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User Journal

Journal Journal: On Writing 4

I discovered the SFWA website last year, and it was a treasure trove of useful information. I'd probably have given up trying to sell stories by now were it not for that site.

There's an article by Terry Bison, one of my current favorite SF writers, titled "60 rules for short SF." Another is by a slush reader (someone employed by publishers to read and pass stories they like up to a junior editor) has an article about what you need to get her to pass it to an editor. And a whole lot more, I still haven't read them all.

I discovered that almost all of the advice and rules they pontificated on were things I was already doing. I also discovered how damned hard it was, how nearly impossible to get a good story published, because of the sheer mass of competition. There are only a dozen or two SF magazines, and they get a thousand submissions a month each, and print six each.

That's some damned bad odds.

I also learned from SFWA that if your rejection slip comes from an editor rather than a computer, you came really close to being published. I've had three! I'm not going to stop writing because I love doing it so much, but if I hadn't ran across SFWA I'd have stopped submitting them a long time ago. I am going to cut down on submissions, because I want to finish and publish "Voyage to Earth and Other Stories" by some time next year, and most of the magazines are REALLY slow at getting through their slush piles. I may keep submitting to Asimov's and F&SF since they're quick, but then again if they buy it I'll have to replace it with another story for the book.

Then late last week I was reading an article on SFWA and discovered that Stephen King had written a book about writing, called "On Writing".

King is one of the very best writers of our time, IMO. I don't like his genre so haven't read much of his stuff, but what I did read was brilliant and beautifully written, sucking you into the story and not letting go (and I don't want to be sucked into horror, I hate horror movies and books are even more intense than movies). So I opened a new tab on the browser and checked to see if Lincoln Library had a copy.

It did, even in e-book form so I wouldn't even have to go up there. Then I made another discovery -- my library card expired last month. That was Friday night, so Saturday morning I went to the library. I renewed my card, checked out the hardcover copy of the book, and started reading. I finished it last night; I'd been alternating between reading King's book, SFWA articles, Google News, the Illinois Times, and working on "The Pirate".

Another discovery: this book would be a great read even if I wasn't looking to improve my writing. It gives insights to a reader who isn't a writer on the connection between reader and writer. Kind of why you like to read what you like to read.

The first third of the book is an autobiography of sorts, and it starts with a child's pain (it IS Stephen King, after all). But from the time he reached high school until he gets to the writing part (even though the part before the writing part was about writing, too) it was hilarious. I don't nean it made me grin and maybe chuckle, I mean I was laughing so hard I had to put the book down to wipe the tears off my face. Well, I did have some pretty good pot. Anyway, If you're a reader, do yourself a favor and read it. If you live in Springfield and have a library card and a smartphone you can read it for free without even going to the library. In other cities as well, I checked last night and Belleville residents can access e-books from that library.

So this morning I decided that I wanted a copy of my own sitting on my bookshelf, because this isn't a "read once and throw it away" book. So after two frustrating hours trying to get a hardcover copy I'm flustered and frustrated and annoyed. Damn publishers and bookstores!

First, publishers. The paperback and e-book was released 3 years ago, but the hardcover is out of print. What, did Rority kidnap me last night and take me back to 1970 when books were written on typewriters and printed on presses designed a century earlier? Because now that we have computers and the internet, there should be no such thing as "out of print". Now there's "print on demand", so why should any book ever be out of print?

It's stupid.

Amazon said simply "out of stock" so I tried B&N. Their offline stores are excellent; large, with friendly, helpful staff.

Their website is a total clusterfuck to buy from. They should fire the incompetent webmaster who is enamored of flashy bells and whistles and hire someone who can design a usable interface.

First those stupid mouseover menus that open and cover whet you're trying to read. If you're doing that on your website, STOP IT!! Pissing off a prospective customer is brain-dead stupid. Where do companies find all these educated idiots?

So after navigating their awful interface to actually get to the book, there are three buttons: paperback, $11.95; e-book, $11.95; hardcover, $19.06. So once again there's stupidity, or rather, stupid greed. There is absolutely no reason whatever why an ebook should cost as much as a paperback. No paper to buy, no ink to buy, no pages to bind, nothing to ship, nothing to warehouse. An e-book costs almost NOTHING to produce and deliver once it's written.

The button for the hardcover didn't work. No feedback, it just didn't work, which is how the morons who designed the site set it up to work when an item was out of print.

By now I was annoyed and frustrated. I finally found a used copy there, and went to order it. They wanted to use an old credit card I no longer have, and it was more frustrating trying to get the damned thing to change cards.

I finally managed that, entered all the info, and it told me there was a problem with the card. IT'S A VALID CARD, DAMMIT! So I say "screw it" and call the local store. It's out of print, so they give me the 800 number.

After almost five minutes on hold a rude woman who keeps trying to interrupt me answers. I finally hung up on her, saying "fuck it, maybe one of the used stores in town has a copy."

I'll take it back to the library today. They sell books, maybe they'll have a copy for sale.

But I learned a lot from this book, a whole lot. But what he says you should do I already do, so maybe my stuff... nah.

User Journal

Journal Journal: SF: Dewey's War 3

(non-borked copy at mcgrew.info)

