I’ve been bad! I’ve not been keeping my website and my Facebook Author page up to date, but I have been writing some short stories. I’ve created a new page to contain the links to these new stories, and I hope that you will drop by and have a look at them.
I’m always interested in reflecting on my creative processes, and one thing that I have discovered is that I am much more interested in writing the stories than I am in publicising them. I suspect that I’m not alone in this!
It is likely, I feel, that there are people out there who are more interested in telling people about their stories than in writing them, and I understand that, but I find it hard.
When you self-publish, your free options for publicising your books and stories are limited. You can make them available on Amazon, or on Kobo or similar sites, or you can make them available through Smashwords or some other aggregating site.
Putting them up there, on the Internet, doesn’t guarantee that people will find (and buy) your books. You also need to tell people about them, so one of the first things that you need to do is to set up a Facebook Author page like I did.
People will still not find your stories, but there is something that you can do, to direct people to your stories, and that is to buy adverts. You can do it on Facebook and you can also buy Google ads.
That means spending money. Well, if you are prepared to spend money, good on you. I don’t want to spend money, so I am resigned to selling one or two books a decade. Unless I’m extremely lucky, (and my books are good enough, which I’m unsure of), I won’t have a best seller on any list!
One more thing that I could do, is give people the option of paying me money to read my books right here on my website. I might do that in future.
Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.
Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.
I’m going to do something different this week. This post is going to be more technical and will offer advice, yours to take or ignore as appropriate to you. To those who are technically less able, you might like to show this to whoever looks after your computing needs. They, of course, may already know what I am going to expound on.
Email. Everyone uses email these days, and to a large extent society would find it difficult to get by without it, in spite of such newer technologies such as text, messaging, and the likes of Facebook.
Actually, having just written that, it occurs to me that many, many people around the world do not have access to the Internet and all that goes along with it. My apologies to them forgetting about that simple fact. We are so used to Internet technologies that they seem to be ubiquitous, and they really are not.
Anyway for those of us with email, it appears simple. We type our message, we put the recipient’s email address into the correct field, and hit send. Oh fudge! We forgot to attach the photo! But as usual the simple interface and workflow hides a mess of technology, some of which date back to the nineteen eighties or before. Yes, Amanda, well before you were born.
These technologies are changing all the time and it’s amazing that the changes don’t affect us much more of the time than they do. One that is happening slowly now, however, has the potential to make life difficult for email users, and that is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are moving away from providing email themselves and are making email users choose specialist email service providers, like Gmail, for their email service.
You see, in this world where most Internet traffic is SPAM, and emails may contain viruses and other nasty surprises, it is a horrendously complex and expensive task to maintain an email system that protects customers from even a fraction of the horrible stuff out there, while still letting legitimate email through. So ISPs are looking to get out of this area of technology and let someone else do it.
Most people in the past and still today have obtained an email address from their ISP with their service. The address might be something like “email@example.com”, where “fred” is the assigned user name and “mylovelyisp.com” identifies the ISP’s email system. An ISP might have a Web site whose name is “mylovelyisp.com” but that is an entirely separate thing.
People often have to use their email address when signing up for things on the Internet, and this is purely so that they can send you SPAM (AKA “targeted mailings”), so the email address is spread all over the Internet. This can cause problems when you change ISPs, or your ISP merges with another one, an you no longer have that email address.
All your email now goes to a bogus address at your old ISP and quite often just gets dumped, so your email invite to your auntie’s third marriage never reaches you, and you’re fond of the old coot. Some of these issues can be alleviated by getting your old ISP to forward your email to you at your new ISP, but it might cost you money. Your old ISP won’t want to provide services for you when you are no longer signed with them, obviously.
ISPs want your custom, but they don’t much want to maintain an email system. Some outsource their email issues to a specialist provider, which costs them money or will redirect your email to your choice of email service provider, such as Gmail.
When a big ISP ditches its email service entirely, as some are starting to do, the customers scream. Naturally. Some may already have emails from their previous ISPs to their current ISP, and this is unlikely to be forwarded correctly in the future. Also, many of their contacts will be using their current email address. Imagine explaining to Granny that your email address has changed and that she can’t use the old one. Not all Grannies are Internet savvy, though a surprising number are.
I saw this situation arising a long time ago, when my very first ISP was taken over. The new ISP thankfully provided email services so it wasn’t a big drama, but I decided to get my own Domain Name and circumvent all the issues. So I signed up with Domain registry and got my own Domain Name, “cliffp.com”. I use it for email and for my WordPress site.
The next question is where I would like my email stored. The Domain Name registry would host my emails if I wanted as part of my Domain Name purchase, or I could store my email in a Gmail account and direct my emails, those to “firstname.lastname@example.org”, there. (That’s NOT my real email address, by the way.) The Gmail solution would be perfect for most people. I did something slightly different, but that doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post.
So, I could stay telling people about my new email address of “email@example.com”, while the old email address was still working. So I have time to persuade Granny and all my other relatives to use the new email address. I also have time to go round all the places where I’ve used my ISP based email address to subscribe to things, or register for things, and change the email address. That online bookstore that I use has my email address, and I can sign in using the old one and change to the new one.
