Saturday, 26 July 2008

Weekend hilarity

For one of the best pieces of throw-away commentary on the true nature of religion, and the way that religion is being given a further grasp on life by being watered down in the media to where people think that it's not that bad after all, go here:

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Microsoft really DON'T understand tabs

Okay, this is picky, but as a use-case scenario I claim that I have a valid point, dammit.

In Google Reader, you can paste URL's into the "add new feed" box or, and this is the cool part, if you're using Firefox (haven't tried Opera), you can drag another tab into the box. Google will then take the address and work out what the RSS feed actually is, even if the tab you're dragging doesn't have the feed itself open. Which is clever and extremely convenient.

In IE7, tabs get focused the second you click on them, not when you release, and so the tab-dragging is not possible. You're left with having to highlight the URL, copy, change tabs, paste...

This is the sort of fuss that made Palm so many loyal customers when mobile versions of Windows was the competition. "The zen of Palm" they called it. I can hardly refer to the Zen of Firefox, but maybe the Purgatory of Microsoft would be accurate.

New versions of software are supposed to be improved, aren't they?

Office 2007. I don't like it already, and now this:

I have just written "forcarers" in Word 2007. I'll give you exactly three seconds to figure out that I meant to put a space four characters in, but didn't.

So what suggestions did the spellcheck offer me? "foragers, forwarders, sorcerers, foragers', forwarders'". What, it's throwing in possessive apostrophes in an attempt to pad the results? It didn't even try to throw in a space and see if two separate words would work? Pathetic. Utterly pathetic.

There was movement in the caryards, for the word had got around...

I believe there is a gradual change in vehicle usage patterns.

Bear with me:

For many years, large (and even small) 4WD vehicles have inherited the degree of inconsiderate bad driving that used to be the perceived sole preserve of Volvo drivers. In fact, recently Australian Road Rider magazine held a competition to find a term to replace "Volvo Driver" as an insult. They even approached the PR department of Volvo in Australia to donate prizes. I don't think they got any, though. I also can't remember the winner, which was a word that singularly failed to stick in my brain, although if I had known about the competition early enough I would have entered "Pajero", which has the double benefit of indicating both the category of main offender of appalling driver, and the fact that in Spanish (at least in South American Spanish), Pajero means onaninst.

But I hadn't, and didn't, and a word I can't remember and didn't understand and didn't care for won.


Just recently I have noticed, during my peak-hour commutes, that it is not so much the 4WD vehicles which are the problem. I had a brilliant example just this morning. It was in the pouring rain and none of us were sure if we would see England again... Sorry, got sidetracked.

It was pouring rain, and in classic style there was at least one near-accident due to near-terminal vagueness, when a small mini-van type thing which nearly merged into the side door of another car. As the driver clearly didn't know about the rear window demister and therefore didn't use at least one of her three mirrors, this didn't surprise me much and I hung back from overtaking until I could get a good run at it.

The car which was the most worry, however, merging so quickly that I had to brake sharply at one point (right in front of a truck) to give my front wheel comfortable clearance off his rear bumper and forcing everyone else to brake hard as well, was a new Camry. In fact, in recent weeks it has consistently been big sedans of other types, frequently the new Ford Falcon, which have been behaving in the I'm-invincible, I'm-more-important-than-you, get-out-of-my-way-you-peons manner which is usually observed these days in suburban high-rise tanks.

I think that rising fuel prices are encouraging people to downgrade from tank-heavy, tank-aerodynamic Pajeros and Landcruisers to big sedans. Which means that it's the people who can afford to do so who are the worry, which says something about the relationship between wealth and personality as well.

Link to Australian Road Rider

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Hypocrites need to be beaten with a cluestick
That is all.

Idiotic user interface design decisions: IE7

Internet Explorer 7 can have a side bar (called an "Explorer Bar" because Microsoft thinks that if they don't use everybody else's nomenclature, people might think they had an original idea) which can show, among other things, bookmarks (called "Favorites" because Microsoft has a baby-talk mentality).

Which is good. And on Firefox, I got used to being able to drag and drop to create bookmarks, by dragging either the tab for the page I want to bookmark, or the favicon in the left end of the address bar.

Which is very handy and easy and convenient and lets me choose between five hundred different folders quickly.

On IE7, I can't. Drag and drop for bookmark creation doesn't work for tabs. It works for dragging the favicon, but not the tab. Dragging the tab can only be used to reorder them.

I present this as proof positive that Microsoft don't get tabbed browsing, and only did it because they realised that it was popular.

