January 2011

Adobe InDesign CS4 One on One

Adobe InDesign CS4 One on One, by Deke McClelland ★★★★
I’ve been a bit remiss on writing on my blog site. Every once in a while I feel like I need to offer a personal reflection on what’s going on, but that may be a while from now. There are some trips being planned soon, which I’ll detail when I get back.
It is a bit unusual perhaps seeing a book on InDesign from me. Oddly, typography has a particular attraction for me. I remember the days when I was a typographical apprentice, mostly using hot type. It was at that time, in the early 1970s when cold type first arrived. I remember the clunky and always problematic Alphatype machine, which seemed to be broken more often than not. But, it was the forerunner of our current typesetting technology. I suspected back in 1973 that computers would eventually take over the typesetting business, and I was correct. The only use I had for my Journeyman’s card was to work my way through medical school. My former union (International Typographical Union) doesn’t even exist anymore. It was in the early 1980s that the first real typesetting program came out, called Aldus PageMaker. I purchased it and started playing with it. It was unreal how closely PageMaker simulated how a typographer would approach type. Aldus was since bought out by Adobe, who later morphed PageMaker into InDesign, constantly adding new functionality. This book takes one on a whirlwind tour of InDesign CS4. It is quite amazing all the power that one now has in the program, compared to the first version of PageMaker. McClelland adeptly demonstrates many of the subtle functions of InDesign CS4. His instructions are quite easy to follow, compared to many how-to-do computer books. Each chapter is accompanied by a short video that highlights a particular segment of the upcoming chapter. My only complaint about the book is the preoccupation with certain distractions, such as how to draw figures, that are nice to be able to do in InDesign but best performed in Illustrator. I would be quite amazed if somebody owned InDesign and did NOT own both Illustrator and Photoshop. Many typesetting topics were glossed over. He could have spent more time on the use of styles, which is one of the strongest utilities in InDesign. His examples included portions of past books that he wrote, or a silly frog article called Professor Shenbop. I would have appreciated a fuller spectrum of types of publications. Deke did have a keen eye for typographical details, and I wished he would have mentioned his thinking more often regarding adjustments of type spacing, etc. In the 1970s, everything had to be -10% between-letter spacing, so that letters ran on top of each other—thankfully, that is bygone. In summary, Deke does a most capable job of giving one a great summary of what InDesign CS4, and what it can do. For somebody familiar with InDesign, it was still helpful to read, and I felt like I picked up many new tips to make InDesign more useful to me.

Blood, Sweat, and Gears

Blood Sweat + Gears, Racing Clean to the Tour de France ★★★★
This film is yet another bicycle documentary, looking at the origin of the Team Garmin Slipstream and their rise from humble origins to competition in the Tour de France, with Christian Vande Velde placing 4th in total standing. The prevailing theme was a determination to do bicycle racing clean without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. It is a moving and well done story, inspiring one to hop on the bicycle and take off.

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Zino Zeffirelli ★★★★★
Of all the films on the life of Jesus Christ, this has to be not only the longest, running a good 6 hours, but also the best done, with superb acting and very expensive props. It is clear that an attempt for historical accuracy from a Biblical perspective was attempted, even though there is a moderate amount of directing freedom that has occurred. The film does have a touch of a Catholic “ring” to it, with Jesus running around as though he were a mythical character, but this film paints more humanity into Jesus than any of the other films available. Also, compared to the Jesus film, it is not so occupied with “in the face” emotionalism but attempts a review of Christ’s life more akin to what you might see on tv with investigational reporting. Thus, it ranks in my estimate as much better than the Jesus film. This is a must-see, long and demanding several nights to make it through the whole series, but is well worth it.

