Statements About Questions Are Not Questions

Statements About Questions Are Not Questions

Here’s a pet peeve of mine: the use of a question mark when you are actually making a statement about your query or curiosity.

For example, I wonder if it will rain tomorrow. Note the lack of a question mark.

Most would write, “I wonder if it will rain tomorrow?” This isn’t a question, it’s a statement.  I wonder if it will rain tomorrow.

If I’m asking a question, I would frame it this way:

“I wonder, will it rain tomorrow?”

I’ve asked an actual question, and therefore I use a question mark. So why does this bother me so much?

Because it’s a sign of intellectual laziness, not of just one person, which is bad enough on its own, but of English speakers as a whole. If people keep doing it, it will become part of the definition of the language to do this, but it flies in the face of logic. The fact that this is a happening isn’t so bad on its own, but it is symptomatic of larger flaws in our society, a sort of erosion of the principles of reason in what we sometimes tout as the Age of Reason.

When I told a friend about my concerns, she said, “My English teacher insisted that was a question and needed the ? mark.”

I replied that her English teacher was quite wrong, and here is why:

The sentence structure belies that. If you replace the object, subject and conjunction but retain the grammatical structure of the sentence, you can derive something like, “I depend on it to rain.” It’s still not a question, and the sentence structure is not a question. There’s no querant in either case. Simply stating “I wonder” does not make it a question, any more than using any other verb in that sentence structure. It’s a statement about wondering, not a question in and of itself.

The word “wonder”, in this case, is a subjunctive verb. The English subjunctive is a special, relatively rare verb form that expresses something desired or imagined. We use the subjunctive mainly when talking about events that are not certain to happen. For example, we use the subjunctive when talking about events that somebody wants to happen, or anticipates will happen.

Statements do not get question marks, therefore the sentence “I wonder if it will rain tomorrow” does not get one. Q.E.D.

The counterpoint to this is that there is a difference between expository writing and dramatic writing. The question mark indicates the tone of the speaking character’s voice, because the character does indeed intend it to be a question.  My friend Joseph Ksander commented:

“This is not a spoken english problem, but a written one. ‘I wonder if it will rain tomorrow’ is in the first person, and has narrative value. And one would argue that the tone of the statement is interrogative (it absolutely is). So when writing, especially in narrative, we are allowed a certain amount (quite a lot) of poetic license to give words and phrases meaning beyond the literal. By giving ‘I wonder if it will rain tomorrow?’ an interrogative mark, we give the reader a hint of how it would sound coming out of a character’s mouth. It has the feeling of a question, and writing is at least as concerned with creating feeling as it is with conveying meaning.”

There is, as Joe points out, a difference between the written word and the spoken word, and using the written word to illuminate the spoken word.

I doubt that my words will have much of an affect. One can only hope that reasonable voices are occasionally heard, but Joe is right, it all depends on context.

I wonder what will happen.

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Things I Learned About My Ender 3

Things I Learned About My Ender 3

I’m on an Ender 3 support group on Facebook, and nearly all the comments in this group asking for help are from people who did not follow the instructions when doing the setup on their Ender 3’s in the first place. Those who are meticulous about getting the frame absolutely square and the belts as tight as they can get them without binding everything up are getting superior results.

If you’ve just bought an Ender 3, there are a few things you’ll probably want to do or try at some point.

  1. Make sure your frame is square. I’m serious. 90% of the problems you’re likely to have with your prints will derive from not having properly assembled the gantry.

  2. Make sure your bowden tube is properly trimmed (and by this I mean trimmed off exactly square) and then fully inserted into your hot end.  This one error will make your life hell. If you don’t get this exactly right, you’ll get plastic plugs where your filament heats up and jams your bowden tube, requiring you to partially disassemble your hot end and possibly trim back your bowden tube to get past the clog. Having the bowden tube properly trimmed and properly inserted mostly stops this from happening. There are “fixes” to get around the clog problem, but in general they just add additional points of failure and rarely work as well as setting up your bowden tube properly in the first place.

