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Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Dell Laxative Utility

A few weeks ago I was moving my Dell PC around, which involved unplugging all the cables from the back. When I'd finished, everything worked except the Forward and Back buttons on my Dell mouse. That was a nuisance because I use them instinctively to navigate my way through Google Chrome. I checked in the Device Manager, and the mouse was showing up as a vanilla device. Attempts to fix the problem in the Control Panel were ineffective. Unplugging and replugging the mouse failed to bring up any 'New Hardware Found' dialog that might have let me attack the problem.

So I let it rest.

Until today, when I decided enough was enough. It occurred to me that Dell might have the solution. When the PC was brand new there were several Dell applications lying around, which I quickly bundled off the desktop and forgot about. Maybe one of them could help. What was this I found? The 'Driver Reset Tool'. That could be just what I was looking for. I launched it.

There was a pause, and then a small dialog popped up telling me that my ethernet port was disabled. It offered me three choices: Yes, No, Cancel. Well, I had indeed disabled the port when I went wireless, so I clicked Yes. Another pause, another dialog: Nokia phone disabled. I clicked Yes again. Again the pause, then a dialog that just said, "EN?" (I should add that the last two dialogs had also started with "EN". I presume it meant 'ENglish'.) There was only a Yes button this time, so I dismissed the dialog. A final pause, and then the PC shut itself down.

Years of working with computers has left me with a certain amount of intuition about what's going to happen next. I was not feeling good about this.

The shutdown finished, and the reboot started. It got as far as 'Press F2 for Setup and F12 for System Menu'. I did, repeatedly. Could I possibly have reset the drivers so much that the keyboard wasn't working? No, surely we hadn't got that far yet. In any case, that wouldn't stop the auto-boot from finishing. I decided to power it off, count to ten, and try again: same result.

At this point I had to answer a sudden call of nature.

When I got back the reboot was under way. Much slower than normal, but everything eventually came back, and here I am typing it all up. The only thing I've had to fix so far is the annoying 'network unplugged' icon which had reappeared in the system tray.

Chastened by my near death experience, I decided to ask Google if anyone else had had this problem. Hysterical laughter: it seems it's a recent bug in Google Chrome. Sure enough, the mouse is working perfectly well in Internet Explorer.

I guess there's a lesson here, but I'm still too close to appreciate it.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Cheating in Audio

I started listening to audiobooks a couple of years ago, through the admirable Audible company. I mostly listen to the books while cycling home, which makes it difficult to skip back a few seconds when my concentration slips and I miss a bit. I soon realised that this mode of reading is more suitable for fiction than non-fiction. The mind-blowing 'Decoding Reality' really deserves a re-listen in less distracting circumstances, while '50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know' I gave up around number 15, after a near miss turning onto Haxby Road while using rather less of my brain than I really ought to have.

For stories though, it's ideal, and I'm using it to catch up on authors I might otherwise never have found the time for, or getting through the complete works of Stieg Larsson (sadly only three).

I had one worry though: is listening to a novel rather than reading it cheating?

Recently I was sat down with a real book, 'Use of Weapons' by Iain M. Banks. It's one of his Culture novels (masterpieces of SF, if you've never tried them), and I stopped to count the ones I'd already read. I knew there were three, and that one of them was an audiobook. The interesting thing was that I couldn't remember which of the three was the one I'd listened to. As far as my memory was concerned, I had the internal 'soundtracks' of three novels, and I couldn't tell the difference in quality between the one I'd heard through my earphones and the ones I'd made up myself as I read the written words.

So as far as I'm concerned, the answer is 'No: audiobooks are not cheating'. At least, it isn't for me. The end result in my memory seems to be exactly the same, except that I can now combine some of the more tedious parts of my life with probably my favourite hobby.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

4' 33"

Listened to John Cage's famous piece, 4' 33", today on Spotify.

When I first heard about this piece, I thought it had a certain mathematical interest, for if you think of compositions as being ordered sets of notes, then this would be an empty set. The visual equivalent might be a TV program that showed a blank screen for its whole duration. That was when I assumed that 4' 33" would be four minutes 33 seconds of total silence. Far from it.

In fact, the subtlety of 4' 33" is that it has to be performed by a real life performer. Frank Zappa once covered it, for instance. Thus if you listen carefully, you can hear the creaks of the performer's chair, and maybe the odd clearing of the performer's throat. Presumably on live recordings there is audience noise to add to the interest.

I said I listened to it, but actually I gave up at 0' 28", faced with the prospect of wasting another 4' 05" of my life. I've just seen the piece referred to as 4' 33" - 3 parts: 30" / 2' 23" / 1' 40", so perhaps I should have soldiered on into part 2. However, I think I got the rough gist.

E F Schumacher's book "A Guide for the Perplexed" introduced me to the idea of "adequatio", meaning that sometimes you're simply not adequate to the task of appreciating something. It's a good concept to take to heart, and I can think of many examples of art that I initially couldn't see the point of, but now really enjoy; Jazz and Opera spring to mind. They didn't change: instead I became adequate to the job of listening to them.

In the case of 4' 33" though, I'm not sure if I will ever find myself adequate. Like the artists who works consist of piles of rubbish or unmade beds, I kind of feel that the only talent Cage needed to produce 4' 33" was the ability to keep a straight face.

Oddly, Spotify claimed the running time was 4' 39".