Saturday, 29 September 2007

More reading

Just a quick post, this one, to say that I've finished reading Infinity Plus - The Anthology. A bit more fantasy-oriented than I usually like, but I did like three stories in particular - Faithful by Ian McDonald, Bear Trap by Charles Stross, and The Arcevoalo by Lucius Sheppard.
As I mentioned previously, I've now got The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 20, so that's what I'll be reading on the train to work from next week. At home, I'm still struggling with Black Man - the trouble is, what with so many demands on my time at the moment, it's hard to find the time to sit down and read it.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Globalisation Institute - Brussels' most popular think tank website - Unbundling Microsoft Windows

Globalisation Institute - Brussels' most popular think tank website - Unbundling Microsoft Windows
Have a read of this article - an influential think tank in Brussels has recommended that it be made illegal to bundle operating systems with computers.
Gets my vote. A few advantages:
  • Mac OS X available for any computer (not that I'd want to use it, but there are many people who would).
  • More choice for consumers - most people use what is preinstalled and don't investigate any of the alternatives.
  • Microsoft might actually get off their arses and produce a decent OS.
  • More OS providers might make use of Live CDs/DVDs (for those unfamiliar with Live CD's, they are common in the Linux world and are essentially an operating system that can be run from a CD or DVD without installing anything. Kubuntu, my OS of choice, boots into Live CD mode, but then you can install it from within this mode). These would allow people to try an OS before they install it. I'm sure that even diehard Windows users would like the chance to be able to try a new operating system before they make a decision to install it.
  • Users of free and open source software needn't pay for a copy of Windows when they don't want to use it.
So, there is my opinion. I've already dugg this - here's a link if you want to do so as well.
While the EU is somewhat bureaucratic, sometimes they get it right. I hope this is one of those times.

Sunday, 23 September 2007


I've finished working my way through the first exercise book for my course - took just over a month. Not bad going! Of course, there are things that haven't stuck very well - I particularly found cascading style sheets difficult to understand (mainly because the effect was very subtle) and forms and tables are also a bit fuzzy, but overall I think I did OK.
I'm going to go back and work through the exercises again just to reinforce everything I've learned. I've also started making a couple of example web pages to get some more practice, and as I mentioned previously I've taken to hand-coding the hyperlinks on this blog.
I'm really eager to do well on this course so I can start looking for a job in web design (probably as an HTML programmer). This course is, of course, only the step 1 course - there are three further step, and the guideline salary goes up a LOT as you progress through the steps. I am now confident I'm going to be able to go all the way up to step 4 - I've already got a load of books about JavaScript, Java, PHP and MySQL so I'll need to have a read of those once I'm a bit more confident with my HTML skills.
One thing I think sounds very interesting is Ajax (short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). It's often used to create web-based applications and is very likely to become increasingly common as these kinds of things become more popular. I think I'd really enjoy working on something like that - as a Linux user I know that you can't always get the applications you'd like for your operating system of choice, but web-based applications allow you to bypass these limitations.
I already use Goowy from time to time and I think things like this are the wave of the future - as long as you have a compatible browser, they allow you to use whatever operating system you like. In fact, Linux has a serious advantage here over Microsoft Windows - as it has a much smaller memory footprint and runs faster, your computer will perform much better using the same applications.
As much as I'd love to see Linux become more popular than Windows on the basis of the desktop, or applications, or the other features I love so much, I think this is how Linux will eventually overturn Microsoft's dominance of the desktop operating systems market. Ultimately, the man in the street doesn't care that much about operating systems, he cares about the applications he's used to. At present, many of these are Microsoft products due to consumer apathy - things like Outlook, Word etc. As people move towards using more than one computer, more and more people are interested in using web-based applications - there are many people who grew up with web-based mail services such as Hotmail and have NEVER used an e-mail client (I do, namely Mozilla Thunderbird, but that's mainly because I like the GUI and it works well with my Googlemail account - I like being able to access my e-mail at work or on my PDA or phone if I want to) and applications like Google Docs are also becoming popular. Once these kind of products become dominant, I think Microsoft's stranglehold on the desktop OS is all but over - if people can get the same applications in Linux, but achieve better performance using the same hardware, and using an OS which is free (in the free as in beer sense), then demand for Linux will increase and OEMs will start preinstalling Linux more and more.
In my humble opinion, Vista (I don't know about OS X Leopard, having never used a Mac and having absolutely NO intention of ever doing so, unless I was given one or won it, in which case the first thing I'd do is install Kubuntu) is the last gasp of the "big" OS. The future will be dominated by smaller, more streamlined OS's such as Linux (but not exclusively, I'm sure that the likes of OpenSolaris, FreeBSD etc will also have a higher profile than they do at present).
Don't get me wrong - I think it's likely that Microsoft will be around for a long time to come, but to me Vista marks the beginning of the decline. Unless they streamline their next OS a lot compared to Vista, they are likely to face decreasing market share over the next decade or so.
If you disagree, please feel free to add your comment - but keep it nice and polite! I've tried to avoid rampant OS advocacy so please also refrain from this. And anyone who says "Get a Mac" will suffer my wrath!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Diggin' it

