Nov. 26th, 2015 06:54 am
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
This November I decided to write a story I'd mapped out in a fair bit of detail some time back about a young woman who is aspie (has Asperger's syndrome -- that is, she's a high-functioning autistic). She believes she is a deductive genius like the fictional Sherlock Holmes, but, although she is extremely perceptive, she's not as smart as she thinks she is. This story was a bit of a change for me as I was trying to make it a little bit comedic in parts. I'm not sure how successful I was. Like most of my stories I have some very serious messages to tell, and I just hope I didn't get too preachy. A lot of my time and effort in writing these days is spent trying to cover that up. I'm told people don't like such things thrust in their faces. That surprises me. I love those kinds of stories.

I finished it (well, the first draft, anyway) much more quickly than I expected, so after a little rest I've continued writing another story -- one I'd begun some months ago.

This second story is an altogether different experience for me. It is still science fiction -- all my stories are -- but this one has neither artificial intelligence nor virtual reality. Even more unusually it's set in a post apocalyptic future, though not one brought on by humans (at least not nominally). It is though, as most of my stories are, optimistic.

I'm about halfway through writing it and still haven't got a name for it. Well, that's not entirely true. I have several names for it, but I don't really like any of them. My working title is "Photosynthesis". See what I mean? Not a great title. Other potential names are:
  • killer plant
  • breathe
  • breathing
  • breathing space
  • air
  • respire
  • breath of life
  • inhale
  • oxygen
  • free as the air
  • suspire
  • Whispering Leaves
  • A Breath of Fresh Air
  • Precious Air
Yeah. :) it has something to do with air. If you'd like to help me choose a name (it doesn't have to be on the list), ask me and I'll post online for you to read what I'm writing. Or ask even if you're simply curious and want to read it as I write it.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
A week ago I bought a RepRap Prusa i3 3D printer kit online from Sunhokey for AUS$360 via PayPal (free shipping). It has already arrived! Just 7 days between order and arrival from China to Queensland countryside in Australia. Amazing!

When I opened the box I was impressed. As everybody says in all the reviews, the packaging is truly a work of art! I have never seen anything so carefully and meticulously protected.

I went through the packing list. All parts on the list are there, plus 2 end-stop pieces. The end-stop pieces look a little different from the ones in videos I'd watched, so that's promising as other people had not been too keen on the old end-stops. It will be interesting to see how they go, though it hardly matters; anything that attaches to the rods to trigger the microswitches will do fine.

A few things that I am especially happy about:

- I neglected to specify in my order the color and type of plastic feeder filament. A couple of times I almost went online to order one of PLA* and one of ABS**. I wanted a white one and a black one and was envisioning being sent whatever outrageous colors never get requested. However I was sent one spool of black PLA and one spool of white ABS. Excellent! (Incidentally, I think one reason my package arrived so quickly is that I didn't specify about the filaments, so they simply grabbed a pre-boxed one and sent it. Picky orders might take a little longer depending on supplies.)

- a nice extra that they don't need to include, but do anyway, was an SD card (actually a microSD inside an adapter). Videos I'd watched and reviews I'd read said it was just a 2GB card, which might seem small, but is in fact plenty big enough for the job. So I was surprised to find an 8GB card with mine. Very nice. :)

- I received the aluminium heated bed instead of the glass bed. I've heard the aluminium one is superior, so that's a nice bonus.

Sunhokey seem to go that little bit extra to keep their customers happy.

Now I've cleared space on my bench to assemble it. My fingers are tingling in anticipation. More later...


* PLA (polylactic acid - a non-toxic biodegradeable plastic made from starch)
see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polylactic_acid
** ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene -- what LEGO bricks are made from)
see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylonitrile_butadiene_styrene


Sep. 5th, 2015 06:31 pm
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Well, this is perfectly horrible. I woke from a nap today with awful vertigo. As I get very bad motion sickness when my vision of out of sync with my inner ear's motion sensors this is especially nauseating for me. I keep breaking out in cold sweat and worrying that I'm about to lose my last meal. Very annoying.

I'm hoping it is merely that an otolith has come loose from its gravity sensor and is tumbling around in the semicircular canal triggering unexpected signals from my motion sensing hairs. If that's the case there are some simple exercises I can do that cause the otolith to become wedged where it can't cause any more harm. So far these exercises haven't helped.

An alternative explanation that I'm less keen on is that I've somehow poisoned myself. Last night was my once-a-week protein night. As usual I had a can of sardines for the protein.

Having come from a long line of vegetarian apes, we humans are not terribly well adapted to eating meat. Unlike many genuine carnivores, we don't have a liver capable of rendering safe many of the dangerous poisons in unfresh meat. A dog could eat with relish a piece of meat that would quickly kill a human. I'm still alive, so I don't think the sardines were unfresh.

Freshness isn't the only concern. With humanity using the oceans as major dumping places for all kinds of toxins I have to wonder what we take in through fish.

In many parts of the world heavy metal contamination of fish is a major problem. Of the heavy metals, arsenic is the only one that I know of that is associated with vertigo. Unfortunately it often turns up in sardines. A pity, because sardines are exceptionally nourishing for hermits like me.

I also drink well water. The government no longer offers free water testing, which strikes me as very short-sighted. I have no idea whether my water is contaminated with arsenic. It is a very common problem in many parts of the world. We have filters that take out all microbes in the water, along with many of the chemical contaminants. The filters are overdue for changing, so I'll do that tomorrow.

