So NaNoWriMo is over though if I’m honest…

So NaNoWriMo is over, though if I’m honest it ended for me barely a day after I began so I reach December with barely 1 days worth of words written, let alone the whole 50k minimum. I wasn’t really expecting to have the time or energy to work on it, as the commute to work after 2 years is starting to wear me down, so I’m not really too cut up about it.

And on the happy note of the commute, I finally passed my driving test. I passed it by the skin of my teeth, more by luck than I’d like, but hell, I’ll take the win after the umpteen failures I’ve already collected. Now I have the fun, fun, fun time of trying to get car insurance that isn’t cripplingly expensive. It’s looking might it actually might be cheaper to buy a brand new car on finance and pay the insurance on that, as the insurance on my current car (which depressingly I realise I’ve owned for almost a year without being able to drive it) is more than double the quotes I’m getting on new cars and the finance costs of new cars over 5 years or so are roughly equal to the insurance premium (which should hopefully drop after the first year) whilst also having better fuel economy. Kinda sad that I buy a used car, only to find almost a year later it’s as if not more expensive for me to own and run than a brand new one.

Money, money, money! Arrrrgh!

Doing stuff

Okay, I wont deny it. Yes, I’m a miserable bastard. Even my own Dad has told me this on one occasion and rightly so, for it is most certainly true.

Generally I dislike pretty much everything, I enter into things expecting disappointment. I’m a natural pessimist, I guess because I really dislike the feeling of disappointment and so going in with extremely low expectations makes it far less likely I’ll be disappointed (or it will at least take the sting off).

I rarely watch new films nowadays. Why? Because I will be inevitably disappointed. I have a pretty eclectic taste in films and can’t really pin-point what it is about a film I find enjoyable but I know what it is I don’t like. I don’t like so called ‘blockbusters’ most of the time, since generally the idea there seems to be to tie together as many cliques and special effects as possible with just enough narrative to justify calling it a film. Once you’ve seen one set of flashy explosions and special effects you’ve seen them all. Sometimes, I do find those kind’s of films amusing when they bring something new to the table, or a also contain a particular brand of wit I enjoy but this seems to rarely be the case.

I rarely leave the house. There is very little I’m interested in actually doing outside that doesn’t require my own method of transport beyond merely walking to get there. There are places I enjoy going to but don’t because it’s either to difficult or expensive or just takes too damn long, by which time if changed my mind or become interested in something else.

It’s not even really about the money, though I am quite miserly and dislike what essentially amounts to gambling on the entertainment industry in the hopes I might get a payoff of enjoyment when I know the odds are not in my favour.

Consequently, I tend to play it safe, sticking to things I know and own because I have a reliable source of entertainment there at (after the initial investment) essentially zero cost which appeals to the miser in me as well as placating my fear of disappointment. This generally restricts me to reading – something I enjoy immensely, writing, roleplaying, watching films and TV I have already seen before, listening to music, programming, designing electronics hardware and playing computer games.

That’s not to say I don’t like trying new things is just that when I do, I like to do a proper assessment rather than just dive in only to find out I’ve wasted a bunch of my time and money. I consume media having never seen them before based on whether I have enjoyed other products by the same creator in the same genre, whether they are related (sequel/prequel) to things I have enjoyed before, whether I find the concept intriguing enough to take a gamble, whether the cost is low enough to justify such a gamble, whether or not there are already things I’m enjoying that will keep me occupied enough not to need yet another new toy right this instant, opinions from people with proven similar tastes as me on said media when they’ve consumed it and reviews from critics as well as the standard marketing material in the form of trailers, etc that are provided.

That might sound like a lot of work but really it amounts to maybe 30 minutes in total at the very most, usually I can make a snap judgement pretty quickly and then I just happen to change my decision later as new data becomes available and I happen to come in contact with it. It isn’t as if I sit down and exhaustively calculate whether or not I will enjoy something, rather I make a quick judgement on readily available information to me as to whether I’m interested enough at first glance to investigate further, after which (if I am) I then look for some extra info.

Most things don’t get past that initial first check because I have pretty exacting standards and wildly differing standards for exactly interests me. Most actions films like, say, Transformers 2, have very little information about the quality of the actual film instead giving short snippets of action sequences many of which just aren’t entertaining enough for me to want to invest my time in, considering I’m not much of a generic action film fan.

The last film I paid to see at the cinema was Watchmen, I believe and I only did that because of information I received on various news feeds I read, the fact that I like the comics (which I read based on recommendations from friends and based on my own research into comics since I wanted to see if there were any I might enjoy since I’m generally not a comic book fan but wanted to try something relatively new) and that the trailers and associated marketing material appealed to me, as they didn’t all seem to be portraying just another generic action film. Some material made me reticent to see it, such as finding out the ending was different to the comic, which I found somewhat unnecessary, but I felt that the information I’d gathered, plus the fact I could go see it with friends who wanted to see it as well meant that I’d give it a go. I was glad I did as I enjoyed it very much and have preordered it on bluray.

