October 01, 2016

Roger Bell-West

September 2016 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)

October 01, 2016 08:02 AM

September 30, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood

1992 historical detection, fourth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). As Phryne is driving home one night, someone shoots out her windscreen. As the gunfight moves on, she gets out of the car to find an injured young man, who dies in her arms.

September 30, 2016 08:04 AM

September 29, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Spider Light, Sarah Rayne

2006 psychological thriller. After a highly public series of tragic incidents, Antonia Weston goes to Cheshire to stay in a cottage near a small market town, hoping for anonymity and peace. But she soon experiences a series of events which seem to be echoing the past she's trying to forget.

September 29, 2016 08:00 AM

September 28, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Murder on the Ballarat Train, Kerry Greenwood

1991 historical detection, third in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Everyone in one of the carriages on the overnight train to Ballarat is chloroformed; Phryne retains just enough consciousness to shoot out the window and let in some air. When everyone recovers, it's found that an elderly passenger has vanished. But why?

September 28, 2016 08:00 AM

September 27, 2016

Roger Bell-West

How To Use a Garmin Drive navi with Linux

I have recently purchased a Garmin DriveSmart navigation unit. It is quite possible to get this up and running, legally, without buying a copy of Windows or Mac OS. Here's how. I believe this will also work with DriveAware and DriveLuxe models.

September 27, 2016 08:00 AM

September 26, 2016

Liam Proven

In a response to a comment on:

It’s time to ban ‘stupid’ IoT devices. They’re as dangerous as post-Soviet era nuclear weapons.

One of the elements of security is currentness. It is more or less axiomatic that all software contains errors. Over time, these are discovered, and then they can be exploited to gain remote control over the thing running the software.

This is why people talk about "software rot" or "rust". It get old, goes off, and is not desirable, or safe, to use any more.

Today, embedded devices are becoming so powerful & capable that it's possible to run ordinary desktop/server operating systems on them. This is much, much easier than purpose-writing tiny, very simple, embedded code. The smaller the software, the less there is to go wrong, so the less there is to debug.

Current embedded systems are getting pretty big. The £5 Raspberry pi zero can run a full Linux OS, GUI and all. This makes it easy and cheap to use.

For instance, the possibly forthcoming ZX Spectrum Next and Ben Versteeg's ZX HD Spectrum HDMI adaptor both work by just sticking a RasPi Zero in there and having it run software that converts the video signal. Even if the device is 1000x more powerful and capable than the computer it's interfaced to, it doesn't matter if it only costs a fiver.

The problem is that once such a device is out there in lots of Internet-connected hardware, it never gets updated. So even in the vanishingly-unlikely even that it was entirely free of known bugs, issues and vulnerabilities when it was shipped, it won't stay that way. They *will* be discovered and then they *will* be exploited and the device *will* become vulnerable to exploitation.

And this is true of everything from smartphone-controlled light switches to doorbells to Internet-aware fridges. To a first approximation, all of them.

You can't have them automatically update themselves, because general-purpose OSes more or less inevitably grow over time. At some point they won't fit and your device bricks itself.

Or you give it lots of storage, increasing its price, but then the OS gets a new major version, which can't be automatically upgraded.

Or the volunteers updating the software stop updating that release, edition, family, or whatever, or it stops supporting the now-elderly chip your device uses...

Whichever way, you're toast. You are inevitably going to end up screwed.

What is making IoT possible is that computer power is cheap enough to embed general-purpose computers running general-purpose OSes into cheap devices, making them "smart". But that makes them inherently vulnerable.

This is a more general case of the argument that I tried (& judging by the comments, failed) to make in one of my relatively recent The Register pieces.

Cheap general-purpose hardware is a great thing and enables non-experts to do amazing and very cool things. However, so long as it's running open, general-purpose software designed for radically different types of computer, we have a big problem, and one that is going to get a whole lot worse.

