Welcome to the Future

January 1st, 2017

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Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen. Here in the future, the obscure television shows of my childhood rate an entire section in the local bookstore, which combines books, games, music, movies, and even vinyl records with a coffeehouse and restaurant.

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Here in the future, the heretofore unknown secrets of my discipline, artificial intelligence, are now conveniently compiled in compelling textbooks that you can peruse at your leisure over a cup of coffee.

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Here in the future, genre television shows play on the monitors of my favorite bar / restaurant, and the servers and I have meaningful conversations about the impact of robotics on the future of labor.

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And here in the future, Monty Python has taken over the world.

Perhaps that explains 2016.

-the Centaur

TCTM is on its way to production!

December 23rd, 2016

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JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE is now on its way to production at Bell Bridge Books. It only took me about a month to go over the page proofs after all the crap that’s been going on in my life, but at last, at last, it’s out of my hands. Now all I have to do is market the thing! Oh … on that note …

http://www.jeremiahwillstone.com/

More content landing there Real Soon Now … but as for me, I’m going to go have a well-needed drink. (*)

-the Centaur

(*) Axually, I had it already, nonalcoholic of course. I elect not to drink unless I know I’ll be spending more than a couple of hours at the location of my consumption, and even then, it’s “one and done,” baby.

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I’m so sorry, web …

December 21st, 2016

… I had to install an ad-blocker. Why? Firefox before any ad block:

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Firefox after Adblock Plus:

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Yep, Firefox was TEN TIMES SLOWER when loading a page with ads, and it stayed that way because the ads kept updating. Just one page with ads brought FF to its knees, and I did the experiment several times to confirm, yes, it indeed was the ads. I don’t know what’s specifically going on here, but I strongly suspect VPAID ads and similar protocols are the culprit, as documented here:

http://techaeris.com/2016/06/14/vpaid-ads-hurting-internet-experience/

… publisher and website owner Artem Russakovskii took to Google+ and The Hacker News to share some of his findings concerning VPAID ads. He shows how VPAID ads can degrade a user’s browser performance:

“… after several minutes of just leaving this one single ad open, I’m at 53MB downloaded and 5559 requests. By the time I finished typing this, I was at 6140 requests. A single ad did this. Without reloading the page, just leaving it open.

A single VPAID ad absolutely demolishes site performance on mobile and desktop, and we, the publishers, get the full blame from our readers. And when multiple VPAID ads end up getting served on the same page… you get the idea.”

Similarly, John Gruber reports that a 500-word text article weighed in at 15MB – enough data to hold more than 10 copies of the Bible, according to the Guardian. Gruber links another post which shows that web pages can get more than 5 times faster without all the excess scripts that they load.

The sad thing is, I don’t mind ads. The very first version of my site had fake “ads” for other blogs I liked. Even the site I tested above, the estimable Questionable Content, had ads for other webcomics I liked, but experimentation showed that ads could bring Firefox to its knees. QC I always thought of as ad-lite, but guess it’s time to start contributing via Patreon.

The real problem is news sites. Sites were opening a simple story kept locking up Firefox and twice brought down my whole computer by draining the battery incredibly fast. I don’t care what you think your metrics are telling you, folks: if you pop up an overview so I can’t see your page, and start running a dozen ads that kill my computer, I will adblock you, or just stop going to your site, and many, many other people across the world are doing the same.

We need standards of excellence in content that say 2/3 of a page will be devoted to content and that ads can add no more than 50% to the bandwidth downloaded by a page. Hell, make it only 1/3 content and 100% extra bandwidth – that will be almost 100% more content than a page totally destroyed by popup ads and almost 3000% less data than one bloated by 10 copies of the Old Testament in the form of redundant ads for products I will either never buy or, worse, have already bought.

-the Centaur

Wishful Thinking Won’t Land a Man on the Moon

December 18th, 2016

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Wishful thinking won’t land a man on the moon, but it might get us all killed – fortunately, though, we have people who know how to nail a good landing.

All we have to do now is preserve the fruits of their labors.

Now that a climate denier is barreling towards the presidency, other climate deniers are coming out of the woodwork, but fortunately, NASA has a great site telling the story of climate change. For those who haven’t been keeping score at home, the too-simple story is that humans have pumped vast amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the past few decades, amounts that in the geological record resulted in disastrous temperature changes – and it’s really convenient for a lot of people to deny that.

Now, don’t worry: NASA results are in the public record, so even though Trump’s team has threatened to blind NASA’s earth sciences program and looks poised to conduct a witch hunt of climate change workers in the Department of Energy, even though climate deniers are wringing their hands in glee at the thought of a politicized EPA attacking climate science, scientists are working to save this climate data. If you want to get involved, check out climatemirror.org.

Now, I said it’s a too-simple story, and there are a lot of good references on climate change, like Henson’s The Rough Guide to Climate Change. But, technically, that could be considered a polemic, and if you want to really dig deep, you need to go for a textbook instead, one presenting a broad overview of the science without pushing an agenda. For example, Understanding Weather and Climate has a great chapter (Chapter 16 in the 4th edition) that breaks down some of the science behind global climate change (human and not) and why anthropogenic climate change is both very tricky to study – and still very worrisome.

