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Capsule Reviews (vault): July, 2014

Peter D. Hipson, What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know (Sams, 1994)

[originally posted 19Feb2002]

A "just the facts, ma'am" cover with the red title on a green background.

Even more dated now than when I wrote this review.
photo credit: ebay

What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know is the perfect compliment to Gurewich and Gurewich’s Master Visual C++ 2. Both put out by Sams in the same year. Coincidence? Probably not. Everything the Gurewich book lacks is covered here. The detail and amount of code examples is lacking in comparison, but given the topics covered, that’s an excusable oversight.

What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know looks at the more advanced features of Microsoft’s primary development platform: programming with Unicode, OLE, ODBC, multithreading, etc. It’s more a reference book than a how-to manual, but the user who’s followed and mastered the Gurewichs’ book should already have enough coding under his belt to integrate the information presented here without much trouble. The two books, taken together, provide the best introduction to Visual C++ 2 on the market, and are highly recommended for those still programming in DOS/Win3.x/Win95. *** ½

* * *

Christoph Wille, Presenting C# (Sams, 2000)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

Another minimal cover, with the title in blue on a white background.

Minimal, yet functional.
photo credit:

The first thing the average reader is going to notice about this little volume is the size (just shy of two hundred pages) in relation to the price (twenty-five bucks). To say it’s a little out of character for the computer book industry is roughly akin to saying that Calista Flockheart is “a tad on the thin side.” Most computer programmers shelling out that kind of moolah expect eight hundred pages, a companion CD-ROM, and an online community. Books of this sort generally go for about half the price. At a guess, the expense here is going to curtail the readership quite a bit.

That’s too bad, because as an introductory book, this one’s pretty good. It’s definitely of the survey school of computer book writing, and it’s a very high-level overview. If you’re hoping to find gobs of sample code and step-by-step tutorials, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is the more abstract material that will help you understand what’s going on in the more general, theoretical world. As such, it’s probably going to be of limited use at best for those who don’t have one of those larger, slightly more expensive books. It makes a great companion volume, but to what I’m not yet sure. ** ½

* * *

Mikhail M. Gilula, The Set Model for Database and Information Systems (Addison-Wesley, 1994)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

A bi-color cover with the title in white adorns the cover of the book.

An idea that never got explored in the detail it deserved.
photo credit: Amazon

Gilula, at one point in this book, says “As far as possible, we have attempted to simplify the presentation in order to make it intelligible to readers who have had no special training in the field of mathematical logic.” Could have fooled me. It’s possible for the bachelor’s earner to grasp, but just barely and after multiple readings. You’re probably better off not trying to tackle this one unless your bachelor’s is in math, or you’ve earned an advanced degree.

That said, is there really any reason to tackle it at all? A number of websearches on set theory as it applies to current database technology (and specifically Starset, the language proposed and outlined herein) turns up precious little, leading this reviewer to believe that the relational model, which is what Gilula and co. are trying to overthrow, has won this battle without too much effort. This book is, at this point in time, going to appeal at most to a niche market. Gilula mentions that the original Starset interpreters were written in C, and the appendix has more than enough info for the hobbyist or vertical-market software developer to reverse-engineer Starset and program a home version of it. And Gilula certainly does make an interesting case for set-model databases, and he does so with just enough clarity to make the average DBA wonder if, perhaps, a set-model database might be of more use than a relational database for any given purpose. However, unless that DBA has unlimited time and resources, this is probably going to remain no more than an interesting artifact. **

* * *

Octavio Paz, A Draft of Shadows (New Directions, 1979)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

Octavio Paz, in profile, adorns the cover of the book.

Usually, one should release final revisions instead of drafts.
photo credit: Goodreads

I am kicking myself for having had this book in my collection for long enough that I don’t remember buying it and not getting around to it until now. Paz is the most exciting poet I’ve run across since discovering the work of Ira Sadoff five years ago. His work, more than capably translated here by Eliot Weinberger (with a few translations from others thrown in for good measure), is a perfect blend of the art and craft of poetry. It is also the finest overtly political work I have read since Aime Cesaire last put pen to paper. Paz understands that if the poetry is good enough, the message of the poetry will come out on its own, something nine hundred ninety-nine out of every thousand political poets never grasp. Those who would dispute it need only read the title poem here and hold it up against the best works by inferior political poets. The difference is stunning, and obvious.

