CD Review: sunlight to blue… blue to blackness by The Durutti Column

For nearly thirty years, I’ve been a fan of The Durutti Column, the name used by multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer Vini Reilly. I discovered The Return of the Durutti Column, Vini’s first album, back in 1980, shortly after it was released, and was immediately hooked. His combination of catchy melodies, his unique style of guitar playing, and his laconic voice give his music a tone that is his alone. So as, each year or so, a new Durutti Column album comes out, I buy it unhesitatingly.

The latest album, sunlight to blue… blue to blackness, is available from Kooky Records, a small label that has released the last few Durutti albums. (It is actually not released until June 23; I got a pre-release copy of it.)

Vini Reilly can be said to repeat himself; but that’s part of the charm of each Durutti Column album. The first track, a heart-rending acoustic guitar piece called “Glimpse”, is a reworking of a few early Durutti Column melodies, but is played with such delicacy and beauty, that it makes me melt. The first five tracks on this album are instrumentals, several featuring themes and riffs from earlier works, and the sixth track is a rhythm-box version of “Never Known”, a great old song from the 1981 disc LC. I’ve never been a big fan of Vini’s “electronicized” music, such as his Obey the Time album, but the song works well. “Ananda” is a beautiful piano-based track, written and performed by Poppy Morgan, with “intrusive guitar” by Vini. “Head Glue” is a very languid duet sung by Vini and XXXX, and “Demo for Gathering Dust” is, as its title suggests, a version of a song on the Idiots Savants disc released last year, in which Vini shows off his acoustic guitar skills (though it gets a bit vague near the end as he riffs out on chords). “Cup a Soup Romance” is another guitar instrumental, and “Grief” is a solo piano piece.

All in all, another beautiful album from Vini Reilly. In a way, though, the three songs with vocals don’t really fit with the other eight tracks; this album would have been a bit more satisfying as an instrumental-only disc. But there’s not a weak song on it, and I’d recommend it to all, fans of The Durutti Column or newcomers.

Essential Music: The Return of The Durutti Column

UntitledFor those who weren’t around or listening to music in 1979, it’s hard to imagine how different the world of “popular” music was. Critics and retailers hadn’t fragmented music into the many genres you see today in stores, and many of today’s genres didn’t even exist. Rap was taking its first steps, ambient and electronic music were considered avant-garde, new age was just budding, and punk and disco were battling it out in the record bins. New wave was just following in the footsteps of punk, as progressive rock was in its final death throes.

Amidst the punk and new-wave music that came out of England, as part of the late-’70s independent music scene, was a now-legendary record label based in Manchester: Factory Records. Its first two groups were Joy Division (which, after the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis, morphed into New Order) and The Durutti Column, but Factory released many other records by little-known groups, and the Factory concept, together with other independent labels in the UK, such as Rough Trade, revitalized a moribund music scene.

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My New Go Set

I like to play go. It’s a board game, originally from Asia, that is played on a board with 19 x 19 lines. You take turns placing stones (one player gets white, the other black) on the intersections of the lines. The goal is to create a territory; space delimited by your stones. At the end of the game, you count up the points (intersections) in your territory, and add any stones you have captured (you can capture stones by surrounding them). The person with the highest score wins.

That was a very, very succinct description of the game of go (or baduk, in Korean, or weiqi in Chinese). While the rules are simple, it does get more complicated than that. The game is played professionally, mostly in Japan, Korea and China, and has developed a long tradition of strategy and tactics. You could say that the depth of study is similar to that of chess, though the game’s logic is totally different: while you can kill stones, the goal is to make territory, unlike in chess where the only goal is to kill pieces.

Another difference between go and chess is the ability of computer programs to successfully play the game. While software can beat chess grandmasters, no go software comes anywhere near the level of professionals (though people are trying hard). This is, in part, due to the number of possible moves at any time (at the first move, there are 361 points where one can play, though the first few moves are usually only played on one of a couple of dozen points), but also to the number of moves in a game (games range from 200 to 300 moves).

I’ve been playing go for many years, casually at first, then, in the early days of the Internet I started playing on the now defunct NNGS (No-Name Go Server), a server that connected people around the world. I now play on KGS, where my screen name is Dogen. Unfortunately, I live in an area devoid of go players or clubs, but with KGS I can play at any time of the day or night, and I get to play people from many different countries and styles.

