I’m still alive

In that excellent 1980s film Throw Momma from the Train, the two main characters (one, a creative writing instructor; the other, his student) keep chanting the mantra of the instructor’s class: “a writer writes… always.”

Stephen King in On Writing gives the same advice, as does Cerebus creator Dave Sim, who says something like (I’m paraphrasing here) every comic book artist has 1000 bad pages to get out. If you do a page a day, after a few years, your pages will start being good.

The nice thing about being a creative writer or a comic book artist is that you don’t have to (or get to, depending on how you look at it) publish everything you create. So if you do have 1000 bad pages, you can tuck those away in your closet or throw them in the trash can (Stephen King’s hit novel Carrie was going to go into the trash bin before his wife rescued it, seeing the potential).

Blog posts aren’t quite the same way. Sure, you can have hidden blog posts or passworded ones, but the idea behind a blog is that it’s your thoughts. Blog posts aren’t supposed to be masterpieces you rehearse for and then finally publish for the public. They’re supposed to at least have the appearance of spontaneity.

Well, for you few readers I have, I just wanted to reassure you I’m still alive. I’m actually quite relaxed (on vacation from work). I just don’t really have a lot to say right now. In fact, when I’ve thought I have had new things to say, I’ve gone back into my old blog posts (over 400 right now) and seen “Oh, I’ve already written about that.”

I’m not promising everything I write from this point forward will be insightful. I don’t think I’ll be blogging for blogging’s sake, though. If I have something to say, I’ll say it. Thanks for reading!


Yelp should be more like Netflix

I don’t use Netflix any more, but when I did, I liked how it tried to guess what you might like based on how you rated things. They would look at people who rated things similarly to you and then say something like “85% of people with tastes similar to yours also liked this movie.” (I don’t remember exactly how it was phrased.)

When Yelp just started getting popular, it was the best restaurant-rating resource around. Now, though, I’m finding the reviews to be less and less useful. Even if a restaurant gets an average of 5 stars, I have no idea if it’ll be excellent, good, fair, or terrible. Really. No idea.

The problem is I don’t know what reviews to trust. If you get a few reviews saying “This is the best gnocchi I’ve ever had” and a bunch saying “The pasta is bland and tasteless,” which ones do you believe? What if you have ten reviews all saying the sushi is the best, but you’re really picky about sushi and so you don’t know what “best” means to these people?

The solution is obvious, and I don’t know if it’s too much effort for Yelp to implement, but they should allow you to rate restaurants (without necessarily writing reviews) and then try to recommend restaurants to you based on how people who have similar tastes rated those restaurants.

For example, let’s say I’m in San Diego and have no idea where to eat. I go to Yelp and search for restaurants in San Diego. Instead of a bunch of random restaurants coming back with average review ratings of 5 or 4, only targeted restaurants would appear in my results, based on how those reviewers’ ratings on other restaurants compared to my ratings or the ratings of those similar to those with my ratings. That’d be awesome.


Website plagiarism strikes again

If your website is somewhat popular but not so established as to have its own brand name and legal team, then it’s very likely it will be plagiarized at some point. This happened to my Ubuntu tutorials site recently, and thank you to the individual who pointed it out to me (if you want to be acknowledged by name, shoot me another email—not sure what privacy concerns you may have).

What I do is a volunteer service. I’m not making big money on these tutorials. A lot of hard work went into making and maintaining the tutorials for the past four years, and the money I make off ads covers server costs and gives a bare minimum compensation for the time I put into making the site (I can’t quit my day job to make Ubuntu tutorials, believe me).

I’ve already made it quite clear in my FAQ that I don’t mind people mirroring the site or translating it:

Can I translate or link to the tutorials here?
I’ve had numerous requests asking if people can link to or translate the Psychocats Ubuntu website. The answer is yes. You can link to Psychocats without asking my permission. If you want to translate Psychocats Ubuntu, you may do that as well (please let me know, though—I’m just curious to know what’s going on), and I encourage spreading the knowledge.

I haven’t officially licensed the documentation, but the closest I’ve found to what I’d say embodies the spirit with which I’m giving Psychocats Ubuntu to the community is the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. If you would like to mirror Psychocats, you may do so, but please send me a link to the mirrored site, so I can know to refer people there also. And make sure you keep the mirror up to date!

