Day Job Woes

Before I begin, a word from our sponsors: my Steampunk adventure Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia is just $1.99 for Kindle right now.

Promo spot over; back to the plot.

My regular readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Epping Forest) will have noticed that I’ve kind of broken my own rules for the last couple of weeks. I’d been making a point of posting here at least twice a week, and things had actually been going pretty well.

And then came the day job problems.

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Thanks to a problem that came up, the other developers and I have been in all-hands-to-the-pumps mode, making urgent updates to a bunch of web applications. I’m not going into more detail than that; it’s not that important or interesting.

As a side-effect, my regular work has had to take a back seat—but it still has to be done, so that’s meant I’ve had to work an extra couple of hours every day during the week. This morning (Saturday) I worked five hours to catch up some more. Right now I’m at a point where I can actually catch a breath, although I know Monday is going to hit the reset button and it’ll be back to panic mode.

The point being that my other work—writing, and other things I like to do—got pushed right off the cliff.

So: no blog posts the last couple of weeks. No work at all done on the timelining I’ve been working on for the SF book series. Basically I’ve been too tired to focus on anything that requires use of the brain.

Instead, what time I’ve had has been spent watching TV (Doc Martin, Dark Matter season 3); playing games (I just bought Dishonored and it’s a blast—one of the best I’ve played in a while); and reading (I’m partway into A Voyage to Arcturus, and I don’t want to hear any snide comments about it).

One other thing: I think I mentioned that I’d been watching a gentle British comedy called Detectorists on Netflix. It stars Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones as couple of ordinary guys who also happen to be (surprise!) detectorists—that is, they spend their spare hours out and about with metal detectors, finding bottle caps and ring pulls. And occasionally, cash, and parts of WWII German bombers. And sometimes, gold. Watching the show reminded me as a teenager I’d wanted a metal detector to mess with.

So I’ve bought one. Nothing fancy or expensive, but perfectly fine for the hobbyist. I haven’t had a chance yet to get out with it—it’s actually been raining almost every day for the last couple of weeks here in Colorado, and in any case I really need to get a cheap pair of headphones and a small shovel before I go detecting. But I’m looking forward to getting some exercise and fresh air, and you never know, maybe finding the odd trinket I can sell on eBay. Depending on the weather, I might get out with it for a bit tomorrow.

Now, as for the rest of today, I have a free afternoon, so I’m about to grab a coffee and get back to those timelines. I have something like five hundred scenes to timeline and so far I’ve done nineteen. There’s a long way to go. Time to get busy.

Until next time…

Eclipse Pics

We didn’t get a total eclipse here in northern Colorado, but it came close—about 94% covered, according to one source. I wasn’t about to point my eyes or a camera at the sun to get pictures, though.

I was thinking about doing what I’ve done before: set up a pair of binoculars, and use a mirror behind one eyepiece to project an image of  the sun onto a screen or a light-coloured wall. With 7×50 binoculars you can get a projected image three feet across pretty easily. It works for looking at sunspots, too. The hardest part is getting the binoculars pointing at the sun safely (that is, without looking through the things—I don’t need to tell anyone how stupid that would be) and keeping them pointing at the sun as it moves.

But I didn’t take the time for that. Instead, I just got some pictures of the crescent shapes on the ground under the trees, which are still pretty cool.

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More Human Than Human

THIS whole Tay thing got me thinking.

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What if things had gone a bit further before Microsoft pulled the plug? I mean, what if Tay had had a little more time to go from being an offensive racist shitbot, to actually managing to break the law? What I mean is: What if “she” had said something that, had it been spouted forth from a living, mouth-breathing human, would have been deemed hate-speech? What if she’d actually been manipulated into making slanderous attacks against an individual?

Right there is a question: could an AI tweetbot actually do something illegal? It’s not human, after all, so is it subject to human laws?

Ok, ok. It’s not that important, I hear you say. Just a bit of fun, or one of those wrinkles that’s bound to come up when you’re screwing around at the bleeding edge of technology.

