19 December 2014

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free


Not a review by any means, I don't have the time today. I've just finished listening to Cory Doctorow's Information Doesn't Want to Be Free audiobook, read by Wil Wheaton.

It's the first audiobook I've ever listened all the way through - I have Homeland as well, sorry Wil. After having done so I can say with authority than reading works better for me. I better retain stuff and I can easily go back and find the passages I want to refer to to better understand a point. Also reading is less anti-social. My brother is a great fan of audiobooks and listens to Iain Banks stories regularly, but then he drives to work in his car, on his own - I would say this was the perfect environment in which to listen. I don't drive, and even on the bus, tram or train, I find I need to keep interrupting Wil's voice and Cory's words to reply to someone or to hear an announcement, making it a less than satisfactory experience.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that the content companies seem to be metaphorically running around saying "Aaaargh, we're being attacked by bees!" and cutting down all the flowers so the bees die out rather than supporting the bees and being rewarded with honey. It's not a good enough metaphor and I shall ruminate on a better one over the Christmas break.

Thanks Cory for a brilliant book that has succeeded in making me very angry, and Wil for an excellent reading. I did find myself distracted on a few occasions by the musical stings and didn't really like them in here, but since I'm an audiobook neophyte, perhaps that's an aural punctuation I don't quite get yet.

I really hope (but unfortunately doubt) that your book is read/heard by some of the execs you mention Cory, and that some common sense will come into play.

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free is available from Cory's site for $15. I strongly urge you to check it out.

30 November 2014

Crunchy Nutella

It might look like ordinary Nutella, but this jar has a secret ingredient - CRUNCH!

I've eaten peanut butter and Nutella for years, like most other people I reckon. One thing that has always surprised me is that we take it for granted that peanut butter is crunchy and that Nutella is smooth, but I've always thought there should be a crunchy version of Nutella too. So...

  • Nutella (duh)
  • Whole hazelnuts (duh again)
  • oven at 160°C
  • Mezzaluna knife for chopping
  • Patience

I bought the smallest jar of Nutella for the experiment. I also bought whole hazelnuts, because the only other way to buy them was as a powder, ground up, presumably as a flour substitute or for hazelnut meringues. The only problem with the hazelnuts was the skin on them (under the shell) and I was faced with the prospect of the long, laborious process of peeling the skins off. Fortunately, we live in the internet age and I swiftly found My Baking Addiction where good information is given.

One thing I would advise if you'd like to follow my lead is to make sure your pan has higher sides than normal or that you just use a bigger pan than would seem necessary since the bicarb bubbles up a *lot*. Anyway, after three or so minutes, the skins are easy to remove just by rubbing with your thumb. It's still messy and somewhat laborious, but I reckon this would be a good step to confide to kids, if you have them (or can borrow a neighbour's?).

Peeled and roasted hazelnuts
The knife I used (gingerly) to chop
The next step is to roast the peeled hazelnuts. I left them in the oven at about 160°C for about 15 minutes, but just keep checking - I waited until a lovely smell was coming from the oven. Take them out and let them cool for a bit, then chop them into small bits. This step is also fastidious and pretty much needs to be done manually. My experiments with an electric shopper thingy made too much powder rather than the little nibs you want so I chopped and sorted.

If you are only doing a small jar to test like me, I reckon I used about 20 hazelnuts chopped up and the nice thing is that there's enough space in the jar above the Nutella that you can tip them in and mix. However, today I decided to do a 630g jar and for the bits to be more evenly distributed through the paste, I emptied about half the jar out, added nuts and mixed, added some more back, added nuts and mixed, and so on until all the Nutella was back in the jar. If the hazelnuts are still slightly warm this is actually easier to do since their warmth melts the Nutella a little. Anyway, I guess I added about 60-75 nuts to this jar, a few more relatively than the original tester.

The resulting crunchy Nutella has a pleasingly sophisticated flavour from the roasting of the hazelnuts and I will be examining whether I can send a jar to friends in the US in the post office tomorrow - more awkward since forcibly you need to unseal the jar to mix everything together and security forces might imagine you'd put anthrax or something equally unpleasant in.

12 November 2014

Iain (M) Banks reread


 When Iain died suddenly last year (09-Jun-13) I decided that I was going to reread his complete canon to pay my respects in a way that I could, so aside from reading Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson and all the reading on the web I have to do, I haven't read anything else.