Yes, the Creative Commons license I refer to actually specifies attribution. You should acknowledge where you got it from. Don’t pass it off as your own. And hotlinking is just really bad netiquette. If you’re going to steal images, steal them properly—download, upload to your own server, link to the new upload. Don’t hotlink them—use my server bandwidth and link to my hosted images directly.

After this kind soul let me know about the content and bandwidth theft, I reported the infringement to Blogger and also changed the images to let the offender know about the hotlinking and how it’s not cool. Very shortly afterwards, all the blog posts from that site were removed. I’m not sure if Blogger shut the blog down or if the (intentional or unintentional) thief took the postings down herself or himself. I’m just glad it’s down.

If you like my tutorials, link to them. If you want to steal the whole tutorial, don’t hotlink my images, and also make sure you give proper attribution and a link back to the source. If you plan on making a translation of the tutorials, send me the link to the translation so I can refer to it users who speak the translated-to language. Really, it all just boils down to common courtesy. No one wants to get involved in a legal battle. Just don’t be an asshole.

P.S. My blog posts are not released under any Creative Commons license. They are all copyrighted in the usual way (immediately upon writing).


San Francisco needs a Trimet

Portland MAX Train
Just got back from a trip to Portland. Never had been there before. It’s a nice city. No Asian people… even in “Chinatown.” A lot of people smoking on street corners. A few ugly bridges over the beautiful water.

But some good food, a walkable downtown, charming parks everywhere, and… an excellent public transportation system.

My wife and I have been two years without a car in San Francisco, and it has been worth it overall. Nevertheless, every now and then you just have to curse MUNI and think, “Life would be so much easier right now if I had a car.”

Not so in Portland. Whether it’s lightrail trains, proper buses, or the streetcar line, in our almost-a-week there, we never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus (usually 2-3 minutes), we never had a bus driver who appeared to have aspirations to be in NASCAR or to be doing stunts for Michael Bay movies, there was virtually no graffiti, the fares were low (in most places, free even), and the time to get from place to place was minimal.

This difference between Portland’s public transit and the Bay Area’s wasn’t more apparent than when we finally went home.

We woke up at 4-something in the morning, walked half a mile from our hotel to the nearest lightrail stop, paid $2 for a ticket to the airport, waited three minutes for the on-time train to come, and then were at the airport within an hour… with a smooth ride to boot.

Coming back home from the San Francisco airport, we had to hop on a shuttle to get to the BART subway station. Then the BART train (which costs $4.70) we got on just randomly sat there for about fifteen minutes with no movement and no announcement from the conductor as to when the train would actually depart. The BART train was smelly and loud. From BART, we got on the MUNI bus home ($1.50, if we didn’t already have monthly passes), which was extremely crowded and full of permanent marker–graffiti. The bus driver drove like a maniac.

It is great to be home (and at least away from tobacco city), but is it really that difficult to get a decent public transit system here?


The HP Mini – Two Weeks Later

Now that I’ve had my HP Mini for a couple of weeks, here are a few more things I’ve noticed about it:

  • When people said in their reviews that the touchpad buttons on the side meant you have to use two hands, I thought they meant the right hand index finger using the touchpad and the left hand index finger using the button. In fact, it’s better to rest the left hand in normal keyboard position and then pop the left hand thumb down to press the button as needed.
  • The touchpad on/off button is stupid. Yes, I know I already said it in my initial review, but now I hate it even more, because it emits a very bright white light that is wholly unnecessary, impossible to turn off, and probably the reason the battery life on the HP Mini is so poor.
  • The speaker sound, while loud, is still kind of tinny. I have yet to see a non-Apple laptop (or netbook) have the same full sound that a Macbook or Powerbook internal speaker has. Of course, this isn’t intended to be a multimedia machine, but I do occasionally listen to music on it, and it’d be nice to have it sound less tinny.
  • The underside of the netbook gets very hot. Granted, it’s no hotter than the underside of my wife’s Macbook Pro, but it is considerably hotter than the Eee PC 701. Oddly enough, the heat is on the front part of the bottom (near the RAM) and nowhere near the back part of the bottom (near the battery).
  • I pretty much never use the webcam. I did try it out, though, just to see what it’s like, and it’s terrible. You need some serious lighting in order to get it to work. I’d say there are probably no conditions under which you could have an ideal video chat with someone on the HP Mini 1120nr with the 10″ screen. If it’s too bright out, you will see mainly your reflection in the screen and not what’s displayed on the screen. If it’s too dark out, the person you’re talking to won’t be able to see you through your webcam. Way to go, HP.

