The IRONHAND Triathlon

October 4th, 2014

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So, it’s coming on like a freight train: the IRONHAND Triathlon, the new evolution of 24-Hour Comics Day that Nathan Vargas and I are hosting at the Alternative Press Expo October 4-5. Actually, it came on so fast, and I had to do so much to prepare for it, that when I had a little trouble finishing this blogpost, the actual event came up before I got back to it!

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APE is held at Fort Mason this year, and they gave us a space in the back provided by ComicsPRO, the comics retailer’s association. The tables were all right, but once Nathan, my partner in Blitz Comics, arrived and took a look at the scene, he put some thought into it and rearranged the space to make it more inviting.

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The end result is that our yellow tables made an arrow pointing at the Blitz logo, and there was now a central entry space where Nathan could put information designed to guide creators to “drop in” at the event.

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We had seven people signed up for the event, which we marked with nametags. Not all those people showed up, but many did, and we had a sizable table of people tackling at least one leg of the IRONHAND Triathlon.

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The pure 24 Hour Comic Day experience is unbroken – 24 pages in 24 hours, with no preplanning or preparation. But Fort Mason closes at 7, so we had to break up the event into three shifts of 8 hours each, the first at Fort Mason and the two latter ones nearby. But once we split it up, we decided to evolve the event further, and to encourage everyone to just drop in and draw!

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After some iterations on the signage, Nathan hit on “Creator’s Drop In Area” and enough messaging so people knew how to use the space. At the end, we had artists dropping in to draw without us having to explain anything, and I got to kick back at our table and draw and shoot the breeze with Marco of ComicsPRO and with Nathan.

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The event was a big success, and we then moved to the Sandbox Suites for the latter half of the event. We were a bit worried as we only had two people join for the overnight session (and one of those got lost in a bus snafu) but after a while we started to have more and more people drop in.

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We had the place to ourselves, so creators spread out over a few different rooms. I think we succeeded in creating a creative oasis for our creators, as some who had left earlier made it a point to come back and join us.

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More people joined in the IRONHAND Triathlon remotely, so Nathan is hard at work on the winners certificates, which will have laminated pieces added to them, one for each of the segments of the Triathlon they completed.

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We’re still chugging away, with Paxti’s pizza about to arrive, so I think I’m going to close this blogpost and get back to it. I may not be doing 24 Hour Comic Day this time – I did it last week – but I want all of our creators to be happy.

Excelsior!

-Anthony

Eight Years Plus Four

September 19th, 2014

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My wife and I just celebrated 8 years of marriage and 12 years together … we married on almost precisely the fourth anniversary of our first meeting, and it’s been a lot of fun!

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I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to be married to a beautiful and talented artist. And one who puts up with me and my crazy shenanigans … and encourages them!

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Thank God for our marriage; here’s to another 8 times 12 years more …

-the Centaur

P.S. If you’re reading this, Boobie … I love you!

Taking it Easy

August 28th, 2014

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I am in Atlanta now. What am I doing? Well, tomorrow at Dragon Con, John Hartness has graciously let me crash his reading at 1pm on Friday in the Hyatt Roswell room; then I plan on attending the Bell Bridge Books spotlight on Saturday at 2:30pm at the Hyatt Embassy room, and Monday at 11:30a in the Westin Augusta III room I will be moderating a panel on Victorian Technology.

But for now? I’m hanging with friends in Atlanta. Taking it easy…

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-the Centaur

Appearing at Dragon Con, Just a Little Bit

August 24th, 2014

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I will be at Dragon Con this year, moderating a panel on Victorian Technology at Monday at 11:30am:

Technology of the Victorian era and how to exploit it in your stories or imagination!
We’ll discuss what technology the Victorians actually used and how it changed their world. We’ll also highlight inventions that should have changed the world but didn’t!

Monday at 11:30a in Augusta III

Anthony Francis (Moderator), Jean Marie Ward, Stephanie Osborn, Shay Mohn, Stephen Chapman

As usual, I will probably appear at the Writer’s Track, though those appearances are always fluid.

