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Moving to Powdertoast

I'm letting this account expire in a few months, and in the meantime moving my posting efforts entirely over to my other blog, powdertoast.livejournal.com. New tech/English stuff will go up over there rather than here from now on. Techlish's existing content will stay here, and I'm going to disable comments here to just put this blog into archive mode, so to speak. Sometime in the next few months I'll delete this blog, but by then maybe I'll have sucked the content onto my hard drive for my own nefarious purposes. Ok, actually just for archiving, so I can see what a doofus I was when I find it ten years from now :)

See you at my babblings page!

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Editing Your Own Junk

I mean "junk" in the sense of stuff as opposed to "kicked in his junk".

That said, here is a teeny list of helpful tricks I use to check my writing, from emails to blog posts, and beyond...

Shuffle the text around and reread it. For example, copy the content to an editor with a different font than your target and reread it. Shrinking the text window by resizing a browser or editor works fairly well, too. This mixes up the formatting a bit and forces a touch more attention to be given to rereading, which spots errors more effectively.

Save the content somewhere, do something else for fifteen minutes or more, and then reread it. Again, it's not as familiar, so mistakes show up more.

For multiple paragraphs of content, read from the bottom up, a paragraph at a time. Breaking up the flow catches more grammatical and punctuation problems.

What do you do to check your writing?

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Accelerando

I finished Charles Stross's Accelerando a few weeks ago. It's sci-fi, following three generations of a family from pre-"Singularity" to beyond. I had a fun time reading it because it gathered a whole lot of references and information from cyberpunk to network security and architecture to hard science and virtual reality, throwing it all together into a cohesive and rollicking whole that exults and warns about expanding consciousness with technology. Without having these concepts at hand, the book would be much less interesting to me, however, I think most of it would be easy to pick up for most sci-fi fans.

At the start of the novel, technology has been advancing steadily. Humans can be always connected to the network, for example, and to create threads that run searches or such independent of their regular consciousnesses. The network in the book is many iterations beyond today's Internet. So far, so boring and normal as far as sci-fi fare. But the first section's protagonist brokers a deal for some lobster consciousnesses to be transferred elsewhere, and he's been working for a while on an AI in the body of a cat who becomes a major behind-the-scenes focal point for most of the rest of the novel's action. Eventually these lead to a series of events that spin humanity off-planet and into the rest of the Solar System. Whole planets are deconstructed for raw materials and energy to feed the network and human consciousnesses are regularly uploaded into the resulting massive computing space, discarding their physical bodies. Eventually there is a split between non-uploaded consciousness and uploaded consciousness, as the biological constraints of even massively augmented brains in meatspace (physical space) reach their physical cognitive limits. While this is going on, a few uploaded meatspace consciousnesses visit a nearby alien network router and get some idea of what the rest of the human race is leading up to. The not-physically-constrained consciousnesses evolve even further beyond meatspace human comprehension, on the order of the difference between a human's mental capacities and a flatworm's, and become effectively hostile to life in physical space as they begin to take over the entire Solar System for more computing power.

It sounds bleak, but the major focal point of the book is the interactions between the various meatspace consciousnesses as they encounter the massive changes technology brings about. It's about humans and humanity first and foremost, although technology takes a very close second. Another fairly strong theme is the interplay between economics and diplomacy, figuring out what is valuable to a given group and putting a value on it for trade. Stross seems to say that the biggest separations between different groups, whatever their forms, are variations in their values. I like the idea he presents but doesn't point at that physical differences mean less and less when there's enough communication-facilitating technology in play.

I also appreciate that Stross doesn't lump the whole human race into one big happy family. There are effectively three main groups of humans or trans-humans in the Solar System by the final page. There are the trans-human consciousnesses who have "ascended" into the ever-growing network, tossing aside meatspace interactions, but becoming tethered to the physical location of the network's parts. There are the humans who have embraced the new technologies, but keep the door open to being embodied in the physical world. And there are the humans who dislike the new technology for religious or other reasons. Stross focuses on the middle, most mobile, group for the main plot, but by splitting the tribe into three distinct parts, he is able to discuss technological impacts from many different viewpoints instead of just how it affects his primary characters.

There are some other fascinating concepts sprinkled throughout the story that add even more interest. For example, is it moral to force a child's consciousness to relive situations over and over again until they react to them correctly as decided by the child's parents? When part of your consciousness depends on technology to function, what happens when that technology is lost? If a given consciousness is just a very complex program, can one live forever if it is running in others who pass it along like a virus?

