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M. Haque "masud/torun" (Europe)

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The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories
The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.79
34 used & new from CDN$ 2.33

5.0 out of 5 stars Collection of novellas, from the master herself, March 6 2004
I am ashamed to say I discovered Ursula K LeGuin (UKL) only a couple of years ago. But I am happy to say that she's been my favorite or near-favorite author ever since.
For her humanity. For her vision. And for being able to create recognizably human, oh-so-familiar situations and moods, in completely alien settings.
For understanding human suffering, oppression, love and cruelty, and the quest for freedom and for happiness.
And for understanding what it means to be alien. I know. I'm South Asian and I've lived in the West. I'm secular and have lived in a deeply religious part of my country. How does Ursula know?
"Birthday" has been reviewed by far more capable pens than mine; Margaret Atwood wrote a review in "New York Review of Books", you might still find that on the Internet. So maybe it's presumptuous of me, but I'll go ahead and say how I felt about this collection.
There's a chatty, personal preface, fun to read. The most memorable part of the book, to me, was the part in this preface where UKL rebuts a critic who suggested that slavery is not a subject worth writing about. UKL asks mildly: I wonder which planet he comes from?
Two of the stories ("Coming of Age in Karhide" and "Old Music and the Slave Women") take place on cultures created in previous novels.
"Karhide" describes the first "kemmer" of a young person, on the sexless/bisex planet Karhide, where our old friend Gentry Li the black Terran had had his adventures so many years ago in "Left Hand of Darkness." It reads a bit like the teenage pains of boysgirls in any earth culture. Except that you get to look inside a "kemmerhouse" and witness the first sex of these people. I would categorize this story as "fun."
My favorite was "Old Music", which is a fifth installment in the "story suite" set in Werel, the planet from the extraordinary book "Four Ways to Forgiveness." The setting is during the uprising of the slaves and lower-castes of Werel, as the owned challenge the owners.
The Ekumen diplomat called Old Music gets captured by the masters' side, is tortured on a plantation, and interacts with slave women for the first time. The uprising is shown as a messy business with random violence galore. Realistic and sad, but still full of hope.
I liked Old Music, a middle-aged diplomat with nothing but his witty tongue to serve him in danger, so humane, full of belief that the slaves will be free. The Ekumen are probably LeGuin's idea of a ideal people, unobtrusive, moral, egalitarian. I love her vision and wish I could share her hope.
"The matter of Seggri" is told from multiple viewpoints, describing the social structure of a people with massively skewed female-to-male ratio. In "Solitude", an Ekumen mother uses her children to learn about a culture of people living in the ruins of a Fallen civilization. Her daughter ends up feeling more a member of this society, learning their ways of solitude and silence, and deciding to spend her life in this culture.
In both "Seggri" and "Solitude", the men live rather cruel lives. Both are innovative descriptions of imaginary cultures, and I enjoyed reading them.
There are two stories describing Morning-Evening people and their complicated marriages, and one describing how the beliefs of a World fell apart with the arrival of aliens. I did not like these three stories so much.
Finally, "Paradises Lost" is a novelette following an inter-generation space-ship, where a sect arises with the belief that their journey is eternal rather than having the goal of settling a new planet. This is excellent writing, with the utterly believable creation of an irrational religion, superstitions interfering with realpolitik, and the happysad description of settling in an alien world.
"Birthday of the World" is required reading for Leguin fans. For newcomers, this collection may be a good entry point to her work. Enjoy!

Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell
Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell
by A. Zee
Edition: Hardcover
18 used & new from CDN$ 40.00

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, chatty, physical. QFT education transformed!!, March 6 2004
This Quantum Field Theory text stands apart from others in so many ways that it's difficult to list them all :-). A very unique QFT introductory text.
One problem with learning QFT is that it is so easy to get lost in the mathematical details that the core physics concepts often get obscured.
In my opinion, Tony Zee overcomes this particular problem quite successfully. He keeps algebra to a bare minimum, and tries to find the shortest route to the physics ideas. He chooses examples that illustrate concepts in the fastest possible way.
The chapters are short. So refreshing! Each chapter has one or two core ideas. You can go through one in ten minutes (glossing over the math), and then you go back and do the math.
Part I (first eighty or so pages) is called "Motivation and Foundation" and is a rapid introduction to QFT. It is also a summary and sweeping overview --- introducing path integrals and Feynman diagrams and making a very intuitive transition from Quantum mechanics to Field theory.
The next three parts cover spin-1/2 particles (Dirac spinors), renormalization, and symmetry (breaking), standard fare for QFT texts. A sampling of condensed-matter applications is given in Parts V & VI, and then current high-energy topics are treated in parts VII & VIII.
The applications make this text stand out. There is a selection of advanced current topics like the quantum hall physics, surface growth, string theory, D-branes and quantum garavity, not usually found in introductory field theory texts. Of course none of these topics can be done justice in a book at this level, but getting a taste of advanced issues is a great treat.

The exposition is breezy and chatty, as the author admits was his intention. The text is never boring to read, and is at times very, very funny. Puns and jokes abound, as do anecdotes involving the inventors of QFT.
Renormalization is discussed through a lively dialog between student Confusio, a female Smart Experimentalist (SE), and a senior (Egghead) theorist. Ode to Galileo! Section headings alternate between serious and hilarious --- one section is called "Wisdom of the son-in-law". The path integral formulation of quantum mechanics comes out of a conversation between a teacher and a "wise-guy" student, who happens to be Feynman.
And so on and so forth.
The net result is a book which is much easier, and more fun, to read than any of the other common QFT books out there. Tony Zee's skills as a popular physics writer have been used to excellent effect in writing this textbook.
One more distinctive feature is that there is equal emphasis on condensed-matter and high-energy applications. Most QFT texts today, unfortunately, are so biased toward particle-physics that they tend to put off condensed-matter students. A. Zee has broken the mold!
Is the treatment "over"-simplified? Maybe simplified, but not dumbed-down. The high concept-to-pain ratio certainly seems worth the simplification.
Is this text only good as a supplement? Well, it is after all a "Nutshell", so maybe other texts are better for details. But as an introduction to QFT concepts, few other books match this.
Wholeheartedly recommended.

Brick Lane: A Novel
Brick Lane: A Novel
by Monica Ali
Edition: Hardcover
53 used & new from CDN$ 0.62

