Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Go read all about how the US government determines whether someone should be listed as a suspected terrorist, denied the right to fly on airlines, and so on.  It's Orwellian!  Nowhere will you find any mention of civil rights, due process, or judicial overview.

Big Brother . . . he's worse than Orwell ever imagined.


In Memoriam: Group Captain Peter Petter-Bowyer

I wrote in May about the development of the Alpha cluster bomblet in Rhodesia during that country's brief and violent existence.  The person most responsible for its development was Peter Petter-Bowyer, who rose to the rank of Group Captain (equivalent to Colonel) before Rhodesia lost its war and became Zimbabwe.  I wasn't aware when I wrote those words that he had died a couple of months before.  It seems he had an allergic reaction to treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

I had the privilege of meeting Group Captain Petter-Bowyer on more than one occasion in South Africa during the 1980's.  He was a most interesting man, with all sorts of stories to tell and many accomplishments to his name.  Apart from being an operational fighter and helicopter pilot with vast experience, he also helped to design a range of deceptively simple, low-cost yet amazingly effective air-dropped weapons that were well suited to manufacture in a low-technology economy such as Rhodesia's, and perfectly adapted to counter-insurgency warfare.  They included:

  • The aforementioned Alpha bomb, later further developed by South Africa into the CB470 cluster bomb;
  • The Golf bomb, which resembled nothing so much as a gas cylinder with a long probe on the nose (to ensure an air burst rather than allowing the bomb to bury itself in the ground) and tail fins at the rear.  It had a double casing, the space between them being filled with thousands of short pieces of scrap rebar, making it a horrendously effective shrapnel device.  Filled with ANFO, they proved devastating in combat.  The large version equipped Hunter fighter-bombers.  A smaller version was developed to equip light aircraft such as the Reims 337 (a French-manufactured version of the Cessna Skymaster, used by the US armed forces as the O-2A).  Here's a picture of a Reims 337, known as the Lynx in Rhodesian service.  The small-model Golf bomb is beneath its starboard wing, with its long nose probe clearly visible.  (Note, too, the .30-caliber machine-guns installed in pods above the wings.  Click the image for a larger view.)

  • The Frantan, a small but highly lethal napalm bomb.  "It was made from woven glass fibre set in a phenolic resin binder & was aerodynamically shaped, incorporating tail fins for stability. It contained, when filled, 16gall of napgel & had a large pocket of flash powder to ignite all the napgel. Improved initiation was achieved by using two slightly modified Alpha bomb fuses. The improved accuracy of delivery, the complete shattering of the case on impact, the total ignition of the napgel & the improved & predictable ground spread made this frantan ideal. This improvement was such that it was even used by Hunter aircraft in preference to the imported 50gall frantan, which gave inferior performance."  (A Frantan is mounted on the outboard pylon beneath the port wing of the Lynx aircraft pictured above.)
  • Several other innovative air weaponry solutions.

Group Captain Petter-Bowyer's autobiography, 'Winds Of Destruction', is an excellent memoir of his military service and a fine history of the Rhodesian Air Force.  For all that it was small and ill-equipped, this air arm performed a vital function during Rhodesia's gallant and ill-fated war, and established a stellar reputation among fighting airmen everywhere.  I highly recommend his book as essential reading for all military aviation enthusiasts - and it's available in an inexpensive Kindle edition, which makes it even more accessible.  You can also read an extended interview with him here.

I feel a very personal sense of loss at the news of Peter Petter-Bowyer's death.  He was a remarkable man.  I'm honored to have known him.


Boys (dumb ones) and their (explosive) toys

PJ Media recently put up an article titled 'The 10 Dumbest Fireworks Fails'.  They were dumb, all right!  Here's one to whet your appetite.

There are nine more video clips at the link.  Entertaining . . . but dumb!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tokyo to San Francisco in 83 seconds

Here's a time-lapse video shot from the cockpit of a Boeing 747 airliner on a flight from Tokyo to San Francisco, speeded up to portray the entire flight in just 83 seconds.  The sunrise starting at 0m. 43sec. is spectacular!  I recommend watching in full-screen mode.


Kindle Unlimited: changing the reading game?

There's a lot of controversy among authors (particularly independent authors such as myself) about the likely impact of Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program.  Briefly, for those who haven't yet heard about it, it's a subscription library for e-books.  You pay $9.95 per month, and can 'borrow' up to 10 books at a time.  As soon as you finish one and 'return' it, you can download another.