And because I am a scientist, and I am not afraid to consider warranted arguments on both sides of any scientific question, I also want to call out Human Impacts on Weather and Climate 2/e by Cotton and Pielke, which in Chapter 8 and the Epilogue take a more skeptical view of our predictive power. In their view, well-argued in my opinion, current climate models are sensitivity studies, not forecasts; they merely establish the vulnerability of our systems to forcing factors like excess carbon, and don’t take into account areas of natural variability which might seriously alter the outcomes. And, yes, they are worried about climate groupthink.

Yes, they’re climate skeptics. But no-one is burning them at the stake. No-one is shunning them at conferences. People like me who believe in climate change read their papers with interest (especially Pielke’s work, which while it in some ways makes CO2 less of an issue and in some ways makes other human impacts seem worse). Still, Cotton and Pielke think the right approach is “sustained, stable national funding at a high level” and decry the politicization of science in either direction.

Still, do worry. Earth’s climate looks intransitive – it can get shoved from one regime to another, like the rapid-cooling Heinrich events and rapid-warming Dansgaard Oeschger events in the geological record, possibly triggered by large-scale ice sheet breakdowns and ocean circulation changes. Yes, global warming can cause global cooling by shutting down the existing pattern of global ocean circulation – and we’re pumping enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to simulate past triggers for such events.

Do you see why people who study climate change in enough depth to see where the science is really not settled end up walking away more unsettled about the future of our planet, not less? And why we stand up and say NO when someone else comes forward saying the “science is not settled” while acting like the science has already been settled in their favor?

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Have fun warming the planet!” Just hope it doesn’t inundate Florida. I’d love to tell you that the projected 1M sea rise discussed in the Florida resource isn’t as bad as the Geology.com map’s default 6m projections, but unfortunately, sea level seems to be rising in Florida faster than the IPCC projections, and if the science isn’t really settled, we could have a sea level rise of … jeez. After reviewing some of the research I don’t even want to tell you. The “good” news is, hey, the seas might fall too.

“Have fun rolling the dice!”

-the Centaur

Now I Know the Problem

November 27th, 2016

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Hoisted from Facebook … what’s the biggest problem with the world today?

First I studied logic, and found out many people don’t know how to construct an argument, and I thought that was the biggest problem.

Then I studied emotion, and found out many people judge arguments to be correct if they make them feel good, and I thought that was the biggest problem.

Then I studied consciousness, and found out many people don’t argue at all, they post-hoc justify preconscious decisions, and then I thought that was the biggest problem.

Then I studied politics, and I realized the biggest problem was my political opponents, because they don’t agree with me!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Me banging on a perfectly good piece of steel until it becomes useless.

Viiictory the Sixteenth

November 27th, 2016

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Hooray! I have now successfully completed National Novel Writing Month sixteen times (out of eighteen tries, counting Camp Nanos and such), finishing the first 50,000 words of Dakota Frost #6, SPIRITUAL GOLD!

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It’s easy to look at the big cliff over the past few days and not realize how far I got behind, between getting sick, wrangling robots at work, and some damn election thing. That’s why I haven’t been posting much this month – I had to knuckle down to overcome this:

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The good news is, the more and more I do this, the better I understand how I’m doing. While I was behind, I wasn’t unsurmountably behind, at least not compared to my yearly averages:

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Over the years, I’ve tackled Nanowrimo many, many times, and this year tracked my average performance pretty closely:

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It is super late, and I’m tired, and I want to go hug my wife, who just woke up after a long winters nap when she finished work for an art show. So I’ll post excerpts later! Oh wait, here’s a little one:

“Mom, so help me, I swear,” said my daughter Cinnamon—her voice a growl, her whiskers aquiver, and one long clawed finger pointing menacingly in my general direction—“if you try to go off half cocked I will ground you until the heat death of the universe!”

How the worm turns. Onward! Or, on to bed.

-the Centaur

DEBRIS DREAMS is out!

November 19th, 2016

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Thinking Ink Press’s first novel, DEBRIS DREAMS by David Colby, is out now on Amazon! I’ve described the story as “The Hunger Games meets Gravity”, but to get a clearer picture, here’s the teaser:

The year: 2069 The place: Sun-Earth Lagrange Point L1, 1.5 million kilometers above the surface of the Earth The objective: Survive!

Sixteen-year-old Drusilla Zhao lives in the Hub, a space station used by the Chinese-American Alliance as a base to exploit Luna’s resources. Desperate to break free of the Alliance, a terrorist group from the Moon destroys the space elevator, space’s highway to Earth. In a flash, Dru’s parents are dead and she is cut off from her girlfriend Sarah on Earth. The Alliance declares war against the Moon, conscripting Dru and all the youth of the Hub. Dru is forced to become a soldier fighting in the lethal vacuum of space. Can Dru survive lunar terrorist attacks and find her way home to Sarah?

I’m especially excited that this novel features a cover by my wife, Sandi Billingsley! We’re working hard to bring you the next two books in David’s series, SHATTERED SKIES and LUNA’S LAMENT, so stay tuned – but in the meantime, check out DEBRIS DREAMS!

