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An AMA of Sorts

I’ve had a bad day creatively, but I made a promise to myself I would make something every Saturday. No matter how bad it was. This is cheating a bit, but here are answers to ten questions. My current cast of Characters will take turns asking them.

Sure you bet it is. Only I thought I’d give the subscribers more content this go around.

It’s an experimental WordPress plugin, for Conversational writing with Characters. In the style of Xe . It will of course be open source eventually, but right now the PHP is kind of horrifying. And it depends on a Freeium plugin that i don’t like very much so I’m holding back on publication for now. It won’t come out for real before the middle of 2023.

Code Geass the 2006-07 series, Not the Movie remakes. Although Resurrection was good. I also am a fan of everything CLAMP ever made.

I am generally slow at consuming TV, I think it’s an ADHD thing. So the answer is likely no.

Those are different provided I watch them in theaters/with someone else in the room. My favorites are in order of release. The Cain Mutiny, Anatomy of a Murderer, Superman Red Son, and The Deer King

I’m a Progressive Roman Catholic, which means I am Christian. Why because I have found. That the Catholic Expression of God is the one closest to my experience. It’s not a perfect fit, by any means. For example i find the Vatican’s approach to LGBT issues to be barbaric at best. But a God who made the human race for the joy, and love of creation . Who is constantly present to their people through many means is a story I really think is just about as close to the truth as we, are likely to get on such matters.

Python all the way. I’m also excited about Rust, but i don’t get to use it nearly as much as I would like

It’s still evolving and I wrote at length about it on facebook in a post i cannot find anymore. So here it goes again…

I tend to think that 50% of Creativity is just getting your butt in the chair, consistently, and in a distraction free way. Which is not easy. I try to give myself at least 1 hour of solid creative time a day usually late night or early morning before sunrise.

The other 50% consists of 20% Idea farming, and 30% execution.

Idea farming is basically systematically coming up with ideas, and then writing them down. An idea is worth nothing if you don’t put it somewhere permanent. You get ideas by asking yourself Questions. Such as

What if America (USA) had a monarchy?

What if we Teraformed Europa?

As a result of the Trinity Nuclear Tests Magic was discovered in 1945. What happens next.

These questions sometimes, have answers that will be immedatly obvious, sometimes require research. Sometimes they result in more questions. I have codenames for the whole thing. For example the Codewords Alas Victoria. Points to one of my variations on the American Monarchy idea. So if i run across it in one of my notebooks or whatever. I know it’s research or drabbles related to that project.

I’m still in the process of centralizing all my notes and stuff

But back to idea farming I generally do this in the pool at YMCA. For various reasons I can’t use devices going to or coming home from the Y and it’s a 20 minute drive each way. So i figure if the idea survives the two hour journey from the pool to my notes. It’s an idea worth exploring

Video and Music ideas work similarly

Execution is just shaping the raw idea into a form i like, how i do that is complicated, and is a post in itself.

That’s a two for one but ok.

Easiest part is coming up with ideas. I have like dozens when in the pool, and a few bonus ones when not. Hardest part is finding distraction free time to execute. Because of my ADHD, I need like several hours, and staying focused on one idea is hard. I haven’t been able to video edit in awhile because of this.

I’ll admit to being a bit vein here, but when 100 or 3000 people see my work. And it brings them joy, or makes them think. I feel like on that basis alone I’ve made the world a better place.

So That’s ten questions about me, dear reader, I hope you learned as much in the reading as I did Writing it.

TTFN

Matt/Pius and the Creature Crew

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Storming Hogwarts

Hogwarts is Under New Management

Stepping on a Landmine

I recently mentioned on Discord that I was going to the 20th Anniversary Theatrical Re Release of the Harry Potter films. The response was swift, and overwhelmingly negative.

You see for pandemic related reasons, I tend to frequent Discord Servers with a much younger than me. Not kids, but 18-25 year old, or thereabouts. Suffice to say 34 qualifies you for an `Ancient One` role which I wear with pride.

Also for self discovery reasons I tend to hang out in queer spaces online.

As you might expect in this demographic Harry Potter has a much different image than it does among those who grew up with it. For those of you that have been living under a rock, and there are a few who still don’t know.

