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

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

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

Back to the Cone of Shame

Well, Gabby had his stitches out and his collar off for all of twelve hours before we were back in the emergency room. He was cleared for activity, but then re-opened the wound.

The lesson: I should have said something. I knew we were taking the stitches out and returning him to activity too soon; they doctor gave us a window of 10-14 days, but the technician scheduled us for a 10-day return. That day, I was a bit iffy about the stitches, but they went ahead and removed them. I clarified: is he ready for activity? Can he go out? They said yes.

Well, they were wrong, and I should have said something at the day of the original appointment scheduling, at least putting it off until Monday. Failing that, I should have said something before the stitches came out. Failing that, I should have used my own discretion and left the collar on for a few more days.

Failing that, I failed my cat.

The late-night emergency doc didn’t think the cut had reopened the underlying wound and that it didn’t warrant stitches … but it looks worse today. I kept him inside overnight and today; let’s see how he’s doing and whether I should exercise my discretion and take him back in.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Cancer cat, abscess cat, aka Lenora and Gabby.

On Her Way Out

In theory, mast cell tumors of the skin don’t kill cats, at least not directly. They can lead to lesions that can’t heal and further infections, but its MCT of the spleen or gastrointestinal tract that are really dangerous.

For Lenora, our precious little wimp cat, this cancer is aggressive enough that we may need to take proactive steps. She’s gone from one lump to 10 to 30 to 40 to 50 to 70, with a brief dip back to 40 after her surgery to remove her spleen … but now the MCT has exploded, going from 80 to 100 to probably hundreds at this point, many of them showing lesions and scabs.

The first two combinations of cancer treatments failed; this one does not seem to be having an effect. Lenora is still active, but she no longer wants to spend time indoors, instead choosing to find high spots on the exterior podium or the fence. I think she thinks fleas are eating her alive.

I fear she’s on her way out. I’d love to say “I know” but everything I’ve learned over the years tells me (a) you don’t really know and (b) foreclosing an opportunity in your mind is a precursor to getting it foreclosed in real life. We sometimes like to think that we’re tough minded people making hard decisions in the face of difficult circumstances, but if you’re that guy or gal, I have bad news for you: you’re selling yourself a line of bullshit.

Far too often we get tired of dealing with something and choose to perceive it as hopeless, then take all the bad decisions we need to in order to make the bad outcome we’ve decided upon happen, then telling ourselves “there’s nothing else we could have done.” This is particularly common with cars: cars rarely die until we decide to kill them by not maintaining them. It’s even more common with politics: the other guy’s plan rarely fails on its own until we take steps to sabotage it, just so we can then say “we told you so.”

With your health, or the health of a loved one, what does this translate into? Never give up. Stephen Hawking lasted something like five decades after his doctors told him he’d likely be dead, and he didn’t last that long by crawling into a bed and not fighting every step of the way. Sometimes heroic measures are not called for, but just giving up hope will make things far worse far faster.

So we’re here for you, Lenora, even if you’re on your way out.

Have a scritchy behind the ear. Yes. There you go.

-the Centaur

The Saturday Currents, OR: Why Care?

I prefer pictures of food to pictures of myself, but, since my phone stopped charging and started shocking people (along with emitting a lovely BURNING smell) you get old stock footage or Photo Booth for the time being.

And now, the currents:

  • Currently Reading: Merida, Chasing Magic (because I want to understand children’s books better, and I like the drawing of Merida’s awesome red hair which is an inspiration for my drawings of Serendipity) and The Cognitive Neurosciences, Fifth Edition (because I am working on a project on the engineering applications of consciousness research, and research on the neural correlates of consciousness has exploded in the last twenty years).
  • Currently Rereading: The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (because Lent), Planning Algorithms by Lavalle and Reinforcement Learning by Sutton and Barto (because my robot navigation research is heating up and I want to understand the connections of reinforcement learning and classical planning, both of which have related but different ideas of value iteration; also because I’m planning on coding a small toy DQN to help me better understand the larger machinery I use at work).
  • Currently Dreading: Finishing my taxes, and finishing my edits on Shattered Sky by David Colby. Both so late! Sorry.
  • Currently Missing: My wife, on a business trip; my cats, at home waiting for me to finish up lunch, shift gears, and go home to go through The Tax Pile.

Why do these things matter? Why should you care? I know some people could care less about the incessant Facebook updates by people saying where they are and what they are doing. Some people I know even call sharing updates humblebragging as a way of shitshaming people into shutting up. (Hey guys! You know who you are. Message from me to you: Fuck off, kthanksbai.)

Not me. I like seeing people say what they’re up to; I like the birthday wishes on Facebook or the posts by famous writers saying, “ugh, I can has no brain today, here is a picture of a cat”. I still remember after my Aunt Kitty died sharing on Facebook my last picture of her, and all the people I knew who showed up at the funeral only because I had posted it.

It’s human and natural to share with each other what we are doing. It lets each of us know that we aren’t alone dealing with the good or bad. If status updates aren’t the thing you’re into, get off Facebook or Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with that: I know many people have done it and have felt better for doing so.

For me, there are so many people I only stay connected to because we have that instant means of connection. And (ssh: between you and me) there’s always my ulterior motive: the more I write, the better I get at writing, and the more I discover and perfect my own voice. And just about everyone I know who does that just gets more interesting the longer that they do it.

That’s why I’m currently … blogging.

Hit save, then publish.

-the Centaur

Dave, We’re On Your Side

The biggest “current” in my mind is the person I am currently worried about, my good friend and great Game AI developer Dave Mark. Dave is the founder of the GDC AI Summit … but was struck by a car leaving the last sessions at GDC, and still is in the hospital, seriously injured.

Dave is a really special person. I’ve been going to GDC longer than Dave, but it was he (along with my friend Neil Kirby) who drew me out of my shell and got me to participate in the Game AI community, which is a super important part of my life even though I don’t do Game AI for my day job.

Dave’s friends and family have set up a Go Fund Me to help cover his medical expenses and the travel and other expenses of his family while he remains in the hospital in the Bay Area. I encourage you all to help out – especially if you’ve ever played a game and found the AI especially clever.

Dave, you’re in our prayers …

-the Centaur

Pictured: Dave (on the right) and friends.