miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I just got a threat from some piece of shit out there on the net.

He posted from IP at an address in Athens marked by the red pin in the map. The idiot thinks faking my name in the "Send" field of the email makes him anonymous. (I should note that the map address might just be the server for his internet provider, not his personal address.)

He assumes that I'm into porn. That's a stupid mistake which comes off as an empty threat because I actually never bother with porn. The closest I get to it is occasionally reading some lesbian romances.

He thinks I have a camera on my computer that lets him take pictures of me having sex. Nope. I don't have a camera on my computer and I live alone, happily, without a sexual partner for decades.

He says he's spent a lot of time spying on me. Well then he must have a very boring life because I spend most of my time writing about social justice issues.

He thinks he can intimidate me by telling me my ancient mySpace password. He assumes I use the same password for everything (like many people do). But I use a different password on everything that requires one. And it certainly isn't the password into my computer.

Here is what this jerk-off wrote:


I have very bad news for you.
03/08/2018 - on this day I hacked your OS and got full access to your account mim@miriam-english.org
On this day your account mim@miriam-english.org has password: snuffled0g

So, you can change the password, yes.. But my malware intercepts it every time.

How I made it:
In the software of the router, through which you went online, was a vulnerability.
I just hacked this router and placed my malicious code on it.
When you went online, my trojan was installed on the OS of your device.

After that, I made a full dump of your disk (I have all your address book, history of viewing sites, all files, phone numbers and addresses of all your contacts).

A month ago, I wanted to lock your device and ask for a not big amount of btc to unlock.
But I looked at the sites that you regularly visit, and I was shocked by what I saw!!!
I'm talk you about sites for adults.

I want to say - you are a BIG pervert. Your fantasy is shifted far away from the normal course!

And I got an idea....
I made a screenshot of the adult sites where you have fun (do you understand what it is about, huh?).
After that, I made a screenshot of your joys (using the camera of your device) and glued them together.
Turned out amazing! You are so spectacular!

I'm know that you would not like to show these screenshots to your friends, relatives or colleagues.
I think $896 is a very, very small amount for my silence.
Besides, I have been spying on you for so long, having spent a lot of time!

Pay ONLY in Bitcoins!
My BTC wallet: 18YDAf11psBJSavARQCwysE7E89zSEMfGG

You do not know how to use bitcoins?
Enter a query in any search engine: "how to replenish btc wallet".
It's extremely easy

For this payment I give you a little over two days (exactly 55 hours).
As soon as this letter is opened, the timer will work.

After payment, my virus and dirty screenshots with your enjoys will be self-destruct automatically.
If I do not receive from you the specified amount, then your device will be locked, and all your contacts will receive a screenshots with your "enjoys".

I hope you understand your situation.
- Do not try to find and destroy my virus! (All your data, files and screenshots is already uploaded to a remote server)
- Do not try to contact me (you yourself will see that this is impossible, I sent this email from your account)
- Various security services will not help you; formatting a disk or destroying a device will not help, since your data is already on a remote server.

P.S. You are not my single victim. so, I guarantee you that I will not disturb you again after payment!
This is the word of honor hacker

I also ask you to regularly update your antiviruses in the future. This way you will no longer fall into a similar situation.

Do not hold evil! I just do my job.
Good luck.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Theory of mind is an interesting concept. It lets us understand what another person sees. We generally develop this ability at about age 4 years.

Here is a common way it is explained: A father phones home and his three-year-old daughter answers. He asks her what she's been doing. She answers, "I've been playing with this." She doesn't understand that he doesn't know what she's looking at.

Last year an artificial intelligence was able to demonstrate theory of mind. This is a big deal. It is the beginning of empathy. There's still a long way to go yet, of course, but it's still pretty damn amazing.

I've begun to wonder if theory of mind is not the solid thing it is generally assumed to be.

I often help friends and family with their computer problems over the phone. It is extremely rare for a person to describe what they are seeing. Usually they seem to assume that I can see what they do. And it isn't just because they assume I'm an "expert" with computers. Often they'll do this with computer interfaces that I've told them I have little or no experience with. I'll jokingly tell them I haven't developed telepathy yet, so don't know what they're looking at, so they need to describe for me what they're seeing. But for some reason I've never understood, this is almost impossible for most people to do. Instead, I have to describe what I think they might be seeing and ask them if that fits or not, going through multiple descriptions until, either one fits what they're seeing or they become too frustrated and call an end to it.

