Mimsy Were the Borogoves

This is not a new idea; this is the idea of the age of reason. This is the philosophy that guided the men that made the democracy that we live under. The idea that no one really knew how to run a government led to the idea that we should arrange a system by which new ideas could be developed, tried out, and tossed out if necessary, with more new ideas brought in—a trial and error system. — Richard Feynman (What Do You Care What Other People Think?)

The Year in Books: 2020—Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Despite the opening quote1, the year started out deceptively wonderful on the book front. I went to Miami with a friend in February. I didn’t buy any books, but I did get out to Key West and saw Hemingway’s library and typewriter. And I admired the cemetery marker for local Key West author Jane Louise Newhagen.

Then, in March, I went to Raleigh. I didn’t know at the time, but the only new bookstores I would visit in 2020 would be those bookstores in Raleigh at the beginning of the year, and a junk store in Michigan toward the end of the year.

Happily, both were fruitful.

In Raleigh I picked up the second of Chaim Potok’s Asher Lev books. And finally fulfilled a programming urge that’s been on the back of my mind for over a decade: I picked up Exploring Expect and ran through the tutorial on the Expect scripting language. I also found a really nice Richard Feynman book I hadn’t known existed, the book version of his famous Cornell lectures—which I also hadn’t known existed. After reading the book, I watched the movie.

I also found a couple of DC Heroes adventures, one of which I ran to great fun at the North Texas RPG Convention.

Then, on Friday, March 13, while I was in the air returning home, the whole country started to shutdown. That was it for all the great book sales for the rest of the year.

In August as Texas began to open up I decided to get out of the house and go on my I-35 book drive again. I visited the Book Cellar in Temple, Brazos Books and Golden’s Book Exchange in Waco, and McWha Bookstore in Belton. I’ve been to all of these bookstores before, and always enjoy the visit.

Trump’s rally: the media is the dog—Wednesday, January 13th, 2021
Trump marchers at Capitol

At the Capitol grounds, people are mostly talking about the cold (or heat, depending on whether they were from Florida or Iowa).

I went to DC on Tuesday, January 5, thinking it would be interesting to see a Trump rally, and have some good food in the process. Most of the DC restaurants I enjoyed the last time I was there several years ago seemed to still be open, at least for delivery. And of course I also wandered local bookstores and record stores.

I also expected that the reporting on the event would be vastly different from the experience, and that the difference between what I saw first hand and what the media reported would be interesting.

I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building, to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.

Trump did not incite a riot. He asked us to march peacefully to the capitol, and then if Congress didn’t call for an investigation into fraud, if states didn’t improve their election processes in the future, for us to go home and primary politicians who oppose open elections. And to work for election security in state legislatures. There was nowhere where he asked for, implied a need for, or gave any impression of a desire for, any action other than going home and starting a long term political engagement.

Literally everyone I saw at the rally heard the same thing I did. People who say Trump called for violence have to theorize special mental powers that send invisible commands:

He has a way of inciting his followers to do things…

It reminds me of the quote that if you can hear the dog whistle, you’re the dog.

The thing we adore about these dog-whistle kerfuffles is that the people who react to the whistle always assume it’s intended for somebody else. The whole point of the metaphor is that if you can hear the whistle, you’re the dog. — James Taranto (Lutey Tunes)

Violence is an article of faith with the media that can’t be countered by asking them to actually listen to the speech. But I was there, and listened; his speech was literally the opposite of calling for violence. He said that if congress didn’t do the right thing, we should go back home and primary the hell out of them when they were up for reelection.1

2020: The Dark Joke Returns—Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

Today we find out whether enough of our representatives have the sense and the courage to object to the obvious fraud following President Trump’s historic win. The smart money is on no. Swamp dwellers are a bipartisan majority in Washington. But we shouldn’t even be here. None of this is a surprise. We always knew about the fraud in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other states with fraud centers. We laughed it off.

We made dark jokes about having to overcome the margin of fraud, never thinking that the margin would someday exceed any hope of overcoming.

There are so many things we used to just accept and occasionally make dark jokes about, pretending that if they just keep it from being too obvious, we could pretend it wasn’t there.

