05/13/2013 04:20pm Blog Entry
I've been a photoshop user since the early 90s, and it's either come with a digital camera of mine or I've paid for it (ouch). Frankly, that time is gone. I've got CS4 on my mac. It barely works on Lion, and I doubt it will work at all on Mountain Lion. What all of these large corporations would like me to do is buy a fairly high performance mac, then rent photoshop for about $50 a month. Really? I have a better idea. I've been migrating away from cs4 for nearly a year, and really most of my photoshop work falls squarely into the 'play' department anyway, and thus, belongs on the linux box. Obviously, GIMP, being free, would be the obvious choice. Except that I /hate/ GIMP. Now I know that some folks love the thing, and I've seen truly dazzling digital art out of it, but for me, GIMP's UI is constantly annoying, and when I do get the software to do something, I find it's missing important features. Like adjustment layers.
Enter PhotoLine 32. Truth be told, back when OS X was new (10.1, to be exact), photoshop didn't run on it at all. Your only option for editing images without going into classic was to buy PL32. As CS4 became more and more flakey, I downloaded the current version of PL32, updated my license (yes, they honored my early-aughties license for an upgrade. Try that with Adobe some time.) and I've been slowly migrating to PL32 over the past year or so. The catch, of course, is that there's no Linux version.
On reading the fine print on the Photoline 32 site (www.pl32.com), however, I noticed that they test photoline 32 with wine, the windows emulator for Linux, and make sure everything works properly. So I tried it on the linux box. Lo and behold, it works as advertised. Yeah I bought a new license, even though technically I didn't have to. For 59 Euros (about 77 bucks - 6% of the price of CS6, or about a month and a half of creative cloud last I looked), it was a bargain. Yes, when PL32 does a major revision, they'll charge me to move up - usually about 20 bucks. I'm still ahead.
Not much else newswise. I'm actively seeking an agent, dealing with family matters, and knocking out a third short story in the Brass and Steel universe. Hopefully I'll be getting back to work on Brass and Steel II, whatever it winds up being called, in the next couple weeks. Also, I know how the series ends. Our heroes will be fighting Armageddon. Stay tuned. :)
05/04/2013 11:36pm Blog Entry
Okay, yeah, I just noticed the other day, nearly 3 months after the fact, that my last big site overhaul broke something important. All the "buy online" links used to point, via an embarrassingly convoluted mechanism, to a page called "Buy". And then, in a fit of brilliance, I decided I didn't need that page anymore. Oops. So I've given the PHP some kicking around, and now the buy links point to Amazon once again. Also, I removed Brass and Steel, the short story, from the "In Print" page since it is no longer in print.
It's becoming abundantly obvious that I need to rethink the guts of how this website works. For 4 titles it takes entirely too much maintenance, and I'm getting tired of the theme.
05/03/2013 05:27pm Blog Entry
The most frustrating thing about writing preqel stories to Brass and Steel: Inferno, is that all my favorite antique methods and mechanisms are still anachronisms. Today: carbon-zinc dry cells (invented 1886) and Bowden cables (invented 1896). Previously: bicycles as we know them today - aka Safety Bicycles, that is, a bicycle which has two wheels of about the same size and your feet can touch the ground while riding. (Invented: 1879, but the bike boom didn't happen until the 1890s).
The stories? They Also Serve (Tentatively named, set in 1887) and A Boy's Life (Set in 1883). The technology in The Color of Blood (Set in 1883) is pretty much fantastical anyway, so fewer problems with that. It's just interesting (if frustrating) how sharply the technosphere I'm used to cuts off in the late 19th century. -JRS
04/23/2013 11:12am Blog Entry
My mac has hit end of life. I can no longer upgrade the OS (thanks, Apple.) Given a lifespan of 6 years, not including upgrades, my mac has cost me about $300 a year, give or take, and I can't replace it for what I spent on it. With upgrades, that figure goes to about $500. The upgradeable mac no longer makes sense. I can buy a mini for $700 and if it lasts me two years, I come out ahead. The minis can do everything my Pro can do, right?
Almost. I play exactly one high powered graphics game. Until now I've been running it on my mac. No mac except the pro has the video oomph and upgradeability to keep up. PCs, by contrast, do it much, much more economically.