September 26, 2016 08:27 PM

Roger Bell-West

The Empress of Mars, Kage Baker

2009 SF, loosely connected with the Company series. The British Arean Corporation sponsored the colonisation of Mars… then it turned out that short-term profits weren't possible, and they lost interest. Mary Griffith runs the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge.

September 26, 2016 08:00 AM

September 25, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death in Ecstasy, Ngaio Marsh

1936 classic English detective fiction; fourth of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. At a meeting of the House of the Sacred Flame, a small cult, the Chosen Vessel drinks from the Flaming Cup, gabbles nonsensically, and dies of a dose of sodium cyanide.

September 25, 2016 08:00 AM

September 24, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Expanse season 1

2015-2016 science fiction, 10 episodes. When the ice-hauler Canterbury gets destroyed, the Belters blame Mars, Mars blames Earth, and Earth blames the Belters.

September 24, 2016 08:03 AM

September 23, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Flying Too High, Kerry Greenwood

1990 historical detection, second in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne takes on the case of a son whose mother is worried he'll murder his father, and then the father is indeed murdered; and she tracks down a kidnapped child.

September 23, 2016 08:00 AM

September 22, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Adaptations, William H. Stoddard

This supplement is not about a specific world, or an area of GURPS rules: it's about how to convert a fictional setting for use in a role-playing campaign.

September 22, 2016 08:04 AM

September 21, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Moon-Spinners, Mary Stewart

1962; mystery/thriller or romantic suspense. Nicola Ferris, on holiday from her job at the British Embassy in Athens, has been looking forward to getting away from it all in an obscure corner of Crete. But a day of random wandering brings her into contact with two men, one of them badly injured.

September 21, 2016 08:04 AM

September 20, 2016

Jess Rowbottom

The Albumen

It is done, sent off, completed. The studio is once again quiet and tidy – I’ve even managed to hoover the rug. Even so, it’s littered with soldered makeshift instruments and lyrics scribbled, printed and sellotaped to random surfaces: they adorn the shelves, the mic stands, even the back of my chair. But my first solo album is finished and out of the door – it’s a wrap!

Ten months ago in a Brighton hospital bed I aurally hallucinated, wrecked out of my face on morphine and grinning like an idiot. With the rhythm of the hospital machinery in my head I wrote “Sailing Alone”, the first song for what would become the debut album of The Bleeding Obvious.

After such a major operation I planned to take a few months off work: teach myself to play guitar properly, read the instructions on the musical kit I’ve collected over the years, learn to circuit-bend noise-making devices. Over those weeks of freedom I saved various vignettes with no plans to use them, yet gradually music gained lyrics – even just phrases – and the seeds were sown.

With a complementary idea to rework songs written with a previous band I went back to the original master discs to play with the concept: the effort turned into “The Obvious Pseudonym”, a largely instrumental song which took musical motifs woven into an orchestral overture. A group of degree students in Leeds formed a small makeshift orchestra to develop it as an idea. Unfortunately, using old songs turned out to be a bit of an emotional dead-end but did lead to new hooks. “Hang on,” thought I. “Maybe this new material could work as an album?”

Ideas came and went. By February there were 13 tracks some of which would change very little over the coming months and it was a slow burn. Much to the amusement of my partner I’d jump naked into the studio in the middle of the night to record a part, adding unusual instruments to the mix simply because I could. I taught myself to play rudimentary saxophone and flute and strange signal paths were wired up involving miniature pianos or circuit-bent childrens’ toys. I felt relieved my poor neighbour Doreen is hard of hearing.

The first three musical friends on-board were vocalists: Anthony Jackson-Stubbs of LGBT disco pop band Paleday, Ruby Macintosh (who I’d worked with previously on the Eurovision wannabe track “Mirrorball”), and my old blues crooner friend Scott Wainwright. Wordsmith Helen Rhodes took a concept for I, Human and blasted it into some really quite terrifying lyrics, Ralph Dartford of A Firm Of Poets agreed to speak them for me. My close friend Marie helped me with lyrics and came back with comments.

