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Posts tagged as “Blogging Every Day”

[eighty-eight] minus one-oh-six: in my quest for the perfect tomato sandwich, i have inadvertently recreated the BLT

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OK, full disclosure: this is more like "the perfect sandwich using tomatoes, if you know you're going to be eating out for a few days and want to empty out your refrigerator so don't buy anything too fancy" than the actual perfect tomato sandwich. I go through phases where I eat in most of the time and where I eat out most of the time, and near the end I try to make sure that I use up everything that I have.

Tomato sandwiches are perfect for this: I almost always have bread or or buns or croissants at the house, but will often be left with a few extra tomatoes and some lettuce if I have previously made tabbouleh. But, by themselves, tomato sandwiches can be a little boring. So I started looking up recipes, and found one which involved sautéing a bunch of herbs as a garnish - but which I can simulate pretty effectively with a bit of veganaise, dill, salt, pepper, and onion powder.

Leftover tomato can be turned into a mini-salad (upper right, above) with a little salt and pepper and any remaining veggies or lettuce you have. Personally, I like toasting the thick "Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted Multigrain" bread better than the hamburger buns you see above, as you can spread the lettuce and tomatoes out to create a wider sandwich that's easy to eat. It also seems to go better with a nice peaty Scotch like Ardbeg than it does with a margarita, but on all of that, your mileage may vary.

Regardless, I was again cleaning out the freezer of frozen stuff, mostly breakfast items, and found some vegan bacon, which I thought, "hey, that will add savory, I am a genius"! Only when I was done with it did I realize I had simply re-invented the good old bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich that my finicky tastebuds had steered me away from as a youth. Well, they're not steering me away from it now.

Oh, the recipe. Makes two sandwiches:

  • 4 slices Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted Thick-Sliced Multigrain, or bread of your choice
  • 1 beefsteak tomato, or tomato of your choice
  • 4 leaves of Bibb or Butter lettuce, or lettuce of your choice
  • Veganaise, or spread of your choice
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dill Weed
  • Onion Powder
  • Optionally, 4 slices of vegan bacon, or, just bacon

Wash and clean the lettuce leaves. Slice the tomato to create four thick slices from the middle. Chop up the ends, salt and pepper them, and add to a small bowl as a mini salad with any other veggies you have, such as leftover lettuce. Toast the bottom slices of bread and spread on the veganaise, then season the veganaise with salt, pepper, dill weed and onion powder. Layer on the tomatoes, two slices per bread, and salt and pepper them as well. Then add the lettuce. (Note: if using wide bread, line the tomato slices up, then add the lettuce, but if using hamburger buns, you can stack tomato-lettuce-tomato-lettuce). Optionally add tomatoes and close off the sandwich. Serve with your beverage of choice.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a lot of tomato sandwiches.

[eighty-seven] minus one-oh-six: be kind to yourself, but prioritize

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Last week, frankly speaking, I was feeling kind of low. I had launched a major paper to arXiv (an event which I tweeted et al, but somehow haven't blogged yet) and had a big opportunity to get caught up on stuff. But I couldn't seem to get rolling, not even on my Camp Nano project, Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE.

I met with my buddy Jim Davies and came up with the idea of restructuring my day, which worked well and I blogged about last week. But when Monday rolled around, and a lot of stuff wasn't done, I decided that I needed to throw away that script and make sure that the important "hanging tasks" got done.

And I did. Maybe not a third of the ones I wanted to get done, but I chewed through a lot of them. And I realized that, after spending a year and a quarter on that big arXiv paper and the Embodied AI Workshop, that I probably needed more recharge time than I had given myself.

But I had felt I didn't have time, as I had to roll into Camp Nano on July 1st and there were other tasks, like managing the repair of our air conditioning system and disbursing awards to the winners of Embodied AI Workshop challenges, that also couldn't wait. Things often just start when they are scheduled to start.

