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Posts tagged as “Webworks”

Uh … What the?

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So, as you may or may not know, I’m trying to blog every day this year, and just now, taking a brief respite after my red-eye flight, I decided to extend my tracking spreadsheet from just January to cover February. And when I did so … my tracking graphic suddenly turned into … I don’t know … an origami Pac-Man?

I’m not even sure how this particular chart type could make the above graphic, so I’m not sure how to fix it. This probably should get filed under “if you break the assumptions of a piece of software’s inputs, it will break your assumptions about its outputs.” Best thing to do is probably start over with a new graphic.

-the Centaur

Welcome to 2016

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Hi, I’m Anthony! I love to write books and eat food, activities that I power by fiddling with computers. Welcome to 2016! It’s a year. I hope it’s a good one, but hope is not a strategy, so here’s what I’m going to do to make 2016 better for you.

First, I’m writing books. I’ve got a nearly-complete manuscript of a steampunk novel JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE which I’m wrangling with the very excellent editor Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books. God willing, you’ll see this come out this year. Jeremiah appears in a lot of short stories in the anthologies UnCONventional, 12 HOURS LATER, and 30 DAYS LATER - more on that one in a bit.

I also have completed drafts of the urban fantasy novels SPECTRAL IRON and HEX CODE, starring Dakota Frost and her adopted daughter Cinnamon Frost, respectively. If you like magical tattoos, precocious weretigers, and the trouble they can get into, look for these books coming soon - or check out FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK and LIQUID FIRE, the first three Dakota books. (They’re all still on sale, by the way).

Second, I’m publishing books. I and some author/artist friends in the Bay Area founded Thinking Ink Press, and we are publishing the steampunk anthology 30 DAYS LATER edited by Belinda Sikes, AJ Sikes and Dover Whitecliff. We’re hoping to also re-release their earlier anthology 12 HOURS LATER; both of these were done for the Clockwork Alchemy conference, and we’re proud to have them.

We’re also publishing a lot more - FlashCards and InstantBooks and SnapBooks and possibly even a reprint of a novel which recently went out of print. Go to Thinking Ink Press for more news; for things I’m an editor/author on I’ll also announce them here.

Third, I’m doing more computing. Cinnamon Frost is supposed to be a mathematical genius, so to simulate her thought process I write computer programs (no joke). I’ve written up some few articles on this for publication on this blog, and hope to do more over the year to come.

Fourth, I’m going to keep doing art. Most of my art is done in preparation for either book frontispieces or for 24-Hour Comics Day, but I’m going to step that up a bit this year - I have to, if I’m going to get (ulp) three frontispieces done over the next year. Must draw faster!

Finally, I’m going to blog more. I’m already doing it, right now, but one way I’m trying to get ahead is to write two blog posts at a time, publishing one and saving one in reserve. This way I can keep getting ahead, but if I fall behind I’ve got some backlog to fall back on. I feel hounded by all the ideas in my head, so I’m going to loose them on all of you.

As for New Year’s Resolutions? Fah. I could say “exercise more, blog every day, and clean up the piles of papers” but we all know New Year’s Resolution’s are a joke, unless your name is Jim Davies, in which case they’re performance art.

SO ANYWAY, 2016. It’s going to be a year. I hope we can make it a great one!

-the Centaur

Pictured: The bookshelves of Cafe Intermezzo in the Atlanta airport, one place where I like to write books and eat food.

Soon

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Soon I will update the Library of Dresan WordPress code. This is in preparation for a site overhaul, but before I get there, I’m trying to radically improve how I do my backups, which involves seriously upgrading the WordPress code.

In preparation for that, I’m backing the site up several different ways, making sure I have the files AND the database securely downloaded and safe. However, something always can go wrong, so keep your fingers crossed.

And if the site mysteriously disappears for a few days, well, you heard why, here, first.

-the Centaur

Word! What are you DOING?

