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[twenty twenty-four day one two eight]: i don’t believe in gravity, part ii

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Yeah, he's up there. Not sure how, but he is. Hope he's not stuck. Ah, just went out to check, and he's gone, so I assume he moved on. Come to think of it, I wonder if he's the same as this guy:

This little guy got in and disappeared into the fireplace - I assumed he fell from the chimney, but he's thin enough maybe to have wormed in a windowframe perhaps? Not sure, the other guy looks thicker about the middle, but it may be the case that he ate something.

Hypothesis is, the little guys are immature versions of this handsome fellow, a rat snake perhaps, who is also a climbing mofo ...

Snek!

-the Centaur

Author Guest of Honor at Clockwork Alchemy!

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No, this isn't an April Fool's joke: I'm the Author Guest of Honor at Clockwork Alchemy 2024! In recognition of my steampunk novel and many steampunk stories, my long association with Clockwork Alchemy, and the fact that they were not able to chase me away (even with a broom), the Clockwork folks have honored me with even more programming than normal! More seriously, though, there will be an author tea, presentations on neurodiversity, an audio reading of Jeremiah Willstone and the Choir of Demons, and even the obligatory airships panel (though this year it will be a more general panel on steampunk vehicles).

More news as it develops!

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day seventy-seven]: i now look on my favorite food with suspicion

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Thanks, mold, for making me suspicious of every new pummelo, no matter how fresh and delicious. When I have actually gotten sick off a food, sometimes I develop a lifelong aversion to it - like chili burgers, lemon bars, and pump-flavored sodas, the three things I remember eating before my worst episode of food poisoning. However, apparently finding something rotten just as you eat it is a close second.

Sigh. Here's hoping this fades.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a tasty and delicious pummelo, but even so, I can't look at them the same. Is there an evil demon face embedded in that, thanks to pareidolia?

[twenty twenty-four day sixty-eight]: that blog bluffer

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The title was supposed to say "that blog buffer" but I'm going with the misspelling. The critical thing to do with the buffers it to get far enough ahead that you can not just coast for a day or two, but take out the time to do more ambitious projects, like "fix it the way that it works" or "33 44 55", two posts that I've been putting off because I haven't been giving myself enough time to blog.

Well, according to the NOAA's day-of-year calendar, post sixty-eight needs to go up Fridya, so once I schedule this post, "the buffer" will give me until Saturday to come up with a really good idea.

I'm working on it, I'm working on it!

Blogging every day.

-the Centaur

Pictured: A few screencaps: the "The Blog Dashboard" Google Sheet, the NOAA Day of Year Calendar, and "Blog This or Code It!", the Google Doc where I dump ideas that I hope to turn into blogposts.

[twenty twenty-four day sixty-four]: angry loki

taidoka 0

He sure looks upset. Are you upset? I think you’re upset.

You’re still hanging around for scritchies though.

Maybe not so upset.

Who can tell.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a cat, looking very upset. Well. Maybe not so upset.

[twenty twenty-four day thirty-eight]: nerds and geeks

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What the heck is a nerd, anyway?

I've learned a lot about neurodiversity in the past months - first, after having the crazy idea of launching yet another anthology, this one about neurodivergent people encountering aliens, and second, after coming to grips with my own neurodivergence (social anxiety disorder with perhaps a touch of undiagnosed autism). We want The Neurodiversiverse Anthology to land well with its intended audience, and need to get it right!

But it struck me that there's a lot of unhelpful cross-stereotyping between autistic folks and nerd and geek culture. Sure, there are autistic people who become intensely interested in "special topics", but sometimes that special topic is a sport or other "socially acceptable" activity, making it easier for autistic people to mask. And as Devon Price points out in her book Unmasking Autism, autistic people have specific bottom-up processing styles which are different from the top-down, "allistic" style of so-called "neurotypical" people. So just being obsessed with a special topic doesn't make you autistic, nor vice versa.

In fact, speaking as a proud member of "nerd" and "geek" culture, my social group had our own definitions of what "nerd" and "geek" meant, which indicated a difference in thinking styles, but didn't necessarily map to an actual neurodivergence. Geekdom in particular meant a certain kind of out-of-the-box thinking that doesn't align with what I read about the processing styles of autistic folks - not to say that these styles couldn't overlap, or even that they might frequently co-occur, but that "geek" had its own meaning.