The big advantage is that things will never need to change again, unless Gmail were to disappear, or the Domain Name registry were to go broke. If this did ever happen, I would only have to change things in one place, rather than all the various places that my email address has propagated to over the years.
So whenever I hear of an ISP shutting down its email services, I feel sorry for those caught up in it, hey, there’s a much better way to do it. Set it up properly now and you will not need to change things every again.
What if there is an afterlife? Personally I don’t believe in one, but still. What would it be like? The Christian version is that you get judged on your behaviour in this life then go to either heaven or hell. Some versions of Christianity require that you are at the very least baptised, or that you experience being “saved” or that you have taken part in certain rituals before your worldly behaviour is considered.
These lead to awkward questions about, for instance, babies who die before they have a chance to be baptised or whatever. Will they be condemned for ever? I hardly seems fair and various versions of Christianity have ways of getting around this issue. Some suggest that such babies go to a third type of afterlife where they experience neither heaven nor hell – a sort of post life waiting room, which to me seems to be a particularly cruel version of hell!
What is heaven like, though? It must be a pleasant place, as it is a given that it is a reward for a good life, and it has been suggested that it is a place where, the Deity, God, is glorified and worshipped, where all is light, and all the “souls” there experience the joy of being in the presence of the Deity.
Since no one who has died has reported back, the sources for these ideas come from speculation presented as fact, or, as some claim, divine inspiration, an actual message from the Deity. There’s a world of difference between these two options. In other words, it’s either a complete fiction, or absolute fact.
What could we logically deduce, given, for the sake of argument, the existence of an afterlife? It could be that we are reborn in this world, as either a new human or an animal. However, no human can remember any previous existence on this earth, or even on a planet circling a star somewhere across the Universe.
Of course some people claim to remember previous lives, but strangely, these remembered lives are frequently people who were famous when they were alive, like Anne Boleyn or Shakespeare, and the people who claim to be such reincarnated people often get well documented details of their lives wrong. Of course, history may be wrong, completely wrong, but it is more likely that people who claim to remember previous lives are mistaken or even purposefully deceitful.
If we dismiss the idea of reincarnation, what then? Certainly we can throw away all we know of physics. The only thing that we can be sure of is that things will be different. It may well be that there would be something analogous to our usual physics in play but we have no way of knowing what that would be.
It may be that personality as such would not exist. No meeting with a previously expired spouse in the afterlife would occur, as the personality of the spouse would not exist, and nor would the personality of the recently expired person.
If personalities of the dead did exist in the afterlife, then this could cause issues. What if the recently expired person had remarried after a spouse had previously died. Which of the two spouses would be matched up with the recently expired person? Maybe the physics would be similar to our current physics, but different enough that one person could spend eternity with two or more people?
I get the impression that there are many more versions or varieties of hell postulated than there are heavens. Visions of hell are often detailed and gruesome. One only needs to look at the right most panel of “The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch” to see some extreme examples.
Hell is punishment for transgressions in this world. Punishment extends “for all time” which would seem harsh as, surely any sin would be expiated eventually, just as any punishment with the exception of capital punishment in this world is time limited. However this assumes that time in this world is the same as time in the next world, and this may not be so.
Eternity may pass in a different way in the next world – maybe how eternity feels to the sufferer may depend on the seriousness of the transgressions. That may be fairer than for a minor transgressor to suffer through an endless time, judged by the standards of this world.
In accounts of heaven and hell both have inhabitants who have never (so far as I understand it) ever been mortal or human. Angels inhabit heaven and devils and demons live in hell. In both realms the job of the inhabitants appears to be to provide direction for the souls or entities from this world. Angels presumably assist in providing the dead souls with their appropriate rewards and devils and demons punish the transgressors.
Over the centuries people have imagined or vouchsafed a vision of heaven and hell. It seems that both heaven and hell have a hierarchy of inhabitants. The hierarchies are power hierarchies with the Deity at the top of the one, and the anti-Deity at the top of the other one. This is either a reflection of the prejudices of the person who is imagining these realms, or an interesting structural characteristic or heaven and hell.
Naturally hell is nasty and heaven is nice. I don’t know if it is some cultural bias as a result of my background and upbringing, but it seems to me that the stories and legends of hell are much more detailed than the stories and legends of heaven. My thought is that people are more interested in the gruesomeness of hell than the niceness of heaven.
Certainly the Wikipedia articles on heaven and hell support this theory, as the section on the Christian hell is much longer than the corresponding article on the Christian heaven. The Christian heaven merely has “many mansions“, while the Christian hell is more complex. In fiction especially as exemplified by Milton’s Paradise Lost, and in myth as in Egyptian beliefs hell can be envisaged as complex hierarchies.
But basically, we have no way of knowing for sure if heaven and hell are real and separate realms from our standard world. There can be no physical contact between such realms and our own, since physics describes only the behaviour of things within a single realm and it has no purview outside of that.
We can’t know for sure, so while we may think that they exist and believe in heaven and hell, we should look for our ethics only in this world. Any other course is illogical.
