Monday, June 12, 2017

Music tastes and online info

My favorite flavor of music is called "Progressive Rock."

If you know what it is already, then you know what it is. If you don't know what that name means, a short description is that it is rock music that has/is progressed beyond simple 2-or-3-chord songs.

Generally it's roots are classical music rather than pop songs. It's longer, more complex, listening rather than singing or dancing music. The focus is much more the unstrumental composing than the lyrics; lots has no lyrics at all.

And it is generally best described by a list of the performers. The category is broad and there are flavors of Prog Rock I'm not keen on (in general, newer and kinda derivative). So: ELP, Yes, early Genesis. The style originates about 1968.

My favorite online source for info is the Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock. I was casually involved with that back in the 90s, before it was even an online source. My participation was slight in the early-mid-90s, but it was there, when there was really just the alt.music.progressive thing (or whatever it was, been years). The web has improved the amount of info, but things have splintered. Things like FreeDB are good, but have zero meta-info beyond album name, track names, and track lengths--and zero cross-linking.

Anyway. GEPR. There was once a book of it. I bought that, it's a great item, but such a thing is out of date the day after it's printed.

The GEPR website has languished for about six years now. Fred Trafton was running it for years, still owns it, and hasn't had time for it, endangering the value and life of the content (granted, the Wayback Machine would still have it all if Fred didn't at least renew the domain name).

So he and I were having an email chat a few weeks ago. I argued that it needs converting into a Wiki existence, so that others can participate, and he doesn't have to worry about maintenance. I offered to do a chunk of that initial setup. In particular, to scrub the existing website and strip out all the raw info from the web-pages (regrettably, there's no database in the background, just hand-managed HTML, and aging HTML at that).

So I've been working that. Did a large data-mine off another (actually dead) website a few years ago, so I knew what I was up against in attempting it. I don't expect or intend to achieve a perfect extraction, no way that is even worth my time to attempt; because it's hand-made HTML there are a lot of little tiny variations all over, and I'm not writing special handlers for each one.

At this point I'm approaching 2/3 completion. Some of that is done via correcting HTML flaws in the source rather than writing special-case handling for singletons.

The hard thing about doing this kind of extraction is that people who make pages like this treat HTML as a structural content organizer, rather than just as visual markup. And then they aren't consistent about what they do, so the structure is casual rather than strict. This is possible because web browsers tolerate a lot of slop in the HTML. That's really not a good thing any more.

The extraction is going into a database now.  Once I can read everything I want from the HTML into the DB, then I have to make a simplistic form for getting it out again, so that I/we can test to be sure there's no content-rip disasters in there.

Then I have to figure out how to dump that database into something that is wiki pages. I really have no idea how I might do this. Maybe I don't even want to do that, exactly. Maybe I want to push the DB into a wiki DB.

My involvement here is to get to the point where there's a wiki full of as much content as I can manage without spending forever on it. I don't want to own it after that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

EMail programs

It is possible to use your web-browser to do your email work. I am currently doing this with Chrome and GMail. Can't say I like it, but it more-or-less works. I regularly press control-R to reply, only to have the browser window refresh itself because I forgot that that was what control-R does.

I used to use Seamonkey. That's a Mozilla product, and I was using it because of the set of tools it integrates, and is the real successor to Netscape's unified product (whose name I now don't remember, sorry Jamie)

Anyway. Mozilla products have problems these days (see earlier blog on this topic). There's something wrong on there somewhere that causes/allows memory leaks, and those always turn into problems at runtime eventually.

Mozilla's alternative standalone email is Thunderbird, but it's still Moz, which means that the HTML rendering engine inside is the same as Firefox and Seamonkey. Which means it is going to have the same mem-leak issue. So I can't be using this.

(fwiw, Chrome has some memory issue, too, I don't yet know quite what, but the way it runs means that if a window has a memory problem the others are not affected--Mozilla craters in toto if any one window is the source of the leak)

So I gotta try some other tools. I've used Outlook, not really interested in that. Going to start with things listed here:

http://www.techradar.com/news/the-best-free-email-client

The real question is what HTML engine is in use?

On my Macs I'll be using Apple Mail. That integrates nicely with my phone, ipad, and the multiple machines I use.

