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 “firstname.lastname@example.org”, 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 “email@example.com”, 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 “firstname.lastname@example.org”, 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.
It is often said that Einstein considered time to be an illusion, and web sites which collect notable quotes often just claim that Einstein said “Time is an illusion“. This a classic case of taking a quote and posting it out of context. What Einstein actually said was more complex and more subtle.
The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
He did not claim that time is an illusion, but that the moment of “now” is an illusion. In fact his equations give time the same status as space. For instance, the square of the space time interval between two events is defined by combining the square of the space interval minus the square of the time interval interval. (Provided all values are expressed in the same units.)
The details don’t matter too much here. The point is that time is treated equally with the space dimensions, and no one is claiming that Einstein was arguing that space does not exist. There are many references to be found on the Internet which explain Einstein’s ideas with variable clarity and accuracy.
I said above that Einstein argued that the instance of “now” is an illusion, but I was over simplifying. What I believe that he was saying was that while we experience a “now” now, we also experienced a “now” ten seconds ago, and one second ago, and one instant ago. There is nothing special about the “now” moment and all instants of time are “now” moments.
This isn’t that surprising really. If you consider where you are at a particular place and at a particular time, not only is there a “now” moment, there is also a “here” place. When you move to another place, you have another “now” moment, and another “here” place. To experience an event you have to have both.
If we are taking a road trip we have no difficulty with the concept that the “here” place changes continually and that a place we have passed through was a “here” place when we passed through it, and that a place further on will later be a “here” place. Where ever we are we are “here”.
You might argue that time is fundamentally different from space, in that we can see what is in front of us in space but we can’t see what is in front of us in time. This is true, but maybe we just don’t have the physical equipment to do so. We can use sight to look around as see what is not “here”, to some extent, but we don’t have complete visibility to things around us.
If we did we would not bump into things and fall off of things as much as we do. We use sight to build a picture of things around us, but we don’t have physical access to those things until we move up to them.
Since we don’t have “time vision” we have use whatever abilities we can to work out what is in the future, such as reason and intuition, both of which have limited success. We do have some ability to fairly accurately guess the future, as evidenced by our abilities to catch a ball thrown to us. If you have ever watched a top table-tennis match, you will no doubt be amazed at how accurately we can so this, as the ball whizzes from end to end of the table.
Time is measured in seconds and space is measured in metres (or hours and yards or other equivalent units). This seems to be a difference between the space dimensions and the time dimension.
However it is easy to show that there is little fundamental difference. Distances are often measured in terms of time – astronomers refer to a light year, which is the distance that light travels in one year. It is not often, however, that the opposite is true. Times could be measured in terms of light metres, or the time it takes light to move a given number of metres, but this is not usual, possibly because a light metre is such a very short period of time.
Interestingly some people claim to be able to “see” the future. They are claiming that they have a sense similar to vision which they use to determine what is going to happen in the future. While it is possibly conceivable to have such a sense, there appear to be no organs in the body which could be used to “view” the future.
Such organs would have to have receptors which would have to receive information about the future just as the eyes receive information about things that are relatively distant, and that information would have to travel in time from the future to reach the receptors in the present. This appears to be counter to all known physics. Possibly “unknown physics” would allow this, but I suspect not.
In any case the human body doesn’t appear to have any receptors which could possibly serve this purpose, and although not everything is known about the human body, such organs, if such existed and could be used by some people, would be probably be apparent.
What about the brain? Could the brain perhaps receive information about future events in some way? Well, the brain is an organ for processing information, not for receiving information from the future. There is nothing like a receptor in the brain, though it is connected via nerves to receptors which terminate those nerves and when stimulated excite the nerves which then pass the stimulation to the brain.
In my opinion, which of course could be wrong, there is no way that information from the future could be detected by the human body, and in particular by the brain acting as a receptor. That does not mean that time is in any way different from space as a dimension. What it does mean is that we are able to perceive the dimensions of space differently from the dimension of time.
That doesn’t address the question as to why the space dimensions are accessible to vision and time is not. It only addresses the question of why we can “see” the space dimension, but cannot “see” the time dimension. Something links the space dimensions into one seeming whole, while the time dimension seem singularly different.
[Grr! While I finished my previous post, I didn’t publish it. Darn it.]
Since I’ve been playing around with computer generated images recently, my thoughts turned to how we see images. When you look at a computer or television screen these days, you are looking at a matrix of pixels. A pixel can be thought of as a very tiny point of light, or a location that can be switched on and off very rapidly.
Pixels are small. There’s 1920 across my screen at the current resolution, and while I can just about see the individual pixels if I look up close, they are small. To get the same resolution with an array of 5cm light bulbs, the screen would need to be 96 metres in size! You’d probably want to sit at about 150m from the screen to watch it.