But whether I had that time to take off, I needed that time, as you can maybe see above. The first week of Camp Nano, I was running below full power. After a week's worth of the motor sputtering on 50%, giving me a forced recharge, you can see my writing rate start to climb up again, as it should be.

But the lesson isn't just that it's important to be kind to yourself - the modern phrase is "self-care" - because, as I said, things often start when they wanna start. And this includes planned things, like Camp Nano, and unplanned things, like lightning taking out your A/C. And even emergencies, like a sick cat.

So, I had put blogging aside a bit until Camp Nano was rolling again and my business were taken care of, and was getting ahead on both this morning, just prior to going to lunch with my 90-year-old uncle, when our cat Loki started yowling, puking, and trying to go to the bathroom without success.

The little guy has a history of urinary tract infections, which can kill a cat in hours and almost killed him three times, and had gotten the zoomies after trying to use the litterbox last night. His condition didn't seem bad then, but it was markedly worse today, and reluctantly I called Uncle Paul to cancel, then called the vet.

It often seems that I'm called to do the most just when I've "run out of spoons" dealing with some other problem, but, somehow, God provides enough spoons in the clinch when I need them. Less than an hour after canceling with Uncle Paul, I was pulling into the vet's office, who worked us in to their lunch hour.

Blessedly, the surgery Loki had after his previous urinary tract blockages prevented any buildup this time; in fact, the doctor suspected this was possibly a simpler case of a gastrointestinal infection - kitty food poisoning - and gave him antibiotics / anti-inflammatories to help Loki's system calm down.

Within hours of getting home, he was eating and drinking again, and soon returning to his alternately lovable/needy, grumpy/jerky self. And I got yet another lesson that the resources you need to solve your problems are often there, even if you don't always feel like they are.

Be good to yourself. But put first things first when you have to, and often, it will all work out.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Loki, after recovery (but looking like he looked when he was sick), Camp Nano progress, Loki at the vet, and Loki definitely in recovery mode with his medicine in him. And may I complain again about the Gutenberg editor making simple operations like selecting text an exercise in frustration?

[eighty-six] minus one oh four: the nonsense continues

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Above you can see the latest nonsense: today this is what the "new" Gutenberg editor on WordPress started showing me when I start trying to write a post. There are no text controls, the place to write is tiny, and most of the page is taken up by a "Featured Video" section that I have never seen before and never use.

I haven't updated WordPress recently. I've never, that I can recall, used the Featured Videos feature, and certainly haven't done so in the past ten or so posts. Yet the editor appears in this mode, even if I refresh the page to get a clean view. I just want to edit a document! Why is this interface doing everything but that?!

For clarity, below you can see the normal view I get when creating a post: a place to type text, along with text controls, with the video editor present only as collapsed bar (not visible in the normal view, but it's still there, way down on the bottom of the page).

Back in the old days, the industry promoted standards for keyboard shortcuts in menus so they would be easy and consistent to use - but early in the history of the Macintosh, Apple failed to deliver these in a point update, and started pushing the idea that we didn't need keyboard shortcuts, just the mouse. It's now even hard to find information on these standards, much less the articles that documented how they disintegrated - it's like these articles got scrubbed from the web, but it's more likely the original sites are gone, and any few that remain are now lost in a deluge of helpdesk articles on keyboard shortcuts.

Back in the old days, the industry promoted borders for windows to resize them, visible scrollbars to do things, and buttons with tooltips - but then a flood of print design people flooded software development after the introduction of the web, and the so-called "clean" look of print began to be applied to our tools. Nowadays, to resize a window you have to aim for its literally zero-pixel-wide edge, you need to dig in the settings to make toolbars appear, and finding the controls in an interface is a game of Where's Waldo, except Waldo is invisible most of the time, and sometimes moves around the screen to avoid your mouse.

These things aren't happening because software creators are trying to make their software usable: they're happening because they want to feel good about how it looks. Let's stop trying to make "user experience" happen: it's the wrong direction for software tools that people use, which requires a focus on usability.

