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                            SILICON SOAPWARE 
       wafting your way along the slipstreams of the Info Highway
                        from Bubbles = Tom Digby
                           = bubbles@well.com 


                                Issue #216
                        New Moon of July 18, 2012

Contents copyright 2012 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of 
"fair use".  In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with 
proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this 
notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the 
zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a 
substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I 
get a cut of the profits.  

Silicon Soapware is available via email with or without reader feedback.  
Details of how to sign up are at the end.  


As I first-draft this a day or so after the actual lunar alignment, it's 
coming up on the anniversary of the first Moon landing.

I don't expect to see much media coverage because it's not one of the 
anniversaries that typically gets noticed.  The next one of those will be 
the fiftieth, still seven years away.  Two years from now will be the 
forty-fifth, but even though that's divisible by five it's not considered 
a big deal because by the time the forty-fifth anniversary of almost 
anything comes around most of the population is too young to remember the 

I thought about going into a long thing about which anniversaries get how 
much attention, based on being divisible by five or ten or various powers 
and combinations thereof, along with how much of the population still 
remembers it, but that would probably bore many of you.  Besides, someone 
else has probably already done it.  Such formulas would be useful for 
planning TV programming and newspaper articles and such.

Be all this as it may, one exception to the formula is when an event 
takes on symbolic importance for religious, commercial, political, or 
other reasons.  Then it may be commemorated every year.  One prominent 
example of this is the various Pride events which tend to happen around 
late June and early July.  These are loosely based on the anniversary of 
an incident that is widely considered to have been the inspiration of the 
GLBT (etc.) movement.  In this case the event (riots triggered by police 
raids on a gay bar) took on symbolic meaning well beyond what would 
normally have been expected, leading to the annual Pride observasnces we 
see today.


"Have you read that poem the teacher assigned us?"

"The one about Paul Revere?  Not yet.  Have you?"

"Yes, I read it and it doesn't make sense."


"Well, for one thing, Paul goes riding around the countryside telling his 
friends that the British are coming.  Why couldn't he have just tweeted 

"Maybe Twitter was down?"

"Maybe.  But why didn't the writer mention it?  That's too important a 
detail to just leave out like that.  And even if Twitter was down, 
couldn't Paul have texted them directly, or even made individual voice 
calls?  That's kind of a nuisance, but not as bad as actually riding 
around all over the place on a horse."

"Maybe all the services were down.  Maybe the British were doing a big 
DDS against the whole system."

"That could also explain the bit with the lanterns in the church steeple.  
If Paul and them had been expecting the British to be blocking normal 
communications they could have set up the lantern thing as an 

"Let's ask Susy tomorrow.  I think she said her granddad used to work on 
telephone stuff, so he might know."

"Isn't he getting kind of senile?"

"Some, but he might still remember something like that.  It won't hurt to 

"And even if Paul did have to go around telling people in person, why on 
a horse?"

"I think BP had cut off gasoline shipments to the Colonies, so they 
didn't have enough to drive cars.  They might have had enough gas for 
motorcycles, but they're kind of noisy.  The British might have heard 
them and gotten suspicious."

"Yeah, that all makes sense now.  But I still think it was kind of stupid 
for the writer to have just left all that stuff out of the poem like 

"Well, that's the way poetry is sometimes."

"I guess."


One engineering magazine I read (The BENT (Tau Beta Pi)) has a puzzle 
section.  One of the puzzles in the latest issue (Summer 2012) goes 
something like "How many ways can you seat 14 married couples around a 
circular table so that men and women alternate and no man is next to his 
own wife?"

They don't state any assumptions about traditional heterosexual marriage, 
or any alternatives, beyond what may be implied in the use of the words 
"man" and "wife".  But those assumptions make a big difference in the 

The bit about alternate seats requires that the number of males equal the 
number of females.  And the use of the word "couples" seems to rule out 
any polyamorous relationships.

But after that it gets tricky.