That made me think back on conversations with a friend who was once called a "geek" by someone who meant it as an insult. HIs response? "Yes, I am - and you're not. Ha, ha, ha!" To him, it was a badge of honor, as it signified a deeper understanding of certain systems of the world and a different way of thinking - not neurodivergent, per se, but just different. We had a long conversation about different words and their nuances, and it led me to think about how these words have lurking meanings in my head.

So here's my attempt to unpack that terminology a little bit:

  • Nerds: A nerd is someone who has strong interests that someone else finds socially unacceptable. Calling someone a nerd says way, way more about the source than the target: it's a group identification play, designed to ostracize the person who's not into the currently approved interests. Now, to some folks, nerd can mean someone who is "socially awkward" - the stereotype is big glasses, pocket protectors, and high-pitched voices - but, really, that's just stereotyping, as judgmental people can and will ret-con someone into being a "nerd" as soon as they find out they're into something that isn't "cool."
  • Geeks: A geek is someone who uses out-of-the-box thinking to build up expertise in a given topic. Geeks can geek out about anything from computers to philosophy to football, just like their close cousins, "fans". But unlike "fans", a geek's expertise is weaponized. A great fictionalized example are the protagonists of the movie Moneyball, loosely based on a couple of real-life geeks who used their deep knowledge of baseball and statistics to turn around the Oakland A's. This is what my buddy meant when he said "Yes, I'm a geek, and you're not: ha ha ha!" - geekdom is something to be celebrated.
  • Wonks: A wonk is a geek about public policy. Al Gore is the quintessential wonk. Wonks tend to be paid lots of money to run very complicated systems in the public policy arena, though they don't tend to do quite as well when running for elections. Perhaps voters mistake them for nerds.
  • Cranks: A crank is a geek about a nonstandard scientific theory. Typically cranks are smart, well-educated people with a large body of perfectly normal beliefs, who become convinced of some off-the-wall theory that they've encountered in their broad reading or developed through their out-of-the-box thinking. Unfortunately for many scientists, cranks want to geek out with other science geeks about their theories, which can go badly when scientists try to explain all the ways their ideas don't work. I remember one fellow getting angry with me when I was trying to agree with him that his theory was possible - but had to point out that one of his claims was stated more strongly than the evidence supported. I wasn't even saying he was wrong, just that scientists need to be careful about their claims. The conversation did not go well.
  • Nutter: A nutter is a crank who has warped his view of reality to fit his nonstandard theory. For example, once a fellow attempted to cajole me into coming to work for his "company" where he was working on a "warp drive" (and no, I'm not joking). Now, I know a thing or two about the actual science behind so-called "warp drives", and this guy wasn't talking about his project in any way that convinced me he knew what he was talking about. I politely declined on the grounds that I was a very busy author and roboticist and preferred to spend my time bringing my own projects to fruition, and he proceeded to tell me how if I saw his plans for the flying saucer he was trying to build I'd abandon my own projects in favor of his. I did not.
  • Genius: A genius is a nutter who warps reality to fit his nonstandard theory. Fun fact: reality was classical before Einstein invented relativity, and light was just an electromagnetic field before Richard Feynman invented path integrals and showed that photons really go everywhere all at once. More seriously, a genius applies his out-of-the-box thinking at a very deep level, geeking out about all of reality. To some people, geniuses look like nutters ... and you never really do know which one you've got when a nervous looking man steps up to your front porch holding only a suitcase and says, "My brain is open." Turn him away, and you get nothing; take him in and help him tackle his questions, and you get an Erdős number.

So one point I'm trying to make here is that nerding out about something can take you places. Sometimes it takes you to a deep understanding of a subject matter, which sometimes makes people uncomfortable; sometimes that turns out to be very lucrative, and sometimes that turns out to be ostracizing. But, even then, sometimes the people we think are the nuttiest turn out to be the most brilliant people.

But another point I'm trying to make is that nothing about geeking out really has anything to do with neurodivergence - it's a pattern of behavior which occurs in neurodivergent and neurotypical people alike. Perhaps an autistic person might geek out about something, or perhaps they might not. Perhaps a geek might have autistic tendencies, or perhaps they might not. Perhaps some of these traits are often found together, or perhaps, even if that co-occurrence is actually real, it can distract us from looking sincerely at the unique and whole human beings we are interacting with, and collapsing these different ways of looking at people into a single all-encompassing category is unnecessary stereotyping.

