Saturday, November 18, 2017

Getting back into life

It's been a while since I've gotten back to this blog. As 2015 moved toward 2016, life got increasingly complex. My wife, Joy, found out that the cancer she'd been living with and working against (she hated the term fought) for six years had spread to bone and liver. She finally asked her doctor if it was time to contact Hospice and the doctor said yes. Joy asked if there was anything the doctor could do to keep her mobile and active until she finished teaching the beekeeping class she had undertaken in spite of increasing problems with the cancer. The doctor treated her and she finished her class before she finally contacted Hospice. She kept the news from the students who were surprised by her death.

She wanted to have a birthday party, so with enormous help from friends, we threw her a big one, invited everyone and had a great time. The morning after, we went to breakfast with our neice who'd come for the party. Within hours Joy started to deteriorate. A week later, she was dead. She died at home and I spent most of the time by her bedside. My escape from that room was writing. For a time, I could be in an entirly different reality.

I wasn't ready to write those two paragraphs for a long time.

That was May. I was starting to get my life into some kind of routine when November came around. I participated in National Novel Writing Month and had managed to crank out the highly rough draft of a 35k word novella in the first eight days of the month. Then a national disaster struck on election day. I wasn't feeling great the next day, but a friend had invited me to try out a new restaurant with him in Arcata, the town about ten miles north of Eureka. I got to Arcata early because I needed to get some cash. The local Co-op has a teller machine in the lobby. Still with plenty of time, I picked up some crackers on sale and a bag of candied ginger (a favorite of mine). I checked out and walked out the front door.

A mentally disturbed man was in the Co-op. Unfortunately, we have a lot of them up here. He ran out of the door behind me, hit me once in the neck with something sharp (the weapon was never retrieved) and ran off.

I felt like he'd punched me in the neck. I stood there saying over and over, "Why did he hit me?" and then put my hand on my neck and saw the blood on it.

A series of actions happened round me in rapid succession. A man in the parking lot jumped into his truck and chased my assailant. One of the assistant managers from the store ran out with a clean rag in her hand and slapped it on my neck, holding it in place to control the bleeding. Another employee got a chair so I could sit. The police arrived. They asked me some questions and I requested the policeman get my car keys from my pocket and give them to a friend who lived in the building across the street from the Co-op (which he did -- two days later). All this time my angel of mercy applied pressure. She saved my life. The ambulance arrived and took over. They transported me to Mad River Hospital. I remember being wheeled into the Emergency Room where the anesthethiologist was waiting. He asked me a couple of questions.

That's the last thing I remember for a week.

They were afraid my throat would swell shut, so they installed a breathing tube and had to sedate me to keep me from attempting to pull it out (an instinctive reaction). My friends visited during that time and say I tried to communicate with them, but I remember nothing. The first thing I remember coming out of the sedation was a series of weird dreams. When I did wake up, one of the Intensive Care nurses was attending me. I tried to tell him that my nose was completely blocked and I wasn't getting enough air. The oxygen tube in my nose was doing me little good. But I couldn't speak and my hands were still tied down. It was a terrible two hours. When the tube was finally removed, I could speak almost immediately. They moved the oxygen tube to my mouth and I was much better. I stayed in Intesive Care for a few days afterward. The nurses were kind, considerate and highly competent. They too were angels to me.

Having laid on my side for an entire week without moving, I was unable to walk. It took weeks to get me back to where I didn't require a walker to get around. I couldn't go home until I could navigate with a walker which gave me an incentive. When I finally could go home, just before Thanksgiving, I still couldn't take care of myself. My neice traveled from the San Diego area all the way to Eureka and spent a week cooking and watching out for me until I could manage on my own with only daily visits from friends. I cannot thank her enough.

After I got home, I sat for days looking out the picture widows at the garden in the back yard marvelling at the beauty and wonder of the flowers and the birds, grateful to be alive.

When I think back on the entire incident now, I mostly remember the people I am grateful to. From the employees of the Co-op whose quick action saved my life, to the caring staff at Mad River, my wonderful neice, the "7 Friends" group who helped coordinate my care and made sure my cats were taken care of, Liz who did the rest of the cat care, the many people who visited me in the hospital, my co-writers from Writer's of the Future, Vol. XXIX who set up a GoFundMe page for me, and the State of California which is helping me through their Victim Assistance Program. I have much to be grateful for.

A few weeks ago, I went to a hearing for the man who stabbed me. He wasn't there. He's still in a mental hospital. That's good. The entire world and he himself are better off with him there.

My mind has nearly cleared. The effects of the prolonged sedation took many months to resolve. I'm back to getting my life into something that approaches routine. Once again, I'm doing NaNoWriMo and working on a complete revision of the story I did last year. The day after the anniversary of the attack, I donated blood for the first time in a year and made it to the eight gallon mark -- my small way of saving a life and repaying.