There is another interesting, but disturbing possibility. Over the past week, or maybe a bit longer, I've been feeling an odd kind of vertigo whenever I angled my head to look inside a computer that I was rebuilding for a friend. I thought little of it at the time, but later as it kept recurring when I would put my head at an unusual angle, I began to wonder more about it. I tried closing my eyes and moving my head to induce the feeling, and I didn't fall over, so I figured this wasn't normal vertigo. It wasn't sickening; it just felt weird. I resolved to simply keep an eye on it and see what happens. I really didn't expect this sudden, full-on, stomach-wrenching affliction that hit me today after my nap.

An odd thing about the nap, too. Normally my midday nap lasts only about 20 minutes and I wake refreshed and ready to attack whatever problems I'm working on with a reinvigorated, alert mind. Today my nap was, I think, about 2 hours. That only really happens if I've been neglecting my night-time sleep. But I'm pretty sure last night I got almost a full night's sleep. (I have, however, a terrible sense of time, so I can't be certain.)

If this problem hasn't eased by Wednesday I'll make an appointment with the doctor and take it from there.

Now I'll have my dinner (a lovely bowl of veggies) and hope I can keep it down.

Additional: The veggies were delicious, and I'm feeling much more settled. I still have the vertigo, but it isn't making me feel quite so ill anymore... perhaps because I've been keeping relatively still. I'll be interested to see how I feel in the morning. Early to bed tonight, I think.

Further: I went to bed early, however I only slept about 4 hours before waking again. I was surprised and happy to find I no longer had vertigo. After taking little Nata the dog out for a walk and wee I came back in and succumbed to the lure of the computer. About 3 hours later I noticed the beginnings of vertigo again, so I went back to bed to sleep about another 3 hours. This time when I awoke it was with noticeable vertigo once more. I managed pretty fine in spite of it, then had another nap about midday. I deliberately slept on the side I'd woken on a little after midnight when I'd been free of vertigo. And when I woke from my midday nap I had only very slight vertigo. Excellent.

I rang Mum to tell her about it and she wasn't there, but Dad was so I explained it to him. He surprised me by telling me he'd had short episodes of vertigo for many years, about once a year or so. Oh dear. That may mean I have these "delightful" experiences to look forward to every now and then for the rest of my life. Well, people have worse afflictions. I'm sure I'll manage fine.


Sep. 4th, 2015 08:52 am
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Weirdness happens. My computer's sound output circuits built into the motherboard lost one channel recently, making music almost impossible to listen to. I tried adding a sound card, but initially it failed to work. I tried rebooting my computer today (something I don't often do, it being Linux) as some other weirdness happened where the USB circuits servicing my wireless comms and keyboard stopped working too. I think this computer is slowly dying since the lightning strike a while back that killed its network circuits.

Anyway, I shutdown the computer for a little while, then rebooted. I went into BIOS setup (the keyboard works again -- yay) and made sure the onboard sound was turned off. Now when I let the computer boot properly the added card works, though I had to do quite a lot of fiddling with the card's settings. But we have more weirdness. Some applications (e.g. Aqualung) add a fraction of a second delay about every half minute when playing music. It is barely noticeable, but irritating. Other programs (e.g. mplayer) which gave perfect sound before are all chopped to bits now, sounding like they're being rapidly switched on and off. Others, like VLC, seem to play flawlessly. I wonder if the card might not be good at buffering sound and the tiny gaps are the the buffer running out before being refilled, though why it should take longer for some programs than others I don't know. It's very annoying though.

I've continued mucking about with things -- can never leave well-enough alone, I guess, and sound has vanished entirely. Yeah, I think this computer is dying at last. Oh well, I'll continue fiddling. I can't afford a new computer. I have a lot of dead computers that people give me to rebuild and give away to other people who can't afford computers. Maybe I'll put one together for myself. [sigh]

When I rebooted this time I noticed the computer's surge protection had been tripped. So there I think I have the cause. The damn power company has been allowing surges down the line. I so wish I wasn't on mains power.

We have solar panels on the roof, but the government would only give the subsidy for them if they were mains-tied, which means we cop all the problems of an unstable mains supply, including blackouts and surges, with almost none of the benefits of solar power... well, except that power doesn't cost anything anymore... so I guess that's a major advantage. I just wish we weren't tied into the grid. It's too dangerously unstable.

Julie has said that when the power company starts charging more than they pay for buying back power she'll disconnect from the grid, as I expect millions of people will. In the meantime I really need to look more into solar panels for myself and lithium batteries to run a low-power computing system. I'm fed up with having to buy another computer every couple of years because of damage from the electrical grid.

I've already done some of the work needed. I've set up a low-power computing system with lead-acid batteries (ugh!) that let me continue to work for a day or so during blackouts. I can't use my desktop computer, but the power-hungry behemoth annoys me anyway. I'd love to be free of it.

Final (hopefully):
I switched it off, rebooted again, went into the BIOS and re-enabled the onboard sound, let the computer boot normally, changed all the settings for sound again, and now the sound works perfectly again! Wha...?

Reminds me of this famous joke, more typical of MSWindows than Linux, but uncomfortably close to truth for all computing:
Three engineers are riding in a car. One is a mechanical engineer, one is an electrical engineer, and one is a computer engineer.

