Parsnip’s Progress

Al and I have created the Graham Parsnip blog (http://sliceofparsnip.blogspot.com) as usual with me, using the Blogger system.

Parsnip is a spoof science fiction author, who first appeared on Palimpsest
(http://palimpsest.org.uk/phpBB2) earlier this year. But Al reckons the stuff is good enough to one day be turned into novel form. We’ll see. But having the blog means we can post content more quickly and keep the story rolling along, whilst cross-posting the bigger incidents to Palimpsest as ususal. But how to promote a made up blog by a made up person?

Also, what with it being narrative, people do need to start from the beginning and work their way up through the posts. Maybe we should make this clear somehow.

Advanced Firefox

Original: http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=04/12/02/1610202&from=rss

Internet
Firefox for power users
Wednesday December 08, 2004 (02:00 PM GMT)
By: Daniel Rubio

The Mozilla Firefox browser has garnered wide attention for its capabilities, compared to its predecessor Mozilla and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. But in addition to its widely covered speed enhancements and robust security, Firefox offers a rich assortment of features that are not so evident upon installation.

Some of the features are aimed at easing the transition from other browsers. Old habits die hard, and everyone surfing the Net has his share of established behaviours. Firefox allows users to easily migrate old preferences set on other browsers in a few simple steps. By selecting the Import… option under the File menu, one can incorporate bookmarks, passwords, cookies, and other browser-related information used on Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Mozilla directly into Firefox.

Firefox can store Internet password information for use upon revisiting sites. You can manage this behaviour through the Saved Passwords option located in the Privacy tab under the Tools-Options menu, for Windows environments, or the Edit-Preferences menu for Linux installations.

To more security-conscious users, stored passwords are unacceptable, since another user who can access the browser can use the stored credentials without authentication. Firefox sets itself apart from other browsers offering the option of assigning a master password, which it requests before giving access to these stored user-password sets. If you close the browsing session the next user who invokes the program has to enter the password again. The master password can be assigned from the same menu used for administering passwords, with the Master Password option.

Catering to those whose major source of information is the web, Firefox can detect RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds of Web sites, a means by which content providers offer an up-to-the-minute snapshot of their most recent information. If a site you visit offers this technology, you will observe a small icon in the lower right corner. Clicking on it allows you to generate what is known as a Live Bookmark — a dynamic directory of links which are generated from a sites updated RSS feed, and which are also stored under Firefox’s Bookmarks menu.

Another area which has blossomed with the advent of Firefox’s final release is its Extensions — special add-ons developed by third parties that enhance a browser’s default capabilities. While toolbars produced by vendors like Google, Yahoo, and AOL are the norm on other browsers, Firefox open source developers have come up with grassroots extensions that fulfill even the most exotic user quirks.

If you are an avid Internet music listener, check out the FoxyTunes extension, which will allow you to integrate your media player controls under Firefox’s lower frame, streamlining the operation of your favorite player while surfing the Web. If downloading is your thing, the FlashGot extension can handle Net downloads through external download managers, allowing you to reuse your download software seamlessly with Firefox. These are just two examples out of more than 150 available.

To manage extensions in Firefox, select the Extensions option under the Tools menu. From there you can install, delete, and configure extensions, and also obtain information on available extensions.

As an example, let’s proceed with instructions on how to configure one especially useful extension — InfoRSS, which allows you to incorporate an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for delivering headline updates — into Firefox.

After you install InfoRSS and restart Firefox, you’ll see a small world icon on the browser’s bottom frame. If you select it with your mouse, you will see a list of default RSS feeds from around the Net.

You can add an RSS feed into InfoRSS in two ways: You can visit the feed — as if it were a Web page — and drag and drop the address onto the small world icon. Or, you can wait for Firefox to detect an RSS feed automatically and add it as a Live Bookmark — as was mentioned previously. This places the RSS URL into the InfoRSS menu for later addition. Upon placement, InfoRSS will confirm the validity of the feed and later show it within the drop-down list.

To view the headlines from a specific RSS feed, simply select it from the menu. To eliminate a particular feed, just drag and drop the line onto the top option, as shown in the previous graphic. Additionally, you can also opt to fine tune the display on InfoRSS, such as the number of headlines appearing per feed, the refresh time and background colors, among other features, through the Options tab appearing in the Extensions pop-up window.

Themes are another Firefox feature that allow you to modify the browser’s look and feel. You can specify if you want to view cleaner-cut smaller-icon menus or special color variants, and you can modify your visual rendition depending on your mood or tastes. You manage Firefox themes from the Themes option under the Tools menu. A small pop-up window will appear, allowing you to install, update, select, and search alternate display themes.

