Enter Colaboratory (AKA “A Spoonful of the Tracking Soup”)

As an author, I’m interested in how well my books are doing: not only do I want people reading them, I also want to compare what my publisher and booksellers claim about my books with my actual sales. (Also, I want to know how close to retirement I am.)

In the past, I used to read a bunch of web pages on Amazon (and Barnes and Noble too, before they changed their format) and entered them into an Excel spreadsheet called “Writing Popularity” (but just as easily could have been called “Writing Obscurity”, yuk yuk yuk). That was fine when I had one book, but now I have four novels and an anthology out. This could take out half an a hour or more, which I needed for valuable writing time. I needed a better system.

I knew about tools for parsing web pages, like the parsing library Beautiful Soup, but it had been half a decade since I touched that library and I just never had the time to sit down and do it. But, recently, I’ve realized the value of a great force multiplier for exploratory software development (and I don’t mean Stack Exchange): interactive programming notebooks. Pioneered by Mathematica in 1988 and picked up by tools like iPython and its descendent Jupyter, an interactive programming notebook is like a mix of a command line – where you can dynamically enter commands and get answers – and literate programming, where code is written into the documents that document (and produce it). But Mathematica isn’t the best tool for either web parsing or for producing code that will one day become a library – it’s written in the Wolfram Language, which is optimized for mathematical computations – and Jupyter notebooks require setting up a Jupyter server or otherwise jumping through hoops.

Enter Google’s Colaboratory.

Colab is a free service provided by Google that hosts Jupyter notebooks. It’s got most of the standard libraries that you might need, it provides its own backends to run the code, and it saves copies of the notebooks to Google Drive, so you don’t have to worry about acquiring software or running a server or even saving your data (but do please hit save). Because you can try code out and see the results right away, it’s perfect on iterating ideas: no need to re-start a changed program, losing valuable seconds; if something doesn’t work, you can tweak the code and try it right away. In this sense Colab has some of the force multiplier effects of a debugger, but it’s far more powerful. Heck, in this version of the system you can ask a question on Stack Overflow right from the Help menu. How cool is that?

My prototyping session got a bit long, so rather than try to insert it inline here, I wrote this blog post in Colab! To read more, go take a look at the Colaboratory notebook itself, “A Sip of the Tracking Soup”, available at: https://goo.gl/Mihf1n

-the Centaur

 

Applied Plotonium at Clockwork Alchemy

Boosting the signal … I’ll be joining my friend David Colby’s panel APPLIED PLOTONIUM at 10am on Sunday at Clockwork Alchemy:

Applied Plotonium
Monterey – Sunday 10:00 AM

Applied Plotonium is a discussion and series of examples of worlds that are, in general, 100% scientifically accurate save for a SINGLE element of applied plotonium – a single element or feature that is downright fantastical. Eagerly explores extrapolation ending in exposition!
Presenter: David Colby

Moderator: Roger Que
Panelists: Anthony Francis, Michael Tierney

David Colby is the author of the hard science fiction young adult novel DEBRIS DREAMS (think “The Hunger Games meets Gravity“) and proposed the panel to explore his love of making the science in science fiction not suck.

In addition to David and me, we’ve also shanghaied, er, convinced two of our  mutual friends to join in: writer and chemist Michael Tierney from the Treehouse Writers will join as a panelist, and the writer and computer scientist Roger Que from Write to the End will serve as our moderator.

Drop in – you’ll enjoy yourself!

-the Centaur

The Centaur at Clockwork Alchemy

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This Memorial Day Weekend, I’ll be appearing at the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention! I’m on a whole passel of panels this year, including the following (all in the Monterey room near the Author’s Alley, as far as I know):

Friday, May 26
4PM: NaNoWriMo – Beat the Clock! [Panelist]

Saturday, May 27
12NOON: Working with Editors [Panelist]
1PM: The Science of Airships [Presenter]
5PM: Versimilitude in Fiction [Panelist]

Sunday, May 28
10AM: Applied Plotonium [Panelist]
12NOON: Organizing an Anthology [Panelist]
1PM: Instill Caring in Readers [Panelist]
2PM: Overcoming Writer’s Block [Presenter]

Monday, May 29
11AM: Past, Present, Future – Other! [Moderator]

Of course, if you don’t want to hear me yap, there are all sorts of other reasons to be there. Many great authors will be in attendance in the Author’s Alley:

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There’s a great dealer’s room and a wonderful art show filled with steampunk maker art:

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For yet another more year, we’ll be co-hosted with Fanime Con, so there will be buses back and forth and fans of both anime and steampunk in attendance:

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As usual, I will have all my latest releases, including Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, the steampunk novel I have like been promising you all like for ever!