The least restrictive assumption is that all the men are married to other 
men and all the women to other women.  In other words, no heterosexual 
unions.  Then any arrangement where men and women have alternate seats 
will fit the requirement of no one being next to their own spouse.

Letting some of the couples be heterosexual reduces the number of 
possible arrangements.  I haven't worked out the math, but I'm pretty 
sure the most restrictive case is when they're all heterosexual.

I suspect the writers of the problem were assuming the all-heterosexual 
case.  The problem is credited as being from a book of math problems, and 
some Web searching on the title turns up a mid-1960's publishing date.  
Back then heterosexual monogamy was pretty much the default assumption, 
even though there were people making noises about alternatives.

But I suspect not all readers of that zine will be making that assumption 
today, and many of those who do will state it explicitly.  Many of them 
are college students, and most of the rest are technical people.  I would 
expect them to have given some thought to this issue.

So I'm kind of curious to see how many letters they get about this.


If the sky is falling, what do you see when you look up?


One recent big news item was someone shooting up a movie theater.  My 
first reaction was sort of a manifestation of my body's "fight or flight" 
response: Inability to concentrate on anything else, and a need to check 
various news sites every few minutes to see if there were any new 

Then as that faded I recalled that one item I'd seen had a commentator 
saying that both Presidential candidates should promise to "do something" 
about this kind of thing.  What that might be wasn't clear.  Maybe more 
TSA-like Security Theater?  More restrictive gun laws?

Then I got to wondering about the underlying phenomenon.  Is this 
something new (within the last century or so) or have we been getting 
this kind of thing all along?  In pre-firearms days did various nut cases 
shoot up their local market places or town squares or whatever with bows 
and arrows?

Discussion of this online brought up mention of people in less 
technological societies "going berserk" and "running amok" with swords or 
clubs or whatever.  This has apparently been happening for as long as 
there have been clubs or swords.  But is it the same basic thing as what 
we're seeing today, or is it different?

This recent shooter, and others I've been reading about, put a fair 
amount of effort into what looks like rational planning: Buying (or 
otherwise obtaining) guns and ammunition, transporting it all to the 
site, and so on.  Did the ancient people who ran around hacking up all 
and sundry with swords or whatever have to put as much thought into 
preparation, or were they of a social class who tended to carry swords 
pretty much all the time anyway?

One shooter back in the 1960's did his shooting from the top of a tall 
building, picking off people as they passed by below.  This required him 
to stay still long enough to aim.  Again, this does not seem to be the 
same thing as just running around hacking and slashing.

So is this a new phenomenon, unique to firearms, or is it something we've 
always had?  And if he had not had access to guns, would he have found 
some other way to do it, or would the idea not have occurred to him at 

Would eliminating guns prevent future episodes of this kind?

If the shooter in the current case had had a bow and arrows instead of 
guns, how much damage would he have been able to do?  He might not have 
been able to do as many shots per minute, but with no loud bang and no 
muzzle flashes he might still have gotten off a fair number of shots 
before most of the audience noticed that anything was amiss.  So would 
gun control have really made all that much difference?  Or is there some 
mystique about guns such that if he couldn't get guns he wouldn't have 

In any case, this kind of mass murder is a pretty rare phenomenon.  So is 
there really anything that can be done that isn't a case of the cure 
being worse than the disease?


One other annoyance: One page showing video of news stories is using some 
format that requires new software.  What's wrong with the existing 
formats?  Why make people download new stuff?

I noticed that I could still watch commercials on that page even though 
the main content was not viewable.  If the old software is good enough 
for commercials, why isn't it good enough for the content?


In one news story about that theater shooter's booby-trapped apartment 
the police were quoted as saying they found "hyperbolic" chemicals.  I 
don't know what, if anything, that word means in that context, but 
there's a similar-sounding word, "hypergolic", that refers to chemicals 
that ignite spontaneously when mixed.  That sounds like the kind of thing 
someone like that shooter might set up.

So did someone (or maybe a spelling checker) copy it down wrong?

