21 June 2016

Intel: shysters.

Once upon a time, I was a big supporter of Intel, as the originator of the x86 instruction set and, by extention, the modern concept of the microcomputer as being a device whose processor was contained in a single integrated circuit.

However, as I've come to learn more about how businesses work - especially Big ones - I've come to realize that they're only after one thing: your sheqels.

Let me elaborate.

A couple of years ago, I received for my birthday an Asus VivoTab Smart, along with a Microsoft Wedge keyboard. Together, they made a damn' good setup, and I wrote quite a lot of Singularity and Journeyman on it. The tablet itself had - and still has - a pretty respectable spec.

And then Windows 10 came along, and brought with it an architectural fault which made it somehow incompatible with the graphics driver. 'OK,' I thought, 'Microsoft will do an update that'll make it compatible, or Intel will release a compatible driver.'

But there wasn't a whiff of a new driver between Windows 10 going RTM and now. I'd heard rumours that something was going to be done, and then I'd heard rumours that it wasn't. So I took to Twitter to ask Intel's customer support when they were going to address this problem. And what did they say?

First, they said I should check Windows Update for updates, but then when I told them I had done, and had gone so far as to research the hardware inside my tablet to work out if I could find new drivers direct on the Intel site, they said I should be running a "supported operating system." In other words, I shouldn't have upgraded to Windows 10.

Not upgrading to Windows 10 would have meant quite a lot of time every other day, continually removing and declining updates, removing GWX, and hacking and re-hacking the registry (which I've had to do on my Windows 7 netbook a few times). It would also - more fundamentally - have meant that I wouldn't be able to run much of the software I now use on my laptop and my 7-inch Windows 10 tablet, which would have made it, ultimately, little more useful to me than it is now.

Now - of course - I'm sure they knew this when they said that, and - of course - I pulled them up on it. Their response: I should be running a "supported operating system," and about that particular device: "I regret to inform you that Intel is not planning to release drivers for Intel® GMA. Sorry for the inconvenience." Inconvenience, my arse. It's a profound waste of money and time, resulting in my labours going unrewarded and my tablet still being, essentially, a £300 mirror. And then, ironically enough, they say that "in order to get the best performance out of your equipment it is good to check the latest software supported for it." Like Windows 10. With Windows 10-compatible fucking drivers.

The crux of the whole exchange, though, was this: "Intel is always moving forward with its support and seeking to provide the newest products to their customers." What does that mean!?

It means that Intel are, in theory, happy to provide support for their products - by way of getting me to buy new hardware every time a big release of Windows happens and borks the drivers which they then refuse to replace.

It's built-in obsolescence. Microsoft break driver compatibility, and then Intel refuse to update the drivers. Result? I pay for a new computer, the cost of which includes an all-new processor (from Intel, they hope), an all-new GPU (likewise probably from Intel), and an all-new Windows license.

That is shystery. It is utterly pathetic, reprehensible, and a fucking good reason for me to seriously consider going back to using Debian as my primary operating system.

In the meanwhile, I would be tempted to urge people to avoid buying Intel products. If they're going to be so blatant regarding their intention to make me give them more money, I'm going to be so blatant as to say fuck that.

5 June 2016

More of life.

Yes, I know it's been a while since I last posted anything. These apologies are beginning to become something of a tradition in my posts, aren't they? Oh well. I'm not sorry. I'm just crap at getting round to it.


I'm getting on well with the follow-up to Journeyman, and I even have a title in mind for it. It might seem a little more comical than the tone of the book is seeming at the moment, but personally I don't mind that, as there are elements of comedy in even the darkest and heaviest of times. Even if that's just life laughing at you.

The draft of the book is two-thirds done; I've made progress a little slower on this one than on the last one, but in my defence life has been happening - and I've been looking after Journeyman too, which has sold coming up for nine hundred copies on the Kindle now. I've got to say, it's done a lot better than I expected it to, but I know this is only the beginning. I'm back into writing to agents, and am hoping someone will pick me up for it at some point (obviously...). In the meantime, just get on with Part II.

I'm also having some other (unrelated) ideas that could turn out to be fun: some silly political satire idea fell into my head the week before, and I've been scribbling about that a little, and I'm hoping to get on with NaNoWriMo in November. That's in spite of whatever I might be working on by that point: I'm gonna get it done.

Autism and Mental Health

It turned out, following an appointment I had in March, that I'm not just dyslexic, dyspraxic, and dyscalculic - I'm also an Asperger. This does not surprise me (or anyone who knows me).

The funny thing is that, looking all the way back through my school records to when I was four, it was obvious that I am autistic. I wasn't interested in "social graces" as they were described, and I worked far better on my own than in a team. I also was prone to tantrums when things changed without reasonable explanation, and showed incredible aptitude in specific areas. So how, I ask myself, was I not flagged as a primary school child?

