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Why do Americans (or at least American podcasters) say “soddering” for “soldering”? Is it just a weird pronunciation (and if so, why?) or is it a slightly different spelling, like aluminium?

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (Books 2018, 8)

I read this reviewed in The Guardian, and immediately bought the Kindle book. Sometimes a review is like that.

And it lived up to the praise. But here’s the thing: the horror, the weirdness in it: they’re not really what we’d think of as Lovecraftian.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and part of the reason for the title is that a couple of the main characters are fans of Lovecraft’s work, and they refer to parts of New England as “Lovecraft country.” But as the review makes clear, the real horror here is much more down to Earth: the racism of 50s America.

My Kindle edition was slightly oddly titled: Lovecraft Country: TV Tie-In. You expect that on a physical book to some degree. But putting it right in the title is new to me. A page on the author’s site confirms that it is going to be made as a series by HBO (which is annoying, because that means it’ll be on Sky Atlantic over here). JJ Abrams1 and Jordan Peele are both involved.

I’m slightly surprised to see that Ruff is not black. I wonder how long before he’ll be accused of “cultural appropriation” for writing from the viewpoint of African-Americans.

  1. I mean, obviously: he’s involved in everything, right? 

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (Books 2018, 7)

As I said in the last books post, reading the JAMs’ Illuminatus-inspired attempt made me want to read the real thing again. Seems I read it about every four years or so, based on the fact that I wrote about it last in 2014.

It doesn’t lose any of its charm. I suppose I’d have to say, if we judge by number of rereads, that this must be my favourite book of all time.

If you haven’t read it, it’s probably because there’s a conspiracy to stop you doing so. Kick out the jams and go get it. Hail Eris!

The Audrey and Eddie Show

I went to a thing at the British Library. It was an author event with Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell. They’ve made a book together. And, it turns out, they’re married. To each other, that is.

I had no idea that this was the case. Who’s in charge of telling me about things? Cos they’re falling down on the job.

Not that there’s any reason why I should know, of course. They’re both creators whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, but that’s all.

Anyway, this was the standard sort of author talk/interview thing, led by a guy who didn’t introduce himself, but according to the event page was “international comics expert, and man at the crossroads, Paul Gravett“.1

It was all very good. I bought the book, Bizarre Romance. Looks like it’ll be fun. I didn’t stay for the signing, because I’m not that bothered about autographs. And I couldn’t think of any questions at the Q&A, which is also normal.

Interestingly (and maybe this is already common knowledge too) Niffenegger is writing a sequel to The Time Traveller’s Wife2 to be called The Other Husband.

  1. Oh, OK, he published Escape magazine. I used to get that sometimes. 

  2. I insist on spelling the title correctly. 

Tab Convert

That’s convert, with the stress on the first syllable. The noun, in other words. As in, “I am a tab convert.” A convert, that is, to using tabs for indentation of source code, instead of spaces.

A Background of Spaces

From the earliest time that I learned about the tabs vs spaces debate, I’ve been a spaces guy. This is at least partly because of the influence of my then-colleague Benjamin Geer. He has gone on to other, no doubt better, things, but he was probably the best programmer I’ve ever worked with. He introduced me to the idea that you should always use four spaces for indentation. The reason being that if you use tabs, people can have their editor’s tab size set to all sorts of different values, and it leads to source files not looking as you expect them to.

Whereas spaces are spaces: you can’t go wrong with a space (or four).

I’ve changed, though. I have become a convert, in my job, and maybe philosophically, to tabs.

Stack Overflow Survey

About a year ago there was a survey of developers on Stack Overflow. Among many questions, they asked about whether people used spaces or tabs. The detail that got most attention was that developers who use spaces were paid more on average than those who use tabs. I strongly suspect that correlation is not causation in this case, but it seemed noteworthy at the time.

More interesting to me was the fact that more people used tabs, at 42.9% against 37.8%. I was surprised: I thought spaces had won years ago. Though I often wondered (sometimes publicly, and I’m surprised to see that was only last year) why the default setting for Eclipse was tabs.

Maybe that default, and others like it, is part of the reason for the statistics. Most people don’t change defaults. On the other hand, surely developers are the kind of people who are most likely to change defaults?

Anyway, after the survey came out there were various posts about it, notably John Gruber, who said he was “a devout user of tabs”. OK, he’s not a developer these days, but there were others who are who said similar things. The one that struck me was one that I can’t locate now that said “tabs are semantic.” In other words, pressing the tab key means “indent here.” Four spaces means… four spaces? Could be an indentation, could be something else.

Everything Changes Imperially

So I was primed for the idea of switching to tabs, even though I still used spaces in my own projects. And then I started my new job at Imperial College. When I first started looking at the code, I quickly realised that it was indented with tabs throughout. I checked with my co-worker who is the main contributor. He didn’t mind, but they had always used tabs.

Obviously I didn’t want to introduce a mixture. That’s what really messes up the display of code in different editors. You have to be consistent within a project. So if I were to change the project to spaces I would have to change every file. That was an unnecessary step; and per the above, I was primed to use tabs. They’re semantic, after all.

I switched my IDE to indent using tabs, with the tab-stop value set to 4. And so we proceed, tabbing away merrily.

So far I prefer it this way.

Ev Williams on the future of reading and writing on the net:

Now we can’t stand to sit through ads…

Where I come from we never could; because we grew up on the BBC. Whose funding, when you think about it in modern terms, is essentially a subscription model, though paying the subscription —  the TV Licence fee —  is mandatory if you have a TV.

In the early days that made sense, because the BBC was all there was on the TV. Now it seems harder to justify, but I’ve yet to see a solution that would be both as successful and as egalitarian. Because the licence is very, very cheap compared to the alternatives.

Stiff Little Fingers were the first band I every saw, back in 1980, at the Glasgow Apollo. Tonight I’m off to see them again (for maybe the sixth, seventh, eighth time), at the Forum in Kentish Town.