Monthly Archives: March 2007

Vista Glitches

Of course every upgrade to a new operating system entails a few bumps in the road of bringing up to speed pre-existing software applications and extant hardware devices. I’m not cynical about this; I’m a software engineer by trade and have an appreciation for the complexity of software applications, surely among the most complex conceptions ever deployed by humans. It’s amazing those gigabytes of code work as well as they do, 99.9% of the time; still, one notices the 0.1% remaining.

My recent purchase of a Windows Vista laptop (er, notebook) has entailed these difficulties:

1) My favorite graphics application, the venerable but simple and reliable Paint Shop Pro version 4, seemed to install successfully but then could not be found to run. Selecting it from the Programs menu produced only an offer to browse for the executable; the Program Files/Paint Shop Pro directory could not be found, though trying to install the software a second time generated the warning that such diretory already existed. (I was, however, able to install Paint Shop Pro version 7 successfully.)

2) I have a flatbed HP scanner, model 7400c, which I haven’t been able to use with the new notebook. The installation disk ran successfully to a point, but then it instructs the user to reboot the computer, after which the install program would resume to complete installation. Apparently, Vista is blocking the relaunch of the install program after reboot (since it’s paranoid about running anything without user permission), and I haven’t figure out how to enable it. Trying to the use the scanner the way I usually do — via Paint Shop Pro, Import/TWAIN/acquire — produces an error message that some other application is using the scanner, and I should stop that application. Even though no other application is running.

3) iTunes does not play well with Vista. I installed iTunes on the new notebook to download the episode of Lost I missed a couple weeks ago. The iTunes s/w installed, the episode downloaded (they took my $1.99), but trying to play it produced only a jerky, slide-show video result. (The audio was fine.) Apparently this is a Known Issue.

OK, for the time being I have backup computers for all these matters, and I trust fixes or workarounds will be revealed in time. If everything worked perfectly the first time, life would be pretty boring, eh?

Well, That’s One Way to Clear Out an Inbox…; Vista, Office 2007

So after returning from my short-circuited trip to Key West, where my room was burgled and my laptop stolen, entailing the loss of my email inbox and archives, I took an extra day off from work to shop for a new laptop — I should say ‘notebook’; apparently, no vendors say ‘laptop’ any more — in order to restore my day to day support of the Locus Online website. Fortunately, the area where I live happens to be near a cluster of home-electronics shops: Fry’s, Best Buy, Circuit City, even Comp USA, though the last seems to be going out of business as rapidly as possible (‘last one’ stickers on half the notebooks on display, and a ‘no refunds no returns’ sign at the exit). I started by shopping online, of course, after perusing two PC magazines bought at the Ft Lauderdale airport on the flight home on Tuesday…

After many adventures, comparing the slightly different models that each store separately stocks, driving back and forth, rejecting opened box stock, I ended up with virtually the equivalent of my previous notebook — the lowest end model of the highest-end model line of HP notebooks, specifically the HP 9210 model — for almost exactly what I paid for that previous notebook 3 years ago, though now of course the new machine has a faster processor and far more RAM (2 gig). It has the wide-screen monitor and the full keyboard, with the numerical keypad on the right, that I can’t live without.

More to the point, the new machine has Windows Vista, and I also sprung for and installed Office 2007 (much as I did 3 years ago for Office 2003…), and so in addition to resurrecting my local copy of the website and my email interface, I’m challenged this week with learning the details of a new operating system and overhauled Office programs. Actually, my previous laptop was rather decrepit and I’d figured on replacing it soon anyway…; silver lining.

About Windows Vista: it’s very cool, in at least a superficial sense. It’s shiny and sleek; new windows open with little swoops, their borders semi-transparent, and every action makes cool tinkly noises. On the other hand, it’s security-conscious to the point of paranoia and obnoxiousness. I’ve already experienced IE 7, where every time I click on my Links Portal page, even my local copy, it makes me click an extra couple times in order to allow the dangerous active-x content (the ads) embedded therein. Windows Vista does this everywhere possible. It assumes you can’t be trusted not to make some awful mistake that would destroy your computer’s integrity. Click click click. Yes, yes, yes, I know what I’m doing.

