Facebook is not a Waste of Time

Facebook is not a waste of time: it saved my cat.

Not long after my good friend Jim Davies shared a story about his beloved pug’s sudden illness, I came home to find our beautiful cat “Loki the Loquacious” turned lethargic, not interested in food, and yowling at touches to his abdomen. This struck me as seriously unusual, and I was motivated by Jim’s experience to look up Loki’s symptoms.

The recommendation: take him to the vet right away. So we did.

It turned out we were right not to wait: this was a life-threatening urinary blockage which could have killed him through cardiac arrest. According to the emergency room vet, this is a particular issue for male cats near the end of winter, when for some reason they drink less. This leads to increasingly concentrated urine, crystallization of debris in the bladder, and, thanks to the (ahem) tapered nature of the male cat anatomy, can lead to blockages that can kill a cat in under 72 hours.

Fortunately we caught it in time, and they were able to catheterize him, put him on an IV and antibiotics. Loki started out as a feral near-bully cat, but after years of love the vets pronounced him a sweetie.

They thought he would be home after a couple of days, though it was closer to five. But he’s home safe now, and that happened because me and my friends were on Facebook, sharing our stories.

Jim, if you’re reading this, as I said on Facebook: I’m sorry for your loss. But thank you for sharing it. You helped me save my cat’s life.

-the Centaur

Unexpected Complications

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So if I haven’t posted here in the past few days it’s because I’ve been FREAKING OUT about an unexpected problem with a project, where two separate contributors had computer failures and travel disruptions. What seemed like a nice, on-time, if tight project became a total freakout O.M.G.-we-may-miss-the-date over the course of a week and a half.

That slow slide off the cliff was halted today and it looks like we’re back on track, but it was touch and go for a while – I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and sent a round of emails trying to get things on track, which worked – but I found out a more experienced coworker had been worried about this last month, and had been trying to say so.

Ah well. Hard lessons. I think it will be fine … but I was motivated to take this picture for this blogpost as I sat here and worked on it, and after a bit, I realized why: it’s another example of unexpected complications. What you see is a giant pile of cat bedding, which didn’t work … because why sleep on something warm, fuzzy, and sheltered when hard shingles will do just fine.

And who could have anticipated that, but a cat. Sigh.

-the Centaur

Excuse Me, I Ordered the Large Cat

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Busy catching up on writing today, trying to get Chapter 1 of the rewrite of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE done, plus various small press tasks, plus writing documentation at work, plus getting new tires for my car … aaaa! So here’s a picture of a cat. Also, apropos, of a tire … but that made me think. I used to take a lot of notes – I still do, but I used to too – but a lot of the time a quick snapshot of something with your cell phone can do you one better.

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I took a few pictures of tires and of the label on the inside of my door without having to write down any numbers. I then went back to my desk, found some highly rated tires on a web site, found a local tire store online, found the models they had in stock, looked up the old tires I bought for the car to confirm the numbers made sense, and made an appointment. Bam. No paper involved.

It’s amazing to me what can be done with storing information in the cloud, as much as I am a skeptic about it. (And even my complaints about how hard it is to take notes on computers are getting addressed – a fellow author just got a Windows 10 book and claims he now prefers its tablet mode for editing because he can use it like real paper).

But it amazes me even more that when I showed up early for my tire appointment, they fit me in so quickly I had my car and was on my way to work at essentially the time I would have normally have gotten in. As a colleague said, “how many times does THAT happen?” My answer? “ONCE. Just today.” America’s Tire, Mountain View, California. Go check them out.

-the Centaur

Don’t Put Things off Too Long

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Recently I wanted to write a blogpost. A blogger I read put up an interesting article, and I wanted to respond. But I rapidly found that there were so many concepts that I take for granted that the article would be incomprehensible without them. I had four bad choices: go ahead and make the article incomprehensible, make it so long it’s unreadable, write many blogposts explaining the ideas, which would make the final post no longer timely, or don’t blog it at all.

