June 28, 2006

Fresh fodder for the comics mill

When DC launched the whole run up to Infinite Crisis, one of the better (and more enjoyable) things to come out of it were some of the new mini-series they introduced – such as Villains United, Day of Vengeance and The OMAC Project. These comics gave the chance for not often seen, second-string (or third or even fourth-string) characters to have their day in the sun. Since these characters didn’t have all the baggage of the main characters, I actually liked the storylines a lot.

Now, post Crisis, DC has been launching new mini-series starring the same characters. First they introduced, the Shadowpact, then the Secret Six and in July it’s going to be the turn of OMAC :) This week, they are also releasing DCU: Brave New World which is actually going to be the precursor for six new mini-series from DC, one of which is going to be the aforementioned "OMAC". Looks as if many changes are on the way for DC characters and lot of money to be shelled out from the pockets of comics characters. Hope I have the time to read all this stuff :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:46 am  |  No Comments

June 26, 2006

Styles and stances

Just what I feared has come to pass and that too without me even noticing it :p The gaps between my blog entries are growing longer again. Of course, I’ve been rather busy the last few days. I’m now in the process of doing two crits of two different novels, editing "Honest" as and when necessary (though not doing the major re-write that I’m beginning to think is inevitable) and also working on my new novel, "The Hunt for ‘Read October’". Weird name? Yeah, it is but it’s an even weirder story :p

In fact, "Hunt" is actually proceeding along fairly well. I get about 2-3 pages a day done and since the biggest challenge in writing is to apply yourself consistently, I’ve been very careful to be sure that I meet my daily quota. When I wrote "Honest", I stuck to a kind of artificial limitation – I wanted to ensure that a scene was at least 8 pages long – at this point, I’m not really sure why :p I think it had something to do with Gordon R. Dickson and "The Final Encyclopedia" where, if I’m not mistaken, he stuck to 8 or 10 pages per chapter consistently, chapter after chapter. And it was a huge book too!

Of course, trying to ensure that a scene is a particular length imposes more strain on you when trying to write because then you have to constantly watch yourself or start thinking about how to make a scene longer if it turns out to be too short. With "Hunt" I simply went with the flow. The scenes are actually much shorter and I write them as they come and move on. I’ve found that things flow much more smoothly this way. I might even have chapter breaks on this one after I’m done, I’m not sure yet. Of course, there are like ten scenes to a chapter and the chapters will be about 20-30 pages long and so I’m not sure if chapters are the best way to go but at least, this book is beginning to have better structure than the last one :)

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Posted by Fahim at 6:20 am  |  No Comments

June 21, 2006

Gaps and geysers

This unfortunately, is what happens each time I start writing – my blog goes in to spurt mode before it stops altogether :p The last time I started a novel, I think the blog went on a hiatus for a year and most of the regulars stopped visiting because they probably thought I was dead :) This time so far, I’ve managed to at least make an entry every other day but the longer I keep writing, the more likely it is that the blog will start to suffer. So I came up with a plan :p

What’s the plan? The plan is to make at least a short entry every other day instead of my usually long rambling ones. Actually, the short entry might be easier for most people to read than my rambles – but then again, this entry already seems to be well on its way to being a ramble because I haven’t even gotten to the subject matter of today’s post. Which is a fairly funny video that I discovered online :)

What do you get when you combine two guys, a couple of spare lab coats, protective eyewear, 200 liters of Diet Coke and over 500 Mentos mints? The answer? Watch the video below to find out :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:32 am  |  No Comments

June 19, 2006

A Holiday of Chaos

We’ve been running into a spate of bad movies recently :) I don’t know if it was just our mood – getting movies that just didn’t match our mood or if the movies themselves were bad. All I know of is that we have a growing pile of movies that have been watched halfway and then left aside. But a few days ago, we did hit a few movies which were quite good. Of course, it might be that the streak of bad movies just made these seem really good but then again, maybe not.

The first one in the lot is "Chaos". However, I can’t talk much about "Chaos" because it would ruin the "game" for other people :p What’s the game? Well, the game is something I play each time I start watching a movie or TV show – I start trying to figure out the ending as soon as the story starts unfolding and the score is decided by how soon I guess the ending :) I love those movies where the game is at least half-way challenging and "Chaos" is perhaps in this kind of rare category. So I will not ruin it for any other players out there. I’ll just say that it has Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes and Ryan Phillippe and that it is a good story :)

The other movie, "Last Holiday" does not get in to the game at all :) It is a rather predictable, straightforward story about a quiet and meek woman who suddenly finds her voice – both figuratively and literally :) It is one of those wonderful feel-good movies about a person rising through adversity and the scorn of "society" to find their place in the world. I loved the movie though the storyline itself held no real surprises. It is one of those pick-me-up kind of movies which leaves you feeling really good about yourself and life at the end of the movie. Watch it :)

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Posted by Fahim at 6:44 am  |  1 Comment

June 17, 2006

Breaking the partitions

Yesterday was my day off and I thought, "What would be a fun thing to do today?" and decided to install Mac OS X for Intel on one of the computers … just for kicks :p OK, I exaggerate. I had been planning on trying out OS X and yesterday was the first chance I got to give it a whirl.