The car breaks down and coasts to the side of the road.

"Hang on," says the mechanical engineer. "The problem is probably the engine, let me have a look at it and I'll have us on the road again in no time."

"Wait," says the electrical engineer. "The way it just stopped like that, I think it's the electrical system. Let me have a look and I'll get us going again in a minute or two."

"Hold on," says the computer engineer. "Why don't we all just get out of the car and get in again, and then see if it starts?"
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)


by Miriam English

Pet pointed to a light streaking across the night sky. "Look! A meteor." She didn't actually use the word "meteor" because she had lost her real parents when she was very young and didn't know much of her human language. She used the equivalent word from Mother's language. Mother had rescued and raised her.

Pet was human, in her twenties, had smooth, brown skin, and long, curly, black hair. Mother was a native of this planet and looked like a woolly mammoth — she was almost that big and had a long, thick, shaggy coat like one, but her enormous round head had a meditative, contented face like a sloth's.

Each evening Mother and Pet lay together here on this flat rock overlooking the valley to watch and listen. This world had no moons or lights from technological civilisation so night was always dark. Tonight there were no clouds so the stars were especially sharp and beautiful. But without clouds the night was colder than usual. Pet pulled Mother's shaggy gray hair around her for warmth and snuggled closer in beside Mother's neck. She felt, rather than heard, the very low sounds Mother would call out, talking with others of her kind beyond the valley, even beyond the horizon. Low frequency sounds can easily travel for great distances. Mother's people lived sparsely on their world, yet all remained in constant contact through their infrasonic, rumbling conversations, passing messages on, from one to the other in a huge planet-wide network. Mother would then translate the conversations for Pet into sounds audible to human ears. Mostly Pet and Mother used Mother's language when talking to each other, but when a human word would suit they used it. Mother intentionally continued to use what little human speech she could, in case humans visited this world again; her hope was that Pet would be able to talk to them and rejoin her people.

Mother told her what she was hearing from others. It wasn't a meteor. It was a spaceship and it had landed near the remains of the colony Pet's people had built all those years ago.

Pet stood excitedly, "My people?"

Mother slowly stood also, "No. Sorry little Pet. We must go to the cave. They are Hunters."

Pet's stomach suddenly felt hollow. She whispered, "Here again." She clenched her fists.

"Come little Pet. It is not safe here."

They moved as quickly as possible, Pet running ahead and Mother ambling on all fours. They went around the side of the hill, under the great fern-like trees to Mother's cave. The entrance was obscured by giant mosses and ferny plants, and they pushed their way past the damp vegetation into the dry and relatively warm cave interior. There were no lights or furnishings. Mother could always see well enough by the feeble infrared light of her own body heat leaking through her thick coat, but Pet radiated so much heat she lit the cave like a lantern. Pet, of course, being human, was quite blind in the cave, but had perfected the skill of clapping her hands and judging distance by the echo. She'd spent every night for most of her life in here so knew it intimately anyway.

Several hundred years ago this had been a shallow cave, but over time Mother had extended it, as her people have always done, by gradual digging, just a little each night. Some of the mountains were riddled with tunnels, carved out over millions of years. Mother's cave, being relatively new, only extended a short couple of hundred meters, into the mountain and had only the one way in. The single entrance gave it less chance of being found, but meant that if discovered they were trapped. There was no threat to Mother's people native to their planet, but the Hunters had come a few hundred years ago from another world and Mother's people had learned to take precautions against the blood-soaked visits every few decades. The Hunters never stayed for long, and left no colony of their own. They didn't eat those they killed, but slaughtered, mutilated, took trophies, and left again. Killing seemed to be some kind of perverse sport to them.

Pet was pacing back and forth in the dark, her fists clenched, her mind going over these horrible creatures and their return. She was angry and very scared.

Mother said, "Please, Pet. Do not worry. We will be safe here."

"They should not be allowed to do this. How can you just accept it?" She felt tears coming and that annoyed her further. She wiped the tears away angrily.

Mother gave a calming rumble. "We don't believe there is any solution other than letting time run its course. The problem takes care of itself. Those that put great effort into war, that consider soldiers noble, that think force solves problems, that love weapons, they tend to die out by exposing themselves to violence. Those who love peace and are wise enough to prefer nonviolent lives tend to survive in increasing numbers even though some are killed by the mad ones. If the peaceful members of a species are unable to do this, then the species exterminates itself. It is unavoidable."

"But that could take many, many lifetimes!" Pet shouted, her voice loud and echoing in the dark cave.

"Yes. On a small island it happens quickly. On a large continent it is slow. But the situation with the Hunters is different. They have access to other worlds. Their boundaries are less defined. Perhaps the Hunters attacked the landing party of a peaceful spacegoing species and stole their technology. They don't seem to be smart enough or cooperative enough to develop the technology themselves. If so, then the people who accidentally gave the Hunters access to space should have been more careful. It would be best if violent species were confined to their planet until they have either outgrown their violent infancy or destroyed themselves."

"So the Hunters could remain a threat forever?"

"No, there will always be the pressure to become less violent — violence always increases the risk of death to the violent individual. Peace tends to increase the lifespan. So even though the Hunters have escaped the bounds of their planet, the pressure to be peaceful still operates — much reduced, but still there. It could take millions of years, but they will eventually become peaceful or die out."

