Saturday, January 14, 2017

Weekly Album: Nena - Nena

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hello! I am alive, sort of. I am in the middle of what is called "tech week" for my annual January show, which is when you get together for hours and hours every night to run the show as it will be done on stage, so that you can get all the screwing up and panicking out of your system before you actually perform it. It kills me ded every time, because hours of people every day, and also right now i have some sort of head cold that is clinging desperately on weeks after it should have gone away. I have excellent drugs and also excellent co-stars, so I'll be fine, but if you're going to be in Boston for Arisia this weekend, you should come and see us so I'm not doing all this for nothing.

Vivat Regina: Friday @ 7:30pm
Base Instruments: Saturday @4pm and Sunday @12 noon

Our show photographer will also be wandering the halls before and after, taking photos of cosplayers. Feel free to stop her and get yours done! Her name is Annushka Munch and you could probably spot her from other planets, as her hair is violently pink. I know this because I helped her color it. The really neon bits react to blacklight.

There are also various Circlet Press things going on at the con, including the Tea Party, which I will have to miss because I am on stage. You don't have to miss it, however, as there is conveniently a second show scheduled. Go, do both of these things! They are great.

I'll post more about Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice and New Year's Resolutions and other such tat after I'm done with shows and have had some heavily-drugged but un-congested sleep. In the meantime, rest assured that the rats are still very fat and very spoiled, and that the Saturday album posts will continue.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Update: Did the thing I said I was going to do. Certainly I expected performance to improve once I installed the new drive, but holy fuck. Can't determine how much of the performance bottleneck was the hard drive having to spin up and down and how much was Windows 7, but the combination of an SSD and Lubuntu starts my colossal lumbering raster graphics editor in about ten seconds. BRB, going to go see how many fonts and plugins it takes to push that to twenty.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

At this point, I am thinking I might just skip letting my roommate play with his drive cloner and go straight to the part where I install Lubuntu on the new SSD.

The various not-Windows operating systems generally let you make what's called a LiveCD or LiveKey, which is essentially the OS on some kind of portable media. They generally start with a menu that gives you the choice between using the OS off the optical disc/USB drive, or installing it to the local hard disk.

I have LiveKeys for both Lubuntu 16.10 and RemixOS 64-bit. The trial for RemixOS is a little unfair; it saves absolutely nothing, not even for pretend, and is almost telepathically fast, so it's clearly running off a RAM drive. I can get it to boot to an "installation", as it's designed to run off of a portable drive, but it's deeply unhappy about being confined to USB 2.0, and an I/O speed of less than half the 10Mbit/s it wants makes it unusable. It's got some quirks; notably, it assumes I'm on a tablet, so the multitouch scrolling wants me to drag the contents of the screen up and down, as opposed to the regular computer method, which drags the aperture instead. There's probably a way to change it, but I've no idea what it is. If it ran off of a local SSD, I think it would be perfectly content.

The Lubuntu LiveKey happens to be on a thumbdrive with an access LED, which goes blinky-blinky from time to time, so it is actually using some kind of disk cache when running from portable media. (I assume a LiveCD configures itself to use a RAM disk for cache. Otherwise it would get very confused when it couldn't put anything on the scratch pad.) It's effectively running off of a very small, very slow SSD. I can see the local HDD, and open things off of it, but otherwise it doesn't spin up at all. The computer generates so little heat that the fan has pretty much been idle the whole time.

What's particularly interesting is that this is also almost alarmingly fast. I get reasonably good performance out of the Toshiba (Satellite A205, release date 2007; 1.30 GHz dual-core Celeron/1GB RAM; network name: Maleficent) running a lightweight Lubuntu install with XFCE graphical shell. Maleficent doesn't particularly like maintaining two dozen Chromium tabs under a full-screen HD YouTube stream while I fool around with GIMP on the other monitor, but neither does anything fall down go boom. The amount of grumbling I get, in fact, is roughly the same as I get putting that load on the ASUSTek (RemixOS seems to think it's a K54C, release date 2011; 2.20GHz dual-core B960/4GB RAM; network name: Natasha). Which means the main bottleneck here is not the hardware, it's fucking Windows.

