Archive for April, 2009

Links for 2009-04-27

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Instructions on creating your own Star Wars crawl on TheForce.Net:

Reviews of some spy gear, including a bulletproof dress shirt:

Some people think you shouldn’t use Papyrus, the font I liberally use in “The Library of Dresan” logo and all over the rest of this site. I present the evidence; you decide:

And finally, I bring you a few pointers to the Artist General, Michael Masley, who I saw again recently playing his cymbalom to the crowds at the 2009 Game Developer’s Conference:

Image: Michael Masley playing the cymbalom at GDC 2009 using his amazing bowhammers, which create a distinctive soundscape that sounds like Masley is several performers.

-the Centaur

Just a little bit harder…

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Earlier I blogged about how to succeed at work or life you need to work just a little bit more than you want to. I mean that ‘little bit’ literally: not working yourself to death more, not a whole lot more, just that little bit more that can turn your day from one of frustration and failure into one with a concrete achievement.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me the point when I really want to give up is frequently just before I am about to reach one of my goals. All I need to do is hang on just a little bit longer, keep working just a little bit harder, and very frequently I’m rewarded by more than I could have expected.

Today this was once again confirmed. I got in late today and decided to work until 7, which was coincidentally what I felt was a good solid workday and about the time I would need to leave to make sure I can get some dinner and writing done.

But work was slow going: I’d recently switched to a new project but was stuck with some old tasks, and the mental gear switching, combined with some syrupy new software on my workstation, kept dragging me down. On top of that, one of my collaborators dropped in with a request for assistance putting together an evaluation, and since I owe him a few I worked on a scripting job for him while I was between compiles of the unit tests of my main task for the day.

7 rolls around, and I’m just about spent. I decide to call it a day, start to pack things up, and begin thinking of where I can go for dinner and what I need to be working on: my new novel, an illustration for my last novel, my web site.

And then I remember that blog post, and decide to push just a little bit harder.

In just 23 minutes, I got both the unit tests to pass on my main task AND finished a first trial run of the scripting job, complete with an automatically generated HTML page. With that, I was able to find a ‘problem’ with my script, spent about 20 more minutes debugging it, verified it wasn’t really my script’s problem, and fired off an email to my colleague telling him where to find the HTML for his evaluation, and asking him had he ever seen an error like that and did he happen to know how to fix it?

By 7:45, I’d closed up, walked out, and headed for Panera Bread. By the time I was done with my sandwich, I’d gotten an email back from my collaborator suggesting an easy workaround for the problem that I can implement with a one line change. I might even be able to start it up tonight to run overnight – meaning that, God willing, I will have completed by Tuesday morning a task I told my collaborator I couldn’t even start until maybe Wednesday.

YES! By working just a little bit harder, I turned a frustrating day into a complete success – and freed my mind this evening to work on more creative tasks. I recommend it to all of you.

-the Centaur

“Never get in a boxing match with a cat…”

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

“… they’re incredibly fast, especially with multiple jabs.” – John Garrison

Bwah hah ha. Watch to the end if you can. Link for those for whom embedding won’t work. On the other hand, if you don’t think the Internet should be used exclusively for pictures of cats, there’s always Edison Hate Future.

-the Centaur

Internet Meme: Create your Google Profile NOW

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Google now has profiles, and I recommend the following wisdom from Elf Sternberg: Create your Google Profile NOW, before someone else does:

Go to Google right now and type “me” into the search box. You’ll be given a chance to secure your name as Google knows it, and create a profile, a starting point, which you can “encourage” Google to give to people rather than allowing them to hunt around randomly.

You can follow this handy link to this feature.

I hereby declare this an internet meme: forward this to your friends, and post a link to your profile on your blog. My profile can be found here.

-the Centaur

Aptera, Not Yet In the Wild

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Aptera is the manufacturer of an innovative new aerodynamic electric car which has appeared in the press recently. Now I’ve had a chance to see one in real life when on Earth Day they brought a couple of their test models to the parking lot of the Search Engine That Starts With a G:

These cars will go on sale in November, starting at $25,000ish for the base electric model, something higher for a gas model, and up to $40,000 for a series gas-electric hybrid that runs entirely on its electric motors until the battery runs out, at which point a generator kicks in.

I wasn’t one of the lucky few who got test drives, and the $1M prototype wasn’t set up for people to sit in it, but from what I saw of the cockpit it looked comfortable. There wasn’t a lot of space in the back, however:

Aptera’s car is interesting in that it is a three wheeler. Part of the reason for this is aerodynamics: Aptera started with the most aerodynamic car it could and then has been adjusting it to make it more livable, rather than start with an old style car and bubblifying it.

What’s fun is watching these cars drive. I saw one slicing past me on the road as I was driving up to the demonstration in my beloved but gas-guzzling Nissan Pathfinder, and it was going so fast it looked like a bat out of hell. But they’re almost completely silent:

I’m not sure it’s my next car – I plan to test drive a Tesla shortly. But I’m definitely thinking about it, even though it is definitely 1.0 technology that will have a few kinks to it.

