miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I've just uploaded another short story:
http://miriam-english.org/stories/meaning_of_life.html

It really is about the meaning of life. I'm not kidding.
I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Every now and then I look again at the problem of unwrapping text that has lines within a paragraph broken by a line end, but paragraphs separated by a blank line. Here is an example from the beginning of Lewis Carrol's book, Alice in Wonderland at Project Gutenberg:

            ALICE was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her
sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had
peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or
conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice,
"without pictures or conversations?"

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the
hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid) whether the pleasure of
making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and
picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran
close by her.


Strangely, there's no purpose-built tool that I could find to perform this deceptively simple-looking task.

I first approached this in 2010 and wrote a quite convoluted sed command to do it. It was made ridiculously difficult by sed's inability to see newline characters on a line unless the next line was read in after the current one, which meant setting up a loop to read in lines until a blank line is found. This is an absurdly wasteful way to use sed as it already loops implicitly over the whole file anyway -- this is part of its beauty.

Later, I found unwrapping text could be much simplified using awk because I could tell awk to read a whole paragraph as a single record by setting its record separator to a blank line (RS=""). Unfortunately something about this short script inserted annoying spurious blank lines at the beginning and end of the file. This became even more annoying when I used it as a kind of macro for a text editor because it now inserted the blank lines above and below the selection.

Just a few days ago I realised a very simple way to do the job using tr to translate all the newline characters to something exceedingly unlikely to be found in a file, such as ASCII character 1 (\x01). Then I could convert pairs of character 1 found together back to two newlines, preserving the paragraph separators, then convert all the remaining newlines to spaces. Add a tiny bit of extra pattern matching and any spaces and/or tabs before or after the single newlines are removed too.
tr "\n" "\x01" | sed 's/\x01\x01/\n\n/g ; s/[ \t]*\x01[ \t]*/ /g'
This worked really well, but had a small bug. It collapsed triple newlines (double blank lines) down to doubles (single blank line). Double blank lines are often used as section breaks in texts, so losing them was a Bad Thing.

Yesterday I happened to look online to find the latest version of sed (v4.2.2) at ftp://ftp.gnu.org/gnu/sed/
It has some nice improvements, best of which (to my mind) is the ability to use the -z option to change how sed defines a record. Instead of being stuck with reading in records only terminated by newline characters, now with the -z option it can use the zero byte character as a record terminator. This is great! Now I can read a whole file in as a single record and manipulate the newline characters. In the example below I also use the -r option to force extended regular expressions, so I don't have to escape parentheses with backslashes, making it much easier to read. Unfortunately, limitations of regular expressions (regex) still make this more difficult than it need be, but life suddenly becomes much simpler:
sed -z -r 's/[ \t]*\n[ \t]*/\n/g; s/([^\n])\n([^\n])/\1 \2/g'
First I get rid of the spaces and tabs on either side of newline characters, then comes the incredibly simple command (which I've put in bold) to replace a newline with a space if it doesn't have another newline on either side.

No spurious lines inserted and it preserves double blank line section breaks too. Yay!

How simple is that!
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Here is yet another science fiction short story:
http://miriam-english.org/stories/pet.html

This one's about 6 pages long and feels like some of the old science fiction stories I used to love as a kid.

Let me know what you think.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Here's another short story:
Sympathy for Pests

Let me know what you think.

An aside: If you think the technology being discussed in the story sounds like thorium nuclear reactors, yes, I've been reading a lot about them lately.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Trying to map out a larger story and not doing so well, I tried freeing up my mind by popping out a short story on an entirely different topic. I'm quite happy with it. I hope you enjoy it. It's very short -- only a few pages.
http://www.miriam-english.org/stories/Dragon.html

One of the things I always admired about Alice Sheldon (she usually wrote as James Tiptree Jr) was her genius for writing short stories. It always saddened me that she seemed unable to apply that same talent to writing novels. Her longer form stories never quite had the same sparkle that shone in her short stories. I used to wonder how that could be. I can't help feeling that my novels are something of a disappointment, but I'm very pleased with some of my short stories like this one, Dragon. Perhaps I'm just not meant to write longer form stories.

One of my favorite writers, Janet Evanovich, wrote eleven novels before she finally sold one so I promised myself that I'd try to write that many before making final judgement.

