Monday, December 30, 2013

Libeay32.dll Error Messages

There are situations where a program would display an error of the type "Libeay32.dll Not Found" or "This application failed to start because libeay32.dll was not found. Re-installing the application may fix this problem." I had this problem with SpeedFan, for example, which would display this error on startup, but then start without a hitch after closing the popup. There are a lot of solutions on the net, but the safest and quickest (for Speedfan and probably most other programs) is to do the following:
  1. Obtain a copy of the libeay32.dll file
  2. Copy the file in the Speedfan folder in Program Files
  3. Restart Speedfan
. You might prefer to reinstall the offending program, which is probably the best general solution, but you could lose some custom configurations or data or, as in the case of Speedfan, it might not work!

As for the obtaining, you probably have several copies of the library on your computer anyway. Just search for it in Program Files, I had a bunch of them and chose the one that was newest. You could copy the file thus found in Windows\System32, but that would not be the best idea, as it might interfere with all programs looking for the library, so it is safer to copy it only in the folder of the program that causes the error to occur.

For an explanation, I understand libeay32 is an OpenSSL library, something that is free, open source and used for Secure Sockets Layer - a protocol widely used on the Internet. Therefore you will find all kinds of versions, in all kinds of bundles. It might even be a malware, in some cases, so make sure it isn't before copying it around ;) Also, the reason why Speedfan would start anyway, even without the library, is that it was used only in the context of sending secure mail, a feature I have never used.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dark Universe, by Daniel F. Galouye

Book cover I read about Dark Universe online, in a "best" sci-fi book list from somewhere. Richard Dawkins recommended it as a very good book and one of his favourites. I can see why the book would appeal to Dawkins, perhaps he even read it when he was a child. The idea is that the book is classical pulp fiction; the characters are simple and undeveloped, the logic strained and the science only consistent with the times in which it was written. At first, when I started reading, I was captivated by the world of people living underground after a nuclear apocalypse, but then I started getting more and more annoyed with the leaps of logic and superficial characterisation. I thought it was a book written by a teenager, like Eragon maybe, but instead it was written by a grown man in the 50s. When I learned about this I understood more of why the book existed at all and why people seemed so... stupid and onetracked. The ending, something that almost offended me, not by its quality - which wasn't good to begin with, but by its implications, is classic 1950 "scientific" thinking. The hope of humanity as small minded arrogant assholes.

Bottom line, it is a simple and easy to read book, in a bad way. The science for it is lacking, the characters are simplistic and the plot classic pulp (prince and princess kind of crap). Too bad that a good initial concept was wasted by a mediocre writer in a mediocre time.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The City and the City, by China Mievile

Book cover I have not read any of China Miéville's works, but I have received a positive recommendation from a friend and decided to read The City and The City, thinking that I would read a science-fiction story. Instead, it is a fiction filled police procedural - a detective story - placed in a city that is, at the same time, part of two different countries. There is a detective, set on finding the murderers of a young girl, who during his investigations takes the reader through the internal workings of this weird place and leaves us with the concept that we all, as city dwellers, are silently and cooperatively complicit in the evil perpetrated around us. Interesting, indeed, but quite a shallow concept to be transformed into a book, even one written by such an obvious talent as Miéville. There is also a sad reason why he wrote the book such, as a present to his terminally ill mother who enjoyed detective stories.

But back to the book. It is fascinating to observe a place where an establishment, a person or even an object are part of one city or another based on physical characteristics such as certain colours, a certain gait or a certain way to make a common gesture. This idea is the soul of the book and the rest just a pretext to explore it. Anyone breaking the boundaries between the two cities is immediately and absolutely punished by a shadow entity called Breach, which appears next to anyone even focusing too long on a place from the other city and maintains the "skin" between the two different nations. Miéville does not explain, really, what caused such a split, why Breach was formed and even how it does what it does (and indeed, how it did the same thing for thousands of years). The point of the book is not to root into reality the concept of this shattered place, only to explore its possibility. And it does this skilfully. The issue I had with the book is that, except for this brilliant and original idea, you are reading a police procedural, plain and simple. I was in the mood for something else, perhaps.

