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Posts published in “The Currents”

Free at Last

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SO! After 17 years at the Google, my last day - finally, my actual last day - was yesterday, March 31st, 2023. They cut off my access January 20th, but out of respect for their employees (and the media, and the law) they gave us a generous +60 day notice period, which ran out yesterday.

I don't regret the time I spent at Google - well, at least not most of it. I learned so much and made so many friends and did so many things - and, frankly speaking, the pay, food and healthcare were quite good. On the one hand, I do think I probably should have taken that job as director of search at a startup back in ~2010; it would have forced me to grow and challenged my assumptions and given me a lot of leadership experience which would have helped my career. But, if I'd done that, I wouldn't have transitioned over to robotics, which is now my principal career; so perhaps it's good I didn't pull on the thread of that tapestry.

But I do regret not being able to code on my own. Virtually everything I could have worked on was technically owned by Google, and if I wanted to open source it, I would need to submit it for invention review - with the chance that they would say no. For a while, you couldn't even work on a game at all if you worked at Google, as Google saw this as a threat to their business model of, ya know, not making games; eventually they realized that was silly, but still, I couldn't take the risk of pouring my heart into something that then Google would claim ownership of.

So no code for you. Or me either.

I know people who built successful businesses as side hustles. While that's efficient, it isn't effective: it leaves you vulnerable to being sued by your employer, or fired by your employer, or both. You can do it, of course, but you're reducing your chance of success in exchange for speed; whereas I like to maximize the chance of success - which requires speed, of course, but not so much you're taking on unnecessary risk. So, for maximum cleanliness, it's best to do things fresh from first principles after you leave.

Which is what I'm going to do now. I don't precisely know what I am going to do, but I do think one useful exercise would be to download all the social navigation benchmarks I've been researching for the Principles and Guidelines benchmark paper, and see how they work and what they can do. Some of the software has ... ahem ... gone stale, but this will be a good exercise for me to test my debugging chops, honed at Google, on external software outside of the "Google3" environment.

Wish me luck!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Fulfilling a missing install for the package gym-collision-avoidance; given that I'd done a lot of command line development recently for a Stanford class, I think the issue here might have been some missing setup step when I moved to my new laptop, as I'm sure this would have come up before.

It’s my birthday and I’ll read if I want to …

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SO! I just turned *AHEM* a year older and decided to go to my favorite restaurant, Nola, in Palo Alto. Nola and I go way back - logically speaking, I must have first gone there in something like summer of 1997, near the end of my internship at SRI (formerly, the Stanford Research Institute) on hierarchical planning. Nola was the first place I ever got "drunk", or more honestly, slightly buzzed from a very powerful margarita, the first on-the-rocks margarita I had ever had. I had even ordered it by accident; normally, at the time, I was drinking the equivalent of watered-down alcohol slushies, and ordered on-the-rocks on accident. My tastes in drink have ... considerably evolved ... since then, though I still stick to the one-drink-per-day limit.

Nola's a truly magical place. I'd put it in a novel ... if I hadn't already. (LIQUID FIRE, as the vampire-friendly restaurant our heroes retreat to after a nasty dustup with some evil firespinners). Look at their decorations for Mardi Gras! Beautiful.

Welp! One more spin around the sun. Plan to keep doing those as long as I am able ...

-the Centaur

Ripping Off the Bandaid

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After almost seventeen years at Google, I've made the difficult decision to get laid off with no warning. :-) Working with Google was an amazing experience, from search to robotics to 3D objects and back to robotics again. We did amazing things and I am proud of all my great colleagues and what we accomplished together.

However, my work in robotics is not done, and I will still be pushing for better robot navigation, large language model planning, and especially social robot navigation and embodied AI. I'm spinning up an independent consulting business and will announce more details on this as it evolves - feel free to reach out directly though!

-the Centaur

P.S. Sorry for the delay - this has been up on my Linkedin forever. But for some reason I just wasn't ready to post this here. Avoidance behavior, however, has gone on long enough. Time to move on.

Pictured: me and Ryan at Sports Page, the traditional hangout you go to on your last day at Google. It was a blast seeing all the friends, thank you for coming!

