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We're getting close to the 2015 Northern Hemisphere Summer Solstice: 9:38 am California time, on Sunday, June 21. It'll be around the middle of the day in the eastern portions of the US, Sunday evening in Europe, early Monday morning in Asia, and so on.

At that time the Sun will be rounding the turn on the Analemma.

You can see it at


which is updated hourly year-round.

At the Solstice the Sun will transition from Gemini to Cancer (Tropical Zodiac) and the Sun's longitude will pass 90 degrees.

At this time (give or take an hour or so to give the program time to update the image) you can see the dot in the center of the Sun image change from yellow to gray as it passes from one sign to the other. You will need to reload the image periodically to see any changes.

In the coming months the days will start getting shorter. You may want to check this site now and then during the course of the year.

The page also has links to more detailed explanations of what an analemma is.

Please feel free to pass the URL on to others.

Happy Solstice!
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I need to make a decision on something.

When I moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area back in 1997 I left a bunch of miscellaneous stuff in storage. Some of it was valuable, some may have had sentimental value, and some of it was probably just junk.
Read more... )
Any advice?
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Recently Wikipedia's featured article of the day was about a bridge. This led me to read other articles about various kinds of bridges. They described many different kinds, some of which I had not been aware of.

But they omitted one type: The rocket bridge. They didn't even hint at the concept.

In a rocket bridge rocket engines are affixed to the edges of the deck at intervals, firing constantly. Their thrust supports the weight of the deck. Thus it has no need for piers or cables or stone arches or the like.

Rocket bridges are good for situations such as arbitrarily long spans over bottomless chasms where there is no place to put foundations for piers.

Since construction can proceed entirely from one end, they are also used where there is no way to get to the far side of the channel during construction. They are especially popular in dreamlands where no one knows whether the channel being bridged even has a far side.

If working space at the site is at a premium, sections of the bridge can be assembled elsewhere and fitted with temporary maneuvering controls to allow them to be flown to the construction site under their own power. There they can be joined to the already completed portion.

Note that no falsework is needed, at least for the main span. Construction techniques for the transitions to and from the ends of the bridge will depend on the type of terrain as well as other variables.

Since the rocket bridge is a common choice when it is not known what (if any) terrain awaits on the far side of the channel, it has become associated in the minds of many decision makers with last-minute design changes and the resulting high costs and construction delays. Some critics say that the only place this type of bridge makes sense is in comic books and cartoons.

Even its advocates admit that the design does have some disadvantages.

Since the rocket engines that support the bridge must fire continuously, noise can be a nuisance, especially if there are residential areas nearby. And since engine failure can lead to collapse, designs tend to be highly redundant, making this type of bridge relatively expensive. Operation and maintenance costs are also rather high.

Although in theory the span can be arbitrarily long, when spans get too long getting fuel to the engines becomes a problem. Pipelines are often used, but for long spans their weight uses up most of the load-carrying capacity of the bridge, leaving little available for actual traffic. Tanker trucks present similar problems. Trucks also have the added danger of possibly being delayed by traffic problems or labor disputes.

To get around the problems with trucks and pipelines some projects currently in the planning stages are considering mid-air refueling of the rocket engines from blimps or helicopters or other aircraft capable of hovering.

Some designers have proposed reducing fuel usage by adding lighter-than-air supports to the bridge structure. It is unclear whether anyone is seriously considering this alternative.

Public reaction to the design has been mixed.

Rocket engines tend to be noisy, and there have been complaints. People living near rocket bridges can't sleep, and as a result have been moving to places that don't have rocket bridges. Medical people say that exodus is a good thing because if people stayed near the bridges the noise from all those rocket engines running all the time could damage their hearing.

On the other hand, businesses located near rocket bridges are suffering because so many people have moved away.

Some suggest luring in deaf people to live near the bridges, but even those who can't hear the noise may feel the vibrations, and even if that doesn't bother them the vibration can cause structures to deteriorate faster than they otherwise would.

Others have suggested building noise-powered robots to live under the highways and actually make use of the noise. Some people, however, are concerned that such robots would eventually want to spread out and live elsewhere, and would create political pressure to build noisy rocket-supported elevated highways all over the world so the robots would have the noise to sustain them.