Feathered TeardropOn the subject of artwork, the blood-drop was one of those things which seemed to be there from the first day but became a consistent motif throughout the whole project. It stands for tears of sadness and joy, the rain, the sweat, the blood. Or, more simply (as my partner Helen put it), blood sweat and tears – here through sheer graft. The visual element further coalesced when my friend Cathie Heart agreed to do a photoshoot around Kirkstall Abbey and down by the canal at Granary Wharf in Leeds, where I was bitten by a midge and leant against a piece of scrap metal looking like I was touting for business from the local sailors.

Every song has its own piece of artwork around the teardrop, everything tells a story.

I enlisted instrumentalist friends: a peppering of drums, a pedal-steel guitar, violin, viola, punk wailing, the orchestra of course, and flute from a childhood friend I sang with at Wakefield Cathedral. Although by early August most of the Leeds students had gone their separate ways I had almost enough orchestral stems to complete the work, and those folks I still spoke to with were gracious enough to record more. My former band-mate friend Simon Rowe (now of Berlyn Trilogy) produced Wallflower with me and gave pointers for other tracks; my son Ben assisted on production and the overall story arc (the vocoder on “Splendid!” is his doing for instance). Other vocalists stepped up to the mark: the extraordinary voices of Jacqui Wicks (aka Ossett Observer), Irene Purcell, Colleen Taylor and my daughter Ellie Rowbottom all grace tracks, bringing their own feel to the music, influencing songs and completely changing their character as the weeks passed.

Finally, accompanied by cheese, home-made biscotti and Prosecco, a group of us sat in my lounge in Wrenthorpe last Saturday and listened to it start to finish with nothing more to be done, music complete. Splendid!

On 17th November 2016 exactly one year since that first song was written, it will be unleashed on the world. You’ll be able to get it on red vinyl LP with gatefold sleeve, digital (Amazon, iTunes, Google Music and all that),  and of course on CD. Before that, from mid-October it will be available for preorder online, or you can coax your local independent record store into getting it for you – it’s on the Hotfox label, catalogue HFOX001. There’s also a launch gig at Unity Works (Wakefield) on 19th November which is selling fast, so you probably want to get your ticket soon.

A former acquaintance was fond of saying “one day this will all be an anecdote”, the phrase which opens the prologue spoken by my daughter Ellie. It’s an angry album, a pissed-off album – but at the same time a body of work with optimism for the future and an appreciation of those who have stuck around; a collection of songs telling a very personal story. I hope you enjoy it.

Meantime, here’s a preview in the form of track 7, “Put Your Arms Around Me”, featuring my wonderful friend Ruby Macintosh on vocals:

by Jess at September 20, 2016 01:11 PM

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 5 September 2016

Back to the Two Brewers on a muggy night, for the third meeting of this Meetup-based boardgames group.

September 20, 2016 08:00 AM

September 19, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood

1989 historical detection, first in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Intelligent, beautiful, rich, and bored, the Hon. Phryne Fisher travels to Australia in order to find out whether John Andrews is poisoning his wife, her clients' daughter.

September 19, 2016 08:03 AM

September 18, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Where Brands Meet People

I'm not fond of ClearChannel; I'm already inclined to regard it as a fairly vile mob because (a) it's an advertising firm and (b) it systematically destroyed non-top-40 music radio in the USA so as to maximise advertising revenue. But it's reached a new low.

September 18, 2016 08:02 AM

September 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers

1930 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Sayers's novels of Lord Peter Wimsey. Philip Boyes, writer on atheism, anarchy and free love, died of quite a lot of arsenic; Harriet Vane, who had lived with him without benefit of clergy for nearly a year until they had quarrelled three months earlier, is accused of having poisoned him. Wimsey, seeing the trial, is convinced of her innocence, not to say smitten by her; when the jury cannot agree on a verdict, he makes it his business to save her from the gallows in the month before the new trial.

