27 November 2005

Software: Do They Want My Money?

Trading Post sure makes it hard to place an advertisement on-line! First, I have to install Macromedia Flash and restart my browser. Having done that, I was expecting something really special for this wonderful Flash interface. What I go was a UI that works worse than a normal web page. It takes a minute to load (I still only have dial-up) and only has to display seven pages of forms. When I have to submit an image, I can't cut and paste the path into the text field (I use 2xExplorer's Alt-C function) but I have to use the Windows file browser to navigate to the folder containing my file then press the Open button. Ho-ho-ray.

25 November 2005

Review: How to Begin Studying English Literature (1987)

English Lit. has always been a mystery to me; I'd never quite figured out what to discuss after reading a novel or poem. I'd make a reasonable guess in an exam, write some answer and seem to do well enough. But I felt that had to be a systematic way to study literature, just like mathematics or science. This high school guide, How to Begin Studying English Literature, gave me a fair idea how to start:

(This review is for the 1987 edition.)

This guide provides basic study techniques for students of English in the UK. The first part covers analysis; how to find themes in a work, how characters support a theme, the general structure of a story, the use of style and imagery, and how to study irony. The second part describes how to compose and write essays during an English examination.

The language in the book is kept simple and there is hardly any jargon. In each chapter, a method for studying each topic is first described and then a worked example is demonstrated. No particular interpretation is pushed and the student is encouraged to read works and come to their own conclusions. All the techniques are then brought together in the chapters on essay writing.

Although aimed at students, this guide would help anyone who is interested in gaining a better understanding of literature.

20 November 2005

Review: Pandora's Star

Woo-hoo! My first fiction review for Amazon:

Hundreds of years in the future, fusion power and wormhole technology has enabled mankind to colonize hundreds of worlds in the galaxy. Rejuvenation therapy, cloning and memory copying allow anyone with enough money to live indefinitely. Life's pretty idyllic for citizens; there's plenty of space to live in, mankind has met no hostile aliens and the Commonwealth government is fairly benign. Naturally, this utopia is threatened by forces within and without.

The first hundred-odd pages set the stage and are a bit tedious. There's plenty of characters and each one gets a certain number of pages. Unfortunately, their stories are told with the same style so it's hard to be really interested in them. Once the Commonwealth decides to explore a stellar anomaly, the characters become better defined, the plot picks up pace and the story races to multiple cliffhangers.

Hamilton's great at writing action and creating detailed universes, but his writing can be boring elsewhere. For instance, it was a chore to read the horse-trading between senators for the presidency in the Commonwealth and his characters seem to only experience intimacy by having sex (and plenty of it). Minor niggles aside, this is a very enjoyable space adventure and I look forward to the sequel.

14 November 2005

Effing CD Command

This bites me every couple of weeks: the cd command in the Windows command shell (cmd.exe) does not treat directories and drives consistently. After all these years of working in Windows, you'd think that I should have engraved into my mind that when I want to use a directory in another drive, I should type either drivename: then cd path or cd /d drivename:\path. Then I forget and I blithely type cd drivename:\path. Even worse is that cd does not give an error message that it has not changed the current directory.

17-Jan-2008: In PowerShell 2.0, the cd command (alias of Set-Location) now consistently changes drives and directories. Hoo-ray!

12 November 2005

Review: Linguistics A Very Short Introduction

I was hoping to find out more about linguistics but this book wasn't much help. Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:

This book starts interestingly with the question of the meaning of words, how we encode sounds with symbols and how languages change over space and time. Unfortunately, from Chapter 4 onwards, the discussion becomes quite hard to follow because it relies on many linguistic terms and complex sentences. For example, I had to re-read this sentence in page 65 several times to understand it:

"This ['distributive' element] distinguishes a set whose members are in some way differentiated; so, for example, forms that might be glossed as 'flower-DIST' could be used of flowers that, as well as being two or more, are not all of the same sort."

The editing and formatting of the book could be better. Some linguistic terms (e.g. "gloss" in page 50 and "genitive" in page 110) are first introduced in an example rather than in the main text. Sometimes examples, captions and quotes are in boxes in a bold font (e.g. in pages 93, 94 and 95) but other times are formatted as a standalone paragraph (e.g. in pages 77, 78 and 79). Poor formatting has resulted in a photograph of Chomsky and some text in page 90, then a description of his ideas in a box starting in page 91 but with the final sentence in a box appearing in page 92.

Many pages in this short (152 page) book are wasted: four pages are allocated to photographs of linguists and eight pages are used to advertise other books in the series! I would have preferred to see some of these pages used for a glossary of terms.

11 November 2005

Software: Google Desktop 2

I don't how long Google Desktop 2 has been available, but I found it today and installed it. From my quick test, it worked as well as the previous version and now supports the "filetype:" keyword. That keyword is useful for restricting the search results to files with specific extensions. For example, adding "filetype:pdf" would restrict the results to just .pdf files.

02 November 2005

Review: Learn German The Fast and Fun Way

I'm pretty leery of any book that claims to teach something the "fast and fun way" and unfortunately my suspicions have been proved right again.

01 November 2005

Review: Language - The Basics

It's been a busy Melbourne Cup long weekend; here's another book review.