Friday, December 24
If you have ever spent any time in the science fiction groups on Usenet, you'd recognise the name of James Nicoll. Witty and erudite, and the unfortunate victim of more bizarre accidents than the collected populations of five of the smaller European states*, he has been a regular contributor to rec.arts.sf.written for as long as I can remember:
Results 1 - 10 of about 57,600 for james nicoll. in rec.arts.sf.written.* (1.01 seconds)
Anyway, he now has a blog. Okay, it's at Livejournal, but we all have to start somewhere.
An Open Letter to my cat Hillary
I appreciate that there can be no pause in the ongoing war between you and your bitterest enemy, you tail. I applaud your diligence and am amazed at the RPMs you reach chasing it. I would offer one lone bit of advice: seek a venue for tail chasing other than the slippery edge of a water-filled bath tub.
James has a number of cats, and many of them seem to have acquired his affinity towards implausible misadventure:
Blotchy has a history of run-in with doors. In fact, I once had to cut up a door to get his paw from under it. In most ways, he is a bright cat but he just seems to have bad luck with doors.
This time, he had somehow managed to pull the bathroom door closed as he walked out, pinning himself between the door and the wall. He could have easily escaped by going backward but he does not understand that. Instead he must have kept trying to push forward, getting increasingly upset and angry that the door was grabbing him. The growls alarmed the other cats, who tried to calm him down by attacking him (I assume this makes sense if your brain is the size of a walnut), thus all the noise.
Apart from his cats, James has one of the best jobs in the world: He is paid (paid!) to read science fiction novels before they come out.
Lois McMaster Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt (non-spoiler)
So I finally read this. It's sitting in the work related TBR pile for ages, because I keep what I think will be the best manuscripts for last, to help me get through the latest "Recent Plot Chunk of On-Going Fantasy Story #62" and "Loud Explosion Clumsy Info Dump Space Adventure #23", which I wouldn't have to read if you people would just stop buying them.
Bias: I am not a fantasy fan. It's not like I hate it but it just doesn't punch the right buttons for me. It's like coffee, which I like, vs tea, which I am indifferent to.
Omission: I have not read the second book in this series.
Good News: It doesn't matter. Each book set in this universe is a complete book and each comes with enough information of the world that you do not need to have read the other books.
Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors, and The Curse of Chalion is perhaps her finest work. James is reading the manuscript (MS) for the third book set in that world, something we mortals will not have the opportunity to do for months!
It's not all good, though:
A Short But Unkind Review
So for my sins, I was assigned Mission to Minerva by James P. Hogan. This is the fifth book in the Giants series, of which I have read the first three and this one. Nothing I have heard about Entoverse (the one I missed) makes me want to hunt it down but when I was a teen, I was very fond of _Inherit the Stars_.
Bias calibration: I am on record as thinking Hogan succumbed to the Brain Eater years ago. I base this on the crank theories he promotes on his website (and in his books, but there's really no way to tell just from a book if the author is using the idea because they think it makes for a good story or because they really truly think Jupiter horks out Venus sized loogies from time to time). Recently I discovered Hogan is a defender of David Irving and a promoter of the Institute for Historical Review as a news site, and swore off reading Hogan. A discussion with my boss in which various valid points were made convinced me to read this one for them, although I am sure they would accepted a no from me.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present James Nicoll. Please keep a safe distance, and be sure to extinguish any open flames.
* "What's the difference between a radiant space heater and an oven, when you get right down to it? Aside from the fact that I don't stick my leg in an oven."
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Thursday, December 23
Tim Blair has his quotes of the year for 2004: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December. January through March to follow, I expect.
The City of Sydney has gaily-painted* banners fluttering beside its major thoroughfares this Christmas, bearing messages in many different languages. I could see two different Chinese scripts, one that I thought I recognised as Thai, one in the Cyrillic alphabet, and many others. One I saw was in Spanish**; the first word was Felice; I didn't catch the second since the banner was waving in the wind, but I could see that it wasn't Navidad as one might expect.
Then I found one in English. It reads:
Well, quite. And a Pleasant Summer and Cheerful Winter to you as well.
