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).

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

I think I have a new favorite film

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.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Linux is 25 years old

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 (
> 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 :-(.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

Radiolab talks and analysing my stories

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.

(I've put the code behind a cut tag because LJ messes up the entire journal if I have long lines.)

Read more...Collapse )

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)


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.

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)

my RepRap Prusa i3 3d Printer - unboxing

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)
** ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene -- what LEGO bricks are made from)

(Crossposted from at my Dreamwidth account. Number of comments there so far: comment count unavailable)