One Aging Geek

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

H. G. Wells Quote

H. G. Wells Quotes

History is a race between education and catastrophe.

H. G. Wells

Sunday, March 27, 2005

2005 Hugo Nomination thread from slashdot

Posted by Zonk (27% noise) View
COBOLgrrl writes The 2005 Hugo Nominations have been announced. Books up for Best Novel include The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks, Iron Council by China Miéville , Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and River of Gods by Ian McDonald.”

A Hugo First: The British Invasion - by Justinian II (Score: 4, Interesting) Thread
I believe this year marks a significant milestone in SF history. Unless I am very mistaken, this is the very first year that none of the Best Novel nominees are American. All of them are from the UK and we have representatives from Scotland, England, and Ireland. I’d vote for either Susanna Clarke or China Mieville but any of those novels are more deserving than some of the garbage that has won in recent years. I’m looking at you, “Hominids”.  
This just reinforces my impression that American SF is stagnant while all the real action these days is taking place across the pond. Great stuff, and I hope American authors take this as a kick in the pants to stop rehashing the same old material and start showing a little imagination.

Totally unsolicted review - by dlasley (Score: 4, Interesting) Thread
I’m not done with Iron Sunrise yet, so I’ll refrain (but it is really really good so far). I did finish Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and found the core story was imaginative and the characters were pretty engaging. I thought Strange was actually more distant in terms of visualization than Norrell - for some reason I could picture the latter and hear his voice much more readily than the supposedly more approachable and contemporary Strange. She didn’t rush the story (even at page 800) and there were not any useless passages: everything had a bearing on at least one aspect of each storyline. 
One book that is not mentioned here that I highly recommend is Dan Simmons’ Ilium. This was a 12-hour read - problem was, it was 12 straight hours because I couldn’t put the damn thing down!!

Melville is overrated - by Silverhammer (Score: 5, Insightful) Thread

In my opinion, China Melville is overrated as an author. His Perdido Street Station was the “it” book of 2001, but after I finished reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder what the big deal was.

Granted, he has an excellent sense of the phantasmagoric and his worldbuilding skills are certainly impressive, but as an author, he just doesn’t have the chops. His characters are almost too angst-ridden to move in a forward direction, and his plots read like a bad slasher flicks.

Take away his word processor and give him a job as a conceptual designer. Everyone will be happier in the long run.

Re:There should be more online awards given… - by FireballX301 (Score: 5, Insightful) Thread
Remember, popularity != quality. Just because something is popular doesn’t prevent it from being, for example, pandering tripe.  
And you know how english majors are.

Hugo Lowdown. - by sanityspeech (Score: 5, Informative) Thread

The Hugo Award® is the leading award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. The Hugos are awarded each year by the World Science Fiction Society, at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). All members are entitled to make nominations and to vote on who receives the Awards, which are presented in a public ceremony which is always one of the highlights of the Worldcon.

[AlterSlash (Extended Remix)]

Friday, March 25, 2005

BashPodder: Minimalist Podcatcher

I've been "catching" podcasts using various RSS reader that process enclosures for some time now. One of the limitations of my MP3 player is that it forgets it was in a playlist if you shut it down. So the most convenient way to organize 'casts is in directories that are sequential based on date. Such as "2005-03-20" as the directory name for things from March 20, 2005.

But all the Windows podcatchers seem to want to place files into directories by feed and build a playlist.

Enter BashPodder.

BashPodder actually helps me in three ways.

  1. It created directories by date
  2. it's 100% Open Source, all 44 lines of bash shell script (more on that further down
  3. It runs on Linux

I'm more or less an operating-system-agnostic kinda guy. My own computer (mostly used by Mrs. Aging) is Windows XP. I have a company-owned computer at home that's running Linux that mostly acts as a server. I spend most of my hours at a company-owned laptop running Windows 2000. At the office I've got another Windows 2000 system and another Linux system. And various virtual systems running under both VMWare and MS Virtual PC. Um... but I digress.

Rumors at work are that there's a big layoff coming. And because the company is so brain-dead there's no guarantee that anyone is safe. They've been known to lay off brilliant people who have had consistent top performance marks just because the project they were on at the time of the layoff was determined to be "not strategic". This is life working for someone else. But I digress again.

Point is, as part of preparing myself for possibly becoming suddenly unemployed, I'm moving all my personal and semi-personal stuff to a computer at home. If I happen to be among those escorted out the door, the laptop wouldn't go with me. But the computer at home has hard drives that I own. So I could yank them out before returning it and still have all "my stuff". But I digress again.

