Saturday, May 28, 2005

Princeton 25th Reunion


So I'm visiting my alma mater, which is bursting at the seams with funds, alumni voting with their dollars to float this UFO, which does some good work in the world.

Professors praised my astute remarks at an event in McCormick (Art Museum), where we discussed the role of religion in campus life. I offered that when it comes to ethics and morality, we shouldn't leave it to the religion department (nor to campus ministries); every walk of life has a code of ethics to offer (potentially). Let's compete and not make religion carry the whole burden. Like, I represent philosophy as a way to go. Psychology contributes as well.

Cindy Lazaroff showed up at the class dinner and regaled me with stories of the Heraclitus, an ocean-going masted vessel, which lost its foremast in a daring crossing of the northern Pacific, registering the most days alone at sea of any vessel. She's devoted to saving coral reefs, and feels betrayed by Crichton's State of Fear, my airplane reading. Cindy and I agreed that better access to global data is what's needed. To that end, her organization is trying to raise money for a satellite, the main mission of which will be to monitor the state of coral reefs around the globe.

Cindy and I were co-residents at 2 Dickinson Street (2D), in our day a new alternative to Princeton's traditional eating club regime. We cooked for each other, and purchased our own food on a university-allotted budget.

I also attended lectures by leading physicists. I learned about how the particulate properties of photons mess with plans to optimally transmit bits per phase-modulated pulse over optical fiber. But clever algorithms let the receiver rectify by anticipation, shifting the subtractive reference pulse to glean maximal data. Dr. Gott discussed esoteric models of early Universe e.g. a time-loop, molded in glass, and begetting forked expansions. I partook of strawberrys and cheese at the reception.

A number of our 2 Dickinson crowd are in evidence this year: Cindy, Kirk, John, Sally, Sarah, Nancy, Kate... and I just encountered dear Selma. The band is too loud to permit talking at the moment. I decided to post to my blog instead. I'm purchasing souvenirs for the family and taking lots of pictures with the Olympus.

Follow-up: Today I crossed paths with Adam Bellow, an old chum with whom I've lost contact over the years. He was on a panel discussing the future of publishing (the university offers a rich program of presentations during reunions). Our class led the P-rade given this is our 25th. I walked and watched it with my ol' buddy Gary Nackenson.

Click here for slides from this reunion, and from my time in the tree house.

Addendum: Ralph Nader '55, a member of our parent class, showed up in church with Patti Smith. I missed it, but some of my friends went.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Gardening Again

Statue of Mary + Tibetan prayer flags

Today was about buying a bark mixture at Portland Nursery, and spreading it in a circle, with a statue on a pedastal at a focus, having exhumed gross pounds of earth and transported them by wheel barrow to another part of the garden. The bark mixture went over weed barrier (cardboard boxes, unfolded and shaped), and finally an assortment of rock discs of different thickness, some carved or with inlay work (nothing too fancy). I wore boots. The earth was damp and clay-like, given recent rains.

I'm also in the midst of a plumbing job, puzzling over this ancient bathroom sink, with embedded fixtures -- very strange fixtures. I tell people it's like playing Uru.

My birthday is recently behind me. Great day, with friends and family celebrating in various ways. I had some good fish at a Jamaican place near I-405, after some hours on the boat. Michael showed us Giant Steps by Michal Levy on Matt's new Apple computer. I posted a link to that animated art, with sound by John Coltrane, to math-teach, earlier this morning.

On Friday I had lunch with my uncle Lightfoot, a son of Elsie, sister of my father's mother Esther Person. Bill, Bo, Eddy, Howard, and Eve were Elsie's kids. These families lived around Mercer Island early on, in Greater Seattle. I'm doing a web site for Bill. He's done a lot of good research about a little-known chapter in Pacific Northwest history: a period of supplying the world's navies with a lot of submarines, pre and during WWI.

Dawn's slide show about her trip the evening before went very well. We borrowed the ISEPP projector from Terry, and used the edited set, put together to tell some great stories. Dawn and I consulted Cirlot's Dictionary of Symbols to help pull this together, what with Cosmic Fish, Fisher King, and just plain Fishing all so close together like that. Dawn learned a great deal on her trip to the UK and discovered it to be a deeply healing experience.

I projected Levy's Giant Steps from the wireless laptop (which also held the slide show), as "the cartoon before the main feature." And at the end, just before the battery died (fewer cords to contend with), I projected some of my hypertoon (written in Python + VPython).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Global Warming

Doug Strain, age 86, and a principal engineer of the Silicon Forest phenomenon here in Oregon, shared his views on global warming at the Linus Pauling House on Hawthorne yesterday.

