Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Another Attempt

Hairy Woodpecker taking off.

Or, I got really self-righteous writing an attempt at this post, or at least righteous.

So what am I doing now without two classes to keep up with? First, my wife is really happy that I am contributing more to chores. It is amazing how much she likes that, even with understanding just how much work school is. So if I don’t kill myself trying to do two classes maybe I can keep up more than just a token effort on chores.

And speaking of helping I was able to get her research back on track after five minutes of fiddling with the configuration files. It is nice that she can bother me without feeling guilty.

I really want to go fencing. This time for sure, no stopping me, we have all the gear.

More outdoor exercise, oh wait it dumped snow on us last week, just the walk to work was a workout. But the wife and I built a giant snow monster:

More birdwatching. Birds are coming to town! But it snowed and we’ve had some of the coldest weather of all winter. I am afraid that March regressed toward the mean, but it certainly didn’t mean that ski stores kept their supplies of skis in stock, I guess I’ve lived too close to real mountains to consider anything but mid-June to be the end of ski season.

Writing more: this, short stories, and my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel editing. Still learning. Blogging short stories has certainly not picked up a following at all. I need to be more consistent with those.

Learning Computer Vision. Wait, but didn’t I drop that class? Why yes, yes I did, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t resources like pyimagesearch.

3D-printing. It goes badly, two more failed prints, but I think I am having power issues because the power supply is so close to its limits. Fortunately I have an extra 500W supply just lying around from upgrading my desktop because it was right on the border too. With my electrical engineering knowledge I should be able to safely add the new supply, but we’ll definitely have to see.

And doing all these things I will still have time to spend with the wife, eat, and sleep. It isn’t weird how much time school takes up, but it certainly is a relief when it’s done.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dust - Expedition

“Whoa! She crumbled” Jared stared down. 

Of course he had to touch it, Elena thought, men can’t appreciate anything they can’t touch. “Didn’t I say something about not touching anything.” 

“I didn’t.” That sounded a bit plaintive even for him. “I just wanted to look at something on her skin.”
It was a good thing that her eye roll didn’t add a chorus to her already restrained sigh. She shook her head and walked back out of the house on the outskirts of a town that must be abandoned. Nothing moved, not even a breeze. Elena was glad that she had photographic evidence before Jared breathed it out of existence. “Come on, and try not to stare too closely at the art next time, however weird that it was in a tub.” 

Elena didn’t understand the grumbled reply, and frankly didn’t want to make a big deal of it. They were already tight on their schedule, so many new places to go with a new satellite making its way across the surface of the Sphere, they had five hours allocated to explore this town and make contact with its inhabitants, though that was looking less likely now. 

She turned on her mag-belt and willed herself forward, picking up speed down the slightly overgrown street. Elena resisted the urge to speed ahead of Jared, but came to a reasonable velocity and maintained it for the next two kilometers until they came into the town. No radio or any other signals hailed her as she sped along. 

She hopped up onto a sidewalk, and came around a corner and someone was in front of her, no time to dodge, not even the belt’s automatic system had time to redirect her momentum and she plowed right into him. Through him, him maybe. A dust cloud expanded around her as her belt brought her to a jarring stop. 

“Oh look who’s destroying art now,” Jared certainly looked ready to crow, she could feel it as she surveyed the damage. “You only left his feet from the ankles down. Ha!” 

It was hard to maintain her composure, but she managed to walk over and take a picture of the decapitated feet without throwing something. Shoes really, silver just like the one in the tub. They looked like an old type of shoe from the twentieth century, maybe the man wasn’t naked like the woman Jared had practically drooled on. And was it considered decapitation if only the feet remained? Essentially, she guessed. 

“Oh boss, it feels like we are being watched. Look.” 

She whipped around, expecting either a threat or someone trying to hide from them, but it was a street with many more people statues. All the burnished silver of the first statue, standing stock-still in very natural poses. Even the three story buildings lining the street had a few people in windows.
“Someone must’ve spent quite a bit of time arranging these, but they’re so fragile how do they survive the wind?” 