On the plus side — the rather patronizing personalization of the previous Windows, XP, has been removed. No longer do you click on ‘My Computer’ and ‘My documents’. Now it’s ‘Computer’ and ‘Documents’. Thank you.

Office 2007: the major change is that the menu drop-down lists, standard on Microsoft products since time immemorial, have been replaced by context-sensitive ‘ribbons’, which display options appropriate to whatever you happen to be doing at the time. It’s probably a good idea, though the change will take some getting used to. It took me 10 minutes last night to figure out how to remove a filter on an Access query that used to be two clicks away from the old menu bars. At the same time, the Vista paranoia assumes anything called a ‘macro’ must be something Very Dangerous Indeed, and so now every time I open one of my databases, I have to click a couple times to permit using those functions that used to be routinely allowed. Maybe there’s a way to customize these settings and avoid these endless permission-clicks… though I can’t say I’ve found a way to do so in IE 7.

Someone in Key West Doesn’t Like Me

On Sunday my partner and I had breakfast in the Hilton restaurant, checked out, and drove south down the Interstate and then Route 1, into the Keys and westward from one to the next across the many bridges and through the many towns. (We rented a taxi-cab-yellow Mustang convertible, out of what was available, and curiosity. This new version of the Mustang strikes me as a cartoon version of the original, oversized for its proportions, and as it turned out, underpowered. But then I drive a BMW 330i at home…so I suppose I’m spoiled.) I was pleased to see that the general milieu in the Keys was that of towns built in 1950s stucco and rarely if ever upgraded since; communities like Key Largo and Tavernier seemed if anything rather depressed, empty storefronts alternating with mom-and-pop shops. No fancy condos, not a Starbucks to be seen. We stopped at a “world’s best fish sandwich” diner along the way, and ate one of their fish sandwiches with a conch appetizer (pronounced ‘conk’, it seems).

We arrived eventually in Key West itself, taking a wrong turn and winding through the nether part of town, past the high school and aging mini-malls with dry cleaners and fishing shops, before finding our inn on a quiet one-way street full of vintage cottages and occasional two-storey hotels. We checked in, moved our baggage inside, relaxed a while. I checked email, posted updated ‘future history’ listings, approved a whole bunch of comments to Cory’s latest essay (which he’d obviously posted a link to from Boing Boing), and posted an item on the homepage to alert readers of the new comments.

Then we left our room and strolled a while, first past the restaurant where I’d made a web-based reservation (Antonia’s) for dinner, then north up Duval Street, sensing a movement toward what I’d heard was a traditional sunset event on Key West… and so, indeed, we ended up at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, where crowds gather to watch the sun set into the ocean from the westmost point in the Keys….

Then we went back to the restaurant for a pleasant dinner. Strolled around a bit more, up and down Duval Street, which was not unlike other touristy streets, in LA or Amsterdam or New Orleans, full of shops of junk souveniers and drug paraphernalia and bars supplying drinks you can walk with down the street. Then back to our hotel.

Where we found to the door to our ground-floor room standing open, the lights inside on, the double-glass panes of the french door smashed, shards of glass scattered over the entrance to the room, inside and out.

My laptop was gone. My partner’s laptop was gone–and so was his shoulder bag that he’d carried his computer in, which had contained our digital camera and numerous tax documents he’d been using to file his taxes. My shoulder bag was still there, lying on the bed.

We found the hotel owner, even at this late hour, and soon the police were contacted and arrived. We spent an hour as several police officers came and took photos, dusted for fingerprints, and asked us questions. Our room was in a far corner of the hotel complex (what must have been two or three houses originally, connected together with a pool/jacuzzi situated in between), with a window onto an outside driveway, where an opportunistic thief might have shone a flashlight into our dark room and seen two laptops; he’d have then climbed a slat-wood fence, smashed the door itself, and grabbed his loot. My guess is he grabbed one shoulder bag just to stuff the power cords into, and happened to grab my partner’s rather than mine… which had my car and house keys, and cellphone, and checkbook inside.

