Monthly Archives: April 2007

We Get Letters — Well, Not, Actually

As I was compiling my admittedly self-indulgent 10-year history of Locus Online a week or so ago, I noticed in particular how busy the letter pages of the site were back in the late ’90s, and how infrequent they’ve become the past few years. It takes something as provocative as Marleen Barr’s letter about Virginia Tech to incite barely a half-dozen responses — mostly confirming the rule of thumb that, whatever the issue, those who respond are generally those expressing the most negative reactions; the vast majority who approve, or don’t care one way or the other, aren’t those who bother to write.

As for why there are fewer letters in recent years — I can only imagine it is because there are so many more outlets for opinions on the web now than 8 or 10 years ago — message boards, blogs… and our own features format of recent months, powered by Blogger, that lets reader submit comments without sending e-mails.

I’ve been checking and re-arranging links on the Links Portal page in recent days. I’ve already re-sorted the blog listings by last name (rather than first), and I’m part way through checking all the e-zine and magazine links. I’ve decided to sort those listings by type within each group — news, fiction, reviews — doing away with the N/F/R tags in front of each entry. Most sites are one or another, and where sites are prominent in multiple types, they can be listed under each. Hope to have the updated list posted by this weekend. There’s also a major update to the authors’ links page underway, combining those with the interview index, major awards index entries, and major reviews index entries. I may need a Venn diagram to keep track of the overlaps. Or combine absolutely everything into a single links list…

Thanks for voting in our poll…

We waited a few days for any paper mail stragglers, though they are increasingly few — only about 50 this year — then last night and tonight I finished editing write-in votes, ran final tallies, compiled the survey results, and turned them in to the home office. All done! There were slightly over 1000 valid ballots* this year, up from 962 last year, though I’m not sure if it’s an all-time record. Over 300 came in the final week, boosted by plugs from various websites and blogs. As usual, I ran incremental tallies as ballots came in over the past 10 weeks since the poll went online, and as usual, the majority of categories exhibited clear leaders early on. It’s nice to attract as many ballots as we can, but statistically, it doesn’t take 1000 ballots to determine a winner in most cases. (I’ve probably mentioned this before.) That said, there were two categories this year with fairly close results. You won’t know which until the poll results, with statistics, are published in the magazine, in… July? August?

A selection of comments from the ballots will be posted online in the near future. This year there were both general comments, and responses to a bonus online question about attracting younger reader to serious SF.

*We realize that many multiple submissions are probably the result of email or webform glitches, but there’s no excuse for submitting a ballot without a name, or voting for the same item more than once in the same category. We say this every year…

Website, 10 Years On; Vista, 3 Weeks On

I’m sorry to say that Windows Vista has been acting more weirdly than anything I’ve experienced in any previous version of Windows. Without editorializing or speculating, I will cite only specific examples.

Note that I’m by no means anti-Microsoft — or pro-Microsoft. I think it’s amazing that relatively cheap personal computers do as much as they can do, these days. Yet, as a software engineer myself by background and trade, I’m sad to see these devices are not as ‘robust’ as they should be — they seem to be sacrificing that kind of dependability for the every-expanding fringes of (erratic) capability. And don’t tell me about Apple and Macs. As far as I’m concerned, a ‘computer’ that doesn’t run the now-common home and small business database application, Microsoft Access, or some equivalent, isn’t a computer at all, but a toy. (As I’ve mentioned before, I live and breathe Microsoft Access, and was astounded a while back during a visit to a shiny Apple iStore to discover that no version of Microsoft Office for Mac included Access.)

Anyway. I previously described how my original basic graphics program, Paint Shop Pro version 4, apparently did not install at all in Windows Vista — it seemed to, but could not then be launched or found. Paint Shop Pro version 7 did install and can be launched, but — here’s the weird part — it only works for a while between reboots. After a two or three days, clicking on the icon produces the Vista activity icon, a spinning circle (replacing the time-honored Windows hourglass), but then the spinning circle disappears and nothing else happens. *Poof*. Clicking on a jpg or gif file directly from an Explorer window launches not Paint Shop Pro 7, as it should, but Windows somethingorother. Rebooting the laptop (er, notebook) restores normal operation. I wonder (which isn’t quite speculating) whether the new form of hibernation, or whatever happens when you close the lid of the laptop for the night until you open it again the next morning, somehow corrupts the standard settings.

There are similar functional failures that seem to appear after several days without rebooting, but which are cured by closing down one or more applications if not actual rebooting. I try to open WordPad, and get an error message about unable to launch null window, or something. I try to open my tracking excel spreadsheet, and am told the file does not exist. (It certainly does exist.) I try to open one of my databases, the one where I log in all by CDs, and am told I have a “missing or broken reference to the file ‘dao2535.tlb’ version 3.4″. Thanks a lot.

There are minor cool things about the new Office programs. I’m most gratified by Access, which displays datasheets with subtle shadings in alternate rows, and stronger shadings in the row and column where the cursor is located, similar to the way Excel has worked; I do lots of data entry directly into datasheets (forms are for sissies), and this change makes it much easier for me to be sure where I’m about to type new data. OTOH, I’ve yet to be convinced that the new ‘ribbons’ that replace the old file menus are any sort of conceptual breakthough. Every time I try to do anything beyond file/save, I’m stopped with having to figure out where oh where is the command for what I want to do in the new hierarchy. Actually, the old alt-key commands still work, though the window that appears when doing this implies that they’ve been deprecated; but otherwise, I’d never have figured out how to compact one of my databases after it’s been bloated by the standard Access practice of expanding required disk space for every single temporary table that’s generated when building and exporting a series of webpages (e.g. the Locus Reviews Index).

One thing the new Outlook has *not* done… is figured out how to hyperlink long URLs that wrap within an email message. I still have to copy the tail end and paste into the browser window…etc.

I should say more about the website’s 10th year anniversary, but I don’t have time this evening to condense this ramble; I’ll post more on another day.