"Someone should do something about them."

"What can be done?"

"Take their space travel technology from them. Kill them to stop them hurting other peaceful people."

"Willingness to kill is counterproductive. And forcibly exterminating the Hunters eliminates their potential to become a peaceful species."

"I still think someone should do something to stop the Hunters killing."

"The Hunters are doing it. The most violent ones kill themselves, the less violent ones survive better. Patience, little Pet. Interfering just makes things worse, not better. Come, little Pet." She reached out a big leathery paw, pulled Pet to her and wrapped her big, warm, furry arms around her. "Please sleep, small one. We are safe here."

Nestled between Mother's neck and shoulder, with Mother's long fur blanketing her, Pet was warm, but spent a very restless night. She kept thinking she heard the approach of the dreaded Hunters. She was scared and angry. Those monsters had killed her parents, had wiped out the colony, and had murdered countless numbers of Mother's people. They might one day find the homeworld of Pet's people... if they hadn't already. Her thoughts suddenly chilled her. She might be the only one of her kind left anywhere.

Pet feared these creatures terribly, but hated them more. She couldn't stop thinking about the aftermath of previous visits. She and Mother would investigate a suddenly silent friend some valleys away, only to find them gutted and dismembered and missing some toes or teeth taken as trophies. Such events left her trembling with nausea and revulsion. Pet had barely any memories of the extermination of the human colony, but the horror stayed fresh. She could vaguely remember her parents' daily attempts to communicate with enormous, friendly Mother being suddenly interrupted one day by sounds of explosions and cries, and she could remember Mother having tucked her into the warm neck-pouch and ambling as fast as she could into the dark forest, all the while murmuring that she must be calm and quiet, that bad people had hurt her family and wanted to hurt her, that they needed to get away. Pet had been terrified. Now, around twenty years later the fear remained, but anger had grown with it.

Before daylight Pet crept out of the cave and made her way awkwardly in the darkness toward the remains of the human colony, where the Hunters now were.

By the time the sky began to lighten Pet had crossed a valley and a hill. She was about halfway to the site and still had no idea what she going to do. All she knew was that she burned with hatred and desperately wanted to find a way to destroy these vile creatures — to kill as many as she could.

She was about to step out from under the cover of trees to cross a small meadow at the bottom of the valley when she heard the sound of one of the Hunters' small scout flyers approaching. Without thinking she grabbed a pole that was a fallen stick-palm, hefted it and when the scout screamed into view, threw the pole into its jet intake. There was an explosion. Fragments of metal and stick sprayed out, shredding shrubs and small palms. The scout nosedived into the trees behind her and was torn apart. Pet ran to the site of the crash. One of the hunters had been ripped to pieces on impact with a tree. The other was lying broken on the ground, not moving. Pet picked up a sharp stick and moved warily closer. Its four thin legs were crushed and bent askew and the main, flat body was seeping blue liquid where a stick had penetrated between the large, overlapping scales. The creature's eyes were closed. The nasty pincers and thin, soft, short tentacles on either side of its mouth were not moving. She stepped closer and touched it with her stick. An eye fluttered open and stared glassily at her, causing her to step back involuntarily. Then, remembering the murder of her people and many of Mother's people, she growled, stepped forward, and thrust the stick deeply into the creature's eye. The tentacles stiffened, the pincers widened, then both relaxed.

Pet felt sick. Turning away, she continued grimly on her previous path. Once more at the edge of the trees, she looked around in the early dawn light to see if all was clear, scampered across the meadow and began climbing the last hill. She knew that when she reached the top of this hill she would be able to see the Hunters' landing site.

On the crest of the hill she crawled under the cover of some shrubs and lay there watching the encampment below. The Hunters were fast-moving on their four thin legs, and their overlapping plates of armour made them seem safe from attack. They carried small catapaults slung under their wide, flat heads. The tentacles near their pincers could reach down, pull the device out to fling a small, explosive ball. The Hunters seemed to be as violent to each other as they were to other creatures. It seemed to make no sense. A couple of times she had seen fights break out among the creatures. Others would form a circle around the opponents. In the first fight she saw, one of the fighters had quickly killed the other by jumping on its back and, gripping the other's head in its pincers, gradually tore the other's head off. On the other occasion the "winner" bit its opponent's legs off before standing on it and sinking its long, curved pincers neatly into the other's head. The several onlookers stepped back a few paces and used their little tentacles with their catapaults to pelt small explosive balls at the victor, blowing bits of the creature all over the area. The group then dispersed as if nothing had happened. Pet watched, thoroughly revolted. These creatures were insane.

After a couple of hours of watching, she got a shock when her foot was grabbed. Before she could react Mother dragged her backwards away from the edge of the hill, lifted her by her foot and stuffed her into the pouch under her enormous, round head, then hurried back down the hill, away from the Hunters' site. When Pet started to protest, she was told to be quiet. Noise risked them both being killed.

When they were far enough away to be able to talk quietly, but without slowing, Mother told Pet how disappointed she was in her.

Pet said angrily, "I want to make them pay for what they did to my people and yours. I was looking for a way to attack them."

"I thought you had a good mind. I now doubt that. I saw what you did to the creatures on the scout craft."

"They deserved it."