The first test of your software is whether people can use it.

Usability is king, and only usability is usability.

-the Centaur

Pictured: The Gutenberg editor, which decided to start today in a mode I've never seen before. :-/

[eighty-five] minus one-oh-four: what even IS that?

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Recently on Twitter I said everything's going to hell in a handbasket on the Web. Let me show you ...

Oh, wait, I can't show you, because WordPress's Gutenberg is not letting me paste a link. More properly, it's turning the link into a Twitter embedding. Now, that looks nice, and it seems like a nice feature, but I didn't want that, because Twitter is increasingly erratic, and I am afraid the Twitter embedding feature will go away when Elon Muskhead gets tired of suing people over his own stupid mistakes and starts mucking with the code again. So I just wanted to paste a link, and then the text, myself.

But I had to "hack" the interface to do it, first posting a different link, which I then edited to point to Twitter. Does that seem right to you? That's one thing that inspired my post. Let's try again to see it:

Anthony Francis @xenotaur
The Web feels like it is disintegrating. Popup ads everywhere, train wrecks at Twitter and Reddit, Threads is just mobile, sponsored results on Google, fake reviews on Amazon.

And here I am watching my 1,000 curated RSS feeds slowly vanishing, going "This is fine…" #ThisIsFine


Part of the problem is what Cory Doctorow calls the "enshittification" of the Web: first companies are nice to users and attract them; when they have users they screw them over for their business customers; and then they screw business users overs as they start to chase advertisers, eventually driving the users away.

I think that's right, but it's more than that: people lose sight of what the Web actually is. Web 1.0 is a place to share documents; Web 2.0 is a place where you can create them online. We've had ads and subscriptions in this place since their earliest days, and I don't mind them - I put "banner ads" on my early website to advertise people whose blogs and books I liked, for free, just to publicize them.

But losing sight of the purpose - turning editors into viewers, or documents into ads streams - means the reason people were here, to consume and create content, can no longer be accomplished. And that's going to ultimately kill the great grift that is modern Web advertising - but let's not kill the Web too!

As an on-point example, I offer the Gutenberg editor, which constantly hides from you the widgets needed to transform a piece of text into, say, a pull quote, because it is incorrectly (and I will fight you on this) trying to make the page look like a piece of paper, instead of a craftsman's tool for producing text, with all the bells, whistles and knobs needed to make it format right, much less look good. Want something simpler? Fine, try Notepad. Don't inject your bad UI design into my editor, which, as I remind you, I am forced to use on my platform, which I never wanted to, because they broke the Classic Editor to push this idiocy.

It's not that the features aren't useful. It's that the entire philosophy of "UX" - user experience - is wrongheaded, and we need to go back to the more basic principles of software usability. Usability is not "modern", usability is not "clean", usability is not "design" - only usability is usability.

And so, if you take a tool that is designed to produce text ... and try to make it look like a view of text ... you will inevitably end up with something that is not usable. And if your philosophy tricks you into thinking that that is OK, your philosophy will drive you to make decisions which make the interface less and less usable.

And that would be the end of rant ... except I have a counterexample at the top of the page.

This is a page that recently appeared in my reading. I will take the clean, modern, well-designed Gutenberg editor any day over what modern web pages have become. Look at that above! What even IS that? What is it supposed to be? Where did my article go? What are these different blocks supposed to be advertising? They're so layered over each other you can't completely see any of them. "Choose great value" sounds like a line from a badly translated JRPG.

As best as I can determine, somehow I scrolled down to read the rest of the article, and it jumped to a join between articles on an "infinite scrolling" page. While some infinite scrolling pages are OK, most simply aren't. Especially a page for an article: you can't read the article anymore with infinite scroll. It doesn't stop, and if the next article has a similar topic, it can even seem like a new heading, making you wonder what the connection is, but giving an opportunity to sell ads - leading to what I think happened here.