So, for years I had wanted to get a nice go set. I had a cheap folding board with glass stones; fine to play the game, but not aesthetically pleasing. I finally made the investment in a nice set, ordered from Kuroki Goishi Ten in Japan, a manufacturer of go stones, boards and bowls. As you can see in the picture above, those are the three elements of a go set: a board, black and white stones, and bowls to hold the stones.

The board is made from hyuga kaya, a type of tree found in Japan, and is made of four pieces of wood glued together. A board’s price depends, in part, on the number of pieces of wood it uses: the more pieces, the cheaper. The most expensive boards are made of a single piece of wood, and this is very expensive because of the size of the piece needed and the impeccable quality it must have. Next come boards with two pieces of wood, with a joint in the middle. Then come four-piece boards, and then five- to seven-piece boards. The wood used for my board is beautiful; kaya has a yellowish tint to it, and the grain on the top is very straight. In addition, the four pieces of wood are joined at points just under lines, so you cannot even see the joints.

The stones are quite special. The black stones are made of slate, and are really “stones”; they are black, not the usual gray slate people are familiar with, and have a matte finish. The white stones are made from clamshells and have grain on one side. They are smooth and shiny, and contrast well with the black stones. There are three different grades of clamshell stones; from least to most expensive: flower, moon and snow. I chose moon, because the grain is more attractive (on snow stones, the grain is less obvious). They also come in different thicknesses; mine are 8.4 mm thick, which I find quite nice to hold. Many players prefer thicker, heavier stones.

Finally come the bowls. Perhaps the least esthetic part of a set, mine are made of cherry blossom wood, and have a beautiful glowing finish and very prominent grain.

What strikes me most about this set is the overall esthetic quality of the different elements and how they all fit together. The craftsmanship of this material is magnificent, showing that one can own hand-made objects even in our mechanical age at affordable prices.

But I said I don’t have anyone to play with. It’s a shame, but the only use I’ll have (for now) for this set is to play games on the board as I play them on a go server, or to play out pro games to study. I very much enjoy doing the latter, as it is a form of meditation; when one is absorbed in a game, the outside world fades away and one’s concentration peaks. For now, I’m a slightly-better-than-average player, but I’m getting better, through study and practice. Wish me luck!

The MacBook Air: What a Laptop Should Be

I mentioned a few weeks ago , after the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, that I was planning to buy a MacBook Air. Well, my Air finally arrived yesterday, and, after unboxing, getting the “oohs” and “aahs” from my son, the fanboy (well, he actually said, “Dude!” several times), I took some time to sit down with the computer and try it out. I’m pretty amazed by this computer, and I can safely say that it’s the most impressive Mac I’ve ever owned (my Mac experience dates back to the PowerBook 100, in 1991). Frankly, the MacBook Air is what a portable computer should be.

First, the weight. You can’t imagine unless you’ve actually held it in your hands, but the Air is really, really light. This Mac is replacing a 14″ iBook, and I’d say that it’s about half the weight of the iBook. (That’s a guesstimate, based on how it feels in my hards.) When picking up the Air, there is no feeling that one could drop it if only holding it in one hand, and there’s no heft to it at all. It’s about as heavy as an average-sized hardcover book; but the size and thickness make it feel even lighter.

As to the thickness – or, as Apple says, the “thinness”, it is impressive, but much less so than the weight. When you do put it on your lap, though, you start to notice just how thin it is. If you put your hand on the edge, you can feel that there is little space between the open part of the Air and your lap. But I don’t think the thickness is as big a revolution as the weight, even though the two go hand in hand.Now, as Apple has said, compromises are always made with laptops, and one that sub-notebooks make is using a small keyboard. The full-size keyboard on the Air is essential, especially because I have large hands. I only fiddled with a 10″ sub-notebook once, and couldn’t type on it with any speed. Since I touch-type, I want a machine that I can use, not one on which I have to hunt and peck. And the touch of this keyboard is brilliant; it reminds me of the early iBooks, which had a keyboard where the keys didn’t move much, and had a good, solid stop to them, not a mushy feeling. This keyboard is very close to Apple’s new full-size keyboards.

