Information Hygiene

Our world is big. Big, and complicated, filled with many more things than any one person can know. We rely on each other to find out things beyond our individual capacities and to share them so we can succeed as a species: there’s water over the next hill, hard red berries are poisonous, and the man in the trading village called Honest Sam is not to be trusted.

To survive, we must constantly take information, just as we must eat to live. But just like eating, consuming information indiscriminately can make us sick. Even when we eat good food, we must clean our teeth and got to the bathroom – and bad food should be avoided. In the same way, we have to digest information to make it useful, we need to discard information that’s no longer relevant, and we need to avoid misinformation so we don’t pick up false beliefs. We need habits of information hygiene.

Whenever you listen to someone, you absorb some of their thought process and make it your own. You can’t help it: that the purpose of language, and that’s what understanding someone means. The downside is your brain is a mess of different overlapping modules all working together, and not all of them can distinguish between what’s logically true and false. This means learning about the beliefs of someone you violently disagree with can make you start to believe in them, even if you consciously think they’re wrong. One acquaintance I knew started studying a religion with the intent of exposing it. He thought it was a cult, and his opinion about that never changed. But at one point, he found himself starting to believe what he read, even though, then and now, he found their beliefs logically ridiculous.

This doesn’t mean we need to shut out information from people we disagree with – but it does mean we can’t uncritically accept information from people we agree with. You are the easiest person for yourself to fool: we have a cognitive flaw called confirmation bias which makes us more willing to accept information that confirms our prior beliefs rather than ones that deny it. Another flaw called cognitive dissonance makes us want to actively resolve conflicts between our beliefs and new information, leading to a rush of relief when they are reconciled; combined with confirmation bias, people’s beliefs can actually be strengthened by contradictory information.

So, as an exercise in information hygiene for those involved in one of those charged political conversations that dominate our modern landscape, try this. Take one piece of information that you’ve gotten from a trusted source, and ask yourself: how might this be wrong? Take one piece of information from an untrusted source, and ask yourself, how might this be right? Then take it one step further: research those chinks in your armor, or those sparks of light in your opponent’s darkness, and see if you can find evidence pro or con. Try to keep an open mind: no-one’s asking you to actually change your mind, just to see if you can tell whether the situation is actually as black and white as you thought.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the book pile, containing some books I’m reading to answer a skeptical friend’s questions, and other books for my own interest.

That Jodie Whittaker Ratings Thing

So the new Doctor Who has finished her historic first season, which I found had its ups and downs: episodes like Arachnids in the UK, Kerblam! and The Witchfinders really resonated with me, whereas The Tsuranga Conundrum, The Woman Who Fell to Earth and Rosa really did not. Episodes like Rosa, Arachnids and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos wrestled with great ideas and even reached for greatness at points but had baffling lapses in logic, whereas some of the most iconic images and ideas, like the crane leap and the “I’m the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe” came from episodes I find myself the least interested in rewatching.

But leave all that aside: from th beginning, this Doctor caused a sharp divide among fans, there’s a huge gap between audience and critic ratings, and there’s a persistent rumor about this Doctor being a failure because of low ratings. Go out into the blogosphere, and you’ll see conspiracy theories of a particular blogger telling his fans to downvote Series 11, and other conspiracy theories by these fans that the viewing numbers of the series are somehow inflated because people just can’t possibly be watching it.

I won’t dignify conspiracy theories about reviews or ratings: there’s a lot of genuine fans unhappy with the new Doctor, and there are millions of people watching it, more in my circle than have ever watched it before. But I can address one question solidly with real data: is Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor doing worse in the ratings than the Doctors who came before her?

No, she’s not doing worse; she’s doing just fine.

Taken from the Wikipedia articles on this series and its predecessors, along with the Doctor Who Guide, I was able to put to rest the conspiracy theories about Jodie Whittaker having some kind of ratings dropoff compared to the other Doctors. Nope. All of the recent Doctors start well, drop off, and rise near the end of the season. Jodie is right on track – in fact, slightly better than average for 11 episodes into the season. True, she hasn’t had the insane spikes in ratings that David Tennant and Matt Smith got near the end of their runs, but those were series of highly promoted event specials.

I rather like Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, and I love the emotional arcs of the new series, and Bradley Walsh is so damn good I could probably enjoy watching him watch paint dry, but the stories in the new season need a little work on basic logic and truly threatening monsters. Logic in the new Who was always a bit dodgy, but it’s getting worse, and the lack of series-long arcs and recurring monsters is doing the Doctor no favors.

Here’s hoping in the 2020 season the Who team keeps doing what they’re doing well, while also finding ways to do more of the things that made classic, um, New Who great. 

-The Centaur

FROST MOON eBook on Sale

Good news, Edgeworlders! FROST MOON is on sale through the 15th!

The Cover to FROST MOON

FROST MOON is my first novel, the tale of Dakota Frost, a woman who can bring her tattoos to life, and her very first encounter with the sharp edges of the Edgeworld she’s been dancing around all her adult life. She meets vampires and werewolves, weretigers and faerie, and soon is on the ride of her life when the police warn her about a serial killer attacking the magically tattooed near the full moon … right when a werewolf asks her to tattoo a design on him. Is he the killer … or the next victim?