Musically, I like to try new things quite often, mostly because it’s very easy to do so at basically a zero cost in both effort and time (since I can do stuff at the same time as listening to music) via services such as last.fm and spotify. Occasionally I’ll come across music not available but from a band that sound interesting based on how similar they are to stuff I already like and reviews, etc and I might gamble downloading the mp3’s via amazon or occasionally buying an album if it’s cheap enough or I’m intrigued enough.

Books are very easy for me to ‘gamble’ on, they have an extremely low entrance point, since they need no other equipment to use, just my eyes and hands. They are portable and can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere. I also like reading because I like getting inspiration for my own writing and ideas elsewhere. Books generally inspire me, so intriguing me isn’t that hard, I essentially like books by virtue of them being books so, yeah, low entry barrier there. Saying that, there is an awful lot of books out there I will never read and for most of the reasons I’ve stated for other forms of media, being bad marketing material (cover art, blurb) and bad reviews or me simply not being aware of their existence.

So yes, I’m a miserably, miserly bastard because I do anything without weighing it up against several factors, some subconsciously, some consciously. I really do want to enjoy things, but I have such high standards for what qualifies as enjoyable and such a dislike for the feeling of disappointment that I rarely do anything new at all.

Windows 7 Rant

Okay, so I’ve used Windows 7 a bit on and off and I’m fed up with it. Like all other versions of Windows it’s basically shite.

Why?

Because Microsoft seems to want, for the most part, to not actually be in the computing industry, but more in the ‘computing appliance’ one. Windows 7 I’m sure works great if you have a box built out of 100% certified and Microsoft-approved hardware and you just want to load stuff onto it and use it without a moments thought.

I don’t. I’m running it on a Black Macbook, I want and need to be able to fiddle with various settings and dig under the surface for when things go wrong. I want to understand how my machine is actually doing what it is doing so I can optimise things. I’m a developer, I want and need to access to the tools to tune my system and monitor it, not just from a coding perspective but from a user’s one as well.

Windows 7 just gets in the way, like all the Windows OSes before it, trying to dress things up, hide them away or just refuse to acknowledge they exist so they don’t have to put them in the hands of users. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Yes, Windows 7 is in beta so it can’t be expected to have full driver support for everything but if my linux install can do it, so can Microsoft. I mean seriously, people have to pay for this shit.

Nothing I’ve done has managed to get everything to work on Win7. The performance is abysmal, the sound doesn’t work and the brightness and volume controls don’t work, which is very annoying when suspend turns off your backlight and there is no obvious way to re-enable it. It’s shit like that which I find mindnumbingly irritating. Surely if you could turn it off, you have enough access to the device to turn it on again, why wont you let me?

I’ve tried multiple versions of the boot camp drivers, hacked up drivers, custom drivers. Nothing bloody works and the so called ‘troubleshooting wizard’ just flails around impotently like a blind idiot, flailing at the walls in the hope it might hit something to make things better.

I take back all the nice things I said about Windows 7. It’s nice if you want to buy a computing applicance, not if you want a computer. Then it sucks and it sucks hard.

Minor Rant

Haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been crazy busy, not quite sure what with but it seems like I’m always doing something else and never have enough time for anything recently.

Anyway, the main thing I wanted to talk about was the ridiculous prices of some books I’ve been looking at recently.

As some people might already be aware, I’m working on designing a computer architecture from scratch in my spare time. I’m using Verilog to synthesise the hardware because it’s prohibitively expensive to play around with this kind of thing with discrete logic chips, not to mention difficult and unwieldy. Now, I don’t really know Verilog very well so I’m learning it as I go, I also don’t know much about some kinds of optimisations you can make to do things like binary multiplication happen quickly in hardware. With that in mind, I thought I might buy some books on the subject.

Or not, because they are all over £100!!!

What the hell!? I can understand that there would be a premium on specialist knowledge like that, but what about hobbyists? Self-learning materials are either non-existent or prohibitively expensive or aren’t self-learning materials at all and are instead reference guides for people who are already experts. There are tons of cool things I’d like to learn but don’t have the time or inclination to sit down with a tutor and learn properly. Besides, so far everything job-wise that’s gone right for me has happened as a result of things I’ve taught myself, so paying for education from someone else isn’t something I’m too hot on.

With these issues in mind, I’m going to do my best to document my learning process so that others can follow it. Hopefully someone will find it useful or entertaining in some way.

Bus chavs

A while ago I, among others, were harassed on the bus. Four young boys were yelling verbal abuse at the other riders, spitting at and indeed on them and otherwise behaving in a threatening and antisocial manner. A poor girl sat in front of me got off of the bus nearly in tears, only to have the kids spit at her through the window – I only hope she at least reached her stop and wasn’t driven off the bus early by the savages.

