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February, 2016:

Odd Lots

  • Lazarus 1.6 has been released. It was built with FreePascal 3.0.0, a first for Lazarus. Mostly incremental changes, but there’s a new rev of the docked form editor that looks promising, even though it’s not quite stable yet. Wish I had more time to play with it!
  • Older versions of Lazarus have run well on the Raspberry Pi for me. However, installation on the newer Raspberry Pi 2 is much trickier. This installation tutorial is almost a year old, and I haven’t yet installed Lazarus 1.4 or 1.6 on my Pi 2, but it’s the best how-to I’ve yet seen.
  • From Glenn Reynolds: Indie author Chris Nuttall lays out his journey as an indie, emphasizing that all but the biggest names are being driven to indie by publishers who simply don’t understand which way the wind is blowing. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn says.
  • Back when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me to the HamShield project on Kickstarter, which is an Arduino add-on board (a shield, in their jargon) that uses the RDA-1846S to transceive on 2M, 220 MHz, and 450 MHz. Like the Baofeng radios, HamShield will also operate on FRS, MURS, and GMRS, though the group doesn’t say that explicitly. (This is an SDR, after all.) It’s not shipping yet, but they’ve raised a fair amount of money (well over $100,000) and appear to be making progress. Definitely one to watch.
  • Cool radio stuff is in the wind these days. One of Esther Schindler’s Facebook posts led me to Beartooth, which is an SDR roughly similar to HamShield built into a smartphone battery case that snaps onto the back of your phone. Unlike HamShield, beartooth is going for FCC type acceptance and will operate on MURS. However, there’s been no activity on their Web site since mid-December and I wonder if they’re still in business. It’s not an easy hack; see this discussion from midlate 2014.
  • Oh, and I remembered GoTenna, which is similar to Beartooth except that it’s limited to texts and geolocation data. (That is, no voice.) It’s a Bluetooth-powered stick that hangs on your belt and uses your smartphone as a UI, basically, and allows you to text your hiking buddies while you’re out beyond the range of cell networks. I guess that makes it a sort of HT…a Hikey-Textie. Unlike HamShield and Beartooth, GoTenna is shipping and you can get two for $300.
  • Twitter continues to kill itself slowly by shadowbanning users for political reasons. What the hell is in it for them? When they collapse, something else will appear to take their place. They’re a tool. (Take it any or every way you want.) When a tool breaks, I get another tool, and generally a better one.
  • In case you’ve never heard of shadowbanning
  • I stumbled on something called Roblox, which is evidently a high(er) res take on the Minecraft concept. It’s looking more and more like what I was thinking about when I wrote my “RAD Mars” piece for the last issue of Visual Developer Magazine in late 1999. Anybody here use it? Any reactions?
  • Slowly but steadily, reviews are coming in on my Kindle ebooks. Here’s one that I particularly liked.
  • The Obamacare exchange in Colorado “smelled wrong,” so Carol and I avoided it. We were right. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • I don’t care how many tablets and smartphones you have. Paper is not dead.

Odd Notes on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Three ereaders - 500 Wide.jpg

Way back in my entry for November 24, 2015, I explained how we lucked into a pair of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 smartphones. The Note 5 was out by then, but I didn’t want it. Why? It has a non-replaceable battery and no internal card slot. That was a deal-killer for me, and something I’ll go into more detail on a little later. We stayed with Verizon, because several people said Verizon has the best local network in Phoenix. (I’ll state from experience that they did not have the best local network in Colorado Springs.)

Why did we want a Note phone at all? I have a lot of Samsung gear, and for the most part it’s been reliable and delivers what was promised of it. The Note 4 is bigger than my 2011-era Droid X2 (a feature I wanted, irrespective of the ghastly coinage “phablet”) but still small enough to fit in my shirt pocket. (I made scale cardboard cutouts of all the major phones I was considering and did the test on several shirts.) More compute power was basically assumed, since my Droid was almost five years old. I wanted a larger, brighter, higher-res display. I wanted S-Health, a piece of Samsung software that does several useful things, like tracking steps and measuring blood oxygen. Carol wanted a stylus. Her fingers have a somewhat strained relationship with touchscreens, and unlike me, she texts a lot. The stylus works perfectly for her.