When Paz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990, the committee stated that his writing was characterized by “sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.” Indeed. This is poetry the way it’s meant to be. **** ½

* * *

Torso: The Evelyn Dick Story (Alex Chapple, 2002)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

Kathleen Robertson, as Evelyn Dick, peers out from behind prison bars on the movie poster.

Finger lickin’ good.
photo credit:

First and foremost: Torso has nothing to do with the infamous Torso Killer of 1940s Cleveland (and, possibly, 1940s Hollywood). If you’re looking for tantalizing Black Dahlia/Elliot Ness conspiracy theory, this is not up your alley. What it is is an isolated case (some Canadian journalist probably caught the Torso Killer headlines and decided they would make good copy for the Dick case) set in Canada just after World War II. Evelyn Dick (Kathleen Robertson of 90210)’s very wealthy husband turns up quite dead, and Dick and various of her family members are the prime suspects. The movie focuses on the courtroom drama of Dick’s two trials, and the odd relationship between Dick and her bulldog lawyer, J. J. Robinette (Victor Garber [Alias]).

For a made-for-TV movie, this thing has a seriously high-powered cast and an above-average level of tension. But then, television has always lent itself to courtroom drama better than the big screen has, for some reason (witness the recent made-for-TV adaptations of Twelve Angry Men and Inherit the Wind, both of which are more than capable retellings of the original films). There is certainly quite a bit to recommend this little film, even if I did pick it up by accident, hoping for those Black Dahlia/Elliot Ness conspiracies. ***

* * *

Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)

[originally posted 3Dec2002]

George Clooney looks at us through a space helmet on the movie poster.

When it comes to Hollywood’s penchant for remakes, just remember: it would take a true classic of stupid to be worse than this.
photo credit:

I don’t have the words to describe what a painful, unhinged, heretical, plotless, tortuous, mind-numbing experience this dog is. That it got made at all without lightning bolts coming from the heavens to kill both Clooney and Soderbergh is hard evidence of the non-existence of a higher power in the Universe; that it got released is hard evidence of the non-existence of a higher intelligence in Hollywood. My fiancée summed it up best after ridding her mind of this nonsense by seeing the original: “it’s as if the director of the new version only ever saw the second tape of the two-tape set.” All of the setup that makes Tarkovski’s film so excellent is gone; according to Soderbergh, Solaris is “a love story with contributing factors.” Yeah. Kind of like Ocean’s Eleven was a love story with contributing factors.

Soderbergh stated in an AP interview recently that he’s planning on taking a year off to do nothing but write. Thank heaven for that, because his last four films have all been painfully bad. But as silly, uninformed, and downright manipulative as were Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven, and Traffic, none of them was on the same level of heresy as Solaris. Do yourself a favor and stay far away from this; Tarkovski’s version is the Holy Grail, while Soderbergh’s is a leaky Dixie cup. (zero)

* * *

The Secret of NIMH (Don Bluth, 1982)

[originally posted 22Feb2000]

A mouse looks back over his shoulder at us on the movie poster.

How to beat your childhood senseless in one easy lesson.
photo credit: IMDB

You gotta love this flick, if only because Robert O’Brien’s book is an absolute classic, and it’s actually pulled off pretty well here. Of the three big animation houses these days (house of Disney, house of Bakshi, house of Bluth), I’ve always thought Bluth’s animators were third-best, but after a while you forget that and get caught up in the story. Still, you’re probably better off reading the book, unless you get a perverse thrill from hearing the voices of a ten-year-old Shannen Doherty and an eleven-year-old Wil Wheaton. * ½

* * *

Merzbow, Remblandt Assemblage (Extreme, 2000)

[originally posted 12Jun2000]

One of Masami Akita's collages decorates the CD.