(It's Felice Fiestas as it turns out. And isn't it Feliz Navidad in Spanish? Are Fiestas of a different gender to Navidads or something? Why are you looking at me like that?)
* Or printed, or however they do it these days.
** I think.
# cat .htaccess
Deny from 18.104.22.168 22.214.171.124 126.96.36.199
# tail -f /usr/local/apache/logs/error_log | grep denied
[Wed Dec 22 01:00:50 2004] [error] [client 188.8.131.52] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:00:51 2004] [error] [client 184.108.40.206] client denied by server configuration: mt-comments.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:00:54 2004] [error] [client 220.127.116.11] client denied by server configuration: mt-comments.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:00 2004] [error] [client 18.104.22.168] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:10 2004] [error] [client 22.214.171.124] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:11 2004] [error] [client 126.96.36.199] client denied by server configuration: mt-comments.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:16 2004] [error] [client 188.8.131.52] client denied by server configuration: mt-comments.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:20 2004] [error] [client 184.108.40.206] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:21 2004] [error] [client 220.127.116.11] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:23 2004] [error] [client 18.104.22.168] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
[Wed Dec 22 01:01:32 2004] [error] [client 22.214.171.124] client denied by server configuration: splorp.cgi
01:03:35 up 53 days, 15:21, 4 users, load average: 0.09, 0.30, 1.26
(I should explain that our server was extensively spamflooded and crapflooded today, and the load average exceeded 70 for an extended period. Fixed now.)
Wednesday, December 22
I've been busy battling a Chomskyite in my comments, which is rather less productive than blogging, but someone has to do it. I just wanted to note in passing that the spell-checker built into Mozilla Thunderbird (the email companion to the Firefox browser) doesn't recognise the word "Thunderbird". Which strikes me as something of an oversight.
Tuesday, December 21
Now is the time at the Flea when... Uh, never mind. Just watch the video.
Warning: Not entirely work-safe. Contains boobies.
Monday, December 20
A few days ago I mentioned that Blitz Max had been released, albeit only for MacOS X so far. (And as it happens, it requires a more recent version of MacOS X than I actually have installed on any of my Macs, the most recent of which dates to 2001.)
The good people at Blitz have now released beta versions of the Windows and Linux releases, showing that they really are pretty close to shipping. To get access to the betas you have to already have a paid license for Blitz Max... Which I did, even though I couldn't actually run it, as such. Heh.
In that post I mentioned the, um, austerity of the supplied libraries, so I should also mention a couple of points here that work strongly in Blitz Max's favour. First, the libraries are for the most part written in Blitz Max, making them relatively easy to extend (and also makes them trivial to port from Mac to Linux to Windows and vice-versa). Second, the standard $80 price tag comes with the source code for all of the libraries, which makes the libraries not just easy but possible to extend. And third, Blitz has a long-standing and energetic user community, and they have already - ten days after the product was released - added significant new functionality to the libraries, which is even now being put back into the standard product. Most notably, a library enabling scripting Blitz Max programs with Lua has been developed and released in just days.
I've downloaded the Windows and Linux betas and I can confirm that the Windows version works well. And so if I disappear for a few days you can assume that the Linux version is also working well. Actually, hang on a tick...
Well, it runs well enough, but my test program won't compile because it can't find one of the libraries. I'm updating the libraries now (which is just a menu option away, very nice) and I'll try it again.
Works! Produces monster binaries* alas, so not so good for creating tiny utilities. I expect that's due to a lot of unwanted libraries being included, but the linker is supposed to be smarter than that.
I think this has a lot of promise. It's easy to use, it compiles quickly, the programs run fast, it works on Mac and Windows and Linux, it's cheap, it's got big brown eyes, and you get source code to the libraries.
Blitz Max get's a coveted Doesn't Suck award from me.
Update: Hmm. And three times slower than Python for string manipulation, which is something of a disappointment.
* By my old-fogy standards, at least. A minimal benchmark program compiled to 600k.**
** The minimal benchmark clocks it at 500 times faster than Python - for arithmetic and tight loops, which are hardly Python's strong point. But it's certainly not slow.
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