Northern Lights

Holy cow. There’s a massive solar flare going on right now, and the Northern Lights are visible here in Edinburgh, even in town, with all of the city’s background light. Wow. I’ve never seen a display like this one before.

Apparently it’s set to last for another night or two, and the Aurora may be visible quite far South. If you happen to have a clear night, get yourself outside and have a look.

Ashes to ashes, dust to blogs

One blog back from the dead, and a new blog that has arisen from the ashes of a newsletter.

First up, the Barenaked Ladies started a blog when they were recording their new album (Everything to Everyone) in LA earlier this year. It went quiet after they’d finished recording, but the blog now has a spiffy new look, and they’ve started posting again. Yay! (And their blogging software even appears to have been updated to allow multiple paragraphs in a single post! Wow!)

Secondly, Amy Gahran used to write the “Contentious” newsletter which focussed on writing content for on-line media. It went quiet about a year ago, but Amy has now started it up again, as a blog. (Note that the old newsletter archives are still available, and still worth reading.) Well worth tracking.

Bob The Builder Builds A Park

Bob Builds a ParkCan someone please explain to me why the PC game “Bob The Builder: Bob Builds A Park” needs Administrator rights on my PC to run?

Alex (2 and a half years old) has his own login on the PC, with restricted permissions. He knows how to log in on his own (his account doesn’t have a password). He has learned to double-click, and is getting the hang of drag-and-drop. He knows how to open the Start menu. If I give him Administrator rights, I dread to think what damage he could do to the system. (I can just hear him saying, “Alex delete it!”)

So why does a simple game, whose target audience is clearly toddlers and small children, demand that I grant a two-year-old full and complete control over my PC? Methinks the programmers need to learn about developing code as a non-admin.

Big Books Bad

After buying a US import copy of Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver almost as soon as it was released, I’m now ready to give up on it. I’ve read the first 200 pages, and I can’t stand the thought of another 800. It’s too damned dull.

Amazon is full of mixed reviews for the book. Plenty of people are of the same opinion as I am, namely that it’s a tedious slog. Others, who have liked the book, make macho statements like “recommended, but not to the faint-hearted” and belch tough-guy exhortations to “put in the effort.”

Well, nuts to that. The fact that they feel the need to trumpet their own heroic struggles to finish it is a) pretentious, and b) shows that no matter how worthwhile it may be in the end, it still is a slog. Don’t try to make me feel like a wimp for wanting to be entertained by a book I’ve laid out twenty quid for.

I’ve been stuck on it for four weeks now. Every time I want to sit down and read something, I take a look at its cover and ask myself: “can I really be bothered with another few pages, or will I just stare mindlessly into space instead?”

Staring into space usually wins. This is why I’ve only managed to get through 200 pages of it. And because I don’t like reading more than one (fiction) book at once, this is all the fiction I’ve read in that time. I feel constipated in the head. What a fucking waste of a month’s bus journeys.

This experience makes me less inclined to start reading any other big books. If I choose to invest my time getting involved with a set of characters and the world they live in, then I want a proportionate pay-back. I can easily make it through a short novel (300-400 pages, in the current publishing climate) in a week. I find that a nice, comfortable time to spend with a book. I love spending a lazy afternoon reading a novel cover-to-cover, but with a toddler running around the house that doesn’t happen very often. No, a week is fine by me.

But if I have to wade through six, seven, or eight hundred pages over the course of a fortnight or more, then that book had damn well better be extraordinary.

If the page count of a book were a measure of its quality, or of how much I am likely to enjoy it, then it would make sense to play those odds. I’d read more bigger books. But that isn’t the case. No matter how many reviews I scan or recommendations I get, I don’t know how much I’ll like a book until I actually read it. So by reading doorstops I’m actually reducing the average amount of enjoyment I derive from fiction. Hmm.

(If I take that argument too far, though, I’d end up reading nothing but short stories. That doesn’t work for me, either, so there’s clearly some happy medium to be found.)

My reading diet has recently consisted mainly of science fiction. I think it’s about time that I hunkered down with a few good 300-page mysteries. China Mieville’s 860-page Perdido Street Station is just going to have to wait. John Sandford has a new Prey book out, though, and Robert B. Parker has a new Spenser coming up next week. Reviews suggest that they’re good, but not the best in their respective series. But I know for certain that I’m going to enjoy them, and that their pleasure-to-effort ratio is going to be high. That’s what I want right now.

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Quiet time

I know I’ve been quiet here of late. Three main reasons for this: visitors, notice period, and Tiger Woods 2004.

Visitor-wise, we had Julian up from the far South the weekend before last, and right now we have Abi’s mom staying with us for a fortnight. Blogging is a social activity, but in a virtual context. My computer sits in our living room, and when I’m at the keyboard I have my back turned to the sofas. This is fine when Alex is off to bed and Abi is binding books at the dining room table, but it’s not terribly conversation-friendly when we have guests around.

Then there is the notice period. I handed in my resignation letter at work three weeks ago, and I still have one week of notice period left to work there before leaving. I don’t know how other people feel about it, but I hate working out notice periods. I’m not going to talk about the reasons for leaving my current job, save to say that I was experiencing a certain amount of dissatisfaction with it.

Knowing that I’m going to be starting a new job could have given me the mental resilience to just soldier on for those four weeks, knowing that I didn’t have to be dissatisfied forever, and that fresh challenges lay just around the corner. It didn’t, though. It just made impatient about having to wait four weeks before being allowed to leave all my niggles and gripes behind. It’s like winning the lottery, and then being told that you can’t access your millions until you retire in thirty or forty years’ time.

Well, maybe not that bad, but…WANT INSTANT GRATIFICATION NOW!

I could cultivate a “not my problem any more” attitude, and glide through every working day with the intent of achieving as little as possible, but that’s just not me. Forcing myself to come up with 100% every day, though, is turning into a struggle.

And so in my spare time I have been doing everything I can to leave work behind me. It’s a containment strategy to stop my 9-5 worries from dragging down the rest the hours in the day. Hence: Tiger Woods 2004. Man, that game rocks.

Tiger Woods 2004It’s easy to pick up and play, has lovely graphics and well-rendered courses, and above all is immensely absorbing. It usually takes me a little under half an hour to play round 18 holes. Tackling one of the 4-round PGA tournaments takes 2 hours. As you win more money in tournaments and other matches, you can gradually increase the statistics and abilities of your character. Also, there are hundreds of items to unlock throughout the game, from clubs that give extra power and accuracy to your shots, through to lucky shirts and socks that improve your chances of landing in favourable positions in the rough.

So I’ve been losing myself in the land of virtual golf for up to three or four hours an evening. Hasn’t left much time for blogging. But you know what? The rest of the web gets on just fine without me. Wow. Fancy that.