me:
1. Smells in Code: I love this section. As everywhere in the book, it applies directly to poring through old code and picking out the 'smells' present that indicate poorly structured code. But it's also as valuable in pointing out what to watch for as you write a new program. The book does advocate a design/refactor approach, and this is the best example of it. As you design, you notice one of the 'smells' creep into your code, and you can refactor it then and there. This has been of immense value to me in my first programming projects.
2. Advocation of testing: I already have Kent Beck's "Test Driven Development" and utilized some concepts from it, but "Refactoring" also talks about testing, and it seems to flow much better for me in Fowler's book as far as understanding how to use tests. It 'clicked' when he mentioned that most of the time spent creating a program wasn't design/programming, but rather tracking down a bug. Combining quick and frequent tests on new refactorings (or just new bits of code added in) focuses the programmer very swiftly on just what went wrong. The longest I've ever spent puzzling out a bug so far on my first major project has been 30 minutes, and that's because I forgot a return statement. As soon as I got up, took a break and sat back down it was obvious. Most other bugs have been along the lines of "run the test, watch it crash, fix within 2-5 minutes".
3.Ideas on how to structure code I haven't written yet: Maybe "Design Patterns" is a better book for this, but everytime I've looked at it, it overwhelms me. "Refactoring" somehow seems to put into focus more clearly how to fix a problem that's stumping me. For example, the program I'm working on requires two ways of creating a new object. One creates it directly from a file, one creates it from a GUI where all data is entered, and then added by hitting the 'create' button. I got the 'initFromFile' constructor working nicely and then proceeded to start work on the 'initFromGUI', recreating most of the steps until I hit the point where the object had to create a linked list based on the number of swimbladders (each of which is an object in the linked list) within the main fish object. Long story short, I thought about creating the object separately and just passing it in as a parameter, but besides requiring more knowledge of the object the GUI was working with than I wanted the GUI to have, it also led to one Init call with a huge list of parameters). So I flipped through "Refactoring" and found "Duplicate Observed Data" which described the exact problem I was trying to solve and goes into enough detail on using the 'Observer' Pattern that I was able to get my code to work in a much cleaner fashion than I would have otherwise.
4. Teaches the 'obvious' to new programmers: Some of the complaints I've read involve "Well, any real OO programmer knows this already, it's a waste of space to include that." In my case this is not necessarily true. Some of the refactorings are indeed obvious to me. Others that are obvious to others are not obvious to me. Even more important, you will see some of these 'obvious' things in previously created 'legacy' code, and this book will allow you to spot it.

