Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Age: Feudal Lords Want List (Update)

Thanks to some very helpful replies I've gotten from people answering my posts, I've acquired a few more cardsand so my "want" list is smaller. Here's what I want to trade for most urgently (cards I don't have at all):
  • Leader: Bad Doc Leader
  • Leader: Clergy Ann
  • Sewage Plant/War Shelter/Killing Grounds
  • Location: Water Hole/Rooftops/Bar
  • Supply: Artifact: Brain Expander
  • Supply: Artifact: Efficiency Bot
If I got these, I would then have a complete set. I also have only one each of the following cards, so I do not have copies of these available to trade, and I'd be happy to trade for additional copies:
  • Character: Red
  • Instant: Blood Ritual
  • Instant: Frustrate Defense
  • Instant: Nope
  • Instant: Once More Into the Fray
  • Leader: Mercenary Leader
  • Leader: Warhead Leader
  • Leader: Warknight Leader
  • Location: Great Hall / Sewers / Machine Core
  • Location: Safety Tunnels / Acrid Fields / Labyrinth
  • Skill: Field Medic
  • Skill: Hypnotism
  • Skill: Quick Shot
  • Artifact: Digger Bot (foil)
  • Artifact: Wise Leader (foil)
  • Supply: HooDoo Totem
  • Supply: Terrorist Bot
  • Supply: Weaponsmith
  • Victory: I Hear Good Things
  • Weapon: Flash Grenades
  • Weapon: Heavy Armor
  • Weapon: Hell Blade
I have duplicates of every other card available for trade. Let me know what you are looking for. You can leave a comment with an e-mail address, and I will not publish it (comments on this blog are moderated). I am considering whether it might possibly be useful to put up cards for sale on eBay, perhaps a generic buy-it-now for any common, another for uncommon, and a third for rares. If you have an interest in that, let me know.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mythos Dreamlands Cards to Trade

I'm looking to trade for the following Mythos: Dreamlands cards:
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • Great Library of the Dreamlands: Dylath-Leen
  • Dhole
  • Whirligig
  • The Voynich Manuscript
I have all the rest available in multiples to trade. Get in touch by leaving a comment with an e-mail address; comments are moderated, so I won't publish your address, but I'll send you a message.

Mythos Limited Cards to Trade

I have all the Mythos Limited cards but would like to trade for additional copies of some rares. I'd rather trade than buy more boosters from eBay sellers at this point since I have so many cards. I'm looking for the following cards:
  • The Lonely House in the Woods
  • Dendrophobia
  • Iatrophobia
  • The House on Olney Court
  • The Innsmouth Look
  • The Outsider
  • Wave of Oblivion
Get in touch if you would like to trade these cards for any other Mythos Limited cards. I also have Dreamlands cards to trade. I'm looking for New Aeon cards. Leave a comment with an e-mail address; replies are moderated, and I won't post your address publicly.

Dark Age: Feudal Lords Cards to Trade

I have collected a nearly-complete set of the out-of-print Dark Age: Feudal Lords cards. I am still missing the following rare cards:
  • Once More Into the Fray
  • Bad Doc Leader
  • Clergy Ann
  • Sewage Plant
  • Water Hole
  • Field Medic
  • Hypnotism
  • Quick Shot
  • Artifact: Brain Expander
  • Artifact: Efficiency Bot
  • Artifact: Wise Leader
  • Hoodoo Totem
  • I Hear Good Things
  • Glue Cannon
I'd like to trade for these, but would consider trades for other rare cards that I have one of. Get in touch if you'd like to trade Dark Age: Feudal Lords cards. To trade, I have multiples of all common (C1 or C2) cards available to trade, as well as all uncommon (U1 or U2) cards. Among the different types of rare cards(R1 or R2 or extremely rare foil, fixed, or limited) I have the following duplicates:
  • Any Character cards except Red
  • Most Instant cards except Nope, Razor Wire Spring Trap, Once More Into the Fray, Imposter, Frustrate Defense, Blood Rival
  • The following Leader cards only: HooDoo Leader, Survivalist Leader, Witness Leader
  • The following Location cards only: Forest, Grav Field, Magnetic Core, Mega Mall
  • All Victory cards except I Hear Good Things
  • The following rare Weapon cards only: Reactive Shield, Holy Symbol, Light Armor, Spinning Spear, Viz Noise Generator
Get in touch if you would like to trade cards. You can leave a comment with an e-mail address, and I will not publish it (comments on this blog are moderated). I am considering whether it might possibly be useful to put up cards for sale on eBay, perhaps a generic buy-it-now for any common, another for uncommon, and a third for rares. If you have an interest in that let me know.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One of My Many Weaknesses: Collecting Card Games

I've played a few collectible card games over the years. No, not Magic, but a few others. But you know the drill with these games: you can play them, although the gameplay is often slow, complex, and not much fun. But that's not the ultimate point of them. The ultimate point is to get you to buy as many cards as possible. Some publishers are apparently realizing that this eventually drives the player/collector to resent the system; Chaosium's newer Cthulhu card games are billed as "...a Living Card Game: A Living Card Game (LCG) breaks away from the traditional Collectible Card Game (CCG) model by offering a fixed card distribution method. It offers the same dynamic customizable, expanding, and constantly evolving game play that makes CCG’s fun, but without the blind buy purchase model that can burn out players. The end result is an innovative mix that gives you the best of both worlds!"

And in fact I am burned out; having become engaged with three CCGs, I would be extremely hesitant to buy another that follows the collectible model (although Chaosium's fixed-rarity products do intrigue me -- but with at least 20 expansion sets currently in print, at $15 a pop... I think I'll wait on that).

It's because the cards are produced and collated into the packages following specific card rarity schedules, and you purchase sealed package. They are, as Chaosium calls them, "blind buy" -- you don't know exactly which cards will be in the packages. Often there are three, four, five, or even more rarity levels. A typical card set might comprise 400 cards, divided up into 200 common cards, with the same distribution level, 100 uncommon cards, and another 100 rare cards, sometimes with subdivisions of rarity, like rarity level 1, rarity level 2, and extremely rare. Magic has produced over twelve thousand unique cards to date in English, according to Wikipedia. Ratios might go approximately like 100 commons to 30 uncommons to 10 rares to 1 extremely rare card.

So if you want all the cards, you could trade, or find a retailer who sells individual cards, or you could buy lots of cards and wind up with hundreds or thousands of redundant common cards. And of course there are limited editions, some cards appear only in certain sets, and games go out of print. Acquiring all of the Magic cards would cost so much money that I prefer not even to attempt to estimate it.

Bizarrely, Magic even established a patent on its gameplay system. Some of the claims seem like petty modest innovations, such as manna and the equivalent of hit points. But amazingly the patent also claims innovation in that "players construct their own library of cards, preferably from trading cards, and play their library or deck of cards against the deck of cards of an opposing player. Cards may be obtained from retail outlets, trading with other players or collectors, and winning cards at games and tournaments." I'm unclear on how many card games might thus be claimed to infringe Magic's patents.

