VocalID Certificate – 3500

I got another certificate! VocalID has sent me a certificate commemorating my reaching the lofty goal of 3500 phrases recorded for their Voicebank. VocalID is a company that is collecting voices that can be used to build personalized voices for people who need them. See my original post on VocalID.

edit: VocalID sent me an email congratulating me:

Wow, Jim

You have completed your Voicebank Contribution and earned the final Level 6 Contributor milestone.

I did it. I made it. I have completed the recordings of my voice necessary for it to be useful in their aim of providing individualized voices to those in need. Yay me!


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Drought Postponed

“Enchanted Light | New Mexico” by Jim Crotty is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Since last time, when the jet stream looped far up to the north of us and the drought level was set at 2, or dry, we have had a series of systems run through here bringing clouds and rain. The jet stream has waved back and forth over our area, channeling that series of storms, and now it has dropped down south of us. The upshot of all that is that we’ve had quite a bit of rain. We might end up recording more than the historical average for September by the time we’re done, although the temperature continues to trend above average. I think it’s safe to extrapolate the drought level, which was still at 2 a couple of weeks ago, to be 1, normal, now.

It’s a relief. Our lawn appreciates it, as do our trees and other plantings. Our forests surely appreciate it, as the wildfire danger rating falls. The fire east of town, as reported in the last drought report, is contained, though still smouldering. I think we can confidently say that the threat of a serious drought has been postponed. The experts still warn, though, that the land is still dry. This recent spate of rain hasn’t done much to change that. Still, the moisture feels good.


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The Prime – Proofreading Done

I’ve just done my last pass of the proofreading and editing of The Prime. The corrections were getting pretty trivial, so I decided it was time to move on. Now I’m going to try something new with this book. With my previous books I went on from final proofing to formatting the final presentation version of the ebook. Only after that did I record it for the audiobook. My reasoning was that it was a lot easier to make corrections to text than to audio, so don’t do the recording until you have the final text version complete. That is changing this time. I’m going to use the reading and recording as the final proofing. Reading it out loud can sometimes expose errors or awkwardness, so it will give me one last chance to improve it before releasing it into the wild. On the downside, it means a longer wait for publication. On the upside, it means a shorter wait for the audiobook after publication.

There’s something else I have to sort out. The Prime has been my working title, and I’ve begun to think of it as the real title, but I’m not sure about that. I’ve been trying to think of something to replace it with, but nothing is coming to me yet.

No problem, right? Lotsa time.


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It seems you can’t talk about entropy without mentioning the second law of thermodynamics. That law states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. This creates the asymmetry between the past and the future, the irreversibility of natural processes and the arrow of time. It is entropy that ensures that, on the macroscopic scale, time can only pass in one direction — from a state of lower entropy to one of higher entropy.

This is often simplified to define entropy as the increase in disorder with time. This is particularly favored by creationists who latch onto their own simplified version of the second law to convince themselves that evolution is impossible. Their version of the second law, usually stated something like, “Disorder increases over time,” assures them that a supernatural power is required to support life and evolution. Coupled with their mistaken belief that evolution is a force for directed improvement, this explains some of the crazy things they say.

Can you see where they went wrong in appealing to the second law? That’s right. They left out the part about where it applies to an isolated system. An open system, such as the Earth, can receive energy from an outside source, like the sun. Under those conditions the total entropy on Earth can certainly decrease, but only because the total entropy of the Earth-sun system is increasing as the sun dissipates its energy. Their other mistake is to misinterpret “can never decrease” as “always increases.” This whole process of misunderstanding and misinterpreting and misusing the second law is unironically a very good demonstration of entropy, which can never decrease in a closed mind.

The reason entropy is linked to thermodynamics is that it started out as a description of waste heat or energy loss in steam engines and other mechanical devices. Such things are never 100% efficient at turning energy into work, and the people working on the problem needed a term for their bookkeeping. It was only later as we understood more about the physics underlying thermodynamics that other definitions, such as “disorder,” evolved. It also applies to the dispersal of concentrated energy, and even the dispersal of particles.

Another way to define entropy is as the amount of energy (usually thermal energy) in a closed system that is unavailable to do work. You can have a lot of energy in a closed system — a boiler, for instance — but if the energy is evenly distributed throughout the system, then there’s no way you can get it to do work within the closed system. Therefore it has high entropy. The only way to get work out of it is to pair it up with an external system that is at a different energy level, and then tap into the energy that is transferred between them as they seek equilibrium.

Here is one more way to think of entropy. When a system is in a configuration that has few ways for its parts to be arranged, it has low entropy. A configuration that has many possible arrangements has high entropy. So a glass of water that has an ice cube in it has lower entropy than the glass of water after the ice cube has melted. In the first, all the coldest water is in the ice cube — fewer ways to do that, lower entropy. In the second, all the water is evenly distributed at the same temperature — more ways to do that, higher entropy.