Why is this? I'm not exceptional. Why can I describe things, but most other people can't? On rare occasions I have met people who carefully detail what they see and it's like turning on the light in the room. I can see what they see and quickly help them to the solution, if I know it. This makes it even more obvious there is something very strange going on here.


Mar. 9th, 2018 11:12 am
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I think in the future much of our electronics might be carbon-based rather than silicon-based. Graphene -- a single layer of carbon atoms in a flat hexagonal sheet -- has a lot of fascinating properties. It turns out that two layers of graphene where one layer is rotated 1.1 degrees with respect to another becomes a superconductor (conducts electricity without resistance). Unfortunately this double layer of graphene has to be cooled to about –271° Celsius to show this effect. It has another interesting trick too: apply an electric field and it turns into an insulator. That is, it can be a switch. (See https://www.sciencenews.org/article/give-double-layer-graphene-twist-and-it-superconducts )

Graphene is also much stronger than steel, is flexible, and can be made at very low energy. At normal temperatures graphene is about 40% better conductor of electricity than copper, yet far lighter. The raw material (carbon) is one of the most common on Earth, and if we made carbon-based things out of thin air, like plants do, building their structures from carbon dioxide, we might help counter greenhouse gas build-up.

The biggest drawback is that we don't yet know how to routinely construct arbitrarily large flawless sheets of it. But you can bet we will solve it.

A prediction from me: I think cables made from long graphene tubes (also called bucky tubes) wound together will be used to make the space elevator, which will bring extremely cheap space travel to everyone.


Dec. 19th, 2017 08:30 am
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
(A lovely friend, Dorejejaguar, prompted me to write this last night.)
I've often wondered why I'm happier than most people. After reading a fair bit on the topic I've come to the conclusion that I was just lucky that my upbringing accidentally gave me some very useful tools. My old girlfriend, Margaret, missed out on them and she makes herself miserable.

Here are the tools I've been able to figure out so far:

I am deliberately grateful for things. There are lots of things we can be grateful for -- I have my eyesight (despite losing some in one eye), I can hear beautiful music (despite gradually going deaf), I have the use of my hands and my legs, I have thousands of books (both on paper and as ebooks), I have a lovely little companion doggie, I can pick up the phone and ring my wonderful parents who are less than an hour's drive away, I live way out in the country where birds and frogs serenade me, I have oodles of amazingly interesting videos to watch and talks to listen to (most downloaded from the net)... and so on. Studies have shown that feelings of gratitude boost enjoyment of life.

Helping people
I help people when I can. We are social creatures so our brains are wired to generate pleasure when we help others. But this has to be genuine help otherwise it backfires. For example getting frustrated with someone because they don't use your help the way you'd expected, or they don't appear to appreciate it, makes you upset instead of happy because you are actully doing it for yourself instead of for them. It can be difficult, but it's a nice buzz when you get it right.

Find ways to view anything in a positive light. I like to boast that I can see the silver lining in the darkest cloud. It's not entirely true, but it mostly is. I can turn around almost anything to see the positive in it. It has become habit. (Margaret does the opposite and she often rings me depressed about something trivial that she's worked up into something worse than it should be. That's her habit, and she doesn't realise how it hurts her.)

Some examples make this clearer. Recently I hurt my back (I probably tore a muscle by picking something up the wrong way.) It was astonishingly painful. I could barely walk and couldn't sit at the computer for very long. I turned it into a positive by using it as an excuse to get a lot of reading done, lying in bed.

Here's another example: about a decade ago I was on chemotherapy, lost much of my hair, and was constantly exhausted. I had to pause walking up just a few steps to catch my breath. I turned it into a positive by studying the changes and understanding them. It was fascinating to see how the treatment made me anaemic, and I really enjoyed observing the effects in myself. It gave me greater understanding of, and empathy for, people who are similarly afflicted. It was an opportunity to learn because it doesn't matter how many times we read about something, or are told, we don't truly understand it until we experience it.