Anyway, the games I've decided to collect are not the best-known; they are Chaosium's Mythos, Dark Age: Feudal Lords, and some of the earlier releases in the Middle Earth: The Wizards series.


Note that I'm talking about Chaosium's original Mythos card game. There is a modern Cthulhu card game that has an entirely different fixed rarity scheme.

Mythos didn't have great gameplay, but it had very cool artwork, and was based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, which pretty much guaranteed that I would be a fan of this work. It was first released as limited starter decks, unlimited "Standard" two-deck sets with a fixed set of cards, and three types of booster/expanders packs. Oddly, I had a "standard" deck that was scrambled, consisting of one complete steadfast deck and one screwed-up steadfast deck missing some cards and containing some duplicates.

According to Chaosium, "The Mythos starter decks are created from an array of 200 cards and the nine Investigator Cards. In each starter deck is found 6 rare cards, 12 uncommon cards, and 42 common cards, plus one Investigator Card and a 32-page rulebook. Each booster contains 67 new cards plus a blend of the cards that appear in the Mythos starter decks, at the ratio of 2 rare cards, 3 uncommon, and 8 common cards for a total of 13 cards per pack. The rarity level of the cards is identical across the Mythos starters and the boosters. A rare card found in the starter decks is printed in the same frequency as a rare card found only in a booster. Otherwise, a "rare" card from a booster would be more rare (there are fewer of them) than a "rare" card in the starters."

Anyway, that might be a bit confusing but trust me, it is not nearly as confusing as some of these games get. Basically, it means that if you acquire starter decks or booster packs, you get about 10% rare cards. There are no extremely rare cards.If you want everything in the original Mythos group of cards, you're looking at a 104-card standard set, and then you have to collect 400 cards from the combination starter and booster limited card distribution; you've also got to track down 9 investigator cards which were distributed in the limited decks. This is somewhat daunting now that everything is out of print, but there were apparently a lot of Mythos cards printed, and the game didn't really become a big seller. I now have just about all the cards; I bought most of them back when they were released, and I've recently been fleshing out my collection with a few individual cards and sets purchased on eBay recently. I'm not a real purist; I don't keep the boxes or the booster packs sealed. They aren't in protective sleeves or binders, but just stored in card boxes, and I don't wear white cotton gloves when I handle them! Really, I just want to see all the cards in a set, and have some usable decks on hand for playing. If they are one day valuable enough to consider selling, I might do that, but I'm not going to go to great lengths to keep them in mint or sealed condition.

Currently from Mythos Limited I've tracked down one of my last three missing cards, Eusapia Paladino. In any case I'm now lacking only two rare cards, which I think also occurred only in limited starter decks -- Olaus Wormius and The Lonely House in the Woods -- and I'm bidding on a 4,000 card lot that has a good chance of containing my last two rares. I've seen The Lonely House in the Woods come up as a single card on eBay, but Olaus Wormius seems to be MIA; perhaps it was rarer than I think?

As a result I have a big surplus of Mythos Limited cards; hundreds of duplicate common and uncommon cards and quite a few duplicate rares. Most of them have not been played, just handled a little, sorted, and stored in boxes. Quite honestly, I'm just a bit obsessive, and especially like to see all the artwork. If you are looking for specific cards to trade, get in touch with me. But what does one do with twenty duplicates of a common card that every Mythos collector has on hand? I'm considering some kind of art project.

Anway, there is another set of Mythos cards that I also find interesting: Mythos: Dreamlands. These are rarer (in terms of numbers of cards printed and sold, not in terms of card rarity ratios). I found a number of Dreamlands boosters via eBay but my set is far from complete, and it seems that it might be quite difficult to track down the rest. The eBay lot of cards I'm bidding on does contain some Dreamlands cards, but probably not enough to fill out my collection. I don't have very many Dreamlands cards to trade but get in touch if you have something in specific you're looking for.

There is one last Mythos set. Chaosium released Mythos: New Aeon, and then these products were promptly discontinued. All are now out of print. New Aeon cards now seem to be quite rare. I would love a complete set, since these have particularly fascinating artwork, blending Lovecraft's stories with modern day settings and artififacts. Single starter decks are going for several times the original price, single cards are quite expensive, and I haven't seen any boosters for sale in some time. So a complete set of New Aeon might not be, err, in the cards.

Dark Age: Feudal Lords

This game has some of the best artwork I've ever seen in a card game. I'm collecting it pretty much just to see all the artwork. This game was distributed as starter decks packaged with dice and stickers. The ratio is about 10:1 commons to rares in starter decks and boosters. Each starter deck got one leader and 1 location card, but the booster packs also contain, very rarely, leader and location cards. There is a small set of very rare foil cards that appear in the boosters. I've got a handful of these, but no duplicates to trade.

I'm currently missing one rare character, Red; five rare instant cards, Blood Ritual, Get Out There You Big Lug, Goliath Syndrome, Imposter, and Once More Into the Fray; the rare skills Field Medic, Hypnotism, and Quick Shot; the rare supply HooDoo Totem; three rare weapons, Glue Cannon, Flash Grenades, and Flame Thrower; and two rare victories, I Hear Good Things and Get the Goodies. I'm also missing a few leaders, locations, and a few of the very rare supply cards. I have a number of duplicate rares I'd be happy to trade.

Middle Earth

Finally, I have a pile of cards from the Iron Crown Enterprises Middle Earth games. This game I find excessively complex to play, and because it has such a large number of cards, with some extreme rarities, I gave up attempting to acquire a complete set. I've got quite a few from Middle Earth: The Wizards, including a number of starter decks; fewer from the Middle Earth: the Dragons set, and a few from Middle Earth: Dark Minions set. I don't have any cards from the later Lidless Eye, Against the Shadow, White Hand, or Balrog sets, or any of the reprinted-card challenge decks. If there's something in particular you want to trade from the sets I mentioned, please ask. I could also be convinced fairly easily to part with the whole collection.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Linux Destop: Still Not Ready

So, for work reasons I've migrated my daily computer environment to GNU/Linux, specifically Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on my ThinkPad. This isn't the first time I've tried to live in Linux. I've tried many times, since Red Hat... what, 2.0? I'd have to check my old notes.

It's getting better, but it's not there yet. One of the most maddening things is that a lot of fundamentals still seem to be changing rapidly, such that it isn't enough to, say, look up how to mount a USB flash drive on Ubuntu, because it has varied so much between versions. Does your system use UUIDs to identify volumes? Does your system use the new "service" commands for managing servers? And it's all over the map; sometimes a tool will tell you to use a newer command that doesn't exist on your system.


Over the course of changing some partitions, I've had to become fairly familiar with Grub 2. Now, I like Grub a lot better than I liked LILO. When I broke LILO systems I was often scrambling for a boot sector I had archived onto a floppy disk or some such. So far when I've broken Grub I've been able to fix it without having to boot from a live CD. That's a big improvement. Still, having to type a series of commands at the grub rescue> prompt is a little nerve-racking. In general, what I've needed to do is set prefix=(hd0,5)/boot/grub, set root=(hd0,5), insmod normal, normal, boot the system, then under Ubuntu do sudo grub install /dev/sda, sudo update-grub.

