Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Love an Octopus with an Interest in the Beautiful Game

 BBC News - 'Psychic' octopus predicts Germany victory over England 

I love the fact that he's named Paul, and the bit about how he sits inside the jar after he's made his "choice," and this is seen as emphasizing his prediction.

Monday, June 28, 2010

If I had a dollar

For every hour of my life that goes into trying to get damn malware off pc's I could buy a new damn pc. This time it's not mine though, so that's better. And it's not my wife's so better still! No, a friend of mine, who only just got her first modern PC ever about 6 months ago fell for one of the damned popups. You know, the "Your PC has a virus and malware and bubonic plague!! Fortunately, RemoveVirusEasyTrustMe 1.0 is available to remove this! Click here to give us your credit card number and your dog and we will remove it for you!" *click* "Thank you! Oh look, we forgot to mention we've got a whole lot more crap to dump on your PC now! Sucker!"

As I have some practice removing these kinds of things (from my wife and another friend, plus my own blunder, lovingly documented in earlier posts) I volunteered to try to fix it. I'm trying the obligatory malware scan to see if I can solve it that way (fat chance) before I just say heck with it and wipe her drive. The fun just never stops.

Therein Squats the Toad

I just had to say it, because today in a meeting I so desperately wanted to say it and held back because I didn't want to be involuntarily committed. But you know when you have this whole beautiful set of things that should fit together all nice and neat and then there's this big old bastard of a problem square in the middle making sure that none of the nice pieces can talk to each other? To me, this is the perfect phrase to use when you sense that the person you're describing the situation to finally grasps the ugliness of the problem you must now solve together.

Therein squats the toad.

I feel better now. Thank you.

Ereader Updates

I've been reading with my new ereader and I love it. I'll post a more thorough account of my adventures in a while, but for right now there are two bits of news today that might interest people who are thinking about taking the plunge into ereader ownership.

I still think it looks a little unsexy, but the PocketBook 360, a very light ereader about the size of a CD case, is now selling for $200 instead of $240. I'm liking this markdown of ereaders. The Kindle is still $10 cheaper, and you can't get books instantly or wirelessly on the PocketBook 360, but it can run some other software, and it's insanely customizable. People who have it love it--and it is a lot smaller than the Kindle and half as heavy, if portability is your thing. There is a thread reviewing it and discussing it here.

And Kindle for Android is finally out, meaning that if I can't find any other version of an ebook, I can buy the Kindle version and read it on my phone. Or any other Android device, should the right thing finally surface. Preferably a right thing that isn't priced at $100 per diagonal inch of screen, which seems a bit excessive (yes, Dell, that means you). I've been waiting for this because I plan to try reading on an LCD and see how it compares with e-ink, and although I can do that already with a lot of Android programs, it's nice to know that if the LCD wins out, I'll have the extra option of dipping into the evil Amazon ebook empire. All the Kindley goodness (and, alas, the same ill-conceived proprietary format) without the homely Kindle itself, which, let's face it, looks a little like the Volvo of handheld devices.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's not a race...

I was slogging through a muggy 17 miles yesterday and thinking something like "this is good training for the race" when I suddenly realized that marathons should not be called races for people like me. A race is something where you try to beat other people. For me a marathon just it's a race anymore, if it ever was. I think marathons are races for only about 10% of those who run them, if that. Only the top 0.5% have any hope of placing, really, and the rest of the top 10% are really competing with each other. But for the rest of us, well it's not a race, it just an event. An event is where you just try to survive until the end without passing out, puking all over yourself, or having a limb fall off. Yup, marathons are definitely events for me.

Too many options

As I sat down at my computer this evening I knew that even though I should I was not going to do any work for my job. That's not as rare as it should be, but it's still nice when it happens. But then I started to debate with myself what to do. I could continue working on my C++ programming book, I could branch out on my own and start writing a very basic combat simulator to get more familiar with the language on my own (sadly, when I learn a computer language, it works best if I've got a computer game in mind), I could try out any of the half dozen games I've bought in the last six months I haven't played yet, I could write on this blog, I could look up some fixes for my friend's pc and try them out, I could continue to tinker with linux and the ipod, and on and on and on. And all of this had the effect of convincing me that I wanted to do almost nothing. Too many damn options! Those are just the things off the top of my head, they don't even count anything ambitious like trying to find a new language to learn and really pushing it, or getting back into R and taking that to the next level, or etc. and etc. The point is that there are now so many things to do, so many things I want to do, that it is almost paralyzing. Too many options!

And really, cliche though it is, I have to blame the internet. When I was a teenager I had a pc, and I had BASIC, and eventually I even had QBASIC, and anything else was unthinkably far out of my reach. And I took BASIC and QBASIC and did every damn thing I could with them. Because, well, there were no other options. If I wanted to program, I had those two available, and that was it. And if I wanted to branch out more I'd have to spend buku bucks (which I NEVER had) to do it. And I had one game at a time to play because, well, that's all I could afford to buy or rent (yup, I rented games back then). And when I finally got into statistics in grad school, you guessed it, one damn program because who could afford two?? But now, it's all so damn available! I can play any of 20 different games, no, a hundred different games, that I haven't yet tried and they're all free and they're all from the web. I can work on C++, or PERL, or C#, or Visual BASIC, or any of a half dozen other languages, all for free, and all with handy tutorials and, guess what, all from the web. I can write blog entries to people I've never met (who I imagine) and people in other states (those are real) and they're instantly accessible - on the web. I can download an of 10 different antivirus or antimalware programs for my friends pc, again for free, and again from the web.