You may notice a difference in the layout of my blog from today - the addition of a Digg widget. Yes, after being subscribed to Digg's RSS feed for months, I've finally signed up and started Digging items.
In the time I have been subscribed to the feed, Digg has informed me of many bizarre or interesting things that I would have missed out on otherwise. Since I already spend a few minutes every day going through their feed, I might as well take the opportunity to Digg or comment on a few of these.
One thing though - they say that you can set it up to send items from Digg direct to your Blogger blog (including if it's a Google login like mine), but it doesn't seem to work for me, though I've followed the instructions on the site.
I've also signed up to Slashdot and StumbleUpon, but Digg is the one I imagine I will be getting the most use out of.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

A story short

When I was at school, I used to read the collections of SF short stories that they had in the library. I remember that they were from a series called Space (not terribly imaginative for SF). I think I read volumes 4, 5, 6, and 8. They were always very entertaining, and I read them through several times.
Although I continued to read SF after leaving school (if anything I read more because I could afford more books), I somehow stopped reading short fiction.
A couple of years ago I read Allen Steele's Coyote novels, and Charles Stross's Accelerando (brilliant, and available to download from the Internet in pdf format for free here). Both of these were structured as a series of short stories featuring the same characters, and it rekindled my interest in the short story. I've since gotten into the habit of buying the annual Mammoth Book of Best New SF which is an excellent source of short stories.
I've just bought this year's one (number 20) which promises to be a corker. It includes Ian McDonald's The Djinn's Wife, set in the same world as his brilliant novel River of Gods and his previous short story The Little Goddess. It also includes three other stories that I've already read and were great, one by Stephen Baxter, the other two by Alastair Reynolds. Only one thing: take a look at the cover. For those who've seen Firefly/Serenity: does the spaceship look familiar? Not an exact copy, but certainly looks like it was "inspired" by Captain Mal Reynolds' ship, doesn't it?
Another of my favourite anthologies is the Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction, which has some awesome stories. The first one, ...And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon, explores what happens when household objects are given communal sentience, and is downright bonkers, but astonishingly good. And the rest of the stories are even better.
On the train, I'm currently reading Infinity Plus The Anthology, which isn't as good as the Mammoth Book of Best New SF usually is, but is still quite interesting reading. Still reading Black Man at home. What with the demands of work, my course, blogging and everything else, it's hard to find time to read it.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The iPod is dead, long live the iPod!