I liked Seamonkey. I just can't deal with the memory leaks.

I'd take suggestions for email programs from readers...

A new toy

I got a couple of new toys in the past week.

The first is an HP 9050DN printer. Why? Because it will print 11x17 double-sided. I am doing some documents work these days where the target is 11x17 and although I'm not do the final deliverable printing, it's darn sure good to be able to proof things at final size. Already I've caught a couple of changes that need to get made that I wasn't seeing otherwise, and I receive one of the final printed copies. This is a "on-loan" item, paid for by the group I'm doing the docs for.

The second toy is much more interesting, and a lot less common:

a laser cutter. (yes, that's two laser things in the last week)


It's a VersaLaser VL 200. 25 watt, 12x16 cutting area. Bought it from the guy who was actually cutting for me 10 years ago, for $4K.

Why? you ask. Well, because once I am well familiar with how to use it, I can make things for myself better/faster/cheaper than paying someone else to do it.

(OK, thought you were retired and therefore a cheapskate, you also say. Well, yeah, kinda true, but this has been in the works for months, or years if you go back to the larger one I almost bought from him over 2 years ago. Plus, I am getting a new big riding lawnmower tomorrow. Expensive week.)

What will I be doing with this? Model railroad stuff is the target. I'm figuring if I use it to design/build 100 things that averages $40 each, which is a pretty good deal.

Expect new blogs on this topic over the next months. And I hope some magazine articles that pay $ which will help with the cost.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Revisiting Oblivion

This is still my favorite Bethesda game. Newer ones do have improvements in various places, but I like the looks of this one best. Mostly because of inside the Oblivion Gates was so radically different. And the normal terrain wasn't snow. I hate snow.

So I re-acquired it on Steam last year. Decided I would play it without using Chameleon at all, and on much higher difficulty.

Well, the decision to not use Chameleon went by the wayside. The higher difficulty level pretty much killed the possibility of avoiding it.

I'd also forgotten the need to craft a character design better. So I picked a standard flavor, which resulted in most of my major skills being ones I don't care about, and skills I *do* care about aren't helping me level up.

I remembered the need to run Sneak to 100 during the training tunnels, and I invented a new (for me) approach to boosting various magic skills (you have to get into the University, but once you do you can craft a micro-spell that takes 2 magicka per cast and then lean on the "cast" key until you hit 100. Can run around at the same time, but I think that before I do this ever again I'm going to make myself a small weighted gadget that will sit next to the keyboard and do the "leaning" for me; it's a thing that will take several hours, and I don't want to sit there the entire time.

So for that to work interesting for you, you also need to pay for training 5 times each level, to maximize the speed at which you can level up. You do this because at the bottom loot and gear are really uninteresting.

On easy mode, you won't see glass armor until level 10. On "hard', not until you pass 20.

So I'm a weakling character, at Level 23 I have 225 Health; the only way I can take on an opponent is with Chameleon > 100%. So I had to get into Unseen University to craft spells and enchant armor. With Chameleon > 100% you are, to all intents and purposes, permanently invisible. This is, of course, an unfair advantage, and the game becomes less interesting overall. You can't be attacked, you WON'T be attacked, because nothing can see you to do it.

At this difficulty level, opponents are significantly stronger than you, 2-3 hits and you are dead.

(In Morrowind the ability to levitate/fly was similarly "cheating", because only those attack birds could come after you. It may have been that chameleon was equally bad, I never even tried it as I didn't know what it was.)

But when you don't ever have to fight, then you're really going around collecting loot. The best loot is found inside Gates.

If I decide to go through this again, I'm going to try harder to remember how to create my character up front, and avoid Chameleon. And probably play at a lower difficulty.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Future: Your choices--which will it be?

There are three choices for what your future looks like. Which one are you choosing?

1) Star Trek

2) Handmaid's Tale. 1984. Depends on whether we go for the theocracy or the SS flavor of totalitarianism. "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever."

3) Mad Max


Your attitudes and voting behavior will determine which one it is.

You can imagine which one *I* am in favor of.


This blog entry brought to you by:


Saturday, April 22, 2017

OK, now I really *AM* retired

A short pome, from Thursday April 13:

Today I got fired
So now I'm retired.


