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¶: Greetings From Heather Stern
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(¶) Greetings from Heather Stern

Hello everyone and welcome once more to The Answer Gang. Last month I was quite stressed out about some overly broad attempts to curtail our freedoms, in case "bad guys" might try to use those freedoms wickedly. There's a thread on the topic in the Mailbag (one reader didn't like how I described Dmitry's case) and the News Bytes section has more legal details to cringe about.

In the mail processing space, my pet peeve of the month goes back to those darn Quoted Printables and HTML attachments. We've gotten some Spanish and Italian letters and those really do need to be that way. (Thanks, we can barely recognize things in those languages, but it's so much easier to give to the translators when it hasn't been mangled.) But all of you english speakers need to tell your web browser to stop doing the double mail thing. It's three or four times the bits, and the HTML is utterly useless to my processing efforts. So do yourself a favor, and spend those recycling electrons on something else.

In the real world space, well, that's it. Space, the final frontier. Do you know that the United Nations had a holiday of their very own declared a few years ago, called "World Space Week" ? You probably didn't. And that would be because the television media loves to beat on one exciting story until it's gone past "exciting" and all the way down to "wouldn't rent the video from the cheapies rack". The paper press likes the AP wires because they don't have to go chase stories, just reformat them a little. Where's the real News out there? Obviously Space isn't news... since there hasn't been another pair of feetprint on the moon since I was too young to know what a TV was.

I asked the Gang, since we're a well scattered bunch, what we do to get real news when we know we're being spoonfed "human interest" timeslices. Believe me, this doesn't just happen to US news - editors in other countries "slant" the stories to satisfy some invisible "market segment" instead of actually serve up the news itself. Mike grumbled that if we got even a few articles translated straight instead of "cleaned up to please western ideas" it would be worth a lot more. The answers were pretty solid: we get enough buzzwords to search on a little, then if possible, we hit the internet for a news site in the country of origin. And we read news sites from more than one country regularly anyway. I say "if possible" because, well, it helps if the site offers its data in a language we can read... Here's some of the favorites:

Breen adds the valuable comment that we must apply approrpriate filters as we read - consider the source, and what things they will prefer to bias towards. People will express their preferences; the corporate entity in charge of the paper will have its say in peer pressure and even just the headlines they choose. Still, "the problem with too much of the American press is that they apply the filter '> /dev/null' to nearly all foreign news. If I never see the news at all it doesn't matter what the perspective of the publisher is."

So now I'll turn away from the social ill of talking about newsmen instead of coming up with some news, or failing that, something to talk about and get people thinking.

I started getting interested in CAD a while back. Maybe I'll design my own little space capsule, plan that back patio we're going to put some changes in... someday ... or speculate on where the new "Enterprise" keeps the bathroom. Unfortunately for me, CAD tools for Linux come in four categories:

  1. Cirvuitboard design. Must be everybody's first project in the second year of college. There are lots of these.
  2. Poor excuses for MSwin paintbrush. Obviously started in a jolt cola moment but not finished in a weekend and therefore never finished.
  3. Think I'm already a masters degree in drafting, so I understand all their widgets and dots without docs.
  4. support tools for 3d modelers, mostly experienced ones.

Now sadly, this means I can't give it the fun "unusability test" romp that I did to word processors a while back. While I'm not an utter babe in the woods* in this space, I'd have to say my skills are... well, rustier than my Spanish, at least I see that once in a while. But circuitry is not even in my scope, if they are trying to be paintbrush I can do better with The Gimp, and for the other two, yes darnit, I'm going to need those docs translated down a notch or two, or find where they stashed the glossary. Category 3 looks like it will suit me best, and by the time I can use it, the 3d stuff will be fun. But for right now, all I wanted was some ways to stick to a grid and drop little "tree" "wall" and "door" icons among my distance marks. Dia is starting to look good; as soon as I can grok its XML symbol language (anybody have a Gimp plugin for these things? xfig conversions? anything?) maybe I'll feed it some really weird stuff and start layout out D&D wizards' halls again.

If you're working on a CAD project out there, I have a hint for you: if it remains easier to do all this on ten-to-the-inch grid paper, I'm not going to be using your stuff. Also, I've not a fear about buying software that does things well, but I'm not an aircraft design shop, you can't be charging me omegabucks** to see if I can plot out my garden better before springtime, and you're not going to get me to pay you to discover I can't figure you out. So for you commercial types, I recommend making the quickstart guides available for taste testing. In fact you should have*** quickstart guides, that put you through putting some sample item or place together. For you free-world coders, get some first year drafting students to try and make sense of that gibberish; anytime they say "huh?" treat it as a bug just as serious as broken menu items. We can only draft when our mechanical pencil actually has lead in it...

Hmm, there's a fellow who mentioned he's got a new documentation site up (mentioned in the mailbag this month); time for me to see what he has lying around in the category!

*I used to help my Dad design scoutships for our Traveller games.
**omegabucks: I just made that up. Lots of dollars including my last one.
*** to be fair some do... so if you don't your competitors are already ahead by one.

This page edited and maintained by the Editors of Linux Gazette Copyright © 2001
Published in issue 72 of Linux Gazette November 2001
HTML script maintained by Heather Stern of Starshine Technical Services,

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