Posts tagged ‘Computers’


Messy files art - public domain


Thank you for bearing with us. It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been over three months since Fred died. As you might imagine, we’ve had much to do since then.

Elizabeth Anne Hull and Frederik Pohl

Elizabeth Anne Hull and Frederik Pohl

The blog team — which is to say Betty, Cathy, Dick and Leah — have been regrouping, sorting and pondering where to go from here.

Fred will remain a very real part of this blog for some time to come.

Going through his files, Leah found literally hundreds of pieces of writing that he intended for the blog. Some of them were old articles — written with a typewriter on paper — that he meant to give new life here. Others were written on purpose for the blog, but were never posted.

We’d like to give you a look behind the scenes of “The Way the Future Blogs,” so you can see how that happened, and how Fred will still live in his blog.

When his editor Jim Frenkel coaxed Fred to start a blog (“like that new young guy”), Fred was nearly 90 years old. He’d started his writing life on manual typewriters. He adapted to computers, but slowly. Although he had a lifelong fascination with science and technology, Fred, like a surprising number of science-fiction writers, was a late adopter for his personal use.

Right up until the exigencies of collaborating with Arthur C. Clarke on The Last Theorem demanded a switch to a more modern word processor, Fred was still using the antiquated WordStar with Dick’s expert legacy support to get contemporary computers to run it. Up till then, Fred resisted e-mail as well as new software, not to mention the web.

Collaborating with someone in Sri Lanka changed all that, and Fred finally embraced 21st-century connectivity … to a point.

He didn’t want to learn about all the bells and whistles of blogging, and since he had the use of only one hand, his typing wasn’t internet-ready. That’s where Leah came in. A professional journalist and blogger, she took on the task of blogifying Fred.

We settled on a system: Fred would write a blog post and e-mail it to Leah. She’d copyedit, fact check, format it for WordPress, add links and images and post it. At least, that’s how it was supposed to work.

Filing, even in the dead-tree days, was never Fred’s forté. He’d write things and then lose them in his computer. He rarely used folders, putting everything — blog posts, fiction, correspondence, et al. — in “My Documents.” He’d allow Microsoft Word to name his files and then forget their filenames.

Once Fred wrote something, he was done with it, and he went on to think about the next thing. Sometimes he wrote blog posts but never passed them along. Did he think they needed further polishing? Did he forget about them? Did he think he had sent them when he actually hadn’t? We’ll never know.

Fred found the process of attaching files and emailing them tedious, so he’d save them up in batches, and later get Cathy to email them in bulk. Sometimes she couldn’t find files because they had different filenames than Fred had told her. Cathy’s resourceful at searching, but some documents she never found. Sometimes Dick was called upon to use specialized tools to retrieve files Fred had lost or accidentally deleted.

Since Fred’s death, Leah’s been combing through his computer and sorting the files, a process that required opening and reading every single one. Along with published and unpublished fiction, insertions for an expanded version of Fred’s biography, The Way the Future Was, and the material Fred had written for its forthcoming sequel, she found many unposted blog entries, and those will start being posted here soon.

In the last months before he died, Fred and Leah went through his trunk files, work he’d written years ago — some previously published and some not. He set aside a big stack of articles that he wanted to share on the blog. Since they’re on paper and must be scanned, OCRed and edited, getting them online will take a while, but you’ll see those here, too.

Meanwhile, Betty’s decided to get back into writing for this blog, so you’ll see regular posts from her, as well. Leah will continue editing and blogifying and may weigh in from time to time. Dick will be behind the scenes making sure all our computers stay online and running, and Cathy will keep everybody in communication. So the gang’s all here, even — virtually — Fred.

We hope you’ll keep reading!

The blog team

Poltergeist II

(Did you notice we were gone?)

Gone we all were, and for weeks on end. There were the bugs that were flying around, for starters. We didn’t get any of the more popular brands, but we got some mysterious upper-respiratory hits and several others at other locations, and that’s without mentioning the plagues that, without warning, took our computers out.