I didn’t really intend for this to be a review, because by this time I’m guessing it’s pretty hard to find anybody selling Note 4s. Several people have asked me what I think of it, and what I’m doing here is gathering my thoughts on its first ten or twelve weeks in my pocket.

I like the phone a lot, and most of that cooks down to one thing: It consolidates several functions into a single slab. Prior to getting the Note 4, I did most of my ebook reading on my Kindle Paperwhite, which is still a marvelous item. However, it’s another slab, and if I’m running around it has to be carried somewhere. I was poleaxed at how good the Note 4 display is for text, assuming you’re not out in the sun. It runs the Kindle app, and it’s in my pocket any time I’m awake. So if I need an e-reader to kill some time in an unexpectedly bad line at the Post Office, it’s always there. In the photo above we have, L-R, the Kindle Paperwhite, the Galaxy Note 4, and the Droid X2, all running the Kindle app. I still lean toward the Paperwhite when I’m sitting in my comfy chair at home, but the Note 4 comes very close to the same experience.

It has a surprisingly capable digital camera, which (given sufficient light) takes very good HD video. The pedometer/blood oxygen/heart rate monitor serve specific needs of mine right now. I’ve tested the phone performing those functions against other instruments I have at home, and it agrees with all of them. I actually measured out a two-mile walk on MapPoint and walked it with the Note 4 in my pocket and its pedometer feature active. It agreed with MapPoint on the distance to within a couple hundred feet. I’m guessing that GPS helps out a little, as S-Health makes no attempt to physically measure my stride.

On the downside, battery life is nowhere near as good as on the Droid X2. I suppose that’s reasonable, given the device’s greater compute power, but it is annoying. When I’m at home, I find myself plugging it into the charger no later than 3PM and sometimes sooner. I’m not entirely sure how well it would handle a full 14 hour day. When the battery falls below 40%, I simply stop using it. If I had to be away from a charger for over a day (unlikely but possible) I would carry an extra charged battery.

Which brings me to the second point of this entry: The mysterious disappearance of replaceable batteries and SD card slots in modern smartphones. I specifically wanted the Note 4 because the Note 5 has no SD slot, and a non-replaceable battery that limits the useful life of the phone to the life of a single battery. Some say it’s a cost issue, which is nonsense, especially on a $500 high-end phone. Some say it’s a security issue, which puzzles me, since the phone can be set not to deal with apps installed on an SD card. No, these are excuses. I am pretty damned certain that the carriers are putting enormous pressure on the manufacturers (who sell most of their phones through carrier upgrades) to get rid of the card slots. The reason is simple: The carriers want to charge you bigtime for network data, and if you can sideload all your music and movies onto a 128 GB SD card, they won’t get paid when you don’t have to pull them down from the cloud. The battery is collateral damage, because the best excuse for a missing SD slot is to give the phone a back that can’t be removed.

Planned obsolescence is a particular loathing of mine. When I like a piece of gear, I want to be able to use it as long as I choose. (We drove our 1995 Plymouth Voyager for almost 20 years. We’ve had our 4Runner for 15 years now, and intend to go for 20 there as well.) Microsoft’s enormously pesty Windows 10 upgrade offer falls into that category. I like Win7, and feel that it’s by far the best version of Windows yet. I see no reason to stop using it. Sooner or later, MS is going to make the upgrade mandatory, or at least slip it in under the door in the middle of night, rather like Congress did with Obamacare. What happens then I don’t know and probably won’t talk about, except to say that I will keep on using Win7. Or perhaps switch to a Linux distro that’s been tweaked to look just like Win7. I have Zorin (if not the latest version) and may consider something like RoboLinux that runs Win7 in a VM. We’ll see.

Carol and I have now had enough experience with our phones to decide that we’re just not going to have a landline put in down here in Phoenix. We haven’t had one here for two months now, and haven’t missed it a bit. That’s a first for us: Neither of us has ever lived for more than a few days without a landline. (We also bought an indoor TV antenna and so far have not missed cable, either.)