For the rest of the time, since I have no publications to announce at Dragon Con – my comics work being announced at Comic-Con and APE, and the work to do that is more than enough effort to consume all available time – I plan on enjoying the con, hanging out with friends, meeting up with the Dragon Writers, and remembering Ann Crispin.

More news as it happens, if it happens.

-Anthony

Resurrecting Fanu Fiku

August 1st, 2014

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SO, I have this webcomic some of you may know about, f@nu fiku (that’s Fanu Fiku, stylized with an @ sign, because aren’t I oh so clever :-P ). f@nu fiku is about Xiao Dreamweaver, a fifteen year old girl who can travel between all possible combinations of all possible realities … only she doesn’t know it yet. What you may or may not know is that this webcomic is cursed.

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Early on working on f@nu fiku, I broke my arm in a karate match, forcing me to use guest artists and rough notebook scans for several months. I blogged that extensively, but what I did NOT blog – because it was too disruptive – was the failure of the computer and theft of the notebooks on which I did f@nu fiku.

Back then, I produced f@nu fiku on this great Windows laptop, but eventually its cooling fan gave up the ghost, and I decided – purely as an experiment – to try out an old Macintosh laptop that I had gotten in a clearance sale, since I already used a Mac at work. Four days in to this new laptop, I attended an art show in San Francisco – and my car was broken into.

Many books were stolen. My personal laptop was stolen. One of my writing notebooks was stolen, including the one with the original outline of the Dakota Frost series. My f@nu fiku sketchbook – in which I created the pages – was stolen. None of this was ever returned, of course, but I retained all the data, I had all the scans, and in theory I could easily have resumed the comic.

Only one problem: the laptop was stolen before I realized I couldn’t produce f@nu fiku on the Mac.

I edited f@nu fiku in Corel Painter (a creditable replacement for Adobe Photoshop) and lettered it in Xara (a powerful, but much easier to use version of Adobe Illustrator). Corel Painter exists for the Mac … but Xara does not. At the time, I was completely inexperienced at Adobe Illustrator, and found working on the comic extremely difficult.

What’s worse, at the time the Mac’s support for Python wasn’t so hot. I wrote the f@nu fiku webcomic software myself, but found that it adapted poorly to the Macintosh, requiring a partial rewrite of the image processing layer. I eventually got the software running, but by this point FROST MOON was taking off, and without meaning to, I let f@nu fiku drop.

Fast forward more than half a decade. I’m more committed than ever to Dakota Frost, but I’m also more involved than ever with the comic community – with Blitz Comics on the 24 Hour Comic Day Survival Guide, and with our umbrella organization, Thinking Ink Press. At Comic-Con, I got energized, and decided that I should resurrect f@nu fiku, perhaps even in print form.

At first it seemed impossible. Many originals were gone. Some of the completed art was corrupted. And all of the art was way, way too low resolution to be printed. It was depressing. And in truth, this is the real state I’ve been for the past few years on f@nu fiku: too depressed about it to come back to it, regardless of how much time I had. And I started to give up hope.

But it is a half a decade later, and I’ve learned to never give up hope. This was a hard won lesson: when I left the PhD program, I despaired of ever using my degree. Well, it took ten years, but eventually I returned to that work … and now, I’m using those skills more than ever. Over time, I’ve learned that the more patient and perseverant I become, the more I am rewarded.

So, when I started to lose hope … I really had just forgotten how paranoid I am about backups, and soon found the original scans AND backup copies of the completed art. And I had just forgotten how perseverant I have become, and how much I have changed my thinking about solving problems just like this one. And soon, after a little thought, I found a way to get high resolution images.

As before, I had a spare laptop lying around – this time a Windows 8 machine, that I’d tried as a replacement for the Mac (and quickly discarded for that purpose, though it isn’t really bad). And IT will run Xara, and IT could load all my old f@nu fiku files. I don’t know whether I’ll try to save these as Illustrator files, now that I’m comfortable with it, but regardless, I now have a way.