September 17, 2016 08:03 AM

September 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Eye of the Storm, Marcia Muller

1988 mystery; eighth in Muller's series about Sharon McCone, private investigator in San Francisco. Sharon's sister Patsy has a new boyfriend, and a renovation project in the Sacramento Delta. But someone's playing tricks, sabotaging the project and scaring off the workers; Sharon takes a long weekend away from her job to help Patsy out.

September 16, 2016 08:01 AM

September 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Mansions of Madness Second Edition

Some friends of mine have got the new edition of Mansions of Madness, and I went along to try it out. Spoilers for the "Escape from Innsmouth" scenario.

September 15, 2016 08:01 AM

September 14, 2016

Liam Proven

YouTube just "recommended" to me one of the worst videos I've ever seen.

So, very rarely for me, a YouTube comment.

I know, I know, "never read the comments". But sheesh...

This is the single most inaccurate, error-ridden piece of computer reporting I have ever seen. Almost every single claim is wrong.

#9 Corel LinuxOS

This wasn't "designed by Debian". It was designed by, as the name says, Corel, but based on Debian, as is Ubuntu, Mint, Elementary & many other distros. For its time it was pretty good. I ran it.

"Struggled to detect drives" is nonsense.

It begat Xandros which continued for some years. Why was it killed? Because Corel did a licensing deal with Microsoft to add Visual Basic for Applications and MS Office toolbars to WordPerfect Office. One of the terms of the deal that MS insisted on was the cancellation of WordPerfect Office for Linux, Corel LinuxOS, and Corel's ARM-based NetWinder line of hardware.

#7 ITS

"Offered absolutely no security". Correct -- by design. Because it came out of what later became the GNU Project, and was meant to encourage sharing.

#6 GNU Hurd

Still isn't complete because it was vastly over-optimistic, but it has inspired L4, Minix 3 and many others. Most of its userland became the basis of Linux, arguably the most successful OS in the history of the world.

#5 Windows ME

There is a service pack, but it's unofficial.

It runs well on less memory than Windows 2000 did, and it was the first (and last) member of the Windows 9x family to properly support FireWire -- important if you had an iPod, for instance.

#4 MS-DOS 4.0

Wasn't written by Microsoft; it was a rebadged version of IBM's PC-DOS 4.0.

The phrase "badly-coded memory addresses" is literally meaningless, it is empty techno-babble.

It ran fine and introduced many valuable additions, such as support for hard disk partitions over 32MB, disk caching as standard, and the graphical DOSShell with its handy program-switching facility.

No, it wasn't a classic release, but it was the beginning of Microsoft being forced into making DOS competitive, alongside PC-DOS 4.0 and DR-DOS 5. It wasn't a result of creeping featuritis -- it was the beginning of it, and not from MS.

#3 Symbian

Symbian was a triumph, powering the very successfully Psion Series 5, 5mx, Revo and NetBook as well as multiple mobile phones.

Meanwhile, there was no such device as "the Nokia S60" -- S60 was a user interface, a piece of software, not a phone. It was one of Symbian's UIs, alongside S80, S90 and UIQ in Europe and others elsewhere.

Symbian was the only mobile OS with good enough realtime support to run the GSM stack on the same CPU as the main OS -- all other smartphones used a separate CPU running a separate OS.

Its browser was fine for the time.

Nokia only moved to Windows Phone OS when it hired a former Microsoft manager to run the company. Before then it also had its own Linux, Maemo, and also made Android devices.

#2 Lindows

"The open source distribution of Linux" is more technobabble. A distribution is a variety of Linux -- Lindows was one.

Its UI was Windows-like, like many other Linuxes even today, but Lindows' selling point was that it could run Windows apps via WINE. This wasn't a good idea - the compatibility wasn't there yet although it's quite good today -- but it's not even mentioned.

