Syria

So, the Peace Prize President is itching to bomb Syria.

At least there’ll be one good thing to say about his Presidency: no-one will ever be able to take a Nobel Peace Prize seriously again.

Windows 8: What A Piece Of Crap

Our Eee PC netbook broke. We’ve had it for several years, upgraded with more RAM, and SSD and Linux replacing Windows. Lately it’s started repeating keys that weren’t pressed, making it very hard to use. We ordered a new keyboard, but have no idea whether it’s going to fix the problem; one web post I found claimed the keyboard chip fails after a few years on that model, so we’ll see if that’s the case.

We have two problems if that’s not. Firstly, Asus has apparently said it’s stopping making netbooks after the current generation. Secondly, the current generation of Atom CPUs has an integrated graphics chip for which Intel won’t release open source drivers. So they can’t run Linux.

The future is apparently Chromebooks. Let’s see, a cheap, low-end x86 running a Linux derivative from a small SSD, intended to work primarily with web apps and remote storage.

Hey, that’s what we used to call a netbook, before Microsoft got scared and started giving copies of Windows to netbook manufacturers to convince them to move off of Linux. That’s when they became bloated and swapped SSDs for hard drives that helped make them uncompetitive with faster laptops.

Anyway, that’s an aside. Since we may have to replace the netbook if the keyboard doesn’t fix it, I’ve been looking at what’s available right now.

There are a number of small laptops in a similar price range: the Acer V5, for example. Unfortunately they’re larger, have more power-hungry CPUs and larger but worse keyboards.

But, worst of all, they run Windows 8.

Not that it matters to me, because I’d be sticking in an SSD and installing Linux. But that did mean I actually got a chance to try the Microsoft abomination for myself.

It’s actually worse than I imagined. I hadn’t realised just how much the lack of a Start menu crippled the operating system. All I wanted to do was run notepad so I could type some text and see how well the keyboard worked.

So, how do you run notepad from the desktop? Uh, yeah, there’s no start menu. Um?

Fortunately I knew the Windows key would go to the stupid Metro screen. But then, where’s notepad? There are weather apps and all kinds of other crap that I have no interest in, but notepad? Nowhere to be seen.

Fortunately I knew I could press Windows+R and type ‘notepad’ to start it. But WTF? What kind of windowing system expects people to enter arcane keyboard commands just to start a simple text editor? Who ever thought that was a good idea? Who signed off on this crap?

Saints Row 4

Is here.

I’m about 5% of the way through the game, and so far it’s been fun but has a few too many cut-scenes and quick-time events for my liking. I’d hoped it would import the SR3 character directly, but had to do it by creating an account on the Saints Row site and uploading them there.

I like the idea, and I did like the 1950s Steelport, but I thought more could have been made of that. I also liked that it seems to be poking fun at a number of other games along the way.

Let’s (not) go to Mars

I remember when going to Mars seemed exciting.

When I was a kid, we read books and watched TV shows about a Mars with canals and bikini-clad princesses, or Martians who wanted to invade the Earth in tripods or by controlling cloned humans.

But, even by then, science already knew that most of those stories were false. The earliest Martian flybys told us that the planet was too cold and the atmosphere too thin to support life much beyond primitive plants. Then, not long after, the Viking landers closed even that loophole when they showed the surface to be an arid desert.

Yet, much of the spaceflight community is still following the old script, first humans land on the Moon, then on Mars. The script made sense when those bikini-clad princesses needed to be rescued from Martian tripods, but not now Mars is just a rock. Any useful resources there are likely to be retrieved more easily from asteroids and moons with much lower gravity where you can use propulsion more efficient than chemical rockets.

It just makes no sense as anything other than an Apollo-style flag-waving exercise. We’d do far better to begin by colonising asteroids whose materials can be used to build more optimal habitats in free space.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I’m twelve thousand words into the first prequel to Petrina. Originally the two were to be a single novel, but I quickly realised I had two different stories in the same book and had to split them out; hence two prequels instead of one.

One of the difficult things I find in writing is getting half-way through a scene and realising that it’s pointless and boring. You need something to go in the story there, but the scene you’re writing has no reason to exist other than filler. Do you throw it out? Do you rewrite it? Do you need to change the next scene so you don’t need to fill the gap?

The good part comes when you suddenly realize not only what’s missing from that scene, but that the element you’re adding is actually going to fill in some plot holes later where you couldn’t justify a character’s actions. Suddenly it all comes together and you can race through five thousand words to the next roadblock.

The joy of software

Remember when photocopiers just copied what you put on them?

Xerox copiers rewrite documents

Not any more. Thanks to the miracle of modern software, some models are compressing the scanned image and then printing from the compressed file, which just happens to corrupt numbers during the compression process.

The more software is introduced into simple physical processes, the less robust the world becomes. And we end up with photocopiers which can’t do the very thing they’re designed for: producing a copy of the documents you feed into them.

DiffPDF

Screenshot
Diff PDF comparing versions

Just discovered this program today, which is included in the Linux Mint repositories. It’s insanely useful for checking Createspace PDF files, as it shows all the differences between the new version and the old version; if you’re just changing a typo or a few poorly phrased words you can verify that everything else is the same as the previous version without requiring a full proofreading session.

Passive Voice

Whenever someone says ‘X is considered good/bad/indifferent’, the correct response is ‘By whom, exactly?’

The answer will almost certainly be by be someone who has a vested interested in that position. The passive voice is a lame attempt to hide that fact.