I almost always find that if you think something’s impossible, you’re thinking about it the wrong way … and a solution awaits you nearby. I don’t have to solve the nearly impossible problem of getting Xara to run on the Mac (I have tried virtual machines, but they were virtually impossible to use) but just the far simpler problem of using Xara on a PC to dump high-res images.

Now, I have almost 60 issues of f@nu fiku backlogged … more than a year’s worth, almost ready to go. It will take me some time to get all of them beaten into shape, to rework the fanufiku.com site, to get set up on tapastic and get a posting schedule going. But it will be worth it: it will not only break this creative logjam, it will help me prepare for new comic projects, like Quarry.

So don’t give up hope. It’s just an excuse – just a way to give yourself license to wallow in self pity and to fall into inaction. Often enough, the files are saved on backup, the original scans are on disk, and there’s a laptop laying around somewhere, waiting for the software to be installed on it that will give you the power to resurrect something you thought long dead.

You just have to have a little faith, and work a little harder.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the Windows laptop, with Page 1 of f@nu fiku successfully loaded in Xara.

Mission Accomplished, Part 1 of N

July 25th, 2014

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A year ago Nathan said he wanted to be on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con, and to shake the hand of Scott McCloud, creator of the 24-Hour Comics Day challenge. I told Nathan the first goal would happen but was ambitious, that it might take us a few years, but that he’d certainly meet Scott if he set his mind to it.

What neither I nor Nathan ever expected is that not only is Nathan going to be on a panel, not only did he meet Scott McCloud, we together gave Scott a signed copy of the 24 Hour Comic Day Survival Guide. And not just any copy of the guide: Scott got the #1 of a limited print run of 100 done as a Comic-Con Preview Edition.

And we got to listen to a very nice talk by Scott too.

Nathan’s appearing – along with Nate Gertler, Chris Brady, Jimmy Purcell, and Marco Devanzo on Friday at 5:15 in Room 18 to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of 24-Hour Comics Day. I’ll be in the audience, and the two of us will have (roughly) fifty copies of the Guide which we plan to give to all the participants.

Excellent … it’s all falling into place.

So … what should we put on the agenda to do next year?

-the Centaur

Pictured: From left to right: Nathan, Scott, and me. How am I taller than Scott? I always imagined him as ten feet tall..

My Presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

July 24th, 2014

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The submarine surfaces, oh so briefly. So, between work, writing and life, things have been stacked up on me so much that not only do I have several half-finished blog posts begging me to finish them and put them up, but also I now find myself already a day into San Diego Comic-Con – and just now blogging about my presence at San Diego Comic-Con.

This year is the tenth anniversary of 24-Hour Comics Day, a challenge to create a 24 page comic in 24 hours, a challenge which me and my buddy Nathan Vargas have tackled a dozen times between the two of us (him seven, me five). It’s a difficult challenge, and we failed the first few times, so we collected our advice on how to succeed in the 24 Hour Comic Day Survival Guide.

Nathan worked with ComicsPRO to create a panel celebrating the 10th anniversary of the event, and will be on the panel along with the creator of the annual event Nat Gertler and several other creators. But what’s special is that we were already planning to update our Survival Guide for this year’s 24HCD in October – and were able to put together a Preview Edition of the Guide.

Thanks to our friends at Thinking Ink Press, we have expanded our original 8-page guide into a 76 page booklet, with over a dozen chapters of tips and advice and interactive exercises. We’ll be giving away signed copies of the Preview Edition of the Guide at the panel celebrating 24-Hour Comics Day, and also giving them away at various events or on the show floor.

The panel is at 5:15 on Friday at Room 18 at San Diego Comic-Con, and Nathan will be appearing with Nate Gertler, Chris Brady, Jimmy Purcell, and Marco Devanzo (with me in the audience). While Nat Gertler created the annual event, the actual 24-Hour Comic challenge was created by Scott McCloud, who will be appearing himself at Comic-Con, and whom I hope to meet.

Regardless, the official 24-Hour Comics Day is held the first week in October every year – this year, October 4. Nathan and I will be appearing at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) on the same weekend, hopefully with some 24HCD themed events, but will take the challenge at Mission Comics and Art in San Francisco which this year is holding 24HCD one week early.