5.0 out of 5 stars An immigrant's tale. Beautiful and tragic., Feb. 6 2004
This review is from: Brick Lane: A Novel (Hardcover)
I am from Bangladesh, and have lived in the West for some years. Although Westernized in many ways, I am acutely aware of the experience of being brown and Asian in the West. Monica Ali's "Brick Lane" touches me in multiple ways.
"Brick Lane" is unique. There are many novels centered on Bengali housewives; unfortunately most are in Bengali and not translated. The number of novels with Bangladeshi women as protagonists is smaller. Novels dealing with Bangladeshi immigrant women are very rare --- Ms Ali is exploring new ground here. And she does it so touchingly, with such attention to detail and nuances.
The novel is about Nazneen, born in a Bangladeshi village and married off to an older man who is an immigrant in England. Nazneen moves to England, submits herself to fate as she has been taught to, bears life and children and her husband's stupidities, and watches her daughter grow Westernized. Eventually, she surprises herself by her own initiative, taking a lover and deciding not to return to Bangladesh with her husband.
Other than Nazneen, the main characters are her husband Chanu, and her sister Hasina whom we meet through her letters to Nazneen written over the years. We also meet several other immigrant Bangladeshi characters living in Brick Lane, and get flashbacks of Nazneen's life in Bangladesh.
Through Hasina's sporadic letters to Nazneen, which take up significant parts of the book, we follow the life of an unmarried lower-class woman in Bangladesh. Hasina, unlike Nazneen, chooses her own path in life and elopes as a teenager, but her husband leaves her and she suffers through a series of ordeals. Her life story is probably realistic and reflects the lives of the many poor rural women in Bangladesh who have moved to the cities in recent years, forced to be independent in a patriarchial society that resists women's independence.
Like other reviewers, I was annoyed by the author's choice to transcribe Hasina's letters in broken English. This is the only major complaint I have about the book.
The characterization of Nazneen's husband, Chanu, is masterly. Chanu is an educated but completely impractical person. A complete failure in British life, he toils away as a clerk hoping that his culture & worth will someday be appreciated. He borrows money and leaves his wife to deal with the usurer. He appreciates the wrong people, and is completely unable to deal with his daughter's rebellion.
Perhaps even more paradigmic is Chanu's pompous behavior with his wife. The Bengali male, it has been said, is a great loser in life and a fearless lion in dealing with his subservient wife.
Chanu actually thinks of himself as a liberated man, whose wife has complete freedom in theory. In practice, unfortunately, Nazneen does not get to taste any of these freedoms (such as learning the local language English). The reason is that "she does not need them", as Chanu assures her, and also because it is unnecessary to evoke gossip in the immigrant community.
Chanu's laziness, his readings in impractical subjects, reminds me of my brother :-) And his complete inability to actually listen to anything Nazneen says, reminds me of my father's treatment of my mom. In return, Nazneen's response to Chanu, her near-complete acceptance and sporadic rebellions, reminds me of my mom and some aunts.
As for the other characters, Nazneen's friend Razia is drawn beautifully, a strong woman who decides to Westernize herself, and keeps her enormous humor and sarcasm intact through the adversities of immigrant life. I liked her imitation of pompous people, a very Bengali kind of humor.
A minor character particularly attracted me, Nazneen's aunt Mumtaz, seen almost entirely in flashbacks. Quietly strong, in a manner peculiar to some Bengali rural women. I have an aunt like that.
The writing is, for the most part, low-keyed and subdued. This style seems fitting, as it reflects Nazneen's accepting, compromising attitude to life. Sometimes quietly funny, and sometimes emotionally exhausting, not always an easy book to read.
There are some masterful descriptions, like that of Nazneen before her nervous breakdown watching her dead mom slide across her living room. Like the hilarious jostling among different brands of pseudo-Islamic factions in the young Bengali community. Or Razia being spat on after September 11, on a London street wearing a Union Jack T-shirt. And so on and so forth.
Ms Ali has done a wonderful job. To the non-Bengali reader, I have an invitation: welcome to my world. Maybe you will find the setting too alien for you to be interested in. But maybe (I hope) you will actually discover a beautiful story set amongst a struggling people.

by Dan Simmons
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.40
55 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb scifi ideas. Poetry, imperialism,coexisting with AIs., Jan. 26 2004
This review is from: Hyperion (Mass Market Paperback)
Excellent. Hard scifi.
As they make their way toward the Shrike and the Time Tombs, on the planet Hyperion, six characters tell their individual stories. Each of them have been altered by the mysteries of Hyperion in his/her own, unique way, and now they have been called by the Shrike church to make a pilgrimage to the Shrike.
Each story is fascinating, and often macabre and tragic.
As we hear the stories one by one, we also get to know more and more of the universe in which our characters live. The introduction to the universe is painless, and integrated seamlessly into the tales.
And the universe is magnificently constructed. A Hegemony of mainstream humanity, guided/used by a Core of Artificial Intelligence. There is a description of interacting with the AI Core in a manner similar to that popularized recently in the Wachowski brothers' "Matrix" movies. There is a population of humans evolving separately, the "ousters", feared and fought by the Hegemony. Both groups left Earth many centuries ago (the "Hegira"). The Hegemony worlds are connected by instantaneous-travel portals. But to reach non-Hegemony worlds, such as Hyperion, one has to do real near-light-speed travel, with the corresponding relativistic effect of aging slower than the people on the planets.
Human nature and capitalistic greed haven't changed much. The Hegemony civilization trashes the environment and life of new planets, and exploits populaces as it expands. Lower classes continue to live miserable lives, in underground slums. There is a rich crime under-world. Publishers continue to exploit poets.
The future-view is eurocentric, but not excessively. Among the pilgrims, there is a palestinian and a jew, and a most important character, the Consul, appears to be of Pacific Island ancestry. In fact, the colonization of the Pacific Islands happens again in this far future, as the Consul's native Maui-Covenant planet is incorporated into the Hegemony. There is an Indian planet and an East Asian planet, and many references from non-White cultures --the Hegira, the Benares, goondas, maybe other references that I've missed.
Other than human nature and imperialism, the story is also -- quite surprisingly -- about poetry.
And finally the question -- which of the six stories did I like best? I thought for a long time and couldn't come up with an answer. They are all excellent. The Scholar's tale is maybe the saddest on a personal scale. The detective's tale introduces us to Hegemony technologies and the AI core.
Maybe the Consul's story is the saddest of all, on a global scale. It expresses the author's idea that imperialism and genocide are fundamental to human civilizations. And just as Whites have crushed the rest of us here on Earth today, so will dominant cultures continue to scr_w others, for eternity.