When I looked up the date when photography was invented I was surprised that it was first tried in 1800, if you allow the word to mean the capturing by some means or other an image created by some means or other!
While optics were known and understood well before this time, no one apparently thought of using glass to create images of views, people or anything else. If they did, there appears to be no record. Also the technology didn’t exist to record any image so created, so it would have been pointless to do so anyway, though artists may have been able to benefit from an image projected onto a canvas as a guide.
So before “the camera” we had “the camera obscura”. A camera obscura is basically a darkened room with an image created by a pinhole camera projected onto a white screen. They are fascinating to visit and I highly recommend visiting one.
When the means for creating an image (a lens) came together with a means of capturing the image photography was born. At first the techniques were hit and miss with wet plates coated in chemicals to capture the image and simple lens to create the image, and a long exposure time.
But techniques and technologies quickly improved and exposure times came down. In the early days, when sitting for a photograph, the long exposure times meant that braces had to be used to prevent the sitter from inadvertently moving and spoiling the photograph.
The image of a photographer in those days was of a man hiding under a dark cloth doing mysterious things with his camera, maybe firing off a tray of flash powder to record the image on a glass plate, then dashing off to his “dark room” to process and fix his image onto the glass plate with dangerous chemicals. The end result was an image with light and dark reversed, a so-called “negative”.
Some of these early cameras were works of art, with shining brass trimming, great leather bellows and polished wood bodies and plate holders, all mounted on a substantial tripod. Great brass screws could move the lens closer to or further from the body which held the plate and often could move the lens up and down or from side to side to compensate for perspective distortions.
Several things eventually brought photography in reach of the man in the street. Firstly, it became possible to record the images onto a strip of plastic, which meant that the camera only had to be loaded once in a while. At the same time, it became possible for you to hand your film to the local chemist or apothecary and have the films developed and positive images printed on cards.
The rise of mass production allowed cameras to be produced very cheaply, and the Box Brownie arrived, costing two British pounds. Anyone could be a photographer. To be sure corners had to be cut, so the Brownie was a simple box with small and very simple lens, and the shutter was simply a plate that usually blocked light from entering.
On pressing the shutter lever a spring was tightened until the plate flicked over, giving the lens a brief look at the outside world. The film strip was held on one spool and transferred to another. A window in the back of the camera showed the backing strip of the film and you would the film on until the next number showed in the window.
The user aimed the camera by using a crude “viewfinder”. This was simply a window in the top of the camera which allowed the photographer to look down on a tiny mirror which reflected the view in front of the camera. It was around a centimetre wide and pointed only more or less in the same direction. To switch from landscape mode to portrait mode you turned the camera over and looked into a similarly minute viewfinder!
Of course things rapidly moved on from there. People loved the Box Brownie and soon handheld cameras of all sorts appeared. Some had two linked lens arranged piggy back style as in the Rollieflex, and some had a single lens, like the Hasselblad. Those two were high end machines, and featured switchable components and high quality lenses and other accessories. They tended to be favoured by professional photographers.
Most other cameras were built on a different design, though. Most featured a eye level viewfinder, and cheaper ones usually didn’t have interchangeable accessories. Most moved away from the spool to spool system to the 35mm cassette. Really cheap cameras eventually had a drop in cassette system.
Two other big changes were the introduction of colour film and the single lens reflex system. Many photographers used to monochrome film were appalled by the advent of colour film and swore never to change to it. Most amateurs adopted it with enthusiasm of course. Eventually everyone (almost) used colour.
The single lens reflex system allowed the photographer to see exactly what he was shooting as the viewfinder looked through the same lens through which the image was captured. Generally the viewfinder was eye level but the Hassleblad was an exception retaining the waist level view point.
The more expensive cameras had knobs, dials and buttons all over them, but the cheaper varieties had only a few, and some did not have any controls. All used film cassettes and most had flash devices for low light level conditions.
Then along came digital. Film disappeared, to be replaced by flash storage. Most cameras lost their viewfinders, which were replaced by small screens covering the whole of the back of the camera. Many settings could be set using the screen and a few buttons, and the cameras sizes shrunk. Some these days are credit card size.
But now, it seems that the so called “compact digital cameras” have briefly had their day. Every smartphone has an embedded camera, and people are not buying the compacts. Some smartphones now come with Leica lens technology.
The result? Billions (if I’m not mistaken) of absolutely atrocious photographs spamming the Internet. From cute cats to drunken revellers, everything is now floating around out these. But I’m optimistic. Real photographs and real photographers are still out there. Somewhere.
Have you ever noticed that a computer program never does exactly what you want? Oh, it will process your data for you, and produce results that you can use, or it will move those files from here to here, but may move ones that you didn’t want moving or leave ones that you did want to move. But it won’t do exactly what you want, first time with no hassles.
Of course you can make it work for you, make it do what you want more accurately, but you have to work harder to make it do so, and programs are supposed to make things easier, right? Take this very editor that I am using to compose this post. I thought the bold words above as I wrote, but I needed to perform an action to make them come out bold and another to ensure that the text after the bold words didn’t also come out bold.