Authors have to enroll in the KDP Select program, publishing their books exclusively through, in order to participate in Kindle Unlimited.  They'll receive a fee per book borrowed (provided that the borrower reads more than 10% of it), and the loan will count towards their sales rank in's Kindle Store.  In the past, with the much more limited Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) program for Prime members (which will continue), authors received a fee every time their book was borrowed, whether or not it was read.  That fee averaged about $2 per loan, but I expect the much greater volumes of borrowing likely to be generated by Kindle Unlimited will make it impossible for Amazon to continue that level of support.  I expect the amount paid to authors per loan to drop by at least 50% in the short term, perhaps by as much as two-thirds to three-quarters.  If this reduction is compensated for by increased borrowing, that might not be too bad;  but I suspect it'll end up costing authors money.

There's a lot of controversy in the author community right now over Kindle Unlimited.  Some fear it'll mean a default subscription model for independent authors, forcing them into membership in order to attract sufficient readers to earn a living - even though their income per book will (they suspect) be drastically reduced.  Others see it as an opportunity, promising an additional income stream that should more than compensate for any reduction in sales.  I suspect those who are already doing well will fall into the second camp, while those who aren't selling many books will probably gravitate towards the first.

However, I think that such controversies are missing the point.  Remember the fabled buggy whip industry?  It's long been taught in business schools that many companies making accessories for the horse-drawn transport market went out of business when the automobile came along because they misunderstood their market.  They thought they were in (say) the buggy or wagon business, when in fact they were in the transport business.  When a new mode of transport replaced an older one, their 'blinkered' approach prevented them from adapting in time to the changing market, and they went out of business.

In the same way, I think that authors must realize that we're not in the book business;  we're in the entertainment business.  Our potential customers can choose to spend their money on a movie (at a theater, or downloaded from a service like Netflix, or on a DVD);  they can buy or rent a video game;  they can invest in virtual reality hardware and software to immerse themselves in new and up-and-coming forms of entertainment;  they can watch (or attend) a music concert or band performance;  or they can read a book.  We're competing for the reader's 'entertainment dollar' with all of those other resources.

I think Amazon may be on to something with Kindle Unlimited.  They view the book market from a very lofty vantage-point indeed.  They can see where entertainment customers are spending their dollars.  They know that in order to keep books and reading relevant to modern consumers, they have to be offered in more easily accessible forms - and 'accessible' includes price, when comparing books to other forms of entertainment.  Amazon's putting pressure on mainstream publishers to lower the prices of their e-books, and rightly so, I think;  but it's also looking at the overall market and trying to figure out how it can get more books into the hands of more readers, to the benefit of the book segment of the entertainment market overall.  It's taking the broad view.  Many of my fellow independent authors are instead taking the narrow view that "if it's not good for me, it's not good, period".  I think there are many avid readers who'll look at the economics of Kindle Unlimited and disagree profoundly that it's "not good".  For them as readers, it's very good economics indeed.

That means that we, as independent authors, have to adjust our business model.  We probably can't expect to make as much per book - so what can we do to maximize our income in this new age of entertainment?  Can we introduce different formats of our work - audio books, for example?  Can we use collections, both our own and collaborating with other authors, to put out our work under more covers and make it more accessible to readers?  Can we develop skills in new areas (e.g. moving from novels to novellas to short stories and back again, varying our output so as to appeal to as many potential readers as possible)?  Are we going to be guilty of the "buggy whip industry" syndrome, or will we adapt to the new technologies that are changing the world around us?

We have to be realistic.  As an old African proverb reminds us:  "It's no good farting against thunder."  We've got to ride the winds of the storm, and make sure we come out ahead - no matter where it takes us.  Kindle Unlimited is just the latest manifestation of the storm that's sweeping the entertainment industry throughout the world.  I'm sure our children will be entertained in ways we can only dream of, and that I won't live to see - but I'm sure there'll still be authors, and they'll still be making a living one way or another.


Beware Google's obsessive e-mail security mindset

I learned a lesson this morning, one that's going to take a while (certainly days, perhaps weeks) to sort out.

When I sat down at the computer this morning, our Internet service was out.  A message appeared on screen asking the account holder (our housemate) to contact the service provider about unspecified issues.  (It turned out that a re-issued credit card with a change of expiration date had screwed up the billing and payment cycle, and we'd been caught in the backwash.)  It's going to take a day or two to sort that out.

