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User Journal

Journal Journal: Gone Again!

As always, if slashdot has borked the text, just go here.
        She was gone again, shortly before my elderly cat died. I refer to my muse, of course.
        I looked everywhere I could think of, to no avail. Stolen again? I went for a walk, on the lookout for that aged black aged Lincoln with that blonde and that brunette and the kind of weird-looking driver, the ones who stole my muse before. It cost me fifty bucks to get her back!
        They had been right about the weather.
        But this time, there was no ransom note, or any other sort of clue. Almost every day I would go walking, in search for, if not my muse, an idea for a story.
        Maybe she had gotten trapped in a tavern. I went there looking for her, or an inspiration. I had no luck.
        Weeks went by with no trace.
        I was starting to get worried; had the Grim Reaper taken her, too?
        Finally I got a text message: âoeOn vacation, asshole. Iâ(TM)ll be back when you quit crying over that damned cat.â

User Journal

Journal Journal: Rossum's Universal Robots 7

Slashdot has probably borked the text although it looks fine in preview. A non-borked version is at my blog.
        Half a century ago I was reading a book by Isaac Asimov. I donâ(TM)t remember what book, but I know it wasnâ(TM)t I, Robot because I looked last night and it wasnâ(TM)t in that book. But in the book, whichever one it was, Dr. Asimov wrote about the origin of the word âoerobotâ; a story by Karel Capek titled R.U.R.: Rossumâ(TM)s Universal Robots.
        I searched every library I had access to, looking for this story, for years. I finally gave up.
        Then a few weeks ago I thought of the story again. I have no idea what triggered that thought, but it occurred to me that there was no internet back then, and since the book was so old, it would probably be at Gutenberg.org.
        It was! I downloaded it, and to my dismay it was written in Czech. So I fed it to Google Translate.
        Thirty five years ago when I was first learning how computers work and how to program them, I read of a program the US government had written to translate Russian to English and back. To test it, they fed it the English phrase âoethe spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.â Then they fed the Russian translation back in. The re-conversion to English read âoeThe wine is good, but the meat is spoiled.â
        I figured that in the decades since their first efforts at machine translation, it would do a better job.
        I figured wrong. What came out of Google Translate was gibberish. It does a good job of translating single words; paper dictionaries have done this well for centuries. But for large blocks of text, it was worthless.
        When I first saw the Czech version I could see that it was, in fact, not a novel, but a stage play. I kept looking, and found an English language version translated by an Australian. Itâ(TM)s licensed under the Creative Commons, so I may add it to my online library.
        Wikipedia informed me that the play was written in 1920, and a man named Paul Selver translated it into English in 1923. So I searched Gutenberg for âoePaul Selverâ and there it was! However, it was in PDF form. Right now Iâ(TM)m at the tail end of converting it to HTML.
        After reading it I realized that this story was the basis for every robot story written in the twentieth century, and its robots arenâ(TM)t even robots as we know robots today. Rather, they were like the âoereplicantsâ in the movie Blade Runnerâ"flesh and blood artificial people. That movie, taken from Philip K. Dickâ(TM)s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? would have actually been a sequel to R.U.R., had R.U.R. ended differently.
        The Terminator was R.U.R. with intelligent mechanical robots instead of artificial life. Their aim, as the âoerobotsâ in Kapekâ(TM)s story, is to destroy all humans.
        Asimov said that his robots were an answer to Frankenstein and R.U.R. He thought the very idea was ridiculous, so he made his own robots inorganic and mechanical rather than organic, and added his âoethree laws of roboticsâ. His laws werenâ(TM)t physical laws like the inability of anything to travel faster than light, but legislation; similar to Blade Runner, where the artificial people werenâ(TM)t allowed on Earth. In a few of his books, like The Caves of Steel, robot use on Earth is strictly limited and controlled and people hate them.
        I thought Asimov had the first mechanical, non-magical robots, but I was wrong. There were fictional mechanical robots before Asimov was born. The first US science fiction dime novel was Edward S. Ellisâ(TM) 1865 The Steam Man of the Prairies, with a giant steam powered robot.
        One thing that put me off about this play (besides the fact that itâ(TM)s a play, which is far better watched than read) was that the original story was written in a language I donâ(TM)t understand. Thatâ(TM)s why I donâ(TM)t read Jules Verne; his stories were written in French, and I donâ(TM)t speak that language, either.
        I dislike translations because I used to speak Spanish well, according to South American tourists, and a smattering of Thai. And Iâ(TM)m a reader. Itâ(TM)s more than just the story, itâ(TM)s how itâ(TM)s written. There are word plays and idioms that are impossible to translate. For instance, a beautiful English phrase that uses alliteration would lose its beauty in any translation. And, there are no boring stories, only boring storytellers. I suspect that Kapek may have been an excellent writer, but Selver wasnâ(TM)t, to my mind. Little of the dialog seemed believable to me.
        But in the case of this story, even the poor translation (Wikipedia informs me itâ(TM)s abridged) is worth reading, just for the context it places all other robot stories in.
        It will be at mcgrewbooks.com soon.