Of course this is a very minor consideration and if I were to find a program that changed the font to bold for one word and then stopped, I’d probably find it irksome to bold two words in succession. Also, I’d bet the house that there would be something that the first program did automatically or easily that would be difficult to achieve using the second program.
Those who are not programmers seem to have an ambivalent attitude to programs. On the one hand, if they are using a program and they can’t get it to work, they blame themselves. “I must be doing something wrong!” comes the impassioned plea. So the technophile in the household has to interpret what helpful statement “It doesn’t work!” really means and what how the program expects in the way of input. Problem fixed. Until the next time.
On the other hand, the non-programmer will accept it without question when the hero/heroine of the film briefly types something at the computer and the world is saved! Hooray! The sentient virus destroying humanity is defeated! Hooray again!
However these issues with programs are not bugs. The program is not doing something wrong. The issue is with our expectations of how things ought to work. It may well be that the program is designed to do things differently to those expectations, either because the programmer assumes that the way that he codes it is the way that people will expect things to work.
If the programmer gets a lot of issues with a particular feature of his program, he may decide to change it to fit more closely with the expectations of the users, and then send out an update. It is likely that he will then get a lot of issues from those people who have been using the program for a while and have come to expect it to behave the old way. The programmer can never win.
I’ve done quite a bit of programming over the years, thankfully mostly for myself. Every program that is written these days usually fits into what might be called an ecosystem. There are programs to gather data, programs to crunch data, and programs to display the results, but there are many programs to perform each of these three tasks.
For example, the results may be printed on a printer, either as a table of data, or as graph or pie chart, or in these days of 3-D printing, a physical object, or it may be displayed on a screen, or in any other way where the recipient can interrelate with it.
Data input may typed in, drawn in on a graphical input device, or it may be collected by some means or other from sensors or other devices. Your heartbeat may be collected from a number of sensors on your skin, read by a machine and be printed off on a roll or paper, while at the same time being displayed on a local screen. It may also be sent off to some remote location where specialists may peruse it.
In the middle, between input and output comes the processing or crunching of the data. This is what most people think of when they think of computer processing. Somewhat unfairly the input and output processes are relegated to only secondary interest. This is, however, what a program or system is written to do. Even so, input and output processes may be complex.
Data may be processed in several different ways in between input and output, and by several different programs. There are layers within layers. For example a program that takes advantage of a database uses many layers. The program which the programmer is writing will no doubt call programs (called APIs or interfaces) within the environment that he is working in which start the process of communicating with the database.
The API puts the programmers request into a form that the database expects and sends it to another process, not usually part of the programmer’s chosen system, which exists only to connect the programmer’s program (and any other similar programs) to the database.
At the database end the receiving part of the database system receives the request and passes it to the main database program, which checks it and executes it. During the execution process the database program makes calls to system programs which perform any necessary retrieval or writing of the data to the system’s file system, via the system’s hardware interface with the storage system.
I’ve collapsed many layers in the explanation above. The main point is that the programmer’s program is the tip of the iceberg, and there are many layers which are called into action during the execution of the program. To complicate things further, the system that the programmer uses to perform his work is also a program and has its own layers on top of layers.
This explains why programs don’t ever do exactly what you want. The programmer has to use utility programs which, while flexible can’t do everything. The utility programs are also flexible, but are interfacing with other programs, which while flexible also can’t do everything. And so on.
The more flexible a program is, the bigger it is, as it has be programmed to enable the flexibility. So, this forces constraints on it, which impose constraints on the programmer, whose program therefore imposes constraints on the user of the program. And those constraints are why the program can’t do exactly what you want, but usually, it’s close enough that the program is useful to the end user. Most of the time.
Only those who believe in homeopathy should be disturbed by this. To anyone else, a molecule of water is a molecule of water, and the fact that it had once been contained in a stream of urine is irrelevant. In any case it is too late. 60% of our body is made up of water, so water from Caesar’s urine is already in us.
Water is a fascinating chemical. It carries stuff around as it is the basis for blood and lymph and all the other fluids of our bodies. It carries nutrients up the stems of plants. It wears away mountains and builds rocks, it cools lava to form other rocks. It brings nutrients to our crops and washes them away. It even sinks ships.
“You are water
we’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together.”
― Yoko Ono
It’s difficult to think of any occurrence in our familiar world which is not mediated or affected by water in some way. Shortage of water to a society is a disaster, as food cannot be produced, leading to famine and deaths.
Water is thought by most people to be liquid at usual temperatures, though there are some places where it is to be found in solid form. Actually there is a great deal of it around in the gaseous phase, or vapour. We measure this airborne water in terms of the humidity or wetness of the air.
Water is extraordinarily pervasive and can be found in all the nooks and crannies in the materials that we have around us. It acts as a lubricate, and if the water is driven off, by heating or chemical means things become stiff and fragile. Even so, water cannot be completely removed from things – even a diamond probably has a few entrapped water molecules.
Water plays a role in rotting things down. A corpse kept in a very dry environment desiccates and turns leathery and fragile. I guess that this is because the organisms that rot a body away cannot function in a water free environment.