My conclusion is that it is a very well written book, one that is worth reading, but not something that could be considered brilliant except for the seed idea. Outside that idea, which has been pretty much detailed in this post, the plot is a standard detective story.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Druid's Blood, by Esther M. Friesner

Book cover I was first directed to Esther Friesner by the excellent audio reading of The Shunned Trailer, a short story which humorously and skilfully combines Ivy League competitiveness with Lovecraftian mythos. You can (and should) listen to it on the also excellent podcast site EscapePod, which together with its sister sites Pseudopod and Podcastle provide free weekly audio stories from the genres of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, respectively. The story itself was so amusing to me that I actually laughed out loud, which - for those so blissfully unaware of it - is not the same thing as LOLing. I made a short foiree into some Lovecraft stories, then proceeded on reading something of Friesner's.

Druid's Blood is an alternate universe Sherlock Holmes story. The "alternate" in the universe is an England where the druids repelled the Romans by using magic and then went on protecting the British isles with a magical shield that prohibits the entry of - for lack of a better word - contraband. This includes, for example, steel. It is an interesting modern bronze age world in which the druids are the highest religious order, everything is run by magic, technology is pretty much forbidden, but the Brits still have their high ideals, the monarchy and Sherlock Holmes. The irony is thick when the work comes from an American author.

Anyway, I don't want to spoil the story; you have to read it for yourself, but I recommend it highly. The first chapter is not so good, so I suggest you go through it even if you are not terribly enthusiastic about it. The rest, though, made me not let the book out of my hands - to my wife's chagrin. Not as funny as The Shunned Trailer (after all, it was not intended as a parody) it combines several famous ideas and characters with this twisted history of a magical Britain. The book is not meant as an exploration of history, though, as the characters and references are not really meant to have been contemporary or explainable by small tweaks in the time stream. I liked the book, although I don't know if I want to read more of the author right now. She is certainly smart and funny, but even if I enjoyed the book tremendously, it couldn't reach the level of good fun and concentrated smarts that The Shunned Trailer seemed to be. As such, I recommend reading the book first, then listen to the podcast of The Shunned Trailer. Perhaps in this order, the pleasure level will be higher.

There has been a lot of discussion on the changing of the names of Sherlock Holmes and doctor Watson. Whether it was a form of respect to the original characters to change their names if you change their entire world or whether it was a copyrighting issue or some other motive, I see no reason to dwell on the matter. After all, the epilogue is a tip of the hat to doctor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who invented a character of such incredible skill and intelligence, only to relegate his own role to the faithful sidekick. Enjoy the book.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft

Cover of the Astounding Stories science fiction magazine where the novella was first published It is difficult for me to not admire Lovecraft and at the same time just as difficult to fully enjoy his stories. He was admirable because he was a true horror writer, haunted by his dark visions so completely that a lot of his stories are set in the same world, undoubtedly filling his mind at all times. And it is difficult to enjoy his stories because the horror feeling in his books comes from a very subjective and I dare say outdated place in the human mind. Most of his characters attribute adjectives like "abhorrent" or "grotesque" to mere shapes or smells and they actively attempt to filter out anything that might challenge their peace of mind and established world order. That's a silly and disgusting thing to do, I think, and perhaps this is what repels me most from writings of "the master".

But let me tell you of At the Mountains of Madness. The first thing that came into mind when I started reading it was "The Thing". It is placed in Antarctica where an expedition finds some frozen aliens who then defrost. There is even mention of shapeless things that can assume any form or function. Of course, this is as much as the similarities go. First and foremost the story is told by a scientist, in the pompous and highly descriptive manner in which most Lovecraftian work is written. This geologist, one of the few survivors, decides to write a more detailed account of what happened in view of a new expedition organized to go in the same region. His motive, and here is where I scoff the most, is to dissuade people to ever go there again, as some things are too horrible and evil to be explored by man. Say what? How is that guy a scientist? Anyway, he writes this as to fill in the gaps that he consciously and deliberately left out when he returned from the expedition, all of its members sworn to secrecy on some aspects of the trip. He sounds more like the leader of a cult than a member of a scientific group, doesn't he?

The end is more satisfying, though, where even Lovecraft's roundabout and subjective exposition has to give when describing the things they actually discover, explore then run away from. Even if I cannot abide the motivations of his characters or enjoy the way things are made more or less horrible or grotesque by their close minded whims, I have to declare some affection to the universe Lovecraft describes and perhaps some lingering interest on what one could make of it.

