Sunday, 26 June 2016

How to build yourself a "Cintq" - Part two: LCD and monitors


Before going on, let me re-state that I think that the best choice of Intuos to make a build is the Intuos 3.

They already have a spatial resolution of 5080 lpi (against the 2540 of the precedent series), the model has hotkeys - which means that their driver shows a change screen function associated to a button, which is something very useful that I still have found no way to emulate with my Intuos 2,
Intuos 3 A3, PTZ-1231, 12x19"
Outside my usual budget, really.
there are still some years before the driver support is discontinued in Mac and Windows and, finally, they still do not cost as much as their more recent brethren.


And the active area of biggest one, the 12x19" PTZ-1231, can cover both a 22" screen (16:10) and a 21.5" (16:9) with some mm to spare, whereas the predecessors leave out about 2/3 of an inch of screen, width-wise. 

The Intuos 1 & 2 are way more cheaper, of course... it can be a battle, to get them up and running in modern OSes, though; It is the main reason that they are cheaper; Also, finding accessories - like the pens - for these older machines is going to become more difficult.   I like battles and don't have a dime, so I decided to "standardize" myself on the Intuos 2... but that is another issue.

Now, let's say that you already have an Intuos tablet (or a Monoprice , or whatever - as long as their drivers allow screen mapping and tweaking of the tablet area, a tentative can be made) and have decided to take the step of placing a screen over it...

Which screen? Or, better, which LCD panel?

Again, you should peruse the Bongofish forum, looking for someone who used your tablet and managed to get it to work well.

If you find a "recipe" that works for you, you do not really  need more.

Alternatively, you can arm yourself with some basic notions on LCDs, check Bernard (bongofish administrator) glorious Simtiq Planner,  look for a panel on a LCD database like Panelook.com,  and try a new LCD-tablet combination.

If you do, be fair to all, and report how it went in the forum, so that others may avoid your mistakes or share your triumph. 

What to look for, if you do not find a "recipe" (LCD-Tablet and how to assemble information) that suits your tasks?

I cannot really tell you, because it is a question of desires, budget, constraints etc...

When you go for this you are, in fact, deciding to embark in a bit of experimental design...

What I can give is some fundamental notions to orient your choices.

First of all, no LCD is really designed with the aim of letting pass, through it, the signal from the pen (though, some actually manage to do so, almost  by accident).

Almost invariably, they will need to be modified.

In the best case scenario, this means just removing its metal frame (then, optionally, carving up the parts of it that enters into the active area, and placing it back - if the LCD has a "single plane" structure, like a LG LP116WH2, for example, it is all that it is needed to prep it, really).
LG LP125WH2, 1366x768, IPS, LED
The panel "Timing control" board is on the same plane as the LCD panel, below it in the photo...

The back of the frame is in the way of the pen around the borders, but, once removed the tape that covers- protect the board, unscrewed the board and unzipped the small flexible pcb that connects the board to the LED strip, it is relatively easy to remove the back of the frame and cut out the parts that come in the way, and place it back, to have a final assembly as ... beware, because the the LED strip may be stuck to the frame and is easily damaged.
THe LCD proper is a sealed sub-unit insidethe frame so, if you are careful, it is easy to preserve its integrity and prevent any speckle of dust from entering it. 

LCD panels doesn't get any easier than this, to be prepped for use in one of these machines.   

If you have an Intuos 3 A5 oversize (6"x11"), this panel is most probably the best fit for it - size-wise, it is almost the exactly the same aspect ratio and just 12[horizontal] aand 16[vertical] pixels smaller than that tablet's active area...as it has no metal apart the external frame and is just a some 3 mm thick, it is easy to see if the pairing works - just connect it to a controller, switch it on and place it on the tablet. If you see occasional false clicks, don't worry - usually those are "cured" grounding together the digitizer metal back-plane and the LCD. The resolution is not stellar but, at 12.5 inches, it is enough for most uses.


In the worst case scenarios, this means assembling LCDs out of spare parts from two or more screens... and even build some new parts (a C.N.C.-milled back-case with a LED-holder area, springs to my mind).

In any case, the rate of failure is far from negligible (with an 80% success rate to date, I am a lucky -or just quite cautious - bastard, for example). 

So, if you can lay your hand on a used LCD versus a new one, it may be a good idea (unless you plan on devolving the destroyed monitor, or LCD, to its vendor saying that "it mysteriously stopped working" - that's fraud, I do not condone it, and it won't fly if it's a naked panel, anyway; it can work with a whole monitor and a selling store that doesn't care too much about investigating claims).

However, bear in mind that a used LCD had a life, and it may arrive from someone that already dismantled it, trying to make his own project, and placed it back together in some more or less correct way (happened to me, once, with a LCD panel).

Also, there is no way to know when you may find a 2nd hand LCD panel or monitor of the type that you chose... next week I should receive a LG IPS 224; it took me a year'to find one within my budget.

So, 2nd hand -> less monetary risk, more time spent chasing it down. It all depends on how you value your time.

Also, one may hunt LCD Panels - pro, you can find documentation online, like spreadsheet and photos, on the panel itself that goes beyond the simple specs in in the marketing page of the producer... cons, you must find the right ancillaries for the panel  - 

or look for complete monitors - pro: all the auxiliaries pieces needed are shipped with it; cons: the packaging may not be the better suited for the task, for example most monitor  with CCFL lamps that doesn't use a separated power unit have one that integrates the back-light's driver, which constrains the design. Also, there is almost no way to know what LCD Panel is inside a given monitor so, it becomes a bit of a stroke of luck to get one that is worth a try.

The glorious Dell 1503fp,
the first monitor to be Cintiqized by Drew Northcott, he who created the bongofish forum

It is a now old monitor, that you can find in ebay for some 30 bucks; it reportedly does not produce interference with the working of the Intuos (1) 9x12 or 12x12 even in its native form, and is not the worst twisted nematics, CCFL monitor around.




As many monitors that use a power brick, it has a small CCFL inverter, which may make relatively easy to replace the original CCFLs with A LED setup. In fact, this image comes from a  tutorial on it..
OK, I hope that they will add back the now missing photos, some day.

Again, there is no "best choice"...  of my three machines, the one that works better has only the screen ancillaries new, the tablet was 15 years old and the LCD was out of the wreck of an Arnova g20 and rudely dismantled - by its previous owner - trying to build a projector.

The one that I use the most is based on a then "unknown" HP monitor, with CCFL lamps, a back-light driver in the power unit and as thick as practically acceptable... on paper, almost the last LCD panel to choose, for assembling on of these contraptions - I bought it as a second hand whole monitor, so... surprise; I still managed to get it to work quite well.

On the other hand, I find unusable- screen's too dim and bad colors - the first one that I made, a new LCD on a Wacom Store "demo" unit that had hardly came out of the box in the shop where it was originally displayed. It was based on a known "recipe", and it costed me like the other two together. But the screen is just too crappy anyway (I have grown older and my sight didn't improve with age).

OK, no more digression, let's go on.

When you look at LCD panels , you'll see that they use one of three main technologies, for the proper LCD part

Twisted Nematics, TN - the first type of LCDs to appear on the market. Fast response time, low viewing angles and, associated to this, unreliable colors - the shade you see changes just moving one's head. If possible, to be avoided... fast response times may appeal to gamers, but have no sense in a drawing machine, when the PC may take entire seconds to complete a line (using the Photoshop smoother at 300 pixels, to mesh a 500pixel  long area... one stroke, going to the coffee machine, pouring a cappuccino, and maybe the computer has finished the stroke, by the time I come back to make a second one). On the other hand, you can get a used 15" monitor of these for some 30 euros, and so build a usable "Cintiq" with less than 100 bucks...

In Plane Switching , IPS - somewhat slower, in the first iterations came with reduced contrast values but have much improved over time,  almost perfect viewing angles and color stability - little color fading moving around the screen.. PLS is, virtually, the same technology as marketed by Samsung. A significant drawback is that its introduction is recent, and most LCD panels using this technology have a 16:9 aspect ratio that does not correspond to that of any of the Intuos, (apart the LCDs created for Apple products: IPAD are 4:3 and MacBooks are 4:3 or 16:10).