Or, put another way, if you know one autistic person, you know one autistic person, and if you know one geek, you know one geek, and there's no guarantee that knowing one tells you much about the other.

-the Centaur

[forty-three] minus twenty-two: it gets stale

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Recently I went to do something in Mathematica - a program I've used hundreds if not thousands of times - and found myself stumped on a simple issue related to defining functions. I've written large, complicated Mathematica notebooks, yet this thing I done hundreds of times was stymieing me.

But - yes - I'd done it hundreds of times; but not regularly in the past year or so.

My knowledge had gone stale.

Programming, it appears, is not like riding a bike.

What about other languages? I can remember LISP defun's, mostly, but would I get a C++ class definition right? I used to do that professionally, eight years ago, and have published articles on programming C++ ... but I've been writing almost exclusively Python and related scripting languages for the past 7 years.

Surprisingly, my wife and I had this happen in real life. We went to cook dinner, and surprisingly found some of the stuff in the pantry had gone stale. During the pandemic, you see, we bought ahead, since you couldn't always find things, but we consumed enough of our staples that they didn't go stale.

Not so once the rate of consumption dropped just slightly - eating out 2-3 times a week, eating out for lunch 2-3 times a week - with a slight drop in variety. Which meant the very most common staples were consumed, but some of the harder-to-find, less-frequently-used stuff went bad.

We suspect some of it may have had near-expired dates we hadn't paid attention to, but now that we're looking, we're carefully looking everywhere to make sure our staples are fresh.

Maybe, if there are skills we want to rely on, we should work to keep those skills fresh too.

Maybe we need to do more than just "sharpen the saw" (the old adage that work goes faster if you take the time to maintain your tools). Perhaps the saw needs to be pulled out once a while and honed even if you aren't sawing things regularly, or you might find that it's gone rusty while it's been stored away.

-the Centaur

Pictured: The bottom layers of detritus of the Languages Nook of the Library of Dresan, with an ancient cast-off office chair brought home from the family business by my father, over 30 years ago.

[forty-one] minus twenty: a better picture?

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Somehow, inadvertently, I caused the previous picture's post to get blurred in transport. Below is a better version, which seems to have come through much clearer:

This is from my blogpost "All the Transitions of Tic Tac Toe, Redux" . Apparently the full-size image is no longer available (probably because it's close to 80 megabytes in size, and whatever file hosting I was using to put it up is broken) but a "smaller" version is below, only 12 megabytes in size (or here):

All the transitions from the first state of tic-tac-toe (at the bottom) to to win for X (left), win for O (right), or draw (top).

Funny ... I long remembered this as being the topic of "Don't Fall Into Rabbit Holes" but that turns out to have been a completely different project.

-the Centaur

[twenty-nine] minus twenty-one: what’s up with these titles?

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In case it isn't clear, when I took on the Blogging Every Day project, I hoped to get at least one post a day for the full year. Today, the 19th of February, is allegedly the 50th day of the year (according to On This Day in Math, this is the smallest number that can be written as the sum of two squares in two different ways, 1+49 and 25+25 ... who knew? Pat Ballew, apparently). But by my count this is only the twenty-ninth blogpost in this series (not counting blog posts done for other reasons), so it's twenty nine, minus twenty-one behind what the goal should be for the day. And I need to be doing at least two of these a day to get back on track.

Just so we're clear.

-the Centaur

Pictured: What was behind my head when I was taking that picture of King's Fish House.

Ah, Red Rock …

taidoka 0

... I miss the glory days when you were open until 10 (and Bookbuyers was open to midnight, just up the street) but you're still a great place to grab a mocha, get together with techy friends, and work on a project.

What's amazing about the Bay Area is how much technology is just milling around in the ether. I practically tripped on a robot on the way to the meeting, some people at a nearby table were talking about self-driving cars, day before yesterday the people next to me were talking about robots, reinforcement learning and my colleagues, and I ran into three techy friends, one of whom introduced me to some more robot folk.

What a place to be, and what a time to be alive.

Blogging every day.

-the Centaur

[eighteen] plus nineteen

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Very tired and sleepy, so you get graffiti ... good night.

-the Centaur

Two

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Two tomahawks in all but bone for the high school gang's 30th annual "Edgemas" party, prepped with my own custom almost-dry rub and set aside to rest for 24 hours prior to a reverse-sear:

I hear it turned out pretty well. :-D

-the Centaur

One [redux]

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It's a [re]start. Welcome to 2023, everyone.