So, entropy is inexorably increasing in the universe overall. It can decrease locally under the right conditions, but only at the expense of a greater increase elsewhere. It doesn’t prevent evolution, which actually depends on increasing entropy. It is entropy that tells us which way time flows — from low to high.


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Canadian Environment Minister Given Extra Security


Arielma Barbie — CC-BY-SA

via Catherine McKenna: Canada environment minister given extra security – BBC News


Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister, has been given extra security as she and her family endure threats against their safety. She has been accosted online and on the street, threatened with violence, including sexual violence, by people who think epithets like “Climate Barbie” are clever. Well, maybe they are. Maybe you had to be there?

Catherine McKenna said in one recent incident a man in a car pulled up alongside her and her children, swore and called her a “climate Barbie”.

She said she had received messages that included sexualised insults and threats against her family. In person she has been called an enemy, a traitor and a “communist piece of garbage”.

And it’s not just ordinary guys attacking her.

Two years ago Canadian Conservative MP Gerry Ritz apologised to Ms McKenna after calling her “climate Barbie”.

I wonder if the guy in the car voted for Mr Ritz.

Greta-Thunberg-imageBROKER⁄Christian Mang⁄Newscom

Ms McKenna is not the only person to be attacked by these people. As reported in this post, Greta Thunberg has been subjected to the same treatment. Ms Thunberg has become a symbolic leader for young people who are alarmed at the mess we’re leaving for them. She and others have received threats similar to those given to Minister McKenna. Ms Thunberg is setting an example for people her age. What kind of example are her abusers, and those abusing Ms McKenna, setting for children, and who’s example are they following?

Check out the BBC article for the rest of the story.


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Seasons #1

“as you like to say” by Bettina Güber, Jeff Reeve is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

A saucy glance over the shoulder, the last of summer.


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Young Climate Activists Facing Hate

Greta Thunberg: Why are young climate activists facing so much hate?

Greta Thunberg has been viciously attacked, as noted in this post, but she’s not the only one. Those putative grown-ups who don’t like to be told that they might be responsible and might have to change their behavior are attacking all the children who dare to point those things out. The nastiness is toxic. Here are some examples:

Ms Thunberg is not the only eco-activist under fire, though. Four young climate campaigners told the BBC of the abuse they have been subjected to. One was compared to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels while another said she had been racially abused.

Joshua Nevett of BBC News asks:

These environmentalists have asked difficult questions of politicians, and been ruthlessly derided for doing so. With hostility heightening, why are young climate activists facing so much hate?

Looking at what the children are saying and what their adult attackers are saying, I think it’s clear who are acting like children and who are acting like adults. Go read the BBC article for the whole story.

Why are young climate activists facing so much hate? – BBC News


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Guest Post – Skunks and Chickens

Credit Ben FrantzDale – CC-BY-SA

Guest Post

From time to time I will be publishing posts from guest authors whose writings I think will interest people. Of course, all opinions and assertions in these posts belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily agree with mine. Please direct your praise and criticism to the author. — rjb

Today’s guest author is Laird Smith

Laird Smith

Before I begin I would like to remind you to check out the free novels and audiobooks while you’re on the Green Comet website.

Last column, I wrote about chickens. This time around I want to introduce to you a critter who gets a great deal of blame for things it has not been guilty of. That critter is the skunk. It is an opportunist and its smell betrays its presence.

I’ve heard the stories about how skunks kill chickens, how skunks eat chicken eggs, but I have a difficult time believing those stories after seeing the opposite happen in our family farm chicken pen.

My Dad, whom I will call Wally, was feeding the chickens one afternoon when he smelled the distinct odor of skunk. He went into the hen house and the odor was much stronger. Wally looked around but saw no skunk until he crouched down and looked under the roosting bench. There crouched in the corner was a skunk glaring at him. Not wanting to cause the skunk to have a reason to spray him, he let it be. Wally had heard the stories of the killer skunks too. Now was the time to see if the stories were true. Wally went about his usual routine, filling up troughs and the water buckets, and making sure the hens were happy. The hens were not disturbed at all by the presence of the skunk.

The next day, when Wally went down to give the hens their breakfast, there were no dead hens. When he gathered the eggs, he collected the usual numbers, none were missing that he could tell. In the late morning when Wally released the birds to forage there were still no missing hens. When he collected the last of the morning egg laying, he found no shells and collected the usual number of eggs.

The second day was the same as the first, no missing hens nor any missing eggs. When Wally entered the hen house, the skunk was always in the corner. Neither made a move to disturb the other.

The third day arrived. Guess what. No dead chickens and no missing eggs! It turned out that the skunk was feeding on the prolific mice in the hen house. The hens were still not stressed out by the presence of the skunk. They went in and out of the hen house freely without any hesitation. If the skunk had been a threat to the hens in any way, they wouldn’t have gone into the hen house to lay their eggs nor roost at night.