Of course your requirements may differ depending on your drives and partitions, but this has worked a couple of times for me and at least I didn't have to do any manual dd.


Gparted will apparently happily reconfigure your partition table into a state that doesn't seem to be corrupt per se, but which the Gnome Disk Utility, aka palimpsest, doesn't like. By "doesn't like" I mean palimpsest throws an assert on startup. I found the solution here. Apparently adding and removing partitions can cause your partition table entries to be in an order that doesn't match the order of the sectors on the disk, and palimpsest doesn't like that. It seems to have a pretty non-robust way of examining partitions that involves recursion.

This seems ill-advised and ill-tested on real-world systems and not very robust, but at least there was an assert in there, so I suppose it could have been worse; I didn't actually lose any data.

It doesn't seem to cause problems per se but I'll just note in passing that gparted seems to be ugly and inconsistent in how it displays partitions; sometimes I get a 1.00 or 2.00 MiB "unallocated" block listed before and after given partitions, and sometimes I don't. I don't know if this is round-off error in display code per se, or there is some default alignment going on, but it is maddening to see these things come and go depending on whether I'm using a live CD, running on my live system, or looking at the same hard disk with Paragon Partition Manager.

USB Sticks

Access to files on a USB stick was working perfectly for me; I could put the stick in and edit and add files, and then eject it, and stick it back in, at it all worked just fine. At some point my Unbuntu setup stopped recognizing the sticks. Some help I found online suggested that the "usbmount" package needed to be removed using the Synaptic package manager, but it wasn't there. So I added it, and the USB sticks started showing up again. Except that they are read-only.

There's a manual mount procedure I could go through involving editing mount tables but I think in modern Ubuntu versions you aren't supposed to have to do that, and as I mentioned it was working before. This remains unresolved. It could be this bug but I haven't confirmed it yet. This is pretty basic stuff that ought to just work -- and indeed, recently seemed to.

MP3s and Flash

Flash video on Chrome (say, YouTube video) has been a disaster for me. The help I've found claims that Chrome comes with Flash built-in and I don't need to install a plug-in but just to enable it, but that doesn't seem to be true.

The 64-bit plugin seems to crash constantly. I still can't play MP3 files. I have to install libraries and Ubuntu wants me to assert that I have the legal right to do so. The players suggest I install packages with names like gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly. To install them I have to click through a dialog that says:

Confirm installation of restricted software

The use of this software may be restricted in some countries. You must verify that one of the following is true:

* These restrictions do not apply in your country of legal residence

* You have permission to use this software (for example, a patent license)

* You are using this software for research purposes only

I'm not using the software for research purposes only; what the hell does that even mean? I was hoping to play some podcasts while I worked. I'm not a goddamned lawyer and I'm not about to pay one to determine whether I can legally play some audio files.

I realize this is not the fault of the legions of (largely unpaid) developers, who are diligently trying to cover their butts... but wow, is this really where we still are with Ubuntu on the desktop, that in 2011 I can't play an MP3 file without resorting to quasi-legal means?


By far my biggest painful time sink has been working with Thunderbird. For work I connect to an Outlook server via IMAP. Thunderbird on Windows does a quite credible job interacting with the server. I tried to import my mailboxes into my Linux world and archive them.

Big mistake. Dragging a few thousand messages from an IMAP server folder to a local folder ought to be no big deal; maybe it will take a while, but eventually it should finish copying.

No such luck. Instead, the Activity Manager pane will display nothing happening, but I'll get a few updates as the first few hundred messages are copied and then... nothing.

Sometimes it starts using 99%, or 101%, of a CPU, eating a whole core. The GUI grays out the app. Sometimes it shows nothing happening but clicking on the destination folder shows a spinning cursor. It stays like that indefinitely (I even left it to run overnight once, to no avail).

So, what I finally had to do was move 25,000 mail messages manually in small batches of 300 or fewer.

Still, sometimes even these small batches triggered the hang, and I'd have to quit the application and start over. When I did I found a corrupted message. Don't get me started on the JavaScript/XML errors on the console that didn't tend to correlate with this problem.

Worse, I found that occasionally during these batch copies messages would just get dropped, so I had to manually skim through 25,000 e-mail messages to find the odd dozen that had been lost.

I manually updated Thunderbird using dist-upgrade to version 5, which gave me fewer errors on the console but still exhibited this problem. Color me incredibly unimpressed.

Do you want to know how a good mail client behaves? Look at It just works. Seriously. I've seen a few cosmetic bugs but they are pretty insignificant and I trust it not to just hang or lose messages.

Let's not get started today on jEdit and the state of Java. As I have time I'm reporting bugs and attempting to help diagnose issues. Freakin' fonts won't even display correctly with the default install of what ought to be some pretty basic tools. At least Wi-Fi mostly works on my ThinkPad... which is more than I can say about 8.04 LTS.

Laptop Followup

I'm trying to use 10.04 "untethered" on my ThinkPad T500, running on battery power. My first observation is that the battery life is terrible.

My second is that the little flashing light indicating WiFi activity is constantly flickering, which is driving me batty. I'm not sure what this indicates -- any network activity? A dropped connection that it is trying to re-establish? I'll have to compare how it behaves under Ubuntu compared to under Windows. But there is no denying that network connectivity is maddeningly inconsistent: sometimes when I put in my WPA2 Personal password, which I can't seem to get the system to store and manage automatically, it connects instantly, and the signal strength indicator shows maximum; sometimes when I try to connect, the signal strength indicator animates indefinitely and seems that it will never either connect or give up trying. The Airport base station it is trying to connect to is directly upstairs, perhaps 25 feet away, and it probably bears mentioning that our Macs have always worked with it flawlessly.

When the battery went dead -- after only two hours, compared to the usual four or five i get under Windows -- I brought the sleeping laptop back upstairs and plugged it in to let it charge up. This morning I woke it up, plugged in the Ethernet cable -- the network changeover worked flawlessly -- turned off the wireless radio, and plugged in the second monitor, which is always plugged in when I'm working in the office. It is an old 20" HP monitor that does 1200x1600 and rotates, and I use it in "portrait mode," as part of a continuous desktop.

Ubuntu seemed to forget all this and would not light up the monitor until I brought up the Monitors preference application. I had to tell it all over again where the monitor belonged in the virtual desktop and that it needed to have its image rotated, which is a tedious task given that you have to fly the cursor around on an sideways image. It is working again but I am unimpressed.

By comparison, setting up services on Ubuntu as a server, using command-line tools, has been easy-peasy, practically a cakewalk. The tools in general seem to quite well-evolved, robust, and mature and if they are complex -- well, that's the nature of modern software stacks. Quite honestly, I'd rather configure server tools on any recent Ubuntu or other member of the Red Hat/Fedora/CentOS family tree than on my Mac Pro, given that on the Mac, since I'm not running MacOS X Server, I don't have the (allegedly quite refined) GUI tools to configure it. I've had considerable pain building some standard software tools on MacOS X: issues with arbitrary bugs and limitations on the ld library tool, the unusual default Apache2 configuration, and the lack of a "blessed" and de facto-standard way of installing and managing dependencies between open-source tools.