Accelerando is about a character that generates accelerated change, and the impact he, his children, and one of his creations have on the human race. In a sense, it is about a dynasty of three generations of nobility set in a very-quickly-changing future. The pace is nearly breathtaking, the concepts are gigantic and far-reaching, and the sheer imagination involved is astonishing. I highly recommend it.

Chrome on the Range

In no particular order, here be why I ain't done Chrome everywheres yet, tho I do be lovin' it:

- Lack of Linux compatibility.

- I desperately need ad-busting software. I know, I'm a bad person for being an ad-blocker because it reduces income for sites I browse, but I have a couple of what I think are good reasons for not wanting ads. First, they hurt. I mean, I find my eyeballs flicking all over a page with ads on it, and my eyes just aren't what they used to be. Second, blocking ads reduces a potential malware vector. Granted, the vast gigantic majority of ads are benign, but I want to be as safe as I can be without blocking legitimate content.

- Lack of extensions. Along with ad-busting, I rely on some Firefox extensions to customize my browser experience. Me need mouse gestures!

I'll probably switch when the number of Chrome extensions hits critical mass. I know Google's working on Linux compatibility, but it sounds like a stable version's at least months away. Meanwhile, Firefox everywhere for me.

Moby-Dick: The Final Review

Moby-Dick is one of those novels that I find myself mulling over long after reading it. It's definitely a classic tale with huge themes, an enormous amount of research and thought underneath it, and a long-lasting impact.

The novel's name comes from the white sperm whale that Captain Ahab and countless others have been injured by. The whale is a legend among whalers, a terror that almost all who encounter him once and survive avoid forever after. Ahab's injury ignites an all-consuming need for vengeance that costs the captain much more than the leg he lost to the whale's fury.

Reading Moby-Dick just for that main plot will leave readers incredibly bored. Melville's descriptions of life aboard a whaling ship, the various interactions of the Pequod's crew, and details about whales themselves elevate the book far above the cautionary tale at its center. It's these seemingly nonessential parts that make up the majority of the book's interesting content through their addition of layers of extra meaning. Without them, the story doesn't fall completely flat, but it has far less force.

As a result, a synopsis of the work beyond the core of Ahab's quest for revenge is very difficult especially without spoiling it. It is indeed a story about a man who wants to kill the whale that took his leg, but it's far more at the same time. Themes such as racism, religion, insanity, superstition, and obsession turn up throughout the book. Imagery abounds, weaving contrasts of darkness and light, fire and water, land and sea, and more. There is some dry reading that seems extraneous initially, but by the conclusion of the tale, it is clear that removing any of these expository pieces, particularly the ones about whaling and whales, would diminish the whole. An intimate knowledge of both of the main warriors in this battle, man and whale, leads directly to greater understanding and depth of the story's events.

Ishmael also has quite a sense of humor, and some of the adventures he has and catches wind of during the voyage are extremely funny. Some of the novel's passages are so beautiful that they leave a strong urge to visit some of the places and things he describes. Melville has an amazing ability for prose description and uses it to fine effect throughout the book, showing a masterful command of the English language.

Moby-Dick's archaic style, including character asides and chapters that read like a play rather than a novel, adds further interest for readers. The result brings Shakespeare to mind, though Moby-Dick is far less brief than The Bard's classic works. The overall effect is that Ishmael, and readers, are encountering something mythic, something allegorical and ancient, not just a dashing tale of adventure on the high seas.

Star Trek fans might find it interesting to read Moby-Dick and then watch the second Star Trek movie for parallels and quotes. Khan and Ahab share many character similarities, much like many other obsessed modern characters. Melville's extensive use of symbolism and metaphor, exploration of several complex themes, and usage of classical narrative style give Moby-Dick a timeless epic allegory quality, cementing its place among the very best of English literary works. Like the best of Shakespeare's works, Melville's masterpiece still finds traction today. Although the particulars may differ, the echoes of Ahab's battle with the great white whale continues to ring in more modern works.

You can find Moby-Dick for free at Project Gutenberg, Feedbooks, and other Web locations. Take the time to read it if you haven't already and have an appreciation for English. Also, my understanding is that the original title was Moby-Dick, or The Whale, but it has become just Moby Dick. Melville doesn't use a hyphen in the novel for the whale's name, so go figger. I've seen it both ways. Check it out, whichever title you choose.

Why I Haven't Switched to Chrome Yet

In no particular order, here be why I ain't done Chrome everywheres yet, tho I do be lovin' it:

- Lack of Linux compatibility.

- I desperately need ad-busting software. I know, I'm a bad person for being an ad-blocker because it reduces income for sites I browse, but I have a couple of what I think are good reasons for not wanting ads. First, they hurt. I mean, I find my eyeballs flicking all over a page with ads on it, and my eyes just aren't what they used to be. Second, blocking ads completely keeps a potential malware vector choked off. Granted, the vast gigantic majority of ads are benign, but I want to be as safe as I can be without blocking legitimate content.