So I’m writing this article on my Air, sitting in a comfortable chair next to my office window. I can type as fast and as comfortably as on any full-size keyboard, and do so comfortably (even though I generally prefer ergonomic keyboards, and use one with my Mac Pro). There are some things to get used to: there is no Enter key on this keyboard, so I keep pressing the right Command key when I want to press Enter; I’ll get used to that soon. And you do have to be slightly careful to not rest your thumbs on the large trackpad. That trackpad is, however, brilliant for tracking. Not only does it give a bigger target, but the trackpad gestures are quite intuitive, especially scrolling and using a three-finger “swipe” to go back and forward when browsing. All in all, the usability of the device for typing and tracking is excellent.

Did I say that the Air is light? I just picked it up again, and remain amazed each time I do so…

On to the display. I was a bit hesitant about the glossy screen, not having had any Macs with this type of screen before. (Though my son has a glossy iMac.) It’s actually quite good, as long as you can be in positions here you don’t suffer from reflections. The screen is crisp, very bright (thanks to its LED back-lighting), and the size of the screen is fine. I moved from a 14″ screen in 4:3 ration to this wide screen, and, given the quality of the screen which offsets the size, it’s a good trade-off. I’m not one for tiny pixels, but this screen is so sharp that even my middle-aged eyes are more than content.

Now, I have the MacBook Air with the SSD (solid-state disk). One thing this offers is almost instant wake-from-sleep, and very fast application launching. Tests show that it’s somewhat slower writing data, but when I was setting up my Air, I copied about 30 GB of data from a USB hard disk, and had the impression that the copy went very quickly. This isn’t scientific, but nothing suggested that the SSD is slow. Note that I didn’t use the wireless migration assistant – I had read enough about how slow it was to plan ahead, copying the data from my iBook to an external disk beforehand.

While I can’t judge the quality of the wireless migration assistant, I can talk about using Remote Disk to install software on the Air. I had to install iWork from a CD, so dumped it into my Mac Pro (after turning on CD/DVD sharing in the Sharing preferences), then ran the installer. It was transparent. Relatively fast, painless, and, frankly, brilliant. I truly cannot see when I’d need an optical drive for the Air, since I make backups to an external disk, and, especially, since it’s not my main computer. I can understand that anyone who uses the Air exclusively will need the external SuperDrive, but it’s just so good to have a small, light computer, that I can do without the optical disc drive.

One thing I was concerned about with the Air was its heat level, and, by extension, its noise level. When setting it up, the fan went on after a few minutes, and it’s pretty noisy. But that only lasted as long as I was taxing the processor by copying lots of files. Since then, it’s been totally quiet, and very cool. I’m typing this with the Air on my lap, and I don’t notice its heat. Granted, typing a few thousand words is not processor-intensive, and I haven’t tested it with anything more serious than surfing and writing, but it’s clear that, for such limited activities, the Air won’t heat up much. My guess is that the aluminum dissipates the heat efficiently during light usage, but that the Air is designed to not be hot. Currently – and, remember, I’m not hitting the processor very hard – the CPU sensor is 50° C and the bottom enclosure temperate is 38° C, just a tad higher than skin temperature. Doing some heavy surfing (opening a dozen pages in tabs) gets the CPU temperature up to 60° C almost immediately, so sustained surfing will get the Air much warmer. But in my experience, with non-intensive usage, this is one cool laptop (Tests performed with Marcel Bresink’s Temperature Monitor http://www.bresink.de/osx/TemperatureMonitor.html)

Naturally, your usage will be different, especially if this is your main Mac. Gaming – which is probably not very efficient on the Air, given its on-board video RAM – would tax the machine, and serious number crunching or graphic work would certainly get the temperature up.

I mentioned how the GPU would not be sufficient for gaming, and I’m suggesting that based on tests I’ve read. I’m not a gamer (though I play go), so I won’t be able to test that. However, in regular usage, the graphics are snappy and clean – for example, scrolling web pages is very fast and smooth – so that limited VRAM is no hindrance to the Air’s performance.