Another example: Some time back, I was listening to an interview with a writer who said that when she was little and she hurt herself or some other bad thing happened to her, her mother (who was also a writer) would say to her, "Don't worry dear, it's all grist to the mill." In other words it becomes part of her life experiences. It used to annoy the absolute crap out of her when she was a kid, but now that she's grown up and is a writer too she realises her Mum was exactly right. All those experiences -- good and bad -- give her a wealth that she can draw upon. I feel the same way. One time I was having a scary-looking mole cut out and when the doctor started cutting he said that if I can feel that to let him know and he'll inject more local anaesthetic. I said that it was okay because the pain was interesting. He looked at me funny, but I meant it. It wasn't overpoweringly awful, and it was an experience you don't get very often.

A last example: when I was visiting Margaret in New Zealand a few years ago I was helping her by mowing her lawn. When I took the mower from the back lawn around to the front lawn I switched off the mower and was clowning around running down the driveway acting as if it was a racecar. I swerved suddenly near the front gate, but didn't notice the concrete there was mossy. My feet went out from under me and I went down hard, tearing a hole in my pants, badly grazing my knee and one hand. But I focussed on how ridiculous it must have looked and collapsed in laughter punctuated with "Ow, ow!"

I'm not saying that I'm special. I'm just lucky that this has become a habit so I don't even have to try to do it anymore.

Getting something done gives a nice jolt of pleasure, whether it is cleaning the kitchen, or writing a small computer program, or learning a song, or drawing a picture. Weirdly, sometimes I get the greatest pleasure from simple things that take very little effort, but fulfill a need or desire.

Always make sure you get enough. If you don't have sufficient sleep, don't worry about it, catch up later with a nap.

Don't seek it
One very important thing about happiness. I've noticed that seeking it seems to push it away. It's like that tip-of-the-tongue feeling when you're trying to remember a particular word; the harder you try to remember it, the further it recedes from your grasp. The best way to catch the word is to stop trying to catch it and it will pop into your mind later unbidden. Happiness is like that. I've met people who try and try to be happy and it makes them miserable. But you use tricks to elicit happiness while doing something else.

Some things that work for many people, but I don't need:

Bright light
Sunshine can boost the brain's production of melanin, which can make some people happier. You don't need a lot of sunlight to get this effect. It's why some people feel more unhappy during winter.

Happiness diary
A happiness diary can force people to notice the good things in their life. Just note down the good things that have happened to you each day, but not the bad things. It helps the good to loom larger in your view. The bad things will always be there and don't need help, but if your view is mostly uplifting then it sets your frame of mind.

Friends and family
Having contact with friends and family seems to boost happiness for most people. (I enjoy my friends and family, but I don't need that to make me happy -- I love being a hermit. I don't get lonely.)

Physical activity can boost pleasure. Sweeping the floor, going for a walk, dancing, calisthenic exercises. I am not a fan of heavy exercise. I prefer it gentle.

There are a few resources I highly recommend. One is an excellent documentary titled simply "Happy". I haven't been able to find it online but if you ask me I might be able to find a way to get it to you.

Another great resource is Dan Gilbert, a scientist who studies happiness. He's written a very interesting book called "Stumbling on Happiness" which is about how we can find (and lose) happiness in unpredictable ways and what we can learn from that. He's given some TED talks on the topic:

Movies or books that are uplifting, especially comedies, can do wonders. One of my favorite YouTube videos is a Russian one of ordinary people helping each other. It never fails to choke me up and make me feel very happy:

Laughter truly is a marvelous medicine. Even hearing a laugh can cause happiness, especially if it is a baby's laugh:

I love listening to Radiolab episodes. They are almost always uplifting human-interest talks with a good dash of humor. My favorites are the older ones. They have more than 200 of them online and new ones come out every couple of weeks.

Finally, stay away from the mainstream media. Its entire business model is centered on making people fearful and angry. It is very successful at holding audience attention, but it makes people unhappy.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
This calculates even weeks, that is, it can calculate fortnights:
expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "even"

or if you want odd weeks:
expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 + 1 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "odd"

There are 604800 seconds in a week.
"% 2" gives the remainder after division by 2.
When expr evaluates to zero the command after the OR (||) is run.

My rubbish collection is on alternate weeks. But cron doesn't know about fortnights and I only put my rubbish out once every two or three months (I don't have much waste). So I use this in cron to trigger an alert on the appropriate day:

0 10 * * mon expr \( `date +\%s` / 604800 + 1 \) \% 2 > /dev/null || alert "garbage day"

I can't remember why I escaped the "%" symbols. I think maybe cron chokes on them if you don't.