So: that’s what’s going on. As many of you know, I have two novels sitting at the publisher – LIQUID FIRE and JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE – but Debra Dixon is still reviewing them, so I’m hacking away at Dakota Frost Book 4, SPECTRAL IRON, and blissing out on comics while I wait for the edits to land.

-the Centaur

Answer Them on the Field

June 22nd, 2014

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I’m not a big sports fan – my favorite “sports” to participate in are martial arts, my favorite sports to watch are sumo and baseball (though I can watch football with my family in a pinch), and of the real sports I’ve played, I prefer basketball – perhaps that’s because it’s the only sport in which I’ve scored an official goal.

My entire basketball career consisted of two seasons of grade school play, which I only dimly recall. I wasn’t a dedicated player – I was in grade school, and hadn’t yet learned the value of practice – and in official games I only got on court a handful of times. Actually, I only remember being on court once, but that one time, I got the ball, and took a shot.

I don’t remember the outcome of that shot. We were playing, I got the ball, I was in position, I took the shot, the game continued, we all ran to the other side of the court. Reviewing that sequence of events later, it’s clear what happened – if you know the rules of basketball – but at the time I didn’t think about it. I was told later that I not only got the ball and took the shot, I scored a goal.

That amazes me to this day – I still don’t quite believe it, and if one of my old grade school buddies told me that the onlookers were mistaken, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. But the onlookers told me that I did score – and if it was my only shot in the only game I played in, I have the weird experience of my crappy basketball career having a field goal percentage of 100%.

But I did play other sports, notably soccer. So at some level I’ve got the tiniest sliver of interest in the game, which is perhaps why I picked up something from all the World Cup coverage going on – in particular, a story of a black athlete booed by fans in the stands, and his coach telling him to be strong, to show character, and as for the people who were his critics:

We will answer them on the field of play.

I love that sentiment. I took it to mean that there may be people who hate you for who you are, where you are from, or for other things about yourself you cannot change – but you should not answer those criticisms; instead you should focus on conducting yourself at the highest level in your chosen work, and let that performance speak for itself.

I did some digging, and apparently this is an old phrase – I found references to similar phraseology dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s (back when the word “soccer” was still remembered as a contraction of “AsSOCiation Football”). The closest I could find to an exact quote was the following news article, which is not from the same event, but had the same idea:

We have told the youngster to be strong because we know they (Bosso supporters) are going to boo him. I have told him that playing for Dynamos has always been associated with pressure. I have told him he will be against thousands of supporters and he cannot answer them all by reacting to what they will be saying from the stands. He should just answer them on the field of play. I have told him to be strong, to show character.

This matters for many reasons, but it’s particularly relevant to me because of the ideas of people who I care about – some of whom are quite willing to critique others based on features they cannot change, and others of whom have called into question the whole project of focusing on people’s important similarities, rather than their obvious differences.

Now, I could take on those criticisms directly, and one day I will – but for now, I’m not. I am willing to discuss ideas, but I don’t want to dispute someone’s ideas if I haven’t taken the time to express the ideas I have of my own. Regardless of the merits of their position, clearly a person who says what they think is doing a better job of communicating than the one who doesn’t.

It’s hard even to write this article, because there are things I want to communicate that are based on ideas I have that themselves need so much explanation that it would derail everything I’m writing to express them. So I’m going to continue to do what I said I was going to do earlier: rather than arguing, I’m going to be strong, to show character, and express my own ideas clearly.

It’s likely that I won’t have a 100% field goal percentage in this endeavor. I’m not the Hemingway type, willing to throw 99 pages in the wastebasket to get to that one good page – you can’t be a blogger with that attitude. Instead, I believe in working hard, trying frequently, getting your ideas out there, acknowledging your mistakes, learning from them, and moving forward.

As for my – as for our – critics, for the time being, we shall not even acknowledge them. That isn’t to say that their criticism isn’t important, nor is it even to imply that the criticism is wrong. It is instead to acknowledge that if someone has criticized your behavior, the answer is not to defend yourself – but to instead prove them wrong by example

We shall answer them on the field.

