They hunt in pairs

If I don't scribble down story notes immediately after they manifest themselves (unbidden, like a knock on the door as you step into the shower), they vanish back into the ether from which they arose. Here are a few second-draft revisions to a story I've been working on. I've been referring to it as "monkey people vs big bugs" but it will probably end up with the far less descriptive title "Storm Shepherd" because, you know, titles are supposed to be pretty. 


Why is Google Maps so terrible at predicting travel times?

Every time I start a trip of any significant distance, I cue up google maps, which helpfully provides an estimated arrival time. Every time I finish the trip, inevitably later than google thought I would, I wonder why a company with so much data at its disposal is so atrociously bad at guessing how long I'll be on the road. 

Take a recent trip along major highways on the east coast. I left at 9AM. Predicted travel time: 6 hours, 32 minutes. Actual travel time: 9 hours. 

In contrast, google does a terrific job of predicting the duration of a trip across town, or home from my firehouse when I get off duty at 6AM. Intuitively, this makes sense, but when you really think about it, the duration of longer trips should be even easier to predict. 

Why? For starters, little delays during the course of a long trip will tend to smooth out the overall result. If I'm taking a drive of ten minutes and get stuck at two stoplights, adding two minutes to the trip, I've just skewed the results by 20%. But over hours, a delay at one red light will be offset by a green light elsewhere. The longer the time on the road, the more these small factors will tend to move the result toward an average.

Second, google has years of data on traffic speeds, particularly along major roadways. July 4th northbound Interstate 95 between Richmond Virginia and Washington DC? Google could probably predict travel time within 10 minutes for any time of the day, even allowing for one or two inevitable delays due to fender-benders along the way. It's (probably) impossible to predict major incidents, but aggregated traffic data should yield remarkably accurate results for normal days. And the longer the trip, the more accurate the prediction should be, because there should be less variability in the average number of disruptions. 

I have no idea how google guesstimates its travel times, but it appears to use a bafflingly simple approach of calculating the trip as if you were simultaneously passing through all waypoints at the moment of departure. So if you're departing at 5AM, it assumes you'll be cruising at full speed the entire way, instead of projecting forward - hey, it looks like you'll be passing through crushing gridlock in [major metropolitan area] during rush hour... that might just slow things down by, say, hours. Google should be utilizing its vast stores of data on how long it took other people like you passing through the same area during the same time before, even if no such delays exist at the time of departure. Heck, it could throw in 1) during similar weather conditions, 2) on this day of the week or around this major holiday, even incorporating 3) how you drive, if you're willing to let them harvest your data with such abandon.

All I know is, it's far more annoying to be given foolishly optimistic estimates, which are revised backward as you drive, than it is to be given the bad news up front. Listen up, google competitors, if any of you still exist. If you can give me an estimated time of arrival that doesn't diverge from reality more as the duration of the trip gets longer, I will drop google like a hot, inaccurate potato. 

Vox populi

You may have noticed there's been a wee bit of discussion lately about the system by which the United States selects its President, which for the second time in recent history has handed a victory to the (Republican) candidate who actually lost the popular vote. In this case, Hillary Clinton won by a decisive margin, nearly 3 million votes at last count. That has resulted in some soul searching about the validity of the model. 

Nicky Case (whom I've written about before as, among other talents, the author of interactive games) developed an informative and highly engaging article/tool to help people better understand the strengths and weaknesses of alternative voting strategies: To Build a Better Ballot.

Listen upward

Radio Garden allows you to drag a circle around a world map and tune into live radio from the selected area - a neat interface for discovering different stations outside your normal listening area. While apps like TuneIn offer much more selection from foreign radio markets (I often use it to listen to familiar stations in places where I once lived), Radio Garden offers a more exploratory environment that led me to more serendipitous discoveries. 

I'm behind the mask!

I'm thrilled that my story "Over an Embattled City" was selected to appear in the upcoming anthology Behind the Mask by Meerkat Press. Behind the Mask is a collection of superhero-themed stories with a twist: it strives to explore the lives of masked vigilantes when the mask is off, the rent is due, and the laundry needs to be transferred over to the dryer. 

What has me particularly exuberant is the company I'm in: Behind the Mask will feature stories by the esteemed (Pulitzer Prize finalist) Kelly Link, (Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee) Cat Rambo, (Nebula winner and rock star) Sarah Pinsker, and other outstanding authors. It's really a hell of a lineup, and I'm honored to have a place in it. 

Behind the Mask is expected to be released in May 2017, so you can expect some more shameless promotion in springtime.