  3. Replace the plastic extruder clamp with a metal one. Some printers have an extruder arm made entirely of plastic. They’re cheap, usually under $20, but the filament tends to saw through the plastic clamps over time. Sooner or later you’ll want to replace it. Newer ones have a brass liner in there that stops the filament from doing that.

  4. If your printer has to live inside, get a silent controller board. This makes your printer so quiet that you’ll have to do an eyeball check to see if it’s still even printing, it’s so quiet. They’re about $40. However, these silent boards can also prevent you from making linear advance calibrations that can improve the quality of your prints, so you may find yourself with a choice of quality versus machine noise while printing.

  5. Print a fan cowling for your CPU box to keep crap from falling into your controller box through the vent fan. Newer Ender 3’s have the vent on the bottom of the controller box, so it’s not a problem – but the older types have the slots on the top. It’s amazing how much crap can fall in there.

  6. Print a muffling fan cowling for your power supply box. This will drop the fan noise made by the machine by half. Be careful – doing a poor job reassembling your fan with its new housing can make it worse, not better.

  7. Order more bowden tube, and more nozzles, and more pneumatic clamps. These things wear out, and after about four to five months of use, they’ll start to screw up your prints. You do not want to be stuck without spare parts if you’re in the middle of a paying print job and something breaks.

  8. Get a glass build plate.  Go to your local dollar store, and buy a cheap 9×9 square picture frame. Take the glass out of it, and throw the rest of the frame away. The picture frame glass is a quarter the weight of the official Creality glass bed and causes far fewer problems with Y-axis ringing due to its much lower inertia. Alternatively, go to IKEA and get a 1′ mirror tile, then go to your local home improvement store and get a glass cutter so you can cut the mirror tile down to the size of your printer’s bed. If you’d rather use the Creality build plate, don’t be afraid to flip it over and use the untextured side. It’ll leave a mirror-smooth bottom surface on your parts!

  9. Don’t use tape on your print bed. Tape is a substitute for proper bed leveling, and solves problems that haven’t existed since the introduction of heated, adjustable beds. The only time you might want to use it is if you’re using something other than PLA in your printer that sticks like mad to your printing surface, such as PETG. The tape will let you remove the part without breaking your glass.

  10. If you’re having particular problems getting your PLA to stick to the glass, try a fine mist of Aquanet. It’s cheap, and compared to fiddling with the bed leveling to get it precise to the last 0.01mm, it’s a fast solution that gets you on your way and printing parts again. Some purists think this is cheating, because you can resolve sticking issues with better bed leveling, but if you have to get the parts out the door, there’s nothing wrong with doing something quick that works so you can get on with your life.

    If it feels stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid.

  11. Buy eSun PLA+ filament for printing. It runs about 10° C hotter than the usual stuff, produces much more precise, clean prints, and costs exactly the same as whatever you’re using.

  12. Don’t grind your filament to death. One of the things that can happen if you try to drive your printer too fast, is that you can exceed the structural integrity of the filament as it passes by the gear in your extruder. If the extruder can’t feed the filament through the print head fast enough, it’ll start digging a hole in the side of the filament at the extruder head, and then you are basically and royally screwed, and your print has failed.

  13. If you think vibration damping is something you need, buy a $5 yogo mat, cut it into 1 foot squares, and put a stack of four or five squares under your printer. It will kill a lot of the noise and vibration your printer makes, and may well improve the quality of your prints.

  14. Make sure your belts are as tight as you can get them. Don’t worry, you won’t break them. Tight belts means more precise motion and better prints.

  15. Experiment with printing at stupidly thin layer heights. I started experimenting with 0.08mm layer heights, and people I show the prints to, even other 3d printer owners, are amazed that these are 3d printed objects.

  16. Special fan housings generally do very little, and on the whole don’t improve print quality enough to bother with. Minor tweaks in your slicer settings usually have a much broader effect.

  17. It is possible for an Ender 3 to not want to print because it’s too cold to start with. If your printer lives in the garage or workshop, as mine does, it’s probably not in a heated environment – and that means that it can get down to under 10°C and chill your temperature sensors to the point where the printer’s firmware thinks something must be broken, and you’ll get a MINTEMP error. You could have a bad thermister, or a bad connection trace to it on the motherboard, or a bad connector, but the first thing to try is just bringing the thing inside and letting it warm up a bit. I did this and once I got the temperature of the printer up above about 8°C, the printer realized its sensors weren’t broken, and it started right up.

