failing like never before

1Feb/160

Debroah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy

I used to pick books by their cover. In the days before smart phones and readily available internet book reviews, my best determinant for a book's quality was the flashiness of the cover and the catchiness of the title. But now with a smart phone always in my pocket, I can instead rely on "expert" reviews for assistance. Some list of highly rated books had Debroah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy near the top, so when a trip to my local library revealed an entire shelf filled with multiple copies of the trilogy, I checked out the lot. My "expert" opinion of the trilogy, here, is mostly spoiler free.

Enter the women...
Diana Bishop is an Oxford educated PhD and Yale history professor, who is highly respected in her field of study and amazingly brilliant. Because her hobbies include rowing, running and yoga, she remains fit and eye-catchingly beautiful despite approaching middle age. She is also, of course, a (super) witch of unusual talent and strength, despite her attempts to forgot her witchy heritage. Bishop is clearly an all around exaggerated and cooler version of author and USC history professor Debroah Harkness (who received her PhD from well respected, but nonetheless uncool cow college, UC Davis).

Enter the vampire...
Matthew Clairmont is (about) 1500 years of age, fabulously wealthy (thanks to hundreds of years worth of accumulated riches), astonishingly brilliant and unnaturally well-educated (since he spent his unnatural lifetime accumulating degrees in various subject areas) and of course, broodingly handsome (because all vampires are HAWT). Clairmont has that bad-boy vibe, with a bloody and messy past (what member of the un-dead doesn't) hidden beneath a gentlemen's veneer. But his best characteristic is his deep love and undying devotion for his one true love, Debroah... I mean, Diana Bishop.

With Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! and Heart!...
The star crossed lovers Bishop and Clairmont must use their combined powers and a little help from their magical and non-magical friends to embark on a twisting adventure of self-preservation and a quest to save the world from evil.

Although the All Souls Trilogy thankfully avoids true Twilight levels of creepiness, it clearly possesses all the right elements to follow in the wake of the very profitable teen vampire novels. One of the most notable similarities being an unrealistic romance between a blandly awesome Mary Sue and her vampire Darcy, that goes from zero to fanfic faster then Hermoine Granger can raise her hand. A little sprinkle of creepy night time voyeurism and a dash of B.O. sniffing is even thrown in for good measure.

Although occasionally fast paced, the trilogy is generally slow moving. Too much time is spent describing the layout of a reading room at an Oxford college and the mechanics of requesting books. In the time it takes to describe Bishop's early morning run I could have just taken my own morning run. Add in numerous flashbacks, time jumps, side plots and ancillary characters, and the story is a lurching, disjointed slog-fest desperately in need of a therapist.

Taking the advice "write what you know" true to heart, Harkness plays to her strengths and litters the trilogy with historical tidbits and by the second book, we start to see quite a bit of historical fiction involving the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. But Harkness overindulges, and excessive in-depth descriptions of all things 16th century England are endless, contributing little to an already dragging plot and only succeed in stoking the enthusiasm of history buffs on the hunt for historical cameos.

All novels suffer deficiencies. A Twilight lover might find it in their heart to ignore the flaws of this trilogy. And make no mistake, this is a series meant to endear itself to the same people who enjoyed Twilight. For someone like me, the moment I started to see Twilight connections my guard was up and every word that followed faced a deeply prejudiced reader. I still finished the trilogy, with a generous helping of speed reading, because I hate to leave a book unfinished. When I turned the last page and everything was tied up in a nice pretty pink bow, and all the heroes were holding hands and singing kumbaya, I breathed a sigh of relief.

 

26May/101

My Time with Arch

I've been a proud and content Arch Linux user for a little over one year and nine months now, far longer then I've spent with any other Linux distribution. Arch put a happy end to my constant distro-hopping lifestyle, and I've been so pleased with its simplicity and performance that I've spared nary a glance at any other distribution over these past 21 months. But in more recent times, I've been having some disagreements with my Arch system and so I've slowly started reverted to frequenting the old haunts of my distro-hopping days (i.e. distrowatch.com, and  other such distro news sites).