Harry Potter’s author has in recent years used her platform to spread anti Transgender propaganda. And in many minds the whole series of books has become tainted by association. This is not a post about that.

Plenty of metaphorical ink has been spilled on that subject by much more talented authors talented authors than I.

A hero falls

Among younger queer people The Wizarding World is far from the place of happy childhood memories, far from a place of self discovery and compassion. Harry Potter is just another space in which rejection lurks behind every corner and open hostility is tolerated and encouraged.

Many of my friends were shocked and confused as to why I still supported such a vile women, many assumed I didn’t know about JKR’s recent activities, and one even tried to break the news to me gently, and as I said were quite shocked when I still saw the movie. Which brings me finally to the point of this post.

False Idols

Part of growing up is realizing that most of your heros will have feet of clay. This is because our capitalist society idolizes success, all the while totally disregarding the fact that success in the market is mostly a function of luck.

As a result most of our so called heros suffer from a total dearth of Heroic Virtue. Yet for all the modern hero’s faults, it pays to keep in mind that a hero’s function is not to be admired for their supposed virtues. Rather to inspire virtues in you. Heros fall, Triumphs and Values endure, this is as it should be.

What Harry Potter Means to Me

If I were to cut Harry Potter out of my life completely, many of my accomplishments would be irrevocably tainted. I was a disabled kid with a reading disability, who was told that audiobooks didn’t count as `reading` who was given slop years behind his actual intelligence level in an effort to `teach me to read`, when the problem was not knowledge but rather the pain involved with reading.

No one believed me about either issue until i successfully read the third Harry Potter, with my eyes. Before that I had given up all hope of ever reading, and more importantly getting the adults around me to believe me. That struggle taught me I was capable and more importantly showed the so called experts a thing or two. We had no fights about audiobooks after that.

Equally I would have let the memory of surviving my first depressive episode be tainted. I was only able to live through that because I wanted to see the end of a FanFiction. And Every single time I’d think of suicide. It would be like no, go read Potter. I must’ve read the books, like ten times over three months, and Oh god I can’t even tell you how many fanfics i read over those months.

I could mention more incidents throughout my life in which these books proved pivotal, but you dear reader get the point. Harry Potter is important to me on a deep, almost spiritual level in ways that few other books are. Only The Dragonriders of Pern series comes close to matching it, and only the Bible exceeds it in importance. What I came to realize was.

The Book Belongs to The Reader

What makes these books special is not the author. I’ll bet J.K Rowling doesn’t care about a half blind, disabled, bisexual man from the middle of nowhere Upstate New York. But this is the magic of literature, once the author has done her bit she no longer matters. The triumphs I made while reading these texts belong to me, not JKR.

Would they have been possible without these works? Do I therefore owe the author something?

Examining Capitalist Heroism Narratives

Well let’s examine that shall we. The Traditional Capitalist driven Hero’s Narrative, around Rowling goes something like this. Before Harry Potter, children literature was a bunch of hacky moralizing tripe, and Megabooks schlock, with no redeeming qualities at all. Only the genius Joanne saw this as a problem and single handedly revived children’s fantasy, with the help of her editors at Bloomsburry. The only ones to recognize her genius.

I’ll admit to a bit of ironic intensification for effect, but look at any pre transphobia biography of the women in question and you will see this kind of gushing portrait.

Any quick look at the facts of the matter quickly reveals how wrong our Capitalist Hero’s Narrative actually is. Before we get to just how wrong it is, I have to make a quick digression into how old school publishing works. When an author creates a novel or whatever they own it, from the moment they hit save on the word processor, or it comes out the manual typewriter or whatever.

Publishing Industry Digression

As soon as it’s out of your head and in something you own it for basically ever.

Publishers have to buy what are called publication rights from the author. They do this by pay a certain percentage of sales to the author for basically ever this is called royalties. The author will want to get paid up front for their hard work, right away however.

So there is a system known as advancing. Where the Publishing company pays the author an up front sum, and the author doesn’t get her royalty payments, until the total sales of the book are greater than the advance amount. So in effect the advance is the publishing company betting on how successful the book will be in the market, So we must ask ourselves how much did Bloomsburry initially bet on Genius Joanne.

