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Piers the handyman 2007
Jamboree 2011
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I continue to break in my new computer, with help from geek Brian Smith, and as it shapes up I conclude I like PC Linux OS very well, and it bids fair to be my permanent operating system. It has those niggling little features that Ubuntu lacks, such as providing the date and size of the file I am replacing when I back up, the paragraph exchange where I can switch the places of paragraphs up or down in the manuscript or my letter list, automatic correction when I forgetfully leave the caps lock on so that I don't wind up with fOULEDuP words, it does not think that routinely shutting down my system for the night represents a crash that must be recovered from, it does restore all the files I had in memory when I shut down, on their proper desks, it provides my variant keyboard without my having to open a Terminal each time, dialog boxes appear where they are supposed to be, instead of being hidden on Desks where I am not currently working, and it allows me to assign keys that move me from Desk to Desk so I'm not locked to the Mouse. (In Linux you can have any number of Desks, each with its own papers, so you don't have to pile them on top of each other, which works for me and my multiple working files.) I did have a problem with it balking erratically about backing up my files, but that stopped when I made Konqueror the default file handler instead of Dolphin. It has the Thesaurus, which my edition of Ubuntu does not, and control F7 conveniently calls it up. It makes macros without 16 challenges. It is straightforward about making new Directories/Folders, and is better about copying files into them instead of dumping them elsewhere. So far it has not crashed, though sometimes it backs up a file corrupted; I have to watch closely, because a corrupted backup file is useless. With Ubuntu I get the impression that its proprietors don't actually use it for constructive work, or care about those who do, while with PC Linux they do seem to care. I do note that they list but don't actually have one of my favorite card games, Grandfather; it seems no one at PC HQ actually tried to play it. But the others work, and they have good statistics. So I am increasingly comfortable with it, though my main backup flash drive likes to change my files to 0 content after saving them correctly. My wife guesses that the content is still there, but the program loses the address of the content, maybe from some 32 bit 64 bit confusion. We're trying smaller flash drives. I'll also quit using the .rtf format, because that has been doing erratic things, like changing the font in a paragraph or inserting half page blank headers I can't shrink or eliminate. There is one other significant exception: we bought a printer and connected it, and the computer correctly identified it and says it is ready to use, but that it is turned off, not accepting projects. So I tried going to the Windows aspect, and it says the same thing: printer not accepting jobs. So maybe it's the printer. But how do I switch it from No to Yes? It has no menu. It is the HP LaserJet Professional P1606dn, no installation required. It will print a test page. When I try from the computer it blinks three times and does nothing. Apparently they made it with a default of not printing, for what reason I can't fathom. That seems like a car with a default of not driving. I suspect that programmers of any stripe are only marginally this side of sanity; they think it's funny to make ordinary users bang their heads against walls in frustration. So if there is anyone out there who knows how to make a printer do its job, let me know, even if it does violate a trade secret. We're checking online for Linux drivers, just in case this printer does need one. Once I am able to print, I expect to move to this system as my home base. In fact I'm moving to it anyway, and backing up my files and printing them at Ubuntu. PC Linux doesn't go online—this system has no modem--but I don't need it to; I'll save the Ubuntu system for that.

 

I finally caught up with my reading for others, and started in on reading for myself. Four novels in Dismember, the first an amateur fantasy I won't review here. The second was Relationships 4, read after publication, and I did spot a couple of typos the copy-editor missed. I enjoyed it, but since I have commented on it before, won't go into detail this time. I'll just mention one story that struck me, “Mother Love,” which I suspect is unlike anyone else's erotic fiction. A young man seeking to take out a pretty girl of a different culture is required first to be interviewed alone by her mother. The woman promptly opens his fly, takes out his penis, and stimulates it into ejaculation into a little cup she has. It turns out that he must fill the cup with semen before going on his date. That requires several ejaculations, and by the time it is full, he has very little remaining sexual interest or capacity. So he is now safe for the date, and she has a cup of plant food. Each date is the same; it's their way of keeping their young women pristine despite the typical lechery of potent young men. Then on the date other young men, who know what's what, rib him about my cup runneth over, take this cup away from me, etc., while the young lady pretends not to know what they're talking about.  That's the beginning...