Oh, I should add that "alert" is not a standard command. It is a script that I wrote which puts a notice on the screen and uses speech synthesis to announce the message.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
There must be a simpler way to do this. I was looking for words similar in meaning to "back" or "previous" or "before" but beginning with the letter "d".

My awk is a bit rusty so I used sed, which I seem to use almost every day, wonderful, ugly command it is. Here is what I came up with:

dict -d moby-thesaurus back | sed -z 's/,/\n/g' | sed 's/^[[:space:]]*//' | sed -n '/^[dD]/p'

dict looks up "back" in "moby-thesaurus"
pipe to...
sed gulps it all down as a single line using the -z option and, for all commas, substitutes a newline
pipe to...
sed removes all whitespace characters from start of each line
pipe to...
sed prints only lines that start with "d" or "D"

The choice of pattern is important, for example '\<d' also finds multiple word results where one of the words starts with "d" (e.g. "lay down").

But there must be a simpler way. Jeez!
I can hardly wait for general purpose AI.

am, pm

Sep. 9th, 2017 06:30 am
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Is anybody else confused by the abbreviations "am" and "pm" when applied to 12 o'clock midday and 12 o'clock midnight? It seems to me not only arbitrary and confusing, but actually wrong.

The abbreviation "pm" is for post (after) meridiem (midday), so when speaking of twelve noon or midday is actually incorrect to call it 12pm, because it isn't after noon yet; it is noon. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 noon, or 12 midday, or just noon or midday.

A similar problem occurs at midnight. It is easy to see why 11pm is still referred to as after noon (post meridiem) because it is better described as after the previous noon rather than before the next noon because it is closer to one than the other, even though it is in reality both. Likewise it makes sense that 1am is referred to as before noon because it is closer to the next noon. But midnight is closer to neither the previous nor the next. It is equally am and pm. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 midnight, or just midnight.

Apparently, in an attempt to avoid confusing people, travel times around the world commonly use 12:01pm or 12:01am or 11:59am or 11:59pm instead of messing with the ambiguous 12:00 times.

As for the term "noon". That's a weird one. In the past it meant the ninth hour (nona hora) beginning around dawn, or our 6am, so that the ninth hour would have been our 3pm. So how did that eventually become midday? I don't know. Ancient Roman timekeeping is seriously muddled, and I haven't bothered to untangle it yet. One thing I do like about it though, is that the length of an hour changed according to the season and the location, so that at Rome an hour in summer would be about 75 minutes and in winter about 45 minutes. That makes wonderful good sense to me. Screw this stupid daylight saving time and the constantly shifting rising and setting times of the sun. On the other hand, one of my biggest complaints against daylight saving time is that it makes international meetings via the internet incredibly difficult, and constantly shifting hour lengths would seriously mess with that too.

I expect that sometime in the future we might end up with something like Star Trek's stardate which would resolve all synchrony problems, while completely removing all local relevance. We've already had an attempt at that with UTC, which is basically Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) without silly daylight saving. Incidentally, although UTC is often referred to as Universal Time Code, apparently it stands for the French: temps universel coordonné, which doesn't really make sense as it would be then TUC. It seems actually to stand for Universal Time Coordinated, which is an awful name, clearly chosen by a committee. Being locked to Greenwich in England gets up some people's noses. Admittedly much of the early work recorded in books was conducted at the observatory in Greenwich. But there were a lot of much earlier, very accurate astronomical calculations in India, so Greenwich wasn't the first. Perhaps the invention of the first reliable, portable, mechanical clock by Englishman John Harrison decided things. I don't know.

Once thing is certain: time is a mess. I won't even get started on other aspects of it, such as the 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week (making calculations of every second day messy), 28 or 29 or 30 or 31 days in a month (WTF!!!), 52 weeks in a year, and 364 or 365 days in a year. Naming the months mixes everything up still further, with September (sept=7) being the 9th month, October (oct=8) being the 10th month, November (novem=9) being the 11th month and December (dec=10) being the 12th month. (FFS!!) And then to top all this off, adding the recent and completely unnecessary insanity of daylight saving into that wreckage just completely screws everything even further.


Jul. 27th, 2017 08:14 am
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's latest book Walkaway. I really enjoyed it. I think it's his best yet. The ideas in it come thick and fast, as they do in all his books, but this one has the most hope and the most desperation. It also has the most believable characters.