A body of liquid water fills things from the bottom up. Gravity pulls the water down to the lowest parts of a container and water continues to layer the container. The surface appears to be flat, but that is an illusion. At a small scale, if a tiny bit of the water happens to be higher than the rest of the water, gravity will pull it down, while the other water molecules resist by being in the way.
Eventually as the water stills, the differences in level even out, and the water surface becomes as level as it can. However, at the molecular level, molecules of water, which are moving relatively fast on these scales, can pop out of the liquid and float away. Other molecules can also pop in to the liquid, so that on average the water is level.
Why doesn’t the surface appear blurry and ill defined then? Well we can’t see at the molecular scale, and also the water molecules form weak electrical bonds with each other. A water droplet is like a large crowd of people all milling about, holding hands much of the time. Those on the outside are not as tightly bound as those further in.
Imagine now that the crowd is surrounded by a storm of people who are moving faster, and are more spread out so they rarely join hands. One of these gaseous people will now and then bump into the crowd. They may knock loose one of the crowd who will shoot off and become one of the gaseous people, while gaseous person who hit him may now be travelling more slowly and link up with the crowd.
Even in the macro world a water surface is rarely really flat. The dynamic nature of the flatness is apparent when a container is jolted slightly and tiny waves form on the surface as compression waves disturb it. Wind and rain also cause visible disturbances in a lake or pond.
Flowing water often forms a smooth, if not level surface. A submerged rock in a river or a weir or fall in a river can form persistent ripples of flumes as the water flows over them. Kayakers know to aim their craft at a flume to safely descend a rapid or waterfall, although downstream of flumes the river often forms “haystacks” where turbulent water is forced into humps which can prove difficult to navigate.
A little stream may be described as turbulent as it makes its way over and around boulders and small drops, but interestingly it is not random. It is not chaotic. A close look will reveal that the bow waves of stones in the flow may flutter and throw off little whirling vortexes, but the bow wave and the pattern of vortexes persists. The little waterfall over a small stone ledge persists, even though the shape of the waterfall may ripple a little.
However when a wave travels over a beach or shoal, the movement in the vertical direction is curtailed, and the energy is transformed into a forward motion – the wave breaks. Water is transported forward, with the water higher up moving faster than the water at the sea bed which may be water draining off the beach from the previous wave and the wave steepens until it collapses. Hence surfing!
I worked for many years as a Linux Systems Administrator, a job which I loved and to a large extent brought home with me. I run a number of Linux systems at home, including the computer that I am writing this on. I have a system that I refer to as my “server” which I use for backups and for things that might get in the way on my desk computer.
When Minecraft was a craze some time ago I didn’t get involved at first but when my grandkids got into it I became interested. In Minecraft you can build elaborate structures, but to do so you need to find and extract the necessary materials, and, depending on the server that you are using, fight off automatic monsters (“mobs”) and other players.
I installed the Minecraft client, tried it out and liked what I saw. However, playing on other peoples’ servers soon became less than satisfactory. I didn’t like the unrealistic ability to “fly” (not fall down when unsupported by things) and the combative aspects of the game were found on many servers.
So, I investigated and tried running my own Minecraft server. This is possible, and not particularly tricky, you still have to pay for the client. There’s nothing wrong with paying for things, of course, and I did pay for it, but being a Linux user I’m always interested in seeing if there is a free version out there. Not of the actual Minecraft naturally, but of a similar program.
Minetest is a very similar program to Minecraft, works in much the same way, but is free, and there were Linux packages available, meaning that the install was simple. So I installed the packages and started playing. (I later downloaded the source code and compiled it, but that is another story. The packages worked fine).
Pretty much everything that you can do in Minecraft you can also do in Minetest. The differences are minor. So everything I say from here on will probably apply to either program.
The game is all about assembling resources to build things, and you assemble resources mainly by mining. You whack a block (say stone) with a tool (say a steel pickaxe) and it disappears and appears in your inventory. When you have enough blocks you can build a wall of them by taking them from your inventory and placing them appropriately. That is the start of your fortress or palace.
A plain stone building is boring, so you will want to acquire some fancy blocks to smarten it up and that is where the game shines. You can make fancy blocks to place on your building, but to do that you need to acquire resources and fabricate or “craft” them. The resources are found under the ground, which requires you to dig down to get them, which is of course where the “Mine” part of the name comes from.
If you dig downwards (on a slope, so that you can return to the surface eventually) you will sooner or later encounter a void or space where there are no blocks. Hopefully you will avoid falling to the bottom and dying. If you carefully climb down to the bottom of the void you are are the bottom of a virtual cave.
The cave may have blocks which look slightly different to the normal blocks. These blocks contain resources, usually ores, that can be collected and used to make other special blocks. For instance a block with iron ores in it can be used to make steel ingots, which can then be used to make steel pickaxes and other useful tools.
The game’s caves are similar in many ways to real caves. The topography of the caves is varied, with narrow passageways in some places, deep clefts in others, potholes, and sometimes openings to the surface.