"You do not understand what you have done. You have given the Hunters what they love most. Have you realised yet what they do? Killing is valued highly by them. By killing two of their people you are now a prized catch. You have condemned many of my people to death because the Hunters will put much more effort into killing anything in this area in an attempt to find the prize. You have not slowed or discouraged them; you have renewed their interest in killing my people."

With a shock, Pet understood. Her heart sank. "I'm sorry Mother." She jumped out of the pouch, stumbled from Mother's forward motion then started to run back the way they'd come, but Mother reached out with a back paw and tripped Pet over. Before Pet could scramble to her feet again Mother had turned and gripped one of Pet's arms firmly in her big leathery paws. Pet protested, "Let me go. If I let myself be caught by them they won't be so interested in killing your people."

"Your death is not a solution. I've already warned my people. We will hide until the Hunters leave. Stop being a danger to both of us. Come now."

Pet sighed and climbed back into the pouch and Mother resumed her run through the forest, pausing a few times along the way to take cover under fern trees when a scout craft shot overhead.

After some hours of traveling this way they came to the crest of a high rocky hill, the top of which was a great heap of giant boulders. It was almost devoid of vegetation. Mother's pace slowed, having to wend her way between the enormous rocks. Finally she stopped at a massive boulder that sat on three others. There was a space between the great boulder above and a gigantic flat rock beneath — enough space for mother to crawl in on her belly. The other side of this shelter looked out high over the steep hillside they'd just ascended.

Pet left Mother's pouch and took in the vast panorama. "Why have we come here?"

"We would not be safe at our cave. A line drawn from the Hunters' landing site to the wrecked scout ship points straight to it."

Pet's face reddened. "I'm sorry," she said meekly.

Mother grunted. "There is a larger cave behind us hidden under the boulders. We will sleep there at night, and during the day we can come out here and watch the Hunters and warn my people."

In the misty blue distance Pet could see the Hunters' landing ship. Suddenly she saw a flash and a cloud appear on a far hill and some little while later a muffled boom. Several minutes later another flash and smoke in a valley, then another delayed boom.

With a feeling of forboding, Pet asked what they were.

"The Hunters are finding and killing my people."

Pet moaned. She pressed her knuckles into her face and whispered, "My fault."

Mother said softly in her deep rumbling voice, "All we can do is wait."

Pet said bitterly, "I wish they could all be destroyed. Bloodthirsty people like them don't deserve to live. The world would be a better place without them."

"Oh, little pet. If that was so then I would not be here and neither would you. Your temper and thirst for revenge shows your species is still immature and violent. A hundred million years ago, in my people's infancy, we were ferocious and loved to fight. If we had been exterminated at that time we would never have become a people who love peace, knowledge, and wisdom. We came close to destroying ourselves many times before we learned the lesson: anger, hurting others, destruction... these are never the solution to anything; they are actually the problem."

miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Almost every technology we have relies upon fossil fuels. We need to work out ways to break that chain of dependency. I don't count using oil to make plastics as an example of a bad thing, but I do see the use of oil as fuel to run the processes in making that plastic as bad. Plastics are amazing materials that we should value more. Correctly used they are light, flexible, resilient, non-toxic, and can last thousands of years, potentially being handed down to our descendants. Using them for disposable items is obscene.

We could use solar furnaces instead of oil and coal for almost all industrial processes that currently require fossil fuels, but it does require effort. And it would help to have a government which is not corrupt and whose heads are not buried in the sand.

The most important change is to design our buildings properly. We've been building them badly for thousands of years and it feels like we've learned almost nothing over that time. They are our biggest standing consumer of energy -- much worse than transport. We need to insulate and light them sensibly so that they need as little additional heating, cooling, lighting, and shading as possible. It is actually easy to do.
● Clerestory lighting and skylights, and ponds or other reflective surfaces oriented correctly outside windows can greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting.
● Insulation and passive convection heating and cooling, can vastly reduce energy needs, especially if a sunroom is used to gather heat in cold climates, and appropriately calculated roof eaves ensure light is admitted in winter, but not summer. Strategic placement of deciduous trees can also help in this respect.
● Building underground, if designed with sensible lighting and heating/cooling can bring great improvements to many aspects of homes and commercial buildings:
- better thermally insulated
- greater thermal mass (so they change temperature slowly)
- much better sound insulation (play the drums without upsetting the neighbors)
- double use of your land (you can still use the land on the "roof")
- safety from bushfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and if designed right, even floods
- better protection from thieves and other hostile invaders

Any other thoughts?
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
NASA has released a map-style image of the surface of the planetoid Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. The image was compiled from pictures taken by the highly successful Dawn robotic spacecraft. It's still pretty low resolution because although it's now in orbit around Ceres, it's still a long way from its surface. I'll be eagerly waiting for closer and higher resolution images over the coming months.

One of the things that has caught everybody's attention is the appearance of some extremely bright spots on the surface. Nobody has any real idea what they may be, although that doesn't stop people suggesting possibilities. This is much more fun than betting on stupid horse races or elections. My hunch is that they're ice.

The image NASA released has, for some inexplicable reason, swapped the low frequency light (infra-red) with the high frequency (blue). I've swapped them back again to give a better idea of what it looks like. Remember this is color enhanced and the planetoid probably looks more like a gray sphere with only the slightest hints of color. Remember also that the reddish areas indicate heat rather than actual red. To see the craters properly imagine the light coming from the left.