It's common for most of us, including me, to marvel at what we can do with this chaotic mass of information, and I've done so in this blog before. But tonight it just hit me how deadening all these choices can be. Not that I'm complaining, because it's positively amazing and brilliant, but it is still overwhelming. It seems the more options we have, the more self control and focus we will need. I, for example, will have to try to stick on a single project for more than a week at a time. Yeah, I'll start there. As soon as I'm done checking out all these other options.

I Want One

Brunel University in London offers a Master's degree in Cult Film and TV. No, really. "Case studies include Dr Who, The Prisoner, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The League of Gentlemen." It makes me want to take a year off from work RIGHT NOW. Is that so wrong?

Then again, you could offer me a year off work in a reasonably comfy basement with amoebic dysentery and I would give it serious thought. (Don't look at me like that. It's like the old Jack Benny joke--your money or your life? I'm thinking...)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Good News Everyone!

Futurama is back tonight.  There are times when I like it better than The Simpsons, probably because Futurama is centered on a workplace rather than a family.  I think I appreciate the characters and their world more because they feed a part of my soul that's so often dissatisfied--the idealist who holds down a job in an industry that pretty much defines itself by failing to achieve its ideals.  (If anyone ever actually executed a perfect project, there'd be no Phase Two and we'd all be out of a job.  Lucky for us, truly indisputable successes are rare.)
But I think the real appeal to me is the vision of the future.  I love any fiction that speculates about the future--and I have no opinion of whether it should be good or bad.  I love Star Trek, which, for all the desperate attempts to be gritty, is sometimes cloyingly utopian.  (I had a friend who used to joke about the first season of TNG, "Captain's Log:  Today, we learned the meaning of friendship!")  Even when it's a little sappy, I love the utopian vision--as Browning said, "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"  But dystopias hold a special place in my heart, too.  Not a day goes by at work when I don't think with affection about Brazil.  And how could you not love Blade Runner?  Futurama's approach is to avoid either and to assume that humanity will be pretty much where we are now, doing pretty much the same things, and making the same mistakes--which is the perfect basis for great satire.  It's our world, but at just enough distance that you can tell the truth and still create funny stories.
Here's hoping the future is as much fun as I remember....

I-pod Report

Not a lot to say here except that
1) it took more effort than I had expected to get Linux to work with the I-pod but it is now working like a charm, with no I-tunes to bug me.
2) with older generation I-pods, you don't really have to do much of anything - just plug and play, and your linux music apps will synch with the I-pod automatically (slick-o-jet). you don't even need gtkpod, you can use Amorak or Rhythmbox.
3) if you want to do this yourself with a newer i-pod though, check this link for how to do it with a 5th generation i-pod Nano. Apple, damn their beady little eyes, keeps trying to make it harder for open source software to use i-pods and this link explains what you have to do to make it work.
4) And yet, the i-pod is so much more than the MP3 players I've used in the past (and I've used about 4 or 5 of them) that it blows my mind. A very nice piece of technology.
5) Apple keeps doing this! They make great tech, then pee all over it with their DRM, then sell it for huge bucks.
6) Then we buy it.

Men who read about Men who Stare at Goats

Yes, the title is a dead give away. The book is very very interesting so far. I'm reading it for a little light reading while still plowing through Robert Jordan. As I said, Jordan's work is pleasantly surprising me this time around, but it's still quite LONG journey. MWSAG, on the other hand, is short and reads as quick as a comic book. As interesting and enjoyable as it is, though, it's also disturbing. I know it's naive, but I still have this assumption that men and women in command, in the military, are somehow in command because they have been deemed wiser, more capable, and generally more intelligent than everyone else. And then I read something like this book (or, ok, watch the news sometimes) and all I can think is "WTF??" You come to realize that maybe in some cases the "uber-person" hypothesis is true, but in others it's like bizarro world because some of these commanders are so much MORE wacked out than the rest of us it's not even funny. Read the book and you'll see what I mean. Or probably watch the movie, but as I haven't (watched the movie) I can't be sure you'll get the same effect. Weird people out there, folks, very weird people. And as this is me saying that, with my pretty loose standards for weirdness, that's a scary statement.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ya gotta love Linux

Ok, long story short here (for a change) cause I gotta get to bed. But! But my beloved bought my an I-pod Nano for Father's Day. So nice! But she, not being a tech geek, didn't know about the whole "evil Apple, evil i-tunes, evil DRM" issue that is close to my heart. So my dilemma was this: keep this really nice present, cause it's cool and I could definitely use it, but then buckle under and use i-tunes OR return this nice present, which she would totally understand (cause she knows my tech-geekiness and is cool like that), but don't get to use the cool hardware and so forth.