 

One of the projects I've been working on is One and Wonder, an anthology of the stories that first turned me on to the science fiction genre. It's just about ready to be marketed. The first story is Jack Williamson's “The Equalizer,” about the discovery of a limitless power source available by the mere special twisting of wires, and the way it revolutionizes Earthly culture. Reminded of the author, I sought to check his novel The Humanoids, which was originally serialized as the novelet “With Folded Hands” and novel ...And Searching Mind. I checked for my copy of the book, but it was gone from my shelf. I know I had it, because I indexed it, as I do all the books in my library so I can find them when I need them. Also, I had read it to my daughter Penny when she was nine years old, because the girl therein is nine. So my wife ordered it from Amazon, and that turned out to be the edition TOR republished in 1996. It does not admit the lovely title “...And Searching Mind” existed; now it's all just The Humanoids. But I suppose a publisher with literary taste is an oxymoron. At any rate, I reread it, over 30 years after my second reading, which was almost 30 years after my first reading. And discovered I remembered virtually none of it. How could I forget so much of a novel that meant so much to me? I almost suspect I'm getting old. Anyway, it begins with the arrival of the humanoids, sleek humanoid machines whose Prime Directive is “To Serve and Obey, And Guard Men from Harm.” As I read I thought of Isaac Asimov's robots, and of the machine culture in my own ChroMagic series. We each have different takes on the subject; maybe some day someone will do a doctoral thesis on the parallels. My machines have no nonsense about obeying; they are well on the way to systematically extinguishing life throughout the galaxy, unless somehow stopped by the galactic coalition of living organisms. Williamson's humanoids do serve, but have their own take on it. For example, they guard men from harm by forbidding them knives; they can't even cut their own bread. They make men happy by drugging them. It's like a padded cell. Anyone who fights this obviously is unhappy and must be rendered happy, even if this requires brain surgery. It's a frightening utopia. Meanwhile, in the course of this project, Evan Filipek procured a copy of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION for March 1947 and sent it to me as a Christmas present. This was the issue that launched me into the discovery of science fiction as a genre and changed my life, as my writing career illustrates. Ah, what emotion, seeing this magazine again over 60 years later. Others thought I was wasting my time on this junk. Today only critics do. Have I commented lately on critics? To repeat: a critic is finely crafted from fecal matter. Thus a critic is a turd that walks and talks like a shit. Ask any writer.

 

Then I read the sequel, The Humanoid Touch, published in 1980. This shows an intriguing human culture at the fringe of the civilized galaxy, late in getting the humanoid service. The humanoids don't even make an appearance until halfway through the novel. But then they make their impact felt. It turns out that their Prime Directive does not require them to tell the truth, and they lie like politicians, no falsehood too big to avoid. They are also good at imitating living people. At one point the protagonist's former girlfriend interviews him seductively, until he catches on that she is a humanoid. Then he manages to disable her and escape, but they are hot on his tail, warning everyone that he's a killer and must be killed on sight. It becomes a tense thriller. It seems to me that the humanoids claim to want to serve man, but actually want to assume complete power over him. They do have some points; man in his natural state is a warlike creature suffering many maladies. But the cure is surely worse that the ailment. I enjoyed both novels; Williamson was a great adventure writer with some significant themes to explore, such as the price of lasting peace.

 

We also progressed on the Aladdin Relighted novel, and that is just about ready to market. I will proofread it first thing next month/year after posting this column. J R Rain and I largely alternated chapters, following the later life of Aladdin of the lamp, after serious mischief cost him his beloved wife and son. He had become sort of a private eye, concealing the fact that he used to be king. A beautiful woman hires him to rescue her son, who is to be sacrificed. That begins a wild adventure. J R Rain is a bestseller on Kindle with his Vampire PI novels, and I was a bestseller in my bygone day. It will be interesting to see whether we can do it again.