There’s not a lot of negatives I can say about the Air, other than it’s price: yes, it’s a pricey computer, especially compared to the MacBook, which offers better performance. But it is so well designed that it makes portable computing a joy. Every other laptop is clunky compared to the Air; once you’ve held the Air in your hards, you won’t want to use any other laptop. I discussed this with several friends yesterday, one of whom had already held the Air at the Macworld Expo; he says it’s too big; he wants a real sub-notebook, and doesn’t mind a small keyboard. Another uses spreadsheets a lot, and he wants a bigger screen; he wondered if Apple wouldn’t expand the Air line to include a 15″ model, something that might make sense if the 13″ is popular enough. No, the Air is not for everyone, but it’s exactly what I need: a small, light computer to do the work I do (writing), and to use for general computing activities. I have a Mac Pro for everything else, and the Air is the perfect compliment. As I said above, the MacBook Air is what a portable computer should be.

Reading Moby-Dick

Call me obsessive. Some time ago – never mind how long precisely – I thought I would read Moby-Dick and see the watery part of the world through Herman Melville’s eyes. I wanted to discover another author from this period, of which I am very fond. The early part of the 19th century, also called “the American renaissance”, saw the likes of many of America’s greatest authors: Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Melville, Hawthorne, and others, who are among my favorite writers. While I have read many of these writers, I had not yet explored Melville. Moby-Dick, being one of the summits of 19th century fiction, therefore stood before me as a monolithic work, one that, I felt, would take some preparation.

But something about 19th century authors can make their works difficult to penetrate, at least without a solid understanding of the times and the context of their writings. My reading experience, both of fiction and history, had armed me well to fit the text into the times, but I wanted to know more, to get the most out of this book that is said to be so great.

Several people I know have read Moby-Dick, and they told me how boring they found it; their experiences generally dated back to high school, a time of less patience. It’s clear that as a teenager it could be hard to understand not only the style of the writing, but the overall structure of the book. So, my obsession led me to read not just Moby-Dick, but also Melville.

To do this, I bought the three Library of America editions of Melville’s works: the first volume contains three “South Seas” works, Typee, Omoo and Mardi (Typee and Omoo are “true stories”, says Melville; it is more likely that they are based in truth and embellished substantially). The second volume contains Redburn, White-Jacket and Moby-Dick, all novels. And the final volume contains, in addition to some “uncollected prose”, Melville’s post-sea novels, Pierre, Israel Potter, and The Confidence Man, some short stories, including Bartelby the Scrivener, and the posthumous Billy Budd.

At the same time, I wanted to learn more about Melville’s life, and purchased the interesting yet not over-long Melville: A Biography by Laurie Robertson-Lorant. (The two-volume biography by Hershel Parker seemed a bit much at this stage.)

So, armed with all this, I set out to read Moby-Dick; along the way, I discovered much more than I bargained for.

Melville was a strange man, prone to depression and bouts of incredible literary production. He wrote his first seven novels – or about 3,000 pages in the Library of America editions – in about six years, an astounding rate of production. This writing seems to have been an explosion of pent-up creative energy, which, in fact, more or less dried up after 1857 (or about a dozen years after he started writing). The first six books came from his experiences sailing around the world: from 1841-1844, Melville sailed on a merchant ship, a man-of-war, and a whaler, and all three of these ships are settings he uses in his novels (Typee, Omoo and Mardi feature ships, but mostly take place on islands in the Pacific; Redburn, White-Jacket and Moby-Dick are centered, respectively, around a merchant ship, man-of-war, and whaler).

But all this is actually moot, when considering reading an author’s works, especially in a spurt of élan, similar to that which Melville experienced while writing them. I read the first six books in about a month, which, for some 2,800 pages of text, is fast, even for me. I was drawn into Melville’s world, and his style, so much so that I almost could not stop reading. These books are not beach reading material, but once I became familiar with the rhythms and tones of Melville’s writing, I wanted more, and kept on reading through his personal narrative of his life.

When I finally got to Moby-Dick, which was the “great white whale” of my personal quest, as well as Captain Ahab’s, I felt I understood not only Melville’s writing, but also his need for using writing as a cathartic process. For many aspects of Melville’s life were dark and disturbing, from his relationship with his father to that with his mother; from his family’s descent from the bourgeoisie to that of small-town ennui. Herman Melville was not a man who could be pinned down in one place, and, after his experience before the mast, he needed to express himself but break through all limits. The great white whale was, for him, more than just a metaphor of life and death; it seems to have been an expression of his own desire to write, to create, to go beyond the simple life he was living at the time.