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I love Microsoft Word, but when I cut and pasted that excerpt from MAROONED into Ecto and published, I noticed a huge blank gap at the beginning of the quoted passage. When I looked in Ecto's raw text editor to see what was the matter, I found 336 lines of gunk injected by Microsoft Word … a massive amount of non printable goop like this:

<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>

<o:DocumentProperties>

<o:Revision>0</o:Revision>

<o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime>

<o:Pages>1</o:Pages>

<o:Words>246</o:Words>

<o:Characters>1183</o:Characters>

<o:Company>Xivagent Scientific Consulting</o:Company>

<o:Lines>18</o:Lines>

<o:Paragraphs>11</o:Paragraphs>

<o:CharactersWithSpaces>1418</o:CharactersWithSpaces>

<o:Version>14.0</o:Version>

</o:DocumentProperties>

</xml><![endif]-->

<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>

<w:WordDocument>

...

This is apparently XML text which captures the formatting of the Word document that it came from, somehow pasted into the HTML document. As you may or may not be able to see from the screenshot above, but should definitely be able to see in the bolded parts of what I quoted above, for 1183 bytes of text Word injected 17,961 bytes of formatting. 300+ lines for 200+ words. Oy, vey. All I wanted was an excerpt without having to go manually recreate all my line breaks …

I understand this lets you paste complex formatting between programs, I get that, and actually the problem might be Ecto taking too much rather than Word giving too much. Or perhaps it's just a mismatch of specifications. But I know HTML, Word, Ecto, and many other blogging platforms like Ecto. What is someone who doesn't know all that supposed to do? Just suffer when their application programs get all weird on them and they don't know why?

Sigh. I'm not really complaining here, but it's just amusing, after a fashion.

-Anthony

Back to the Future with the Old Reader

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As I mentioned in a previous post, Google Reader is going away. If you don't use RSS feeds, this service may be mystifying to you, but think of it this way: imagine, instead of getting a bunch of Facebook, Google+ or Twitter randomized micro-posts, you could get a steady stream of high-quality articles just from the people you like and admire? Yeah. RSS. It's like that.

So anyway, the Reader shutdown. I have a lot of thoughts about that, as do many other people, but the first one is: what the heck do I do? I use Reader on average about seven times a day. I'm certainly not going to hope Google change their minds, and even if they do, my trust is gone. Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives, which people have blogged about here and here.

The one I want to report on today is The Old Reader, the first one I tried. AWESOME. In more detail, this is what I found:

  • It has most, though not all, features of Google Reader. It's got creaky corners that sometimes make it look like features are broken, but as I've dug into it, almost everything is there and works pretty great.
  • It was able to import all my feeds I exported via Google Takeout. Their servers are pretty slow, so it actually took a few days, and they did it two passes. But they sent me an email when it was done, and they got everything.
  • The team is insanely responsive. They're just three guys - but when I found a problem with the Add Subscription button, they fixed it in just a couple of days. Amazing. More responsive than other companies I know.

There are drawbacks, most notably: they don't yet have an equivalent for Google Takeout's OPML export. But, they are only three guys. They just started taking money, which is a good sign that they might stay around. Here's hoping they are able to build a business on this, and that they have the same commitment to openness that Google had.

I plan to try other feed readers, as I can't be trapped into one product as I was before, but kudos to The Old Reader team for quickly and painlessly rescuing me from the First Great Internet Apocalypse of 2013. I feel like I'm just using Reader, except now I have a warm fuzzy that my beloved service isn't going to get neglected until it withers away.

-the Centaur

A Ray of Hoops

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So, after my scare over almost losing 150+ files on Google Drive, I've made some progress on integrating Google Drive and Dropbox using cloudHQ. The reason it wasn't completely seamless is that I use both Google Drive and Dropbox on my primary personal laptop, and cannot afford to have two copies of all files on this one machine. The other half of this problem is that if you only set up partial sync of certain folders, then any new files added to the top folder of Google Drive or Dropbox won't get replicated - and believe it or not, that's already happened to me. So I need a "reliable scheme" I can count on.

