James R. Strickland, Author
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09/01/2014 11:38pm Blog Entry

Theory vs. Scientific Theory - Bite Sci-zed





I've had to argue the difference between a scientific theory and a normal everyday theory more than once. I got it ... mostly right. Above, the host of the Bite Sci-zed youtube channel, a PHD student studying genetics and thus, a professional scientist, explains. The part I got wrong is at the end, where she says there are, in fact, no scientific facts, and that science doesn't /prove/ anything, only disproves it.



-JRS


08/31/2014 01:58pm Blog Entry

Software Preservation, Kryoflux, and Politics

I recently got a Kryoflux board. (much more info here). It's a nice board, and once I got the little problem with my usb board sorted out (Egad, you have to set jumpers to make the internal USB A port live.) it works nicely with the ancient tandon full height 5.25 inch 360k ds/dd drive in my junkbox PC. I've already used it to extract whole floppies full of data from my Ampro Littleboard's floppies, and through the twin miracles of cpmtools and cpmfuse I can mount the sector images and copy out the files. Which I've done.

It'd be nice to be able to write the images back out. Apparently the kryoflux /can/ write files out, but only for certain kinds of files dedicated to preserving every last byte, error, bad sector and so on, which is necessary for copy protected software.

Seriously, why the hell preserve the copy protection? I get preserving the software. The days of the floppy are past, and a lot of interesting software was written that's just fading away as the floppies go bad. (In fairness to those long ago floppy manufacturers, some of the CPM floppies I've been playing with are nearly 30 years old and still not only are readable with the kryoflux, but still work in the Ampro. Properly stored they last quite a long while.) But why preserve the copy protection? Strip it out. Patch it. Yes, it's not a pristine copy, but the point of software is not that every byte is where it was in the original, it's that the software runs (in an emulator, at least) and can be experienced. Cycle accuracy I get. Good emulation, I get. Copy protection, IMHO, should be consigned to the dumpster of history along with its offspring DRM. Computers should do what they're told. It's up to their operators to be moral.

The end result of all of this is that I can't use the Kryoflux as I'd hoped to, to read and write floppies and break my dependence on the floppy interface in the motherboard of my junkbox PC. The Kryoflux folks have promised the ability to write mfm sector images, but they've been promising it for years, and if they've delivered, it's been buried in the groundswell of b******t about open source licenses, "proper" preservation, and all that.

Still. It's a useful gadget. I have exactly one machine left that needs floppies, since I stole the drives out of the Ampro. Hopefully they'll deliver on the ability to write sector images to floppies before my last floppy-capable motherboard dies. I don't /care/ if they're exact physical duplicates of the original disk. Will the original hardware read them? Will the program run? That, IMHO is all that matters.

07/23/2014 07:08pm Blog Entry

Relay Computing, Redux

On Saturday, November 26, 2011, I posted about my nearly-twenty-year-old furnace and its relay computer control systems, and installing An AprilAire humidifier. Two days ago, instead of cool air, to combat the ghastly late July heat, we were treated to the smell of burning insulation. At first, we assumed it was my jumkbox PC (see Separating Work from Play, along with Update 1 and Update 2). I'm loading its very cheap Chinese power supply fairly heavily and it has been very warm. Alas, sniffing the heating duct proved this not to be the case.

Diagnosis: the fan motor had burned out. Our technicians who serviced the thing had been saying, virtually unanimously, "It's working ok now, but it's (19,20,22) years old, and it's not worth spending a dime on parts for it." We took their advice.

So new furnace, one of these Lennox modulating furnaces. Instead of waiting for the house to drop to a low enough temperature to make firing up the big guns worthwhile, it has a range of low power settings down to 35 percent, and will use them when the house is only a degree or two low. It's rated at 97.5 efficient. We also got one of these air conditioners with it. It's a midrange model (whereas the furnace is top of the line) since we cool sporadically 3-4 months a year and heat continuously nearly 8, and the furnace's uber-blower serves both systems.

Expensive? Yes. Does it come with a lot of cool bells and whistles? Yes. The control system on this furnace is impressive. It can control the humidifier. It has an outdoor temperature sensor built into the air conditioning unit. It runs diagnostics on itself It has, I'm told, a Carbon Monoxide sensor built in. It has a directly connected air intake. Its exhaust flue is PVC and plumbed out through the side of the house. The system is nearly silent. It can download its own firmware. Did I have surge suppressors put in on both the AC unit and the furnace? You betcha.

It's not quite to the point of saying "Hal, turn up the air conditioner, please." But it's close.

Naturally the weather broke just as they started testing the air conditioner. Now it's lovely and temperate, after a small rain storm. We have the windows open, and we're enjoying the fresh air. And the amazing, impressive, digitally controlled HVAC system that looks as though they've installed warp drive in our basement... is turned off.

Go figure.