Without this I'm flying blind a bit on the Mac when using it as an open-source server, and it feels like a step backwards, although it is still my Mac Pro I use for iPhoto, for Aperture, for iMovie, for Logic Pro, and plug-ins and assorted audio tools, even for managing my music library in iTunes. And for writing code I'll still stack the XCode toolchain up against anything the competition can offer at any price.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Ext4 Corruption and Alternative Partition Backup Solutions

After my utter failure restoring partitions with Paragon's toolset, I've been looking into alternatives. Unfortunately, the damage I apparently did to my Ubuntu ext4 file system with the Paragon tools was deeper and longer-lasting than I expected.

Apparently during the failed restore, it wrote a number of files and directories that are deeply corrupted, and now I can't delete them. Booting from a live CD and running a disk checkrepair reveals no errors. The drive's SMART status is just fine. Writing and reading large amounts of data elsewhere in the file system has worked just fine.

Some of the restored files were generated in a hierarchy that starts HardDisk0/Volume1. Trying to remove that directory (with sudo) produces the following:
rm: cannot remove `HardDisk0/Volume1/home/potts/.gksu.lock': Input/output error
rm: cannot remove `HardDisk0/Volume1/home/potts/.sudo_as_admin_successful': Input/output error
rm: cannot remove `HardDisk0/Volume1/etc/apt/secring.gpg': Input/output error
rm: cannot remove `HardDisk0/Volume1/etc/.pwd.lock': Input/output error
(and a few more similar errors). When I try to examine the file stats, I get something like this:
potts@potts-xeon-1:/sandboxes/HardDisk0/Volume1/home/potts$ ls -la
ls: cannot access .gksu.lock: Input/output error
ls: cannot access .sudo_as_admin_successful: Input/output error
total 8
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2011-08-03 19:05 .
drwxr-xr-x 3 root root 4096 2010-09-01 16:44 ..
-????????? ? ? ? ? ? .gksu.lock
-????????? ? ? ? ? ? .sudo_as_admin_successful
(When ls can't even tell you anything about a file, that's generally considered a bad sign). It looks like Paragon's tools really screwed the pooch, but I can't put the blame entirely on them, as it shouldn't even be possible to do this to an ext4 file system.

It appears that a number of hidden files or files with special permissions were turned into corrupt inodes or some such; I'm not really an expert on Linux file systems. The troubling part is that e2fsck finds no issues to fix, even when run from a live CD.

This suggests that perhaps I am putting more faith in ext4 than is warranted at present. A robust filesystem ought to be able to recover from anything up to and including bad sectors that cause data loss, isolating that data loss so that it is as minimal as possible. It looks like I may need to wipe this partition yet again if I'm to trust it. Should I drop back to ext3? If ext4 has known problems like this, and I see from some Googling that it does, why is it the default file system for Ubuntu 10.04 LTS?

Anyway, on to other backup tools. I'm still looking for some combination of tools that will allow me to reliably back up the file systems on whole partitions and reliably shuffle and restore them. This does not seem like it is too much to ask for.

The following started out as a comment on the previous blog entry but I'm promoting it to a post here.

I wanted to look into some tools that would support ext 4. Partclone looked like it would do the right thing, but the docs were a little too short on examples for me to understand easily. Clonezilla seems to be a curses-based interface to drive these tools, so I decided to try that.

Clonezilla from the PartedMagic 6.5 ISO seems to work to do the backup of a partition, and it is really fast (under 20 minutes as opposed to seven hours with Paragon), albeit awkward (it seems like it keeps trying to mount my backup USB drive, after which I can't unmount it and the program won't allow me to use it as a destination. I"m sure there must be a way, but I haven't figured it out yet).

However, I just ran an experiment to try to restore a partition and the results were ugly. If you want to restore to a partition with a different number, for example sda2 instead of sda5, you can't do it directly. It fails without an error per se, but does point you at the FAQ. There is a workaround where you can change the partition number as it is encoded in multiple filenames inside the actual backup, which makes me want to scream. There's a workaround involving creating multiple symbolic links, but when I read it, my monocle fell out in horror and I can't bring myself to describe how stupid and ugly it is.

But there is a bigger problem: you can't restore to a smaller partition. So I backed up a 450-GiB partition, and only 60 GiB were used by the file system. The compressed image was about 18 GiB. I wanted to restore this to a 125 GiB partition, which ought to have plenty of room to hold the contents of the file system I'm copying, but apparently that's not allowed. In this case I want to do this as a test, but it seems like migrating to a smaller hard drive is a pretty ordinary real-world scenario. For example, wouldn't it be nice if I could use a partition image to take a file system from a hard drive to an SSD?

But the partclone format seems to store only used blocks, and it seems to be unable to rearrange them into an unfragmented file system upon restore, so it insists on having the same 450-GiB partition (or larger) on the destination drive.

And finally, apparently you can't dig into a backup image to view the hierarchy or pull out one file or directory. This is something Paragon's tools give you (although that was pretty much the only part of performing a restore that I could get working). I could perhaps live with that although it does make it very inconvenient and time-consuming to rescue a single file, something I could easily do with Retrospect on the Mac almost 20 years ago. Meanwhile, we have sparse image support and a better disk utility that comes standard with Mac OS X, one which makes all this seem pretty horrifically primitive.

Maybe I'll have to stick to grsync, but I was hoping to use this tool not just on this server, but on my Windows laptop which is multiple-boot, with Windows 7 and two versions of Ubuntu, and which I would like to rearrange to recover some disk space (hence the desire to restore to a partition that isn't the same number I backed up from). Why is this so hard?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Your Backup is Not A Backup if You Can't Restore It

Or at least, it may as well not be.

In the process of tweaking an Ubuntu system, I decided to modify some partitions, secure in a couple of facts:

1. I had only a small set of recent local changes that comprised important data I wasn't willing to live without.

2. I had a complete backup created with a commercial tool, Paragon's Hard Disk Manager Suite 2011.

Well, apparently although I've been doing this sort of thing for a number of years, I apparently forgot some of my own rules about backups: first, one backup is not enough. And second, if you haven't tested the restoration process, your backup very well could be completely useless in a pinch. I ought to add a third rule: don't break a working configuration just to tweak it -- but I know myself well enough to know that I'm unlikely to live by that rule. It's often how I learn. So I'll propose a limited version of that rule: don't break a working configuration just to tweak it without carefully considering expense, time, and effort required to reconstruct it. This was my own system and I estimated that the time and effort would be minimal. Of course, I was hopelessly optimistic about that. But on the other hand, if I wasn't generally optimistic about this sort of thing I'd grow to hate this sort of thing and once that happens, work becomes misery.

