Saturday, December 29, 2012

Concluding 2012

We got a card from the Baker family today.  "Looks like the Mayans were wrong..." though of course those "Mayans" as seen in hindsight have little in common with how they viewed themselves.  The geopolitical affairs of 2012 were not their concern, any more than these weighed on the minds of those channeling their one god (aka God) for the Book of Revelations.  Anyway, The Rapture was last year (May 21, 2011).

I tuned in the Mayans in their more New Age chapter back when I met Andrew Frank.  He was steeped in the writings of José Argüelles.  Andrew married, had a son, and moved out of town, much later turning up as a field worker in solar energy.  This had long been a dream of his, stretching back to when he and I drove to Olympia to visit Doug Wood, a reigning prince of solar steam.  Andrew's other focus has been early childhood education.  He's developed some interesting hands-on activities around pipe cleaners (multi-color) and polyhedrons.

Glenn and I saw each other, after some years in between, around Djangocon this year.  That was an Open Source highlight, Open Bastion presiding.  We toured in Georgetown some, visiting the "Exorcist steps".  Glenn gifted me with a copy of Easy Like Water, his newest documentary, also a first person travelogue, about the floating schools in Bangladesh.  The film has a global warming spin.

Food Not Bombs has continued to morph.  I'd hoped to take another step with what I've dubbed our Ministry of Education building (an abandoned high school) by repurposing its kitchen for food rescue logistics.  Then the reality principle set in:   JenQ had already explored the possibility a year ago, and found out there's no kitchen.  Portland Public Schools is likely to sell the property soon anyway, having shut it down in the 1980s (it was down to either Washington or Cleveland that had to close, the latter with disjoint but greater total hectares).  We continue to explore other possibilities.

Carol's bout with pneumonia ironically prolonged her stay into winter, as she gained strength to make the switch to sunnier digs.  The house was again stocked with oxygen tanks and a concentrator, a sign of high living standards and a sharable privilege we should afford ourselves globally, along with eye glasses for all who need them.

An oxygen industry (like Apria's) is benign enough, as are other harmless pursuits, such as fashion, movie-making / theater, arts, crafts, cooking.  Yet these enterprises tend to go begging while the truly toxic endeavors get fully funded by the slavers.  Slavers are those who enslave us to past reflexes that are also suicidal and inconsistent with humans' best interests.  Slavers need to be countered, for their own good as well as our own.

We'd stocked up on tanks before when my wife Dawn was healing -- and dying (like we're all doing) -- and Apria was our supplier then too.  We were able to rent a vehicle and collect tanks in New Mexico, visit Santa Fe in winter.  Again, this was a high living standard experience, a real privilege by global standards in our time.  Most of our collective wealth was being squandered back then, and humans reaped a more miserable harvest for their collective inability to reprogram.

How does one enjoy high living standards without spoiling?  Over-sheltering, cocooning excessively, leads to getting stuck in larval states.  Nerds fail to mature into worldly and socially responsible geeks.  Psyches stay trapped.

Philosophical counseling was not well established and many religions had run out of gas, as we made the transition to 2013.  With 2012 in the rear view mirror, would we continue with global maturation?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Skyfall (movie review)

I'd been meaning to see this one for a long time, plus there's one between I'm still behind on.  I'm talking about the James Bond franchise, now in its 50th year.

Skyfall is more comic book in the Batman sense, a little darker and exploring roots.  My Friendly movie mate (Quakers are going to movies more as a part of their practice) thought it lower budget, or at least slimmed down, but with computers added.  There's an "eternal return" aspect as the formula gets followed, with old parts swapped out for new upgrades.  Moneypenny gets a facelift.  Bond is still getting old.  He and M are somewhat over the hill and their powers are at least half from beyond the grave at this point.  The opening credits play up the dead theme more than most, but then he's into "resurrection" (direct quote).