The Roots of Obama’s Rage

The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Dinesh D’Souza ★★★★★
I typically don’t read political books especially contemporary political books. This hit me as an exception, based on the discussion created over an excerpt from this book published in the Wall Street Journal. So, while I’m aggressively disinterested in learning anything about BHO, this book seemed to be a worthy exception to the rule. The most notable finding while reading the book is the exceptional writing style of D’Souza. He is very easy to read, very organized in his thinking, and his writing flows easily. He is convincing, as he is also writing as a person of the “3rd world”, having been born in India. D’Souza has a rather compelling argument for understanding how Obama thinks. The thesis of his book denies that he is primarily a socialist or Muslim or militant anti-racist. Rather, he is a determined anti-colonialist, a trait acquired from his father, of whom he had almost no contact. D’Souza builds an effective argument by walking through the life of Obama to show through his history and writings how Obama’s thinking developed into radical anti-colonialism. In support, D’Souza shows how the many decisions that Obama has made in his presidency confirm his anti-colonial sentiments. Obama considers the USA has replaced Britain as the great world colonizer, motivating him to seek ways to destroy American strength and effectiveness through the world as a means of atonement for America’s “sins” of pro-colonization. While not defending British colonialism, D’Souza shows how the most successful countries in the world today were most dominated by Western colonialism in the past, the prime example being India. Contrary, Africa, while complaining the most about colonialism, was the most briefly occupied by foreign powers, and remains the most backward in their ability to develop themselves out of poverty. This book is a contrast to a book that I recently reviewed, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon, where the sins of colonialism are brought out in their worst. Brendon seems to side with the Obama/Africa camp in his heavy emphasis on the problems of colonialism. D’Souza doesn’t deny the evils of colonialism, yet shows how it could be used as a force for good, as is currently occurring in India, China, Indonesia, as well as many other “3rd world” nations that are demonstrating rapid economic gains. D’Souza’s insightful analysis is a worthy read for both the Obama Choir (as D’Souza says, “those hypnotized followers who routinely suspend their rationality when it comes to this political rock star”) as well as those who find Obama as a destructive embarrassment for our nation, to best understand what makes our president tick.

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth, by Rev. Algore ★
This film is labeled a documentary, but its entire format is really that of a sermon by Rev. Algore. There is very little documentary here. Included are also occasional testimonials by supposedly notable figures. There is much political jabbing, some of which is justified, but most of which is not. Approximately 95% of the entire film has at least 40% of the screen filled with Rev. Algore’s face. There are multiple clips that just don’t relate to the thesis of global warming, such as a complaint about how the votes were tallied in Florida, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling, and no explanation as to what this had to do with the “inconvenient truth” of this film. The film is entirely about global warming but unknowingly shows how Rev. Algore is particularly skilled at depleting carbon units, although he is exempt since he alone is allowed to consume mass quantities of energy. I can’t imagine the energy required to run Rev. Algore under the North Pole in a nuclear submarine and surface through the ice, just to add a 2-minute episode to the sermon. I could go on and on. Rev. Algore sanctimoniously suggests that the family farm quit growing tobacco because of the concern over lung cancer, yet it almost certainly was a result of declining reimbursements from tobacco. Rev. Algore’s tone of voice, inflections, and speaking style were much more like a sermon than a documentary. The fools who gave this film an Academy Award fail to offer how this film stood out in quality and credible research. The entire thesis of the film is based on supposed rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, while Rev. Algore maintains a schoolboy belief in the accuracy and significance of the data and its extrapolations, without any questioning of the data. It shows the absurd fallacy of having a lawyer/politician pretend to be doing credible science. There is no doubt that there is some truth to what Rev. Algore is saying. There is a retreat of glaciers in the last few decades. There are certain interesting climate changes. Yet, Rev. Algore fails to substantiate the exact causal nature of these events, and chooses instead to promote emotionalism and extreme reactions, exactly what he accuses the Republican party of doing, though on other issues. If Rev. Algore didn’t make so many hard jabs at his political opponents, he might have gained a few more sympathetic ears. Making the weather a political rather than a purely environmental issue makes Rev. Algore ineffective and suspect as to his true intentions for making this film. It is thus hard for me to give this film even one star. It is not worth purchasing, though a single viewing is of value only to see the many gorgeous faces of Rev. Algore. Global warming supporters may have a credible argument, but it certainly is not given in this film.