And, as a friend put it a couple years ago: "When you're retired, ever day is saturday." And some of the actually ARE. Like today. I think today is saturday. Yesterday I wasn't sure what day it was. As if it even mattered :) Yesterday was saturday too. So is tomorrow.


Check the entry for Nov 10. Had a new job. Was hired for a specific contract, that contract never materialized, worked on some other stuff for them, but ultimately there was cash-flow issues, and as I wasn't critical to their success (yet) it was time to be done and gone.

Just as well, I need that time to work on the house in order to sell it.

and I was going to give notice in a couple months anyway. I got to learn some new stuff, but it was clear to me that i was only half of the right person for the job.

Well, on Thursday the 13th I "got fired". It was abrupt, but polite. But it hadn't been all that exciting.

---

It will be fabulous being retired. It darn sure was back in October. My finances went up 5% since then, which is weird, but ok with me. Now I just have to sell the old house, get signed up for Obamacare, and live like a poor person for umpty years. And not work for someone else.

Yay!

---

One of the new things I learned is "Docker". This is kinda cool, and lets you avoid what is other an issue about contamination and collision of software pieces. Docker is a lightweight VM mechanism. I now know how to make Docker images from scratch, install other pieces in them, save/run/etc. This works best on Linux, unsurprisingly, but one thing it means is that you can run multiple flavors at the same time without having to dedicate hardware (which I don't have). I have tools of my own that want to run in Docker, don't need full machines or VMs, but do exist as services, and want to be isolated.

---

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Jack Reacher books

author is Lee Child (not his real name). If you look the website, you discover that pub-date order is NOT character-chrono order. I wish publishers would fix that on the covers. I also wish they would in general put series order number on books. These have neither.

After the second movie of Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, I decided I would read a couple. Got the first one and the last one for xmas.

They remind me of John D Macdonald's Travis McGee. And Tom Cruise looks nothing like Reacher in the books. Reacher in the books is 6-5, weighs 220-250. That's nearly a foot taller than Cruise, and probably 50-75 pounds heavier. A guy that size is going to be physically imposing no matter what.

As of this writing, I've read the first three published. Went to the used bookstore last weekend and got a couple of all the ones they had; have subsequently ordered the remainder via abebooks.com (better prices than Amazon was showing for used copies).

[Later: read a few more. Reading order seems irrelevant. They are mostly better plotted than Macdonald; "Echo Burning" felt exactly like a McGee book. McGee was essentially a "personal avenger", and Reacher is having a similar feel. Child avoids the issue of recurring characters by having Reacher constantly on the move around the country. Macdonald avoided it simply by not having them, as though anyone's life is like that; McGee lived on a houseboat but never really went anywhere in it.]

The stories move pretty fast. Good excitement, action. Not perfect, but good.

By not perfect I mean: if you're an author, and you're going to write about real places, you need to be present at those places at the time of year you write about before you say anything about the weather.

Book #3 takes place briefly in two places I lived, and makes mistakes about both. Dallas and Honolulu are the places. It's June. Author says something like "temp in Dallas was it's usual hundred degrees". Nope. Sorry. Not in June. Not Dallas. Lived there a decade. 100 degrees doesn't start until mid-July or so. Not June. And then Reacher flies to Honolulu, whereupon author says the humidity in Honolulu was just like Dallas. Nope. Sorry. Not ever. Honolulu is going to have much higher humidity, given that, well, you know, the largest body of water on the planet is one of the boundaries of Honolulu. Depending on the wind, if there is any (leeward side of Oahu, so not nearly as much as Kailua, where I lived), the temp is likely 90+, but not 100--the humidity is probably 90+ as well. But in Dallas? in June? The humidity is at its highest at ~6am, and that amount is 75%, and it's not 100 degrees F. In the afternoon, when the temp is highest, the humidity is 25%. Seriously dry. (Not the hottest place I've been, that was Tucson, summer, it was 110. Bone dry, too. Ouch.) I live in Virginia now, outside DC; it is readily possible for the weather to be 98 and 98, and *that* is uncomfortable. DC is like that. So no, the humidity in Dallas is NEVER like the humidity in Honolulu.

But yeah, please visit, or talk to a resident about this stuff...mistakes like that make you the author look lazy. And these statements are in no way critical to the plot, just throwaway lines. Still...lazy.