Doug's view: it's happening, but likely a rising CO2 level is more an effect than a cause of global warming. The original computer model, out of the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), wasn't sophisticated enough regarding energy transformations. The sun and oceans are the big players, and neither was sufficiently accounted for at the time CO2 was fingered as a main culprit behind a rise in average global temperature.

Doug describes himself as a life-long metrologist, starting around age 5, when a family photo shows him measuring the snow level. His Scottish grandmother emigrated to the USA and pretty much raised him in early childhood, as both parents worked. She detected his early interest in science and measurement and gave him a copy of some book by Lord Kelvin, which he devoured with gusto.

Early on, Doug invented a way of measuring the fat content in butter using its electrical properties. When the family moved to California, he planned to introduce his invention there, but the demo was a disaster, as in CA, the butter was already salted by the time fat content was tested, which fried his device, spattering butter on his pants. Doug went on to invent many more measuring devices, graduated from Caltech, acquired/named Electro Meaurements Inc., later renamed to Electro Scientific Industries.

Bjorn Lomberg's The Skeptical Environmentalist started Doug down a path of questioning, starting from a strongly green position. He's been a supporter of the Rocky Mountain Institute and renewable energy groups. He still considers himself an environmentalist. But Lomberg spoke to his need to see numbers and diagrams, i.e. to gain access to a lot of relevant global data.

Doug's research led him to start questioning the computer models, and consider a back to basics approach. He hasn't become a pie in the sky optimist. For all we know, the climate changes now underway could be disasterous, but he doesn't think rushing to lower CO2 emissions is necessarily a rational, empirically justifiable response, even if global temperatures are in fact rising with CO2.

The structure of our debate (a Wanderers meeting always turns into a debate) followed along the lines suggested by Jon Bunce: is global warming happening, and if so what are the causes? If global warming is happening, is that a bad thing (maybe it'll forestall a next ice age)? If it is a bad thing, what if anything might humans do to stop, slow or reverse it?

As far as Doug is concerned, it's happening, he's not sure how good or bad it will be, and he doesn't know if there's anything humans can do about it. The global climate has never held steady, with or without humans. Change is the norm, not the exception. Life tries to adapt, plus has an important role to play within the many feedback loops (Gaia Hypothesis). But do we really know enough to take smart corrective action at this point? How might we become smarter faster? Accelerating our rate of knowledge acquisition regarding the planetary ecosystem, not sitting on our hands doing nothing, is the way to go.

I learned from this discussion that Michael Crichton has become embroiled in the global warming controversy, having done three years of research leading up to his latest novel, State of Fear. Here's a quote from Quaker-P last night:
[Crichton is] very critical of how science is funded, with continued funding basically contingent upon a certain point of view gaining credence. We could probably progress more quickly with double-blind funding -- in politics too (e.g. you see the money show up in your campaign chest, but it's not altogether tracable, i.e. not really clear who exactly your biggest donors might be -- so keep doing what you're doing, if you're getting support, as you must be doing something right).
I hope I'm rendering Michael's views accurately (I haven't read the book yet). Both Doug and Michael are members of the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI), and Doug is my source here.

Many at the table agreed that measures people advocate to reverse global warming, such as becoming less dependent on fossil fuels and cleaning up polluted city air, should be undertaken regardless of the impact on global warming i.e. we have other reasons for taking many of these recommended actions.

We went around the table both before and after Doug's presentation, to get a read on where each of us stood on the global warming issue. I was willing to accept that the global models could be improved (no real argument there), and that access to good data remains a priority. A TV camera was running, and I said to the camera we should all drink a lot of coffee -- meaning we need to stay awake, burn the midnight oil pondering these important and perplexing issues.

As for the conventional wisdom, that CO2 is a principal cause of global warming, and human activity a principal cause of CO2, I'm still willing to accept that this may be true. However, I'm also quite willing to give skeptics a hearing. I think Doug did an excellent job presenting an alternative perspective. His goal was to spark debate, and in this he most certainly succeeded.

Friday, May 06, 2005


Don introduced me to his friend Gene Lehman, a long-time English teacher, now retired and living with his wife in a nursing home in Sandy. We drove out to his place, partly because Gene founded this Learning Unlimited Network of Oregon (LUNO) whereas I have my Oregon Curriculum Network (OCN) -- perhaps we're on parallel/convergent tracks in some dimension, except I'm more into the math end of things.