But, I happen to think it is important, and it’ll get to be more important as time goes on. See, one of the things I picked up while reading about this whole business is that some companies are already using AI bots hooked up to social media, for marketing purposes. Whatever that means. I guess they watch Twitter for mentions of their brand or products or maybe their competitors’ brands and products, and then jump into the conversation with a sales pitch. And I imagine that the AIs involved are probably a bit limited as to what they’ll talk about, since their artificial worlds revolve around their specific brands and products.

But as time goes on, the AIs will get better at pretending to be human. I see a day coming—sooner than most of us would think, I’m betting—when there’ll be AIs engaging with real people on social media, and we won’t be able to tell that they’re robots. (Here’s a question: how many people, possibly seeing some of Tay’s tweets but not knowing what Tay is, thought Tay was flesh and blood?) So, what happens then, when one of these bots gets a bit out of whack on a Friday afternoon, and gets fooled into making verbal attacks against some minority group? And what happens if that leads to some brain-deficient group taking the AI’s crap and turning it into a call to action? What happens if someone gets hurt because of it?

Here’s another question: What happens if someone takes an off-the-shelf AI and deliberately sets it up with an agenda, to create a racist/homophobic/misogynist/anti-minority douchebot? (And yes, I really think off-the-shelf AIs are coming, just like the generic game engines that some assholes have used to create offensive games pushing neo-Fascist messages. Remember those?)

It’s a bit like someone letting their dog off the leash in a crowd; the dog gets confused, and bites someone. The owner gets the blame, gets fined, and maybe the dog is destroyed.

And that last example is like someone deliberately letting a zombie loose in a crowd, with the intention of turning some of that crowd into more zombies.

OH MY GOD I JUST LINKED AI TWEETBOTS TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.

I think that’s enough for a Sunday morning.

Happy Easter.

Have a nice day.

Until next time, gentle reader . . .

Resolutions

. . . ACTUALLY, I don’t really have any. I stopped doing New Year Resolutions years ago, because I never kept them and it became pretty obvious to me that I really never would.

The truth is, I sort of make resolutions all year round; that is, on any given day I might make some decision that there’s something I’m going to do, or stop doing. Then I try my best to stick to it. Making a point of setting goals for the following ENTIRE YEAR then trying to make those happen really doesn’t work for me.

Example: you make a New Year resolution to, say, quit smoking, and you do. And you make it to February 1 before something stresses you to the point where there are two choices: (1) light one up, or (2) tear someone’s head off. So you light up. And that’s it—you’ve broken the resolution, so you think to yourself that you’ve failed and you might as well give up trying to give up. Until the next New Year comes round and maybe you’ll set another New Resolution. Wouldn’t it be better to just make a February 2 resolution to try again?

Yeah, I know, I’m kinda waffling here. It’s one of those days.

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Ok, so here’s a short list of a few things I know I’d really like to get done over the new few weeks or months. This is as close to a list of resolutions as it’s likely to get:

  • Clean my desk up. It’s a damned mess.
  • Get the garage sorted out. Right now there are two sofas and a stove in there that need to be sold or donated or otherwise disposed of, and I’d like to clear the space so that I can use the garage as a garage. (The reason for the sofas still being there is that, despite being years old, they’re really comfortable and I’ll be sorry to see them go. But we don’t have room for them and I have to be realistic.)
  • Write at least two full length books before, say, the end of August. The Artemis sequel will be one of those, for sure. And since I’ve as good as decided to make Artemis a trilogy, the sequel to the sequel might very well be the other. We’ll see.
  • Learn to play the piano. Seriously. Some time ago, Kate bought me this really nice keyboard that comes with teaching software, but I just couldn’t seem to master it and the thing’s been sitting behind my office chair gathering dust. See the picture. Nice, huh? I’d like to see about some actual lessons with a teacher, if it’s not too crazy expensive.
  • I think that’s about it for now. Other things will occur to me as time goes on.

Until next time . . .

2015 Wrap-up

LET me begin by saying I hope you all had a great Christmas, and I’d like to wish all my readers (Sid and Doris Bonkers of Pahrump, NV) a Happy New Year.