There are rumors of extremist groups plotting to sabotage the rockets to get some quiet. This has prompted officials to remind people that if the rockets were to stop, the bridges they support would fall down. This collapse is itself likely to be noisy, at least in the short term, and would cause considerable damage and quite a few injuries. So the government recommends that the rocket engines not be sabotaged, at least for now.

Stay tuned for further developments.
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Once again I've let the date slip longer than I should have, for a variety of small reasons that added up to major procrastination. So let's get something here so as to have something here.

One thing I noticed is that the song "Pack Up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag" will be a hundred years old sometime this year (written in 1915, published a couple of years later). Need I mention that Wikipedia has an article on it?

The words basically encourage people to be happy, and it may at first glance seem like a good idea to teach at least the chorus to your children. But there are two problems.

First, when the song was written cigarette smoking was more generally accepted than it is now. Thus there is a line that more or less equates happiness with being able to smoke. We probably don't want children singing that.

The other problem is that the song might be hard for kids to understand because it is a century old and some of the words have changed meaning or fallen out of use since it was written.

However, when you look at the details one problem sort of cancels the other. The words that have changed meaning so the kids may not understand them are the ones that pertain to smoking, specifically the line about having a "Lucifer" to light your "fag". So maybe people will think it's just some kind of Satanic gay-bashing or something.

But that's still a problem. A few decades ago bad-mouthing homosexuals and consigning them to the Devil was at least somewhat acceptable. That has changed, at least in polite company.

So we may need to come up with a new line to replace the one about having Lucifers to light fags.

In a roughly similar vein, when the state of Kentucky made "My Old Kentucky Home" its official state song, they revised the lyrics to change "darkies" to "people". The revised version is what is sung at official state functions.

Mention of changing the words of songs reminds me of another thought I've had off and on over the years: Applying version and revision controls from the field of computer programming to the arts.

If, for example, a movie was available as originally shown in theaters, as well as in a director's cut, and maybe also a more "family-friendly" version with things like sex and violence toned down, these different cuts would be given version, revision, and/or distribution numbers. Those numbers would be on the label, so when you were considering making a purchase, whether online or in a physical store, you would know what you were getting. Interested parties could also refer to the database (perhaps paying for the privilege) to see exactly what had changed.

It should be possible to word the labels to differentiate the various versions without giving away too much of the plot to people who don't like "spoilers". Think of that as an engineering challenge.

Who would run this? Possibly some government agency, but more likely some sort of organization like Wikipedia or maybe the Internet Movie Database. That too can be worked out if people like the general idea.

What is probably the biggest problem is that some of the entities who have occasion to modify creative works such as movies or songs may not want it known that there are or were other versions on the market. I don't know how to counter that, except to point out similarities to the types of things done in the world of Orwell's _1984_, and to suggest that that kind of thing is not what we want in a free society.

The proposal is presently just a preliminary thought. Many questions will need to be answered. I'm hoping the answers will emerge over time as it is discussed more and more widely.

Your thoughts?
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I've gone a lot longer than I'd been expecting to since last posting here. I have some things that might sort of serve as explanations or excuses, such as having gone to two conventions in the last month or so, but they don't seem all that convincing. Other people have been through worse and still managed to post to their web sites.

I think the closest thing to a real explanation is that I'm not yet firmly in the habit of posting here. I haven't been doing it for very long, so it's easy to let it slip. And slip. And slip.

But I was lucky enough to have something pop up to give me a reason to stop the slippage: Someone may have come up with what may be a Chinese equivalent of the word Plergb.

If you're not familiar with the word Plergb in English you can go to http://www.plergb.com and read up on it.

After you've done that check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duang for the story of a new word that has popped up in China. It's been sweeping the country as an Internet meme even though as of this writing nobody is really certain as to what it means. It reminded me of the word Plergb even if it really isn't that close an analogy.

At present the new word-like thing isn't a "real" word in Chinese. Someone has drawn up a character for it, and meanings may be emerging, but it will take time for the dust to settle.