So, while trying to read, and thus, scroll through this content - an article which claimed that Doctor Who's time travel was surprisingly accurate, which is more true than most people know - the page jumped to a join between articles in the infinite scroll. Because the page "jumped", all of this just popped into view; it wasn't clear that I scrolled, or that scrolling would get me out of it). The layout completely hides the articles above and below, and the jumble of popups fall over each other, leaving me no context of what to click on.

If you try to turn a document reader into an ads stream, you will fail at doing both.

I fear for the future. Because I love the Web ... and it's killing itself.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a screen shot of, of a broken article on the science of Doctor Who, correctly recommended to me by Google News, and completely garbled by ScreenRant's infinite scroll and jumbled ad presentation, leaving me unsure of what, if anything, to do other than ... just close the page.

(Actually, I reloaded it from scratch, selected the text of the article, and printed it for later reading. I don't care if there's an ad on the page or not; that's fine. I just demand to be able to read the darn thing.)

[eighty-four] minus one-oh-five: so far, so good, morning edition

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So far, so good, on the new strategy of starting off with the projects, rather than the maintenance: I've tweeted, checked in with LinkedIn, worked on some non-fiction books, am blogging, and am about to switch gears to writing my Camp Nano entry, SPIRAL NEEDLE.

I'd felt like I was falling into a bit of a slump after getting through the big Embodied AI and Social Navigation deadlines (more on that later) and I gave this new strategy a try after chatting with my buddy, popular science author Jim Davies (author of Riveted, Imagination, and Being the Person Your Dog Thinks You Are).

Jim taked to me about how prioritizing book-writing was critical for his process. I don't really have to do that for fiction - or, more properly, I have structured my entire life around ensuring I have time set aside for fiction writing, so at this point it is practically free - but non-fiction books are new to me.

But one of his other suggestions baffled me, not because it didn't make sense, but because it made too much sense - except I was already doing it, and it wasn't working. Jim pointed out that most people go through periods of vigilance, slump, and recovery during their day, and that as a morning person he reserved book writing, which required critical thinking, for his early vigilant time. Errands like bill-paying worked well for him in the slump, and he felt most creative in the recovery period in the evening.

Okay, great, I thought, I can use this. Already I can see shifting the order I do things in my day - as a night owl, I start my day off in the slump, recover from that, and then get increasingly and increasingly vigilant the further and further I go into the night. (If I have a project due and no obligations the next day, this can go on for hours and hours before exhaustion starts to outpace execution and productivity finally drops).

So maybe switch errands to earlier in the day, I thought, and productivity in the afternoon. But wait a minute: I'm already using my late nights for my most creative time. Why isn't this working.

What I realized is that I have an irregular schedule. In THEORY my late-night time is my most productive time, but in PRACTICE on some nights I get an hour, on some nights I get two (or five) and on some nights I am already so wiped that I really don't get much done at all.

But I do almost always get something done in the morning, even if it takes me time to get rolling. And for me, catching up on papers or writing notes or catching up on my blog is a mostly mechanical activity: it's not that creative thought isn't required, but it isn't to the level of, say, a novel or a scientific paper, where a hard-won sentence may be the result of a half an hour's search tracking down a key reference or fact, or, worse, an hour's worth of brainstorming alone or meeting with others to decide WHAT to write.

So: I can't count on myself to do a creative "chore" - something that has to be done regularly, like blogging or social media, or something that has to be done incrementally over a long period of time, like collating references or thoughts for a non-fiction book - by putting it in my evening creative block. The evening creative block is too irregular, and needs to be reserved for novels and art anyway.

The fix: blog (et al) in the morning.

Let's see how it goes.

-the Centaur

Pictured: tomato and lettuce sandwiches for breakfast, with the leftovers of the tomato as a side dish. At the breakfast table is Christopher Bishop's Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning, also available as a PDF, the latest of a long series of "difficult breakfast table books" which I laboriously read through, a page at a time - sometimes, one page over several days, until I "get" it - to increase my understanding of the world. Past breakfast table books have included Machine Vision, A New Kind of Science, and Probability Theory: the Logic of Science, the first is out of date now, but the latter two are perennial and highly recommended.

