03 March 2017

A new (old) laptop

I recently decided it was time to upgrade my laptop, so I am now the proud owner of a refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad X230. This is a slightly newer model than my old machine (an X220, also refurbished, which I’ve had for four years), but it is sufficiently similar that the transition process was more or less painless.

The most noticeable differences are the chiclet keyboard, which replaces the wonderful mechanical keyboard that used to set Lenovo laptops apart. I miss the embedded numeric keyboard, but this is still a very good keyboard. The screen is, I think, marginally better, and this model has a fingerprint reader. Importantly, it seems as solidly built as its predecessors (which is why I have been using Thinkpads since the days of the IBM Thinkpad X40).

This laptop came with Windows 10 Professional already installed (its predecessor was gradually upgraded from XP to Win7 to Win10), but without the usual Lenovo add-ons. As a result, it seems to boot up much more smoothly than the old machine. This also gave me the opportunity to think about what I really needed to instal. So one or two legacy programs which have been with me since the days of XP have bitten the dust,  in particular Launchy and Ultramon (both seem to be adequately replaced by commands using the Win key).

Of course there were one or two ancient programs that I absolutely needed to have, specifically Quicken 2004 (a handy personal accounts program; I would upgrade it but for some reason Intuit don’t sell its more recent versions in the UK) and Idealist 3 (which I have mentioned more than once).

Installing Quicken 2004 on Windows 10

You will need the installation disk and a copy of the Quicken directory from your old computer.

(1) Run the installation disk in the usual way. This will instal Quicken, but it won’t work because of missing dlls.

(2) Copy the old (working) Quicken directory to the location of Quicken on your new laptop.

And that should be that.

Installing Blackwell/Bekon Idealist 3 on Windows 10

The installation program won’t work on 64-bit systems. But installing it is very simple:

Copy the Idealist directory from your old system and paste it into an appropriate place on the new system. Create a shortcut and (importantly) set compatibility in the Properties folder to something like Win95 or Win98.

19 December 2016

The O Antiphons

Just a few days to Christmas and in some Christian traditions it is time for the O Antiphons to be used in conjunction with the Magnificat at vespers/evensong.

Some years ago, I posted a blog series on the O Antiphons based on a quiet day I ran at St Aidan’s Clarkston. Here, for convenience, are the links to that series:

The quiet day and the posts derived from it made use of a series of sonnets written by the Cambridge-based priest and poet Malcolm Guite. As it happens, Malcolm has recently been posting those sonnets together with reflections on the O antiphons on his blog.

And for even more on the O antiphons, Daniel Horan’s reflections on them on his Dating God blog are well worth reading.

09 November 2016

The characteristics of fascism

Umberto Eco’s 1995 article ‘Ur-Fascism’ is worth reading. In it he identifies fourteen common characteristics of fascism. The following list is loosely based on his points (with a bit of help from Hannah Arendt and one or two others):
  • Harking back to a past golden age
  • Rejection of modernity (which one might extend to include contempt for ‘experts’)
  • Action for action’s sake
  • Disagreement is treason
  • Appeal to a frustrated middle class
  • Nationalism
  • Paranoia with respect to groups of sinister others (and a willingness to accept conspiracy theories relating to those others)
  • Contempt for weakness
  • Militarism
  • Machismo
  • Cynicism with respect to mainstream democratic politics
  • Use of an impoverished vocabulary and syntax
Does any of this sound familiar?

07 October 2016

Free VPN for lazy people, or another reason to love Opera

I think it is generally agreed (unless you are a government agency) that virtual private networks (VPNs) are ‘a good thing’. Essentially what they do is channel all your Internet communications via a proxy server, which can be on another continent. That makes it more difficult for websites you visit to identify you (unless of course you give them personal information). But more importantly, communication between your computer and the proxy server is encrypted so that the hacker at the table next to you in the internet cafĂ© can’t eavesdrop on you and steal personal information. It also means that the data your Internet Service Provider will be required to collect for HM Government will be useless to them.