And indeed, people have been trying to resurrect Lovecraft's work in various ways: board games, graphic novels, sequels and prequels, movies. I seem to remember a 2005 movie that I liked, made after The Call of Cthulhu, but even that was made as a silent black and white film using the exact text from the story. And even if it achieved its goals of bringing Lovecraft's work to the screen, it did nothing to make it less dated or more accessible to a modern audience. Guillermo del Toro wanted to make a movie after At the Mountains of Madness, but he was deflected by film studios and his other work, mainly Prometheus. Del Toro even said that he would not make the ATMOM adaptation because it would have the same premise and twist as Prometheus. I am not so sure they should have been similar, but hey, that's how he saw it. What I am trying to say here is that modernizing Lovecraft for the present audience takes most of the love out of the craft :) Even this novella, which was a little bit longer than a short story, had so much roundabout storytelling and filler descriptions that if you took them away you would remain with a skeleton idea that could mould over anything.

So, my conclusion is that At the Mountains of Madness is one of the most accessible Lovecraft writings. It seems less dated than others and actually brings some clear descriptions of what is going on, not just randomly used adjectives testifying to the bizarre mental state of the characters. I can see no way to modernize or take the story and bring it to a modern audience without breaking the plot and turning it into something else, so if you want to experience it, you need to read the novella. It's relatively short so it shouldn't take much, unless you find it hard to go past the most descriptive parts without falling asleep, as I have.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ripper Street - a series with both quality and unfulfilled potential

The three main characters Ripper Street appeared at the same approximate moment with another similar series, Copper, also a historical series about policemen made by the BBC. The Ripper Street inspector is a man of justice, but also one that believes in the process of finding proof and sending the guilty to trial, which is relatively the same with the guy in Copper, who was a little more violent, but basically good stock. He employs (not unlike Copper) a doctor that is using scientific methods to determine the cause of death and other details that help in the investigation. His love life is in shambles as he mourns the death of his daughter, just like in Copper. A lot of the script also revolves around a female brothel owner, beset by financial troubles, but that ultimately proves ruthless. And also both series have ended abruptly, just before the second season's finale. This similarity can't be coincidental and it bothers me to no end that they used the same scheme for two different markets, just to see how it will work, with TV viewers as lab rats for their experiment.

But there are also differences. While the Five Points violent stage for Copper was more appropriate for the genre than East London after Jack the Ripper's case, the lead was never terribly charismatic. He seemed like a nice good looking Irish boy who was way over his head as a policeman. Instead, in Ripper Street Matthew Macfadyen uses his deep baritone voice and intimidating presence to portray perfectly the driven inspector Edmund Reid. Also, while the support cast for Copper did their job rather well, none seem to reach the height of theatrical performance that Jerome Flynn brings to Ripper Street while playing the violent but good willing police sergeant. And the final nail in the coffin for Copper is that most of the issues of the lead character are personal in nature, while the inspector in Ripper Street is tortured by his personal life failings, but is loyal to his job as a policeman.

Perhaps Ripper Street started with a promise of bringing light on the good of people in a hellish corner of the world, but in the end managed to do the opposite. In truth, the last scene of the series (and you might want to skip this slight spoiler if you plan to watch the series) is with the woman who loved the inspector turning in disgust when she sees him order his sergeant to kill a man in order to bring justice outside the system. In fact the last scene shows him betray all at once everything he stood for during the entire series. It's a slip up, of course, driven by desperation and something that would have probably been thoroughly explored in the third season. Alas, there is no third season to be had, for reasons of decreasing audience. It is difficult to pretend to be the best television producer in the world and then only care about audiences, like the assholes across the ocean, BBC!

The inconsistency in the show's quality can be blamed for the cancellation of the show, as well, but overall Ripper Street was entertaining and thought provoking. It could have been better, but not by much, I think. Good cast, good atmosphere of the old East End, some pretty compelling scripts. I believe it a shame to stop the show now. It was clearly better than Copper and that show had two seasons as well. Ripper Street deserved better, as well as all the viewers hooked on it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Misfits, an underappreciated show

Series poster with the original crew I've just finished the eighth episode of the fifth season of Misfits, the last in the series, as the show finally reached its end. I am convinced that most of the people reading this post don't really know what Misfits is and I mean to rectify that. Be warned, this is not the epitome of television and the last seasons were rather disappointing compared with the first few, but those few were pretty refreshing for a TV show.

