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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"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy3CJ0n90Dk

Kingston Trio "South Coast"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1psCACHj4as

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:

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/Poetry/BirthdayOfTheLight.txt

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/Poetry/ChristmasCat.txt


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:

http://www.plergb.com/Analemma/Analemma.shtml

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

http://www.plergb.com/Analemma/Analemma.shtml
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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

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0245.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

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:
http://www.well.com/~bubbles/Poetry/Walls.txt
http://www.well.com/~bubbles/Poetry/
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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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Silicon Soapware #244 is out. Look in

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0244.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

Read more... )
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Silicon Soapware #243 is out. Look in

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0243.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

Read more... )
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Silicon Soapware #242 is out. Look in

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0242.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

Read more... )
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Silicon Soapware #241 is out. Look in

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0241.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

Read more... )
bubbleblower: cropped head shot of me with nebula background (Default)
Silicon Soapware #240 is out. Look in

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0240.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

Read more... )
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Silicon Soapware #239 is out. Look in

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/SS0239.txt

or check out my main page at

http://www.well.com/~bubbles/

Read more... )
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