 

Incidental notes: I got a new pair of Crocs, those light all-purpose shoes, and wore them for all purposes pretty much the whole month. They don't look great, but they are cheap at $30, comfortable, and convenient. I also got a liquid lead pencil. I use pencil a lot, to make notes in answer to emails that my wife then transcribes to the computer. I get sick of pencil leads that get sloppy, break, run out or simply don't function. The liquid can be sketchy on the first word, but then settles down and performs well. You can erase it, but if you leave it for a day it becomes permanent. Okay; I like it, and it is now my official pencil. I planted a radish. It had been a while in the bag when I took it out to make salad for supper, and had several green sprouts. It was trying so hard to grow that I had mercy on it, and planted it in our garbage garden, and it is becoming a fine plant. I believe in giving living things their fair chance when I can. A hole appeared in a Tampa Bay landfill, maybe five feet across. Next day it was 80 feet across and 60 feet deep and still growing. And it stank. Probably all the watering they did to try to save crops during the freezes—we had a really cold month—drew down the water table and opened a pit. It was a sink hole. Or perhaps more properly, a stink hole. We’re not teetotalers, but my wife can't handle much alcohol because of her medications, and if she's not drinking, I'm not drinking. But this Christmas we had wine. It's FRE, assorted wines from which most of the alcohol has been removed. Looks the same, tastes the same, I think, but has only half of one percent alcohol, or one proof. Their site is www.frewines.com/. I may have seen the Lunar Eclipse, in my fashion: I woke at 3:30 to go to the bathroom—the high water diet I'm on means I can't make it through the night—and remembered that was the time of the eclipse. It was cold and I didn't want to go outside in my pajamas, so I simply looked out the window. I saw no moonlight. It was a clear night, so the eclipse must have blocked it. Does that count? And a new study suggests that there are triple the number of stars in the universe as we thought: about 300 sextillion. So now they know the size of the universe? At least its a sexy figure, sextillion.

 

Amazon seems to be removing incest-related erotica titles from their store and Kindle. That is their right. But where will it stop? Someone is bound to object to anything that is published. Censorship starts with egregious examples, then spreads as certain folk try to control the reading habits of other folk. Award winning books can get banned. It is, ultimately, a power trip by prudes. I say, if you don't like incest, don't buy or read such books; let the market decide. But don't try to tell others what they may or may not read. How far can it go? I understand that in some countries the Bible is illegal. There is, after all, incest therein.

 

Back in NoRemember SCIENCE NEWS had a long article on the weirdness of quantum physics. (I got wa-ay behind on magazines; now I'm trying to catch up. That's why I want some free time.) Even Albert Einstein had a problem with it. Things like Schrodinger's Cat, neither alive nor dead. Like things being undefined until somebody looks at them. It all could be dismissed as nonsense, except that there have been some sophisticated experiments that do tend to vindicate it. So over the years I have devised some egregious simplifications to make it all intelligible, and maybe these can help others. What about things being random on the minute quantum scale, and not in the real-life scale we live in? Think of a coin being flipped. It will land Heads or Tails, but you can't predict which until you actually flip it, so it is undefined until you look. But if you flip it a million times, it will come up Heads half the time and Tails half the time; you know that without looking. There's your quantum scale versus the macroscopic (that is, ours) scale. Probability governs the scales: 50-50 for a single flip and for a million flips, but it seems uncertain on the single flip because it's all or nothing there. What about being able to measure either the position or the velocity, but not both? Think of the coin again, while it's still in the air: you can measure the rate of its spinning, but not its heads or tails position because that is undefined until it stops. Once it does stop, you know which face is up, but it's no longer spinning, so you can't measure the rate of that. So that uncertainty makes sense after all. What about something not being defined until looked at? How can just looking without touching change reality? Here I think the scientists are fooling themselves. Here's why: flip your coin, then take a flash photo of it in the air. That picture will determine which face is up at the instant of the flash. That's what scientists are doing, in effect: taking flash photos. But the coin is turning, and the photo defines only an instant, not the complete story. The coin is what it is, regardless how many photos are taken. Reality is what it is, regardless how many spot looks scientists take, thinking each look defines it. We are not defining reality, we are only catching glimpses of parts of it. I'm sure those scientists will take this as evidence of my abysmal ignorance, but I leave it to my readers: am I making sense?