  18. Get a Raspberry Pi and load it up with a webcam and Octoprint. Being able to run your printer without having to be in the same room with it is heaven. Being able to move your printer to your garage or workshop is even better.

  19. Having trouble with weird surface artifacts in your prints? Slow down. This is especially true of specialty filaments like silks or silk metallics. They are extremely sensitive to print speed, and what looks like a hopeless print may come out perfectly if you cut the print speed in half.

  20. Have to paint your prints, but don’t like the way the parts smell afterwards? Sometimes the client wants it painted, and it’ll smell bad for quite a while once you do. White vinegar will get the smell out of the painted surfaces while not endangering the finish. Be sure to rinse off the white vinegar, or your parts will smell like vinegar instead of paint.

  21. Don’t bother with vibration damping feet for your printer,or special angled mounting arms for your filament spools. By in large these do nothing but waste your time and materials.

  22. Octoprint suddenly won’t connect to your 3d printer? It could be the USB voltage levels. What’s happening is that it matters what order you connect your printer to your Octoprint device. If you turn on your Raspberry Pi and plug it into your printer before your printer is powered up, the motherboard in the printer will draw just enough power to make the voltage levels required to detect your printer as a USB device too low to actually do the job. 

    The fix is to disconnect the USB cable, power on the Octopi and the printer separately, and once you’re sure the Octopi is booted, then and only then connect the USB cable between the Pi and the Printer. Now the Pi will be able to detect the printer as a USB device, and all will be well.

Check back here periodically. I’ll be updating this list of tips as I go, and you may find out something new you didn’t know before.

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3d Printing Opens Vistas

3d Printing Opens Vistas

September saw the arrival of a new Creality Ender 3 3d printer at the Krypton Radio head office. The intent was to create new things to offer as station swag and perhaps create a new line of bespoke merch, something along the lines of props and costume pieces that people might want to buy from us.

I’ve been having a blast with it, and I’m trying to find new ways to use it that will benefit the company and myself. It’s a new creative tool I can use to bring daydreams into the real world.

The Lightsaber

I’d always wanted one of these, from the first time I saw one in 1977’s Star Wars, but the goal had always been out of reach. I printed one. This is the one carried by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. 3d printers print in layers, so there are layer lines. You just sand the heck out of it and hit it with primer, and you’d never know it was 3d printed.

I’m working on modifying this one to add electronics to it, but I may just go with a completely different design, one that already supports the idea of adding a blade.

Sabacc Gambling Coins

These replica coins from the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story were printed in black PLA, like the light saber, then painted with black primer, then I added Rub’n’Buff. I hand-sewed a bunch of bags and put 18-20 coins in each one, and gave them to friends and family when we went to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge last month for Life Day on November 18.

My friends and I had a lot of fun giving them to cast members and watching their reactions, which ranged from gratitude to amazement.

I later found out that the Imperial credits were about half-sized, so I’ll be fixing that on future batches, but having bags of these was really something. I looked for a sabacc deck in the shops while I was there, but none of them had the decks in stock.

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism  is an ancient Greek analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes decades in advance. It gets its name from the Greek island off the coast of which the device was found. It was fished out of the sea in 1901, and assumed to be some kind of archeological mistake – it couldn’t possibly be from ancient Greece, could it? They didn’t have computers – or did they?

The largest piece is this one. It’s about eight inches wide, and seven inches tall, something around there. That’s what I’m currently making.

The instrument is believed to have been designed and constructed by Greek scientists, and was made sometime around 70-60 BC. It was housed in a wooden box, about 13.4″x7.1″x3.5″, and they know this because they found bits of the box around it. After conservation, it came apart into 82 separate fragments, four of which contain gears, like this largest piece.