The note 4 runs all the apps I’m used to running: Voice Search, Google Maps, Weather Underground, Sky Map, Waze, GPS Test, SoundHound, a couple of dumb puzzle games, and whatever else comes with the phone. Response is more than perky enough for my needs, which are nowhere near as smartphone-centric as a lot of people’s.

Bottom line: It’s a good phone. It can be loaded to the gills with Flash memory, and you can keep a spare battery in your pack. If you have one, take care of it, because given the carriers’ data-based business model, we may not see its like again.

Odd Lots

Guest Post by Brian Niemeier: Announcing Souldancer

Before I turn today’s entry over to Brian, a few words of explanation: In the wake of the Sad Puppies explosion almost exactly a year ago, my career as a writer changed. When 2015 opened, I was still locked in a state of existential paralysis, trying to decide if it was worth hammering on tradpub doors trying to get a (lousy, all-benefit-to-the-publisher) contract for Ten Gentle Opportunities and whatever works I might produce going forward. And I wasn’t writing very much at all. Moving to Arizona was time-consuming and didn’t help, but every time I tried to get a new writing project underway, I failed. I didn’t say much about it here. Why bitch online? You folks don’t need that. I started to get depressed again. Been there. Faced that abyss in 2002 for reasons you all know. Climbed out again. I’m not going back.

A year later, I have four books on KDP and KU, and they’re making money. I’m not talking about a buck here and a quarter there. Think hundreds of dollars most months. Not riches…but would I have made more in tradpub? Not likely. So I tossed tradpub overboard, and for the first time in my 42 years as a published author, I control my writing career completely.

What happened? Sad Puppies. In researching the phenomenon I found people who were facing the same problems I was. They were writing adventure stories in the old style, and getting sneered at. They dared question the elites who dominate tradpub and con-oriented fandom, and were called every name in the book. I reached out to them, and they pulled me in the door, handed me a drink, and made me one of the gang. I was called a moral coward at one point for daring to embrace the Puppy culture, but by then I just laughed. I had already won that argument. I had new friends, and they had my back.

One of those friends is Brian Niemeier, a new author whose path into indie publishing has been very much the same as mine. His debut novel intrigued me: Nethereal is a seamless blend of space fiction and a sort of theological fantasy that admits to a deeper strangeness in the universe than most are willing to accept. No spoilers here, but I will caution that people with an instinctive dislike of fantasy may not care for it. Radical materialists will probably loathe it. Their loss. In truth, I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. I’m now reading it a second time and will review it here as time allows.

So on that note, I’ll turn it over to Brian, who has a few words about his new novel. I bought it an hour ago and (obviously) haven’t read it yet, but I have this sneaking hunch that I’m not going to be disappointed.

SDcover-small-2.jpgAnnouncing Souldancer, Soul Cycle Book II by Brian Niemeier

First things first: thanks to Jeff Duntemann for lending me his platform. The higher elevation lets my voice carry farther. [Ed: About a mile less high than it used to be!] He’s given me a few digital inches to announce the release of Souldancer, the sequel to my debut space opera-horror novel Nethereal.

My indie publishing journey has felt like riding a spaceship at relativistic speeds. The past months have seemed like days, and in that time I’ve gone from an obscure SFF writer with a couple of short story publications to an obscure SFF writer with enough reader loyalty to get my first book into the Sad Puppies 4 top ten.

I’m quite sure that my readers wouldn’t have had Nethereal to suggest if I’d stuck with my initial plan of riding the tradpub rejection carousel. I can now focus on writing, and it took less time to release a second book than the big publishers often take to do initial edits. It’s a crazy time to be alive in a lot of ways (read the news much?) but it’s also the best time in recorded history to be a writer.

If you’ve got a story to tell and the discipline to tell it in prose fit for public consumption, you can be an author. You don’t need the Manhattan crowd. The only people you need are readers. If your primary motivation for writing fiction is anything other than pleasing your readers, you really don’t understand writing.