Probably because autism was a thing people thought a prodigy couldn't have. 'He's intelligent, he can't be autistic.'

It was similar in secondary school, of course, though by this point people were starting to wonder if I was autistic. They even had an educational psychologist come and see me - and she decided I wasn't autistic, just a disruptive problem child (with a high IQ... umm).

This caused me a lot of years of mental health issues, from being a small child to now, pretty much. It precluded me making friends through almost all my childhood and youth, such that I was knocking on twenty's door by the time I made any friends worth keeping (which I did). I have depression and anxiety, which before were linked to a troublesome past and broken brain chemistry, which has now been proven to - actually - be caused by nothing more or less than my frustration at having had no identity of my own and a limited ability to communicate.

I'm not going to drive on about that. I'm over it, and I'm over myself. Ultimately, while there are things I would do differently with my own children (chiefly to not send them to school), I wouldn't change a moment of my past; it's made me who I am, and for what it's worth, I'm proud of who I've grown up to be.

Little Tablet

For a little bit of fun, I bought one of those £25 Allwinner Q88 tablets, after reading some very mixed reviews of them, and now I've been playing with it for a week or two, I'm happy giving a little review of my own.


The first thing anyone's likely to notice with one of these is that the displays aren't very good. They're not - though the touch panels work really surprisingly well. The colours have a very low saturation level which can't (apparently) be changed, and the backlight is quite bright, which makes everything look slightly washed out. It's good enough to watch something on or play a simple game, but that's about it. Don't expect HD, kids.


It's not fast. It's just not. There's nothing more I can say about it.


512MB of memory is enough to do most things you might want to do on a tablet, speaking realistically. I can play Minecraft or Plants vs Zombies on it, I can listen to music or watch something, and I can run Word and tap away (even though Word says I need at least a gig). In this area I'd say (despite what others say) that it's perfectly good and useable.

Storage is another matter, however. Being a cheap SoC means that it's the same as other cheap Android systems, in that the internal storage is partitioned into "internal storage" and "expanded storage." What this means, practically speaking, is that while there's 8GB of storage in there, I can only install, say, 800MB's worth of apps. Not a huge bummer, I guess, though it would be nice to be able to put some more on. 'But you can move apps to the expanded/SD storage,' I can hear you holler. Yes, but it only moves the app's data, not the core of it. So I can't put the Final Fantasy games on it that I paid such a lot of money for a few years back. But that's OK, I'm thinking I might get a Nexus for that at some point.


It comes with Android 4.4.1 (ICS, I think) in ROM, which is pretty much what you'd expect when you're buying a cheapie. What I didn't expect, however, is that there was no bloatware at all installed on it when I got it. No knock-off games or Netflix/Facebook/Twitter clients like there have been on other tablets I've had in the past. Just a straight-up Android distribution with enough to get started. That genuinely impressed me a lot. The software that does come with it consists mainly of a little video player/picture viewer and a little music player - both generic, both tiny, both just get the bloody job done. Impressed.


It's not bad. It's a £25 tablet - you're not going to get a Nexus, a Surface, or an iPad for that money. It's a cheap Chinese generic tablet with the OS in ROM and a plastic screen, but d'you know what? If you're looking for something mess about with, maybe some light gaming or something to pacify the kids or whatever, I'd recommend it. Hey, even if you just want an oversized mp3 player.

Speaking of mp3 players, I ordered one from AliExpress, for the princely sum of 83p. That's less than the price of a drink in a café. It (apparently) includes nothing at all - not even storage. It charges by USB, and reads micro-SD cards, which leads me to think there must just be a ROM in there with an mp3 codec on it. We'll see how it performs when it arrives.


I need more books, a coffee, and a hug. In the meantime I'll look forward to going to see the Rocky Horror Show live in early October.

26 February 2016

Marching on.

So, it's nearly March. Time's marching on, and people are getting on with it; both dancing on inexorably toward the future.

Good for them.

Myself, I'm still here. Still being who I am: a writer and an amateur-amateur radio nerd.


I'm just under half way through drafting the follow-up for Journeyman, and as it goes I'm happy that that's good progress, considering I started two months ago, because it means (as it stands right now) I'm slightly ahead of schedule.

However, I know I'm likely to need to pull it apart once it's done, because a lot of the writing so far seems - to me, at least - to be rather boring and dry, and because it's written in the voice of someone who's having a bad time, a little depressive and irritating. Maybe that's what it's supposed to be like, I don't know. All I do know is that I'd like to do a fair bit of polishing.

Also, as I've made more progress with the text, I've become less certain what I want to call it. When I first started writing, I was going to call it Guardian, but I realized pretty early on that a title like that would be likely to draw in the wrong sort of reader. So, right now, I'm somewhere between Provost and Regent. Make of that what you will, as regards the plot.