Or those WERE my choices til I talked to my brother (who makes me look like a absolute luddite) who pointed out that in Linux there is probably an app for that (ha ha). And I checked, and sure enough, there is! The wonderful open source community that makes Linux Linux has created numerous programs for interfacing with i-pods without using i-tunes. Gtkpod is the one I just installed. It allows you to interface with the i-pod using its own open source software goodness. So now, dear IR's, I get the best of both worlds. I get to use the i-pod, which is a cool piece of hardware, but I also get to avoid using their evil DRM laden software. Woo hoo! And there was much rejoicing.

Running to books on tape

I have concluded that running to books on tape, while enjoyable, is not the best way to zoom along. Turns out that as riveting as Harry Potter may be, he just doesn't have the same beat that, say, Gaslight Anthem does. And that beat does matter! Who knew? Well, lots of people, so perhaps I should say "who in this room I'm in as I'm typing this knew?" and then I can answer "nobody!" But in any case, you can actually see a difference in performance. I typically go 30 seconds per mile slower when I've got a book on tape going. Probably helps explain a bit of why my runs stayed so slow last training cycle. Of course, another part was that I was feeling tired and lazy, so chose to listen to books on tape so I wouldn't have to notice the run as much. Bit of a chicken-egg thing there. But for future reference, if your goal at all involves speed, stick to music. If you just want to finish a long run and truly don't care how long it takes, grab a book on tape. Here endeth the lesson.

It's weird when

... your kids can do zillions of things you just can't. My daughter can play music on the piano and recorder that sounds really really good. And I can barely read the notes! Aren't they supposed to wait until they're like 30, or you're like 60, before they surpass you? If she keeps up like this she'll have her PhD before she's 18 and be outearning me by 25 and then where do we go from there!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

G is for Gingerbread

Of course.  I was thinking Gelato, but I guess that would imply that it was just Froyo, but with more calories, which isn't necessarily a good implication for a software program.
I wish I were working on a project that could put out more than one phase a year.  I haven't heard about any suicides over at Google, either.  A recent gathering of employees from my company featured far more suicidal ideation than you normally get at a happy hour.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Good news!

Guy Gavriel Kay, who happens to rock, has a new book out!

If you are one of our IR's who has not been blessed with an encounter with Kay in the past, allow me to enlighten you. He's a fantasy novelist who writes smart, well-written, and moderately but delightfully intricate novels. Many of his novels are based on fantasy adaptations of historical cultures and events, such as the Byzantine empire, Celtic England, or ancient Persia. This adds a certain depth to them that is very appealing. His characters are typically fairly dynamic and above all clever. He's definitely one of my top 10 writers and is highly recommended.

So, his new book is "Under Heaven" and the book jacket sounds like classic and intriguing Kay!

And no, I haven't picked it up yet because I'm still on my Wheel of Time quest (book 8 of 12 at the moment) and as a result I've got about 8 books on my "to be read" shelf glaring at me. I'll pick it up when I'm free from the Jordan Quest.

But if you're not on a Jordan Quest, you've got no excuse, now have you?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Wrong Character

I've been living in squalor for quite some time now. It's a combination of things. Partly the frat boys that I wrote about before, but mostly I just haven't been feeling too chipper lately, and the weight of that has effectively squashed any impetus I might have had toward housework. Ergo, squalor.

It has gotten pretty bad. So bad that I won't give details because some of our more sensitive IR's might be eating or something. This week someone challenged me to clean it. He, like everyone else that I know, assumes that it is not as bad as I say it is. So he suggested that I clean it before breakfast. I was like, um, I'd like to eat this weekend, so let's not do that. And we laughed...one of us with considerably more mirth than the other. Anyway, he pointed out that if other humans came to my abode, I would clean it for them, and that really it was therefore very insulting to me that I hadn't cleaned it for myself. True enough.

So yesterday I woke up and ate breakfast (because after all, I'm not a savage, and a leisurely breakfast is one of the best things about weekends) and started to clean. It's been 31 hours and I am still cleaning. It looks a lot better, don't get me wrong. But I still wouldn't let another human come in the front door. At least if I died, my last thought wouldn't be how embarrassing it would be when someone came into my apartment and discovered the absolute nadir of neglect that has been my natural state for about 8 months. So, you know, that's an improvement.

I do feel a lot better--it's great to be able to walk anywhere on the floor (well, anywhere that isn't occupied by a legitimate piece of furniture) and it is very, very nice to have clean bathrooms, clean linens, and a veritable cornucopia of clothes to choose from for Monday morning. But I still have a lot to do.

I only mention it because as I scrubbed the bathroom vanity I got a total flash of American Beauty. Despite his condition at the end of the movie, I'd rather be Lester than anyone else in the movie...although being the hot cheerleader would have its upside. Nobody--and I mean nobody--wants to be Carolyn. But ladies, I dare you, go clean a bathroom vanity in your bra and whatever you do, don't catch a glimpse of yourself and think "I will sell this house today."