So, I generally have been very satisified with Paragon's partition manager, and when I had the chance to upgrade to their whole Hard Disk Manager Suite 2011 for $30, it sounded like a pretty good deal. I did this and then spent some time making partition backups. That all seemed to go well, although it can be quite slow. It took about seven hours to write 70 GiB or so to an uncompressed backup.

The problem came when I wanted to use one of these backups.

The backup in question lived on a Seagate external USB hard drive. It was in Paragon's proprietary archive format, which is in the form of a directory, arc_270711011814809, with a series of files inside with the same name and different extensions: .PBF, .pfm, .001, .002, etc. The idea (I think) is that no physical file is larger than 4 GiB. My entire backup set here is about 70 GiB. It represents a set of sandboxes of code trees checked out from a Subversion repository, with a few uncommitted local changes.

The restore process gives you a GUI that lets you find one of these backups and do something with it. Unfortunately Paragon does not seem to be very good at responsive GUIs. To wit, it's the type of "wizard" GUI that tries to drive you through a basic process, steering you through each step and then allowing you to move foward with a familiar "Next" button. But sometimes that "Next" button is dim, and nothing else in the GUI will respond, and there is no busy cursor or animation or "please wait" or what-have-you at all, for several minutes; the only indication I had that the processes behind the GUI are not actually dead or in an endless loop was that my external hard drive light was flickering, and I could place my hand on the case and feel the heads moving.

It wouldn't bug me much if this was the case for five or ten seconds. But when it takes ten minutes, that's pretty bad user interface implementation. But let's set aside that for now; eventually the GUI let me choose the .PBF file for my backup set and proceed.

The first thing I wanted to do is tell it where to put the restored data. I had created a new set of partitions on the original drive and there was a partition all set up and and waiting. But apparently I had only two options: restore the backed-up partition contents (the file system) to its original partition, as recorded by the backup process originally, or restore it directory-and-file-wise.

That's really a head-scratcher. If I'm resorting to a backup, there's a very good chance that I've lost a hard drive. In that case, the original partition doesn't exist any more. I may have recreated the partition table of the original drive to the letter, using a printout of the partition table or something, but I think it's quite likely that I might have made some changes, and all I really want is to get those files back at the same mount point, so I want to restore the file system to whatever partition I specify, as long as it has enough room for the file system. I'm baffled that I can't do that. So I was unable to test that particular feature.

The next-best-thing is, I suppose, to look inside the backup and restore chunks of it. You have a hierarchical check-box interface that (slowly) churns through the backup file system tree and allows you to select what you'd like to restore.

The problem is that it doesn't work. Or, at least, I was not able to get it to work. Not with either of two separate backup images; not from two separate backup drives; not to a second external drive; not to the same external drive; not to a partition formatted with the same file system; not to a partition formatted with a different file system.

Let me amend that; I eventually was able to get two restore operations to work, when the restore operations were of a very small subset of my actual backup, consisting of only a few files, or a few hundred files, a few tends of mibibytes. These were (I think) where my critical uncommitted change set lived. I hope there wasn't anything else that was important.

The first thing I tried to do was just restore about 70 GiB. I started a restore in the morning. The visual progress indicator made it up to about 5% of the way across its bar by about four hours later. The estimate for the remainder bounced around wildly, between 30 seconds and 25 hours. As a result, I had no useful estimate at all how long the restore would take -- but the visual progress bar was not at all encouraging. On another attempt to restore a relatively small subset of the data, the display showed no visual progress bar at all but a spinning circle, with reassuring text that kept changing, with a generally apologetic tone but reassuring me that the operation would take only a few more seconds. Three hours later I had to kill it.

My computer is a Xeon with a Seagate server-class internal hard drive. It's a year old and it's not slow. I use it to do large software builds.

I killed this restore, and did an experiment -- it took well under an hour to copy 70 GiB from the external hard drive to the internal hard drive using cp on the command line. Neither file system was corrupt. The USB connection worked normally.

I had a four-day weekend coming up, so I tried again. After three full days of checking on the restore operation periodically, the visual progress bar was still far short of the halfway mark. When I checked on it on day 4, the Windows system it runs on top of was crashed with a black screen of death reporting a non-specific I/O error; the options to retry didn't do anything.

Now, I wasn't watching, so I'm not sure what happened when it actually crashed. But I do know that the longer a process takes, the more likely it seems that something in the real world will interfere with it -- for example, it is summer in Saginaw and we get occasional severe thunderstorms. When that happens I want to shut down my computers and turn off their various power strips, which range from cheap ones to rack-mount Furman strips with voltage monitors. If a restore operation is going to take 72 hours or more to complete I can't do that. It also makes a mockery of the idea of having a spare drive on hand so I can bring the server back up quickly.

My work often has real deadlines with real paying clients. My time is, in fact, money under those circumstances -- or at least if enough of it is lost, real money is at risk of being lost too. All I can say is that I got the message that this backup solution is not reliable in a time when I wasn't cranking on an urgent deadline and the stakes were not high.

I've tried various permutations: copying the backup files to a partition on the same drive, and attempting the restore again; the result was the same. I had two backup images to work with; my 70 GiB backup and a much smaller one of about 5 GiB. I had similar results with both of them, although as I mentioned by selecting a very small subset of the small backup, I was able to complete extraction of a single directory containing a few files.

I don't know if the backup is corrupt in some way; I never saw any kind of message indicating that it was, and the original backup processes seemed to complete without any problem. But right now,while I still like Paragon's partition manager, I very strongly advise you against trying to use their backup solution, and I'll be extremely hesitant to experiment again with my Windows system.

I'm going to make a concerted trial of some other backup solutions. Partimage seems to be out of the question now, as it does not support ext4, which is the default for recent versions of Ubuntu. I'll be testing partclone. And quite likely I'll be working something up with good old rsync as well. But right now, I've unfortunately got several days to spend babysitting checkouts from a subversion repository and manual merging of the few files I did manage to salvage from this slow-motion disaster.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grubbing About in Ubuntu

I've gotten a little time to do some maintenance and backup tasks on several PCs and have had to try to get up to speed with recent developments in Ubuntu.

First, my main work laptop is triple-boot: Windows 7, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, and Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. It wasn't sufficient to just upgrade my Ubuntu, because I needed to work with some build tools for work that had not been successfully ported to the newer Ubuntu yet. However, everything is now migrated so I've been meaning to do some cleanup in order to remove some partitions and reclaim some drive space.

My build server is in a similar situation with the exception that it never had any version of Windows installed, so it has only the Ubuntu versions to contend with.

My tool of choice for backing up my laptop is the Paragon Hard Disk Manager 2011 Suite. It's been good to me and since I had purchased an early version of Partition Manager standalone program, I got it for $29.95. I like the Paragon tool because it will make a bootable rescue CD, and you can also create a bootable image on a USB stick. I used it to make backups of my partitions so when this laptop drive fails, I shouldn't need to try to reconstruct my whole Windows 7 world from scratch.

