A Keyboard For Writers


We all know that writing can be painful. The intense frustration when an idea that was pure genius in our heads translates to vapid merde when we try to put it into words on the screen. The struggle to impose form and structure on a plotline that insists on fracturing into a thousand shards, all of them purest zirconium. The realization that you abruptly suck at this endeavor that is central to your self-regard, that you’ve lost it forever, that all your friends will now know what a dismal fraud you are.

I can’t help you with that part. Cocaine, alcohol, and perverse sex are the prescribed remedies.

However, there is some hope for the physical pains that you’re experiencing. If you write much, your hands hurt fairly constantly now, don’t they? Probably your forearms, too, and your shoulders ache.

Let’s trip back to the halcyon days of yestertyping, when only women were taught how to use a keyboard. Real computers cost five to ten thousand dollars. A mouse was a rodent that you carried around in your shirt pocket, because you were weird.

There was no GUI. There was only one screen color on a black background. There was the command line, and you wrote your novels in WordStar, which was the coolest program on the planet.

Back then, the keyboards were not made for a dollar a day by starving Filipino orphans. They were often designed by obsessive engineers who realized that keyboards were the contact point between their expensive wares and the person who bought them, so they damn well better be good.

Then came Windows (and the Macintosh, but we don’t talk about Macs in polite society).

The paradigm shifted tectonically. Now most people click away their lives rather than typing everything. And computers cost a tenth of what they once did, so keyboards are thrown into the bundle like Happy Meal toys.

And they’re awful. They hurt you badly in the long run if you type a lot.

I’d like to introduce you to the IBM Model M keyboard. If you’re a writer, it’s your new best friend.

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Life, I tell you! Extraterrestrial…. liiiiiiife!


So, here is a quickie, to get warmed up and breathe a little life back into my own posting habits.

Science News reports that some very clever people have come up with a laser technique for detecting microbial activity. We can not only use it to, say, detect Martian life from orbit, but even use it to detect life on worlds orbiting other suns! Even better, it uses very inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment. Which means maybe even some enterprising amateurs could conceivably be the first people to discover extraterrestrial life.

How cool is that?

Welcome to the Present

You see, we were in the past.  Because of technical difficulties I haven’t upgraded the WordPress Version on this blog for over a year because the automatic upgrade thingy provided by my host wasn’t working properly.  Now this was probably because of all the customization I did on this blog but the other day there was news of a really nasty exploit that targeted all WordPress installations before the current one and I got my ass in gear.

I am very glad to tell you, by the way, that even though I have upgraded WordPress to the very latest WordPress (2.8.4) its spellcheck still doesn’t recognize WordPress as a correct spelling.

Maybe I can live with that.

I See

While these aren’t going to work to replace my tri-focals, three pairs of them would.

These are water filled lenses that individuals can adjust to their own needs, then freeze the correction.

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

— The Guardian

While there are definitely vision correction issues that aren’t solved by this (like astigmatism), in places like sub-Saharan Africa, the ratio of opticians to general population is approximately one to a million.  This would change the quality of life of millions of people.

link at Core77   Pointed to by Rebecca Watson Tweet.

Jet Pack Ahoy

Photo by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post, 2008

In keeping with our occasional “where’s my flying car?” motif, I thought I’d pass along this little goody. The Denver Post reports that daredevil Eric Scott successfully avoided plummeting to his death in Royal Gorge with a 135-pound rocket-powered backpack strapped to him.

The pack, designed by aerospace engineer Eric Strauss, carried Scott across the 1,500 foot wide, 1,053 foot deep canyon. According to the Post, he had 33 seconds of fuel, and made it across in 25.  Plenty of time to spare!

Troy Widgery, founder of Jetpack International, the company that created the pack, is pursuing a childhood dream. Next up, he says, is a pack with three turbines, capable of staying aloft for nine minutes and crossing the Grand Canyon.

Update:  CBS News has the story, too. Both the Denver Post and CBS have video of the flight, and CBS has an interview with Scott. CBS is saying the flight took either 21 or 23 seconds, and he had a total of 30 seconds of hydrogen peroxide fuel. Either way, he made it with about 7 seconds to spare. Heh.

Twitter as a Real-Time Community Space


This’ll be short, but Eat Our Brains has been Looking At Me, Ma! So I’d better give it just a dab of attention.

I dipped my toe into twittering the other day, and had an epiphany. I think I figured out one reason Twitter is way cooler than it seems at first glance.

As most folks know by now, Twitter is a sort of web-based IM’ing thing. You sign up, and you type in what you are doing, whenever you feel like it. You can only type in a certain number of characters (120? something like that). At first read, it seems no different than some form of instant messaging, but it’s more than that. It creates community spaces. It’s transformative. Because of its simplicity and accessibility.

You can tap in by web or by mobile phone and follow a person’s activities. Other people follow your activities. It creates this fluid, shifting web of connectivity. It really feels very river-like. Because the messages are so short, it is easy to just slip into the stream of words, go for a swim, and slip back out again. It feels… seamless.

Here’s something else, though. I am an introvert. I need lots of islands of quiet space and room for reflection in my life. And with all my commitments, adding another way to connect exerts a limited pull, despite the fact that Twitter definitely has some fascinating elements.

The web is all about connectivity and community. But I sometimes wish that more tools were built for us introverts…

Still, I may do more investigation of Twitter. I find how it works interesting, from a sociological perspective.


PS  My Twitter name is feralsapient. What’s yours?

