Tag Archives: zero sum game

The Theoretical Minimum: Lecture 1, The Nature of Classical Physics

This is part of my series of commentary on the physics book The Theoretical Minimum.

Notable Quotes

The job of classical mechanics is to predict the future. (p. 1)

I love this.

The rule that dynamical laws must be deterministic and reversible is so central to classical physics that we sometimes forget to mention it when teaching the subject.  In fact, it doesn’t even have a name.  We could call it the first law, but unfortunately there are already two first laws — Newton’s and the first law of thermodynamics.  There is even a zeroth law of thermodynamics.  So we have to go back to a minus-first law to gain priority for what is undoubtedly the most fundamental of all physical laws . . . (p. 9)

As a number-lover, this sort of thing just makes me all kind of amused.

But there is another element that [Laplace] may have underestimated [when he said the laws of physics could theoretically predict the whole future]: the ability to know the initial conditions with almost perfect precision. […] The ability to distinguish the neighboring values of these numbers is called “resolving power” of any experiment, and for any real observer it is limited.  In principle we cannot know the initial conditions with infinite precision. […] Perfect predictability is not achievable, simply because we are limited in our resolving power. (p. 14)

This concept, I am keenly aware, is what makes my Russell’s Attic books science fiction.  My main character is only able to do the calculations she can on the world around her because I permit her to have indefinitely good resolving power.  It’s kind of a required secondary power for what she does.  And reading this section, it completely tickled me that it has a name!

Thinky Thoughts

I’ve said before that I reduce all physics to doing math.  I felt like I was cheating a bit in this section, because saying a system is deterministic and reversible is the same as saying you can model it with a one-to-one function.  So I bopped along just thinking of the functional invertibility of the the rules, most of which I knew off the top of my head.

Sigh.  You can take the mathematician out of mathematics . . .

In Which I Appear On Other People’s Blogs

I did a “Five Things I Learned” post over at Chuck Wendig’s blog today. Come by and give it a read!

And then this made me want to hide under the blankets . . . Thank you, kk.

Zero Sum Game has been uploaded to retailers and is just waiting for the gears to turn and for the carrier pigeons to lift the bits through the tubes. I’m only saved from refreshing repeatedly as I watch the sand trickle by the fact that I’m working tonight, thank goodness.

It comes!

Fun with Numbers: 1066

I went to get a mailbox last week for my self-publishing venture, and the employee let me choose my own number.  Math nerd that I am, I stood there for a solid ten minutes looking at the bank of mailboxes and figuring out which number I would prefer.

1729 would’ve been my first four-digit choice, but they didn’t go up that high.  The obvious choices like 1024 were taken.  I started scrolling through this site, looking at what interesting mathematical qualities each of the open mailbox numbers had.

And then I spotted 1066.  Damn.  That was the one.

The Historical

When I told my friends I chose 1066, they immediately said, “Normandy?  Why?”  After rolling my eyes at having such smarty-pants friends, I explained that it wasn’t the Battle of Hastings per se that I was into, it was the Bayeux Tapestry.  Ever since I studied it in art history, something has tickled me about the Bayeux Tapestry — as a piece that has been so remarkably preserved, as a piece of craftsmanship so grand in scope, as a piece of such extensive narrative storytelling — and I just get a kick out of it.  I’ve never seen mention of anything else like it in the art world.

And I always associate 1066 with the Bayeux Tapestry.  So there was that.

The Numerical

From the “What’s Special About This Number?” list, the following happens to be true about 1066:

2\phi(n) = \phi(n+1)

Since I’ve done some work with the totient function before, and since it gets a shout out in Zero Sum Game when my main character is hallucinating (yes, she hallucinates math, what else would she hallucinate!), that seemed rather perfect.

The Historical / Mathematical / Personally Significant

There’s this game called 24.

I first learned it with cards.  You set out four cards, and you try to use each of them exactly once and end with a result of 24 (with the face cards being worth 11, 12, and 13).  So, an ace, a three, a five, and a jack could form (11 – 5)(1 + 3) = 24.  If you’re the first person to come up with a working combination, you win that round.

Some people claim the rules say you can only use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.[1]  I think it’s FAR more fun — and more challenging! — to allow any operation.

Anyway, I’m addicted to this game.  I play it solitaire-style with anything that has four numbers.  Like license plates when I’m stuck in traffic (CA plates have four numbers and three letters).  Or dates.  And 1066 is one of my favorite 24 combinations ever:

(6 - (6^0 + 1))! = 24


I liked that solution so much that I put it in a story I wrote when I was in high school.  In the story, the character couldn’t remember what happened in the year 1066 — only that it was “something important,” and that the combination of the digits to make 24 was a cool one.