 

I was forwarded an article on several items of science. One of them was the discovery of a vegetarian crocodile that lived 80 million years ago. What's peculiar about that? There's a vegetarian spider that exists today, and even some human beings are vegetarians. In fact I suspect that the entire human species will in due course become vegetarian as the food runs out, because twenty times as many can be fed that way. A December NEW SCIENTIST has an article on the evolution of birds. It seems a number of dinosaurs had feathers, originally used for insulation; the birds were the ones that adapted the feathers for flight. A November article in that magazine discusses how human beings were shaped by a truly challenging environment, such as the tectonically active Great Rift Valley in Africa. Yes, that was a case I made in the GEODYSSEY series, and I'm glad to see science catching up with me. Rough terrain, earthquakes, volcanoes erupting—you had to be alert to survive and prosper there. Of course mankind was far more advanced early on than science has liked to admit, but now they're finding evidence of cooking 400,000 years ago, which means control of fire. The explosion of cave art and other things 50,000 years ago probably means not that these things were invented then, but that a new migration from Africa brought them to new territories. Peripherally related: I remember when writing was discovered in an Asia Minor site, and a SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article said it could not be writing because it was in the wrong place and time. What idiocy! It was obviously a precursor to writing, occurring long before the final form evolved. Writing did not burst full-fledged on the Eighth Day of Creation. None so blind as those who will not see.

 

Did Neandertal man mate with modern man? We can be sure the two had sex, because the moderns will fuck anything they can tie down, but it had seemed that the species were too different to breed. New it seems that a few matings did result in offspring; it shows up in the genetic record. Okay; I'm glad the Neandertals weren't entirely extinguished. There is evidence that it wasn't our doing; they ran afoul of a killer volcano in their area. Still, they were an intriguing subset that deserved better than it got.

 

The #1 health newsletter in my estimation is ALTERNATIVES, by Dr. David C Williams. I learn some of the darnedest things therein. For example the January 2011 issue discusses aging. It would be nice, he says, if we could stop the aging process, but that is not feasible. However he mentions four people who seem to live very slowly. One is an 18 year old girl who is 30 inches tall and weighs 16 pounds, in good health but aging only one year in 20. Another is a 27 year old man who looks 8 or 9. Another is a 40 year old man who looks like an adolescent. They all seem quite ordinary, apart from their slow aging. If we could just fathom their secret, who knows how long we might live?  I suspect these are merely extreme examples of a more common phenomenon: different people age at different rates. I was always slow, not in the sense of stupid, but in the sense of looking 13 when I was 16 and looking 60 when I'm 76. I never looked my age. It was hell in youth but is pleasant in age. Whether that will translate into a longer lifespan I don't know, but it's tempting to think that it will. There must be others with slower thermostats. Yes, I do my best to live healthy, and I trust it helps, but the root may be genetic.

 

The last Luann comic strip for 2010 shows her at a party with the Australian Quill. Midnight comes and everyone else is kissing. They say Happy New Year. Then suddenly they are kissing, apparently surprising each other. That's a nice conclusion. I like Luann. I also like Susan in Candorville, and Alter Ego Biker Girl in Rose is Rose. Maybe I have eclectic tastes in fantasy women. As for us, here in Mundania, after 54½ years of marriage we just turned in. We're well into dullness. This is of course one thing that makes romantic fantasy interesting; it lends excitement to those of us who sadly lack it.

 

As usual I have other clippings and other thoughts, but also other things to do, so this is it for this month. I will attend the Festival of Books in Inverness, January 29. They canceled the January 28 session, making it a one day event at the courthouse. I will try to meet and talk with anyone who wishes to interact with me. I'm not much, but I do my best to accommodate.

PIERS
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