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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Fri 27
Apr
2007

The Joy of Creation

Writing 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.

Thu 19
Apr
2007

Danger: Linux Advocacy Ahead

Max 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 some 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 download a Live CD, which lets you try Linux out without actually installing it, but even better might be to consider which 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 certain 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.

Wed 11
Apr
2007

Travel Diary: Days #11-13 (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Melbourne)

Writing 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 SpaceShipOne. A T-Rex skeleton 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 employment.

» Read the rest...

Wed 04
Apr
2007

Travel Diary: Days 9-10 (Phoenix, San Francisco)

Writing 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 anyway. But…

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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Mon 02
Apr
2007

Travel Diary: Day #8 (Austin, Phoenix)

Writing On the plane from Austin to Phoenix, I finish my advance copy of Rant, the new Chuck Palahniuk novel. Somehow I have ended up reading incredibly explicit books on every flight. I flew from Melbourne to LA with Past 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 with felching. 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 these passages. The danger then was that the man across the aisle would think I was trying to show it to him. It was a delicate balance.

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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