Why we don’t need to fear Florida Man’s army of turtles

Trace Meadows of Pensacola, FL, writes to ask,

I hear there’s someone threatening to conquer the planet with his army of turtles. Should I be concerned?

The referenced item of news is this: Florida Man Threatens To Conquer Planet Earth With His Army Of Turtles.

Trace, I don’t think we need to be concerned. Due to their method of locomotion, turtle attacks can be easily defused with a simple trap, shown here in cross section.

turtle trap

A barrier of this sort placed in the line of travel of the approaching turtle horde, with a weight-triggered flap at the top of a ramp, will trap the turtles in the interior of the ramp, where they can be disarmed and dealt with at leisure (I understand they make good soup). These can be made in sections and placed side by side for complete coverage, and even arranged in rows so that if the first rank fills up with bellicose turtles, letting others crawl over them toward their target, the next ramp, or the one after that, will trap them.

The Blundering Earth

When I commented in a Facebook thread recently that the new Netflix production, The Wandering Earth, was beautiful but oh so stupid, someone responded,

why do you think this? The physics was sounder than 75% of sci fi films

The answer is longer and requires more formatting than can fit in a comment, so I’m responding here. If you enjoy the film, that’s fine, I can’t argue with that. But don’t go around saying the physics is sound because that will start a fight.

And it’s not just the physics. I don’t want to post spoilers this soon. but here are a few examples from early on:
  • My computer has biometric login. A few decades from now, that will still be possible and far more ubiquitous. You can’t just steal someone’s key card and use it to make off with valuable equipment.
  • For that matter, you can’t make a fake ID tag. It’s in the freaking computer, and anyway the computer can recognize your face. Especially in China.
  • The Sun doesn’t change appreciably in the span of a few centuries. Especially not because of climate change on Earth.
  • Planets do not have “gravity spikes”. That’s why they’ve been in the same orbits for billions of years.
  • Fifteen years is a ridiculous amount of time to work in space without switching out the personnel. They have supply runs. What the hell?
  • The stated purpose of the station is absurd. It’s supposed to provide communication for the people on the Earth? I mean obviously they can’t have regular communication satellites in orbit, but everyone lives under the engines, which are on the opposite site of the planet from the station. They need a complete ground communication network to talk to the station, and if they have that, they don’t need the station for communication, do they?
  • The other purpose of the station is navigation. The what? What navigation can they do from there that can’t equally well be done from the leading end of the planet? Especially since that part of the Earth would have practically total vacuum, excellent for observation, and lots of rock for protection from cosmic rays and micrometeorites.
  • You can’t move the Earth by mounting fusion engines on the planet and using the local rock for fuel. There are several reasons for this.
    1. The Earth isn’t a boulder; it has a chewy center under a relatively thin crust. The crust isn’t terribly stable once you start pushing on one side of the planet hard enough to move it. Not a comfy place to live.
    2. There’s not enough local rock, you can’t just scoop it up — at least not enough to keep going for years let alone centuries. You’d have to mine it and bring it in from far away.
    3. How much fuel would you need? People who study realistic fusion engines for space travel talk about fuel in the neighborhood of 90% of the total vehicle weight. The planet moving project is in less of a hurry, so let’s say they only need to burn 70% of the Earth as fuel. During the couple hundred years of acceleration, you’d need to mine, say, 47% of the Earth’s mass to use as fuel (you need less for deceleration because by that time you have less mass to decelerate). So that’s 2,820,000,000,000,000,000,000 metric tonnes, over 200 years, or just 14,100,000,000,000,000,000‬ tonnes per year. For comparison, the total output of all mineral mining currently is about 3,600,000,000 tonnes per year (and that’s 98% sand and similar loose stuff).  To fuel those engines, we’d have to increase our mining activity by a factor of 4 million. And we’d run out of loose stuff pretty quickly. We’re talking solid rock, baby. We’d need to increase solid rock mining production by a factor of 200 million. And magma. Ever mined magma? Wear good boots.
    4. To put these numbers into perspective, the population of the US is around 300 million. I don’t remember what proportion survive the original disaster but let’s say 150 million. More than one person works in solid rock mining in the US. We need to multiply that workforce by 200 million. Do the math.
    5. I know, these engines are different. They burn a different, heavier fuel. However, they also have to move a heavier fuel supply, so it’s pretty much a wash. Still, maybe I’m wrong. Say the fusion engines of 25 years from now are 1,000 times more efficient than those of today. You’d only have to up the mining production by a factor of 200,000. And still grow food, make air, raise kids, etc.
    6. In summary, you’d need somewhat more fuel than you could move with a few dozen trucks and a few shovel cranes per engine.
  • Repair parts for the vitally important engine are kept hundreds of miles away?
  • The big engines on the equator are especially stupid. What are they supposed to do? We don’t need thrust in that direction.
  • Nobody wants to live right under a tremendous fusion reactor whose PURPOSE is to spew out radiation in unbelievable quantities.

