Archive for August 2013

So, the Peace Prize President is itching to bomb Syria.

At least there’ll be one good thing to say about his Presidency: no-one will ever be able to take a Nobel Peace Prize seriously again.

Our Eee PC netbook broke. We’ve had it for several years, upgraded with more RAM, and SSD and Linux replacing Windows. Lately it’s started repeating keys that weren’t pressed, making it very hard to use. We ordered a new keyboard, but have no idea whether it’s going to fix the problem; one web post I found claimed the keyboard chip fails after a few years on that model, so we’ll see if that’s the case.

We have two problems if that’s not. Firstly, Asus has apparently said it’s stopping making netbooks after the current generation. Secondly, the current generation of Atom CPUs has an integrated graphics chip for which Intel won’t release open source drivers. So they can’t run Linux.

The future is apparently Chromebooks. Let’s see, a cheap, low-end x86 running a Linux derivative from a small SSD, intended to work primarily with web apps and remote storage.

Hey, that’s what we used to call a netbook, before Microsoft got scared and started giving copies of Windows to netbook manufacturers to convince them to move off of Linux. That’s when they became bloated and swapped SSDs for hard drives that helped make them uncompetitive with faster laptops.

Anyway, that’s an aside. Since we may have to replace the netbook if the keyboard doesn’t fix it, I’ve been looking at what’s available right now.

There are a number of small laptops in a similar price range: the Acer V5, for example. Unfortunately they’re larger, have more power-hungry CPUs and larger but worse keyboards.

But, worst of all, they run Windows 8.

Not that it matters to me, because I’d be sticking in an SSD and installing Linux. But that did mean I actually got a chance to try the Microsoft abomination for myself.

It’s actually worse than I imagined. I hadn’t realised just how much the lack of a Start menu crippled the operating system. All I wanted to do was run notepad so I could type some text and see how well the keyboard worked.

So, how do you run notepad from the desktop? Uh, yeah, there’s no start menu. Um?

Fortunately I knew the Windows key would go to the stupid Metro screen. But then, where’s notepad? There are weather apps and all kinds of other crap that I have no interest in, but notepad? Nowhere to be seen.

Fortunately I knew I could press Windows+R and type ‘notepad’ to start it. But WTF? What kind of windowing system expects people to enter arcane keyboard commands just to start a simple text editor? Who ever thought that was a good idea? Who signed off on this crap?

Five hours played and 19% through the game. It’s definitely more fun now I’m past the cut-scenes and collecting super powers.

Is here.

I’m about 5% of the way through the game, and so far it’s been fun but has a few too many cut-scenes and quick-time events for my liking. I’d hoped it would import the SR3 character directly, but had to do it by creating an account on the Saints Row site and uploading them there.

I like the idea, and I did like the 1950s Steelport, but I thought more could have been made of that. I also liked that it seems to be poking fun at a number of other games along the way.

I remember when going to Mars seemed exciting.

When I was a kid, we read books and watched TV shows about a Mars with canals and bikini-clad princesses, or Martians who wanted to invade the Earth in tripods or by controlling cloned humans.

But, even by then, science already knew that most of those stories were false. The earliest Martian flybys told us that the planet was too cold and the atmosphere too thin to support life much beyond primitive plants. Then, not long after, the Viking landers closed even that loophole when they showed the surface to be an arid desert.

Yet, much of the spaceflight community is still following the old script, first humans land on the Moon, then on Mars. The script made sense when those bikini-clad princesses needed to be rescued from Martian tripods, but not now Mars is just a rock. Any useful resources there are likely to be retrieved more easily from asteroids and moons with much lower gravity where you can use propulsion more efficient than chemical rockets.

It just makes no sense as anything other than an Apollo-style flag-waving exercise. We’d do far better to begin by colonising asteroids whose materials can be used to build more optimal habitats in free space.

I’m twelve thousand words into the first prequel to Petrina. Originally the two were to be a single novel, but I quickly realised I had two different stories in the same book and had to split them out; hence two prequels instead of one.

One of the difficult things I find in writing is getting half-way through a scene and realising that it’s pointless and boring. You need something to go in the story there, but the scene you’re writing has no reason to exist other than filler. Do you throw it out? Do you rewrite it? Do you need to change the next scene so you don’t need to fill the gap?