Peoples of the Old Testament World

Peoples of the Old Testament World, edited by Hoerth, Mattingly, and Yamauchi ★★★
This book was published in 1995 and won the Publication Award of the Biblical Archeological Society, so I felt that it would be a great read. I was a bit disappointed. It is perhaps that scholarship tends to be so scant and poor in biblical archeology, that any publication would receive accolades regardless of the actual quality of the write. Each chapter was written by different authors, some chapters being excellent, others being quite poor. I thought that the last three chapters, on the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites were actually the best, while the chapters on Egypt and Mesopotamia were quite mediocre. My greatest complaint is the absence of any reasonable discussion regarding the reconciliation of the biblical with the archeological data. Often, the author would consider the biblical record as entirely subservient to the archeological findings, an approach I feel that does violence to God’s word. I’ll quote two examples… page 170, “What can be known about the Canaanite religion derives from two general sources of information: written records and material remains. The Bible is an important source, but the biblical writers naturally present a somewhat biased point of view that deprecated the Canaanite religion…”. Excuse me! I thought that God’s point of view was the only truly unbiased view. I am seeking a Biblical view on how I look at the world, desiring and NOT avoiding a Biblical perspective! Page 219 “…the account of the battle at Ramoth Gilead in I Kings 22 seems problematic as well and should also be considered highly suspect.” I would actually consider the archeological data highly suspect before I consider the Biblical data suspect. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point that many of the authors seem to have a very low opinion of Scripture. IMHO, Scriptures seem to reflect an absence of human bias and error that is found in all writings, including the current newspapers, which need to be read with great care, in order to discern what actually happened in a given event. The authors oftentimes frustrated me. Discussions of Sumer and early Babylon failed to mention the Biblical context, such as describing the world that Abraham came out of. Virtually no thought is given to the Biblical flood, and though flood accounts are mentioned throughout most world literature, this book treats the flood as a non-event. Should I presume that there are virtually no archeological remains from before the flood? Minimal to no discussion of the timing of the Exodus was given, of the tower of Babel, and other significant Biblical events. I would hope that a better archeological text with a modicum of respect for the Scriptures be forthcoming in the future.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Seasons 1-4 ★★★★★
This is a television series which ran for four seasons. Each season contained 4 DVDs, each DVD lasting about 3 hours and each episode about 25 minutes. Hitchcock would come on at the beginning and ending, to discuss some aspect of the film about to be seen. Each episode would use first-class actors, and most plots were quite delightful. Towards the end of the fourth season, Betsy and I could usually guess approximately what the ending might be, as they are not what one would suspect. Interestingly, Hitchcock in this series is frequently imitated. After all, there is no greater director of suspense films than him. All the episodes are in black and white, and nothing objectionable as is usually found on television nowadays is seen in this series, with minimal violence and certainly no sex or smut. Hitchcock shows that one doesn’t have to resort to filth in order to entertain. There are no Hitchcock cameos that I could find in any of the episodes. In all, this is an enjoyable and suspenseful series that is most highly recommended for all viewers.

Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku

Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku, by Peter Gordon ★★★
On occasion, I find that Sudoku is a great way to relax and still use the mind. Naturally, over time, one becomes interested in harder puzzles and looks for better algorithms for resolving the puzzle when answers don’t seem to be coming. So, I was quite eager to read this book, since it is supposedly written for really smart people. In actual fact, the book did give me a few insights in resolving some of the more challenging puzzles. Unfortunately, the added insights from the book help only in limited circumstances. He also provides a history of Sudoku, which I found to be quite interesting. I did not realize that Sudoku did NOT come from Japan, but was popularized there.
A combination of the techniques that I have developed as well as techniques of this book can resolve many but certainly not all Sudoku puzzles. Gordon admits that there are puzzles that simply are not solvable without guessing. I was grateful that somebody finally admitted that. He also noted that the Sudoku is written poorly if it eventually demands a guess to solve. My technique involves writing a tic-mark whenever a 9-block unit is reduced to just 2 squares of possibility for a given number. Gordon uses a more conventional tic-mark technique, where the tic-marks include all the possibilities for a given square. Gordon’s technique is best used when solving Sudoku on a computer, as I do not use a pencil, and certainly would object to having to write and erase multiple times. Gordon on paper has the result of taking the joy out of Sudoku. An optimal computer Sudoku game program would show all tic-marks, but show when tic-mark numbers are reduced to only 2 per 9-block unit by changing the color of the tic-marks to easily visualize them. Gordon’s advanced techniques are of value only when the puzzles are nearly completely solved, and not as useful early in a puzzle when most of the unfilled blocks have multiple possibilities. Gordon provides lots of puzzles that demonstrate his techniques, and is easy to read, though certainly not requiring a “Mensa” mentality, which seems to me more an indication of the person’s arrogance rather than their intelligence.

John Field concerti

John Field Piano Concertos (sic), performed by Benjamin Frith, Northern Sinfonia ★★★★★
First a brief comment about the English language. The pleural of concerto is NOT concertos but concerti. Unfortunately, we must live with this unbearable abuse of the common language. John Field is a little-known contemporary of Ludwig v. Beethoven. That he is little known is a terrible travesty, since his concerti are so delightful. These 6 concerti on 3 CDs belong in the regular repertoire, as they are most compelling, and fascinating to hear. Field maintains a style that is distinctly classical, but distinctly different from Beethoven and more in line with Mozart or perhaps Schubert. These performances are crisply recorded, and though offered on a budget set, are definitely not budget recordings. They are most highly recommended by me. Though Field does not have much music that is offered in recorded form, he is worth seeking out for what little he may have out there. I have commented previously on the fact that British Isle music is generally lacking, with significant decent composers from those parts being able to be counted on one hand with most of the fingers amputated. Field is Irish, and would have to be added as one of the few that gets counted as a truly great British Isles (though NOT British!) composer.