2013-08-24

Idle thoughts of a freshly non-idle lady


What if Star Trek transporter made a new copy of you every time you got beamed somewhere, and the old you just got disintegrated in the energy beam? Your original consciousness terminated, never to be recovered again? For the outsiders, there would be no way to perceive that the new copy is a new individual, imbued with all your traits, experiences, and memories, so they'd just figure you got beamed up. How would we ever know?

More digital art



Another illustration made with Corel Painter, this one is for a Native American legend called Glooskap and the Baby. Here is the full text of it from Project Gutenberg:

Glooskap, having conquered the Kewawkqu', a race of giants and magicians, and the Medecolin, who were cunning sorcerers, and Pamola, a wicked spirit of the night, besides hosts of fiends, goblins, cannibals, and witches, felt himself great indeed, and boasted to a certain woman that there was nothing left for him to subdue.

But the woman laughed and said: "Are you quite sure, Master? There is still one who remains unconquered, and nothing can overcome him."

In some surprise Glooskap inquired the name of this mighty individual.

"He is called Wasis," replied the woman; "but I strongly advise you to have no dealings with him."

Wasis was only the baby, who sat on the floor sucking a piece of maple-sugar and crooning a little song to himself. Now Glooskap had never married and was quite ignorant of how children are managed, but with perfect confidence he smiled to the baby and asked it to come to him. The baby smiled back to him, but never moved, whereupon Glooskap imitated the beautiful song of a certain bird. Wasis, however, paid no heed to him, but went on sucking his maple-sugar.




Glooskap, unaccustomed to such treatment, lashed himself into a furious rage, and in terrible and threatening accents ordered Wasis to come crawling to him at once. But Wasis burst into direful howling, which quite drowned the god's thunderous accents, and for all the threatenings of the deity he would not budge.

Glooskap, now thoroughly aroused, brought all his magical resources to his aid. He recited the most terrible spells, the most dreadful incantations. He sang the songs which raise the dead, and which sent the devil scurrying to the nethermost depths of the pit. But Wasis evidently seemed to think this was all some sort of a game, for he merely smiled wearily and looked a trifle bored.

At last Glooskap in despair rushed from the hut, while Wasis, sitting on the floor, cried, "Goo, goo," and crowed triumphantly. And to this day the Indians say that when a baby cries "Goo" he remembers the time when he conquered the mighty Glooskap.

2013-08-17

Living Steel art

This year, I've seen a rekindling of two of my old passions: drawing and role-playing games. In addition to that, I have been long meaning to learn to create art on the computer, as drawing and scanning is a little cumbersome, the colors don't always come out right, and the finished pieces are already taking up much space, and I'm not too eager to add to the pile. So I am trying out Corel Painter now, with a Bamboo tablet (which is sub-optimal, but better than using a mouse or trackpad).

So at the intersection of role-playing and art, is this here, my first attempt at using Painter to create an original drawing. Meet my Living Steel character Helga Schwan. She's a martial artist, and a little bit of a super-soldier, grown in a lab. She's not got much in the way of a value system or ethics imparted in her training, and now as she finds her home world in shambles, she has to figure out all that touchy-feely stuff in addition to surviving a zombie apocalypse.


In this drawing, I was mostly figuring out just what the different tools did. To my amazement, the brushes behaved very much like brushes, and paints and inks behaved like such IRL. I did enjoy erasing/etching outlines from a generously sketched drawing, such as the profile of her face, and the hem of her pants and the thong of her right shoe.

I stopped at some point, even though there's clearly more that needs fixing, but it was late, and my wrist was getting tired from using the tablet.

A couple of days later I have tried my hand at Painter again, this time paying more attention to simpler technique. Meet T.K. -- a character from our party who likes his guns big. He's a hefty fellow, not very bright, but has a heart in the right place. Just don't try to take away his weapons, or he may get angry.
I think the plan is right now to draw a bunch more characters and get that Painter thing figured out somewhat better. So far, I really like the ability to do illustrations in the scratchboard-like style. In the past, I have been using coated papers and scratched with various pointy things. The problem with that is that you only get one attempt at scratching, because the ink comes off with the coating, and once that is gone, you don't get clean lines anymore, even if you put a generous new coat of ink over the spot.