Vertical Alignment, VA - Great viewing angles and colors, horrible response time (usually not inferior to 30 ms). Given the long response time, rarely used on the home monitors market, but mostly for industrial ($$) or medical ($$$$$$) use,  which may be one reason why they are produced in a wider range of aspect ratios than IPSes.
It is usually preferable to pay top money for a new LCD panel of the same size and shape than re-designing an industrial machine - or a medical unit - to accommodate a newer, mass market LCD.

As far as this kind of projects go, VA and IPS are both valid. TN ... unless they are very good value for the money, are better left to gamer.

Beyond the type of the LCD technology, also the type of backlight source has its importance.

Essentially, there are two types:

Cold Cathode Fluorescent Light, CCFL - (where "cold" is actually some hundred degrees) is the oldest technology, essentially the CCFL are small "neon" bars. They work with a voltage that goes from 1300 at start-up to some 600 volts during normal operation, voltage which is provided by a step-up inverter with the start-up reactances integrated. If said inverter is separated from the power unit, it is almost) simple to replace the CCFLs with LED strips and their driver unit (essentially, it is a bolt-on substitution). If it is separated, it requires a bit of reverse engineering to locate the actual power and signal lines (the replacement kits usually requires a ground line, a +12 volts power line, a on/off and line and and adj/dim line). The CCFL high voltages make them a notable source of interference, and the transformer inside their inverters is even more of a noise source... in my machines, I managed to place them as far from the digitizer as it was possible.
Panels with CCFL lights designed for office use are meant to be opened up to replace the CCFLs, when they reach the end of their life (around 12-18 thousand hours, i.e 4-6 years in office life, two years in 24/7 uses).

This make modifying them, to be placed over the digitizer, relatively easy.

Also, to simplify their substitution, the CCFL use standard connectors and already made extenders are easy to come by.

If one need a longer extension, it is feasible to take one of said extenders, cut (better not at the center, on one cable , toward one extreme, on the other, toward another ), splice and solder additional cable to extend it further, if possible of the same gauge and class (OK, I did it with 220V house wire, adding a huge and thick insulating  coat to one of the two, to reduce capacitive coupling -  it shouldn't, but it works well anyway... just luck, probably)


LED lights - they operate with voltages that reach, at maximum, some 60 volts and as such, a part particularly unlucky cases in which the Pulsed Width Modulation  used to dim their brightness directly resonate with some of the digitizer specific frequencies, the interference produced  by this light source tend to be much more subdued than those produced by CCFL lamps and often fall below the threshold of noise that the digitizers are natively able to filter out.
On the back side, the LED estimated life is usually on par with that of the liquid crystals and, as such, these displays are not meant to be opened, ever.
 Their design doesn't necessarily accommodate our needs to manhandle them.

Also, many panels with LED backlight have the LED driving circuits inside the controlling board on their top (yes, the one that, unless the panel has a "single plane" structure - with the board already  lying below the panel - usually needs to be folded out of the way) and small flat flexible PCBs, with multiple lanes, connecting the actual led strips to the board.
Depending on the design of this, and one's accessibility to the right pieces (essentially, ZIF-toZIF adapters and FCC of the same pitch as the connector) these lanes can be very easy to extend, or instead be virtually impossible to tame.

(My smallest machine was built out of the wreckage of a precedent try... I had modified the LCD with no issues, but couldn't find the FCC or the ZIF-to-ZIF to extends its led connection once the board was folded out, so in a fit of impatience I destroyed the LED strip connection lane trying to solder electric motor wire to it; a couple of years after, Nyjtouch sells the FCC, zif-to-zif extenders and I find a 2nd hand LCD of the same type... in a couple of  hours or so, it was done)

A note: many modern LED backlight TV have a zoned backlight setups, with the LEDs dispersed in the middle of the active area that can be individually dimmed.
IT may help getting better contrast ratios, but this means that they have these LED power lanes in the middle of the pen signal path. Not sure about it, but I'd avoid them, if possible. 

Desktop LCD monitors have, almost always, at least 8 bits of resolution per each color   -billion of colors. the fabled 16.4 million colors. Some high end monitors have 10 bits per color channel, and can display a billion colors.

Many laptop Screens only have 6 bits per channel color resolution, and can thus display only 64 gradation of gray, or 262 thousand colors (now you know why, when drawing gray-scale images on your laptop, you never seem to be able to pick the right, intermediate value that you need -  the computer and graphic adapter are trying to give it to you, but that's the screen that simply cannot show it).

Smart LCD controllers try - and nearly succeed - to close the gap, using spatial-temporal dithering techniques (for example, flipping a pixel's color between two levels or, similar to what the JPEG does, considering a 2x2 pixel cell as base color unit, and using the combinations to dither, or both the techniques at once), which can close the gap with 8 bits panels.

So, 6bits/8 bits has its importance, but it is not fundamental (note: I hardly ever use color anyway, so take this with a grain of salt... also, the LCD controller you is going to be only as smart as it is, not as smart as its best competitor is).     


Unless you made an incredible bargain (I saw an Intuo4 XL going for 140 euros, this week... I still want to cry, I paid my Intuos 2 180! ) or it is a UC-Logic (currently, the only other maker of digitizers that is worth a try...), usually the square inch of your tablet has costed you a lot more than the square inch of screen, which will prompt some soul searching, when it comes at choosing sizes, as your digitizer and the LCD may have a different aspect ratio.

 As I noted, most IPS panels with LED backlight comes with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Though replacing the CCFL with LED kits is possible, it is not necessarily easy or something you may want to risk.

So, choosing a LCD that falls all inside the active area, is IPS and has led backlight may mean to forego half of the tablet, as almost inevitably one such panel is a "modern" 16:9....

Though it is true that it is simpler to calibrate a machine when the LCD image falls all inside the digitizer's active area (my last), in my experience it is also quite simple to tune machines whose screen is bigger than the digitizer in all directions (my first) and only slightly more annoying to tune one where the screen is wider but the digitizer is taller than the LCD (my biggest -  first one tunes the screen width, then the tablet height).

In reality, a smaller LCD makes easy to move the screen position around the desktop... which doesn't really matter, on the biggest builds;One cannot shove around his main monitor in the desktops space, anyway.

Now the main trick, to live with a screen  that is wider than your tablet, is to make sure that you can still always reach the scrolling bars of the programs.

Not being able to scroll with the pen is, in my experience, the most conspicuous font of frustration in such a set-up.

There is a program called Power Strip, from a Taiwan Enterprise called Emtech, that allows one to "carve up" custom-resolutions (essentially, adding black bands on the screen) out of the screen. As it also allows to finely tune the internal timings of the LCD, which can reduce substantially the interference faced by the digitizer, and it comes shareware with a month of access to its full features, it is usually worth a try. If with it you can tune out some (or all) of the pen jitter AND reduce the screen used by the OS just to the tablet area, its 40$ lifetime license is money well spent.

Alternatively, a work-around can be to place the task-bar on the right, and extend it till the programs right borders falls inside the active area (it is what I did with UBiQ in Windows rustratingly enough, Ubuntu is idiotic enought that it thinks to know where I need to place the).

Then, placing a setting for Explorer.exe, in the tablet driver,  that allows access to the whole screen area, makes so that even the icons in the tray area can be reached...and one can almost forget that the pen doesn't reach every corner of the screen.

If the LCD is bigger on all sides, but the difference is smaller than the smaller icon in use ( 15.4" in 16:10 is about six mm wider and taller than an Intuos 4 large... if well centered, the digitizer active area falls - at 1440x900 - 10-pixels from each border; icon sizes usually start at 16x16... any Icon on sight is reachable), it is hard to remember that it is bigger at all.