-JRS

07/16/2014 01:47pm Blog Entry

The Power of Denial

I've been doing some Raspberry Pi tinkering of late, messing with my desktop pi's configuration and what's plugged into what. As it turns out, this is the key to the mystery that's been bugging me these last couple weeks. I've been hearing music. Just little snippets, always of classical music. And this without my headphones on. So naturally, I'd check the headphones to see if my desktop mac's playing music from some website I didn't realize was so equipped. Nothing. Check the iPhone. On one occasion, it was the source, but that was music I recognized instantly as being part of my music collection. The little snippets of classical music persisted. I was to the point of thinking that, if one had to have auditory hallucinations, snippets of classical weren't unpleasant, or that someone working outside's music was being caught by the wind. For the most recent one, I glanced back at my Raspberry Pi. It couldn't be making sound. I'd unplugged it from my headphone amp. Could it? I took a closer look. That's when I noticed that I'd left one of my experiments plugged in. I had a set of earbuds plugged into the Pi. Sure enough, when I stuck one of the earbuds in my ear, I got classical music. I have MPD on my Pi. Like any good unix daemon, MPD starts at boot time and resumes whatever it was doing when it was stopped. Including playing music. I had MPD set up to stream from WCPE, a public radio station in North Carolina (Colorado Public Radio's streams are dreadful) specializing in ... you guessed it. Classical music. I was sure none of my computers were making music. I knew it wasn't coming through my headphone amp, because I'd checked. I knew my phone wasn't doing it, because I checked. I was sure it couldn't be any of my equipment, and I was about ready to call my doctor. Beware denial. "It couldn't possibly..." has a habit of becoming "verily, it could." Epilogue: I plugged the Pi back into my headphone amp, and I'm getting the music in my Sennheiser headphones now, in all its glory instead of little tinny snippets from an unknown source. Much better. -JRS

05/15/2014 03:54pm Blog Entry

Lag in Real Life

Stumbled across this: Lag in Real Life. Is it just me, or do they move exactly the way a lot of artificial limbs move? (See also: the Luke arm), and compare it to this: 3d printed hand controlled by human muscles. In the absence of feedback, movements become robotic. If you want to know where cybernetic evolution needs to go next, realtime broadband feedback of vast amounts of sensory data seems to be the answer. -JRS

As promised, Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences are discontinued. Amazon has a few physical copies left, and I have loads of them, so they're not yet unobtainium.

As time permits, I will re-set both novels for ebook use. Whether they'll be free or not bears further consideration.

It's all kind of sad. My first two novels are probably done now. Over time, looking at them through the lens of my writing now, they're rough in spots - especially the paragraphing - but they hold up pretty well as stories. I don't plan on giving them a heavy edit to clean up the paragraphing and fix the rough spots - I don't really have time and they're not earning me money at this point - but I will be poking through them again in some fashion or other, so anything's possible.

-JRS

01/31/2014 06:24pm Blog Entry

Cha cha changes

As of tomorrow, Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences are officially going out of print. (How long this will take to percolate out to Amazon, I have no idea.) I will be removing the free downloads some time tonight or tomorrow and modifying them to reflect that they are no longer available through the auspices of Flying Pen Press.

This isn't an acrimonious separation. My contract with FPP allowed me to pull the plug starting in 2010. I didn't do so then, and I didn't do so now. Mostly it's about falling sales, and FPP refocusing on other product lines. Whatever else is said about Flying Pen Press, ultimately they took a chance on a science fiction writer with exactly zero publishing credits, got me professional editing, and made the book available to the public. If you're reading this, there's a good chance it's because of an FPP version of one of my novels. Their timing couldn't have been better, either. 2007, the year Looking Glass was released, was also the year my father passed away, but he did live long enough to see me published, for which I'm grateful, and it's been very valuable to me to have books in print all this time.

That said, what do you, the reader, do if you came here looking for one of my books to buy? Well, as of right now, it's still alive on Amazon. Hit the buy button quick. If it's not there anymore, there are a couple options. First, I own the ebook versions outright - I created them in the first place, and I've been updating the free download version from time to time, so once I've made a few small changes (mostly to the cover and copyright sections) I'll be putting those free downloads back up. Second: I have a fairly abundant supply of the Flying Pen Press edition of both of my first two novels. I will be making arrangements on my website so you can order one via email and paypal direct from me (signed, if you like.) Finally, I own these two novels free and clear again. Moving forward, I'm hoping to find them a new home, perhaps with a third book in the series, even if it's a matter of typesetting them myself (I don't own the FPP typeset version) and putting them on Lulu. You haven't seen the last of my cyberpunk books.

Meantime, I'm making good progress on City of Glass, finally. I added about 10,000 words to it this week, (very) rough drafts of several pivotal scenes that help a lot in fixing the book in my mind. That those four chapters were written in Wordstar won't be obvious in the finished novel, and probably aren't that interesting to you, but it amuses the hell out of me. There are a lot fewer distractions in a 1980s toolset, and it helps with focusing. :) (If you are interested, the computer is one of these, which I built myself, running CP/M 2.2 and Wordstar 4. I have a functional but incomplete Wordstar to rtf translator written that I'm using, and one of my side/hobby projects has been a complete Wordstar to rtf translator, to handle everything Wordstar can do. Turns out that's far more than I thought, so it's taking a lot more time than expected. :)

So yeah. Things are changing around here.

Regards,
-JRS

01/06/2014 07:42pm Blog Entry

The Joke's On Me...

In the Brass and Steel stories, I've made great use of Herman Hollerith's name as one of the technology greats behind my 19th century computer revolution. (In the real world, he invented Hollerith cards, first used to tabulate the 1890 Census) Today I decided that the precursors of IBM needed to show up as eager young startups (since IBM itself wasn't founded until 1911, and City of Glass is set in 1897). IBM, formerly known as the Computing Tabulating Recording company, was made up of the merger of three smaller companies; the Tabulating Machine Company, International Time Recording Company, and the Computing Scale company. You can see where this is going. The Tabulating Machine Company was Hollerith's company. So one of my usual gags writing Steampunk turns out to be exactly backwards. Heh. :) -JRS

01/02/2014 01:09pm Blog Entry

Some things I didn't know about the 19th century: the 20somethings of the time were in the same boat as the Millennials today. Kind of explains the explosive rise of Steampunk.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/opinion/anxious-youth-then-and-now.html?_r=0

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