Here's his bibliography with notes on what I've read so far:
  • 1984 – The Wasp Factory (still one of his finest non-SF books and a joy to read again 5/5)
  • 1985 – Walking on Glass (Fantastic again, Iain pretty much assured I'd read all his books with this one 5/5))
  • 1986 – The Bridge (Not my favourite by any stretch, misses the humour of the first two 2/5)
  • 1987 – Espedair Street (Back to brilliant 5/5)
  • 1987 – Consider Phlebas (The first Culture novel and a solid start 3/5)
  • 1988 – The Player of Games (An excellent book, fits in beautifully with the long trip idea (reminds me of Louis Wu) 5/5)
  • 1989 – Canal Dreams (Didn't enjoy this one so much 2/5)
  • 1990 – Use of Weapons (Great story with interesting narrative device with Zakalwe and Sma 4/5)
  • 1991  The State of the Art (Some great short stories set in the culture and one more mainstream 4/5)
  • 1992 – The Crow Road (A great conspiracy story 4/5)
  • 1993 – Complicity (Another great conspiracy 4/5)
  • 1993 – Against a Dark Background (non-Culture SF, with a great MacGuffin - the lazy gun! 5/5)
  • 1994 – Feersum Endjinn (the only story I didn't finish on my reread. It takes too much time to "translate" DNF)
  • 1995 – Whit (A great story with debunking of cult religion 4/5)
  • 1996 – Excession (A great book with the protagonists being ships rather than humans or aliens making the dialogues a little strange 4/5)
  • 1997 – A Song of Stone (A good if somewhat dour tale of pre-industrial war 3/5)
  • 1998 – Inversions (excellent crypto-Culture book masquerading as court intrigue in a medieval setting 4/5)
  • 1999 – The Business (Splendid. I kinda wish it gave more clues to the denouement so the reader (well, this reader anyway) could have a better idea of what was going on, but excellent otherwise 4/5)
  • 2000 – Look to Windward (Very enjoyable. Nice mystery and great characters as always. The device of using wormholes is a great idea - kind of... 4/5)
  • 2002 – Dead Air (Brilliant and the chapter where Ken is being interviewed by Mr. Merrial kept me reading, even though it was already four in the morning 5/5)
  • 2004 – The Algebraist (Superb. Lovely to have a step away from the Culture - into a universe where the Culture wouldn't even be possible because of AIs being illegal! - and into an intrigue that is deliciously played out with aliens that really are, rather than being people in a different costume with ridges in their noses... 5/5)
  • 2007 – The Steep Approach to Garbadale (good, but feels drawn out and the central "mystery" surrounding Alban and Sophie's relationship was clear to me from the start, so didn't feel shocking. 3/5)
  • 2008 – Matter (Excellent, although the mix of High Involved and the medieval Sursamen seems a little to easy at times, but I love the idea of the Shellworlds. The ending is as high octane as anything he ever wrote and definite Hollywood material 5/5 - written 150801)
  • 2009 – Transition (Loved the many worlds and the method of travelling between them. I read the book over too long a period meaning that sometimes I lost the character I was reading, but Bisquitine's mad monologue was always a gas - 5/5 written 150913, but finished 150830)
  • 2010 – Surface Detail (Superb, possibly one of my favourite Culture novels, and certainly my favourite ship avatar in Demeisen. The idea of intagliation is superb, although the book isn't content with one excellent idea, it also presents the idea of manufactured hells. It does get a little confusing at times switching between perspectives without even a chapter break. Still, it gets a resounding 5/5 written 151004)
  • 2012 – Stonemouth (Iain Banks paints a fantastic picture of Scotland, I always wish to be his protagonist - here Stewart Gilmour. This story is very well-layered and paced, with the opening of his fiance getting him out of toun before her brothers kill him leaving you wondering what the heck is going on. A great read 5/5 written 151024)
  • 2012 – The Hydrogen Sonata (Big and sprawling with some superb ideas, but running the risk of too many characters overwhelming these central idea of what happens when a society decided to sublime - it might almost have been enough to purely concentrate on that aspect of the book.As usual, the ships and their avatars are the most interesting though the mysterious QiRia who might have lived for more than ten thousand years is excellent. A fine read to go out on for people who only read M. 4/5 - written 151123)
  • 2013 – The Quarry (Perhaps not his greatest book. The supporting characters are too-sketchily drawn and there's too much filler. 3/5 151205
So, that's it. I've reread (or read for the first time for The Quarry) all of Iain (M.) Banks' many books over the course of just over a year.  I am completely dismayed that there will never be another after The Quarry and that that book is, understandably, not as polished as his others. I will no doubt continue to read and reread my favourites for years to come. Thank you Iain, wherever you are.

19 October 2014

Imagine a world...

Where all the world's films and TV shows were available through a single outlet. Subtitled in different languages, even dubbed if you want that. Where gargantuan servers were not needed to store every single film or show. Where you didn't get Netflix's favourite phrase "Items related to X". Where you pay a single monthly fee to gain access to all this cultural richness (and the stupid stuff). Media from the very start of cinema up to modern-day blockbusters and ratings earners.

Best of all, where this wasn't illegal?