It was impossible for the bus driver not to notice, yet he did nothing. Noone complained, mostly due to fear of drawings the kids attention, especially since the chances of the bus driver taking action seemed pretty slim given he had done nothing at all so far.

The system seems so unfair and unjust, innocent riders like myself have no recourse but to ride out such incidents when the bus driver does nothing and retaliation is feared due to being condemned for assault. Who can we go to for help? The police? Could they even do anything? We feel powerless when those in authority do nothing and any chance of defending ourselves is taken away by fear of being branded a criminal. Does anyone have any faith that if they complained the camera footage would be watched and the kids consequently caughr? The answer is no. Most think little would happen and any justice handed out meaningless. Not only that but also the fear of retribution, what if the kids took revenge for any punishment or investigation against them? They surely saw the people they tormented and could recognise them again.

I myself feel guilty. I might have done something, but one can not help but feel one is making oneself a target for these thugs when you do, and when you have such little faith or hope of a good outcome, fear is a powerful motivator to sit down and hope things don’t get worse.

When did bus drivers stop caring about their passengers wellbeing? When was it ok for things like this to go on unchallenged? When was it that even retaliation and self defence were things to fear, afraid our own protectors would mark us as criminals?

In fact, I asked this very question of the bus company themselves and their response wasn’t very helpful.

Essentially it boiled down to “We can’t do anything and nor can our drivers, call the police and have them deal with it.”

Now, I can understand that they can hardly make it company policy to put their drivers in harms way, nor would I want them to, but the driver is in a position of authority and at the very least, if they don’t want to get into a confrontation they could perhaps call the police themselves from the relative safety of their concealed seating.

The main problem with calling the police as a passenger is that you are in full view of the assailants and you don’t know how they will react. Will they steal your phone and beat you up? Will they stab you? Will they leave and remember your face to come and get you at a later date? You don’t know. There is the additional worry of phoning. Most people don’t know the number for the police directly, they only know 999 and nobody wants to phone 999 so they can essentially say “someone’s picking on me on the bus”. Doing that in and of itself feels like a crime that could put a ‘real’ emergency call at risk of being answered too late and no-one wants to be told of by the emergency services for wasting their time, which I think is actually a crime.

It’s shit like this that fuels my misanthropy.

EVE

Well, I avoided joining my friends in consigning my soul to oblivion today. Today, I was sufficiently bored that I decided I’d try out EVE-Online, a game that until now I’ve avoided like the plague because I know it will consume my soul.

I used to be a massive Frontier: Elite II junkie on the Amiga and spent unhealthy amounts of time on that game. I suspected EVE would do the same, so I made sure to avoid it because I rather like my life as it stands and that will rapidly evapourate to be replaced by all-consuming obsession.

I lucked out though. Running on Linux with a dual-screen set-up has always been a bit of an arse when it comes to games, especially when you are also running compiz. Combined all together, the app wouldn’t run at a reasonable resolution, neither their Linux client, which is actually just the windows one with a crippled version of cedega bundled, nor their Windows version through WINE. The game constantly insisted it had to run at my full desktop resolution (3360×1050) regardless of whether or not I ran it in window mode, in fake fullscreen-in-a-window mode or anything else, making it somewhat unplayable – I couldn’t even log in because due to it’s stupid resolution screwup I couldn’t see the login box to enter stuff into and click login.

Oh well, I am saved at least until I get bored enough to try it again and it happens to be fixed.

Arrrrrgh!!!

I’ve not been a great fan of SUSE but for some reason I installed it on my media box – all the other boxes in the house have Ubuntu on them. I wish hadn’t decided to try out something different, it’s been a nightmare.

SUSE, quite frankly, is shit. I’ve had no end of problems. When I first installed it it managed to fuck up it’s own update repository info so I couldn’t update anything. after fixing that it was a massive bunch of jumping through hoops to get media working properly, fucking around with enabling and disabling various repos and then having to reinstall packages multiple times so it would actually use the correct (read: packman) ones. Then that broke sound-juicer which I discovered (after looking through the source of sound-juicer and the /usr/lib/gstreamer-0.10 directory) as due to giosink missing. You’d think sound-juicer’s fucking error message would say that, but no, all it says is the plugin or file access is not installed – check the documentation. What plugin? How am I meant to know what that is? There is a metric fuck-ton of gstreamer plugins that deal with file access as far as I can tell, which one do you want that isn’t there? And what documentation? The sound-juicer docs? The gstreamer docs? And where would I find either of these?

FUCK YOU sound-juicer! You vague, mocking bastard!

So, I googled to find where to get the giosink plugin. It’s in the ‘base’ set of plugins, or should be but apparently not in the packman version. Fuck. So I downloaded the original SUSE version, extracted the giosink .so file out of it using a horrible bunch of rpm2cpio and cpio commands and copied that into my systems gstreamer plugin dir.

Thank you so much SUSE, sound-juicer and packman for wasting my time.