Switching to the Cloud

Drive faster, dammit! We have deadlines to catch!

I was really looking forward to getting some more progress on my novel done, which meant defragmenting it again after writing some stuff on another program. I happen to love the thing known as WriteMonkey, which is a full screen, distraction free writing program. Unfortunately, I tend to just starting writing things, leave them on it, and forget to put them into my full novel file. So when after I recently moved and put my desktop into a box, I once again had the aggravation of knowing that part of my novel was stuck on another computer, which I had to drag out of said box to get to. Thus, for some time, there was a gap in my novel, a block.

A most annoying one indeed.

Well, I think I have finally decided to go fully over to the cloud. This will undoubtedly be a genuine pain the arse when I go visit my parents or head into the outback where the Internet is a rare as a competent replacement NFL ref, or when Internet connectivity is down, but this is 2012 and I live in a big metro area. Documents should be on the cloud, not on hard drives (at least not just hard drives.)

Plus, Google Docs/Drive has come a long way. I remember when I first started using it way back around 2005 or 2006, and it was essentially an online Wordpad. It was not a replacement for Office. There were problems everywhere with formatting and saving files, and I couldn’t do a lot with the text. Fast forward six years, and I argue it’s better than Microsoft Word–better than OpenOffice LibreOffice even–and can be accessed anywhere that has Internet. Even without Internet, you can install Google Drive on your computer and have a folder that automatically syncs with it. (And it’s way better than SyncDocs too, which was always annoying with it’s pop-up notifications.)

I’m going to keep a lightweight Abiword behind on my computer (far smaller footprint than LibreOffice) just in case, but I feel I have made a big jump into the 21st century. Now I won’t have to worry where my documents are, as they will all be there, in the cloud, waiting.

Which sounds really freaking creepy.

Virgin Mobile is Retarded

Or at least they’re just staffed by retards.

This is my situation: a couple of weekends ago, I was caught out in a rainstorm and my Motorola Triumph, carried by Virgin Mobile, was basically killed. I thought I was in hot water (pun totally intended) when, after I tried drying it out using the bowl of rice trick, it wouldn’t start up again. A couple of times it made it to the home screen, though I couldn’t unlock it and it kept saying there was no battery. Now, it’s just permanently dark. Fortunately, the SD card is apparently functional, as I put it into my old Samsung Intercept that I mercifully forgot to sell on eBay and it works. Not perfectly (I spent about 4 hours today trying to get music on it, for pete’s sakes) but it works. To me, this indicates that it’s probably the battery, so I want to buy a replacement.

Unfortunately, Motorola, in their infinite wisdom, apparently don’t sell replacement batteries for this phone. Neither does RadioShack (from whom I bought the phone and a one-year replacement plan for it, which apparently doesn’t cover damage! How shitty is that?). That’s when I heard that Virgin Mobile, my carrier, might provide a battery. So I asked them:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/JDKolassa/status/249908606223413248″]

To which they ask this really simple and justified question:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/VMUcare/status/249932137644576768″]

To which I answer:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/JDKolassa/status/249969044969644033″]

So far, pretty humdrum and boring, as it should be. But here is where the stupid begins, in VM’s next tweet:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/VMUcare/status/249979457945862144″]

Gee, maybe that’s the whole point of me asking if you sell replacement batteries! That’s how this whole thing started, after all?

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/JDKolassa/status/249983217799675904″]

But the fun stupid doesn’t stop there:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/VMUcare/status/249987709999910912″]

This is my reaction:

You know, Twitter has this handy feature called “View this conversation,” where you can see previous tweets. You should probably use it, as I pointed out.

Someone needs to straighten out Virgin Mobile’s customer support team. I don’t care if they’re using Radian 6 on Salesforce–they should know enough to check a conversation to see what’s already been said. I don’t care if they have a lot of requests–that barely takes a minute. This is simple, easy stuff.

Can you tell I’m annoyed?

Internet Access

You know, we’ve become too fixated on the internet. It’s gotten to a point where, if we have a computer that is unable to connect, said computer is useless.

Want to edit a video using Adobe? Sorry, you need the internet to verify your program.

Want to see if you can upgrade to Windows 7? Sorry, you need to connect to Microsoft’s server to check for compatibility issues.

Want to play games? Nope, need the Internet for that too. Even in “offline” mode.