I love Cory Doctorow's vision of the future, where the idea of people helping each other becomes the most important thing, not gaining wealth and possessions. In all his books there is a message about that, but this was by far the most overt and clearly thought-out one. He carefully presented a path to that future. I hope we take it, and I hope we embrace it more completely than the world does in his story. We could do without the clashes and strife accompanying the birth of that better world.

Given recent events though, I think he may have accurately gauged the strength of the forces against it. Recently I volunteered to build a website for the Sunshine Coast Community Halls.
It was a pretty cool experience. There are a lot of amazing people doing wonderful things. However when I listed the Coolum Community Centre I also mentioned the fact that the hall had been moved once by the Council -- a sore point with a lot of people as it was moved to make way for a MacDonalds (which I didn't mention) -- and that now Council is going to move it again, far away from its present location, which has hundreds of locals annoyed. Bear in mind that this was just two short sentences in a long page of description about the hall, its history, and the people and their activities at the hall, just as I have done for every other of the twenty-odd halls.

Well, the Council was angry and I think threatened about it, so I was asked to remove the offending two sentences, which I did after querying whether they really wanted to draw attention to it like that. Then I had to remove the entire page about Coolum. Coolum was cut out of the festival. It made the Council look very petty and mean.

Because I was reading Walkaway at the time, I was struck by the similarity between how standard power-structures act in that story and how they were acting in reality. When challenged, no matter how meekly, they are met by ridiculously disproportionate force, so that small disturbances are utterly demolished. And then the authoritarians are genuinely puzzled when nobody trusts or likes them.

When I was a child growing up in the bush I liked to go walking kilometers to some of my favorite places. I remember on one occasion trying an experiment with black bullants and red bullants. I approached the black bullant nest and waved my arms. Some bullants would aggressively move toward me, rightly seeing me as a threat. The black bullants were quite mild and would only chase me for about a meter before realising I wasn't a threat and turning around to go back to their nest. However the red bullants were much more aggressive. They would chase me for about 3 meters from their nest before figuring I wasn't a threat. I've often wondered since, whether we white-skinned humans are like those red bullants: far too easily provoked to insane overreaction. Perhaps it's why we've so successfully populated the Earth. If so, that strategy is now endangering us.

Oh, and I've begun re-reading John Wyndham's Trouble With Lichen for the umpteenth time. Wonderful story. I'm thoroughly enjoying it again. Compared to Cory Doctorow's story it is so polite and understated. Interesting that both books are about equally world-shaking ideas, but told in such different ways.

I haven't been doing much writing myself. :(
Two books to finish and no writing getting done. [sigh]
Blocked on one, still writing out ideas and bits and pieces for the other.
I've been thinking about doing some programming on some ideas I have for artificial intelligence (AI). That might help one of my stories (it is about AI).
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
When Marnie Was There (2014) is a Studio Ghibli film I hadn't heard of previously. It is a beautifully bittersweet story that reminds me of some of my favorite RenPy stories.

It adds to, rather than displaces, my other favorites, many of which are Studio Ghibli films too. Speaking of which, it's probably about time I re-watched Whisper of the Heart again. I rewatched another of my favorites again the other day: Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist -- love the quirkiness of that movie, and its refreshing dialogue. And another: The Wedding Singer. Lovely nutty movie, that.

Past due that I re-read John Wyndham's novel Trouble With Lichen too. I used to read it again every several years, but I've come to look forward to it so much lately that I read it once every couple of years. Wonderful story.

Hmmm... seem to be on a bit of a nostalgia binge...

At the moment I'm reading Cory Doctorow's latest novel, Walkaway. I love a lot of his concepts, and this one is based around the idea that people in dire circumstances don't act horribly toward each other, but become everyday heroes. There is a lot to bear out his thoughts on the matter. In recent disasters people have gone out of their way to help each other, often putting themselves at risk to do so. It is a relief to see someone notice that. We have so many disaster movies and horrible survivalists who paint humans as civilised only skin deep where you scratch the surface and monsters emerge. We ignore all the clear evidence to the contrary... such as this picture of the guy who spent a lot of time and effort and fuel pulling wild wallabies out of flood waters.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Elon Musk recently gave a fascinating talk on how to go to mars and maintain a self-sustaining civilisation there.