-the Centaur

One.

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Drink.

Update on Site Maintenance

taidoka 0

Well, it looks like the way WordPress is going to pull the Classic Editor out of my cold, dead hands is to screw up the formatting of any post published with the Classic Editor. The only way it seems to get posts to appear correctly in the blog roll is to use the new Gutenberg garbage. I will be updating posts a few at a time to try to overcome this. The problem is only "new" Classic Editor posts ... the older content in the blog doesn't appear to be affected, so hopefully it won't take too long if I update a few a day.

-the Centaur

Site Maintenance Complete

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HTTPS should now work, so you should not get nastygrams from Chrome anymore. Enjoy the rest of your day. -the Centaur

PSA: Site Maintenance

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Upgrading security. May be a no-op from an end-user perspective, but if the site burps, you heard it here first. -the Centaur

Drawing Every Day

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Drawing Every Day Folder

tl;dr: to get good at something, you've got to put in a lot of practice

Hail, fellow adventurers! You may have been wondering what's up with the "Drawing Every Day" on this website. Or, hey, maybe you just got here. But I've gotten far enough into it that I feel comfortable taking a short break from developing this habit to tell you about this habit I'm trying to develop.

Fanu Fiku Page 49

I've loved comic books since I was a child. I've drawn since I was a young kid. I even started working on comics in graduate school, consciously refining my art until I was able to launch a webcomic, f@nu fiku, partially inspired by anime, manga, and the FLCL anime.

Then I broke my arm. And while I was recovering, someone stole my laptop. I took the opportunity to switch from Windows to Mac, and, as luck would have it, got my first book contract for FROST MOON. By the time I got enough free time from editing and book launches to go back to the webcomic and pick up where I left off, I found out my hand-crafted webcomic software wouldn't work on the Mac.

The real blow, however, was hidden: my confidence in my artwork had collapsed.

I went from fearlessly putting together two-page spreads way beyond my ability, doing bodies and perspective, and changing my layout theory at the drop of a hat, eventually producing pages that appeared in an art show - to being unable, or more precisely, unwilling to draw at all.

I had become intimidated by - embarrased by - my art. My wife is also an artist, and is familiar with the phenomenon. She and I talked about the reasons behind this at length, and like writer's block preventing writers from writers, one of the things that really affects artists is simply getting started.

If you've only done a handful of drawings, well, then, every one is super important, and there's pressure to make it perfect. But if you've done lots of drawings, then each one is an experiment, and if it doesn't turn out good, well, then, you can always draw another one.

the art studio

We moved recently, and I made it a priority to set up an art studio. But things by themselves don't create good habits - believe me, I know: purchasing a keyboard and bass guitar all those years ago didn't turn me into a musician, because I didn't build the proper habits around them.

But how do you build a habit if you're too intimidated to get started? At the Write to the End writing group, we tackle it by sitting down to write for 20 minutes, no excuses. At Taos Toolbox, Walter Jon Williams pointed out that this seemingly small amount of writing per day could produce a novel.

So I started to come around to the idea: what if I drew every day?

There's this theory in cognitive science that quantity begets quality. A famous example from the book Art and Fear alleges a ceramics professor graded half of a class on quality, the other half on quantity - but the students who produced more pieces also produced the better work.

There are no secrets: if you want to get good, you've got to put in the work. (Well, there are secrets, but the secret is, you have to put in a hell of a lot of work to take advantage of them). This is such a common thing in webcomics that it has its own TV Tropes page on Art Evolution.

I really want to draw again. I want to make science fiction webcomics like the ones I grew up loving in the 80s and 90s. But to do that, I've got to draw. So, once I finally got settled here and the holidays were in the taillights, once I finally got the Cintiq working ... I started drawing every day.

14 days running so far (counting complex drawings that took 2-3 sessions as 1 per session). How long does it take to cement a habit? 2-3 months, it sounds like from the online research; so, a good ways to go. If I keep at it, I'll have +70 more drawings, five times as many as I have so far.

I bet I'll see some changes.

Day 3 vs Day 13

I bet if you have something you want to change, start working on it every day, and keep it up for 2-3 months, you may see some changes too.

Best of luck with that! Wish me luck too.

-the Centaur