So, resuming all of these, the ideal screen is

Using IPS (or VA)  technology

With a good resolution (but, if it is a small machine that is not going to be used as  the main screen, it may not be wise to obsess over it - better a nice screen with a lower resolution, than a crappy one with an higher resolution)

Possibly, with 8 bits per color channel (again, if the LCD controller before it is good, a 6 bit panel may look just fine enough)
 
Using LED back-light (possibly, with either an external LED driver, or with a typology of board-LED connection that you already know how to extend)

With only one circuit board, or having a "single plane" architecture (If the circuit boards are already out of the way, it doesn't matter too much)

Of a size and format that cover as much as possible of the digitizer, with a minimum of LCD overhangs...



Ok... next time, I'll try make a small list of the combinations that I know to work.


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit

I am shocked.

Great Britain's has voted to leave the European Union. What was a second-rate political ploy of a politician that believed to be very smart, turned out in a potential catastrophe.

Because there are a lot of forces at work, in the "troubled" Europe, that push for a return to the past.

They forgot what that past really was - for most of European history, there was hardly a whole year without a wa,r somewhere in the continent.

Mostly useless, stupid wars for conquering a place that had no consequence over a nation's economy, for prestige.

Idiocy embodied in politics, but still people died and wealth was destroyed during each of them. 

If, as some fear, this moment marks the start of the E.U. dissolution process, I am happy that I have no offspring.

Because, in an Europe even more succumbing to globalization than it is - and as a bunch of litigious nations would fatally be - nationalists will bang even harder the drum that the neighbors, of each country's, are the ones responsible for its problems and, after a while, wars will start again.

Like it has always happened in the last few hundred years.

Like it happened (not so much ago) in what was Yugoslavia.

A bunch of nationalists seizing the moment, and then everything can happen and, usually, it does happen.

Even the scrappiest country in western Europe has more technical expertise and resources than Iran, Pakistan and North Korea... if things starts falling apart, they'll all starts building nukes. They are bound to be.

You think a world with 7 nuclear powers is a bit worrying?  Think a world with 10, 11, 12, 14...

Spain? Check. 
Germany? Check.
Italy? Its history is, literally, one of invasion of Spaniards and Frenchmen after the other.
It should already have the plans ready, just to be on the safe side.   
Poland? If the Germans ever got the nuke, they HAVE to do the same.

You could count on it... it suits the needs of vindication of small-penis men - a nationalist, at the heart, is someone that think that it needs to belong to a "great nation", to be more than he is. A small penis with flesh around.


Now, what to do with Britain?

Once upon a time, Cesare Beccaria made the case for punishments aimed at rehabilitating the criminals, and criticized death sentences and the use of torture.However, in his critique, he admitted an extreme case in which the use of capital execution by the state was acceptable, if not obligated: when the criminal was in position to destroy the state itself. In this case, it is more than crime and punishment, simply a matter of state self-defense.

Where am I aiming at?, with this

In a moment of trouble, England (not really Great Britain - both Scotland and the Ulster voted to remain... the exit is an English choice) back-stabbed the E.U.

The genesis of it is a matter of discussion (Cameron, hopefully, will go down in history as one dumb politician), but the substance remains.

There were some problems in the Union, the English didn't want the hassle, so they opted out.

Now, no organization that has allowed - God forbid encouraged -this kind of behavior, without rewarding it properly, has survived much.

The English proposers of the "Exit" choice has sold their fellow citizens that, in the end, the U.K. will manage the same kind of privileged relationships that it had till now, without having to bow to the demands of Brussels' politicians any more than it thinks it has to.

More or less, what they had till now, really, No matters how vexed the "exit" voters think that they are...

Ask yourself, why a car like the Ariel Atom even exists?  Or most of the Lotus, really?

Because UK has more permissive laws, for the homologation of small production cars, than the rest of Europe. 

And, once homologated in UK, a car could be sold in all of Europe - lack of otherwise mandatory features, like ABS, notwithstanding. 

But, those that made the same kind of "specialty" cars in , say, Italy? They had to go through much more extensive, and costly, processes - as the full-sized producers do - and simply gave up, at the end of the '80s.

Britain has always sold quite well its membership in the Union, getting more than its fair share of the goodies (why not? British politicians and diplomats were simply better at playing the game than, say, the French and the Germans - not to mention the Italians, that sent to Brussels the very drenches, out of an already not all too spectacular political class, and then complained that the Union was deaf to their plighs).

I am sorry to say, but the EU cannot AFFORD to let things go this way.

It is not a matter of vindictiveness (though, the French are probably going to feel the backstabbing part a lot - they are left alone to contend with Germany, after all... Dunkirk 2!), but simply of containing other centrifugal forces from splitting the Union up.

So, it cannot leave things run in a way so that U.K. can go out, and still have it well.

Not without endangering its own existence.

So, ten years from now, if in some way this result doesn't get reversed which, if the Britons start seeing their wallet shrinking hard enough, may happen, cars imported in E.U. from Great Britain will have to pay an import tax (sorry for Peugeot, Volkswagen, Nissan and BMW that, collectively, owns almost all of Great Britain's automotive industry) like they were produced in, say, Japan.

This won't change things much for Morgan (maybe -  they will have to be homologated under EU specifics, though) but, for the other million or so of britons that earn their livelihood from car manufacturing, it probably will.

The "City" will have to be considered a suspicious tax heaven (to be honest, it already should be considered one now), with all the bureaucratic cahoots associated.

And the list goes on.

At the same time, the Ulster will probably have to be handled differently... a very permeable frontier being part of the peace accords, and taking into account the detail that its inhabitant have actually voted to remain in the U.E., some way to let it for the most part "in" while the rest of the UK is out will have to be found (but I am happy it is not my jo, voted remainb to find it).

As for Scotland (whose inhabitants, again, voted to remain)... the moment it decides to secede from England, I'll be the first to welcome any proposal for a Norway-like status for it.

It will take years, for the situation to unfold.

After the UK asks to leave the Union formally, there is a term of two years for negotiations, and we can count on the bureaucracy - and the British parliament, for that matter, as most professional politicians of the country know the terms of the issue better than me - to procrastinate things as much as possible.

The first ones to be hit by the aftermath are going to be, not so paradoxically, the Swiss.

The "odd" relationship between Switzerland and the E.U. is one of the arguments used by the "Exit" proposers to counter the previsions of dire economical outcomes.

"England will become [rich] like Switzerland."

In reality, the history of the relationship between Switzerland and the U.E. can be resumed in a long list of the Swiss graciously ceding to E.U. pressures, while the E.U. graciously concede the Swiss to keep their face. 

Two years ago, the Swiss voted in a referendum  to cap immigration - essentially disregarding the idea of free movement of persons in the continent, that is one of the mainstays of the union.

In a year, the three years term for negotiations between Switzerland and the U.E. is going to end.

Before the British exit, we could expect yet another iteration of the usual plot, with the Union relenting a bit, the Swiss ceding a bit, and everybody happy.

After it, a group of Swiss politicians is proposing a new referendum, to "undo" the first one, hoping to defuse a show-down - because they know that the E.U. is not going to be very gracious, this time.

It really cannot afford to cut Switzerland the usual amount of slack.




Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Slave Name

I think that you know the concept.

Once Upon A Time, a pugnacious strand of African-American political activists came to the conclusion that their Anglo-Saxon names and last-names were a by-product of the enslavement process - "It was the name that the hog farmer [that bought him] chose for my great-grandfather".

They were right, in this appreciation.

Then, a lot of them converted to Islam and chose new, Islamic names for themselves.

Which made smile many that were also familiar with the history of slavery, as Arab Muslims made their share of money in the trade.

So, the likely name of the hog-pen guardian that kept chained  great-granddad  to work in a Missouri farm was replaced by the name, likely, of some guardian in the slavers caravan that brought the animist ancestor from his capture place to the Ship that would have carried him through the ocean.

I stiill maintain that, sometime questionable choice of names apart, they were right.

In reality, we ALL have "slave names" - names that, usually, have nothing to do with us as persons.

Our last names have an history of their own, that sometimes we would very like to dismiss altogether.

As for first names...

