I'm in the future. Like hundreds of years in the future. I've been dead for centuries.
Oh, lovely, you're a cheery one aren't you?

Thursday, July 31


Sweet(ish) Clementine

So my installation of iTunes 11.3 was, um, less than entirely successful.  (Three days later the program still hasn't finished loading).

After looking around a bit I installed Clementine.  The user interface is really awkward - the whole assumption is that you want to build playlists, and I simply never do that - and it's missing some features (like multi-threaded podcast downloads, or even a download queue).

But it works.  I installed it, told it to import my 2TB of iTunes content, and a couple of hours later everything was there and playable (except, I'm assuming, for my DRMed audiobooks).  All completed while iTunes itself was still struggling to load.

It uses 1/4 the memory of iTunes, and works about 20x faster.  Even searching for podcasts on the iTunes store is 20x faster in Clementine than it is in iTunes.

I have to assume that iTunes works for someone, but when you've collected a couple of decades worth of music and seven years of podcasts under it, it becomes an exercise in futility, and it's been getting worse with each new release, until with 11.3 it became entirely unworkable.

Clementine may be something of an ugly duckling, but I'll take an ugly duckling over a turkey any day.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 02:04 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Monday, July 28



With every release of iTunes the application has become slower and less functional, until, with 11.3, Apple have apparently reached perfection, in that it does nothing at all.

Well, it uses up 600MB of memory and a CPU core, which might be considered something.  So let us say, it does nothing useful.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:53 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Sunday, July 27


Science Girls


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Friday, July 25


So I Figure...

The way out of my Android mess is to spend more money.  Fortunately, not a lot of it.

My Nexus 7 suits my needs perfectly for reading and playing Kairosoft games at home, and when I take one of my (rare) trips to see my family, it can come along with me.  Not a problem.  Which reminds me: I need to buy a new backpack before October; the old one got left outside and died.

My Xperia Z Ultra is fine as a take-anywhere mini tablet with plenty of room for music, videos, files, and stuff.  Not quite right for reading entire novels, but far better than the typical 4-5" phone for checking email and browsing the web.

My Nexus 5, though, isn't quite right.  It's too big to sit comfortably in my shirt pocket, too small to do anything complex (it looks tiny next to the Z Ultra), and doesn't have enough storage to make a good media player.

I think the right thing to do is to replace it with something like the Xperia Z1 Compact, which is a good bit smaller and will work with a 128GB micro SD card just like the Z Ultra.  I haven't filled up the first card yet, after days of determined downloading.  With two, I can put my audiobooks on the Ultra and music and podcasts on the Compact and get twice as much of everything and still have room left over.

The Z1 Compact is a mid-range device at a mid-range price (albeit with a high-end CPU and camera) so it won't break the bank, and I'll avoid ever suffering a repeat of yesterday's fiasco.*

And that means I can finally leave my 160GB iPod to rest.  It still works fine; that thing is built like a brick.  But it's kind of clunky by 2014 standards.

* Over four hours to download a one-hour podcast episode.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 09:41 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Full Fathom Five My Monkey Lies

Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone
The Rhesus Chart, Charles Stross

Two new additions to existing fantasy series by two of my favourite writers.  Not the best time for my Nexus 7 to suddenly die.

Full Fathom Five is the third in Max Gladstone's Craft sequence (Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise) which merges Vancean fantasy with the corporate thriller, so the key plot element shared by the three works is a sort of necromantic forensic conveyancing.  In this world, gods and souls are not just real, they are public utilities and currencies.

Our main characters on this outing are Kai, who constructs bespoke demigods for a fantasy-Hawaii-based spiritual mutual fund, and Izza, a street urchin with an unexplained hotline to Heaven.  When one of the idols managed by Kai's employer is endangered by the failure of a risky investment, Kai dives in (literally) with a last-minute leveraged buyout offer, and her life starts to unravel.

There follows a great deal of running around, getting hit on the head (literally, figuratively, or spiritually), unexpected betrayals, unexpected fidelities, and in the end triumph pulled from the jaws of a thing with lots and lots of teeth, which is pretty much the same formula as the previous two books.  

Which works just fine for me.

Full Fathom Five expands on the scope of the first two books, showing us that the events of the three stories are not just happening in a shared world, but follow closely on one another, and are perhaps directly related.  That leaves me looking eagerly forward to Gladstone's next entry in the series.  I'd be ready and willing to buy more standalone novels as long as he keeps writing, but if he can take the series to the next level, so much the better.

If you liked the first two books you won't want to miss this.  If you haven't read any of them, start with Three Parts Dead; while the books work in any order (so far) it's the easiest to get into.