Anyway, to make this short — in no mood to spend more time as tourists in Key West, we left early Monday morning in our rental car back for Ft. Lauderdale, where we were unable to get a early flight back to LA. We checked back into the Hilton, where the conference had been, and where they kindly reopened my account there and gave us the conference rate for one more night, and stayed there Monday night. Tuesday, we managed to reschedule an earlier flight home than originally reserved. And so we’re back home Tuesday evening, sans laptops, worrying still about potential identify theft.

I’ve already changed passwords on my most critical accounts, though it I find myself this evening unable to establish a FTP link to the website from my desktop PC–hopefully this is an entirely separate, independent problem. I do routinely maintain backups of all my files, on a daily basis via a flashdrive (which I’d left at home!), but the big exception is my email– the loss of my laptop means I’ve lost all email prior to Sunday evening. I’ll post a note about this on the website when I’m able. In the meantime, anyone who’s sent me email that has not been responded to, or posted on the website already, please resend…

ICFA 2007, Saturday

Last post was a bit rushed at the end; I should have added that Geoff Ryman is an unusually expressive reader, conveying a wide range of emotions, accents, and ages. It was as much a performance as a reading.

Saturday morning I did a last round of the book rooms, making bids on a couple items in the silent auction, before wandering down to the pool for the annual Locus photo around the pool, an event that ended with several prominent attendees *in* the pool, fully dressed. Photos no doubt to appear in Locus, if they haven’t already been blogged somewhere.

Lunch wasn’t the sit-down buffet as usual, but a prixe-fix boxed lunch available outside a small ballroom, where Donald Morse explained the reason for the conference’s move next year from Ft Lauderdale to Orlando. The line for lunch competed for space with a long line of people for an entirely separate event–an appearance by John Edwards. The psychic, not the Presidential candidate, it turned out…

Saturday the weather was perfect (after Friday’s thunderstorms), sunny and mild, though warm enough in the sun that I finally changed into shorts to sit out by the pool a while. I checked out most of a panel on Melissa Scott, a writer I admit to never having read but should, then took a break to meet my partner, who was flying in my LA after returning from a business trip to Brussels earlier in the week.

More hanging out by the pool, then, and eventually we changed for the banquet and reception, the concluding event of the conference, where we sat at a table in a far corner with Russell Letson, Eleanor Arnason, and Edward James. The event began with Donald Morse’s traditional reading of the menu, and a special “IAFA Fantastic Chef Award” to ‘Chef Mike’, who’s been in charge of the restaurant at the hotel for the past 11 years. After dinner the program included a tribute to Brian Aldiss, who’s been ‘permanent guest of honor’ for the past 20-some years, but for whom this conference will be his last. The awards presentations dragged somewhat, but were good-spirited and well-received — those results already posted on Locus Online’s homepage.

And then a dessert buffet, and more conviviality.

Today we are off for a couple days in Key West, before returning home to LA on Tuesday.

ICFA 2007, Friday

Still on West Coast time, I got up in time for the scholar’s luncheon with guest of honor Jane Donawerth, who spoke on “Performing on the Technologies of Gender: Television and Science Fiction by Women”. The subtitle was misleading; she read a paper discussing several stories (by Clare Winger Harris, C.L. Moore, James Tiptree Jr., and Melissa Scott) and one film (Making Mr. Right) in which female authors (or directors) used imaginative forms of television in stories that spoke to how gender roles were portrayed or constructed by society. (But not, i.e., about TV shows written by women.) It was a tad abstruse; a few people drifted out, but most stayed, and she was generally well-received.