The archetype of M is celebrated.  She has her posse of freaks, not unlike Picard in a wheelchair, husbanding X-Men.  Octavia Butler novels came to mind, as I contemplated freakishness, a theme with me these days.  Bond has several sixth senses.  The part where he says "stop, go back" when they're looking at the computer, is another bead in the necklace of cliches, but also shows his John Nash like ability to pattern recognize.  We could call it that.  He's seen all the Bond films, by definition, through many lifetimes, and knows the pattern language.

The computer display (what the new Q is using), looks awfully Struck-like, talking Gereld de Jong and elastic interval geometry, Tim Tyler and others (I was an early adopter, had a first Synergetics pow wow about that, with Kenneth Snelson also a chief inspiration (yes, they get lumped together a lot, with good reason)).  This was before I explored Sam's Flextegrity concept and prototypes.

Back to the posse, things can go wrong and agents can swallow their poison and not actually die.  Or rather, who they were somewhat dies.  Bond has some bardo states in the freezing cold water, and the first time is not the last.  He stays in the game though as he senses his talents are needed.  MI6 is soon ablaze in his absence, as the alchemy goes awry and M's posse starts to implode.  Bond was a needed compression member.  Without him, that chapter comes to an end.

Shanghai is as Denny describes it, electrified and bright.  The height of the many skyscrapers plays a role.  Another cliche for the necklace: an elevator on steroids.  We don't get much of a window into why we're here.  Shanghai is not implicated.  Just a backdrop this time.  Chinese are not bad guys, or North Koreans.  The evil is a rogue agent and it's when unleashed and undisciplined by English ethics that we see the freakish abilities more.  Bond is a different mix, has other talents.

My movie mate had a good idea for an English style bar in the neighborhood, that night a victim of a pub crawl so we lucked out getting a last table in the back.  Our analysis continued, turning to other topics.  The movie itself encouraged exploring Freudian themes, or at least probing beneath the surface about this archetype, and its association with freaks on the fringe, in the shadows, and in this world rather uniformly armed and dangerous, though moving towards more computerized.

In the backstory, M had indeed abandoned one of her agents in hopes of smoothing relations with China.  There was some "greater good" reasoning.  One might remember Gary Powers, the U2 pilot, and the anger some felt at his coming back from the dead.  Bond goes straight to M's apartment, knowing that in coming back from the shadows, you need some real friends.  The future M questioned his judgement in not wanting to fade away in what could have been a kind of bliss.  Commitment, and a duty to the franchise, keep him on, past what bureau testing might advise.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

DorkBot PDX

Steve Holden and I crashed this subculture on invitation from Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki and now working on his Federated Wiki concept (mostly in JavaScript).  The venue was Someday Lounge, where I'd been long ago for Esozone, and just a few doors down from Backspace (connected management and kitchen as I understand it) where Tim DuRoche was playing jazz that evening -- I found out by happenstance.  SW 5th and Davis.

This event had me thinking of Trevor and his performance as Gadgetto by William Black.  Having mechanical and/or electronic music emerge mysteriously from black (opaque) boxes was one of the themes of the evening.  They called it open mike, meaning OK to fail.  Some seemed to take this literally, making the talk about failure and having the demo not work.  Such discomfort may be therapeutic when properly channeled.  This seemed a good venue for that.  Dork out at DorkBot.

Some of the presentations were quite successful, especially the purely musical numbers (though perhaps with visualizers -- the Wall Street audio collage was amazing, child-sounding voices reading headlines about a moody character).

A full-sized doll house served as the target of a specifically customized projection.  Characters danced in each window and light schemes took over the surface.  The display was seasonally apropos as control of lighting by electronic means is a lot of what winter is about, decoration-wise.

Much of the talk was about MIDI and pure data.  Meanwhile, at our table, the discussion was somewhat deeply into electronics, instrumentation, welding techniques and so on.  I was clearly in the presence of some very gifted and talented individuals.  Many thank yous to all concerned, and to Ward for alerting us about this bi-weekly gathering.  I look forward to being there again sometime.

We drove home past Dukes Landing, now abandoned.  A lot of musicians took advantage of that facility, to share with an audience.  Belmont street kids.  Muddy's.  A mostly vanished subculture by now.  They come and go.