I fell down a rabbit hole a bit when trying to clean up my boot menu. Between 8.04 and 10.04 Ubuntu apparently switched to Grub 2, which is a big change. When I added 10.04 to my server, the install CD seems to have updated the MBR (boot record) to use the new Grub. When I'm booted into 10.04 I see a different root file system from a different partition. It isn't so easy anymore to clean up unwanted boot options, since the boot menu is actually generated via script every time the the update-grub script is run. The current set of boot options is listed in your /boot/grub/grub.cfg file.

I removed some uwanted 10.04 kernels by manually deleting files in my /boot directory (this is a touchy operation, so be careful; you can disable your system). I deleted all but a couple of the most recent kernels, and ran update-grub. I also tried using Synaptic package manager to remove kernels, and the useful Ubuntu-tweak tool that will remove kernels. I'll talk about these tools a little more in a bit. To make a long story even longer, I was hoping one of these options would get rid of the extra kernels I kept seeing in the boot menu.

It turned out that the update-grub script was discovering 8.04 kernels and adding them to the menu even though they existed only on my old unmounted sda1 partition. It is possible to manually edit the generated file but this is not advisable as your changes will be overwritten. It is also possible to disable the script that does this search for additional kernels but that seemed ugly as well. Some details for those interested: the script that searches for a variety of other OSes, on unmounted partitions, including Windows partitions, can be found under /etc/grub.d/30_os_prober. I'm not really a big bash guy, and it seems kind of obfuscated to boot (so to speak), so for now I'll just say I don't really understand how it works. But you can easily see what it does: just run it. If you're in the grub.d directory, I think you can just type ./30_os_prober. It will just generate some output; it won't overwrite any files.

Anyway, after I figured out where this script was finding 8.04, which took me a painfully long time, I settled on actually booting from a gparted live CD and completely removing my first partition, as there was nothing valuable I wanted in my 8.04 installation, then expanding my 10.04 partition to use this available space. (Please make sure your data is backed up before attempting an operation like this). In previous versions of Linux this might very well have completely disabled the boot; LILO and even the previous versions of Grub were notoriously fragile and I managed to break my systems frequently when messing with dual-boot configurations (fortunately I never broke a system so badly that could not eventually get it working again or lost critical data).

After removing a whole partition, the Grub 2 boot still worked flawlessly. In fact I'm quite impressed with it, although it makes me a bit nervous because my approach, which might be considered "old school," is that I want to always know what the GUI tools and automatic scripts and installers are doing under the hood. This is because based on experience, I know there is a very good chance I might need to manually fix any magical "it just works" configuration at some point. I felt compelled to study the new Grub enough to reassure myself that I could figure out more-or-less how it worked. Still, I can't claim to understand all the details - for example, the partition numbers now start at sda2, and there are "holes" in the partition numbers that showed up when the Ubuntu installer added partitions for 10.04. They seem to be of no real significance, but it would be interesting to confirm where the partition numbers are stored (presumably in the partition map) and whether they can be changed without actually modifying the partition contents. I suspect they can be but perhaps only with the older non-visual parted tool, and this may also be a risky change; for one thing, it might break my mount points -- although perhaps that fact that Ubuntu now seems to use UUIDs to identify partitions might ensure that everything still worked. Obviously there are still limits to my understanding.

There is a bit of an oddity with gparted. When I booted from the live CD in order to change my partitions, gparted initially showed free space after my last partition, which is a swap, but would not allow me to expand the swap partition to use this space. But after I adjusted the other partitions, without touching the swap partition, and booted up into my 10.04 system and ran gparted again, it showed a 1 MiB unused block next to each of my other partitions, but not my swap partition. Then when rebooting using the gparted live CD, it showed none of these free space blocks at all. Booting from the Paragon live rescue CD and running the partition manager, it also didn't show any of these unused blocks. Tides go in, tides go out, and you can't explain that. Hmmm.
I'm not sure if it these 1 MiB blocks are actually there, or apparently there due to round-off error, or padding that is normally hidden. I'm going to pretend it's not actually there since otherwise my generally obsessive-compulsive personality would compel me to try to fix it.

Anyway, if you're having a similar problem or just want to learn more about a boot issue, look for the Ubuntu "Boot Info Script," which you can find on SourceForge. (I'm running on Ubuntu 10.04; by the time you read this, things are likely to have changed, so poke around and make sure it's compatible with your distribution and version). If you want to manage a backlog of too many old kernel versions without having to use the command line and possibly deleting the wrong file, you can use Synaptic, but you might have to hunt through a long list of packages looking for the ones that are actually installed and the ones you want to remove, including headers. If you do a search on, in my case, "2.6.32," you'll see packages like linux-headers-2.6.32-24-generic and linux-image-2.6.32-24-generic. Use the "Mark for Complete Removal" option and then apply your changes. Synaptic will actually re-run the Grub update script for you. If you sort by "Installed version," it will be easier to find the ones that are installed. Make sure you don't remove your current kernel! (Identify your current kernel with a terminal window, using the "uname -r" command). You might want to keep one or two older kernels on hand in case you come across an issue with your current one.

You might also look for Ubuntu Tweaker which has the advantage of not allowing you to accidentally remove your active kernel (and it also gives you lots of other options to experiment with, although please be sure you know what you are doing, since I'm not sure what a lot of them actually do). I think you can set up Ubuntu Tweaker by executing sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tualatrix/ppa, then just running sudo sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak. That was all it took to get it into my system menu. Once it is installed, you'll want to "unlock" and then look for the menu item to clean up kernels. I'm not sure if it removes the associated headers or not.

Finally, there is a "Grub Customizer" tool that looks quite elaborate, but I have not gone down the rabbit hole quite that far (for example, it will let you supply a background image). Probably best not to start playing with it if my actual goal is to get work done...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hey, Hey, RIAA, How Many Folks Did You Threaten Today?

So, this came in my e-mail yesterday:
Subject: [4.14.2011 5884907] Notice of Copyright Infringement
Date: Thu, April 14, 2011 10:06 am
To: (me)

Dear Charter Internet Subscriber:

Charter Communications ("Charter") has been notified by a copyright owner, or its
authorized agent, that your Internet account may have been involved in the exchange
of unauthorized copies of copyrighted material (e.g., music, movies, or software).
We are enclosing a copy of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice that
Charter received from the copyright holder which includes the specific allegation.

Under the DMCA, copyright owners have the right to notify Charter’s register agent
if they believe that a Charter customer has infringed on their work(s). When
Charter receives a complaint notice from a copyright owner, Charter will notify the
identifiable customer of the alleged infringement by providing them a copy of the
submitted DMCA notice. As required by law, Charter may determine that the customer
is a repeat copyright infringer and reserves the right to suspend or terminate the
accounts of repeat copyright infringers.