I am not a power user. I don't do a whole lot of real-time 3D renders or video editing. I'm not a big PC gamer; nothing on my Steam account is less than 10 years old, and the most processor-intensive games I run locally are on emulators, where I coax a pile of computer parts worth maybe $20 into pretending to be a 20-year old, $200 Playstation. The single worst thing I do to the actual brains is probably work with large print-resolution raster graphics in GIMP, and I abuse the RAM by using Open In New Tab... by default for days at a time.

[And actually most of the gaming is on the Kindle Fire now. I find 7" a nice size for getting a game and the control overlay on the screen at the same time. It's plenty smart enough to be a PSP, a handheld which itself was smart enough to run PSX games in emulation. Supposedly there's a working PS2 emu out there somewhere. The only downside is that emulators eat battery like a scientifically-engineered battery-eating thing. So does Pokémon GO!, and everybody loves that, so I think I'll cope.]

Unless you are rooting around in a terminal window -- pun unintended, but spared in edits for being apropos -- all of the major OSes work pretty much the same. You communicate with the computer the same way you order food in a foreign country: Find a picture of what you want and poke at it until your server gets the idea. The window/icon metaphor has been the fundamental basis of every GUI since they were invented at Xerox PARC. They may be arranged slightly differently and stashed in different places, but at the end-user level, all computers do the same stuff now. Once upon a time, when the architecture was much more obvious to the schmuck at the keyboard, the various kinds of "microcomputers" were tuned for different things -- Amigas were known for video, Ataris and the Speccy were good at games, PCs descended from boring business computers, etc. These days, all of the working software runs at such a high level of abstraction that what the machine is optimized for is not down to the brand or build, but to the amount of raw computing resources you've shoved into the case.

There are two reasons all of my preferred software is free open-source stuff, and the less obvious one is that I don't want to fucking learn everything three times. Programs like Libre/OpenOffice and Sigil are not written for one platform and ported to others; they're written in high-level platform-independent languages and compiled for different operating systems instead. (The interpreter and compiler you use to write it are dependent on your OS; the language itself is not, although if you really want you can still tune it to quirks of specific architecture.) The Windows, Mac, and Linux forks are compiled off of the same master build, so all three versions work exactly the same no matter what kind of computer you're on. It's especially obvious if you use GIMP for Windows. Windows applications are supposed to keep all their child windows inside a containing parent window, but this by tradition, not necessity; there's nothing in the operating environment enforcing it. And in fact GIMP for Windows uses the Mac/Linux paradigm of letting all its toolbars and palettes float all over the damn place, completely unconnected to the window that holds the working image and the master menu bar.

There are a few compelling reasons for sticking with Windows if you're running a business or an institution. If you've got any specialized software that runs only on Windows, you kind of need it. Most people are familiar with it, so you don't have to give all your employees a crash course on the many and various uses of apt-get and why you do not type sudo anything unless you have a damn good reason. There's also the stability of having your OS supported by a giant corporation with a 24-hour helpdesk and upper-tier technicians and some sort of independent existence that you can sue the pants off of if for some reason they make your computer burst into flames.

I need to perform specific tasks more than I need to have specific software, and all of my shit is A) junk by current standards, and B) way out of warranty even if I didn't constantly void EULAs by tinkering. I really just need something that functions as a computer. I might have bought a Chromebook the last time I was on this merry-go-round, except they topped out at 13" and I'd go blind trying to do graphics work on that.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hi! Uh. Happy new year? I meant to write something serious and contemplative days ago, but then the garbage disposal broke, taking out the drain to both the kitchen sink and the dishwasher. While Tom was in the middle of draining and cleaning a 90 gallon fish tank.