User Journal

Journal Journal: cnn.com sucks 1

As of today and for the past few months, cnn.com sucks. They have so many scripting and click overlays or whatever generating ad content it takes up to 30 seconds to load on my fast home computer with good Internet connection.

Worse, it grinds Chrome almost to a halt. If I click the close box, it can take over 5 seconds to actually close that awful cnn.com tab. Other tabs are hindered.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Like Owen Wilson in Armageddon 7

So the Fuckhead Of The United States is having literally the worst first month of a presidential term and his big idea is a 2020 campaign rally in fucking Florida this weekend?

Oughtta just nuke the whole country, it's the only way to be sure at this point. Fucking Yanks.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Printer 5

(Illustrated version here)
        After buying copies of books from my book printer, finding errors to correct, and giving the bad copies to my daughter who wants them, rather than discarding them I realized I was stupid. It would be a lot cheaper to buy a laser printer.
        An inkjet wouldnâ(TM)t work for me. The printer is going to be sitting idle most of the time, and inkjet nozzles clog; Iâ(TM)ve had several, and all clogged if you didnâ(TM)t use them at least every other day. Plus, the ink dries out in the cartridges. Being a powder, toner has no such problem.
        So I went looking at the Staples site, and they badly need a new webmaster. This little four year old laptop only has a gig of memory, and a lot of people have far less. The poor little machine choked. That damned web site took every single one of my billion bytes!
        Or rather than firing him, make him design his websites on an old 486. Or even 386.
        So what the hell, I just drove down there; I didnâ(TM)t want to wait for (or pay for) it to be shipped, anyway, I just wanted to see what they had.
        Buying it was easy. They had exactly the printer I was looking for; Canon, a name I trusted since we had Canons and other brands at work, wireless networking, and not expensive. They had a huge selection of lasers; itâ(TM)s a very big store. I paid for the printer and sheaf of paper, and man, lasers sure have gotten a lot less expensive. I expected at least $250 just for the printer, maybe without even toner, but the total including tax and paper was just a little over a hundred.
        When I got home, of course I pulled out the manual like I do with every piece of electronics I buyâ"and it was worse than the âoemanualâ that came with the external hard drive I ranted about here earlier. Cryptic drawings and very little text. At least the hard drive didnâ(TM)t need a manual. All there is is a network port, a USB port, a power socket, and an on/off button. Plug it in and it just works. With the printer, I really needed a manual.
        Kids, hieroglyphics are thousands of years out of style and I donâ(TM)t know why youâ(TM)re so drawn to emoticons, but there was an obvious reason for these hieroglyphics: globalization. Far fewer words to be written in three different languages.
        I could find nothing better on Canonâ(TM)s web site. So I followed the instructions in the poor excuse for a manual for unpacking it and setting it up, as best as I could.
        I couldnâ(TM)t find the paper tray.
        Iâ(TM)ve been printing since 1984 when I bought a small plotter and wrote software to make it into a printer. Afterwards I had ink jets at home until now, and lasers at work. All the lasers were different from each other in various ways, usually the shape of the toner cartridge, but all had a drawer that held the paper no matter what brand of printer.
        I couldnâ(TM)t find it. Sighing and muttering, I opened the lid to the big laptop and copied the CDâ(TM)s contents to a thumb drive to install the printer on the smaller notebook. Thereâ(TM)s no reason to make two calls to tech support, because an installation screwup is never unexpected when youâ(TM)ve been dealing with computers as long as I have.
