Friday, February 28, 2014

Life's Beginnings

An ISEPP lecture, meaning STEM-oriented, science, engineering... in a church though.  The Schnitzer is a great venue but when the economy took a hit so did we and this church is right next door.  Our speakers get a kick out of speaking in a House of God I think, more theatrical than just a theater.

Dr. Michael Russell is out of the box brilliant, and although from Britain, he loves LA, and JPL of Cal Tech is lucky to have him (my view).  He knows his molecules really well, in the context of microbiology, and he's willing to risk a big picture theory, regarding life's origins.

In my youth, Genesis had long been superseded by lightning in primordial soup producing amino acids.  In this new narrative, the gigantic convection currents that lead to a parting of the plates on the one hand, and their subduction on the other, with continental drift on the surface, means lots of opportunities for heat to escape, and not just heat, but minerals, catalyzing agents, an environment rich in possibilities once these jetting hot metals reach the deep sea, which covered the whole planet back then (we're going back billions of years here).

His insights into how our cells power the ATP cycle was the best I've ever heard.  Hydrogen ions get pushed out to the exterior creating a disequilibrium, and in coming back in, they're forced to do work.

It's all about hydrolyzing CO2.  That's the essence of life's energy pathway, though he takes it further, he hopes through the "vinegar" stage at least in his experiments.  I'm skipping over a lot of fine points, really the main points of his theory, so just use this to get the flavor then dig into it yourself.

In our epoch, and in many before ours, photosynthesis has been the prime mover, when it comes to producing the organic compounds of life.  But in early Earth, the womb of life would be the ocean floor, and interface between heated basic minerals and acidic solvents -- an life-friendly energy gradient.

We adjourned to the Heathman for another stellar serving, this time of bovine (steak or a vegetarian lasagna).  We appreciate the service this venerable hotel has rendered over the years, to our many venerable guests, to our sponsors.  My sense of privilege is appropriately sky high and I am grateful for our little after-dinner Q&As with these MVPs in their fields.

Dr. Russell is a geologist by training and examining formations in Ireland is was led to a thermodynamic hypothesis that anticipated the discovery of undersea "smokers" and later the million-year-old vents, cool enough to encourage life, places where inner-Earth heat escapes to the ocean in molten form.

At this interface, of mineral and symbiotic sea, the chances of life become high over time, in back of the napkin calculations.  So it's not lightning in the primordial sea anymore.  There's another contender.  I was happy to take that in.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Lego Movie (movie review)

This movie resembles Robots in developing a consistent look and feel, up to a point.  The theme is the tension between conformity / uniformity versus the celebration of "specialness" as one of the cookie cutter instances.  AI explores this same tension, a concern among children, under pressure to develop a character.

Our hero is a "construction worker" in some happy camper robotic "utopia" of the most uber-controlled kind.  We might as well be in the fevered imagination of some kid with an overbearing business man type father, trying to work it out through play-as-therapy.

I should preface the whole business by confessing:
(a) I'm writing this under some time pressure, self imposed, as there's a business meeting I need to get to, yes on a Sunday these "Christians" do business (you'd think the money changing in the temple story might give pause, but nooo) and

(b) I just prior went to see Johnny Stallings doing a brilliant rendering of Dostoyevsky's The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, like the last thing he wrote, a short story about someone very ordinary (connect to Lego Movie context) having their own special truth to share with the world (a missing puzzle piece perhaps).
Johnny had jiggered it a bit (he's a pro) and delivered a brilliant recital, as a benefit performance for a documentary under way, a movie about taking Shakespeare into prisons, and having prisoners stage plays for one another under Johnny's and his theater crew's direction.

The one-on-one interviews coming from the prisoners are stellar (we watched some preview clips).  I'd say this documentary looks very promising, worthy of a high profile Coffee Shops Network (CSN) listing for sure.  I've been a Stallings fan for a long time, as these blogs attest.  Nick Consoletti was the catalyst for enriching and expanding my network in Portland in important ways.

I was hobbled by a bad heel, a "victim body part" given my hauling like a quarter ton up the mountain every day (talking about my morning meditation exercise / walk up Mt. Tabor).  And I have a bazillion more OSCON proposals to read, but had spent all morning on the day job and felt in a "no battery charge" condition regarding doing more technical reading.