The Antikythera Mechanism originally had at least 30 meshing bronze gears, and up to 37 gear wheels that helped the device keep track of astronomical bodies like Mars, the Sun, and the Moon. It could predict eclipses, and could tell you when the next Olympic Games were going to be. It was extremely accurate as well, correctly reporting subtle variations in the lunar orbit, for example.

The device, housed in the remains of a 34 cm × 18 cm × 9 cm (13.4 in × 7.1 in × 3.5 in) wooden box, was found as one lump, later separated into three main fragments which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation works. Four of these fragments contain gears, while inscriptions are found on many others. The largest gear is approximately 14 centimetres (5.5 in) in diameter and originally had 223 teeth.

All known fragments of the Antikythera mechanism are now kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, along with a number of artistic reconstructions and replicas of the mechanism to demonstrate how it may have looked and worked.

My version started as Cosmo Wenman’s rough layout model of it, about the right shape, but with technically accurate placements of the bronze gears and metal features. Wenman’s finished version makes use of a lot of post-printing texturing and paint, but I brought it into ZBrush and added corrosion detail geometry before sending it to my printer, so a lot of the details on mine will be already there when the printing is done. That will will take two and a half full days on my Ender 3 3d printer.

I thought for a while that my version might be too big, but I took a quick measurement of the main gear while it was on the printer, and yeah, it does look like it’s about five and a half inches across, meaning that the size of my replica artifact is probably pretty close to the real thing.

Once it’s done, it gets a little cleanup with a brush to remove tiny filament strings, artifacts of the printing process. Then it gets painted, and I have purchased an artist’s airbrush and compressor for the purpose. Whatever details that didn’t make it into my sculpt I can probably fudge with paint. I figure once I get going it will take about a full day to paint it properly.

The lighting here shows off the printing artifacts on the surface are going to be sanded off. There’s a lot of handwork to go before I can put any paint on this, and only a few days to go before I deliver it.

Rather than sand it all down, I used acrylic sculpting medium instead and just filled in the raster lines from the printing. Then I painted it all flat black, then airbrushed it and added some finishing touches of Rub’n’Buff to make some of the details pop. My airbrush work is – well, I need a ton more practice, let’s put it that way.

Walt Disney

At Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, there is a sculpture garden decorated with bronzes of famous Disney characters. One of them is a bust of the great man himself. Somebody took a 3d scan of it, and converted it into a geometry file, and being the fan of his work and the man himself as I am, I had to print a copy of it.

One of these days I’m going to print a really big one. The model is actually a lot better than the resolution of my printer can cope with at this size. Still, it’s gorgeous, and I’ve given away three copies of this thing to my Disney-fan friends so far.

I’m sorry you’re not still here, Walt, The world could use you. I’m doing my best to try to follow in your footsteps, but I’m not doing it very well, I’m afraid. I just don’t have the reach you did – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. The world needs every bit of magic we can muster.

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Finally, I’m a Director

Finally, I’m a Director

This is not how I thought this was going to go.

My first director’s credit was supposed to happen 30 years ago. That’s how I saw it all happening in my head, anyway. But I quickly found out that unless you’re born into the system at the right level of connectivity, that’s just not going to happen. If you have responsibilities to anyone but yourself, it’s just not in the cards, because you can’t risk letting them down.

And so it went, until I was 61, and I was finally in a position in my life to try something, because at this point I had to try something to move forward because nothing else was working anyway. And what I did was this.

Aphrodite and Ben from ‘Mighty Aphrodite!’

I created an animated web series almost on a whim, using a machinema engine that ran on my phone. We made a Kickstarter, it succeeded, and by the time we’re done we’ll have four animated episodes, about 3 minutes long each.

Gone with the Wind it is not. But it’s real, and it’s mine, and it’s my first producer’s credit, my first writer’s credit, my first director’s credit. As small a project as this thing is, I brought this into being by sheer force of will, and with the help of my wife Susan (without whose support it wouldn’t have been possible, and without whose participation it would have suffered from a character arc standpoint), and my actor and voice actor friends, we made a thing. It’s up on IMDB now, and it gives proper credits to everyone who worked on it.