The Just War: An American Reflection on the Morality of War in Our Time
The Just War: An American Reflection on the Morality of War in Our Time
by Peter S. Temes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.00
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-informed, well-written, but suggestions irrelevant., Jan. 17 2004
Mr. Temes explores the history of the idea that wars may sometimes be necessary and even just, and then tries to apply those ideas to the world today, from a humanistic/liberal American perspective.
The enjoyable part of the book is a great romp through historical trends in the three major Middle Eastern religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). He outlines secular & fundamentalist thinking, and extremist & moderate actions, in all three traditions. Temes really displays erudition here, with bits on Kemal Ataturk, the Crusades, the life of Saladin, and many other philosophers and administrators that I know little about.
Of the many small historical details, I appreciated the discussion of Mawdudi, the mid-20th-century islamic fundamentalist thinker/writer from Hyderabad (India), who has been far too influential for the good of humanity.
Temes discusses the question of whether the religious texts themselves endorse violence. This is a discussion that deserves to be far better known -- he elaborates on how you can read practically anything you want from the Old Testament, or the Quran.
Temes clearly hears arguments from both sides, unlike the many American authors telling us how their empire is always just. It is certainly true that the WTC janitor who died in the September 11 attacks had never directly harmed a Chilean, Afghan, or Saudi. But it is equally true and relevant that the Palestinian child, blown to bits by an Israeli missile fired from an U.S.-funded helicopter, had never harmed an American.
While his knowledge is impressive and his history is fun, Temes fails to inspire with his recommendations for today's world powers. He is right when he says that, one should look primarily to the future and not to the past --- just because the West committed crimes in the past shouldn't stop them from doing the right thing now.
But this bypasses the real point. The recognition that the West committed crimes in the past should encourage them to stop continuing the imperial-colonial traditions, NOW. To ensure that their corporations and institutions don't do the same or worse things, now. If the West does not have the will to curb its energy corporations, its usurious banks, its weapons-makers, than the world will continue to be an unfair unequal place, and wars will continue to be necessary. Seeking to make wars as humane as possible, while refusing to remove its root cause (economic exploitation), seems to me to be a futile and irrelevant exercise.

Fandango Nights
Fandango Nights
Price: CDN$ 14.84
31 used & new from CDN$ 4.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful music. Gypsy and mid-eastern influences., Jan. 1 2004
This review is from: Fandango Nights (Audio CD)
Lively, non-conventional, and very pleasant music. Expect to be positively surprised.
The style seems to be a combination of gypsy, flamenco, Arabic tunes and fast-paced rhythms, blended to form something quite distinctive.
Each piece has an interesting name.
There is a piece called "plight of the whales", sad and majestic; close your eyes when you listen to this, and you will see our mammalian cousins, sad and stately, forgiving us as they perish.
Another piece is called "A dozen camels", in honor of the price that a desert-dweller has to pay his loved one's family, to win a bride. Close your eyes, and you'll imagine the camels, one after the other, moving with their regal gait down the sand, and our man, spent with his efforts to earn the money for the beasts, but content with the thought of winning his woman.
There's also a piece called Umm Koulsoum, who I hear was a great Egyptian singer. I closed my eyes but couldn't see anything, maybe because I don't know anything about her :-) so I just closed my eyes and listened to the lovely music!