But now we’re back, healthier and happier than ever — so give us a look and let us know what you think.

Fred and the Team

Internet attack modeling

Anybody here remember the Stuxnet computer malware? That was the one that pretty nearly put Iran out of the nuclear warfare business for a time when one of its mean little computer worms bollixed Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants.

Well, Stuxnet is old stuff now. There are much more powerful programs that could paralyze any large-scale industry, utility, transportation system, police agency or government function that relies on computer control — and can you think of any of those entities that don’t?

We could do that to any enemy in a hot minute. But the flip side of that is that almost any enemy could do it to us, for we have no monopoly on computer talent. There is only one thing that could protect us against a sudden cyber attack. That is an effective and continually updated cybersecurity system.

Unfortunately, we don’t have one. We could have had it. There was a bill in Congress that would have gone a long way toward achieving that goal, but our friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce bleated about the amount of tax money it would take to finance it. Leave it to voluntary action by business itself, they said, as though there were any chance that voluntary spending on something that didn’t turn an immediate cash profit would work, and the Republican bloc in Congress took up their cause. They couldn’t defeat the bill if it came to a vote because it was obviously meeting a real and urgent threat. So they filibustered it to death

So here’s to the Greedy Old Party, always ready to put profits ahead of patriotism.

They do a great job for their masters, that top 1%. But can any one tell me a reason why anyone earning less than, say, half a million dollars a year should vote for them?

Art by Paul Soderholm

That headline, of course, is meant to be sarcastic. You see, we do have a problem. Our Ma Dell upright created it, all by itself, and all of the wizardry of our ordinarily undefeatable Guru, Dick Smith, has been unable to it restore it to civilized behavior. So please tell me (and Dick). Have you ever had this particular trouble with a computer? If so, what did you do about it?

First it goes on nicely writing down my well-chosen words. Then, when I switch to another file, it flashes a blood-red sign in my face that starts with the threats, saying something like, “You get out of this file or we’ll make you wish you had! This file is reserved for Frederik Pohl to work on, so you leave it at once. Exit this file now!”

Nothing as deranged as this has ever turned up on any of the four other computers in the house. Just on the one that I write blog material on, so tell me, please. Has anybody got any help for a seriously demented computer?



How many of you have read that excellent novel, Gateway? And, pray tell, how many of you remember the novel’s most important character? No, I’m not talking about Robinette Broadhead, though it’s true that he gets more space then the other guy. I’m talking about the wise, kindly and super-smart computer who goes by the name of “Sigfrid von Shrink.”

Happens I know that there were groups of readers who paid special attention to Siggy because I know that a couple of them, one around MIT in Massachusetts and the other in England, tried to build working models of Sigfrid for themselves.

(Actually that’s not hard. I believe both groups were inspired by a math-teaching program that I had seen in operation in, if I remember correctly, North Carolina and written something about at the time. These pseudo-Sigfrids were not really at all intelligent, but they could carry on a conversation, and if you looked at a transcript of it it looked pretty much like a real psychologist and couch session.)

Anyway, for reasons connected with the movie business, I’d like to know if any old Sigfrid-builders are still around. If you are, or if you know of someone who is, please drop me a line c/o this blog.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

The close of Pride Month seems an apt time to talk about Alan Turing, inventor of the famed Turing Test for identifying independent intelligence in computers, who worked for the British code breakers in World War II, and was one of the leading figures who successfully cracked the secret German messages, a feat which played a considerable part in the victory over Hitler.

Turing was, however, a homosexual. After the war, he was arrested and convicted of “gross indecency.” He was promised to be spared prison, provided he agreed to allow himself to be injected with estrogens to “cure” his condition. Turing made the deal, but two years later, he killed himself by eating a poisoned apple.

After a group of scientists launched a movement to expunge his conviction and honor his name in his home country of England last year, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a posthumous apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. Turing was already honored in much of the rest of the world; for example, in America, the Association for Computing Machinery has presented the Turing Award, the field’s top award, since 1966.