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[twenty twenty-four day one oh nine]: cheers

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Clockwork Alchemy is tomorrow, but my wife and I took the evening off to go to our favorite vegan restaurant (and best restaurant in the Bay Area) Millennium.

It's great, but we hung out there so long we closed the place out almost!

See y'all at the con tomorrow. And please back our Kickstarter!

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day eighty-four]: coatastrophe

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SO! I have no topical image for you, nor a real blogpost either, because I had a "coatastrophe" today. Suffice it to say that I'll be packing the coat I was wearing for a thorough dry cleaning (or two) when I get home, and I will be wearing the new coat my wife and I found on a Macy's clearance rack. But that replacement coat adventure chewed up the time we had this afternoon, turning what was supposed to be a two hour amble into a compressed forty-five minute power walk to make our reservation at Green's restaurant for dinner.

Well worth it, for this great vegetarian restaurant now has many vegan items; but it's late and I'm tired, and I still have to post my drawing for the day before I collapse.

Blogging every dayyszzzzz....

-the Centaur

Pictured: Green's lovely dining room, from two angles.

[twenty twenty-four day seventy-eight]: now that’s a bloody steak

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On the other end of the health food spectrum, we present this lovely tomahawk steak, from Chophouse 47 in Greenville. They don't even normally serve this - it was a special - but it came out extremely well (well as in excellent, not well as in well done; I had it medium rare, as it should be). And it was delicious.

Even though I can't eat them very often, I love tomahawks, as they're visually stunning and generally have the best cooked meat of any steak cut that I know.

Also, you can defend yourself from muggers with the bone.

-the Centaur

Pictured: um, I said it already, a tomahawk steak from Chophouse 47.

[twenty twenty-four day seventy-one]: cheers

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Unabashedly, I'm going to beef up the blog buffer by posting something easy, like a picture of this delicious Old Fashioned from Longhorn. They're a nice sipping drink, excellent for kicking back with a good book, which as I recall that night was very likely the book "Rust for Rustaceans."

Now, I talked smack about Rust the other day, but they have some great game libraries worth trying out, and I am not too proud to be proved wrong, nor am I too proud to use a tool with warts (which I will happily complain about) if it can also get my job done (which I will happily crow about).

-the Centaur

Pictured: I said it, yes. And now we're one more day ahead, so I can get on with Neurodiversiverse edits.

[ninety] minus one-three-seven: the spectacle of moviemaking

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One of the striking things about this depressing, all-streaming, post-Covid apocalypse that many of us (including myself) seem to think we're sliding into is the resurgence of Movies, Real Movies. In another sense, neither the depression nor the resurgence were all that surprising. Many movements and media have gone away: disco died, 8 tracks went out, and the goth-industrial club scene of the 90's is mostly dead.

But vinyl, which many people thought would go the way of the 8 track given that CDs are more durable and accurate, is having a resurgence because records are larger, more beautiful, sound more pleasant, and are useful in DJ'ing. In the early 2000's, with the rise of ebooks, a friend told me that he would be so worried if he was a physical publisher or a bookstore owner - but, speaking as a publisher, physical books are now being produced at a higher quality than they have been since the book of fucking Kells, and speaking as a bookstore lover, there is a fricking renaissance of bookstores, which in the 2010s felt like a dying breed.

So maybe it isn't surprising that, with the rise of streaming, 85-inch screens for the home, and the whole zombie apocalypse, that there would be some pessimism about the future of movie theaters. But, speaking as somebody who really loves streaming, I've always preferred media that I can physically own, and I've always preferred seeing movies on the big screen to the small.

Now, some things seem just made for streaming. Marvel movies, for example. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, for another. And Doctor Who. Yet my greatest memories of Doctor Who were seeing "The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang" at Comic-Con, and "Day of the Doctor" in the theater. My greatest memories of Star Trek were watching the re-release of Wrath of Khan for something like its 35th or 40th anniversary. And I must have seen Avengers: Endgame in the theaters like six or seven times (admittedly, one extra time because I got food poisoning in the middle of a showing and had to go back to see it again, and another extra time when they did a special showing to push it past Avatar).