All the positives are still the same. It’s still light. It’s still cute and sleek. The keyboard still feels huge to me. The bootup times are quick. Resume from suspend works. Vanilla Ubuntu 9.04 runs like a champ on it.

Just thought I’d share a few more annoyances, in case anyone’s curious.


A Linux live CD can save your data

You don't have to convert to Linux full-time to need Linux. In fact, a Linux live CD is a great thing to have if you're a Windows user. Here are a bunch of Windows and Mac users who thought they'd lost all their precious personal data (documents and photos) just because of a Windows or Mac crash.

If they'd had a Linux live CD, they could have saved all those precious memories and all that hard work. Honestly, even now it's possible they still could. It breaks my heart to see these people thinking it's all gone. This happened to a friend of mine, and she was about to cry, thinking all her years of photos were gone, and then I recovered them with a Ubuntu live CD.

These folks win my Linux live CD award...

08.12.04 - My own version of holiday hell:

I had that happen once, when Brianna was a baby, and we lost about 3 months worth of baby pictures. I still wonder what pictures were there that we won’t see ever again, what smiles are gone. And the videos! So please, invest in a back up hard drive, enroll in a service like Carbonite, but do yourself a huge favor and back up all your files!

08.10.23 - a brief Hiatus:

Our computer system crashed in our business and I am having to re-create every single transaction we've done since February. I've been eyeball deep in paperwork and still have a mountain to go.

08.10.21 - sigh:

my computer crashed and me being the genius that i am, i didnt backup anything
i lost all my shit
my music
my writing
my bootleeg poetry
my fake short story
my music
my pictures
i said my music twice didnt i?
well im distraught

08.10.14 - Crashed:

My computer crashed! Serious stuff here people. I have been without it for 6 days now! [...] So until my computer is back up and running I will not be posting very much. i got a great guy (my brother-in-law) working on the problem. He has said to be prepared to loose everything!

08.10.11 - When it rains, it pours!:

Our computer crashed. As in, KA-BOOM. Everything is gone. Well, not anymore, because we'll be able to pay the nice geeks at Best Buy to get everything off. But, it's expensive and we also have to buy a new computer. We were also planning on buying Slade a laptop for schoolwork. It gets expensive.

08.10.09 - A Night at the Opera:

I have loved the Opera building here in Lille from the first time I saw it. It's gorgeous. Since my computer crashed I can't get my pics onto this new hard drive, so I can't post pictures. Darn it...

08.10.08 - My kitty.... and Derricks too i suppose...:

So i don't think that i have posted a picture of Hendrix here at all..... and infact my computer crashed last weekend i lost all but the one on my phone from when he was much littler....

08.10.08 - Fall shadows, copyrighted:

My computer crashed last week, I now will have to get used to a new system, I just hope i can recover the data from my old hard drive , my son is working on it.

08.10.05 - Apron Swap Sadness and a Crashed Computer:

my computer crashed again. This is the second time this year, and you would think I would have learned my lesson about backing up information after losing four years of work the last time it crashed. But alas, I apparently did not learn my lesson. I do keep almost everything on an external hard drive that I back up to our main home PC. Everything except MY RECIPES! ARGGGG!!!!!!!!!

08.10.03 - CRASH AND BURN:

Long story short: I fixed my computer, but I lost EVERYTHING. All my files, all my music, all my photos.

08.09.29 - Computer crash!:

My computer crashed last week!! All my photos I’ve taken with the new camera are gone!! All the documents, pictures and my favourite links, all gone… I’m so angry with myself for not taking backups more often.

08.09.22 - Computer Crash...offline:

mine has crashed, so I will be offline for a few days!...arhhh!