The Object-Oriented Thought Process
The Object-Oriented Thought Process
by Matt Weisfeld
Edition: Paperback
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could turn on some lights but could also be dangerous., Jan. 29 2004
When I first bought this book, hoping for a synopsis of Object Oriented Programming's concepts to supplement some of the C++ Primers I had, I was pleased enough with the purchase. I read a few chapters, and they summarized more or less what I'd gathered Object Orientation was about in the various C++ primers I owned. At the time, I only dabbled in C++ and wasn't programming as part of my job. Had I rated the book then, I probably would have given it a 4.
Since that time, I've played with C++ more, and read more perspectives on OOP, mostly from books like Thinking in C++. Recently I landed a new job, working with IDL (a programming language with some MATLAB similarities but almost wholly different syntax, used primarily in science). This language has recently added some OO constructs to it, news which I was very glad to hear and was a major reason for me applying for the position. However, I felt a bit rusty with some of the OO concepts, so I went back to this book... and was disappointed.
Part of the problem was hinted at before. Much of the helpful information in the first few chapters is the same as what you get in primers of languages that focus on the OO methodology. Sometimes this information is more spread out in these primers, so at least it's nice to have all of the basics together in one place.
Another problem I had was with the order of presentation. The first few chapters throw the basic spectrum of OO concepts at you. And in fact, each of the first few chapters discusses the same concepts over and over again. It's like starting to dig a hole here.. then jumping over there to start a hole, etc. Eventually you jump back to the first hole, dig a bit more, jump to the next, etc.. To me this is a disconcerting method of presenting information. I would have preferred the first chapter be the overview of everything (planting the flag at each spot you want to dig a hole), but then each additional chapter focus on one of those subjects, and dig until the bottom (in terms of how deep the book presents the information, not meaning it should go into a whole lot more detail) is reached. The first chapter should be enough to link the concepts together instead of constantly attempting to do so.
Well, others might disagree with what I like in 'style' for books, but there are other problems. Many of the examples end just a bit too early with the 'take home messages' implied and not explicitly stated. The writing style feels disorganized. For example, quite late in the book it's mentioned that Inheritance is one of the Three Cornerstones of OOP along with Encapsulation. I couldn't remember what he said the third cornerstone was, so I went back to the front and searched... Nowhere are the three cornerstones (the third he mentions a bit after the point I mentioned above, Polymorphism) pointed out.
Finally, there's the problem that he doesn't seem to understand himself some of the concepts he talks about. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that this might be because he's trying to simplify things for the reader, but to me it just made it more confusing. The classic example is one already mentioned here, but in one sidebar he says "Sometimes a distinction is made between the words 'aggregation' and 'composition'. However, in this book we will consider composition and aggregation as the same thing." Well, first of all, the distinction is a valid one, but if he wanted to simplify things he should have phrased it more like, "There are different kinds of 'composition', however we will be focusing mainly on one, called 'aggregation'." The problem is exacerbated two chapters later when suddenly he changes his mind and talks about 'association' and 'aggregation' as two different kinds of composition.
One other area that it seemed like he was a bit confused, or trying to overly simplify a discussion, was when talking about 'interfaces' versus 'abstract classes' in Java. He uses the example of an interface called 'nameable' and proceeds to say that it doesn't follow the "is a" rule for inheritance. Instead he drops the "a" and says:
"A dog is nameable"
"A lizard is nameable"
My instant reaction was, "Well, a dog is a nameable thing, and a lizard is a nameable thing." He then implies in a warning that another reason why an interface is different than an abstract class is because an interface doesn't provide implementation, but an abstract class does. In reality, an abstract class can be created that has no implementation either, which means both an abstract class and an interface can rely completely on a subclass to provide it. I'm not quite sure why he tries to make a distinction between implementation and behavior which to me confuses the issue more. And finally, after making the point that an interface doesn't follow the 'is a' property, he then says (one paragraph later),
"How do we know for sure that interfaces have a true is-a relationship? In the case of Java, we can let the compiler tell is..."
and proceeds to show the code that proves it.
A final problem for me is some examples don't match the diagrams. The worst for me is the BlackJack example where he suddenly throws a D_Player object into the Use Case diagrams. Now, I assume that this is just a Player Object created to represent the dealer (ie, not a SubClass), but every other object is specifically the name of a class. He never mentions D_player in any of the descriptions.
My overall conclusion of the First Edition of this book is that it could have been organized better and really provides not much more than some of the better Primers in various OO languages. It still would have been useful had the material been clear, coherent, consistent and correct. In some ways the book is still useful, but I would recommend picking up a good Primer that talks about OO fundamentals also, instead of this one. I know there is a second edition out, and if I get the chance I will pick it up to see if these problems have been ironed out. If they are, I would give the book a 4 as a nice, quick overview of the OO Thought process. If they aren't, I'd say "Programmer Beware".

Crucible of Freya (D20 System)
Crucible of Freya (D20 System)
by Clark Peterson
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from CDN$ 3.23

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting start, kind of repetitive, but good intro., Sept. 2 2002
This module is intended as an introduction to AD&D for new players and DMs. I have not yet played or DMed it, and there will be spoilers below:
The production quality is uneven. Nice glossy, colorful cover and back which you can see above. The maps are amateurish in look, and the text is easy to read with good use of whitespace.
There's a lot of fleshing out the adventure and the area surrounding the adventure. What I really like is that there are areas that will likely [terminate] a low level party if they go exploring, but most of those offer a way out or a way to solve the problem (even if it's just to run, a healthy thing to learn to do for players). No coddling of the players here.. I like it. Though there is one way for the DM to help out the players, but it's through a natural part of the module, not fudging a die roll because the players are in over their heads. The village and NPCs are well fleshed out, with good characters having some not so good qualities at times, and at times the PCs and the NPCs will conflict even if on the same side. Because the players can give in to the NPC wishes or do what they think is best, it gives the illusion of choice to the players in an otherwise simple adventure. The actual encounters mostly involve one monster (humanoid actually) race, unless the party explores where it shouldn't, and as such it can be fairly repetitive. There's a secret area in the module that they can find, with a surprising twist if a fight doesn't actually occur, which shows that there isn't always a happy ending. There's little in the way of puzzles, and no 'usual' dungeon. The players can greatly affect the difficulty of one of the main battle depending on what they do...
>Overall, this is a good first adventure with plenty of opportunity for roleplay, conflict and battle. Almost every possibility is spelled out for the DM, and there are numerous ways to continue on from the end of the adventure. Recommended.