I went for #4, for now, because I realized something else recently: don’t put things off too long. That may seem contradictory, but in the case of the blogpost, I’d already put things off too long, and had lost the opportunity. So rather than scramble to recapture the opportunity, I decided to write about the lesson I’d learned about not putting things off.

I knew this lesson already because I had one friend whose father worked his whole life saving money, but then got too physically sick and mentally enfeebled to enjoy the bounty he’d prepared for his family. Then again, when I moved out of my condominium in Atlanta, another friend pointed out I’d made the classic rookie mistake: renovating the house on the move out to sell it … meaning the new owners got the benefit of the renovations, leaving me having lived there for years in a place I wasn’t happy with.

The right time to fix up your place is when you move into it: identify the problems that you have and fix them. If you’re going to spend a lot of money fixing up your place, you should enjoy it; don’t get suckered into spending a lot of money on renovations in the hope it will raise the price of the house. Unless it’s a big bathroom or kitchen remodel, it won’t.

There are a lot of reasons me and my wife didn’t fix up our place when we moved in, mostly having to do us expecting to move within a few years and that not happening because of the financial crash. We actually started the process of renovation, put up some crown molding and such, but then put it on hold … and the holding pattern continued for seven to eight years.

But, recently, we had the opportunity for me to move closer to work. We considered it, then decided not to. With the money we saved from not moving (down payment on new house, plus megabucks to ship all my junk) we considered renovating the bathroom. The cost for what we wanted was literally triple what we expected, so we decided to hold off on that too.

With the money saved for the move that we hadn’t spent, we realized we could easily fix many of the small woes in the house. I won’t go into all of them, but we’ve been systematically updating the house on a small scale – fixing up broken fixtures, replacing older equipment, planting plants, and so on. The most recent expenditure: a new umbrella for the back patio.

That seems like a small thing, but when we bought the house, it had a wooden trellis over the whole back patio, but it was destroyed before we moved in, in a freak rainstorm while the house was being tented for termites. A tree that shaded the patio had to come down because it was destroying the neighbor’s fence. So for most of the time we’ve lived there, the patio has never had adequate shade, and has effectively been unusable, leading me to spend many a day on the front porch.

The front porch is nice, but you should be able to use your patio. When we renovated it, we decided to stay cheap: a free table, cheap but very comfortable made-in-the-USA metal chairs and, rather than plunking a lot on a new trellis, we decided to get a simple fold-away patio umbrella. I put it up, winched it out … and found that the back porch completely changed.

You can see the result up there, but it’s hard to describe how it felt. The umbrella, while not seeming so large, actually covers the patio on its shorter length. The patio became inviting again. I had to work from home, so I dragged my laptop outside, sat under the umbrella, and coded while a sequence of cats hopped up into my lap, wanting attention.

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The cost of the whole project was under five hundred dollars, about a quarter of the cost of replacing the trellis.

We could have done this eight years ago.

Congratulations. We just lost eight years of enjoyment we could have had in our back yard because we were indecisive in the name of saving an amount of money which, while not trivial to most people, was in the larger scheme of mortgages and cars and computers and phones and even the trellis project itself, was a mere pittance.

So don’t put things off too long, is what I’m saying. You may find yourself having missed out on years of enjoyment, as we did with our back porch, or you may find yourself unable to take advantage of an opportunity, as in the case of my blogpost. Yes, be frugal, be busy, be a good use of your time, but for goodness sake, if you have an idea, execute on it.

You’ll thank yourself later.

-the Centaur

From my labors, I rested

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So, at long last … I have sent LIQUID FIRE to Bell Bridge books.

Phew.

This has been a long time in coming; the book that became LIQUID FIRE started with some florid philosophizing about the nature of fire and life by my protagonist Dakota Frost – 270 words written way back in 2008:

Liquid Fire

A Dakota Frost, Skindancer Novel

by
Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr.