Lesser known brilliant minds of Science Fiction

One of my favourite of the early post-WWII clutch of science fiction writers is Alfred Bester. He played with ideas some of which were just plain bizarre but all of which were entertaining. It's always fun re-reading Bester, which can not always be said of larger names like Isaac Asimov, who wasn't as good a writer, or Frank Herbert, who was gloomier.

He also, although he filled his books with the kind of unthinking sexism that can be identified after a gap of 60 years between writing and reading, delved deeply into the social effects of the ideas he played with, in a way that puts a lot of other writers to shame and which highlights the best of how SF should be speculative and the worst of the shallow crap that gets turned into audio-visual "entertainment" these benighted days.

I am currently re-reading Tiger! Tiger!, aka The Stars My Destination (but you've got to prefer a Blake quote as a title, haven't you?), the central premise of which is the discovery of teleportation as a mental ability and the universal training of individuals in it. He opens with a thumbnail sketch of social and technological background, introduces teleportation and its discovery, and then, in a few short pages, proceeds to set up the social background of the novel by taking a shredder to the Worlds As They Were: Transportation industries and all economies reliant upon them crash; communication industries crash; the outer settled sattelites (Io, Europa and the rest of the usual suspects) fall into social chaos because they had most of their investment in transport and most of their exports going to transport-related industries, go to war with the inner planets (Earth, Moon, Mars, Venus - the other usual suspects) as a result; massive upheaval in privacy-related technologies, including building mazes at the entrances to buildings and personal homes so that people would be unable to get the absolute knowledge of location necessary for teleportation in or out; Ranking of individuals based upon distance they can travel at a time, assessed by the old motor vehicles registration bodies, and the inclusion of this upon employment application forms; social upheaval as criminal gangs use teleportation to strike and retreat; police brutality in retaliation; social and environmental upheaval as slum dwellers disappear into the remaining wilderness and start living on the animals; diseases spreading into old areas for the first time in centuries, and leprosy reappearing when it had been thought eliminated; plant diseases such as the elm borer and citrous scale likewise; und so weiter.

And this was in the 1950s. He discussed citrous scale in a list of important world-change markers! We were hopelessly pantsed by equine influenza, and Bester was casually tossing up three hundred different consequences of failures of border control mechanisms in the fifties.

Bester addressed the world(s) with a thoroughness which is staggering not just because he was doing it in the environment of the 1950s, when we often condescendingly think that media was so much less effective and accessible than it is now, but because it is seen so rarely. He's credited with shaping both New Wave (whatever that is - see end) and cyberpunk (the Sprawl which features in many of his stories is exactly like William Gibson with older technology and at least as many drugs - with water shortages [sound familiar?] the perfume industry takes off and the ability to take a shower becomes a status symbol and... but I get side-tracked) and the completeness with which he builds worlds has to be a major contributing factor to this.

It is mollifying to think that the thoroughness with which he constructed his books is why he wrote so bloody few of them.

Link to Alfred Bester on Fantastic Fiction (he's been dead since 1987, I don't think he's got a home page).
Link to the explanation of the wank that is the term "New Wave". On wikipedia.
Link to cyberpunk. Also on wikipedia.

Never assume malice when incompetence will do, but when you have eliminated incompetence, what's left?

My computer, at work, is brand new. It has a 2.33GHz dual core Intel CPU with 1GB of RAM, and runs XP. Not even Vista - XP.

And yet, Outlook 2007 runs sluggishly and needs frequent pauses to catch up with itself.

How is this even possible? How can programmers even do this? How do you get a mail/calendar application which is more sluggish than Eudora (remember that?) ever was on a 100MHz Pentium with 16MB of RAM? Surely this took actual effort. You'll probably find several instances of sleep() in the code, purely for this purpose. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a flag SLUGGISH=1 somewhere.


Monday, 21 July 2008

Something worries me about Doctor Who

It is this: "The third great and bountiful human empire".
We've returned to this several times already, and it's always presented as a good thing with - whoops - something rotten below the surface in just this episode. Or, as with the Ood, something wrotten in all three galaxies with people not questioning where the Ood came from.

But, generally, good.

But: "Great and bountiful human empire"? Well, "Empire" is worrying, but more worrying is the label "great and bountiful".

I'm sure there's a principle of politics, which I've seen written down but can't remember who claimed credit for it, that if you name yourself something, you're not that thing. Like "German Democratic Republic" (East Germany) or United Soviety Socialist Republics, or United States of America, which can now claim one civil war, innumerable doomsday cults, and more racial division than South Africa through sheer persistency of hate groups. Also United Kingdom, which includes Northern Ireland and Scotland, where they now have their own parliament and are edging towards full independence.

Why hasn't the Doctor stopped halfway through explaining things to any of his assistants so far and said "Hang on, that's worrying..."

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