Friday, April 23, 2010

It's finally happened...  

... in one of those instances which exposes really how shallow you are, I find myself gratified that it, indeed, has finally happened. What is it?

Professional recognition.

Since I was a child I always wanted to be a "real science fiction writer". For some reason, I got it in my head that this meant membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Not sure how that happened, but it did: the external approval of that group of strangers somehow came to matter to me. So I tried to join.

First I wrote a science fiction short story that got published in 1995 in The Leading Edge magazine, but when I checked I found that the Leading Edge was not eligible for SFWA.

Then I wrote an urban fantasy novel that got published in 2010 by Bell Bridge Books, but when I checked I found that Bell Bridge was not eligible for SFWA.

Then, I missed the deadline to register for Comic-Con this year, and decided, what the heck, I'll try to register as a professional. After all, I've written an urban fantasy novel, drawn its frontispiece, and even created a webcomic. And for years I've felt that comics are my future as a creator. So, what the heck, why not?


Dear Comic-Con Creative Creative Professional Attendee,

Thank you for registering for Comic-Con International 2010: San Diego

Please take a few moments to review your registration information...

Well. Allrighty then.

Yes, it's shallow of me to base some part of my evaluation of my personal self worth on the approval of others. Yes, this shows a deep-seated insecurity that needs to be addressed by a deep increase in maturity. Yes, yes, yes, I'll work on that. But still ...

... it's finally happened.
Well, enough basking. Back to work on Blood Rock. But wait - it is indeed working.

-the Centaur

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Good for you, Anthony.

In my opinion, it's not the appreciation of peer recognition that's bad, but the craving for it. Enjoy the bask.
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 4:42 AM
  Yes, I think you nailed it. Of course one should be glad to be a Comic-Con professional or SFWA member or whatever. I'm just a bit amused by this long-dormant desire which popped up ... "Oh hey wait! I published a book now! I wonder if I can get into SFWA ... awww." It's funny because it just doesn't normally fit into my consciousness at all, but the old wiring is still there, waiting to be activated by the right set of circumstances.
# posted by Blogger Anthony Francis : 12:54 PM
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Friday, March 12, 2010

Playing Hooky from GDC 2010  

two laptops for two jobs

Today I'm playing "hooky" from GDC 2010. I look forward to GDC every year, where I see friends, catch glimpses of new games, and learn more and more about artificial intelligence and games. But for various reasons (cost, cats) I don't have a hotel this year, and have been driving up to San Francisco from my house in the South Bay.

It's fun seeing the gang, especially the always engaging Neil Kirby, and fun watching the speakers, especially the entertaining R.A. Salvatore. But yesterday I spent four hours in the car - two there, two back - a grueling experience in the morning in which I not only missed breakfast, missed the Starcraft talk but almost missed the NEXT talk, and an equally grueling experience in the evening racing home to the Saint Stephen's in-the-Field Vestry meeting.

I'd have lot more time in my life if I didn't work two jobs - one by day at the Search Engine That Starts With A G, and one by night as a science fiction author - and so things pile up. By the time GDC rolled around I was already worn thin working and prepping my novel, and then after the drive up and back each day I was totally exhausted, so at the end of each day I'd just feed the cats and crash.

So this morning, I got up, earlier this time, in more than enough time to make the first talk ... and said, "screw it."

What a relieved feeling! Felt like the best decision that I'd made in a long time. I cleaned house, did laundry, played with the cats ... and then popped open the work laptop around the time I'd normally LEAVE for work and worked for a few hours. Yes, that's right ... I took a break from my vacation to work. Not that I want to, but there are things that need to get done that take a lot of "wall clock" time but not lots of programming time, so I answered some email, submitted a changelist, fired off a Mapreduce ...

... and then took a two hour nap on the futon in the library with a cat on my chest.

It was a pretty good day ... so far. And it isn't over yet.

-the Centaur

ok i decide to go out now u wait for me ok

Pictured: the two-laptop setup I use to keep my work and writing life distinct (just change the cables to give a different computer the main monitor) and Gabby, my very most computer literate cat.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Compline: iPad Edition  

Well, evening has come and the day has passed, and I have tossed as many Mapreduces into the Great Cloud as the Great Cloud will take - time to go to bed. I leave you with these thoughts, overheard in the wild today:
Woman #1: And did you hear about the iPad?
Woman #2: Oh. My. God. That has to be the stupidest name.
Woman #1: I know. Don't they know what it sounds like?
Woman #2: I think their brains must have been off for the entire development process.
Woman #1: And what gets me, there was a Mad TV skit about the "iPad" like two years ago.
Woman #2: Don't they know people are making fun of it? Don't they care?
Woman #1: Maybe they think at least someone's talking about it.
Woman #2: I dunno. It seems so ... useless. Who's going to carry that?
Woman #1: It's like a giant iPod you can't talk on.
Woman #2: Might be good for some people. At $499, maybe for my nephew?
For the record, I know a lot of people interested in an iPad, I'm very impressed by the drawing features ... and I'm not going to get one as I do not buy closed platforms. (My Mac has a UNIX command line, thank you very much, and no dang App Store is needed to put software on this thing).

I'll be buying a Spring Design Alex to help my favorite bookstore Borders and my favorite phone OS Android ... assuming that Steve Jobs doesn't crush his enemies, drive their tablets before them, and hear the lamentations of their programmers.

Good night.
-the Centaur

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Monday, February 01, 2010

This ... this is WORKING ...  

revised version of dakotas face

Oh ... oh my goodness. I'm working on a revised version of Dakota's face for the frontispiece of Frost Moon and ... and ... "working" is not just a metaphor. This is actual work. I'm sketching, and soon after that I will be writing again on Liquid Fire or Jeremiah Willstone. As part of real work, and not just some crazy hobby anymore.

Too cool.

-the Centaur
Pictured: the revised face of Dakota Frost for the frontispiece, pre-cleanup and compositing into the original drawing.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

I got teary-eyed  

Yes, it's an ad. So sue me.
-the Centaur



Thursday, January 07, 2010

Just found a short between the keyboard and monitor...  

... otherwise known as an ID10t error in the operator component.

Trying to install a new device, wasn't working, and the reason was I never applied the firmware upgrade that the instructions clearly said had to be required. Anthony's nth (7th?) law:
If you don't follow all of the instructions, you won't finish in the goal state.(*)
(*) Except through dumb luck, or just possibly deep knowledge. Did I have deep knowledge in this case? No. So if you're doing voodoo, try, perhaps, following the complete recipe before you complain your zombie isn't coming back to life as advertised.

-the Centaur

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Mild shaking in the house, like it was shoved sideways half an inch and sprung back. Apparently that's this one:

Only my second quake in my 4 years in California. SO far, SO good...
-the Centaur

UPDATE: Sandi felt a quake earlier last year while I was at work. I believe it was this one:



Wednesday, January 06, 2010

3:30am - pager duty suuuuuuuucks EOM  

PS: For those not in the know, EOM stands for "End of Message" - generally used for a subject-only email without a body, like sending someone an url:
Here's the presentation: http://short/url EOM
Technically I guess that means the EOM in the header is not an EOM, and also by corollary the PS is not a PostScript since it introduces the body of the message.

Well, then, in that case: Hello, Internets!

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Year of Blogging Dangerously  

So, last year I had an extraordinarily complicated series of New Year's Resolutions which almost completely failed. Looking back, I succeeded at my major goals for the year, but the complex plan of weekly / monthly things completely failed.