Python Essential Reference (2nd Edition)
Python Essential Reference (2nd Edition)
by David Beazley
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 2.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very helpful. Keep by your terminal while you code., Aug. 23 2003
This is not a book for learning python, but once you know enough to write useful scripts, it's an excellent reference to keep near your hand as you write code. Deserves the five stars!
There is a tutorial introduction plus an intermediate-level description of core language features, about 100 pages long, which is useful to read for an alternate perspective into the structure of the language. The library reference section (bulk of the book, Appendix A) is well-organized and very usable.
Unfortunately for the utility of this book, the online documentation at the python webpage happens to be of excellent quality. Also, there is at least one other book (Python in a Nutshell, by Alex Martelli) that covers similar ground (tutorial + reference). This makes the "Essential Reference" not quite essential: it can be replaced by browser windows pointing to the python webpage, or by other books.
I have a bit of non-conventional advice: it seems to me that the casual programmer can make do with an earlier (cheaper :-) edition of the book. Most of the features of the language have been around since python 1.5.2, covered in the first edition. If you actually need to use features added later (e.g., list comprehensions, borrowed from Haskell), you can easily learn them from online sources. In any case, as far as advanced features are concerned, the latest edition is likely also to be soon outdated.

The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America
The No Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America
by Bill O'Reilly
Edition: Hardcover
60 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Low-grade political rhetoric. Easy intro to neocon ideology., July 22 2003
If you want to understand the modern American Conservative (neo-con) mind better, you might want to flip through this book. Bill O'Reilley is actually quite reasonable compared to some of the other people around -- Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage come to mind as examples of the more vicious sort of neocon media personality.
O'Reilley's philosphy, however, has the same bent as the others mentioned above, as well as the segment of the Republican party holding power today. His books can serve as a relatively painless introduction to understanding the details of the new American conservative worldview.
The neo-con is a different phenomenon compared to the older segregation-type conservatives like Trent Lott or Edgar Hoover or Storm Thurmond. The neocon is more sophisticated. More subtle, well-educated. The new conservative ideology is borne by Dick Cheney, Rumsfield, Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich.
Today (2003), it is definitely worth studying the neocon philosophy in detail, as they control the White House and most of the media, and use their power to wage war for profit.
The sub-title of the book is "Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous". Dishonest but very interesting title. There are no Enron executives interviewed here. No representative of the powerful oil and tobacco industries. Lobbyists for Lockheed-Martin and other weapons manufacturers are absent. No Dick Cheney, who stands to make the most money out of the Iraq War.
So who are O'Reilley's "Powerful and Famous" targets? Susan Sarandon, an actress who cares about human rights. Al Sharpton. A guy working for a studio that produces Eminem CDs. Puff Daddy the rapper. Get real!! Are these the truly powerful people in America today?
O'Reilley takes on Susan Sarandon for protesting the brutal murder of Amadou Diallou, the unarmed African immigrant shot 41 times by four NYC police officers. Sarandon was wrong to call for changes in the police system, he says. The Diallou murder was an "isolated" incident, not indicating any systematic racism in the police institution.
This is significant. The neocon knows that segregation is over and it would be very hard to take the country back there. What he badly wants now is to preserve is the current police and justice (injustice) system.
This is the system that puts a quarter of black American males in jail at some point of their life. Many of them on totally non-violent drug charges. This is the system that produces Diallou-type murders of innocent blacks, not once, but over and over and over agiain.
This system, of course, must be protected at all costs. It's the last stand against the dark-skinned hordes, who might get educated and powerful if not checked, and must be defended against. Conservative White America's last stand. The police/justice/execution/drug-war arrangement that is the modern version of slavery and segregation.
And so neocons get extremely rattled when Sarandon calls for reform in the police & justice system. And so Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton bother O'Reilly so much, because they make a career out of pointing out some of the injustices of the current system.
A part of the book is devoted to Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, including excerpts from an interview with Sharpton, and lots of abusive rhetoric for both of them.
Sharpton is an "executive", Bill says, making it sound like a slur. Well, of course he is. Doesn't our capitalist worldview encourage us to make a business out of everything, including activism? Aren't Cheney, Rumsfield, Perle, Powell, executives too? How come those people don't rattle Bill so much?
And do tell, if people like Jackson and Sharpton weren't around, would there be more killings of innocent blacks, or less? Would the number of harmless black kids in jail be larger or smaller? How many more unarmed dark-skinned kids would be shot for no reason by the police?
Bill O'Reilly, of course, does not discuss these questions.
O'Reilly's other target in this book is rap music. He takes on Puff Daddy about rap music encouraging violence. And he goes on a long tiresome tirade about Eminem.
So why does rap music in general, and Eminem's success in particular, irritate O'Reilley so much? Is it the idea of non-White music, polluting White kids' minds? Surely he can't actually believe that nonsense about dirty lyrics causing violence? I am yet to hear about someone being motivated to assault homosexuals because of Eminem's music; if I remember correctly, violence against gay people have come exclusively from O'Reilley's own ilk, the religious right.
Well, I don't know why African influences are so strong in American music, but it sure is fun to see conservatives jump around in consternation, each time they notice the black influence!
I too find some of Eminem's lyrics disturbing, but doesn't that just reflect the far more disturbing poverty of inner-city life? A country with such an appalling rich-poor gap, and a completely dysfunctional safety net; a nation that holds more wealth than any other, but condemns so many of its citizens (yes even WHITE citizens!!) to live the miserable life of the American poor!! What kind of lyrics did you expect from the violent, hopeless life of the inner city? Lullabies?
But of course, the economic system that produces the misery and violence of the poor, this economic system can't be questioned. And, true to expectations, O'Reilley steers clear of such questioning.
In summary, an interesting book to flip through. The really interesting parts are the questions NOT asked, and the issues carefully distorted.