So rather than get back to work after Johnny's performance at First Unitarian downtown, I rushed to The Bagdad for The Lego Movie, even though it wasn't in 3D, which must be spectacular, maybe again someday.  Awesome.

Steve, I borrowed the crutches from your closet after the movie, as the heel was so bad last night I could barely make it down the sidewalk.  Yes, this means I'm driving to meeting, more peak oil down the drain.  I'll hope to compensate in some way.  I suppose we could say all of Lego-verse (a multi-verse) is a byproduct of peak oil, right?  Plastic and all.  I wonder which hole in the desert or ocean bottom each Lego piece comes from.

Of course the movie doesn't actually use that much real Lego as it's an animation / simulation of a multi-verse, the combination of puppetry and physics engine we've come to call home in the entertainment business.  I'd like to watch "the making of".

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day

Regarding the many St. Valentines of Rome we are meant to consider commemorated on this day, or tomorrow, February 14, the great Gnostic writer Valentinus (or Valentinius) is not among them, though he too lived in Rome and almost made bishop if not saint.  But his lineage was later much disrespected by the mainline church and his memory is not supposed to "shine forth" on this day of pink hearts and celebration of intimate relationships.

Lets not be too narrow-minded i.e. uncatholic in our thinking, but rather let's remember that Gnosticism does not "blame Eve" for anything, and is therefore less misogynistic than most preachers of Genesis.  For Gnostics, the local Maker deserved human resistance as Gnosticism celebrates a subversive stance against "local / minor deities" which it associates with whatever institutions abuse their power.  As a breeding ground of subversives, over-throwers, the Gnostic faiths have always attracted the ire of more mainstream authoritarians, especially the more militant patriarchs.

In consideration of the Quaker Equality Testimony, I think adding this earlier first century Valentine to the equations would be consistent with the "romantic love" theme, as there's a special romance where neither player has overbearing responsibility or power, especially not simply by virtue of one's gender.  As Dora Marsden might have put it, a woman with power equal to that of a man will not be forced to participate in institutions that put her beneath the power of men, any more than vice versa.  That's often a premise for romantic relationships, even healthy ones -- if that's not an oxymoron (joke).

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Winter Wonderland Weather

Much of North America is blanketed in snow all winter, but here in our rain forest ecosystem on the Pacific Rim, we were having some balmy if misty days, relatively warm weather.

We're almost Mediterranean in some ways, another Alexandria.  So to be suddenly blanketed in snow was a couple standard deviations out for us, a surprise.

What a time to not have my main camera.  I joined Bartons at Mt. Tabor for some spontaneous fun with hundreds of people, some just spectators like me.

A fairly steep hill behind the mid-tier reservoir had been developed for sledding and people were creative in their choice of ride-able object: kayak, rubber dingy with no bottom, snow shovel, one classic "Rosebud" type sled, one classic Germanic toboggan.

All manner of plastic, including Rubbermaid and Tupperware.  Many generations and subcultures represented, some seeing their first snow.

Speaking of first snow, Lindsey has expressed enthusiastic delight for the powdered snow fall experience.  She hails from Florida and although Montreal had snow, it was already on the ground, not falling.

She's currently studying the I Ching in multiple translations, whereas I'm steeped in Gnostic stuff ala Hans Jonas, Tobias Churton, Nag Hammadi and like that.

That's when I'm not screening OSCON proposals on my S3, which Dr. Tag (in Jordan) reminds me I could use for taking pix.  Gnosticism and Subgenius:  a back burner theme.

The Blue House is a scholars' den and proudly a part of the "Buddhist ghetto" rumored to be in SE somewhere.  More accurately these zip codes are somewhat cosmopolitan with many traditions represented, however the Blue House interior in particular tends toward Himalayan motifs given our family overlap with Bhutan.

Speaking of OSCON and its subcultures, former PSF Chairman Holden just managed to squeak past the closing snow storms and high tail it to sunnier weather in points south.  We wish him the best as we try to thaw out.

Welcome to my new LinkedIn contacts, including Leslie Hawthorn, now in the Amsterdam Area.