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In addition to my fine books, there will also be new titles from Thinking Ink Press, including the steampunk anthologies TWELVE HOURS LATER, THIRTY DAYS LATER, and SOME TIME LATER!

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I think I have about as much fun at Clockwork Alchemy as I do at Dragon Con, and that’s saying something. So I hope you come join us, fellow adventurers, in celebrating all things steampunk!

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-the Centaur

Oh Myyy!

 

Wow. I guess a lot of books are going to be waiting for me when I get home tonight … either the shipment of LATER anthologies for Clockwork Alchemy has arrived, or I really messed up my last Amazon Prime order. Be sure to come by Clockwork Alchemy to check them out, or look on Amazon!

 

“The Fall of the Falcon” Audio

Have you read Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine and wondered why Jeremiah ended up a Ranger when she always wanted to be a Falconer? Or would you like to get started following Jeremiah’s tales on audio? Well, you’re in luck! Our friends at Sage and Savant have read one of the earliest Jeremiah stories, “The Fall of the Falcon”, for your auditory adventuring pleasure!

The Fall of the Falcon

By Anthony Francis

from the anthology Thirty Days Later, Steaming Forward: 30 Adventures in Time

If you’d like to find out what happens next, get a copy of Thirty Days Later and pick up where “The Fall of the Falcon” leaves off with the stirring conclusion, “The Rise of the Dragonfly”!

-The Centaur

The Centaur Interviewed on Sage and Savant!

One more interview with Sage and Savant … me!

Anthony Francis talks about Jeremiah Willstone

Q: In your story “The Fall of the Falcon” the main character is female, but she has a male name, Jeremiah Willstone. Why is that?

AF: It’s more than just gender bending: it’s an outward sign of their society’s aggressive approach to women’s liberation. I wanted to tell a steampunk story about a young Victorian female soldier, but the Victorians didn’t have women soldiers – we’ve only recently started to allow them in our military. So I imagined a world where that wasn’t just a little bit different, but comprehensively different – a world where women’s liberation came a century early, and with twice as many brains working on hard problems, they were more advanced in 1908 than we are today. But I needed a way to communicate that in the story, and decided that the women in Jeremiah’s family took male names to try to achieve gender equality. With her history written into her name, I now had the storytelling power to discuss that issue as much as I wanted to – or let it slide into the background until someone innocently asks the question, “So, Jeremiah is female, but has a male name. Why is that?”

To read more, check out my interview, and also check out the podcast on Sage and Savant!

-the Centaur

 

Book Giveaway with TIP and S&S

Holy cow, I almost missed this, and I helped organize it – we’re giving away some anthologies in partnership between Thinking Ink Press and steampunk podcast Sage and Savant!

Book Giveaway with Sage and Savant!

I have stories in three of the four books we’re giving away – Jeremiah Willstone stories in the full-length anthologies TWELVE HOURS LATER and THIRTY DAYS LATER, and flash fiction in the Instant Book “Jagged Fragments”.

Sign up, best of luck, and I hope you enjoy it!

-the Centaur

Dover Whitecliff on Sage and Savant

Yet one more of my friends from Clockwork Alchemy, Dover Whitecliff, is interviewed on Sage and Savant! A visit to her sometimes witty, often wacky, occasionally wryly satirical alternate world always makes a fun read!

Down and Dirty with Dover Whitecliff, author and editor at Thinking Ink Press

Q: How did you come up with the theme for the Later anthologies?

DW: The Treehouse Authors met for tea at Linde Lane Tea Room in Dixon and decided that we wanted to do a project together for literacy; an anthology was the obvious choice. But the theme is all down to Kiefer Sutherland. The news story of the day was the comeback of 24 and we had never seen an anthology with hour long stories before (though that doesn’t mean there might not be one out there that we missed). The paired stories came about to fill up a twenty-four-hour day, plus it offered the perfect tag line “You can find out what happens twelve hours later.”

Penelope DreadfulleQ: Yak? Giant Chicken? Trebuchet? What gives?

DW: It started with a dare in our email planning with the authors for Thirty Days Later. One author found a picture of a clockwork yak and threw down the gauntlet: “Bet you can’t fit a yak in.” Challenge accepted. Rumor has it that there are multiple yak sightings (bonus points if you can find them all). Since that was deemed “Way too easy,” the chieftess of shenanigans, Sparky McTrowell, raised the yak ante for Some Time Later with a trebuchet, and somehow a chicken was thrown in, possibly due to an excess of caffeine and chocolate. And Yes. I fit them all in.

To read more, check out her interview on Sage and Savant!

-the Centaur