Forever Peace
Forever Peace
by Joe Haldeman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.88
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Visionary description of near-future sociopolitics., July 22 2003
Such vision!!
The war between the rich and the poor worlds, partly economic and partly racist, is a plausible description of what could happen if the "3rd World" actually stood up and demanded economic justice. In Forever Peace, the Ngumi, a fictitious alliance of Third World forces, fight the exploitation of the rich world. Scifi ideas are explored against this background.
"Browns, blacks and some yellows" fighting for a decent life against "whites and other yellows". Hugely imbalanced war, technologically and economically. Sounds familiar? In 2003, the war to keep the darkies in their place has already begun, Iraq being the first round.
The difference is that, in the real world, us darkies are ruled by proxy monsters usually installed by the White world; sacrificing us to the interests of Western finance; and sinking the black/brown world deeper and deeper into a mire of greater poverty from which we will likely never recover, as the white man's economic noose settles tighter and tighter around our throats. We can only hope --- perhaps this desperation might lead to the rise of a moral and able leadership, like the "Ngumi" in Haldeman's "Forever Peace".
The "nuking of Atlanta" -- so prophetic, so similar to the real-world attack on America (Sept 11), giving the American ("Alliance") militarists and religious fanatics carte blanche to embark on an indefinite war against some segment of the Third World.
Other descriptions in the book also uncannily resemble real-world America after 9/11. news of a man * suspected * of being a terrorist and summarily executed. Wars raging in distant lands with doctored sanitized war-news coverage at home. Rising racism and xenophobia. Descriptions of jailed brown people, sickening reminder of Guantanamo Bay.
I like the hope of a better world in Forever Peace. But I have the nasty feeling that, in the real world, the West will find it easy to keep the Third World controlled and impoverished, with proxy leaders and various pretenses.
The crucial events in the book, the rebellion against the Western war-machine, come from educated Americans who are drafted as soldierboy-controllers and who find the U.S./Alliance atrocities abhorrent. This is maybe modelled on the Vietnam era protest phenomenon, which Haldeman knows intimately.
In the real world today, unfortunately, the American ruling classes have found a way around this. The U.S. has a large class of poor half-educated people who can serve in the military, without being a threat to the military, should they develop a conscience. The draft is not necessary if you have enough people whose opportunities are so limited that the military seems attractive to them.
It has been said that readers don't relate well to Haldeman's characters. This seems to be a general weakness in Haldeman's writing.
On the other hand, the motivations and beliefs of the characters in "Forever Peace" are often well-drawn and realistic. Some examples --
(1) I know black Americans today with the same political approach as Julian. My friend XXXXX is aware that much of US foreign policy is based on racist aims and motives, but he takes the pragmatic approach of silence. Sometimes he is bothered by U.S. support for white landowners in Zimbabwe, or for fairer Israelis against darker Palestinians, or for the fairer richer people in Venezuela. (In each case the racial component of U.S. support only thinly veiled.) But my black-American friend suppresses these pangs of conscience well, and like a good citizen, says nothing and makes no protest.
(2) The open-minded religious woman, Ellie Frazer of the Twenty, as opposed to the fanatic nuts among the Enders. I personally know religious people of both these stereotypical extremes, and I thought the contrast was described well, if a bit over-dramatic.
And oh, I should say something about the science ideas. They're good. Controlling robots remotely through a connection to your spine, being jacked to each other's brains, the "jill" prostitutes, the description of theoretical physics research. All good.
After gushing over the book for so long, I should also list some negatives: (1) the writing style is not so successful at evoking sympathy for the characters; (2) the second half of the book is short of scifi ideas, this part reads more like an action thriller.