Look, I get the Internet is amazing. I love it myself. But when you’re trying to fix an old computer, or just use the damn thing, and it doesn’t have working Internet, it makes it very difficult because all the programs out there are required to use it. This is rather silly. Internet access should not be a base requirement for a program, it should be an added benefit.

But nobody thinks that way and you run into absurd problems like the one I have, which is I’m trying to fix my computer, but am completely unable to do so. I don’t even know if I can upgrade to Windows 7 at this point. What a bummer.

Social Media, Privacy, Passwords, and Who Gives A Rat’s Pajamas

There is apparently a new and worrying trend where employers are asking for job candidates’ Facebook account passwords:

When Justin Bassett interviewed for a job, he was stunned when the interviewer asked for something more than his experience and references: his Facebook username and password.

The New York statistician had finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to peruse his Facebook page. Because she couldn’t see his private profile, she asked him for his login information.

Bassett refused and withdrew his application. But other job candidates are confronting the same question, and some can’t afford to say “no.”

“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor who calls it “an egregious privacy violation.”

Companies that don’t ask for passwords to vet applicants have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to “friend” human-resource managers.

I can see the desire of HR and hiring managers to see the private information on someone’s Facebook account in order to get a better look at this person and see if he or she is a dimwit who can be trusted with corporate secrets and get a better look at their character, but quite frankly this is absurd. It’s akin to asking you for your Gmail password or, as Orin Kerr says in the above excerpt, your house keys.

Doug Mataconis over at Outside the Beltway makes the argument that this isn’t really a big deal and not something to truly worry about, but I disagree entirely. Doug writes:

I’m not sure, though, that new laws are the answer here. In the end, employers have a right to screen the people they hire as they see fit and to refuse to hire them if there’s something in their background that they believe would not be in the employer’s best interest, or which potentially makes the employee untrustworthy. Barring employers from using this particular method to discover more about their prospective employees is just going to mean they’ll find other ways to do it because, like it or not, what you do online will  impact your job prospects:

The problem with this argument is twofold:

  • You don’t have to get access to someone’s personal life to truly screen them for a position, unless you’re talking national security
  • You’ll open up yourself to a lot of liabilities, because many private accounts have protected classes of information, such as religion, ethnicity, orientation, etc. (I’m not an HR expert, so I don’t know the actual classes, but you get the idea.)

His “editor” (co-blogger at this point, really) Dr. James Joyner also chimes in and says he takes the opposite tack, writing:

UPDATE (James Joyner): I addressed this issue over a year ago, taking the opposite position, in a post titled “Want A Job? Give Us Your Facebook Password.”

While I think the prospective employee has a lower expectation of privacy when applying for a government job, especially a particularly sensitive one like military, intelligence, and law enforcement positions, there are limits. And, I’m sorry, “If you don’t like it, don’t apply to work there” has some limits, too.

Should employers Google the names of prospective employees and perhaps check out their public Facebook and Twitter profiles? For many white collar jobs, I think that’s reasonable. But accessing private information seems out of bounds. Indeed, if they can demand to look at the inside of your Facebook account, why not your Gmail account?

Additionally, as noted in the ensuing discussion, employers may inadvertently run afoul of existing employment law with this practice. It’s illegal for employers to ask prospective employees about their marital status, whether they have children, or any number of other issues. Yet, that information will often be immediately available on one’s Facebook page.

Even though I’m a free market libertarian, there is a limit to what I think employers–whether private, non-profit, or government–should be able to do. Granted, they should have a greater ability to screen candidates and chose who they want to, but trying to sneak into someone’s personal life and violate their privacy is just beyond the pale. What next? Hire investigators to find out who we lost our virginity to? Good grief.

I do agree entirely with what Jazz Shaw of Hot Air said and what Doug Mataconis told me on Twitter, with regards to just plain common sense:

Personally, I think this falls back on an old rule of thumb in the internet age. If you need to work for a living or do anything outside of your online life, you simply can’t take anonymity for granted. Don’t put anything out on the web unless you’d be comfortable having your family, your enemies and – yes – even your employer or prospective boss seeing it. Because odds are, sooner or later, they will.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/dmataconis/status/183957664714338304″]

However, I’m not convinced that, in twenty years (or even less) this will even matter. By then, just about everyone is going to have had a social network account and have said something stupid on it. There will also be loads of people who saw this crap happening and decided not to do it. So either way, there isn’t going to any point to checking an employee’s Facebook, because everyone has said it. It’ll be as mundane as saying “I like pie.”

