Giving and receiving criticism in writing

Internet pal Rob O’Hara wrote last week about why he hasn’t published a book in five years. The resulting discussion has the potential to get ugly–not that I think it will, but the potential is there. Writing about writing, and criticizing writing, is difficult.

I don’t have the solution–I can just tell you it’s difficult.

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Dvorak: The future of retail is search

This week in PC Magazine, John C Dvorak said the future of retail is search. He’s right.

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Tiny assembly language Windows utilities

Tiny utilities. While I was debating whether to go buy a copy of Extreme Power Tools, I thought I remembered seeing a couple of programs similar to what they offer. So I went hunting and found other stuff, of course.

People tend to get annoyed if you just link to their files, so I linked to the pages that contain links to the files. Some of these pages get pretty heavy, so use your browser’s search function if you have trouble locating the file. Also, there are a few files on one of these pages that can be misused, such as buffer exploits and a program to reveal hidden passwords in dialog boxes. Whether they were intended to be misused, or to demonstrate Windows’ inherent insecurity, I’m not sure. That said, there are some other utilities on these pages that didn’t seem too useful to me, but they may be useful to you. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so here are a couple of dozen free utilities, linked using proper netiquette.

The listed file sizes are the size of the executable, not the download. The downloads are larger because they include additional files, usually source code.

Files from http://titiasm.cjb.net :

Memory Info. Want to know how much memory your system is using? Here ya go. This is faster than running Norton SysInfo or Microsoft System Monitor. 5.5K.

EdPad. Assembly language NotePad clone. Unfortunately it lacks search/replace. See TheGun for a closer NotePad replacement. 16K.

Resolver. A tiny utility to match Website URLs to IP addresses, and vice-versa. 4.5K.

Files from http://spiff.tripnet.se/~iczelion/source.html :

MP3play. A minimalist MP3 player. Also capable of playing WAV. MID, RMI, AIF, AU, and SND files. Supports playlists. Hint: Right-click in the program window to access its features. 10K.

Also includes miniMP3, a 3.5K player that just plays a single file you specify.

WordEdit. An RTF word processor/help file editor in assembler. Aside from being able to read Word 6 documents, it would make a fabulous WordPad replacement. Includes multiple-level undo and redo, font and color support. Major features missing from a full-blown word processor: spelling/grammar and print preview. Delete the included file splash.dll to eliminate the splash screen and long boot delay. 112K.

FileMan. A graphical two-pane file manager, like Norton Commander. 87K.

Clipboard. Intended mostly as a demo program, but it’s useful beyond its original design. Intended use: Put it in your SendTo folder and you can send file paths to the clipboard from a right-click on the file. Nice. But additionally, having a large object on the clipboard can slow down your system. Some programs ask when you exit if you want to clear it. Others don’t. This program pastes the command-line parameter you feed it to the clipboard, so a shortcut to this program that passes a single-character argument effectively clears your clipboard. Neat, huh? 2.5K.

EWCalc. A scientific calculator. Additionally, it’ll do decimal/hex/octal/binary conversion. 30.5K.

PlayCD. A simple CD player. 7.5K.

QuickBar. A lean replacement for the MS Office toolbar. 20K.

HTTP Downloader. Feed it an url, and it downloads a file through HTTP, like Unix wget. 20.5K.

TheGun. A slightly enhanced replacement for Notepad. Edits large files, includes Ctrl-A hotkey for select all, and includes search/replace. Source not included. 6K.

QuickEdit. A more full-featured editor, includes HTML-to-text conversion and strips carriage returns. Download includes TheGun and a quick-and-dirty textfile viewer. Source not included. 27K.

Files from http://www.rbthomas.freeserve.co.uk/:

Screen savers. I hate screen savers, as everyone knows. Normally I use blank screen. This package includes a 6.5K 32-bit assembly language replacement for blank screen. (Microsoft’s blanker is 16-bit!) The others in the package prove that even when written in assembly, graphics-heavy screen savers eat up far too much CPU time.

RWave. Records and plays back WAV files. A suitable replacement for Sound Recorder. 5.5K.

Timer. This program isn’t a substitute for a common utility, but it’s useful for me. I’ve never gotten around to getting a timer for my kitchen. Now I can let my computer do the job. If your apartment’s as small as mine, or if you have a computer in your kitchen (why? Never mind. I don’t want to know.) yours can too. 31.5K.

More for less, but who wants it? And David Huff reports the P4 prices will plummet today. I thought I mentioned that, but maybe not. The 1.7 GHz model will launch at the insane price of $350 (Intel had planned to launch it at $700 or so). Margins? We don’t need no stinkin’ margins! Intel’s definitely running scared.

Enough of that. Time to take a hint from Frank. What else is there in life? I realized one night last week that I hadn’t gone record shopping in a long time, so I hit the local used shop. The pickings were a bit more sparse than usual, but I’d written down a couple of longshots to look for and I found them, along with a couple of surprises. First I found Starfish, by The Church, which features the track “Under the Milky Way,” a mainstay of ’80s radio and compilations. That’s probably the standout track, but for a band usually considered a one-hit wonder, it’s a really good album.

The other big surprise was Look Sharp!, which was Joe Jackson’s 1979 debut. I was surprised to find it’s mostly a guitar-bass-drum album. Jackson’s a piano player–and a darn good one. Jackson’s piano appears, but he’s rarely playing the lead instrument. The tracks that everyone remembers (“Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and the title track) are definitely the best parts of this album, but it was a strong effort. I can see where his following came from. But it was weird hearing him do what amounts to punk rock with a dose of literacy.

The first longshot was an album I’ve been looking for used for years: Doolittle by The Pixies. The Pixies are very much an acquired taste, but I acquired it. How to describe them? Dark, usually. Weird, always. This was generally regarded as their best album.

And the last longshot was Oyster by Heather Nova. Who? Yeah, I know. I once saw her mentioned in the same context as Aimee Mann and Dot Allison, so I kept an eye out. I think the comparison to those two is a bit shallow. Yes, the three of them are all blonde, female, and write their own songs, and both Nova and Allison play guitar (so does Mann, but she’s mostly a bass player). I recognized “Walk This World” as a song that got a fair bit of airtime on alternative radio about five years ago. Like Allison, her lyrics can get a bit suggestive sometimes, though there are plenty of people who get more so. Compared to Madonna, they’re both tame. But comparing them to an MTV-manufactured pop star is heresy, so I’ll stop now. The variety of styles Nova dabbles in on the album surprised me. Some tracks are dreamy and atmospheric reminiscent of Allison’s band One Dove, but right in the middle of the album is some pure hard rock in the form of a song called “Maybe an Angel.” Somehow that song avoids being over the top like a lot of hard rock does, and it’s far and away the best song on the album. And I’ve thought about those Allison-Mann-Nova comparisons. She’s dreamy and atmospheric like Allison, and often introspective like Mann, so maybe that’s the basis. At any rate, I’ll be keeping an eye on her, and not just because she has a really cool name.