Like Corel LinuxOS, it was based on Debian, but Debian is a piece of software, not a company. Debian didn't "expect" anything.

Almost every single statement here is wrong.

#1 Vista / Windows 8

Almost every new version of Windows ever has required high-end specs for the time. This wasn't a new failing of Vista.

Windows 8 is not more "multi-functional" than any previous version. Totally wrong.

It didn't "do away with the desktop" -- also totally wrong. It's still there and is the primary UI.

JavaOS and Windows 1.0 are by comparison almost fair and apt, but this is shameful travesty of a piece. Everyone involves should be ashamed.

September 14, 2016 03:58 PM

Roger Bell-West

Blood at the Bookies, Simon Brett

2008 mystery; ninth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude drops into the local betting shop to take shelter from a sudden hailstorm; another customer staggers out, and turns up stabbed in an alley nearby.

September 14, 2016 08:02 AM

September 13, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Moonbeam City

2015 science fiction comedy, 10 episodes. In a corrupt neon future, the Moonbeam City Police Department tries to keep the peace. More or less.

September 13, 2016 08:02 AM

September 12, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Galapagos Incident, Felix R. Savage

2014 SF, first of the Solarian War Saga. Elfrida Goto works for the Space Corps, persuading asteroid-dwellers to accept resettlement before their asteroids are dropped into Venus as part of the terraforming project. But her telepresence robot is acting up, and then the space station she's living on comes under attack.

September 12, 2016 08:02 AM

September 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Pyramid 93: Cops and Lawyers

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's police and legal systems.

September 11, 2016 08:02 AM

September 10, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death Under the Dryer, Simon Brett

2007 mystery; eighth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole always has her hair cut at Connie's Clip Joint, "same shape, but shorter". This time, Kyra, one of the juniors, hasn't turned up, and she turns out to have been left dead in the back room, strangled with the cord of a hair-dryer.

September 10, 2016 08:04 AM

September 09, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Thirsty Meeples August 2016

Back to the boardgame café again. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

September 09, 2016 08:02 AM

September 08, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Flowers for the Judge, Margery Allingham

1936 classic English detective fiction; seventh of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Barnabas family publishing house is used to strangeness; the founder's nephew disappeared in broad daylight while walking between his house and the main road. Now Paul Brande, one of the cousins who run the firm, is found dead inside a locked room. US vt Legacy in Blood.

September 08, 2016 08:03 AM

September 07, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Flash Point token upgrades

The various markers in Flash Point Fire Rescue work pretty well, but they're a bit dull and cardboard. Well, they can't help it, poor things. Here's a replacement.

September 07, 2016 08:01 AM

September 06, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Stabbing in the Stables, Simon Brett

2006 mystery; seventh in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude's been asked to extend her healing practice to a horse; but she doesn't expect to find the co-owner of the stables stabbed to death. Obviously it was the local "Horse Ripper", caught in the act. Or was it a jealous husband?

September 06, 2016 08:00 AM

September 05, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 1 August 2016

This Meetup group was trying out a new venue, the upstairs room of the Two Brewers in Marlow – which was blessedly free of fashionable lighting.

September 05, 2016 08:03 AM

September 04, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Resolute, Mike Shepherd

2006 military SF, fourth of the Kris Longknife books. Kris finally gets an independent command: a single-world "naval district" on the far end of anywhere.

September 04, 2016 08:02 AM

September 03, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 18: Power Items, Sean Punch

This Dungeon Fantasy supplement deals with magical items that store spellcasting energy.

September 03, 2016 08:04 AM

September 02, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Witness at the Wedding, Simon Brett

2005 mystery; sixth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole's son is getting married, but the bride's parents are oddly reluctant to have any announcements made… and then the father is strangled.