Alright, I hold my hands up. I should have waited for the press release and got one of the new iPod Classics, shouldn't I? If I'd gone for the 80GB model, I'd have saved money, or for about the same price I could have got the 160GB model. They're already on to pre-order as I write this.
I have no excuses. I heard all the rumours on Digg and Engadget, and I'd been told of them by other people as well, so I knew something was imminent.
Ah, well. Live and learn, I guess. Besides, I have a big CD collection, but not big enough that I'd need a 160GB iPod (at least, not unless I put Rockbox on it and ripped every single CD I own in FLAC format, and I'm not that bothered about sound quality when you're going to be listening on crappy little headphones).
I have to say, though, that I think the iPod probably isn't going to be around much longer.
You what! I hear you say. They've just released a new Shuffle, a new Nano, the two Classics and the Touch! No-one else can match the iPod!
Well, that is true. Apple now have the vast majority of the digital music player market. But, I think that is going to change, probably in the next five years. The reason for this is that storing your music on your player will become unnecessary, thanks to improvements in networking.
I think there have been two great advances in portable music players. The Walkman was great in that it allowed you to listen to music on the move, but you had to take the tapes with you, so it wasn't as portable as an iPod is. This didn't change appreciably with the advent of personal CD players.
The iPod also revolutionised music on the go, in that for the first time, it was practical to take your entire music collection with you everywhere you went. That was a fantastic development. I've found that having a portable music player of this type has a bigger effect than is obvious. It actually changes the way you listen to music, because rather than having to choose a few favourite CD's or tapes to take with you, you have them all with you and can listen to any when you want, encouraging you to listen to things you otherwise wouldn't listen to very often.
I foresee a third revolution in portable music players once the 4G revolution is upon us. 4G would mean that in any area with the right kind of coverage (probably via mobile phone network), you'd be able to stream music or other content at 100Mbit/s. Under these circumstances, there'd be little point in having a hard drive built in. You could probably use your mobile phone to listen to music, since this would already have to connect to the network, so you might as well integrate the two devices.
I've heard a lot of talk along these lines, and I think it's true. I think there would be several ways you could access your music. Home servers are likely to become more and more popular over the next few years, and you could store music there, or you could keep it on an online storage service. Alternatively, you could use a Napster-style subscription service. Or my perennial favourite, music site, perhaps. This way, you wouldn't just have access to your own collection, you'd have access to everything. Think about it - any song ever recorded only a few button presses away at any time! Cool, huh?
Don't believe me? Believe Rick Rubin. The man has been in the music industry for over two decades as a well-respected producer and is now a head honcho at Columbia Records. He recently gave an interview with the New York Times where he outlined a similar vision of the future of the music industry.
Of course, Apple may be able to move with the times. There is actually plenty of evidence that they may be able to do so. The new iPod Touch has built-in WiFi, and of course they have the iPhone as well. But I think there is one company that are very likely to do well out of this, and that is Sony. They have much more experience than Apple of making mobile phones that also play music, they have belatedly learned that proprietary music formats are a pain in the proverbial (making them more likely to embrace more open standards), they are one of the few companies that can match Apple in terms of product design (those Vaio laptops look amazing!) and they are also a record company. I think this puts them in a very good position to benefit from developments along these lines
Oh, and my progress on the web design course: I didn't use the link tool on Blogger to do the links on this post. I edited the HTML myself! So now I have written some lines of HTML which are on the Internet. A small step, but a satisfying one.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Pissed at Vista! (I'm using the American sense here, of being angry, as opposed to the English sense of being drunk!)

I hate Windows Vista. Have you ever used it? It's very flashy, but it supports sod-all. It crashes all the time (even for Windows, it's bad). Just about every application that you can think of has some kind of problem with it (with the notable exception of The Sims 2, guess not even the Evil Empire can ignore that).
I was fed up with XP (which was what encouraged me to move to Kubuntu), but compared to Vista, XP is a shining beacon of brilliance. At least, that didn't crash virtually every time you tried to start it up.
Now that Linux is starting to be preinstalled on the desktop, we may now finally be seeing Windows in retreat. Believe me, there's no better advert for Linux than Windows Vista. With easy distros like Ubuntu and Linux Mint now available, I think people will increasingly start to question why they are expected to pay for Vista. Since I switched to Kubuntu, I've never looked back.
Rant over...

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Reading Matter

I'm still ploughing through Black Man. Like most of Richard Morgan's work, it's very good and very violent. I won't explain the plot here, you'll have to look on Amazon if you want to know what it's about, but I have to say, I don't like it as much as Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels.
I have finished reading The New Space Opera. The quality of the stories in it was very high throughout, but the final story, Muse of Fire by Dan Simmons, is absolute genius. For those of you unfamiliar with Simmons, he's an author who writes SF and fantasy, as well as horror, and has always been one of those authors who can straddle several different genres with ease, and also has a very good understanding of great literature. His Hyperion Cantos and his two books Ilium and Olympos are books of tremendous literary merit.
Muse of Fire paints a grim vision of a humanity subdued into slavery by a fierce alien race called the Archons, who themselves are the lowest of four increasingly powerful alien races (the others being the Poimen, the Demiurgos, and Abraxas, a kind of God). It follows a troupe of actors who travel to planets where human slaves are kept by the Archons to put on Shakespeare plays for them. One day, several Archons come to watch their play, and they are summoned to perform before the rest of the Archons, before embarking on a journey to perform Shakespeare's plays to each of the other races. Eventually they discover they are performing for the future of their race.
Simmons packs more ideas into this one short story than many writers can come up with for a huge novel. I'd highly recommend this story.
I'm going back to work tomorrow so I need to choose a book to read on the train.