The solution? Set up a master folder on Google Drive called "Replicated", in which everything that I want to keep - all my Google Docs, in particular - will get copied to a folder of the same name called "Replicated" in Dropbox. For good measure, set up another replication pair for the Shared folder of Google Drive. The remaining files, all the Pictures I've stored because of Google Drive's great bang for the buck storage deal, don't need to be replicated here.

The reason this works is that if you obey the simple anal-retentive policy of creating all your Google Docs within a named folder, and you put all your named folders under Replicated, then they all automatically get copied to Dropbox as documents. I've even seen it in action, as I edit Google Docs and Dropbox informs me that new copies of documents in Microsoft Word .docx format are appearing in my drive. Success!

At last, I've found a way to reliably use Google Drive cloud. Google doesn't always support the features you want, or the patterns of usage that you want, but they're deeply committed to open APIs, to data liberation, and to the creation of third party applications that enable you to fill the gaps in Google's services so that you aren't locked in to one solution.

Breaking News: Google Reader canceled. G*d dammit, Google…

Next up: after my scare of losing Google Reader, a report on my progress using The Old Reader to rescue my feeds...

-the Centaur

Pictured: A table candle at Cascal's in Mountain View, Ca...

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.

The End for Google Drive

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Recently I was doing some task and needed to track down some information. I couldn't find the document I wanted at first in my Google Drive, but once I did, I realized I had several documents, all on the same topic, so I did with Google Drive the same thing I'd done before on Google Drive: I went to the Google Drive folder and reorganized the files.

Big mistake.

Quickly red "x's" started appearing in my folders. More and more "unsyncable" files started showing up in the Google Drive status list. And then a status message popped up: "The files you have deleted are now in Google Drive's Trash."

Uh-oh.

Understand: I had deleted no files or folders. I simply moved them around - and I've done this before. A lot. On Google Drive, not just Dropbox. But something apparently happened in the sync, and Google Drive thought I'd deleted the folders.

So it trashed all those files.

Understand, Google Drive "documents" on your hard drive aren't "documents"; they're little text files with pointers to a location in Google Drive, like this (where UNREADABLE_IDENTIFIER is a string of alphanumeric gobbledegook):

{"url": "https://docs.google.com/document/d/UNREADABLE_IDENTIFIER/edit", "resource_id": "document:UNREADABLE_IDENTIFIER"}

This pathetic little bit of nonsense is all I would have had left of a 200 word start to an essay - if I hadn't acted quickly. I started to look online, and found this alarming bit of information:

https://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2375102

Declutter your Google Drive by removing unwanted and outdated files, folders, and Google Docs from your Google Drive. Anything that you own and remove from Google Drive will be in the trash until you permanently delete or restore them.

Moving Google Docs files out of your Google Drive folder will cause their counterpart files on the web to be moved to the trash. If you then purge the trash, those files will become permanently inaccessible. Because the Docs files in your Drive folder are essentially links to files that exist online, moving these files back into your Drive folder after purging the trash online will not restore the files, as their online counterparts will have been deleted.

OMG! The contents of my documents may be lost forever if I purge the trash. But it gets worse...

http://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2494934

If something in Google Drive is moved to the trash, you'll see a warning and you may lose access to it at any time. Read one of the following sections to learn how to restore it to your Google Drive from the trash. When you restore something, it'll be recovered in Google Drive on the web, to the Google Drive folder on your computer, and to your mobile devices.

If the item is in a folder, you’ll need to restore the entire folder to recover any individual items inside of it.

So I quickly returned to Google Drive. Everything you see above with a little red X was gone, all those files and 150 more. I hunted down the Trash (which was harder than you might think, as there was some persistent search in my Google Drive window that was removing the Trash folder from my view) and restored EVERYTHING that I had never deleted in the first place.

Now, this shouldn't have been a surprise. I always knew this could happen, ever since I gladly installed Google Drive on on my Mac in the hope that it would data liberate the Google Documents I had, only to find in my horror that Google Drive wasn't a syncing system, like Dropbox, but a cloud system, which is useless.