The series hybrid is most intriguing to me: if you drive to and from work everyday and charge up at work or at night, the gas motor will never have to kick in. If you want to take a road trip, however, you don’t have to worry about running out of power and looking for a place to charge: the generator kicks in and you can drive it like a normal car – that is, just like a super efficient normal car that gets an equivalent of a kajillion miles per gallon.

-Anthony

Not enough hours in the day, redux…

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

I easily could spend 8 hours a day blogging. There’s just too much to write about; I don’t know how people like Andrew Sullivan and Warren Ellis write so much. No, wait, I do: they’re paid to write, dang it, where I am paid to make search engines smell better and must squeeze my writing in around the margins.

Recently I started work on redesigning the templates for the Library, and in my giant Mongo death Todo list I have an entry “blog updates to library”. But I never got around to writing the article, because I kept on getting confused about what to write first.

Then I realized that’s part of my problem. The point of blogging the redesign of the Library was to expose the thought process that normally goes into the redesign of any web site, rather than hiding all of the hard work behind the covers, springing it fully formed onto the world, and proclaiming: “See! Doesn’t it smell better?”

So here’s the thought process that was blocking me from writing articles on the Library:

  • Anthony looks at Todo list, sees entry “Blog Update” and tries to figure out what to do with this horribly underspecified action item with no clear next action. Somewhere out in cyberspace, David Allen kills himself, then spins in his grave.
  • Anthony decides “I’ve got a prototype for the new design of Library now! I just need to post the darn thing and get on with it!”
  • Anthony starts work on cleaning up his Blogger template. During this process he finds he needs to figure out precisely what his Blogger template is doing, as he no longer remembers and the code is poorly documented.
  • Anthony comes up with a clever way of visualizing how his Blogger template works which itself is probably worth blogging about.
  • Then Anthony realizes that he doesn’t know whether the design works well with Internet Explorer on Windows, or Chrome, or on small screens (notwithstanding my desire to support only large screens), or on super large desktop screens with different sized fonts.
  • This leads to more questions: What browsers should this work well on? How should I test this? What if there are fundamental incompatibilities between IE and Firefox?
  • Well, shazbot. I decide, screw it, let’s just fix a small page somewhere and update that. So I update the Research page, which already needed an overhaul of its research statement.
  • Anthony finds a system to help him test and prototype his content which is worthy of blogging about in its own right.
  • The textual update goes swimmingly, but updating the CSS and HTML proves more of a bear, especially comparing Internet Explorer and Firefox.
  • Anthony’s system for updating the content starts to show failures which are worthy of blogging about in their own right.
  • Well, shoot, now what do I do?

At this point, I have about half a dozen things to blog here: updating the Library, updating the Library’s blogger template, issues with Internet Explorer and Firefox, issues with HTML and CSS, how to update your software, how to test your software, how to rapidly prototype, and how you can visualize changes to a template. So in the process of deciding to update my blog template, I accumulated far more things to blog, which at the start of this process I’d wanted to wait until after updating my blog template. I become totally confused.

But the point of this blogging exercise is NOT to go off and hide and try to figure these things out, then come back smiling with a solution. Instead, when I get stumped, that is a serious decision point in the development process and I’m SUPPOSED to write an article which says, here’s what’s on my plate, and boy did I get stumped.

So this is that article. And just articulating the things going through my mind gave me a sequence of things to do: now I can blog each of the elements on that list and show how I encountered the problem, how I tackled it, and how I got to a solution.

-Anthony

I can’t read what I want right now

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Right now I’m working on Blood Rock, the sequel to Frost Moon, my novel about Dakota Frost, a magical tattoo artist who can create tattoos that come to life. It’s an urban fantasy novel set in Atlanta, where werewolves and vampires are real, magic was hidden by its own practitioners, and the counterculture of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s dragged it all into the light. Each book in this series focuses on one new monster and one new alternative culture practice made magical: Frost Moon focused on werewolves and magical tattooing, Blood Rock focuses on vampires and magical graffiti, and the upcoming Liquid Fire focuses on dragons and magical firespinning.

I recently completed the revision of Frost Moon, and am trying to get back into my groove on Blood Rock. I heard an author (I think it was Steven Barnes) recommend that you should read about ten times as much as you write, and while I don’t strictly follow that I do believe you need to expose yourself to a lot of writing to prevent yourself from falling into your own linguistic ruts. (You should do a lot of living too, and observing that living, but how to do that is something you must discover for yourself).

SO I went to pick up a new novel to read. When I started Blood Rock, I had recently picked up Fool Moon by Jim Butcher. A few pages into it I saw the beginnings of a plot thread similar to one I’m exploring in Blood Rock and immediately put it down. I don’t like to read things similar to what I’m working on “because stuff can sneak in even when you don’t know it’s happening” – a sentiment by Oliver Platt that’s as true about writing as it is about acting. I wrote a story once about a man fighting a crazy computer, and later found entirely unintended similarities to an episode of the Bionic Woman that I hadn’t seen in more than a decade.