Started: 2008-04-19
Rough Draft: 2012-09-26
First Draft: 2012-10-23
Completed Draft: 2013-10-19
Beta Draft: 2013-11-01
Gamma Draft: 2014-04-05

Along the way, the story became something very different, an exploration of Atlanta and San Francisco and Hawaii, of learning and science and magic and mysticism. My obsessive attention to realism led to endless explorations and quite a few set pieces.

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Now it’s in the hands of Debra Dixon, who’s already started to send me feedback. Feedback I’m going to do my best to shelve until May 1st, so I can focus the rest of April on SPECTRAL IRON, which is due early next year. Aaa!

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But for now, my labors, I rest. If only for a little while.

-the Centaur

P.S. This is is my fifth completed novel, and the third Dakota Frost. Only 18 more Dakota Frosts to go in the main arc!

And Now I Know Why He Hates the Sound of the Rain

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Readers of this blog know I’m a cat lover, and the favorite of our cats is Gabby, a loquacious gold cat that followed us home as a kitten and now is a fifteen pound fur monster.

One of his quirks is to follow you into the bathroom when you take a shower, and then to meow plaintively during the whole time you’re running the water. If you peek out of the shower at him, Gabby has what can only be described as an expression of concern on his furry little face, meowing harder. When you get out of the shower, he stands up and reaches for you with his paws.

This behavior was mysterious until I had a brain flash the other day: we got Gabby when he followed us home … after two weeks of heavy rain. Clearly he’d been cared for, as he knew people very well — but we could never find his original owners.

Then it all clicked: he lost his family in the rain … and doesn’t like the sound of the shower because he’s afraid he’ll lose us too.

Don’t worry, Gabby. We have no plans to leave you.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Gabby and me, standing in front of my wife’s art.

Update: well, this isn’t really an update, I’m just testing a Facebook integration feature.

Your Adopted Cat Picture of the Day

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We’ve had Gabby a lot longer than Loki, but you can see from the size of this little fur monster why we think he and Loki might be cousins or brothers.

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In case you’re wondering, Gabby is indeed enjoying this, and is not simply a large cat shaped rug that we’ve procured for the purpose of the photo. Note the movement of the tail.

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Just distracting myself from LIQUID FIRE. Back to it. That is all.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Gabby, Loki, and Gabby. And some guy.

Rescuing Google Drive?

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Ok, the above is a rescue cat, but the point remains. In an earlier post I understandably got a bit miffed when moving a folder within Google Drive – an operation I’ve done before, many times – mysteriously deleted over a hundred and fifty files. I was able to rescue them, but I felt like I couldn’t trust Google Drive – a feeling confirmed when the very next time I used it to collect some quick notes, the application crashed.

But I love the workflow of Google Drive – the home page of Google Drive can show you, very very quickly, either your hierarchy of folders, your recently accessed files, or a search of all your files, and once you’ve found a file it appears far quicker than most normal applications like Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, or Photoshop. Word, Excel and Photoshop kick Google Drive’s ass on specialized uses, but many documents don’t need that, and Google Drive is a great alternative.

But what about files disappearing? A non starter. However, there are ways around that problem.

Google Drive of course has the ability to export files. You can even export an entire directory in this fashion. If you really want to get serious, you can use Google Takeout, a data migration tool by Google which enables you to export all your Google Drive data, part of Google’s Data Liberation Front.

But all those rely on one time manual operations. I want something that works automatically, so for my money it’s the Google Drive API that really comes to the rescue. That enables developers to create applications like cloudHQ, which syncs between Google Drive, Dropbox and several other services. I’ve tried out cloudHQ experimentally and it works on a single folder.

Next I’m going to try it on a larger scale, though it will require a little re-sorting of how I’ve got Dropbox and Google Drive working. Most likely, I’m going to need to either uninstall Google Drive from my primary computer and sync all its files into Dropbox by CloudHQ, or else manually unsyc certain folders so I don’t get double-storage on this machine.

Regardless, there is a silver lining. Now let’s see if it’s also a silver bullet.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Me holding Loki, our outdoor rescue cat. He’s large marge, let me tell you.

