Yubnub Hubba Hubba

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Here are a few more shiny stones I’ve found in my voyage to the center of the spam-infested depths of Yubnub.

Remember, to get the benefit of these commands, visit Yubnub and type the example text or something like it. For example, typing ma sarek will get you a page of info on Spock’s dad from the Star Trek Memory Alpha wiki. Equal time for The Other Fandom: typing wook ewok in the Yubnub search box will find too much information about Ewoks in the Wookieepedia.

  • bi: Comprehensive ISBN book lookup. Example: bi 978-1-4493-1494-1
  • jbo: Lojban Lookup. Lojban is a constructed language and so like Esperanto, only more obscure. Example: jbo gerku
  • ma: Memory Alpha Star Trek fan wiki. Example: ma sarek
  • math: Wolfram Mathworld math encyclopedia. Example: mathworld tesseract
  • safari: O’Reilly Safari Online. Example: safari hale-evans (Hey! Both my books are in there!)
  • tro: TV Tropes, endless fun – by which I mean you may not find your way out. Example: tro mad scientist
  • url: Display a Yubnub command URL for reuse. Example: url tro mad scientist
  • wc: Wikimedia Commons, the database of free images and other free media associated with Wikipedia. Example: wc robot
  • wook: Wookieepedia Star Wars fan wiki. Example: wook ewok

Photo by Andres Rueda Lopez (Originally posted to Flickr as Ewok) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Robot Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

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As described in an earlier post, I’m helping my friend Tim Schutz restore his antique Heathkit HERO robot, Maai. It’s like restoring a Mustang, but more interesting and less macho. We meet one Sunday a month.

My Pomeranian Humphrey loafed about while we were working on the robot, but our other Pom, Bridget, had to hide. The robot seemed to fall into her uncanny valley. Odd, because usually Humphrey is more susceptible to that effect, barking at weird cartoons on television. I guess everyone’s valley is different.

Because it had been a while, we decided to run Maai’s diagnostics from the top. The robot mostly passed, although Tim had left the arm at home, so we were less sure about those routines that required it.

We did find the motion sensors weren’t working. And then the vision and audio sensors weren’t either. What the hell? How could so many sensors go out at one time? Was the main sensor board malfunctioning, as we had thought once before?

I stepped through the diagnostic flowcharts in the technical manual, and Tim measured voltages with his meter. It developed there was nothing wrong with the sensors. The hidden problem was that the display board was malfunctioning. The sensors might have been working just fine, but we couldn’t see the results at all. We traced the problem to two chips on the display board, and Tim planned to order them online. Good thing, because all the motion sensor flowcharts had dead-ended in a box reading “Return to Heath Co. for service.”

Dear Mr. Heath,

We are sending you this robot for repair from the future, where it makes the phone in my pocket look like Richard Feynman. Yes, I said the phone in my pocket

Re-encountering Cosmic Encounter

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I found my misplaced copy of Cosmic Encounter – the Fantasy Flight edition – recently, along with the first three expansions. I had bought and stored the fourth and fifth expansions separately, This was really the first time I got to collate all the cards and alien power sheets and so on, finish punching and bagging the bits, and really read through all six rulebooks together. I made a few notes.

First I had to devise a mnemonic for the order of the expansions: I Can’t Always Stand Down. It represents the first letter of the second word of each set:

  1. Cosmic Incursion
  2. Cosmic Conflict
  3. Cosmic Alliance
  4. Cosmic Storm
  5. Cosmic Dominion

My favorite new aliens are as follows (I haven’t played these yet):

  • Bride (seems kind of sexist, though)
  • Greenhorn
  • Lizard
  • Lunatic
  • Mite
  • Pygmy (seems kind of racist, though)
  • Relic
  • Squee
  • Swindler
  • Sycophant
  • Tourist
  • Vox
  • Voyager
  • Warhawk
  • Winner

General comments follow. I am not claiming these observations are original, merely offhand. I’ve been out of the Cosmic scene for some time.

  • The main Fantasy Flight rulebook explains that opposing Morph card with Morph card is impossible, because there is only one. But the expansions are lousy with Morphs. So much for “impossibility”.
  • Retreat cards are clever. I’m not sure I’ve seen just that mechanic before.
  • What about “times i” kickers for imaginary card values?
  • What if you could kick Artifacts, for double or quadruple their effects?
  • Why did Fantasy Flight put so many good, standard Artifacts and other cards in the Rewards deck only?
  • There are lots of identity theft mechanics in this edition (for example, the Swindler). Swapping hands might spoil a lesser game like Aquarius, but Cosmic is more substantial.
  • The Empath flare also has modern and “classic” forms, much as Filch and Schizoid do, but this is not mentioned in the rules, as far as I can see.

What’s all the Yubnub, bub?

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Yubnub, the “(social) command line for the web”, is an underappreciated website, ten years old but constantly updated, that is many things to many people, if not everything to everyone. It’s a front end to a vast variety of search engines and other web services, and is so useful that I’ve added Yubnub capability to Firefox, Emacs, and the Linux command line on my laptop. (For more information, see the Yubnub installation page.)