1,500 British Pounds Sterling or about 3,000 in 2022 dollars plus or minus 100 dollars either way. Seems a bit low doesn’t it. Heck the commonly quoted figures (see Biography.com’s entry on JK Rowling) lists the Scottish Arts Council, a branch of the Scottish Government as contributing an 8,000 pound grant.

Art is Socialist

Yes you read that right folks. Socialism made more of an initial investment in JKR than did the free market.

Furthermore I looked into so called `copycats` of Harry Potter released around the time of the first three Potter books, the good ones that I remember, by Authors like Garth Nix, Avi, Philip Pullmen, and T.A. Baron. Among others. Of the dozen or so I sampled at least four were released contemporaneously with or before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Which would render them not copycats but parallel creations.

I can almost hear the supporters of Capitalist Heroism yelling, that she won in the market doesn’t that make her special. Well no, it just makes her one of hundreds of artists around the world who saw a need for high quality fantasy literature for children in the early to mid 90s, and proceeded to make an attempt at filling it. The Market didn’t believe in her all that much.

What made Rowling, what gave her the power she now has. Are the fans who believed in her initially.

Art is an inherently Socialist Endeavor, the artist is nothing without their fans, and the fans wouldn’t be in community together without the artist. It has always been thus, ever since the first storyteller made something up to entertain his buddies around the campfire. The capitalist system was somewhat crudely grafted on some 200 years ago. Unfortunately that Capitalist System, awards and entrenches the power of authors and artists. So that it’s incredibly hard to for the people that gave it to take it away again.

I do not support Transphobia in any way, shape, or form. Transgender people have a neurological difference, just as valid as any form of Palsy or Autism among many others. Facts don’t care about your feelings m’kay.

Storm the Gates

Using a full on Cancel on JKR in this instance, would give her even more power. Every fan defines what the art means to them. For me Harry Potter will always be Triumph over the odds and Hope amidst the darkness. Do I wish we lived in the time line where T.A. Baron had caught fire instead, yes I do. But we don’t live in that world. To let JKR’s bigotry taint that gives her the power to erase my achievements. This is something I will not do.

Rather I will continue to enjoy the Harry Potter books as a radical act of defiance. I will recommend Queer and Trans positive fanfiction like Stephen Ratliff’s Ginger Snaps, or Kaleidoscopic Grangers. Buy my cosplay props from independent Etsy sellers from now on, and I probably won’t go to the 25th Anniversary Theatrical Re-Release. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Sorry Joanne you’re not a genius, and you are far from a hero. We can’t take your platform away. But I’m keeping Hogwarts. Morte de Author! Viva Revolution!

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Terminal Strange Love


Or, How I learned to stop worrying, and learned to love the kludge

Introduction: An Unlikely Wordsmith

The objective reality of the situation seems to disprove my self assessment. And in spite of my lack of self confidence in this field, I do enjoy slinging words about.

Me

Everyone tells me, that I am a good writer. Well nearly everyone. My sixth grade English teacher was an absolute witch bent on destroying the self esteem of impressionable 12 year olds, and doesn’t count. And there was that low grade on the GED, but we can put that down to a bad day. Point is I have a 90 average on all English/Creative Writing assignments in my college years. More importantly I have been published in print and online dozens of times over the years, beginning when I was 9 years old.

Although I consider myself a two bit hack with no voice, and a style which would make your average third grade teacher scream in agony. The objective reality of the situation seems to disprove my self assessment. And in spite of my lack of self confidence in this field, I do enjoy slinging words about.

Striving

However there is a problem. My neurodivergency and disability make writing one of the hardest tasks I regularly undertake. It is both physically and mentally exhausting to attempt to write even a simple three page academic essay. Mentally because I have ADHD, and thus a lack of working memory, and high distractibility. And the Cerebral Palsy makes both eye muscle strain and hand, and finger pain an issue.

To be clear this applies to all computer interactions to some degree or other. These problems take on there most severe forms when I attempt to write. Also games like Minecraft are nearly impossible for me to enjoy. But that is a different blog post entirely.

This has been a persistent and annoying problem throughout my life. And various Teachers/Occupational Therapists/Technologists etc, have tried dozens of solutions through the years. From forcing me to do as much writing as possible in hopes that the problem would go away eventually.