Yes, parts of Moby-Dick can be seen as boring, but readers generally don’t understand the literary context of the times. This was the period when novels were being born in the United States, where fiction often contained fact; the long chapters on cetology in Moby-Dick, which serve as counterpoint and punctuation to the action in the book are structurally similar to the moralistic and expository sections of other novels of the period. Some people suggest that you skip these chapters, but this would do great wrong in taking out what could be seen as the spermaceti of the book. Melville does not merely wax intellectual in these sections, but provides the subtle background for the great climax of the book. As Ahab struggles with his quest, so Melville fights to construct an edifice of Leviathan proportions, and his foundations need to be solid.

Naturally, no one could write a book like this today. Exposition of the sort that Melville used to explain about whales is considered a great heresy in modern literature; combining this sort of fiction and fact would, today, be the sign of an uncultured scrivener. But exceptions prove rules, and Melville’s great achievement was providing a totally-encompasing whole, in which readers who knew nothing of whales, whalers and whaling, could become immersed in a story that acts on many levels. The beauty of Moby-Dick is this intense plunge into not only the narrative of Ahab hunting the whale, but also the tiny details of shipboard life, the oft excessive discussions of different types of whales, and the portrayals of the different personages who peopled the Pequod.

Now that I have read Moby-Dick, I still have a third volume of Melville’s works to read. While I know that Moby-Dick was the zenith of Melville’s writing, and closed (though not entirely) his writings about life at sea, I look forward to the later works with the same pleasure that I moved ahead through these first six books. Herman Melville was certainly one of the great writers of America’s 19th century, and deserves to be known for more than just a story about a whale; he deserves greater recognition for the universe he created through his books, and the intensity that he transferred from his life to his writings.

Henry David Thoreau and the Walden Mailing List


The Walden mailing list is dedicated to Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 to May 6, 1862). It is named after his best known work, Walden, a recounting of a period of time he spent living “deliberately” next to Walden Pond, outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

Thoreau was a writer and philosopher, as well as an activist. As he wrote, in Walden,
“it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left.”

We offer the list as a place to discuss:

  • The pleasure that Thoreau’s writing provides us and the relevance of his ideas to life in the 21st Century.
  • Books about Thoreau’s life and works
  • Other authors from the period called The American Renaissance, particularly ones whose lives or literature moved Thoreau. (Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, etc.)
  • Living deliberately
  • Nature writing and environmental concerns
  • A place to meet others who share your interest in the world of Henry David Thoreau.

Note: this list was initially created in 1996, and was housed on a server which has since disappeared. For that reason, the first five years of archives were lost. The list was moved to Yahoo.com in late 2001, and it was then moved to Google Groups. Archives are available for the Yahoo mailing list from 2001 to 2014.

To subscribe to this mailing list, go to the https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/walden-list at Google Groups.

If you want a very good annotated version of Walden – arguably one of the finest books written in the English language – see this review.

Thoreau Links

The riverText café: Brian Thomas’ site, which notably houses If Monks had Macs
The Thoreau Society: Perhaps the best Thoreau site, with e-texts of almost all of his works, biographical info, scholarship, and lots more.
Henry David Thoreau online: a comprehensive site about Thoreau, with e-texts of many of his works
The Thoreau Reader: annotated works of Henry David Thoreau
The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau: definitive editions of Thoreau’s works
Ken Pedersen’s Walden CD: music inspired by Thoreau
Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson: my website dedicated to Thoreau’s mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the leading mind behind Transcendentalism

Yet Another Important Box Set: Bach’s Sacred Cantatas

Gustav Leonhardt & Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Concentus Musicus Wien

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

If you like Bach, you simply must be familiar with his sacred cantatas. These vocal and instrumental works, written to be performed in church on Sundays and on feast days, feature some of Bach’s finest melodies. This set, conducted by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt, was groundbreaking when it was first released, starting in the 1970s. At the time, it was the only complete set of cantatas, but now many others are available. Performed in what is now called historically informed performance, this set is unique in that it has no female singers; only boys are used for the soprano voices, unlike other recordings.