Go check it out on Amazon, Kobo, Nook or wherever fine ebooks are sold!

-the Centaur

He Say You Plane Runnah

So my latest adventure was a true comedy of errors – but turned into an unexpected visit to Atlanta with an old friend. As the years pass and I get busier I have less and less time to take anything short of a redeye back to the East Coast, yet my tolerance for them has dropped. So, on the principle that a luxury once enjoyed is a necessity, I’ve started flying First Class.

Not that I really want to – I mean, I enjoy it, but it’s expensive. First Class on some recent flights overseas, which I did NOT get, was in the range of ten thousand dollars. But if I can find a reasonable ticket back to my hometown, I’ll take it. (Rarely, I’ve even found cheaper First Class than normal flights).

One of the perks, apparently, of First Class is that they will call you if your flight connection is delayed. Because of fog, rain and mechanical issues, my plane to Atlanta was delayed, so Delta called me up and alerted me that if I headed to the airport RIGHT NOW, they’d get me on an earlier flight so I could make my connection. Mom and I were already on the way to the airport, so we asked for the check and motored.

I waved to one of my high school buddies in the airport bar – we’d originally been on the same flight – and made my new connection with moments to spare. We pulled back from the gate aaaaand … sat there. And sat there. And sat there, as the minutes ticked down. Finally, the pilot told us that the plane was off balance because it was underweight, the computer was confused, and they were having to reset everything manually. Finally, at the time the plane was originally supposed to have departed, we taxied out.

But then stopped on the runway. I and my buddy texted from two different planes that each was in trouble – ours had no gate to land, his, my original plane, had mechanical trouble and had rolled back to the gate, no mechanic in sight. I said, “screw it”, and in moments had reservations for the spectacular Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel for only $50 bucks using Expedia points. I almost made reservations for my favorite restaurant, then rethought and texted my buddy: “Hey, you’ve missed your connection too, right?”

Yep. He sure had.

When he landed, I already a car, had upgraded the room for free to get an extra bed, and had a list of places to eat that were still open. We hit Manuel’s Tavern, one of our old favorites from back in the day, and then crashlanded in the hotel bar for an hour before calling it a night.

The view from Gordon Biersch in the Atlanta Airport.

The next day, we were out and rolling at the ungodly hour of 6:50am – what is that, I mean, is that even a thing? – and having breakfast at Gordon Biersch. Now it was his turn to wave to make his LA connection, and an hour later I followed on my own flight, with Danny Devito sitting in seat 1B only a few rows away from me during my LA connection. By 4pm, I was hugging my wife and heading back home to hug some cats.

I guess the point, and I do have one, is that I could have had a miserable time with a delayed flight. Instead I got to have a great mini-trip to Atlanta, caught up with an old friend, and had a great story to tell.

I guess attitude is everything.

-the Centaur

Happy New Year!

Blueberry pineapple margarita and iced tea at Chili's.

Happy New Year, y’all! And here’s a productivity tip for all my fellow adventurers: a holiday or vacation is a great time to catch up on that illness you’ve been putting off.

Seriously, I’ve gotten sick something like three or four times in the last month: first a cold which canceled my trip to the WAFR conference in New Mexico, where I was a fricking invited speaker and couldn’t go. That turned into a lingering sinus infection which just about went away by the time I returned to my home town of Greenville – but which then reared its ugly head again. Since my mother, my buddy Derek, and at least one other person fell ill to the same bug within a day or so (stuffiness, a 1-2 day period of severe lethargy, followed by lingering sniffles) I’m guessing this was an entirely new bug that I picked up at the airport. Again this disappeared, but after my return flight back, an adventure in and of itself because of weather delays, I got what appears to be a different bug, this one a slight sniffle plus lingering gastrointestinal distress. Fun! All clearing up in time for work.

So, what can I say? Computing continues its usability slide – I had to switch from Feedly to Innoreader, the Microsoft Word broke all my keystrokes, and the new WordPress editor sucks, making all common operations that much more difficult in favor of something “new” and “cool” that just adds a bunch of junk to what was a clean, simple and easy to use interface. WHAT? Oh, I was going to say something about taking care of yourself in winter colds, but WordPress’s new editor decided to turn a carriage return into some strange modal event that absorbed all my keystrokes and threatened to post the page before I was ready. Where was I?

Oh! So! What can I say? To prevent propagation of infecftion, elbow bump or fist bump rather than shaking hands, don’t touch the “T” – your eyes nose or mouth – and if you have to cough or sneeze, do so into your shirt, not into your hand or even a handkerchief (those spread infection to your hands). If you get infected, get plenty of rest, plenty of fluids, look up the appropriate treatment for your symptoms, and take your placebo of choice, because while placebos don’t work, the placebo effect definitely does. No, it doesn’t have to make sense; it’s just the evidence. Suck it up, Chester.

So! All that stuff I wanted to blog over the holidays. <looks at list> Sigh.

Guess it will have to wait. Back to work!