(Edit: fixed the link, which had broken over time.)
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Yay!!!! After many months of trying to get my Wacom graphics tablet working with this damn computer I have finally done it!

First task now: to paint a cover for my novel Insurance.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)

Linus back in the day
Linux was named after him and is pronounced LIN-ucks.
Here is Linus on pronunciation.

The year was 1991, in August, on the 25th day, young computer student Linus Torvalds first announced the earliest version of what was to become the mighty Linux operating system.

Linux is now installed on an estimated 87 million desktop computers, if you include Android smartphones and tablet computers (Android uses the Linux kernel) then then that number jumps to about 1.6 billion!!

Linux is the most popular Operating System for computers serving the web.

More than 99% of supercomputers run Linux.

Not bad for such a young OS that was developed for fun.

Here is Linus' original post:

> From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
> Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
> Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
> Summary: small poll for my new operating system
> Message-ID: <1991Aug25.205708.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
> Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
> Organization: University of Helsinki
> Hello everybody out there using minix -
> I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and
> professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.  This has been brewing
> since april, and is starting to get ready.  I'd like any feedback on
> things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
> (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
> among other things). 
> I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. 
> This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and
> I'd like to know what features most people would want.  Any suggestions
> are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :-)
>               Linus (torvalds@kruuna.helsinki.fi)
> PS.  Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. 
> It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never
> will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Kenilworth Community Information Centre

I've been helping out a bit with getting their facebook page organised.
This link is to help the Google spiders to find it.
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
Been a while since I blogged here. I should do so more often.

It has been my habit for years to eat my meals while listening to a talk, or watching a documentary, or watching a piece of fiction. Lately I've been listening to one of my favorite shows, Radiolab, after having downloaded a heap more of their shows. It really is an amazing show.

Yesterday I listened to an episode called "Oops". It is an hour long episode that originally aired on 28th June 2010. If you want to download it, the direct link is:
A lot of that episode was very funny, where they talked about the kind of silly errors that resulted from injudicious use of spell-checker programs, but one of the longer stories was extremely serious. It was how torture created an awful terrorist. I wish they'd followed the implications through more completely, but I was surprised that they just left it hanging there before moving on with the rest of the episode.

This morning I ate breakfast while listening to an episode from 26th July 2010 titled "Secrets of Success" in which Robert chatted with Malcolm Gladwell (one of my favorite thinkers) about what makes success. It was funny and very informative. I love the conclusion that, more than anything, doing something obsessively, basically for the love of it, is what makes someone so good at it that it often gets referred to somewhat mystically as "genius". It gives me hope that my writing might have some value, despite my vanishingly small audience.

Further to that last point, a few days ago I was listening to another Radiolab episode "Vanishing Words", from 5th of May, 2010.
The episode was about dementia, something that concerns me greatly, as it appears to run in my family. It is one of my greatest fears. The talk was largely about work that has been done using words as a window into the effect dementia has on the brain.

I couldn't stop thinking about it afterward, and ended up creating a fairly simple program that analysed each of my 6 novels, working out how many unique words each one contained, then attempted to estimate what kind of vocabulary that represented by dividing the unique words by total number of words. I'm not entirely sure this is the best, most reliable way to do this, but it might give a rough guide. I was surprised, and somewhat relieved to find that my books have been trending towards greater vocabularies. My story "flying" is a bit of an exception, having a very low vocabulary, but I think that may be because it consists almost entirely of dialogue and the main character is a fairly naïve young girl.

I love the fact that it's so damn easy to do that kind of thing in Linux. Unlike Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac computers, which actively discourage people from writing programs, Linux makes available dozens of easy tools for programming.

For my simple concordance program I used mostly sed, a very simple and fast stream editor that lets me feed text into a bunch of commands so that what comes out the other end is modified according to those commands. I also used Linux's tr, wc, sort, uniq, and bc commands. These are part of every Linux distribution.

I used sed mainly to get rid of any HTML tags I'd embedded in the text, and also to remove blank lines. The tr command let me translate certain characters to other characters (uppercase to lowercase so words that started sentences were not considered different, and spaces to end of line characters to put each word on its own line) and explicitly delete certain characters (mostly punctuation and numbers). The wc command counts characters, words, and lines in a text file. I sorted the file two ways using the sort command. Firstly, after each word had been put on a separate line, I sorted them alphabetically so I could then run uniq on the list, which collapsed the list down, getting rid of duplicates and prefixing each with the number of instances of that word. Then I sorted again, but this time numerically from least (most unusual) to highest (most common). I used bc, the commandline calculator to find the ratio of unique words to total words as a single floating point number. Really pretty simple.