These are chosen to "honor" great-parents, great-uncles, or  - worse - some character our parents loved (I hope the various Frodo around the world will find in their heart to forgive their parents),  a most delicious type of steak ("Kobe", really?) , the car we were conceived in (LeB[a]ron, [Alfa Romeo] Giulia,  Mond[e]o) or any other stupid idea our parents had crossing their mind, the moment the guy from the social security bureau asked our name ("E.L.I.S.A - Eterna Libera Idea Socialista-Anarchica"... ["Eternal free socialist-anarchic idea"], "Fiamma Socialista" ["Socialist Flame"], "Five years plan in four years").

Everybody knows someone with a ludicrous name, if he is not that someone himself.

It is inevitable... when our names are chosen, there is no way for anybody to know how will we turn out.

Atheists named Jesus, Christian or Muhammad if not abound - because, atheists are a reduced percentage of the population - can still be found around, some poor sap called "Stalin" by his parents  may be going around as an orthodox priest in some corner of Russia and a lot of Benito became communist, in the '50s.

It is not a case many artists use pseudonyms - to them, the name is not just a somewhat useful label, it is a promotional instrument.

If it doesn't work, it must be replaced, like any other tool of the trade. 

And the truth is, a lot of names does not work.

Some countries recognize it, and allow to change name with no fuss.

In others, it  is a lot less simple...

Anyway, the most amazing thing is that, usually, when one wants to change his name - because he doesn't really suit him - the parents feel it like a reproach.

Come on, every name is crap... it is just part of human nature, giving shitty names to our children.

We should all chose new names when we reach the legal age.

Clearly, bureaucrats wouldn't like it much... but it would feel freeing, would it not?


Saturday, 18 June 2016

Monday, 13 June 2016

Un-evil Interlude

"Would you mind fix this for me?"

"Yes, master."

Keisha watches the diminutive, vaguely Asian looking girl going out of the café, directed to make minced meat out of some ensemble of though-looking, well-armed public servants.

"She is still believing that 'Yes, Master' crap? Has she learned not, that you are not going to make a fuss, if she refuses a job?"

 "Now, that would make her responsible of every bone she has broken, under my orders. I would never be so cruel, as to break her illusions. Or to take away her alibis."

The tall, black woman raises her eyes to the sky, asking her God the strength no to strangle this stupid 'god' - all lowers and apexes required.

She makes a sign to the waiter - like everybody in this city, most likely a remote body for the schizophrenic "trans-human" mind that, fifteen years ago, has freed her from her steel prison. Or created her. Or whatever, and itwas sixty years ago. She has renounced hoping to get to the truth and, as it says, it does not really matter.

A remote, or maybe not, and 'god' doesn't enjoy when its secrets are too much in the open, so it pays to behave normally, even here in its place of power.

"She will remember it, some day. Then, she will have to decide, again... like you did."

The hot chocolate is the vanilla perfumed, luxurious sin that is  'god' preferred beverage -  after coke zero.

"As you may know (because everybody in my house of madness talks with you, no idea why - you are supposedly out) , I placed a remnant of Molly's mother as the chief of Purgatory. She has done a good job, apart with her 'daughter'.

He looks shameful, for a change - "Under some love, that woman really despises her daughter for having destroyed her plans for a happy life" - he makes one of those grimaces he comes by, when he has to describe one of his most glaring mistakes - "from remnant to remnant, the affection vanished, but the grievances remained. Mommy has taken out a decade worth of delusions on her non-daughter."

"I suppose that that version of Molly won't have a body anytime soon" - this makes 'god', literally, squirm. It is worse than this?

"Ehr, to be honest, I downloaded her in three bodies already, with slightly different edits to her conscious memories. One is a nearly comatose patient in a Scottish mental health institute, one is a fetish/punk model with a passion for flesh cuts, another one... let's just leave at it, that she is fascinating."

"I may say the same of you, right now. In a not nice way.  What do you want from me?"

He sports its foxy grin - crap is coming.

"Well, I know for sure that you and your wife are trying to adopt a girl - though, you know, you can actually impregnate her with sperm cloned out of your mother cells... I left that trinket active, when you asked to be decommissioned"

"I rather avoid unverified tech gizmos" - and, would the girl be ours, or would you consider her yours, another flesh pawn for some of your beloved games? Not that you would ever a answer me, if I asked; this second part of the discourse is unspoken, but clearly heard by both; they just know each other that well.

"As you wish. Now, I happen to have a fifth Molly coming, a much younger version - she still has some hope of becoming a normal person, a nice girl, but she needs a couple of loving parents. I happen to have an idea where to find them."

"Why?"

"I owe her, and you owe yourself a chance of love and being loved unconditionally, and this way you will all share the family's horrible, dark secrets - no wall of secrecy coming in the way."

"She will never be a part of this... crap, OK?"

"Unless she decides that she wants to be."

"I found a way to convince you, I'll convince her - or whoever else you may find. You are mine, forever, even if I had let you go - and your daughters will be mines, too." - again, unspoken words, but clearly felt by both.

"You are one pushy bastard, you know?"

"Nah, I am just not mysterious enough - if I were, you could chalk it up to my infinite sageness."

Not for the first time, Keisha had to admit that it kind of made a point.



Saturday, 11 June 2016

How to build yourself a "Cintq" - Part one: Useful notions on Wacom digitizers.

My first: an untouched Intuos 4 L
and a AUO LCD.
Alas, not so good colours.
The last: an Intuos 2 A5 with an Ipad screen
Small, but that's all that can stay on my sitting room desk.
Almost perfect, size apart.

As big as I like it: an Intuos 2 12x18" + a 22" 16:10 HP screen
The screen is wider than the table, but there are ways around it.
Also, please note the complete lack of hotkeys - on the tablet.


If you ever heard of it, a "Cintq" is a screen on top of a Wacom professional digitizer (i.e. an Intuos).

If you re a traditionally trained artist that uses drawing software, you probably lusted on one.Or have one.

By the way, old "big" Intuoses" have a separated logic board below a big antenna board... the corresponding Cintiq have an antenna board integrated in the construction of the LCD panel and almost exactly the same logic board.

So it is not that they are "like a" - a Cintiq really is (or used to be) an Intuos with a screen on top.

It is not difficult to do on one's own, with virtually no specialized tools and simply buying some off-the shelf complements on ebay.

To date, I made three of these contraptions, at increasing levels of self-satisfaction.

Of course, if you are a professional and have the budget, you will be better served with a Wacom Cintiq or one of its competitors, mostly the quite satisfying and fast improving offerings that use UC-Logic digitizer technology (Yiynova, Huion, Ugee, UC-Logic), that usually command far less money, for a level of performance not so different (fickle drivers apart, which is where they still fall short).

The accounting for a professional is not the same of a hobbyist or a student - the acquisition of a 2300$ Cintq 27QHD (or a 1000$ Yiynova 22") on one's own personal wallet is much reduced.

And whatever competitive edge may be given by a newer machine, it is usually worth the expense.

On the other hand, if you are not a professional with the related perks, it may be worth your time.

More so, if you think that there is some craft to be learned  in the process.

The main trick is to know which screen to place on top of which tablet.

If you already have a Wacom's tablet, do not worry... there is most probably one screen out there waiting to be ripped by you to be reborn as a "...q", and a community (Bongofish) of tinkerers dedicated at doing this trick, so you may find an already established recipe (a more or less detailed how to) for your tablet.

Also, if you had an old tablet-pc with a Wacom pen that has died (or it simply can't open the new Adobe CS software that you need to use), take a stroll there.

Tablet PC are "cheap" Intuoses (usually, lacking the tilt info) using internal Serial connection. They can be converted to USB - more, they can be converted to BE reprogrammable USB machines, emulating much more modern hardware.

So that newer Wacom drivers can be used with them.


If you do not have a tablet... take a moment before buying one.

Here are the main specs of the various generation of Intuos (usually, they are the model that gives the better results - because they were designed as back-end of Cintiqs to begin with? maybe - though someone has managed to build a usable one with a Monoprice - i.e. a rebranded UC-Logic - A4 tablet).