Finally, for those who might remember Singularity, I'm considering doing a big rewrite once the FOTG cycle is done: looking back, it was a pretty desperate attempt at getting a book out. Yes, I'm proud of it, but what I'm proud of is the story, not the writing.

Amateur-Amateur Radio Nerd

That might seem like a bit of a daft way to put it, but it's true; I'm an amateur, even compared with amateurs. I don't buy proper equipment, I improvise everything, and mostly build to century-plus-old plans - Marconi-era stuff, none of which would be legal to operate at full power.

However, my main station is now pretty much completely to the spec I originally designed it to, the only exception being that I'm powering it from a couple of lantern batteries, rather than a small car battery as I had intended. The main difference here is that uing lantern batteries vastly limits the power of the system as a whole (smaller spark, smaller range, probably extremely inefficient), though that could be a good thing from the legal point of view: at full power, this thing could probably achieve a range of a handful of miles.

That being said, I have done a significant upgrade to the transmitter this last week, in the form of a full-size tuning coil (made from copper brake pipe, which cost me a fortune) and a respectably-sized glass-plate condenser (capacitor) for the other half of that tank circuit, made from old glass photo photograph plates and measuring about 3.3nF.

So, it's now up to about the same sort of specification as those century-ago operators' stations would have been, which is what I've been ainimg for. All the parts were made by my own two hands, including the Ruhmkorff coil powering it (which, I might add, took me nearly a month to wind entirely by hand).

Also, for the fun of it, I've got a couple of other things working, including a small (pocket-sized) transmitter based on an electromagnetic buzzer (again, made by myself) and a transistor battery, and a microphonic detector based on a battery carbon suspended between two steel wires. That transmitter has achieved a range of maybe a hundred feet, and the detector... well, I've no way to gauge it, because there's no transmitters powerful enough to actuate it around here, other than my own - though both the Marconi-type transmitter and the buzzer have been picked up by it.

I'll go into much more detail about these things at some point. Actually, I'm considering writing a short textbook about it at some point in the future.

19 January 2016

Things to Remember.

When I published Journeyman on Kindle, a month ago tomorrow, I felt a litle nervous about how people would take to my style of writing; when one writes something - whatever it is - one is baring a significant part of themselves to the world. How they think, how they feel, how they perceive the world around them. It's almost like sitting on a psychiatrist's couch and allowing their mind to be observed by whoever is prepared to look.

As the book has started to sell reasonably well, I've been drawn into something of a false sense of security, especially given some of the positive feedback I've had. I've forgotten to remember that people aren't always reasonable, and will judge parts of the work on other parts which are irrelevant. I've had negative reviews, from people who didn't finish reading the book, complaining about now openly and often I've used naughty words, and about my "irritating characterization."

I know, I know - you don't need to say it. That's what I get writing a book and putting it out there. And you're right. But I still can't help feeling a little disappointed that people are going to judge the whole on a small detail. Yes, I don't have a problem with people saying they don't like how much profanity I've written into the book; that's a matter of personal taste, and if you don't like it that's upto you.

But when my writing is being judged on a character's flaws, I can't help wondering if people can tell the difference between a character acting badly and me writing badly. Yes, it's probably unreasonable of me to think that, given that it's a book for an audience and not simply for my own amusement. But there we are.

So, from now on I have to remind myself that Journeyman is the book I intended to write, and if people want to decide that I'm a bad writer because the protagonist did something they don't agree with, that's on them.

In the meantime, my coffee's getting cold. L'chayim.

17 January 2016

Beginning at last...?

First post of the year, and it's over two weeks in. Not much has happened, really.

Except my book, Journeyman, has been selling fairly well. In America, at least; my sales rolled past 160 this afternoon. Personally, I don't think that's a bad start for a self-pubbed book by an unknown author, whose only publicity has been a small handful of Facebook groups. OK, it's not made me a millionaire, and I'm still looking for work, because I understand that any given sale could be my last.

But the figures have shown signs that there's a bit of quiet growth going on in the quiet. I hope that's what's going on.

So, what does this mean?

Well, for a start it means that Journeyman isn't shit, as I had been worried it might be. My parents and my fiancée had said it's good, but they're kind of supposed to, especially given my predeliction toward neurosis and self-deprecating behaviour. But maybe they were right on this count; their comments weren't actually biased.

However, it's making almost no headway in my home country, England. Seriously, I've sold about five copies over here. Which makes sense in a way, because in many ways we English prefer subtlety, quiet, and pretty much everything else that Journeyman isn't: there's swearing, there's people crapping their pants, there's nothing really sanitized. That's mostly for realism (were there such a thing in a fantasy novel), so I'm ignoring the negative review I got (from someone who didn't even finish the book) and getting on with life.

So, I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that maybe I should be writing to US literary agents to try and get it published, rather than to UK ones - especially since the UK ones have shown almost no interest.
Which makes me wonder... maybe this year is, at last, something of a new beginning for me, career-wise.