Also, finding just the right kind of paper for this technique is hard: not all coated matte papers are created equal when it comes to scratching, and I am not versed enough in paper industry terms to express what exactly I mean. I just know that I've had best success doing this technique on backs of advertisement posters, and the kind of paper that is used in printing posters isn't normally sold in art stores. So I just hoarded posters for a while.

Aaanyways, I never could come to terms with Photoshop for original art creation, and am quite excited about Painter. Watch this space for more adventures in digital art.

2013-08-14

Racing is not about recklessness

Let me get it out there. Just because it scares you, doesn't mean it's reckless. Racers use years of highly honed skill to perform on the race track.

Why this post? Because I am seeing a lot of people make the cognitive mistake of assuming that if something scares them because they couldn't do it, e.g. driving a car at its limit around a race track -- then that activity must be inherently reckless, and only crazy people would engage in it.

Nothing could be further from the truth though. It takes many thousands of hours of training, both on and off the track, for a driver to become comfortable in a racing situation. It would be reckless to allow someone who just drove to the racetrack for the first time to be allowed to participate in a race, but that's not what is happening.

Racing has its rules, both explicit (such as the Club Rules and Regulations) and implicit (like good sportsmanship on track), and it takes a good while to internalize them all. It's a complex social system, constantly changing and evolving, as if the driving skill alone wasn't hard to acquire.

When you see a bunch of cars negotiate a turn and trade places in a race, you may think it's all animosity and competitiveness, brute force against force, in a testosterone-drenched red mist. In many cases, that's not what's going on. Racing is more akin to chess or karate sparring than to a barroom brawl.

Just to take this analogy further: when you watch a pair of karate masters spar, do you think either of them is full of blinding anger, and is going to try to win whatever the cost to either of their health and well-being? No.

Traditionally we see martial arts as combining fine control of body and mind. You wouldn't think that just because you can't exercise such precise strikes and blocks, the two sparring opponents must be reckless idiots who have no concept of what's safe.

So next time you call one of your friends crazy just because they do something you can't imagine doing well yourself, think how much passion, effort, and pure time of their lives they poured into honing their driving skill. Then compare to yourself, and stop saying silly things like that.

2013-08-12

Oh, right. That new job thing.

Right. That job thing. You know, the one that pays money so I can go racing and do other silly stuff like pay the mortgage. Yeah, that thing. I haz one nao.

In case you wondered, it hasn't always been the case this year.

Nebula and yours truly parted ways in May, and I have applied with a handful of cool companies. Then I had a few busy weeks doing job interviews, on the phone and in person. Not all of them resulted in job offers, but that's how life is. In the end I got a really good one, one that I can feel good about accepting, and that's all that matters.

On the 5th of August, I have joined Google in a Developer Relations (DevRel) role in the Cloud Platform group.

In the intervening weeks, I have also gone on a 2-week cross country road trip (saw Mt Rushmore and drove on the Bonneville Salt Flats!), had my Mom visit from Germany (we went to LA and Vegas, among other things), and have been dealing with household stuff that I just don't have time for when I work (contractors mostly).

The first week has been like going back to school full time, what with all the training classes they signed me up for. I am learning tons about my new employer company! This week, I will even make an attempt at productivity. Whee!

2013-08-11

Rediscovering Urals folk legends

Malachite. Image Copyleft AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by London Permaculture
I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I hated school. I hated it so much, that even though I loved to read, I would do my best to avoid completing required reading. That's how much I hated it. Now, those days are long gone, thank $DEITY, and I am finding that I'm rather enjoying some of the books that I scoffed in my early years.

Take the Urals folk legends for one, compiled by Pavel Bazhov. When in soviet school, we had to read these tales and write essays about them, focusing on the plight of the Urals mountains serfs working in the copper and malachite mines. While class struggle indeed was a defining element of the historical setting, writing ideologically-correct essays in fourth or fifth grade was really not my idea of fun. So as you'd expect, I did the minimally required work and avoided reading the book by regurgitating on paper the formulaic rubbish I heard in class. Done and done. Next.

Thing is, while the socialist spin put on the legends really sucked, the legends themselves turn out to have so much more depth and richness now that I am reading them in a place and time so distant, so different than my childhood.

I've read through eight of them in one day, and fell asleep with my tablet in hand, reading the ninth last night. They all so far have been about the serf folks and some freed workers who mined copper and malachite in the late 18th century, their dealings with the gentry, and encounters with the mountain spirit called the Mistress of Copper Mountain who often protects the workers from abuse and helps them to freedom and wealth.