How many times have you heard someone say, a big reason Trump won in 2016 was that the left didn’t think they’d need to cheat? And yet still we did nothing. Now we have what seems to be obvious fraud—made all the more obvious by state and local officials refusing to make public the data that would show their elections were not fraudulent.

We can’t accept that any longer. Even here in Texas, if Attorney General Paxton hadn’t fought in court to maintain our election laws, we might be in the same fix as Michigan and the other dark-of-the-morning bump states. State by state, we need to harden our election laws against fraud. To whatever degree possible our election laws must be self-enforcing so that they don’t depend on who is in the Attorney General’s office or the Secretary of State’s office. They must be automatically open so that they can be validated without the need for convincing a judge or a county official.

Validation of elections isn’t something one candidate should have to fight for. It should be automatic, every election. We should always be looking for better ways to validate elections and to discard fraudulent votes.

We need, further, to identify where else we’re accepting corruption and do what we can to fix it now, before it gets out of hand, not afterward. What other half-hearted dark jokes do we tell?

Smashwords Post-Christmas Sale—Saturday, December 26th, 2020

From now through the rest of the year, you can get the Astounding Scripts e-book and the Dream of Poor Bazin ebook from Smashwords at 75% off as part of their end-of-year sale. Use discount code SEY75.

If, like me, your best memories of Christmas morning are building things with your new toys, then 42 Astounding Scripts will awaken your Spirit of Christmas Code. It’s filled with command-line programming toys for your Macintosh, from creating ASCII art using your own photographs, to creating great music or even playing your music files backward.

If, on the other hand, your best memories are of losing yourself in a grand, swashbuckling adventure, The Dream of Poor Bazin is just what the Dumas ordered. Join young, provincial journalist Stephen Price Blair as he learns the trade in Washington, DC and exposes conspiracy, hate, and murder in the land beyond the Potomac.

While the discount code (SEY75) is specifically for Smashwords, both of these books are also available in print, and, most likely, your favorite ebookstore wherever it is.

Sparkling lights for Christmas—Friday, December 25th, 2020
Christmas lights over bumpy surface

A bumpy surface, scaled by 10%.

It’s time once again to play with tinker toys for Christmas. This Christmas, like last Christmas, the tinker toys are the Persistence of Vision raytracer. (And by the way, if you enjoy this kind of toy, Astounding Scripts is currently on sale.)

And this time, instead of using the command-line version, I used the GUI version from Yvo Smellenbergh. I’m using the 3.8 development version although I’m not sure it matters for this scene; the 3.7 version is likely fine also. However, as betas go this has so far been very reliable. At the time of writing, I have not had a single crash, and the scenes render as I expect them to.

The GUI version recognizes the syntax of POV and highlights the keywords just as Textastic does for other scripting languages. It can also list your variables and macros, and it provides easy templates for the various POV shapes and scene elements.

I was inspired by the Christmas tree photo I used in O Little Town of Bethlehem, which is a photo of the Macy’s Christmas tree in San Francisco. I was also inspired by the wonderful artwork in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. This video is a rough combination of those two inspirations.

You can easily change the background. The background in this scene is a shape like any other: a plane. I didn’t do anything special to create it, just played around with normals in Persistence of Vision. Normals are basically roughness on the surface of a shape. The most common is probably a bumpy surface, and that’s what I used first, scaled by .1. Scaling a bumpy surface by less than one makes the bumps smaller and more numerous.

[toggle code]

  • normal {
    • bumps
    • scale .1
  • }

After playing around while reading the manual about normals, I ended up choosing the marble keyword, with a turbulence of 1. That's pretty much all I did—read through the various keywords for altering the normal and chose the one that felt right.

You can download the scene file, as well as the music that went along with it, as a zip file (Zip file, 10.6 KB).

