Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : Presidents Page January 2001

Why don’t my browsers work? I have four completely different browsers on my desktop and they all give me grief on a fairly regular basis. These include: Netscape 4.7 keeps hanging, The Opera 5 messaging does not work, some of the plugins do not work in IE 5 and Netscape 6 eats mail messages. Over and above this, there are many things which contrive to irritate me such as the slow execution of Netscape 6 or the strange implementation of the mouse wheel in Opera. I fully realise that there is no such thing as perfect software - even the stuff that I have written. The thing which really gets me is that the browsers seem to be getting less reliable over time. There has to be a quality control problem here, possibly caused by the desire of the companies concerned to get their products to market as quickly as possible.

This brings me to another area of quality control, that which is necessary for the authors of "hard" SF novels. There are a number of authors out there who try to include a high degree of scientific rigor in their work. Those who are serious about their endeavours usually perform a lot of research into their subject matter. After that they often subject their work to peer review to iron out the details. A public example of this can be found on a variety of discussion newsgroups on the Internet.

Greg Egan writes hard SF and Terenesia is one of his latest efforts. Although not his best work, it is still a top level work. The problem for me is that there are a couple of glaring minor technical errors. In one instance, he quotes a formula for determining the distance to the horizon and then miscalculates the value as it applies to his character. The only way he could get this wrong is if he does not know the correct value for the radius of the Earth. Later he notes that a character travels from Canada to Australia and arrives at the same time and date as he left because of time zones. As any traveler knows that can only happen when going in the other direction. Now I know that Greg Egan is a bit of a recluse and therefore may not know much about the world but that shouldn’t stop him knowing how big it is and which way it spins!

Its a pity that this books has these mistakes because in other respects it seems well researched. In particular, Egan has obviously spent some time looking into the geopolitics of the Indonesian archipelago. He as also spent some time looking at the interactions between proteins and DNA. It is interesting that Terenesia is the third book that I have recently read which involved directed evolution based on some sort of biological protein/DNA based Turing machine. The others were Frameshift by Robert J Sawyer and Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear. I wonder how long this little trend will last and how long it will be until Paul McAuley comes along to write the definitive work on the topic.

If you find a problem, you ring the help desk, right? Only do not ring the help desk at Ubersoft (www.ubersoft.net). You may find the answers less than helpful. What do you expect from a company written by a demon from the underworld. Does this sound familiar? Well it should as the parallels to the real world’s prince of darkness’ empire are obvious and funny.

For a more romantic view of the computer industry, you could head along to GPF software. At www.gpf-comics.com by Jeffrey T Darlington you can check out the life and loves of the inmates there. It comes complete with scary Unix wizards, shy geeky programmers and evil marketing people - just like real life.

I really enjoyed the Charlie’s Angels movie, it was a lot of laughs. However in general the trend of making old TV shows has got to stop, it has just gone too far. Now they are planning to make a Scooby Doo movie starring Freddy Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. The thought just makes me cringe and reach for my Scooby Snacks.

A final reminder about T-shirts. Orders close at the January meeting so you need to get your order and payment to me at the Ferryman’s on the 10th of January. I plan to take the order at the printer on the following Monday, so you might have a few days extra to get your order in, but don’t count on it.

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