In the meantime I'll still write short stories. I have plenty of ideas. Hopefully I'll never run short on them.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I've made some small changes to the Companions story -- mainly the badly written opening few paragraphs. I also added the day of the week to each chapter. That could be worked out by reading the text, but I realised it was better if the reader knew from the start of each chapter when the events were taking place -- not because it was particularly important for the story, but simply because it made it a bit easier to read.

Doubtless I'll make further revisions in the near future, and probably stumble across some terrible bloopers. If you find them for me I'll gratefully immortalise your name in the text.

Read and/or download it for free here:
http://miriam-english.org/stories/Companions/index.html
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
If you want to read my latest story, Companions, then pop over to:
http://miriam-english.org/stories/Companions/index.html

You have four choices:
  1. read it online as a single page
  2. read it online as a page per chapter
  3. download it as a single zipped page
  4. download it as an epub ebook for your phone or ebook reader.

The story is, surprise, surprise, about different kinds of companionship (family members, friends, lovers, human-human, human-AI, human-dog, AI-dog) in a near future where AIs are fairly common. I examined a bunch of ideas that interest me. I hope they don't bore everyone else.

AIs are, of course, Artificial Intelligences. They are the minds inside robots and androids, and in some cases don't have bodies.

There are probably lots of problems with it. If you let me know of any that you find I'll be very grateful. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think, even if you can't make your way through it all 83 pages.

miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Last night I set my computer to download on my slow internet connection a number of videos I figured would be interesting. One was a short, informative film on despotism made in 1946 and now stored at The Internet Archive. It is as relevant today as it was when it was made. You can download the 40 MB version here:
https://archive.org/download/Despotis1946/Despotis1946_512kb.mp4

Other formats of the same video (most are larger filesize) can be selected at:
https://archive.org/details/Despotis1946

The documentary uses two scales to test whether a society tends toward openness or despotism: Respect, and Power. Whether these properties are held by ordinary people or are denied them, then this is a guide to the state of the society.

There are two more tests that give an idea of whether a society is moving towards or away from despotism: Economic Distribution, and Information. If these are evenly spread and accessible to all in society then its future looks bright, but if these things are weighted heavily toward a few then it is moving dangerously toward despotism.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I've been taking part in the April NaNoWriMo thingy called "Camp NaNoWriMo" in order to stop me procrastinating about rewriting my story Companions. So far I've worked on the first two chapters. I'll work on the third today. Each chapter gets uploaded as I complete it. Hopefully I'll finish the story this time.

Here is a button:
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Corruption is a real, creeping problem and many of society's standard tools fail to stop its encroachment. It seems to be destroying democracy in many parts of the world. The USA is a case in point, where it is simply accepted that politicians accept bribes from big corporations. Australia has been hurrying down the same path too. We now don't even raise our eyebrows when a politician lies or steals money or diverts the public good to benefit rich mates.

This has bothered me for some time and I have seen no easy way around it. I've often gloomily wondered if time was up for western civilisation and we need to fall to make way for more vibrant societies. But I don't like that idea because it would hurt many people. There should be some ways to set rules for society that change the way things work. If they are carefully aimed then they could go a long way toward fixing many of society's greatest ills.

Here is an attempt. Please tell me what you think.

Rules for politicians and others who hold positions of public trust


Violating any of these rules would mark an individual as unfit to hold public office and unable to properly serve society, requiring them to be dismissed from office.

Certain people and groups who benefit from positions of power and influence in private industry may have some of these rules applied to them too if they misuse that power and influence to the detriment of larger society.

All companies and corporations should be bound by the first 6 rules as they are not human and must not be allowed to damage society.

* * *

  1. They must not promote hatred against any group, nor use their position to disadvantage any group. 1(see notes below)

  2. They must not mislead the public through lies of commission or omission.

  3. Discussions and debate must be conducted rationally, and answers to legitimate questions must be promptly and clearly given. Failure to answer a legitimate question clearly must be considered a lie of omission. Calling people names, shouting at people, evasion, clouding the issue, obfuscating, and using tricks of emotional persuasion in lieu of logic can not be tolerated in people entrusted with great power. They are techniques for people who are not comfortable with the truth, so unsuitable for those in public office.

  4. Secrets can not be tolerated. Secrecy always invites corruption. Transparency is the only way to prove dealings are honest. Dishonesty and corruption must be made incompatible with positions of power. 2(see notes below)

  5. They must not misappropriate or steal money from the public purse for themselves, their family, or friends. This also applies to goods such as materials, services, or contracts.