Remember January 6th

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Trump Calling for Insurrection

Recall to memory the Sixth of January,
Riot, insurrection and plot
For no justification should the January Insurrection
Ever be forgot

A little over one year ago today, lame-duck President Donald Trump directed an unruly band of his followers to "fight like hell" to overturn the election of Joe Biden, in the hope of disenfranchising me and the 81 million other Americans who voted to bring to an end Trump's dyscivic reign.

"Dyscivic" means "antagonistic to civilization." It's a word coined by alt-right pundit Vox Day to disparage the aspirations of "social justice warriors" like myself. I am a writer, and I hereby confiscate "dyscivic" and repurpose it to mean "antagonistic to the civic structures of our society" - which Donald Trump was.

Of my good friends who voted for Donald Trump, at least two voted for him precisely because they expected he would be disruptive to our existing system. One specifically said, "I voted for Donald Trump because I hoped he would blow up the Republican Party, and I'm waiting for the Democrats to go next."

Keep waiting. Even though progressives like AOC and moderates like myself don't always get along, we recognize that we share the same end goals, that our principles are compatible, and they're worth fighting for together, even if we might disagree on methods.

I don't get the same sense from my most right-wing friends, who viciously lambast politicians from their own party for not "getting on the Trump train" in every possible respect - even when those politicians have multi-decade records voting for precisely the positions my friends loudly advocate for.

Reliance on trust is toxic to any organization. It encourages dependence on personal relationships - even friendships - developed over years or decades, and makes the organization resistant to new information delivered by new people. When that trust is in leadership, it becomes loyalty ... which is deeply dyscivic.

The purpose of government is to put the use of force under rational control. To prevent one man from using that force to execute their own personal will, we create civic structures that corral the use of power. We loan power, not grant it; and when you loan power to someone, you watch them.

Over four years, we watched Donald Trump demand loyalty on an unprecedented scale in American politics - from his followers, from fellow politicians, from the machinery of government. He turned on his appointees when their understanding of their civic duties conflicted with his own petty desires.

And when the American people had had enough - when even some of my Trumpian friends switched parties because they could not abide what he was doing to our political system - Trump spat on those of us who dared to vote against him, and then tried to pretend to his followers that we did not exist.

Well, sir, our voices were heard. And we won't be silent. We know that you and your followers are going to try again - I remember watching your suppoprters meeting in the dark in the months leading up to the insurrection (holding 10pm rallies in the parking lot of a nearby grocery store). We'll be watching.

For I'm not the only one. Here's a few quotes from my fellow Americans around the web:

We all know how that turned out. All but seven Republican Senators — forty-three of fifty members in the upper chamber — protected him and embraced his Big Lie. In the year since, they have doubled down on it, and they have not stopped insisting that we did not see what we saw one year ago today with our own eyes.


And yet, after perhaps 48 hours of unrehearsed shock, the Republican party rallied around this traitor to the republic and the constitution, and tried to rebrand an actual coup attempt into overexuberant tourism.

And not about January 6th, but important all the same:

Why is this important? Because as we look ahead into another year at the beginning of a new decade of a constantly changing world, America needs to take a hard look at herself and ask whether we are remembering or forgetting the right things. This is not only vital to our collective consciousness as to who we are as a nation, but to the success of future military operations.

I assert that remembering the right things isn't just vital to our success in military endeavors, but to each of us personally, in the aggregate, as a nation, and as a civilization. If we don't remember the true story - good and bad and ugly - then those who make up stories for their own convenience will rule the day.

Remember, the Big Lie was the foundation for the Final Solution.

Let's make sure that doesn't happen here.

-the Centaur

Site and Life Maintenance

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It's not that I've not been drawing every day. But my marriage is more important than drawing every day, and my job is more important than my posting every day, and just from the perspective of posting, while we're on that subject, site maintenance is more important than all of that, since I couldn't post.

However, taking a shotgun to all of my plugins (except the Classic Editor, which WordPress Gutenberg can pry out of my COLD DEAD HANDS) and running all available updates got the site back to life. Still not sure what precisely went wrong here, as the failure wasn't correlated with any detectable change.