The Rhesus Chart is the fifth in Charles Stross' Laundry Files  (The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex) that follows the trials of British civil servant Bob Howard, a former computer scientist corralled into working for a super-secret division of MI-6 tasked with defending the Universe.  The series is a cross between the classic Cold War spy thriller and Lovecraftian cosmic horror.  (Indeed, the recent Laundry Files novella Equoid involves Lovecraft himself.)

This time out....  Frankly, this time out is disappointing.  The previous novels involved adventure, danger, action and excitement, even if Bob didn't want any part of it.  This novel never leaves London, much less Earth; it never really gets beyond second gear.  Though the story is told in first person, a good half of the action takes place when Bob is not present, and is told by reconstruction or after-action report.

This applies even to the climactic scenes of the novel, which turns a Pyrrhic victory into merely a damp squib.  It's still a decent read, but given how well the series started out, this latest outing is so much less than it might have been.  I would not really recommend it either to a new or an established reader of the series; instead, pick up Equoid and the other short works.

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More What It's Like

What It's Like Upgrading From iOS 6 To iOS 7*

Remember the time your favourite teddy bear got a bit on the grubby side so mum put it through the wash and all the stuffing came out and all you got back was a sad pile of damp fur?  With eyes?

Yeah, that.

But at least it was clean!

* I'd left my iPad on iOS 6 until now because the original screenshots of iOS 7 looked eye-meltingly horrible.  Anyway, I was testing a new web site design for mee.nu and on Safari on the iPad the menus blinked if there was any animated content on the screen - which they were definitely not supposed to do.  Before reporting this to the designer, I updated to iOS 7 in case it was a bug in the old version of Safari I was running. 

It was.

And iOS 7 looks like crap.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:19 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Thursday, July 24


Thoughts On Android And Removable Storage

So a couple of months ago I bought a Sony Xperia Z Ultra, which you can think of as either a ridiculously large phone or a very small tablet (6.4" screen).  It's my first non-Nexus Android device and so my first Android device with removable storage.

The reason I got the Z Ultra now and not before is twofold: First, it apparently didn't sell well and Sony cut the price by about a third; and second, Sandisk have released a 128GB micro SD card, so you can now add a lot of storage to a phone relatively cheaply.

My faithful Nexus 7 stopped working a couple of weeks ago, so I've been using the Z Ultra instead while I tried to fix it.  So far I've failed, and I ended up buying a new Nexus, which arrived yesterday.*  I had it shipped to my office because it's much easier, and I went in to pick it up yesterday afternoon.  (I'm taking a couple of weeks off right now.)

And I have some thoughts regarding the experience.

I use my Nexus 7 all the time.  It's my daily go-to-device for reading and checking email and notifications of various kinds.  It has - or had, we'll get to that - LTE and a 10GB data plan, which is very handy to have and saved my bacon a couple of times when wired or wifi internet access was unavailable and I needed to work.  (A power outage once, a faulty router another time.)

Smaller devices aren't big enough; even, as it turned out, the 6.4" Z Ultra.  Larger devices (I have a Nexus 10 and an iPad 3) are too heavy and clumsy for comfortable reading.  The Nexus 7 is the sweet spot.

And while there are a number of low-end 7" tablets, there are no - zero - other high-end 7" general-purpose tablets.  There's the Kindle Fire HDX, which would do for reading, but limits me to the Amazon ecosystem, which is a proper subset of the Android ecosystem, so there's no real reason to do that.  Anyway, the Amazon App store doesn't have Uniqlo Wake Up, and I can't survive without that.**

Except that the Nexus 7 is out of stock from Google (at least in Australia).  It's the device I use every day, there's no direct alternative, and it's out of stock.  Scorptec had the 32GB wifi model in stock (still do, as I write this) but not the LTE.  I'd already moved the SIM card to the Z Ultra, so I was willing to give that up, at least for now.

There's the iPad Mini and the new Galaxy Tab S, but those are both considerably larger (if not that much heavier), and more to the point, cost twice as much.  There's the Galaxy Tab Pro, but that's only available with 16GB of storage.

My Z Ultra has 16GB total storage, of which 12GB was free after purging the sample music and videos.  After installing my standard set of apps (Kairosoft, Final Fantasy, Windbell's stuff, Nova Launcher...) and a decent chunk of my Kindle library, I have just under 4GB left.  And that's with all my media files going to SD card.