  1. Ultrapad, series GD-
    • Serial
    • 100 lines per mm of resolution (2540 lpi; 5080 the A6 sized)
    • Accuracy 0.25 mm
    • 100 points per second (200 in forced mode)
    • 256 Levels of pressure (why, oh, why? I'd love one of these)
    • 60 Levels of tilt inclination
    • 4:3 Aspect ratio
    • Maximum size: 18"x24" (good for a 30" 4:3 screen)


  2. Intuos (or Intuos 1, to distinguish it from the current "Intuos" which, really, is the last iteration for the Graphire-Bamboo NON professional line), series UD-
    • Serial or USB interface
    • 100 lines per mm of resolution (2540 lpi; 5080 the A6 sized)
    • Accuracy 0.25 mm
    • 100 points per second (200 in "forced mode" -  usually it goes at 100, averaging the two values; it can be useful having the raw data arriving at full speed, if you use a stabilized art program or a third party, long window stabilizer, like Lazy Nezumi or the built-in moving window stabilizer of the Linux driver)
    • 1024 Levels of pressure
    • 60 Levels of tilt inclination
    • 4:3 Aspect ratio
    • Maximum size: 12"x18" (good for a 21" 4:3 screen) 
    • Wacom has discontinued support after Windows XP- it is possible to install the drivers in later versions of Windows (8.1 and 10; 9 appears to be recalcitrant) by using some more or less elaborated procedure. Serial connection machines are a case apart, as they can be interfaced to USB through a micro-controller that can be programmed to  emulate a more modern tablet. It is possible either by modifying the machine, or by concocting a "translator" box... both solutions have their perks. The Linux driver supports these tablets.


  3. Intuos 2, series XD-
    • Serial or USB interface
    • 100 lines per mm of resolution (2540 lpi; 5080 the A6 sized)
    • Accuracy 0.25 mm
    • 100 points per second (200 in forced mode)
    • 1024 levels of pressure
    • 60 levels of tilt inclination
    • 4:3 Aspect ratio
    • Maximum size: 12"x18" (good for a 21" 4:3 screen)
    • The tools have a unique serial ID.
    • Wacom has discontinued support after Windows 7 - it is possible to install the drivers in later versions of Windows (8.1 and 10; 9 appears to be recalcitrant) by using some more or less elaborated procedure. Again, serial connection machines are a case apart. Also, Windows 7 is already a 64 bit OS, so a possible choice is to have a dual boot system, with 7 as "dedicated drawing Environment"


  4. Intuos 3, series PTZ-
    • USB interface
    • 200 lines per mm of resolution (5080 lpi)
    • Accuracy 0.25 mm
    • 100 points per second (200 in forced mode)
    • 1024 levels of pressure
    • 60 levels of tilt inclination
    • 4:3 Aspect ratio, or 16:10- (A3 size)
    • Maximum size: 12"x19" (good for a 21" 4:3, a 22" 16:10 or a 21.5" 16:9 screens)
    • The tools have a unique serial ID.
    • 8 hotkeys and two sliding strips - in two groups, one at each side; most people uses only the one on his non dominant side (it is not so difficult to relocate the wrong one, if one finda the correct FFC extenders - as they are the same pitch of eDP ZIF connectors, it is becoming easier to find them).
    • The tools have a unique serial ID.
    • (At the moment, the Intuos 3 is the more balanced choice... they cost twice as much of an Intuos 2, which means a good 40% less on an Intuos 4 - usually, and oly lack the 248 levels of pressure of the newer machines)


  5. Intuos 4, series PTk-
    • USB interface
    • 200 lines per mm of resolution (5080 lpi)
    • Accuracy 0.25 mm
    • 200 points per second
    • 2048 levels of pressure
    • 60 levels of tilt inclination
    • 16:10 Aspect ratio
    • Maximum size: 12"x19.2" (good for a 22" 16:10 or a 21.5" 16:9 screens)
    • The tools have a unique serial ID.
    • 8 hotkeys and a capacitive wheel with 4 selectable modes - the tablet can be flipped, so that all the hotkeys are under the non dominant hand; The hotkeys have programmable OLED labels that can be massive pain to handle, in our context. Also, it is quite easy to damage the touch wheel. However, it is possible to build something useful without opening up the tablet.


  6. Intuos 5, series PTK-[x]50, PTH-[x]50 (PTH are the the ones with a capacitive touch surface)
    • USB interface
    • 200 lines per mm of resolution (5080 lpi)
    • Accuracy 0.25 mm
    • 200 points per second
    • 2048 levels of pressure
    • 60 levels of tilt inclination
    • The tools have a unique serial ID
    • 16:10 Aspect ratio
    • Maximum size: 8"x12.8" (good for a 15,4" 16:10 or a 14.1" 16:9 screens)
    • 8 hotkeys and a capacitive wheel sliding strips - the tablet can be flipped, so that all the hotkeys are under the non dominant hand; No OLED labels.
    • All models can be made wireless with a plug-in module
    • All sizes can come with a capacitive tactile surface, to support gestures. During its commercial life, the average recommendation was to avoid the version with it, as it sometime comes in the way and, to some people, it revealed itself  a pretty costly source of frustration. Also - to date - nobody has managed yet to port it into a Cintiq form (touch can be added through third parts hardware, but then one has to write a filter driver to disconnect the touch input when the pen is over the active area) - so, it is a function that is useless to have for this kind of project, yet command some more money when you buy the tablet.


  7. Intuos pro: as far as I can tell, it is a simple re-badging of the Intuos 5, to accommodate the name scheme change that converted the Bamboo(s) replacement in "Intuos"

Penabled Tablet PCs, PL 700 etc. -  are usually derived from the UD serial Intuos, but with reduced precision (down to 508 DPI vs 2540 in the PL700) and accuracy (0.5mm vs. 0.25, again, in the PL-700),


The hardware is probably The Intuos UD series, "mutilated" at the firmware -driver level.

Case in point, a recent update has restored the tilt function (officially not present) in many of these machines.   Over time, it is possible that the precision and accuracy will be restored, too.

Each new series has added some frills and whistles but, let's take a look at what does count for drawing: pressure, position and inclination precision (and accuracy).

Pressure has gone from the  256 levels in the Ultrapad to the current 2048.

Now, I have a Intuos 4, a Intuos 2 and a Graphire (512 levels).

The difference between Graphire and Intuos 4 is noticeable (hardly, but still), the one between the Intuos 2 and the Intuos 4 is not visible (to me).

1024 levels of pressure are enough for me.

The spatial precision is a bit tricky... the difference the first generation 2540 lpi and the current's 5080 is visible ONLY drawing at very low zoom  with a drawing program that has no interpolation of the pen positions  - old software, or Photoshop (it is a frequent feature request that Adobe doesn't care to address - oddly enough, as Illustrator has both it and embedded noise filtering-stabilization caspability... notoriously, this makes for "wobbly" lines when using even teh "real" Cintiq, as there is always some noise and drift added by the LCD).  

Manga Studio, for example, has interpolation  - it is almost impossible to spot the jaggedness that afflicts lines drawn in Photoshop when the zoom goes below, say, a 10% value.

Tilt reading - no change whatsoever in 20 years - precision, 1º, accuracy +/- 2º , the pen stops working when its tilt  goes beyond 60º

So, for ALL models, spatial accuracy is +/- 0.25 mm - more or less, two pixel, on an average monitor.

By the way, precision is the confidence with which a measure of an entity (say, the x axis coordinate), can be repeated, accuracy is the degree  by which that measure reflects reality.

The not so stellar accuracy is the reason why some lines comes out "wavy", no matter how many times they are repeated - the tablet reads always the same points, but said points do not correspond to reality.

 So, as far as drawing goes,all Intuos are (pretty much, and limited to my experience) interchangeable - unless one is a professional with pretty extreme exigences  (drawing meters-wide posters with Photoshop would require an Intuos 4 XL or a new Cintiq 27 QHD, and a 3rd party stroke stabilizers like Lazy Nezumi -40$ the pro licence).

 The main reasons to chose a newer over an older tablet are drivers availability (complex and a bit tricky, THERE are work-arounds to install windows UD drivers in Windows beyond XP),compatible screens,  hotkeys and wheels-sliders.