The Sunless Citadel
The Sunless Citadel
by Bruce R. Cordell
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 37.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality production, fun setting..., Sept. 2 2002
This review is from: The Sunless Citadel (Paperback)
Warning, spoilers follow:
First let me say I haven't played this module, or DMed it. The production quality is quite good, glossy colorful cover, clear and nicely drawn maps, evocative black and white drawings throughout.
The adventure itself allows for a wide number of plot hooks for a starting group, and supposedly leads into one of the later modules in this series which is a nice touch. The final encounter is quite interesting, a mix of different types of creatures in an unusual location (a grove underground). The sunken temple is an unusual dungeon too, and there are areas that have been controlled by goblins and kobolds as well as areas that have been unexplored by anyone in ages.. a nice mix. There are nasty traps, the ability to help kobolds out and make the temple easier to handle, prisoners to release, and even an unusual dragon encounter. As an opening module for a group wanting 'traditional' style AD&D adventuring, I highly recommend this module. While there may be too many encounters with the kobolds and goblins, there's enough here to reward the party that takes their time to explore and roleplay instead of killing everything in sight.

The Apocalypse Stone
The Apocalypse Stone
by Wizards Team
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 104.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting module but not quite apocalyptic., Sept. 2 2002
This review is from: The Apocalypse Stone (Paperback)
Warning, spoilers beneath:
I've recently gotten back into AD&D, and picked up this module because of the unique premise. End the world and make your players responsible for it! The problem with the module however is that the players have very little hint of what's coming. Yes, I understand that this is what makes the module such a shock and great RP experience, but as written the reason the apocalypse comes about is unknown to anybody but a select few. To me, this means that the players won't have a sudden realization of a prophecy coming true, or realizing what an old myth really means. Instead, they're tricked into destroying the world and have absolutely no way to realize what happened until the final revelation (yes, they do get hints as to what's happening, but not why until then). I feel it would be much more effective to start a campaign with the idea that the world could be ended with this adventure, and then give hints through mythology or prophecy that slowly lead up to it.
That said, this is one of the better written AD&D adventures I've run across. There's little in the way of dungeon crawls, and a lot in the way of role playing, epic confrontations and last minute attempts at redemption while a world collapses (the final battle kind of reminded me of the beginning of "Superman" when Krypton exploded.. only with an epic fight going on in an attempt to stop it. The encounters are truly fiendish and dark, with hints on how to make them even darker. Again however, this might be too jarring for players who've played a campaign up to this point in a more usual style. Also, some of the challenges the players face have very little way to know what the correct choice is, and if they choose wrong they have no chance to even attempt to save the world.
I find the concept of this adventure quite intriguing, and many of the ideas can be used, but I feel it will work better if this endpoint is considered a possibility in a campaign that's just beginning, rather than saying "Well, nothing left to do with these characters, time to end the world with a bang."

Rappan Athuk: Dungeon of Graves: Upper Levels
Rappan Athuk: Dungeon of Graves: Upper Levels
by Bill Webb
Edition: Paperback
11 used & new from CDN$ 26.35