This is how society changes and evolves. It is not a static element; it is fluid and continually fluctuating. The problems of 2012 will likely be non-issues in 2032. It is a very worrying and distressing trend for our time right now.


Another, slightly tangential topic that annoys me is the growing number of websites that utilize Facebook to provide comments. I find this to be obnoxious and not worth the point. Ostensibly, the reason for this is to improve the commentating quality, because the comment will be associated with someone’s real name. In practice, however, most people are still assholes. Why? Because a lot of people are just assholes in real life. Forcing them to use their real name and picture (which doesn’t even happen all the time; I’ve seen people make Facebook accounts for their dogs, for chrissakes) doesn’t make their comments come off nicer or more intelligent. I also find it would chill a lot of speech; imagine being a young gay man in a militantly conservative Christian household. You would probably not willingly comment on a lot of issues that affect you deeply, because now your parents can track you. “FlufflyBunny0059?” Not so much.

That’s just obnoxious, though, not truly egregious. They’re not trying to get into your account. I, for one, will never require Facebook commenting on my blog, and in fact, I’m not even sure if you can log in with Facebook (I might have deleted that plugin.) I do know that I keep the Twitter and OpenID login available as options, as well as just commenting pseudonomyously. I feel that choice is the best option for all.

Pencil to Paper

In this day of smartphones, iPads, cloud software, and 8-core CPUs, I find that the best tool to write a novel or a story is a notebook. No no, you fool, not an Alienware m14 (though that is very attractive), I mean a notebook. You know, a book, where you write notes in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a very, very big fan of computers and technology. I actually, most likely, have an unhealthy addiction to computers. I’m already looking at upgrading away from my current laptop (an Averatec 2500), which weighs about 17,256 pounds, and getting something like a netbook or perhaps, an ultrabook, something around 10″-11.6″ so it will fit in a small backpack, so I can carry it around DC. And my current laptop is only about four years old.*

But the truth of the matter is, computers are really quite terrible to write novels on. They’re excellent when it comes to storing copies and drafts, and actually putting in the “final” product. Cloud storage is even better, because then you can save it on the web, behind passwords and security, and don’t have to worry if your laptop or notebook goes missing; your work has not been lost (except for the most recent stuff that hasn’t been backed up.) However, I find that when you’re actually muddling through a story, trying to figure out where to go next, a computer is a bloody awful device.

First you have to log on and sign in. Wait, let me back up. First, you have to wait for your computer to boot up. If you have one of those “instant-on” Linux operating systems installed on top of your Windows or Mac OSX install, or a solid state drive, this isn’t really that long. But god forbid if you have a mechanical hard disk drive and just Windows as your boot, like most computer users–you’ll be sitting there for what feels like an eternity. Sure, it’s not really that long–maybe 40-90 seconds–but wasting even that much amount of time spinning your wheels is dreadful.

Okay, so your computer is booted up. Then you have to log on and sign in. Then you have to navigate to your writing software. (Who knows how long that’ll take; if you’re smart, its pinned to your taskbar or your start list. If you’re not…) Then you’ll have to find your file. And–oh, look, an email from your girlfriend. Oh, and somebody mentioned you on Twitter. And jeebus, there’s another system update to use. On and on and on…

Get the idea?

Boot time: zero.

So while I’m fairly young and ensconced in the “tech generation,” I still like to have my old standby, the Mead. You can get it in 7″, 8″, 9.5″ or 11″ configurations, with anywhere between 60, 70, or 180 pages of storage. (Sure, if you think of each page as a gigabyte, that’s not a lot, but it’s a whole heck of a lot cheaper, even as cheap as digital storage is.) And I find that’s really all I need.

As the lead hits the paper, ideas quite literally flow. And if you decide you don’t like something, you can erase right there. Ideas just don’t flow from my mind so easily on a computer screen, which is probably a result of the eyestrain and the rapid hand movements I have to constantly make. (Also, I have big, fat fingers, and no keyboard is ever large enough for them.) I find myself, especially when blogging, getting up and running around my room to process thoughts, rather than just sitting there and writing them out.

This, of course, before we get to distractions.

Ultimately, this is just me. I know that. Other writers may never have a need to turn to paper and pencil, but I just feel–in this era of rapidly advancing technology, which I am very supportive of and pleased with–there is a real need to go back to basis and back to the way things were before. Not every advancement is necessarily good. Not every new thing can properly be termed “progress.”