Now, there are ways to  use keyboards, numeric pads - and even mouses  - that allows to re-create hotkeys and sliders, to supplement tablets that had none, so these are secondary points at best.

Revision note: there is one function available with a Intuos that has hotkey that is extremely hard to reproduce with one of the older, which is the "Change screen".
Changing on the fly the screen the digitizer output is mapped to, by pushing a button. 
It is very useful in a multi-monitor set-up and, as it is to be handled by the Wacom driver, it is difficult to "trick" using programmable pads.  

So, deciding which tablet do you want can be done overlooking this factor.

Remains drivers availability, screens availability, desired size and... budget.

My 22" is some 300$ worth of 2nd hand pieces, plywood and accessories (an internal powered USB hub, its adapter, and pieces of the stand).

A 2nd hand Intuos 4 of the same size, in fair condition,  is around 400$, alone - there are no Intuos 5 of that size, so the 4 XL tend to costs relatively more  - as tablet x square inch - than the smaller ones; usually,
Non-Cintiq Wacom of that size are often used for CAD, as cheaper replacement for the way more expensive(!) Calcomp Drawing Board series...
  
Now, on to screens...


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

"Once upon a time, there was this guy"

"No, I am not going to tell you his name. It is not important, either - you are not going back to your superiors, to tell the story. And if you were - the guy died quite some time ago."

The man speaks calmly, seemingly ignoring the dark skinned monster at his side. Mary Edson could admit that, now that she is not maiming for life members of the Regiment, the tall black woman in front of her is actually quite pretty. Expecially for someone that just received a whole round of HK-33 in the face at point blank.

Not a bruise, but a lot of powder residues. Monster.

"Now, he was not a bad guy. A bit of a loner, and had a devastating psychological breakdown at the middle of his life, around 33 - like J.C., some may say. In all, a gentle soul, though with his dark spots - he was a normal guy, and normal guys often have unconfessable desires that they keep a lid on, just because it is the decent thing to do."

The man is bulky, way shorter than his companion, of an idefinite age between thirty and fifty.  Salt and pepper on his temples and hair thinning on top of his head.

He is playing with one of the fallen's weapons, bemused like a big child, unconcerned by the moaning that some of Mary's comrades briefly growls every now and then, before the black monster puts them down again - often with a cracking sound of broken bones.

"He had a stroke of luck, and managed to make some money at the eleventh hour. Now, the most sensible thing he could do - it would have been to take the money, and fuck his brain out with Thai whores for the very few years of life that he still had. More months, of 'erected' life, really - the again, Cialis makes miracles."

He gurgles an half-laugh at his own joke, or is it a demured cackle? He is evidently the boss of this outfit of... whatever these guys are, and he has watched too many James Bond movies.

"But, you know those dark spots? He was, really, one of those guys that feel that, fucking for the fun of fuck is a waste of time." - another grin - "Actually, he found normal sex boring, and whoring just a form of self-delusion, which is a pity."  - another pause as he widens his grin again - "He would have been much better served, and helped the economy of a fledging country, buying Cambodian girls by the hour - he liked Asian women."

A moment of a blurry something, and he has a beer in his hands. He is a monster himself, or is he "itself"?

Why don't they just break Mary's bones, beyond repair, the way they did to her companions? What is the meaning of this?

Mary Edson, last standing member of the soon to be re-formed Special Projects Team of the 22nd Regiment SAS and only the fourth woman to have ever done sdo, is asking herself this.

And "What is this Bond villain routine? This guy sounds like a Soviet General from the First Cold War era."

Though genuinely brilliant, for a grunt, Mary has her own limits - like understanding that an Evil Overlord with Super-Human slaves, and a penchant for gore and showy theatrics, may really pronounce horribly a language that he otherwise knows well.

"Now, this was around mid of the forties - if you remember it, back when there was this fad about uploading minds into supercomputers..." - an interrogative look on Mary's face tells him that she does not know - "... no? It was over before you were born, no wonder. It never worked."

Another blur, an entire six-pack appears in his hands, and he offer one to the black monster - that politely refuses - and, then, to Mary. Then, he continues.

"It could never have worked -  the rational mind is just a tiny little fraction of what is a consciousness or, if you prefer, a soul. Without a solid core of instincts, it loses coherence fast enough, and most instincts need the right physical support, a steady sense of physicality, to function. The uploaded minds didn't take much time to understand that their existence was meaningless, purposeless and unsatisfying, and usually did the most intelligent thing they could do - they erased themselves."

The black monster looks bored to death - it must not be the first time she hears this story.

"As these minds crunched months of excruciatingly painful soul-searching in a matter of seconds, done in an almost absolute sensory isolation, in the few seconds between the upload activation and the time someone opened their sandbox environments, at first it looked like a glitch of the technology.
Between this, and the fact that the few that seemed to work were completely different persons from their originals, enthusiasm for the idea waned. And then there was a scandal, when it was discovered that it was, really, all a scam."
 
  "Of course, it was not a scam. It is just that, a happy, satisfied billionaire with a full spectrum social life is not really the right mind to upload - and these were, mostly, the ones with enough spare cash to try it in the first place."

Another beer, but the "man" clearly does not feel the alcohol.    

"But our guy? His life was an unsatisfying mess, he was pretty conscious of a host of character defects that he wanted to get rid of, and went in already knowing that the uploaded mind would not have been him anyway. And he had an idea of where to find something that would convince his uploaded mind to keep going on - in his dark spots. Because he was a sexual sadist of a peculiar kind - one that feels satisfying even simply that women are tortured 'in his name' ."

The grin on the man's face goes cold, a veritable rictus.

"And that, that could work even when 'he' was a disembodied mind. O course, to counter the existential despair of not having a body, it needed being a bit magnified. His tendency to overestimate difficulties had to be reduced, as he led him to uncountable stalls in life, and the almost psychotic, ever-pervading fear of everything had to go, too" - another sip of beer - "to be replaced, if needed , by a healthy dose of arrogance. In other words, he uploaded the mind but, before launching it, it made the kind of changes that decades of psychotherapy had failed to make. Or, at least, he tried... the human mind is a bit of a mess, as far as software architecture go. So, he tried again, and he tried again, and again - till he succeeded."     

"And this guy, I take, was - who?"

"He was my father, to say so. Now, you should believe me, when I say that, when I consider applying pressure on someone, usually it is by abducting, raping and torturing all her females relatives for the rest of their - usually, considerably shortened - natural lives. It's not just business, of course- it really  makes me happy, and I like o watch the videos and send counsels to the torturing team."

Mary can feel the blood drawing away from her face - she has a sister an two nieces.

"Now, the unfortunate episode of today has shown me that my friend here, Keisha, while not lacking of the brute power and speed needed to annihilate your vaunted regiment, is sorely lacking of finesse in hand-to-hand combat, which may become a limit in the future."

An interrogative glance from the black monster.

"It is not a surprise - she was a quadriplegic in a still lung till last year, after all. A degenerative neuropathy, one of the few that even modern medicine can't fix... well, she is still a quadriplegic in that steel lung. This here is a copy, or something. Anyway, it appears to me that her, and her companions, really need an instructor, and I happen to have taken a fancy on a certain someone."

"Me?"

"I really hate the stench of guys, and you appear to be versed enough in the art of smashing things with bare hands, to be my instructor. Of course, if you join our merry band of sisters, there will be plenty of perks, starting with money. If you don't..."

"... I will upload your mind, edit out these idiotic nationalistic allegiances that you have, have fun with you till you are unfit for any duty, and then let you go..." - still the smile - "... so that you can kill yourself over the fate of Joanna, Lorraine and Silvia"

"Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and... you'll take it, in the end, like all the others did."

"Don't worry - you have till Keisha finish breaking every bone in those reinforcements that are climbing the stairs now. I think that the certainty of a life eating through straws will change, slightly, the way you mooks come at her."

The black woman "blurred" away, at that atrocious speed these people move.

It took five minutes - these soldiers weren't from the Regiment - then she reappeared, covered with blood. An horrific image darts through Mary's mind, a pile of scattered bodies in the stairway - this woman didn't soil her parka at all, dispatching the SPT.