The actual size of a pixel is a complicated matter, and depends on the resolution setting of your screen. However, the rating of a camera sensor is a different matter entirely. When I started looking into this, I thought that I understood it, but I discovered that I didn’t.
What complicates things as regards camera sensor resolutions is that typically a camera will store an image as a JPG/JPEG image file, though some will save the image as a RAW image file. The JPG format is “lossy” so some information is lost in the process (though typically not much). RAW image file are minimally processed from the sensor data so contain as much information about what the sensor sees as is possible. Naturally they are larger than JPG format images.
When we look at a screen we don’t see an array of dots. We pretty much see a smooth image. If the resolution is low, we might consider the image to be grainy, or fuzzy, but we don’t actually “see” the individual pixels as such, unless we specifically look closely. This is because the brain does a lot of processing of an image before we “see” it.
I’ve used the scare quotes around the word “see”, because seeing is very much a mental process. The brain cells extend right out to the eye, with the nerves from the eye being connected directly into the brain.
The eye, much like a camera, consists of a hole to let in the light, a lens to focus it, and sensor at the back of the eye to capture the image. Apparently the measured resolution of the eye is 576 megapixels, but the eye has a number of tricks to improve its apparent resolution. Firstly, we have two eyes and the slightly different images are used to deduce detail that one eye alone will not resolve. Secondly, the eye moves slightly and this also enables it to deduce more detail than would be apparent otherwise.
The light is focused on to an area at the back of the eye, which is obviously not flat, but curved. Most the focusing is done by the cornea, the outermost layer of the eye, but the lens is fine tuned by muscles which stretch and relax the lens as necessary. This doesn’t on the face of it seem as accurate as a mechanical focusing system.
In addition to these factors, human eyes are prone to various issues where the eye cannot focus properly, such as myopia (short sightedness) or hyperopia (long sightedness) and similar issues. In addition the jelly that forms the bulk of the eye is not completely transparent, with “floaters” obstructing vision. Cataracts may cloud the front of the cornea, blurring vision.
When all this is considered, it’s amazing that our vision works as well as it does. One of the reasons that it does so well is, as I mentioned above, the amazing processing that our brains. Interestingly, what it works with is the rods and cones at the back of the eye, which may or may not be excited by light falling on them. This in not exactly digital data, since the associated nerve cells may react when the state of the receptor changes, but it is close.
It is unclear how images are stored in the brain as memories. One thing is for sure, and that is that it is not possible to dissect the brain and locate the image anywhere in the brain. Instead an image is stored, as it is in a computer, as a pattern. I suspect that the location of the pattern may be variable, just as a file in a computer may move as files are moved about.
The mind processes images after the raw data is captured by the eye and any gaps (caused by, for example, blood vessels in the eye blocking the light). This is why, most of the time, we don’t notice floaters, as the mind edits them out. The mind also uses the little movements of the eye to refine information that the mind uses to present the image to our “mind’s eye“. The two eyes, and the difference between the images on the backs of them also helps to build up the image.
It seems likely to me that memories that come in the form of images are not raw images, but are memories of the image that appears in the mind’s eye. If it were otherwise the image would lacking the edits that are applied to the raw images. If I think of an image that I remember, I find that it is embedded in a narrative.
That is, it doesn’t just appear, but appears in a context. For instance, if I recall an image of a particular horse race, I remember it as a radio or television commentary on the race. Obviously, I don’t know if others remember images in a similar way, but I suspect that images stored in the brain are not stored in isolation, like computer files, but as part of a narrative. That narrative may or may not relate to the occasion when the image was acquired. Indeed the narrative may be a total fiction and probably exists so that the mental image may be easily retrieved.
It’s the conditional that makes the difference. If abortion was to be made illegal, it would make it a crime, and all crimes have an associated punishment. I think that Trump made a political misstep, and that he should have stood firm on the matter, explaining the logic of his statement.
He doesn’t even have to support the outlawing of abortion. He just has to explain the logic. Of course, if abortion were illegal, then the doctors and nurses who perform the operation would also be help responsible and punished. But if abortion were ruled illegal then the woman seeking the abortion would be breaking the law, and that implies punishment.
I personally believe that abortion, per se, should never be made illegal, although it should not be treated as just another birth control method, and should not be undertaken casually by the woman, or casually by the doctors and nurses. Clearly something living dies in the process.
The Trump got caught out by knee-jerk and politically based reactions all round. Logically, the stand makes sense – if a crime is committed, then the perpetrators should be punished. Trump wisely backed down on this position in the case of a hypothetical law, and may have missed his chance at the presidency because of this political gaffe on a hypothetical situation!