        âoeHey, Ed! Havenâ(TM)t seen you in weeks. How are you? You look worried. The usual?â
        âoeHi, John. Yeah, and a shot of the strongest stuff on your shelf. Iâ(TM)ve had a really bad day.â
        âoeSo whatâ(TM)s wrong?â
        âoeTrouble. And bad news for all of us Martians.â
        âoeDamn it, Ed, whatâ(TM)s going on?â
        âoeEarthâ(TM)s going on. I was in a teleconference with the other dome mayors all morning over it. Weâ(TM)re in trouble. Earth is at war!â
        âoeWhat? At war with who? Us?â John exclaimed somewhat ungrammatically.
        âoeEach other.â
        âoeWhat? I thought it was a single government?â
        âoeIt was, sort of, although nations had a certain independence, but had to follow U.N. laws. North America, China, and Australia rebelled. The Arab states may be next. Itâ(TM)s civil war!â
        âoeSo whatâ(TM)s that got to do with us?â
        âoeTrade, John.â
        âoeOh, shit. Iâ(TM)d better call Dewey.â Of course, he could only leave a message, since Mars and Earth were on opposite sides of the sun and the relay station was half an astronomical unit north of it, making radio lag even worse. It would be quite a while before the message reached its destination.
        John left his message and got back to the mayor. âoeOkay, it affects me, but whatâ(TM)s it got to do with Mars? We can get along without Earth, weâ(TM)re self-sufficient and have been for fifty years. I have a problem, some other Martians probably have the same or similar problems, but why does Mars have a problem?â
        âoeBecause technically weâ(TM)re under the auspices of different states in the United Nations. Weâ(TM)re North American, the Alba Patera dome is Chinese. Half of the domes are European, so are affiliated with the U.N.â
        âoeBut weâ(TM)re all Martians. Iâ(TM)m an immigrant, but most of us were born here and have never left the planet.â
        âoeHalf or more of the Euros here share that opinion, but their governments, like Chinaâ(TM)s and unlike ours and the Australians, are staffed with Earthians imported from Earth, and are appointed by Earthians rather than being elected by Martians.â
        âoeHow about the Africans and South Americans?â
        âoeTheyâ(TM)re neutral, but nobody from those continents have built domes here, anyway.â
        âoeIt it a hot war yet?â
        âoeNo, the diplomats are still talking but blockades are being erected. Give me another beer and another shot, John. This war crap is making me crazy. I just donâ(TM)t know what to do.â
        âoeWell, the only advice I have is to be nice to the European domesâ(TM) mayors, maybe try to talk up independence.â
        âoeIndependence?â
        âoeWhy not? We need to get untied from Mamma Earthâ(TM)s apron strings. Why should we be tied to their laws? Theyâ(TM)re millions of kilometers away!â
        âoeYouâ(TM)re talking about revolution!â
        âoeYes, I am. Hopefully peaceful. But like I said, we have to follow a lot of laws and regulations that make perfect sense on Earth, but are either meaningless or downright stupid here. I think itâ(TM)s time!â
        âoeJohn, thatâ(TM)s crazy talk. We arenâ(TM)t even armed!â
        âoeYes, we are. Youâ(TM)re forgetting who does half of all space transport, and thatâ(TM)s Green-Osbourne Transportation Systems. Between the two of us, Destiny and I own a quarter of the company, and her dad and Charles control almost two thirds.
        âoeWe have the fastest, most heavily armed and armored ships in the solar system, and Dewey has worried about war for a long time and has been preparing. Warâ(TM)s really bad for the shipping industry and weâ(TM)ve always refused to engineer warships for Earthâ(TM)s governments just because of that. Not many people know it, but our transports are warships, and there arenâ(TM)t any Earthian government warships in deep space.â
        The Mayor sighed and ordered another beer and shot. âoeMaybe I should hold a Dome Hall meeting, televised and with the public invited so we can get a feel of the publicâ(TM)s attitudes.â
        âoeEd, better slow down on the alcohol. It wouldnâ(TM)t do to have a drunken mayor when war might be imminent.â
        âoeYouâ(TM)re right, skip the shot but give me another beer.â
        âoeI agree about Dome Hall, but donâ(TM)t forget: GOTS is not about to let anything bad happen to Marsâ(TM) colonies.
        âoeNot only are we better armed, but weâ(TM)re experienced, thanks to the damned pirates. Dewey started the defense fleet eight years ago because of the pirates and weâ(TM)ve killed or captured most of them. Earthâ(TM)s armies havenâ(TM)t any experience at all with real war; there hasnâ(TM)t been a shooting war for half a century except the war of shippers and pirates.â
        âoeWell, I donâ(TM)t know what to say.â
        âoeSay youâ(TM)re about drunk and it isnâ(TM)t even two in the afternoon and you need to go home and sleep it off.â
        âoeIâ(TM)m not going to be able to sleep with this over my head!â
        âoeHere, take these home with you,â John said, pulling out a bottle of white lightning and a twelve pack of beer. âoeIt wouldnâ(TM)t do to have the mayor staggering around the dome, especially now. Get drunk at home.â
        âoeYouâ(TM)re right, of course... about getting drunk. But revolution?â
        âoeSleep it off and think about it. Itâ(TM)s time Mars was independent. Look how much weâ(TM)re paying in taxes to Earth, and weâ(TM)re getting absolutely nothing from it. We could use that to make Mars a better place.â
        âoeIâ(TM)ll think about it.â
        âoeLook, Ed, stay sober tomorrow, okay?â
        âoeIâ(TM)ll have to. See you, John.â
        âoeLater, Ed.â
        Johnâ(TM)s phone made a noise; there was a message from Dewey.

        Aimée Beaulieu hated her job. She didnâ(TM)t want to be in this damné dome on this God-forsaken planet. But she had been exiled here; âoeexiledâ isnâ(TM)t exactly accurate, but itâ(TM)s close.
        She had been head of the EUâ(TM)s diplomatic corps, and had an idea that could give Europe more commercial power. She sent her diplomats to the other continentsâ(TM) governments with orders to negotiate her plan. Instead of negotiating, three of them, inexperienced but influential people appointed by Europeâ(TM)s government, presented the idea as an ultimatum.
        They were fired and she was paying a price as well. Stuck on Mars, Mayor of one of the stupid domes.
        Damned dome! Sheâ(TM)d only been here a month and hated it with a passion. Now there was that stupid revolution, civil war, whatever back on Earth and they told her she was no longer allowed to trade with the North American, Australian, or Chinese domes.
        And she loved Knolls beer, Damn it! That was the only good thing about this God-forsaken planet. She wondered what could be done about the situation. Probably nothing, she thought. Except by the idiots in charge on Earth, damn them.
        She didnâ(TM)t much like the Martians, either, but she understood where they were coming from. A lot of the Martian-born Martians in her dome had been talking about independence from Earth. That would suit her... as long as she was off of this damned rock and back in France first. After all, if the dome revolted under her watch her career would be ruined even worse than it already was. Sheâ(TM)d probably be forced to resign.
        She sighed, and went back to the meaningless paperwork Earth demanded.

        Chuck Watson, mayor of Ceres, was angry. What were those idiots on Earth thinking? If he followed their directive Cererians would surely starve! Those who had been born on Ceres had already been talking independence.
        And Charlie, who had been a close friend for years and a trading partner for almost as long, he was prohibited from communicating with.
        He had enough, he decided, and called Charlie. To hell with the Earthians!