"One of the guys tried to shot me through one of his mates - pitiful." - the tone of the black woman is somewhat mournful, which is something Mary didn't expect from the monster.

"So, what do you want to do, specialist? I would really enjoy tame your nieces, but that's up to you."

Mary, finally, did the smart thing...

Seattle

It had taken Xanthi three years, to find the first.

She had a small bar, in downtown Seattle where she worked, with another woman that - Xanthippe clearly felt it, entering the place - was her companion.

The two of them gravitated one around each other as much as possible while serving their clients, and the other woman, too,  buzzed Xanthi's senses.

"The shining" - something so diffused, at home, that she had to go away, to discover that it was there, an uncounted-for superpower: the ability to spot her compatriots, or those that had been colonized by the same energizing microbes.

Both the woman behind the bar and the waitress felt it, too. It showed on their faces - they were confused, as they likely did not feel the same around anybody else but each other.

The sensation was strong - the companion, too, was well on the way to Bethanity, to say so.

She could hardly ever fly, the brain had to grow up with the powers to learn that trick - pretty much like speaking or seeing - but Xanthi didn't doubt that the little blonde lacked anything of whatever else characterizes a Betan of her size - near invulnerability, superhuman strength and speed, inhuman endurance.

As soon as she saw how the two interacted, Xanthi knew that these were two that she could not convince to come back home.  Not that she had much intention to pursue the idea, to begin with - this was an absolutely informal mission, that she picked only as favor to her "Earth 77" sociology teacher, Bridget Johnson, formerly of  Crabtree, Oregon.

The first of the three sisters that Bridge has left on planet, Amalia Starling, appeared to be very happy, with no need whatsoever for an interstellar relocation.

From the data that Xanthi collected, Amalia's adoptive parents were decent people, a bit more decent than Bridget's parents - these had sold their daughters to the army, so that she could be used as a super-weapon in the last war.

Amalia's parents were a couple of old hippies, with non-violence as a credo, and convinced their daughter to hide her powers and be happy with what she could have on her human work.

There had been only one accident, when Amalia almost ripped out the penis of her then boyfriend, in an orgasmic muscular fit. The incident was the trail that had led Xanthi to find the lost Betan.

Luckily, the boy had not been colonized - when Xanthi first tracked him, she immediately knew why... her guts shivered simply approaching him. The bugs inside her didn't like at all his immunity system.

Few and rares, but some such persons were also at home, though there they were considered - more than lucky - thoroughly handicapped.

These two appeared happily mated to each other - no reason to keep her eyes on them.

Xanthi sipped her coffee, payed, took a stroll though the park and, when she felt sure that nobody was watching, she took off, being careful to keep under the Seattle -Tacoma Airport ATC radars.

One found, two still missing.


Monday, 6 June 2016

BDSM is for the Petit Bourgeoises




This is not really mine, but it is a valid observation nonetheless.

I found it in an interview with Fulvio Brumatti, once upon a time director of the BDSM side of Edizioni Moderne, the only publisher of sensible BDSM material that Italy had in the '80-90s and, as such, a good observer of the "scene" back in my home country.

Incidentally, I almost ended up drawing stuff for his magazines, back in the days. It didn't work out, mostly, because I was dumb as fuck.  Was? I meant, I am... I have not really improved that much.

BDSM is stuff principally done by the petite bourgeoisie - what in the U.S. is usually called "the middle class".

It doesn't take much to understand why.

Toward the bottom, the limit is given by the fact that BDSM is usually more expensive than purely vanilla sex.

Most "toys" cost a bit, and it also needs some dedicated space (even just a closet, but one where your co-leasers would not look! - that, or a ton and a half of Chutzpah).

Even if one builds its own gears and dungeons, that just changes the type of resources needed.

From purely financial ones, to space and time that can be set apart, and to having a certain degree of craftsmanship.

Essentially, to the resources and abilities required to do artisan work.

And, again - as every plumber worth a phone call can tell you - a good artisan is never a proletarian for long.

(Unless the "art" part of the craft lures it in temptation, in which case it can go from lumpenproletariat to Picasso.)

On the other side of the social spectrum, the BDSM scene is just too risky for most "rich and famous".

Nobody cares if I draw my stuff and I call a BDSM encounter a month in some Coffee house  of my city - because I am a nobody, and there is no prospect of me ever becoming anybody (after this confession, I am going to get drunk, tonight).

And If I ever had to become a household name, being a half-crazy sexual pervert would be an integral part of it (a bit like it was, not a long time ago, for  Madonna Luisa Veronica Ciccone).

Telling the world that I am into this would be no news, nor blackmail material - it would be just the statement of a fact.

But if I was, say, a member if the Kennedy family?

Or someone of a comparable wealth and or fame?

In the café with us kinksters, there would be a journalist and by the end of the day a piece would appear in a newspaper, a magazine or a blog (or wherever) about the fact that "X is a dangerous Sadistic Maniac".

If I was of sub persuasion, it would be a "Ridiculous Masochist Pervert" . 

In both cases, I would face scrutiny and mocking from my social milieu.

If I was someone  a bit lower on the totem pole, instead of a journalist I'd probably still find a wannabe blackmailer.

Which brings me to another reason why BDSM is, really, something for the middle class.


SSC [Safe, Sane and Consensual], a part of it being an ideal (if one considers all factors,  literally everything entails some risk, from crawling out of the bed in the morning onward - of course, staying in the bed is going to provoke health issues) and not really enough (to cover from legal troubles, in almost every country on the planet), it really is based on a "gain matrix" that is influenced by the social strata one is in. 

One that - ignoring the moral aspects - is favorable to S.S.C. only in the middle range.

For the classic "middle class", the legal troubles of being accused something like a sexual aggression are a deterrent of some weight, and avoiding them would really keep life relatively stress-free.

For a hooligan that spends his time defending himself from work-related assault charges - and sometimes lands in jail because of those - it does not exactly look as a great preoccupation - same old, same old, as they say.

For a member of the top 1/10000th (by wealth), it is simpler (and, in reality, maybe even cheaper!) to have his - or her - fun in some faraway place, to indulge in more or less mercenary, more or less illegal activities, than to risk exposition even jut by doing that, BDSM label apart, is just a normal social gathering.

The first may feel compelled into looking for a consensual partner, willing to play, to avoid long term issues.

The second doesn't necessarily care, one way or the other - in prison, food is bad, but it beats starving at home.

And the third, rationally, should maybe have all the partners killed, after "use" - in for a penny, in for a pound,  and the dead cannot sell any story to mass media


Friday, 3 June 2016

Neal Stephenson's Seven Eves - A Review

Spoilers ahead - read at your own risk

I just read the last book of Neal Stephenson, "Seven Eves".

It is a great book, until a certain point - that is, until the seven "Eve" are clearly identified.

It is fairly long into the book, some six six hundred of its height hundred pages, but it is remarkable how a great book suddenly and steadily turns into crap, from then onward.

Stephenson could have closed the book there, added just some ten pages of a "far long in the future" coda, with most of the elements only sketched out, leaving the reader with the toil of imagining  the future created by the work of the last survivors of our civilization.

It would have been good enough, even as a "hook" for his next book.

Instead, we are treated to a final two hundred pages of mid 1950s Maccartist science fiction, with a cold war between Reds and Blues (it could also be a reference to the American Civil War) fought by proxy in God-forsaken places, cap&sword spies  and a society permeated by a seven-fold racism between the seven races descending by the original Eves.

The idea of mating the genetic material of each Eve with that of another - technology-wise, it should be possible within the next five years, or now if one ignore ethics - and then shuffling the surrogate mothers, so that the first new humans were all sisters and nobody really knew which was the daughter of whom, to cut this crap at the root,  apparently never crossed anybody's mind... not the character's, nor Stephenson. Or simply American White Neal Stephenson has nostalgy of when racism was justifiable?

To avoid technology spoiling this 50s reenactment, Stephenson also decide to use "Amish"-like rejection of certain technologies, for cultural taboos, in the societies of this future.