-the Centaur

Pictured: My good friend Nathan Vargas, showing us, his friends, a proof of his competence in his chosen field of play. This will all become much more clear later.

There’s Always a Line

June 14th, 2014

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I’m a regular at many places – restaurants, cafes, bookstores. I’m a regular because I like good ruts – where you find something that works, like going to a good restaurant, with healthy food and clean tables suitable for working on your laptop, and located near your house and next to the bank and pet food store. When I find a good rut, I stick to it, so I hit the same places a lot.

And I’m friendly to the staff at these places, because I admire my father, who could be friendly to anyone, and because I’m a follower of Jesus, and I interpret his teachings to mean that everyone you meet is a person, and is just as valuable a person as you yourself are, and that you should treat them as you wish you should be treated.

So I get to know the staff, and often become friends with them. So while waiting for my food at Aqui Blossom Valley, one of my favorite restaurants (because it has healthy food and clean tables and … oh, heck, it’s the one I was talking about above, interpolate that description), I saw one of the staff, a busser turned part-time bartender, and walked over to say hello.

We talked for a while, and I asked if he wanted to become a full-time bartender. He hesitated a moment, then said yes. He said that bartending is faster paced than bussing tables, but unlike bussing, everything you need to do is right there at your workstation. There’s no circling the restaurant, then the kitchen, then the storeroom, then the restroom: it’s all right there.

Yes, but sometimes the line gets long, I said. And then my eponymous friend behind the counter said something interesting:

There’s always a line.

The line at the bar at Aqui can get intense on the evenings and weekends, easily a dozen people deep. But in his training, the bartender said that his trainers warned him that there would always be a line – and that he should do his best to ignore it. They told him to work at his own pace, because if you hurry up to get ahead, you’ll screw up and fall behind.

Early on in his training, he said, he would see the line stack up and tried to pick up the pace so he could get ahead. But when he did so, he found himself forgetting ingredients, ending up short, or mixing up the order. On one occasion, his shadow trainer looked at the drink, shook his head, and said “Pour it out and start over.”

From then on, he worked at his own pace, focusing on the order at hand, and it’s worked better for him.

There’s a lot of wisdom here. First, in the staff of Aqui, who train people for their positions, who shadow them to provide advice, and instruct them in how their jobs really work to be efficient, rather than trying to create the perception of efficiency by ordering the staff to rush and then screaming at them when they fall behind, as happens at so many other less successful restaurants.

But I perhaps I paid attention to that lesson because I’m a professional in the software industry – and, in my mind, a professor-in-training, learning how software really works so that one day I can go back to academia and help train the next generation to be better software engineers – and I’m always analyzing workplace environments and what makes them work … or not.

But the lesson that “There’s always a line” is more general. You always have a line of tasks stacked up in front of you: each day you need to get up, dress, breathe, drink, eat, excrete, and sleep, and you have a thousand other tasks besides. You never stop wearing clothes or eating or excreting, so you’ll always need to make sure you have laundry, good food and toilet paper.

But for any more complex tasks, there’s usually a right way and a wrong way to do it. When you’re a novice, you may fumble around, but once you become expert, there’s a system. You may improve the system, you may try to perfect it – but if you get in a hurry and you skip steps, you can make mistakes, and be far worse off than you started with.

Software is particularly vulnerable to this – mistakes found early in the process, say when you decide what you want, can be easy to fix, just by changing direction. Once a design is started it gets harder to fix mistakes, and even harder when there’s code. By the time you get to deployment, the costs skyrocket: according to NASA, mistakes in operation can be 1500 times as expensive.

I guess they would know. NASA lost a third of a billion dollars to a software glitch, when the Mars Climate Orbiter, which had inadequately tested software mixing English System and Metric units, misjudged its altitude – and even though the error was noticed in advance and a team met to discuss it, they skipped the course correction maneuver, causing the Orbiter to crash.

So remember: there will always be a line. Hurrying up to get ahead can lead to mistakes, which can put you behind … or, hey, lead to your fiery death on re-entry, and the ignominious legacy of being used forevermore as a warning and example to others of how not to conduct your business.