“If your heavy breathing blew away that statue then it must be abnormally still here. Or this happened very recently.” That brought disturbing possibilities to her mind, but the air quality sensor-suite still had no warnings, much less dire alerts. 

“The buildings and everything only look slightly neglected, so it must have been somewhat recently.”
“Let’s see if we can find a food store, or something like that where we might find some dates.” Elena suppressed a shiver, Jared would be upset to learn that she would want a full decon when they reached their hopper. 

“Good idea, boss, but do think it’s just because they have archaic architecture that they would have a…” history and vocab were not Jared’s strengths, “Grocery?” 

“Something like that,” She had to chuckle. “Let’s split up, you take west and I will take east.” 

They had wandered toward another statue down the street, so Elena back-tracked to go east. As she came to the first intersection again she couldn’t help but look at the decapitated feet again. Except they were no longer just feet, but calves as well.

***This may become a series, but for now enjoy!

Blogger and CSS

My wonderful audience may have noticed a few swaps in my blogger theme, something is really broken on my posts with spacing between paragraphs. Since I can't use tabs without tabbing out of the editing interface I use an extra line between paragraphs, pretty standard for lots of internet content these days. However, blogger's new "improved" themes broke this for many of my old posts.

I tried to edit '.post-body' css but it seems that I will have to back through by hand and edit the html, per post. I really don't want to spend the time migrating to WordPress, but it is looking even more likely now. I was hoping to do more writing and save my developing time for more fun side projects.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Phyton: Episode 5 - First Report

Previous Episode

Airports on the receiving end were just as nightmarish as the sending end these days, Al thought as he pulled his suitcase from an old fashioned belt.  Anyone could grab luggage if they wanted to. The security was terrible too. So many uniforms jostling to look closely at you, your bags, and a suspicious mustard stain if you had the misfortune of spilling lunch.

Back before the purge the entities had monitored from afar with others delivering your luggage directly to you, no mess and fuss of people crowding the belt. Now the security gap left by the entities felt unfillable, all of the personnel seemed frustrated by the number of people milling around and the occasional raised voices of people arguing over similar luggage or trying to convey just how important their lost luggage was to a harried worker.

Al found Jeff already in the crowd as he trundled his decidedly unresponsive luggage away from the chaos.

“You got yours, well that gives me hope. I’ll see you at our first meet. If anything arises, let me know.”

“Will do.” They shook hands and Al headed out to the taxi stand.

The study in contrasts always made Al smile, airports and their security had regressed where cars still were entities. Highly regulated entities, but entities nonetheless. The new government was crazy in its attempt to give more people jobs by scrapping 10 years of entity development, but it wasn’t hopeless, in some areas.

The estimated 20k to 50k people per year that didn’t die in car wrecks guaranteed that those entities driving weren’t going anywhere. Also they were the least quirky and some of the least human-like entities. Hence why they replaced human drivers. They were also still hooked into the info-grid which made arranging for one to meet at the curb extremely easy.

After getting in and telling the car where to go, Al sat back and closed his eyes. Although the fallback to old-style security made him anxious to fly, he was not less anxious after this flight. If anything he was more so. The Fislers knew he was coming, but he was coming in to investigate them. That felt like it was a violation of their trust.

He certainly didn’t want to find anything, and from what he knew they both followed rules very well, but the fact that the FBI and the DoD were investigating meant that something was happening. He just hoped it was a case of target misidentification.


The taxi pulled into the driveway of a large house with a xeriscaped yard. Other than a few lush green plants and a few palms by a small pond the yard was rock and cactus. He double checked the address on his phone and the one in the taxi’s navigation system. They matched, but certainly they would have a kid friendly yard, right?

Jeff sat in the sedan watching people pass, nearly everyone looked busy which made him feel like he should be doing something. At the moment he waited for Al so they could talk about any developments, but he also waited in general. His message inbox was clean, contingency plans for all occasions were stacked neatly on the desk back at the warehouse he was based out of, and his personal plans once done here filled his calendar.