So, there you have it.  1066 became my new mailbox number.

  1. I know some people claim this, because they’ve tried to disqualify my creative solutions!

Zero Sum Game Book Updates

Zero Sum Game is on Goodreads!  Thank you to the librarian who put it up; in my cluelessness I had not realized I could add it pre-publication.  Oops.

You might notice I’ve reorganized the website a bit, and now have a books section where you can see the blurb. After release, the vendor links will be posted there permanently as well.

I’m about a week out from publication (official release date is March 31, y’all, though I will probably upload a few days early to guard against delays).  Wheeeeee!

Ebook Formatting Woes: Remember Trying to Be Compatible With Netscape? Yeah, That.

My book is done and has been going out for review this week (if anyone wants an eARC, let me know!), which means I am finally through the formatting process.  And, let’s see — do I still have any hair left?

Not because it was all that bad, mind you.  On the whole, the formatting process was reasonably painless — I used Guido’s excellent guide, and I have good knowledge of HTML and CSS already, which made it much easier.  The reason it was so frustrating was that it ended up literally impossible to get perfect thanks to the differences between devices, and for a diehard perfectionist, this kills me.

I very quickly realized the best strategy was to format as simply as possible and make even the least bit of fanciness something that would degrade gracefully if it didn’t work.  But dear Lord, does anyone remember trying to design websites that would still be compatible with IE4 and Netscape Navigator?  I started designing in the late 90’s, when there was still a concern people would be using those godawful dinosaurs, and I remember wanting to put my head through a wall whenever there was that one thing that would break spectacularly in Netscape.  And even the latest IEs were only half standards compliant, so ninety percent of the time I would design a clean page that would open beautifully in Opera and Mozilla (yes, Mozilla — this was before Firefox, I’m old!) and then it would look like a Picasso in IE and I would have to write “if IE” workarounds for half the code because Microsoft couldn’t freakin’ design a browser that bothered to comply with the standards.

Coding for ebooks is almost worse, because as far as I’ve been able to find, there aren’t really workarounds or “if Sony . . .” clauses I can add if I want things to look a certain way.  It’s a good thing I’m down with simplicity anyway, and “degrading gracefully” became my mantra of the month.  But there were two things that had no good solution, and I am still incredibly bugged by them.

No Love for Paul Erdős

My book has a passing reference to the Hungarian mathematician Erdős, who has a double acute accent over the o in his name.  This has an HTML entity — ő — but it’s not a named one, and it broke for at least one of my formatting checkers.

What to do!  I appealed to Absolute Write, Twitter, and my RL friends.  Do I Anglicize his name?  (Ick!)  Do I use a common misspelling, such as the umlaut over the o?  (Also ick!)  Do I leave the character and accept that it will break for some people?  But — but — but my readers!

I ended up leaving the name spelled correctly — in my informal poll, about half the people thought I should Anglicize it (possibly with a note in an afterward) and about half the people said I should leave it, but nobody had terribly strong feelings and everyone agreed it was a hard choice.  What decided me was that if I had an ereader that didn’t work on the character, I’d still prefer the author spell it correctly, even if it broke for me.

But the fact remains that I have some readers that will see “Erd?s” in that paragraph.  And that freakin’ sucks.

Orphaned Em Dash: My Worst Nightmare

Amazon Kindle has a problem with orphaning em dashes that are at the end of a line.  In other words, if the line falls on the page in an unlucky way, “What do you mean, he’s —” would become

“What do you mean, he’s



(I don’t know enough to consider myself a typography geek, but maybe I would qualify as an armchair typography geek, and this makes me go into spasms.)

And there’s no solution!  The worst part is, HTML has a solution to this, a character you can put between the em dash and the word in all of those instances to make sure no break happens, but Kindle doesn’t recognize it.  And I sure as heck wasn’t going to put it in and risk having it pop up as a question mark on some devices.

Aaaaaand of course, in my book, I have one paragraph which, in the default font size on Kindle, orphans an em dash at the end of it.  Motherfucker.

(My friend laughed at me.  “Is this your worst nightmare?” she said.  “YES!” I cried.)

Now, I could alter the text of that paragraph, but that doesn’t solve the underlying problem — in other font sizes on other devices, this orphaning will still happen.  And I’m really stubborn about changing the text of a book to make the formatting work better.  That doesn’t seem right to me.