So, here's a simpler set of New Year's resolutions, goals, what have you:
  • Establish a weekly pattern of exercise, including some karate
  • Set aside some time each month to do art in addition to writing
  • Post to this blog on the average once a day, measured each week
The last one is the hard one, of course; I'm already 4 posts behind. But I have such a huge backlog of articles and ideas in folders that I shouldn't find this too hard ... if I can just change my habits.

In other news, Warren Ellis has already blogged 365 times since January 1st. Damn him.

-the Centaur

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Uncommon Common Cold  

From Wikipedia:
Common symptoms are cough, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing; sometimes accompanied by 'pink eye', muscle aches, fatigue, malaise, headaches, muscle weakness, uncontrollable shivering, loss of appetite, and rarely extreme exhaustion. Fever is more commonly a symptom of influenza ... The symptoms of a cold usually resolve after about one week; however, it is not rare that symptoms last up to three weeks.
Aw, $@%#!!!, I'm in the "not rare" it-sucks-for-a-long-time category.

For more information:
Still, probably time to see a doctor at T+3 weeks....



Monday, November 30, 2009

Worst. Vacation. Ever. - Till now.  

Ten days off to write! No trips, no vacations, no distractions. Just me and writing ... but: The "Terminator" version of the common cold. Car repairing turned car totaling and car shopping during hard raining. Cat fights and cat urine. And a desperate scramble to catch up in National Novel Writing Month turning what I love ... writing ... into a chore.

And then my wife came back Saturday night.

That was great, but things didn't get better right away. See #3 above, cat urine: our incompletely housetrained Gabby the Cat decided to urinate on a big soft squishy pillow to either
  • (a) reduce his insecurity by marking his protector's stuff with his scent (the official story as told by everybody's favorite cat books)
  • (b) show his irritation at his protector locking him in a room (what I strongly suspect based on my study of animal cognition, which might be summed up as saying "just because they can't talk doesn't mean they're completely unaware idiots")
... just as I had run a full load of laundry in the washer and thus couldn't wash it right away, just as I had to run to the airport so I had no time to dispose of it properly, and just in time for the heater to kick in and propagate the smell through the entire house by the time we got back.

Stepping through the door was ... an unpleasant moment.

But we persevered. We went out for a late dinner and talked about ... hell, everything. We crashed early, I got up at the ass-crack of dawn, fed the cats, went to church, put everything in the hands of God, and went back and slept till noon. By the time we awoke, it was clear that the pillow was the source of the smell and the tarps-plus-blankets wash-immediately-if-soiled solution was working to protect our home as we transition street cat to house-and-yard cat. We had a lovely lunch at our favorite restaurant (Aqui) and test-drove a hybrid (a Prius). Everything, once again, became OK, and it seemed like all the nastiness of that awful ten days rattling around the house mostly with myself, a virus and three irritated cats was at last over.

So: yesterday: 2094 words. Today: 2583 words. As of this moment, I am officially caught up on where I "should have been" for Nano, and I'm on track to finish by tomorrow. And we even have a plan to save our obstraperous little cat, who is mellowing out now that he has two people to entertain him (and to separate the cats from each other so they have time to mellow).

Best of all, my best friend is home.

-the Centaur
P.S. Thanks, God.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I'm Working From Home Tomorrow  

So I've been sick this week, last Friday evening up until now, with what appears to be a severe common cold. I was actually working from home, at 50% power, for Monday and Tuesday, and came in late Wednesday; so today I was actually glad to get in. But I was coughing so badly that my boss at the Search Engine that Starts With a G (who was suffering from a similar cold with a similar time course) recommended I go home early.

If only I'd taken him up on that, rather than waiting to come home in rush hour:

side impact to a nissan pathfinder rear driver side door

In case you're wondering, I'm fine, the lady who hit me and spun off 360 degrees is fine, and the guy in the other car she caromed off of is also fine. But, I feel like crap. I wonder why?

side impact airbag deployed inside a nissan pathfinder

No, that's not a pillowcase stuffed into my "B" bar: that's a "Thank God for Side Impact" Airbag, post-deployment. And Thank God for SUV's: the Pathfinder took the brunt of the impact and didn't even get knocked out of its lane. I was rattled, my Bluetooth headpiece was knocked off and bounced off the other side of the car, and my Mom on the other end nearly had a heart attack as she heard a screech and then I got cut off ... but the Pathfinder didn't even get knocked out of its lane. Didn't swerve. Didn't stop. Didn't even slow down. Hell, it took me a half a mile before I could pull over.

Oh, drat, am I doing this out of order? I was southbound on the middle lane of California 85 in a clot of rush-hour traffic, talking to my mother with my Bluetooth headpiece, when I heard a screech then a bang and felt a jolt. I said, "hey, Mom, did you hear that?" and noticed that the Bluetooth headpiece was gone, my side was in pain, and a car was spinning off behind me in my left rearview mirror. I blinked, realized, "oh, shit, I'm in a vehicle that's just been hit" and quickly started to pull over in case there was a fuel leak or other catastrophic damage to the vehicle. But I was just past the join of 87 and 85, and none of the merging traffic would let me over for near half a mile. Finally, just as twilight turned to dark, I pulled over, scrambled out of the car, and waited for it not to catch on fire.

wider view of the side impact

When I was sure it was safe, I called Mom back, then began the long trudge back to the accident site, where three cars were stuck in the middle lane. I called out to make sure everyone was OK, and they called back to verify I had been in the truck. After fifteen minutes, traffic finally thinned enough for me to cross, by which time the first car (the witness) had disappeared. We discussed what happened, and as best as the three of us could determine, the lady who struck me hit her brakes too hard as traffic was knotting up, lost control, then rammed me, spun off, then hit him.

incomplete accident report

Miraculously, none of us were hurt, even after her 360 degree spin, and all three cars were drivable. A DMV truck arrived, stopped traffic so we could move their cars off to the side and take stock; after the other two cars drove off, he took me to my car and made sure I could drive off as well. The Pathfinder rode a little rough ... but she rode.

However, at 185,000 miles and four (4!) someone-rammed-into-me-for-no-good-reason accidents, the heroically-protective Nissan Pathfinder is probably going to be counted as totaled by the insurance company (call scheduled for sometime around 8-10am tomorrow, hence the "coming in late or working from home entirely" email to my boss and team at work).

Ah, Pathfinder, you did a good job, my friend...

the heroic nissan pathfinder

My next car? An SUV. A hybrid, of course...

-the Centaur



I'm so glad you're okay.

I want your readers to know that SUVs are not the safest cars, because of two reasons.

1) You can't avoid accidents as well as you can in a smaller, more maneuverable car. The key to surviving on the road is mostly avoiding accidents and much less about being in a vehicle that can withstand an accident. Also, SUVs are more likely to flip over than other cars.

2) Risk compensation. One's feeling of safety in an SUV is greater than the actual safety in an SUV, resulting in perverse risk compensation, which means that, as a driver, one will take on more risk depending on the subjective feeling of safety.

Unfortunately, car ratings for safety only measure how safe you'd be in the car given that you've been in an accident, and don't control for the fact that different cars are more or less likely to get into accidents in the first place.

The safest vehicle on the road? The Toyota Avalon. Read a fascinating article on this subject, including a chart showing deaths per million drivers per vehicle, at
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 5:20 AM
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Shameless Filler  

Yes, I'm trying to fill out those 1-blog-posts-a-day I promised at the beginning of the month. But there is a serious topic: I realized today, for reasons which will become clear shortly, that I'm just plain awful about blogging stuff that happens in my life. So that's going to change, shortly; however, it wasn't appropriate to put this message in that article. Go about your blogrolling business; nothing to see here.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

It is amazing how mentally freeing it is...  

