Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Last First Day in May

The maxi taxi was kept busy today, with three different drivers.  I poked around on-line, ended up with customer service, on a Sunday, to make sure I had current proof of insurance in the glove box of this 1997 Nissan, in an earlier chapter an escape pod from Georgia (the state not the country).

Denny is in, from Shanghai, our Isolated Friend and family, home to roost, like a jet coming in after Snyders, also Isolated, but just hours by car away.  Like us, the Snyders have also been active with Bridge City and, in fact, one of today's Nissan drivers was from that other Monthly Meeting in our NPYM branch in Portland.

I missed Meeting for Worship (m4w) however, as I was accompanying high school friends to our community organizing and service event at the Food Carts.  We took over a tented section off to the side, where the business had yet to open, and ordered mostly from a breakfast trailer across the court.

This Food Cart Pod has high self esteem, and justly so.  The Mac 'n Cheese guy is the Buzz Lightyear of his category, with a cool art deco kiosk on a palette, straight from the kiosk factory.


Tara had other social obligations at Slappy Cakes nearby, the always-crowded-on-a-Sunday cook your own pancakes at the table place.  You can't just safely retrofit a place, this took some forethought, and hence the market edge.

Our Food Cart meetup has to do with the Door Project, which involves campers downtown.

Me on Facebook today, adding to another Friend's thread:
The US sees prison as its way of sheltering its homeless. Criminalizing sleeping in public space (camping) helps shorten the circuit twixt a jobless existence and a forced labor existence where you get to make desks for the school kids (if lucky). Prison also keeps you from voting which is convenient for a lot of people. Warehousing homeless in jails is just how America deals with it -- and no, this doesn't make it the envy of the world. Seems more like Mordor. Sauron for president.
I'm plowing through a Kindle version of Popko's excellent primer on subdividing spheres by geodesic methods.  He's one of the pioneers in the field and had a front row seat on the geodesic dome's grand debut in architecture and logistics.

I'm enjoying his narrative, in addition to the mathematical explanations.  He's good about including the names of more players, such as T.C. Howard, Duncan Stuart, Don Richter and others. I recommend this resource to STEM students.

Speaking of STEM, we talked a lot at the carts about how Portland has been forced to cut back on Outdoor School, reducing it from a week to three days;  more evidence of the decrepitude of our Republic as it slides into its Bananahood phase.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Blundering On

Speaking of blunders, there's increasing agitation among Pacific Islanders regarding the likelihood that militants who depend on LAWCAP's welfare system are going to further despoil the Pacific environment as they put on a show of doing their "work" (a kind of theater).

Mostly males engage in this lifestyle.  They enjoy being told what to do and carrying out orders, don't actually prize thinking / acting for themselves that much.  They cost a lot to sustain and their "war games" help exhaust peak oil, putting more strain on everyone.

As Smedley Butler pointed out in no uncertain terms, war is a racket.  The USAers are being groomed to hate / fear the North Koreans by LAWCAP's investment bankers, as stockpiling antipathy is a necessary prerequisite to the massive waste, the orgy of destruction, called "war" in modern times (more it's just barely managed mayhem, and a way to win fat contracts).

George Orwell and President Eisenhower were both prescient.

In earlier times, we had this myth that civilians could control the militants in sophisticated democracies, whereas Banana Republics where characterized by "juntas" who "governed" by self-appointment and cronyism.

The Gitmo saga has made this myth a lot less believable.  Presidents have been shoved aside in the mad rush to create a post USA or pseudo USA of gigantic proportions.

It's hard to "just follow orders" and "defend democracy" at the same time.  With enough choosing the former over the latter, one loses that which originally supplied some legitimacy to one's cause.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Brilliant Blunders

This was the title of Mario Livio's new book, just out a couple days ago.  He'd spoken in WDC and Seattle about it already, ISEPP / Portland being his third stop.  Tomorrow:  Science Friday with Ira Flato, a talk at PSU (Kramer Hall) and another book signing at Powell's.

ISEPP has hosted Mario twice before in Portland.  I thought this time he seemed more rested, but then I think the noosphere's in a better place as well.

Mario puts real leg work into his books and tries to discover for himself what's so.  He's something of a myth buster, e.g. exploding canards about Phi (esoteric to know any).