The conversation at our table was educational, not run of the mill.  Much of it went over my head or got filed for future reference.  I like to connect the dots, but sometimes it's more dots than connections.

Viva L'Arte

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Coders' Social


I'd not made it to one of these before, to the best of my recollection.  Diana was able to astound me quite easily, with tales of The Bodyguard, a suffragette posse that knew the jujitsu of Victorian England, all about canes and parasols, called bartitsu.  You've got to be kidding.  No for real.  She and I both whipped out suffragette photos on our cells (she had more, I just had the Dora Marsden shot).

I reconnected with quite a few of the good folks of Portland's open source community.  I've always felt Portlandia steered clear of such as Adam the Robot and other touch stone hallmarks of the world community known as geekdom.  That doesn't immediately resonate I realize.  To some, a geek is a tawdry side show act, another trafficker in snake oil.  I understand.  There's a dark underbelly to everything, why not be proud of a dark side?

We had a raffle, free to enter, so I guess not a fundraiser really.  More like potlatch economics in that the chiefs got to thump their brands, their drums.  Open Bastion gave out the top prize, a Nexus 7.  That's Steve's entity, the producer behind some of these conferences I write about.

Urban Airship seemed to have its act together, as did our open source denizens, who dutifully shared potluck.  I filled up on bean burritos (home cooked pintos in my crock pot) before the event, so as not to crave the smorgasbord too gluttonously.  The strategy worked, plus I'd burned 1000 calories earlier, at least.  Even with the beers, it was probably a net loss day, and that's a good thing when you're in my ballpark, stats-wise.

This was not a night for presentations, no Ignite format.  Ward Cunningham was there, as was Amber Case, people with high link counts, as in "weighty Friends" (rough translation into subculture-speak).  Steve and Ward hung out.  I've had some good times around Ward, at that Barcamp especially, but other times too.

Weird donuts were a feature, with the FireFox logo.

Steve heard a rumor that Tiger Bar on Broadway specialized in Blues on Tuesdays, so we made our way there by way of Deschutes Brewery.  No, they'd discontinued Blues some months ago and Tuesdays were movie nights, and tonight was The Watchmen.

We'd sort of barged in, in the middle.  Clearly some characters were having fun.  I don't pretend to be an expert all of a sudden.  I only just got started on The Avenguers, gimme a break.

Parking is no piece of cake in the Pearl on a Tuesday night.  I ended up quite far from the venue, but didn't mind.  The walks in semi-rain were refreshing.

Waling at night in a city is a pleasure I enjoy.

Steve had been planning to include some Raspberry Pi's in the raffle, but Michelle's read was we had enough to give away and she hadn't had enough chance to promote these exotic specimens.  I'd brought a number of them in my brief case.

She ended up with two, and during the raffle ad libbed that this five year old girl and her family might want one, as raffle winners, which they did.  I appeared mysteriously from the crowd and handed them one from my briefcase.  Steve let me carry them (he's their owner).

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Judgement Day


I dove back into the world of state high school debate and elocution yesterday.  I paused in route to Ridgefield High, Washington State, to take a picture of my odometer going from 1999999 to 2000000.

I judged a public form about raising taxes versus cutting spending, and an interpretive reading contest.  Then I judged several spar sessions, where the topics are purposefully superficial -- it's the form and delivery that matter more.  "Wiley Coyote > Roadrunner" "Royalty > Celebrities", "mechanical pencil > ordinary #2 pencil", "email > snailmail", "football > soccer", "Star Wars > Star Trek", "broccoli > carrots".  These would be the affirmative "is better than" resolutions.  The Neg side takes the opposite view.

Spar:  AFF chooses from two resolutions:

One minute prep
AFF speaks (2 minutes)
Cross examination (1 minute)
One minute prep
NEG speaks (2 minutes)
Cross examination (1 minute)
AFF gives summary speech (1 minute)
NEG does the same (1 minute)

Maureen had given me the October 2012 issue of Harper's with High School Debate and the Demise of Public Speech by Ben Lerner, a former high school debater (a national champion even).  Ben talked a lot about the spread of "spreading" which is talking really fast like those voices speaking legalese during television commercials, and small print that goes by quickly everywhere.  In making reasoning somewhat unintelligible and intimidating, one creates more space for the slow plodding of unreason, for political sound bites.