To that end, I've put together a junk box pc, literally made up of stuff purchased at very low price from other peoples' junk boxes and slapped together with a new HD and a new power supply. It's noisy, it runs pretty hot, and it smells. (New power supply insulation volatiles cooking out, I hope.) The junkbox PC's video card is a Geforce 9600, running in a pci-express 2.0 slot behind a 3ghz core2duo CPU, running Ubuntu 12.10 (no stupid names here). This, as compared to my mac pro 1,1 with a Radeon 5870, pci-express 1.1 slots, and a 2.6ghz quad-core xeon running OS X 10.7.5
Results: Despite its video card having about 1/4 the graphics horsepower of the one in my mac (according to the specs I've read), the junk box linux machine consistently outperformed the mac, both in terms of out and out framerate, and in graphical options turned on at the same framerate. This, despite the notoriously convoluted Linux graphics stack and the fact that I'm running the geforce drivers from Ubuntu instead of the latest and greatest from Nvidia. (Perhaps on a card as old as this, it doesn't matter so much.) I think, as Adam Savage once said, that's a result.
Will I leave the Apple fold? Not any time soon. Literally all of my paid-for software runs on my mac. My family uses macs, so it behoves me to have at least one of them around so I can see what they're seeing for support purposes. And there's a real question whether I can be comfortable with my computing world slung across two completely different machines with very little software overlap. Right now I'm having a bad case of "it's on the other machine," which is annoying. There is also the usual total lack of polish in Linux. Sorry Linux guys. When you're used to OS X, everything else feels crude and sloppy. Especially if it's based on Xwindows. Especially if it has no safe mode mechanism, and you have to twiddle config files in the USB and Xserver to get your mouse to behave sanely. (One little mistake and you'd better pray you have SSH server running and another machine.) Especially if it takes a separate app to add applications to the Unity launcher. (Unity is pretty, but awful.) Still. For a gaming machine, it might just be enough. We'll see.
04/14/2013 12:09pm Blog Entry
An interesting retweet from Lightspeed Magazine wandered past my Twitter reader today: yet another pundit demanding that the old paradigm of books and pages be abandoned in favor of ebooks, and their ability to handle text. Specifically, this person wanted to see pages go away. Implicit in that argument is the assumption "Everybody reads like I do, and pageless reading works better for me." My hypothesis is that it ain't so, and pages are the best compromise for different readers.
Like that author, I read in streams. I don't pay much attention to what page I'm on with a given book. I locate myself within a body of text by ideas and phrase sound. I can't tell you what page a given idea is on, but it's right after this other idea and way before that one. By contrast, M, my wife, is very visuo-spatial in general. She does remember where a given thought is pagewise, and where it was on the page. It's on a left side page in the first third of the book, about halfway down the page.
Why is this? Well, an extremely cursory search of the intertubes doesn't turn up much direct research, but in psychology there is a phenomenon called chunking - the units in which we divide up things we need to remember. Why is your phone number broken up into area code, exchange, and number? Partly for historical reasons (the POTS was organized that way much more than the modern one) and partly because it's far, far easier to remember three chunks of three and four numbers than it is to remember ten digits all at once. (719)555-1212 is easier to parse into memory and hold there than 7195551212. I'm going to hypothesize, despite finding no literature to back it up, that the same is true for reading. I'm going to further hypothesize that there are several different styles of chunking going on: by page, by idea/event, and perhaps by sound.
In light of these hypotheses, pages have turned out to be an effective compromise. For those of us who chunk by sub/super-page units like ideas and sound, pages don't get in the way. They're a convenient method to put the words in close proximity. For those who chunk spatially, pages provide a vital division of the text, a third dimension of location (the thickness of the book), and a physical place where a given idea resides.
Ebooks are never going to have useful thickness – that's one of their selling points – but they can and should have pages. Ideally those pages should never reflow, either. This is impractical given the huge variety of screens, so if they can reflow /once/ when the ebook is loaded on a given device, that's probably the best compromise. But for heaven's sake, don't throw out the pages. They're a highly evolved compromise, present even in the era of scrolls (most of which seem to have been read horizontally rather than vertically.) For some people they're absolutely vital.