To various software solutions such as Don Johnson’s CoWriter to Dragon Naturally Speaking, and many others. As you might expect the exposure method was almost torture, and the software solutions have had mixed effect.

Here’s a hint though in my last two years of university I had to get a grant to pay an actual human being to type my papers which I either recorded to MP3, or dictated live. This problem has limited my writing ambitions quite severely. Needless to say there are no grants for Game of Thrones/Harry Potter FanFiction authors, and writing that kind of thing with Dragon is nearly impossible. So I have continued the search for a usable writing tool set and work flow, which works for me. After many years and hundreds of attempts I think I may have found my best solution yet.

In the remainder of this post I will outline the Engineering steps I took to arrive at this set up. To aide other disabled people in their pursuit of appropriate assistive technology.

Learning From Failure

The first step in any engineering task, weather it be building a technological system or a bridge, is to identify why what you currently have isn’t working. In some cases this may seem obvious. You need a new bridge because the old one fell down, for example. But the important question is why did your old bridge fall down? Or in our case Why have nearly all of the attempts to solve my writing issue eventually failed? My answer to this question is two fold. First the attempts by so called `Professional Experts` to solve this problem, were too narrow in scope. For example the Teachers who assigned the exposure exercise were seeing my distractability as a function of immaturity, and weren’t necessarily taking neurological, or physical factors into account.

Likewise the PT/OT people were only thinking of muscle weakness. They weren’t looking at how black text on a white screen, might not be as high contrast as needed to make eye strain less likely over time. I’m not sure if a vision expert ever commented on this issue. But the point is each expert was limited to seeing only the aspect of the problem which happened to coincide with their own field of expertise.

In a lot of ways the worst offenders here were the `Technology People` were even worse. With two exceptions they never worked with me directly, and only applied pre defined solutions to surface level problems.

To be clear I’m not trying to denigrate any of the people who tried their best throughout the years. I am simply pointing out that none of them had as full a view of the problem as my 24 years of experience writing has afforded me.

Defining the Problem

This is an important lesson for all disabled persons. You are the expert on You. Don’t be afraid to assert this. So what is this writing problem I speak of exactly. Eventually I broke it down into three parts.

A. Hand and eye pain
B. Distractability.
C. Speed of production.

These three aspects are mutually self reinforcing. For example it’s hard to stay focused on the piece at hand when your hands are throbbing. And this slows things down which leads to more opportunity for distraction, said distraction slows things down yet again and pretty soon your only three words in to 5000 word term paper, and you’re five hours from deadline.

Typical solutions

The typical solution has focused on reducing or eliminating, my pain through solutions like word prediction and voice recognition.

As evidenced by this post that approach has had a profoundly mixed record of success. However in my latest stab at the problem I decided to attack the Distractability angle first.

For the simple reason that I have a lot of stuff to write in the next six months and I reason that if I can keep the words I wish to write in my head and get at least a standard page,(about 250-300 words) done on one project per day. Then by April I will several thousand more words than I do currently and will have met most if not all of the deadlines both self imposed, and otherwise. And in the process of finding a solution to the ADHD issues.

I think i may have found a system that addresses all three legs of the triangle at once. In fact i would go so far as to call it almost perfect. At least in my testing so far. However in order to get this far I had to define precisely what a viable solution would look like. In software engineering terms we call the definition of success Acceptance Criteria.

The key to success is basically defining what success looks like before you start.

My Acceptance Criteria

For me a successful system has several properties. We begin by defining what I call the environmental characteristics of the system. What hardware or software will this run on? How will it interact with the cloud? So on and so forth First and foremost it must be able to run on freely available, open source UNIX operating systems. I have used Linux and FreeBSD almost exclusively for the past 20 years of my life. I won’t go into the economic and ethical reasons for this. As you my primary audience probably knows all of these chapter and verse. Second and repeatedly any solution must be able to run on low-end hardware.

My newest computer was built in the year 2014, one would think this wouldn’t be a problem for word processing even heavyweight stuff. However outsiders are often surprised at how resource intensive assistive technology systems can be.

