Discworld, Raising Steam

I finally got my hands on the probably last Discworld book, Rising Steam. I read it already a couple of months ago, but I think I could write a bit about it here, because I did read the previous books, too.

I liked the book, although the plot was different from the other books. This was more of a milieu book than most of the others, and it mostly documented the arrival of the railroad to the Discworld. Many of the old characters have at least a cameo role in the book, and as a whole the book feels like a good-bye to Discworld, for both readers and the author. This is of course very understandable, given Terry Pratchett’s condition.

There is still some action plot, which is nice, and reveals new things about old characters. There are still plots left unsolved. I would like to know more about what happens to Tiffany Aching, or the wizards, especially with the new technologies introduced, but I think it’s best to leave the world as it is.

Again, roleplaying in Discworld might be fun, but the period would be hard to decide.

This book again displays how Pratchett has learned as a writer.

Handicrafts and social games

I finally managed to do some handiwork. My trusty bag had developed a hole, and because it is otherwise in perfect condition, I sewed the hole and then realized that I have some Traveller patches, which I got years ago.

I have had plans for the patches, mostly for putting them on some jacket, but all my jackets nowadays have these high tech coatings, so sewing is out of the question and gluing them on feels too permanent. I would like to re-use the patches some time, and getting rid of the glue is more difficult than cutting of thread.

I found out that my patch sewing skills are pretty rusty. There’s a student culture here that the students get these coveralls with their department color, in universities, and then different faculties and associations have patches which get sewn on the coveralls. They are then used in many student parties and things. I sewed a lot of patches to my coveralls, but that was over 15 years ago, so it took some effort to remember how to sew properly.

A bag with a black 3rd Imperium Sunburst on red field on it

3rd Imperium bag

The patch symbol is from the role playing game Traveller. It’s the Imperial Sunburst of the Third Imperium, but I don’t know what branch of Imperial service it’s supposed to be. According to the MegaTraveller Imperial Encyclopedia, the branches have different colored sunbursts but it tells little about the background. The Imperial Interstellar Scout Service has a red sunburst and the Imperial Army a black one, but I’d rather be in the Scouts myself…

It might also be that I’m overthinking this.

I also continued knitting a shawl after a long break. I dropped a couple of loops in it over a year ago and was, as usual, very annoyed at this and just put the work away. Some weeks ago I finally put the thing back together and continued knitting it. It’s my first attempt at knitting lace and the pattern is nice for a beginner. It’s not too difficult but also not too boring.

Rinsessa shawl, not finished

The Rinsessa shawl, not finished

The pattern is Rinsessa from the Ulla knitting magazine. I didn’t consider the length of it, I’m only now on the second skein of yarn, out of five and it feels like it’s going on forever.

Comparing these two projects, I like knitting more as the mistakes can be covered more easily. When sewing even small mistakes show up, but I think the shawl has already multiple mistakes and not even I can see them.

Yesterday I did some knitting in a social situation. I’m somewhat late to the curve, but finally I managed to organize some people to come over and play some Guitar Hero together. I haven’t played it a lot with people, mostly just by myself, and I was amazed how different the game is in different contexts.

While playing by myself I usually play the guitar and try to play for score, or at least stars. This means I try to play technically correctly and use the harder difficulty levels. When playing with friends, it’s more the fun in playing together. YesterdayI mostly played the drums as I haven’t played them that much by myself and it was very fun. Most of the others hadn’t played that much or the songs were unfamiliar so the fun was also in the failing.


Programming professionally

There are some mainly children’s programs about which I just have to blog. The examples I have seen have been programmed in Finland and apparently sold as real commercial products.

The reason why I’m blogging about these certain programs is that they are very, very badly made and I can’t see the companies (or the single person making the program) really thinking about what they were doing.

The first example is a Moomin game which came on a cd. The game was published in I think 2002, and on the front was a claim that the game was compatible with both Windows and Mac. We bought the game in I think 2005 or 2006.

First I tried to install the game on my Windows XP. It did install but didn’t work properly, I don’t remember anymore what was wrong, but we still decided to try it out on my work Mac laptop. It didn’t work, and after checking the box and the system requirements, I realized that the program was meant for Mac OS 9, which had been discontinued years ago. I tried to use the OS 9 compability mode for the game but it still didn’t want to work, so we ditched the game.

But the program which made me write this was an educational software for kids, again made in Finland. The name of the software is “Matematiikan Linna” and it’s apparently published in 2004. This one says as its operating system requirements “Win 9x, Win2000, WinXP”, so it probably should work fine on my Windows 7, then.

It is apparently a math education program for preschoolers and school starters.

The first thing which caught my attention on and in the box is the apparent paranoia of the publisher: I see five different places where the copyright is stated, with either a simple “all rights reserved” or a longer text which tells that one can’t copy the program or apparently anything else as it is copyrighted. Always a good sign.

I then inserted the cd into my computer and looked at which installation script I should run. There was a batch file called ‘asenna.bat’, that is, install in Finnish, and one directory, apparently containing the program. I, being the paranoid I am, looked at what the batch file really did.

I laughed out loud, because the installation batch basically just copies everything on the disc, the install batch file and the directory, to the root of the c: drive. This might work well in earlier Windows but even XP should not be used in administrator mode, so this might fail for regular users.

This doesn’t of course address the fact that Windows has had proper places to install software since the beginning, and even I know that the root of the c: drive is not the place to install new programs. Granted, many programs need administrator rights to be installed but that is just ridiculous.

I then used some directory I had access to and which was meant for programs and copied the software there. I tried to run it next. Did it work?

Of course not. I could see the splash screen (which again told me not to copy the software, or else!) and got to the main menu, but after I tried to do some of the exercises, I only got an error for a missing DLL and a crashed program. I tried it a couple of times but after seeing the same thing again and again I just deleted the program.

I admit that I saw the DLL in question in the directory, and as I don’t know Windows that well, there probably is a way to get the program to see the DLL and use it properly. I just don’t want to spend my time to do it as the program makers should’ve made a proper installer to the software – I think in 2004 software developers could well assume that Win 9x is not used anymore and maybe, just maybe, they could assume that people want to install the programs to Program Files. Maybe.

I just don’t know how these did get published. If I got the math program as an exercise program in a university, I’d just grade it as a failure, because it just doesn’t do what it should and doesn’t display any knowledge of the platform conventions. At work that just wouldn’t do at all.

I think these companies are small, probably just one or two people and they don’t really know that much. What I don’t get is how they did manage to publish something, because that needs at least some capital. It might have been their own money because I really can’t see anybody putting any money in this.

Also the marketing angle is somehow lost on me. Moomin games of course sell easily, but for the math software there’s really nothing to recommend. It’s badly made, from what I could see and it even doesn’t work. I don’t want to boot up my XP to see if it works better there, but if it was done correctly it’d run in W7.

Of course I had enough energy to write this rant, but bad programs make me angry and that gives me energy.