        Charlie Onehorse, Mayor of Dome Australia Two, was annoyed. DA2â(TM)s main export, high quality steel and rare earth ferromagnetics mostly went to the European domes, and half of all the domes on Mars were European. And the ores were from the British mining colony on one of the asteroids. DA2 was going to have trouble both importing and exporting.
        They could probably have ore shipped from China, but Earthian ores were incredibly expensive, thanks to Earthâ(TM)s gravity well and environmental regulations; mining anything on Earth was effectively outlawed by regulations that made it a hundred times cheaper to import from Martians and asterites.
        He was thankful that a few of the North American domes were farming domes, since none of Australiaâ(TM)s three domes had farms, and they had to import all of their food. He swore to himself that the situation was intolerable and would have to change.
        Born in DA3, his parents were immigrants from Australia. His paternal grandfather had moved to Australia from somewhere in North America.
        But unlike other countriesâ(TM) domes, the Australians had great autonomy. They could pass their own laws and regulations, and only had to pay tax to the Earthians. Still, paying those taxes rankled; the money would be better spent improving life on Mars. Things were still rough on the Martian frontier, although nowhere near as bad as it had been before the robot factories were built.
        He wondered where the Europeans were going to get new robots, since the three robot factories were all in North American domes. Parts to repair malfunctioning robots, as well. He grinned at that, and thought to himself âoebloody dills! Those bludgers are going to have to work now. Bloody hell, itâ(TM)ll be Raffertyâ(TM)s rules for sure; things are already becoming a bit chaotic.â
        He decided to call his old friend Ed Waldo. Ed always knew what to do when things got crazy.
        Edâ(TM)s secretary said he had taken the afternoon off.
        âoeWith this war stuff going on?â
        âoeHe said he was going to talk to his friend John, said John always knew what to do when things got crazy.â
        He should drop by Ed and Johnâ(TM)s dome and bend the elbow with them, he thought. He liked John, who didnâ(TM)t charge as much for his grog as anybody else charged for theirs, and his beer was the best. Even better than Victoria Bitter, although that brandâ(TM)s quality had suffered in the last couple of decades.
        He called Edâ(TM)s pocket number, but Ed had it shut off. He called the French dome, which was only twenty kilometers from DA2, but was told that there could be no communication with non-UN domes as well as no trade; the diplomats were all in charge. And there were no diplomats on Mars, only Earth.
        Except, well, John, maybe. John wasnâ(TM)t even a real Martian. Not yet, anyway. You had to be a resident of any dome for ten years to get voting rights, even though those rights were pretty meaningless in some domes, like the Chinese and UN domes. John had two years to go before he was a citizen.
        John had connections. He was the son in law of the founder of the biggest shipping company in the solar system, and between he and his wife owned a quarter of company stock. He also had a small farm, a brewery, and a bar on Mars, all of which his wife said were hobbies even though they all made him a lot of money and even more friends.
        As he was trying to figure out a plan, a message came from his friend and trading partner Chuck Watson. luckily Ceres and Mars were close enough at the time that the radio lag wasnâ(TM)t too bad.
        âoeCharlie, what are we going to do? The damned Earthians are killing us!â
        âoeCome on, Chuck. donâ(TM)t over react.â
        âoeCharlie, Iâ(TM)m not. Weâ(TM)re going to need food, whereâ(TM)s it going to come from? Earth? Weâ(TM)ll starve!â
        âoeNo you wonâ(TM)t. Earthians can go to hell, we Martians and you asterites can stick together. You want to trade, weâ(TM)ll trade. We need rare earths and you need food, and neither of us needs Earth.â
        Of course, it was a very long conversation because of the lightspeed lag.

        âoeYou look like hell, Ed.â
        âoeHung over, and I even had trouble sleeping after getting stumbling drunk. Got any coffee?â
        âoeYeah, coffeeâ(TM)s free. The potâ(TM)s over there.â
        âoeThanks, John. What the hell am I going to do? We donâ(TM)t need much from the Europeans that the Chinese and Aussies canâ(TM)t provide, but if this lasts a long time...â
        âoeDonâ(TM)t worry, itâ(TM)s only going to last a few months and when itâ(TM)s finished, Mars is going to be independent of Earth.â
        âoeNo way. This is a diplomatic and economic war, it could last for years.â
        The mayor from the neighboring dome came in. âoeHey, Charlie,â Ed said. âoeHell of a mess.â
        John grinned. âoeNope. Whereâ(TM)s Europe going to get any rare earth magnets, or any of the other rare earths?â
        Charlie groaned. âoeJohn, ever hear of the asteroid belt?â
        John grinned. âoeYep. Ever heard of Green-Osbourne?â
        âoeSo what?â
        âoeSo they shouldnâ(TM)t have pissed off Dewey and Charles. First the Europeans seized company holdings in Europe, but luckily all the engineering is done in North America and most of the assets are in space. Then we lost a man and a landing craft when the Euros fired on it. It was full of my beer, too, damn it. Anyway, that was the last straw.â
        âoeI thought your ships were almost impervious to weapons?â
        âoeOnly the interplanetary ships. Landers and boosters have to deal with the gravity well and canâ(TM)t be that heavy.â
        âoeSo what can Dewey do?â
        âoeGuys, do any of you know anything about war?â
        âoeI do,â an elderly female voice piped up from the other end of the bar. âoeI was only twenty. It was horrible.â
        âoeOh,â said Ed, âoeHello, Mrs. Ferguson. I didnâ(TM)t see you down there. Where are you going with this, John?â
        âoeEarth hasnâ(TM)t had a shooting war for half a century, and their armies have forgotten how to fight. Theyâ(TM)re barely armies.
        âoeMeanwhile, Mars has been at war almost from the beginning, at war with pirates. Green-Osbourne has an army, a space army, and an experienced one.
        âoeDewey convinced all the other shippers to refuse interplanetary shipments until the mess on Earth is over. Some he had to threaten, he made it clear that his army would allow no shipping, and people who tried to trade with Earth would be blown out of the sky. Nobody but Green-Osbourne is doing any shipping, and only to select clients, like us. You Aussies can have all the rare earths you can afford, but the Euros get nothing.
        âoeChina and North America are the only Earthly sources of rare earths, so Europe is screwed; mining is effectively impossible there. Their economies will collapse; theyâ(TM)ll come around.
        âoeMeanwhile, I expect to see riots in the European domes pretty soon. There will be revolution for sure. Lots of Martians are tired of being tied to Mother Earthâ(TM)s apron strings. We want to be free!â
        âoeI donâ(TM)t know, maytie,â Charlie said. âoeAustralians almost have independence already, I donâ(TM)t see any revolt coming.â
        âoeJohnâ(TM)s right,â Ed replied. âoeyou folks will be last, except maybe the Chinese, you might revolt before them. But when weâ(TM)re not paying taxes to Earth and you are, and thereâ(TM)s nothing that can happen to you for not paying the tax, youâ(TM)ll sign the declaration.â
        âoeDeclaration?â
        âoeWeâ(TM)ll declare our independence. When the time is right. Mars has an army and Earth doesnâ(TM)t. They canâ(TM)t boss us Martians around any more!â