And then the internet broke. Well, I say 'and then'. The internet has been intermittently broken for months now, because this neighborhood appears to have been wired for cable in about 1974 and then diligently ignored. There was no way to get Comcast to believe it was their equipment and not ours until we had submitted roughly 978,378 support tickets, at which point they generally dispatch a tech to shut the customer up. I don't know what exactly the issue was, but once we got someone out to look at the outside of the house, they fixed it in like half an hour.

The actual computer is not broken, but that's mainly because I haven't gotten around to it yet. I know various and sundry people who work in IT and inherit a lot of equipment from forgotten supply closets, and one of them just handed me a 128GB solid-state SATA drive. This is brilliant and would already be installed, except that I have an Asus. It's not a particularly terrible computer, but they do not ship with system discs, which means I have no media from which to reinstall Windows onto the new drive. (It's supposed to have a "restore partition". This is one of many pieces of shovelware their computers come with, and Google will give you a zillion examples of it not working.) In theory, if you've paid for a copy of Windows -- which I did -- you can download installation packages direct from Microsoft; in practice, Asus is one of the manufacturers who ships their Windows computers in a pre-activated state using bulk-bought OEM keys, which will not work on a regulation copy of Windows. I have the key, it's just useless.

Microsoft's suggested solution is to give them another $120 for a fresh copy of Windows. Asus's suggested solution is to give them $50 for burning a CD-R with their OEM Windows package on it and shipping it to me via arthritic snail. My suggested solution is for all of them to eat a large bag of dicks, because this computer cost me $300 as a refurb four years ago, and both of those figures are many times what it is currently worth.

Tom is for some reason dead set on convincing me to clone the original drive onto the SSD and then force-upgrade it to Windows 10. I would happily nuke everything and run the hardware on Marshmallow, which is stupid-crazy fast even on this thing, except that about half the software I need is available "only" for Windows/Mac/Linux. (For the record, the minimum installation list is: LibreOffice/OpenOffice suite, GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Sigil, VLC, and a web browser in which Flash actually works.) I unearthed the spare laptop from the depths of the closet and it's now running Lubuntu 16.10, which is perfectly fine for a dual-core Celeron.

I may just hand Tom the stack of supplies and tell him that if it's not back to functioning as a computer with 48 hours, I'm just going to stomp the drive and put Linux on it. Normally I would break out in hives at the prospect of handing my working computer over to someone else and possibly getting it back in need of a good hard formatting, but honestly, I've gotten to the point where there is nothing on the local hard disk that cannot be replaced. A lot of it would be annoying to replace, because it would involve spending most of the weekend going through the "Google, download, install, reboot, install, reboot..." ritual D. C. al fine. But most of it's just cluttering up the data partition because I got tired of having to hook and unhook external media drives to find music and video.

Everything important is either on an external HDD or crammed into a cloud drive somewhere or another. Admittedly, I'd be completely hosed if Google ever disintegrated, but so would about 200 million other people, so I don't think shouting at me would be a priority. The main thing that used to drive me batty when changing computers was that the browser would forget all of my obscure passwords, and that no longer happens -- saved logins go with your Chrome profile, which goes wherever Google is accessible. And if Google isn't accessible, I can't see why I'd need any of my logins anyway.

My main problem with letting other people tinker with my computer is that I need something to do things on. I think I've reached equilibrium in that regard, now that the mobile devices are actually smart enough to handle email and YouTube. I'm currently sitting in the middle of a heap of screens: the Windows laptop, the Lubuntu laptop with external monitor, two completely different kinds of Kindle, there's a phone in here somewhere, the DS is on charge and the 3DS is currently running Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, because I am an addict and Moggie is one of my most faithful enablers. There is no longer any one function confined to a single machine, so even if I have to take the computer away from my roommate and install his least-favorite OS all by myself, I won't ever be stuck incommunicado.