I am done. I could say more but I think I’ve made my point.

SVG file in a web page

The problem with raster graphics (such as your typical JPG, GIF, or PNG file) is that they don’t scale up very well. They get fuzzy if you zoom in on them.

However, browsers are also able to display images of a different kind. SVG files are vector-based; they don’t store pictures as an array of colored dots, but as a list of line endpoint coordinates, colors and widths. If you have a square in your picture, it remembers the positions of the corners and the color gradient in it.

That’s not great for storing a photograph, but if you have line art, you’re likely to end up with a smaller (and therefore faster) file that can zoom to any size while remaining sharp, unlike vector graphics which fuzz out if you zoom in too much.

Sample SVG imageIt’s not super simple to use SVG images in your web pages, but it can be done. You need to:

  • Install and activate the plugin Enhanced Media Library by wpUXsolutions.
  • In your dashboard, under Settings > Media > Mime Types, define a new MIME type with the file suffix “svg” and MIME type “image/svg+xml”. Check the box that says you allow upload of this file type.
  • You only need to do the above steps once. Thereafter, you can add SVG files to your media library and use them. WordPress doesn’t know how to display thumbnails of these files, but you can see their contents if you click on them in the library grid.
  • When you edit a page or post, you can insert them into the text as you would a normal image. It’s best if you type the text first. The image might appear very small initially — 1×1 pixel seems to be the default. But you can click it to show resizing handles, and drag it to the size you want.

The image in this post is an SVG graphic. Click on it to open it in its own page, then you can zoom in all you want and the lines will remain perfectly sharp.

One caveat: if you use text in your vector image, it won’t necessarily display in the same font on other people’s screens, because they might not have those fonts installed. Try out your image on a different system — your phone, for instance, because it won’t have a lot of different fonts installed. If necessary, you can convert the text in your image to drawn objects to get around this. The file will be larger, but it’ll display the same on all systems.

Notes from the Tools for Writers panel at Convergence

These are barely organized, and will soon be integrated into my resources page (see menu).

Education

Print Run Podcast

Writing Excuses podcast

Audio Drama Production podcast

Research

Ask Science Subreddit

Loudmouth Science on Facebook

Velocity

Write or Die

OhmWriter – makes your screen blank except for your document.

Memory

Siri

Wetware

Google docs (there is an offline mode to use in conjunction with Google Drive)

Google docs voice transcription plugin

Pomodoro (and there’s software to support it)

Tide (ambient noise)

Outlining

Trello – kanban tool, to do list

Mind mapping

Scapple – from the Scrivener folks

Motivation

Written Kitten

Habitica

Habit Bull

But why are not motivated?

Write Track (word count tracker)

Soma.fm

4thewords

Cold Turkey – block Facebook

Ergonomics

Backup/Sync

OneDrive

Education

Couch to ADK Bootcamp – Tim Clair

Writing Promptcast – a word and soothing sounds.