SO anyway, drawing hasn't stopped, but posting of them will resume when I get the huge box of stereo wires detangled so the site is smooth again. Pictured: me, having a drink with my wife, spending a wonderful afternoon and evening together, most of which did NOT involve any form of drawing.

-the Centaur

UPDATE: The problem was the Jetpack plugin, and it persists even if the plugin is reinstalled from scratch. This has some precedent, as I see other users with the same problem, though I haven't dug deeply enough to understand what is going on in my case.

Day 134

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day 134 centaur

Tired, could stay up later to finish a full drawing, but then, I've been having trouble getting to sleep once in bed when I do that, and I don't want to have another bout of awake-till-6am insomnia. Here's a quick sketch to tide you over - with a brush pen, since I seem to have exhausted all my Sharpies.

What I did instead this evening was art related: I hung some of my wife's paintings in the new place:

sandi paintings 4
sandi paintings 3
sandi paintings 2
sandi paintings 1

Now that's art. As for me, I'm still drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Day 3, Vaccine 2, Drawing 133

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centaur tired Mostly vaccine recovered, but didn't sleep well. Pretty tired, crashing out early. Drawing every day. -the Centaur

Day 2, Vaccine 2

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an ouch in the arm

Also Drawing Every Day #132, but you probably guessed that.

Go, immune system, go! Back to bed.

-the Centaur

Instead of a $1000 Monitor, Try a $12 Cable

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three monitors So, I have this particular type of multi-monitor setup I prefer - with a laptop screen abutting two other monitors, one horizontal, one vertical - but I couldn't quite do that here on my personal setup, at least not at first, because I didn't want to buy any more monitors after buying that Wacom behemoth, and eventually, the perfectly good ones from the old house will get shipped. But I had a couple of spare old monitors from previous computers, long since retired - so old that only the DVI ports work, though one of them has an HDMI port I don't think I got to work. After lots of flickering, the oldest one of them finally gave up the ghost, but the other was able to slot into the same place. (It's on the left, above, with Roger Moore's mug from my Drawing Every Day session on it.) While can't rotate vertically like the other, it worked, at least, and I could use it. Then it started flickering too. Now, three or four things could be happening here. First, it could be a flaky old monitor screen, natch. Second, it could be a problem with the monitor's plug, since jiggling the software cable often fixed it; on the same grounds, I ruled out a device driver issue. Third, since it happened to two monitors attached to the same laptop with the same cable into the same port, it could be the laptop itself giving up the ghost. So, after putting up with this for weeks, if not months, I finally started to look into new monitors. Apparently, the monitor I want costs roughly a thousand dollars with shipping, but I know I want that monitor because I have one in California waiting to be shipped here. Then I thought back to my diagnosis. Two monitors, plugged into the same laptop on the same port ... with the same cable. Now, for various reasons, I can't swap the ports around much (the Wacom is SUPER finicky about what it wants it's 15,000 cables to attach to, and if you LOOK at it funny the stylus stops working) and I couldn't try a different cable because, THANK YOU, Apple and the rest of the computer industry, for changing the ports on all your laptops so my box of cables from previous setups is now virtually USELESS. But I could order a $12 dollar USB-C to DVI cable off Amazon. It arrived today. I plugged it in an hour or so ago. The ten-year-old monitor? Working just fine. Moral of the story: make sure to vary all of your variables when you are debugging, or you'll possibly trick yourself into the moral equivalent of spending a lot of unnecessary cash. -the Centaur

VAC-CI-NATE! (and Drawing Every Day #103, and Camp Nano …)

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vac-ci-nate So! I got my first shot today, and other than a little arm soreness, a headache which may or may not be related, and some tiredness which may just be because it's 3:21am, I have not yet had any ill effects. I was totally lied to by my album covers though, and have not been able to hack into Bill Gates' secret global network through the tiny implanted computer chip in the vaccine, maybe because neither exists. centaur, vaccine 1 Ouch. First picture failed for some reason, so we get this charming shot of the needle coming OUT rather than going in. But it didn't really hurt at all, maybe because I was fiddling with my camera. Our Dalek friend below is proud that he was able to contribute his catchphrase to our cause: dalek toy ~500 words on Camp Nano, still behind, but I am too wiped to write more. Drawing, writing, being a good citizen every day. -the Centaur