[eighty-three] minus one-oh-five: upending things a bit

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Normally I post at the end of the day, which means if I run out of time in the day, I don't post. Well, I want to change that, and unlike most of my other tasks, most of my blog posts don't expand into projects of unusual size. So I'm trying out starting by day with a tweet, a blog post, and a some work on my very longest-horizon projects, like my novel series or my nonfiction books, which cannot be completed in one sitting or even in a simple concentrated push over a few months, and must, therefore, be taken one step at a time.

And, so, hey! Here's a post. Enjoy.

-the Centaur

Pictured: I don't really do mornings, so this is the first "early" picture I could find, breakfast at Stax Omega.

[eighty-two] minus ninety-two: an air-conditioner shattering KABOOM

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No good picture for this one yet, but today I found out that the lightning strike that took out our internet may also have taken out the air conditioning for the upstairs (where, ya know, our bed and sleeping is). I seem to recall it having trouble before the lightning strike, but that may have been a completely different problem with the filters, which also need replacing.

Apparently this repair is going to be pricey, and it may be cheaper to replace the entire unit. This will take another week or so. In the meantime, we've run the fan so much the wallpaper has started to peel in the bedroom due to the humidity, and it's still to hot to sleep most nights. As Dr. McCoy would say, "Oh, joy."

My wife has wondered whether we should get lightning rods installed on the house. After several years here, this is our first strike, and I wonder whether it will happen again. There's the old saw that you prepare for the last disaster, and that seems to be true: we first had sewage problems, then a burst supply line on a toilet, then a separate problem with the AC, then tree removals due to ivy, then a freeze, now this. Not much of a pattern there except for the trees and ivy, which we're working on as a long-term project.

Hopefully next up we will not have tornadoes or flooding, because we really can't do that much about tornadoes, and since our house is high on a ridge, if we get flooded out, you can kiss Greenville goodbye.

More news as it develops.

-the Centaur

Pictured: the back porch at night, since I do not seem to have any good pictures of the recent torrential rains and the associated lightning strike, even though I distinctly recalled having taken some. :-/

[eighty-one] minus ninety-one: the clouds were ON yesterday, man

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I wished I had a drone or something to fly up, or more hours in the day to drive around and find some place to take pictures not blocked by buildings and power lines. Even so, look at those beauties:

No filters, no AI, no nothing, just a Samsung phone (and Android's computational photography libraries).

-the Centaur

[eighty] minus ninety-one: a modem-shattering KABOOM

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Sorry for the no posts for several days. I'd say it's because I've been busy prepping for the Embodied AI Workshop - and I was - but when I brought up the Library of Dresan interface, I saw a half-finished post on my cut hand, and realized, oh yeah, lightning struck the computer while I was working on this. And it did, or more properly, struck the broadband gateway and fried all the Ethernet-connected devices attached to it. Fortunately, the laptop was not one of those things, but it did put a crimp into things for a while. Back to it.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Well, I didn't capture a picture of the lightning, or the aftermath, as I was too busy dealing with the loud SNAP simultaneous with the lightning flash at 2am last week, but I did capture this picture of the torrential rains overwhelming our house's drainage system later that week.

[seventy-nine] minus ninety-two: it’s OVER

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After almost a year's worth of work, at last, the Fourth Annual Embodied Artificial Intelligence Workshop is OVER! I will go collapse now. Actually, it was over last night, and I actually did collapse, briefly, on the stairs leading up to my bedroom after the workshop was finally done. But don't worry, I was all right. I was just so relieved that it was good to finally, briefly, collapse. A full report on this tomorrow. Off to bed.

-the Centaur

Pictured: A rainbow that appeared in the sky just as the workshop was ending. Thanks, God!