If you want to start a Chinese equivalent of the word Plergb, this may be your chance. Even if this slot is taken, there appear to be others available, perhaps using the same phonemes with different tones. So if you know enough Chinese to know what you're doing (I don't) and you feel like doing it, go for it. If anybody questions you, claim Renegade Status.

Similarly, if you see analogous opportunities in other languages, have at it.

And no, I don't know if the English word Plergb is pronounceable in Chinese. Many people say it's hard enough to pronounce in English.

In other news, I just happened to come across hints that Wile E. Coyote was designing weapons for the British during World War Two.

That's the impression I get from this:


It was supposed to assist Allied landing forces by rolling across beaches in advance of our troops, blowing up any obstacles in its path.

It's a pair of wheels with a cylinder full of explosives between them, looking sort of like a cable spool. It's propelled by rockets around the periphery of the wheels.

Note that the rockets produce no net horizontal thrust. They merely cause the wheels to rotate. Any forward progress is the result of friction between the wheels and the ground, just like with the wheels on a car. Note that this thing was intended to travel on beaches, and that the wheel tread is smooth. Then think of what happens when you try to drive a car through loose sand. It's not surprising that it didn't do well. I suspect that cleats or some such might have helped.

In the YouTube video of the re-enactment at


you can see the model sometimes making progress and sometimes just spinning without really getting anywhere.

Although it was supposedly a secret weapon, tests were done at a public beach in view of crowds of civilians. That leads me to wonder if it was supposed to fail. Maybe the idea was for the Germans to see the spy reports on it and laugh themselves to death?
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There's a park near here where I often go walking. It has much of the usual park-type stuff, including two baseball (or maybe softball or Little League -- the dimensions are different) diamonds.

Although baseball is not currently in season, the weather is often such as to allow it to be played, even if it doesn't get played because nobody is interested in playing it.

But even though there seems to be no one interested in playing baseball right now, there are people interested in playing cricket, which needs conditions similar to those that are good for baseball. And it turns out that one of the baseball diamonds has characteristics (dirt infield rather than grass, no real pitcher's mound) that make it a decent place for cricket.

Well, maybe it's not "real" cricket, but some informal variant, analogous to the versions of basketball that get played when there's just one hoop on a wall over a driveway and not enough people for two full five-person teams.

They use flat-bottomed wicket stumps that will stand up on hard surfaces without having to poke holes in the ground like you do with traditional cricket wickets, and they usually appear to be using baseballs instead of the traditional red cricket balls. Creases are just lines scratched in the dirt at the approximate appropriate places. There is usually only one wicket, thus only one batsman on the field.

Wikipedia mentions "Single wicket cricket" but I don't know if they're specifically playing that or whether it's some less formal improvisation.

The cricket pitch is inside the baseball diamond, with the batsman (and the wicket) near home plate. The bowler throws the ball from about the same place the baseball pitcher does. Balls that aren't hit by the batsman or caught by the wicket keeper are stopped by the baseball backstop, so people don't have to go running after them.

It's rather interesting to read the various Wikipedia articles, since cricket has concepts that are rather alien to sports more commonly seen in the US. For example, wear and tear on the ball, which changes such properties as the aerodynamics and how it bounces, and thus how easy it is to throw or hit, is considered part of the game. This is in contrast to major league baseball, where the policy is replace balls as they become worn or dirty or damaged,
so the ball is close to being eternally brand new.

Is cricket being played in other parts of the US? This is Silicon Valley, and the place is full of technical people from India, where cricket is popular. So it's only natural that they would bring the game here.
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Something recently reminded me of two songs. I'm not sure of the exact dates, but I believe both were popular during the folk music boom of the early 1960's:

New Christy Minstrels "Julianne"


Kingston Trio "South Coast"


These are at least nominally folk songs, with words that supposedly tell a story. But I didn't pay much attention to those stories at the time. I just enjoyed the general feel of the songs and the way they sounded.

More recently I got to thinking about these two songs again, and what, if any, sense they make.

Consider the first one, "Julianne". From the title character's point of view it's just a catalog of woes: First her boyfriend cheats on her, and then she gets eaten by a bear. If you take it from the man's viewpoint, with the woman as his property (a common attitude back then, and probably still not all that rare) it can be read as a karmic lesson: He neglected his property and ended up losing it.