Back to Aqui and my usual work pile.

-the Centaur

Jeremiah Willstone on Sale

Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine is on sale!

Hail fellow adventurers! My first steampunk novel, Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, is on sale through the end of the month! The Ebook is only $0.99, so now’s a great time to instantly gift yourself with a trip to Victoriana! You can find it at Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, Google Books, or wherever fine books are sold. If you like action, adventure, corsets, rayguns, or a peek at an alternate history where women’s liberation happened a century early, check it out!

Surfacing

An interpretation of the rocket equation.

Wow. It’s been a long time. Or perhaps not as long as I thought, but I’ve definitely not been able to post as much as I wanted over the last six months or so. But it’s been for good reasons: I’ve been working on a lot of writing projects. The Dakota Frost / Cinnamon Frost “Hexology”, which was a six book series; the moment I finished those rough drafts, it seemed, I rolled into National Novel Writing Month and worked on JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE. Meanwhile, at work, I’ve been snowed under following up on our PRM-RL paper.

Thor's Hammer space station.

But I’ve been having fun! The MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE is (at least possibly) spaaaace steampunk, which has led me to learn all sorts of things about space travel and rockets and angular momentum which I somehow didn’t learn when I was writing pure hard science fiction. I’ve learned so much about creating artificial languages as part of the HEXOLOGY.

The Modanaqa Abugida.

So, hopefully I will have some time to start sharing this information again, assuming that no disasters befall me in the middle of the night.

Gabby in the emergency room.

Oh dag nabbit! (He’s going to be fine).

-the Centaur

SHATTERED SKY Released

Hail fellow adventurers! As a member of Thinking Ink Press, I’m proud to announce the release of David Colby’s new novel, SHATTERED SKY, featuring a cover painted by my wife, Sandi Billingsley!

SHATTERED SKY Cover by Sandi Billingsley.

This has been a great team effort between David the writer, Sandi the artist, and the team at Thinking Ink – Betsy, Liza and Keiko. I was the editor for this project – making SHATTERED SKY the first novel that I edited. Neat!

Personally, I’d describe the series as THE HUNGER GAMES meets GRAVITY for the LGBTQ set, but from our announcement: “The second book in the Lunar Cycle trilogy, SHATTERED SKY is the sequel to DEBRIS DREAMS. In DEBRIS DREAMS, lunar separatists attack the space elevator above the Earth, forcing offworlder Drusilla Zhao into wartime military service.

In SHATTERED SKY, Dru is honored as a hero and joins her girlfriend Sara on Earth. As Dru begins her new life, she struggles to adapt to a different culture while suffering from PTSD. When Sara’s home is threatened, and the military demand that Dru return to service, she must fight to defend the Alliance while battling enemies inside her own head.

Author David Colby combines hard science details with page-turning action and a diverse cast of characters for a unique science fiction experience that you won’t soon forget.”

Get SHATTERED SKY wherever fine books are sold!

-The Centaur

Sometimes it only seems like a conversation

Having just finished having a great conversation with a good friend over dinner, it struck me how different a great conversation is with a friend than it is with some people I meet.

For example, at lunch today, I spotted a familiar looking fellow at the next table over. I didn’t quite recognize him, but as he was finishing his lunch, he turned to me and said, “You look damn familiar.”

As it turns out, we both were at the same restaurant a year ago, both on business trips – him with music, me with Dragon Con. We briefly caught up, and he mentioned moving away from California in the housing crisis.

He hit the can, and when he returned I got up, laptop in hand – my turn. He mentioned selling out just before the housing crash and recommending to all his friends that they cash out; I unfortunately had the opposite story.

He then said that he simply couldn’t turn down leaving – “It was like getting a free house!” I started to respond with a quote from a friend: “Planning plus preparation plus opportunity yields luck.”

I never got past “My friend once said.” The gentleman at the table continued his story as if I hadn’t spoken, talking for a full ten minutes about his wife, her mother, and all the houses that they had bought on credit.

It was like seeing a living slice of The Big Short while a vice was slowly squeezing my bladder. After an interminable period of ‘yes’es and ‘uh-huh’s, I finally found a point to excuse myself and beat a hasty retreat to the can.

Writing  in coffehouses and restaurants as I do, I encounter this from time to time: someone who comes up to talk to me, who appears to be using the standard form of normal conversations, but who really isn’t interested in a conversation at all, just in hearing themselves talk.

Now, I have friends that can go on a bit. Hell, I can be like that. But among friends we’ve all learned this and developed signals that mean “I gotta go,” and when that signal fires, all of us have learned to say, “Talk at ya later.”

I think the key difference is the reaction to a response. When talking to a blowhard like me, you may have to wait to get a word in edgewise, but the blowhard will then listen to you for a period of time.

This coffehouse phenomenon is something different. You can tell it’s happening most clearly when the person you’re talking to will let you get out one-word responses like “yes” or “no” or polite conversational “Oh reallys” and such, but as soon as you try to say anything back – anything of substance at all – they just talk over you as if you have not spoken.

I wonder what’s going on in their minds when they do that.

-the Centaur