But for the real revival of filmmaking, I credit Christopher Nolan and Tom Cruise. They consistently make movies which are, well, real movies. Movies that look best on the big screen. Movies that show us things we haven't seen before. Movies that push the personal and technology envelope to create experiences that no-one has ever created before.

I really enjoyed Tenet - it's my favorite Christopher Nolan movie - but Oppenheimer takes the spectacle of moviemaking to the next level with an unending, almost seamless wall of sound and imagery, broken only when Nolan chooses to go dark or quiet for effect. Top Gun: Maverick may be a popcorn movie, but, at the same time, I think it is very literally one of the best movies ever made, and if you understand the behind the scenes stories, the effort that Cruise put into making it shows in every frame. And the Mission Impossible series, similarly, continues to excel at showing us stunts which are, well, impossible.

Even beyond Nolan and Cruise, other moviemakers are doing the same. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness or Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania may ... not be the best movies ever made, but they are some of the most visually imaginative. No Time To Die may suffer a bit from the just-so storytelling that afflicts many modern movies and TV shows, but it's truly a spectacular Bond outing. And the quality of acting, directing, and even writing in recent years means we get truly spectacular achievements like Knives Out, which uses little to no obvious special effects to achieve a truly spectacular result just by clever writing, deft directing, and amazing performances orchestrated to a crescendo.

So, hey, go catch a movie in the theater. It's better than it's been since the late seventies / early eighties.

-the Centaur

[fifty-seven] minus thirty-four: my review of honor among thieves

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finally, some good fucking gelatinous cubes.

That is all.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Gordon Ramsay's "Finally, some good fucking food," adapted for the Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie, which was, at last, a good fucking D&D movie, and which had, at last, a good fucking gelatinous cube. It also apparently had cameos of the kids from the 80's cartoons, though for my money my favorite D&D adaptation is the late-80's-early-90's comic Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, because it has a centaur and it's set in Forgotten Realms. Anyway, this most recent movie was awesome, go see it, so it will make a lot of money, and we get sequels with more of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Justice Smith and especially Sophia Lillis doing their adventuring thing.

[fifty-four] minus twenty-five: he’s definitely judging you

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I love San Francisco. In many ways, the city has become a mess since I first started visiting it twenty-five years ago, but in others it has not changed: you can go around the corner and find a quirky bit of history, like a restaurant mentioned in a Sam Spade novel that has the actual Maltese Falcon on display.

And, allegedly, that's what Sam Spade ate - lamb chops with baked potato and sliced tomatoes. I'll pass on the coffee and cigarettes, thanks, but it was a perfectly nice little meal. John's Grill is a tight space as viewed from above, but it uses every ounce of available floorspace quite efficiently:

The Falcon itself is on the second floor. Forgive me for not coming up with some pun about "The Last Millenium's Falcon" or some such, it's late and I have a presentation to work on for the AAAI Spring Symposium next week. But just so you don't miss it ... well, you can't miss it:

Ah, San Francisco, and John's Grill. I won't say never change, but some things should stay the same.

Since 1908, indeed.

-the Centaur

On Wine

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I'm sorry, but that is NOT alcohol.

THIS is alcohol.

There, I fixed it for U. You're welcome.

-the Centaur

Pictured: (1): Wine leftover from the Edgemas party; it was not impressive. (B, or 2): Neil Peart's favorite drink, Macallan, bought special for the party; it was quite impressive. (iii, or C, or 3): the La Parilla Margarita, medium, on the rocks, extra salt on the rim; about the best drink you can get - locally in the Upstate, that is, not counting driving to Reposado in Palo Alto to get their Cadillac Margarita, again, extra salt on the rim.

Twenty Years Since Our First Date

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So I dropped in to Cafe Intermezzo near Perimeter Mall to get a little editing in on SPECTRAL IRON and realized that THIS was where I and my wife went for our first date, almost exactly twenty years ago! (I think we were sitting just out of view, not far from the chair you can see at the left of frame.)