The music industry went through a huge turmoil over the last couple of decades confronted with the pervasiveness of the net and visual media is going through the same now as bandwidth increases dramatically (in the next few days, I'm upgrading to a 1Gbps download/300 Mbps upload fibre service that is cheaper than my 2Mbps/.2Mbps ADSL service was). BitTorrent is the bĂȘte noire of all media, but its brilliance is in how it uses everyone's power together to distribute everything.

It is a commonly-held truth that people who indulge in piracy are also some of the greatest purchasers of media at the same time. You might argue that they test the waters by downloading copiously and pick and choose what they want to support with their money. I myself may have downloaded the odd album or film, usually when it's not easily available in any other form or I've been in a hurry, but it has never prevented me from buying said film, TV show, CD or book.

Imagine if these media hoarders were rewarded in some manner by opening up their presumably immense storage to others to make everyone's downloads that bit faster? Where serious collectors of German Expressionism could make their passions available to a larger audience. Let's further imagine a scenario:

You pay a monthly €/$/£ 20 fee. You can download what you like, legally, for that money and the money gets distributed in some fashion to rights owners. If €/$/£ 20 seems too expensive, restrict it with a lower cost offer, say €/$/£ 10 but no HD, or €/$/£ 5 where you can only get three items per month.

For every byte you upload, because you are effectively part of a BitTorrent network, you get paid (somehow) €/$/£ 0.00000000001 (for every GiB you upload you earn €/$/£ 0.01). Rather than spending money trying to punish people you reward them for helping. Heck, the biggest hoarders with the biggest pipes might even turn a profit on the deal, but then if they do the service to all the other users gets that much better.

Stop the vicious circle and turn it into a virtuous one. Like Cory Doctorow says "Copying stuff is never, ever going to get any harder than it is today" (http://craphound.com/littlebrother/about/). The Internet is a wonderful thing, let's make it work for us.

23 September 2014

InDesign is good but so annoying!

Just a rant really. I'm engaged in creating documentation for a software product. There are probably going to be about 2.3k pages long. I'm outputting to PDF for the moment, so it will be completely digital (plans are to take it to wiki, but that's for later) so there's no output to dead tree.

I was struggling with the Table of Contents feature and it was hard to find any help, even with the whole interweb in front of me.

Anyway, just by clutching at straws I discovered the Bookmarks window that I found contained bookmarks I'd never knowingly added. Clearing all the extraneous bookmarks might have done the job - just waiting on the export of a PDF...

Yay! That worked! /me dances!

In other news, the other thing that bugged the shit out of me in InDesign was the fact that my books constantly have warning triangles saying "you edited this document (a chapter of the book) outside the book!" It is *never* true but that doesn't seem to matter to InDesign. Anyway, the solution is as dumb as you might expect: If you have the Book window open while you edit, save and close your chapter, all will be fine.

Next problem, Updating the ToC is broken. Instead of going away to trawl the documents and then building the complete ToC, iD now does the trawl, but only builds the first page. Every time I have to manually add a new page and reflow text onto it, whereupon it builds the remaining pages (of which there are about 30 now). This one I haven't resolved and can get no help on aside from exporting to IDML and re-importing, which didn't work.

Problem 3. Do not make cross-references until the very end of your editing of your document. If you do it earlier you will find that typing slows down to one character per second appearing on-screen.

14 August 2014


It's ridiculous to do the same operation over and over again rather than letting the computer do it by itself. When rendering I don't do a bunch of F9 (LightWave's Render Image key) and then compile them into an animation, I hit F10 (Render Scene). Likewise, I lose so much time in Photoshop saving images as PNGs, but now I can use Actions:

  1. Load an image you want to save as PNG;
  2. Open the Actions window in Window > Actions (coincidentally F9 is the default keyboard shortcut)
  3. Create a new Macro, name it, assign it a Function key shortcut and give it a colour if you like then hit the Record button.
  4. Save your image as a PNG (you only need do this once now)
  5. Now, whenever you want to save an image as a PNG you only need press your assigned key. You will get the Save As... file requester pop up where you can write the name you want but the filetype will already be set to PNG.
Only two things are lacking here.
  1.  The ability to choose a keyboard shortcut that is better than a Function key with possible Ctrl or Shift modifiers;
  2. The ability to get rid of the stupid interlace requester that always pops up when saving as PNG. 
 I will add more automation stuff here as I do it.

12 June 2014

Moto G - it's cool! It's broken :(......... it's fixed! :)

I've been using a Samsung Galaxy S2 for some time (talking of which I need to put it on eBay now) and while the phone was an amazing improvement over my Motorola Defy (remember the phone they advertised on the telly as being "lifeproof"? It really wasn't), it seemed more and more tired compared to the S3, then S4 and phones from everyone else. Then Motorola announced the Moto G (XT-1032) and it seemed my perfect (for the moment) phone had arrived. I was all set to buy one and then I heard that the next model, the XT-1033 was announced and would have the capacity for a second SIM. Since I go to England and the states quite often it made sense to get that version of the phone rather than the XT-1032, but it wasn't ever going to be available here in France. So I bought one from Negri Electronics in Las Vegas. It cost me $337.22 (€253.95) including shipping and I ordered it on 13 Feb 2014 (just checked, it was a Thursday not a Friday).