Results were:
Vocabulary (unique/total)
Shirlocke: .14331
companions: .13691
selena: .13151
prescription: .12292
insurance: .11315
flying: .09655

Another way of measuring the text is to analyse sentence complexity. There is already a Linux command that can do that. It is called style, though I'm not sure the output is very useful for what I want. The manual does give various formulas for calculating sentence complexity, so that's useful. I may look at doing that another day.

For anybody who is interested, here is my quick and simple concordance program. The parts in red are comments. They're just there to help me understand what the heck I was doing when I read it again six months later.


# concordance
# by Miriam
# Saturday 2016-05-07 10:08:55 am
# After listening to the Radiolab episode
# "Radiolab 2010-05-05 - Vanishing Words"
# which talked about analysing texts for early signs of dementia
# I wondered what analysing my texts might reveal.
# I made a quick search for ideas on the way to do this
# and the most helpful site that I found was http://dsl.org/cookbook/cookbook_16.html
# which discussed existing low-level Linux commands that could do the job.
# Stripped out all HTML - snaffled my own code from my "wordcount" script for that.
# Also removed punctuation (but not dash or apostrophe) and numbers.
# Ensured text is Unix format, not MS format (filtered out \r characters).
# I couldn't be bothered with old Apple format -- they've changed to Unix format now anyway.
# Got rid of blank lines.
# Translated all to lowercase so words at sentence starts don't get counted separately.

# test to see if started from CLI or icon
tstcli=`tty | head -c3`
if [ "$tstcli" = "not" ]; then
	xmessage "EEEK!! Don't click here!
    Run from CLI."

function show_options {
	echo -e "\e[34musage: \e[35m${0##*/} <text_or_html_file>\e[34m"
	echo -e "  Analyses text for vocabulary and word frequency."
	echo -e "  \e[30m"

if [ "$1" = "" -o "$1" = "-h" ]; then

pname="${1%/*}"      ; # /mnt/drive/dir
fname="${1##*/}"     ; # file.tar.gz
bname="${fname%%.*}" ; # file
b2name="${fname%.*}" ; # file.tar
ename="${fname##*.}" ; # gz
e2name="${fname#*.}" ; # tar.gz

echo -e "Analysis of $1\n" >"${b2name}_concordance.txt"
echo -e -n "Number of unique words (vocabulary): " >>"${b2name}_concordance.txt"

# remove HTML tags,
# delete punctuation and numbers,
# convert from MSWin format to Unix format by deleting all \r chars
# translate spaces to newlines,
# delete blank lines
# translate everything to lowercase
# store in temporary file
cat "$1" | sed ':a; s/<[^>]*>//g;/</N;//ba' | tr -d '.,?":();!0-9' | sed 's/\r//' | tr ' ' '\n' | tr -d '\t' | sed '/^$/d' | tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]' >/tmp/concord_temp

# calculate vocabulary
numberofwords=`wc -l /tmp/concord_temp | cut -d' ' -f1`
uniquewords=`cat /tmp/concord_temp | sort | uniq -c | wc -l`
vocab=`echo ${uniquewords}/${numberofwords} | bc` # I have bc permanently preset to 5 decimal places
echo -e "$uniquewords\nTotal number of words: $numberofwords\nVocabulary (unique/total): $vocab" >>"${b2name}_concordance.txt"

# create list: numbers of words
echo -e "\nNumbers of individual words:" >>"${b2name}_concordance.txt"
cat /tmp/concord_temp | sort | uniq -c | sort -n >>"${b2name}_concordance.txt"

# if rox doesn't exist, print a message
# otherwise use rox to use the default text viewer to display result
if [ `which rox` = "" ]; then
	echo "Analysis of $fname is in ${b2name}_concordance.txt"
	rox "${b2name}_concordance.txt"


Dec. 10th, 2015 08:22 pm
miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
I've written a new short story. It's only about three and a half pages long, so... very short story. I enjoyed writing it -- a fun idea, I think.

Let me know what you think of it.



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 the story online for you to read what I'm writing. Or feel free to 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."

Page generated Feb. 19th, 2019 04:48 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios