Hey all!

I’ve been fiddling around with the WooCommerce shopping cart and checkout for my jewelry site (www.theheathersmith.com) and I just figured out how to fix a problem I’d been having with the confirmation email.

When I tested what email notification people would get when they ordered, I noticed the name in the From field of the email was  “ss_site_title,” which I didn’t want! I wanted it to say the actual name of my site!

I couldn’t find anyone answering that question online, but I did finally manage to figure it out:

Go to the WordPress admin page, then WooCommerce and Settings.

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Go to the Emails tab under WooCommerce Settings.

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Scroll down. You’ll see a field where you can change the “From” name, and other details of the notification email.

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Save changes and you’re done!

I also figured out how to fix a problem I was having with the shipping. I had shipping rates set up on WooCommerce, but it was not charging shipping when an order was placed through Paypal!

Soo… I found some tutorials online about how that means you have to disable any shipping settings you already have set up on Paypal… but they were written years ago, when Paypal had a completely different site layout. It said to go to “Edit Profile” and then “Shipping Calculations,” but there were no such links in 2016!

But, I did eventually find where they’d moved to.

You have to scroll down on your main profile page until you see this menu, then click Seller Preferences:

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And then scroll down until you see the option for “Shipping Calculations,” and click Update, and then you’ll find the settings you need to deactivate!

 

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Hope that helps anyone else out there who was having the same issues!

Children’s book

Recently I got inspired and wrote out the text of a children’s book, with descriptions of the illustrations I want to draw.

It’s about dragons and fairies and wizards.
It’s also about definitions.
It’s also about learning to see how amazing things are, even if they’re common and you’ve gotten used to them.

I don’t know if I’m good enough at drawing to do the illustrations justice. I want them to be really gorgeous and magical. I might end up commissioning someone else to do them, except I don’t have money, so I might have to wait until I do, or find someone who’s willing to draw them in exchange for getting a percentage of any revenue from the book.

Anyway, here it is.

Continue reading

What Data meant by “emotionless”: The mind and body of feelings

When John and I sat down and watched all of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the thing that most consistently strained my suspension of disbelief wasn’t the faster-than-light travel, the plethora of humanoid aliens, or the idea of Wesley being allowed on the bridge.

It was Data the android. Not because he was an intelligent machine, but because he claimed to have no emotion.

He functioned, in all the most important respects, exactly like any creature with emotion. He made efforts to preserve his own life. He showed loyalty toward some people and distrust of others, and seemed to prefer the company of certain people. He was constantly motivated to seek new and interesting experiences. And on top of it all, he said, outright, countless times, that he had a desire to feel emotion.

At the time, I couldn’t find any way to spackle this gaping plothole. Desire is typically considered an emotion– one of the strongest and most important.

In fact, if you’re a conscious being, capable of making your own choices, you have to have the emotion of desire. That’s because all choices are caused by desire. I’ve analyzed hundreds of the choices I’ve made, and every single one was made because I either wanted it, or wanted something I could get by doing it.

I don’t often make absolute statements, but I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to make a choice for any reason other than desire.  Even if you do something because someone has a gun to your head, you’re still choosing to do it because it’s a means to the end of staying alive, which is something you presumably want. Even if you did something totally pointless that gained you nothing, just to prove you could, it would still be because you wanted to prove it.

So, I thought, if a creature that behaved like Data truly had no emotion, then he would not be a conscious entity. He’d be an automaton, programmed with an assortment of stock responses to an assortment of types of situations that his creator imagined he might face. Complicated, yes– it would take an enormous number of pre-programmed responses and simple algorithms working together, to simulate sapience as well as he does. But not truly conscious. The choices he made would actually be the choices of the person who programmed him. The prosecutor in “The Measure of a Man” would have been right about Data: he would not be a sentient being.

Even when depressed people enter a phase of “emotionlessness,” they still have the basic emotion of desire, on a few of the most fundamental issues. When they are unable to feel most of the emotions in their day-to-day lives, they can get bored and exhausted with this life of doing things they don’t care about. Sometimes the desire to stop the pointless routine becomes so strong they commit suicide. Sometimes they press onward and keep going through the motions anyway, because they want to avoid making other people sad– which is also a desire.

If you were capable of conscious thought, and not controlled by anything, but you were incapable of feeling desire… then you would do nothing. You wouldn’t go to work, because you’d have no desire to make money and keep your home. You wouldn’t respond to requests, encouragement or commands from other people, because you’d have no desire to please them or avoid their retaliation. You wouldn’t eat or drink, because you’d have no desire to stop being hungry or keep being alive. You’d die soon, but you wouldn’t actively kill yourself, because you’d have no desire to die. If you had no desires, you would absolutely not give a crap either way about anything.

But maybe desire isn’t always an emotion.

How do we define “emotion”? Lately I’ve realized that, for my whole life, I’ve been defining it as “any state of mind that can be described using the word ‘feel.'”

I’ve been using the word “desire” for the condition where your chest feels tight and you have to force yourself to breathe and your muscles are cramping with the effort to hold them back from trying to grab what you want… and I’ve also been using it for the condition where, rationally, you realize that the thing you’re reaching for is more likely to contribute to the achievement of your long-term goals than the alternative.

In either case you can say that you “want” the thing, or “feel a desire” for it. But maybe those two cases aren’t just different degrees of the same emotion.

What is emotion? It’s partially a mental condition. Mentally, you realize that you want something– to run away from danger (fear), to fight your enemy (anger), to be close to your loved ones (affection). It’s like a thought, but one that’s not necessarily put into words.

Usually, you don’t give conscious thought to why you want the thing. If you analyze it, you’ll almost always find that you want it because you think it will make you more happy than the alternative– “happy” being perhaps the only emotion that isn’t a form of desire.

Then again, maybe sadness isn’t a form of desire, either. It goes along with a wish for things to be better, but the sadness itself is focused on the feeling that things are bad right now. Most feelings involve motivations, but the mental portion of happiness or sadness could be described instead as an opinion: it’s the opinion that things are bad right now, or the opinion that things are good.

But for any feeling, in addition to the opinion or motivation itself, there are all the physical symptoms that go along with it.

When I try to imagine what fear feels like, my sensory memory supplies a pounding heart, cold limbs, muscles on a hair-trigger, ready to run or jump, and a slight tingly pain on the skin from the rush of adrenaline. Love feels warm, with a relaxed sensation, a swelling of the chest, and a different skin tingle that seeks touch. Anger is tight-chested, with pressure in my head and an ache in my cheeks and eyebrows, and the reflex to clench every muscle.

But what is an emotion, aside from a motivation or opinion and the body’s response to it? Is there anything beside those components?

I try to define what fear feels like, besides the opinion that I’m in danger and the motivation to save myself. Besides that, all I can think of are the physical sensations, ebbing and flowing in response to my thoughts about whatever I’m afraid of.

Every time I analyze a particular part of how an emotion feels, I realize that it’s a sensation of the body, not the mind. The only parts that aren’t physical are the thoughts that the situation is good or bad, and that I need to do something about it.

Maybe that’s what emotion is: the synergy of the mind’s part and the body’s part. Maybe the Tin Man was right: maybe you do need a heart to feel love.

Maybe it’s no accident that we use the word “feel” for both emotions and physical sensations.

I think Data had the “opinion and motivation” part of emotion. Probably he was programmed to have it. He considered some situations bad and some good, and he tried to seek out the good ones. And that couldn’t have been based only on logic, because if you try to base your desires only on logic, you eventually reach a question you can’t answer.

Why do I want to fight that alien monster?
Because if I don’t, it could kill my captain.

Why do I want it not to kill my captain?
Because he is valuable to the Federation.

Why do I care if the Federation loses a valuable captain?
Because anything that weakens the Federation threatens the political stability of the galaxy.

Why do I care about the stability of the galaxy?
Because instability could kill millions, including me and everyone I know.

Why do I care if everyone dies?
Because that would be terrible.

Why do I consider it terrible?
…I don’t know. I just do.

Logic is a way of deducing conclusions from premises. It can’t choose which premises you start out with.

Data seems to have had a few basic motivations, probably programmed into him by Dr. Soong, from which he reasoned all his decisions and conclusions. Basic motivations like “I must protect life.” He couldn’t logically explain why they made sense to him; he felt them in the same way we feel an instinct. But despite this, he still didn’t consider himself to have emotions.

Maybe it was just because he didn’t have an organic body. When something bad happened and he recognized that it was bad, his brain couldn’t respond by pumping his body full of the hormones of fear or anger or sadness.  He couldn’t feel the part of emotion that goes beyond opinion and motivation: the accelerated heartbeat, the tingles, the muscle tightness, the building of tears in the eyes. I think that was what he meant when he called himself emotionless.

Maybe the “emotion chip” he eventually got was a simulator that fed his brain the sensory feedback of an emotional body.

I was thinking about all this because I sometimes feel a bit guilty when I see something terrible in the news and don’t have a strong emotional reaction to it– because it’s too huge to process, or because I’ve been desensitized by reading so much news, or whatever causes those unfeeling moments I have.

But even when that happens, I still have the opinion-and-motivation part of emotion. I believe that what happened is bad. I experience a desire for it not to happen again. I do what I can to help prevent it.

And maybe that’s enough.

Data didn’t have the physical component of feeling. But he was a moral person. If a crewmate died, he didn’t feel a pang in his heart, a tightness in his throat and tears welling up in his eyes. But he still did everything he could to prevent their deaths. His desire to save them wasn’t physical, but it was strong– he prioritized it above other, less important things that he also valued.

So, if you do good things not because you love it, but because you believe you should… if you help others and protect civilization because you believe it’s the right thing to do, even if your heart doesn’t hurt when imagining the alternatives… if you see tragedies on the news and you don’t react by crying or clenching your teeth, but you still donate to charity or call your congressman to fight against those tragedies… then you don’t need to feel ashamed at not feeling the expected emotions. Data was one of the good guys, and you’re at least as good as he was.

How I backed up my personality on paper

(Updated with the more recent version of the project. I redesigned the books to be prettier, fit better in the box, and hold more data.)

*****

A recent art project, of sorts. My attempt to cope with fears: the fear of death, the fear of societal collapse. My fantasy that my personality could somehow survive both my death and the downfall of civilization.

In an apocalypse, digital media are of questionable use. I toyed with the idea of microfiches for a while, but then realized that paper, kept in a safe place, can last just as long. Lulu.com prints on acid-free paper, and can print very, very small.

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Text of the back of the book:

I am Erika Hammerschmidt. I am an author, artist and speaker from Minnesota. I am terrified of dying, but far more terrified of being forgotten. Being forgotten is true death, the death not just of the body but of the information that makes up the personality.

The information that makes up a human personality is more bountiful and complex than any book can hold, but this is my best try. This is my novels, my poems, my private emails, my art, my journals. It is my secret perversions, my selfies, my websites, my handmade jewelry, my travel snapshots, my diaries, my childhood scrivenings. Please let me live.

*****

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Abby and Norma Promotional Post!

Is your favorite thing about “Abby and Norma” the vicious deconstruction of neurotypical social norms? Or Abby’s obsessive exploration of legal loopholes and gray areas? Do you love the puns, but feel sad when Abby bashes down her mom’s wistful hopes for grandchildren? Love the mom-bashing, but get annoyed when she debates religion with Chrissy? Love the religious debates, but hate Abby’s badly-drawn doodles? Or do you read “Abby and Norma” solely for Ron and his palindromes?

Well, “Abby and Norma” Mini-Books are the answer for you! They’re short printed collections ranging from 50 to 80 pages, and separated by topic.

Each costs only $5 or less, is printed on 8.5 x 11″ paper with a grayscale interior and a full-color cover, and contains two bonuses (boni?) at the end:

(1). a pencil drawing of one of the characters in a realistic style, with an acrostic,

and

(2). an Abby and Norma Blooper– a screencap of a moment during the copying-and-pasting process when some unintended humor or weirdness existed for a few seconds.

(Like this one, where I had just taken a panel where Abby had two speech bubbles, and flipped the second one to become Norma’s bubble in the next panel, but I had not yet changed the text in them. I’ll leave it to the slash shippers to try and come up with an explanation for how Norma “uses” Abby’s left leg. o_O)

———-

Collect all eleven (if you’re into that) :

The Abby and Norma Antheology
Wherein we make fun of religion.

The Abby and Norma Anthologician
Wherein we mess with logic, reason and everyone’s head.

The Abby and Norma Compilegation
Wherein we deconstruct laws, rules and government.

The Abby and Norma Compundium
Wherein we play with SO MANY WORDS.

The Abby and Norma Cultlection
Wherein we laugh at popular culture, both mainstream and geeky.

The Abby and Norma Festivitreasury
Wherein we survive the holidays, from Halloween to Christmas.

The Abby and Norma Momnibus
Wherein Abby’s mom fails to convince her to pass on the family genes.

The Abby and Norma Palindromicon
Wherein we play with palindromes; semordnilap htiw yalp ew nierehw.

The Abby and Norma Psychosortment
Wherein we explore psychology. Also there’s a doodle gallery!

The Abby and Norma Scianthology
Wherein we play with science! For Science!

The Abby and Norma Sociellany
Wherein Abby makes fun of social customs… how dare she!

Portrayal of sexual violence in one of my short stories (Trigger warning!)

In my short story collection “If the World Ended, Would I Notice?” I have one story called “Ardent,” which is set in the same world as our science-fiction novel “Kea’s Flight.”

As warned in the mini-introduction on the page preceding it, “Ardent” is a dark story, portraying the descent into madness of one of the villains of “Kea’s Flight.” And it may bother some readers that it contains what appears to be a scene of attempted rape, from the point of view of the aggressor, who is undergoing a mental breakdown and losing control of his actions.

Even as a woman with openly liberal political views, I know I’m taking a risk by having a scene like that in a story. Every day I see more and more articles online complaining about rape being used as a plot device, giving the impression that many people don’t find any fictional depiction of rape or attempted rape acceptable.

And because of the nature of my story’s depiction, I’ve been feeling some concern about the possibility that people might interpret the story as an expression of support for rapists, a sympathetic account of what it’s like from the rapist’s perspective, or a statement that rapists “just can’t control themselves” and are “driven” to commit the crime.

This is obviously not what I intended, but I understand the complaint, and I’d like to do what I can to explain why I wrote the scene as I did. First, a clarification of exactly what the scene entails. (Possible triggers and spoilers after the cut.)

Continue reading

I am not the archetypal author: Why “in character” has no meaning


I realized that, if I had written about this experience and included it as a scene in one of my works of fiction, many readers would accuse me of “inconsistency” and “not staying in character.”

As a real, non-fictional person, of course, I don’t have the concept of “in character.” I’m not any of the fictional archetypes– not even the more complex archetypes, since none of them are as complex as a human being. Whatever rules I come up with to describe my behavior, there are always exceptions, and even I can’t always define where and what those exceptions are going to be.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Hangers

Sometimes I wonder why plain wire coat hangers are so hard to find in retail stores like Target or Wal-Mart. You can find the plastic hangers and the wood hangers, and sometimes really thick metal hangers, but not the simple hangers that are made out of a plain old 16-or-so-gauge wire bent into a hanger shape.

You know, the kind that’s cheap, and doesn’t take up much space, and is tougher than plastic hangers and doesn’t break after you’ve hung a coat on it for six months.

Maybe someone at the top of the corporate world decided that selling wire hangers was too dangerous, because women would just use them for abortions?

One time I was looking for hangers in a store, and my brain thought up this elaborate corporate conspiracy, complete with pervasive surveillance and abortion-police keeping files on people:

“Warning, warning. Hanger alert. A woman in aisle P17 has asked an employee where the plain wire hangers are.”

“Commence surveillance on subject. Bring up her internet history, make note of any abortion-related searches.”

“Alert! Subject’s pharmacy records show she takes birth control pills. If she’s pregnant she would undoubtedly be seeking an abortion. Must bar her from all access to hangers. Intercept if she approaches a dry cleaning service.”

“Danger! Danger! She is buying 16-gauge wire from a hardware store!”

“Roger that. On my way, following her home.”

“Do you have a visual on the inside of her home? Repeat, do you have a visual?”

“Roger that. I have her on screen.”

“What is she doing with the wire?”

“She’s… making hangers out of it.”

“…Hmm. This is a devious one. We’ll need to keep extra close tabs on her.”

Seriously, though– plain wire hangers are great. Not only are they the most durable hangers you can get for the money, but they can be used for all sorts of clever household solutions– including this thing I came up with today, when I needed another over-the-door hanging hook and didn’t have time to go buy one:

(I agree they’re probably terrible for abortions, though.)

Smartphone Software Review

phone

So, a while ago I saw an ad, on the top of the webcomic “Questionable Content.” It’s one of my favorite webcomics, and it usually doesn’t support itself with ads for crappy stuff, so I thought the ad was worth a try– even though it made the dubious claim that the advertised product allowed you to earn money with your smartphone.

Turned out the ad was for an app called “tTap,” downloadable at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bcd.ttap. The idea is: 

-The app makes an advertisement show up on your screen before you unlock your phone. 

-A company is paying to put the ad there. Some of the money from that goes to the makers of the app, and some goes to you.

-You get the money by saving up “points” that you get when you unlock the phone. When you have enough points, you can exchange them for money that is deposited in your PayPal account.

The app had pretty good reviews, and I didn’t have anything better to do at the moment, so I downloaded it. First it had me set up an account on their website, and give them the email address connected to my PayPal account. 

After a few weeks of using it, these are my observations:

1. 

The app runs pretty smoothly now. During the first week I was using it, it was still pretty buggy, and crashed a few times– I had to reinstall it at one point. But because my account is on their site, I didn’t lose any points when reinstalling. And now they seem to have fixed most of the bugs.

2.

The ads are not that bad. They don’t play sound, and they aren’t videos, they’re just a picture and words (sometimes with a little bit of animation) that you see before you unlock the phone. You get it to go away by putting your finger in the lower right corner and moving the circle across the screen to the left. As you move it, a number will appear, showing you how many points you will get for that ad. 

Once you’ve done this, it takes you to your usual screen where you enter your PIN to unlock the phone, and then it opens up a website linked from the ad. Based on the interests I entered when I signed up for it, I generally get ads for apps, games, photographers and other artists. It doesn’t fit perfectly with what I thought I expressed in my choice of interests, but it’s not totally obnoxious.

You can close the website right after it opens, or even as it’s loading. For me, the whole process only takes a few seconds longer than unlocking my phone normally. 

3.

It really does pay you money. If you have a Paypal account and you have at least 1500 points to cash in, you can receive an actual Paypal payment. I’ve received three payouts so far– totalling $3.

Which brings us to the one catch:

 
4.

Unsurprisingly,  it doesn’t pay very much money. 

On a typical ad, unlocking your phone gets you 10 points. Every once in a while you get an ad for a free app that gives you 150 points if you download the app– because certain apps are supported with ads from tTap’s sponsors– but those are rare; I’ve only gotten 2 so far.

It takes 1500 points to equal one dollar, so 10 points is less than a cent. To earn a dollar (the minimum amount for getting a Paypal payout) you have to gain points from unlocking your phone 150 times.

Of course, if you sat around all day constantly unlocking your phone, you could game the system, so there are some restrictions. Unlocking your phone doesn’t get you points if it’s been less than 20 minutes since the last time you earned points. So in addition to taking 150 unlocks to earn a dollar, it also takes about ten days, if you unlock your phone an average of 15 times a day. Even if you unlocked it every 20 minutes, like clockwork, for ten hours a day, it would still take five days to make a dollar.

So is it worth it? Suppose unlocking your phone this way takes about 5 seconds longer than unlocking your phone without the ads. Every 150 unlocks (or every 750 seconds of your time) earns you a dollar, so you’re working for about $4.80 an hour. Not a great wage by any stretch of the imagination.

But on the other hand, I figure my time is only worth money if I might otherwise be using it to earn money, or do something else valuable. I use my smartphone just to keep myself from dying of boredom while waiting for various things, and I have an unlimited data plan. If I weren’t spending those five extra seconds seeing an ad, those would just be five more seconds I’d be blankly staring at some website to kill time, so I might as well make three-quarters of a cent off it.

Full disclosure: The company that made tTap didn’t offer me anything in exchange for writing this review. However, if you download this app and enter “earthtoerika” (my tTap username) when it asks how you found out about it, I get 500 points, so I can’t claim this review has no motive to be biased.