So ignore the line, take your time, and get it right.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the bar at Aqui, not yet open … so not yet having a line. ;-D

Don’t Put Things off Too Long

June 13th, 2014

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Recently I wanted to write a blogpost. A blogger I read put up an interesting article, and I wanted to respond. But I rapidly found that there were so many concepts that I take for granted that the article would be incomprehensible without them. I had four bad choices: go ahead and make the article incomprehensible, make it so long it’s unreadable, write many blogposts explaining the ideas, which would make the final post no longer timely, or don’t blog it at all.

I went for #4, for now, because I realized something else recently: don’t put things off too long. That may seem contradictory, but in the case of the blogpost, I’d already put things off too long, and had lost the opportunity. So rather than scramble to recapture the opportunity, I decided to write about the lesson I’d learned about not putting things off.

I knew this lesson already because I had one friend whose father worked his whole life saving money, but then got too physically sick and mentally enfeebled to enjoy the bounty he’d prepared for his family. Then again, when I moved out of my condominium in Atlanta, another friend pointed out I’d made the classic rookie mistake: renovating the house on the move out to sell it … meaning the new owners got the benefit of the renovations, leaving me having lived there for years in a place I wasn’t happy with.

The right time to fix up your place is when you move into it: identify the problems that you have and fix them. If you’re going to spend a lot of money fixing up your place, you should enjoy it; don’t get suckered into spending a lot of money on renovations in the hope it will raise the price of the house. Unless it’s a big bathroom or kitchen remodel, it won’t.

There are a lot of reasons me and my wife didn’t fix up our place when we moved in, mostly having to do us expecting to move within a few years and that not happening because of the financial crash. We actually started the process of renovation, put up some crown molding and such, but then put it on hold … and the holding pattern continued for seven to eight years.

But, recently, we had the opportunity for me to move closer to work. We considered it, then decided not to. With the money we saved from not moving (down payment on new house, plus megabucks to ship all my junk) we considered renovating the bathroom. The cost for what we wanted was literally triple what we expected, so we decided to hold off on that too.

With the money saved for the move that we hadn’t spent, we realized we could easily fix many of the small woes in the house. I won’t go into all of them, but we’ve been systematically updating the house on a small scale – fixing up broken fixtures, replacing older equipment, planting plants, and so on. The most recent expenditure: a new umbrella for the back patio.

That seems like a small thing, but when we bought the house, it had a wooden trellis over the whole back patio, but it was destroyed before we moved in, in a freak rainstorm while the house was being tented for termites. A tree that shaded the patio had to come down because it was destroying the neighbor’s fence. So for most of the time we’ve lived there, the patio has never had adequate shade, and has effectively been unusable, leading me to spend many a day on the front porch.

The front porch is nice, but you should be able to use your patio. When we renovated it, we decided to stay cheap: a free table, cheap but very comfortable made-in-the-USA metal chairs and, rather than plunking a lot on a new trellis, we decided to get a simple fold-away patio umbrella. I put it up, winched it out … and found that the back porch completely changed.

You can see the result up there, but it’s hard to describe how it felt. The umbrella, while not seeming so large, actually covers the patio on its shorter length. The patio became inviting again. I had to work from home, so I dragged my laptop outside, sat under the umbrella, and coded while a sequence of cats hopped up into my lap, wanting attention.

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The cost of the whole project was under five hundred dollars, about a quarter of the cost of replacing the trellis.

We could have done this eight years ago.

Congratulations. We just lost eight years of enjoyment we could have had in our back yard because we were indecisive in the name of saving an amount of money which, while not trivial to most people, was in the larger scheme of mortgages and cars and computers and phones and even the trellis project itself, was a mere pittance.

So don’t put things off too long, is what I’m saying. You may find yourself having missed out on years of enjoyment, as we did with our back porch, or you may find yourself unable to take advantage of an opportunity, as in the case of my blogpost. Yes, be frugal, be busy, be a good use of your time, but for goodness sake, if you have an idea, execute on it.

You’ll thank yourself later.

-the Centaur