The phone turned up at the beginning of March 2014 and I was full of the joys of spring when it arrived, as any hot-blooded young man is with new tech. I bought myself a case for it that came with three screen protectors that I perhaps foolishly didn't use and a touch screen stylus thing. I didn't really like the case compared to the soft silicone of my Galaxy S2 case. It felt hard with little pointy bits. Anyway, we're a week into March 2014 at this point, okay? I hadn't had the phone for a month when, on 12 March 2014, I took it out of my pocket while sitting on my scooter to score me some Ingress. The scooter was stopped and the stand down. It *was* raining, but since the moto g is lauded for its waterproofivity I wasn't worried. Even when it slipped through my fingers as I took it out of my pocket I was only mildly concerned, the thing was in a protective jacket and I'd seen a Beetle run over one for Jeebus' sake!

My smug confidence was shattered at about the same time as the screen on my phone as it did a lazy "buttered toast" flip in the air to land screen side down onto a sharp bit of gravel.

To add insult to the already grievous injury suffered, I received a demand for roughly €80 in import duty for this phone the day after it crashed to the ground and died. Woo hoo. :|

I did the rounds of the net and the one mobile phone repair shop local to me. They took the phone, turned it over and said that they'd never heard of it and couldn't I have broken a Samsung like everyone else?

Hmm, drawing board return. The interweb provided me with a company that not only supplied spare parts to shops like the one I'd been to, but also offered them for purchase by individuals. Based in Shenzen, China I thought "urgghh, I'm going to get got for more import duty", but it seems that only applies to finished, boxed products. I tried ordering a replacement screen and digitiser (http://bit.ly/1s6Eo5t) 14 March 2014, but they were out of stock. I asked again a week later, still no stock, and again a fortnight later, nope, and again a month after that, still no joy. Finally,19 May 2014 I was happy to see eTradeSupply *finally* got the necessary part in stock and I ordered one of the above and the necessary Torx screwdriver to go with it (another €67.31). 

The new screen arrived 27 May 2014. That evening I broke down my moto g based on this video from eTradesupply. A nerve-wracking half hour passed, but the phone was back together and turned on okay. But there was an issue...

For some reason eTradeSupply not only do not ship their replacement screen with an "ear speaker", the speaker that is used when you hold the phone to your head rather than the loudspeaker on the back of the phone, but this also means you can't use headphones since the same speaker provides for them. I wasn't going to order a €0.50 item with a shipping charge of €14.40 and so discussed with them. I had contact with a nice lady Fara Lau and suggested some things to make the site better and how I was going to get this very necessary part. In the end, a friend needed a new screen for his phone too and I bought a case for the moto g and eTradeSupply gave me €5 off the deal, so what should have been about €30, half of which was the shipping, was now ~€25 - a teensy bit more acceptable.

After I fitted the new speaker the night before last my phone has been great. I'm dubious about its continued resistance to water now since the sealed unit has been opened so many times, but that's okay. I finally have a good working phone. Bloody typical that now the MOT-4G variant is available. It does 4G but only has 8 GB of onboard memory. That doesn't matter since it now has an SD card slot! Gah! It's also cheaper than this 16 GB version (naturally). It doesn't have dual SIMs however.

Anyway, given that this is now really my phone (since I rebuilt it twice), I felt the right to root it, which was pretty easy to do (unlike my S2). It would be nice if there was a stable build of Cyanogenmod because that would go straight on there too.

For rooting, it suffices to follow the simple instructions presented here: xda developers (thanks to Aashish-kkhckr). Since this kills the standard Motorola bootloader you will get a warning message instead when you power on your phone. I'm half-tempted to replace that message with my own picture, but it's amusing to have it there and it's something you only see when booting your phone, not just turning it on.

Finally, a review of the phone. It's great. A charge lasts easily a day (although I tend to charge more frequently to keep the battery level at the sweet spot between 40-80% percent). The camera is fast but not at a good quality. I'm not just talking about the megapixel quantity but also the quality. Have a look at the pictures above for an example. The dual SIM element is a boon I fully intend to take maximum advantage of finally (I ended up in Blighty while the phone was out of action so I couldn't try it then), and overall I'm very happy with this phone. It's still small by comparison with the Galaxy S4 and S5, which is great and the 1280x720 screen is beautiful (I have a Slimport cable arriving in the next day or so so I can test output to the TV).

PS. This lauded "budget" phone has ended up costing me roughly €426!