While waiting (because Internet access is essential for my writing and blogging) I picked up a T-Mobile 4G mobile hotspot from our local Wal-Mart.  It comes with a traffic allowance of 5GB of 4G data, valid for three months from date of installation, which made it by far the most cost-effective option.  Setup was quick and easy, and the only problem I had was rapidly resolved with a telephone call to T-Mobile's unexpectedly helpful and friendly support desk.  (What a contrast with AT&T and Verizon, who appear to staff their help desks with gormless goblins that can only be reached after interminable delays and infuriatingly unhelpful menu systems!)  I was soon back on the Internet and humming right along . . . until I tried to read my e-mail.

Google's Gmail apparently has a persecution complex.  It wouldn't allow me to access a single one of my multiple accounts (used to segregate different types of e-mail), because the IP address and ISP from which I was trying to reach them were new and unfamiliar.  Very fortunately the e-mail account I use to sign into Blogger, and the one I use for most business activities, had been set up to use two-step verification;  so after requesting that an authentication code be sent to my cellphone, I soon had them both up and running.  I hadn't done that for the others, so I find myself barred from access to them at present - including the one I use for readers wishing to contact me from this blog.  I've no idea how to go about resetting them.  Google's asking all sorts of 'security questions' that I have no idea how to answer.  It's ridiculous to ask me what year and month I opened an account when it was over a decade ago and I have no particular memory of it!  I didn't ask for all those additional layers of security, and I'm annoyed that Google implemented them without so much as a 'by your leave'.

I now find myself stuck in administrative limbo until such time as I can figure out who to contact at Google to 'unfreeze' those e-mail accounts.  (If anyone can offer suggestions as to the best and quickest way to do this, I'd love to hear from you in Comments;  but please don't e-mail me, because I probably won't receive it!)  When the dust has settled and everything's back online, I'll implement two-step verification on all my accounts;  but I shouldn't have to do so.  I resent Google making assumptions about my accounts when it has no idea what's going on.  Why should I have to go through such additional, intrusive steps when I didn't ask for that level of security?  If I hadn't implemented two-step verification on two key accounts, I'd be in serious difficulties right now.

Oh, well . . . at least I'm back online.  That helps!


Kittens in unison!

Here are seven kittens from the Triskel Maine Coon cattery in Quebec.  They were lined up for a group picture when one of the staff decided to wave a toy over and around them.  The resulting synchronized kitty-gymnastics made me smile.

Olympic class synchronized hunting, right there!


Monday, July 21, 2014

So much for salad bars . . .

I had to laugh at an article titled 'How Chinese Ingenuity Destroyed Salad Bars at Pizza Hut'.

In China, Pizza Huts are either take-out only or somewhat upscale sit-down restaurants that even serve steak. A while back, it became a fad of sorts to build enormous fruit and vegetable structures at Pizza Hut salad bars. The reason was that customers only got one plate and one trip to the salad bar, so they wanted their visit to be worth it. And was it ever.

The result was truly amazing and wonderfully creative plates of food.

There's more at the link, including many photographs.  Here's just one to whet your appetite.

There's even a YouTube video showing how it's done.

Yeah, I can see why they stopped offering the salad bar!


Yet another reason to avoid keeping private information on a smartphone

Ars Technica warns that functions in Apple's iOS permit unrestricted access to your confidential data.

Apple has endowed iPhones with undocumented functions that allow unauthorized people in privileged positions to wirelessly connect and harvest pictures, text messages, and other sensitive data without entering a password or PIN, a forensic scientist warned over the weekend.

Jonathan Zdziarski, an iOS jailbreaker and forensic expert, told attendees of the Hope X conference that he can't be sure Apple engineers enabled the mechanisms with the intention of accommodating surveillance by the National Security Agency and law enforcement groups. Still, he said some of the services serve little or no purpose other than to make huge amounts of data available to anyone who has access to a computer, alarm clock, or other device that has ever been paired with a targeted device.

There's more at the link.

One wonders why on earth such 'backdoors' were left open in the first place.  Could it have been to accommodate three-letter government agencies such as the NSA?  Surely not?


If you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills . . .


A game-changer in battlefield artillery support?

