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Comment Re:DRM (Score 1) 437

Yep, they're good.

Another site I get a lot from is Fictionwise. Some of their stuff is DRMed, but some is available in a wide range of formats including open ones such as HTML. Well worth a look.

(I too am only a happy customer. I'd be even happier if they had more recent and more popular stuff in their multi-format section, but still...)

Comment Re:What happens when the reader breaks ? (Score 1) 419

What They Said.

I've tons of books and stories in plain text. (Well, I keep 'em in Palm DOC format, to save space on my PDA, but that's freely and losslessly convertible to and from plain text, so it's effectively the same.)

Many of them are from, erm, various sources; but a good pile were bought from Fictionwise, which sells some of its stuff in a range of open formats (Palm DOC, PDF, ePub, and many more). Unfortunately the latest and best-selling titles tend to be DRMed, but that still leaves a lot of good stuff.

Of course, there are still longer-term archival issues (like photos and music and everything else digital), but it does mean that any device capable of reading the file in the next century or so should be able to display it -- a great improvement from locked-down formats which may lock you out at any time.

Comment Why cursive? (Score 3, Interesting) 921

I've never understood why joined-up writing is suppose to be better.

For several years, that's what I did just coz it's what I was taught. Then, while at uni, I realised that my illegible handwriting was making my revision almost impossible, and resolved to change it. I did a lot of experimentation, and discovered that 'printing' (i.e. writing each letter separately) was pretty much the same speed, much neater, and remained easier to read even when writing in a desperate hurry. (I.e. it degraded much more gracefully.)

(Another useful thing I found was that most of the information is in the central parts of the letters, not in the ascenders or descenders; so reducing the ascenders and descenders almost to nothing and making the central parts relatively large helps too. And, like another poster, I find a fountain pen or fibre-tip far more conducive to good writing than a ball-point or roller-ball.)

Ever since, that's how I've written. And several people have complimented me on my writing. It may not look especially refined, but it's neat and clear and easy to read, which is the intent.

So: why all this fuss about joined-up writing? Why is it seen as superior, when (in my case at least), it's clearly less successful? Why is it even a requirement, tested for in some schools?

Comment That's not the danger (Score 2, Informative) 381

If a ISP starts filtering, people will move to the next.

I think many people miss the real danger here. Yes, if your own ISP is doing stuff you don't like (filtering, throttling, prioritising, spoofing, whatever) then you can change them -- in a fair market, at least. So that sort of thing generally won't be in their interests.

But what if it's not your ISP? What if it's a backbone provider, or some other middleman?

Suppose an upstream provider threatens to throttle traffic bound to/from Amazon (say) unless Amazon pays them a big fee. If neither you nor Amazon have a direct business relationship with them, then neither of you can work around it by choosing another provider. How can a competitive market fix that?

The real problem, as I see it, is not discriminating against packets based on their type (email, P2P, web, whatever), which some might consider fair and reasonable, or at least justified; it's discriminating against packets based on their source or destination, which can never be fair or reasonable. That's what we need legislation to prevent.

Comment Customisation is the wrong answer (Score 1) 400

Because most Linux users are geeks, and us geeks enjoy customization.*

Actually, I don't think most geeks prefer customisation per se. Many clearly do, but I for one find it a sometimes-necessary evil rather than a benefit.

Personally, what I want is something that works right. That does what I need, and then gets out of my way. The best way is for the software to work right to start with. Being able to customise it is a workaround for it not working properly in the first place. Sure, it's a lot better than nothing. But it's only a workaround.

I've seen both sides of this. For a decade, I was an Atari user. Yes, yes, I know, stop sniggering at the back. I spent a lot of time getting it set up, installing lots of utilities and gubbins. And the end result was worth it: a modern GUI desktop, task bar, Start button, great integration with my command shell, good use of the available sound and graphics, TrueType fonts, web browser, pre-emptive multitasking, email, printer, scanner, and lots more I've forgotten about, all nicely integrated. Nothing exciting today, but in the 1990s it was quite comfortable and standard. But it took an awful lot of time keeping up with the latest developments, downloading, installing, setting up, tweaking, reading docs, rebooting, etc.