Samsung devices with 16GB storage ship with about 9GB free (judging from a review of the S4).  For the device I use for reading, I want my entire Kindle library on board.  The problem there is not just that I have about over a thousand ebooks, but that I subscribe to Analog and Asimov's SF magazines, and they run 60-100MB per issue, a couple of GB total per year, and I have a couple of years of back issues.

And Amazon's Android Kindle app can't tell an SD card from a hole in the ground.

So for the device I use for reading, I have to have at least 32GB built in; no SD card is going to help.  So the Galaxy Tab Pro, which is on sale right now and looks very nice, is of little use to me.  Not enough storage to be my reading device; too big to act as a media device.  (Which is the role the Z Ultra now fills.)


Anyway, I went into my office in the city yesterday to pick up my Nexus 7, talk to some people, and do a bit of shopping.  I took my Nexus 5 with me, but not the Z Ultra, because I wasn't taking a bag or a backpack and the Z Ultra is a bit big even for the pockets in my jacket.  And I really didn't want to drop it.  It's solidly constructed but it's basically a slab of glass.  Dropping it onto the wooden floors at home would be unlikely to even leave a mark, but dropping it onto tile or concrete would be a death sentence.

So, Nexus 5, headphones, off I go.  I want to download a podcast episode to listen to while I'm out.  My Nexus 5 only has a 3G plan, because I originally had a Nexus 4 which didn't have LTE, and I never bothered upgrading.  And it's worked well enough in the past, not blazing fast, but good enough.

But not this time.  I'll spare you the details, but I was out and about for four hours, and in that time I managed to download 91% of a single 17MB podcast episode.  I don't know what was going on with iiNet's mobile network in northern Sydney yesterday, but it was not good.

I tried streaming an episode from TWIT, and I got about one second of audio every minute.

And here's the thing: I didn't have much to listen to on my Nexus 5 because it ran out of room and I went through purging everything.  And the cloud completely and utterly failed me.  It was in fact worse than useless, because trying to download drained 80% of my battery in four hours.

So, here's my thoughts on all this, in point form:
  • Google, get your supply chain sorted, or get out.  I know it's called the Play store, but you can't play at being a hardware provider.

  • Google, again, fix removable storage on Android.  My device is out of space, I add 64GB, it's still out of space.  This is simple incompetence.

  • Google, you say that SD cards provide a bad user experience.  I'll tell you what a bad user experience is: Having a device with no content and a flat battery because you don't have an SD card to store your content.

  • iiNet, what the fuck?  Over a period of several hours, from Hornsby to the Sydney CBD and back by a different route, I never got more than a couple of KB per second.  That's useless.

  • Sony and Samsung, stop selling flagship devices with 16GB of storage and pretending you're doing the world a favour.  The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 cost $400; an extra 16GB of flash storage that would triple the available space retails for $8.  Yes, you can make the device three times as useful for 2% more.

  • Sony and Samsung again, what the hell is it with having to choose between 32GB of storage or LTE support?  Both the Z2 Tablet and the Tab S do this.  Why do you think that wanting mobile internet access means that I also want inadequate storage?

    At least Google and Nvidia got this one right.

  • Sony, this one is just for you.  You replaced the perfectly functional clock widget provided in stock Android with something that doesn't tell the time.  Your clock widget is not a clock.  And since it's a system app, it's impossible to change it back.  That's a special kind of stupid, that is.

  • Amazon, even with Samsung, Sony, and Google being doody-heads on the subject of storage, you can still fix your app.  Hell, your Audible app works just fine with SD cards, even on Android 4.4.  (Even if it freaks out when you upgrade from 4.3 to 4.4 and the rules change, it still works.)

    Just do the same thing for the Kindle app and we're golden.

  • Tor books - why are the margins on Max Gladstone's Full Fathom Five so damn huge?  It's an ebook, if I want huge margins I can make them that way.  What I can't do is make them narrower than you've set them.  And on a smaller device with a 16:9 screen - like, say, an Xperia Z Ultra - the book is basically unreadable.

  • The publisher of Analog and Asimov's SF magazines - why are your magazines 60MB+ each?  F&SF and Lightspeed are only around 1MB.  I mean, I can see that you provide a pre-formatted version as well as a readable version in the same file, but still what the heck are you doing with a magazine that's 98% text that takes 60MB?  The Three Musketeers on Kindle - about 800 pages worth - is under 1MB.

  • Scorptec and Startrack Couriers - thumbs up, keep doing what you do.
The really irritating thing in all this is that it's only a problem because everyone involved is relentlessly screwing things up.  Samsung and Sony's bloatware and crappy storage capacities wouldn't matter if Google fixed Android's removable storage support or Amazon fixed the Kindle app.  The problems with Android and the Kindle app wouldn't matter if Samsung or Sony put enough storage in their devices.  And the limitations of the Kindle app wouldn't matter if Google or Samsung or Sony were doing their jobs.

