A productive Day: Thermaltake; Office 365, experiments with Windows 8, more adventures with Surface Pro 3

View 835 Saturday, July 26, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


I should be on TWIT tomorrow (Sunday) from Larry Niven’s house.


My associate Eric Pobirs was over, and I spent the day mucking about with small computers, doing the sort of stuff I did for twenty years when I was the lead columnist for BYTE. We revived Alien Artifact, a very fast Windows 7 system that is destined to be one of the two main machines at my work station, discovering that he needed over 100 updates. That affected our next task, which was installing Office 365 on Swan, the Windows 8.1 system that will replace the more graphics oriented machine of the two Intel systems I do much of my work on; I don’t do it so much now, but when I was grinding out 20,000 high tech words a month it was very convenient to have multiple machines doing multiple tasks, all networked. I got in the habit of keeping that installation going, even though for the past few years I haven’t needed anything like that complex a setup. Keeping it going makes me feel like I am at least keeping up with technology – well some of it – and I’m keeping my hand in.

Installing Office 365 took longer than expected, but that was because Alien Artifact was eating a lot of the bandwidth as he gulped down updates. Once downloaded installation was rapid and after that, everything went enormously fast. One of the features of Office 365 is the ability to keep important stuff in the Cloud, with a local copy available in case your Internet connection is interrupted; this makes it a great deal easier to have Outlook mail going on more than one machine. Keeping multiple copies of Outlook synchronized isn’t particularly easy, and Microsoft doesn’t really help or want to – that is, they have a way, called Exchange, which involves a server and master policies and the like, and many like it, but after getting it set up and running here a few years ago, and going to some Exchange technical conferences, I gave up: those who need and like Exchange are welcome to it, and being an Exchange Master is a lot easier and less time consuming than being a UNIX guru, but it’s still more effort than I have time to give it.

We are evolving other and simpler ways, and Office 365 makes that a lot easier. It also makes it a lot easier to install Outlook and bring all the files up to date. In less than an hour we had two new copies of Outlook going, not interfering with each other or with the “master” Outlook (which is really Office 2007) that I keep going on Bette, the middling fast system I’ve been doing most of my work on. I’m still exploring Office 365, and I haven’t done enough with it to know if it has developed any annoying new features, but so far everything just works, and it’s intuitive to an Office 2007 user. I’ve had Office 2007 on most of my systems since before I got the radiation treatments that cured my brain cancer (really I suppose I should say remission, but they can’t find any traces of it and it’s been years…). I didn’t see any need to install and learn Office 2010, although Niven had Eric install it on all his systems. We both have collaborators who still use dot doc files, and while we could have gone to docx, there didn’t seem to be a lot of reason to do that. Those who do fancy formatting for documents and forms and proposals find docx superior, but mostly I just turn out text, with a few pictures stuck in for illustration. But I did find it worthwhile to learn Office 2007 with its ribbon (and to learn to use control-f1 to suppress it when I am wailing out prose), and I expect I’ll learn to like the new features of Office 365; but we’ll see. I haven’t used it enough to be sure. Microsoft does have a habit of making it hard to use some of their improved software, like Windows 8, and the learning difficulties are often enough to obviate the improvements. Anyway, I bought the $99 package of Windows 365, which allows me to use five copies, plus have copies on tablets and my iPhone, and I’m looking forward to playing with them.

After all, the motto of this column has for years been “I do all these silly things so you don’t have to.”

A year ago we built some important new machines, using Thermaltake cases and power supplies, and in fact Thermaltake Keyboards.  About then I got a bit overwhelmed, and I stopped writing the monthly column – which was really unfair to Thermaltake.  I’ll have specifics when I do the Review column, but I should mention that for about two years I have had very good systems built in Thermaltake cases and using Thermaltake power supplies, and I am far more than satisfied with them.  Thermaltake does things with a certain elegance that I find many others lack.  It all looks good, the cables are sturdy and easily routed, and all their stuff was easy to work with.  It is certainly possible to build cheaper  systems, but there’ no real point in building your own computers if what you have in mind is saving money.  You build your own in part for better understanding and quality assurance, and in part just for satisfaction: and I have to say the handsome Thermaltake systems have afforded me that. 


And naturally we did a lot of experiments with Precious, the Surface Pro 3. When Eric first got the machine – at a big discount short term sale – they managed to sell him a Surface Pro 2 keyboard/cover, which works with the Surface Pro 3, but lacks some important features. It works well enough that neither of us noticed it was the wrong keyboard, but there was no problem exchanging the black Pro 2 cover for a purple Pro 3, which fits much better and looks nicer. Same number of keys, and indeed the same keyboard size but with a larger bezel around it. It’s not as good a laptop keyboard as the Lenovo keyboard, but then what is? But it works well enough. With Office 365 it might just be possible to carry the Surface 3 Pro as the only machine on a road trip. I’m not likely to try that – I tend to travel with seven elephants anyway – but you could. And the OneNote 2013 that comes with Office 365 is a great deal more useful than the clipped down OneNote that comes with the Surface Pro 3. When I was using the Compaq PC 1100 Tablet – which I did carry as my only machine on many road trips including WinHec – I found OneNote with a tablet the most useful research tool I had ever had. I am hoping to get the same experience with the Surface.

