Archive for December, 2016

TCTM is on its way to production!

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Screenshot 2016-12-23 18.40.31.png

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 …

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.


I’m so sorry, web …

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

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

Screenshot 2016-12-21 21.08.19.png

Firefox after Adblock Plus:

Screenshot 2016-12-21 21.08.55.png

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:

… 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

Sunday, December 18th, 2016


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

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?


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 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