Feral Animal Update

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He is very cute, but we are not adopting this one.

And we’ll be a little more careful about leaving the food bowls out when Loki is done from now on. We sure don’t want a skunk-soaked cat – my wife has already dealt with that once earlier in her life and it is not a way of having the fun.

-the Centaur

Blogging is like a job. One I’m bad at.

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One of the things I’ve always felt about myself is that I’m slow. I have ideas for fiction, but before I ever develop them, I see them brought to completion by someone else. When I was a child, I had a wonderful story involving spacecraft made to look like sailing ships, only to turn on my television to find that it had been done in Doctor Who.

Next I read Drexler’s Engines of Creation shortly after it came out and planned a series of nanotech stories, before I’d ever read another science fiction author dealing with the theme. I was in college, still trying to finish my first novel, which I’d updated to include nanotechnology, when Michael Flynn published The Nanotech Chronicles.

Now in the blogoverse, things have gotten worse.

It’s bad enough that my evil twin Warren Ellis, a man only one year older than me, has propelled himself to the pinnacle of the writing profession using only whisky and a cane while still blogging more than anyone could believe. Warren Ellis has his own ideas and I don’t feel like we’re competing in the same headspace.

No, my it’s my nemesis John Scalzi, who has not only beaten me to the punch on the serialized novel The Human Division – I’m pretty sure my own designed-for-serialization novel THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE predates it, but my novel is still in beta draft while his is like, you know, released to accolades and stuff – but also somehow seems to have plugged into my brain by beating my blog to the punch on his Hobbit at 48 Frames Per Second impressions and his attempts to tame a feral cat – I mean, come on! Everyone saw The Hobbit but even if Scalzi has a direct pipeline to my brain, how does one arrange to have a feral cat fortuitously run by one’s door so one can tame it right when someone else does? Is there a service for such things? Synchronicity Unlimited?

Now dark mental wizard Caitlin Kiernan has beaten me to the punch by blogging about the correct pronunciation of kudzu.

Sigh.

Alright, thanks, Caitlin, for breaking the ice on one of my pet peeves. For the record: if you are recording an audiobook and have a Southern character speaking or thinking, they will pronounce the Borg-like pest vine kudzu “CUD-zoo.” A character who lives in another part of the country can call it “kood-zoo” all they want, but in my 38 years in The South I never heard it pronounced that, nor, after nine months of research, have I been able to find anyone from The South who calls it anything other than “CUD-zoo,” nor have any of those people ever heard anyone from anywhere call it anything other than “CUD-zoo”. (And Wikipedia backs me – it claims the pronunciation is /ˈkʊdzuː/, with the first u pronounced as the u in full and the second pronounced as the oo in food).

It wasn’t so hard to say that, was it? Why didn’t I say that earlier, nine months ago, when I first heard it in an audiobook (I think in The Magnolia League, but it might have been Fallen)? I know I’ve been busy, but how hard was it? But, according to the timestamp on the image I downloaded of Loki at the start of this blogpost, I’ve been at this “little” blogpost for about an hour.

What I’m saying is, blogging is like a job. You find things, reflect on them, and post about them; it takes time to do it right. But I already work two jobs: I’ve got a slightly-more-than-full-time job at The Search Engine That Starts With A G, and I’m also a slightly-less-than-full-time writer. So this, my third job, has to come behind hanging out with my wife, friends and cats. I’m taking time out from editing an anthology to write this, and that’s taking out time from Dakota Frost #3 and THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE.

So: yes, I know. Lots to say, lots to do. Gun control. The Hobbit. Meteors falling from the sky and a drill making its way to a creepy buried lake in Antarctica. I’m working on it, I’m working on it – but two editors have claim on my writing first, and the provider of the paycheck that pays for this laptop has first claim on my time before that.

So if the freshness date on these blogposts is not always the greatest, well, sorry, but I’m typing as fast as I can.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Loki, our non-feral outdoor cat, who has grown very fat and but not very sassy given lots of love and can food.