The first machine I tried would not get beyond the boot up stage. But then again, that one’s about two years old. So I decided to try the newest machine we have in the house – my work machine. Yes, bad idea :p But you know how it is, when you really want something badly, you gotta go ahead and do the best you can … or something like that :)

Anyway, I had about 20GB free on an extra partition that I’d used to install Windows Vista on. I had heard so much about how Mac OS X would not install in a partition but needed a drive of its own that I wasn’t sure that this was going to work the way things were set up. But I wanted to see for myself and so I booted up with the OS X disk and what do you know? It came up fine but had no destination disk selected. However, on nosing around a bit, I found a utility which would allow me to browse my disks, create partitions, format them etc. I discovered that all I had to do was actually format an existing partition into HPFS+ and I could install OS X on that. And that’s what I did.

It took about two hours to complete the installation and once it was complete, I ran into my first hurdle. The new OS X installation would not boot up. It would boot fine with the installation CD but not into the OS X installation on the hard disk. After some nosing around, I figured out how to get things to boot into the OS X installation but then I hit my second hurdle – there was no dual booting and so I was unable to boot back into my Windows install on the same machine!

I spent about three hours booting via a Windows XP installation CD into the recovery console and trying various disk fixing methods but nothing worked. I knew what had to be done – just set the Windows partition as the active one so that the computer would boot into XP. But there was no fdisk in the recovery console and diskpart did not seem to have the option to set an active partition :-( I also spent quite a bit of time trying to get a USB thumb drive bootable so that I could boot via the USB stick and use fdisk but that didn’t work either. Finally, I remembered that I had an old LiveCD of Mandrake Move (or Mandriva Move as it is now known). I booted into Linux using that CD, ran fdisk and set the Windows partition as the active one and was finally able to boot into Windows :) (And the interesting thing was that soon after that, I was able to get my machine to boot using the USB stick as well. Then again, that’s how it always goes, isn’t it?)

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Posted by Fahim at 5:36 pm  |  1 Comment

June 15, 2006

Are spammers winning?

I don’t know what is going on anymore. There used to be several highly touted spam prevention efforts for WordPress a few months ago. But there has been no word from any of them in a while and comment and trackback spam actually seems to be on the rise again. Have the spammers won? Have the developers given up? (Or to get really paranoid, been bought off by the spammers? :p)

For quite a long time, I would get one or two spam messages a day and that was OK. It would be caught by whatever spam combatting plugin I was using and it would sit there in my moderation/spam queue and I would come by every couple of days and delete the messages. The spam still gets caught but now there’s like 20-30 messages a day instead of the 2 or 3 a day. Me being a lazy guy, it is much more time consuming to have to go through all the caught spam, verify that none of it is legit and then to delete it all.

I tried WordPress Hashcash in the hope that that would stop the spam being submitted in the first place. It didn’t even seem to slow them down :p I then tried Anti-spam Image but I still got around 25 spam comments overnight. So, the methods designed to ensure that spam never gets submitted to your blog at all don’t seem to work too well. The methods designed to stop spam from getting published do work but end up in creating a lot of work for you because you have to spend time wading through the chaff just on the off-chance there is some wheat hiding in there. What do you do? I don’t know. I guess the solution would be to code something of my own but I really don’t want to get into coding right now :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:06 am  |  No Comments

June 14, 2006

How do you find the time?

I believe it was Stephen King who said, "Read four hours a day and write four hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer." I admire people who can do that. I know I certainly can’t :)

Sure, I would love to read four hours a day even if I can’t write four hours a day – I’d probably get too tired of writing after a couple of hours. But what with working eight hours a day, doing a hundred other things in between, finding an hour to write a day is a big deal. No, this is not going to be a whine. Or then again, this is perhaps a bit of a whine but it’s also a look at how much time you can realistically devote to writing if writing is not your primary occupation. (Heck, at the moment, writing is not an occupation at all as far as I’m concerned :p The only money I get from writing these days is from some Google ads on a site I blog at …)

I can understand the need to keep to a regular schedule. Writing is a job just like anything else. You have to keep at it daily if you want to get anywhere. But the issue is always, how do you keep at it when there are so many other things clamouring for your attention? :p When I wrote my first novel, I would set aside a couple of hours every evening after I finished work. I would write till I had completed 2,000 words – that was my daily target. I think it took me about three months at that pace to complete my novel. Now that I’ve started my second novel, I find that I can’t be even as ambitious as that. So far, I’ve gotten like two pages a day and that is barely 500 words a day! Perhaps once I pick up steam I’ll do better or maybe I just need to let go of this whole idea that "I have no time to spare" and simply write? :)

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Posted by Fahim at 6:47 am  |  3 Comments

June 13, 2006

A new novel

Sometimes, story ideas just come to you unexpectedly. Actually, that’s how all my story ideas come to me :p I had been thinking about the fact that I haven’t done enough writing recently (except for the editing and blogging) and thinking about how I was going to get back into the habit of writing daily. Writing my second novel, "Basement of the Universe" had kind of stalled for a few of reasons: 1) "Basement" ties into my first novel, "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" and so I want to know if "Honest" goes anywhere before I actually get going on a series of six books tied to "Honest" :p 2) "Basement" itself spawns two other novels (at least) and I’m not sure how it all ties in together yet 3) "Basement" has been written (and re-written) in at least three or four different forms so far and I’m a bit confused as to where it goes now :p