Crime and punishment go together like Adam and Eve, like right and left, like good and evil, like a fine rump steak and a good Cab Sav. Ahem. As a determinist, I feel that choice is illusory and that the apparent choices that we make in fact depend totally on past events that narrow down our options to just one.
Let’s take the case of a woman who “chooses” to have an abortion. She may have been informed that this is the safest option by medical specialists, she may be carrying a child who will not be viable when delivered because of genetic and other defect, or she may unable to care for a child for whatever reason. There is always a reason.
The woman balances all the information that comes to her and uses that information to “choose” to have an abortion. What really happens is that all the factors added together result in her trying to get an abortion.
You could of course argue that she could/should have decided to have the baby and adopt it out (assuming that the child is viable outside the womb, but that option is often not viable.
In general, punishment of a criminal is used to deter other criminals (and the criminal his/her self) from committing a similar crime in the future. Punishment should always give the criminal and similar people like him/her pause for thought. It is a factor that determines whether or not someone commits the crime in the future.
When a criminal is thinking about committing a crime he/she will (consciously or unconsciously) consider the implications. If he/she chances it anyway, that will be because the pros outweigh the cons from their point of view at the time, not as a result of any free choice.
If someone is starving they may well steal a loaf of bread as one of the pros in the case may be continuing to live. This trumps any cons there may be if the person is desperate enough. Of course the person may be caught and fined or imprisoned or even transported to Australia, but at least he/she will be alive!
The justice system still works even if the concept of choice is removed. The person who commits a crime does so because they cannot do otherwise, and any punishment is merely the result of the actions that the person is destined to take. Such punishment is seen by others and becomes a factor that is considered when another person is contemplating a similar crime.
All the factors that go into the mental consideration of committing a crime result in either the crime being committed or not. They don’t result in a choice being made as the factors involved result in the person committing the crime or alternatively the factors may add up to the person not committing the crime.
If you get people to “make a choice” where they have no sufficiently compelling reason to “choose” one way or another, they find it very difficult to do so. For example if you put a person in a room with two unmarked buttons and told them to push a button when a buzzer went, I’d say that they would initially have great difficulty, but once they had pushed a button once, it would become easier, I suspect.
If asked why they pushed one button on the third trial, they might reply that they had pressed the other button twice so it was the button’s turn to be pressed. Consciously or unconsciously I’d suggest that they would be led to make the choices random.
If the experimenter then pauses the test and mentions that the subject had favoured one button over the other and then continued, I’d guess that this would cause the subject to favour the unfavoured button more. I have no idea if such experiments have been done.
We are machines of meat, and machines don’t have any choice – they behave in a way that is built in, or lately, programmed in. Would you punish a machine that gives an answer that doesn’t satisfy you? You’d maybe add a new input into the machine to achieve a desired result.
In humans punishment is a new input. It could affect the result of the calculation that the brain makes and hence the human would come up with a result different to the result that would be observed without the punishment. Perhaps if or when machines become intelligent, it may be that we will need to introduce the concept of punishment to make them do what is required. Let’s hope not.
Oh, wow, drat and other words of dismay. I haven’t thought of a topic for this week and it is time to write my post. Time to get started.
OK, people seem to like classifying things. This can be so that they can find one item in a large collection of things, or it may be simply a means of bolstering prejudices that they might have. Or any of a myriad number of other reasons.
When faced with a profusion of things, the human impulse is to classify them. One of the most famous classification systems is that of Carl Linnaeus, whose classification system is used for the not so trivial task of classifying all living things. His system, with modifications is still the basis for biological classification of all organisms.
When Linnaeus started his classification, it is likely that partial schemes would likely have been in place to classify small groups of organisms, but Linnaeus extended this to all organisms, in an organised way. When someone states that mankind’s scientific name is “Homo Sapiens”, he or she is using the Linnaeus system, at least partially.
“Homo” represents mankind’s Genus, and “Sapiens” is mankind’s Species, but the species is merely a leaf on the classification tree, which is rooted in the Animalia Kingdom, and descends through Phylum, Class, Order, Family, and Tribe, (which I’m not going to list here) and finally to the Genus and Species.
Linnaeus’ system is still in use today, but the emphasis has changed somewhat. When he was doing his work, the classification was based on appearance, and while that is often a good guide to an organism’s place in nature, emphasis has now shifted to the genetic make up of organisms to determine their correct classification.
This has sometimes resulted in whole chunks of the classification tree being moved from one branch to another as knowledge of the genetics of the organisms has come to light. It is obvious that if two organisms have similar genetic make ups, then they must be closely related. Also, it implies that they almost certainly have a common ancestor, and such an ancestor is also fitted into the tree of life and given a species name.