  6. They must not accept bribes of money, or favours, or promises of them, in return for actions.

    ---- the items below apply only to people in public office ----


  7. They may not receive gifts, donations, or promise of employment from companies or organisations. All donations must be from individuals only. All donations, no matter how small, must be registered in a public list (amount and donor) easily available electronically for easy monitoring to avoid the risk of bribery. It should be clear that anyone objecting to this has bribes to hide.

  8. During and for a period of 10 years after their term of public office they must not accept any position for money or favours with any private company or non-government organisation. Accepting such returns should be penalised by imprisonment (fining such abusers is no deterrent). 3(see notes below)

  9. They must demonstrate more than a current high-school level of understanding of broad fields of science and history. Modern society depends deeply upon science. Any position of power requires a broad understanding of the sciences. History is important because those who don't understand it are doomed to repeat its mistakes. A high level of knowledge is needed because in today's world ignorance can do far too much damage when coupled with great power. We require a certain level of competence when someone gets behind the wheel of a car or airplane; so it should be for steering a nation.

  10. They may not use, for themselves or their family, private transport, private education, or private health care where public alternatives exist. To hold public office requires that they have that intimate understanding of public systems that only comes with their regular use. Any public official who is insulated from public services can not possibly understand them or that large part of society that depends upon them.

  11. Due to its dangerously divisive nature, religion must not be any part of public office. If religious views are held, they have no place in public and must be kept absolutely private. History shows religion can too easily be used to deceive and to rationalise actions that disadvantage members of other religions and those who have no need for religion. A person in public office must be capable of fairly representing all of society, and one who loudly proclaims their religion is clearly unable to do that.



Notes:

1 [Rule 1] It is sadly predictable that it will be argued that using tax and the law to remove some excessive wealth and power from some individuals and groups "disadvantages" them. This twists the intent of rule 1. History shows that it is necessary to properly tax the wealthy and remove excessive power from those who misuse it in order to prevent disadvantage to large parts of society. Those taxes actually benefit the wealthy. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr put it, "I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization."

2 [Rule 4] This refers to secrets held by those in power. Individuals are entitled to personal secrets, but groups and companies are not -- they are not people. Secrets are widely assumed to be necessary in some circumstances. I have never heard a logical argument for why this could be so. Some activities might only be possible through the use of secrecy, but those activities are almost never in the best interests of society. Those few that might actually help society (I've never heard of any) can be safely relinquished because of the great risk of corruption they always bring with them. Open Source programming has shown clearly that removing secrecy actually increases safety and security. The cult of secrecy is based upon an outdated and dangerous misconception.

3 [Rule 8] This is to prevent the common practice of a public figure making decisions to benefit a group during office and then being rewarded after public life by receiving a lucrative job with them. This is simple bribery and corrupts every level of public office. It must be stopped. It is unfortunate that there will be cases where an ex-official wants to work honestly for a company where they can deliver genuine insight and expertise, but this must be renounced in order to prevent a massive form of corruption continuing unabated. Ex-officials are already well rewarded financially and there are plenty of pro-bono activities that would benefit society.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
What a surprise. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology has put out its annual report on the past year's weather and it's conclusion that 2013 was the hottest on record was completely ignored by climate denialist press owned by Murdoch. Instead, they choose to report on extreme cold weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Seems in their willful blindness they've not noticed that global warming will drive extremes, so that hotter than normal and colder than normal weather can be expected -- like pushing a pendulum harder, it swings further both ways, even though the whole thing moves gradually further to the hotter side. In fact there is tentative evidence that one of the early side-effects from global warming might be a mini-ice age for the Northern Hemisphere, putting Europe and North America under a kilometer of ice for perhaps a century while the Southern Hemisphere continues to bake in rising temperatures. Fun. :(

What a wonderful service Murdoch and his cronies are doing for Australia and the world. Even children who watch Spiderman know "with great power comes great responsibility". The only thing I wonder is when (not if) he and his lackeys will be sued into bankruptcy and hopefully imprisoned for their nasty efforts. It's taking longer than I expected, but I figure it's bound to happen sooner or later. I will be cheering when it does, someone so intent on wrecking the world for short-term profit needs to lose every vestige of that power so misused.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Here's something for your inner geek. The Surplus Shed is having a sale for the next 3 days where everything is 44% off. Want some scientific gear that you just can't find elsewhere? They have lots of optics and gears, as well as plenty of other scientific equipment (check the drop-down list in the top left corner of their pages). These are the people I bought my Scientific American Amateur Scientist CDROM from.

To get the 44% discount you must use the coupon code: SS140201 when ordering.