The thing is, in my 20’s I thought I was going to be a director by the age of 30. I went to film school, graduated from UCLA, concentrated on screenwriting because it was cheaper than paying for all that film lab work, and I had a bunch of friends at the time who were all going into terrible debt paying for their student films. So I got my degree and out into the world I went.

And part of it was because UCLA at the time was not all that great a film school, and part of it was because I lacked the industry connections to make any impression on anybody, but my career foundered after that, and I went into computer programming and game development instead, and it was only after years of that that I finally came back full circle. Computers were now being used to make movies with, and I sort of slipped in the back door while nobody was looking and ended up with some 30 odd film credits. Unfortunately since I was working for an often neglected department in a very large studio, I almost never got screen credit for the work I did.

No matter. I still did the work, I still learned what a world class organization looked like from the inside, I still learned what world class artists and animators did every day and if not in every detail how they did it, at least what they did and where to look things up.

And now my lifelong dream of becoming a director and writer has come to pass, but it’s on the smallest project one could imagine. But it’s a commercial project, for a company – my own company, which I founded – and there’s an IMDB listing.

What more may come of Mighty Aphrodite! The Web Series? I have no idea, but I bet we can make some waves with it once I get the fourth episode done – and then we can release them all as a single piece, a ‘fifth episode’, if you will, which will be a good solid fifteen minutes of animated narrative.

I’m certainly humbled by the entire process. I imagined myself at the helm of much greater projects than this, but starting with literally nothing but an idea, I and my friends made something happen. We moved the needle.

I’ve always wanted a home at the Magic Store. I didn’t anticipate either that I’ve have to build the Magic Store myself, nor that the roof might be made of cardboard.

This year I’m hoping to put some shingles on that roof.

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Who Watches the Watchmen?

Who Watches the Watchmen?

I wrote this piece a number of years ago. Since then, I have been made Top Writer on Quora for 2018, and this kind of piece I think is one of the reasons why they did that.


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The phrase is Latin, and is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

In other words, “Who watches the watchmen?” I have encountered this for years, and I finally figured out the answer to that question.

And it’s a real answer.

The real answer to “Who Watches the Watchmen?” is, “We watch ourselves. We are answerable to our own conscience, ethics, morals and sense of duty. We can trust no one else’s more than our own.”

And that implies that we are being asked to follow somebody else’s ethics and morals without questioning them, and that’s exactly what we’re being asked to do by those very people who ask “Who watches the watchmen?” What they’re implicitly saying is that our own judgment should give way to theirs.

This argument is almost always used not in the search for truth, but in the obstruction of it. It introduces a self-referential logical conundrum that cannot be solved, thereby stopping any reasonable discourse in its tracks. By attempting to declare that there is no clear acceptable answer, the speaker implies that the opponents are intrinsically wrong, and this is a logical fallacy. An unknown solution does not imply incorrect action. It’s basically a false dilemma fallacy, similar to a loaded question such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” or “Are you going to admit that you’re wrong?”

Those who stand up for the good, the innocent, the right and the just are often publicly attacked by those seek to set themselves on a throne and tell others how to think, feel and act — or worse, seek simply to do society harm and not be caught at it.

The next time you hear someone ask “who watches the watchmen”, think about why they’re really asking this. The answers may surprise you.

The Patreon Quandry

The Patreon Quandry

Obi-Shawn’s t-shirt design for his morning show on Krypton Radio, “Good Morning, Tatooine!”

We use Patreon to keep our sci-fi radio station, Krypton Radio, fueled up and on the air, and it’s been working for years. However, it’s also a struggle, and we’re not doing anywhere near as well as we should be given the size of the market. Getting the word out is an enormous problem when what you do is a service, not putting 100% of your energy into a single one-shot incendiary mortar shell of a geeky project.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Patreon is Hard