If you checked this blog yesterday, you might have caught some esoteric essay about a tradition of dissent within Catholicism. Those were Gene's words. While at his place, I helped him find a lost document on his hard disk, fixed his printer, upgraded his browser (which he doesn't yet use) and made progress towards restoring email, which hasn't worked for almost a year (I found a typo in the POP server name, but then at the last minute upgraded to Outlook Express 6, which broke stuff again -- I'll need another visit).

Don and I went to lunch in Sandy (a beer each, cashews and salmon jerky from Trader Joe's) while we did an 11 MB download of Internet Explorer 6 through dial-up (took over an hour). We also stopped at Good Will: I'm looking for a replacement reading lamp for mom, given the Costco one broke, but the one candidate had too many problems.

On my way out to Don's, my wife called from a red phone booth in Glastonbury, England. She wanted me to confirm her return flight with American Airlines, check the bank balance and stuff. She'd just been to Stonehenge that morning and was charged up about it. I'm looking forward to the pictures from her pilgrimmage (the new Olympus went with her).

Also, Nick phoned to check on my schedule for Friday. He wants to introduce me to the Spoon Man, a musician known regionally for his spoon playing technique. This guy is also Nick's ride from Seattle. Spoon Man is enroute to Bandon, Oregon.

After Don and I got back from lunch, the Lehmans had places to go and left a key so we could lock up when done. Don reassembled a busted desk organizer made of wood, then showed me an interesting back route from Boring to Foster Road. He led the way in his white van, with me following in the Subaru, along twisty country roads. Once we reached city congestion, we talked business by cell. We met up with a vehicular funeral procession coming the other way on Foster. Thanks to this short cut, I was only five minutes late meeting Tara, instead of 15-20.

Anyway, I was suggesting to Gene he might want to start a blog, and do his LUNO newsletter in that format. He asked for a demo of ease of use involving this essay I'd just recovered. I cut and pasted from Word to Grain of Sand, and voilá, I think he was impressed. I've since deleted the essay, which wasn't finished in any case. If Gene gets his own blog, I'll link to it from this post.

Follow-up: I completed the planned upgrade, including of Outlook Express, on Tuesday after Doug Strain's presentation to Wanderers (see following post). Don's reassembly of the wooden desk organizer was also much appreciated. Kirby to Don after we accomplished our mission: Meliptus rocks!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sky Camp

Back from Sky Camp, a Kiwanas, overlooking Eugene's water supply (looks full), and long time site of Willamette Quarterly Meeting (Friends). I assisted as emcee for community night, doing an "ice breaker" five minute math lecture on polyhedra, with Joe Snyder's PowerPoint projector showing my hypertoon in the background (until the laptop power saver kicked in).

Dawn made her connection in Chicago, outbound to the UK, leaving around the same time Laura Bush's bizmo showed up on the PDX tarmac (Boeing?). That was last Thursday. Tara and I drove down to Sky Camp, by way of Fry's Electronics, Friday PM, skirting a jam-up on I-5 by using Barbur Blvd, then discovering a very low pressure front tire situation upon exiting said store. A Les Schwab outlet, adjacent, fixed the problem in no time flat. Glad we caught the problem in a lot, instead of at 65 mph. Tara used a cabin for the two nights. I pitched my tent.

While Dawn is on pilrimmage I'm upgrading her workstation from WinME to XP Pro (purchased at Office Depot, upgrade edition), plus replacing her two obsolete hard drives, with barely 6 gig between them, with a 120 gigger from Maxtor. All her previous files are but a drop in the bucket, somewhere on her E partition. In the meantime, TMU2 suffered a meltdown (see Welcome to My World), and (local shop) had to work hard on a diagnosis. I thought it was the AGP video card, but turns out the mobo itself had fried, and the CPU, so we upgraded to a newer DDR board, and he swapped the CPU for my old SDRAM (very fair deal). Much better outcome than had it been the video card, which I get to keep and works fine.

Lots of faxing and phoning today to quick certify me with Portland Public to drive Tara and some classmates to OMSI tomorrow, for a school field trip. Signed on to a big meeting at Sisters projected to last up to five hours around the upgrade to GE in the cath labs. I represent Regional Heart and Vascular Institute concerns.

Derek took on Sarah, Moon and the fish (our pets) while we were at Sky Camp, in exchange for Jennifer (just kidding -- dinner), plus I snagged him the requested sale items at Fry's.

I thought of a good poster about our Wanderers CEO: "Don: Better'n OnStar." That's because he sometimes anticipates crises and solves them before they occur. It's hard to find a road service that'll do that, not even AAA.