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Low-cost Laptop March 24, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Geek Stuff, Toys.
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I just bought myself a birthday present, a Toshiba C855D-S510 Laptop Computer and made a few modifications to it.  Now, I did not buy this from Amazon but from another large, nation-wide chain famous for being the showroom for Amazon because, this time, they offered a handsome discount on the item and free shipping.  But, enough about how to catch a customer; I want to talk about Windows 8 and other marketing horrors.

Windows 8 is puzzle wrapped in an enigma smothered with hubris and served without regard for customer desires.  It departs drastically from Microsoft’s well-defined workflow in that the Start Menu has been mercilessly (that is, without regard to customer desires) ripped from [stop me before I write again]…

Ahem.  Sorry about that.  I’m actually quite pleased with my purchase.  It was cheap, and has everything I [will] need for future use: a 64-bit operating system.  I don’t game any more, so no need for fancy graphics, but it has a nice enough dual-core processor and a wide enough screen for 16X9 movies, which I do watch.  The really nice thing is that it’s portable and I can work in bed downstairs and/or take it with me camping, which we do a lot of in summer.  The only thing I would change if I could would be to get a larger screen, since I prefer to look at a lot of code at a time and/or web browser or pdf reader windows.  It does have a VGA out in the side, so I could use a spare monitor if I had one, but that does defeat the “portable” thing, doesn’t it?

And the start menu?  Sourceforge project Classic Shell is free, open-source donationware (i.e., free to cheap guys like me) that gives you the option of a classic (Windows 98ish), Windows XP, or Vista/7 Start menu  (I picked Windows 7). It put a Start button back on my taskbar (shaped like a shell with the Windows colors) and has a ton of other features and settings that include allowing me to boot directly to the “normal” desktop.  I never have to see the Metro interface again (whatever it’s called now).

To make a developer’s box, I installed the aforementioned Android Bundle and the 64-bit JDK (the one at the bottom; be careful not to mix up this, as it leads to non-understandable error messages), as well as Visual Studio 2010, for which I have a license but not, alas, Visual Studio 2012.  I also have held off doing much else until I ghost the whole business with a bootable Clonezilla CD and a 64GB thumbdrive.  I can say I recommend all of this highly, starting with the great Toshiba machine itself, especially at a fire sale price.

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Reminding You That This is My Blog March 21, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Photography.
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 IMG_20130105_114539 

and I happen to be fascinated by mushrooms.  These were on the sidewalk a few blocks from my house, near GG Park.

These below were all over the place on a lumber road near Ukiah (off Orr Springs Road).

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Orr Springs Resort turns out to be a very nice hot springs resort, beautifully clean, tidy and too expensive for dirty hippies (except us, I guess).  I enjoyed spending our anniversary there, and recommend it most highly.

The Bowl of Heaven, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven March 19, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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Imagine if you will, a hemisphere 93 million miles in radius with a hole in the bottom and the sun in the center of said bowl.  Imagine large portions of the interior of this bowl are mirrors to reflect the sun’s light back to it, causing a huge jet to stream towards the hole, and in fact through it.  Imagine that the star moves; slowly, to be sure and dragging the bowl by gravity, but it does move, and never stops.
That’s the artifact that intrepid (aren’t they always?) colonists in The Bowl of Heaven stumble upon in their comparatively fast ramship.  How they meet and interact with the very alien beings occupying this artifact is the other half of the amazing idea of this book, although having conceived the thing in the first place is the astonishing bit, I guess.
The aliens are mentally and physically very different from humans and I will in my usual way refuse to tell you more, except that I do not spoil a garden by running through it.  Read the book.  There may be an audiobook of The Bowl of Heaven by now.

My Commute: Still Awesome March 13, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Photography.
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When I pulled off the road at the Waldo Tunnel, another van was just pulling out of the small wide spot.  I stopped, took this picture, got back in my van and drove off.  On the Marin side of the tunnel that other van was pulled over, and a man alongside it was taking another shot of the fog.

See?  I’m not the only one.

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold March 13, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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Twelfth in the Vorkosigan saga, A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold is the tale of how Miles Vorkosigan persuaded his wife to marry him.  I can cut it short for you: he did it clumsily.  Having been unable to save her husband from murder at the hands of counterfeit embezzlers (not real ones—they were actually terrorists), he finds himself in the uncomfortable position of courting a widow very poorly.  He is a neurotic little guy: short, prone to seizures and with nearly every bone in his body replaced with synthetics—but one of the most powerful men in his cousin’s Empire (so there’s that).