Interestingly, he traces the Lincoln-Douglas style debate, Tara's specialty, and which slows it down and relates issues to values, to Phillips Petroleum, these days Conoco-Phillips.  This corporate person, and adviser to the National Forensics League, was having a hard time with "spreading" as well, and designed this newer event format (LD) to slow things down somewhat.

Ben considers that more evidence of the fragmentation of US discourse.  There's dumb slow political talk playing on sentiments, mixed with fast unintelligible legalese, and precious little in between.  He wonders if Occupy with its "open mic" experiments (people repeating others' words) marked the beginning of a revived folk discourse, more oriented towards democratic practices.

Gonzo said he'd read the article and photocopied it for his team captains.

I notice Burgerville is serving beer and wine in Washington.  Do we have that in Oregon yet?  That state is just so much ahead of ours in some ways.

Good seeing Gonzo, Ben and Izzy again.  Hello to Hannah.  Hello from Tara.

I was able to download from a fair selection of stop watch apps to my Razr / M (Android).  This helped with my timings.  Time is taken quite seriously in these events.  There might be a 30 second grace period here and there, but no more than that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

All Nighter

All nighters are frequent at our house, but mostly because the basement musician goes to a nocturnal schedule sometimes.  I'm up all night trying to get IPython Notebooks to work, while yakking with Jean, a Friend, by email, regarding Lincoln, the movie.

This is part of that Quaker Conversations practice I've been outlining on FaceBook ("movie night" is a subcategory).

Awhile back, I checked out what Quakers were saying and doing on Youtube and developed a short compilation.  Having a committee behind this work, at the Yearly level, seemed important at the time and I was getting some positive feedback.

This is a Mac OS that I'm attempting to trick out in ways Holden deems worthwhile.  He's all hyped about IPython Notebooks these days.  He's just back from Vegas, not short on sleep, and we decided on an all night work party.  He's Skyping with his girlfriend at the moment (she's back in the UK).

My installation process broke apparently because I don't have some Mac OS 10.4 SDK that gcc might compile against.  I'm in over my head on that one.  This whole Mac thing is pretty new to me.

The Mac Air I'm using actually belongs to my employer, which is why I felt I should notify a co-worker of a tiny almost imperceptible screen blemish that some sticklers would want fixed under warranty (replacing the screen as all one can do).  They may not care about it.  Just trying to be dutiful in protecting their investment.

Steve is just back from Las Vegas.  He was with the CloudStack people (do they CamelCase it?). That's an Apache project, somewhat competing with OpenStack I gather, and Steve is moving in Apache circles more and more.  He'd never been to Vegas before.

I was inspired to sketch some of the Quantum Field Theory in Python, just parsing out the particles, not computing at all.  I've also been agitating (just a little) to get our edu-sig page upgraded at Python.org.  Lots has been happening what with Python Tutor, Skulpt and who knows what all.

My read on Lincoln was he didn't see any long term solution that didn't build on the Constitution, hence his need for amendments.  Living in a perpetually divided condition based on some "negotiated peace" would be as prone to breakdown as any social order.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

ISEPP Physics Lecture


Sean Carroll's talk was somewhat a continuation of Lisa Randall's.  Just as Lisa would shortly appear on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show (after her ISEPP talk), so had Sean just been on the Colbert Report.

Both Sean and Lisa are students of high energy particle physics with high aptitude for explaining their studies to a lay public.  Sean's topic was the Higgs boson, which he's recently written a book about.  The LHR is the world's largest machine ever if you define machine a certain way, really impressive in scale, a 17 mile underground ring that penetrates an underground river.  The process is relatively innocuous:  it collides protons at high speeds (closer to the speed of light than bullets by a long shot) and, just as importantly, collects the results with layers of detectors.