... to have just one more thing off your todo list. Really, I have just about as much to do now as I did before I finished the edits of _Frost Moon_. It's just that I feel much better about what I have left.

Completion. A wonderful feeling.
-the Centaur

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Of course, be real...  

...the idea you can make something happen if you "prioritize" it works only if you have enough time with which to make the time. Editing two novels and writing a third - all on deadlines, some of them tight - while working late many nights AND taking care of a new and extremely needy cat can lead to you crashing out repeatedly before blogging, and sometimes it's only after you've crashed early several nights but have been sniffling and coughing enough that only way you can sleep is on Nyquil that you realize, maybe, just maybe, you're fighting off a bug.

Meanwhile, Warren Ellis is fighting as many deadlines as I am while also writing a seven-volume epic mashup called War and Peace of the Worlds featuring the entire cast of Archie Comics turned gritty postmodern superheroes, is doing it all one handed on his Palm Pilot while using the other to lean on his cane as he climbs Mount Everest after having coughed up a lung ... and is still blogging three times a day.

-the Centaur

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Friday, September 04, 2009

An Odd Sense of Familiarity  

So I'm back in Atlanta for a few days to visit friends and go see my mother ... oh, come off it, I'm here for Dragon*Con.  But before that started, I had a whole day to recharge my Atlanta batteries - yes, visiting with several friends and hitting old haunts, but also seeing places that appear in the Dakota Frost series like the Flying Biscuit:

But I had a few chunks of downtime and a lot of work to do, so I dropped by Georgia Tech, browsed the bookstore - I love visiting college bookstores and browsing the textbooks: I like to know what universities are recommending students should be learning - and then plopped myself down in the embedded Starbucks to answer some email and try to push things forward.

But I found myself facing an odd sense of familiarity on the Georgia Tech campus.  Of course, I recognized the buildings I was seeing, and I didn't recognize anyone specific that I knew.  But a lot of people looked very ... familiar.  Not the students: the professors and researchers and general population of people milling around at Georgia Tech.

I lived in Atlanta for 18 years; fourteen of those were spent on the Georgia Tech campus and since then I've visited the campus regularly to see friends or browse the bookstore.  So it's possible that many of those familiar people are people I've seen, but don't remember.

Or it's possible that the culture of Georgia Tech - the clothes, the styles, the mannerisms - is something that newcomers pick up by osmosis, so even if I hadn't seen them before they've become like the people who I was formerly familiar with.  And that's what made the sense of familiarity so odd: it was sufficiently vague I couldn't really tell the cause.

Interesting ... I wonder what I would look like if I had spent 18 years somewhere else.

-the Centaur



Monday, June 15, 2009

15 Books  

shoulder cat sees farther

Recently I got nailed with the following note on Facebook or Myspace or some other damn thing:
"Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you."
Well, neo-Luddite that I am, I don't want to encourage this whole walled-garden social networking thing, so I'm not going to post a note there until I can effortlessly crosspost with my blog and everywhere else. But I can come up with 15 books:
  • Godel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
    Convinced me to get into Artificial Intelligence. I've probably read it half a dozen times. Has a fantastic layered structure that Hofstadter uses to great effect.
  • The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky
    Opened my mind to new ways of thinking about thinking and AI. Also read it several times. Has a fantastic one-chapter-per-page format that really works well to communicate complicated ideas very simply.
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Feynman, Leighton and Sands
    Taught me more about physics than the half-dozen classes I took at Georgia Tech. I've read it now about four times, once on paper (trying to work out as many derivations as I could as I went) and three times on audiobook.
  • Programming Pearls by Jon Bentley
    Opened my mind to new ways about both thinking and programming. The chapter on estimation blew my mind.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    A true epic, though it's probably better to start with the Virtue of Selfishness if you want to understand her philosophy. Every time I think some of Atlas Shrugged's characters are ridiculous parodies, I meet someone like them in real life.
  • Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey
    I must have read this a dozen times as a child. I still remember two characters: a child who was so enamored of the catlike aliens he started wearing a tail, and a hard-nosed military type who refused to eat local food so he could not develop cravings for the foods of (or attachments to the cultures of) the worlds he visited.
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings
    A great fantasy epic, with all of the scale but none of the bad writing and pointless digressions of The Lord of the Rings. I've heard someone dismiss Eddings as "third carbon Tolkien" but, you know what? Get over yourselves. Tolkien wasn't the first person to write in the genre, and he won't be the last.
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
    All of the adventure of the Lord of the Rings, but none of its flaws. The long journey through the great dark forest and the Battle of Five Armies still stick in my mind. I like this the best out of what Tolkien I've read (which includes The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion, and some other darn thing I can't remember).
  • The Dragon Circle by Stephen Krensky
    Loved it as a child. Still have a stuffed dragon named "Shortflight" after this book.
  • Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
    Another true epic, this time a graphic novel. Resonates with me in a way that few other fantasy epics do. I have the first 20-issue series in a massive hardbound volume which is now apparently worth a shitload of money. Out of my cold dead fingers, pry it will you.
  • Paradigms of Artificial Intelligence Programming: Case Studies in Common Lisp by Peter Norvig
    Yes, your programming can kick ass. Let Peter show you how.
  • Reason in Human Affairs by Herbert Simon
    Helped me understand the powers and the limits of human reason, and why we need emotion to survive in this complicated world.
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
    More than anything, I appreciate this book for a few key vignettes that made me realize how important it was to understand other people and where they are coming from, and not to impose my own preconceptions upon them.
  • The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers by Ayn Rand
    Straight talk about fiction from one of its most effective writers. You don't have to agree with Ayn Rand's personal philosophy or even like her fiction books to learn from this book; half her examples are drawn from authors she personally doesn't agree with.
  • In the Arena by Richard Nixon
    Straight talk about surviving in politics from one of its most flawed yet effective masters. A glimpse into the workings of a brilliant mind, broken down into different sections on different aspects of life. Don't bother reading this if you feel you owe a debt to your personal political leanings to say something nasty about Richard Nixon in every sentence in which you mention him simply because Nixon did some bad things. (Note: I think that Nixon's alleged crimes are the worst of any President, because they attacked his political opponents, undermining our democracy. However, his political philosophy, once divorced from his personal paranoia, is something very important people need to understand).
What did I forget? The Bible, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Das Energi by Paul Wilson, The Celestine Prophecies by James Redfield, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, One Two Three Infinity by George Gamow, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Unfinished Synthesis by Niles Eldredge, Neutron Star by Larry Niven, The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, the collected works of Martin Gardner, Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, Albedo Anthropomorphics by Steven Galacci, and of course, Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, the Volume Library, and before that, back in the dawn of time, the World Book Encyclopedia. Read into that list what you will.

Blogosphere, consider yourselves tagged - your turn.

-the Centaur



Monday, June 08, 2009

Cost of a taxi from SFO to MTV: ~$90. Cost of BART+Caltrain: $5.75. Hm ... this green thing has more advantages than just feeling good about "saving the environment". Of course, it takes way the heck longer and many of the trains aren't full, so I need to add public transit to my things to study.

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Back before I had a parking permit, I used to take MARTA from Druid Hills to Georgia Tech. It took well over an hour whereas it was a 25 minute car ride, tops. Until our time isn't valuable, or public transit is about as fast as private vehicles, this dog isn't going to hunt.
# posted by Blogger Gordon : 8:04 PM
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This is Xeriscape  

Xeriscaped Succulents in Bloom

My wife and I are xeriscaping our lawn - transforming it from a green sucker-of-water into a still-green landscape of native plants that require little or no water. Lawns consume a lot of water, and this is one way we can make a difference that both saves the environment and saves money.