Thirdly any successful system should be able to function with minimal to zero cloud computing infrastructure. This is a critical point almost as critical as the first two.

A short rant about modern software

Modern voice recognition software that transmits all spoken audio from your computer to the cloud service which sends back the text. This has several advantages for the average consumer. It eliminates were severely curtails the often laborious process of training the voice recognizer on an individual voice, and consequently dramatically increases both speed and accuracy of recognition. For a serious writer who is disabled however this seeming advantage turns into a disadvantage.

Because the voice recognizer isn’t trained on an individual voice the customization of local voice-recognition is lost. I said before writing fan fiction of a Game of Thrones or Harry Potter is nearly impossible with commercial voice recognition software. In recent versions 12 and above this is true.

But older versions will work just fine provided you’re willing to put in the training time.

But I digress point is all system critical components such as voice recognition spell check, and grammar and stylistic suggestions must be able to run disconnected from the Internet.

Non-critical features like file synchronization may use the cloud. However I decided that if this occurred I should own the infrastructure or leave town infrastructure portability for these features.

The Open Source Puzzle

Notice what I didn’t place in the environmental criteria section. I have made no mention of the system being composed of open-source software. While this would be my preference,

I also know enough about the open source accessibility ecosystem to realize that placing this requirement on myself would be self sabotaging. Projects that benefit people with less common disabilities rarely get the developer time they deserve. In addition of this there are often patents concern with open-source implementation of the common accessibility systems.

So I am fine with running things in Virtual Machines or under an emulation layer such as Wine. So long as the system requirements are low enough to make that efficient. In practice this means obtaining software from the Internet Archive, off of eBay or from other sources. Now that we have define our environmental criteria and component selection model we can move on to what accessibility properties the system must have.

Accessibility Features

Under accessibility properties I first want a system that minimizes distraction. This is a broad and nebulous statement so let’s see if we can narrow it down. To me a distraction if anything that triggers my ADHD, to the extent that I forget what I’m writing. This can be a variety of different things from the squiggly lines that modern word processors place under words and phrases to inform you about spelling and grammar errors, animations and other such modern user interface glop. Generally anything that draws my eyes away from the words I am writing is a bad thing.

Also among the key features of a successful writing system is the ability to use a high contrast or yellow on blue color scheme to minimize eyestrain.

But perhaps what I consider to be the most critical feature of this system is the ability to display a document on screen in a magnified view without affecting the fonts and styles of the finished document.

If you’ve ever had to deal with a teacher who would only give a their essay lengths as a page count and then accuse you of cheating when you wrote it in Comic Sans 14. Or worse yet had to hand in a formal report to your boss with the aforesaid infamous font set you will know how critical a feature this is.

There are a few other design criteria which I used when pulling together this new system of mine. But I will not bore the reader with all of the major design decisions I made in the course of the project.

I hope that this section has given you a flavor of what designing a system is like.

The key to success is basically defining what success looks like before you start.

Implementation Details

Now that we have defined what success looks like I can tell you all about the system I came up with. Which as I have the best iteration of the writing system to date. That is if you believe my productivity metrics for this week. 5000 words written in four days. This easily beats the previous iteration of my writing system which can only allow me to produce 1500-2000 words in that same time span.

A 250% increase in productivity seems pretty good to me.

Solutions like PanDoc and markdown, do not work for me on larger projects. Anything over 500 words and I spend more time fiddling with the markdown than actually writing. I have also found spell check and grammar correction to be a pain when writing and markdown or similar solutions.

There is one feature I like about writing and markdown however. You can write in a terminal-based editor such as vim or nano. Which pretty much gives you the freedom to edit the document using any monospace font and size that you wish to use. And no one reading the finished product will know that you were writing in Comic Sans Code with ligatures. Which as stated above, is a key success criteria. So we have a feature that we know we like and also a shortcoming that is possibly a showstopper.

Now we must ask the question are there similar technologies with this feature available that lack the undesired behavior.

Retro Futurism

This is where terminal word processors came to mind. For those unfamiliar with computer history, terminal word processors existed in an era from about 1979 to 1994 when the computers mostly lacked the graphical capabilities that we take for granted today. In those days most of the graphical capabilities were located in the printer. Terminal word processors provided an easy way of controlling a printer’s graphical capabilities for the average user.