There's been intense interest in the discovery of a new Israeli implementation of its Spike NLOS (Non Line Of Sight) long-range battlefield missile system during its current operations in and around Gaza.  Israel appears to have taken a number of its older-generation Magach tanks (themselves upgrades of US M48 and M60 tanks, no longer in front-line service with the IDF) and given them new turrets containing large quantities of these precision missiles.  The cannon appears to have been replaced by a dummy unit, judging by the way it droops in some of the photographs doing the rounds.  (It would probably have been easier to remove it entirely, but I suppose it helps mislead the enemy as to the nature of the tanks seen running around the battlefield, concealing the precision fire support role of the new units.)

Here are several images of the new Magach version gleaned from the Internet over the past few days.  They've appeared in so many different publications and on so many different sites that I've no idea who to credit for them.  I apologize for any inadvertent breach of copyright, and will put up a credit to the originator if that can be proved.

Note the raised blocky antenna structure in the third picture above.  That appears to be a key element of the missile guidance system.  In the picture below (of an Israeli M113-based system) you can see the three-missile launch unit ahead of its guidance unit.  Note the similarity to the curved metal plate antenna shown above.

Note also the number of missile containers revealed in the last of the four Magach pictures above.  It suggests the new missile carriers are armed with at least a dozen Spike NLOS missiles, perhaps more, all protected by the tank's heavy armor.  That's a pretty impressive payload when you consider what this missile can do.

The NLOS is the longest-ranged version of the Spike missile family.  It's widely claimed to have a range in excess of 25 kilometers (16 miles).  Here's a picture of four Spike NLOS missiles in service with South Korea.  They're on the back of a truck during a parade.  Note the large cruciform wing structure.

Those wings enable the NLOS to fly more slowly than the shorter-ranged, smaller models of the Spike family, so that it can be guided very precisely using either its own sensor, or those on board battlefield drone aircraft or deployed by ground observers.  It can be autonomous, guiding itself, or controlled by an operator.  Here's an Israeli video showing one being deployed at long range in southern Lebanon against a Hezbollah stronghold.  Note how it homes in on a specific window in the target building from 20 km (12½ miles) away.  That's outstanding precision by anyone's standards.

To my mind the interesting thing isn't the missile (which has been around for a long time, and is now in its second or third generation);  nor is it the modified tank that's carrying it.  I'm interested in seeing how this development affects battlefield doctrine and tactics.  For years infantry and armor have relied on artillery support.  Some has been local (mortars, light rockets and small missiles carried by platoons and companies;  forward-deployed light artillery;  self-propelled artillery and heavy mortars accompanying tanks, or following close behind them).  More has been distant (emplaced artillery firing on enemy positions reported to it by front-line troops or artillery observers accompanying them).  Still more has been in the form of aircraft dropping bombs or firing missiles or cannon.

If sufficient quantities of a high-accuracy precision weapon like Spike NLOS can be carried by the front-line troops themselves, in vehicles that are as resistant to enemy fire as the main battle tanks that will bear the brunt of the fighting, this means that a great deal of the support artillery 'tail' can be left out of the equation.  Front-line commanders now have under their control their own organic artillery support.  Collateral damage will be minimized, because each missile can be very precisely guided (as shown in the video above).  This will also reduce to a minimum the wastage of ammunition normally encountered with conventional artillery, where dozens or scores of rounds must be fired to neutralize a single target.  Spike NLOS effectively makes this "one missile, one target", thereby greatly reducing the quantity of (very heavy and bulky) ammunition resupply needed in the battle zone.  In fact, since they're well protected by their own armor and accompanying infantry support, missile tanks may even be able to go back to pick up more weapons under their own power, then return to the front lines, thus reducing the need for hazardous resupply by truck or helicopter.

It goes even further.  Spike NLOS and similar missiles can be (and have been) mounted on patrol boats to secure the coastline.  What if an army unit is operating near the coast, and has in its possession the consoles and control software needed to take over control of missiles fired from vessels just offshore, directing them onto targets only the army can see?  Gaza is just such a fight, with the Mediterranean Sea only a few miles from the fighting.  This might be a huge force multiplier for the IDF.  In theory a fleet of patrol craft can carry dozens, scores, even hundreds of such missiles, launching them on demand.  The army's own missiles can be held in reserve, or deployed to more distant areas where naval-launched missiles can't reach.