Fortunately, he can be smart and contrite in the correct measures, so there’s hope.  That, and a little plot to foil make for an interesting read.  I liked it very much, and so will the discerning reader—like you.

The Killing Moon, by N. K. Jemisin March 10, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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N. K. Jemisin is turning out to be my favorite new author.  Her newest (to me) book, The Killing Moonis a delightful fantasy of ancient Egypt (well, based on it; she has said this is a non-Earth world.  Honest) wherein the stuff of dreams makes powerful healing magic, and can do much, much else.  Consequently, the priests who collect, guard, share and consume the magic are supposed to be free of corruption.  A Gatherer is shocked to learn that his collection of dreamstuff (which sends its host into the land of dreams permanently) may have been motivated by something other than compassion.

A mystery and a fantasy at once, The Killing Moon is also a careful reflection on how one may perceive one’s own motives, on how hard it is to see the right thing, and how hard it is to do the right thing.  And in The Killing Moon all the protagonists face these questions…and none of them look away.

Marvelous stuff, all her books.  Get them all, or at least read them all.  You won’t be sorry.

The Real Reason She Tried to Buy Me a GoPro March 9, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Video.
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The missus wanted to get me a GoPro for Newtonmas (look it up), but I refused to give her the pleasure of watching this sort of thing happen to me.

Poor bastard.  He lived, and is expected to fully recover.

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson March 8, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brain, Brilliant words.
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One of the many wonderful things about The Psychopath Test (aside from the careful narration on the audiobook by the author) is the fascinating assumption made by the author of this test. “An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues.”—from the Amazon site.  Ronson starts globe-hopping, looking at people with the jaundice-colored glasses.  He visits a Haitian death-squad leader jailed for mortgage fraud in Coxsackie, New York (he had manipulated his way out of extradition for multiple murders and rapes by promising to finger CIA as his backer); a chainsaw CEO with delusions of grandeur famously callous about destroying lives (including his sister’s and his son’s; and a Grievous Bodily Harm criminal who feigned madness to get into a softer lockup and a prison—and regretted it instantly.  Locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane, he swears he’s sane and certainly not a psychopath—but he scores very highly on the Psychopath Test.

The best part about the book is Ronson speculating about the motives of ordinary people, including himself.  I snickered every time he caught himself examining his motives a little too closely, although I’m not sure it was intended as humor.

Possibly just insight.

The Jumper Books, by Stephen Gould March 8, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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A brief change of pace, reading actual science fiction after a long dry spell, I just finished Reflex and Griffin’s Story, both set in the Jumper universe.  Fast-paced enough and with plenty of action, both of them will possibly get a reread at some point in the future, something that I have usually reserved for well-loved stories from my childhood (my, those stone tablets are heavy).

Reflex takes up where Jumper left off, with Hayden Cristianson (whatever that guy’s name is, I forget…probably trauma related) and his wife teleporting around the globe and him doing saintly work to make up for his bad days.  He now works for NSA and that makes it tricky when they appear to have kidnapped him.  Fortunately, his wife seems to have developed an interesting talent for escaping from bad guys and hunting them down.  Davy learns more about his abilities, as well.

The bad guys have it pretty good here compared to Griffin’s Story, wherein a nice young boy’s parents are murdered in front of him while he escapes…barely, and spends his childhood in hiding from their killers.  They aren’t interested in kidnapping.

Too bad for them.

Soulless, by Gail Carriger March 5, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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A cheery mix of P. G. Wodehouse (wrong era, right style) and Bram Stoker (right era, wrong style), Soulless, by Gail Carriger is a pert look at a vaguely steampunk Victorian England where werewolves and vampires have been adopted by the more progressive Vickies and brought into polite mainstream society.  The story revolves around a woman with no soul whose touch renders vampire and werewolf alike merely human. The daughter of an Italian, she is doomed to a life of spinsterhood until she succumbs to the charm of a Scottish werewolf in the course of being attacked by her catty sisters, vampires, mad scientists, steam-and-blood-powered robots and defended only by her wits and a particularly stout parasol.

Naturally, she prevails.

A cheery read when things look bleak, I recommend Soulless for dreary winters, bad colds and feeling punk.  I understand Gail Carriger (currently a local girl in Bolinas) has five of these novels (the “Parasol Protectorate ” series) and a Young Adult novel Etiquette & Espionage which I am young enough to read right now (same world, younger female protagonist).

Both books apparently have audiobooks (dunno about the box set), but I went with the Kindle version.