[Later: Number 5, "Echo Burning", is a really weak/stupid plot. That one really feels like Travis McGee. #6 is back to a better plot.]

#4 has some people getting in effect drowned in a bathtub of paint. He writes that after what is a day or two "the paint will have a skin depth of 1-1.5 inches. Clearly he didn't test this--24 hours of paint open-air in a bathtub and you might have 1/16" someplace that was really dry. I'm not sure how long 1 whole inch would take, but probably weeks to months. I've had paint remnants in cans out open to dry so I could dump them in the trash can, it seemed to take forever for that last little bit to harden.

A couple of them have really stupid plots. Then there's the several where there's a predictable "showdown at the deserted farmhouse" conclusion.

[Later later: I've read about 2/3 of them. The ones that have good plots are good stories, but none are "Where Eagles Dare", and REALLY not "The Bourne Identity". There are some very good ideas in here, but they're still small. I don't remember Travis McGee too well, but these all feel better than that, but not as good as Maclean, Ludlum, etc]

[Also: why I could never be a writer: one of them has two movie quotes. I couldn't write a novel without having A LOT of movie quotes--I can't hardly have a conversation without using movie quotes, so there's no way I could write a book without them.]

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Number 200.

Blog number 200. And it's a game blog :) (ok, technically I've only *released* 196; four drafts are pending, perhaps forever, not clear they are topics that can really be discussed)

Witcher 3.

These guys love their mo-cap and their cutscenes. Much of which leads to things I don't like.

They want you to play the game their way, which is not how I want to play these games.

If you want that, to the point that you are going to force me into it, just make a cutscene I can watch without participating. Better still, say so up front so I can skip the game entirely.


Things I like about this game:

It's gorgeous. Probably the best-looking game I've played. Elder Scrolls 6 will look at least this good.

Saves are right. Lotta folks fail on this one.


Things that annoyed me about this game:

The need for mo-cap everywhere, and the idea (like in the Batman games) that what I want to look at most is the mo-cap, and that hyper-realistic is the goal of games. Mo-cap is not the be-all/end-all in games.

The cutscenes that go on forever.

The large amount of pointless profanity.

All the apparent prostitution--was there really that much of it in the past? Walk through Novigrad and count the various prostitutes--it's a lot.

The movement that is scripted. The problems I had over and over about UI control over what I was doing--most of the times I got killed were keystroke failures because I felt my ability to control Geralt was constrained. I use a wireless mouse and keyboard. They are slightly laggy, this causes trouble. Example: you are too close to an opponent, you automatically go into a crouch and slow down--no, I want to run, not creep.

Being unable to use a real bow and arrow. That little crossbow you have is just about pointless.

Having to play as Ciri once in a while without having much practice at it, and her controls are for completely different abilities. And her only health recovery is to run around out of reach. And when the movement controls force those crouches...and she has no armor...and she has no food/etc for health recovery...

The fact that combat does nothing for your Level-up advancement, only quest completion does that.

The fact that quests need to be worked on when you're near the same skill level, else they aren't worth much in XP points. You wait too long and their value drops to one single XP.

You can't drop a quest. Several times where that was really the better solution, esp once the XP had dropped to be worthless.

All the quests that are about finding diagrams for better gear are a waste of time--the gear isn't better. Even the master-crafted stuff; when you finish with Hattori, he makes a freebie for you. It was 3 levels behind what I was already using. Boring--it should scale exactly to where I am.

The 40-mph wind that never stops.

Potions are incomprehensible. And look largely useless. I have yet to use one.

Magic that is relatively useless, and way to weak to do much for you. Part of the story in this game is that some large-ish faction is trying to eliminate all of it. OK by me.

The local "economy", which is pretty feeble. Why is that this is so common in games? All the Bethesda stuff has this problem until the mods get made that fix it. (Remember Morrowind? That was the worst. You could easily find Daedric items that were so high-priced no one could buy them from you. Even after I found several mods that boosted merchants and made more of them, it was still possible to come back from a dungeon crawl with so much stuff that you'd have to drop a bunch on the ground, where it would sit forever. You want the merchant to have cash again? Sleep 24 hours. How many times are you going to do that when they have 5000 gold and you have 150,000 of items?)