Archive for the ‘nördig’ Category

One dumb note

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I really like the idea of MS OneNote, and find it very useful for scribbling ideas into and recording interviews. It also has exemplary synchronisation. But it is a pig to use as a repository for web clips, unless you also use IE. There is a firefox clipper but it’s slow, ugly and obtrusive. There’s no quick easy way to tag what has been clipped or to get an overview, later, of subject lines. There is an API, but it demands that the programmer read and write long strings of XML to accomplish even the simplest tasks. So, while it would be perfectly possible for someone fluent in Javascript and XML to write firefox extension that clipped at usable speed, that person is not me, and certainly no one has done it. Really irritating. I don’t doubt that the people who work for microsoft find it quite easy to program extensions in C# or whatever. But even inside MS there aren’t many people doing it, and I suspect that it will quietly wither away because, although good software, it’s just too hard to extend. And any type of intelligent dustbin program has to talk easily to everything else on the machine. That’s half the point.

Evernote dumbed down

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

This is a quick note, really for the benefit of Google, to point out that Evernote, which is growing more and more popular, was in important respects much better in version 2, now neither sold nor supported, than in the various versions three that are now available on all sorts of platforms. In fact the software changed so much between the two versions, both in what it does and what it’s trying to do, that it’s best to think of them as almost entirely different. (more…)

Creative destruction

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

You know that feeling when you are sitting on the floor by the dusty disassembled guts of a computer and nothing works at all? It won’t even give a healthy cheep on startup? And then, slowly, it all comes together, until everything works, except, perhaps, sound, and you change something to fix that, and then nothing works at all again: you’re back in the smell of dust and silence and you can’t undo?

You will swear, when you finally recover, never to upgrade anything again. Yet you will. And I don’t know why, or didn’t, until I stumbled on a lovely passage in Ellen Ullman’s Close to the Machine, still the best book I know about the psychology of nerding.

I’m upset, so I’m taking apart my computers. If I were a poet, I’d get drunk and yell at the people I love. As it is, I’m gutting my machines.

My computers are not broken, but at times like these I like the look of delicate circuit boards open to the naked air. Several hours ago, in a fit of restlessness, I decided to install a pre-release version of a new operating system. Then there seemed to be problems with some of the internal devices. So I took them out, one after the other. Now they lie all around me—cards, wires, memory modules, screws—all in a jumble. To test components, I do what I’m absolutely not supposed to do: run the machines with the covers off. I’m supposed to discharge static electricity before touching anything. But I scuff around on the carpets, grab things with two hands, hold metal to metal. I recognize the nastiness of this mood, reckless and rebellious, like I could get away with breaking the laws of physics.

There’s a perverse comfort in broken machinery.

Reading this, I realised that the rage is itself an attractive part of the process because it feels so good when it is over, and everything dissolves into order. There is something in this process of destruction and recreation that resembles the state that long articles and still more radio programmes get into, just before they get right: everything is spread out in ways that look chaotic to everyone except me, and even I can’t quite explain how they will go back together. I can only show, if I keep my concentration. The element of risk makes it far more attractive than the times when everything goes smoothly and by routine. You feel you have discovered a hidden order to the universe. Alternatively, as sometimes happens, you take it all apart and it never ever goes back together properly. All you are left with is a heap of broken junk. But that’s more common with words than with computers.

Nerd Notes

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Well, if I tell you how the story starts, maybe the end will be predictable … I was given a truly wonderful camera at Christmas, a Pentax K20 which generates 14MB raw files. It was taking ages fro my ancient desktop to process them. So I thought I would switch to a dual-core Athlon processor and a bit more memory, along with a better graphics card. Shopping around online for these things, and trying to work out where the sweet spot was, where spending more money stopped getting much of a performance improvement, made a nice interstitial project. Then I remembered that there was something about Windows XP demanding a new licence if you rebuilt the computer around it, so I thought that I would just make sure there was enough memory to run it in an emulator, if need be. That turned out to be a nearly fatal mistake. (more…)

Burned over

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

I’m sorry not to have posted here much. I have been very busy, but also approaching the condition of upstate New York, ca 1830, when it was known as the burnt over district because of the continual evangelical revivals which swept over it. Everyone in it had been saved till they could hardly stand up. No possible novelty of excitement could stimulate them any more. It was out of this spiritual charcoal that Mormonism emerged. I do hope I’m not going to invent a new religion. But I have entered the Sargasso Sea of feeling that nothing is new or fresh; all my thoughts feel vague and fleeting. It’s a condition very simply cured by spending a week or so standing in rivers, but that is difficult to arrange right now. In the meantime, sustaining thought for even 800 words seems a gigantic feat. (Another version of this state is described in Koestler’s Age of Longing, where he calls it fatigue of the synapses, and treats, if not cures, it with brandy and benzedrine).So here follow some quickies. (more…)

Book Search

Friday, February 6th, 2009

If this list is Google’s idea of the history books we might want to read on our mobile phones, Amazon can breathe easy. Five books are listed. One purports to be the memoirs of Napoleon; two are by those well known historians Washington Irving and Ralph Waldo Emerson; there is a naval history of the Napoleonic wars, published in 1837 – and to conclude the selection, Daniel Defoe’s True Born Englishman, and an illustrated edition of the Pilgrim’s Progress.

It’s like something you’d find in a Thirties Evelyn Waugh novel, describing the great lost library of Abyssinia

Book Search.

Google and Nokia (dull)

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

I have been frustrated for months by the inability of my nice new Nokia phone to synch usefully with any of the three places where I keep contacts. None of them, you understand, are perfect, but I dont need a fourth.  Ecco would be the most useful, since it links to each contact all the relevant information. Buit it’s very old, no longer properly supported, and has no email links and limited contact fields. So everything was exported from there into CSV a long time ago, and reimported into Thunderbird (if there were email addresses); contacts with phone numbers went into my old Sony Ericsson phone. One of these lists got imported into Google Contacts. (more…)

Greatest google maps mashup I’ve seen

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Hey, what’s that?. Generates a panoramic view with a crib from anywhere in the continental US, and possibly outside it. Awe-inspiring.

The street finds its own uses

Monday, October 13th, 2008
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It turns out that modern graphics cards are so powerful that they can be used to crack the passwords which secure wireless networks more or less in real time. So the unassuming Russian gent playing with his laptop in the car park outside a merchant bank is having more fun than you can possibly imagine.

Silly mapping fun

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

I have been playing with the GPS on my new phone — let’s face it: you can’t do more than play — and found a wonderful site here, which offers a split screen view, with a large scale Ordnance Survey map on one side, and a satellite view on the other. On the OS map, you can mark out routes, which can then be exported in XML to the phone; and if you have OS maps on the phone, too, courtesy of Viewranger, then the whole route is available in a pocket. It’s much easier to plot a route on a big screen than on the phone. Viewranger, incidentally, offers maps of Finland and Slovenia as well as Great Britain, and is hoping to do Norway and Sweden too, soon. And OS-type maps are much better than Google for walking and looking.