Of course it is dark underground. That means that you need to manufacture torches and carry them in your inventory if venturing underground. A torch placed on the wall will illuminate a small area of the cavern leaving dark voids beyond the torchlight which might be interesting to explore!
The game’s caves often have, just like real caves, uneven floors and there will be much jumping over obstacles, and climbing up and down. Some caves do have flatter floors, as do many real caves.
Some game caves have sloping floor, much like a staircase, and the roof also may slope down, giving the impression of a sloping slit, as is often found in real caves. It is not advisable to skip down the slope into the darkness, of course, as the slope may end in a drop, as may also be found in a real cave.
Game caves are often elongated, just like real caves, and may form large interlinked caverns. Cross passages may start way up on the walls of the caverns, just as happens in real caves. It’s often possible to travel some distance more or less horizontally before one has to climb up or down to continue.
Game caves do not often contain water, which is unlike most real caves, and when they do the water is either in the form of a waterfall or a lake. Long flowing river of water are not common in game caves. Sometimes a cave will contain a lake of lava, or a lava fall which often looks spectacular. Both lava and water may form short flows but will quickly “seep” into the rocks.
Some of the potholes are spectacular. As they are underground and dark, one cannot see the bottom. Often they can edged or mined around and descended that way. Looking back up one can see the torches that one placed on the way down as tiny lights, often to spectacular effect.
I’ve explored both real caves and game caves, there is a great deal of similarity in the experience. In both cases, one has only limited visibility around one, one has a sense of void, and a sense that one may fall. There’s the thrill of discovery as one explores, and a sense of achievement. Unfortunately in the game caves, there are no stalactites and stalagmites to decorate the cave, but perhaps someone will write some in some time.
Back in 1999 I was just finishing my Masters degree at Victoria University of Wellington. I needed a subject for my research paper and I chose what was then a hot topic, Virtual Reality (VR). At the time, the computing resources that were available to most people were, by today’s standards pretty limited.
17 years ago we measured RAM in megabytes, and disk space in gigabytes. The Internet was not as pervasive as it is today, and most people, if they accessed the Internet at all, used dial up modems. Broadband was for most people, still in their future. As were smartphones and all the technology that we immerse ourselves in today.
As could be imagined, this limited the effectiveness of VR. If you were trying to set up a VR session between two geographically separated places, then the VR experience could be somewhat limited by the low resolution, the speed of updates of the views that the users experienced, and the lags caused by the (relatively) slow connections.
Nevertheless, research was taking place, and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) and VR gloves were researched and developed. The HMDs provided the user with displays of the virtual world around him/her, and the gloves provided the tactile element to some extent.
These devices have their current descendants of course, though more is heard of the HMDs than the gloves. The HMDs range from the highly developed devices like the Oculus Rift right down to cheap devices like Google Cardboard which literally that, a head mounted device consisting of a cardboard body and a cellphone. The cellphone’s screen is divided into two and different images are provided to each eye for the 3-Dimensional effect.
It was evident, back in 1999 when I wrote my paper that VR was a technology looking for an application, and it still is. Some TVs have been made which incorporate 3D technology, but the production of these appears to have tailed off almost completely. Apparently the added ability to experience movies in 3D which involved wearing special headsets, wasn’t enough to offset the necessity to wear the headsets.
People just used their imaginations when immersed in a program or movie and didn’t feel that they needed the extra dimension, and the headset added a barrier which prevented experience of shared movie watching that forms at least part of the entertainment value of watching movies with friends and families.
My paper was about diffusion of VR techniques into everyday life, and it mostly missed the point I think in retrospect (though the paper did help me get the degree!) My paper used a Delphi Technique for the research. This technique involves posing a series of question on the research topic to a number of specialists in the field. Their answers are then summarised and passed back to the whole panel. Any subsequent comments are then also summarised.
Obviously as workers in the field my panel was positive about VR’s then prospects, as you would expect. They however did sounds some notes of caution, which proved to be well founded. I’m not going to do a critique of my paper and the panel’s findings, but I will touch on them.
Specifically, they mentioned that my questions were all about fully immersive VR, which is basically what I’ve been talking about above, the HMD thing. Augmented VR, where our view of the world in not (fully) obstructed by the technology, but the technology enhances our view of the world is used much more in practise, and was when I wrote my paper too.
Augmented VR is things like Head Up Displays (HUDs) and Google Glass where information is added to the user’s field of view, providing him/her with extra information about the world around him/her is much more common. HUDs are common in planes and the like where the operator cannot spare the time to go and look up important information so the information is projected into his field of view. Google Glass was similar but allowed the user to feed back or request information, but unfortunately this did not really catch on and was dropped.
I mentioned in my questions to my panel that maybe the speed of the Internet was a barrier to the introduction of VR into everyday life. The panel were mostly sympathetic to this viewpoint, but in summary thought that fibre, which was on the horizon would significantly reduce this barrier to the everyday adoption of VR techniques. In fact people do not use the extra bandwidth for VR (except in a way that I will touch on in a minute), but for other things, like streaming TV shows and downloading music.