Now, where did I put that external drive…

*Yes yes, I know that’s positively ancient in terms of computers, but even though I’m a tech nut, I don’t like changing things out so soon. I’m not crazy.

2012 Predictions

Since a couple of my friends are posting their predictions for 2012, I figured I would get in on it too:


  • Ron Paul wins Iowa and New Hampshire, has not terrible but not great either performances in South Carolina and Florida, and then flames out afterward (but sticks around until the convention)
  • Gary Johnson wins the Libertarian Party nomination and goes on to receive 3-7% of the popular vote in the general election but no electoral votes (or maybe 1-2 at the most from faithless electors)
  • Republicans hold the House and take the Senate
  • Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination and the presidency
  • Battles begin over public sector pensions as states and local governments cannot pay them all; Democrats start cutting Big Labor loose, seeing it more as a liability than an asset
  • The Eurozone and the European Union break up
  • Widespread civil unrest in China
  • The Middle East explodes, as if it were punched by the holy fist of Chuck Norris
  • Kim Jung-Un is disposed and North Korea gets taken over by a junta, which later collapses due to factional infighting
  • Russia finally becomes a parafascist state and just gets on with it
  • Civil liberties across the world take a beating, especially in the United States
  • Simulatenously, “social democracy” around the world takes a beating of its own, as entitlement and welfare programs are simply unsustainable
  • I become a Canadian to get away from it all
  • Keynesianism gets kicked in the face (I wish)
  • China’s economy begins to implode, though not completely
  • Entitlements are not reformed, debt is not tackled, and the Federal Reserve continues to exist, which sets the stage for the economy to end in 2013


  • They fail to introduce an Android phone that doesn’t suck ass
  • They finally release a version of the iPhone for prepaid carriers
  • RIM (makers of the Blackberry) go bankrupt; nobody in the United States cares
  • Research into cold fusion technology (AKA this guy) proves fruitful, and while not leading into “proven!” territory, dispels the stigma around it and opens up new doors
  • Drones take over most combat operations in the US military
  • AI are not developed
  • Cloud computing takes a hit as more and more regulations over the Internet (think SOPA) are debated and some passed, encouraging people to stop using the web so damn much
  • On the other hand, “hacktivists” become more prominent, and governments around the world start seeing their control over the web slip away, giving credence to “crypto-anarchist” movements


  • More experiments involving FTL neutrinos (and/or other particles) are confirmed, radically changing our understanding of physics
  • A prototypical form of the Grand Unified Theory is discovered, but not confirmed; everyone argues over it
  • More evidence concerning multiple universes is acquired


  • I fail to play or GM a pen-and-paper RPG adventure (at least one!) due to various reasons
  • After a four-year hiatus, I publish a short story, though I do not publish a novel

Abiword vs OpenOffice (AKA I Want to Shoot Myself in the Face)

I’ve used OpenOffice for years, because I’ve never seen the point in paying over $100 just to be able to type some words out (and, also, I hate Office 2007 and its craptacular user interface.) Recently, I just switched to a dual-boot installation of Linux, because I was noticing that Windows is really quite bloated. My current Linux install, Linux Mint 11 LXDE, is specifically design to be lightweight and not bloated whatsoever.

To that end, I’ve been trying out Abiword, which comes with it and is also designed to be fast and lightweight. I had already noticed, or at least perceived, that OpenOffice was fat, but I had no idea until I looked at Linux’s software manager:


4MB of basic word processing goodness







200MB of JUMPIN JESOPHAT!What the fark? Why is there 196 extra megabytes? This is a word processor, not a damn video game! Sheesh. Fat is right.

There is only problem I have with Abiword, and it drives me frankly nuts. And its this:

Things That Drive Me Insane And Are Not Named Cthulhu

Maybe it’s just me, but having the paper on one side of the screen just annoys the hell out of me. I haven’t figured out how to fix it yet, but I’m working on it. Until then, I’m just going to have to curse at my screen.

*sigh* Why can’t things just, you know, work like they’re supposed to?


FTL Neutrinos confirmed?


The OPERA collaborative in Italy, which stunned the physics community in September by claiming they had detected neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, has completed a second run of tests in the hopes of reducing the uncertainty of the result. They have submitted their findings for peer review, but the group has stated that they have confirmed their earlier result, and again detected neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light.