I wasn't taking pictures as regularly then and selfies certainly weren't a thing, so the closest pictures I have of Sandi were from a photo shoot we did almost a year later when she needed reference images for some paintings she was doing. Many of those are just Sandi striking odd poses that corresponded to something that she needed to draw, but I think the one above turned out quite well.

Cafe Intermezzo will always hold a place in my heart as it's one of my best late-night thinking and writing places, but the one at Perimeter has an even more special place, as it's where Sandi and I, who had met at the Chamber a few weeks before, shared our first date and our second kiss.

Here's to another twenty great years!

-the Centaur

That Jodie Whittaker Ratings Thing

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So the new Doctor Who has finished her historic first season, which I found had its ups and downs: episodes like Arachnids in the UK, Kerblam! and The Witchfinders really resonated with me, whereas The Tsuranga Conundrum, The Woman Who Fell to Earth and Rosa really did not. Episodes like Rosa, Arachnids and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos wrestled with great ideas and even reached for greatness at points but had baffling lapses in logic, whereas some of the most iconic images and ideas, like the crane leap and the "I'm the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe" came from episodes I find myself the least interested in rewatching.

But leave all that aside: from th beginning, this Doctor caused a sharp divide among fans, there's a huge gap between audience and critic ratings, and there's a persistent rumor about this Doctor being a failure because of low ratings. Go out into the blogosphere, and you'll see conspiracy theories of a particular blogger telling his fans to downvote Series 11, and other conspiracy theories by these fans that the viewing numbers of the series are somehow inflated because people just can't possibly be watching it.

I won't dignify conspiracy theories about reviews or ratings: there's a lot of genuine fans unhappy with the new Doctor, and there are millions of people watching it, more in my circle than have ever watched it before. But I can address one question solidly with real data: is Jodie Whittaker's Doctor doing worse in the ratings than the Doctors who came before her?

No, she's not doing worse; she's doing just fine.

Taken from the Wikipedia articles on this series and its predecessors, along with the Doctor Who Guide, I was able to put to rest the conspiracy theories about Jodie Whittaker having some kind of ratings dropoff compared to the other Doctors. Nope. All of the recent Doctors start well, drop off, and rise near the end of the season. Jodie is right on track - in fact, slightly better than average for 11 episodes into the season. True, she hasn't had the insane spikes in ratings that David Tennant and Matt Smith got near the end of their runs, but those were series of highly promoted event specials.

I rather like Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, and I love the emotional arcs of the new series, and Bradley Walsh is so damn good I could probably enjoy watching him watch paint dry, but the stories in the new season need a little work on basic logic and truly threatening monsters. Logic in the new Who was always a bit dodgy, but it's getting worse, and the lack of series-long arcs and recurring monsters is doing the Doctor no favors.

Here's hoping in the 2020 season the Who team keeps doing what they're doing well, while also finding ways to do more of the things that made classic, um, New Who great. 

-The Centaur

Happy (Belated) World Vegan Day!

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Okay, I couldn't leave "vegetables are what food eats" up long and still feel like me, so here, enjoy some tasty and delicious vegan food from November 1, World Vegan Day! Above are very delicious vegan desserts; below, what I normally see described as pumpkin steak and cauliflower steak... ... though technically speaking neither are steak, and Millennium's menu only described the pumpkin above as "steak," just referring to the below as "roasted cauliflower"... ... but either way, all of it was highly delicious! -the Centaur  