Of course the agency had a much more glamorous image, many movies growing up depicted dramatic scenes where hero agents solved crimes despite vast odds while wooing or seducing the love interest. The only interest anyone showed was with their jobs back at HQ, no-nevermind love interests being more human than crime.

He spotted Al walking toward the car, and stopped fidgeting. The boredom and anxiety evaporated as the man who was the anticipated antidote knocked on the window. He unlocked the car and Al got in.

“How are things?” Al asked as he settled in.

Jeff paused, wondering if he should do the socially acceptable thing, but decided against it, “Boring.”

“Well then, let’s not keep you waiting any longer.” Al reached for his phone as the car started to move onto a predetermined route. “Though, I am not sure that the news is going to be very exciting either.” He opened a list on his phone, “They seem like a normal family as far as two high-caliber scientists can seem with a child. They are looking forward to Eddy going to kindergarten and spend plenty of time in the evenings working with him on things. During the day they work at the lab. Are you cleared for what they work on?”

Jeff nodded.

“Right, so they are mainly working on a moss-like plant that can be grown in the lungs without causing a pneumonia reaction. It’s pretty interesting since it works off of micronutrients in the lungs and the infrared heat from the body in order to grow and break CO2 back into oxygen for the host. But enough of me getting excited by their work.”

“Are they over protective of anything? A room in the house or lab equipment?”

“It doesn’t seem like it. This last week I’ve been working and living with them and they seem to have nothing to hide, no wariness around me once the DoD clarified my cover, they definitely understand that the things they are working on are quite sensitive ecologically too.”

“Any unknown people that they talk to?” Jeff interjected.

“Not that I have seen, but I’ve only been around for a week, and I can’t keep an eye on both of them all the time. On the other hand they don’t disappear for long periods of time without reasonable excuses, though I haven’t gone grocery shopping with them yet. They really care for Eddy.”

“Anything out of the ordinary about their parenting?” Jeff barely suppressed a squirm. He didn’t have a terrible childhood, but there were some events that he still wasn’t quite willing to confront. Asking about a child seemed to always bring up those feelings, maybe it was also the reason he never went on a second date.

“Other than seeming to be really attentive parents, no.”

“Are they anxious about him going to kindergarten?”

“Yes, but I think that is normal? Since neither of us has kids I don’t think we know, right?”

“I guess my parents seemed quite anxious when I first went to school. But after I told them about the first day they relaxed.” Too much, no inquiry ever, Jeff thought, it amazed him in retrospect that he had done so well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

On Why Quitting is Terrible Failing

Cooper's Hawk just down the trail. Just using a point-and-shoot camera.
Many failures may precede success, but failing within an institution is just failing.

I am trying to suss out what is an acceptable level of failure. I grew up with the idea that failing at anything was bad: school, piano, that stupid cake-walk back in cub scouts, and many other venues. I’ll just say that I was so upset at the cake-walk they gave me some consolation pie. But back to the point: failure was unacceptable and very upsetting.

School was and is the prime place of failure being unacceptable. In some ways I envy the kids that don’t care when they fail, but in many others I don’t, since I would be very surprised if they are more successful than myself. Though I am certainly not a paragon of success, just very comfortable.

What does failing lead to within school as an institution? Retaking a grade at the worst save dropping out. I never failed in primary or secondary with my worst grade a C. This kept me from having a free ride through UW. The only fear of failure ever was on specific tasks, and really only on public performances. But also the schools were small enough and loose enough that there were definitely ways of working through failure that a teacher would consider equivalent.

College was much tougher for me. Fortunately I had skin in the game, money, debts, but it still was a very tough thing for me to finish. I had failures and retakes and then I graduated. Did I learn more? Yes, but as much as I probably should have? No. I would have done better in that case.

But that brings me to my master’s degree. I really like the computer science program that I can take online very far away from Georgia Tech. I will highly recommend the program to anyone looking at getting a CS MS. However, it should come with a warning: Gatech will punish you for failing.