I don’t need to tell anyone how huge this is. If this gets confirmed–really confirmed–we’re going to upset the entire understanding of science, period. Every hard science fiction story that requires starships to travel at slower than light speeds (with the crew either in cryostasis, uploaded into computer banks, or spawning generations of children) will no longer be valid–or they will, but just be silly. Instead, we’ll have Enterprises and Millennium Falcons and X-Wings and who knows what. Granted, it will still take decades before we can first really confirm this, then develop experimental technology to harness this, and then still more before it becomes commercially viable. But if this is true, we might have FTL travel before the 23rd century.

Then all we would need to go along with it are directed energy weapons; reliable, cheap and clean power generation; and smartphones that don’t suck.

Checking in on Cold Fusion

Success for Andrea Rossi’s E-Cat cold fusion system, but mysteries remain (Wired UK)

So, remember that cold fusion test I blogged about a little while ago? I decided to check in again on it, to see if it was a success, because I hadn’t heard, well, anything in the news about it.

And the answer is because: well, it’s very ambiguous.

The Wired UK article exemplifies this, because it boldly states that the experiment was a “success,” but the entire article goes on to point out that nobody really knows anything:

But this does not mean we can crack open the champagne and celebrate the end of fossil fuels quite yet. Skeptics have plenty of grounds to doubt whether the new test really takes us any further forwards.

For a start, the US customer remains anonymous. In other words, a group of unknown, unverifiable people carried out tests which cannot be checked.

Secondly, observers apart from the customer were only allowed to view the test for a few minutes at a time and during the entire test the E-Cat remained connected to a power supply by a cable. The external power was supposedly turned off; as a demonstration it would have been more impressive for the reactor in its shipping container to be visibly disconnected while operating.

It then calls it a “successful test.” That doesn’t sound anywhere near successful to me.

Mark Gibbs at Forbes.com says that “believers” in cold fusion have their own idea of a conspiracy against it:

Some believe there’s a conspiracy which has its roots in Big Business; that the companies involved in energy production and distribution have intentionally created a media environment where anything to do with cold fusion and or LENR are dismissed as quack science. Others theorize that the silence and downright dismissal of CF in the scientific community is due to people not wanting to deal with anything that threatens established doctrine.

I find the Big Business conspiracy theory to be unconvincing. No one can show any evidence as to which organizations might be involved and it’s hard to believe that, for example, the oil companies or the power utilities would have that much fear of something that has never been proven to actually work on a commercial scale (some would go further and argue that cold fusion never been proven to even work at all).

As for the idea that Big Science is protecting the status quo, well, sure, of course there will be push back when something comes along that defies all known principles. But if someone was to produce a demonstration that could be reliably replicated by others or, at the very least, could be evaluated by independent observers to perform as claimed, then there would be something the scientific community couldn’t ignore. Such demonstrations have yet to appear.

To be honest–and this will sound crazy, I know–but I don’t think it’s too irrational to think that major oil companies and others already in the energy business may be leaning on the media and trying to keep this stuff down, so that they can milk as much profit out of their assets. Let’s not forget, for example, that General Electric owns NBC News, and despite their disclaimer, I’m sure they have some “influence” on it, and also, we’ve seen over the past decade how much power corporations have in the halls of government. I will agree with Gibbs, though, that “conspiracy” is a bit far; I doubt these guys are really that focused on a scientific concept of dubious credibility. If anything, corporate resistance would be generally passive, just, you know, trying to keep their own profits maximized and telling everyone that oil will be good for decades.

Unfortunately, none of this does any good for the cold fusion guys. First off, as Wired notes, they had the thing plugged in the whole time–which sort of defeats the purpose and looks deceptive. Second, there’s really no proof of anything. The scientific method is being completely averted here, and there’s just no evidence. How did it generate power? If you’re not willing to explain its inner workings or let a public third party investigate, then basically you have nothing to offer.

I feel it’s a shame. I do believe by the end of this century we will have a new energy source that will, if not 100%, will still mostly replace petroleum. No, it won’t be solar, there’s just not enough there (not unless you want to build an entire network of orbital energy satellites that will transmit the collected energy down by microwave lasers; in that case, it’s doable), but it will probably be a combination of hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear, with some geothermal on the side. I really, really wish that it was going to be cold fusion, though, because such massive amounts of energy delivered so cheaply and safely would really bring the costs of just about everything down (energy is one of the larger input costs in manufacturing and the wider economy, if I recall correctly, though I think it’s still behind labor.)

Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen, though, at least not yet.