So I’m almost finished the last pre-publisher draft of my new book, and
I’m watching the TV show Heroes. Where I live we’re about
three months behind the US. Well, a few weeks ago on Heroes
they introduced a minor character with a super power that’s very similar
to one of mine. Uh, I mean, similar to a particular talent that one of my
characters has. It’s not particularly original—it’s a form of mind control—but in
the show it’s described in an atypical way, the exact same
atypical way I’ve used.
Last episode, this character shot herself in the head. On the sofa, I said,
“Yes!” It was a terrific moment.
Hopefully by the time my book comes out, nobody will remember her.
Last week I helped my 17-year-old brother-in-law build his own
computer. Moo, as I shall call him, as I have since he was
four, is not particularly geeky. He is what they
call emo. And he lives in England, so all I could do was give
advice over the phone and hope I wasn’t about to hear, “Is
this bit meant to be smoking like… OH MY GOD IT’S—beep, beep, beep.”
But he put the whole thing together with no real dramas or explosions,
which I was very impressed with. Then we got to what turned out to be
the hard part: setting up Windows XP.
I haven’t used Windows much in the last three years. It’s
possible that my mind has become clouded by the religion that is
Linux. But I don’t think so. I think Windows has gotten crappier.
I seriously can’t believe how many hoops you have to jump through now to do
even simple tasks, like upgrade Internet Explorer. (Before
you are permitted to plug the gaping security holes in the 2001
version that comes on the CD, you must install
other software that’s of no
benefit to you, which requires much
clicking, restarting, and rebooting.) The Internet Chat program,
Messenger, is so crammed full of ads and promotions that it’s
hard to work out where the non-commercial content is. Programs
crash. Installing drivers is click-and-hope. It won’t recognize
your wireless network card because it wasn’t invented in 2001,
and you can’t go on the internet for updates because it won’t
recognize your wireless network card.
Even if you could,
you don’t have any security patches installed,
and by the time you download them, your system will be infected with Sasser.
Everything you install tries to change your home page, start by default,
and fill your desktop with icons.
But what really bothers me is
the feeling that you must constantly fight for control of your
own computer, because your aims are apparently in conflict with
those of Microsoft and half of everyone else who writes Windows software.
They want your
computer to report information
about you, keep ongoing watch over what you’re doing in case you
turn pirate (activation, registration, and validation?),
show you ads, and lock you out of protected media. If you lose this
battle, then six months later you find yourself with a computer so
clogged with malware that the only way to make it usable again is
to reinstall the operating system and begin the fight again.
Occasionally I see articles about whether Linux is ready to
compete with Windows on the desktop. But it’s become obvious to me
that Linux is already a
better operating system. That’s purely
on the merits—features,
reliability, and ease of use—and even before you throw in the fact
that Linux is free and has more accessible support.
So to me the question isn’t whether Linux is good enough any more.
It’s down to the applications: whether Linux programs are
available to do everything you want.
Today the latest version of Ubuntu
was released. Ubuntu is the best home Linux distribution going
around, so if
you’ve thought about switching, it’s a good time. You can
a Live CD, which lets you try Linux out without actually
installing it, but even better might be to consider
applications you could switch to. If you can find
Linux versions that do everything you need, you’re good to go. If you
can’t—and there are
holes here that will rule Linux out for some people—then
you might want to stay put. (It is possible to run most Windows
applications on Linux with emulation, but it’s clunky. And
dual-booting for anything except games gets tedious fast.)
P.S. Here is the last thing I
wrote about Linux, in February 2005.
P.P.S. I understand that to many people, Linux users are fanatical
freaks with no appreciation for the basic fact that the majority
of the world doesn’t fall in love with computers but simply
uses them to get things done. But that’s because they’re running
Windows. If only they switched, the scales would fall from their
eyes and they too would realize that they are eating delicious
cherry pie while everyone around them chews on mud, saying, “It’s
not too bad, once you get used to it.”
Oh, and the mud is evil.
I wake to the aroma of banana loaf. I’ve made barely a dent
in Katrina’s goodies, and my hotel room smells as if
Momma’s been a-bakin’. It’s quite delightful. Hotels should
consider leaving out banana loaf instead of chocolates, I think.
Take two for Google. This time I seem to have the right
day, and Ricky leads me through the campus to do my talk. And oh my God.
The stories are true. It is the most wonderful place
in the world. It’s like the company is saying,
“Just come in, hang out, and I’ll give you everything you could
possibly want. And if, you know, you have a minute free
and want to do some work for us, that’d be cool, too.”
There are endless
cafeterias; free, of course. Snack and drink machines everywhere.
Massage chairs. A laundromat. A beach volleyball court. A
wave pool. Grass, trees, open space. A full-scale model of
being attacked by a flock of pink flamingos. And geeks, geeks, as far as
the eye can see: young, free, happy geeks. I want to weep
for the years I spent at HP: why did I waste a single minute of
my life there when this exists? If I didn’t already have
my dream job, I swear I would throw myself on the Google doorstep and beg for
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I can’t sleep. Part of the problem is that when I lie down,
all the blood in my body rushes to my sinuses. Actually, maybe
that’s rushing phlegm. Yeah. It’s phlegm. The other part of the
problem is that back home, it’s Round 1 of the football season,
and my team is playing.
It would be stupid to get up, turn on my laptop, and
check the scores online. The game won’t finish until 3am
my time, so I won’t get to find out the result tonight
I get up, turn on my laptop, and check the scores online.
It’s Richmond 44, Carlton 44.
I also discover that there’s a streaming radio broadcast
available. “Hmm…” I say.
At 3am, I’ve got the laptop in bed with me, piping
out commentary. We lose. I turn it off and fall asleep.
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On the plane from Austin to Phoenix, I finish my advance copy of
new Chuck Palahniuk novel. Somehow I have ended up reading incredibly
explicit books on every flight. I flew from Melbourne to LA with
Mortem, by Ben Elton, and unexpectedly found
myself in the middle of the filthiest sex scene I’ve ever encountered.
Seriously, it was very educational. Only a Brit could
could produce a book that’s essentially a comedy of manners, but
I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a mother traveling with her
two young children, and had to tilt the book away from her during
The danger then was that the man across the aisle would
think I was trying to show it to him. It was a delicate
Next up was Craig Clevenger’s
Dermaphoria, and a sex
scene involving a dripping tap. By the time I got to Palahniuk,
I decided that if people didn’t want to know about olfactory
cunnilingus, they shouldn’t be reading over my shoulder.
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