-the Centaur

The Good News

November 11th, 2016

The good news is, the presentation I had today at work went very well. Yay robots! The bad news?

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Eleven days into Nano, and seven thousand words behind. Argh.

-the Centaur

Sandi’s Latest Art Show is Today!

November 4th, 2016

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Saudi’s latest art show is today in downtown San Jose at 6pm! She’ll have 25+ pieces on display highlighting all aspects of her amazing creativity. The full details:

https://www.facebook.com/events/262434390823115/

PRESENTING THE ARTWORK OF SANDI BILLINGSLEY

Please join us for an evening of Art and Wine on Friday, November 4th, 2016 from 6 to 9 p.m.

1 Almaden Blvd, Suite 800 on the 8th floor

Please RSVP with Emilie at 408.287.6500 or emilie.slawinski@ampf.com

The site is the offices of Ameriprise Financial Services, but as far as I know, this is just an art opening – a series of events hosted by them for over a decade to support the arts in San Jose. Come check it out!

-the Centaur

Nanowrimo 18: Spiritual Gold

November 1st, 2016

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So for the 18th time I’m taking on a National Novel Writing Month challenge (counting Camp Nano), this time starting Dakota Frost Book 6: Spiritual Gold!

Dakota Frost is the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, and is rapidly becoming the best magical investigator … but what about magical medicine? When Dakota’s called on to help with a zombie epidemic, is the solution simply finding a cure for a disease … or stopping an implacable force determined to break down the walls between the living and the dead?

And an excerpt:

Those who live by the sword, die by the sword, or so the saying goes; personally, I like to say that those who acquire a dangerous magical blade ought to learn to use it properly, or they’re likely to die skewered, embarrassingly, by their own faerie lightsaber.

On that note, having the most powerful magical sword in the world sure wasn’t saving my ass today. For that matter, my ass was not well being well served by my martial arts training, my considerable magical expertise, nor even my vast library of magical tattoos.

Because I’m Dakota Frost, the Skeptical Witch, and while I am many things—the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, a Skindancer who can dance her tattoos to life, making me, allegedly, one of the most powerful magicians in the world—one thing I am not is a fencer.

“Ow,” I said, as my instructor whapped my ass, once again, with a springy wooden Japanese practice sword called a shinai. I stumbled away, swinging my own shinai back at her, as she stepped back and laughed. “No fair capitalizing on my … my stupidness.”

“It was your idea to add free form practice,” said Gina Ho, the secondary instructor at the dojo where I dilettanted at Shao Lin. She was an actual Olympic-grade sabreuse who’d agreed to train me after hours. “Pick a style and learn the basics before picking up that … that thing.

She jerked her head at the wall of the dojo, where I had piled my gym bag, my satchel, my folded leather pants, my carefully folded leather vestcoat, and leaning carelessly atop it all, an innocent-looking brown leather case with shoulder-slung strap. One had too look at it closely to realize that the handle poking out of the end meant the leather case … was a scabbard.

“You practicing?” asked Master Ho cheerfully, and Gina and I jumped. Gina’s uncle was a genial, balding Iowan of Chinese descent, whose Midwestern accent belied his deep roots in the Shao Lin tradition he’d received from his father—down to a near-supernatural ability to move around silently on his perpetually unshod feet. “No? Give her her money’s worth.”

“Money?” Gina grumbled. “Uncle Marcus, I’m volunteering to—”

“Remember your proverbs,” Ho said, mock-sternly. “Always listen to your uncle.”

“Fine,” Gina said, stomping off to the lockers. “Alright, Dakota, you get your wish.”

I smiled, bowed politely to Gina’s back, bowed to Master Ho … and then darted back to my things, hefting the long case, feeling its weight. “My precious,” I muttered, though I really wasn’t that attached; still, my eyes gleamed … as I drew the Salzkammergutschwert.

The Salt Chamber Sword was a dark metal sword, strangely angular, like a geometric S. Thirty one inches from tip to guard, tapered triangular, like a cleaver, the Salzkammergutschwert was forged from a strange lustrous metal as dark as hematite—not one blade, but two, back to back, with a hairsbreadth’s distance between them; they never seemed to strike each other, but resonated, like a tuning fork, leading to its other name … the Songblade.

Current theory was the Songblade wasn’t a sword at all, but a component of a larger faery artifact, some magical resonator which merely happened to be indestructible—and sharp, leading early humans to wrap its “hilt” with dark, oily leather straps enchanted for durability. Maybe that was why the hilt, thirteen inches from guard to pommel, was fashioned in two angled parts that didn’t quite align with the blade, but it gave the weapon a comfortable hand-and-a-half grip. Backing the resonator theory was a circular space in the pommel, showing all signs of being a setting for a magical gem; but that missing component didn’t prevent the Salt Chamber Sword from serving its primary magical function as a negative energy resonator … making it of great interest to a Skeptical Witch who knew a little physics.

But still, it looked like a sword, and was used like one, because it was indestructible.

Time to learn how to wield it.

More soon. I got 1500+ words done tonight! Just 48500 words to go!

Onward!

-the Centaur