As I envisaged it, a typical VR setup would consist of someone in, say, London, with VR set interacting over the Internet with someone in, say, Tokyo who also has a VR set. They could shake each other’s hand, and view and discuss three dimensional objects in real time, regardless of whether the object was in London or Tokyo. Although I had not considered it at the time, a 3D printer could duplicate a 3D object in the other location, if required.
This has not happened. Teleconferences are stubbornly 2D, and there is no call for a third dimension. Some people, myself included, would not miss the 2D visual aspect at all, would quite happily drop back to voice only!
In one respect, though, VR has come and has taken over our lives without us realising. When we interact with our smartphones, texting, sending photos, emails and so on, in real time, we are immersing ourselves in a new sort of VR. When we are chatting about something and someone gets the cellphone out to google the Internet to check or look something up, we are delving into a new Virtual Reality that we could not have envisaged way back in 1999.
So when I look back at my paper from that era, I could easily update it and make relevant to the current era, but only in the respect of that limited view of VR. That has not really eventuated, and most likely will have limited application (remote appendectomy anyone?), but it could be considered that facebook/twitter/google/gmail/dropbox and all the other tools that we use on our smartphones has opened up a different alternate Virtual Reality that crept up on us while we were not watching.
Science aims to explain things, and by extension to explain everything. Is this even possible? Suppose the Universe consisted of a box, 20 million metres in each direction. Scientists inside this box could investigate this universe, but could they explain everything about this universal Box?
Suppose that the Box had impenetrable walls, so scientists could not probe outside of it. So they could say that the width, height, depth of the universe was 20 million metres and they could describe what was in it. They could also say that one side of the cube attracted everything in the Box and that side could be labelled “down” and the opposite side “up”.
There also might be statistical laws, so that the temperature, on average, might be 20 degrees Celsius, but could differ from that norm from place to place and from time to time. Box scientists might determine that everything appeared to be made up of tiny indivisible particles. Box atoms.
Some Box philosophers might ponder what was beyond the limits of the Box. They’d ponder the fact that starting from one side of the Box, one could travel 20 million metres in a perpendicular direction, but one could not travel 20 million and one metres. Why not?
I’m sure that they would have plenty of theories. For instance, one philosopher might contend that the Box was embedded in an infinite impenetrable bedrock, while another might say that it was obvious – the Box was embedded in nothing. No space, no time, no thing!
Meanwhile scientists probing the Box atoms might split them and discover a whole new world of sub-atomic particles. Others might conceive of space in the Box as being a seething mass of pairs of virtual particles, being created and moving apart for a brief instant and then merging into nothing, no thing, again.
But, says one bright spark, what about a particle pair created on the boundary of the Box? One particle would enter the Box, and the other would travel somewhere else! This would lead to other speculation – if the second particle travelled in another Box, then that other Box would presumably be a mirror image of our Box!
Such speculation would wait on experimentation by the Box scientists and I’m aware that I cannot push the Box analogy too far with out it breaking. But, just as in the case of the Box scientists, philosophers and scientists in this Universe have similar issue.
In our Universe there are no bounds (under current theories, I believe) but that doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate about what is beyond our Universe, whatever “beyond” may mean in this context.
The Box scientists could potentially explain every thing in the Box, maybe even the fact that it had existed, pretty much unchanged (on average) for all time, and that is periodically, over astronomically long time scale is doomed to repeat itself, time and time again.
When they go further than that, it is pure speculation, as all the data that they have relates to the Box. They have no data from outside of the Box. All the waves and particles that are observed originate in the Box. All the forces and fields are part of the Box. While scientists may speculate about “other Boxes”, that is all that they can do.
That’s the problem. The Box scientists, and the scientists from our Universe, can only observe events in the Universe in which they are embedded. Observations relate only to events in the local Universe.
Some conjectures suggest that our Universe is one of many universes all linked together in some way. Some conjectures suggest that the laws of our Universe apply in many other similar universes separate from ours. Some people conjecture that universes may exist where there are no laws or the laws that there are have no similarity in any way to the laws of our Universe.
In the Box universe these conjecture would amount to ideas that there may be other Box universes out there with similar laws to the Box universe, maybe linked in some way to the hypothetical Box universe. There may even be universes which have laws which are not at all similar to those of the Box universe. For instance a universe which springs from a single point in a vast explosion and expands at a vast rate either forever or to a certain point only to collapse once again. How bizarre!
The Box scientists would not have any way to decide whether or not their were any other Boxes as their observations would only observe events in their own Box. The only way that events in one Box could possibly affect the events in another Box would be if there was a link between them in some way.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the event would be observable as the effect of one universe on the other universe. It would just appear as an event in each universe as it transpires as a result of the laws of the universe in question.
The theory may posit a link between two universes but the events in one universe can only result from events within that universe. If this were not so, the event in the universe would appear to happen without any causation in the universe. In other words it would be an anomaly or a miracle.
In other words, suppose a scientist in one universe knows of a law where he can cause an effect in another universe. If he can cause this effect in his universe then in the other universe something will also appear to cause this effect. Maybe this cause will be a scientist in the other universe trying to create an effect in the first universe!
