Magic vs. Technology – Mordor’s Point of View

Because Gandalf refers to Mordor as the “Evil Empire” and is accused of crafting a “Final Solution to the Mordorian problem” by rival wizard Saruman, he obviously serves as an avatar for Russia’s 20th-century foes. But the juxtaposition of the willfully feudal and backward “West,” happy with “picking lice in its log ‘castles'” while Mordor cultivates learning and embraces change, also recalls the clash between Europe in the early Middle Ages and the more sophisticated and learned Muslim empires to the east and south. Sauron passes a “universal literacy law,” while the shield maiden Eowyn has been raised illiterate, “like most of Rohan’s elite” — good guys Tolkien based on his beloved Anglo-Saxons.

Laura Miller – Middle-earth according to Mordor

Kirill Eskov, a Russian paleontologist, biologist and writer, tells the tale of the largest battle in Middle-Earth from the opposite point of view. Though the book was written in 1999, until recently there weren’t any good English translations of Mr. Eskov’s work – enter Yisroel Markov, who stepped up and translated it for us, providing a free translation under a non-commercial license.

My reading list has just grown by one.

If you’re the least bit interested in Lord of the Rings, (real) history or even the gray areas of copyright, check out Laura Miller’s piece on the story and its translation Middle-earth according to Mordor, which provides some interesting insight beyond the story itself.

Hat tip to @myerman, my kilted cohort for the link.

keep your spot… »

Mollie Johanson's quirky DIY bookmark project. This opens up a lot of ideas for interesting placeholders and should inspire some neat projects for kids and adults.

Longform.org »

This site's entire purpose is to highlight articles that are too long for the Web browser, but perfect for those who use and love Instapaper. What a great idea.

Orwell's Diaries

George Orwell\'s Diary Entry from September 3rd, 1939. Original image from The Orwell Prize (http://www.theorwellprize.co.uk)

George Orwell's Diary Entry from September 3rd, 1939. Image from George Orwell Archive, UCL

Starting August 9th, the Orwell Prize will serialize George Orwell’s diary, publishing each entry 70 years to the day after it was originally written. The topics are likely to be wide ranging from day-to-day domestic observations of his chickens to the political thoughts that would inform his best known work. As the diaries span four years, we should gain a deep insight into the man’s life and perspective. I’ve added the Orwell Diaries to my set of RSS feeds and cannot wait to read his entry from August 9th, 1938.

This is where the value, the absolute heart of the Internet shows through.

Where Should I Start?

As my themeword for 2008 is Explore (other people’s choices are interesting too), I am kicking off a new series: Where Should I Start. The premise is a simple one, ask or answer a question that starts with “If I wanted to [read/listen to/watch/learn about] something where should I start?”

There are so many amazing things in this world to experience, yet it can be hard to figure out where to begin – luckily the LazyWeb can help out.

To start things off, I’ll give a couple of recommendations and ask for some in return:

If I wanted to read a book by Leo Tolstoy, where should I start?

War and PeaceWell, I assume War and Peace is as good a place as any. In fact, I recently picked up a copy as I have never read this epic depicting Napoleon’ invasion of Russia and some of the lives impacted by the war.

After going through a ton of reviews on Amazon, I believe I found a translation that will be both accessible and close to the original in terms of narrative flow and rhythm.

If I wanted to experience Miles Davis, where should I start?

Kind of Blue by Miles Davis Kind of Blue, recorded in 1959, is by far his best album, the highest selling jazz record of all time and one of the most beautiful jazz recordings ever made.

Kind of Blue tends to be near, if not at the top of many critics’ lists of best albums of all times and is definitely one of the most influential Jazz albums ever released.

Over to You!

  • If I wanted to listen to music by Django Reinhardt, where should I start?
  • If I wanted to introduce a non-geek to science fiction which books should I recommend to them? Yes, I know non-geeks reaf sci-fi, but I’m looking for interesting sci-fi.

If you have answers to these questions, or would like to add your own to the series, please leave them in the comments!

The Taming of the Screw

Forbes has a great article entitled The Taming of the Screw which tells of a new redesign of the screw. “The humble screw has changed little in 2,000 years, until a stubborn engineer at Illinois Tool Works came up with a fascinating new twist.” – Very cool! Reminds me of a great book I read a year or so back: One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw which I highly recommend. It’s far more interesting than it sounds. I promise.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke for the link.