This may be a technological game-changer as far as company- and battalion-strength operations are concerned, eliminating much of the conventional supporting artillery 'tail' and empowering such formations to proceed independently at much greater speed than before - not to mention inflicting much greater surgical-strike precision damage on the enemy.  I'll be watching with great interest to see how this evolves under operational conditions.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Around The Blogs 2014-07-20, Part 2

Here are the rest of my links from the past couple of weeks.  I put up most of them in Part 1 of this article this morning.

# # #

CenTexTim dedicates a special song to his second ex-wife.

I've got some painful dental work due tomorrow, so his 'Sunday Funnies' this morning, dealing with dentists, was peculiarly appropriate.  This one in particular made me wince.

A man walks into the dentist's office and after the dentist examines him, he says, "that tooth has to come out. I'm going to give you a shot of Novocain and I'll be back in a few minutes."

The man grabs the dentist's arm, "no way. I hate needles I'm not having any shot!"

So the dentist says, "okay, we'll have to go with the gas."

The man replies, "absolutely not. It makes me very sick for a couple of days. I'm not having gas."

So the dentist steps out and comes back with a glass of water, "here," he says. "Take this pill."

The man asks "What is it?"

The doc replies, "Viagra."

The man looks surprised, "will that kill the pain?" he asks.

"No," replies the dentist, "but it will give you something to hang on to while I pull your tooth!"

More at the link.

# # #

Bubblehead Les makes some good points about ammunition supply and stocking up, following a similar point I made last week.

# # #

Francis Porretto discusses what he calls 'strifings' - the increased dissension within the US body politic caused by the migration of affairs from the private to the public forum.  Here's a brief excerpt.

Politics is strife. Every subject that becomes a political subject therefore becomes a battlefield as well.

It's not hard to see the dynamic. Let some subject be politicized: for example, the physical sustenance of persons who can't support themselves, a.k.a. "the poor." What follows from the decision that this is properly a responsibility of some government?

. . .

Each of these [elements] will become a subject of contention in the polity that's been charged with the decisions. Given that a political decision inherently creates "winners" and "losers," we may expect the losers to fight to reverse the decision and the "winners" to labor to solidify and enlarge their gains.

Now apply that dynamic to a society in which nothing is deemed a private matter -- where all personal choices and all modes and manners of interaction with others, regardless of motivations are considered political, at least potentially. Over what shall we not quarrel?

There's more at the link.  Thought-provoking reading.

# # #

Wirecutter posted his rules of civility - what he expects from others in terms of respect for himself, his family and his property.  He sometimes comes across as abrasive, but I expect that if I didn't get similar civility from others, I might get a bit that way, too.

He followed that post a couple of days later with a link to a theory of social interaction I'd heard before - 'The Rules Of Sewage'.  It was a fairly well-known meme in Southern Africa during my earlier years.  I was glad to be reminded of it.

Both articles are well worth reading, and pondering.  Why is it that we've moved so far away from the norms of civility in which we were raised?  I know that if I behaved less than civilly towards anyone, unless they thoroughly deserved it, my Dad would have administered a thorough thrashing to remind me of my place and the standards he required me to observe.  Nowadays that would get him arrested:  but frankly, I think I'm a better person for it.  (Yes, I know, that's a matter of opinion . . . )

# # #

The Lonely Libertarian links to an article about new ACORN affiliates in the border States.  Taking it in tandem with the article from the Silicon Graybeard linked in Part 1 of this article, it certainly looks as if the whole swarm of illegal aliens crossing our borders has been orchestrated by the same assholes that were trying to organize millions of fraudulent votes a couple of elections ago.  Looks like leopards don't change their spots when they're exposed - they just go underground and emerge with a different disguise.

# # #

That's all from my meanderings around the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks.  More soon!


Around The Blogs 2014-07-20, Part 1

Having missed an Around The Blogs entry last weekend, there are a lot of links to be included today;  so I'm going to do it in two parts.  Look for the second this evening or tomorrow, depending on how my day goes.

# # #

The Silicon Graybeard discovers that the so-called 'Baptist Child and Family Services' that was supposed to get a $50 million contract from the US government to convert an unused resort into accommodation for illegal alien children is . . . wait for it . . . nothing more than a reincarnation of the thoroughly discredited ACORN.  It looks like the whole thing was nothing more than a nefarious scheme to funnel taxpayer money to an ultra-progressive, undemocratic political pressure group.