On the bright side, Poodle Hat is finally on Google Play Music All Access.

* I ordered it online from Scorptec Tuesday afternoon, after checking local stores and Google Play and finding none in stock anywhere.  Scorptec are in Melbourne; it arrived on my desk in Sydney around 9:30 Wednesday morning.

** It's the only alarm app I've found that doesn't give me a migraine.  It sings you the weather report to music by Yoko Kanno.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 06:55 PM | Comments (9) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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What It's Like

What It's Like Going Grocery Shopping With Celiac Disease

About 10% of the food items are labelled Salmonella Free.  And from experience, you know that's maybe 70% accurate, so if you ever want to try something new, you'd better clear your schedule because you might be spending the next 24 hours locked in the bathroom.

And there's no rhyme or reason to it.  Coffee?  How the hell did they get salmonella in coffee?*

What It's Like Using Windows 8 On A Non-Touch Device

It's like living in a house where the doors are just painted on the walls, and to go in and out of the rooms or open the cupboards you need to carry a chainsaw.  And all the surfaces are painted the exact same shade of off-white.  But the location is great!

* I thought I was lactose intolerant as well until I discovered that gluten is a common filler in ice cream.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:49 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Why exactly is it that if I want an antihistamine, or a painkiller containing codeine, it needs to be approved by a pharmacist, but if I want a cold & flu preparation containing both, I can just pick it up and pay for it?

Update: It might be because the cold & flu pills have less codeine (I checked) and antihistamine (not sure).  Plus paracetamol (acetominophen) to keep you safe.  The paracetamol will kill you before you can get hooked on the codeine.

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Monday, July 21


Stepwise Towards Perfection

I resisted getting a tablet for a long time, because, frankly, in the early days they all sucked.  Then the Nexus 7 came out in 2012, and it didn't suck (much), and didn't cost a whole lot, and I bought one.  And I found I used it constantly.

I followed that with the purchase of an original retina iPad (i.e. the iPad 3) which is a very nice device that I never use.  And a Nexus 10, which is a very nice device that I almost never use.  And then the 2013 model of the Nexus 7, which was better than the original in every way and which I used constantly until last week when it died.


Double and triple boo, because firstly I'm taking some time off work and have a chance to catch up on my reading, and I used my Nexus 7 for reading, and secondly, Google Australia are completely out of stock and I can't replace it.

I do have the two other tablets and a very very large phone, so I'll survive just fine, but it's quite noticeable how well the Nexus 7 fills its niche when you're looking to replace it with something else.  There simply isn't anything, from any provider, for any price, that can fill its role as well.

But we're getting there, slowly.

When the original Nexus 7 came out I made a wishlist of seven points I wanted to see corrected in a newer version:
  1. 32GB or more of flash storage.
  2. A micro SD slot.
  3. Fix the colour levels.  (Colours on the original Nexus 7 were not exactly vibrant.)
  4. Make the screen even sharper - go to 1920x1200.
  5. Micro-HDMI out.
  6. Stylus.
  7. Help Kairosoft get Game Dev Story fixed on Jelly Bean.
The 2013 model fixed 1, 3, 4, and essentially 5; Kairosoft fixed 7.  That leaves 2 - micro SD support - and 6 - a stylus - outstanding.  And Google have issued a big fuck you to those looking for micro SD support.

I have a 128GB micro SD card in my Xperia Z Ultra, and the difference it makes is amazing.  I can just shovel music, audiobooks, and podcasts onto it without worrying about running out of space.  But I don't have that in a full-sized tablet...  Yet.

Looks like the new Nvidia Shield tablet might be what I've been waiting for.  It has a Tegra K1 quad-core 2.2GHz Arm A15 processor, so it's a lot faster than the Nexus 7;* 2GB memory, 32GB flash, a micro SD slot, and LTE.  8" 1920x1200 IPS display, and even a stylus.

The only downside is that it weighs in at 390 grams, against the Nexus 7's 290, making it definitely on the chunky side.  But as I've found with the Z Ultra, weight isn't everything; the Z Ultra is only about 210 grams, but owing to its metal and glass construction is less comfortable to use for long periods than the Nexus 7 with its soft-feel plastic back.

We shall see.

* These benchmarks show the K1 outrunning the Nexus 7's Snapdragon S4 Pro by a consistent 2:1.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 07:18 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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