04/09/2013 03:28pm Blog Entry
Mouse: Rat7 adjustable gaming mouse. http://www.cyborggaming.com/prod/rat7.htm Driver: USB Overdrive. http://www.usboverdrive.com/USBOverdrive/News.html Lack of wrist pain: priceless. Rat7 is a great mouse, full stop. You can tailor it to suit /your/ hand, in my case, quite large. The mac drivers that ship with it are an abomination, however. Unstable, poorly documented, idiosynchratic. USB overdrive to the rescue, as usual. :) -JRS
04/08/2013 03:23pm Blog Entry
I've been thinking about my (late) father a good deal lately. The Brass and Steel novel(s) and short stories are set in the late 19th century, a period about which my father, a former museum director, professional researcher, and historian had considerable expertise. Alas, I hadn't even thought of the series by the time he passed. Most of my regular readers (all three of you) are likely aware of all this.
My father was a nautical buff. He grew up along the Hudson River in New York. The story he told was that when he was in his late teens (I want to say 17), he'd tried to run away to see as an assistant to the engineer on a freighter. Alas, his family found out and was able to drag him back before the ship departed. (As with all his stories, one must take a certain amount of salt - the man had serious memory problems. He believed, in any case, and that's what's important here.)
Instead, when he was old enough, he went to college, he joined the Army and the National Guard, got married, raised children. In the process, life took him further and further inland. He read about the sea, talked about the sea, thought about the sea, all the way up to the last few years of his life. He never got there.
My father has begun the first leg of his final journey. In a few days he will arrive at the Naval base in Portsmouth, and from there he will board a Navy ship, and somewhere out in the open Atlantic, he'll finally, finally, become one with the sea. The parting of ways that began five years ago when he died reaches its end. He goes the way of the dead, and I, the way of the living.
Bon Voyage, Dad. The wind be at your back.
-JRS The Navy's (free) Bural at Sea program.
Medcure (Final arrangements for the cost of donating your remains to science)
Having a funeral/wake for a loved one for the cost of coffee and cookies: priceless.
03/17/2013 12:04pm Blog Entry
I did some confusing things when I wrote Looking Glass, back in 2004. (Egad.) One of them was I took Ice, as described by William Gibson et al as software, and redefined it to software + a dedicated, powerful, cheap CPU. Your deck, then, became the means by which this was displayed. Deck, tank, pocket computer, all these did the same thing - hosted the ice. That I failed to consider the TV as more than a peripheral to one of these is probably a sign of the times. It was 2004. Dedicated media computers were few and far between, and we still thought bluetooth was cool.
Anyway, I got the idea for this mechanism from Plan9 (From Bell Labs) which treats everything as a resource which can be accessed over IP - including processor resources, display resources, and so on. Having now tried Plan9, the UI shell is a turkey, but the idea still seems sound.
Fast forward nearly ten years (egad, again) to 2013, and we get this: http://liliputing.com/2012/11/closer-look-at-fxi-cotton-candys-199-any-screen-computer-video.html Which is an android or linux stick that plugs in to either your tv or your computer. It lets you execute apps on it, and virtualizes the output for display on your desktop machine, or displays it on your tv, whichever is handiest.
That's pretty much what I had in mind. Now these are expensive (though there are much, much cheaper ones), but suddenly the future I imagined seems to be occurring. When software makers realize that a dedicated CPU with software in ROM and some virtualization will mean their software is functionally copy-proof, things will change and change fast. I predict that when Adobe gets tired of renting photoshop CS6 at exhorbitant prices, they'll start shipping the suite on a stick like this with a cpu and gpu designed for the job, and you can buy the stick, or you can do without.
03/02/2013 03:21pm Blog Entry
It's been a while since I've had a clear vision of a future technology. Today, via failblog originally, I've seen one. Nobody seems to get what possible use Polytron's transparent smartphone would have. Consider this: Google Glasses are operating in the same space. Consider what the phone might be with holographic infrared and/or nanometer wave radar and/or sonography. Add GPS, internet access, image recognition and a bit more computing than today's smartphones to drive it all, and what you have is a device you hold up to any given thing and it will tell you what it knows about it /in an overlay/. Extra points if it has a stereoscopic camera so you can pick the depth it scans at with precision. Like a tricorder only better. Remember, you heard it here first. So anyone trying to patent this in five years? I have two words for you. Prior art. -JRS