Firefox's Quantum stumble

Firefox Quantum was released this week to some excellent and some scathing reviews. The difference between them has to do with whether a user had addons that were broken. Addons that were not built using the new method, ceased to exist, and users who relied on them were furious. Several of the ones I used went away with the new implementation. I understand why Firefox made these changes. The old method of creating addons was inherently insecure. In addition, the new rendering engine (the software that changes the code from a web page into the pixels and actions on your screen) is significantly faster. Also, if one web page fails, the entire browser should not crash as it used to do. All of this is good.

What bothers me is the way Firefox rolled this entirely new browser out. First, this shouldn't be "Firefox 57.0", it should be "Firefox Quantum 1.0". That may seem a trivial distinction, but it is a warning to the user that they have an entirely new experience ahead of them. For many, this might have spurred them to do a bit more research on what this new browser was and what the update entailed and they might have decided to wait. Personally, I almost never use 1.0 software. I wait until the bugs have been worked out in versions 1.5 or later. The rollout as a simple version update was deceptive. Second, just as my instinct says about 1.0 software, it's not ready for prime time yet. Most of it works, but the cursor control was jerky, the browser hung and it wouldn't close. The latter problems I experienced in both the Windows and Linux versions of the browser. This is Beta software. Just because an arbitrary date was about to arrive didn't justify releasing buggy software. If Firefox wants to lose the small user base it still has, just release a few more buggy versions. I went back to their Extended Service Release software to keep a working version of Firefox on my computer.

Worst of all, the demise of Firefox could create an enormous security problem for the internet. This requires a bit of explanation. I previously mentioned the term "rendering engine". In the distant past, every browser had its own, unique rendering engine and web pages looked different on each. Over time, as HTML, CSS, XML, Javascript and other protocols for web pages became more complex, the number of browsers dropped and some browsers began using the rendering engines of others. When Google turned over its Blink rendering engine to an open source project, it rapidly became the rendering engine of choice for all browser makers. So if you're browsing the web using Chrome, Iron, Safari, Opera (one of the last to give up on its own rendering engine) or any of dozens of others, your browser is using the same rendering engine. Possibly a different version, but generally the same underlying software. Currently, I know of only three rendering engines: Blink, the Firefox engine and the one used for Edge (although some may still use the now defunct Trident engine from Internet Explorer). With the majority of browsers using the same rendering engine, any vulnerability in it could impact the entire web, and without an alternative browser to fall back on, the web could be rendered nearly useless. It is essential to have alternative browsers and not ones with security flaws like Internet Explorer had. For anyone running Windows 7 or earlier, Firefox is the only safe alternative. If it goes belly up, where do we turn? Firefox has done a distinct disservice to the world by foisting this brand new product on us while it's still in Beta form. I'm disappointed and disturbed about this development.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

On hunting and Cecil the lion

Let me start by saying I do not have a problem with hunting. We are, under this civilized skin, still hunter-gatherers. Our bodies require animal food. Humans don't produce vitamin B12 which is necessary for healthy nerves and the only source of that vitamin is animal food. Hunting is how we have traditionally procured it. In my own young adult novel, the protagonists hunt; however, they hunt legally with all licenses and in designated territories, they hunt deer which is not endangered or threatened, and they eat what they hunt. I do not object to hunting if either the quarry is eaten or it constitutes an imminent threat to life or property.

But trophy hunting makes no sense to me. Why would you want to kill something just because it's big and beautiful and then drag the dead carcass home and mount it on a wall? As to the argument of "pitting man against nature", the man (and it almost always seems to be a man) is almost always armed with a weapon that is a technological marvel. If the man really wants to pit himself against nature, let him find the resources and make his own bow and arrows or spear by hand and then take on nature. That would be a much more even fight.

As for the case of Cecil the lion, personally I think this is a Casper Milquetoast dentist hypercompensating for his internally perceived lack of masculinity. The man is pitiful and probably in need of psychiatric help. A stuffed head on your wall doesn't make you a "man". For the price of his crossbow, he could have bought an incredible camera and then went to Africa and stalked all the animals he liked, brought them home and mounted their pictures on his wall to the amazement and delight rather than revulsion of his friends. His $50,000 would have been better spent on mental health treatments than big game poaching.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The falacy of the religious liberty argument

Back in 2013 I took on the argument that marriage was for procreation purposes in a blog post about why my late wife and I should not have been allowed to marry. So now that the gay marriage issue is behind us thanks to five Supreme Court justices who recognize, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," it's probably time to take on the next fight - the religious liberty argument. To start with, the scare tactic that clergy will be forced to perform gay marriages is complete nonsense. Clergy are not required to perform any wedding that is not in keeping with the tenants of their faith. Rabbies don't have to marry Catholics, priests don't have to marry couples who are not in good standing. The law does not oblige them to do any ceremony that is against their conscience.