September 02, 2016 08:03 AM

September 01, 2016

Roger Bell-West

August 2016 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)

September 01, 2016 08:03 AM

August 31, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Autumn Barbecue 2016

On a very bright and warm day, there was a select gathering of fans of pig and goat.

August 31, 2016 08:03 AM

August 30, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Nursing Home Murder, Ngaio Marsh

1935 classic English detective fiction; third of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. In a private hospital, the Home Secretary was operated on for appendicitis: shortly afterwards he was dead, poisoned with hyoscine (scopolamine). And all sorts of people seem to have had motives.

August 30, 2016 08:01 AM

August 29, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Sleepy Hollow season 3

2015-2016: Ichabod Crane, survivor from the American Revolutionary War, and Abbie Mills, FBI agent, continue to fight supernatural beasties in the present day. (Spoilers for all seasons.)

August 29, 2016 08:04 AM

August 28, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Hanging in the Hotel, Simon Brett

2004 mystery; fifth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude is helping out at the Hopwicke Country House Hotel, but the morning after a boozy meeting of the Pillars of Sussex, an organisation of local businessmen, one of them doesn't come down to breakfast… because he's hanging from a beam of his four-poster bed. Obviously a suicide…

…or obviously not, but proving it will be hard work, especially when the Pillars of Sussex close ranks to disassociate themselves from the victim. Everybody's far too willing to talk to Carole and Jude, as usual, but a key player appears for the first time three-quarters of the way through the book, which doesn't help matters.

Most of the investigation is a trudge through local businesses, and Brett's usual cast of horrible people. Everyone has something to hide, of course, and it usually reinforces how ghastly they are.

As in The Torso in the Town, the ultimate villain goes unpunished, which again seems to be a violation of the principles of murder mysteries: the detectives find themselves stymied and essentially give up and go home. But they do that seemingly because there are only a few pages left; if it were half-way through the book they'd go after some alternative source of information, and for their behaviour to be so blatantly affected by a non-diegetic element breaks my suspension of disbelief.

But in this book, the mystery is the bread on which the pâté of human drama is spread: what are these people's secrets, and how do they react as things come out? Also, this marks a significant achievement in the process of Carole's transformation into a human being, as she finds herself become able to talk with her son and his fiancée in a way she certainly wouldn't have been when the series started. (However, I think Brett realised that without having Carole as a pompous prig he loses the contrast she strikes against free-spirited Jude, so her progress from this point on is much slower and sometimes even reversed.)

Followed by The Witness at the Wedding.

August 28, 2016 08:03 AM

August 27, 2016

Roger Bell-West


2015 short science fiction, dir. Luke Gilford, Pamela Anderson, Dree Hemingway: IMDb.

An ageing fitness instructor is dissatisfied with her life, in particular feeling disconnected from the world, and looks for a way to fix it.

August 27, 2016 08:04 AM

August 26, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Castlemaine Murders, Kerry Greenwood

2003 historical detection, thirteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne investigates a mummified corpse found in a carnival attraction.

August 26, 2016 08:04 AM

August 25, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Failing to Fix Operation Hard Sell

Operation Hard Sell was the adventure that convinced me I should stop running Torg, at least for a while. Spoilers for this adventure follow.

August 25, 2016 08:03 AM

August 24, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Murder in the Museum, Simon Brett

2003; fourth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Bracketts, an Elizabethan house, is to be turned into a museum celebrating the life and work of the local poet Esmond Chadleigh, its most famous resident. Then a skull is dug up in the garden.

August 24, 2016 08:04 AM

August 23, 2016

Roger Bell-West

SpringCon 23 July 2016

Back to this small quarterly boardgames convention in Watford, the first one I've got to for a while as it's usually announced at fairly short notice. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

August 23, 2016 08:01 AM

August 22, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Shattered Sphere, Roger MacBride Allen

1994 science fiction, sequel to The Ring of Charon. This review contains spoilers for that first book.