The other song is murkier. A Spanish settler somewhere in the Americas wins a woman in a card game, apparently a no-no in his parents' culture. They both get on his horse and ride off to his cabin deep in the wilderness.

Some time after arriving there he gets hurt in a landslide. As he lies there with several broken bones she saddles the horse and rides away. Before she gets very far a mountain lion scares the horse. She falls off and dies.

It's unclear whether the narrator or anyone else involved actually lives to tell the tale. And it also isn't clear what meaning, if any, this whole woeful tale is supposed to have. Maybe it's just that life as a settler in the wilderness is hard and dangerous. That's kind of what the chorus is saying.

Then I got to thinking of old versions of various fairy tales. Look at the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm. Many of them don't have the kinds of happy endings we've come to expect from fairy tales today. And in some cases where there is a happy ending, it seems to be the result of accident, impulse, or chance. For example, in the original version of "The Frog Prince" the princess isn't happy to have the frog around. When she finally throws it against a wall in disgust it surprises her by turning into a prince.

In a way this is like modern news stories. Something happens, and it gets written up and published. The story as published may not have a happy ending, or may not have a coherent ending at all, if the matter hasn't been neatly resolved by deadline time. It's just a random slice of life.

There may be some plot resolution later on, or there may not be. The story may just fade from view. Think, for example, of people or ships or planes that disappeared and were never found, or serial killers who just stopped killing before they could be caught.

Back on the songs, they do both make sense if you think of them as we think of news stories, with no expectation of the plot being neatly tied up. That's assuming they really need to make sense. Not all songs are meant to be analyzed rationally.

So were folk tales (including songs) in bygone ages more like news stories are today, random slices of life with no expectation of any particular kind of resolution? If so, when and how did the custom of giving them definite (preferably happy) endings start?
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The holidays are finally over. There's still Martin Luther King day, but it doesn't have the festive party-time feel of days like Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's (and my birthday, which comes in early January). So I don't think of it as part of the "holiday season".

We're coming into what I think of as the "gray time". Often the weather is literally gray and overcast, but I feel the term may apply even on days that aren't actually gray. The sun is low in the south, giving a late-afternoon feel to things even at midday. Days are short even though they're getting longer (see http://www.plergb.com/Analemma/Analemma.shtml for some of the details), and we're settling back down into our "normal" routine of school or work or whatever after weeks of playful festivals. And it's going to stay like that for a while before the next happy playful times come around.

Groundhog Day and Valentine's are signs of hope that this time will end. So are Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, now merged into Presidents Day. But they don't have the holiday feel that I sometimes find myself missing, so they aren't quite the end of the dreariness yet.

The season does gradually end with the longer and brighter days of spring.
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Speaking of my January birthday, this one was another of those landmark "getting old" years: 75. Three quarters of a century. One group I regularly have lunch with did the typical restaurant birthday thing with a slice of cake with a candle on it.

Restaurants almost never use the actual traditional number of candles. It's probably too much trouble to keep count of how many candles they need and how to arrange them on the cake, as well as the problems of getting them all lit before the first ones to get lit have already burned out. Besides, that many candles can be a challenge to blow out, especially if one has to worry about setting one's beard on fire.
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One person I met recently is taking a college course in Human Sexuality. That got me to thinking that in science fiction universes with multiple intelligent species, such as Star Trek or Star Wars, there may be college courses in Comparative Sexuality, much as colleges in this world have courses in Comparative Religion.
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In other news, January 20 is approaching. That may not mean much this year, but two years from now it will be the day President Obama's term ends.

That leads to thoughts of the 2016 elections. Who will be running? Flower Head Robot and Moon Tune Robot are starting to think about it.

They've been considering running for all offices in all countries on a platform of not being as bad as most of the other candidates. It will soon be time to turn those plans into action, assuming they want to go through with it.

Watch http://www.plergb.com/RobotMusicians/RobotMusicians.html for further developments.
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Some holiday-season poetry:



Northern Hemisphere winter arrives on Sunday, December 21 2014, at 3:03 pm California time.