I wouldn't be surprised, because the context in which I've seen 
"hypergolic" used most often IS rocket science.


             "Silky" or "Sulky", or Maybe More Like "Selkie"

There's a quiet little nude beach 
Near a quiet little town somewhere up along the coast.

It's sort of an open secret among the locals. 
They'll tell you about it if you ask them nicely
But the turnoff from the main road isn't marked
Because they don't want the place to get all full of tourists.  

There really isn't much there for tourists anyway:  
No surf to speak of, 
No thrill-ride theme parks, and no fancy restaurants, 
Although there is someone selling ice cream 
From a portable cooler
On warm summer weekends.  

It's just a nice place to get comfortable and relax 
And enjoy life, the universe, and everything
Among old friends and new ones. 

Some of the people you see there may seem a little strange
Until you get to know them.  
But once you do, you're almost always glad you did.  

For instance, there's that big family with the strange name 
That sounds kind of like "Silky" if I'm hearing it right,
Which I'm probably not.  

They now and then show up in the misty gray dawn 
Near the dark of the moon 
When low tides are the lowest
And high tides are the highest
And the moonless nights
Make the sea seem especially mysterious.

No one ever seems to see them arrive. 
You come upon them already there, 
Blissfully sitting around naked 
Even when most of the rest of us find it rather chilly.

They never seem to even have any clothing.
The only belongings you ever see them carrying 
Are some dark gray blankets 
They spread out on the sand 
To lie on.  

There are usually about half a dozen adults 
And half a dozen kids, 
Probably several families but all with the same name: 
"Silky" or "Sulky" or something that sounds like that.  
It's hard to tell 
Because they're not very talkative when you ask them 
Any kind of direct questions.  

They do respond to some things:  
When I stand upwind blowing bubbles
The adults smile 
While the children run around trying to pop them.  

They also respond to music.  

Along about sunset a bunch of people will arrive 
With guitars and flutes and such
And they'll build a fire 
And everybody will sit around in a circle 
Taking turns performing.  

The locals sing songs that they learned from their parents,
Or maybe their grandparents: 
Some folk songs, but also old Broadway show tunes 
Along with Beatles and other Sixties things,
Mixed in with a fair number of pieces they wrote themselves.  

The Silkies have a different heritage:
Some pieces are traditional Irish or Scottish ballads
While others sound like nothing I've ever heard before
And a few remind me of recordings of whale and dolphin noises.  

Those strange songs tell of life 
In some sort of undersea realm
That most mortal men never get to see.  

In some of the traditional ballads 
A sea person and a land person fall in love, 
With one trying to hold onto the other
After the time has come to part.  
Most of those end in tragedy.  

Happier endings come 
When one person loves another enough to let them go,
And they eventually return, 
And depart and return again, 
With the natural cycles.  

And so it is that eventually, after a night of making merry,
The dark-moon tide threatens to drown the fire
And people call it a night.  

The locals climb the trail to their cars,
While the Silky people just wrap themselves 
In their dark gray blankets
And wade out into the mysterious dark-moon water.  

That water looks awfully cold
And you would think anyone going swimming wrapped in a blanket
Would quickly drown, 
But they always seem to manage, somehow.  
Because, sooner or later, on a misty dark-moon morning,
There they are again.  

                        -- Thomas G. Digby
                        Written 2012-07-07 03:37:45
                        Edited  2012-07-10 01:20:14
                        Edited  2012-07-23 23:29:33



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                                -- END --

Date: 2012-07-25 03:39 am (UTC)
thnidu: edited from img383.imageshack.us/img383/3066/ss35450qf7.jpg (smiley)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Oh, I LIKE that poem. I would like to link to it -- or, even better if you'll allow it, quote it in full, with link & credit of course, so people can read it without the other content of this issue, some of which of course is quite triggery (NPI*) & inflammable (uh, ditto). May I? (and which?)

* no pun intended

Date: 2012-07-25 06:17 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Reblogged, w/ thanks.
Edited Date: 2012-07-25 06:17 am (UTC)
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