August 22, 2016 08:04 AM

August 21, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Subete ga F ni Naru

2015 mystery novel adaptation, 11 episodes: AniDB, vt "Everything Becomes F" or "The Perfect Insider". Shiki Magata killed her parents when she was fourteen, but her mind was clearly disturbed, and she's a brilliant programmer; for the fifteen years since then, she's been confined to a few rooms within a research lab, with extremely restricted communication with the outside world. And yet, someone has managed to murder her.

August 21, 2016 08:01 AM

August 20, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Torso in the Town, Simon Brett

2002 mystery; third in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). The couple who've just moved into the Big House in Fedborough, inland up the river from Fethering, throw a dinner party to try to get into the local social scene… which is somewhat spoiled when a limbless body is discovered in the cellar.

August 20, 2016 08:02 AM

August 19, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Suburbia component enhancements

I wanted to improve the experience of playing Surburbia, so I designed some organisational aids.

August 19, 2016 08:03 AM

Steve Kennedy

There's a new business bank in town and it'll wash the competition (it's called Tide)

There's a new business mobile first bank which will be launching soon. It's called Tide and it looks pretty good.

Though there are a slew of new banks coming on-line, Tide is aiming for the business market with no fees (they make their money on various services that a banking customer might use and they're not unreasonable).

The first thing to say is it very easy to sign-up. Just present a valid ID to the app and take a photo of it, then clever magic works out who you are (which you confirm) and then it asks what company you're going to use (it looks up your details in Companies House).

You then get an account (a real account number and sort code).

Once set-up you can do all sorts of things through the app, like invoice customers, pay invoices from suppliers etc. When invoicing it can track incoming payments and send out reminders if the customer doesn't pay. If you need to take a credit card payment, it can do that too, just scan the customer card, it will then ask the customers for the CCV (the number on the back of the card) and that's it (there's a fee for handling the payment, that's where Tide take a small percentage), but no card readers to worry about etc.

The service is currently in alpha to a few select customers (the alpha client looks very nice, though the version tested was a sandbox'ed version so not doing live transactions, the real alpha client does the same thing in a live environment) and it will hopefully launch in beta very soon.

Though it's mobile first, all services are also available on-line (web access) and there's a (developing) API on to everything, so if you want to build your own client and offer new services, you'll be able to do so.

If you want to sign-up for access, use this link Tide Preview.

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at August 19, 2016 12:05 AM

August 18, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Enter a Murderer, Ngaio Marsh

1935 classic English detective fiction; second of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. When Arthur Surbonadier is fatally shot on stage during the last act of The Rat and the Beaver, there's no question about who pulled the trigger: the shooting was part of the play. But there wasn't supposed to be live ammunition in the gun.

August 18, 2016 08:04 AM

August 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Second Chance, season 1

2016 science fiction crime drama, 11 episodes. Jimmy Pritchard is a 75-year-old, corrupt, disgraced, but unrepentant former sheriff. When he's murdered, secretive tech billionaire twins restore him to life, youth and extreme vitality (as a side effect of their own plans). Formerly known as Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Code and Lookinglass.

August 17, 2016 08:04 AM

August 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death on the Downs, Simon Brett

2001 mystery; second in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). While out exploring the South Downs, Carole stumbles on a human skeleton. Jude thinks she knows who it might have been.

August 16, 2016 08:02 AM

August 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Magic: Death Spells, Sean Punch

This supplement adds to the standard GURPS magic system, with spells designed not just to injure or curse but to kill.

August 15, 2016 08:02 AM

August 14, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Ruined City, Nevil Shute

1938 fiction. Henry Warren, a successful banker, works all his waking hours, travelling across Europe to sort out financial deals, particularly share issues. His digestion is bad, and his wife's having an affair with a foreigner. When all the stress catches up with him, he winds up in the hospital of a northern town, one that's been without significant employment since the shipyard closed, and decides to do something about it. (US vt Kindling.)