This re-release is a reminder just how great this music is, and how important it is to know. While I have this set, and like it, I prefer more recent recordings, such as the in-progress complete sets by John Gardiner or Maasaki Suzuki. But the pure instrumental sound achieved in these recordings, and the simplicity of the boy singers’ voices, makes it an essential recording. It’s not cheap, but for Bach fanatics it is a must-have.

Henry James’s Letters: What’s the Point of Publishing Them?

Henry James was a prolific epistolarian: it is estimated that he wrote as many as 40,000 letters in his lifetime. While many are lost, editors currently have access to more than 10,000 letters, and the University of Nebraska Press has recently published the first two volumes of what will exceed 140 volumes of letters! (Volume 1 and Volume 2; a review in the London Review of Books.)

I’m a huge fan of Henry James – he is one of my favorite authors in the English language – and find current collections of his letters interesting. But what’s the point of publishing 140 volumes of his correspondence, especially when the first two volumes are available at the price $90 and $95 respectively. One commenter wrote, about these first two volumes, “[T]he general public has been deprived of James’s full epistolary record until now…”

Can one really say that these books are for the general public? Those with bank accounts like Croesus, perhaps, and Methuselan life-spans, perhaps; at the rate of publication, it will take decades for this set to be published. These books are certainly not for the general public, but rather for scholars, and for libraries. In today’s world, what sense is there in publishing such texts in book form, especially when additional letters will be found in the future, which will not be able to be inserted in to the books in the correct chronological order? After all, the academics behind this project don’t make any money from it; why not just publish it on the Internet, and, eventually, on CD or DVD?

No, there’s something perverse about this. While I would welcome the chance to read some of these letters, there seems no logic in making expensive books, and killing trees, to provide all of them to a handful of scholars. It’s a shame that academia is so behind the times: this sort of work should be available on the web, for free, to all those who are interested, not just to those in ivory towers with the means to have their university purchase them.

Visit my Reading Henry James website.

Book Notes: The SFWA European Hall of Fame

The SFWA European Hall of Fame
Edited by James and Kathryn Morrow
336 pages. Tor, 2007. $27

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Some years ago, at the Utopiales festival in Nantes, France, a group of European science fiction authors were lamenting that no American publishers were interested in bringing European science fiction–let alone much European literature of any kind–to their country. As a translator, I was especially disappointed, since I have long wanted to translated fiction from French to English, but publishers generally balked at the cost of translations. A curious reaction, since so many European publishers paid both royalties and translation costs to publish American works of literature on this side of the pond…James Morrow, award-winning author of such novels as Towing Jehovah, and The Last Witchfinder, who was a guest at the festival together with his wife Kathryn, found this situation unbalanced, and suggested trying to do something about it. Over several years of attendance at the festival, a number of meetings were organized with authors and translators (including myself) to discuss the prospects of editing and publishing an anthology of science-fiction stories from Europe. The Morrows managed to convince SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to fund this anthology, and Jim and Kathy set out to select works, find translators, and find editors to work with the translators to make the results as polished as possible.

The results are available in this interesting and curious book, The SFWA European Hall of Fame, a collection of sixteen stories from thirteen countries. Discover works by authors from Russia to France, from Poland to Portugal, and read science fiction that, while rooted in the American tradition, features ideas with accents. What this anthology shows more than anything is that ideas of this sort are not only owned by the Americans or the English, but are present around the world. The insularity of American publishers is such that they don’t take the risk of publishing much foreign fiction, but perhaps a book like this will give them some ideas.

For the curious, you can read a couple of chapters of one of France’s best science fiction authors, Pierre Bordage, in my translation here. Pierre is not featured in this anthology, being more a writer of epic novels than short stories, but his work features a vision that deserves better recognition outside of France. (He is one of France’s best-selling science fiction authors.)

Spotlight’s Secret Search Syntax

With the release of Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard, Apple has greatly improved its search technology, called Spotlight. Introduced with the previous version of Mac OS X (Tiger), Spotlight was both brilliant and stunted; brilliant because it can work so well in certain situations, but stunted because it was so limited. It didn’t offer Boolean searches (AND, NOT, OR), which meant all your searches were, like Google searches, based on every word you entered. So if you typed King and Lear, you’d find anything with both words, but not with King or Lear alone. And there was no way to find a file containing Kind and NOT Lear. All that’s changed.

