That’s a Strange Way to Spell “Charles Babbage”

I was driven from my comfortable home recently in search of a burrito, which search took me to the village of Hamilton. As I drove in, I noticed for the first time a sign proclaiming Hamilton to be the birthplace of “John Attanasoff, Inventor of the Computer”. Now, as all computer geeks and steampunk enthusiasts know, that title properly belongs to Charles Babbage.

Babbage is the one on the right

Granted, “Inventor of the First Digital Electronic Computer” is a bit wordy for a sign in a 45 MPH zone, but maybe they could do some kind of multi-sign Burma Shave thing. And true, Babbage never actually built his difference engine so maybe a sign mentioning him would need a few caveats as well, but I think we can all agree that precision in language is important when discussing computers, digital or otherwise.

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Halloween Walk

Halloween, folks!

I took a very interesting walk this Halloween morning, shortly before dawn. Barely had a begun when I noticed a hot air balloon drifting overhead. I see quite a few hot air balloons over my house, on windless mornings and evenings, but this was the first time I’d seen one during actual twilight. It made for a striking sight, because every time whoever was aboard triggered the burners the whole balloon envelope would light up against the gray sky. It was something to see.

Balloon is dead-center in each shot – this is what happens when you don’t have the right lens

A bit later I startled a pack of coyotes, and watched their shadowy forms darting with liquid grace across a nearby field until they’d crested a hillock and left my view. Again, this was unusual, because while there are plenty of coyotes around here, they are usually heard but not seen.

(No photo because elusive)

Finally, as I approached the house, I came across the grisly scene of a scattering of bloody scraps of fur and broken bits of bone.

Clearly, two of these scenes are related to one another. The only question is, why are passing aeronauts dropping cracked and bloody bones near my house? Is it some sort of message, or just chance that they wrapped up some dark airborne ritual while they were overhead? Updates as I gather them…

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Another Story Prompt

I was out skiing the other day, and ran across this:

There’s a dizzying array of possible stories here, all sorts of inspiring prompts.

Did one of the people involved with the romance memorialized on the tree come back after things went badly, hacking away at it with a Bowie knife (a birthday gift form their former lover), over and over until all evidence was gone? Did the third end of a romantic triangle find the original carving while on a walk through the forest and obliterate the initials of both their unrequited love and their hated rival? So many different stories.

Anyway, happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

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I Should Give Seminars

As those of you with a calendar know, we’re closing in on the end of National Novel Writing Month (also known as November).  I usually waiting until Nano is done to share my progress, but I thought it would be interesting to see what it looks like in comparison to part of the NaNoWriMo community:

That’s me on top, and one of the regions I’ve chosen as sort of close to me (the other being, um, “other”) below.  Note how my progress is steady as a rock, gradually pulling ahead of the pace needed to make 50,000 words by the end of the month, while those in Syracuse at large start fast and shamefully fall off – you can be assured that other regions are similar on average.  Obviously, other nano people could learn from me, as far as wordcount progress (someone else will have t0 give the seminar on how to produce a quality draft that doesn’t need to be completely rewritten – I can’t teach you everything, people).

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Fistful of Fire

I’ve always had a soft spot for pulp and penny dreadfuls and other disreputable forms of literature, so I’m delighted to have my story Fistful of Fire published in Crimson Streets, a big ol’ pulpy magazine (I mean, it’s online, so it is not literal in its pulp feel, but you know what they mean).  And of course, it is awesome to have a story of mine actually illustrated, which is why the illustration in question is so big, up there.

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Romancy Heart

It’s tough, coming up with ideas for stories and books and things.  Hence, the popularity, in writing workshops and such, of writing prompts – little ideas to both spur and limit creativity.  But who comes up with the prompts?  Some random guy who would have written his own story based on the idea if it was any good?  Pff.

Far better to harness the awesome powers of computers and artificial intelligence.  Not only were all those great titles produced by leading-edge technology instead of a boring biological brain, but you don’t have to worry about why a neural network didn’t use the idea itself – frankly, it’s got better things to do.


View at

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You Know What They Say

It is kind of horrifying how precisely the main character in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip matches my own opinions.

It’s like they were collecting data points at one of my dinner parties.

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Worldcon 76!

Well, another Worldcon is in the books.  It was a great con with great donuts, culminating in NK Jemisin’s acceptance speech for the Hugo for best novel.  Well, it didn’t really culminate in that, for those hanging out for the closing ceremony and so on.  But I had an early flight, so I went to bed and arose in the wee hours of the morning to get a cab.  And it was then that I witnessed a melancholy scene.  There were two groups of people engaged in drunken conversation outside the hotel, which is nothing unusual at Worldcon.  But now, only one of the groups contained someone with bright pink hair and a spangly rainbow dress.  The other group was three very well-dressed people sharing a wine bottle while one declaimed about “Winston FUCKING Churchill”.

It was sad, seeing San Jose being handed back to normal old wealthy people who like to yell about Churchill.

Then, on the plane home I overheard a snatch of conversation between two Worldcon-goers: “…so that’s how he found out about furries”, which cheered me up.

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Shedding Some Light on This Situation (Get It?)

There’s been a lot of talk about airborne lidar recently, because it has once again been used to find archaeological ruins in a jungle, as opposed to the standard topographic mapping it gets used for day in and day out.  It has even gotten into the pages of the comics, ever the spot for cutting-edge news and science, in the form of Mark Trail:

The professor here makes a common error, and we need to push back on it.  Lidar is not an acronym, it is a portmanteau of “light” and “radar” (or RADAR, if you prefer, RADAR actually being an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging or RAdio Direction And Ranging).  Of course, people writing papers in the academic and business world can’t bring themselves to talk about portmanteaux, so they engaged in some revisionist history to turn the word into an acronym so they could just stick that into parentheses after the first use and move on with their lives.  Like radar, there was disagreement about exactly which words went into this putative acronym (“LIght Detection And Ranging” or “Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging”) but unlike radar they don’t both have that awkward way of using two letters from one word, so convention has it that the former acronym is expressed as “LiDAR” with a lower-case i to differentiate it.

So shame on you, Mark Trail, for perpetuating the myth that lidar is an acronym, and an extra “tsk” for, having made that error, not picking the version that would fit with your all-caps font.

We’ll save the thrilling discussion of why no one bothers using all caps for certain acronyms like radar and scuba for another day. Also, maybe we’ll get to why that kid Rusty looks like Ted Cruz now.

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The Existential Horror of Garfield

The other Garfield

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first appearance of Garfield!  To celebrate, please enjoy some favorites of Internet Manifestation, Garfield Minus Garfield, which gets to the very heart of what makes the strip so deeply melancholy and unsettling, and the horrifying Lasagna Cat, where Garfield strips are acted out by real live people.

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