        âoeSir, weâ(TM)ve detected a craft coming in from the belt.â
        âoeVery well, Captain Phillips. Disable it with an EMP and set it in orbit around Mars. It will be their prison until a treaty is signed, weâ(TM)ll supply them with the necessities of life.â
        âoeYes, sir.â

        A month later, there was indeed rioting in the French dome. The elected, normally powerless city council presented a demand for independence from Earth; after all, Earth was powerless against Green-Osbourne, and that company had protected Mars from pirates â" and now was protecting Mars from the Earthians.
        The mayor refused to sign the declaration and was arrested, and an election for a new mayor was scheduled.
        News reached the other domes, of course, and almost all of the Martians became rebels.

        Three months later on June thirteenth, by Earthâ(TM)s calendar (Mars rotates at a different rate and is on a longer orbit), the UN had no choice but to sign a treaty with the Martians, which recognized the domes as sovereign states. Their economy was crumbling, citizens were doing more than grumbling, elected leaders were in danger of no longer being elected.
        Earth no longer had the illusion of a single government.
        Aimée Beaulieu was released from jail and returned to Earth after the treaty was signed, and retired with honors and a huge pension, seen as a patriotic hero by her French countrymen and the French government.
        The only loss of life in the entire âoewarâ was the Greene-Osbourne landing craft captain that the U.N. had shot down.

        Johnâ(TM)s bar was full of happy people with nothing on their minds except celebrating Martian independence. John downplayed his involvement.
        âoeIâ(TM)m not even a real Martian, Charlie. Not for two more years. The real Martians, guys like you who were born here are the real Martians.â
        A voice came from a few stools down. âoeHey John, donâ(TM)t you serve Frenchmen?â
        âoeLewis! Good to see you, old man. Lager?â
        âoeOf course.â
        âoeSo how do you like your new job?â
        âoeOh, man, I hate it. I wish I hadnâ(TM)t run for office, those damned Euros really fouled everything up. But Iâ(TM)ll manage. Mars will, too, now that weâ(TM)re not wearing Earthâ(TM)s yoke.â
        âoeThe second French revolution and nobody got guillotined!â
        âoeThe second American revolution, too. And it was a lot more like now than the French revolution.â
        John grinned. âoeI wouldnâ(TM)t know, my wifeâ(TM)s the history buff. Excuse me, Lewis, it looks like thereâ(TM)s a lot of empty glasses! PARTY!! Robot, donâ(TM)t just stand there, you stupid junkpile, get Lewis a lager.â

User Journal

Journal Journal: Odds and Ends 4

If you've downloaded the ePub or AWZ version of Random Scribblings, you should download it again. I was a little sloppy when I converted it, and all the paragraph tabs were missing. There were a few other, more trivial bug fixes as well.

If you run across any problems with any of the versions of any of my books, please let me know.

In my last journal, all of the comments were about its use of tables rather than CSS. The choice came down to reason and logic. There is a very small bit of CSS on every page, to allow mouseovers.

CSS was developed because tables used to be the only way to do columns or have exact page placement, and it often played havok with screen readers for blind users. If I had multiple columns of text, I would certainly use CSS for that reason. But for page margins, tables work well on a screen and in a reader, and I've seen way too many web pages designed by hotshots trying to impress, and all I was impressed with was their ignorance, as often a photo would cover the text, or other such nonsense (like this page as displayed on a tablet; link is temporary). The social media crap covers the text, and one would assume since it's a professional publication they would have a well-trained designer.

Like Scotty says in The Search for Spock, "the more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain". He was referring to an age-old, time-tested design principle, KISS. It's an acronym, "keep it simple, stupid". For the use I'm putting it to, tables are logical.

I'm posting a "new" SF story in a day or two. I wrote it late last summer, and Amazing held on to it for six months. It's been shopped around to several markets, but since it's similar to the "Brexit" now is a good time to post it. Actually, a few weeks ago would have been a better time.

I use the word "asterite" to name someone who lives in the asteroid belt. I didn't coin that use of the word, Poul Anderson did in his 1963 story Industrial Revolution. I thought it was clever, since asterite the mineral is called a "star stone". Maybe I should have the Cererians getting stoned?

Someone (AC) pointed me to a replacement for MS Office. It's a good package with a spreadsheet that beats the crap out of Oo's spreadsheet. Unfortunately, it will neither read nor write DOC files, only RTF and all but a tiny minority of publishers insist on DOC.

So the small laptop, the one that actually fits on a lap, was out of commission for two full days, one full day to reinstall Windows and another to remove Bing Bar and all the other garbage manufacturers add to computers, apply all the updates, and reinstall all of my software.

So finally I can get some work done... that is, if I can stay away from here...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Well, Most of the mess is cleaned up... 2

I had the HTML and other electronic versions of Random Scribblings done a couple of months ago. I should have uploaded it without an index to test it on my phone, and I should have examined it more closely on the computer. Some of the code was REALLY bad.

One page, the longest, still wobbles in Android Firefox on a phone, but is fine in the phone's built-in browser. I haven't tested it in Opera or Chrome.

I went to the pawn shop and bought a tablet just to see if it was okay on a tablet. It isn't, at least on a Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet; the text is teensy, more so in Firefox than its native browser but hard to read anyway. I guess I need to google a little; in the computer if the text is too small I can hit Ctrl +. The reverse pinch thing on a touchscreen isn't good enough.