And while we were at it, we replaced the SSD drive in the ThinkPad with a slightly larger and considerably faster SSD drive. More on that when I do the column. It took about half an hour of actual work (and an hour of unattended file copying) but it all went smooth as silk, and the ThinkPad doesn’t know he’s had a transplant.

And we added Wi-Fi repeaters in the breakfast room and the back room, all connected to the master router through Ethernet-through-power-line systems. That works very well, and my iPhone now gets multiple bars of Wi-Fi all over the house.

And a bit more, all of which is enough, with some reviews of other stuff and a ramble or two, to make up for a new column, which I am now working on. Think of this as a preview.


The California Sixth Grade Reader of 1914 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LZ7PB7E/ref=as_li_tf_til?tag=digichok-20&camp=14573&creative=327641 has been selling reasonably well in the few days it has been up, and I am hoping that home schoolers will find it useful. There was a time when the stories and poems in this book formed an important background to American culture and communications. These stories link us to our ancestors. At one time nearly every American was familiar with all these works — I had most of those stories in 6th Grade in Capleville, Tennessee in 1943. I memorized Abou Ben Adam, and verses from Macaulay’s Horatius at the Bridge, and Longfellow, and Hiawatha, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning to love epic poetry. Not then – it was a burden – but being exposed to great poems turns out to last you a long time, and becomes one of the joys of life. Anyway, it’s available.


This is meant for Chaos Manor Reviews, but I want to get it up before World Con. You’ll see it again.




Sherlock Holmes in the Modern World


The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Displaced-Detective-Arrival/dp/1606191896/

The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Displaced-Detective-At-Speed/dp/1606191918/

The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident: http://www.amazon.com/The-Case-Cosmological-Killer-Rendlesham/dp/1606191934/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1342470867&sr=8-2&keywords=Rendlesham+Incident+Osborn

The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings & Beginnings: http://www.amazon.com/The-Case-Cosmological-Killer-Beginnings/dp/1606191950/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1352221410&sr=1-4

The Omnibus

The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus: http://www.amazon.com/Case-Displaced-Detective-Omnibus-ebook/dp/B00FOR5LJ4/

Book 5 (currently available in eBook formats; print coming soon) A Case of Spontaneous Combustion: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K98AI6Y/

Stephanie Osborn
Interstellar Woman of Mystery


There has been a spate of stories bringing Sherlock Holmes into the 21st Century, some quite successful – I’m rather fond of the “Elementary” TV series, with Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson and doing a very creditable job of it; but none of them are about the Sherlock Holmes we have always known. How could they be? He was a man of the Victorian era, and while we can conceive of him being alive and retired, keeping bees in Suffolk even through the Great War, he couldn’t have survived until World War II.

Stephanie Osborne in her Displaced Detective series has found a science fiction – not fantasy – way to bring Sherlock Holmes into our world. You don’t need to know precisely how that works, but she has managed to make it plausible; and unlike any of the current Holmes series, we now have the pleasure of seeing Holmes himself, a Victorian gentleman, brought into the modern world; where, of course, he is immediately confronted with criminal cases, and his abilities are needed. The administrative details – passports, credentials, and the paraphernalia of modern life are handled skillfully and believably, and we see Holmes able to function in this world. And since he has never burdened himself with the details of abstract science lest he fill his head with needless theory and leave no room for what he considered vital, the adjustment is easier for him than it would be for most time/dimensional travelers.

Holmes purists may not like this series: after all, here is the real Holmes, at the height of his powers, in 21st Century America, much as I would imagine he would be. A bit nonplussed at being plucked from his world in a decidedly one-way trip, but he manages; and after all, this is in many ways an easier world to live in. Many of the details of Victorian life are unimportant now. Hygiene is easier, and there is good dentistry, and while Dr. John Watson was a good military physician of the time of the Afghan Wars, modern medicine is a great deal more reliable now.

He has to accumulate a new set of observations, of course. You can’t tell a man’s profession so easily now as Holmes could in his day; or perhaps you can, but it requires a different knowledge set, including a readjustment of expectations. This isn’t and can’t be the same Holmes we knew in The Canon, because that Holmes was inextricably embedded in his times; this is a Holmes who has to adjust to being rudely extracted, plunged into the 21st Century with no way to return, and he has to change quite a lot to accomplish that.

But he’s still Holmes, and I found the series well worth reading. Recommended, for those who like this sort of thing.


1100 Monday:  Fair warning, at least one long time friend and reader has written to tell me he hates these stories.  It’s a matter of taste: I liked the challenge of seeing a Victorian Holmes put into a 21st Century military/scientific bureaucracy.   I was pretty sure that many of my readers would not care for them.  I enjoyed them.  To some extent it’s a matter of expectations.





Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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