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Archive for October, 2012

Zombies and I at Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse at Windycon Science Fiction Convention
Zombie Apocalypse at Windycon Science Fiction Convention

I received my programming schedule for the Windycon Science Fiction Convention some days ago and it is worth noting that I am not on any panels that involve zombies. Frankly I try to keep my distance from zombies but they’ll be impossible to avoid the weekend of Nov 9-11 so I had better study up on how to best avoid their clutches.

My program schedule is as follows:

Title: Has Science Fiction Offered an Improved Political Model?
Time: Saturday, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.
Room: Lilac C
Description: Having just gone through an election cycle that lasted most of two years, have there been any political systems offered up by science fiction which offer an improvement on our current way of governance? Or are they all as flawed as what we have?
Panelists: J. Helfers, J. Plaxco, J. Liss, R. Martinek, M. Williamson (M)
Comment I look forward to arguing with Jeffrey (Liss). In fact we have a very long history of arguing. This will be fun.
Title: Living in the Post Scientific Era
Time: Saturday, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Room: Lilac D
Description: Polls show that increasing numbers of Americans are scientifically illiterate. What does this mean for the future? For science fiction?
Panelists: J. Helfers, P. Kaldon, J. Plaxco, D. Burkhard, K. Strait
Comment As science grows in complexity, I’m not surprised that the general public is increasingly scientifically illiterate. Given that science plays an increasingly important role in our daily lives, I’m concerned about the public’s ability to make smart policy decisions via our politicians (who aren’t much better informed). I’m very curious to discover how my co-panelists feel about this.
Title: The Open Source Playground
Time: Saturday, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Room: Lilac C
Description: When is Open Source Software better? When it is merely different? And what do I do with it?
Panelists: J. Plaxco, R. Martinek, E. Raymond (M)
Comment The presence of this panel in the programming line up came as something of a surprise to me. We probably won’t have too many zombies in the audience but considering the high correlation between geekiness and the attendees of a science fiction convention, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this panel survived the survival of the fittest process.
Title: Gender Parity on Panels: DNA or Something Else?
Time: Sunday, 12:00 noon – 1:00 p.m.
Room: Lilac C
Description: Gender parity, that is, having exactly the same number of males and females on each panel has become a hot topic lately. One panelist even suggested that he’d give up his place on a panel to any woman in the audience if the panel was "unbalanced." Is that all it takes to make "balanced" panels — the same number of XX- and XY-chromosomed individuals? What about sexual orientation representation? Minority representation? Political representation? Something we haven’t even thought of yet? Join our panelists for a spirited discussion on gender parity and what it does or does not accomplish.
Panelists: J. Plaxco, H. Montgomery, L. Zeldes, M. Mohanraj (M)
Comment Now this is one that leaves me licking my chops. For me, the principal question must be "is this person qualified to be on this panel?"

Surprisingly I am not on any space exploration or art panels this year – although there were very few options in those areas (I blame it on the zombies). When not sitting behind a table, I’m likely to be sitting in the audience for the following panels, scheduling permitting:

  • Ragz! Dress Like a Zombie – principally for inspiration for my art work.
  • Backbreaking Cover Art – the description of which "a critique of the poses used to sell us our escapism" is irresistible.
  • Subcutaneous Musculature – a great title for the topic of artistically correct anatomical representations of the human form.
  • Curiosity’s Journey: NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover – a presentation by my friend Bill Higgins whom I suspect is part Martian.
  • Dystopian fiction, Enough Already – simply because I’m a fan of dystopian visions and have been on similar panels in the past.

I am also planning on participating in the Windycon Art Show although I am not sure how many pieces I will bring – probably somewhere between 4 and 8.

If you’d like more information about Windycon, visit the Windycon Science Fiction Convention web site. And watch out for the zombies.

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My Art Blog Posting History

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Blog Post History Bar Chart
Blog Post History Bar Chart

Checking on the date of my previous blog post immediately after posting AVG Anti-Virus and Comodo Firewall To The Rescue, I was slightly shocked to see that it was my first blog post since August 18th, 2012. It seemed to me that I had posted much more frequently in the past and I became curious about my track record. Just how well does my current blog posting frequency compare with previous years?

My first step was to collect the necessary data. I logged in to my phpMyAdmin account and ran the following SQL query on my WordPress database:

SELECT `wp_posts`.`post_title` , `wp_posts`.`post_date`
FROM wp_posts

It turns out that I’ve written 210 posts since starting this blog on Oct 13 2006, which was 2206 days ago. Considering the number of days that have elapsed since that time, that works out to just one post every 10 days. That doesn’t sound so bad until I look at the average period between posts for 2012 – which is one post about every 17 days. 2012 compares poorly with 2008 which was my best year with me averaging one post a week.