Stability has always been a much touted feature of Linux in general, but some distributions lay a greater claim to that attribute then others. Arch in particular has tended to be slightly more bleeding-edge then other distros, sacrificing stability for the newest features; packages are updated in the repository as soon as new versions are released and with  a relatively minimal amount of time (extremely minimal compared to other Linux distros like Debian) spent in testing in an Arch environment, just enough to ensure that the packages don't completely break the system. While this strategy has its benefits, namely that it allows users to get the latest and greatest software right when it comes out, it comes at the cost of stability (and security to some degree). And the more packages that I've added to my system, the more I've started to notice just how unstable Arch can be.

I generally run "pacman -Syu" to do a full system update at least every week, and I try not to let my system stay without an update for three weeks at the longest, so in general I'll stay pretty well up-to-date. But it has not been uncommon, that after performing a full update, that my system completely locks up or goes completely nuts. Take for example, just a few weeks ago, when a full system update made my Arch Linux partition completely unbootable and required that I boot a live CD and futz around in the configuration files. When my laptop was finally usable again, I had to mess around some more with my wireless drivers to get them working again. And lately, after my most recent system update, I've been having some problems where my laptop will occasionally freeze up and become totally unresponsive to everything except a hard reboot, and system logs show no behavior to be out of the ordinary. Of course, not all of the breaks in Arch have been this bad. About four months ago, a system update made it so that I could no longer hibernate, a problem which was easily remedied by a quick visit to the Arch wiki and a few short commands. Sadly, the list of weird errors goes on (although its not that long).

Two years ago, when I was moving off of Debian testing, Arch's bleeding edge packages were quite welcoming, but not that I've matured a little bit, I don't care as much about the latest features (Lets face the facts, the programs I've been using the most these past few weeks, have been vim, GCC, SVN, and Zoom). My first priority these days, is getting shit done. And if my laptop decides to go bat-shit-crazy now and then, it seriously hampers my ability to work properly. I don't mind a few bugs now and then, and I could probably even live with a rare kernel panic, but sometimes I get the feeling that Arch is maybe just a little too bleeding edge for me.

I mentioned earlier that another one of the costs of having the latest and greatest software, is security. A lot of the newest software releases tend to be not as well hammered out and therefore are slightly more prone to have security holes. I'm only a slightly paranoid Linux user, so while the lack of security is a little worrying to me, its not a huge deal breaker. Arch's lack of solid support for more powerful RBAC security modules like SELinux or AppArmor has also been a little worrying to me. I would love to be able to slap on some powerful RBAC policies on my laptop to give me greater piece of mind, but Arch's normally awesome wiki is a little lacking in help (although it seems that reccently, the SELinux page has gotten a little more meat to it).

This next point is a rather silly and illogical thing to hold against a distribution, but I feel that it needs to be said because its entered my thoughts a few times in the past year. Whenever I go in for an interview, I generally try to play up my Linux expereince (which is not incredible, but still fairly impressive enough). The logical question for an interviewer to ask of course, is "what distribution(s) do you use?" As soon as the words "Arch Linux" comes out of my mouth, I can see the interviewers knocking some points off of my interview. People always assume that Arch is just another one of those random "edge" distros that is basically just an Ubuntu/Fedora knockoff with some sparkles thrown in, and no maybe how much I explain it to them, I know that they don't respect an Archer as much as they respect a Slacker. So yeah, I'm a little shallow, but I do care about what people think about me, especially in interviews. A part of always wishes that Arch was just a little more mainstream and a little more well known.

So I've taken some pretty mean shots at Arch, but my comments shouldn't be miscontrued to indicate that hate I Arch. Quite the contrary in fact, I've loved using Arch. My old Arch review enumerates out more clearly the points of Arch that I really like, but I'll list them out here quickly.