Wait a second, of course they should, getting a bad grade because you didn’t understand the material or didn’t do the work or didn’t regurgitate the correct answer on a closed book test, directly leads to punishment, right? Sure, I have bad time management, better than before, still bad, but it’s not quite what I mean: Gatech will punish you for doing better a second time. This is much more controversial.

In the startup world there is a saying of “fail fast” that is, try many different things to see what sticks. In a good company failure is celebrated as a learning opportunity. In normal companies failure is grounds for firing. Not showing up to work? Obvious fireable offense, barring reasons. Trying an interesting project that flops? Should never be punished except when the repercussions can’t be absorbed or mitigated.

But in the world of academics it is a whole different animal. If you fail it goes on your record and that is it, always a mark against you. In some cases a permanent mark against you can be a good warning flag for employers or future institutions: “This person has done very poorly in this area.” But more often it is much more of an indicator of environment and what the person is going through at the time they get the grade. For those persistent folks out there who have perfect time management, I applaud you.

In my undergrad degree  the university had a policy of replacing the first grade with the second if it was better. Then after three attempts they started to average the grades. There was room for big improvements, but then it was tempered to make sure someone didn’t just take advantage of the system. I understand Georgia Tech’s system might want the grad students to be able to discern if they are going to pass the class, but this is nearly impossible when the professors don’t have a good idea of how the grades might be “bumped” or curved.

Either way I have dropped both classes. Failure is tough, freeing, but I can’t get over the fact that I spent money and vast amounts of time on these classes. Fortunately for Computer Vision I am pretty sure that I will be able to use/improve the code from the first five assignments that I did. I am not sure I will take databases again. I learned things, but I don’t want to learn it in a formal way, rather just apply what I need to do my job.

I will probably sign up for one summer course, one fall course, and so on. Very annoying, but at least it won’t kill me in the process.

It does free up time: travel, bird class, fencing, bird watching, archery. So many things plus more writing and actually adjusting and using my 3d-printer.

Failing sucks, and quitting is failing, it just feels worse.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Short Story: Dreams with no Prophecy

“How did we start talking about Joey?” My brother frowned. It was a bit weird I admit.

“Because we were talking about people we know, or knew.” I tried to adjust the flimsy plastic armor plate biting into my shoulder.

“Yeah, but she was a cat.” He leaned back against the netting of the seat and fiddled with the straps, some derision in his tone.

“My favorite.”

He chuckled and shook his head. I just smiled ruefully. A few more pallets arrived on an autonomous lift and were placed in the center of the hold. Neither my brother or I moved as the privates and corporals secured them. That felt weird too, but then we would have been in the way.

I continued, “I think it’s because she lived a long, full life.”

“Yeah, all 19 years. But do you really think so? You always could ‘reason’ your way through anything.” He focused on the tie-downs as the squad finished their work.

I felt a bit defensive, but took a breath before answering. “I was going to say that it really helped me.” I forced a laugh, “But I still can’t reason my way through this mess.” I waved my hand in a circle.

“No kidding. You’ve lived twice as long as that cat.” He didn’t continue down last night’s conversation. It was no use in raging about how in less than 2 weeks we would have a different administration, or in four months I would be too old for the draft. This president wanted to go out with a bang, just like when he came into office with scandals galore.

“Here comes the sergeant. Ready to go back to Texas?”

He grimaced. “Not to put down a riot. Not even just to visit in January.”

“Sirs?” Sergeant Hector stopped and saluted. It was nice that they gave both of us commissions after drafting us for our technical knowledge, but it felt like a dream, a bad one at that. I saluted and felt like I did it wrong. “We are just about ready for dust-off. Two minutes.” Idling engines spooled-up as if on his command. I nodded, and he turned to finish preparations.

“So many almosts,” I said as I pulled out my hardened tablet.


“Just so many things that I almost did.” I had to shout to be heard over the engines now. I attached the tablet to my knees so I could use both hands.