Anyway, one page is very long and has quite a bit of code, and looking for clues of where the errors were by examining the page in a browser, how I debugged back in my programming days, wasn't cutting it. So I ran it through the W3C code validator, and egads! Over 1700 errors and warnings! I settled down a little when I realized all but a half dozen or so were simply the lack of an "alt" tag in images where that tag was not only unnecessary but would get in the blind reader's way; the graphic is a one pixel clear PNG I use for tab stops at the beginning of a paragraph (<img src="tab.png" width="25" height="1" align="left" border="0">).

The first error was from a useful habit I got into back in my programming days: re-using code. Re-inventing the wheel for each wagon you invent is just stupid, so I would simply copy everything above the <body> statement. But the twenty year old doctype was no longer recognized. Some other ancient code wasn't recognized, either.

Well, I'd better get back to work on it... It's here.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Post-Brexit Blues 5

Not that having a spinal column was ever a regular feature of your average politician, but the absolute cluelessness of major UK political figures in the last couple of days is stunning. As far as I can tell, only Nicola Sturgeon has managed to avoid dumping large amounts of shit on herself.

Personally, I lay a lot of the blame at Tony Blair's feet. If he'd hadn't been such a mendacious prick, most of the current crop of British pols wouldn't even exist today.

User Journal

Journal Journal: GIMPy Text 9

(There's an illustrated copy of this at mcgrew.info)

The GNU Image Manipulation Program is an excellent free and open source graphics program that will do almost anything you want to a bitmap image.

Almost. When text is needed in an image, GIMP is indeed gimpy. Rather than use fonts installed in the computerâ(TM)s operating system, it has its own, very limited set of fonts, and no way to exactly position your text.

The workaround is easy: donâ(TM)t use GIMP for text.

Todayâ(TM)s word processors can all write PDF files, both closed source commercial word processors and open source tools. My favorite is Open Office Write. GIMP can import them as images, and it does an excellent job of it.

Say you wanted to use the above image (a 35 mm slide I took in 1974 and digitized with a cheap plastic slide viewer, a phone, a rubber band, and adhesive tape) and add âoeyour moveâ in the upper left hand corner of the image. First, open your word processor and choose the font you want. Any font installed on your computer will work, and there are literally thousands of fonts you can download from the internet and install in a few seconds. One Iâ(TM)ve downloaded is Callistroke. Weâ(TM)ll use that one for the example, and Iâ(TM)ll explain why shortly.

Once the font is chosen, type in the text and highlight it, center it, and make the font size large enough that it stretches from border to border.

Next, export it as PDF and open GIMP. Once GIMPâ(TM)s stuff has all loaded, you can open the PDF as an image. I simply put it on the last page of this document rather than making a new document. Before you tell GIMP to import it, raise the resolution to 600 DPI or higher to prevent pixelation. You can make it smaller later.

When it opens, select Tools --> Selection Tools --> Rectangle Select, and outline your text.

Now select Image --> Crop to Selection.

The reason I like the outline fonts in most illustrations and graphics is that I can have white letters outlined in black, which will show up clearly in any image. If your text is going to be in a landscape with a blue sky, a non-outline font in a contrasting color is as good or better. Donâ(TM)t use red letters on a green background as it will be invisible to some people.

There are a couple of steps to get there. First, select Tools --> Color Picker. Place your cursor over the white and click. Then choose Tools --> Selection Tools --> Select By Color. Now click anywhere white and press âoeDelâ and everything white will be transparent.

Now, select Select --> None.

Transparent parts will show up as a two shades of gray checkerboard. as in the illustration below.

Now choose Tools --> Paint Tools --> Bucket Fill to fill in the white part of your text.

Now open the image you want to put the text in. There will be a ruler at the top of the screen showing how many pixels in a given area. In our image, where we want the text is about 750 pixels wide. In the text image, select Image --> Scale Image. The following dialog opens:

Place the cursor in the âoeWidthâ field, then type in the number. Weâ(TM)re changing 1024 to 750. Now press âoeTabâ once and the âoeHeightâ field will change. Now just click âoescaleâ.

When it finishes scaling, press Ctrl+A to select the whole image, than Ctrl+C to copy it. Tab to the image youâ(TM)re adding text to, make sure the âoeRectangle Selectâ tool is chosen (see earlier in this article) and press Ctrl+V to paste the text in.

Now put the cursor on a letter and hold the primary mouse button and move the text where you want it.

Now merge the two images by pressing Ctrl+M then Enter. Here is the final image:

You can add all sorts of fancy things to your text with different images.

To make the above image, I got a picture of fire from Google, Wrote the word âoeFIREâ in open office, exported as PDF, selected black (lettering), deleted, and pasted it over the fire.

So finally, GIMP has everything I need. Well, maybe except the ability to make moving PNGs and vector graphics.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Today in the news 3

Milquetoast Liberals being hammered for their pussification by the same asshats who shat their pants on 9/11.

If the US didn't exist, you'd have to invent her.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Damn it, Microsoft, you incompetent sons of bitches! 8

I like Open Office but needed .doc file to send science fiction to magazines, so I needed Word; I wasn't sure Oo would write the files properly and it turned out it can't export to anything except PDF, so I installed Libre Office. It will write the files, but MS Write can't read them.
        I had an idea for an article about playing cards, so googled for open source playing card images. There should be plenty since playing cards have been around for hundreds of years. However, finding them was really difficult. I managed to find an .eps vector graphics file that Windows didn't know what it was, so more googling.
        The internet said GIMP would open it, but it couldn't; it repeatedly crashed trying to open it. I tried importing it into Open Office, and got a blank screen. The internet said you could import it with Word, so I opened Word... or tried to. It wouldn't open and that I should try again or go to Control Panel to "repair" it. Tried reopening Word, same thing. Booted the computer and tried again, same thing. So I go into control panel and tried to repair, and that stupid fucking thing said I needed an internet connection. IT'S ON THE INTERNET, DAMN IT!!!
        I don't know where Microsoft finds its programmers, skid row? Homeless shelters? Crack houses?
        It's done this before. I had to reinstall the God damned OS to fix that stupid, stupid, program.
        They've always been terrible at networking. DOS and Windows 95 had no native networking at all. When I first got on the internet in 1997 I had to buy a floppy with a network stack and that primitive browser that the U of I came up with. They STILL can't do networking well. I assigned this computer's "documents" folder as the A: drive on the HP. Whenever I try to access it, it says the Acer isn't running, but if I go through "network" it works.
        Look, you idiots running Microsoft, here's a suggestion: the next time you roll out a new OS, how about making sure it actually WORKS?
        I'm in a really bad mood right now.

