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54G, Retro crisis and terrible teens.

How is it that you never see anything on eBay that is advertised as Medium-Rare or Well-done? Everything is Rare or R@RE or R@R3, one of kind (the kind of 10 million more that have been produced by a knock off factory in deepest darkest China). Rare indeed. If it's so rare how come every man (or woman, got to be PC in this day and age) and his (or her) dog (or bitch... wait, that was the ex-wife) is selling them? As rare as a dose of athletes foot.

I must be approaching the age of mid life crisis, I have yet to buy a Porsche but I have bought lots of retro gear from eBay to bring back the flavour of a misspent youth, disassembling spectrum and commodore games, Grandstand table top games, failed microdrives and thermal printers, Prestel and 1200 baud. How far has it come in just 20 odd years, from squeezing a totally addictive HUGE game into 48k to the eye candy, snore inducing, over bloated, gigs of code that come to the Xbox. Long gone are the days of making every byte count, "byte high, no limit". Developers these days take the abundance of memory and resource for granted, squeezing in as much bloat as is humanly possible. Indeed, I've seen comments on a function well over 48K! It wasn't a comment, more of a novella, and before you go on about comments removed at compile, this was JavaScript. Ah well, back to Jetset Willy and sabre wulf, ultimate play the game and imagine the possibilities of gremlin graphics, typing in a basic loader followed by pages and pages of hex only to have the spectrum overheat or a granddad unplug it to pass by and plug it back in again on the other side of the wires, wondering why I looked about ready to burst. Oh yes, those were the days my friend. Summers always seem brighter and warmer and winters always came with snow. Halcyon and on and on.

This week has been a sort of non-event. Although I did get a refund on a parking ticket as mentioned in some previous spurious blog. I've been stuck with some development problems in PL/SQL and Java that have been driving me crazy. Arrays as JDBC params and more loops than hula factory. I did receive a call from a friend, she had just bought a new wireless card and was struggling to get it connected. The Knoppix I installed on her laptop is running fine but something I have generally found with Linux is that once it is working, leave it well alone! I asked why she had bought the new card. "It's a 'G' and it's faster than my 'B', Internet has been slow'. Hmmm, Internet slow. How do you explain this one?

"Tracey, you know it won't make a difference on your Internet speed?"
"Yes, it will, it's a faster card".
"Erm, no, it won't. You have a 2 MB Internet connection, the maximum you can download is 2MB".
"But this is 54G, so I'll get it faster".
"No, you won't, you'll get 2MB if you use that card or your old one".
"No, my cousin has a 'G' and hers is faster than mine".
"You know speed depends on... nope, you're right, this is how you connect the card...."

Yep, I gave up. She got it connected and BELIEVES it's downloading faster from the Internet. With either card she gets around 128/150. Frame of mind and perception, amazing what people see when they want to believe. I wonder if I could use the same technique with the tax office. Jedi mind trick, "you don't need to see my tax return, you need to give me a refund".

I managed to crowbar in a couple of movies this week. I'm not sure what it is but as I get older the less patience I have with the drivel pouring out of Hollywood. Poseidon and Sentinel, those were the two culprits this week. Couldn't they have just sunk the boat in the first ten minutes and have done us all a favour? And what? This is the CIA, shoot first, ask him later, he passed the lie detector test in Basic Instinct... or maybe take him to some god forsaken place in eastern Europe, Romania... a few hours in torture... erm, detention would have done the trick. How is it when there is some disaster they always manage to squeeze experts into the party of survivors, ex-fireman, boat designer (how convenient), Olympic swimmer and token screamers. Oh and the hero dies, how Armageddon of you. What happened to having a party of say, street cleaner, checkout girl, wanna be deaf DJ, unemployed social sucking bum? Real people. And Russians? As villains? In an American movie? Well who would have thought that! I was expecting more from Sentinel and less from Poseidon (which was exactly what I got in the terms of Poseidon!). There was nothing of merit in the two, apart from the end titles and a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over. Yes, I could have turned it over or off but I'd left the remote next to the DVD player and couldn't be bother prising my backside from the big, comfy, leather sofa and putting down my Guinness.

So what do I have to look forward to this weekend? A rare (r@re/r@r3) work free weekend? Well, I have a daughter from a previous marriage that is coming to visit and you know what? Even though she is the apple of my eye she is the biggest pain in the ass I have ever had to endure! Maybe it is because she is spoiled. Everything she ever wanted she got (almost, I don't do donkey's, pony's or horses but if I did they'd probably be the best). Maybe it's because she is in the troubled teens. No matter what you do, where you go, who or what you see, nothing is ever good enough. She has one expression for all occasions, one face for all purposes, anyone with kids this age will know, they've seen it, it's the "bored, can't entertain me" expression, never smiling, the "too much trouble" looks, and it infuriates me!

We go to Blackpool, home of the record setting rollercoaster, up we go on the big one, my ass so tight coals could be turned to diamonds in seconds.... fingers ripping into the seat in front, it's over, sighs of relief, back on terra firma and does she smile? As if her face will crack the moment her lips curl up at the edges. Does she rave on in an over excitable manner, "again, again, again"? Do they serve ice-cream in hell? Not one emotion, and when asked, "did you enjoy that?", the default answer is selected and brought into play "it was alright"... complete with shoulder shrug and a look of such disdainful indifference. "It was alright".