- Lack of extensions. Along with ad-busting, I rely on some Firefox extensions to customize my browser experience. Specifically, I love Opera-esque mouse gestures, Remember the Milk for Gmail (it makes my GMail page more of a stuff-tracking page rather than having RtM open in another tab, plus it's easier to work with than RtM's regular interface), the download status bar (why have a separate window/tab for download tracking?) and Evernote's web clipper (which I strangely have no trouble using in a separate browsing tab). There are some other goodies on Firefox that I miss when I browse without 'em, too, but those are the biggies.

I'll probably switch when the number of Chrome extensions hit critical mass. I know Google's working on Linux compatibility, but it sounds like a stable version's at least months away. Meanwhile, Firefox everywhere for me.

Jokey Jauntalope

I told my wife I was upgrading from Intrepid Ibex to Jaunty Jackalope last night. She joked that I just made that up.

Upgrading was, as usual, fairly painless. Sound seems to work, though I haven't beaten it up yet.

Flash is broken on my amd64 setup. I installed the Adobe plugin from the Ubuntu archive and the other two alternative Flash versions to no avail. A bit of a hunt and the IntarWeb showed me a workaround. Grabbing a "preview" version of the latest amd64 Linux Flash plugin, I built a plugins directory under .mozilla in my home dir, dropped the flash plugin .so file into that directory, restarted Firefox, and bada boom, Flash. With some limitations. But I can play Chain Rxn on Facebook without it blowing up. Yay.

I'm still testing things in Jaunty. But I do notice snappier response in Firefox and it seems to boot more quickly than Intrepid. 'Tis a good upgrade.

More Chrome

Bling the browser wars up, I guess. Seems like just about everyone's looking at Chrome more as a bigtime browser contender than I have.

A very interesting Firefox vs. Chrome vs. IE analysis popped up on BetaNews that might be worth a read to some of you. Based on the analysis and the recent Own2Pwn security bashing that took down all of the browsers in the contest but Chrome, Chrome is looking to make very large inroads into Mozilla's home enthusiast territory. Wait, it already has. I'm just behind. And the Chrome dev team has said they're working on more platforms and add-ons. Mmmmm.

While the browser wars are interesting to watch from the sidelines, they're especially important to webmasters and web developers. It's already got to be crazy-making to have to build sites for more than one browser. Having four major browsers (don't forget Safari) to cater to must make for insanity. We may be seeing less dynamic content in the future on the Web until the dust clears. But then Flash and Silverlight and Java and other such critters crop up as possible solutions... While it's got to be a great time to be an in-demand webmaster, I'm glad I'm not one right now. I have a hard time making buttons work on mouseovers!

I have two major requests from Chrome once it's multiplatform. First, ad blocking. This is counter to Google's income, though, so we'll see what happens here. Second, mouse gestures. I hate having to move the mouse up to a "back" button instead of being able to mouse gesture to back up a page, and I don't want to dedicate pointing device buttons to doing that. They're more useful as copy and paste or other such non-specific-app-only functions. Gimme those and I'm there, Google.

But Mozilla's next version should be mighty speedy, too. Except for its ever-increasing startup time. We'll see.

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I now have my new Netgear ReadyNAS running SqueezeCenter for my Squeezebox Boom and Squeezebox Controller. I love the setup after tweaking with the copious amounts of configuration options. I have my own music library available to play throug the thing plus my Pandora, Rhapsody, and Last.fm channels available plus live365 and a big ol' slew of other Internet music sources. The choices are absolutely astounding. Yesterday, for example, I decided to go Irish for a bit and found a St. Patrick's Day channel on Rhapsody to play for a while. Then today I built a playlist with Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Billie Ray Martin, Susan Tedeschi, and other such female vocalists, told the Squeezebox to shuffle 'em, and let it run all day. Since I told the Squeezebox where it is in the world, it can even pull up local radio station feeds to play if I want. Sound quality from the Boom is surprisingly good, filling up about 2/3 of the upstairs with tunes whenever I want from an absolutely enormous number of possible sources.

The Squeezebox is an interesting animal because it does all its magic through a wi-fi network. In my case I have an 802.11draft-n setup, but the Squeezebox is connecting via 802.11g. It supports my WPA2 encryption, and was smart enough to find itself an IP address, find the instance of SqueezeCenter running on the ReadyNAS, and connect to the SqueezeNetwork site for some more information after I configured its networking. Bada boom bada bing. The most bandwidth the thing will consume is 320kbps, pretty much zilch to the wireless network's potential 54Mbps.