I dropped Carol (mom) and an oxygen tank at AFSC for the seasonal open house and headed downtown, where I was cast in a supporting role as one of the ushers.  A lot of us Wanderers were there for that purpose:  Patrick, Mark, Barry, Jeff, Christine, Dave, Glenn, Don, Lynn, myself.  This was a new venue.  Oregon's chancellor's office no longer has the funding it once did and these civic science lectures needed to squeeze into a smaller less expensive venue.  First Congregational Church is but a few blocks from the Schnitzer.  We still had our dinner in the Heathman, per usual.

The Higgs boson is what the $9 billion supercollider at CERN was supposed to discover, and apparently it has.  The Standard Model now seems uber-confirmed.  Quantum field theory is poised to enter a new era, with the sense that conventional reality has the particles it needs, and now it's time to turn to dark energy and dark matter to find out what makes those tick.

It's less the discovery of a particle that's at issue than the incorporation of a new field, the Higgs field, which is at relatively high energy compared to other fields which average around zero.  Will confirmation of some super-symmetry theory be a next outcome after this?  There's some hope of that.  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is due to shut down for two years and when it reopens, will be upgraded to ram protons together even more violently.  Detecting and sifting then takes place, with an eye towards isolating what's interesting versus what's mundane.  The vast majority of collisions are uninteresting whereas aggregate statistics may tell a story.

As a phenomenon, the Higgs boson is conceived to last less than a zepto second.  Finding it was hard because the signature resultants could just as easily be the signature of non-Higgs decay.  Only aggregate statistics suggest that there's a Higgs field at work.  Once this field is accepted, it helps explain why fermions have mass.  The Higgs is what delays them and prevents any light speed electrons.  The Higgs field may be treated as their source of mass.

The lay audience asked many intelligent questions.  One lady gave a sermon.  It turned out later at the dinner that Sean is not especially friendly towards religionists.  He's not one of those who thinks science and religion need to "get along" although he's quick to admit religionists may do the same science, and just as admirably.  A young woman wanted to know about spin, and whether some particles might have spin greater then two.  Higgs bosons have zero spin, and a consensus seems to have developed that bosons have at most a spin value of two.

Sean's lecture contained an interesting subtext:  it's also about the people.  He dwelt on Nobel Prize winners not just because they're celebs but because one may learn from them, and he had.  Organizational skills matter.  Why CERN and not Texas?  Thereby hangs a tale (several in fact).  But in sharing credit where due, how fair is the limitation of Nobels to like three at the most.  And was it the Higgs field because he had the most interesting name of the group?

He dwelt on the fact we were looking at a guy-heavy roster and addressed that with his scientific assessment that women have in fact been subjugated by their "lesser half" (as some fondly refer to XYs, though I'd say this is more about archetypes than relatively "simple" genetics).  Trends were moving rapidly to overcome and/or heal this rift in access however.  Public libraries have made a difference (they did in his case for sure).  He showed some graphs to make his point.  The audience was cheered and expressed relief and encouragement of these trends with sincere applause.

Even if QFT (quantum field theory) is getting work done, in the way of glass beads, simply re-presenting existing content with remapped terminology could be done for exercise.  Calling them quarks was quirky and quirky sticks, like I'm not saying "muons" and "gluons" aren't cool, as phonemes (phonemic memes), just that we could remap the constellations the same way, wrap them with alternative namespaces.  And sometimes do.  Or we look at it as other civilizations did or do, or will or might or might have already (same diff in some ways, civs are flip sides of cosmic casts of characters).

A whole subculture has grown up around high energy physics, with its own ethos and characters.  Although the economy has gone through a lot of resources, it's mostly value added.  They're not trying to kill anyone, just figure out what makes things tick.  The demands / stresses placed on tooling, data processing, constructing, planning, collaborating, yield benefits outside of CERN, certainly.  Take the World Wide Web for example, to which the CERN ecosystem gave rise, in complement with Tim Berners-Lee and the hypertext true believers (count me a young convert, reading Ted Nelson's book in Jersey City, hoping the Web might really happen (and it really did)).