        And why send a CD? Fewer and fewer computers have CD or DVD burners any more. Why not a thumb drive? All computers have USB ports these days, and have had for over a decade.
        The installation was trouble-free but still troubling; I didnâ(TM)t think the wi-fi was connecting, as it said to hold the router button until the blue light on the printer stopped flashing. I held the button down until my finger hurt and was about to call tech support, but as I reached for the phone the light stopped flashing and burned steadily.
        Maybe it was working, but Iâ(TM)d have to find the paper tray to find out. But it had installed a manual, one I couldnâ(TM)t find. So I plugged the thumb drive back in and searched it visually with a file manager, and found an executable for the manual. Running it took me to an offline web page which wasnâ(TM)t too badly designed, but I would have far preferred a PDF, as I could put that on the little tablet to reference while I was examining the printer in search of where to stick the damned paper, instead of a bulky, clumsy notebook.
        I finally found it, and it wasnâ(TM)t a tray, even though thatâ(TM)s what the documents called it. I havenâ(TM)t seen anything like it before, and the documentation was very unclear. But I did manage to get paper in it, and sent a page to it, and it worked well.
        Meanwhile, I wish Staples would fix their web site, and Canon would fix their documentation.
        When did clear, legible documentation go out of style? Hell, the lasers we had at work didnâ(TM)t even need docs. Good thing, too, because IT never left them when they installed crap. Another reason Iâ(TM)m glad Iâ(TM)m retired! Work sucks.
        At any rate, a few hours later I printed the cleaned up scans of The Golden Book of Springfield so I could check for dirt I missed looking on a screen. I saved it as PDF and printed it from that. And amazingly, this thing prints duplex! It only took fifteen or twenty minutes or so to print the 329 pages.
        Iâ(TM)m happy with it. Man, progress... it just amazes me. But when I went to print from Open Office, the word processor Iâ(TM)ve used for years, I didnâ(TM)t try sending the print job to the printer, but it looked like Oo wonâ(TM)t print duplex.
        Then I discovered that they may stop developing Open Office because they couldnâ(TM)t get developers; the developers were all working on Libre Office.
        Damn. The last time I tried Lo it didnâ(TM)t have full justification, which was a show stopper when Iâ(TM)m publishing books. Iâ(TM)d tried it because someone said it would write in MS Word format. I was skeptical, and my skepticism was fully warranted. It could write a DOC file, but Word couldnâ(TM)t read it. Plus, of course, the show stopping lack of full justification.
        I decided to try it out again, since Oo may be doomed⦠and man! Not only does it have full justification, it has a lot Oo lacks that I didnâ(TM)t even know I needed. It appears to now actually write a DOC file that Word can read, even though when you save it in DOC the program warns you it might not work in Word.
        And it might⦠I havenâ(TM)t tested it⦠might arrange pages for a booklet. Iâ(TM)ll test it with this article⦠when itâ(TM)s longer than four pages, as it is now.
        This was all over the course of the last week as I was working on a PDF of the Vachel Lindsay book. The computer nagged me that the printer was running low on toner (it has a small âoestarterâ cartridge), with a button to order toner from Canon. I clicked it, and damn, the toner cost almost as much as the printer did.
        Then I ran out of paper, so I went back to Staples, where I discovered that the printer I had paid eighty something plus tax for was now twice that price! So I got the toner and five reams of paper.
        At any rate, I tried to print this as a booklet, and this is what came out:

        Itâ(TM)s backlit; the picture on the top left and the grayer text on the bottom right are on the other side of the page.
        But a little fiddling and yes, it will print booklets. It isnâ(TM)t Libre Office doing it, itâ(TM)s the printer itself!

