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Journal: Journal moving

Journal by charlie
I'm sick of using slashdot for blogging, a purpose it isn't really suited for.

So I'm moving.

You can find my new blog hanging off my home page, or go here.

Hopefully this means I'll keep it a bit more up to date ...

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Journal: Exploding bus shelters 1

Journal by charlie
Weird.

For the past couple of months, I've been tsk-tsking about the number of bus shelters and phone boxes around Edinburgh with broken glass and empty windows.

Then, this evening ...

Karen, Claudio, and I were on our way to a pub. It having turned cold, we crossed over Leith Walk to wait at a bus stop (for either a bus or a passing taxi). We were just approaching the bus stop when there was a loud pop -- and a sheet of glass about one metre by two disintegrated, dumping its advertising board all over the pavement, along with several kilos of toughened glass (reduced to fragments).

To say we were shaken is a bit of an understatement; if we'd been under the shelter it would probably have been call-an-ambulance time. There was nobody else within a hundred metres, though, and no other witnesses: this thing just exploded in front of us!

Talk about unpleasant surprises. It had been quite windy earlier, and the temperature had dropped about ten degrees (celsius) in the past three hours, and on our way back we passed a number of glass-free phone boxes, including one that had clearly broken really recently, as there was still glass on the pavement. Best guess we can come up with is that some of the toughened glass the Council are buying to put in their shelters is not suitable for low temperatures or high winds, but it's still alarming to nearly be on the receiving end of a face full of glass fragments.

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Journal: A US President writes

Journal by charlie
Someone in The Guardian's editorial office has a clue; this lengthy quote from a former president seems a hell of a lot more applicable to the current situation than any other editorials I've read in the past couple of weeks. Or any of the frightening noises emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days.
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Journal: Small objects of desire (reprise)

Journal by charlie
Back last June, I bought a laptop; a Sony Vaio PCG-FX103. (To Sony, if you're listening: this is the last piece of your shitware I'm ever buying unless you stop treating your customers like dumb cattle and start supplying electronic guts that match up to the cute exterior decor, instead of the pile of gangrenous filth that is the PCG-FX103. Crippleware. Yes, I'm pissed off. And yes, I'm going to tell everyone exactly why -- but not right now.)

The Vaio was, not to put too fine a point on it, so appallingly useless that I ended up using it as a book-end for most of the time, and forked out some hard-earned cash on a second-hand Toshiba Portege that, while slow and elderly, did exactly what needed doing without any fuss.

Last October a keycap on the Tosh broke, so I ordered a replacement keyboard and fitted it myself. (No, I didn't ship it to Belgium and wait ten weeks for some drone in a Sony service centre to stop wanking and pop the keyboard, then charge me a hundred and sixty pounds for the cornholing. I ordered the keyboard, it arrived two days later, and I fitted it myself in fifteen minutes. Begin to get the picture?)

Anyway, I put the mileage on that spanking new laptop keyboard at a frightening rate, sort of like the way a courier puts miles on a van. Inside four months I think I've written on the close order of 220,000 words of original fiction on it. I've also edited my way through three novels and written four monthly magazine columns, racking up another 50,000 words of non-fiction -- before you add in my email and usenet habits. You know something? The space bar is worn shiny-smooth, the decals on the keys are rubbing away, and a couple of them have begun sticking. Time for a new board ...

Now, for a while I'd been meaning to take a look at Linux -- which is my operating system of choice, as well as my bread and butter -- on PowerPC kit. And I happen to have a soft spot for Macs, because even though Steve Jobs is Bill Gates' Evil Twin, and Apple's software licenses and proprietary hardware must bring tears of joy to the devil's eye, they make nice machines. And in this situation -- old laptop now verging on ancient and in need of a new keyboard -- I made the mistake of blundering into the local Mac dealership in Edinburgh.

And blundering out again half an hour later with a spanking new iBook, 640Mb of RAM, DVD/CD-RW, and wireless ethernet. Drool.

Anyway, in a day or two I managed to repartition the iBook and configure it to triple-boot -- MacOS 9, MacOS X, and another mystery partition (currently loaded with Yellow Dog 2.1, but shortly to try Mandrake and SuSE Linux for PowerPC). And you know something? Much to my self-disgust I am finding that I am spending 90% of my time in MacOS X.

See, I'm an old UNIX head. And I've just bought a box with a cute, glitzy face that -- under the hood -- just happens to be running BSD. And sure there are problems with it; a surfeit of crap commercial payware, no decent package management system, lack of support for foreign filesystems (ext3, Apple, we need it bad!) ... but. But. But. It's got the cute front-end of MacOS, all the bells and whistles like iTunes, and something underneath that I can port my writing tools to and crank up vi or emacs on.