See the Sun getting close to the moment of Solstice:


The yellow dot near the bottom of the figure 8 represents the Sun on its yearly journey. Notice the little dot in its center. You can think of this as a hole through which to see the part of the figure 8 the dot is passing over. Each astrological sign (Tropical system) is marked by a different color.

Notice the item labeled "Sun's longitude" in the bunch of numbers and such just above the image. This starts at zero at the March Equinox and increases until it gets to 360 degrees at the next March Equinox, whereupon it starts over at zero. Every thirty degrees (0, 30, 60, 90, etc.) the Sun enters a new sign.

At the December Solstice the Sun's longitude will pass 270 degrees as it crosses into the sign of Capricorn (Tropical system). At that time the little dot in the center of the big dot will change color. (The page updates approximately hourly, so you may not see anything happen at the actual moment of alignment.)

This page is here year-round, so you can watch the Sun's entire journey through the seasons.

Feel free to share all this with your friends.
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This part of California is having a spell of wet gray weather, with more hoped for (we need rain) over the next three or four months, until the end of Rainy Season.

But even if we do get more gray weather, the worst of the winter evening gloom is over for the year. We've had the days of earliest sunset, and now both sunset and sunrise are getting later. The shortest day will be at Solstice around December 21. After that both sunrise and sunset will continue to get later until the latest sunrise in early January (exact dates vary with latitude).

So the bad news for morning sleepyheads is that the worst of the winter morning gloom still lies ahead.

If you've never known about the dates of earliest sunset, shortest day, and latest sunrise all being different you're not alone. It seems to be one of those little-known things. Why it happens is too technical to explain here, but if you look up "Equation of Time" and "Analemma" on the Web you may find some useful material.

And yes, something analogous happens in the summertime with the dates of earliest sunrise, longest day, and latest sunset.

You might also want to look at

bubbleblower: cropped head shot of me with nebula background (Default)
Recently I got to thinking about the legal doctrine of Sbiwuwy-Wiwuwy as it is practiced in Plergbistan and other places whose laws are derived from the Plergbistani legal system.

According to the doctrine of Sbiwuwy-Wiwuwy, if all the parties to a lawsuit are too evil to deserve the spoils of victory, the prize may be awarded to some deserving third party who is not otherwise connected to the case.

Traditionally, when a dispute between two small-town merchants came before a local judge and said judge became thoroughly disgusted with how both litigants were behaving, he could invoke Sbiwuwy-Wiwuwy to award the amount in dispute to one of the poor families in the town. This tended to moderate people's tendency to go to court at the drop of a hat over something that could have been settled amicably, and also acted as a de facto charity.

However, when cities got so big that most people did not know one another, it didn't work as well. How were the judges to know who might be deserving? And if people don't know one another, what's to keep corrupt judges from slipping in and awarding prizes to their cronies?

Some organized charities started offering to assist the courts in finding deserving recipients. In some cases this worked well, while in others the supposed charities turned out to be as capable of evil as any traditional litigant. The doctrine of Sbiwuwy-Wiwuwy fell into disuse.

Now that Plergbistan has instituted a national lottery, the lottery operators are starting to ask the courts to name them, along with the welfare bureaucracy, as Sbiwuwy-Wiwuwy administrators. The idea is that when a court invokes Sbiwuwy-Wiwuwy the welfare people can produce a list of deserving recipients, whereupon the lottery people can assist the court in choosing one at random. They claim that a random selection is somehow more "fair" than having the judge make the choice personally.

Many are eager to see this scheme implemented. Others foresee little good coming from it. I personally am undecided.
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In Silicon Soapware #244 (http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0244.txt) I imagined the owner of a self-driving car telling it to do something illegal, with the car refusing. I was thinking of it as sounding like that scene in "2001" where HAL refuses to open the pod bay door. It just felt sort of amusing to imagine it.

Then I got to thinking. Might there be times when it would be good for the person directing a self-driving car to be able to have it do things that are technically in violation of the law? Perhaps a traffic light is malfunctioning and if the car is ever going to get anywhere it will need to run the red light. Perhaps there is some kind of medical emergency or something. Perhaps the car is being pursued by criminals and needs to do some unexpected (and illegal) maneuver to escape. Or perhaps it's something no one has anticipated.