This adds a time dimension to the genetic tree, turning it from a static representation of living organisms into a dynamic picture of all life over all time. The tree of life is evolving.
Another great classification system is the Dewey Decimal Classification system, a proprietary library classification system used to classify books. Every book in a library is assigned a number, which in most cases would not be unique. The number consists of two parts separated by a period (‘.’). Most library users would be aware of the system, and will have used it to locate books.
While the system can classify books in great detail, merely by extending the number after the period to many decimal points, most libraries classify their books in much less detail, using only two or three digits as a suffix. This results in groups of books receiving the same number, with the books in a group sharing a common topic, while differing in detail.
For instance a particular number may be assigned by the library whose topic might be the geography of the country of Bolivia. (The actual number is 918.4). The library might have only one or two books on the subject of the country of Bolivia, so that number is sufficient to locate any of them.
In the country of Bolivia itself, however, there will almost certainly be many more books on the topic and the Dewey Decimal Classification almost certainly contains more detailed classification numbers which would have to be used in Bolivia libraries to classify the geography books. (I’ve not checked this “factoid” but it is probably true).
So the Dewey Decimal Classification system can be hair-splittingly accurate or broadly general in its application and this flexibility is ideal for libraries. Sometime libraries use a sort of hybrid system, probably driven by the need for a sub-classification where some books have been already more generally classified, where some books are classified as “something.12” and other books are classified as “something.123”. In most cases this inconsistency doesn’t matter.
I’ve just realised on writing that, that it may not be inconsistency at all. Instead the “something.123” books may be more specific than the “something.12” books, which would therefore be more general.
An obvious difficulty with the Dewey Decimal Classification system is that there is no cross-reference possible. In the Bolivia example, a book may cover the topic of the geographic causes of distribution of various related Bolivian species of some organism or other. Is this to be classified as biology and be assigned to a class in the 500s (Pure Science), or should it be classified as geography and assigned to a class in the 900s?
Nowadays one can do a computer search and come up with a bunch of numbers that fit the topic that is being researched. In the days before computers there were card-based “Topic Catalogs” which would also provide the searcher with a bunch of numbers. The trouble is, many searches would result in multiple numbers, either as a result of a card search or a computer search. One would then have to go to several locations to decide if the required topic was covered by this Dewey Decimal Classification number or one of the others. I make it sound bad, but really, it wasn’t, and the issue is more a user confusion about what was covered by each topic in the system rather than an issue with the system itself.
A computer search (on Google for example) will provide a list of possible references to a search term, but as anyone has used a computer search is aware, a search term can refer to many topics. A search for the word Socrates gave me a list including a Wikipedia article on the philosopher himself, a list of quotes taken from his work, a biography of the philosopher and a site where his philosophies could be discussed. And that is just the first four items out of an estimated 6 million or so.
Classification of things seems to be a trait of humans. I think that we classify things to simplify things for ourselves, to make it easy to identify threats and possibilities. As such, it is probably an inherited trait possessed by at least the more developed organisms on the planet. However classification can add complexity if one is searching for something, so it is something of a trade off.
If you want to count sheep, count the legs and divide by four. This piece of faux folk-wisdom has, as is usual in such cases, a grain of truth. The human eye finds it easier to distinguish elongated objects if the axes of the object are separated and perpendicular (or so I believe). It is easier to count the candles mounted on a cake than the same candles arranged in a line. This – | | | | | | | – is easier to count than this – _ _ _ _ _ _ _ , I feel. (I’ve used Google to see if I can find evidence and came across this, which seems to align with what I am saying, though I’ve not accessed the paper).
If I am correct it is easier to, say, count the horns on a herd of cattle and divide by two than count their backs. It occurs to me that an optical-electrical counting device might have issues in this regard too, since a leg might stand out from the background, and produce a short pulse in the sensor, but a whole cow might take a while and its colours would blend into the next cow. Of course, one could always use higher technology to resolve the issue with respect to cow counting, (RFIDs in ear tags would be an obvious solution), but it doesn’t solve the wider issue.
Maybe the reason that the counting device and the eye/brain find it easier to distinguish objects orientated (roughly) perpendicular to their (roughly) linear arrangement is similar. If they are (roughly) aligned in the same direction as their linear arrangement they may, possibly, overlap, and this can confuse sensor and/or eye. Was that one, two, or three objects that passed the sensor? It’s easy if they are perpendicular, but harder if they are aligned.
I’m pretty much reduced to saying the same thing in different words, but I hope that what I am trying to get at is clear. It may or may not be relevant that humans and higher primates tend to stand more or less vertically, so one individual is more easily distinguished from others than an individual cow is from the herd.