So much for the government being here to help us.  Looks like the far Left are treating government as being here so they can help themselves - to our money!

# # #

Karl Denninger points out that while the economics of diesels in small vehicles appear outwardly attractive, "the problem is that today the financial aspect of diesel ownership simply doesn't make any sense.  The culprit comes from two elements that turn on intentional design decisions of the manufacturers ... I speak specifically of the decision to design fuel injection systems that have failure modes that inevitably cascade through the entire fuel system, along with emissions decisions that are utterly destructive to vehicle value."  He goes into detail about both issues, and raises important questions.  If you're considering buying a diesel-engined vehicle for typical commuting and consumer use, you really should read what he has to say.

# # #

Jeff Soyer notes that a major study on gun violence is missing a key word.

# # #

This article appeared a couple of weeks ago, but is very relevant given current events in Gaza.  American Mercenary takes a look at Israel's Iron Dome defensive system, and observes that "In terms of creating a lasting peace, being on the defensive is a losing proposition."

# # #

Doug Ross describes how he'd conduct a Presidential campaign if he were Ted Cruz.  I agree with  him, on the grounds that it'd shake up the 'usual suspects' as few other things would!  It'd thoroughly annoy (not to mention frighten) both the Republican and Democratic party establishments - something worth doing in itself, irrespective of Presidential ambitions.

# # #

Wirecutter has dire suspicions about a traffic accident.  He also reveals himself to be a caring soul . . . sort of.

# # #

Sarah Hoyt asks, "Who are you gonna believe?"  Her article's a searing indictment of the way in which the truth is "spun" by journalists, politicians and interest groups.  She makes it clear that it's our responsibility to dig through all that dross to find the nuggets.  Recommended reading, as are the comments from respondents.

# # #

Through a link I was reminded of the Anarchangel's 2009 warning about not messing with Finland or the Finns.  Nothing's changed to make that any less dangerous a pastime!  Chris also warns of the danger of 'Welfare Towns and Equilibrium Traps'.  Both articles are worth reading.

# # #

Arbroath brings us the sad tale of a man who thought he was slapping a possum, but it turned out to be a porcupine.  I bet he won't make that mistake again!

# # #

Massad Ayoob informs us of a new training resource for the snubnose revolver.  I'm definitely interested, although I'm going to wait for the next, longer edition to come out.  I often carry a snubbie myself, and I know how difficult it is to shoot one well, so any help in the matter will always be gratefully received.

# # #

DaddyBear remembers things he's seen and experienced, and concludes:  "... the more you learn about how horrible the world truly is, the more you will come to appreciate the parts that are wonderful.  That knowledge will show you just how important it is to protect and defend those things that bring light to a very dark existence."  True words, those.

In similarly contemplative vein, Sgt. Mom reminds us of the existence of TWANLOC's, and notes that:  "The anger at the TWANLOC ruling class ... is building. When it will come to a full boil – in that the anger will be expressed in more than comments, editorials, blog-posts and radio-call in shows – and in response to what kind of provocation is anyone’s guess."  I agree with her.  (The group blog to which she contributes, Chicago Boyz, looks interesting.  I must spend some more time there and see whether it makes it onto my daily reading list.)

# # #

Earthbound Misfit reminds us of the joys - and hazards - of coffee . . . and Robb Allen provides personal testimony to corroborate her words!

# # #

Low Dog On The Totem Pole links to an article about a home-made solar space heating system, which in turn links to Version 2 of that system, considerably enlarged and improved.  Both look very interesting and extremely practical.  Recommended reading for those handy with basic tools.

He also brings us numerous accolades to an (over)enthusiastic deli worker.  I think I may have met that guy at our local Wal-Mart . . .

# # #

Charles Hugh Smith offers a grimly realistic response to our current economic woes.

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Finally, The Smallest Minority brings us proof positive that Kirk was here.

# # #

That's all for the first part of this article.  Look for the second part this evening or tomorrow, depending on how much time I can free up.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Musings on Windows 8.1 and writing

I used to be quite the computer fundi.  I worked on mainframe systems in my much younger days, everything from operating them, to programming them, to leading a project team in systems development.  I also had exposure to minicomputers, microcomputers (what we call PC's today), the so-called 'end user computing' environment, so-called 'expert systems' (early, primitive implementations of artificial intelligence or AI), technical (military) computers and systems, and so on.  That part of my life came to an end when I changed career directions and studied for the ordained ministry, but it gave me a useful foundation in computer technology that's stood me in good stead ever since.

