Heartbreaking Photos From the Congo

c33_18090801You simply must see these images. It’s a pictorial of “life” in the “Democratic” Republic of Congo. As in many African countries, long-running civil wars between enemy tribes take an almost unbelievable human toll. The photos in this pictorial show what a truly miserable existence these people have.

The little boy in the photo to the right is eight. He, his mother and seven siblings were attacked with machetes by a militia of the Lendu tribe. He was left for dead in a pile of bodies. His father found him still alive and hid him in the jungle. Later, the same militia found the father and hacked him to death, too. The child now lives in an orphanage with scars to remind him of what happened to his family.

It’s so hard to comprehend, sitting here in comfort in the United States, that suffering like this exists, but I know it does. What can we do to stop it? Can an outside force have an effect, of do we have to wait for those people to have a change of heart? The UN is clearly impotent in situations like these, and the US would be seen as some sort of interloper based on current world opinion, so who can help? Do we simply have to let it continue until one side wins, or both sides lose enough blood?

Blue At The Mizzen – Finished

This morning I finished reading Blue At The Mizzen, the last complete book in the twenty-book Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. I’m a huge fan of these books: I have read the first fourteen books twice, and only once before have I given any of them fewer than five stars. This last book, unfortunately, has left me strangely cool.

As I said, this is the last complete book in the series. The author was working on a twenty-first book when he died in 2000, so while I had hoped that Mizzen would wrap things up nicely, it didn’t. I had hoped that since twenty was such a nice round number, O’Brian had ended the series there, but then later decided to pick it up again with the twenty-first novel. Sadly, Mizzen was not meant to be the final book.

There are loose ends all around, and the story of this book is certainly the weakest of the series. A great deal of it is taken up with Stephen’s wanderings and observations and the two naval battles in the story aren’t described in nearly as much detail as in previous books. Jack does receive a certain happy news on the penultimate page, but given the number of loose ends, that is little comfort.

Apart from this book not being the finale, and not being particularly strong, I am sad to have finished the series. Jack and Stephen have been with me for several years now. They feel like old friends, friends that I don’t wish to leave just yet. I will miss Stephen’s ignorance of so many things about the Navy, despite his being afloat with Jack for at least 15 years. I will miss Jack gently poking fun at Stephen with his oft-repeated, “Lord, Stephen, what a fellow you are!” I will miss Preserved Killick’s perpetual grumpiness with calls for coffee greeted with, “Which I’m bringing it this very minute!” Barrett Bonden, Awkward Davies, Tom Pullings, Sophie Aubrey, and so many other regular characters, I will miss them all.

At the request of fans, the publisher has published the unfinished twenty-first novel, under the title 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey. Will I read it? I don’t think so. As unsatisfying as this complete novel was for me, I can’t imagine an incomplete, unedited sequel would serve any better. (As I was editing this post, I stopped to read some of the reviews for 21 at Amazon. I may yet read it. We’ll see.)

I started reading the series because I had seen the movie, Master and Commander, starring Russel Crowe. Within the first five pages of the first book, Master and Commander, I was hooked. The books are full of exciting naval combat, political intrigue and tons of heart and humor. Sometimes O’Brian gets extremely technical and detailed in his descriptions of sails, spars and ropes, but you don’t need to fully understand those details to enjoy the stories. What’s so cool about this series is that each book is more like a chapter in a huge work rather than a standalone book; usually one book picks up directly after the previous one ended.

I should mention that because I saw the film first, whenever I’m reading the books I see Crowe’s Aubrey, and hear him in Crowe’s voice inside my head. My Stephen isn’t exactly like Paul Bettany‘s but he’s pretty close. I thought Crowe did a very good job of playing Aubrey, so I could have done worse for a mental image, I suppose.

I’m sure that I will reread the entire series again, probably more than once. But for now, I’ll have to content myself with other things. I’ve read some of Forrester’s Horatio Hornblower, so maybe I’ll pick up some more in that series.