This possible symmetry of cause and effect across more than one universe would mean that it would be difficult if not impossible to detect the presence of another universe by its effects on our universe.
The person in the Box universe would likely be in the same position. This means that he would never know if there were anything outside of his 20 million metre cube. He could postulate an infinite series of Boxes stacked like bricks in an endless array. Or he could postulate Boxes grouped into “houses”. Or he could postulate that his was the only Box and that speculations about universes started from “Big Bang” explosions are mere fiction.
I often wonder about the economics of “growing your own”. Usually you have buy your plants, buy compost, fertilizers, and some times special food with added stuff to encourage growth. Then there’s water, which you may get charged for in some locations.
Then the crops may not be that heavy, the fruit small, maybe bug eaten, and weather battered. It makes me wonder if the effort is economically worth while, and that is before I’ve considered the fact that the cost of the labour that you put in is not inconsiderable.
However, people reckon that the taste of home grown vegetable is better than those bought in a shop. That may be, but it is difficult to justify the amount of work that home grown produce entails on that basis.
Others worry about the pesticides and growth additives that are added to commercial produce and it is a justified concern, but many, many people never eat home grown produce and it doesn’t seem to seriously affect the majority of them.
Genetic manipulation has given such people something else to worry about, but really, crops have been genetically modified for millennia, by selection of certain strains. Also, people have subjected seeds to toxic substances such as acids and alkalis, which has the effect of changing the genetic structures of plants.
In particular, the grains that are grown commercially have been manipulated in such a way as to cause a doubling of the genetic material in the plant and such plants are termed tetraploid or octoploid, depending on the number of times the genetic material is multiplied in the seeds.
Those opposed to genetic manipulation rarely if ever mention the multiploidity (a word I may just have invented), and raise a nightmare scenario where all so-called “natural” crops are displaced by genetically modified plants. This is a scenario that I find to be extremely unlikely.
If you have ever been around farms you will see the farmer working very hard to support his specialised plants, genetically modified or not. Some genetically modified plants, modified to give higher yields, require insecticides to keep down the pests which may devour them. Other genetically modified plants have genes inserted to deter pests from eating them.
Outside of the cultivated fields, in patches of unusable land, grow plants which are escaped crop plants, but they don’t resemble the crop plants very much. Over just a few generations they have in the main reverted back to ancestral types, and that common leggy plant with yellow petals and lumpy seeds pops is such a plant. It may well be an escaped brassica, or wild cabbage, or maybe an escaped oil seed rape plant, the cultivated version of which supplies canola oil for margarines.
Wild growing plants are vigorous growers and over power or inter breed with the escaped crop plants and the more delicate genetically modified versions lose out to the ancestral varieties. Of course, there is a one in many billions chance that a genetically modified plant might supply a gene that causes the loss of other ancestral genes, but it is much more likely that I win a lotto jackpot! The odds are astronomical.
It is sheer hubris to believe that our first forays into genetic modification would produce organisms which are more robust than those produced by millions of years of evolution. It is slightly more likely that genetically modified genes might find there way into ancestral organisms, conferring some advantage on those organisms. The likelihood is, however, as I said above, that modified genes would be lost in the genetic battle between genetically modified and ancestral versions of an organism.
Modern crops, even the ones which have not been genetically modified, need a lot of tending. They need (in many cases) irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and that’s after the preparation of the land and the sowing of the seeds. It is big business and the margins need to be considered at every stage.
Because the produce is grown in standardised conditions, to maximise yield it is pretty much all the same size and quality and this is pretty much become the standard. Consumers have come to expect uniformity in their produce and producers have been driven to provide this.
Home grown produce is usually much more variable. Tomatoes may vary in size and shape, and may even be misshapen. Potatoes may vary from large to really small. Peas and beans may have variable numbers in the pods. People who are used to shop bought produce may be disappointed in home grown produce.
I’m told that great satisfaction can be gained from growing your own crops, and indeed, we have raised beans, silver beet, spinach and some other things, and we have enjoyed them as much if not more than shop bought stuff. But I’m no gardener. Gardening plays havoc with my fingernails!
For those who do decide to produce their own crops, I feel that they should do it for the satisfaction of the act, rather than for any perceived economic reason. The economics are debatable, as I suggest above. As I also say above, the taste of home grown food is supposedly superior to that of shop bought food.
It is certainly true that the flavours of home grown food can be stronger than those of shop bought food.
Home grown tomatoes, for example, tend to be fleshier, or more solid, than shop bought ones and, although they may vary in size and colour, they do taste good.
One big advantage of the home grown movement is that a section of the movement has taken on the task of keeping alive the ancestral strains of various vegetables and fruit trees. This means that if commercial produce production were to experience an apocalypse that perhaps ancestral strains could be used to rebuild the produce industries.
Also, people in the home grown movement have maintained varieties of vegetables and fruits that are slightly different to common commercial varieties – such as purple carrots or yellow tomatoes. The more variety that we have in our vegetables and fruit the better, even if it means that some people get their fingernails dirty!