All of these are some of the less commonly explored — although powerful — features offered by Firefox. With them, you can enhance your browsing experience while using this W3C standards-based browser.

Daniel Rubio is the principal consultant at Osmosis Latina, a firm specializing in enterprise software development, training, and consulting based in Mexico.

OpenOffice.org better than M$ Office?

Good article on choosing Openoffice.org over M$ Office (from http://www.pc-tools.net/comment/openoffice/ ) :

There are some very good reasons to use OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office, and the best reasons have nothing to do with cost of the software.

Although I have regularly used Microsoft Office in the past, I haven’t even had it installed on my system for over a year. This is despite completing a thesis, working with legal documents, exchanging business documents, writing academic papers for publishing as well as creating software based presentations.

I have NOT needed MS Office to do any of these things. OpenOffice.org is adequate – it has all the essential features, including style list functions for real publishing, document comparison capabilities and import/export abilities, a capable spreadsheet, and a presentation program that does its job while importing and exporting PowerPoint.

But it’s not just that OpenOffice.org is “adequate” for the job. As a software developer and long time computer user, I think OpenOffice.org is superior in several important respects. I would like to describe these points, because I think that others will also understand the issues better
when they recognize the implications for themselves:

OpenOffice.org runs on multiple platforms. Currently: Windows, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, Mac OS X. This is important because I use several operating systems, including Linux. It is a huge advantage for me to be able to work on the same documents under the same interface whether I have booted Linux, Windows, or whether I am using a thin Solaris workstation.

OpenOffice.org is stable, and runs smoothly. It has not crashed on me under Windows or Linux, and does not do wacky things. MS Word has scared me in the past with some of its flaky behaviour.

I trust the OpenOffice.org software and its developers; I may even contribute to the project myself! The office suite is open source, and the Internet community is heavily involved with improving Sun’s original software. You’re guaranteed to never experience licensing-related hassles (expired licenses, product registrations, lost keys, forced updates) which have occasionally caused much aggravation and lost productivity for MS Office users.

Data longevity: this is an important point, which is often overlooked because it’s really only an issue in the (distant?) future. Microsoft has made it clear that it wants proprietary document formats, and inconsistent ones at that. This may work as long as Microsoft is around and developing software that supports files created by outdated products. Personally, I’m more comfortable with my OpenOffice.org documents in XML format because I know that in the worst case scenario, I can unzip the document structure and easily extract text from the XML components. This is technical, but what it comes down to is: my data is easily accessible in the future. It is also easy for third party developers to write tools for OpenOffice documents.

Data interchange: this builds on the previous point. MS uses proprietary document formats and seems unwilling to allow seamless data flow between different software from independent vendors. It’s just not in their best interest. OpenOffice.org uses data formats designed to be easily interchanged (OASIS specification), and other projects are cooperating with the vision of open document interchange – e.g. Abiword, and KOffice.

Now, given the rapid worldwide growth and popularity of open source software, including OpenOffice.org, do you really think you’re better off locking your documents into an inflexible, non-interchangeable format (MS Word version X)? I would argue that for anyone who values document longevity and interchange, it’s in their best interest to use software based on open
data formats.

After all: software companies die, but information lasts forever. If a company takes the secrets of unlocking your data to its grave, where will that leave you?

Reading

Am currently reading On Beulah Height, by Reginald Hill. Not very far into it, but the change of pace is startling after Destination: MORGUE!, I have to admit.

There is a distinct paucity of Hill info on the web, just a forgotten author’s page at his publisher’s site, which is a shame. I think I might at least produce some links and do a Hill page on my site. Watch this, or rather that, space!

James Ellroy

Here, as promised earlier, is a slightly edited version of my Palimpsest post about James Ellroy:

Frankly, James Ellroy is God. He is without doubt the world’s best living crime author, and I’d wager that he’d the best crime writer ever. Fascinating, if horrifying, life, too: his mother was murdered when James was ten, a crime that has gone unsolved. He then lived with his father, a man who did the odd bit of accounting for Hollywood stars, was obsessed with sex and was hung like a donkey. Apparently. Anyway, James pretended to be a Nazi at his largely Jewish school, got kicked out, joined the army, got a dishonourable discharge (what an ungainly phrase), his dad died, James lived on the streets, sleeping in squats and parks, getting high by swallowing the swabs in nasal inhalers, drinking far too much, breaking into houses and stealing women’s underwear. All through his life as a creep (as he describes it) he was reading crime fiction, watching crime shows. He always knew he would be a writer, but just couldn’t be bothered trying. In the end, health problems made him kick the drink and the swabs, get a job and a flat and start writing.