Farewell, Jack and Stephen, and good sailing.

No MiddleClickClose for Safari 4

06/09/2009 Update: I thought I’d updated all the pages on my blog about MiddleClickClose, but I missed this one. It now works with Safari 4. Read about it here.

At least, not yet. I installed the Safari 4 beta this morning to check the compatibility of my MiddleClickClose extension. As someone else noted, it doesn’t work. I poked it a bit to see what I could see, but it’s still not loading. I don’t have time right now to try to figure it out, but I’ll try to take another whack at it this weekend.

Wanna know what I think of the beta, after about 15 minutes of playing with it? Of course you do. First, let’s analyze the list of what’s new. Right off the bat, I noticed these:

  • Top Sites: Opera did it a few years ago and called it Speed Dial
  • Tabs on Top: Chrome did it last year and did it much better
  • Cover Flow: Hey Apple, I think you’re overusing Cover Flow
  • Smart Address Field: Firefox and Chrome both have this
  • Smart Search Field: Firefox and Chrome both have this

I point these out because the press release from Apple about Safari 4, shown here at CruchGear, described these features as “innovative.” They are only innovative for the first browser to implement them, so I guess we have to give points to them for Cover Flow, but the others are just Apple playing catchup.

What’s still missing? Decent extension support, for one. Firefox has a rich set of extensions that do all sorts of cool things. I only use a few, but I wouldn’t want to browse without them. Technically it’s possible to write extensions for Safari, but it’s essentially an unsupported, filthy, dirty hack. While Firefox’s extension mechanism is a clusterf*ck of obscure files and object relationships, at least it’s documented and supported.

And of course Safari still doesn’t support closing of tabs with a middle-click. But I guess that goes back to Apple’s insane devotion to single-button mice.

Speaking of tabs, their implementation of “tabs on top” sucks compared to Chrome’s. With Chrome, there’s still about half a centimeter of title bar above the tabs for moving the window around and/or bringing it to the foreground. In Safari, the tabs go all the way to the top of the window, so if you have more than one tab open, you no longer have a title bar to grab. Yes, clicking-and-holding on a tab will let you move the window, but if you just wanted to bring the window to the foreground, if you clicked on a tab other than the one that was on top, you would end up bringing that tab to the front as you brought the window to the foreground, which isn’t what you wanted to do. But, truth be told, I don’t like tabs on top anyway. I was sort of interested when Chrome did it, but after using it for a while, I’d rather keep them where they’ve always been. (This article explains how to make Safari 4 move its tabs back below the address bar.)

As for Cover Flow, Apple is using it all over the place, and it’s getting old. I have no desire to see my bookmarks in Cover Flow mode. I know what my bookmarks are, thus I don’t need pictures to jog my memory.

Oh yeah, bookmarks. From what I can see, there is still no way to sort bookmarks. Yes, you can drag them into the order that you want, but that’s crap. I should be able to easily sort alphabetically by name, without resorting to manually dragging them into the order I want. Firefox does this with a right-click menu….

It’s not all bad, of course. From what Apple says, and from what I’ve heard, the JavaScript engine is blisteringly fast. I’ve always been impressed with Safari’s JavaScript speed, so improvements in this department are gravy. And for those who use Safari on Windows (I’ve never understood why anyone would, but who knows?), you finally have a Windows look & feel, so it doesn’t look like a Mac app running on Windows. That’s as it should be; I don’t like L&F pollution.

This is a beta release, so some of these things could change. I would really like to see official support for middle-click closing of tabs and bookmark sorting but I’m not going to hold my breath.

What Have I Got In My Pocket?

Ball-point Pen
You always need a pen. I don’t like not having a pen. I really hate it when I let someone borrow my pen, and they keep it!