  • Fast! - Compiled for i686 and lightweight with no extra cruft thrown in
  • Clean - there is nothing on my Arch system that I didn't put there
  • Simple - things tend to be very straightforward and elegently simple
  • Awesome documentation and user community - Arch's comprehensive wiki is in my opinion, one of its strongest selling points, also the forums are quite helpful.
  • Rolling updates - its nice not to have do some big update every six months...

All the reasons that I first came to love using Arch still hold true, its simply that as time has worn on, I've changed a bit: I don't care as much for bleeding edge features, stability and security have become bigger issues, and I've started caring about what other people think about me. So I've been asking myself, "is Arch still for me?" And I think the answer might be no. I purchased a used IBM Thinkpad reccently, and I don't think Arch is going to be my first choice for it.

It seems like its time for Arch and I to "take a break" in our long relationship. But don't worry Arch, its not you, its me.

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23Jan/102

Miyata 914 – Acquisition and Review

About how I acquired a Miyata 914

For the past three months, while  on my way to class, I've been walking past a wheel-less bike chained to a bike rack underneath an overhang. The bike's distinctive bright green saddle was pretty much the only speck of color amidst a sea of dirty Huffys, so it was hard to miss. One day, I happened to catch a closer glimpse of the green-saddled bike and was surprised to notice that it was a Miyata (I have a soft spot for Miyatas, since I already own one), and closer inspection revealed it to be a Miyata 914. I spent several minutes examining the Miyata and noticed that aside from the thick layer of dust and grime that coated it and the lack of wheels, it was in surprisingly good condition. I started to wonder if the owner of the Miyata had graduated and forgotten his bike, or had simply abandoned it after the wheels were stolen. On the off chance that the latter was true, and hoping that the Miyata's owner still walked the same route to class, I left a note asking the owner to contact me if he had any wish of selling.

My note was gone the next day, and I received an e-mail from the Miyata's owner by the end of the week, saying that he was considering selling his bike and would I make an offer? Betting that any man who puts a kick-stand on a semi-pro bike (the atrocity!) and leaves it outside for three months, probably doesn't realize the worth of a good, splined, triple-butted Miyata CrMo steel frame, I offered him a low-ball offer of $50; high enough to tempt him into selling, but still low enough to make it a bargain buy. We eventually settled on $75, which was higher then I would have liked, but still pretty decent. I've been told that the Miyata 914 has the same frame as the top-of-the-line Miyata Team, but with slightly inferior components, and I saw a NOS 1990 Miyata Team selling for $600 on ebay, which makes the $65 I paid seem like daylight robbery. I think given the condition of the Miyata that I purchased, it could have fetched close to $200 on craigslist.

My initial suspicions about the owner were confirmed when I met him: he did not appear to be a cyclist and didn't realize the full worth of the Miyata 914. Strangely enough, he was several inches shorter then me (I'd put him around 5 foot 7 inches), which would have meant that ridding the 60 cm Miyata must have been extremely awkward for him.

As soon as money and bike exchanged hands, I raced home, threw some newspaper down and set up my bike stand in the middle of the living room (thank God my roommates weren't home...). I started with just cleaning the bike off first, and as soon as the dirt started to fall away, I began to realize that the 914 was actually in better condition then I had thought; the paint was only scratched in a few places, and the chainrings looked brand new.

21Aug/0815

A Simple Arch Review

I once thought that Debian, with its rock solid stability and simple package management, was the answer to my distro-hopping madness, and that no other distro could fit my needs as well. But Arch Linux has managed to surprise me, satisfying my needs in ways Debian never could. (Did that sound weird and strangely sexual or what?)