User Journal

Journal Journal: How to digitize all of your film slides for less than ten do 7

(The version at my web site is illustrated)

I was an amateur photographer in my youth, starting in high school when I bought a Canon 35 mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. Iâ(TM)d been interested in photography since I was about twelve, when I somehow obtained a Three Stooges photo developing kit. That toy hooked me, even if I could only do contact prints until I got a job when I was a teenager and bought a cheap enlarger. Color film went to a commercial developer, as I had neither the knowledge nor equipment to develop color film.

So I have a lot of photographic slides and prints to digitize, since film photography is now obsolete; Kodak put itself out of business when they invented the digital camera which made their cash cow, film, obsolete. Prints are easy to digitize, as scanners are cheap and make good digital photos out of film prints. But what about my slides?

I asked at Walgreenâ(TM)s photo department if they could digitize slides, cringing at what was sure to be expensive since Iâ(TM)ve dug up half a dozen boxes of them. But they couldnâ(TM)t, and the lady said there were only two places in the country that could. I looked them up. Both were prohibitively expensive and you donâ(TM)t get the slideâ(TM)s frame back, only the film.

Then I had an idea, remembering the slide viewer I used to have and may still have somewhere. All I had to do was put my phone to the viewerâ(TM)s eyepiece and snap a photo! I looked, and bought one on the internet. It was only six bucks after shipping.

Alas, when the viewer came, there were complications; keeping the camera and viewer lined up still was impossible, making the digitized images awful.

So my next step was holding it together with a rubber band to keep it steady. I didnâ(TM)t have any, so the final cost was closer to ten bucks; you canâ(TM)t just buy one rubber band, you have to buy the whole bag.

If you have no computer, it will cost you the price of one, because later youâ(TM)ll need an image editor.

Hereâ(TM)s what the phone/viewer/rubber band combination looks like:

The next step is to turn the phoneâ(TM)s camera on and line the viewer up.

Next, carefully lay it flat on a table and tape the viewer to the phone. Any kind of adhesive tape will do, just make sure itâ(TM)s tight before removing the rubber band, which will interfere with the photo if left on.

Of course, you can use any source of illumination. I used a table lamp; a flashlight would do. You can vary the brightness and contrast by moving the contraption closer to or farther from the light.

Hereâ(TM)s what the raw output from the camera looks like, which is why you need an image editor:

I use the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). Itâ(TM)s free and open source and has everything you need to manipulate images, although it has a large learning curve. Here the slide is; digitized, cropped, and rotated:

One advantage of digital photography is very evident in this picture of Dover Air Force Base from the stairway to my barracks in 1972. The color has faded almost completely, leaving a pink tinge to the right, and bits donâ(TM)t fade.

So the final picture is saved as grayscale rather than RGB.

So now my slides, at least the ones Iâ(TM)ve found, are digitized. Iâ(TM)m keeping them, maybe Iâ(TM)ll have a better camera to better digitize some time in the future.

Hereâ(TM)s a slide I digitized of a friend and co-worker when I was a teenager; time was kinder to this almost fifty year old slide, although all the green color is faded; I restored it with GIMP the best I could. Itâ(TM)s obvious that where you had the slides developed matters a lot.

Now I need to buy a scanner...

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Old Sayings Are Wrong 13

(If the formatting is borked, it's posted at mcgrew.info)

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
        Taken literally, this is patently false, as anyone with a grandmother knows. You may say âoewell, Grandma paid for it so it isn't free.â But it is free â" to you.
        I have a fruit tree in my front yard, and all its fruit is completely free.
        What this old saying means is âoenever trust a salesmanâ. If a salesman offers to buy your lunch, it will cost you.
        From a physicist's perspective, it means you can't break the three laws of thermodynamics; you can never get more energy out of a system than you put in.

You get what you pay for
        This is another salesman lie, with the sales lady getting you to believe that the higher priced item is always better than the cheap item. But you donâ(TM)t always get what you pay for. Often the less expensive item is equal or superior, with over-the-counter drugs being an excellent example. Aleve costs three times what generic naproxin does, yet is the exact same drug.
        And of course there are swindlers. If someone sells you a counterfeit Rolex at a real Rolex price, or a diamond ring with a zirconium stone, you have been swindled and certainly didnâ(TM)t get what you paid for.
        You usually pay for what you get, but often you pay far less than you otherwise did. Just yesterday I saw a âoegoing out of businessâ sign at a Radio Shack, and since I needed a new soldering iron I went in. The iron and solder were a third what I would have paid had I not procrastinated, and I got a TV antenna for five bucks. I got a lot more than I paid for.
        Get what you pay for? Usually, but sometimes you get more than you paid for and sometimes a high priced item turns out to be utter junk.

What goes up must come down
        This was true until July of 1969, when astronauts left man-made objects on the moon. They're not likely to ever come back down.
        There are robots rolling around Mars. These, too, are unlikely to ever come down.
        Then there are the Voyager spacecraft, which are now outside the entire solar system. It's a certainty that these machines will never return to Earth.

Money doesn't grow on trees
        Of course it does, orchards grow lots of money. Not only does it grow on trees, it grows on corn stalks, tomato plants, soybean bushes...

A picture is worth a thousand words
        If it is, then draw me a picture that says âoea picture's worth a thousand words.â Pictures can be aids in communication, and a picture is better than a description, but it's impossible to teach using only pictures.
        However, it is true in a monetary sense, in that a thousand word magazine article will garner a commercial writer less than the artist who made the cover art did.

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger
        Nietzsche was an idiot. Just ask any brain-damaged quadriplegic if he's stronger than he was before the accident.
        Oh, and also, God isn't dead, Nietzsche is.

You can never be too rich or too thin
        Whoever started this stupid meme was a gold plated idiot. Of course you can be too thin. Bulimia and anorexia have killed people.
        The âoetoo richâ is subjective. I'd say if you have more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime when there are hungry people, you're too rich. How can someone like that live with themselves?