Multi-tip screwdriver
How many times have you needed a screwdriver, but didn’t have one? Or needed a flathead but only had a Philips? I had to MacGyver a screwdriver a month or so ago http://bit.ly/dIDvP

532nm Pocket Laser
Umm….. Why not?

I Felt Very Old Last Night

I’m 38. I’ll be 39 in May (the 4th, if anyone wants to send me a gift). Last night, I felt older than I ever have. We had gone to see the Winter Guard unit that my sister coaches. They were competing against a bunch of other units down at her school where the competition was being held. We had a lot of fun watching the performances, and even Thomas loved it, which surprised me quite a bit.

But what made me feel so old was being around so many young people. Hundreds of teenagers were there who sang, danced and goofed around with their friends. They chanted chants and danced steps that everyone seemed to know. I was flooded with memories of my own high school experiences. Those times seem like a lifetime ago, but at times it feels like they were last week. As I’ve said before, I was an indifferent student in high school, but I loved being there. I had lots of friends and while I may not have always been part of the “in” crowd, I was at least part of the “nearby” crowd. I had good times. There were bad times, too, but there were far more good times than bad. As I watched the kids having such a time, I kept thinking to myself, “That used to be me!” But it hasn’t been me for a very long time.

So while I was enjoying the performances and cheering when a performer would flip a rifle 15 feet in the air and catch it, I was also simmering in self-pity for the times that are gone and will never return. And then… I started thinking of how it won’t be long before my son is in high school and then graduating and then… what? I hate getting into those moods.

My 20 year high school reunion was supposed to be in 2008, but it didn’t end up happening. Based on what I’ve heard, it should be sometime in 2009. I will defintely be there. Perhaps being around some of my old high school friends again will push these feelings away for another 20 years. I’m hoping so.

O NOES! My iPod Has Gone Tango Uniform!

We went to my mother-in-law’s house this weekend, because my wife was singing at her mom’s church yesterday morning. We had a nice time, and had some great Southern cooking for dinner yesterday.

But on the hour-and-a-half drive home, tragedy struck: my iPod started dying. We were happily listening to ABBA’s greatest hits, when suddenly, the song paused. Then it came back a second of so later, then went in and out a few more times. At first, I thought it was interference from a nearby radio station, since I use an FM transmitter to get music from the iPod to the car speakers. When we stopped at the Dairy Queen for treats, I inspected the iPod, which means I sort of looked at it longingly. I said to myself, “Self, perhaps it’s a bad spot on the hard drive, directly under ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,’ that is causing your woe, and not the whole disk. Try a different song!” Agreeing with myself, I tried a different song by hitting Shuffle. What came up was “Sheila Nee Iyer” by Dervish. It started playing, but half-way through, it paused. I started clicking the button(s), and while they made their little “tick” sound, the UI didn’t respond. I immediately went into slow-mo, contorting my face in pain and screaming, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”

Thus, I spent the last 40 minutes of the drive with no music, which is not something I like to do. I’m going to plug the mostly-dead iPod into my Mac and see if iTunes can diagnose it or fix it or anything. I don’t have much hope for it. I’ve had it for five years, and it’s been used almost every day, for at least an hour or so, sometimes as much as eight or nine hours, so it’s gotten quite a workout. I suppose I should be happy for the time we spent together.

So last night I went online to see how much a new one could cost me. The iPod Classic, which is a 120G system (mine was only 60), is $249. Ouch. That’s a bit much, right now. So, assuming mine is well and truly dead, I’m going to try to live with just the space available on my iPhone. I had already pared down my music collection from 110G to 60G to fit on the old iPod, so paring it down to 8G is going to be tough, but I’m going to have a go at it. Wish me luck!

02/02/2009 12:59:23 Update: I put the iPod into diagnostics mode, which didn’t tell me much. I then did a full factory restore on it, followed by a re-sync of all my music. Once that was done, I randomly picked some songs on it, and they all played fine. Here’s hoping that it was some bad sectors or something, and that the restore got around them.