Misfits is a British TV show about superheroes. Unlike American heroes, who are all beautiful and good and perfect, the first batch of Misfits superheroes is a bunch of losers on community service that get caught in a freak storm that gives them "powers". They use those powers in the most outrageous ways, completely out of control and with a tendency to think only of themselves and accidentally kill probation workers. Unfortunately it is the most consistent trend through the series, as actors change from season to season and the mood and quality of the show oscillates wildly.

My point, though, is that the show has a very nice premise and its worst problem was that instead of focusing on character development, they tried to ramp it up, adding more people with powers and gradually increasing the danger and weirdness of the situations in which they were involved until it just became ridiculous.

I don't know (or care) about ratings, but for me a nice show would have pitted these few guys against the real world, not a weird (and ultimately meaningless) version of itself where a lot of people have superpowers, but nobody notices. I repeat myself, but the idea of normal blokes and girls having superpowers and acting like normal people while they have them was a great one and the show creators should have followed it through. Too bad they didn't.

To wrap this out, I highly recommend to sci-fi fans watching the first two seasons of Misfits. Its... britishness... brings a refreshing perspective to an already overloaded and tired genre of the superhero and not getting exposed, even a little, to Misfits makes you miss out on a nice and unfortunately shortlived slice of the mythos.

I really wanted to give you a compilation of the best moment in Misfits, but apparently YouTube is infested by "Best funny moments of Nathan" which is the rude Irish pretty boy from the first season. Instead I leave you with the trailer for the series:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Witcher - Nice game, but the story gets drown in silly sidequests

Geralt and his White Wolf medalion You have to appreciate The Witcher for at least two major reasons: one is that it is based on a series of books by a Polish author and second is that it is made almost exclusively by Polish programmers and software managers. It is basically Polish software, and for that the quality is really great. Not that I disconsider software coming from the country, but I imagine they have a lot less resources than major American game studios, for example.

The story is that of a witcher, a monster slayer. He has tremendous physical strength and can use magic thanks to magical and genetic changes that have transformed him into a sterile mutant. He is basically the Caucazian version of Blade, if you want. I have not read the stories, but from what I've heard they are rather morally ambiguous, featuring the witcher drinking and whoring like a madman in between monster slaying bouts. The game attempts to do the same thing, of course with the sex and foul language removed, as it would have been too gruesome among all the blood, gore and violence. (I was sarcastic there, in case you didn't see it, people in charge with the moral development of our society!)

In fact the concept of the game is marvelous: have a character that can make choices that affect the overall story in a fantasy game of feudal monsters and courtly intrigue. However, in order to do so, you must go on endless quests gathering this and that, running around like a marathoner on steroids (which I guess you are, with all the genetic alterations and potions). The poor guy runs so much that one gets tired just watching him move. That was the major issue I had with the game, over 70% of it is running around (and 10% animations).

The fighting style was intriguing, but ultimately annoying. You had to click on the monster you wanted to kill, then wait for a specific moment when the cursor changed in order to click again and perform a combo. Up to six clicks can build a combo, which gives the player a lot of opportunity to click on somebody else, click next to the monster or move the camera in a way in which it is temporarily impossible to fight. Also Gerald does not have automatic fighting, so unless you tell him to attack, he just sits there and takes it. The damn clicks make you feel you are doing something, though, which I guess is a plus.

You get to meet a lot of damsels in distress which you have the option of helping. Once you do that they are remarkably willing to discard their clothes for you. In that situation you get to see... a nicely drawn card of a partially naked woman representing the sexual act. Then you return to where you were... at the same hour... dressed... which makes one think of a problem with the witcher's endurance, so to speak.

The changes in storyline are interesting, and some of them don't seem to happen until they have had time to propagate. This means you cannot just save, make a choice, see what happens and load, as there is a long time between choice and effect. This also means you will have to play the game a lot just to see only one story line. You will probably have to Google for all the outcomes. I, as always, was a perfect gentleman. No matter how ugly that Adda chick was, I still slept next to her... twice... and of course we remained best friends. No, really, there is something seriously wrong with me.