So in the Kindle default font size, there’s an orphaned em dash.  And I sit here, grinding my teeth, and can do nothing.

Kills me, folks.  Kills me.

Holy Mackerel Folks IT’S A COVER! Zero Sum Game HAS A COVER!

I never used to understand why people did cover reveals.  I mean, the book is going to be released anyway, right?  Won’t people see the cover then?

That was before I started working with the most kickass cover designer of all time, Najla Qamber.

That was before she built me a cover I love so much I just want to wrap myself up in it FOREVER and never come out.  I want bedsheets made out of this cover.  More importantly, I want to tell the world about it, because it’s SO RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME that I can’t help shoving it in people’s faces and saying, “LOOK HOW AWESOME THIS IS!  Forget the text of the book, buy it just to get a copy of the cover!”

So! I present to you! The cover of Zero Sum Game, the first book in the Russell’s Attic series:

Zero Sum Game

And if you need a book cover, for Pete’s sake hie thee over to Najla Qamber Designs.  You won’t regret it!

The Mathematics of Walking and Running

So one of my betas gave me the feedback that she wants EVEN MORE MATH in my already-excessively-mathy book.

My reaction: “MORE math?  I CAN DO THAT!”

In particular, my beta (who is not a mathematician, by the way) wanted a few more technical specifics at some points.  I’d consciously tried to keep a balance between where I mentioned technical words and where I handwaved and basically said “because MATH,” and she thought some of the handwaving could stand a little more detail.  (Incidentally, I was quite chuffed the technical bits were interesting enough that she wanted more of them!)

Anyway, one of the bits my beta flagged was a spot where the MC is drawing conclusions about a person from the way he walks.  Here’s what’s in the book now by way of explanation:

It came to me in numbers, of course, the subtle angles and lines of stride and posture.

So, having been given the note of adding a touch of the specific to this part, I found myself researching the mathematics of walking.


This post is basically a ramp up to tell everyone to go to this website:

Modelling, Step by Step

which models walking and running mathematically, and can I say again, OMG SO COOL.  There’s mathematics behind the maximum speed we can walk (without breaking into a run), why running is more efficient, and why people who are trained to speed-walk can actually walk faster than people who aren’t.  HOLY CRAP THIS IS COOL.

On a side note, I’m constantly excited by how much I learn doing research for this book series.  I’m a theoretical mathematician, which basically means that the only mathy parts I’ve been able to write without research are the ones using high school-level math or physics (e.g. projectile motion) or when my MC was hallucinating.  I know very little applied math at all.  Writing this series has taught me all sorts of useful things, like whether a bullet can knock a grenade off course, and that blood spatter involves trigonometry, and now about the circular motion of walking!

Connotations When Genderswapping Characters

I’m in the midst of implementing beta feedback on my book, and as an experiment I am giving a secondary character who annoyed one of my betas a personality transplant.  Because it was hard to keep my mind from falling back into the well-worn tracks of the character’s previous personality, I also genderswapped him, which has been very effective in forcing my mind to think of the new character as entirely different.

And now there’s a line that’s bugging me.  A line that I thought was funny, when the character was a guy, but now seems . . . a bit skeevy, perhaps, now that I’m talking about a gal.  Here’s the bit, condensed slightly, back when I was talking about a male character:

I still had a valuable item stashed inside, and if I wanted to finish the job and get paid by my client, I had to get it out safely.

[…] I skidded up to a metal utility shed and slammed the sliding door back. My valuable item, also known as Leonard Polk, made a small whimpering sound and scrambled backward before he recognized me and relaxed.

“My valuable item, also known as Leonard Polk.”  Cute, right?

Only when I switched it to Courtney Polk, suddenly it wasn’t cute anymore.  Having my MC refer to a young woman as a “valuable item” who was of only financial worth feels kind of ugly and uncomfortable, feelings I didn’t get about the male version at all.  (For what it’s worth, my MC is a woman, but that doesn’t help.)

I think the reason is that so often, in the real world, women are treated as commodities.  Referring to a young woman as a “valuable item,” or with the pronoun “it,” pushes a button in my brain somewhere.  I start thinking of human trafficking, of women sold as unwilling prostitutes, as things to be bought and sold and traded.

I want to scream, because I really like that section of the text!  I like the wording of it, and the slick segue.  I think it’s clever and even a little funny.

But if I keep the genderswap, I think I have to change it.