The Arch Way, the five governing principles behind the development of Arch Linux, dictates that Arch should be: simple, have code-correctness over convenience, open, user-centric, and free. Elaborating on the principles would be too time intensive for this review, but the general gist of The Arch Way is the age-old engineering adage, KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid). And Arch is simple. Most Linux distributions that claim to be simple, like Ubuntu or Mandriva, are merely simple to use for new Linux users, but Arch is a minimal, streamlined, and elegantly simple distro. Like Slackware, Arch's base installation is quite Spartan, including only the kernel and the bare minimum packages needed to create a stable OS, requiring the user to do all the rest of the configuring and installation of non-essential packages.

Arch Linux: a simple, lightweight, Linux distribution

Happily enough, unlike Slackware, Arch uses binary packages compiled for i686 so that users don't have to compile their programs from source (not a very difficult process usually, but quite time consuming). Because Arch's packages are optimized and compiled for newer i686 CPUs, users can expect a noticeable performance increase over distributions, like Debian, that use i386 packages. However, this also means that Arch will require a slightly newer CPU, a Pentium 3 or newer, whereas Debian can run on any 32-bit Intel-based processor. Arch also offers a 64-bit version, in addition to the 32-bit i686 version, if you want to be able to add more then 4 gigs of RAM to your system.

Arch's package manager, called "pacman," is reminiscent of Debian's "apt-get" and just as easy to use. Pacman can handle the installation, removal, and upgrading of programs, and also resolves dependencies with a single simple command. If I want to install Banshee music player, all I have to do is open a terminal, become root, and type "pacman -S banshee." Pacman also allows for Arch's rolling release system, a system based upon on incremental upgrades. Unlike so many other Linux distributions that make a big fuss about new releases, Arch's release version is essentially meaningless; a release ISO in Arch is simply a snapshot of the core repository with a fairly simple installation script. In order to upgrade my system to the newest kernel and software packages, I merely have to type "pacman -Syu" to fetch the newer packages from the repositories, so that even if I had used the three year old Wombat release, after an update my system would still be as up-to-date as if I had used the new Overlord release.

12Aug/081

HP dv2910us (dv2700) – Summary and Conclusions

In short, I believe the dv2910us is a highly recommendable laptop. To the common, casual laptop user, it looks good and gets the job done and can be purchased at a surprisingly good price (the dv2911us, which lacks a Lightscribe drive, was recently on sale at Office Max for only $550 US). To the Linux user, the dv2910us manages to be pretty Linux friendly and offers solid performance with its Intel hardware, although HP probably lacks some of the geeky coolness that Lenovo has. College students will no doubt appreciate (as I do) the fact that its fairly light at five and a half pounds, has a battery life of about two and a half hours, and still manages to be pretty sturdy. Gamers however probably won't be too thrilled by the dv2910us and its integrated Intel graphics card and middle-of-the-road Intel Core 2 Duo.

The only problems I really have, is that the media keys's sensitivity is non-adjustable, and that a matte screen option (instead of glossy) isn't offered.

The dv2910us isn't anything really stellar. It doesn't have amazing processing power, super long battery, an innovative new esthetic look, a slim body, or a ridiculously low weight; which is why the dv2700 series hasn't garnered the same kind of attention as the Apple Macbook Air or the Lenovo x300. But it remains a decent laptop, nonetheless, sufficient for all but the most strenuous of tasks.

What the HP dv2910us does have to offer that all those other popular laptops lack, is an affordable price. And for many people, like me, the price is always a major determining factor.

12Aug/089

HP dv2910us (dv2700) – Installing Linux

I've decided to shorten this section down significantly, as it is probably the least significant part of this review (for most people), and for me to do it due justice would require quite a lot of time. I'm planning on writing an article later, more specifically aimed at installing Arch Linux on the dv2910us.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Ubuntu Hardy Heron Live CD ran great on my dv2910us. I'm not much of an Ubuntu Fan these days, (although I don't hate it) but I couldn't help but be impressed by Hardy Heron. Everything worked great right from the Live CD, including wireless and suspend to RAM, without any tweaking required.