Yes, the money is thin. It’s a long game. Hardly any authors ever got rich, even back before publisher advances began imploding. Self-published millionaires are likewise extreme outliers, but the data show that indie allows more authors than ever to at least earn a decent living. Not only are NY publishers no longer the boss; they never were the boss, and it’s not surprising that readers are flocking to authors who understand that publishing sovereignty rightfully belongs to those same readers.

And so to my new book Souldancer. It’s a true sequel to Nethereal; not the second part of a single story split into two halves [Ed: Or three halves?] like certain Hollywood adaptations of popular YA books that I will not name. The action picks up a generation after the first book’s ending, and we immediately get to see the changes that resulted from the prior story’s climax.

As Jeff said of Nethereal, it’s almost impossible to say much more about Book 2 without spoilers. I can say that Souldancer features stronger romance and horror elements than its predecessor-and yes, it’s scarier than a book that’s largely set in Hell.

I appreciate the chance to launch Souldancer here, because my own SF sensibilities could justly be described as contrarian. Fans of Nethereal (including Jeff) have told me that, for all of its nods to classic SF, gaming, and anime tropes, they’ve never read anything quite like it.

You can buy the eBook right now from Amazon. For those with more old school tastes, the trade paperback edition will be available soon on Amazon CreateSpace.

Thanks again to Jeff, and as always, to the readers who make indiepub possible. We’re all in this together, and the fun is only beginning!

Dash Gets Best (Almost) In Show

Dash Reserve 2-2016.jpg

Earlier today, Dash won his biggest dog show prize yet: Reserve Best in Show for the Owner/Handler category at the Heart of the Desert Classic here in Phoenix. I was filming the final judging on my Galaxy Note 4, and when the judge pointed to Carol and Dash for Reserve, I said something awkward and almost dropped the camera.

Dash has done well in dog showing for the past few years. He’s already a champion, and is now within four points of becoming a Grand Champion. After that there are Silver, Gold, and Platinum Grand Champion. He’s still headstrong and sometimes defiant, and loves to play with kids and other dogs so much that he simply won’t stand still in the presence of either.

A quick note on jargon here: “Owner/Handler” is a category defined by the dog’s owner (in this case, Carol) being the handler at the show, which simply means running the dog around the ring and presenting it to the judge. Not everyone presents his or her own dogs in shows, for many reasons including lack of time, poor health, or simply a disinclination to run around the country winning ribbons. There are specially trained people who take other people’s dogs to shows for a fee. These are called professional handlers. It’s possible for owner/handlers to compete against professional handlers (which we have done, and won from time to time) but professional handlers cannot compete in the Owner/Handler category.

The notion of “reserve winner” is harder to explain. It’s insurance against the possibility that an award cannot be given because the winning dog is shown to be ineligible for some reason. Another dog got Best in Show for Owner/Handler, but before the award is logged in the AKC’s books, the organization checks the winner’s eligibility. It’s unlikely, but if an irregularity is found, the award goes to a sort of runner-up called the reserve winner. It’s pointedly not second place. There is only one “best in show,” but in Dash’s case, he will inherit the award if the winning dog is disqualified.

It’s a really really big deal, especially at a dog show as big as the annual 4-day Heart of the Desert Classic in Phoenix.

As you might imagine, Carol is glowing in the dark. We all had a Cane’s Chicken Fingers feast this evening, and everybody got some chicken. We’re all dog-tired, and I’m going to shut this thing down now and get some Zs. As will Carol. And, as I strongly suspect, will Dash.

Odd Lots

Rant: Lots of Supermarkets

Twenty-odd years ago I remember reading a compendium of “real-world” ghost anecdotes. They weren’t stories, just individual reports from ordinary people who were not looking for ghosts but ran into them anyway. One of my favorites was a report from a widow in England who saw her recently deceased husband on the staircase every night for a week. The man looked happy, but said nothing until his final appearance, when he spoke one sentence: “There are lots of supermarkets where I live.” Then he winked out and she never saw him again.

Well. I can think of a lot of better things to tell your grieving spouse when you appear to them postmortem:

  • I’m all right.
  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • God is good.
  • There is $10,000 in hundreds stuffed inside the living room couch.