The sale ends Tuesday 7th January 11:59pm Eastern Time USA (I'm pretty bad at working out time zones, but I think that's mid-afternoon Wednesday for us in Eastern Oz). Hmmm... that's more than 3 days... odd. Oh. Working days. They're not counting the weekend.

I just spent about an hour browsing the microscope, solar panel, robotics, and various other sections. There are a few things there I'd love to buy if I had more spare money. [sigh]
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Am I the only person who wears their underwear and nightwear with the seams on the outside? It seems odd to me that most people wear them with the seams on the inside, next to the skin. Nobody sees your undies, so there doesn't seem to be any rational reason to wear the seams uncomfortably inward.

It is like a house. The exterior wall is smooth, with the battens on the inside. The interior of the house has this reversed, with the smooth walls inside and the battens hidden behind them inside the walls.

I think it's good sense to keep the uncomfortable seams away from your body. Why do people put up with seams pressing against them? Maybe they don't find them as uncomfortable as I do.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Well, just another couple of hours and NaNoWriMo 2013 ends. My story still has two and a half chapters to go, so I certainly won't be completing it tonight, and I'm okay with that -- disappointed, but okay. I'll continue to write it. I still think it's a good idea, even if I'm the only person in the world who'll think so. :)

I hope those others of you who attempted NaNo this year achieved more than I did. NaNo is really valuable and I'm very grateful for the push it helps me give myself.

Right now I'm off to bed.

Nighty night all.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I have just gotta have one of these for my Raspberry Pi.

Get it from Adafruit when it becomes available soon.
http://www.adafruit.com/products/1601
They'll even email you when it's in if you want.
Adafruit has the most wonderfully geeky stuff -- nerd paradise. [sigh]
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Finally got chapter 4 of my Companions story written. It's an important chapter, but I don't know if it works. I don't mean that I doubt it, I mean I honestly have no idea... so we'll just get on with the next chapter.

Not quite sure how to do the next chapter. If it gets too difficult to write I guess it can be dropped and just get on with the one after. It isn't necessary, but it would round out a part of the story that feels like it needs it. Well, we'll see won't we. Wish me luck.

Let me know what you think of this chapter please.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
It turns out the TPP would basically destroy the internet and replace it with something totally controlled by giant corporations. The bastards want to do to the internet what was done to radio, newspapers, and TV and make us silent consumers once again.

https://openmedia.org/censorship
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Damn! This is one of those times I wish I was still in Melbourne.

Cory Doctorow will be in Melbourne next week to do a series of events with the Center for Youth Literature of the State Library of Victoria. He's doing four events:
  • The science of fiction - Friday 22 November 2013, 6:30pm - 8:00pm
  • Creative versus Commons - Saturday 23 November 2013, 6:30pm - 8:00pm
  • Digital fiction masterclass - Sunday 24 November 2013, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
  • Future fiction with teens - Monday 25 November 2013, 10:00am - 12:00pm
Event schedules and signups:
http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/event/digital-society
(Booking is essential.)
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Remember, some months back the Cassini team was getting ready to turn its cameras back upon Saturn to take a mosaic of images that would show Saturn and its rings backlit by the sun? Remember that Earth was going to be in the image and that people were asked to go outside and smile upwards so they could remember the time as a very special image?

After months of work processing the images they are now available for download at http://ciclops.org where it is currently the main-page story.

More description and links to the image pages:
http://www.ciclops.org/view/7699/The-Day-the-Earth-Smiled
The annotated image is especially interesting.
(Unfortunately you can't simply download the images. You need to go to each image's page and save the picture from there, although one advantage of this is that it gives you a chance to give some small feedback by rating the image.)


Our lonely blue dot

The Cassini team also took some special high-resolution images of just Earth. Just try feeling that any "-isms" or that any puffed-up celebrities or politicians are important while looking at this image.
http://www.ciclops.org/view.php?id=7695
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Chapter 3 of my story Companions is now online.

This one is much shorter than the others. I didn't even make my writing target of 2,000 words written for the day because I spent a lot of the day doing research. The main character of this chapter is someone who loves playing computer games, but after talking to my nephew, Dan, who knows an incredible amount about this stuff, I came to realise just how totally out of my depth I was. I don't play any games at all and I found it really difficult to put myself in the headspace of someone who does. So I concentrated on what I do know -- the building of 3D virtual worlds for those who do use them for gaming. I just hope the result isn't flat-out boring for you.

Please let me know what you think.
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