Last week, I finally decided to go ahead and install Arch Linux on my dv2910us. I started by just trying to use gParted to partition the drive, running from a Live CD, but after using gParted, Vista crashed and refused to boot and so I was forced to do a system restore and use Vista's tool for resizing partitions, which turned out to be pretty useless. Vista does this lovely thing where it makes a bunch of huge system restore points and pagefiles, scatters them across the disk, and doesn't bother to inform you at all about them. The only way I could even see pagefile.sys was to run the command prompt as root and then "dir /a" to list the system files. All these special system files prevent the Vista partition tool from shrinking a drive more then 10 or 20 gigs. Eventually, I was so fed up with Vista and its craptastic goodness, I was forced to retry gParted and happily enough it worked the second time!

Part of the reason that I bought the dv2910us, was because of the abundance of Intel hardware that it has. Intel tends to be a little more Linux friendly then many other companies, they open up the specifications on their hardware and write drivers for most of their equipment. Unlike my old desktop's ATI x800 xl graphics card which nearly drove me mad, the dv2910us's hardware was pretty simple to set up and use. The only thing that I haven't configured yet is the webcam, but judging by Arch Linux's wiki, it appears doable. [EDIT: August 19, 2008. I was able to get the webcam working easily enough with Skype by using the r5u870 (Ricoh) driver, and Arch Linux was able to detect the HP Webcam as a usbcam.]

The HP dv2910us probably isn't the most Linux friendly laptop around but its still quite useable; from my experience, all the hardware can be configured with relatively little fussing around. While HP doesn't have quite the reputation Lenovo does with the Linux crowd, I think HP has done a pretty good job, even if they weren't trying to.

7Aug/0850

HP dv2910us (dv2700) – User Experience

The beginning of my review of the HP dv2910us can be found here.

Despite my efforts, this review has become rather badly organized. Pretty much anything that is interesting in my review is going to be in this section.

I've heard HP referred to as "The Evil Empire," so apparently the boys and girls in HP's marketing department are trying to change their company's image by making themselves all "personal." Which is totally cool, as long as they don't expect me to cry over my lappy.

---Crapware and Such

The first time I booted up the dv2901us, I was greeted by a series of setup menus, courtesy of Microsoft, HP, and various other paid advertisers. Vista spent a surprisingly long time updating and configuring the system once I had ticked off all the required checkboxes. Its been quite a while since I've bought a pre-built computer (well actually I never have), and it was only upon first running the dv2910us that I realized just how annoying "crapware" really is. ("Crapware" is a term coined by internet writers and is used to categorize software and trial-ware that comes pre-installed on new computers.) The term is quite appropriate, as anyone who has bought a computer in the past few years will know, there are gigs of crap installed on new computers. While I was buying my new HP lappy from Circuit City, the employee who was helping me, told me that for the low, low price of $30 they would sell me a model that had had all the crapware removed by a certified Circuit City tech. While crapware is without a doubt annoying and stupid, I cannot see why the bloody hell I would want to pay someone to remove it for me when I am quite capable of doing it myself, although some people clearly are willing to pay. So I ended up spending a great deal of time removing software and advertisements from Microsoft, Yahoo, HP, Slingbox, and even Maxis (almost 3 gigs of "The Sims" trial software!), before I finally got down to really using my brand new lappy.

30Jul/0815

HP dv2910us (dv2700) – Build Quality and Design

(The beginning to my review of the HP dv2910us (dv2700) can be found here)

--- Exterior Design


The lid of the laptop features HP's "Imprint" finish, which is basically just a lot of cool swirly grayish lines on a shiny black background. The finish is surprisingly durable, despite being an absolute fingerprint magnet (I suppose that's why HP includes a wipe-cloth with the laptop); my roommate had an HP laptop with the same finish that remained scratch-free throughout the school year, even though I once dropped a ladder on it. The base of the laptop is made of a very solid, dull, black plastic. While there is some slight flexing in the lid, the base is as solid as can be. All in all, the exterior design is quite attractive (at least to me it is).