Fast-forward a few years, and I'm now a Mac user. Oi, I said STOP sniggering at the back! And now I spend hardly any time customising it. Why? Because I don't need to. It's already comfortable, powerful, standard, integrated, etc.** All the things I used to spend time and effort setting up are there already. So instead, I spend most of my time actually doing things with it. Do I miss that time spend hacking around trying to get things to work decently? No, of course not. I spend most of it reading Slashdot...

So for me, the question is "How do I get a decent environment to work in?" And while customisation (like skinning) is an answer, it's the wrong answer. The right answer is to provide decent software to start with.

(* 'we geeks prefer customisation', not 'us geeks'. You wouldn't say 'us prefer', would you? Addition of the extra qualifier doesn't alter the noun case. And yes, I am a member of the Campaign for Real Pedantry. CaRP, for short.)

(** I am of course talking about Mac OS X. I did use Mac OS 9 for six months, and hated every minute. There was a system that did half of everything wrong, and provided absolutely no way to escape, either. For an old-school Unix hacker like me, it was purgatory.)

Comment Re:Evidence based medicine is extremely frustratin (Score 1) 1064

I know many physicians who prescribe placebo treatments and tests. I have trouble doing this

Would you have trouble prescribing a placebo if you told the patient what it was? If I recall correctly, at least one study showed benefit from taking a placebo even when it was carefully explained that there were no active ingredients in the pills.

For more information, check out a pair of radio programmes called 'Placebo' by Dr Ben Goldacre. (They were on BBC Radio 4 last year.) In fact, I'm surprised no-one's mentioned him before; his blog (Bad Science), occasional radio programmes and other media appearances are an inspiration to anyone interested in evidence-based medicine or the media's blatant misrepresentation of science in general.

Comment Algorithms by Sedgewick (Score 1) 517

It's not very sexy, but it's fascinating and readable. I remember coming across it in Dillons bookshop, not knowing the name, and flicking through. Half an hour later, when I realised the time, I knew I had to buy it! Other books go into more exhausting detail (Knuth in particular), or cover a wider range (Knuth again!), or more modern ideas or languages. But Sedgewick is a great read, and I've been through it several times.

It covers all the basics (maths, searching, sorting, strings, graphs, and touches on FFTs and hardware and optimisation), and gives enough detail that you could go off and write some programs yourself. But more importantly, it explains them: how each algorithm works, what it's trying to achieve, how it behaves, and why. And it's because it explains the ideas so well that I'd recommend it. After every section I felt I'd learned something -- not because I had to, but for the sheer pleasure of understanding something new and interesting.

Other recommendations: Effective Java (a staggering amount of insight into the language), Thinking in Java (by someone who understands that language is more than just syntax), Deep C Secrets (again a pile of insight, interspersed with anecdotes and some rather off-the-wall diversions), Programming Pearls and More Programming Pearls (problem-solving in bite-sized chunks -- a little dated but still interesting). Plus I've already mentioned Knuth. K&R is well done, though narrow in scope. I find Design Patterns useful, but more for clarifying things I've already seen than for learning new things. I've never actually read The Mythical Man-Month, but people I respect mention it, so I'm sure it's well worth reading too!

Of course, times being what they are, especially in this field, a lot of interesting stuff is on-line. Some hat should go without saying hereabouts include the latest Jargon File, some of Eric Raymond's books, and more online documentation and archives than anyone but Google can cope with.

Other interesting articles include The Programmer's Stone, a guide to writing Unmaintainable Code, The Ten Commandments for C Programmers (annotated edition), Ken Thompson's Reflections on Trusting Trust, What Colour are your Bits?, and Guy Steele's Growing a Language.

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