James R. Strickland, Author
News (RSS), and Book Reviews(RSS) .

02/22/2017 03:15pm Blog Entry

Scrivener on Linux, Revisited

So I finally got Windows Scrivener to work on Linux in Wine.
The trick seems to be you must configure Wine to use windows later than windows xp. I have mine pretending it's Windows 10. You may also need the latest version of Wine - wine-staging - but I'm not clear if that's actually required or not. I have it, because I tried it first.

Now I just have to get a Wine for Windows license. I wonder if they'll sell me an upgrade to the dual platform license?

-JRS

02/11/2017 04:17pm Blog Entry

Comcast ghost voicemail

I use Comcast for my internet/tv/phone provider. Recently, it started giving me the dialtone pulsing, indicating I had a voicemail. When I checked from the website and the phone itself, there was no voicemail. Doing a little digging, I found that this is a frequent problem for Comcast users.

The solution turns out to be pretty easy. Go to your comcast voicemail screen on the website, here: https://vm.connect.comcast.net/OptimusUIVoice/, and click refresh.  That's all you have to do. Why the boneheads at Comcast couldn't be bothered to post that in their forums, I'll never know.

-JRS

 I like Scrivener. I use it constantly for writing.  Unfortunately, they dropped support for Linux in 2015, and while the old Linux version still works at the moment, it's only a matter of time until they introduce an upgrade to the main line (OS X, Windows, and IOS) that breaks compatibility with the Linux version.

Scrivener supposedly runs in Wine, but I've not managed to get it to do so thus far.  Plus, wine apps tend to be a bit on the flaky side. If you want to see an enraged author, have an app crash in a way that it didn't manage to preserve a backup first. It's painful.

Right now, and for the forseeable future, my solution to this is to maintain my mac, and instead of my Linux laptop for remote writing, use my iPad. (I have a keyboard for it. I can't imagine writing anything longer than a tweet -- and that only under duress -- with the on-screen keyboard.)

Scrivener isn't perfect. Its document compiler in particular is a turd.  You can make a lot of different formats with it, and most of them are almost right, but the control setup is horrific, poorly documented, and poorly supported. I've yet to make markdown or tex output work remotely correctly.  Also, its editor is a turd. Most editors allow you to create styles that are then remembered throughout the document. Thus, if you change a style, you change every instance of your use of that style. Not so with scrivener. You can create styles, alright, but they're not made part of the document(s) the way they should be. They're done as formatting on the fly. If you want to change something, you have to go back through every document and change it manually.

You can use external editors, but of course you can't have the system default to using one. It's little irritants like this that annoy me with my favorite tool.

The game has now changed.

Given the absence of Linux support, and the fact that Scrivener is in no way open source, the inevitable open source clone has popped up. It's called Manuskript.  I've just messed with it for a few minutes. It's... not horrible.  A little clunky in spots, yes. It's young yet.  I've not yet tried its document compiler, which for me makes or breaks it. I haven't looked to see if it fixes all, or indeed any of my annoyances with Scrivener, and it won't import/export Scrivener files that I've seen, but it exists. And it's free.

I'm not ready to switch... there's no real need. I have my writing needs taken care of with my mac and ipad for the time being. But I will certainly keep an eye on Manuskript. Geez, that and myHDL almost make me want to learn Python.

02/06/2017 03:35pm Book Review

Ten Gentle Opportunities Book Cover image

Ten Gentle Opportunities - Zero stars.

Full disclosure: Jeff is an old and dear friend, and I was there when he workshopped parts of this book back in 2011. Also, I read this book when it came out. Why I did not manage to review it then, I have no idea.
In any case, read this book. It's a riot. Jeff isn't known for his comic writing, but he's //good// at it. As others have pointed out, there are three worlds going on here: Stypek's world, where magic works, Brandon Romero's world, where it doesn't (more or less), and the Tooniverse, a strange, Second-Life like universe where AIs socialize when they're not working. The novel starts out as Stypek's story, as he rips off a high level mage by cheating at cards. He escapes through mayhem and magic (Jeff is //good// at mayhem)) into Brandon's world, where his skills as a magic hacker translate quickly into skills at computer hacking... but the focus of the story has changed.
Brandon is primarily concerned with getting a revolutionary copier assembly facility working. Instead of merely moving copiers across the floor in two dimensions during assembly, the new design uses all three dimensions of the assembly space by //throwing// assemblies through the air. If that sounds like a recipe for mayhem, rest assured. It is. Controlling this is Simple Simon, the AI, who is the main character in the Tooniverse.
The story is told in three separate worlds, until all three of those worlds collide, and all our main characters come together as an ensemble cast (some more literally than others) as Stypek's nemesis comes looking for him.

The thing is, Jeff pulls this complex story mechanism off because his characters are believable, even the AIs, who are //strange//. (Jeff is also good at aliens, especially AIs) You care about them, and most of them are likable, though some are gruff in spots. When the final showdown happens (much mayhem) it's not just exciting for mayhem's sake, it's nerve wracking because some of these characters could get grievously hurt or killed, or at least lose their jobs (which for the AIs is essentially the same thing.) All the characters have a role, all of them are in danger, and they all use their unique skills and natures to try to stay alive and protect their friends.

Well done.
For the TL:DR crowd, here's my review. Read it. It's good. Humor, science fiction, and fantasy.

-JRS

01/04/2017 01:52pm Blog Entry

Plants vs Zombies Heroes

It's a nicely done game, fun play once you get the hang of it (I've never played collector card games before,) but as is typical of Electronic Arts games, you reach a point where it's nearly impossible to win without giving in to the constant touting to buy cards for real money. The boss of the last free mission has cards that are simply unbeatable with the default decks.  When I played RPGs we called that twinking.

So to heck with them, and to heck with the entire PVZ family of games. What was once a fun, standalone game from a good company (PopCap) is now a disgusting money grub. Oh, and Heroes won't respect your IOS device's landscape mode either.  Garbage. Complete garbage.

-JRS

12/20/2016 07:47pm Blog Entry

Junk Box Arduino Software

It's been brought to my attention that the Apress link for the Junk Box Arduino software no longer includes the Cestino hardware package, which you need to upload to the Cestino once it's built. I've contacted Apress about this and we'll resolve it ASAP.

In the mean time, all the software mentioned in the book should be available here: https://github.com/jrstrick?tab=repositories

Sorry about that.

-JRS

-Followup-
Apress is on the case. We should have all the software in the official repository soon.

-Followup 2-
Apress's github repository now has all the software. Mine now has all the projects. Should one be a fork of the other? Probably, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet. I'm a git newbie.

-JRS

12/16/2016 08:48pm Blog Entry

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Just got back from Rogue One. Ye gods, I've been seeing Star Wars movies for nearly 40 years now. Short version: It's good.

Rogue One is maybe the first Star Wars movie that really makes it obvious that this is //war//.  War is ugly. War is full of moral compromises, a race to the bottom of the end justifying the means, and the "good guys" may be the last ones with //some// humanity standing. How's that for vague?

I like that it's told in a visual language much like footage from the Vietnam war, with a strong dose of the atomic bomb test at the Bikini Atol. Yes, those of you too young to remember the former will have to look that up. The latter was before my time too.

I like also how the Rebel Alliance is portrayed.  This is really the beginning of their history, and remember, they came largely from the Old Republic's Senate. They're not the single minded, dedicated Rebels we come to know in Ep 4 and later.

Above all, this is a movie about an intelligence mission surrounding the launch of the Death Star. The whole movie comes from the first two lines of Ep 4's crawl, (full text here.) The setup is so up my alley it hurts.

Flaws?  Sure. Sometimes it's overdone how much the Rebel fleet gets involved, but it's not a Star Wars movie without at least one space battle, right? The action sequences stretch out, sometimes drearily.  There were non-battle scenes I still wonder why they were there, and I wish they'd cut them so I could get to know some of the main characters more than I did. And what //is// it with the Empire and building everything around multi-hundred-foot drops? The usual complaints.

But seriously. See this movie. It's the best Star Wars movie of the last five, and far, far better than J.J.Abrams' mess in The Force Awakens. See it. And think about it.

-JRS


11/30/2016 06:29pm Blog Entry

Trustworthy News

Where do you find trustworthy news?

Ideally you don't trust any of them. "Trust, but verify." is a good meme. If one site comes out with something shocking or unusual, check the other sites. They're all nominally doing the same job, but each one puts its own spin on a story, and when one site deviates from reality, others will often lag behind. The truth is, short of traveling the world and talking to people ourselves, we have to trust news at some point. The Internet gives us lots of opportunities to talk to people all over the planet from the comfort of our computer chairs.  Use this. Talk to people. Especially talk to people who are different from you. I've found it's a lot harder to be a bigot against group X (fill in your fave) when I've got online friends who are in that group.

I've been a netizen since about 1991. I like to think I have a fairly well trained bullshit filter that some who've joined the conversation more recently may not have. Here are some suggestions for finding trustworthy news.

Generally speaking, the more shrill a site's writing voice, the more I suspect it's content is probably bullshit. If they're trying to get me riled up, or their language use tells me they're clearly aimed at a 4th grade reading level, I assume that they're trying to get me to stop thinking, and that's always suspect in my book. This precludes //all// political talk shows, left and right, all of Fox News in its entirety, most of CNN, ABC, and CBS.

American broadcast news is entertainment. It's reality TV. Once upon a time they made their names for the best reporting and investigation, but in those days the broadcasters were required by law to produce news, and quality was the only thing they could compete on. Then came the Reagan deregulation, and news had to earn its way in the ratings. They do, by trying to keep you scared to death and glued to the tube. They all took notice of CNN's performance during the first gulf war, and how all of us had the tube tuned in there 24/7. The result has been a predictable, steady slide into hyperbole, fearmongering, unsubstantiated garbage news, and that's what we have today.

I also look to see if a news site tends to fawn over a given candidate or pillory them.  That's a big tip to their bias, if they have one. If you get the feeling that one or the other candidate is //the devil,// yeah, you might be dealing with a screaming political monkey site disguised as a news site.

I assume that any news on Facebook, Tumbler, any blog, YouTube, and to a lesser extent Google is probably bullshit, unless I can find it on reputable news sites, or at least well known sites on both sides of the aisle.  "I read on Facebook..." should carry the same weight as "My crazy neighbor said..." Seriously. Your crazy neighbor is on Facebook too. Here's the problem.

Once upon a time, publishing was expensive. There were barriers to entry, to producing a well made newspaper, for example, and getting a reputation for printing nonsense usually meant you didn't recoup that investment, the National Enquirer and other supermarket tabloids notwithstanding. Social media is, effectively, free. You can, I can, anyone can produce something that passes all the traditional "quality" measurements of a news source - spelled right, nice font, nice layout, etc.) so it looks official. We all learned those things to tell a prestigious news source from a bogus one, and they're useless today. I wish it was not so, but it is. Everybody can publish today, and the people most motivated to do so probably have some axe to grind. As a news consumer, keep that in mind.

So. Given my 20some-odd years experience as a netizen and my jaded, cynical attitude toward online news and news in general, you might wonder what I read at the moment. Well, here you go. These are the sites whose news I take more seriously.

I read the BBC's international website. I'm sure the venerable BBC has its own bias, but it (theoretically) will be a British-centric bias that makes little or no sense in American politics. I also read the CBC's British Columbia website. Canadian and British reporting tends to be calm and cool headed, which I appreciate, and the worldview of both nations, while politically quite different from ours, seem to be rational and calm, and that's a plus for me.

I've been reading Reuters of late. They seem to take a calm, rational view (except perhaps for their editorials, but opinion is a perk of writing editorial). I'd say they lean a little left, but as that's the side of the aisle I sit on, it's hard for me to be sure.  Likewise, RealClearPolitics.com seems to have a cold, rational viewpoint, albeit leaning a bit to the right. Again, my bias is slightly left of center, so they might be centrists and just look that way to me. I haven't read them much since the election. I've been trying to ignore politics until my blood pressure gets back to normal and I can sleep reliably again.  I do still look at CNN.com, but it's a guilty pleasure these days, not unlike reading tabloid headlines at the grocery store.

If you know of other good, fact-based news sites, do please comment. Comments are always welcome, so long as they are polite. I do read and vet every comment before it comes up, which is why the usual ads for a larger pe*is are strangely missing from my comment feed.

-JRS

11/11/2016 04:24pm Blog Entry

...I learned in D&D

Everything I Need to Survive an Election Cycle, I learned in D&D.

Back in the day (early to mid 1980s) I was a fervent D&D player. One of the banes of our existence as characters were illusionists.  Basically harmless, magically, but their illusions could cause genuine havoc, make you waste attacks on unreal things, and so on. As with anti-fireball formation (we all march 10 feet apart in open country), it became standard practice when attacked with magic to "attempt to disbelieve."

Attempting to disbelieve, in the D&D of the day, was an interesting thing. It was a roll against your intelligence or wisdom (I don't recall which. It's been a long time. Probably Int, since my characters were notoriously low on wisdom.) to see if the illusionist's spell actually convinced you.

Today, the mainstream media and all the screaming monkey political sites to the left of center are screaming themselves horse that the end of the world is nigh. A Trump presidency will waken the Deep Ones and that really will be that. Which is pretty much what they've been saying right along.

Attempt to disbelieve. Gosh.  That changes things.

This translates to: The end of the world is nigh for mainstream media. I already talked about that. The end of the world may be nigh for the authoritarian left, who would willingly censor anything that disagrees with them. In both those cases, I say bring it. We'll get by okay without either one.

You're a racist/sexist/fascist if you don't believe {whatever} about Trump.

Attempt to disbelieve.  Gosh. That changes things.

This translates to "Believe what I say you should, or I'll call you names."  Tell you what. I'll believe what I see fit, you believe what you see fit, and together we'll see who, if any of us, is right. I've been wrong about things before. I will be again, but I'm not afraid to face that. If you are afraid to be wrong, well...grow up. Get used to it. None of us are all knowing, and to my way of thinking we'd all better take a big dose of humility before we tell someone else what to do or how to think.

Those {insert political slur}  will be the death of the country/liberty/etc.

Attempt to disbelieve.  Gosh. That changes things.

It's a big country. There is room for lots of ideas. Not all of them are nice or pleasant, and I guarantee that some will offend you. If nobody is actively attacking you, bear in mind that talk is cheap. Nowhere has this been more apparent than the preceding political cycle. Talk was cheap. Talk was so cheap that virtually nothing of substance was discussed.

If you're not with me, then you're my enemy.
Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

Attempt to disbelieve. Gosh.

Those were the two most singularly stupid lines in the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy. The first, because it's the culminating whine,  telling us not that Anakin has fallen, but that he's gotten so far up his own arse believing his personal struggle, that anyone who dares disagree is clearly attacking him.  The latter because Star Wars is a fairy tale. The entire rest of the series has been about resisting and fighting the dark side, that there is good and evil, and that good will triumph. It's a little late to apply realism to the matter, but what the heck? Let's go on ahead and look at it as though they were real people.

Shit, Obiwan, did you somehow miss that Anakin was losing his mind? Why not back off a few steps and listen. Let him tell you what he's seen, because clearly you've missed some major events in his life. Okay, okay, Obiwan wasn't in any better shape. He'd just seen all the young padawans in the temple slaughtered by Anakin, and the last thing he wanted was to lose the will to kill Anakin Skywalker. Whatever he said, he believed the same thing. If you're not with the light side and the Republic, you're against it, and thus, my enemy. Cue the highly improbable lightsaber battle.

Seriously, anyone who believes the first line is so caught up in their own narrative that they're not really cogent of the outside world, and they're showing zero empathy. (See also: mainstream media.) Yes, I know it's paraphrasing Matthew, from the Bible.  That may be important to you, but I actually had a class in college on Biblical lit. I have some idea how the book came to be what it is today, so it doesn't surprise me to find horse nuggets like that scattered amongst more useful stuff.

Since we're not just filling in a patch of bad dialog before an epic duel between Good(tm) and Evil(tm),  if someone says that to you, and they're not actively pointing a gun at you, listen to what they're really saying: I'm upset. I feel backed into a corner and assaulted from all sides. Will you please not be my enemy?" It takes patience. The aforementioned mainstream media has everyone's nerves raw, especially those of us old enough that we took mainstream media seriously in this election. We're like Obiwan. We've seen too much. We know changes are coming and we're probably not going to like them, and it's hard. But let them calm down. Then talk to them.

Those {insert political slur}  are evil for evil's sake.

Attempt to disbelieve. Gosh. That seems pretty unlikely.

Most people, the overwhelming majority of people, just want to get through their day, get home to the family, take care of their children, cats, etc, and get some sleep. They don't sit in dark rooms cackling on how they can do EVIL tomorrow. That's a fairy tale trope, and it has no business in fiction meant for adults, let alone real world thought. There are sociopaths in the world, either born that way or, more commonly, tortured (particularly early in life) to the point where hurting others is the only pleasure they know. By traumatizing someone, you push them that direction, and you encourage them to generalize it to everyone like you. My hypothesis here is that the alt-right was essentially created by the political correctness movement that made it ok to attack someone for any little offense. I do not for a moment say those offenses weren't real or important, only that attacking someone is almost never a good idea. As friend Jeff might say, that's tribalism at work. Activism is not a license to be an asshole. It's a sales job.

I don't owe any respect because they're {insert something you don't like.}  

Attempt to disbelieve. Yeah, actually you do. I think they call this manners.

You owe, I owe, we all owe everyone basic politeness. Basic politeness is how confrontations are de-escalated, and as Mark Macyoung says, "The word 'Mother****er' plays no part in de-escalation." Does that mean we must yield all our personal mores and values? Of course not. What it means is simply asking yourself "if the tables were turned, would I want to be treated this way?" and asking it before you open your mouth or sit down to write a post, or shoot a video. Sadly, the answer "I have been treated this way!" is not license to do it to others. It's do you want to be treated this way. Some people will take advantage of this. There's an asshole in every crowd, but politeness is how we keep assholes from running the civilization.

I know everything. You should listen to me.

Attempt to disbelieve. Hoo boy. There's a whopper.

Hey look. I'm just some guy who's written a few novels. Like I said, I've been wrong before. I'll be wrong again, and I'm ok with that. What I'm trying to put into words here is just...please, be patient with your brother/sister/othergendered Americans.  Both sides of the political fence have had a hard few months, mostly at the hands of an idiot media. We're in this together, and we have to make it work together. It would be good if we could avoid killing one another over it. If we can agree on this, then we can talk about how big a 10 foot diameter fireball is and why detonating it in a 10x10 hallway is a bad idea.

-JRS


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