Here’s a quick rundown of his work.

Brown’s Requiem (1981) – His first novel, written and published while he was still working as a golf caddy. I haven’t read this. I feel like I ought to, if I want to be a true Ellroy-phile.

Clandestine (1982) – I believe this was Ellroy’s first attempt to write about his mother’s murder. I haven’t read it. See above.

Lloyd Hopkins series: Blood on the Moon (1983), Because the Night (1984), Suicide Hill (1986) – these are the earliest of his books that I have read. Available in a handy omnibus format, they are Ellroy-like in their pretty graphic violence, and the high regard he holds women in is evident too, which comes out more forcefully in later books. However. Ellroy acknowledges the influence of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, and much of the serial-killer type content in a couple of these doesn’t really ring true: because, of course, it never does. Ellroy is much, much better when fictionalising real life events and characters.

Silent Terror, known as Killer on the Road in the States (1986) – I have this in my to be read pile. I don’t think it is amoung his strongest work, being his first real attempt at autobiography in his fiction. It’s a first person serial-killer thing. I’ll let you know when I have read it.

The Black Dahlia (1987) – Ellroy’s first classic, and the first book in the LA Quartet. He had for many years closely aligned the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short with that of his mother, and this book is his attempt at cahtharsis. It makes excellent use of some of the modernist elements of Ellroy’s style, notably the insertion of (fictional) newspaper clippings and police reports, often following one by one describing the same events, so with each one you build up a bigger picture of what is going on. It’s gruesome, gripping and the book where he really came into his own.

The Big Nowhere (1988) – The first book to feature Dudley Smith (edit: just realised this is a lie, he appears in Clandestine, apparently), though here only in very much a background role. The storyline is pretty bizaare, and unpleasant, involving communists, gay cops, an actor with a severely nacissistic streak, police corruption, drug deals and all sorts else besides. It’s the real start of Ellroy’s fiendishly complicated plotlines. Trouble is, much of the story is taken up with the hunt for a serial killer, and so I found it therefore pretty unsatisfactory in itself. It is essential reading, however, if only because it sets up the work of genius that is

LA Confidential (1990) – The book that really set Ellroy apart from anyone else writing crime fiction, anywhere, anytime, as far as I am concerned. The brutality, darkness and seediness that infests the novel grips the reader in. In this book Ellroy also starts really developing his style, the scattergun use of clipped sentences, one word sentences, one word paragraphs. Alliteration, too – sometimes you feel you are reading a scandal rag like those lampooned by ‘Hush-Hush’. Ellroy claims he writes about men better than anyone else on the planet, and he has a point. Probably his most famous book, what with Curtis Hanson’s film being released to tumultous praise in 1997. The film is brilliant, the book shits on the film from a great height. It has some good jokes, too.

White Jazz (1992) – Have only read this once, a couple of years ago. It’s widely considered Ellroy’s best, even better than LA…. I think it requires a re-read from me. Dave Klein, an LAPD detective, gets embroiled in the Dudley Smith / Ed Exley feud. The twists and movements and jumps in perspective come one after the other, and it is often hard to know who is on who’s side at any one time. I think that’s the intention, though. The Ellroy site says this: “When his editor asked Ellroy to shorten his 900 page work to 350, Ellroy did so by eliminating the verbs. Stylistically, it’s the strangest prose Ellroy’s written.” Too right. The last of the LA Quartet.

American Tabloid (1994) – The start of Ellroy’s move away from ‘straight’ crime fiction and into a genre busting historical/noir/crime/politics thing he calls the ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. This is brilliant, my second fave Ellroy and features his greatest character, Pete Bondurant. Telling the story of JFK’s assasination, and the Bay of Pigs fiasco from the viewpoint of the Mob, the FBI and the political establishment. I guess it might put people off – ‘duh, another JFK conspiracy book’ but it’s well worth reading for the other bits, which make up 90% of the narrative. Indispensible reading.

Dick Contino’s Blues and Other Stories (1994) – This is a collection of short stories centered on the characters in the LA Quartet. I haven’t read this yet, but own it and am looking forward to it. I believe it is known as Hollywood Nocturne in the US.

My Dark Places (1996) – Shocking. Part true crime, part memoir, this book details the murder of Ellroy’s mother, the failed police investigation, his life subsequent to that, and his own attempt to solve the crime. He fails in that, but the book is a triumph. I’ve read some reviews which claim the descriptions of police procedure drag, but they must be wimps: Ellroy’s momentum carries you through. What shocks is Ellroy’s candour, especially about his own feelings and failings. Excellent.