Vegetables are What Food Eats

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So my wife and I were talking about restaurants, and since I'm a foodie, two of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area happen to be fine dining:  Alexander's in Cupertino - steakhouse - and Millennium in Oakland - vegan. Both are a bit pricey, but, as a vegan, my wife has experience with only one of these. For a carnivore married to a vegan, it's quite useful to acquire a love of vegan food, so we go to vegan restaurants like Millennium and Happy Hooligans a lot. But by the time the two of us have done drinks, alcohol, three apps, a dinner entree and their dessert assortment, Millennium is, um, pricey, and my wife wondered whether it was the most expensive place that I ate at. "Um, no," I admitted. "Alexander's is way pricier." (And it is. Some entrees at Alexander's, like the Alexander's Trio of different kinds of Wagyu beef, are more expensive than our entire meal for two at Millennium). After a beat, my wife said, "Well, it had better be that expensive, because the animals you eat at Alexander's get fed the kind of food we eat at Millennium." After a moment, we laughed and agreed that this was probably true - and that we should call up an old carnivorous friend who once told the story of one of his friends who refused to eat vegetables because "that's what food eats." -the Centaur Pictured: Appetizers, entree and dessert trio at Millennium, teh yums; Alexander's Trio and a mother-bleeping four-and-a-half-pound wagyu tomahawk chop, which is the largest steak I've heard of at Alexander's, the  second largest steak I've ever heard of and a full third bigger than the biggest steak I've ever eaten (and at least twice as big as the largest steak I've eaten without regret). 72 ounces? Even I can't eat that much ... and anyway, I prefer the savory taste of regular beef over the super-richness of wagyu. Actually, just after even writing that, I feel like posting more vegan food to balance it out ... here's a vegan burger and vegan fish and chips at Happy Hooligans: You're welcome.

Books of Secrets

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I used to believe that the secret is that there are no secrets. There’s no special diet that will evaporate away the pounds overnight, no special pencil that will instantly make you a great artist, no special practice that will solve all your problems at software development. There is, in short, no mystical food or enchanted pen or silver bullet that will take the place of the diligent application of hard work when you’re trying to solve a problem.

I used to believe that about books too - that there was no magic book filled with secrets.

I didn’t come to believe that overnight. I read a lot, and collect books even more; as a child I’d come home from the library tottering with piles of books, and when I got older and got tired of paying for late fees, I began amassing a library. I scour my home cities for volumes, and when I travel I harvest new places for their used bookstores, where obscure volumes are kept.


In particular, I’ve collected books in my subject areas - artificial intelligence, cognitive science, robotics, physics, writing, alternative culture, science fiction, and urban fantasy. Now, decades later, my library’s grown to ten thousand volumes, over fifty bookshelves spread out over three different locations, filled with almost every conceivable tome on the areas of my interest.


But there was a point, maybe not even five years ago, when I despaired of finding books that had the information I truly wanted. I’d searched and searched and could not find books that answered the questions I needed - usually technical details about problems in artificial intelligence. Eventually, I decided, there were no books of secrets which would help you quickly solve the problems that really mattered to you - that there were no magic books.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

There are books that are special. There are books which will quickly help you solve your problems, or which will rapidly help you gain insight into the world, or which will deeply enrich the quality of your life. There are, indeed, books that are magic.

I call them grimoires.

Now, the truth is, there still are no secrets. The word grimoire means “a book of magic spells,” but just like the spellbooks of legend, you can’t simply crack open one of the magic books I have in mind and get an instant result. You can’t even crack one of these books open and get an instant bad result: unlike the comically unfortunate Sorcerer’s Apprentice, if you flip open the master’s grimoire and attempt to apply the recipes unfiltered, you won’t get a runaway army of water-carrying broom-Terminators, but instead just some broken sticks and damp straw.

No, grimoires are books that you have to engage. Earlier I said there’s no magic diet, pencil, or practice that will solve all your problems. However, there are diets superior for losing weight, pencils that are great to draw with, and best practices which will prevent software problems. Unfortunately you can’t take advantage of them without willpower, effort and training.


So too with grimoires. Intuitively I’d known they existed for a while, because even as I was giving up on grimoires, I still populated my shelves with them - Misner, Thorne and Wheeler’s Gravitation , Russel & Norvig’s Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach , Joyce’s Ulysses , and so on - and had even read some cover to cover, like The Feynman Lectures on Physics , Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science , and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged . I’d even started to recognize my mistake as I was reading the “GBC Book”: Goodfellow, Bengio’s, and Courville’s masterful Deep Learning tome.