And here is NASA's image with the colors all wrong:
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Nobody really knows what another person feels inside; you only know for sure what YOU are feeling. We do have empathy though. It lets us build representations of what we think other people are feeling. Note that it doesn't let us actually feel their feelings. It only lets us make models of other people's feelings inside us, which we then feel. Empathy can make big mistakes, however since telepathy doesn't exist it is the only tool we have. It works pretty well, all things considered, but having empathy set too low or too high can result in a strange paradox.

The most insensitive people think they are very sensitive. They are unable to empathise well with other people's feelings so will naturally think their feelings are more real and that other people have shallow lives with less meaningful feelings.

The weird thing is that an overly sensitive person may make the reverse mistake. In their case they will be afflicted with empathising too strongly with everybody else's pain and happiness.

The insensitive person will think that other people don't have strong feelings; the overly sensitive person will be overwhelmed by them.

The perception in both cases is in a sense the reverse of the reality. The insensitive person will think their feelings are stronger than everybody else's; the overly sensitive person may think other people's feelings loom larger. In actual fact nobody can say whose feelings are stronger because nobody can truly feel another person's feelings. The insensitive person wrongly dismisses others' feelings. The overly sensitive person mistakes their internal model of other people's feelings for the actual feelings themselves, but they're not; they're just representations. The overly sensitive person feels genuine anguish at the suffering of another person, but they're not really feeling the other person's actual pain. They're feeling a simulation of the other person's pain.

It hurts me when I accidentally hurt ants, but I know what I feel is not their pain. I'm pretty sure they have some kind of consciousness (I've explained my reasoning for this before) and I'm pretty sure they feel pain and fear and happiness, but I can't be certain of it. What I feel on their behalf is empathy -- my simulation of what it might feel like to be them.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
A few days ago I had some ideas to expand a couple of paragraphs in a particular part of my story flying. Not being able to remember exactly where the section was where I wanted to insert it I started re-reading the book from a little over halfway through. At the risk of sounding immodest, I have to say I was amazed at how many fresh and unusual ideas I'd managed to put in my story. This pleased me greatly as I'd previously been too close to it to be able to judge it well -- I'm still unable to judge whether it is terribly good as a story for anybody other than someone who thinks like me. I deliberately flout the "rules" of storytelling because I think they are restrictive and boring, however this might mean that nobody apart from me (and my Mum) can be bothered to read my stories. :)

One thing that bothers me is that flying begins in a very innocuous fashion, which would mislead many readers into thinking it is something that it isn't. This has made me wonder if perhaps I should add a kind of prologue to give the reader a foretaste of what I consider the best parts of the book... or whether I should simply leave it as a surprise. I created the book cover to give some impression of what lies ahead in the story. Could that be sufficient, I wonder?

It is, of course, free to read or download from my website at:
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
It's hard to understand why the Christians would promote and make a film about the biblical story of Noah and the flood. It seems to me it should be as much of an embarrassment to them as the creepy story of Job where god screws over his biggest fan as part of a childish bet. But the flood story is far, far worse as a moral lesson. This god is so bad at what he does that he becomes annoyed that the experiment he made isn't turning out the way he intended, so instead of repairing the situation by, oh I don't know, perhaps reasoning with the people he created and providing a good and moral example, he instead decides to murder everyone. Yes, all those babies and puppies and sheep and songbirds were just so evil they all had to be killed.

What the hell kind of story is that??? It's psychopathic. Their god is so impatient with his failure that he drowns everybody instead of actually addressing the problem. And of course this solution works so well, because the first thing god's model person, Noah, does afterward is to go off to a cave with his daughters for a drunken incestuous orgy. Also, let's not forget all the subsequent insane violence of the rest of the bible. This god, if he existed, would be an utter disaster area -- not only murderously short-tempered in the face of his own failure, but totally inept at repairing that failure. Why would anybody with even a scrap of morality want to worship such a god?

This is exactly the kind of hare-brained, half-thought-through story that makes it crystal clear there could not possibly be a biblical god. It is so obviously the product of fearful, superstitious, ignorant savages. Thank goodness it is fiction.

What amazes me is that everybody knows this story, but they focus solely on the ludicrous idea that two of every animal could possibly fit in an ark, and they completely miss the morality of a god that murders all the children and all the animals because it's easier than fixing his broken mess. It's not just a stupid story, it's malevolently evil.

Banana Pi

Dec. 5th, 2014 02:18 pm
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Yay! My Banana Pi computer arrived today, just one week after ordering it online. Very cool. It cost me just AU$ 69.02. The shipping from China was free.

It's like the famous Raspberry Pi (which I also have), but considerably more powerful. One of the nicer surprises is the ability to plug a 2.5 inch SATA drive directly into machine.

I've just downloaded one of the several versions of Linux operating systems made for it and will try it out tonight if the thunder storms don't move in first.

ADDITIONAL: Having tried it out, I'm a little surprised at the amount of energy it requires. My power source only supplies 1 amp -- at 12 volts  5 volts that's 12 watts  5 watts. The Banana Pi works on that, but just barely. The display cuts in and out. It really needs an electricity source capable of supplying 2 amps. I don't know how much of that it will draw, but the extra capabilities of the Banana Pi appear to have a much greater energy cost. I originally wondered if I should have bought the (more expensive) Banana Pro, but with onboard WiFi it would have sucked even more electricity.

