Posts for August 2003

2003-08-02: mdfrm 1.8

A new version of mdfrm with some more fixes from Russell Steinthal to the -c output. I also added a DIAGNOSTICS section to the manual, just on general principals. (Ideally, I think every program should list its error messages and what they mean, but it's hard to find time to always do that in practice.)

2003-08-04: spin 1.38

I seem to be making very regular releases these days.

I finally found time and motivation to track down the long-standing bug in spin where paragraphs consisting entirely of inline macros or commands wouldn't get properly wrapped in paragraph tags. spin now understands block and inline context considerably better.

New version available from the regular place.

2003-08-04: S/Ident 3.1

S/Ident needed a new release to include some additional requester library support that we wanted to use in Webauth 3.2.0, and I took advantage of the opportunity to clean up the documentation a bit. The new version includes the ticket expiration time and the local portion of the principal in the IDENT struct, and the man pages have been expanded and rewritten in POD.

I also cleaned up the S/Ident test server significantly and added a local implementation of krb_life_to_time for systems that don't export that function from the Kerberos libraries.

New version available on the S/Ident page.

2003-08-07: WebAuth 3.2.0

Finally and at long last, we've released WebAuth 3.2.0. It now has support for S/Ident in the weblogin server, so we will be getting back some measure of single sign-on in our network again. There are also various bug fixes that have come out of the new testing.

Downloads and release notes are on the WebAuth v3 pages.

This is what I've been working on for the past week or so, and intermittantly for a lot of the summer. Now we have to do a weblogin upgrade next week, and then the new build is released the week after that, followed by a new webmail release after that.

2003-08-20: On Basilisk Station

Review: On Basilisk Station, by David Weber

I went into this book expecting it to be fluff, but given the good things that I'd heard about it, I really hadn't expected it to be this badly written. But it is. It's absolutely atrocious.

There are no actual characters in this book, not even the vaunted Honor Harrington, just emotions and stereotypes given names, cardboard cutouts who have no depth below their single defining characteristics. There is no character development to speak of, just predictable resolution of a ham-handed conflict that's telegraphed and painfully obvious. You know exactly how the only real character conflict of the book is going to play out from the moment it was introduced -- it's that cliched.

All of this is, even the painfully earnest writing style, is perhaps forgiveable. The book is, after all, feel-good fluff. There's no attempt to be a serious novel here, just light space opera. And I don't necessarily need a lot of believable character development in my feel-good fluff (although it's certainly nice). But there are more problems.

First, Honor Harrington is one of the most blatant Mary Sue characters I think I've ever seen in a published novel. A Mary Sue character, for those not familiar with the term, is most commonly seen in fanfiction, and is a viewpoint character representing an idealized view of the author (except generally female if the author is male), inserted into the starring role in the universe. The character is invariably uber-competent, initially misunderstood, provokes jealousy, doesn't play by the "rules," but eventually accomplishes such wonderful feats by doing things the way that they should have been done that everyone comes around to realizing how amazing they are. This is Honor Harrington to a tee.

Second, the villains. I almost didn't make it past the introduction where the villains are introduced. That the world is essentially the loyal military of a monarchy battling the evil communist welfare state is perhaps forgivable, if worthy of a few eyerolls. What isn't forgivable is that the villains are unbelievably stupid, walking cliches, regularly engaging in behavior that is completely incompatible with their supposed standing in the galaxy.

Now, I've thoroughly enjoyed books that have some of these same flaws. The Lensman series, for example. And once the book settles down into the business of the good guys beating the bad guys silly, it manages to pull on some feel-good emotional strings (although if I'd actually ever believed in the villains as a credible threat -- or, for that matter, as credible period -- the suspense and victory would have been much more effective). But the Lensman series was fun, and didn't take itself seriously, so you could just laugh at the absurdity of the dialog and go along for the ride, seeing how the next set of weapons will top the last. On Basilisk Station, on the other hand, tries to take itself far too seriously for the quality of the writing, and as a result is simply bad.

If you really, really need some feel-good military SF fluff and don't mind one-dimensional emotional point sources instead of characters, this book isn't worthless. But if you can keep from being knocked right out of your suspension of disbelief every ten pages or so, you're more forgiving than I.

Rating: 3 out of 10

2003-08-20: Music haul

It had been too long since I'd made a large music order, so I put together a nice, varied one.

The Alan Parsons Project -- Eye in the Sky
Alkaemy -- The Merlin Mystery
Blackmore's Night -- Fires at Midnight
Dire Straits -- Making Movies
The Goo Goo Dolls -- Dizzy Up the Girl
Jean Michel Jarre -- Chronologie
Billy Joel -- 52nd Street
Billy Joel -- The Nylon Curtain
Billy Joel -- Piano Man
Howard Jones -- One to One
John Cougar Mellencamp -- American Fool
John Cougar Mellencamp -- Scarecrow

I'd forgotten how good of an album The Nylon Curtain is, so I'm currently enjoying that.

2003-08-23: Book haul

Here, belatedly, is the latest haul from Powell's, filling in holes in my collections as well as picking up books I've been meaning to read for a while.

Iain M. Banks -- The Player of Games
David Brin -- Heaven's Reach
Jacqueline Carey -- Kushiel's Chosen
Laurell K. Hamilton -- A Caress of Twilight
Laurell K. Hamilton -- A Kiss of Shadows
Laurell K. Hamilton -- Nightseer
Barry Hughart -- Bridge of Birds
Ursula K. Le Guin -- The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin -- Tehanu
Ursula K. Le Guin -- The Tombs of Atuan
C.S. Lewis -- Out of the Silent Planet
C.S. Lewis -- Perelandra
C.S. Lewis -- That Hideous Strength
C.S. Lewis -- The Four Loves
George R. R. Martin -- A Game of Thrones
Walter M. Miller, Jr. -- A Canticle for Leibowitz
John Ney Rieber -- The Books of Magic: Bindings
John Ney Rieber -- The Books of Magic: Summonings
John Ney Rieber -- The Books of Magic: Transformations
Stanley Schmidt (ed.) -- Analog's Children of the Future
Jill Thompson -- Death: At Death's Door

The third Books of Magic collection is on backorder. I have the comics as well, but I like having collections like that in graphic novel form.

I've almost completed my C.S. Lewis collection at this point; I just have a few other non-fiction books of his that I'd like to have.

Analog's Children of the Future reprints "Emergence" by David R. Palmer, which is one of the best short stories that I've read. It's also been expanded into a novel, which I should hunt up at some point, but the short story is magical and I've wanted to own it for a decade.

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