But it was a book called The Springer Handbook of Robotics that brought the point home.


I’m a roboticist, and I’d been struggling hard with a recalcitrant robot - not physically, of course, nor mentally, but programmatically: I was trying to get it to drive straight, and it was ramming itself straight into a wall. Once I spent more than a day and a half tearing apart its drive controller until I figured out the mathematics of what it was supposed to be doing well enough for me to figure out what it was actually doing wrong so I could ultimately figure out how to fix it.

Then I cracked open a chapter of The Springer Handbook of Robotics, Second Edition . This big red book came across my radar at my previous robotics project, where half a dozen people had the first edition on their shelves - and my officemate, Torsten Kröger, turned out to be the multimedia editor of the new edition. I had more than enough books to read, so I resolved to wait for the new edition to come out, to buy it to support my buddy Torsten, and to get him to sign it.

Eventually, the Handbook of Robotics landed on my doorstep, all 2,200 pages of it - the book is thicker than most books are wide and some books are tall. After getting Torsten to sign it - just carrying the book around caused the spine to crack a little - I decided to spend a little time reading a few chapters related to the work I had been doing before putting the book away.

I cracked open the chapter on navigation … and found the math for my robot problem.

This wasn’t something I had to dig at: it was right in front of me. The book had a chapter on my problem, and almost right at the start it reviewed all the math needed for a basic approach to the problem. Had I read it before I worked on the robot controller, I would have immediately understood that the code I was reading was implementing those very fundamental equations, and would have solved my problem in a half an hour rather than a day and a half. I realized that this book - which I discovered by going into robotics - is something I needed to have read before going into robotics.

Now, realistically, no-one can read a 2,200 page book prior to solving their problem … but, as Torsten explained to me, there’s something else going on here. Most of this enormous book isn’t relevant to my interests … but what is in the parts that are relevant to my interests are just the foundational results that are needed to understand that area of interest, and those results are annotated with references to the papers in which those results are derived and applied.

A true grimoire isn’t simply a comprehensive collection of all possible information on a topic - we call that a manual, and while grimoires are often comprehensive, and there are manuals that count as grimoires, manuals in general lack a true grimoire’s other attributes: focus, insight, and orientation. A true grimoire doesn’t just comprehensively exhaust its subject; it’s focused on some aspect of the subject, brings insight to bear that you can then use to orient you to the broader field.


Inspired by my experience with Goodfellow, Bengio and Courville’s Deep Learning book, with The Springer Handbook of Robotics, and to a lesser extent my experiences with fictional grimoires like James Joyce’s Ulysses, I’ve decided to start reviewing them here.

Next up: my criteria for reviewing a Canonical Grimoire … and how they differ from Grimoires by Reputation, Classic Reference Books, Thin Little Volumes, and their fictional counterparts, Tours de Force.

-the Centaur

Caffe Romanza @ Books Inc.

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pound cake and mocha frappe at caffe romanza One of my favorite bookstore / cafe combinations in the whole world is Books Inc. I used to come here back when I only visited the Bay Area; I'd drive down from wherever I was staying, hang out next door for an hour in the fantastic used bookstore Bookbuyers, then wander over to inspect the new offerings at Books Inc before finishing off in the cafe upstairs. books inc It didn't just have good, sweet, frozen coffee-flavored beverages, it had a great upper seating area which was conducive to kicking back and working on a problem. I've written a lot of words and drawn a lot of drawings in this cafe. coffeehousers at work There's also an art gallery lining these walls, which my wife has shown in a few times. It really makes this a fun, exciting place to hang out and eat, drink, read, and write. the art gallery upstairs at books inc But as always, the ultimate test of a coffeehouse is the ample selection of power strips in which you can plug your laptops ... wait, what? Seriously, the ultimate test of a coffeehouse is the coffee ... and I think Caffe Romanza passes with flying colors: the mocha frappe from caffe romanza Did I mention the Mocha Frappe? Get yourself here. -the Centaur