Collagiform Palaneristics.
photo credit:

[ed. note 18Jul14: I had planned, way back when, to do capsule reviews of all fifty Merzbox CDs. I didn’t. I may have to pick this series back up again soon.]

Another of the very early releases in the Merzbox, this one a distillation of a 1980 cassette release from Lowest Music and Arts. It is half an early experiment with cutting and reassembling tape and half a long guitar solo. Of course, a Masami Akita “guitar solo” isn’t the same as listening to a Steve Vai album. It’s obvious that the instrument in question is a guitar, but instead of being one long piece recorded live, the tapes of the solos are taken and manipulated, with background noises added, so at one point you may be listening to an electric guitar that suddenly switches to an acoustic in mid-note, or the guitar melody may be overlaid by snippets of conversation a la John Watermann’s work in other places. The all-manipulation half of the disc (on the original cassette release, the tape material was side one and guitar side two) is surprisingly minimal and low-key for Akita. Again, this probably reflects the technology with which he was working; he made a point in the early days of using lower-quality equipment as a part of what today would be considered his “mission statement.”

Another wonderful early glimpse into the material that all coalesced to eventually become the Merzbow we all know and love. And it might actually be listenable for those who find the new, louder, more extreme stuff unbearable. ****

* * *

Merzbow, Collection Era vols. I-III (Extreme, 2000)

[originally posted 12Jun2000]

Swirls of bright neon streak over a black design on the CD.

Neon Knights.
photo credit:

A kaleidoscope-like abstract pattern decorates the CD.

photo credit:

A symmetrical design that resembles the legs of dancers adorns the CD.

The dance will only end
Betide the final dancer fall;
The world must soon prehend
The nigh damnation of us all.
photo credit:

The title is more accurate than one would think. Rather than being a collection of all the stuff from Collection I through Collection 10, released during that first spurt of creativity in 1981, these three CDs take highlights of the Collection cassettes and the Trial Productions cassette from 1982 and form them into one long three-disc collage that attempts to be more structured and formative than the original cassettes were. In the larger context of the Merzbox, these three CDs represent Akita’s collborative efforts with Kiyoshi Mizutani, who’d worked with Akita in other pre-Merzbow bands. The discs are in the same vein as the work from the ones immediately preceding it in the box (OM Electrique, Metal Acoustic Music, Remblandt Assemblage); cut-up, intentionally cheap, using traditional instruments as well as starting the now-second-nature noise trend of recording everything through distortion pedals originally made to be used with guitars. Worthwhile for those who want to trace the development of Merzbow from day one only, but one assumes that it’s only those people who shelled out the cash for the ‘box in the first place. ***

* * *

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Signs and Portents (Jove, 1984)

[originally posted 12Dec2001]

Light spills from the door of a mausoleum on the book's cover.

We’ll leave the light on for ya.
photo credit: Fantastic Fiction

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a wonderful writer who doesn’t mind wallowing in the literary muck now and then; she harbors no illusions that she’s too good for, well, anyone. That pretty much assures the uninitiated Yarbro fan (for there are two types of people on Earth, Yarbro fans and those who have not yet been exposed to her work) that any piece of fiction the woman has turned out is going to be a fun time. Signs and Portents is no exception to the rule. It’s a book of short stories, and it suffers from one of the deficiencies of almost any book of short stories, inconsistency (only the truly great and the truly awful short story collections are uniform in their quality). However, that is to be expected, and no reader of short stories will fault a collection for it.

When Yarbro is good, she is very very good, and that’s the case here. Her characters jump off the page and into the reader’s brain with a minimum of hassle, and they’re usually doing something altogether fun, like learning that getting a love potion from a witch ain’t all it’s cracked up to be (“Savory, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”) or messing with the order of the universe thanks to, well, being an incompetent clod (“Space-Time Arabesque”). There’s quite a bit to enjoy here, if you’re lucky enough to find a copy. ***

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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