Linux Programming Bible
Linux Programming Bible
by John Goerzen
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 4.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Good tutorial and reference. Nothing spectacular., June 28 2003
Covers many topics, anyone who works and codes on a linux/unix environment will find something useful here --
The shell, bash, regular expressions. Emacs.
C -- gcc (compiler), gdb (debugger), gnu make for managing projects,
memory management, libraries & linking.
Files, processes, signals, terminals.
Semaphores, sockets, inter-process communication,
Perl (3 chapters!!) -- the language, data-munging, cgi programming, database work.
Graphical interfaces.
Collaboration via CVS, security, optimization.
Most topics are at an introductory-to-intermediate level. The topics covered in the different chapters, each deserves a separate book by itself, and the serious programmer will need more complete references for the particular tools s/he is using intensively.
And of course, practically all the material here can be learned from free tutorials and articles on the internet, if you know how and where to look.
The descriptions are adequate but not particularly remarkable, often more bloated than they need to be. The example code snippets are adequate but not inspiring, rather on the insipid side.
However, the book is useful as a compendium of things one needs to know and look up. An intermediate linux/unix user might find it useful to take the time to go through the whole book from
beginning to end, to get exposed to concepts s/he hasn't mastered yet. In addition, it might serve as a general-purpose reference worth keeping handy on your desk.
Positive comments (again :-) --
#. Useful collection of things one needs to know and often look up.
#. Adequate introductory discussions to a large number of topics. Code snippets to illustrate concepts.
Negative/neutral comments --
#. Too verbose. Book size could have been cut to two-thirds.
#. Too bulky to be carried around, see previous comment.
#. Extensive coverage of perl, with little mention of python, ruby, scheme, or other scripting language of similar functionality. Especially important as python gains in popularity every day. Linux really is not about perl.
#. Coverage of emacs, none of vi.
#. Maybe it's good to focus on one tool among several equivalent ones, but then there should be some discussion of alternative tools, maybe in a separate chapter for alternative tools/languages/editors.
#. In the same vein, a chapter discussing in short the various programming and scripting languages out there, their pros & cons & reputations, would be very nice. Linux and open source are, after all, about choice!
#. The example code illustrate basic ideas; they're not examples of real-life problem solving.

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