So the argument boils down to whether civil servants can be obliged to perform ceremonies for gay couples and businesses obliged to provide goods and services. Both are fairly straight-forward arguments. Lets take the first: If I was an engineer working for a defense contractor and converted to the Quaker religion, could I expect my employer to keep paying me if I refused on the grounds of my pacifist faith to do any defense work? Would my employer be legally bound to keep me or could they fire me? I think the answer is obvious, I could be fired. The same is true of a civil servant whose job it is to perform weddings or issue marriage licenses. If they refuse on faith grounds to perform the job they were hired to do, they can be fired. If the task they were hired to do is so odious, they should find new employment and not expect the public to pay them for non-performance of their job.

As for businesses, if faith can be an excuse for not providing goods and services, where does it end? If my religion does not believe in mixed marriages (as is true of many), can I refuse to provide a wedding cake for the wedding of a Catholic and a Protestant? If your church bans interracial marriage, can I refuse? Can I refuse anyone not of my same religious faith? What can I refuse to sell on the grounds of faith, food, medicine? Can I refuse medical treatment? The implications of a faith based opt-out go well beyond a wedding cake for a gay marriage. If we don't want to go back to the days of Jim Crow, businesses must provide good and services to all regardless of race, ethnicity, creed or gender identity. Again, if that is personally odious, then sell your business or prepare to be run over by the steamroller of history just as the segregationists were in the 1960s.

Civil rights took a great leap forward this morning. About darn time.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Windows 10 or why I hate "Modern" apps

I've been testing out Windows 10 (never mind asking where 9 went) for a few months now. The good news is that it's fast and works with any computer that will run Windows 7 (and probably most that run XP). But with Microsoft there's always bad news. In the case of Win10, the bad news is they're trying to bring us kicking and screaming into the era of "modern" apps whether we like it or not. They're not so subtle strategy is to give the operating system away. Already most owners of computers running Win7/8 have found an icon in their system tray urging you to reserve your copy of Win10. You can expect the pressure from MS to increase as rollout time approaches.

Anyone who's seen Win8 will recognize Win10. It starts with the same stupid, useless lock screen. Unlike 8, it drops into the familiar desktop after login, and there in it's expected place is a Start button, but it doesn't bring up the classic Start menu we've been used to since Win95. Instead, the menu is a hybrid of the Win8 start screen and a dumbed down version of classic start. The program list is rudimentary and can't be user modified. To the right of that list is an area where you can place tiles. The resultant Start menu is neither fish nor fowl and unsatisfactory to either a confirmed desktop user or a tablet/phone user. I installed "Classic Shell" which returns a Win7 style menu; however, it can't load a list of "modern" apps in Win10 like it does in Win8.

MS introduced "modern" apps with Win8 (initially called "Metro" apps). Pretty much the first thing that everyone who got Win8 did (after installing a program like Classic Shell to restore the Start menu) was to get rid of as many "modern" apps as they could. Why? For one thing, in Win8, "modern" apps had to run full screen, not windowed as we've been used to since at least Win3. Win10, thankfully, corrects this. What it doesn't correct is the inherent slowness of "modern" apps. Understanding why they're slow requires a little lesson in computer history.

In the beginning, programmers had to code everything their computer did. This included handling bit-by-bit how the computer talked to the world. This was hugely inefficient, so the industry coded a set of low-level programs that handled things like booting the computer up, finding what was attached to it and handling how the computer talked to peripherals in a standard way. This was BIOS or basic input/output system. And basic it was. So on top of the BIOS the manufacturers built the OS or operating system which handled yet more of the operations of the computer. DOS was an example of this type of operating system. It would let a programmer talk to disks, printers, monitors, etc. in a standard way that minimized the work, but they didn't handle graphics well. Programmers still had to do all the work of creating graphics themselves. Individuals and companies created sets of standard routines that handled graphics, but each of these solutions was proprietary. Xerox created a solution to this problem by loading a set of standard graphics routines on top of the operating system so any programmer could access them. This was the GUI or graphical operating system. Because it is larger and more complex than earlier operating systems, it is slower, but the loss of speed is made up for by the ease of writing programs for it. Jobs stole the idea from Xerox for the Mac and Gates stole it from Apple for Windows.