We go on another ride, turned upside down, flung out to all extremities, whizzed, jolted, flipped, screaming, shook and spun... "It was alright". What do I have to do to get some emotion out of the girl? Instead all I ever get is "it was alright" in between her staring at her phone, thumb moving so fast it's almost on fire. This girl spends waaaaay too much time on that thing and what does she want for her birthday? Yep, another bloody phone. Why? Because she's worn out the buttons on this one, it's only 6 months old too. Was I ever this obnoxious and indifferent when I was 16? Ah, rubber key Sinclair z80/81/spectrum, Z80 assembler and many dark hours... perhaps I was.

She comes over to my place about twice a month and I want to spend some time with her but she comes in, dumps the bag on her bed, switches on the TV, phone out, and flaming thumb into play. I get a few words occasionally wedged in between her staring at the phone or TV. Usually it's just a one syllable affair, like "food", "drink", or "Remote". Sometimes I wonder why she comes over at all!

The other problem is that the current Mrs W thinks it's something to do with her. This adds a layer of ice over these visits and sometimes you can chew on the atmosphere. Basically this means that I'm caught straddling between the two camps, one foot in daughter camp trying to get a little closer and 1 foot in the other trying to reassure the current Mrs W that it isn't her, all teenagers are like this (apart from ALL of our friends who seem to have perfect kids and that totally destroys my ALL teen myth). When did life get so complicated? Long gone are the days of clubbing the woman over the head and dragging her back to my place (hmmm, that must be at least 4 years ago now, between marriages). Is it too much to ask for some social discourse from my teenage daughter? Surely something has to be happening in her life that she could talk about. Click click click goes the thumb, grunts go the replies. What do you want to do Kaz? - Not bothered. Did you like that movie? - It was alright. What do you think of the current trading on the gold standard? - Eyes lift from phone, thumb continues, nasty look, eyes down for a full SMS.

Ho hum, back to work I suppose. The 20-minute tirade is over. If you made it this far you are to be congratulated. In fact, I'm sure we'll give you a Mutley medal.

More in Tux Machines

Scrivener Writing Software has a Linux Version

In some ways, Scrivener is the very embodiment of anti-Linux, philosophically. Scrivener is a writing program, used by authors. In Linux, one strings together well developed and intensely tested tools on data streams to produce a result. So, to author a complex project, create files and edit them in a simple text editor, using some markdown. Keep the files organized in the file system and use file names carefully chosen to keep them in order in their respective directories. when it comes time to make project-wide modifications, use grep and sed to process all of the files at once or selected files. Eventually, run the files through LaTeX to produce beautiful output. Then, put the final product in a directory where people can find it on Gopher.

Gopher? Anyway …

On the other hand, emacs is the ultimate linux program. Emacs is a text editor that is so powerful and has so many community-contributed “modes” (like add-ins) that it can be used as a word processor, an email client, a calendar, a PIM, a web browser, an operating system, to make coffee, or to stop that table with the short leg from rocking back and forth. So, in this sense, a piece of software that does everything is also linux, philosophically.

And so, Scrivener, despite what I said above, is in a way the very embodiment of Linux, philosophically.

I’ve been using Scrivener on a Mac for some time now, and a while back I tried it on Linux. Scrivener for the Mac is a commercial product you must pay money for, though it is not expensive, but the Linux version, being highly experimental and probably unsafe, is free. But then again, this is Linux. We eat unsafe experimental free software for breakfast. So much that we usually skip lunch. Because we’re still fixing breakfast. As it were.

Details with Screen Shots Here

Anyway, here’s what Scrivener does. It does everything. The full blown Mac version has more features than the Linux version, but both are feature rich. To me, the most important things are: A document is organised in “scenes” which can be willy nilly moved around in relation to each other in a linear or hierarchical system. The documents are recursive, so a document can hold other documents, and the default is to have only the text in the lower level document as part of the final product (though this is entirely optional). A document can be defined as a “folder” which is really just a document that has a file folder icon representing it to make you feel like it is a folder.

Associated with the project, and with each separate document, is a note taking area. So, you can jot notes project-wide as you work, like “Don’t forget to write the chapter where everyone dies at the end,” or you can write notes on a given document like “Is this where I should use the joke about the slushy in the bathroom at Target?” Each scene also has a number of attributes such as a “label” and a “status” and keywords. I think keywords may not be implemented in the Linux version yet.

Typically a project has one major folder that has all the actual writing distributed among scenes in it, and one or more additional folders in which you put stuff that is not in the product you are working on, but could be, or was but you pulled it out, or that includes research material.

You can work on one scene at a time. Scenes have meta-data and document notes.

The scenes, folders, and everything are all held together with a binder typically displayed on the left side of the Scrivener application window, showing the hierarchy. A number of templates come with the program to create pre-organized binder paradigms, or you can just create one from scratch. You can change the icons on the folders/scenes to remind you of what they are. When a scene is active in the central editing window, you can display an “inspector” on the right side, showing the card (I’ll get to that later) on top the meta data, and the document or project notes. In the Mac version you can create additional meta-data categories.

An individual scene can be displayed in the editing window. Or, scenes can be shown as a collection of scenes in what is known as “Scrivenings mode.” Scrivenings mode is more or less standard word processing mode where all the text is simply there to scroll through, though scene titles may or may not be shown (optional). A lot of people love the corkboard option. I remember when PZ Myers discovered Scrivener he raved about it. The corkboard is a corkboard (as you may have guessed) with 3 x 5 inch virtual index cards, one per scene, that you can move around and organize as though that was going to help you get your thoughts together. The corkboard has the scene title and some notes on what the scene is, which is yet another form of meta-data. I like the corkboard mode, but really, I don’t think it is the most useful features. Come for the corkboard, stay for the binder and the document and project notes!

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Did Red Hat’s CTO Walk – Or Was He Pushed?

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