        I like this printer. Iâ(TM)ve figured it to about a penny per page, and I donâ(TM)t think thatâ(TM)s too expensive, considering a page is both sides.
        And then I had this document open in Libre Office, tried to insert a graphic (the second one in this article), and it simply didnâ(TM)t insert. Maybe it doesnâ(TM)t like JPG files, I donâ(TM)t yet know. A little googling showed me that Iâ(TM)m not the only one with this problem, and none of the fixes I found fixed it. I have Open Office open now.
        And here I was going to uninstall Open Office. Iâ(TM)d better not, I guess. Iâ(TM)ll need it if I want to insert a graphic; inserted in Oo they show in Lo. Puzzling.
        A week later and Iâ(TM)ve found that sometimes it will insert a graphic, but only if you go through the menu; using text shortcuts never inserts it. And sometimes it simply doesnâ(TM)t insert the picture, and sometimes it says it doesnâ(TM)t recognize the format when Iâ(TM)d just put the same graphic in another Lo document.
        Well, Iâ(TM)m not uninstalling Open Office yet, anyway. Not until Lo solves the graphics show-stoppng bug.
â¦
        I wrote that a few weeks ago, and have been using both. Libre Office has a horrible problem with keyboard shortcuts, and those shortcuts save a LOT of time. But except for its horrible bugs, itâ(TM)s a better word processor than Open Office. So both will remain installed.
        Itâ(TM)s possible I may uninstall Microsoft Office, depending on how well Loâ(TM)s spreadsheet works. I havenâ(TM)t even fired it up yet, but Ooâ(TM)s spreadsheet is almost useless.
â¦
        The above is several months old now. Lo does lack one important thing Oo has: controls to move to the next or previous page. Not good when youâ(TM)re writing books. Also, it still has graphics problems. Often, simply opening a document in Lo removes any graphics.
        After sitting idle for a month or so, I needed to print a return label. Iâ(TM)m starting to become wary of buying anything from Amazon. Iâ(TM)d bought a new battery for this laptop a year or two ago, and the battery came from someone other than Amazon, and it was the wrong battery. I got the right battery directly from Acer.
        Then I ordered a long throw stapler to make booklets with, and staples for it. The stapler came a week later; no staples. So I bought a box from Walgreenâ(TM)s. A week later, the staples came, again not from Amazon, and they had simply thrown the box of staples in an unprotected envelope. The box was smashed, the rows of staples broken.
        Then I ordered a DVD, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I watched the first six, put the seventh in the DVD playerâ"and it was region coded for the UK! Some company from Florida sent it. WTF is wrong with people? So I needed a return label.
        It wouldnâ(TM)t print; it just hung in the print queue until it timed out. After a little digging, I found that the router had assigned a new IP address to it.
        So after a lot of googling, I gave up and cringed; I was going to need tech support, which is usually a nightmare. I wind up on the phone talking to someone with an accent so heavy I can barely understand them, if at all, who is ignorant of the product and reading from a checklist.
        I found Canon was one of those few companies that actually care about keeping their customers happy. Support was over email, painless, and effective.
        I have to say, itâ(TM)s the best printer Iâ(TM)ve ever owned.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Bar Bots

(If the text is borked, you can read it here)

Some highly paid people seem to not be very good at thinking straight... or at all.

Weâ(TM)ve all seen robot bartenders in movies: Star Wars episode one; The Fifth Element; I, Robot, etc. Ever notice that human bartenders often have a lot of screen time in movies, but robot bartenders donâ(TM)t? The reason is simple: robots are boring. Which is why we wonâ(TM)t see many robot bartenders in real life, and this real life robot bartender is going to go over like the proverbial lead balloon.

I suspect that the engineer who designed the thing doenâ(TM)t frequent bars, but likes science fiction movies, because nobody goes to a bar to drink. From my upcoming Voyage to Earth:

âoeIs Mars still short of robots?â

âoeNot since that factory opened two years ago.â

âoeIâ(TM)m surprised you donâ(TM)t have robots tending bar, then.â

âoeScrew that. People donâ(TM)t go to bars to drink, they go to bars to socialize; bars are full of lonely people. If thereâ(TM)s nobody to talk to but a damned robot theyâ(TM)re just going to walk out. I do have a tendbot for emergencies, like if one of the human bartenders is sick and we donâ(TM)t have anyone to cover. The tendbot will be working when weâ(TM)re going to Earth, but I avoid using it.â

Someone who doesnâ(TM)t visit bars inventing something to use in bars is about as stupid as Richardson in Mars, Ho! , who assigned a Muslim to design a robot to cook pork and an engineer who didnâ(TM)t drink coffee to make a robotic coffeemaker.

Just because it works in the movies doesnâ(TM)t mean it works in real life.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Keep fucking that chicken 2

A warning for Trump:

You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you're the asshole,

User Journal

Journal Journal: How long until President Pence? 43

Game theory would seem to point to sooner rather than later. As of right now, there is almost zero downside (and quite a few perks available if done right.) Of course, this assumes the GOP congresscritters could organize a piss up in a brewery, something that hasn't been a surefire thing since the 90s.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Holy Cow Apple are Total Fucks 6

So I'm playing with this antique iMac because whee shit and I'm trying to download the 1GB developer tools DMG and Apple sure makes it a gigantic pain in the arsehole, don't they? You can't just download the URL with wget without rigamarole which I haven't gone through yet. I can't actually load the site in Safari at all because of some kind of https error. And my download just failed somehow in the last seconds, which means I get to download it all over again. And then it may fail again. Other downloads are working fine, it's just Apple that's incompetent here somehow.