My next step was to write a Processing program that would read my data file and graphically summarize my monthly posting record (yes I could have produced a bar chart with Calc or Excel but where’s the fun in that?). The graph above is the output from that program. Each vertical bar represents the total number of posts for that month with each year being assigned its own color. A quick scan makes it clear that my posting frequency/quantity has declined. Clearly my posting isn’t what it used to be.

One thing I plan to do to up my posting frequency is to blog about some of my art projects, principally small screen-size experiments with digital painting, photo manipulation, and algorithmic art techniques.

So until next time (which hopefully won’t be too long a time) I leave you with the words of American humorist Robert Benchley (1889-1945) who quipped "It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous."

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AVG Anti-Virus and Comodo Firewall To The Rescue

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

AVG Anti-Virus and Comodo Firewall
AVG Anti-Virus + Comodo Firewall

ZoneAlarm Review: Strike 1, 2, 3 – You’re Out

The McAfee anti-virus software that came installed on my Dell laptop was about to expire so I decided to search for a free alternative. Even though my license was good for another 10 days, I decided to get rid of McAfee ASAP as its daily pop-up reminders telling me that it was about to expire were causing Windows Explorer to hang.

My top replacement choices were Avast, AVG, Comodo, and ZoneAlarm. Based on protection and not performance review grades from several sources, I decided to go with ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall. Sunday night I uninstalled McAfee and downloaded and installed ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall. The install went off without a hitch – although it took a fair amount of time to complete.

Strike 1 was when I tried to use my printer. Attempts to print to my USB-connected (not network-connected) Epson printer failed. Testing revealed that the problem disappeared as soon as I turned the firewall off. Searching the ZoneAlarm forums I found that others had experienced similar problems. I configured ZoneAlarm’s firewall based on the recommendations I found there. These changes did not fix the problem. So it appeared that if I wanted to use my printer, I would have to turn the ZoneAlarm firewall off – an unacceptable option.

Strike 2 occurred when I set up an account to ask about the firewall/printer problem on their forum. I registered, then clicked on the activation link in the email they sent me and my account was activated. Unfortunately 12 hours later I was still waiting for authorization to post questions to their forums.

Strike 3 occurred when I tried to use my clipboard with OpenOffice Calc. The Copy operation took some time to complete but when it came to pasting, Calc would just hang and I had to use Windows Task Manager to force a shutdown. Again searching the forums I found a similar post with regards to Microsoft Office Excel but no solution.

It is worth noting that ZoneAlarm is identified as an under performer in terms of system utilization in the reviews I saw but this took a back seat to my desire for protection – the category in which ZoneAlarm held a slight advantage. And I definitely noticed that my laptop behaved in a clunkier (yes that is the technical term) manner than before with McAfee, which is a rather poorly rated anti-virus solution itself.

With ZoneAlarm failing to meet my usability expectations, I turned to my backup choice – AVG Free Anti-Virus and Comodo Firewall. Uninstalling ZoneAlarm, I first installed the Comodo firewall software. Wow – opening a document and printing it worked perfectly – unlike with ZoneAlarm which apparently refused to trust my printer. For the novice, it is worth noting that Comodo is more demanding of the user in terms of configuration and the issuing of alerts – which I personally prefer. I prefer it when my computer asks me what it wants me to have it do – versus the alternative of it thinking for itself. Give me the wheel and let me drive – which may not be for everyone.

My next step was to install AVG Anti-Virus Free 2013. I would like to point out that I always choose the custom install option when given the choice. I do this because so much free software these days installs additional components that are of little or no benefit to the user. Personally I want to know as much as I can about what an installer is doing to my computer. With respect to AVG, I did opt to install the AVG Surf-Shield but have not yet seen any benefit. There was a similar toolbar with ZoneAlarm but as far as I could tell it provided no benefit either (at least none has been apparent in terms of the very limited surfing done with either/both).

One nice benefit of AVG Anti-Virus Free is that the install says they offer free 24/7 support. Wow. ZoneAlarm offered none – just their forums. Testing, things appear to be speedier with AVG when it is performing a full scan than with either McAfee or ZoneAlarm when not scanning. Also I can now copy and paste with my clipboard when using OpenOffice Calc.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you may experience different results. Also, if you are pursuing the free anti-virus/firewall route, it could do you no harm to have a couple of alternative options ready to go in the event that your first choice fails to meet your expectations.


Caveat Emptor, Jim

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