But a xeriscaped lawn isn't always just dirt, or just brown, or even just green. Here you see the succulents we've planted in fantastic bloom, which require almost no watering during the course of the year. During the day their flowers open in a brilliant polychromatic display; at night they close up.

Xeriscaped Succulents and Path to Olive Tree

We've also used low-water plants and trees, either existing ones or new ones planted that will require little to no water. Unfortunately new trees require some water to get started, and so the grass that would not grow before has come back with a vengeance (as you can see in the upper left).

Xeriscaped Succulents, Olive Tree and Gardener

We've made the problem a little harder on ourselves by using reclaimed materials as much as possible, letting plants grow out to fill the space rather than buying more, planting from cuttings, using no artificial fertilizer, and using almost no artificial pesticides (other than slug pellets, which we could not avoid using as they love succulents). So it's taking some time ... we're in the start of the second year of our front yard landscaping.

But after that first year, it's starting to bear fruit. Already the result is a wonderful Seussical landscape that requires little to no watering. Who knows what it will look like after another year.

-the Centaur

Pictured: our front lawn, with closeups of the flowering succulents (grown into the space on their own), a medium shot of the path (made from reclaimed wood chips), and a long shot of the tree (saved from death with a little mulching), the path and the gardener.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Not enough hours in the day, redux...  

I easily could spend 8 hours a day blogging. There's just too much to write about; I don't know how people like Andrew Sullivan and Warren Ellis write so much. No, wait, I do: they're paid to write, dang it, where I am paid to make search engines smell better and must squeeze my writing in around the margins.

Recently I started work on redesigning the templates for the Library, and in my giant Mongo death Todo list I have an entry "blog updates to library". But I never got around to writing the article, because I kept on getting confused about what to write first.

Then I realized that's part of my problem. The point of blogging the redesign of the Library was to expose the thought process that normally goes into the redesign of any web site, rather than hiding all of the hard work behind the covers, springing it fully formed onto the world, and proclaiming: "See! Doesn't it smell better?"

So here's the thought process that was blocking me from writing articles on the Library:
  • Anthony looks at Todo list, sees entry "Blog Update" and tries to figure out what to do with this horribly underspecified action item with no clear next action. Somewhere out in cyberspace, David Allen kills himself, then spins in his grave.
  • Anthony decides "I've got a prototype for the new design of Library now! I just need to post the darn thing and get on with it!"
  • Anthony starts work on cleaning up his Blogger template. During this process he finds he needs to figure out precisely what his Blogger template is doing, as he no longer remembers and the code is poorly documented.
  • Anthony comes up with a clever way of visualizing how his Blogger template works which itself is probably worth blogging about.
  • Then Anthony realizes that he doesn't know whether the design works well with Internet Explorer on Windows, or Chrome, or on small screens (notwithstanding my desire to support only large screens), or on super large desktop screens with different sized fonts.
  • This leads to more questions: What browsers should this work well on? How should I test this? What if there are fundamental incompatibilities between IE and Firefox?
  • Well, shazbot. I decide, screw it, let's just fix a small page somewhere and update that. So I update the Research page, which already needed an overhaul of its research statement.
  • Anthony finds a system to help him test and prototype his content which is worthy of blogging about in its own right.
  • The textual update goes swimmingly, but updating the CSS and HTML proves more of a bear, especially comparing Internet Explorer and Firefox.
  • Anthony's system for updating the content starts to show failures which are worthy of blogging about in their own right.
  • Well, shoot, now what do I do?
At this point, I have about half a dozen things to blog here: updating the Library, updating the Library's blogger template, issues with Internet Explorer and Firefox, issues with HTML and CSS, how to update your software, how to test your software, how to rapidly prototype, and how you can visualize changes to a template. So in the process of deciding to update my blog template, I accumulated far more things to blog, which at the start of this process I'd wanted to wait until after updating my blog template. I become totally confused.

But the point of this blogging exercise is NOT to go off and hide and try to figure these things out, then come back smiling with a solution. Instead, when I get stumped, that is a serious decision point in the development process and I'm SUPPOSED to write an article which says, here's what's on my plate, and boy did I get stumped.

So this is that article. And just articulating the things going through my mind gave me a sequence of things to do: now I can blog each of the elements on that list and show how I encountered the problem, how I tackled it, and how I got to a solution.


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Friday, April 24, 2009

I can't read what I want right now  

Right now I'm working on Blood Rock, the sequel to Frost Moon, my novel about Dakota Frost, a magical tattoo artist who can create tattoos that come to life. It's an urban fantasy novel set in Atlanta, where werewolves and vampires are real, magic was hidden by its own practitioners, and the counterculture of the 1950's, 60's and 70's dragged it all into the light. Each book in this series focuses on one new monster and one new alternative culture practice made magical: Frost Moon focused on werewolves and magical tattooing, Blood Rock focuses on vampires and magical graffiti, and the upcoming Liquid Fire focuses on dragons and magical firespinning.

I recently completed the revision of Frost Moon, and am trying to get back into my groove on Blood Rock. I heard an author (I think it was Steven Barnes) recommend that you should read about ten times as much as you write, and while I don't strictly follow that I do believe you need to expose yourself to a lot of writing to prevent yourself from falling into your own linguistic ruts. (You should do a lot of living too, and observing that living, but how to do that is something you must discover for yourself).

SO I went to pick up a new novel to read. When I started Blood Rock, I had recently picked up Fool Moon by Jim Butcher. A few pages into it I saw the beginnings of a plot thread similar to one I'm exploring in Blood Rock and immediately put it down. I don't like to read things similar to what I'm working on "because stuff can sneak in even when you don't know it's happening" - a sentiment by Oliver Platt that's as true about writing as it is about acting. I wrote a story once about a man fighting a crazy computer, and later found entirely unintended similarities to an episode of the Bionic Woman that I hadn't seen in more than a decade.

So, no Fool Moon for you, not right now. I read Ayn Rand, H.P. Lovecraft, Steve Martin and many others, but finally wanted to roll around again to urban fantasy. So I picked up T.A. Pratt's Blood Engines. I didn't start it right away, and in the interim I attended a fire ballet at the Crucible out here in the Bay Area, and decided to set a scene in Liquid Fire out here in the Bay Area. So I open Blood Engines ... and finds out it opens behind City Lights Books in San Francisco.

So I put that one down. I then said, hey, let me get out my copy of Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Lieber, which people have recommended to me as a classic precursor of the urban fantasy genre. Flip it open: a reference to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Dangit! What about this other book in my pile, the Iron Hunt by Marjorie Liu? Also features a magic tattoos. Dangit! Dangit! Dangit!

So I've given up on reading urban fantasy right now.

Instead I'm reading Severance, by Robert Butler, a series of flash fiction stories each 240 words long - the estimated number of words that someone could pass through someone's head after they've been decapitated.

After that, hopefully I'll be done with Blood Rock, and I can pick back up with the always dependable Anita Blake series by Laurell Hamilton. I love Anita Blake and think she's a great character, but Dakota Frost is my reaction against heroines that start off as uber-tough chicks before the first vampire shows up. I'm more interested in telling the story of how the uber-tough chick got that way, of showing how meeting vampires and werewolves and magical misuse would force someone to toughen up. Anita, of course, has been through that, and is more like a Dakota Frost t-plus ten years in the trenches. So it should be pretty safe to read Cerulean Sins.

Just no magical tattoos, graffiti or firespinning. Please. At least till I finish these three books.