I'm hoping next week to have a solar panel suitable for running this (or another computer) plus my 12 volt, 9 watt screen. A monocrystalline 20 watt panel is $70, and a 40 watt panel is $130. I already have three small 12 volt, 7.2 amp-hour batteries that I already use during thunderstorms to power some other very low energy computers.

This is the season for floods and week-long blackouts. I should get this organised soon.

CORRECTION: Sorry. I was fiddling around with 12 volt batteries, and forgot that the Banana Pi runs on 5 volts. (I use a 12V DC to 5V DC adapter.) I've corrected my numbers above. Power consumption looks a lot more sane now.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
In 1985 I received my latest issue of Scientific American (I'd been buying it every month since I was about 12 years old, back in the early '60s). I was excited by the beautiful image on the cover that illustrated the subject of AK Dewdney's latest Computer Recreations column. One of my favorite regular parts of Scientific American. I didn't realise that this issue would change my life. It would introduce me to the Mandelbrot set -- a mind-bending geometrical shape which, unlike circles, rectangles, triangles, etc, had a finite area enclosed by an infinitely long perimeter. Let that sink in for a moment.

The shape extends less than 2 units in any direction from the center of the plane (0,0) but the boundary that encloses this finite area has infinite length. It manages this seemingly impossible feat by having an edge that is infinitely wrinkled. You can zoom in on any part of the edge and it displays more and more detail the further you go, deeper, deeper... forever. It is a fractal.

However the article was less about this than about the extraordinary, scintillating beauty of the shapes to be found and the ease with which they can be created.

To this day I have never found a more accessible and easy to understand description of how to generate your own mandelbrot set and how to embark on your own journeys deep within it.

I remember feverishly making notes during work that day (I must have been a much worse employee than usual), then on closing time rushing home, eager to try out my rudimentary program on my computer. At less than 1 MHz speed, my lovely little computer was thousands of times slower than even a cheap, crappy computer from nowadays, and the images took overnight to grow on my screen. I was over the moon.

I want to digitise many of the documents that had great impact on me while growing up. This one is now done and uploaded to my website:

I don't know if Mr Dewdney's wonderful columns are collected in book form. I certainly hope so, because I'd love to buy it. If I'm able to find it online (probably on Amazon) I'll link to it below.

Edit: The article I so painstakingly digitised [groan] is available for free download from Scientific American at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/blog/File/Dewdney_Mandelbrot.pdf

Edit 2: I found it. A K Dewdney's book The Armchair Universe is a collection of his columns from Scientific American. Unfortunately it is only available in dead-tree format, not ebook. A pity.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)

Does anybody know of a story (film, book, short story) that is entirely uplifting? That is, one that has no bad people, no trials and tribulations, no obstacles the main character has to overcome -- just a story that is unrelentingly happy.

Many of my favorite films come close, such as "Whispers of the Heart", "Amelie", "Clueless", "Jersey Girl", "The Lake House", "The World's Fastest Indian", "Damsels in Distress", "What's Up Doc", but all have significant downers in the story.

Does anybody know of a story that is up all the way through?


Nov. 1st, 2014 11:11 pm
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Doing it again this year. If I keep this up for another decade I might just produce something saleable. :)

This year I'm doing something a little different. I'm attempting to rewrite and finish a story I started back in 2008 for NaNoWriMo, Critically Damaged, but had only got a couple of chapters written. I think the problem was two-fold. I let real life intrude so was unable to make enough time to write. And I didn't think I could pull the story off.

I only realised the latter reason a few days ago when I was starting to fret. I phoned up my Mum and was worrying to her about how I could possibly create a couple of parts of the story. When I was explaining to her about one particularly troublesome part, where a main character behaves really badly, Mum simply asked "Does your character have to do that? I wouldn't." I was about to answer that the story requires it; without it, there would be no reason for the rest of the story. Then I suddenly realised that wasn't true. She need not do it. And I realised it didn't ring true for me either. How did I ever think I could write something that was so counter to my own natural inclinations?

So suddenly I was off the hook for one of the two major difficulties in the story. And the other big problem? I think I'm working it out. We'll find out this month if I'm correct.

Not sure if I'll post this online as I go...
If you'd like me to post chapters as I write them, let me know here and I'll do so.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I just watched a wonderful talk by Nancy Kanwisher titled "A neural portrait of the mind". (My internet connection is really slow and I can no longer use the TED Talks website since its recent changes so I've given the direct download link to the lowest resolution, 512x288, version there.)

Recently, in the course of a conversation with an old friend I've known for many years, she said something that surprised and dismayed me. She said that what separates good thoughts and bad thoughts is that they have different frequencies (perhaps making an analogy to a radio in being able to tune in different frequencies). I attempted to correct this misunderstanding by describing how the brain is laid out, and that what distinguishes various thoughts and feelings from each other is actually connection -- the wiring map of the brain. In terms of the way the nerves in the brain respond, the sensation of the taste of a strawberry is exactly the same as the blueness of the sky, the pain of a bee sting, the sound of a birdsong, the luxuriantly moist air of a rainforest, the sense of space looking out from a high cliff, the pleasure engendered by a baby's bubbling laughter, the tingling protective pleasure I derive from patting my doggie friend Nata. What makes all these things different is where in the brain they happen. It is architecture, the way these messages connect to each other via the wiring that is important.

