Sunday, June 22, 2008

a lot to get through

I've been coming up with ideas of blogs entries regularly, running through them in my head and then forgetting all about them. Work has been busy and when I've been able to sit at a computer I've generally been trying to catch up on email (not so successfully) or do some writing (not so successfully). But, it's Sunday morning and it's raining so I'm going to get through a few of the things on my mind.

This post will not be as serious as David's latest, which I recommend you read. The UK has long had a good reputation for taking care of refugees and it annoys the hell out of me that this reputation is being eroded and destroyed with lies.

I upgraded to Hardy Heron, the latest version of Ubuntu, a few weeks ago. I was initially doubtful as to whether I would do it or not as each release recently has had a few problems but this one went really well. It's a Long Term Support (LTS) release, which means that it is going to be supported for 3 three years after release. It goes a long way to neatening some of the rougher edges of Linux, although I'd have a hard time pointing out exactly what they are. It feels the same, just slightly better.

However, to be honest, I hadn't been using it that much as lately I've been leaning towards the mac. Reading about a couple of applications brought me back, though. The first is Gnome Do, a Quicksilver clone that is just awesome. It comes with some great modules, such as Google Calendar and Twitter integration, and I am really impressed with it.

I also learned that Lotus Symphony, a new office suite from IBM had been released. It is based on Open Office but with a different user interface based on Eclipse which gives it a very different look and feel. I have to admit i do not like Open Office. It's ugly, like using an office program from 10 years ago. The last MS Office release, with the ribbon, shows just how far behind Open Office is with its interface. So I was pretty excited about a new Office app for Linux that might actually be pleasant to use. Indeed, Symphony is pretty and it's clear that thought has gone into making it work. It has a tabbed interface, so all your documents appear in the same window whether they are a word processor document or a spreadsheet. It's all very nice and clear. I like it, and it might become my preferred Office app except that it's pretty slow. My PC might not be super new, but it's not that old and this is a Word Processor, for frack's sake, not the latest FPS. So until the speed issue is sorted out it's just not for me. Symphony is available for free download, for Windows or Linux, at

So, although I am generally positive in my feelings towards Symphony I couldn't help but wish that Google documents was available offline. So imagine my surprise to learn that Google Docs is now Gears enabled, which means that it is available offline. So I can access any writing I am working on from any internet-enabled computer, work on it offline too, and get automatic versioning and offsite backup. Cool. The Google docs interface is continuing to imrpove, as well. It now works with a fixed width view (looks like print layout view). Google docs can be found at

And all of this is supposed to be so that I can write. I am keeping up with the weekly project, just about, which has been pretty good. Sure, there's some bad writing on there but there's also some interesting ideas and I'm enjoying it. As a kind of side project to that I've also set up an account with Ficlets. Ficlets is a site where anyone can add a short piece of writing and others can comment on it. You are free to extend it yourself, writing prequels and sequels, or use others' work as inspiration. It's an interesting community, although I haven't been quite as engaged as I'd like due to work, I've had some nice feedback. Mostly I've taken pieces from the blog and posted them there, which offers a nice opportunity to edit some of them and try to improve them. There is a very strict constraint on the number of characters that each ficlet can have which works to really force you to think about what is really necessary for a piece. See my Ficlets profile here.

I started reading the Yiddish Policemens Union by Michael Chabon a little while ago. It's set in an alternate history where a Jewish homeland is set up in Alaska instead of Israel. It's also a detective story which chess as a large element in the characters lives. It's funny and interesting although I never really felt myself empathising with the characters too much. The cleverness of the language was almost a distraction from that kind of engagement but that may also just be how I'm feeling at the moment. I do recommend it.

It also awakened within me a fascination with the game of chess and I've found myself mildly addicted. I'm trying to find people to play against, am playing daily chess puzzles (via a Google plug-in from Shredder chess) and have bought a book to try and improve my game.

Went to see the Revengers Tradgedy at the Royal Exchange Theatre last night. I like the Royal Exchange because it's in the round creating a very intimate experience. The play itself was well produced and entertaining, with plenty of dark humour and gore mixed in the same uncertain balance as a Tarantino film. There is none of the soul searching of Hamlet, just the steady progression of revenge with a purity of feeling, and joy at success, that leaves plenty to think about after the play is done.