Whatever it is, you want to be able to do it if you really think it's necessary. And since at least the first self-driving cars will probably have a way for the driver to switch to manual mode and then attempt just about anything, making the override procedure much more difficult than going to manual mode would be pointless.

On the other hand, you don't want to ignore the law completely. The car should be at least a little bit reluctant to break the rules. One way to achieve this might be a "magic" phrase, sort of like in the childhood game "Simon Says". Or perhaps when a car detects an illegal order it asks "Are you sure?" and proceeds only if it gets a "Yes" answer.

You may want to have the procedure for overriding the rules depend on the potential consequences. In the case of the stuck traffic signal, telling the car to go ahead when it appears safe, assuming the car can and will measure speeds of other vehicles and calculate stopping distances and such, should be easy. On the other hand, having it plunge full speed ahead into dense fog RIGHT NOW could have much more serious consequences. There probably needs to be some way for the human to confirm awareness of this difference in seriousness.

I suspect the designers of self-driving cars are thinking about this. Or at least I hope they are.
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How often will I end up posting here, and at what length? Will I put each thought into a separate post, or will I put them up in globs? Will they come at set times, or just whenever I happen to think of them? How and how often will I put out some kind of notice of having posted? Will the content of the postings also appear on the email list? Will I also tweet (@plergb) the fact of having posted?

Questions abound. Answers do not.
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Silicon Soapware #245 is out. Look in


or check out my main page at


Read more... )
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Those of you who look at such things may have noticed that I'm licensing this on more liberal terms than I've been using for Silicon Soapware.

This journal (and probably future issues of Silicon Soapware as well) will be under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The main difference is that I've dropped the restriction against commercial use. You can read the fine print on the Creative Commons site at http://creativecommons.org/.

I got started thinking about this when I noticed that the Creative Commons people had upgraded all their licenses and were recommending that people use the newer versions.

When I was growing up the music industry (as well as movies and other media) were built around a few large companies. The recording and distribution technology of the time tended to favor a culture of a relatively few heavily promoted stars. This made a few composers and performers wealthy while most languished unnoticed. There may have been a larger number of people making a modest living in the various arts but the general public didn't hear much about them.

Thus it appeared that the only way to succeed as a writer was to somehow get noticed by one of the established publishers.

In addition, I'd grown up hearing horror stories about composers like Stephen Foster who died in poverty as others got rich from their works. I didn't want that to happen to me.

Then the world started changing. Cassette tapes came along, making it feasible for people to record music at home and distribute it to their friends and acquaintances. The quality may not have been what you would get from a studio, but at least it was a start. Likewise, printing technology made small-scale distribution of written works less capital-intensive.

Around this time I was getting involved in science fiction fandom, where one could make friends and otherwise get non-monetary rewards by being generous with one's creations.

Then computers and the Internet added momentum to the trend. Now a culture based on freely shared creative works is taking shape, and it feels like something I want to be part of. Based on the arguments I've read on the Creative Commons site and elsewhere, the type of license I'll be using appears to be the best choice for me.

If people with money want to give me some I'll gladly take it (contact me for logistics), but I won't be charging for my work in the conventional sense.

See also:
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Copyright Notice )

Making Comments )
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I'm thinking of using this account for a journal to more or less replace the present Silicon Soapware. This is a test of how an entry might look.

I'm drafting this as a text file, but plan to paste it into a journal entry in the default HTML format. In most cases (except for poetry and such) the exact placement of things like line breaks isn't important. What matters is the content.

The text file format was originally designed for monospaced text-based terminals that use 80-character lines. The screen on a phone or similar device is much narrower than those old CRT terminals. This makes a mess of things.

You might be able to turn the phone sideways so it switches to Landscape mode, but even then you'll probably also need to set the typeface to some itsy-bitsy eensy-weensy size that is likely to be hard to read unless you have itsy-bitsy eensy-weensy eyes (see http://www.well.com/~bubbles/Poetry/LittleTeenyEyes.txt).

I'm also thinking about whether and how to do the copyright notice and any other such administrative info that may be necessary. Do I want to append it to every entry, or just post it as an entry in itself every so often, or what? Put it all in one entry and make it sticky? I may need to think on this some more.
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