In case you’re curious why Yubnub has such a weird name, it’s the victory song sung by the Ewoks at the end of The Return of the Jedi. Apparently the word means “freedom” in Ewok. I don’t know what the deal is with the snail, though. An Ewok delicacy?

Here are some of the Yubnub commands I’ve found useful or interesting, including Esperanto dictionaries and Finnegans Wake search engines, as well as staples such as Google and Wikipedia. Sadly, some of the really interesting ones no longer work or have been deleted recently, such as search commands for the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and the Chess Variant Pages.

To discover your own commands, visit Yubnub and type ls.


  • am: Amazon. Example: am duct tape
  • amzns: AmazonSmile. When you shop here, Amazon donates 0.5% of the price to the charitable organization of your choice. Example: amzns duct tape
  • bgg: BoardGameGeek, database of board games. Example: bgg cosmic encounter
  • brickipedia: Brickipedia, an encyclopedia wiki about LEGO. Example: brickipedia darth vader
  • fweet: Fweet, database of Finnegans Wake annotations. Example: fweet chaosmos
  • g: Google. The default search engine for Yubnub. Example: g random celebrity Note: omitting the initial g will retrieve results from Google by default.
  • gdef: Performs a Google define: command that gets definitions of words. Example: gdef supernaculum
  • gim: Google Image Search. Example: gim random celebrity
  • ifdb: for games at the Interactive Fiction Database. Example: ifdb zork iii
  • libt: Add books to LibraryThing by ISBN. Example: libt 978-0394718330
  • luzme: Luzme monitors ebook prices at multiple online stores and notifies you of price drops. Example: luzme grapes of wrath
  • obl: Draws a random card from the Oblique Strategies deck.
  • pinb: Pinboard.in bookmarks. Examples: pinb chicago searches your pinboard.in bookmarks for “chicago”. pinb -a chicago searches everyone’s pinboard.in bookmarks for “chicago”.
  • wa: Wolfram Alpha, “computational knowledge engine”. Unique and cool. Example: wa half a gallon in cc
  • wkeo: Esperanto Wiktionary. Includes definition of word in Esperanto and translation of word into other languages such as English. Example: wkeo hundo
  • wp: English Wikipedia. Example: wp micronation
  • wq: English Wikiquote. Example: wq simple as possible but no simpler

Hi Fi Stoicism

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“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I urge you to compare this Nick Hornby quote from High Fidelity, previously on this blog. It seems at least some lad lit has the imprimatur of the Stoics…

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Industry standard manuscript word counts under Linux

Last night I did a word count on my book in progress within Emacs, my text editor of choice. I was astonished that it had apparently gained 2,000 words with only a few edits – from about 43,500 words to about 45,500 words.

I had been using the Linux command-line utility wc to count my words before that, and it had been returning the lower number. I also tested Gedit (results on the high end), and LibreOffice Writer (on the low end).

I wondered on Twitter which I should trust, and a writer friend advised that LibreOffice would probably be closest to Microsoft Word, the standard among professional editors and publishers, so I should stick to the former. However, I ran a word count under my wife Marty’s copy of Word, and it was both highest of all and furthest from LibreOffice. Emacs was closest! Here are the numbers, from high to low:

Microsoft Word 2010 = 45,653
GNU Emacs 24.2 = 45,466
Gedit 3.10.4 = 45,309
wc = 43,855
LibreOffice Writer 4.2.7.2 = 43,726

Moral: M-x count-words in Emacs comes closest to the industry standard – a little low, in fact, which is better than a little high. Gedit is not bad. Stay away from wc and LibreOffice Writer for counting words if you are writing professionally.

Breaking news from my friend: With a much longer manuscript (around 190,000 words), he’s seeing a spread closer to 4,000 words than 2,000, but otherwise his results are quite similar.

A further postscript: A couple of days later, my word count dropped again by about 1,000 words for no discernible reason. I grabbed an older copy of the document from Dropbox and diffed it with the most recent version. I finally understood that I had turned section numbering off in recent versions, and those section numbers had been counted as words, sometimes more than one. For example, section 4.3.2.1 would count as four words. Multiply that by a couple of hundred sections, plus their appearances in the table of contents, and you’ve got a thousand words that can evaporate invisibly.

The graveyard of lost Star Trek episodes

I dreamed I visited a necropolis with tombs for individual Star Trek episodes. Person-segments of Kirk and other characters in the episodes were buried there, with the phasers and tricorders they used, and related memorabilia.

To clarify, what was buried in each episode’s tomb was not the character’s body, but a part of the character’s four-dimensional extension from the beginning to the end of the episode. The tombs also contained all the associated props and sets for the episode – or rather, the segments of their “real life” equivalents in the world of Star Trek for the same period.

The segments included time the characters spent offscreen. For example, if McCoy were notionally off in Sickbay concocting a cure for the planetary plague of the week during much of the episode, that time would also be included.

My dreams have been a bit more vivid since I’ve been getting more sleep while I’m looking for work.