-the Centaur

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pound Cake Reloaded  

So I tried making pound cake again, this time with success! I even brought it in to the Search Engine that Starts With a G to get comments from my coworkers, and none of them died (that I know of) and some of them even liked it (as reported on an anonymous form)! Even more of a success!

Here's what I did differently.

pound cake 2.0

First, I changed the recipe. This time, I adapted one from "I'm Just Here for More Food" by Alton Brown, a chef well known for his excellent, scientifically-based cooking. After cross-referencing against the Joy of Cooking, I felt safe leaving out the vanilla on the suspicion that last time's funny flavor wasn't just the Splenda but my fairly old vanilla flavoring (which I found was labeled "bourbon vanilla" which made me even more suspicious.) This left the recipe:
  • Three cups of allpurpose flour
  • Three large eggs
  • Two cups of sugar
  • One cup of buttermilk
  • One half pound of butter
  • One half teaspoon of salt
  • One half teaspoon of baking powder
Preparation was much easier this time with a $25 handheld motorized mixer from Fry's
. I used a few tricks this time:
  • Allow butter to warm to room temperature by itself - no heating in the microwave
  • Mix the butter and sugar and blend until fluffy with no sugar grains visible in the mix
  • Beat egg yolks and whites together and mix with butter and sugar blend in 3 batches
  • Sift all the dry goods (salt, baking powder, flour) together 3 times
  • Alternate adding the dry goods and buttermilk to the mix
Also, I was more careful flouring the pan to prevent sticking. As before, the oven was preheated to 325, baking was 1 hour, and the cake was allowed to sit a bit before being taken out of the pan.

pound cake 2.0

Results: Yum. The texture was light and flaky, on the edge of being too flaky. The flavor was good, though slightly bland - it could have used more vanilla. The crust had a good texture, but it could have been a bit darker.

pound cake 2.0

This was a good cake, but I got even better feedback from my coworkers and from myself. The cake needed vanilla, a slightly better mixing, and a slightly better cooling procedure. Nevertheless, the pound cake served its desired function:

pound cake 2.0

I will follow up soon with the details on how I tweaked the recipe until it was "perfect".

-the Centaur

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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Great Litany at Maundy Thursday Vigil  

From two to three this morning I served on the Maundy Thursday Vigil today at Saint Stephens in the Field, the local Episcopal church I attend.

Maundy Thursday is the day Jesus instituted the Eucharist and was arrested, according to the Bible and tradition. Rather than a Maundy Thursday service, Saint Stephen's holds a vigil from evening to the time of the Crucifixion. Someone is in the church all hours of the night.

There's no way to know exactly when Jesus was arrested, but I've always thought the hour of darkness was pretty close to two to three AM, so that's a special time for me. Being arrested, humiliated and crucified for essentially telling the truth and trying to do the right thing would be terrible.

The first thing I read during my part of the vigil was from the Great Litany from the Book of Common Prayer; I thought it was apropos in our current time of trial:
We humbly beseech thee, O Father, mercifully to look upon
our infirmities; and, for the glory of your Name, turn from us
all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant
that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and
confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness
and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory; through our
only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then I read from the Bible, first another apropos passage from Sirach 21:8:
8: He that buildeth his house with other men's money is like one that gathereth himself stones for the tomb of his burial.

After that, I started reading the Passion from the Gospel of John, and then went on to read the remaining readings for Maundy Thursday: first from the Gospel of John, then from Exodus, then from the Psalms, then from 1 Corinthians.

I leave you with the close of the Maundy Thursday service:
Peace is my last gift to you, my own peace I now leave with
you; peace which the world cannot give, I give to you.

I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have
loved you.

Peace is my last gift to you, my own peace I now leave with
you; peace which the world cannot give, I give to you.

By this shall the world know that you are my disciples: That
you have love for one another.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Age Mistaken  

A Few Gray Hairs

Today, for the first time in my life, someone called me "old man".

It's not the first time someone's guessed my age wrong.  When I was about sixteen, I and a friend went to a restaurant in a theme park; he was mistaken for a twenty-five year old and I was mistaken for twelve.  Six and a half years ago, I was mistaken for an eighteen year old by the woman who would later become my wife.  Her sister tried to warn her off on the grounds she was cradle robbing, but she persisted and found out we were close to the same age.

Today, however, was the first day that miscalculation happened in the other direction.  I was at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, leaving an impromptu get-together at Firewood Cafe in the Metreon, a cascading series of dinners and discussions first with with a group of colleagues and then with some onlookers who were drawn in.  On the way back to the Minna Street Garage, I passed the normal mix of badged game developers, predatory homeless people, and disinterested San Franciscans ... and then saw the kid.

My first moment of awareness of him was his demonstrative toss of a Starbucks cup, chucking it out onto a surprisingly clean street in a deliberate, almost belligerent act of littering.  He hefted his wide, white skateboard, I took in his black shorts and jacket, and mentally categorized him as young, rumpled, and possibly homeless.  The word "punk" popped uncharitably to my mind and I tried to quash it.

As he, I, and the woman walking ahead of us passed the glass wall of Mel's Diner, he tracked to the left, hugging the gentle inward curve of glass as if to go in the door when it was clear from his walk and attitude that he had no desire whatsoever to go inside.  He had to pause briefly as the woman opened the door, and I passed him.  As I did, he called out:

"Can you spare any change, old man?"

I've given forty-one dollars to panhandlers and street musicians over the past four days.  I didn't give him a dime.

-the Centaur



Monday, March 02, 2009

Pound Cake: One Pound Each of Butter, Sugar, Flour and Eggs  

pound cake, soy milk and book spread

I enjoy a couple of slices of pound cake and milk as a late night dessert, but have difficulty finding pound cake that meets my standards. Forget the "loaf cakes" made by the big commercial bakeries: they're not bad, but they're not what I'm talking about.

ring pound cake

I'm talking about ring pound cakes. My neighbors made a dense, dry pound cake around Christmastime that was very good, but my favorites growing up were cakes you could get from Ingles: ring-shaped, light-textured, with a fluffy yellow center wrapped in a dark brown crust.

Usually there's only one store in any given region that makes these, the others sticking to loaf cakes. As I moved from Greenville, South Carolina, I found Kroger in Atlanta and later Safeway in San Jose had cakes that were similar, with slight variations in density and crust.

But there's something wrong in our modern commercial paradise: in the pursuit of the dollar or fashion businessmen tweak their good products until they become crappy and then discontinue them. I'm sure that's happened to all of you; and sure enough it happened to my pound cake.

First, Safeway started selling them only as half rings. Then they cut back on quantity. Then they replaced them entirely with "vanilla loafs" pre-cut entirely too thin. Whole Foods had decent-flavored loaf cakes, but they too have started pre-slicing them and cutting back on quantity.

I don't know what people have against pound cakes, but I can't find them locally baked, not even at bakeries - only icing-covered disasters, pudding cakes, and other variants, or alternatively Entenman's not-bad-but-not-good-enough butter loaves.

So, I am working on a pound cake recipe.

I made my first pound cake years ago, back in Atlanta. I was using the approximate "one pound" recipe: a pound of sugar, eggs, butter and flour. I didn't have a motorized mixer, and the hand mixing and stirring didn't cut it. It's fair to say this was a total FAIL. The flavor and crust were good, but the texture was dense as a brick and it was too hard to eat.