Boolean searches, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Tiger had a couple of operators you could use with keywords, that most people didn’t know about. They were the kind: and date: keywords. You could type, say, kind:pdf to find PDF files; or kind:music to narrow a spotlight search down to music files. And you could use date:today to find files modified today, and date:tomorrow to find appointments scheduled for tomorrow. (You can use both these keywords in the Spotlight menu, or in the Finder’s Search field.)These two keywords still exist in Leopard, but are greatly expanded. Let me begin with the date: keyword, since it’s the simpler one. To start with, Apple has added operators that you can use with this keyword: they are >, <, and -.

Here are some examples:

date:>1/1/07 will find any file modified after January 1, 2007. (The dates you enter must correspond to the short date format you have set in your International preferences.)

date:<12/31/07 will find any file modified before December 31, 2007.

date:1/1/07-12/31/07 will find files modified between those two dates.

But things get interesting when you look at the kind: keyword. Apple has expanded this to dozens of new kinds, and made it potentially limitless. There is no list of kinds, but you can get an idea by doing the following. In the Finder, type the letter “a” in the search field. Choose List View (click the List view icon, or press Command-2). Then click the Kind column to sort by kind in alphabetical order. You’ll see a wide range of kinds: from Alias and Application to ZIP Archive, by way of MP3 Audio Files, Folders, JPEG Images and much more. Now try a Spotlight search, either from the Spotlight menu or the Finder: type, say, kind:word, if you have Microsoft Word documents on your Mac; if not, try kind:text. The former will show you all your word documents, and the latter will show you all your text files, at least those created by TextEdit and some other applications.

This is especially useful when tracking down files you made with specific applications. For example, I’m writing this article in BBEdit; I can search for all BBEdit files by typing kind:bb (you don’t always need to type out the entire kind to get hits; two or three letters may be enough).

Well, you may think that’s powerful, but you haven’t seen anything yet. In addition to these expanded operators, Spotlight now has a limitless set of other operators. Not only are there kind: and date: keywords, but there are dozens of new keywords. None of this is documented yet, but you can get a glimpse of what’s available by selecting the Other attribute in the Finder’s search bar, or by checking the following file:

/System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Frameworks
/Metadata.framework/Resources/English.lproj/schema.string

The former gives you names and explanations, and the latter shows you exactly how to type the operators. For example, to use Audio Bit Rate, you’ll see in the latter file that you have to type either audiobitrate: or bitrate:.

Here are some examples of the new operators:

Find a file by searching for the person who created it (in programs that store this information) by typing author:. For example, I’ll find files I’ve created with author:kirk. For now, the only programs I have that come up are Word, Pages, Mail and iChat (chat logs). There are also some PDF’s I’ve created from Word or Pages files. (You can also use from:, with: or by: to find the same information.)

Find files created using the AAC codec with codec:aac. This finds both music and video files.

Find files with comments using the comment: operator. This applies to comments made to iTunes files as to Spotlight comments added in the Finder; other programs may also support this.

Find files with an audio bit rate of 32 kpbs by typing audiobitrate:32, or bitrate:32.

Find music files where Bach is listed as composer: composer:bach.

Find pictures taken at an ISO speed of 400 by typing iso:400; find photos taken at an ISO speed higher than that by typing iso:>400.

I’ll stop here, but you can see that the possibilities are quite extensive. In addition, third party programs can add their own attributes that can be searched. One way to find what they can do is to take a file and run the mdls command in it in Terminal (mdls <filename>). This will display all the file’s metadata, and will allow you to discover which attributes it is using. You’ll also see this information in the Finder, when you choose the Other search attribute as explained above.

As yet, Apple hasn’t documented this, so let’s hope they do so soon with a complete list containing explanations. (For some of these operators it’s not clear exactly how to use them; however, if you have files that they can find, some trial and error should help you discover the answer.) These operators are likely not something you’ll use daily, but when you’re trying to find that lost file on your Mac, or simply trying to sort a group of files, will come in handy.