It is possible that this activity has occurred without your permission or knowledge
by an unauthorized user, a minor who may not fully understand the copyright laws, or
even as a result of a computer virus. However, as the named subscriber on the
account, you may be held responsible for any misuse of your account. Please be
aware that using Charter’s service to engage in any form of copyright infringement
is expressly prohibited by Charter's Acceptable Use Policy and that repeat copyright
infringement, or violations of any other Charter policy, may result in the
suspension or termination of your service. You may view Charter's rules and
policies, including Charter’s Acceptable Use Policy, under the policies section of

We ask that you take immediate action to stop the exchange of any infringing
material. For additional information regarding copyright infringement and for a list
of frequently asked questions, please visit

If you have questions about this letter, you may contact us at 1-866-229-7286.
Representatives will be available to take your call Monday through Friday 8am - 8pm,
Saturday and Sunday 8am - 5pm (CST).


Charter Communications Security Resolution Team

--- The following material was provided to us as evidence ---

Hash: SHA1

Charter Communications
Sir or Madam:

I am contacting you on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of A=
merica (RIAA) -- the trade association whose member music companies crea=
te, manufacture, and distribute approximately 85% of all legitimate musi=
c sold in the United States. =20

If you are an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you have received this le=
tter because we have identified a user on your network reproducing or di=
stributing an unauthorized copy of a copyrighted sound recording. This =
letter constitutes notice to you that this user may be liable for infrin=
ging activity occurring on your network.=20

If you are an Internet subscriber (user), you have received this letter =
because your Internet account was used to illegally copy and/or distribu=
te copyrighted music over the Internet through a peer to peer applicatio=
n. =20

Distributing copyrighted works on a peer to peer system is a public acti=
vity visible by other users on that network, including the RIAA. An his=
toric 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed that uploading and downl=
oading copyrighted works without the copyright owner's permission is cle=
arly illegal. You may be liable for the illegal activity occurring on y=
our computer.

To avoid legal consequences, a user should immediately delete and disabl=
e access to the unauthorized music on your computer. Learn how at the "=
About Music Copyright Notices" section of That section al=
so contains practical information about:=20

- How you were identified and why illegal downloading is not anonymous
- What next steps to take
- Where to get legal music online

We encourage Internet subscribers to visit the website www.musicunited.o=
rg, which contains valuable information about what is legal and what is =
not when it comes to copying music. It also links to some of the more p=
opular online music services where fans can go to listen to and/or purch=
ase their favorite songs.

We have attached below the details of the illegal file-sharing, includin=
g the time, date, and a sampling of the music shared. We assert that th=
e information in this notice is accurate, based upon the data available =
to us. We have a good faith belief that this activity is not authorized=
by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. Under penalty of perjur=
y, we submit that the RIAA is authorized to act on behalf of its member =
companies in matters involving the infringement of their sound recording=
s, including enforcing their copyrights and common law rights on the Int=
ernet. This letter does not constitute a waiver of any of our member's =
rights, and all such rights are expressly reserved.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation. If you have any questions, p=
lease visit the "About Music Copyright Notices" section of

Jeremy Landis=20
Recording Industry Association of America
1025 F Street, NW, 10th Floor
Washington, D.C., 20004
Ph: 1-800-838-9775

List of infringing content
- ------------------------------

- ------------------------------
- ------------------------------
Infringing Work : IM NOT A HUMAN BEING
Filename : Lil.Wayne-Im.Not.A.Human.Being.EP-(Retail)-2010-[NoFS]=20
First found (UTC): 2011-04-06T23:04:16.53Z
Last found (UTC): 2011-04-06T23:04:16.53Z
Filesize : 124871909 bytes=20
IP Address: (MY IP ADDRESS AT THE TIME, allegedly)
IP Port: 50665
Network: BitTorrent
Protocol: BitTorrent =20

(I'll spare you the XML that was included here, but it basically had a case ID, status, severity, etc; apparently there's a schema for these).
I can't tell you how much joy it gives me to finally be on the receiving end of one of these actual RIAA notices I've heard so many good things about!

Can you verify the signed section?

It appears it may have been somewhat mangled on Charter's end and does not pass GPG verification (GPG says "authentication failed: no data"). But I don't think this would tell me anything except whether the contents of the enclosure had been altered since it was signed. That might rule out certain types of copy-and-paste fraudulent notices, but it doesn't tell me if it is really from the RIAA. I would include the full text of the message inline above, but parts of it break Blogger, and I'm not expert enough at all the various escaping and armoring schemes to know how to make it work in there. The raw message with my e-mail address removed can be found here. If you have the expertise, can you help me verify the signed section?

Did you download this music?

No. (Unless I have a very weird unknown and undetected virus, I suppose).

Did your son?

No. He has a little something I like to call "taste in music," for which I am proud to take partial responsibility.

But you're one of those computer geeks - surely you must pirate a lot of music?

Yes, I am a computer geek. But I don't pirate music; my iTunes library has almost 10,000 songs, but they are all either ripped from my own CDs, purchased from the iTunes store, or were made available under a license that allows me to copy, such as the Creative Commons license I use for my own work.

Do you have a BitTorrent client on your computer?


Aha! I knew you were a pirate

Not so fast; there is a lot of legal material one can download using the BitTorrent protocol. For example, concert audio by bands that do not object to the free sharing of concert recordings. Public-domain files. Linux distributions...

Did you forget to secure your network?

No, I didn't forget.

Then it must have been you!

No, I deliberately configured my Airport to provide a separate public guest network. I even named it "The Potts House Guest Network" to make this clear.

Why would anyone do that?

To be neighborly. I've often been in the position where I needed to bop onto someone else's wi-fi to borrow a cup of bandwidth. I've tried not to abuse it. For example, when I was configuring my mother's computer. I had to install a huge number of software updates. Have you ever tried to download a full load of updates over a modem, when the next-door neighbor has a wireless network just yards away? I had to stay up all night to get that done for her. What a pain.

I did this in our old apartment building in Ann Arbor. Some of the broke college students that used it occasionally would thank me.

In this case, one of my neighbors is apparently an asshole. But in general, I would not let that dissuade me.

Did someone really download a torrent while parked outside your house or something?

Apparently; I don't think our connection would reach much father than that, since the Airport signal barely reaches from one side of the house to the other. I suppose one of the neighbors across the street might have been able to connect, but they are mostly elderly people, and I don't think they listen to Lil' Wayne.

I don't know for certain, but I have no real reason to disbelieve the notice.

Surely it must be illegal, to make your network open to the public?

I don't believe so; if it was, why would it be a configuration option?

However, in considering my options, I did discover that leaving my network open to anyone violates Charter's terms of service, so I have reluctantly made it password-protected. If you're actually visiting our home, ask me and I'll give you the password.

It is interesting, though; if it is not illegal, but every available ISP in your area bars the practice, then it is effectively illegal, is it not? That seems like the kind of thing that one might be able to successfully challenge in a democracy that values free speech and treats media neutrally. It's a shame we don't have one.

Does the RIAA really have stateful packet monitoring going on right on Charter's servers, or upstream from them?


Doesn't that constitute some kind of entrapment, or at least unreasonable search and seizure?

IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but yes, in my opinion.

Are you liable for some kind of infringement committed on your openly shared internet connection?