More recently, I tried again. I had planned to try this with sugar first, then introduce Splenda on the next cake, but dumb me forgot to buy sugar thinking we had some, which I discovered halfway through prepping the recipe. I adapted the recipe primarily from "Butter Sugar Flour Eggs" with a little help from the 1997 "Joy of Cooking":
  • One pound of unbleached allpurpose flour
  • One pound of eggs, separated
  • One pound of butter
  • Two and a half cups of Splenda baking sugar
  • 1/4tsp vanilla flavoring
  • "Just a pinch" of nutmeg and cinnamon
Preparation was much easier with a $25 handheld motorized mixer from Fry's, which cost less than the ingredients of the cake itself (to be fair, I think I bought other staples the night I bought the pound cake ingredients). The "trick" recommended by "Butter Sugar Flour Eggs" was to beat the egg yolks and egg whites separately; this worked out so-so in the egg whites step. In "Just Here For More Food" Alton Brown recommends a different method, which I will try next time.

pound cake and cookbook

That's right, all of the shots of pound cake shown in this article were from my first try of this recipe. It was a beautiful looking cake. The texture of this cake was slightly dense, but smooth and serviceable. The crust was very slightly dry but serviceable. The flavor I have to say was poor - it was in the right ballpark, one might even say it tasted right, but it had a chemical aftertaste. And I'm sad to say I don't think it was the Splenda ... I may have simply added too much vanilla extract.

two slices

I've been consuming this cake for a while for my late night reading sessions, but I finally broke down and got the Whole Foods cake for comparison, having one slice of each. Ah, drat - the Whole Foods cake was much better, both in texture and in flavor, though it didn't rise to the level of the long lost Ingles, Kroger or Safeway ring cake.

one slice

Oh well. Better luck next time.
-the Centaur

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Quoting/paraphrasing Douglas Adams: "However, no one knew quite why businesses did market research because they invariably delivered a loaf of solid matter that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike pound cake".
# posted by Blogger bolot : 8:05 AM
  Just won the Pound Cake Class Baking contest the PA Farm Show with an old family recipe. This recipe has now won 3 times. Three generations. Anyway, you were close with yours......ours is:
1 lb butter (1 box salted)
1 lb sugar (2-2/3c)
1 lb eggs (~8xl)
1 lb flour (4c)
ingredients should be room temp.
beat and beat and beat the butter.
add sugar and beat and beat again.
add eggs and beat gently until the egg yolks are broken into small pieces.
add flour and fold or mix until ingredients are just mixed smooth - don't over beat.
put into a well greased bundt pan and bake at 325 for 1 hr 10 min...depends on the oven. check at one hour.
# posted by Anonymous Anonymous : 5:35 AM
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Sunday, March 01, 2009


clutterhound, n:
  1. Someone who takes joy from excessively collecting a lot of different things.
  2. Someone who wouldn't be caught dead reading Real Simple magazine.
  3. Anthony Francis
-The Centaur
P.S. I have nothing against Real Simple, a fine magazine.  All comments are of a humorous nature, related to the fact that if the editors of Real Simple saw my home, they would catch on fire.



Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Danger of Slippage  

In a recent blog post I mentioned that if you miss a day of a workout, it's really easy to miss the next day. I thought it was true when I wrote it, but a week or so later I started adding the days up and realized it was far more true than I anticipated.

Aikido has classes Monday through Saturday, sometimes twice a day. My last Aikido workout was Friday the 6th, and I elected not to go to the Saturday morning workout. In my defense I haven't gone to any of the Saturday morning workouts as I'm still a beginner, but after that decision not to attend Aikido, I found that I couldn't attend Aikido on any of the following days because:
  • Monday the 9th was my 4oth birthday party, one day early because of...
  • Tuesday the 10th was my standing commitment to my writer's group (I am one of the two leaders while the primary facilitator is on maternity leave).
  • Wednesday the 11th my wife and I took a trip to San Francisco for our yearly Valentine's Day trip, dining at the Stinking Rose and dancing at Bondage-a-Go-Go.
  • Thursday the 12th the trip continued, with a day at Muir Woods and dinner at Teatro Zinzani.
  • Friday the 13th: no class for the Aikido Winter Camp, which I was not signed up for because I just joined the dojo.
  • Saturday the 14th: no class for Aikido Winter Camp.
  • Monday the 16th: no class for President's Day.
  • Tuesday the 17th: standing committment to writer's group.
  • Wednesday the 18th: out sick with a cold.
  • Thursday the 19th: recovering from being sick.
  • Friday the 20th: first day that I could have attended, but I forgot my uniform and ended taking the opportunity to surprise my wife with a romantic dinner before she left town.
  • Saturday the 21st: prior committment to hang out with my wife on the last day before her 1-month business trip.
  • Monday the 23rd: second day I could have attended, but my car ended up being in the shop for longer than I expected ... *and* I forgot my uniform again.
  • Tuesday the 24th: standing committment to writer's group.
So after that one decision to skip class, there were fourteen straight sessions that I skipped because of lame excuses, valid excuses, or outright cancellations. So I'm going to put this down as the Centaur's Fourth Law: If you choose to miss a commitment, you're much less likely to catch the next one.(1)

To combat this, I've developed an attitude that works: put the workout or the exercise or the development activity on a regular schedule and treat it like a true commitment that can't be missed. That's the only thing that worked for me for karate in Atlanta or for the writer's group out here. Treating a development activity as an unbreakable commitment sometimes can get you in trouble - I missed one of my wife's art gallery openings for a karate class before I learned when it was safe for me to relax the rule, and I still regret that to this day - but for me, if I don't, I'll end up a victim of the Centaur's Fourth Law.

So now again: let's renew the commitment and get back on the horse. And as for Wednesday the 25th? Let's just say my gym bag, with uniform in it, is placed so it blocks the front door.

-the Centaur
(1) It's the fourth law because I'm sure I can come up with at least three laws more important than that, like You're almost certainly wrong about something you're almost certain you're right about or maybe The more successful you are at staying 'on message', the more successful you'll be at alienating your audience. But I don't have a labeled list or anything at this point.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

New Year's Resolutions 2009: February Checkin  

Let's see how this thing is going:
  • Review your resolutions monthly.
    Self-referential check.
  • Eat two before you buy one.
    So far so good
  • Work out at the gym at least twice a week, three weeks per month:
    Sandi and I are back on a regular schedule, more or less; 3-4 times per week. Easy to miss a subsequent day once you miss a day.
  • Go to a martial arts class two times a week, at least three weeks per month:
    Been going to the Aikido Center, think I got in at least three weeks last month. Easy to miss a subsequent day once you miss a day.
  • Review your GTD folder at least once a week, three weeks a month.
    So far, so good.
  • Publish at least one Fanu Fiku page a month.
    Total failure on this in January, but I do have a big backlog of pages and worked on a 24 hour comic day, so this is in progress.
  • Spend at least two hours writing at least twice a week.
    On top of it.
  • Spend at least two hours doing generative research at least once a week.
    Total failure on this; I have spent very little time doing this, but at least I'm still reading technical journals at a good pace.
  • Send a short story to a magazine at least once a month.
    Total failure. I need to tackle that this weekend.
  • Spend at least one hour a week practicing a foreign language.
    Total failure.
  • Spend at least one hour a week practicing your poi.
    Had to order new poi as we lost them in a recent trip.
  • Each week, contact a friend you haven't talked to in a while.
    So far so good.
  • Write a blog entry once a week.
    So far so good.
  • Read a novel once a month.
    Total failure at the "fun" resolution. I recently finished re-reading "The Fountainhead" prior to making the resolutions. I'm trying to read Triplanetary but it is frankly gad-ow-ful, and I really don't like saying that about some author's hard work.
So so far we're batting ... meh. 16 resolutions, total failure on 6 of them. Gotta keep at it... suggestions welcome, as would be 24 extra hours every day.