In case anyone misses the point: If you use Google Drive to store documents and also have the Google Drive client stored on a machine, Google Drive can get tricked into thinking you've deleted files, at which point it will move them to the Trash, at which point, unlike things you've deliberately trashed, it can delete them at any time - and you'll never get them back.

After some thought, I'm calling a hard stop on all use of Google Documents, except those I'm using to collaborate with others, where the collaboration features of the Google Doc outweigh the potential of risk. I can always save those files to a hard backup of a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet.

But I work for a living as a writer. And I can't work with a system that can arbitrarily trash hundreds of files and thousands upon thousands of words of documents with no hope of recovery just because I moved a folder … correctly.

Like Ecto, I have to rethink my use of these online tools - rethink them in a way that ensures that for every significant thing that I use in some convenient online system, I have a saved copy in an archivable backup.

More updates as I develop a new system.

-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.

A Really Good Question

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Recently I was driving to work and thinking about an essay by a statistician on “dropping the stick.” The metaphor was about a game of pick-up hockey, where an inattentive player would be asked to “drop the stick” and skate for a while until they got their head in the game. In the statistical context, this became the action of stopping people who were asking for help with a specific statistical task and asking what problem they wanted to solve, because often solving the actual problem may be actually very different from fixing their technical issue and may require completely different approaches. That gets annoying sometimes when you ask a question to a mailing list and someone asks you what you're trying to solve rather than addressing the issue you've raised, but it's a good reflex to have: first ask, "What's the problem?"

Then I realized something even more important about projects that succeeded or failed in my life – successes at radical off the wall projects like the emotional robot pet project or the cell phone robots with personalities project or the 3d object visualization project, and failures at seemingly simpler problems like a tweak to a planner at Carnegie Mellon or a test domain for my thesis project or the failed search improvement I worked on during my third year at the Search Engine that Starts with a G. One of the things I noticed about the successes is that before I got started I did a hard core intensive research effort to understand the problem space before I tackled the problem proper, then I chose a method of approach, and then I planned out a solution. Paraphrasing Eisenhower, even though the plan often had to change once we started execution, the planning was indispensable. The day-to-day immersion in the problem that you need for planning provides the mental context you need to make the right decisions as the situation inevitably changes.

In failed projects, I found one or more things – the hard core research or the planning – wasn’t present, but that wasn’t all that was missing. In the failure cases, I often didn’t know what a solution would look like. I recently saw this from the outside when I conducted a job interview, and found that the interviewee clearly didn't understand what would constitute an answer to my question. He had knowledge, and he was trying, but his suggested moves were only analogically correct - they sounded like elements of a solution, but didn't connect to the actual features of the problem. Thinking back, a case that leapt to mind from my own experience was a project all the way back in grade school, where I we had an urban planning exercise to create an ideal city. My job was to create the map of the city, and I took the problem very literally, starting with a topographical map of the city's center, river and hills. Now, it's true that the geography of a city is important - for an ideal city, you'd want a source of water, easy transport, a relatively flat area for many buildings, and at least one high point for scenic vistas. But there was one big problem with my city plan: there were no buildings, neighborhoods, or districts on it! No buildings or people! It was just the land!

Ok, so I was in grade school, and this was one of my first projects, so perhaps I could be excused for not knowing what I was doing. But the educators who set up this project knew what they were doing, and they brought on board an actual city planner to talk to us about our project. When he saw my maps, he pointed out this wasn't a city plan and sat down with all of us to brainstorm what we'd actually want in a city - neighborhoods, power plants, a city center, museums, libraries, hospitals, food distribution and industrial regions. At the time, I was saddened that my hard work was abandoned, and now in hindsight I'm saddened that the city planner didn't take a minute or two to talk about how geography affects cities before beginning his brainstorming exercise. But what struck me most about this in hindsight is that I really didn't know what constituted an answer to the problem.

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So, I asked myself, “What counts as a solution to this problem?” – and that, I realized, is a very good question.

-the Centaur

Pictured: an overhead shot of a diorama of the control room of the ENIAC computer as seen at the Computer History Museum, and of course our friend Clarence having his sudden moment of clarity.