A number of times in the past I've heard people say, somewhat mystically, that the frequency of the thoughts is what makes them unique -- their vibration -- and that this explains telepathy. Of course, if pressed on this topic they generally have no real understanding of what is meant by "frequency" or the other mystical term often used, "vibration".

The original meaning of those words is very easy to understand. Frequency is how often something happens in a certain amount of time. For instance the frequency range of the human ear is roughly 10 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz. That is, you can hear sounds that are the result of air molecules being pushed back and forth as slowly as 10 times a second, which is a very low buzzing sound, to 20,000 times every second, making a very high pitched ringing. Frequency can describe much slower things too -- the frequency of my visits to town is roughly once every couple of months.

But when people speak with mystical intent of "frequencies" in the brain they seem to have a vague magical notion. I think it's fostered by a lack of understanding of what electromagnetic waves are, and how radios "tune in" to particular frequencies. They see it as a magical kind of thing, even though they probably know there is a logical explanation for it. Their magical lack of understanding is what allows them to believe in telepathy. They think that these "frequencies" can be broadcast.

I could explain that electrons are like those little paper windmills we all made as kids and would run with, delighting in how they rotate as we move them through the air. Electrons do something similar. As you move one along, its magnetic field rotates around it. Just like the little paper windmill held at arm's length and swished back and forth, it will rotate one way when moved in one direction then rotate the opposite way when moved back. If you move electrons back and forth in a wire alternately one direction then the other (alternating current, abbreviated to AC) then the field around it also rotates first one direction then the other. These changes try to happen in the electron's field all at once everywhere, but change can only propagate outward at the speed of light (about 299,792 kilometers per second), which although it is very fast is not instant, so you can imagine these reversals in the fields rippling outward as waves at the speed of light. But just as electrons affect the magnetic fields around them, it works the other way too, and a little like rotating propellers on airplanes can move the planes along, changing magnetic fields can move electrons. So when these electrons' magnetic (electromagnetic) fields change, rotating back and forth, they push electrons to move in a similar way to the ones that generated the changing field in the first place. If the electrons are in a conductor then they move easily, producing a weak alternating current. If we connect together some specially designed conductors (for example, a capacitor which resists low frequencies and a coil which resists high frequencies) so that they resonate with a particular frequency the way a guitar string resonates when plucked, then we can select one frequency of electromagnetic waves out of many being transmitted. This is, in a very simplified way, is how a radio tunes in a radio transmission. I could try to explain this, but I fear most people's eyes will glaze over and they'll stop listening after the first sentence... after all, this is science, right? One thing we all learned at school is that science is boring and hard to understand. But science isn't boring, and it is actually thrillingly easy!

Anyway, if people understood this I think it would go a long way to dispelling mystical notions such as telepathic waves that might be transmitted and received. However I am always depressed by the number of people who believe in gods and homeopathy and spirits, so I have little hope that many will even attempt to really understand the reality of the world we live in, preferring instead, one of magical notions.

It just amazes me that we live in an era of scientific advances that far outstrip anything that has gone before, but that most people have little more understanding of the modern world's wonders than someone from the dawn of civilisation thousands of years ago. So sad. I don't see this as anybody's fault, in particular, nor do I look down on the people who lack this knowledge. But it does worry me. Greatly.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
During September I've decided to illustrate one of my short stories or the first chapter of one of my novels. You can find them all on my stories webpage.

If you have a preference for any of my stories and would like to see it in graphics please let me know. I am having a hell of a time deciding which one would most benefit from it.

I'm hoping the result will be like a comicbook, though not necessarily quite like the standard format. I'm still working that out too, but given my drawing style (if I have one) I doubt it will look like a normal comicbook; probably more like a heavily illustrated story.

Help me decide which one to illustrate, please.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Why on Earth did I stay so long with GoDaddy? Their settings and configuration pages are a mess, spread over dozens of pages without any standard way of accomplishing anything, and it is extremely difficult to find help.

Arvixe gave me much more space, bandwidth, domains, email accounts, at less cost! Their configuration software is easy to use and centralised, they have lots of easy-to-access help documentation with a search function that works, and the most wonderful customer support I've ever encountered. They have a ticketing system, email support, a voice chat support system, and my favorite: the forums, where patient, friendly, helpful staff are surprisingly quick to answer your questions.

They offered to transfer the files for me, but I needed to do it myself because I'm making big changes to my file layout. Because of my reorganisation I'm expecting some bad links and broken images for a little while.

Website works.

Email works.

Yay! I'm back, baby!
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
If you happen to visit my website over the next 4 or 5 days you'll find it is inaccessible. That's because I'm currently shifting to a better service provider.

When everything is back up, it will still be at the same address, though some of the items in the site will have changed position because I'm taking the opportunity to reorganise things more logically too.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I just came across this old problem:
If one and a half chickens lay one and a half eggs in one and a half days, how many eggs do nine chickens lay in nine days?
Everywhere I've looked people work it out mathematically as 54 eggs, but I work it out logically as 81 eggs.

The problem is, most people ignore the realities of the situation. An egg can be half laid, and a half a day is a perfectly useful unit of time, but half a chicken is useless and can't lay anything, so one chicken has to be laying the one and a half eggs in one and a half days, which is the same as one chicken laying one egg per day. So 9 chickens over nine days produce 81 eggs.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I've just uploaded another short story:
It really is about the meaning of life. I'm not kidding.
I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.
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