Overall it is a pretty entertaining and captivating game. The end chapter (the fifth, if you are wondering) is fraught with animations and it seems you have nothing else to do but move a bit, see a movie, move a little bit, kill some guy, another movie and so on. The fight with Javed was the most difficult, I think, with the rest a complete breeze once I had upgraded the Igni spell to the maximum power.

I have, however, the certainty that with a simple hack to allow a person to click on the map and get there at warp speed (maybe stop if there is a monster on the road or something) this game would have been three times shorter and a lot more fun. I started with a lot of expectations about it, though, and maybe that is why I felt a little disappointed, especially with the "boss" fights which seemed to involve a lot of talking and hiding behind minions until I got to them and very easily kicked their ass.

Time to play The Witcher II, I guess! I leave you with a video review of the game.

Also, for more information about the Witcher, like the choices you can make and the consequences or the quests you never got around to finishing, go to the Witcher Wiki

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Launch code for US nukes was 00000000 for 20 years

This is how an US general looks like I tried to find a title with more impact than the title of the original article to express my combination of amusement and disdain; I couldn't. It says almost everything. Apparently, the reason why the nuke codes were reset was that US Strategic Command generals almost immediately had the PAL codes all reset to 00000000 to ensure that the missiles were ready for use regardless of whether the president was available to give authorization.. How insane is that? On the other hand, there is a positive side to all this: it goes to show that you are just as intelligent as an US general when you leave your phone PIN to the default 0000.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Accelerando, by Charles Stross

Book cover Oh, what a wonderful book this was. A cross between a William Gibson and a Peter F. Hamilton book, Accelerando was like a cyberpunk's wet dream. Not only it describes the deep transformations of our culture caused by the increasing power and speed of computation, but it goes further, years, decades, centuries and millennia more. You know the feeling you get when you get close to the end of a book and you sigh "Oh, I wish it would continue to tell the story"? It happens at the end of every chapter. It's like Stross could have ended the book at any point, but he chose to continue the story until its satisfyingly circular end. What is it with writers and the return to origins, anyway? There is an explanation for the structure of the book, as the author originally published each chapter as a separate story.

What is even nicer is that the story doesn't skim the details, showing only superficial bits that further the story, but it goes into everything: cybernetics, economy, ethics, law, the nature of consciousness. It gets frightening at some points when you realize that in the situations depicted in the book reality would be even more carnivorous and that your own individuality (held coherent in the book for the benefit of the reader) is just an illusion we cling to, ready to dispel when we muster the courage (or the insanity) to let it go.

I also liked how, while it was human-centric, the book did not limit itself to one species, nor did it go the way of accelerating (pardon the pun) until the whole story becomes meaningless in some encounter with a God like alien or by complete transcendence. I have to say I appreciate Stross immensely for not doing so, which is the normal and easiest way for a geek to end such a story: by generalizing the hell out of the situation until no particulars make sense. In that, the writer showed real restraint and mature wisdom. It makes me want to read all of his books.

If you want to know what the plot is, you will have to read the book, as I can't really do it justice here. I can tell you that it made me believe in an explosive evolution of the human race in my lifetime more than any Kurzweil discourse and it did it easily, by simple measuring MIPS/gram on the scale of the entire Solar System. If we will run Moore's Law for a few more decades, it will make enormous sense that "dumb matter" is done for. It is a fantastic vision of computation as a devourer of mass, a frightening equation akin to Einstein's matter to energy conversion. Did I mention that it also - convincingly - explains Fermi's paradox, much more so than "we get to build androids for sex", which was the most believable for me so far?

Needless to say it, but I will anyway: go read it, read it now! It is an amazing book. It is a little too pretentious in some parts, when it bombards your brain with technobabble just so it gets you "future-shocked" enough to understand the characters, but what cyberpunk fan doesn't eat that up, anyway? Also the familial connections in the book are a bit too overdone, but then again, they provide the generational point of view necessary to describe centuries of human evolution. There is a page - surprisingly Web 0.9 for such a plot :) - for the book, with an extract from the first chapter, but I don't think it is representative for the entire work.

You can actually read the book online for free, from the author's site: Accelerando