-the Centaur



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The not-so-big four oh  

Four oh? Meh. Feels more like a two-five. God has blessed me with good health, a great marriage, cool friends, entertaining cats, a wonderful job, and many consuming interests.

I've been blessed and lucky with my health. I haven't had any major health issues to deal with (knock on wood). I rarely drink (and never more than one at a sitting), and I've always found the smell of cigarette smoke repulsive, so I never had to fight those addictions. Even tragedy has helped me: my adoptive family suffers from heart issues, which made me aware in my early twenties that you have to pay attention to your health. College courses and advisors that warned me that it gets harder to keep off weight as your metabolism slows down. SO in my early twenties, I started exercising and changing my diet.

It took years, but now I'm down to within 5 pounds of my high school weight. I'm more physically fit than any time in my life except for a patch a few years back when I was training for a karate match, interrupted only by breaking my arm. There are a few cracks in the paint here and there - a metal plate in that same arm, a touch of arthritis maybe spawned from a knee injury in Japan, and I had an odd-looking but noncancerous mole removed last month - but overall, I feel great. I want to take on that next forty years - or the next forty after that.

It just goes to show you are always as old as you are, but you age as fast as you feel. Here's to many more years made special by the presence of friends rather than the passage of time.

-the Centaur



Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Year's Resolutions 2009  

Traditionally I do my New Year's Resolutions and yearly planning while visiting my family between Christmas and New Years, holed up in a Panera Bread in Haywood Mall in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. That's slipped to January in the past few years now that I live 2500 miles away and time in my hometown is pressed - but, now that the tornado has abated, I have come up with a decent set of resolutions. Here goes:
  • Review your resolutions monthly.
    It's easy to fall off the wagon. My first resolution is to review my New Year's Resolutions on the first of each month to see if I'm on track
  • Eat two before you buy one.
    I have a huge library of books, comic books, DVDs and music, and the only thing I stay on top of is the music. So this year, I plan to read two books before I buy a new one, and so on with my DVDs and comics. Since I'm an avid book collector and like to stay current with comics, I have added the following subresolutions:
  • Read two books before you buy one, excluding vacations or conferences.
  • Read two comics before you buy one, excluding three new comics a week.
  • Watch two DVDs before you buy one - and don't let anyone loan you anything.
  • Work out at the gym at least twice a week, at least three weeks a month.
    I already do this. I just don't want to quit, or fall off the wagon when Sandi's out of town.
  • Go to a martial arts class at least twice a week, at least three weeks a month.
    I was spotty about this last year, but this year: so far, so good. And for the record, I miss Taido.
  • Review your GTD folder at least once a week, three weeks a month.
    Or it isn't doing you any good.
  • Publish at least one Fanu Fiku page a month.
    I have a big backlog of pages. That should get me through June if I do it.
  • Spend at least two hours writing at least twice a week.
    I already do this; I just don't want to fall off the wagon
  • Spend at least two hours doing generative research at least once a week.
    I don't do this, and need to. I spend much more than two hours a week reading technical materials - maybe five to seven hours a week. So it's time to give back.
  • Send a short story to a magazine at least once a month.
    Or what am I writing for?
  • Spend at least one hour a week practicing a foreign language.
    Nihongo wa tottemo muzukashii desu, but that's no excuse.
  • Spend at least one hour a week practicing your poi.
    Or you're going to look really silly, setting yourself on fire at Burning Man.
  • Each week, contact a friend you haven't talked to in a while.
    Some of my friends call me "the Submarine" - I surface, send a packet, then disappear.
  • Write a blog entry once a week.
    Starting with this one.
  • Read a novel once a month.
    The "fun" resolution.
So now it's out there: nowhere near as interesting as Jim Davies' New Year Resolutions, but more useful for the challenges I personally face. At the end of the year, I'll go back and review this and see how I did.



I am ashamed to admit that I ordered the GTD book a while back and have not found the time to read it.
# posted by Anonymous Greg Traylor : 6:23 PM
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Monday, November 17, 2008

This isn't going to go away  

I bumped into a couple African Americans in a Safeway line the other day.  All three of us were looking at a magazine cover with Barack Obama's family on the cover.   As the line moved and I turned forward, one of the men behind me said, "Wow, it still hasn't hit me," and the other said, "Yeah, I know, I can't believe it either".  I couldn't help but smile.

Then the first man said "Yeah, and the big thing is, it isn't the big story---" And his friend jumped in and said, "No, Proposition 8 is. And when that fails in the courts, they're going to look at it, and say, California, which is so liberal, didn't pass it twice ... so maybe that will make 'them' think twice."

I was dumbfounded, and had bought my pound cake and mouthwash and walked out of the store before I could think of an adequate comeback: "Did getting turned away from one or two schoolhouses make the civil rights movement stop?  No.  And this isn't going to go away either."

-the Centaur

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Anniversary  

2 years married, 6 years together. Would have posted something yesterday, but we were busy.



Happy Anniversary and may you have many, many more!
# posted by Blogger Gordon : 4:37 PM
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Thursday, May 29, 2008


One consequence of finishing a paper is that there's a bit of debris left over...

the piles

Fortunately, now that my library is more organized, it's easier to reshelve:

the mess

No, seriously! Take a look:

the categories

I wuv my library. It feeds my ego. Or do I mean my head? Or both...

-the Centaur

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Ego? No. Head? No. It's your _backplane_.

That's just not human. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Congrats on another paper finished.
# posted by Blogger Gordon : 3:52 AM
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Sunday, June 17, 2007

10.5 Miles  

As a child I heard someone say an Apache warrior that needed to travel a great distance in a very short time would kill his horse, because while the horse could run faster the warrior could run farther. I've never been able to track down that specific quote, but did find in legend that Apache warriors were said to be able to run 50 miles and outrun mounted cavalry.

The story fascinated me, so I began to wonder: how far could you walk in a day? Average human walking speed is about 3 to 5 miles an hour, which isn't that fast but factoring in human determination one could imagine someone briskly walking 50 miles in a day over level terrain with plentiful sources of food and water along the way.

The actual distances that people do travel are somewhat less. Trail hikers can make somewhere between 17 miles and 30 miles in one day depending on your fitness and the terrain. Horses, in contrast, can go 50 to 60 miles per day when pushed hard, and Pony Express riders (switching horses) could ride up to 75 miles per day. While no doubt individuals have probably gone farther in a day, this gives a rough idea of what humans and horses are roughly capable of.

BUT before I had done any of the above research in detail I got the bright idea of actually testing the hypothesis myself, by walking out my front door and heading north until I stopped. My wife readily agreed, and we talked about heading north, finding a nice place for lunch, then further north, finding a place for dinner, spending the night in some hotel, and then walking the rest of the way up to San Francisco.

This bright idea failed because I had forgotten to take into account two things: first, how punishingly far south of San Francisco we lived in the "Bay Area" (as the crow flies, Santa Teresa is as close to Santa Cruz on the coast as it is to the base of San Francisco Bay, much less San Francisco itself) and second, the pollution and noise you'd find walking north on a major thoroughfare. SO instead of walking straight towards San Francisco to find out how far we could go, we decided to walk north on the scenic route and find out how much fun we could have - probably a better plan in any event.

I discussed it with a friend, and he suggested that given when we tended to get up (both my wife and I are extreme night owls) we'd probably make ten to fifteen miles. That would take us to Los Gatos or Campbell, but I had this feeling we should not punish our bodies on the first try at this, so we picked Almaden Lake Park as our destination.