The idea was on the screen would not be exactly what would appear on the page but an approximation of it; which was designed to let you predict with some accuracy what the printer would do. Without necessarily forcing to edit the document in the way it would appear on the page. I knew about this long abandoned branch of the tech tree of course.

There are science fiction and fantasy authors, including no less an authority then George R.R. Martin who swear by WordStar, and all the best lawyers I know will praise him WordPerfect to the skies and back. However until recently these steps needed to get a terminal word processor working on a modern system were so insane and wonky, that I just didn’t bother.

Almost Perfect

And that was before one took into account the fact that I need voice-recognition sport on larger projects. Which implicitly means being able to interchange documents with a semi-modern platform.

Enter Tavis Ormandy who managed through a feat of digital archaeology to dig up the last WordPerfect for UNIX terminal release version 8.0.076 built for Red Hat version 6 released in 1998. He then proceeded to reverse engineer and patch the binaries so they would work on modern systems. As soon as I saw this come across my feed I knew I had to at least try rebuilding the writing system around this hidden gem. Two weeks later I had success.

WordPerfect configuration

Through a lot of trial and error I discovered that best way to use WordPerfect was through an xterm, with a monospace font and 18 points.

With the foreground color set to yellow and the background color set to Navy as shown in the images. This minimizes eye fatigue as much as is possible. Meaning I am more accurate when it comes to missing words and things like that Rather than directly print to a postscript file as Tavis shows in his example, but rather I use printer-driver-cups-pdf. With WordPerfect’s GhostScript driver to produce pdf files of documents.

The TL:DR version of which goes something like. The potential of technology for the disabled will only be realized when, we stop kow towing to an industrial complex which doesn’t know us, and is only interested in the money they can get out of us

The Last Piece

This still leaves one problem however. I need voice recognition projects longer than 1000 or so words, after the 1000 word mark I start having trouble holding large chunks of the piece in my head, and remembering where I am going with any given point. When you add motor planning keystrokes.

My little ADHD brain quickly becomes overwhelmed. But how does that work you might ask. Sure it’s easy to set up a low end XP VM, install Dragon 9 (the last good version in my opinion) and go to town. XP even has High Contrast built in. WordPerfect for UNIX however still saves it’s documents in the 30 year old, WordPerfect 5.2 format. The code for the Unix/Linux version was forked off of 5.2 and never had a rebase before it was abandoned.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem. Because LibreOffice is awesome. It can not only open but save in the 5.2 format. But as I mentioned for voice recognition we are using a Windows XP VM. Even if i could get LibreOffice to work on XP, it wouldn’t work with Dragon’s voice recognition because LO uses Java APIs to draw it’s windows, instead of the native Win32 controls. Which have special accessibility methods which Dragon, and other a11y software uses to do it’s thing.

Support for LibreOffice exists in a Dragon version 10 service update. But I don’t have 10. So this project was about to hit a brick wall. When I remembered that WordPerfect is still shipped to this day. Might there be a Windows XP version of it, and might it work with Dragon I wondered, and might it be able to save in 5.2 format? Turns out that Yes indeed was the answer to all these questions.

In fact i do not know how WordPerfect lost so much market share X3 is better than office 2003 in so many ways it’s not even funny.

The Final Product

So the final setup involves a 30 year old word processor, running on the latest Fedora, which is also running a VM of a 21 year old operating system , which is in turn running a 16 year old descendant of the 30 year old word processor, and a 14 year old proprietary voice recognition software. The whole setup is in turn replicated to all my machines via my NextCloud Server, And the documents exist on a virtual network drive inside VirtualBox.

To ensure the latest updates to all documents propagate across to my laptop automatically. And Everything is backed up securely.

Some might say this is hilariously over complicated, but I was willing to jump through a lot more hoops to get that 250% productivity boost. In fact you’re looking at the smoke test of this system right now.

The TL:DR version of which goes something like. The potential of technology for the disabled will only be realized when, we stop kow towing to an industrial complex which doesn’t know us, and is only interested in the money they can get out of us. Also don’t give up on your dreams, Hack The system!

Happy almost NaNoWriMo everyone. I

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