Writing Excuses

Misc

iAnnotate – PDF markup (for Apple)

adobe reader also lets you highlight and comment.

Fairies, subverted

Along with a select (i.e. self-selected) group of other writers and artists, I’m engaged in a Project. A Subversive Project. Involving Fairies. It will see print long before any of my books in the queue at Oghma, and it’s a lot of fun working with this talented group. Like/Follow our Facebook page for news about the Subverted Fairy Project.

Is the ST:TNG Episode “Darmok” Genius or What?

An irritated Tamarian

(Thanks to Memory Alpha for the image)

Incendiary Todd of the Funk writes,

Is the ST:TNG episode “Darmok” genius or what? Can’t decide.

“What.”

To recap, the episode involves a spacefaring species, the Tamarians, that nobody can manage to talk with because (as it turns out) their only means of communication is with cryptic metaphorical references to the stories of their culture. When the Enterprise runs into them, the jolly crew under Captain Picard is finally able to figure this out, after the usual requisite manual combat, and begin a dialog.

The whole premise is ridiculous. Here’s why.

First, the Universal Translator is magic. It can hear a few words of a completely unfamiliar language and translate flawlessly, with no delays or unidentified words, from then on. Such a tool is impossible, and serves only to move the plot along. No such thing could exist in reality. The use of metaphor is far from the only impossible obstacle. There are lots of words whose meaning isn’t obvious from context — there are words in known languages — Latin, for instance — that nobody can puzzle out the meanings of anymore. Some language might not use words. Vocal tone can be important to meaning. Speed can matter. What you do with your hands/tentacles/eyebrows can matter. By selecting just one linguistic difficulty and bringing it to our attention, they’re breaking the agreement that lets us suspend disbelief to allow the UT to function at all.

Second, the premise of the episode is ridiculous. How do Tamarian children learn these stories? How did they ever get into space with a language that doesn’t allow expressions of concrete instructions? How does a Tamarian say “Increase the power level in the starboard froomis bus by 14%” via metaphorical reference to pre-technological stories? If they can say “when the walls fell,” why can’t they say, “Land ship there. We talk.”? How can they be so stupid that they don’t realize that other species won’t share their cultural knowledge, and just say the same things over again that they would have to realize wouldn’t be understood?

What we really have here, is an example of pro-human bias in storytelling. Only humans can solve problems. Vulcans are a fairly human-like so they do okay. But Tamarians don’t look very human at all, so they’re extremely stupid and helpless to solve anything on their own.

Feh.

On the Difference between Categories and Tags

Many people are confused by the distinction between categories and tags in their WordPress blog. They sort of do the same thing, right?

Think of categories as the table of contents of your blog, while tags are the index. The category is the broad type of post, and the tags are the subject of that post. You should have just a few categories, and lots of tags.

If people subscribe to your mailing list, they might want to subscribe to just certain categories (as you can in the sidebar of this blog). You might like to read my website articles and not hear about anything else. But it makes little sense to subscribe to a tag* — like, you want to hear about everything that involves “pizza” whether it’s serious or silly?

If you already have a WordPress blog and have been using categories as if they were tags (as I did at first!), I recommend the plugin Categories to Tags Converter by wordpress.org as an easy way to fix things without editing all your posts manually.


* You can subscribe to a tag using an RSS reader, because every tag has a feed. It’s just, why would anyone want to?

Getting Rid of Mice

Susan Taitel of Minneapolis asks,

Does anyone have a cat, owl, or preferably a snake I can borrow to scare off some mice?

Also does anyone have a mongoose I can borrow to chase off the snake?

Additionally does anyone know what mongooses are afraid of?

Susan,

First, I want it clearly understood that I do the jokes here.

Second, I’m not sure your real problem is mice. I couldn’t help but notice that whenever a creature is causing you trouble, your first and only thought is to terrorize it into fleeing. Perhaps your real problem is attitude.