So, I was wondering what I was going to get started on writing next when the idea struck. Well, it literally did since I was in the shower and it hit me on the head like the water coming down from the shower nozzle :p I was simply contemplating a movie that we’d watched and was expanding the story as I normally do when it took a direction which really fits in with my style of writing. So I began thinking further and it all started falling into place – the other characters, the locale and so on and I realized that I could actually place this story in the same universe as "Honest" and "Basement" and that some of the characters who are to be introduced in "Basement" can be used here as well. I’m not sure at the moment as to where in the overall scheme of things this story will be. If it’s going to be a prequel to "Basement" or a sequel but the story itself is taking place pretty well and I’m already into scene two :) So let’s see where this one goes …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:38 am  |  No Comments

June 11, 2006

My first view of Vista :p

OK, fine, this is not my first view of Vista but the title sounded nice :p I’ve been reading up all that has come out regarding the new features and improvements in Windows Vista and was itching to get my hands on beta 2 when it was announced. Of course, I had to wait till the public beta 2 build was available via the Vista CPP (Customer Preview Program) :)

It took about one and a half days to download the 3.2 GB ISO for Vista and then I had to burn a new DVD copy of it. My first few installation attempts (on a two year old Acer Ferrari notebook) failed completely. I then decided to throw caution to the wind (somewhat) and try installing it on my new, Windows Vista Capable certified, Acer Aspire :) Of course, I wasn’t foolish enough to wipe my production machine and install Vista – instead, I wanted to set up the system as a dual-boot machine.

The first snag? When you install Vista via an existing install of Windows, it doesn’t seem to allow you to do any hard disk maintenance (or maybe I missed the option). The space I wanted to utilize was not allocated to a drive and so I had to exit the Vista installer, setup the disk space as a new drive, re-launch the installer and then get going on the installation. About three hours later, I finally was able to dual-boot into Vista :)

First impressions? It feels speed? There is none of the application sluggishness that I’ve seen with XP but maybe it’s just early days yet :p I do like some of the customizations and UI tweaks that they’ve done but hate some of the other stuff. (I’ll probably write more on this in another post – either here or elsewhere). I don’t like the fact that some of the familiar power-user options are now hidden away. I like the breadcrumb trail in Explorer (something I loved in IRIX) but don’t like the new explorer overall. It feel kludgy and there aren’t enough customization options. For instance, I don’t believe there is a list view like in XP and I hate having to scroll through screens and screens of details (or big icons) to get to the file I want.

A lot of people say that Vista is not very stable and it should not be run on a production machine. So far, I haven’t had any stability issues at all. I will grant you that it should not be run on a production machine but that’s mostly because quite a bit of your software will not run under it :p So far, I’ve had about 80% success rate with my standard apps. Some refuse to work outright and some have certain UI quirks. But I think I’m going to use Vista more and more in the coming weeks just because it feels so much more smoother for some reason :)

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Posted by Fahim at 10:04 am  |  No Comments

June 10, 2006

Find that bug …

I’ve been working a lot on Blog the last few days but I’ve hit a brick wall again :-( I’ve done a lot of minor interface tweaks that I think will be pretty useful but then I wanted to do one major interface change – have categories be listed under different remote blogs. The reasoning is simple. Currently, the way the category system is set up, all categories are displayed as one big list. The problem is, that when you have multiple remote blogs, after a while it becomes difficult to figure out which category belongs to which remote blog. So I thought that I’d change the category display to a treeview where each branch represented a different remote blog. Unfortunately, things weren’t that simple :p

Or rather, the implementation is indeed that simple but getting there is not. And it has nothing to do with categories. Instead, it has everything to do with version number changes. Blog, as you might know, has been stuck in 8.0 beta for a few years now. I work on it when I can but a version number is bumped up only when a database change is required. At the moment, there are a couple of database changes that need to be made – one to add a table to hold the relationship between remote blogs and categories and another to remove the More column from the entries table because I decided to have the full entry in one database column. It is the second change which is posing a problem.

In order to combine the More column and the Entry column, I was going to use a comment, <!–more–>, which would replace the standard <$BlogMore> tag. This was supposed to be an easy and quick workaround since WordPress at least supports the <!–more–> tag out of the box and treats it as an entry break. However, it turns out that the HTMLEdit component has a strange bug where it strips out HTML comment tags on a second save. Not the first save mind you, but the second save. The comment tag gets saved to the DB fine on the first save and is loaded from the DB fine after that but if you save the entry again, the tag disappears without a trace.

I asked over at the HTMLEdit component author’s newsgroups about this but soon after, his whole site became inaccessible :p So now I’ve been contemplating wading into his source code to see what is going on but it looks like a major job and I’m not certain that I really want to get into it. But I might have no other choice …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:51 am  |  1 Comment

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