Later I caught a panel on “Mundane SF” with moderator Graham Sleight leading the discussion with theme proponent (and author guest of honor) Geoff Ryman along with James Patrick Kelly, Melissa Scott, and Neil Easterbrook. Ryman explained how the ‘movement’ wasn’t intended as anything other than a good game to play, to think about what works in SF and why, but he was also passionate in his belief that he doesn’t believe in ‘magic’, including standard skiffy props like faster-than-light travel and aliens, and thinks science fiction was takes actual science more seriously, without the magical props, is more honest, solves story problems more interestingly, and is ultimately more powerful. The movement can be caricatured as charging the space opera guys with laziness, dishonesty, and irresponsibility about taking care of the Earth. The panelists pushed and pulled the topic along those lines, Jim Kelly pointing out how of course much existing sf (nearly half his own stories for instance) can be claimed as ‘mundane’, Melissa Scott admitting none of hers could, and Geoff cautioning that the point isn’t to pigeonhole particular writers as in or out of any ‘movement’. Graham Sleight revealed that Geoff had been thinking along these lines far before the “mundane SF” group formed, citing a 1990 Interzone interview in which Ryman discussed “good-faith SF”. Geoff discussed examples of how adhering to real science made stories stronger: the effect of relativistic travel in Haldeman’s The Forever War; the way the character of Ripley was undercut between Alien and Aliens, the latter movie’s introduction of limited FTL travel introducing a maternal element to what had been a much stronger character. From the audience, Brian Aldiss gave an example of how Hollywood wants to do merely what is easy, not original or true: interest in filming his Helliconia trilogy, following the success of the first Lord of the Rings film, evaporated when Aldiss pointed out how anti-religious and anti-magical his books really were.

I ducked in and out of other events, and browsed the book room (new books by guests, back stock of Tor books and academic journals) and the silent book auction room (lots of old tomes, rare editions, some quite tempting). I hooked up with Lawrence Schimel for dinner in the bar, catching up on publishing ventures and personal lives, and in the evening attending a reading by Geoff Ryman, who read three short, powerful and grim stories titled “K is for Kosovo”, “S is for Sudan”, and “U is for United States”, each dealing with a painful personal circumstance that reflected politics and, at least indirectly, sexual matters.

ICFA 2007, Arrival

I’m in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, this evening, for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, the annual academic-oriented conference held — for the last time, this year — at a hotel, adjacent to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, famous for its pool area and poolside bar. Alas, the hotel has changed ownership, now part of the Hilton chain, and the poolside bar/cabana has apparently been torn down. In any case, this is a pleasant event where one can hang out with writers and scholars and others who take SF and fantasy and horror, in literature and film and every other form, the whole ‘fantastic arts’, seriously (at times perhaps, too seriously).

This is my fourth time here; the first was in 2000, when a number of us sitting around the pool (including a certain CNB) hatched the idea of hosting an April 1st editon of Locus Online. Since then I’ve managed to get here only every other year or so. A problem for anyone traveling from west coast to east coast is the 3-hour time difference. If you fly at a civilized hour, say 10 or 11 in the morning after you’ve risen as usual, had breakfast, and driven to the airport, you don’t arrive at your east-coast destination until after dinner and the con’s day’s events are over (and the hotel restaurant is likely closed, necessitating room service). So this year I flew at a very uncivilized hour — 7 a.m., which meant waking at 4 a.m. in order to finish packing and having time to drive to LAX in time to catch my plane. The result was, the day’s events were pretty much over anyway (at 4 p.m., when I arrived at the hotel), but I managed to hook up with a good group for dinner, at a ‘chiaroscuro’ restaurant called Chima Brazilian Steakhouse, where (in addition to an excellent salad bar), servers come around to your table to slice off freshly grilled slabs of meat, sirloin and filet and prime rib and lamb and bacon-wrapped chicken — as much as you can eat. I’ve been to a similar though more casual place in LA; Chima is higher-end, nicely decorated and not inexpensive, where the bill for the 10 of us was in the very high 3-figures (including, OK, three bottles of pricey wine). There were Charles and Amelia and Liza and Graham (who will shortly be needing a clever anagram) and Karen+1 and Gary and Russell and Peter, and me.

The now-Hilton hotel has been refurbished in areas; my room on the 8th floor has a tiled entry, lovely dark-wood cabinets, green-granite table tops, and an Aeron chair at the desk (which desk, however, is still too high for easy use as a computer desk for the available height of the chair)… though for a time after I arrived this afternoon, the DSL connection was flaky, up for five minutes then down, over and over. I finally called Wayport’s technical support number, and they apparently managed to solve the problem, reported by others in the hotel besides me, by the time I got back from dinner.