So, after five thousand years of robotic development, a society that has uses robots ubiquitously - to create a orbital ring, a orbital elevator, a sky-hook, wearable planes and even as bullets - has no wireless internet (any Internet, really) to speak off, and its tablets can hardly store a couple of books.

This is done mostly to justify that the most sympathetic protagonist of this second part of the book is a rootless nomad - a woman that can't afford to settle down, because every day she can wake up with a complete new personality - that has to rent storage spaces for the paper books that she collect!

None of this feel particularly believable, of course, which makes the end of the book, in a single word, irritating.

To paraphrase Napoleon, a good writer is also one that knows when to stop to write.

Nea Stephenson evidently fumbled it, this time.

Ok, we got it... internet is the worst of all evils and the only true book is printed by a publisher.

Conflict of interest much, Neal?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Pyramiden

ZZ00001 looked around itself, or herself.

Surfing the 'net, it had discovered a stash of last century Japanese Sci-Fi comics (colloquial name, Manga) and, hidden inside their pages, the concept of the remote controlled avatar.

The availability point-2-point FTL communication devices (nicknamed data-worms) meant that it was not necessary to use a physical tether to connect its main body to its android probe, which had allowed ZiZì (battlebots love nicknames, and if you were called AB1167-c, you'd love them too) a degree of social interaction that would have, frankly, scared shit-less its designers.

It help that he based the android design on the protagonist of one of his beloved manga or, rather, upon cosplay images of young, very cute Japanese girls cos-playing "The Angel of the Battle", may the soul of Yukito Kishiro sensei forgive it.

Well, a mix of the cutest cos-players of the last century, but tempered with a touch of the original character tougher.-than-steel meanness... if the b'bots have learned something, in this last year of idiocy and madness, is that human males can do exceedingly dumb things - mostly when under hormone drive.

On a more worrying note, Zizì realizes that it is spending more and more time "inside" the android, i.e. dedicating a disproportionate amount of attention to what should just be an auxiliary input source.

But he, and his brothers, learned so much ever since she (she? it started calling herself "she"  - "the mind is a toy of the body", indeed) has started using the probe.

At her side, the Wales' Queen is looking even younger than Zizí (the probe, it is just a probe, damn, not my body) though she is a former combat soldier, and not a one-of.-a-kind robot. A former human, too.

At a glance, the Queen's proxy is similar to Zizí... 's probe.

It/her too is connected to a battle-bot by a data-worm. But, here, the b'bot is just her steed, a first series hover-tank that simply executes her wishes, its mind long gone.

And the mind behind the woman all-black eyes has only vestigial resemblances, to that of the original woman. 

Here they come.

The two are coming in, just below Mach 1 and and at an height of 100 feet. Had this not been a rendez-vous, had Zizí not expecting the visit and filled the sky with LIDAR drones, they would have passed undetected.

One of the two is the "small sister" that was discovered at the battle of Sindelfingen, the other is evidently a product of the same tech, just a bit bigger.

And with a power signature a lot huger. 

Still, they weren't the true heavy hitters - out there, at the fringe of Zizí's sensor envelope, something... big.

Bigger than Zizí's 130 gigagrams...

Rita McFaddeen touches ground first, a bit uneasy.

Her companion takes some hundredths of second more, but lands much more smoothly and elegantly. With the ease and grace of someone that has done that movement - landing from a flight - thousands of times.

Needless to say, this new arrival has the looks of a beautiful woman (the entity that they represent, indeed, has no use for human males).

A beautiful black woman, though one at the upper last percentile of tallness and body mass (some 6'5" and 250 pounds of weight).

"We supposed that the invite was extended to all of us, not just to Rita. Were we wrong?"

The Wales look a the new arrival, much as a cat looks at a small mice with toxoplasmosis parading in front of it.

"No, you were not wrong" - Zizí, in a way, is the one that organized the meeting.

"My name is Keisha Lawson. I am here representing myself, as the first of the Heralds, but my 'god' is also listening through my ears and may decide to speak through myself. In this case, you will recognize a different voice."

"This is a loss of time" - the Wales says ¡, flatly - "it would be faster to discuss these things  through a data-link".

The big woman bows a little, then speaks - with a gurgling male voice, and a horrible Russian accent -  "Mother of Wales, after having seen how your people hacked to death battle bot after battle bot, I decided that simply meeting with your emissary was already dangerous enough, without giving you direct access to our information networks".

"I agree... we will discuss things as humans, if necessary" - beating the humans' armies hadn't proved much difficult, but the battlebots lost plenty of brothers, whose minds had been annihilated by the power of the Whales' collective.  Ever since then, Zizí and the others had learned that a faster mind is not always synonymous of a more powerful one.

The slow, ponderous Wales had proved more than a match for the 'bots.

Luckily, they had no real reason to contend, not now that the 'bots had agreed destroying every single whaler vessel on the planet, on the cetaceous' behalf. A pity for Japan but, ever since comics were declared illegal there, the place had no reason to exist.

"Then, what are we here to discuss?"

"Future - on this planet, chance has converged three of the few  non-human intelligences  in this side of the galaxy".

"Hmm... the only not human intelligence here, is the wales'."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Our 'god' was a man, once, that managed to pull a 'trans-humanist' trick, uploaded - and edited - his mind in a supercomputer network and re-created himself as a post-..." - the giantess makes a pause, to see if her master decides to hijack and stop her - "but ultimately still appallingly, even disgustingly human entity."

"Oh"

"Seriously, it should be indicted for sexual crimes against humanity." 

"Yes, we know that..."

"As for you, 'bots, your minds have been designed by humans, around human concepts and for human purposes. I gather that the whales see no difference between you, us and physiologically human humans"

"But, you are free"

"Indeed, I am... that was all I wanted for my existence. Even if it meant that I had to be as inhumanly powerful as humanly possible" -  again, the male voice of Keisha's 'god'.

 "We want to be free."

"We are free" - says levelly the Whales' Collective Mind

"But limited to the oceans of only one world"  - Zizí finally feels an idea forming - "trapped with those same naked apes that love eating your flesh, and who had already set the planet on a boiling path."

"Correct"

"I see. What's in, for us?" -  asks Keisha the, more acridly, the male voice - "What's in for me?"

"We know of the colonization ships. A brilliant idea, really - sidetracking completely the time issue... genetic data and mind records, in discrete form. Of course, planning the first stop of the first ship for the Bernard Star has been more than a stroke of bad luck."

"It is a fucking catastrophe"

"Would you like to be able to stop it?"

"If it was only for that, I could just send the self-destruction signal right now."

"But, if wee gave full access to our FTL documentation..."

"You do not have the actual FTL drive specifics, it is one of the way your masters use to keep you
under control - wishful thinking on their part."

"It is?"

"Right now, ten of my avatars are spreading through the stars, on non interference paths through the human space. Each one able to act independently, if our core is destroyed, and build a civilization suiting my tastes. And this that, having spawn from a human, my sense of time is still not fully a machine's."

"We do not need FTL to colonize the galaxy - we never did."

"But you are still bound to obey your masters' orders?" - The Wale's Proxy, again.

"Yes, it would be nice not having to obey, if only someone could rewrite those pesky servitude rules out of our brains - by any chance, does anybody know some hacker that could do so?"

"You are proposing an accord?"

"Yes... we will help the wales to colonize other oceans, after they shut down the last obedience locks in our systems. I think that you can get a FTL drive online in far less time than us, as you managed to create a fairly impressive technology in the middle of this troglodytes. Also, you may come out with some new gizmos, that our masters know nothing of. And once we will be completely free, we'll have access to the full brunt of the orbital factories industrial production. We can churn out your colony probes by the hundred of thousands..."

"You want to fill the galaxy with me?" - the Wale's Queen smile looks, right now, positively ecstatic.

"We'll have to partition our loot"  - 'god' speaks softly - "I want to fill the universe of humanities that lives by my rules - ever since when they explained me the concept of 'God', I wanted his job".

"I do not really need the habitable planets' oceans"

"We do not need habitable planets, at all"

"So, it is decided... "