Not in my book. Think of it this way: let's suppose I do secure my connections, but my own security is inadequate, or the Airport firmware has an exploitable security flaw. Am I liable because I'm not a whiz at implementing network security? Is Apple liable for anything illegal done with the stolen bandwidth? Bruce Schneier runs an open wireless network, for similar reasons, and that's good enough for me.

So why didn't you just say screw it, and leave it open?

Because if Charter Communications decides to cancel my service, I have no other good options for high-speed internet in this area. If I were using it only for entertainment, I would not care that much. But I'm using the same connection for my wired work network, upon which I run the VPN connection to my office, and I can't endanger that; relying heavily on svn and large file transfers, I really have no good alternative. Can you say "monopoly?"

You weren't actually sued, though?

Technically true. I just changed the title to "threatened." It was not worded as a threat per se, but the implicit threat is there, and I'm not very pleased about that.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Short Story Collections of Greg Egan

Here's the calculus of Greg Egan short story collections. Pay close attention!

Axiomatic is... well, axiomatic. It does not overlap with any later collections, and it is essential, since it contains some truly excellent stories.

Luminous = (Our Lady of Chernobyl - "Beyond the Whistle Test") + 6 more stories including the story "Luminous."

Oceanic = (Dark Integers and Other Stories - "Luminous") + (Crystal Nights and Other Stories - "TAP")

So, if you must buy only one Greg Egan short story collection, start with Axiomatic. If you want to get most of his best recent stories, buy Oceanic. Honestly, those two will get you most of his best work. If you want pretty much all of his stories in print, go with Axiomatic, Luminous, Dark Integers and Crystal Nights. If you own Dark Integers and Crystal Nights, Oceanic is completely redundant, unless of course you're collecting the different editions themselves. Our Lady of Chernobyl still contains one story not collected elsewhere -- "Beyond the Whistle Test." If I recall correctly, I have not read this story.

Note that many of Egan's stories are available online from various sources, as documented on Egan's Bibliography page.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sean Hurley and Sherwin Sleeves

Want to hear a fascinating moment of creation? Listen to the emergence of Sean Hurley's alter-ego, Sherwin Sleeves.

Hurley is a stay-at-home dad and freelance radio producer; here's a recent piece he did for New Hampshire Public Radio.

And here is a recent chat with both Sean and Sherwin. (Fair warning: that link will start making noise as soon as the page loads).

I'll be writing more about Hurley/Sleeves later. Meanwhile, if you like the work of his on Atoms, Motion and the Void (personally I think you might enjoy starting with this episode), and Mr. Hurley has suggested starting with this one, consider becoming a Stalwart. There's an interesting community of creatives forming and talking in the Stalwarts forum, and a lot of potential for some very cool storytelling and spin-off projects, but it hasn't reached critical mass yet!

Monday, January 17, 2011

This is Most Irregular


Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE, sprawled in his armchair, squinted up at the fuligin figure who stood, resting a bony elbow on his mantelpiece. His eyes gradually focused.

"Oh. Yes." He managed a wry grin. "How appropriate."


"Yes." His voice, though quiet, did not waver. "I'm ready to go."


Death unshouldered his scythe.


"So I imagine. You're an anthromorphic personi... personi..."


"But you're also a character I wrote."


Sir Pratchett shook his head slowly, chuckling to himself. "And now my own creation is here to..."


Sir Pratchett waited. He glanced at his watch.


"Yes. Get on with it, please."

Death hesitated, his eye sockets swinging left and right slowly.


"Yes." Again, the voice did not waver. "I want to leave while I can still make my own decisions."


"Yes. An... embuggerance. Bloody inconvenient. I always imagined going without so much... advance notice. Through the windshield, perhaps. Or down the steps, cracked skull sort of thing. But on balance I've had a wonderful time."


Death raised his scythe.

There was a soundless pop, and a lightless flash. Three auditors hovered, twittering silently and having a an animated argument while remaining completely unmoving. Death turned his skull towards them quizzically.


A bony finger scratched his lack of nose.


Two more auditors silently had always been there. Death tilted his skull first left, then right, then shook his head slowly, then squeezed the bridge of his lack of nose. He waved a bony finger. He turned back to Pratchett.


His distal phalanx rasped against his bony skull as he scratched in futility at his skull-ache.


Death turned towards Sir Pratchett. He reached into nowhere and pulled out a black hourglass, peering at it. The top part of the glass was empty. Two or three grains of sand glittered, frozen, as they hung over the heap of sand in the bottom.


"A gift? What do you mean?"


"Yes, I imagine that it's a bit like Santa Claus. I mean, logistics, reindeer attempting to exceed the speed of sound, width of a typical chimney, all that."


"The Hogfather."


The voice trailed off. Death spread his bony fingers.


"Yes, of course."


"So I've been told." A wry grin.


"Go on."


"My goodness!"


Death waved his skeletal hand. In a direction you can't look, in a place you can't see, a nonexistent curtain in reality parted and Sir Pratchett found himself looking in several impossible directions at once. A multiplicity of Death, dimensions of Death. Deaths standing in front of racks and racks of row upon row of hourglasses. Auditors were swarming in and around the figures of Death. Cliboards were examined. Mechanical pencil leads were extended. Tally marks were made. In each hourglass, a mark on a clipboard, a "plink" as one extra grain of sand percolated downwards. A helpful gold-ish label tacked to a shelf read "TERRY PR TCHETT F NS."


"That's quite all right."

The view faded. Death stared at the single hourglass in his hand. There was an audible "plink." Auditors were and weren't there in an electron cloud around the hourglass. Equations were balanced, sums completed. A grain of sand went rocketing back up the spout and ricocheted off the top of the glass. "Plink. Plink. Plinkplink. Plinkplinkplink" gradually became "hiss."


He tapped a bony finger on the glass.


Death paused.


Death cocked his skull, apparently listening.


"They want to trade -- time?"


Pratchett was grinning broadly  now.


The neck of the hourglass was spraying sand in a continuous stream. Several inches of sand were piling up. Indeed, it soon appeared that the top and bottom contained equal measures of sand.

With a popless sound the auditors suddenly had never been there. The sand in the hourglass hung unmoving.

Pratchett's brow furrowed.

"But won't I be -- you know -- just going to back get sicker and sicker? It's extremely generous, but it's no kind of life."


Pratchett was beaming. "I can live with that!"


"Will you send me back now?"


Death paused.




Death paused again.

"I'm eager to get back to work, you know."


Death extended a quill which appeared in his fingers. The tip glittered. He lowered his scythe, laying the blade across the fuzzy blanket on Pratchett's lap.


Life Complicated

Fill hot water bottle to warm feet. Put bottle on chair while use bathroom and freeze rear end. Get back from bathroom, sit on warm chair cushion, put bottle by feet. Wrapped feet and legs in blanket. Feel burning on feet. Jump up. Bottle cracked spraying boiling water on feet. Feet burned. Feet wet. Feet cold. Feel rear end wet. Rear end cold. Feel like cry. Life complicated.