Archive for May, 2012

The Science of Airships at Clockwork Alchemy

Friday, May 18th, 2012

The Science of Airships v2.png

I’ll be giving a presentation on The Science of Airships at the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk conference on Sunday, May 27th at noon. UPDATE: The panel description is now up:

Science of Airships Anthony Francis Steampunk isn’t just brown, boots and buttons – our adventurers need glorious flying machines! This panel will unpack the science of lift, the innovations of Count Zeppelin, how airships went down in flames and how we might still have cruise liners of the air if things had gone a bit differently.

I started researching this topic for THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE and it’s fascinating! Come one, come all and find out how much each of you are buoyant!

The Earth v1 air cubic foot weight.png

-the Centaur

P.S. The first diagram was generated in Mathematica using the following code:

sphere = SphericalPlot3D[1, th, phi, PlotPoints -> 5][[1]];
Zeppelin =
Function[{length, width},
   Scale[Rotate[sphere, 90 Degree, {0, 1, 0}], {length/2, width/2,
   {LightGray, Opacity[0.6], Zeppelin[7, 1]},
Table[Sphere[{i, 0, 0}, 0.2 + (2 - Abs[i])/20], {i, -2.7, 2.5, 1.0}]},
   }, {{2.5, 0, 0}}], Ticks -> Automatic, Axes -> True,
Epilog ->
Inset[Framed[Style["Zeppelin", 20], Background -> LightYellow], {Right,
Bottom}, {Right, Bottom}], ImageSize -> {800, 600},
ViewAngle -> 4 °]

The second diagram was generated in Adobe Illustrator based on calculations done in Microsoft Excel.

P.P.S. And yes I know that it’s a bit weird to do calculations in Excel when I have Mathematica, but (a) I didn’t have Mathematica when I started working on this problem, but someone donated me a free copy of Mathematica Cookbook and that convinced me to give Mathematica a try for some of my diagrams, and (b) after having worked with Mathematica’s notebooks and with Microsoft Excel I’m still using both, each for different things, and have come to the conclusion that an Excel spreadsheet model powered by Mathematica’s symbolic reasoning engine would be thirty-one flavors of awesome!

One day.


Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Don’t you wish you could get an extra hour in the day? Well, what if you could?

doorways v4 fresco small.png

With Trisha Wooldridge, I’m co-editing a new short story anthology titled DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME forthcoming from Spencer Hill Press. From the call for submissions:

In our busy world of meetings and microwaves, car radios and cellphones, people always wish they could get an extra hour in the day. But what if they could? Doorways to Extra Time is an anthology that explores ways to get extra time (be it an hour, a day, or a decade) and the impact it would have (whether upon a single life, a family or an entire world). We’re looking for stories with a touch of the fantastic–whether mystical, magical, mechanical, or just plain mysterious–but they can be set in any time or any genre: contemporary or historical, science fiction or fantasy, horror or magic realism. We could even find a place for a nonfiction essay if it was truly exceptional. In short, show us something showstopping, and we’ll make time for you.

Suggested Length: full stories (from 3,000 to 7,000 words) and flash fiction (preferred under 1,000 words). We will accept good stories up to 10,000 words but longer lengths are a harder sell.

Due Date: October 15th, 2012  

Be sure to click through to the Spencer Hill site for the details on how to submit, and for all the legal boring bits. (And as a side note, this isn’t likely to be the cover; this is just a cover I whipped up for this blog post).

The anthology came out of an offhand conversation at the Write to the End writing group about how the way to get more time is to make time – a tweak of a line from the Merovingian in the Matrix Reloaded, but something I find to be very true. But my thoughts in fiction always turn to the fantastic and the supernatural, so I asked … what if you really could make time?

And it really does seem to be true. Already this idea has sparked two or three short stories among my very busy collaborators, even before the call to submissions was fully complete. Now that Spencer Hill has put it on its schedule, it’s time for all the rest of you to get cracking on your own stories about finding extra time … by October 15th.

On my end … wow. October 15th. It seems so close. Fortunately … I have THE DOORWAY…

-the Centaur

The Doorway v2.png  

Scam, Shame, or Simply Expected?

Sunday, May 6th, 2012


I’ve just come across two instances of friends and colleagues getting bitten by bad products … and the companies involved putting the bad product straight back on the shelves. First from my friend Jim Davies:

Unfortunately, the game did not work. I cleaned it and tried several times, to no avail. I planned to bring it back. And even though I had no reason to suspect Chumleighs of any foul play, just to make sure I never bought that particular disc again I put a tiny dot of ink on the case insert in a place I would remember later. They gave me my money back. Just today I was browsing, and there was the Hulk game. With the same dot. I told the clerk that I’d returned this game and was disappointed that it was back on the shelf. She said that it might be a different copy, and I told her about the dot. She took the game to the back, and discussed something with somebody, and then put it back on the shelf, right in front of me.

And from fellow transhumanist Elf Sternberg:

We tried playing it in the Playstation 2, then the Lasonic (which will try and play a frozen pizza, that thing’s amazing, pity about the heat buildup issue…), and finally out laptops. Not even Handbrake could make it past 1:10. I called RedBox, and they were very kind about giving me two coupons (no refunds, sigh): one for this film, and one for any other film I wanted. Then she said, “Make sure, if you try and take another copy out, that you take it out before you put this one back, or it will just give you the one you have already tried.” I expressed surprise. “Doesn’t it know the disc is unuseable?” “When we send someone to service the box, if it is present we will take it out. But while it is in the box, it is considered in circulation.”

Ouch. Needless to say, neither of them were happy.

I, in contrast, have had good experiences with returns. The image pictured is a cracked Kindle DX I got from Amazon that they replaced almost instantaneously. I buy a lot of electronics gear from Fry’s, which has a generous return policy and often (seems) to put stuff back on the shelves because people can’t distinguish between “this is incompatible with my setup” and “this is broken”. And I buy a lot of used and discount books, including one recently from Kepler’s, where I found a book I bought for a dollar turned out to have a missing section due to the printer error.

I didn’t complain – I needed the book to help my wife out with a problem and the section I needed was mostly intact – and felt like, “hey, I got this for a dollar”. I felt like, hey, this is simply expected. But should I have felt that way? Shouldn’t the book have been marked? And shouldn’t Jim and Elf have the expectation that the games and movies they buy or rent are in good condition? Even if many people bring things back as bad when they aren’t, shouldn’t there be an expectation that if someone reports they’ve tried a game or movie in a dozen machines that yes, it’s probably bad? Can’t stores have a machine to test their product?

I don’t buy the argument that “it would cost more money”. I buy the argument that the people who’re running the businesses or even the local stores don’t want to be bothered. That they’d rather follow procedure than be flexible enough to handle anything more than the default case. I’ve seen a lot of this attitude recently. I don’t think it’s new, but I personally have seen more and more of it, where people in charge of systems only want to satisfy the lowest common denominator. Often that means they’re doing things efficiently and cheap – but if the cost of efficient and cheap is selling crap products, I think the cost is too high.

Or is that even fair? Stores know they’re going to get returns. They plan on it. They even gave Jim and Elf their money back (Elf, with some extra). So you can expect to get crap from time to time. I guess what’s bad here is that the system has all the information it needs to do better … and simply doesn’t. It would have been easy for the woman at the game store to toss the item into the garbage or the “for sale – damaged” shelf. It would have been easy for RedBox to mark a video with a damaged bit. That’s what rankles here … when we know what we need to know to do better … and don’t.


-the Centaur