We packed a backpack with water, apples, a pair of spare glasses, sunscreen, and a couple of notebooks to draw in, and headed out of the house right at noon. First we tooled over to Santa Teresa County Park, a short walk from our house; we didn't bother to stop, just noting that it was actually closer than we had thought. We followed Curie Drive past Century Oaks Park, presumably missing the first entrance of the long and narrow park because we could only go a few feet before the paths all started to backtrack. At Snell Road we turned north to Santa Teresa and had a Mojo Burger for a late lunch, which was scrumptious and charming after two hours walking.

We resumed our trek, passing Coyote Alamitos Canal Park and (what Google Maps claims is) Foothill Park before ending up surprisingly early at Almaden Lake Park, an overcrowded but fun park. We were over an hour ahead of schedule, so we walked around, played on swings, and eventually found a shaded bench overlooking the lake where we watched birds and paddleboaters and discussed the meaning of life and the future of human civilization until the nearby fisherman got too jiggy with casting his line and we decided it was time to move.

I hadn't mapped anything beyond this point, so we walked by the nearby Almaden Station to verify how late the light rail was running, and then walked on to the Westfield Oakridge Mall, one of my favorite places in the South Bay Area, where we hit Target to buy some warmer clothes, then chilled out with some ice cream and saw Surf's Up. Sandi's previously broken foot was hurting by this point, and so rather than have her walk on it for two blocks to the Ohlone/Chynoweth line which could at best take us to the Santa Teresa station and another 30 minutes walk back to our house, we instead called for a cab using a number Id preprogrammed into my Treo and had a quick ride home.

The whole experience really made me appreciate cars - it took us a day to go visit destinations that we normally could visit in fifteen minutes - but also appreciate how far we could have gotten had our goal been to travel and not to dawdle. After fiddling around with Google Maps, I computed we'd traveled at least 10.5 miles - actually probably a mile or two farther, as we frequently did things like detour into parks, along side streets, and tossed in a couple loops around the lake. We left home at noon and arrived at the mall shortly after six, which, subtracting park bench time and lunch meant that we were traveling at least two and a half miles an hour - slow for walking but pretty good for dawdling. And other than a little foot pain, we felt great - and the next day, no ill effects.

So next time we'll go farther - Los Gatos, or Campbell, or simply hit some regular hiking in the hills. And hopefully next year, when we head down to visit our friends in Arizona, we'll be ready for a longer ride - the 16 mile hike up and down the wall of the Grand Canyon.

No, we're not Apache warriors, not by a long shot. But we sure are having fun.

-The Centaur



Monday, September 25, 2006

No Shotgun Required  

I loves me that woman, Sandi Billingsley. We be married now:

And I love our groomsmen and bridesmaids and all of our friends who dressed up, the good sports that they are:

Double props to my groomsmen, who were sharp as tacks in their gear and didn't give me too much grief me for pushing them so far out of their circles:

I also love Mom and deeply appreciate her organizing most of the wedding, and I love the Francis family and the Billingsleys and would showcase them too if the pictures had come in yet (soon!)

But I love most her:

Here's to you, Sandi.
-your Centaur



Wednesday, August 16, 2006

When life gets you down...  

...just think of:

Bwah ha ha! Inspirational posters a la Star Trek, already familiar to anyone who reads Slashdot, of course...



Thursday, April 13, 2006

There Is a God and He Put a Panera Bread in Cupertino  

SO as many of you may know I'm a big fan of coffeehouses and sandwich shops: they're quiet places where you can chill out, have a nice meal, focus on your book, and, if wifi-enabled, whip together a decent blog entry with free refills on your soda.

And my favorite of all sandwich places? A tight, long-running contest between Panera Bread (nee Saint Louis Bread Company) and Atlanta Bread Company (especially the one near Perimeter Mall in Atlanta).

Now, I've been eating and reading since I was a kid, but my love of sandwich shops I think really started with Le Boulanger in Menlo Park during my internship at SRI. Since then, however, Atlanta Bread Company and Panera Bread became my favorites because of their high quality, good portions, salad/sandwich combos, nutrition information available online, and good iced tea.

But it may take a while before Atlanta Bread Company comes to California, and as part of the Big Adjustment I've been looking for a replacement. Up till now I've had little luck - the sandwiches at the search engine that begins with a G are good but not Panera-grade, and Le Boulanger in Mountain View, while very nice, is somehow not quite the same.

So imagine my delight when I find that a Panera Bread has opened in Cupertino! I found it of course with Google Local, which lets you ask questions like "panera bread near mountain view, california" and get coherent answers, along with a nice map interface that will lead you right to a place like this on Steven's Creek Boulevard in Cupertino:

Cupertino is a bustling town perhaps best known for some fruit company, but its charm for me is that it's roughly midway between my new home with its Olive Tree and my new workplace at The Search Engine that Begins with a G. It's blessed with (normally) temperate weather, which is perhaps why when I first showed up the patio was filled with diners (most of whom had departed by the time I decided to start taking photos).

The real delight is inside, however. Panera has a truly staggering selection of breads and pastries, and can assemble these into a wide variety of made-to-order sandwiches and specials that are best topped off with a cinnamon roll that's as asymptotically close to the Platonic Ideal of a cinnamon roll as you're likely to get in this world. (Yes, I read the nutrition info on the cinnamon rolls, and so limit myself to one every other time I go. I enjoy being able to go through the door; this enables me to eat more cinnamon rolls).

So happily I drop in and order my typical Bacon Turkey Bravo / Asian Chicken Salad combo (with cinnamon roll, of course), get my iced tea, noticing some guy who'd ordered the same thing get his meal, and sat down to read a book on C++. SO I'm sitting there, reading, having a good time, getting hungrier and hungrier, and eventually realize "this ain't right". So I head up to the counter and ask, and the manager's face flushed and he said, "I'm so sorry, I think somebody snagged it. We'll make you another one right away." I slapped my forehead - the man I'd seen hadn't picked up a meal identical to mine, but instead in identity, mine. Not their fault - but they made me another sandwich anyway.

And gave me a bag of cookies.

So, Panera Bread rules!
-the Centaur

P.S. Thank you, God; normally you know I don't like to put your name in titles or stuff like that (name in vain and all) but, hey, that was really nice of you to drop one of those off there and you deserve the credit. Thanks!



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# posted by Blogger haroldlando78313716 : 7:36 PM
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Be Thankful For Your Gifts  

You know the great thing about problems with your house?

It's still your house.

Thanks, God.
-the Centaur



Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Don't Have To Make This Stuff Up  

So, after two months, how good are things at at the search engine that starts with a G?

I don't even have to jazz this stuff up, folks!
-the Centaur



Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Olive Tree  

Well, I've been away from posting for a while handing all the things that have come with traveling to the other side of the country to start work at some search engine that starts with a G. However, I'm proud to report that at least one task is out of the way: it looks like I have a place to live!

Now the two most important features of this house were a place to put Sandi's artroom ...

...and my library ...

but the coolest thing: it has olive trees!

Mmmm ... I can smell me some Lebanese cooking in my future.

-the Centaur



Looks like a great house! I hope you get wall-to-wall shelving in the library, and I hope it's enough to store all your media. Must have cost you a fortune to get it all moved .
# posted by Blogger Jim Davies : 1:21 PM
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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Life Moves Pretty Fast...  

... if you don't stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it. And one thing I missed is that my favorite breakfast joint, West Egg Cafe, had a showing of art by my favorite artist, Sandi Billingsley, and I didn't even announce it here.

Well, Sandi's show was called Egg of the Phoenix, featuring herself and her friend Donnie Ripner, and if you had seen it, you would have seen things like this:

Sorry you missed it! I guess you'll have to come to California to see her next show.

-the Centaur



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