But back to the conference — this year’s theme is “gender and sexuality in the fantastic”, with guest of honor Geoff Ryman, whose luncheon speech today I was sorry to have missed. (I would have come here earlier, but work obligations kept me in LA through Wednesday workday.) Other guests are Jane Donawerth and Melissa Scott and Brian Aldiss — who bruised or broke a rib in some falling/stumbling incident yesterday, but who is back in attendance this evening. I’ll have more substantive reporting about the conference tomorrow, and Saturday. For now, I’ll mention that it’s no longer a secret (since it’s printed in the program book) that M. Rickert is the winner of this year’s Crawford Award, for her collection Map of Dreams.

China, Florida

An email from Frank Wu alerts me to the odd situation that, according to website Great Firewall of China, locusmag.com is blocked in China. Frank reports that, based on his tests, other blocked sites are Wikipedia.org, sfsite.com, boingboing.net, slashdot.org, and google.com, while sites such as yahoo.com, sfwa.org, and craphound.com are not blocked. Hmm.

–Is this working now? I’ve been trying for an hour to post this item, as well as items for Locus Online, and been prevented by various oddball errors claimed by Blogger….

Anyway, title part #2 alludes to my plan to attend this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, though due to day-job obligations, I won’t be leaving LA until very early Thursday morning, missing the first day or so of the conference. But I’ll be there in time for dinner Thursday.

Calling 978

Update on the ISBN-13 difficulties. The issue is about building links on Locus Online from book titles and cover images to pages on Amazon, so that anyone ordering a book during a visit to Amazon from a link on Locus Online generates for Locus Online a small commission for their purchase. Late last year I realized Amazon wasn’t handling the new 13-digit ISBN numbers. I managed to contact someone at Amazon, and was assured they would support ISBN-13s after the first of the year, when they officially went into effect.

Amazon’s links didn’t seem to work with ISBN-13s, even after the first of the year. I made a point to track down ISBN-10s for books being posted, so the links would still work; meanwhile Locus Magazine has gone over to use ISBN-13s wherever possible. Finally this week I dug through Amazon’s help and FAQ files until stumbling upon an ISBN-13 FAQ, which explained that Amazon uses 10-digit ASIN numbers to identify their products, which just happened to correspond to the old ISBN-10s. And they will continue to do so. On the other hand…

Anyway, cut to the chase: there’s an alternate Amazon ‘search’ link in which I *can* embed a 13-digit ISBN number, and I’ve reprogrammed my database to generate those kinds of links whenever I have a 13-digit ISBN, and the traditional links when I have a 10-digit ISBN. For examples, see the just-updated Forthcoming Books page — the Eliot Funtushel title has the ‘search’ link using the ISBN-13. Clicking it takes you right to the page, the way the traditional links have, so the difference should be transparent to website visitors. But I thought I’d point the difference out, for those of you sufficiently interested in the underpinnings of this website to be reading this blog…

Favicon Update

Today I updated the website’s favicon. That’s the little graphic that appears next to the website name in your favorites/booksmarks list and in the address bar of your browser whenever you’re viewing Locus Online. The favicon graphic has some extra-special format that requires an extra-special download/plugin in order to create, wouldn’t you know. I spent some time today figuring all that out again (I did it three or four years ago, to create the original favicon, but of course don’t remember the details of how I did it now).

The original favicon was a compressed, stubby version of the spaceship graphic that appears at the bottom corner of every Locus Online page (except those pages directly adapted from Locus Magazine content, where the graphic is a colored version of the rocketship icon from the magazine’s cover logo).

The new version is less complicated; it’s the L and the O from the Locus Online title on the website’s homepage, pushed together. It’s simpler, more obvious.

Apparently Internet Explorer does not automatically update your favicons when you open the browser each time; to update the favicon takes some sort of extra-special wizardry involving clearing your cache and perhaps other things as well. At least, that’s what I gathered surfing the web earlier today. Despite which, when I opened IE this evening, the new favicon magically appeared. So perhaps it will for you as well.

In any case, perhaps these links will work — to the old favicon, and the new.

In other news, diligent browsers might discover yet a third spaceship icon somewhere on the site. Uru is Live. I was pleased to see Ennio Morricone get his special Oscar last Sunday night, though my favorite score of his (for Marco Polo) is one not mentioned during the ceremony; but then, quality of scores do not correspond to quality or reputation of film… I have a whole essay about this, sometime.