The good part comes when you suddenly realize not only what’s missing from that scene, but that the element you’re adding is actually going to fill in some plot holes later where you couldn’t justify a character’s actions. Suddenly it all comes together and you can race through five thousand words to the next roadblock.

Remember when photocopiers just copied what you put on them?

Xerox copiers rewrite documents

Not any more. Thanks to the miracle of modern software, some models are compressing the scanned image and then printing from the compressed file, which just happens to corrupt numbers during the compression process.

The more software is introduced into simple physical processes, the less robust the world becomes. And we end up with photocopiers which can’t do the very thing they’re designed for: producing a copy of the documents you feed into them.

Is it just me, or is youtube nearly useless these days? About half the videos I click on are ‘currently unavailable’, whatever that is supposed to mean.


Diff PDF comparing versions

Just discovered this program today, which is included in the Linux Mint repositories. It’s insanely useful for checking Createspace PDF files, as it shows all the differences between the new version and the old version; if you’re just changing a typo or a few poorly phrased words you can verify that everything else is the same as the previous version without requiring a full proofreading session.

Whenever someone says ‘X is considered good/bad/indifferent’, the correct response is ‘By whom, exactly?’

The answer will almost certainly be by be someone who has a vested interested in that position. The passive voice is a lame attempt to hide that fact.

Petrina at #40

Looks like I was wrong: today it hit #40 in free SF on, #926 in all free books on, #694 on and #420 on

I’ll be interested to see whether the free weekend still has any impact after it goes back to paid tomorrow morning. It’s certainly given away far more copies than any previous free promotion I’ve run on other books.

Now it’s time to get writing the next book. Ok, it’s a prequel, so I guess that makes it a previous book :).

Looks like it may have peaked at #1049 in free books and #42 in free SF on; it’s started to drop back now.

Not so bad, but I’d hoped to at least get into the top thousand; not so easy in a genre less popular than romance and thrillers.

Yes, Tartarus is gone for now. Not because it’s a bad novel per se — it just got its first review at four stars — but in the long term I want to make it part of a series and that means a major rewrite so the style and voice will be consistent with the rest of the series. The story will remain basically the same.

Every day I left it up made changing things harder as more people read it.

In the morning, Petrina is up to #43 in free SF and #4 in free hard SF. Wonder whether that’s the peak or it will continue climbing? It’s a shame Amazon don’t show the free rank on the Author Central site, so I can’t tell whether it was higher at any point overnight.

Is now up to #49 in free SF books on and #5 in free hard SF books. I’ll be interested to see where it is in the morning…

Petrina — a near future SF novel of pirates, Monks, bounty hunters and a kidnapped hamster — is free on Amazon until Sunday night. Currently it seems to be #16 in the Hard SF free list on Amazon UK.

Grab it while you can:

Petrina cover

“Hello? Hello?” Sameer muttered into the suit mike. He’d tied the drone securely to the Big Momma with more ropes. It was d*mn cool, and if they survived, he was going to keep it as his personal toy.

He looked around the outside of the ship, and noticed the outer airlock hatch unlatch and begin to open. They clearly hadn’t fully depressurized it first, because a thin spray of air and water vapour spewed out into space.

Followed by three bodies.

It’s New Year’s Eve, 2091. Party time at the Heavenly Retreat habitat, The Sleaziest Place In The Solar SystemTM.

Although his instincts tell him it’s a scam, Brother Thomas hopes he has an easy job, collecting an exotic experience recording for the Abbot. But when he steps out of the monastery into the World, his blood-soaked past returns to haunt him.

Peter Kaine thinks he’s found an easy job, tidying up after a messy divorce. But the unwritten rule of bounty hunting is that your second client is never as easy as the first.

The crew of the space freighter Big Momma think they’ve found an easy job, carrying cargo from the Heavenly Retreat to the backwater asteroid of Petrina. But life is never easy around the kind of passengers willing to pay for a cabin on their ship.

For future reference, when you’ve updated your Libreoffice document so everything uses paragraph and character styles and there should be no direct formatting, and you think, ‘OK, now I’m going to use Clear Direct Formatting to remove any remaining formatting and I’ll fix it up if I missed any’…


Clear Direct Formatting doesn’t just clear formatting, it also removes all your page breaks between chapters. So then you have to go back and put them all in again.

Because that’s just such an obvious side-effect of selecting it.

It also seems to have changed some of the text into a different style, for good measure. What a pain.