Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Eclipse Chasing

Yesterday came Jim Buxton's turn to enthrall Wanderers at the Pauling House on Hawthorne, and I must say he did a good job. I'm embarrassed to confess that my new Toshiba Satellite wasn't up to showing his 600 MB PowerPoint though, while his much older Win98 laptop managed to plough through it (good thing he lugged it along). I need to get more RAM.

One lesson I took away from Jim's talk is we really do know the future a lot better than we used to, at least when it comes to such cosmic events as total solar eclipses. Not only do we know the dates, but at least some of us know where to draw the narrow tracks along the Earth's surface that demarcate "front row seating" -- which is how Jim and his wife knew to be in a cactus desert in Baja in 1991, and on a cruise ship in the Black Sea in 1999.

Another lesson: we live in a time of contradictory trends. Otherwise literate, informed humans remain ignorant of the night sky, unable to say which are the planets, point out the constellations and so on (I'm one of the dolts in this regard; I can spot the Big Dipper, Orion's Belt, Southern Cross when in Lesotho and that's about it), while on the other hand software and planetariums have made all this information so much more accessible. Light pollution gets some of the blame. If you live in the big city, you forget about the stars (excepting those of the Hollywood variety), i.e. you totally lose perspective.

I see we have a total solar eclipse tracking through Oregon in 2017. Even if I'm lucky enough to still be here, knowing Oregon it'll likely be a rainy day.

Speaking of astronomers and astronomy, it was my privilege to join Wanderers Don and Jon at a surprise 60th birthday party for Doug McCarty over the weekend. Doug teaches a popular college astronomy course -- plus has studied Wittgenstein's philosophy and been to Bhutan, just like me. Also present at this party was Dick Pugh, Oregon's top meteorite specialist, and as a present, he gave Doug a meteorite. Way cool! Doug might be in Libya for the next eclipse in 2006. Jim is eyeing Egypt or Turkey.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Castaway (movie allusion)


Hello Tom Hanks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bumper Sticker

My karma is my dharma.

I came up with this while floating out on Don's boat. Probably only been thought of like a billion times. Not quite so funny as "a dogma hit my karma" and variants, just a straight tenet of Buddhist thought. And it's a hard teaching when life is hard, which it all too often is. On the other hand, acceptance of what happens, and turning it into a learning opportunity, is a big western idea too, a goal of alchemy (turning shit into roses, as Shakespeare might have put it, but didn't).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Morning Mail

This story in New Scientist about some commercial lab carelessly sending out avian flu in test kits is worrisome. I could see shutting down companies that do things like this. Quoting from the article:
"If this incident doesn't cause a major reassessment of the safety of flu research, a lab-sponsored pandemic may well be the only thing that induces sobriety," comments Ed Hammond of the Sunshine Project, a biosafety pressure group.
Personally, I don't want incompetent biologists in a position to "induce sobriety" on anyone but themselves.

In other mail: the Python community is considering me as a candidate to present in Houston, TX next year, at SIGCSE 2006 -- not a sure thing yet. I'm convening a Python Meetup this PM at the usual venue (just sent some mail around about that).

Another surprise development: some family friends yesterday proposed that I be tasked with helping them get the word out about a property they're ready to sell. I've never done much with real estate, but this property is unlikely to stay in my reality for long, given it overlooks the Columbia Gorge, Mount Hood and Hood River (it's on the Washington side). I'll be taking some real estate savvy friends out to lunch, plus investing in a new digital camera, and maybe a GPS device.

Our 2004 taxes are almost finished. Given our very high medical expenses this year (the cancer year), we may be getting a refund for the first time in a long time (unless auditors find a mistake, which I doubt; we used all the right software, and Dawn is a good bookkeeper).

Later today: of course the concept of "morning mail" is somewhat obsolete by now. When we just had USPS, mail tended to show up once a day, often in the morning (depending on the neighborhood and local routes -- businesses downtown expected AM delivery). But with email there's a steady stream, 24/7. Now it's like 4:21 PM and I'm sitting in a local café catching up on my gmail account (Google mail). That's where I monitor Quaker-P and the NSA teacher list. I see Friend Bob Seeley provided a link to a newly revised peace resource site a couple days ago. Cool.

I also just used the gmail account to follow-up on an invitation from the editor of PyZine to write something about hypertoons (maybe with Scott?). He attended my open space talk at Pycon2005.

Generally, when working in cafés like this, it's easier to use an HTTP account, and not bother with an outgoing SMTP server.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Robots (movie review)

A look and feel film: were it just a still canvas, you'd wonder what the reality would be like, and this movie spells it out, with lovable characters being heroic and villainous, per usual. The consistency of the visual motifs is still front and center though, the plot is canned.

Robin Williams shines as Fender and Halle Berry manages to be sexy even as a bucket of bolts (plus Fender's sister ain't bad). Mel Brooks plays the retired CEO tired of fighting for old school values -- until he meets the spark of idealism in the form of our young inventor-hero. Then he's ready to take his company back.

Obviously this is a film for kids, about making your parents proud, plus not having regrets yourself, by fighting hard for your dreams, never giving up etc.. Humor about flatulance is pushed to an extreme. The part about "making a baby" is clever (some assembly required). For the adults, there's a Manchurian Candidate vibe (a twisted mother-son dynamic).

In terms of creating a complete world with fantastic characters, it's not unlike Spirited Away, though not as warm. Interestingly, there's no hint of a parallel human world, i.e. this place is robotic to the core, so even though Fender looks like he's from that circus in AI, we have none of the tension which a human-machine conflict might bring.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Wild World

Gator Meets BuckyBall

I saved this from a free paper they hand you at metro stops in Washington DC -- reminded me of something I'd posted recently.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Getting Back Up to Speed

I spent much of last week wallowing in fever -- too delerious to read much. However, yesterday I was able to wolf down one from mom's collection: Nonviolent Solder of Islam, Badshah Kahn, A Man to Match His Mountains, by Eknath Easwaran (1999 soft cover edition, Nilgiri Press).

I imagine few in the USA today have a clue about this episode: a Gandhian revolution against British imperialism and local custom, which glorified revenge killings, led by a devout Muslim from the north west frontier. Ghaffar blew everyone's stereotypes at the time (a superhero incredible!). The Klingons discover satyagraha. Gandhi considered him a great spiritual leader, as he practiced nonviolence coming from strength, not fear -- always the ideal.

Before I could read, I played comedy channels through the iTunes internet radio. One comic really tore into those RVs. My cybervan idea runs into these same negative PR problems. Matt always signals his disgust when I float this little fantasy.

I'm glad to see Japan is hosting another Expo, complete with signature themes (people movers, corporate pavilions). Maybe Wired'll do a write-up (Gibson likes to visit Japan). Have we seen it on the network news? I might've missed it.

Followup: this article in The Guardian has become something of a classic amidst a growing literature chronicling the rise of a new gulag centered in Afghanistan.