So 2015 is all but gone, and 2016 is just around the corner. Will it be any better? In hindsight I don’t think ’15 was all that bad. ’16 could end up being a lot worse, but I’m optimistic. On the political front, I really don’t think the GOP has much of a chance; if having a lying, bigoted misogynist like Trump as front-runner really means that he’s about the best they can offer, then as far as I’m concerned they’ve already lost. My money’s on Sanders this time around.

But enough of that. I want to keep this short because, well, The Expanse episode five isn’t on yet, so I’m in the middle of binge-watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (I only ever saw a couple of episodes when it first aired) and I want to get some dinner and watch some more. So:

On the writing front: I’m still working on the storyline for the Artemis sequel. With the week before Christmas being taken up with all the prep for the big day, I got maybe fifteen minutes in on that. This week’s been lighter so I’ve made a bit of progress but I still have quite a way to go.

On the subject of Artemis, I’m expecting some editing work to be coming my way from my copy editor, but with the holiday I have no idea when that’ll hit. I’ll update the WiP page when I have something.

And on the subject of works-in-progress, so far no luck finding an agent for Smoke & Mirrors. What I did find was a publisher that usually doesn’t accept unagented submissions, but has an open submission period through ’til the end of January. For them, I have to boil my six-page single-spaced synopsis down to no more than three pages of double-spaced. Basically all I can do is slice out more and more detail and compress what’s already there, and hope what’s left still does the story justice. It might sound easy, but it’s surprisingly hard.

Tomorrow I’ll be getting back to that and hopefully finish it in time to get it out before New Year’s Day. Not that that’s important, but it gives me kind of a mental target to hit.

That’s all for now. Time to get some grub and get back to ST:DS9.

Until next time . . .

The Windows 10 Experience, Redux

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NOW that I’ve had a few weeks to play with it, here’s a short update on some things I’ve found with Windows 10.

What’s Good

IN general, I haven’t found any problems with any of the applications I use frequently. Microsoft Word, Scrivener, PaintShop Pro, and so on, all work just fine. Google Chrome’s been having a few problems but I think those are bugs in Chrome itself and not related to the OS.

What’s Bad

I’M continuing to have problems related to device drivers and antivirus:

  • The touch pad driver no longer has the setting to disable the pad when a USB mouse is plugged in, which is annoying and inconvenient. Hoping for a driver update that’ll fix that, but so far nothing.
  • There’s a problem with the screen driver that causes an error message to pop up when I switch from mains to battery power. Again, hoping for an update that’ll fix that.
  • Despite the report that told me all the laptop hardware is compatible, it turns out that the driver for the CD/DVD drive is out of date, and because it’s an older device Sony aren’t likely to release an updated driver for Win10. Which means the drive is unusable. I might be able to fix that if I can find a newer drive that will fit. This is particularly annoying, since Microsoft said it would work.
  • Certain commonly-used antivirus programs cause problems that stop Windows Update working (it sticks at 0% when “preparing to install updates”). I googled the details and found dozens of “fixes”, all different, all suspect. I the end I called Microsoft’s Denver office and talked to tech support, and they were able to help. They advised running SFC with the /scannow option; it didn’t report any errors, but after a reboot the update worked. So at least if it happens again I know what to try first.

The Windows 10 Experience

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Pressure

I wasn’t planning on upgrading to Windows 10 any time soon. Microsoft had other ideas. A new icon kept showing in the system tray saying Get Windows 10! It’ll be Fun! and there was no way to get rid of it. My laptop and desktop machines downloaded the installation files on the quiet; I only found out about it when I noticed the hard drive light blinking away all the time, and I opened up the resource manager to see what was going on. Then I had a window pop up telling me that my computer and all my software was compatible with Windows 10, and please Please PLEASE install Windows 10, and if you don’t do it while it’s free we’ll charge you $119 for it and send someone to your house to duct-tape you to a chair and force you to watch while they install it for you. Well, I might have dreamt about that last bit.