The Squeezebox Controller wasn't a necessary purchase, since I could control the Boom through a PC on the internal network or through the very basic controller that came with the Boom, but the separate Squeezebox Controller was very much on sale through Crutchfield when I decided to get the Boom. I decided to do 'em both, and have been very happy that I got the Controller. It also talks through wi-fi, so I could be out by the chicken coop setting up a playlist for the Boom. The best thing about the Controller is that it frees me up from having to be at a PC to get the advanced searching, playlist creation, and other features that SqueezeCenter offers that the Boom's native controller just wouldn't handle very efficiently. The Controller allows for rating and otherwise handling songs on Pandora, for example, so you can further tune your channels. Not only that, but if I like something that's streaming in that I'm listening to, I can usually just hop over to Amazon.com to buy the CD or Rhapsody to add the song to my Rhapsody library through the controller. It's very impressive how well everything integrates.

For me, the Squeezebox configuration's been very much worth the cost because we had no music anywhere in the haus except at the computers, and since I love music, I was feeling a bit of a loss. The Squeezebox Boom and Controller also allow me to pull away from just using one room upstairs for watching my daughter. It opens up the rest of the haus for me, in a sense.

Meanwhile, I'm still plowing through Moby Dick. There's an entire fascinating chapter about white. As in why Melville decided that Moby Dick should be a white whale rather than a regularly colored one. In a sense, Melville points out the symbolism that just the color of the white whale indicates, but he does it as Ishmael, the teller of the tale, and Melville goes to great pains to make sure that the reader knows that Moby Dick's coloration doesn't just mean that the story is a diatribe on social conditions or morality. It's a fairly amusing device, but also effective. Melville has a deft hand at really expressing what he means, and while the story is about Ishmael and his time on a ship with Captain Ahab and his quest for revenge, it is indeed a morality tale as well. Melville holds this information up to the reader, then gives a sly wink and moves ahead with the rest of the novel, leaving the information to rest in readers' minds.

The chapter is, like the rest of the book, a bit wordy, but it's a fantastic diatribe on the positive and negative connotations of the color white, serving also to define Moby Dick's complex role as a symbol in the book. Consider a white divine glow from Heaven or white as an indicator of purity or clarity, then consider the emotions evoked by bleached bones or the pale countenance of a ghost. Melville convincingly argues that of all the colors, white has the most widely differing meanings, and sticks all of it on the great white whale.

I find myself skimming a paragraph or two of the novel because of the wordiness. I don't think I'm missing much by doing that, and maybe that makes me a horrible reader. I'm not trying to dissect it, just to enjoy it, you know?

By the way, I've got a copy of the book on both my iPod Touch and my iRex iLiad, and I honestly have a sort of toss-up as to which is more convenient. The iPod Touch is surprisingly usable as a reader with a free app called Stanza that I may have mentioned before here. Try it out on your iPod Touch or iPhone if you have one. The iLiad seems to be a bit better for Moby Dick because Melville regularly churns out sentences a page long on the iLiad's display, but the same sentence will be three or four pages on the iPod Touch's smaller screen, which breaks up the readability for me. The iPod Touch's smaller footprint is an advantage, though, when it comes to portability. I can just drop it in a pocket and go rather than carrying around the trade paperback- or a graphic novel-sized iLiad. Both are excellent reading platforms, though.

On the Ubuntu front, I tried out KDE and Enlightenment 16 (also known as e) on my main system to see if I liked them and went back to Ubuntu's default GNOME window manager. GNOME appeals to my leaning toward usability over purtiness. KDE and e are much more purty than GNOME, but I found myself waiting around more than I should for what seemed to me to be simple activities and I was hunting for options more than just due to unfamiliarity. Someday the GNOME people need to figure out that some people like to have their menu panels on the sides of the screen, though. Their current functionality for a side panel is pretty much unusable thanks to taking up way too much screen real estate.

While I'm complaining about functionality, I'm very very tired of Flash crashing in Firefox 3 on my x64 Ubuntu install. I think I get about ten to fifteen minutes of Flash on average, then blank space where Flash should be in pages. Boom. I'm glad that Firefox doesn't entirely go down in these cases, but am frustrated that I feel like I need to drop into Windoze to check out some sites.

Once Google's Chrome has adbusting and mouse gesturing add-ons, and it's stable for x64 Linux, I may just switch away from Firefox. Chrome is hellaciously fast, but the ads that it lets through due to lack of adblasting just kill me.

Try out Chrome if you're on Windows and see what you think. It's promising.

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