The Mistress has piercing black eyes, wears a malachite-green dress, and black hair in a thick braid the length of her back. She can appear as a young woman of exquisite beauty that no man can forget after seeing her, or as a green lizard with a black stripe along her spine. When she encounters good people, she's impressed with their courage, integrity, and kindness. The bad guys however, she sees right through and punishes for their evil deeds. Sort of like a magic Robin Hood.

These tales are written in a local dialect rich in words I've forgotten I knew, and much darker than the traditional fairytales, so reading them fills me both with a faint nostalgia for something I really never knew, as well as a vague wistfulness.

What I really like about these tales now that I read them with my adult eyes, is that they are so uncharacteristically devoid of sexism. The Mistress is not the only strong and independent woman in the legends: many more are featured in stories throughout the collection, taking up stone cutting craft when their man doesn't return from the mine, defending their homes and dignity from the gentry and drunk neighbors, unafraid of village gossip for not complying with the gender rules of their time.

On the other hand, Bazhov himself is a controversial figure to me. He supported the soviet revolution and thrived under Stalin, which makes me hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse his works. He also contributed to a revolutionary newspaper and was actively supporting the spread of the Soviet rule to Kazakhstan, so he gets major minus points from me there. The legends I am reading he supposedly heard as a kid and wrote down for publication later in life, so there's that. Not much ideology in there, but don't blame me if you dislike his political writings, of which there are plenty. I haven't read them, and don't intend to right now.

The work is likely in public domain, so if you know Russian you can read Bazhov's books online. If you prefer English, there's a translation available in dead-tree form. I couldn't find any previews, so couldn't tell you if they're any good, but one can hope.

Leaving Facebook

This header went live on my Facebook profile yesterday, and it said what it meant, and it meant what I said: I will be closing my Facebook account in a short time.

If you are one of those folks who follow me elsewhere or have my email address or my phone number, you shouldn't have any difficulties getting in touch with me.

If you don't have any other way to reach me, you can always visit my personal site, which has been around since before y'all got on Facebook (2004) with the exception of a few of you who used thefacebook.com, but if you're that much of an early adopter I doubt that you're still relying on FB to host your contact data.

Point being, don't fret. There's still plenty of social me to go around. Everything is linked off amaier.net for your convenience.

2013-08-10

When is a giant image too big?

I would say, right about now. As in, when you can't even see above the page break what the headline of the article is which you came to read. That's me running Chrome in a full-screen view on my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

More recruiter spam

This one arrived through LinkedIn inMail. One would think the recruiters would take more care researching their candidates when they have a limited monthly quota. [Previous spam]
From: Alex 8:52 AM (29 minutes ago)
to: Greg
Greg,
Thank you for your message.

I see that you've found me on LinkedIn. How funny you should write to me about a contract just now, when I have posted on LinkedIn that I started a new full-time job at Google.

Since I find it hard to believe that you would miss this very important detail, I wonder about reasons that made you believe this opportunity would be compelling enough to quit my new job at what is considered one of the top companies in Silicon Valley and take a contract at Wells Fargo.

I will await your response with bated breath.
Cordially yours,
Alex


On Aug 9, 2013 6:45 PM, "Greg Shelley" wrote:
Good Evening,
I have the following position available with Wells Fargo in San Francisco and wanted to see if you or someone you know might be interested. If so, please let me know and we can discuss further.

Community Manager
Long-Term W-2 Contract w/ Benefits
Front-End Development Center of Excellence
San Francisco, CA

Background:

[Redacted -- not sure his client would appreciate seeing the details of this internal project in public. Were I a more vindictive person, I would have kept them in.]

The Information Architect for the CoE is in need of a strong Community Manager to run the CoE as his direct report.

Requirements:

  • Experience serving as a Community Manager for a site similar in size and scope
  • Comfort level navigating a highly complex organization and working under very aggressive deadlines
  • Ideal candidate comes from technical (FED/UI/UX) background and is well-versed in moderating and maintaining content from a curatorial standpoint
  • Must know Confluence 

Responsibilities:

  • Moderate and maintain CoE content 
  • Work closely with FED Framework team SME’s and gurus as well as third party consulting firm
  • Work to keep site engaging, establish SLA’s, contribute to gamification of the CoE to encourage participation
  • Make sure questions are being answered and content is being updated
  • Analytics/Reporting
  • Site administration