To be honest I was a little concerned about doing something so potentially dangerous to my laptop; I use it far more than my desktop system, and it’s where I do all my writing so the data is sacred. And it’s a few years old, so I was a little bit edgy. But… well, they did say it was all compatible. And all my files are backed up in the cloud (Google Is Your Friend).

So yesterday I caved in to the pressure, said Sod It to myself, and clicked the button that said Oh, All Right Then, If It’ll Shut You The Fuck Up.

What Happened Next

I got a screen that said the machine would reboot a few times, and at least had the decency to tell me what was happening and how far it had got, so I could see it was actually doing things. It took an hour or so, I think. Then it went through a few startup screens asking whether I wanted to switch some default applications for playing videos and such to the new ones that come with Win10 (I didn’t; I like the ones I use. I’ll look at the new ones later and decide).

Finally, up came my familiar desktop (the one with the pictures of European castles), but with some new stuff on the taskbar and in the system tray.

THEN MY ANTIVIRUS BLEW UP. Well, it didn’t exactly explode. But it wasn’t working, that was for sure.

A little bit of investigation showed that, yes, the antivirus IS compatible with Win10, but I should have read the vendor’s website before I updated, idiot. Turns out I should have uninstalled the AV before the update, then re-installed after. Trying to uninstall after the fact doesn’t work; the ghost of the AV haunts the system, attempting to start up when you reboot.

I fixed it in the end; the AV vendor has an uninstall program to solve the problem. Download it, reboot into Safe Mode, bring up an admin command line, run the program thereby deleting all the old AV files, reboot to normal mode. Then re-install the AV and all is well. (Well, not immediately; the AV does a “first scan” that rips through the entire hard drive, deep-scanning. Takes a couple of hours during which system performance is crippled. I just left it alone until it was done.)

Everything else I use daily seemed to be working ok. Word fired up and immediately popped up a pop-up saying it was updating (I guess there’s a Win10 upgrade, but it was automatic and took less than a minute). Scrivener came up just fine. Google Chrome looked ok at first… then I noticed the links to Gmail, Google Apps, and so on, on the New Tab page, weren’t showing any more. That’s been reported to Google in case that’s something to do with the Win10 upgrade. As it happens, Chrome just downloaded an update; maybe that’ll fix it. I’ll know soon enough. [Update: Chrome bug, nothing to do with Win10. They fixed it last night.]

After All Is Said And Done

IS it better than Windows 7? Too early to tell. I can say right away that I don’t much like that Metro style that makes the windows look like a Windows phone or tablet. And I don’t like that I can’t disable the touchpad when the USB mouse is plugged in (Windows 7 had an option for that, although it looks like the problem might be more to do with the touchpad driver and not actually a Windows problem. All the same, if they don’t fix it soon I’ll have to disable the touchpad altogether. I keep catching the damned thing with my thumbs while I’m typing, and it’s a pain in the arse). I haven’t tried Microsoft Edge properly yet, although the couple of pages I’ve tested so far haven’t loaded and rendered particularly quickly (not that it matters, really—I use Chrome for pretty much everything and that’s not likely to change any time soon). But it does, at first sight, look like an improvement on Internet Explorer; maybe we can put that piece of old junk in the ground at last.

If there is ONE feature that looks like a real winner, it’s the Task View. Using that you can create multiple desktops. For me that’ll make it possible to keep writing apps (Word and Scrivener) on a dedicated desktop separate from everything else. It could still use a little work, I think; something up in the corner of the screen, maybe, showing which desktop you’re on and letting you click to switch to another one quickly. (Although, I did find a page with some handy keyboard shortcuts that speed things along.)

But in the big scheme of things, the upgrade was relatively painless and I’ll almost certainly upgrade my desktop system before too long. If I have one bit of advice for you, gentle reader, it would be this: check the vendor websites for all your third-party software and see what they have to say about how their junk plays with Win10. Maybe some won’t work, maybe some will need to be re-installed. My experience with the antivirus I use could have been avoided if I’d checked first.

Until next time . . .