The problem with the GUI operating system is it only runs on one family of computer chips. So when Apple moved from the Motorola 68000 processors to the Power PC processors, they had to rewrite the operating system and software that worked on one type of machine didn't work on the other. They did it again when they moved to Intel processors making orphans of yet another generation or their computers. When Apple made the IPad which uses a different processor, they wrote an entirely new operating system for that. MS is trying to get around this problem with their "modern" apps. They will run on any machine with the Win8 or Win10 operating system even though they use a variety of processors. To do this, they set up an idealized processor and build an emulator for each different processor that there operating system runs on. An emulator is software that takes the commands given to the idealized processor and translates them into commands to the actual processor. In short, it's yet another layer of software that has to be loaded and worked through, which is why the "modern" apps load slowly (the emulator has to load before the app can) and runs slowly. And to make matters worse, "modern apps" don't die when you stop them, they keep running in the background taking up memory and processor power. A native Windows program will always run faster than a "modern" app. In spite of this, MS wants to migrate everything to "modern" apps.

So when you get Win10, it will come with a passel of "modern" apps. With each iteration of the operating system that has loaded on my test machine, the number of apps that you can uninstall has decreased and each time the OS updates, it reinstalls all the apps whether or not you've deleted them and it makes them the default programs. It also deletes your antivirus program and installs its own.

And if this wasn't enough, it tries to force you to create a Microsoft account so that it can store tons of information about you. It also makes their cloud storage as the default place to store new files, so you might not be able to access them if you're not online. If you manage to figure out how to create a local account, it won't let you access the Windows Store. On the other hand, since I really didn't want to load any "modern" apps, not being able to access the Windows Store is not a problem for me.

If you haven't guessed, I'm happy with Win7 and have no intention of updating to Win10. At some point, updates for Win7 will cease as they have for XP. Then it may be time to consider Linux, but not yet. Linux is still too geeky and too likely to fail. I keep hoping it will finally stabilize into a unified, reliable operating system, but it hasn't yet.

If you feel you must update to Win10, I recommend two programs: Classic Shell gives you back a useful Start menu, and Unlocker gives you a tool that makes it possible to delete "modern" apps in spite of MS's attempts to make it impossible to do so.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On sexual politics, religion and Sci-Fi

There has been an open dispute in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community about openness. The Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies contend that the community is too politically correct, causing it to overlook some authors whose work is otherwise meritorious. If this was their only point, their arguments might have some merit. What bothers me specifically is, in this supposedly Christian group, their prejudice against gays. I realize Brad Torgersen is Mormon which some people do not consider Christian, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says it follows Jesus teachings, so I include him as Christian also. And what did Jesus say about homosexuality? Nothing. That's right, nothing. Paul mentions it three times in Epistles, but Jesus, never.

Christians like to selectively pick and choose the sections of the Bible they want to believe in. They will point to the verses in Leviticus that say gay sex is punishable by death but overlook where Exodus allows you to sell your daughter into slavery, or Leviticus injunction to put fortune tellers to death, or Exodus statement that any man who strikes his mother or father should be put to death, or Leviticus where simply cursing mother or father is worthy of death, or Deuteronomy where conversion is grounds for death, or in Exodus death for not keeping the Sabbath. As that goes, most Christians keep Sunday as the day of rest although the Bible explicitly states it's Saturday (Sunday was chosen to co-opt the worshipers of Mithras, an early rival to Christianity). Most Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter although both of these are, again, held on pagan feast days as a means of co-opting their worshipers; but they don't celebrate Passover, Tabernacles, Day of Atonement or any of the other of the seven feast days expressly called for in the Bible. So if you're being selective, why not select to ignore what Jesus ignored? Jesus, as stated before, said nothing about homosexuality, but Jesus did say that "prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before you" (referring to the Chief Priests) (Matt. 21:31) and Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matt 9:10-11, Mark 2:13-17). So I doubt if Jesus would have ostracized gays. Rather, I think if he were around today, he'd be more likely to have dinner with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (who do wonderful charitable work, in drag) than the Christian right. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lessons of life

Recent events have me thinking about the important lessons we only take to heart after the bad breaks in life. My wife, Joy, has cancer. The oncologist says it's chronic. How precious time is only lifts to consciousness when it is limited. Currently, the cancer is under control, but it could, as it has several time in the last few years, pop up in new places requiring yet more debilitating treatments. For now, we have a quiet summer to watch the bees fly, harvest honey and fruit and enjoy the delights of coastal northern California.

A friend and fellow Writers of the Future winner, Tina Gower, had a tragedy in her family. Her parents house burned down. No one was injured. All that was lost were material possessions. Her response to the tragedy, Memories don't burn is a reminder of how unimportant the "things" we obsess about truly are. She is turning the experience positive with #100DaysofGoodKarma.

Time is short — write, read, love.