This is the kind of thing that convinces me that anyone who gives Apple money is either a moron or a masochist. Luckily, I got this machine for free, so all I'm wasting is time.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Sixteen: The Final Chapter 2

It's that time of year again. The time of year when everyone and their dog waxes nostalgic about all the shit nobody cares about from the year past, and stupidly predicts the next year in the grim knowledge that when the next New Year comes along nobody will remember
that the dumbass predicted a bunch of foolish shit that turned out to be complete and utter balderdash. I might as well, too. Just like I did last year (yes, a lot of this was pasted from last year's final chapter).

Some of these links go to /., S/N, mcgrewbooks.com, or mcgrew.info. Stories and articles meant to ultimately be published in a printed book have smart quotes, and slashdot isn't smart enough for smart quotes. Reviews for The Golden Book of Springfirld and Black Bead were front page articles at Soylent News only, and not a journal.

As usual, first, the yearly index:
Journals:
Random Scribblings
the Paxil Diaries
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015

Articles:
Useful Dead Technologies Redux
The Old Sayings Are Wrong
How to digitize all of your film slides for less than ten dollars
GIMPy Text
The 2016 Hugo convention

Song
Santa Killed My Dog!
My Generation 21st Century

Book reviews
Stephen King, On Writing
Vachel Lindsay, The Golden Book of Springfield
J. D. Lakey, Black Bead

Scince Fiction:
Wierd Planet
The Muse
Cornodium
Dewey's War
The Naked Truth
The Exhibit
Agoraphobia
Trouble on Ceres

Last years' stupid predictions (and more):

Last year I said I wasn't going to predict publication of Voyage to Earth and Other Stories, and I was right, it's nearly done. So this year I do predict that Voyage to Earth and Other Stories will be published. I'm waiting for Sentience to come back from Motherboard, who's been hanging on to it since last February. I may have to e-mail them and cancel the submission if it isn't back by this February
I'll also hang on to last year's predictions;
Someone will die. Not necessarily anybody I know...
SETI will find no sign of intelligent life. Not even on Earth.
The Pirate Party won't make inroads in the US. I hope I'm wrong about that one.
US politicians will continue to be wholly owned by the corporations.
I'll still be a nerd.
You'll still be a nerd.
Technophobic fashionista jocks will troll slashdot (but not S/N).
Slashdot will be rife with dupes.
Many Slashdot FPs will be poorly edited.
Slashdot still won't have fixed its patented text mangler.
Microsoft will continue sucking
And a new one: DONALD TRUMP WILL (gasp) BE PRESIDENT IF THE us!!! God help us all! (He can't possibly be worse than George H. Bush or James Buchanan, can he?)

Happy New Year! Ready for another trip around the sun?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Rogue One 1

Yeeeeesh. Kinda the opposite of the The Force Awakens, weirdly: There's an actual serviceable plot, but none of the characters are given time to develop personalities or motivations. Also, between shitty lines and an underfunded costuming department, Vader looked and sounded like an idiot.

There are a couple of cool moments, and there's a certain satisfaction and integrity present in the fact that R:O is a (mostly) standalone story. But, one thing a Star Wars shouldn't be is boring, and this delivers in spades on that front.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Shocked, I tell ya 1

Sheriff Joe Arpaio to hold press conference on Obama birth certificate investigation

Verily tingling with anticipation.

In related news, Cornell Belcher details how race and racism still had a part to play in the 2016 election:
 

Jenée Desmond-Harris

A question a lot of people ask around the question of the role race and racism played in Trumpâ(TM)s election is, âoeHow can you say Americans are concerned with race when they elected Obama?â I know the long answer is in the data presented in your book, but whatâ(TM)s the simple response to that?

Cornell Belcher

They didnâ(TM)t. Thatâ(TM)s the thing here. The majority of whites did not elect Obama, and thatâ(TM)s the wolf at the door. The vast majority of whites did not support President Obama and President Obama won back-to-back majorities, and that caused the realization of their power waning. Mitt Romney ran up a higher score among white voters than Ronald Reagan, when Reagan had a landslide in 1984.

Conservatives may want to take note of this, however:
 

In battleground states, particularly more diverse states, the percentage of white people voting Democrat decreases significantly as that population gets more diverse. So diversity is having an opposite impact that is harmful to Democrats.

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