“We might get through this.” Strained hope at the top of his voice.

“Against violently celebrating, well-armed voters? So much for ‘great again.’” I hoped the well-armed part was a lie like most of the eight years. But I had to put politics aside and focus on the defense of the aircraft we rode in. If anybody hacked it, my brother, myself, and twenty-six other men and women wouldn’t even stand a chance to see a different world.


Dreams with happy endings,
Disappoint when awake.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Mostly Up, Some Down

This week has been a rollercoaster ride emotionally with school. I just finished the 4th project of 8 for my computer vision course, all about calibrated and un-calibrated stereo vision matrices. Fun stuff. I also got back a terrible grade from the other class, pretty sure that I have to get straight A’s the rest of the semester to get a B. I feel responsible, and between the problem of too many people in the class and the course instructor shooting down my plea to grade the part that we forgot, I almost quit.

I really need to talk to people about if this whole master’s is worth it for my career. Or would I be better off writing and living more?

I have been writing, not as much as I should nor in a great place (read: procrastination.) I have been working on the novel that I wrote 50k words for NaNoWriMo in 2015, mostly going through my wife’s comments and trying to make it read a bit better. The nice thing about waiting so long is that I can really have a critical eye. Nothing is spared. It feels far enough separated that I can be a bit ruthless with the story and the editing.

However, I read somewhere yesterday that a self-supporting, self-publishing author is writing and releasing a book a month. Craziness. I recently read a self-published book that had potential but it mostly felt awkward, and I am pretty sure that it took far longer. But I did pay for it, so I guess… I would like to write enough that I am able to actually release books, although I really want to release quality only. Probably means I will need to hire a real editor for a final pass on the NaNoWriMo book, which looks like it is pretty expensive.

At the moment this writing thing is a side-quest, mostly just to distract me, something like writing this blog. I practice, probably less than I should as with everything, and then I spend money to lose money. Just like writing this blog. Everything is vanity, dust blowing in the wind.

A few months ago I made sure to filter my analytics a bit better to take out the fake traffic, 333 two months before, 33 two months after. It is pretty bad. I think my main problem is that I don’t even have a small audience, and on top of that I am really bad at publishing posts on a regular basis. I do have another Phyton episode, but I am also rethinking how that is going to go.

To segue: working for the Lab of Ornithology is still really awesome. It has its issues, and I still have quite a bit to learn, but it is awesome how much people like birds. I will try to write a bit on the travails of learning Solr.

Even more awesome is how much my wife is into birding as well. We went down to the park by the lake this morning just to walk around and bird. In 25 degree, 40 mph winds. It’s not just that she loves me, which I definitely don’t discount, but that she is as interested in birding as I am. That make three activities that we can share, birding, fencing, and archery. There are actually more like hiking and more, but I just think it is awesome that my best friend is my wife and we can go out and do things together.

In many other ways we differ: I do not like seeing movies more than once in a rather long period of time. Same goes for TV shows. Is it my need for new things? Maybe, though I have started to read a few books that I have read before as I try to see how some of my favorite authors write, not just reading for the story. I digress.

Back to birds, it is so weird to be so interested in counting birds. There is something to be said for this obsession though, something about how different birds are. Not just from us, but from one another. Think about how many different mammals you see. For me in the last month: Coyote, Deer, Fox (or was that the month before), dead skunk, a martin perhaps, and stray cats. Six species, nothing particularly special. Compare that to March 1st of this year, just one day and less than an hour of birding: 21 species. If I add March 2nd I think I will be up to nearly 30 species. The diversity is huge, just go take a look at the bird photo search at And they are everywhere, maybe not in great numbers or sometimes very mono-species, but there is a good chance of seeing at least one bird soon.

Of course we also signed up for a Field Ornithology Course. When I am crazy and can’t get my homework done in a timely manner, what’s better than adding yet another obligation? Hopefully I live to write about it all.

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John studied himself in the mirror as best he could through tears. Red, puffy eyes stared back at him, a running nose already leaked just a ...