Obama & Change; Crypto & the 2nd Amendment

Thought the first: Apropos Obama and change. He’s getting flak for choosing experienced politicians to flesh out his administration. For instance, in the NYTimes today, in an article regarding his meeting with Clinton to discuss her taking the Secretary of State role:

… there are clear dangers for Mr. Obama as well … her appointment could undercut his argument that he is bringing true change to Washington.

I get why people are concerned that choosing Washington insiders might undercut Obama’s message. We’re all sick to death of the secret memos, the corruption, and the spinelessness we’ve seen over the past eight years. But change is not simply about the people. It’s about the process.  Obama’s message was that he wanted to change the way politics is played in Washington. Reaching out to former rivals in substantive ways is, guess what;  a change! And using people who have experience in getting things done when the country is in this current state of crisis seems like a wise move to me…. As long as he combines this reaching out with a willingness to hold the criminals accountable.

Thought the second: I got a grin out of xkcd’s latest comic. I’m so there…

Remember, kids: you read it here first. As I said then:

The Second Amendment was clearly intended to protect from seizure the tools the citizenry need to defend themselves from tyranny. Muskets and bullets were the tool of choice back then, but it’s quite clear that the underlying intent was to uphold ordinary people’s ability to defend themselves from a government gone wrong.

In a very real sense, the right to privacy and a free internet is the new “right of people to bear arms.” Even the expression “forewarned is forearmed” gives this notion a nod. Access to information is the new equalizer. There may be no way an ordinary citizen, even armed with an uzi, can stand against the assembled might of the US government, as our founders intended, should our government fail in its duty to not abuse its authority. But we can keep them honest, with access to information and the right to protect our personal information from unreasonable search and seizure.

The struggle against tyranny has graduated from bullets to bits.

Science Debate 2008

I found something nifty. A group of citizens concerned about the state of science and technology in the US kicked off an effort which is now co-sponsored by 38,000 scientists, engineers, and scientific/ engineering/ mathematics organizations, to quiz the presidential candidates on their knowledge of and positions regarding important scientific issues of the day.

Science Debate 2008 has posed a series of questions to each candidate on subjects ranging from climate change to energy to education to stem cell research and ocean health.

No response is up yet from McCain, but you can see Obama’s answers to the top 14 questions here. Here’s a taste of his position on one of my topics of concern, climate change:

Specifically, I will implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. I will start reducing emissions immediately by establishing strong annual reduction targets with an intermediate goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. A cap- and-trade program draws on the power of the marketplace to reduce emissions in a cost- effective and flexible way. I will require all pollution credits to be auctioned.

I am impressed with his specificity, here. A reduction of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 is what climate scientists say is needed to forestall the worst effects of climate change. I’ve seen arguments made for and against cap-and-trade, versus a carbon tax. I’m no economist, but from what I have read from the experts, cap-and-trade should work, as long as it’s well thought out, and I would support this. (More on this if y’all are interested; just let me know.)

His answers to several of the other questions are equally thoughtful and have real specifics.  I’ll be interested to see McCain’s responses.

This is just a quick post — if I get time, I will delve into some of his answers and discuss his positions further, but my first impression is, damn — it sure will be nice if we can get a smart person back in the White House again. Digits overlapped…

And kudos to the people who thought this up — we need to be asking our leaders these kinds of questions.

Boba Fett’s Got Nothing on You, Glenn Martin

My goodness, but this is extremely cool. Given global warming and the price of fuel, it’s undeniably self-indulgent to the point of Gaia abuse to fantasize about owning my own jetpack. But I can’t help it; I’m a sucker for fly-tech.

Inventor Glenn Martin has created a real, honest-to-guru working prototype of a jetpack, which recently took its first voyage at a flying contraptions fair in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Click on the image to watch the video and read about it at the Chicago Tribune.

(That, btw, is his 16-year-old son Harrison piloting it, neatly settling the debate over whether or not having an inventor for a parent is Teh Coolest! Thing! Evar!)

Zombies Eat Our Brains…

… Brains only backed up to June 14th.

We’ve had a problem at our Hosting service and lost three weeks of posts and comments. I will be hunting them up using google caches and wayback scenarios but I don’t know if I’ll be able to get everything. I’m particulary concerned that we recover all the zombie haiku from the comments of Rory’s zombie haiku post.

Otherwise, the very history of zombie literature and poetry may be affected leading to to a limbic imbalance.

Oh, well, at least our tech support guy, Jeremy, told us a good zombie joke that he saw over on bash.com.

Q: What do vegan zombies say?

A: Graaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnnnsssssss.

The End of the Net as We Know It…

…due in 2012. For reals. Via Avedon Carol:

I’ve worked in industry for many years, and I have no doubt that these kinds of plans are being made. But it will only happen if we let it. If you are a reporter, or know a reporter, there’s a huge story here.

Also, I urge everyone to join the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and donate to the cause of net neutrality. They’ve been fighting the good fight against usurpation of the internet by monied interests since dinosaurs roamed the Earth (or thereabouts…). And while you’re at it, buy Cory Doctorow’s bestseller, LITTLE BROTHER, a can’t-put-it-down thrill ride that deals with these kinds of issues.

I have said before, and I truly believe, that equal access to the internet is not just a First Amendment issue, but also a Second Amendment issue. The founders intended to create a power balance between and among the different actors in our democracy. The power people hold over our government is not through handguns and assault rifles; it is through our ability to share information and join forces to hold the powerful accountable to us.