I think I have lost alot of my latest photos and docs....moral here is to 'BACKUP'

08.09.18 - forgetfulness:

Over the summer my computer crashed, and even though I had everything backed up on a flash drive, all my stuff was lost. I got a new hard drive, the computer guys said I could hire someone who could likely get everything off of my old, broken hard drive (albeit for a four-figure price, most likely), and I plugged in my flash drive to get my novel out. Lo and behold, it has crashed and deleted as well. If all my files are deleted, I think I’m quitting writing. Really. This book is too important to me, and this is not the first time I have had computer problems that have deleted my work. What kills me this time is that I was actually backing things up, and the backup failed as well.

08.09.14 - My computer crashed…:

my lapatop crashed, and all my translations were in that laptop… *grimaces*

08.09.13 - Computer woes:

My computer crashed Wednesday night. It's presently in the hospital and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a full recovery! Thus, no image of the book.

08.09.13 - Crash:

Well, our computer crashed, and I haven’t been able to get my pictures off of it to upload to my blog

08.09.12 - Let There Be Light::

a week ago my computer crashed and I lost everything and am still trying to sort out all the bugs.

08.09.11 - The new place:

my computer crashed the night before we moved. Three computer guys, way too much money, and three weeks later it’s finally up and running. But I lost all my files. All my photographs. All my digital drawings. All of my music and videos and all my little notes and junk I’ve accumulated over the past 5 years.

08.08.29 - My computer crashed on the 15th (?) this month:

so I haven't been able to write or reach the document at all. I finally have a computer again now, so I will do my best from now on. Though first of all, I will have to figure out how to install word 2007 in order to open my document.

08.08.28 - computer crashed (again):


08.07.02 - Computer Crashed!:

Well our computer crashed yesterday to the point I could not even get into windows. I tried to do a system restore but no restore point was there. Tried repairing it and it failed eight times, so my last bet was to reformat the computer. Before doing so I had the option to backup the files on my external hard drive, and of coarse I did. So I thought. After getting everything reformated I went to my external hard drive to find nothing had transfered at all.

08.06.30 - Computer Crashed:

Our computer crashed recently, and we lost a lot of photos.

I had some saved on disks, but some I didn’t.

08.06.11 - Know what sucks?:

My computer crashed.

Thank god for starting brand new.

But I am sad that I lost some shit. Oh well

08.05.01 - May Day:

I'd post pictures of our fun but our computer crashed, completely and we lost EVERYTHING.

07.12.22 - The Geeks are No Freaks:

You see, my desk top computer crashed and with it all my files gone kaput (or until I find my recovery discs from the heaps of CDs scattered all over the apartment) -- and with the meltdown goes thousands of my personal stuffs from pictures to writings to videos to music that dates back to about three years ago.

07.09.28 - My computer crashed -It’s all gone…:

husband tried everything, and it just kept locking up and programs would not work. So we had to do a full restore on the computer. It’s pretty bare now. All my pictures, digital programs, homeschool downloads (the kids are thrilled) and all my e-mail address - GONE!
07.07.12 - my computer crashed !!! =(:
Wow my computer totally crashed. I was just checking my email when all of a sudden it just like completely EXPLODED and I was like ... just woah. So all of the documents and crap i had saved on that computer... which was like (no joke) about 500 documents are down the drane...

06.12.16 - So yesterday my computer crashed about 6 times in succession:

I lost my final paper for Science Fiction Writing among who knows what else, so you can imagine how pleased I am about that.

06.05.17 - My computer crashed.:

Which sucks. Because I have A LOT on my computer.

05.09.19 - So, my computer crashed:

and I lost:

1 english paper
30ish hours of work
all my mail
fish stuff
pirated movies
family guy stuff

plus a bunch more
this sucks

05.07.08 - welll my computer crashed for a day:

and then it got fixed and all my pictures are now gone. and im pissed but whateverrr.

05.02.20 - Well this sucks...:

our computer crashed and we lost all documents we had. I had most likely over 100 documents on this damn thing and its all gone..

04.11.29 - My computer crashed.:

So of course lost everything.
It's sad, isn't it? When the solution is so simple and completely cost-free and yet you think everything is lost? No Linux users who can help out these folks? Or non-Linux users who know these folks and just happen to have a broadband internet connection and a CD burner?

Further Reading
Recovering Windows files with a Ubuntu CD I: the backstory
Recovering Windows files with a Ubuntu CD II: getting your files
Recovering Windows files with a Ubuntu CD III: deleted files