The main issue with Patreon is that you have to live there to make it work. You can’t run your stuff out of your web site and visit only occasionally, you pretty much have to move into Patreon and run your entire operation from there.
For most creators, that’s a real problem, because they’ve spent years developing a following on the web and in social media, and it’s very hard to get your fans to follow you over to Patreon, and it’s hard to keep their attention once you do. Patreon is not social media, and it lacks all the things that make people hang around for extended periods. Once your patron is done reading your page, there’s nothing else to keep them there.
Very very recently Patreon has released a plugin for WordPress that makes it possible to post Patrons-only content on your own web site, so that lets you bring the Patreon to the fans instead of having to do it the other way around, and we’re about to start experimenting with members-only content that way. We have no idea how much or how little that will help yet, it’s totally uncharted territory for us.
One important factor with Patreon is that you have to be very very active in it or people will think you’re out of business. A post a week isn’t bad. Two a week is probably optimal.
Another important factor is that you’re going to have to plan your productivity to include creating assets specifically for Patreon that aren’t directly part of whatever creative thing it is that you do. You’ll need videos, graphics, short articles, sound bytes, all sorts of things specifically shaped to the needs of running a continuous crowdfunding campaign. It’s like running a Kickstarter, but you never get a break and it never stops.

But Does It Work?

Well – I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have a radio station if it didn’t work.
Advertising certainly doesn’t work. Nobody clicks on anything, and web browsers are built to filter them out by default. Kickstarters are a pain, and very stressful and make you crazy. Subscriberships are the only way to go if you want to be paid every month for what you do.

What About the Perks?

That’s one of the things we’re struggling with.
We produce audio, so there’s no finite physical product that we can send people. We have to come up with content specifically geared to being output in little parcels that our fans would want, so we’re exploring publishing fiction exclusively for our subscribers.
We’re also developing a sci-fi radio drama, and when that comes out we’ll have props and costumes, and challenge coins, and patches, but it’s a massive push to get it done, and it’s taking years longer than we planned to do this.
We also feature a line of sci-fi / geek t-shirts that we’ve designed ourselves that nobody else carries, and you’d think that would be an attractant, but to be completely honest, apparently nobody gives a @#$#@ about t-shirts. Like, at all. We’ve given away maybe two of them as perks in the last two years when people ask for them, despite the fact that half our patrons are eligible for them.

White Elephant? Why, Yes. Yes We Are.

Part of our problem stems from what we are. We’re a full time sci-fi fandom format radio station, and that makes us unique on the planet (one or two other stations lay claim to this, but they also do things like fill up 60% of their air time with metal or hiphop).  We don’t fit categories. In anything.
Most radio station listing services don’t even have a listing category for us, so we get stuck in “Other”, or “Eclectic”. Nobody searches for “other” when they’re looking for a radio station, and people don’t think to search for sci-fi radio because all they get is podcasts when they try it – so we’re hard to categorize, hard to find, and searched for much less than we’d like because people don’t even realize that full time sci-fi radio (as contrasted to a podcast) is a thing.
Our response for that is to hit as many distribution platforms as we can. We get another dozen patrons, and we will be able to get listed on iHeartRadio. Suddenly we’ll be exposed to 70 million iHeartRadio subscribers, and available in people’s cars, which is where most people listen to the radio in the first place. We’re hoping our fortunes will improve after that.

What’s Next?

Our biggest problem is that since nobody knows we’re here, relatively speaking, we have to maximize our exposure. We have to position ourselves so that the maximum number of people have a chance to find us by serendipitous search.  I can’t tip my hand just yet, but there’s another distribution network we’re looking at in addition to iHeartRadio, and between the two of them we’ll have exposure to a new potential audience of 190 million people that we didn’t have access to before. We’ve never made a jump this big before, and surprisingly, the two services we’re going after will make us big fish in a small pond despite the huge subscriber numbers for each service.
The reason is, once again, that Krypton Radio is unique. Literally nobody else in the world does what we do the way we do it. It’s not like regular radio stations. How many hip-hop stations are there across the country? About 250. Rock? About 360. Oldies? Oh my god, 500 plus of those. Metal?   You get the idea.
But full time sci-fi geek culture genre format stations?  There’s one. When people look for that, they find us, and that’s it. I’m hoping to improve our odds by expanding our “broadcast range” so to speak.
Nine tenths of success is not giving up. We’re already heard in 135 countries and we reach between 65,000 and 100,000 listeners a month depending on the season.
So far, so good.

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