I've been applying that with good results until Microsoft came out with Windows 8.  The paradigm has now shifted to the point where the user interface is something I can't intuitively understand from a programming and systems point of view.  Of course, it's probably easy enough - heck, people are taking online classes in writing an 'app' (what I used to call a program) on their smart phones, so it can't be too tricky!  Even so, the underlying nature of the systems has shifted gradually over time, until we're no longer manipulating bits or bytes or fields, but rather 'objects' or 'elements', each with associated classes and properties and attributes and . . . you get the idea.  The basic elements at the bit-and-byte level aren't in the equation at all any more as far as developers are concerned.  Where I'd sometimes write an assembler routine to wring the best possible performance out of a memory-challenged computer partition by minimizing code size and maximizing efficiency, people today would laugh at the very thought.  Processor speed and memory size have grown so vastly since my early days in computers that it's almost impossible to compare common systems.  (My first work PC was an original 4.77MHz 8-bit IBM PC with 256KB memory and two 320K - not the later 360K - 5¼" floppy disk drives.  It was considered 'state-of-the-art'.  Today it's hard to find any system starting with less than a gigabyte of memory, and floppy disk drives haven't been made for years . . . )

Today I began setting up a new laptop computer.  Miss D. and I bought matching ones from the local outlet of Consumer Depot.  I have to give them a serious shout-out:  they had outstandingly good prices on reasonably well-equipped refurbished laptops, the salesperson knew what he was talking about and could answer my questions, and they took time and trouble to show us the options that were available.  We bought our systems for at least $250 less (each) than I've been able to find comparable computers anywhere else, and so far they're running just fine.  We'll be shopping there again.

The process of setting them up is reinforcing to me how my knowledge of modern user interfaces needs to be updated.  I've always loathed Windows 8.1 on my desktop computer.  It's a very clunky interface when used with a mouse and keyboard.  I keep it only because it's what came with my desktop system, and changing it would be more of a pain than working around its limitations (which I do by booting into desktop mode, using a Start menu clone, and working as if it were a Windows 7 machine).  However, on a touchscreen laptop with sufficient memory and processor performance to make it fly, Windows 8.1 presents an entirely different and much more useful interface.  I'm reluctantly being forced to admit that I need to move away from my technological-dinosaur past and learn to live with the new generation of software . . . even if that does mean mastering a steep and sometimes frustrating learning curve.

I can't help but think back wistfully to my assembler language coding days.  If we'd had available then the sort of computing horsepower that's taken for granted today, would we have bothered to code so efficiently at the bit-and-byte level?  Or would we have grown lazy and said, "Never mind efficiency - we've got processor power and memory to burn!"  Methinks we'd have followed the latter course, even though my old-timer's computer brain sometimes curses modern programmers for the sloppiness of their work.  I suppose that also shows in the way I write my books.  I come from a little after the 'Golden Age' of SF, when the trinity of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein dominated and many of the edgier modern themes hadn't even been invented.  I guess I still write accordingly.  Fortunately, a lot of you seem to like it that way!  I'm sometimes accused of writing stilted dialog;  but it's not really stilted - just 'different' to modern ears.  I talk that way, too.  It's partly the result of a classical education and a background in classical SF, and partly because I think and write in English-English rather than American-English.  (Miss D. teases me a lot about that.)

Oh, well.  I suppose I'm still an unrepentant dinosaur in many ways . . . but if Miss D. loves me like that, and you like my writing and occasional rants like that, I guess I can live with it!


Lawdog at his finest . . .

I have a little collection of blog posts by (and, in some cases, about) a few of my friends.  A leading light among them is Lawdog, who also wrote the foreword to my memoir of prison chaplaincy, since he and I have come into contact with many similar critters over the years.

This one, describing the (mis)adventures of Joe Critter and a gang of unimpressed construction workers, made me laugh my ass off when I first read it almost seven years ago.  Whilst rearranging old bookmarks and clearing unwanted links, I found it again, and re-read it.  It again made me cackle until the tears came.

If you want a good laugh, go read it for yourself.  You won't be disappointed.  Lawdog's on top form.


I wonder if I could train our cat to help like this?

It'd certainly relieve us of some housework . . .