So, no Fool Moon for you, not right now. I read Ayn Rand, H.P. Lovecraft, Steve Martin and many others, but finally wanted to roll around again to urban fantasy. So I picked up T.A. Pratt‘s Blood Engines. I didn’t start it right away, and in the interim I attended a fire ballet at the Crucible out here in the Bay Area, and decided to set a scene in Liquid Fire out here in the Bay Area. So I open Blood Engines … and finds out it opens behind City Lights Books in San Francisco.

So I put that one down. I then said, hey, let me get out my copy of Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Lieber, which people have recommended to me as a classic precursor of the urban fantasy genre. Flip it open: a reference to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Dangit! What about this other book in my pile, the Iron Hunt by Marjorie Liu? Also features a magic tattoos. Dangit! Dangit! Dangit!

So I’ve given up on reading urban fantasy right now.

Instead I’m reading Severance, by Robert Butler, a series of flash fiction stories each 240 words long – the estimated number of words that someone could pass through someone’s head after they’ve been decapitated.

After that, hopefully I’ll be done with Blood Rock, and I can pick back up with the always dependable Anita Blake series by Laurell Hamilton. I love Anita Blake and think she’s a great character, but Dakota Frost is my reaction against heroines that start off as uber-tough chicks before the first vampire shows up. I’m more interested in telling the story of how the uber-tough chick got that way, of showing how meeting vampires and werewolves and magical misuse would force someone to toughen up. Anita, of course, has been through that, and is more like a Dakota Frost t-plus ten years in the trenches. So it should be pretty safe to read Cerulean Sins.

Just no magical tattoos, graffiti or firespinning. Please. At least till I finish these three books.

-the Centaur

Podmena Traffica Test?

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of pointless “spam” with a reasonable sounding subject line but a body that only says “podmena traffica test”. Mysterious, and pointless, from a spam perspective; so I assumed it was some automatic program testing a variety of addresses to see which ones bounced.

Finally I decided to track it down, and while I don’t know for sure I’ve now heard a good hypothesis:

There seem to be some strange spam emails doing the rounds, with a body text of “podmena traffica test”.. what gives? It makes a bit more sense if you transliterate it into Cyrillic, which leaves you with a Russlish phrase “подмена трафика тест” and that simply translates as “spoofing traffic test”.

Trying to verify his logic: Romanizing “podmena traffica test” gets me “подмена траффица тест”, as predicted, and translating that back to English gets “substitution traffitsa test” which is close enough.

The specifics of the message I’m seeing don’t match the description in that blog post, but it’s enough to make me think that the author has nailed it: it’s a Russian spammer testing out addresses and more importantly web servers.

Mystery solved! Now quit it, spammer guys.
-the Centaur
Update: I keep getting this spam. I have now received this spam almost 60 times in the last month, according to Gmail.

Twitter? What’s that?

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

While I’m on the bleeding edge in some areas of technology, I’m not in others. Latest example: Twitter. I’ve been on twitter for a while, but rarely used it; but now everyone from my thesis advisor to Google Newsbot are on Twitter. Twitter, through its short posts, follow/following metaphor, and realtime nature, does seem to be a good way to communicate what people are up to in short sound bites. So I guess it is time for me to actually start using the darn thing.

I use Google Reader to follow a variety of blogs, including Lifehacker, so I knew that there was a Twitter Gadget for Gmail Labs‘s Gadget feature (specifically the Add Gadget by Url feature). If you haven’t used Gmail Labs or the Gadget feature, don’t worry; the Twitter Gadget site has detailed installation instructions.

Once I close the Twitter window, I don’t open it again for weeks or months. I’d hoped that widget would help me twitter more, but, alas, the real important and functional features of Gmail – labels, chat, etc – push the Twitter client way, way down to the bottom of the page, so I rarely see it. TwitterGadget also has an iGoogle widget, but I rarely use iGoogle. So I’m still not plugged in to this thing in any meaningful sense.

But, well, occasionally I do twitter, but how can I surface this information to the rest of you who don’t twitter? The Library of Dresan is supposed to be the primary repository of all my information – you shouldn’t have to go to twitter.com to find out what I’m up to. Fortunately, Twitter has a variety of widgets, including one for Blogger. I’ve experimentally added this to my blog – making the need for a redesign even more pressing.

But, for now, I’m ready to, uh, tweet.
-the Centaur

-o-\_== @ warp factor 100

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

While it lasts … Star Trek 11 has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes:

(Picture used under fair use thingy, all rights reserved Paramount and Rotten Tomatoes, yada yada.) I’m sure this will drop once a broader selection of reviewers tackles it, but here’s hoping.

-the Centaur
P.S. I’m officially in my blackout period for Star Trek, so don’t tell me anything else, I already know too damn much, unless they move the opening to May 7 at 7pm or something.