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.
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 and how it can look on a display not wide enough for the lines:

            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
"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
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:

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.

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:
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