All that is as prelude to say that I was looking around for a new podcatcher. And I wanted something that ran on Linux. And I was getting really tired of closed-source programs with way too many bells and whistles. And I was getting really tired of podcatchers that puke when the feed has a tiny XML error. [I'm not naming names 'cause I assume the programs in question will get better.]

BashPodder, the "main" version is about as minimalist as you can get. Read a flat text file list of feeds. Use wget to fetch each one. Use sed to find all "url=..." strings. Use wget to fetch each of the urls. Log fetched things so as not to fetch them again. I'm actually using a slightly more complicated version written by Huw Lynes 'cause it does bittorrents (one of the feeds I follow is only available as bittorrent). And I've modified that one to do more verification and to use the wget option to throttle the thruput so it doesn't use all my bandwidth.

Anyway. BashPodder. Highly recommended for Unix geeks. In the Unix tradition, no eye-candy and leaves extra features to some other tool.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Too old is getting younger all the time...

One of the podcasts I listen to is Dave Raven's The Raven and the Blues show. It's an actual radio program that is made available by podcast.

One of the songs today (in the podcast time zone, actually it was his March 5th show) was Watermelon Slim playing "Too Old Is Getting Younger All the Time"

And that seems to be my theme for this month. Lots of things making me feel old.

Sigh. And so it goes...

Update: Forgot to create link for Raven's show.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I just watched the pilot to the science fiction series Firefly

Apparently it was, in 2002 I think, on Fox. There were 14 episodes filmed including a 2 hour pilot. Not all of the episodes aired before Fox dumped it. According to IMDB they aired the pilot last. The whole thing is out on DVD.

I heard of it via the Dragon Page podcast and got in the first disc via Netflix.

Very quirky! Just downright … odd.

It's a Western science fiction. As if Sergio Leone had made a science fiction movie, and on the same budget as Fistful of Dollars. Think Clint Eastwood crossed with Han Solo. Gun battles with six guns and horses where the lead character gets into his seedy space ship instead of riding off on his horse.

I'm not quite sure why I like this thing but I really do. Interesting characters, very fascinating "look" to the sets on the ship and elsewhere.

IMDB search shows that there is a movie in production, presumably to wrap up the story from wherever Fox dropped it.

Update: As of March 25th I've watched 6 episodes plus the pilot. I'm a little less enamored with this. A few of the episodes are downright hilarious. But it's very much in the "Wagon Train" / "Star Trek" school with only a slight nod to any continuing story arc or ongoing character development. Very much in the "peril of the week" mold. I guess I shouldn't be surprised given the creator. I'll watch the whole series (NetFlix, so I'm not paying per disc or anything) but it's not something I'd buy at this point.

Friday, March 04, 2005

bOING bOING: Syndicator of Bill O Reilly column nastygrams blog for linking

Xeni Jardin: Stay Free! Daily sez:
The company that syndicates Bill O'Reilly's newspaper column has sent a cease and desist to the blog Newshound for merely linking to an O'Reilly column! On Stay Free! Daily, we're encouraging other blogs to link to the offending O'Reilly column.
Link to more news. [Boing Boing]
Here's the offending link. Gee, I've never gotten my very own cease and desist letter. Wonder if this will get me one?

Revenge of the Blog People!

Who are the Blog People?

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

At least two of the blog excerpts sent to me (each written under pseudonyms) come from self-proclaimed "conservatives," which I find odd because many of the others come from people who call me a Luddite and are, presumably, technology-obsessed progressives. The Luddite label is because my mild remarks have been portrayed as those of someone worried about the job security of librarians (I am not) rather than one who has a different point of view on the usefulness of this latest expression of Google hubris and vast expenditure of money involved.

I'm no Antidigitalist

If a fraction of the latter were devoted to buying books and providing librarians for the library-starved children of California, the effort would be of far more use to humanity and society. Perhaps that latter thought will reinforce the opinion of the Blog Person who included "Michael Gorman is an idiot" in his reasoned critique, because no opinion that comes from someone who is "antidigital" (in the words of another Blog Person) could possibly be correct. For the record, though I may have associated with Antidigitalists, I am not and have never been a member of the Antidigitalist party and would be willing to testify to that under oath. I doubt even that would save me from being burned at the virtual stake, or, at best, being placed in a virtual pillory to be pelted with blogs. Ugh!

My old buddy, Miles, pointed me to this via email and my email response is below. It seemed to cry out to be a blog post. Miles had a response by email, I'll leave it to him to post that to his blog if he feels the urge.

It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs.
Hm... substitute "sound bites" for "paragraphs" and you have "the average American television viewer".

There are a couple of grains of truth in what the guy says.

Grain number 1 is that there is a lot of useless crap out there.

It used to be that to be published you had to convince someone (a publisher and/or an editor) that your writing had merit and would be interesting or at least salable.

The Web changed that to a degree in that anyone with the willingness to create a website could "be published". So it lowered the bar. Which meant that the signal to noise ratiowent way down. Blogs have dropped that bar even further and the amount of useless crap has skyrocketed. Like, for instance, the drivel from the high school intern at my office that turned up in my Feedster search feed.

But comparing teenage diaries thrown out on the web to thoughtful writing by professionals just because both are on blogs is intellectual laziness.

Grain number 2 is intellectual laziness.

I think it's obvious that most Americans, at least, are intellectually lazy. They're content to take as absolute truth every sound bite thrown at them by whatever radio of TV station they prefer. I think this laziness is what has made the sound bite so pervasive in what passes for news coverage. People just don't want to take the time to a long analysis piece. I also think this laziness contributes to something that was reported a few months ago: an Amazon analysis showed that people tend to cluster strongly around books of a particular "leaning". People who buy books considered "conservative" seldom buy books that present the opposing view and vice versa. And the worst sound bite of all, imo, is "red state, blue state". That's a total fiction created by the electoral college process and grabbed up by the media. It's a purple country. The maps that go more granular than state level show that.

Grain number 3 is the blog "echo chamber".

This can happen with anything. People who grab onto it think it's the greatest thing. They're fans. There is a subset of "A-list" bloggers who talk incessantly about blogs.

So. Grains of truth that Gorman has latched on to.

But underlying it all the guy is being a luddite. It kind of fits with the general stereotype of a librarian. I think he doesn't want to believe that publishing on paper is becoming less important.

Somebody needs to give Gorman a clue. I'm not sure what form that would take. Perhaps Dan Gillmor's book, We the Media, would do it but that tends towards being a little "breathless" and falls rather into the "echo chamber" camp. Perhaps someone just needs to send him pointers to some decent blogs that aren'tabout blogging.

Hm... I should write this up on my blog. :)

Netflix 1, Blockbuster 0

We bought a portable DVD player to supplement the ... um ... stationary player? ... this past Christmas. This got me off my duff to finally sign up for Netflix.

The experience was pretty much perfect. The next postal day after I signed up I had three movies in my mailbox. Over my vacation time at the end of the year I consumed mass quantities, going thru about 18 movies over a three week period. In every case it took one postal day from when I put a movie in the outgoing mail until it was received at Netflix and one more postal day until I had a new movie in my mailbox. Turns out there is a Netflix distribution center down here on the Third Coast.

Then came the Superbowl commercial for Blockbuster Online. It looked like a good deal. Cheaper by $3/month. And on top of the 3-at-a-time all-you-can-eat I could get two movies a month from the local Blockbuster store. Seemed like a no-brainer.

So I signed up for the trial period (had a code for a four week free trial).

The experience couldn't have been worse. One postal day after I signed up I had zero movies in the mail. It took three days to get the first one from them to me. And it wasn't the top movie on my queue. The other two trickled in over another four days. And again, not the first one on the queue. Over the course of the next four weeks I managed to get a grand total of 4 DVDs. There are two more that are on the way but won't be here until maybe today or tomorrow.

I'm at the end of my free four weeks now and I've kicked Blockbuster to the curb. The movies that are on their way will go back unwatched.

Netflix has kindly kept my information including my queue. A few minor updates to remove the few discs I received from Blockbuster and I'm back in business.

At some point Netflix will be overtaken by events. The ability to have movies delivered by wire is coming soon. But it's been coming soon for ... what ... twenty years? Until then, Netflix has got this business down pat. --Aging

Update: Forgot to mention: The Netflix website is also superior. Once I told it to remember me (i.e., set a cookie), it remembered me. The Blockbuster site is either broken or using a cookie that expires in about 30 minutes. When I moved over I took about 90 minutes to build up my queue of 100 movies on Blockbuster. During that time I was forced to relogin several times. In addition there are a lot of usability differences between the two sites. In almost every case Netflix is easier to use. The only thing I like better on Blockbuster is I can see the average rating from other customers even after I have set my own rating.