The Grammar of Ornament

I received some excellent books for my birthday this year, including The Grammar of Ornament, a stunning mixture of design knowledge, history and inspiration. The book, first printed in the middle of the 19th century, discusses a wide swath of ornamental styles and design from a wide array of sources and eras, including ancient Byzantinium, Greece, and Egypt, Imperial China and the European Renaissance.

While I have already spent a lot of time flipping pages, marvelling at the color reproductions, I have also started reading the book from cover to cover, just as I do with any other history source. The Grammar of Ornament provides an amazing opportunity to learn more about the history of those design elements we see throughout our day. All the better that it proves to be a great fount of ideas, even for those of us who design for an electronic medium.

My Development Bookshelf

I have added a new section to the Web Development category titled Bookshelf, which is to hold reviews of the various books that I use in my day-to-day Web development and design projects. Hopefully my thoughts on the books will prove useful to others as they look for the right book(s) for a specific project, or to learn a particular technology. While I will do my best to provide some detail with each review, I must admit that I have a few books that sit on the shelf unread. For the most part, these unread volumes are review copies, often covering technologies that I just haven’t had the time to pick up. Such is life. I will update these sparse entries when I have had a chance to use the books.

I would also love to hear any recommendations for alternate, or companion books on the subjects covered by each. So, please post a comment, or send me your suggestions!

The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History

Sarah’s mom and dad gave me this book a few months back and as I hadn’t heard of it I was quite intrigued. Philip Bobbitt provides an impressive amount of detail in each page. While this leads to a somewhat dry writing-style, the insights and connections presented easily make it worthwhile. I may begin taking notes as I read to solidify my understanding of the subjects.

Covering the situations surrounding war and peace over the last six centuries is breathtaking in scope, but required background if one is to understand our past and its relation to the tumultuous present.

It is important to me that I challenge my mind these days. It is all too easy to fall into a routine of complacency fed by entertainment devices.

I’ll add more to this entry as I read.

Pattern Recognition

While the world in this novel is drastically different than those in previous Gibson books; the detail and depth of the storyline is as intricate as any before. Pattern Recognition takes place tomorrow as opposed to decades in the future making it all the easier to fall into, yet at times far more alien. As much as I would like to talk about the book, I am unsure where to start as describing one facet inevitably gives away a key secret or twist.

So, instead I shall leave you with the quote on the back of the book, by another one of my favorite author’s – Neil Gaimen.

“Pattern Recognition is William Gibson’s best book since he rewrote all the rules in Neuromancer. Gibson casts a master extrapolator’s eye on our present, and shows it to us as if for the first time.”

Go buy it. Now.

Ender's Game

Ender’s Game is one of the many novels that have remained unread upon a shelf or in a box of books (of which I have far too many) for several years. I’m not sure about you, but I tend to have a stack of books in a ‘to read’ section of my office and all too often the ones in the middle or on the bottom remain there as new books grab my attention. Well, a few weeks back I decided I needed to shift my attention to lighter fare, so I picked up this book, well known to those in the science fiction community. I wish I had done so years ago.

Orson Scott Card’s tale is amazing. Unlike some sci-fi that I have read, he keeps his technology pretty well rooted – eighteen years after its original publishing date, the technology still makes sense. That doesn’t ring true for quite a few other stories. Card’s writing style is easy to follow, providing a very fast read without loss of character development. An ideal balance.

The story is that of Ender Wiggin, a child genius in a world at war with aliens. From an early age he was monitored, much like his elder brother and sister to determine if he was the one destined to become the military leader required to drive back the aliens and secure a future for mankind. Unlike his elder siblings, he was chosen. Taken away to a military academy in orbit around the Earth, Ender joined many other children focused on learning the arts of war through games. We are provided with two views, the first is that of the adult military officers responsible for his training, the other view is made up of the thoughts and experiences of Ender himself: the inner struggles to be good, to fit in and to avoid hurting others, though at times he s forced to do just that out of self-preservation. All the while he plays the games. Training for the unavoidable war with the buggers…

Between Silk and Cyanide

I sped through this book. It is easy to read, yet chock full of information about the use of cryptography by the British in World War II as told by a man who was in the midst of it. I cannot recommend it enough.