Crime Wave (1999) – A collection of Ellroy’s true crime (mostly) pieces from GQ. I don’t have this, so can’t comment, though I think gil might have mentioned it disparagingly in Palimpular past. Ellroy does have something of a fetish for documenting routine police procedures, which could get irritating, I guess. I’ll have to wait and see.

The Cold Six Thousand (2001) – This was Ellroy’s first full length fiction for five years, and the follow-up to American Tabloid, and is a beast. Long, inpenetrable, complicated and violent, it is brilliant. Some reviewers attacked it’s style, which I’ll admit is an acquired taste, but their inability to stick with it shows what a lily livered bunch of geeks they must be. The story mesmerises you – you haven’t a clue what is going on half the time, but who cares?! It’s a wild ride, and Ellroy treats his most endearing character (the afore-mentioned Bondurant) well and generally it ends pretty satisfactorilly for the reader, if not the protagonists, which makes forn a nice change.

Destination: MORGUE! (2004) – Another collection of different bits of prose, I’m not sure if some of the essays have been published elsewhere or not – there aren’t any acknowledgements. Covering true crime, boxing and autobiographical pieces, Ellroy is again at his most confessional. I’m in the midst of this at the moment, and it’s a really worthwhile read. The last two-thirds of the book are taken up with a 3 part novella, which I’m looking forward to. Will update when finished.

The follow up to The Cold Six Thousand and the last of ‘Underworld USA’ is putatively titled Police Gazette and should be published towards the end of 2005. I can’t wait. After that, Ellroy is moving onto the 1920s.

PC Security on Windows

My sister has just bought a laptop and she wants to go on Broadband with it. She asked for a bit of advice, and I might just have gone over the top a bit on the security issue…

I’d seriously recommend using the following software – I have most of it on disk although all is ree to download. Especially vital if you have broadband.
1.Service Pack 2 – this is an update for Windows XP which tightens up an awful lot (but not all) of the security problems with XP. I have the CD – but it takes a while to install.
2. Firefox – A web browser to replace Internet Explorer. IE is evil and lets in all sorts of viruses and other nasty things. Firefox won’t, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to use, too. This is possibly the most important change to make – if you have any sense you really will use this rather than IE.
3. Firebird – An email program to replace Outlook Express, if you use it. It’s more secure and all round better. If you just use Yahoo mail on the web, then there’s no need to bother with it. If, though, you’re like me and have about 5 different personal email addys, it is vital.
4. AVG Anti-Virus – A free virus checker, which I have and is easy to use and pretty comprehensive. Scans all files coming in and out of your PC. You may already have something by Norton or McAfee pre-installed on your system. This is fine for the period you can download updates for free, but at some point they will want £30 – £40 off you. Better to remove it and add the free options you can keep up-to-date for no outlay.
5. Zonealarm – free firewall. Limits the programs that can run on your computer. Absolutely essential. I don’t actually use this myself as I get a free McAfee firewall with AOL, but this is just as good, apparently.
6. Spybot – Search and Destroy – This scans your computer for ‘spyware’: malicious little programs that get on your system despite all the above protection, then deletes them.
7. Ad-aware – another spyware programme. I have (and use) both.

I didn’t mean to scare her at all….

Annoy the Daily Mail

The Daily M*il is currently running a promotion to boost sales and thereby increase the net amount of bile and hatred in the world. They are giving £10,000 to each of 50 charities nominated by readers. 25 of these will be picked by a panel of “experts” (probably BNP activists, Melanie Philips, Norman Tebbitt and Chris Woodhead), but the other 25 (they claim) will be chosen by members of the public, drawn at random. Now, presumably the Mail are expecting that the winners will be people like the RNLI, Guide Dogs for the Blind and the National Trust. However, if enough people nominate (say) the Refugee Support Council or Stonewall, there has got to be a chance the the Daily Mail will end up giving them the money. Wouldn’t that be great? 10 grand of Paul Dacre’s money to asylum seekers. Just think about it for a second… You’re smiling, aren’t you?
You can even do it without having to buy a copy of the Mail (which saves having to give them any of your cash). Go on – doing this will make the world a slightly nicer place, it won’t cost you anything and there is a chance it could really annoy the Daily Mail. Do you have a better way to spend 10 minutes of your time?

Click here.

Destination: MORGUE!

I am currently reading the latest from my all-time favourite author, James Ellroy. It’s a collection of essays and autobiographical pieces, as well as three novellas. It is (obviously) brilliant.

I am currently putting together a fairloy lengthy Palimpsest post on Ellroy and his work, and the Wikipedia entry for him is rather sparse, so I might have a go at updating that. Will link to them when they are finished.