4.0 out of 5 stars Delivers what it promises., Sept. 1 2002
Since you can read the introduction in the "Look Inside" section, I won't say much about it except that Necromancer Games is going for an old style dungeon romp with monsters, puzzles and traps (including instant kill ones - ie, if you don't escape the trap, you're dead.. no save attempts). The graphics on the cover are quite nice and the black and white drawings inside are very well done. There's good use of white space in the text, making it easy enough to read. The maps however are below average. They're small, with no grids or size scale and hard to read. These problems are fixed if you log onto their site and download new maps, however this shouldn't have been a problem in a module that's otherwise of high quality. In addition, you can download more information about the wilderness and a special extra encounter that harkens back to a 'classic' (supposedly) module encounter from 1st Edition rules. This special encounter is now downloadable without having to dig up the codeword, since it's right on the site, and looks to be a fun addition.
Before I go on, realize that I've only read, not DMed or played this adventure. This is part 1 of a 3 part dungeon and includes the upper levels. The nice thing about the dungeon is that it does not get incrementally harder as you move down it. The players had better realize that sometimes it's better to run, since not all the encounters are tailored with an eye towards the probable strength of the party. You can also travel between many levels, even skipping many in between, using certain routes. No "one way to the previous level and one way to the next level" deals here. This feels a lot more realistic (in spite of the claims by the authors that they want to go back to the good old days of illogical dungeons - I'm firmly convinced this was meant tongue in cheek as there is at least a nod towards logic in it). Of course, this only works if you have all three modules. There are some fiendish traps and strong monsters, but puzzles are lacking.
One complaint I have is that the shaded text that's meant to be read to the players sometimes assumes you've gone through the dungeon a certain way and seen something referred to in the text (usually minor, like saying something along the lines of "The rubble in this room isn't quite as broken as that in both of the others." when the players may have only moved through one room on the way in). Also the shaded text sometimes assigns feelings to the PCs, a no no in my book. These complaints along with the maps prevent me from giving it a 5 star rating, but if you want a decently priced, hack and slash dungeon crawl in the old style, this looks to be one of the better choices.

Linux System Administration: A User's Guide
Linux System Administration: A User's Guide
by Marcel Gagné
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 4.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Great for the 'non-idiot' or 'non-dummy'., Aug. 12 2002
Simply put, this book is probably one of the best choices for a new user to Linux who has computer experience, and possibly previous UNIX experience. I'm not sure how it would be as a beginner's book because I wasn't a beginner, but I think it would work well as a second book certainly. Even for a beginner, most of the important parts of Linux are focused on. The emphasis is on the basic areas that are important for the average user, or a small business system's administrator. Topics include the file systems, how to do backups, how to set-up hardware (including my personal bugaboo - printers), how to manage users, some good security information, how to use the various GUIs, how to automate tasks, how to get started with programming, etc. Areas like Apache, sendmail and nameservers are covered enough to get started with them, which is probably enough for the average user. One of the strengths is that the book points out ways to use the command prompt and then at least two other (usually) ways to do the same thing with the two most popular windowing systems Gnome and KDE. Another strength is that the book expects you to try things. A topic is introduced, some basic ways to do things are shown and then usually at least one or two more advanced topics, followed by encouragement to explore. There is no CD included, but numerous http links are given throughout.
This book is the one I open first when I have a question that needs answering and should be in most Linux bookshelves. It's easy to read, with some humor sprinkled throughout. The author assumes you're intelligent, which is greatly appreciated. Most of all, the book teaches ways for the home user or small business user to get the most out of their investment.

Sold Down the River
Sold Down the River
by Barbara Hambly
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.99
37 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener but somewhat unrealistic feeling., Aug. 10 2002
I've read Hambly's fantasy and vampire books, and enjoyed them. Looking through a bookstore in Maine before a research cruise for something different to read, I was glancing through the fiction section and noticed this book. It sounded like an interesting read and since I'd never read anything dealing with a realistic depiction of American slavery, I picked it up.
Her writing is as well done as I expected, the descriptions of New Orleans, the plantation, the rural areas surrounding both, are all lush and/or disturbing. The depiction of slavery itself seems spot on also, and learning some of the details of went on made it a hard read in spots, but worthwhile. Her characters are all well differentiated from each other but there are quite a few of them to keep straight, I especially had difficulty with keeping track of everyone in the plantation owner's family for awhile. Hambly is able to write tender scenes, graphically violent events and suspenseful moments with equal skill.
While the writing is excellent, the story itself is sometimes hard to swallow. One of the keys to allowing the reader suspension of disbelief is to read the cover where it says "A novel of suspense." It's not really a mystery, as the clues tend to be discovered by the reader and the protagonist at the same time, with explanations as to what the clues mean fairly quickly. The character is somewhat amazing, as other reviewers have mentioned. Many of the scenes read like an action movie. The character always manages to stumble across the major elements of the puzzle even if he's not actively looking for them. This is all more easily forgiven if you realize what kind of a novel it is. Still, it does take away some from the believability of the story which is why I can't give the novel 5 stars. Because of its realistic depiction of slavery and great writing style though, it's on my highly recommended list.

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