Who’s to say that, if you negotiated with the mice, you might not be able to come to some accommodation? Doesn’t that sound like much less trouble than an escalating series of predators, like the old woman who swallowed a fly?

Or, you could start out with a cat, which you might not feel you need to scare off when done.

Or you could even just threaten to bring in a cat, the same way a factory owner waves a scab list to scare striking workers back into line.

Then, if you fail to come to an agreement, you at least have had a chance to scout out their numbers and living arrangements, for a targeted terror campaign. For instance, carve pieces of soap to look like Swiss cheese, which will fool them since they have no electron microscopes or other test equipment. The sheer dissonance of thinking they’re about to eat a tasty piece of cheese, but then getting a mouthful of soap, will drive them to distraction.

How do hackers get usernames on your WordPress site?

Of course you chose a good password — one that potential hackers won’t be able to guess. And you also activated the feature of the iThemes Security plugin that blocks computers that have too many wrong login attempts from accessing your site. So you’re pretty safe from people trying to break in by password guessing.

But even if you have a good password, your site is more secure if potential hackers have to guess your username and password instead of just the password. My book suggests you enter a “display name” on your personal profile, to prevent your username appearing anywhere on the site.

But, even so, if you check your security logs, you might find entries like this:

LOg shows someone tried to login with your ID

Someone tried to login as “pamplemousse”, your supposedly secret username, and you know it wasn’t you! How did the hackers learn your username?

It turns out there’s a special URL in WordPress that you can use to display a login name. It goes like this:

http://www.yoursite.com/?author=1

Or other numbers instead of 1, but usually you, the creator of the site, are user number 1, so the above displays your posts. Try that now on your own website; it should display a page with all your posts, and notice the URL in the browser’s address bar:

http://www.yoursite.com/blog/author/pamplemousse

Stupid old WordPress! You’ve let the cat out of the bag! Any hacker can easily discover usernames to try!

Fortunately, there’s a way to fix this. Install the plugin Stop User Enumeration by Fullworks Digital Ltd. It blocks attempts to use “author=” queries like the above, and also blocks another technique for getting the same information (which is more technical — so please just take my word for it).

Once you activate the plugin, it may put up a banner in your dashboard suggesting you visit the plugin’s Settings page. Do so, and enable the options “Stop REST API User calls” and “Remove numbers from comment authors” if they aren’t already checked.

Now, when anyone enters a query with a “?author=” some number, they’ll get a message saying “forbidden – number in author name not allowed“. If you previously tried this, and you try it again now, you probably won’t see this message, because your browser cached the result of your previous attempt. But refresh, or try it from a different computer, or with a different “author number,” and you should see the “forbidden” message.

Unless you have special reason to believe someone is specifically targeting your site, don’t worry that your usernames were previously exposed. Hacking is an automated mass process these days — a bot was trying to break into your site, just going down the list of a script that included trying the “author=” URL and then using the username from the URL to immediately try to login with that name and some common passwords. If it fails, it moves on to the next website. It doesn’t store information about your site for later attempts.

So, I wouldn’t bother to change your username in most cases. However, if you want to, the plugin Username Changer by Daniel J Griffiths will do it.

baby photo shoots

Tally Zachariah asks:

I’ve been looking at darling pictures online where people dress up their kids as superheroes and elves and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Love this! Where can I get one? I’ve borrowed my friend’s baby to do footprint paintings because I wanted to try it. But he’s not really a baby any more.

I understand you can grow your own, but like your friend’s baby, they don’t stay tiny very long. But there are always new ones being produced.

This is definitely a “borrow” prop rather than “build”. From a cost perspective, these things are really expensive and time consuming, and if you play your cards right, people will actually pay you to take them off their hands for a while. If they don’t know to ask whether there’s a photo shoot involved, there’s really no need to tell them.


Image credit: Chrysaora (Christina Xu) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Load more