So if I've been a bit quiet lately, you know why. Meanwhile, here's Salad With Steve.

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Journal: Grr... 1

Journal by charlie
Okay, so Boing! Boing! is travelling really close to the speed of light in our reference frame, so a week there looks to be a very long week from outside. Right?

Actually, that's only one of my excuses for not writing recently. Another part of it is mild depression. I tend to sleep longer in winter, and for some reason I also tend to finish writing novels in winter. I've just stuck 1400 pages of manuscript in the post to my agent and, not to put too fine a point on it, I feel exhausted. One redrafted novel (118,000 words) and one wholly new novel (185,000 words) is enough. At least for one winter.

(The day trips to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Leeds didn't help either. Talk about alternate realities ...)

Meanwhile, cheer up: if you haven't met him already, here's Argon Zark.

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Journal: Cool Vernor Vinge interview

Journal by charlie
Event Horizon interviewed Vernor Vinge in 1999 about his recent novels, the Singularity, and all sorts of interesting background stuff. If you're interested in current directions in SF and haven't read it, the interview is still on the web.
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Journal: Shameless self-promotion

Journal by charlie
Much to my becrogglement, I just learned that my short story collection TOAST is, like, going to the printer tomorrow.

More details as and when they become available. Okay?

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Journal: Bare-faced Truth

Journal by charlie
Feorag's made the Independant on Sunday, this time. (Scottish edition, again.)

I suppose I should explain.

We're members of the Edinburgh naturist swimming club, abunch of people who, well, hire a swimming pool so they can swim around with no clothes on.

A month ago, for a laugh, a couple of members of the club committee proposed doing a 2002 calendar. Being a naturistclub, obviously the club calendar would have to featurevarious members -- wearing lots of clothes.

In the fullness of time, the Evening News (who had previously run a feature about the club) send a photographer round, for a laugh and a human interest story. Feorag was among the club members who showed up.

Then The Sun picked up on the story and ran with it ("Naturist club calendar cover-up"). Then the Indy picked it up.

Where's it all going to end?

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Journal: Dirty secrets from the 1940's

Journal by charlie
In 1949, playwright Harold Pinter was attacked by neo-nazi thugs on the streets of London.

Newly declassified Home Office documents covering the investigation show that the government of the day was more worried about the Communist Threat than about nazi thugs beating up its own citizens; his complaints to the police were dismissed as nonsense and the Home Office spent more time investigating the National Council for Civil Liberties for 'subversion' than dealing with violent thugs in their own capital city.

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Journal: It isn't April 1st ...

Journal by charlie
So I trust you'll take me seriously when I say that right now, as I speak, Feorag is all over page three of The Sun.

(At least, the Scottish edition -- she's not in the English version.)

Note for non-UK readers: page three of The Sun is reserved for topless bimbos. Just what she's doing there wearing a t-shirt, leggings, and sunglasses I leave to your imagination.

All will be explained tomorrow ...

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Journal: Why your next general-purpose computer may well be your last

Journal by charlie
For the last year, The Register has been tracking the entertainment lobby's attempts to get CPRM copy prevention built into all ATA standard hard disk drives.

The music and film industry is in big trouble, and they've got a vested interest in preventing digital copying because it drives the cost of their core commodity towards zero. (Forget the fact that 80% of the revenue from films comes in the form of merchandise and spin-off rights; these guys are totalitarian in their outlook, and none more so than the music industry who have neatly set things up as a supply-side monopoly and don't want cheap MP3 copying to disrupt the money pipeline.)

This article, by Hale Landis, is still valid, and it explains exactly what the core of the MPAA/RIAA strategy is: the total destruction of the general-purpose computer as we know it.

PC's are just too damn flexible to coexist with distribution monopolies, it seems, so the strategy is to push the big manufacturers towards making closed boxes (like the early Macintosh -- thank you, Steve Jobs) and bundling closed 'secure' (for whom?) operating systems on top of them. Software patents and 'trade secret' lawsuits can then be used to sue those pesky free software people into shutting down the sites that distribute their software, and closed hardware architecture will make it impossible for mere users to get at the underlying devices and use them for things like unrestricted and unfiltered data i/o.

This whole plan is completely insane, but there are worrying signs that it may be working. Remember: what they can't steal by stealth, they'll steal by passing a law to say that it isn't stealing (and trying to hold on to your rights is depriving them of their legally mandated source of income).

The devil finds work for idle circuits to do.

Working...