Unfortunately, until now VPNs have come in one of two flavours: pay a monthly subscription and get decent service, or opt for a free VPN which may be slower and is often a pain to set up properly. As a result, it is something I’ve meaning to do for at least a couple of years.

Enter my favourite web browser, Opera. It now comes with free VPN capability built in. All you have to do is go to the Settings page and switch it on. I’ve had it running for a couple of weeks now and it doesn’t seem to have slowed my system down at all.

One caveat: it is not a complete VPN solution because it only works within the browser. If you decide to run another browser or a separate email program, you won’t be protected.

29 August 2016

Ninefox Gambit

A review of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris, 2016)

I’m not really a fan of military science fiction, but the blurb for this novel caught my fancy and I was vaguely aware of the author’s reputation as a short story writer, so I decided to give his first novel a try.

The first thing to be said is that it is not an easy read. Lee begins in media res with his main character, Captain Kel Cheris, fighting for her life on an alien battlefield with no explanation of what is going on. But the very alienness of the situation makes for a gripping tale and the reader is swept along as Cheris is pulled out of that conflict and promoted: she has been selected to lead the response to a calendrical heresy that is threatening the Hexarchate. The full resources of the Hexarchate are put her disposal and she opts for the help of a long-dead Shuos general, Jedao, who was condemned as a mass murderer. With Jedao and a powerful task force, Cheris tackles the heresy head-on at what appears to be the focal point of the problem.

As you might expect, they succeed in defeating the heretics. But what is really interesting is the larger story that Lee has constructed around this straightforward narrative. We learn that the Hexarchate is not the benign institution Cheris believed it to be. We discover something of Jedao’s history and begin to get an idea of what might have driven him to mass murder. And by the end of the story, we discover that we are really only at the end of the first act of a much larger story.

Little details distinguish and bring to life the various cultures and castes under the power of the Hexarchate. For example, for some unexplained reason the Kel, the military caste of the Hexarchate, have a particular fondness for cabbage. But what I enjoyed most about Lee’s world building was his creation of an esoteric calendrical mathematics that underpins the technology and culture of the Hexarchate. This mathematics is never explained but somehow pervades the whole to create the impression that one is indeed eavesdropping on an alien culture. I have rarely come across such a successful depiction of the alien. (Too often SFF authors think that they can lift elements from Chinese or Japanese culture and that counts as alien!)

Lee’s characterization is as gripping as his world building. It is not often that readers will find themselves sympathizing with a character who freely admits to being a mass murderer!

This is easily the best work of science fiction I have read in 2016. My one frustration with it is that the next volume of the trilogy isn’t yet available!

26 August 2016

Coming soon to Android…

…Windows programs!

I discovered Crossover a few years ago when I was experimenting with Linux. Developed by Codeweavers, Crossover does a similar job to Wine, allowing (some) Windows programs to run in a Linux environment. They also do a version that allows Windows programs to run on Macs.

Now they have announced a new version of Crossover that will allow Windows programs to run on some Android systems, specifically those on Intel-based computers. Chromebooks are the obvious target for the new program, but hopefully it will also work on Android tablets with Intel chips.

You can sign up to try out a preview version of it. I have done so and I’m looking forward to seeing whether I can get Idealist to run on my tablet. Very sensibly, Codeweavers are making no promises about what Windows programs will run satisfactorily in the new environment. But I’m hopeful about getting Idealist to work because it ran well on Linux using Crossover.

10 August 2016

By their fruit shall ye know them

A couple of weeks ago, a leading evangelical theologian endorsed Donald Trump as ‘the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America’. For some reason, I can’t help thinking of an event that had a formative effect on the theology of the young Karl Barth. In his own words,

One day in early August 1914 stands out in my personal memory as a black day. Ninety-three German intellectuals impressed public opinion by their proclamation in support of the war policy of Wilhelm II and his counselors. Among these intellectuals I discovered to my horror almost all of my theological teachers who I had greatly venerated. In despair over what this indicated about the signs of the time I suddenly realized that I could not any longer follow either their ethics and dogmatics or their understanding of the Bible and of history. For me at least 19th century theology no longer held any future. (The Humanity of God, p. 14)