Frankly, the number one upgrade the Asus actually needs is a keyboard on which all of the keys function reliably the first time you press them. I am absolute murder on keyboards, being as I loathe having to scrawl things out by hand, and type absolutely everything. Touchscreens just make me want to murder everything else. I can get the Fire (and the BlackBerry, when it works) to guess what word I want next, and I can get Swype to guess the word I want now, but I can't get any one keyboard to do both of those things, never mind do them in more than one language at a time.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 25

Happy holidays one and all. I hope you all had as pleasant and quiet a Christmas Day as I did.

I fed the rats an entire (small) pot pie. At first they were confused. There is fud in r bol? But its closed? But the lid is also a fud? They eventually figured it out by chewing on it, which is how they figure out most things they can't turn over. Later on, I fed them some of the strawberry yogies, which may be their new favorite thing on earth.

My college Watson loves her Christmas gadget, and informed me that the reason mine hasn't shown up yet is that the game isn't released until the 30th, and Amazon won't let her gift it until then. One of my roommates got word that her UMass application was received and is crossing her fingers for a transfer. The dishes ares all done. The world has not yet ended.

I am posting this (carefully!) from a hot bath with the new Kindle. I've already queued up the Saturday auto-posts for 2017, which will be music, since YouTube has conveniently given up and just started providing official full album playlists.

Everybody try to hang on until next year, yeah?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 24

Inasmuch as it's actually Christmas Eve now -- and I'm going to be spending the evening standing at the door of the Somerville Theater handing out programs at the Slutcracker -- I'm just going to link to Google's Santa Tracker and leave you all to tinker with it. No equivalent for my Jewish friends, I'm afraid; your kids all know where their Hanukkah presents come from.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 23

Ratmas is coming!

The critters got their cage decorated today, as I'm doing things tomorrow, and am probably not going to feel like doing anything even remotely useful on Sunday. I apologize for being a rubbish photographer. This was also a test of the Kindle Fire camera, which turns out to be much better at capturing images in dark environments such as, for instance, the interior of a rat cage that has a fleece blanket thrown over the top.

Cut for an extremely photo-heavy entry.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Things That Are Nice: Day 22

Pretty much anyone who has ever played more than one video game has had at least a passing thought about making one themselves. I can't speak to arcade-style shmups, and I don't have much practical experience with things like Unreal Engine. The RPG Maker line is sadly too expensive to use as a toy for me to tinker with. 

Fortunately, I am a drooling fan of various kinds of visual novel games, both of which can be produced with free software and distributed to a variety of platforms. 

Pure text games can be put together with Inform 7, a scripting engine that specifically aims to be as English-like as possible. It's got stricter syntax than actual English does, and assumes some very specific meanings for certain words, but the end result is indeed readable -- although if you're really determined to dig into the guts of Z-code you can fix that. Inform compiles games into code intended for a Z-machine of one version or another, and they are played with whatever happens to be your favorite interpreter for your favorite platform. I'm pretty sure if you asked around enough, you could find a version of Frotz that ran on your thermostat.

For bigger productions with sound and pictures (and video, and puzzles, and minigames...) along the lines of Ace Attorney, Professor Layton, 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors, or Higurashi no Koro ni, you want something more like Ren'Py. It's not as English-y as Inform 7, but frankly, even actual English is often not that English-y. What Ren'Py is, is simple to start with, easy to test, and portable to the big three OSes (Win/Lin/Mac), plus both Android and iPhone. (I'm sure Apple vets things, but you can upload pretty much anything that isn't obviously broken or malicious to Google Play if it's signed with a software key.) There's also a way to compile a browser-based version, although not having my own webserver I have no idea how that would work. While you can do things simply in Ren'Py, you can also do things in an insanely complicated fashion by dragging in real Python, the scripting language on which it is based, to do whatever crucial thing it is you think Ren'Py doesn't do already.

I like having alternatives for getting things out of my head and onto a screen or a piece of paper. I've never built anything big in either language, although I've poked at them quite a bit.