Lightning never strikes the same place twice
        It amazes me how gullible most people are, believing everything anyone tells them. They even believe stuff that was proven untrue centuries ago, as in this saying. It was believed for at least hundreds of years and likely longer until Ben Franklin disproved it with his kite and his invention of the lightning rod. If lightning never strikes the same place twice, lightning rods wouldn't work.

Only the good die young
Well, they showed you a statue, told you to pray
They built you a temple and locked you away
Aw, but they never told you the price that you pay
For things that you might have done
Only the good die young
That's what I said
Only the good die young
â" Billy Joel
        I've heard this nonsense all my life, and canâ(TM)t understand why people actually believe that tripe. Yes, some good young people do die way before their time.
        But if only the good die young, then why are so many inner-city young men killed in gun battles with rival gangs? Good people never die in gang battles unless they're not a part of the fight and simply get caught in the crossfire.
        Why do so many young people get drunk and die in their cars when they wrap them around trees? Good people don't drive when they're drunk.
        And if you're Christian, remember that Jesus said âoenone are good, except God.â Only the very young; the small children who die innocent are good. But bad young people die all the time.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Unknown Metal Found While Mining 2

I was breaking away some calcite when an unusual glimmer caught my attention.

I've run a few tests. It tarnishes black under oxidizing flame and does not emit a color. I cannot hold a sample well enough with any of my tools to get a scratch or streak test done.

http://imgur.com/a/PAHgz - a couple of pictures of the material, freed from the calcite matrix in which it was found.

It's dense. Water puffing easily moved dense garnet sand away from it while it remained relatively still.

The measurements taken on one sample grain were as follows: ~0.7mm length, ~0.7mm width, ~0.5mm thickness. Multimeter resistance measured at 35 Ohms. This gives me an electrical resistivity of 0.025 ohm meter, or 2.5 x 10^-2. I cannot find any metal with such listed electrical resistivity. My best bet would be that this is a semiconductor, given the relatively high resistivity, as pretty much every metal starts at 10^-6 to 10^-8.

I'm stumped!

User Journal

Journal Journal: Inevitability 9

The base's grateful anointing of Trump in the last few weeks has been hilarious. I won't deny that, unlike pretty much anyone else, he really knows how to hit those sweet rhetorical spots, but this idea that he's the right man for the right job at the right time is grade-A bullshit.

Trump is going to be the Republican nominee not because he's awesome, but because everybody else failed hard. For starters, the perennial no-hoper contingent was the biggest ever this cycle with Jindal, Pataki, Graham, Fiorina, Gilmore, Huckabee, Carson, Paul, Christie and Perry. That's ten fucking useless candidates, there only to boost their speaking fees and maybe snag a cushy cabinet slot. I'll grant that, statistically, they probably had little to no effect on vote totals, but they certainly added to the circus atmosphere. In any other year, Trump would have been an early casualty, but with these idiots, as they slowly got ground out of the process, he got to hang on and look a little better by comparison.

Then you've got the big hitters, every single one of which failed miserably. We should be watching either Scott Walker or Ted Cruz laying into Hillary right now, but Walker proved to be such an embarrassment of a candidate that he made Rick Perry's 2012 run look good. Cruz, darling of the base, the most conservative politician on the Hill, apparently couldn't get his hands on that software upgrade that makes you behave like an actual human being.

And there's Jeb and Marco, different generations of beloved establishment candidates who apparently took all their campaigning cues from Scott Walker. I never thought the establishment candidates had as much of a chance this year as most did, but one of them at least should have ended up in the final two, not flame out spectacularly.

Let me put it this way: If a minor league ballplayer comes to Yankee stadium and homers all night, that's a big fucking deal. If, instead, he spanks the shit out of a little league team, we call a guy like that a douchebag, not a winner.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Useful Dead Technologies Redux 6

If slashdot hasn't fixed the unicode bug, there's a version of the article on my personal page. It will be included in "Random Scribblings", out June 19

        Ten years ago I wrote a humorous article titled âoeUseful Dead Technologiesâ about technologies that are no longer used that I sorely miss, like furnaces that still worked when the power went out, or things made of durable steel instead of todayâ(TM)s fragile and short-lived plastics.
        A couple of the things on the list have improved since then. Shoelaces, for instance. Ten years ago I wrote:
        âoeShoelaces have been designed for hundreds of years to keep your shoes on your feet. No longer. Today's shoelaces are designed with one purpose in mind â" to annoy you.
        âoeWhat are they making shoelaces out of now? Nylon! Good old frictionless nylon âbecause of its strengthâ(TM). One wonders if today's engineers even need a college degree, as it seems that some things, like today's shoelaces, were designed by âoespecial edâ students.
        âoeBecause now, not only are they made of a friction-free material, they're round rather than flat, further eroding their ability to stay tied.â
        Since then, theyâ(TM)ve been making them of both cotton and nylon woven together, with all the friction of cotton and the strength of nylon.
        And theyâ(TM)re flat again.
        Another item was knobs on car radios. At the beginning of the century they had buttons for tuning and volume, so you couldnâ(TM)t turn it up or down without taking your eyes off the road. It was dangerous. Thankfully, theyâ(TM)ve gone back to knobs, even though theyâ(TM)re digital rather than potentiometers.
        The radio in my car now really annoys me, because the morons who designed it stupidly put the volume knob right above the tuning knob rather than the time tested volume on the left side of the radio and tuning on the right. Often when I try to adjust the volume, Iâ(TM)ll grab the wrong knob.
        I also miss the way presets worked back in the analog age. They were simple to operate: to set a preset to a station, you tuned the radio to that station, pulled out on the button, and pushed it back in. These days you simply cannot tune a station to a preset while youâ(TM)re driving, at least unless youâ(TM)re a suicidal maniac. Whatâ(TM)s worse, every radio has a different way of tuning a preset button, and many are impossible to figure out without an ownerâ(TM)s manual.
        The worst thing about that radio is I canâ(TM)t change the time on the clock. The car came with a manual, but they put three different models of radio in those cars, and the manual lists all of them. But each of the three says to push a button that simply isnâ(TM)t on the radio!
        And I just discovered by watching a commercial where they were trying to sell new cars â" the morons took the knobs away again, and now itâ(TM)s even worse than the buttons. Now they have touch screens. Thereâ(TM)s no way possible to change the station or volume without taking your eyes off the road!
        Iâ(TM)m all for hiring the handicapped, but I wish they wouldnâ(TM)t hire idiots to be engineers. Touch screens for automobile controls are brain-dead stupid.
        The following items havenâ(TM)t all become extinct in the last decade, I simply didnâ(TM)t think of them when I wrote it. Here are some more.