The basic concepts are explained in a way that make sense, ensuring that the technicalities do not take over. While I have read several crypto books, none have had the narrative style employed by Mr. Marks which makes his work so easy to read.

Between Silk and Cyanide is not an introduction to cryptography as its focus is the people forming history; but if you aren’t sure if you want to dive into learning about cryptography it might provide you with the first glimmer of understanding of the concepts.

Special Operations Executive (SOE) was created in July 1940 with a mandate from Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze.” Its main function was to infiltrate agents into enemy-occupied territory to perform acts of sabotage and form the resistance movements into secret armies. There have been many books and films about the breaking of codes — but this is the first one about making them from a man who actually did.

Leo Marks joined SOE in 1942 at the age of twenty-two. A cryptographer of genius, he had revolutionized code-making by the time he was twenty-three. In replacing the outdated and dangerous poem codes with an ingenious system of one-time codes printed on silk that could easily be destroyed, Marks was instrumental in both stymieing German counter-intelligence and saving hundreds of agent’s lives. He discloses how and why he broke General de Gaulle’s secret code; details the adventures of saboteurs who parachuted into Norway to destroy a heavy water plant; did surveillance on Hitler’s long-range missile base at Pennemunde; and organized the secret armies of occupied Europe building up to D-Day.

Amazon.com: Editorial Reviews

Sams Teach Yourself XML in 21 Days

I’ve had this book for more than a year. Shortly after purchasing it my work-life got slammed (one of two company rebranding efforts) and I had to set the book aside. As noted in a previous post, I have decided t solidify my knowledge of XML, and as this is the only book (of the five) I have which starts from the beginning, I picked it up once more.

So far it has been easy going, I completed the first three “days” yesterday and feel that I have a decent grasp on the fundamentals covered. The Sams “Teach yourself…” series seems to be pretty reliable and easy to stick with for the most part, thus encouraging me to follow the lesson plan instead of skipping ahead, which I have a tendency to do.

The author relies a little too much on future learning for my tastes, (often stating “in future chapters you will learn…”) which is fine in small doses, but it crops up a bit too often.

All in all I’m happy with the book and I’m looking forward to the in-depth lessons to come.

Running from Suitors

“It soon became very clear to Eleanor that while she remained single she would be at the mercy of fortune hunters. Twice, as she was making her way to Poiters, would-be suitors, with covetous eyes on her vast inheritance, attempted to abduct her. At Blois the future Count Theobald V was plotting to seize her on the night of 21 March 1152; forewarned in time, and protected by her escort, she was forced to flee under cover of darkness, taking a barge along the Loire towards Tours. Farther south, at Port des Piles, near the River Creuse, where she intended to make a crossing, Geoffrey of Anjou, younger brother of Henry, lay in wait for her. Again she received a warning from ‘her good angel’ — possibly a member of her escort — and narrowly evaded capture, swinging south to where she could ford the River Vienne and, avoiding the main roads, make a dash ‘by another way’ for Poiters.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

In an era which required women to remain in the background and acquiesce to the will of men, Eleanor of Aquitaine rose to become quite the powerful figure. Chivalry as we know it, portrayed in legendary stories of Kind Arthur and sung by troubadours was just starting to take shape; so few women of the time were placed on a romantic pedestal and few were allowed to hold any influence beyond the hosting of events within the court.

I just started reading, but in these first 40 pages, Alison Weir has fleshed out the world of 12th century France and Europe in great detail. My knowledge of Eleanor of Aquitaine until this time was built with snippets of stories and a movie by the name of
The Lion in Winter
. Focusing on her life directly is sheding a lot of light and providing a deeper perspective of Europe in that era.

The Meaning of it All

From the book:

“Once in Hawaii I was taken to see a Buddhist temple. In the temple a man said, “I am going to tell you something that you will never forget.” And then he said “To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.”

American Caesar

Douglas MacArthur was a man of astounding opposites which seem to grow more numerous with each page I flip.

An astounding leader, who stood up in the open to count the number of enemy bombers flying overhead as they dropped their payloads all around him; yet his troops called him “Dugout Doug”. Ouch.

The man was about as conceited as is humanly possible. But he had the goods to back it up.

The book itself is written exceedingly well; it reads like a novel, delving into the backgrounds of the individuals and the thinking behind decisions and reactions. I think I will be picking up other books by William Manchester in the future…