August 14, 2016 08:00 AM

August 13, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Boardgaming At Home, July 2016

A five-player games session on a hot afternoon at home. Images follow: cc-by-sa on everything.

August 13, 2016 08:01 AM

August 12, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Body on the Beach, Simon Brett

2000 mystery; first in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole Seddon, conventional, divorced, and retired from the Home Office, moves to the small seaside town of Fethering (inspired by the real Tarring in West Sussex). But her neighbour Jude turns out to be distressingly bohemian, and she finds a dead body while walking her dog on the beach… but by the time the police turn up, it's gone.

August 12, 2016 08:03 AM

August 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

New Passport

My passport was a few months away from expory, so when I got back from the latest foreign trip I renewed it. It only took two weeks, which isn't bad, though I think the Passport Office might take a tip or two from an enthusiastic amateur; their professional advisors don't seem to be doing a terribly good job.

August 11, 2016 08:04 AM

August 10, 2016

Liam Proven

Windows and malware, and the vulnerability of Internet Explorer.

My last job over here in Czechia was a year basically acting as the entire international customer complaints department for a prominent antivirus vendor.

Damned straight, Windows still has severe malware and virus problems! Yes, even Windows 8.x and 10.

The original dynamic content model for Interner Explorer was: download and run native binaries from the Internet. (AKA "ActiveX", basically OLE on web pages.) This is insane if you know anything about safe, secure software design.

It's better now, but the problem is that since IE is integrated into Windows, IE uses Windows core code to render text, images, etc. So any exploit that targets these Windows DLLs can allow a web page to execute code on your machine.

Unix' default model is that only binaries on your own system that have been marked as executable can run. By default it won't even run local stuff that isn't marked as such, let alone anything from a remote host.

(This is a dramatic oversimplification.)

Microsoft has slowly and painfully learned that the way Unix does things is safer than its own ways, and it's changing, but the damage is done. If MS rewrote Windows and fixed all this stuff, a lot of existing Windows programs wouldn't work any more. And the only reason to choose Windows is the huge base of software that there is for Windows.

Such things can be done. Mac OS X didn't run all classic MacOS apps when it was launched in 2001 or so. Then in 10.5 Apple dropped the ability to run old classic apps at all. Then in 10.6 it dropped the ability to run the OS on machines with the old processors. Then in 10.7 it dropped the ability to run apps compiled for the old processor.

It has carefully stage managed a transition, despite resistance. Microsoft _could_ have done this, but it didn't have the nerve.

It's worth mentioning that, to give it credit, the core code of both Windows 3 and Windows 95 contains some _inspired_ hacks to make stuff work, that Windows NT is a technical tour de force, and that the crap that has gradually worked its way in since Windows XP is due to the marketing people's insistence, not due to the programmers and their managers, who do superb work.

Other teams _do_ have the guts for drastic changes: look at Office 2007 (whole new UI, which I personally hate, but others like), and Windows 8 (whole new UI, which I liked but everyone else hated).

However Windows is the big cash cow and they didn't have the the courage when it was needed. Now, it's too late.

August 10, 2016 04:14 PM

Roger Bell-West

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding

2009 steampunk fantasy. Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay and her crew of misfits, as they go about doing small-time jobs for small-time people. But they're all about to play for much higher stakes than they were ever expecting.

August 10, 2016 08:03 AM

August 09, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Colony, season 1

2016 science fiction drama, 10 episodes. Aliens have landed and conquered Earth, ruling through drones and human trusties. But there is, of course, a resistance.

August 09, 2016 08:04 AM

August 08, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Viper Strike, Keith Douglass

1991 military fiction; second in the Carrier series. A complex plot sees Burmese, Thai and Chinese renegades orchestrating a breakup of SEATO for purposes unclear at first. Carrier Battle Group 14 is going to get caught in the middle.

August 08, 2016 08:04 AM