Thermostats that donâ(TM)t need batteries
        In the twentieth century, thermostats were simple yet clever devices: a mercury switch on the end of two dissimilar metals. The metal would bend one way or the other depending on temperature. When the metal reached a certain shape, the mercury would roll down the inside of the switch and close the circuit.
        Shortly before the turn of the century they came out with programmable thermostats, and they were indeed superior despite the one disadvantage of needing a battery; perhaps it could be done, but I donâ(TM)t see how you could have a programmable thermostat without one. But they could be set to turn themselves down at bedtime, then warm the house back up before you arose in the morning. More comfort, lower heating costs.
        Fast forward to a couple of years ago when the landlord had a new furnace installed in my house. With the new furnace came a new thermostat. The old thermostat was programmable, the new one isnâ(TM)t.
        But itâ(TM)s digital and still needs batteries.
        At first I thought they had to be digital because mercury has been shown to be toxic, but on second thought you could simply have a copper ball replacing the mercury. Such a switch would be easy to engineer.
        Folks, digital thermostats have been in use for a couple of decades now. Why arenâ(TM)t new homes designed to have a low voltage DC supply to thermostats so batteries wouldnâ(TM)t be needed?

Sticky Menus
        When GUIs first came out they were a great improvement over the old CLIs. Easy to use and hard to screw up. Click on a menu heading and the menu drops down. Nothing happened until you clicked somewhere. If you clicked on an empty space the menu closed. Click on a different menu and that menu opened.
        So some moron had the bright idea that if you had the file menu open and simply mouse over the edit menu, File closes and Edit opens.
        This incredibly stupid change drives me nuts, especially in Firefox and GIMP. I have nested bookmarks in Firefox, and after clicking a folder I have to slowly and carefully slide the cursor over, making sure the cursor never goes over a different folder, as the folder I want will close and the one I donâ(TM)t opens.
        GIMP drives me nuts, too, especially trying to select the âoerectangle selectâ from the âoeselectionâ menu, as the âoefiltersâ menu will open when Iâ(TM)m trying to navigate to âoerectangle selectâ.
        Folks, losing sticky menus was an incredibly stupid, productivity killing thing. BRING THEM BACK!

Rectangular cabinets
        Stuff used to have cabinets made of wood. The better stuff had rounded corners, because they were safer.
        Every large CRT TV I ever owned was rectangular, before 2002 when I bought a forty two inch Sony Trinitron. It takes up a huge amount of floor space, and you canâ(TM)t set anything on it because itâ(TM)s stupidly shaped. My DVD and VCR and converter box should be able to sit on it, but nothing can.
        The rectangular shape is far from extinct, but more and more things seem to be eschewing it.

Useful user manuals
        Some would criticize me for this one, saying user manuals always sucked, and they would have a valid point. When I was young, user manuals were complete â" and completely unreadable to many if not most people. I had trouble making heads or tails out of more than one, and I could read at a post-doctoral level at age 12 (although I didnâ(TM)t understand the math).
        DOS 6.2 came in a box with two floppies and a thick user manual. Windows 95 came with a very thin manual. I donâ(TM)t remember what XPâ(TM)s was like, but the manual for this old Acer laptop was really thin.
        Then my phone. Honestly, come on, now, a smart phone is a complex, sophisticated piece of equipment but its user manual is three by five inches and a dozen pages?
        The worst was the âoeSeagate Personal Cloudâ, which is really a network hard drive. Tiny pamphlet with pictures and few words. Look, folks, pictures are good for illustration but lousy for information. I spent twenty useless minutes studying the thing, then finally just plugged it in and turned it on. It didnâ(TM)t even need a manual!
        I did find a detailed, very good manual for it online. Its printed manual should have added its URL.

Automobile hoods and trunks that didnâ(TM)t need props
        Before the 1970s, to open a hood you opened the hood latch, and springs opened the hood and held it open. It was an ingenious design where it didnâ(TM)t spring open, you lifted it a little first. Trunks worked the same way. It didnâ(TM)t matter if it was a Volkswagen, a little Plymouth Valiant, or a big luxury Cadillac.
        Then the Arab oil embargo hit in 1974 and the price of gasoline doubled in a matter of months. People started replacing their American gas guzzlers with compact Japanese cars that had far better mileage.
        The more weight a vehicle carries, the worse its mileage is. Part of the raising of gas mileage was replacing the heavy steel with a lighter material when possible, and those springs and the rest of the steel assembly for them were jettisoned, replaced with that stupid hood prop.
        Soon American auto makers started following suit. I donâ(TM)t know if big sedans and luxury cars ever went to hood props, but I know my â67 Mustang had no hood prop, nor did my â74 LeMans. My 76 Vega did, though, as did every other car I owned until I bought an â02 Concorde. Rather than springs or a hood prop, it had lightweight hydraulic struts for both the front and back.
        It was far better than a hood prop, but not as good as the spring mechanism. Those springs lasted forever, but the struts fail in a few years and you wind up propping up your hood and trunk with a stick. Either that or shell out for new ones.

Bumper Jacks
        All cars and trucks used to have bumpers, and there was a slot on each end of each bumper. The slots were for flat tires. If you had a flat, you got the jack out of the car, hooked it into the slot, and jacked it up with its handle like you were pumping water out of a hand operated well pump. This was easy on the back, as you were standing up. It took very little effort to jack up the vehicle.
        Now they all have scissors jacks, and I hate them. You have to get down on your hands and knees to slide it under the car, and jack it up by cranking it. It always takes skin off of your knuckles and takes twice the effort and three times the time.
        Yes, the new jacks take up far less space, but the trade-offs simply werenâ(TM)t worth it.
        I miss the full sized spares, too. If you had a flat, you changed the tire, got the flat tire fixed, and simply put that one in the trunk instead of having to change the âoedoughnutâ to put your real tire on.
        At least we have fix-a-flat now.

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