When Wally went down to close up the chicken pen for the night, he took a flashlight and shined it under the roosting bench. To his surprise the skunk was gone. It seemed that three days of eating mice and drinking out of the water bucket was enough for the skunk. It was time to seek other food in other locations.

This skunk had every opportunity to kill a chicken or steal an egg but didn’t do so. I would say that the rumours of skunks killing chickens and stealing eggs is because of their smell betraying them. If a skunk found a dead chicken, why wouldn’t it stop for a free meal that another animal killed and then abandoned for some reason? A chicken is a bird that is too big for a skunk to try to kill anyways, and mice are much easier to tackle.

So there you have it, my story about why skunks are wrongfully blamed.

Laird Smith

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The Prime — Fulltime Report

I have written the last chapter of The Prime. The novel comes in at about three or four thousand words over the sixty thousand I was aiming for, so that’s not bad. This time, though, I might end up with a net addition of words after the final proofing and editing, rather than the net subtraction I normally have. Restricting myself to so few words might have resulted in leaving some areas a little sparse. That increases my respect for authors like Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard who seem to be able to do it with ease.

Next up is proofreading and polishing this last part of the book, then I’ll be doing the same to the whole novel. I think I’ll be taking some time away from it before that, though, to see if I can come to it with fresh eyes. As always, I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like as a whole. Like an artist stepping back from the canvas after doing the close work.

Heads up, Tallgrass, here I come.


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Guest Post – On Chickens

Credit Ben FrantzDale – CC-BY-SA

Guest Post

From time to time I will be publishing posts from guest authors whose writings I think will interest people. Of course, all opinions and assertions in these posts belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily agree with mine. Please direct your praise and criticism to the author. — rjb

Today’s guest author is Laird Smith

Before I begin on my story, allow me to mention that this article is published with gratitude to the Green Comet website. The publisher, Jim Bowering, is also an author who has written a most intriguing series under the Green Comet name. I would encourage you to read them.

Laird Smith

There is much being said about chickens these days, raising chickens that is. Not just raising them on a farm but raising them in town in individuals’ back yards. I grew up on a tree fruit farm where my parents also raised chickens for eggs and for meat.

Every spring my father bought 24 Leghorn chicks, all females. We had a pen near our house so we could monitor them easily. The pen was cat proofed because once a stray killed almost every chick in the pen. When the killing started, the cat was overcome with excitement and bloodlust as terrified chicks darted here and there until only the hidden ones were safe. The next day my shocked father removed the live chicks and left the dead ones where they lay. He then set a trap for the chick killer while leaving the forced entry open. The next day yielded a feral cat. My father dealt with the animal and he made double sure the pen was secure from that day on.

We bought more baby chicks for a total of 24. They grew fast into pullets. As soon as they started laying eggs they were moved into the adult chicken pen. This pen had an outdoor chicken run as well as an indoor roosting house with a third of the building having cubicles in which the hens laid their eggs. The eggs were collected twice every day, once in the morning during the first feeding and in the afternoon because sometimes they returned to a cubicle to lay an egg. Sometimes we had to reach under a hen to collect the eggs while she was waiting for the one she was going to lay. The number of daily eggs collected was between two and three dozen. We ate some ourselves and sold what we couldn’t eat.

The adults didn’t lay eggs every day like the pullets did. Some of the adult hens — broody chickens they are known as — got the idea that they wanted to raise a family. They would sit on those unfertilized eggs and cackle. They were so loud they could be heard from the family farm house which was 150 meters away. That was a signal to us that we were going to have chicken dinner soon, for there was no way to dissuade those chickens from sitting on their eggs. They refused to lay any more and would peck anyone coming near their nests. For those wanting to raise chickens in town, you are going to encounter broody chickens. Think of your neighbors 150 meters around you. What are they going to think about your cackling hens?

The Leghorns were the best layers, however, if they saw one speck of blood on another chicken, they would peck that bird to death.

Our chickens were fed a mash pellet — wheat grain and oyster shell which strengthened their egg shells. They always had a pail of water in the fenced chicken run as well as a pail in the roosting house. As a treat, we fed them table scraps which they loved! They always had the run of the land where the fruit trees grew. We released them to forage at 10am, after they had finished laying their eggs. The wheat was served at their 5pm meal. To call the chickens in, we would loudly bang a tin can on the side of the feed storage hut. They would come running from all directions, some even flying briefly in their haste to arrive in the speediest fashion to feast on the grain. It was served in the chicken run so when they were finished they could either go roost or go and forage some more. The older ones went to roost and the younger ones departed to forage.

After dark, one of our family members would go and close up the pen to make it secure for the night. Sometimes the pullets chose to sleep in the fruit trees instead of the roosting house. Using a broom handle, we poked them out of the trees and made them go into the chicken run, and then made sure all the gates were closed. The next day the cycle started all over again.

Laird Smith

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