8 (bit) Days of Christmas: Day 1 (Do You Hear What I Hear?)—Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

By the end of 1987, most of the cool programs in the Rainbow were for the Color Computer 3. The CoCo 3 was a giant leap forward, both in its innate capabilities—better graphics, better text manipulation on graphics displays, better text output if you had a good monitor—and in the software available for it. OS-9 Level 2 was a phenomenal operating system. All for only $129.95!1

But there was still life left in the old system, too, as John Mosley showed us in “Do You Hear What I Hear?” in the December 1987 issue of The Rainbow. What we heard was some of the best music to come out of the Color Computer 1 and 2. “Your ears do not deceive—it’s CoCo singing in four voices!”

That music didn’t come without some work on the part of the reader. If you didn’t subscribe to the tape or disk version of the magazine, you had to first type in a program that asked you for a starting memory address to POKE the code into, and then the program asked you, one `INPUT` at a time, for the hexadecimal values of the code:

Enter Listing 3 one hexadecimal value at a time… When you are through entering Listing 3, or when you have to stop entering, type S and press ENTER… If you are just stopping temporarily and plan to resume entering later, write down the number to the left of the ‘S’ you typed before you press ENTER… When you are ready to resume entering, use that number as your start address. You will have to load the old file you saved before you can resume entering Listing 3.

He doesn’t mention what to do if the music doesn’t play—if you made a mistake entering those four thousand hexadecimal values. I probably would have provided another short program to PEEK the values in memory, displaying them twelve to a line for verification against the printed text. But perhaps it was assumed that people would know how to do this. I’ll show how I entered those hex values in a week or two.

Long-time readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I did not type them in to an `INPUT` prompt one at a time.

Like Eugene Vasconi’s Holiday Hearth, Mosley’s program uses multiple files. In his case, however, one file is the combined machine language program/musical notes and the other is a simple 42-line BASIC program to wish us Merry Christmas while the music plays. The relevant code for that loop is:

  • 350 EXEC&H3F00
  • 360 FORT=1TO3000:NEXTT:GOTO350
The Immaculate Deception: The Navarro Report 2.0—Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

“This report assesses the fairness and integrity of the 2020 Presidential Election by examining six dimensions of alleged election irregularities across six key battleground states. Evidence used to conduct this assessment includes more than 50 lawsuits and judicial rulings, thousands of affidavits and declarations, testimony in a variety of state venues, published analyses by think tanks and legal centers, videos and photos, public comments, and extensive press coverage.”

O Little Town of Bethlehem—Wednesday, December 16th, 2020
Hopes and Fears

O Little Town of Bethlehem is a simple melody, perfect for playing on the piano built-in to your Macintosh using the piano script from 42 Astounding Scripts. O Little Town of Bethlehem was written as a one-off for a Christmas Sunday-school service in 1868. As far as I can tell, Phillips Brooks and Lewis Redner never expected it to last beyond 1868. A bookstore owner had the foresight to print it for sale, and from there it ended up in a Sunday-school hymn book many years later.

It makes me wonder, how many similarly wonderful songs have been lost?

This is an absolutely beautiful song, performed by just about everyone. When I was a kid, we had the album Christmas With the Lennon Sisters, and their version of the song remains one of my favorites. I can’t hear it without immediately thinking of home, Christmas with snow (something we don’t often get where I live in Texas), and waking up to brightly-colored boxes and tubes under the tree, grandma sleeping over on the couch to greet us in the morning!

I used the song in one of my books for a coming home of sorts. In It Isn’t Murder if They’re Yankees, currently unpublished (for my latest book, see The Dream of Poor Bazin), Carolyn Purcell arrives back in her hometown on Christmas Eve, coming over the hill into the valley that shields tiny Walkerville from the wider world that Virginia is a part of, after a very personal journey that has left her lost. She knows she cannot truly return home, but here she is, coming down the hill into the town she’s lived in all her life. Picture it. She’s cold, and hungry, and very tired. It’s night. She hasn’t bathed in weeks. Large snowflakes begin to fall from some invisible cloud overhead. In the valley she sees the lights of Walkerville, like a nativity against the stars. Midnight mass is about to begin in one of the churches below.

She stops, raises her arms, and begins to sing:

    • O little town of Bethlehem,
    • How still we see thee lie,
    • above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
    • the silent stars go by.
    • Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
    • the everlasting light…
    • the hopes and fears of all the years
    • are met in thee tonight.

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