But…lots of supermarkets in heaven? That is so unutterably weird that it lends credence to the report. Why would the widow make something like that up?

Maybe she didn’t. My experience here in Phoenix for the last month and a half suggests that it may not be so weird after all. Work with me here: Until six weeks ago, Carol and I lived on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain near a town of about 400,000 people. Colorado Springs is not a small town, but we still had to drive 75 miles to Denver for certain things, like The Container Store and any useful bookstore that wasn’t Barnes & Noble. Today we live in America’s 6th largest city (instead of its 41st largest city) and if you toss in suburbs like Mesa and Scottsdale, the metro area has four and a half million residents.

Nor are we way out on the fringes of things, like we were when we lived in Cave Creek in the 1990s. We’re right down in the thick of it all, three blocks from tony Scottsdale and a little over a mile from the Kierland neighborhood, where the primary occupation is spending money by the livingroom couchful.

The amount of retail here is staggering, as is the number and sheer diversity of restaurants. I didn’t know that Mexican Asian food was a thing, but it is, albeit what sort of thing I’m not yet sure. (When I decide to find out, well, it’s just a few miles down Scottsdale Road.) Driving around the area, Carol and I go into a sort of Stendhal syndrome trance at times, boggling at the nose-to-tail storefronts and shopping centers within a couple of miles of us. It’s not like we’re hicks from the sticks; Colorado Springs is hardly the sticks. But we’ve never seen anything even remotely like it.

There is a supermarket called Fry’s Marketplace a few miles from us that is about twice the size of any other supermarket I’ve ever been in. They have a wine bar, a sushi bar, a substantial wine section (something we didn’t get in Colorado due to corrupt politics) and plenty of stuff that may or may not be appropriate for selling in grocery stores, like…livingroom couches. (Eminently stuffable ones, too.) Outside there’s covered parking and a car wash. Oh, and valet parking if you don’t want to walk in from the far corners of the lot.

Now…what if we were hicks from the sticks?

I wager that we’d pass out in astonishment. Yes, I know, we all get lectured a lot about how we shouldn’t obsess on material goods. So who’s obsessing? I think I come out better on this score than a lot of people; granted that I hoard variable capacitors and never met a radio tube I didn’t like, absent the occasional gassy 6AL5. Read this twice: There is a huge difference between wanting everything you see and seeing everything you want. I don’t want all that much, but I appreciate being able to get things that I do want, weird or uncommon though they might be.

I can empathize with that poor old dead guy in England somewhere. Perhaps he lived all his life in a village in Cornwall, and ate the same things all the time because the same things were all there were in his village. Maybe he was poor. Maybe he just got damned sick and tired of bubble and squeak. He knew the world was a richer place somewhere, but his own circumstances didn’t allow him to get there.

Then his heart gives out, and wham! God drops him out in front of some heavenly Fry’s Marketplace, where your credit cards have no limit and you never have to pay them off. (Maybe he met Boris Yeltsin there.) Good food, lots of it, and never the same thing twice? That could be all the heaven some people might want. I think I understand why he came back to tell his wife about it.

So. Like most people, my collection of loathings has swelled as I’ve passed through middle age. I don’t like green vegetables, and haven’t now for 63 years and change. Along the way I’ve picked up loathings for certain philosophies and people, like Marxism, Communism, and the sort of virtue-signaling wealthy socialistic urban elitist busybodies who buy $59 titanium pancake flippers and then wear torn jeans to show their solidarity with the working poor.

Far worse are the people who assume that their way is the right way, and that if I don’t see things their way, well, I’m a [something]-ist and deserve to be re-educated in the gulag of their choice.

Choice, heh. Choice is a good word. Freedom means choice. Choice does not mean overconsuming. Choice means being free to consume what I want, and not what some worthless meddling government apparatchik thinks I should want. I walked into Fry’s Marketplace. It was a wonderland. I walked out with a smile on my face and a bag of gemstone potatoes under my arm. That, my friends, is America.

Slander it at your peril, and ideally somewhere out of earshot of the rest of us.