This time he disabused us of the idea that Darwin had been aware of Mendel's work.  He didn't have the paper, and the one book he had that mentions Mendel still had the relevant page uncut (you had to cut open pages more back then).  Mario had a picture of that.  And besides, even if one had read that account, it was superficial and wouldn't have amounted to a hill of beans for Darwin.

Darwin's blunder was to assume with his times that heredity was a kind of blending.  Traits would shmoo together, not stay sharp.  Such a model actually works against the possibility of evolution by natural selection, as some critics subsequently pointed out.

Einstein's blunder was to take the cosmological constant out of his equations, once universal expansion was discovered.  He thought universal expansion made said constant unnecessary and regretted having introduced it.  On the contrary, the latest empirical results suggest an accelerating rate of expansion, making the constant useful.  He should have kept it.

Finally, Linus Pauling got DNA wrong, publishing an inside-out, triple helical version.  Mario thought his alpha helix discovery primed the pump in that he'd withheld the latter discovery for thirteen years while he sought verification, and then was proved right all along.

Given the pressure to find the structure of DNA, he decided to risk a theory that, in retrospect, went against basic chemical principles (all those mutually repulsive phosphorous atoms would need lots of hydrogen bonds to hold them together, but then how would DNA register as an acid without exploding?).

I asked during Q&A if we Portland, Oregonians, proud of our native son, should keep circulating the story that a third Nobel Prize might have been his had he been allowed to go to England to see Rosalind Franklin's pictures.  The numbskull State Department, terrified of McCarthyites, a kind of low-brow know-nothing, had denied him a visa.  That denial is on display at OSU, a badge of honor.

Mario dispelled this myth as well, saying Pauling did make it to England shortly thereafter and ignored the opportunity to collaborate with Rosalind.  "So it was his own damned fault" I concluded, to audience laughter.  Mario shares the view that the McCarthy period was a dark one in this country.

At the dinner, Mario talked more about telescopy and astrophysics.  He's the head of the Space Science Telescope Institute these days, a fitting position in an illustrious career.

He also talked about art, expressing high admiration for Vermeer (he collects art books, had just bought two that very day at Powell's for $150).

I asked if, budget permitting, a telescope similar to Hubble, in Earth's orbit, would still be useful to science, even in if the James Webb works as advertised.  He was more starry eyed about an L2-placed large array that would look sharply at distant Earth-like planets, something Webb might start to do (if all goes well).

I'd remembered from my three day stint at STScI how some of the folks wondered why Earth-pointing telescopes (aka "spy satellites") of somewhat similar design, could get replaced yet their Hubble couldn't be, for budget reasons.  Why those priorities?

Joe Arnold asked a series of questions about geniuses going off the deep end, making "blunders squared" so to speak.  Newton, for example.  Didn't has work in alchemy make him at least a third crazy?

Terry piped up about the poverty of any cosmological narrative back then and the need to resort to theological terms.  Science was not yet up to shouldering such burdens as the story of the cosmos, and yet humans have a need to explore that regardless of how little is known.

Another question during the Q&A was whether the rate of new discoveries was tapering off.  Mario thought the life sciences were poised for exponential expansion, whereas physics, particle physics in particular, had the boosted power of the LHC and maybe advanced LIGO to look forward to (a gravitational wave detector), but then what?   There might be fewer breakthroughs to look forward to there.  Science is not monolithic after all, is more amoeba-like.

Finally, at the dinner we talked about communications with extra-terrestrials and whether we should be concerned about revealing our presence, as Stephen Hawking seemed to counsel.  Mario thought the difficulties in communicating across a "generation gap", in terms of how long the relative time a life form had been around -- a difference of perhaps a billion years -- would be as great a barrier as the gap in distance.  How well do we "communicate" with bacteria?

The problem with our notion of "intelligent life" is we have so little to compare it with, other than its diversity on planet Earth.  What would dolphins say I wonder?  If a lion could talk we would not understand him.

Tara got a personalized copy of the book while chatting about her interest in physics.

Monday, May 06, 2013

WQM (Spring 2013)

WQM Spring 2013
:: coast trip / quarterly meeting ::

Camp Cleawox is a favorite of the Girl Scout subculture, and it was our privilege, as Quakers from around the Willamette Valley and beyond, to converge there.

I came late on Saturday, having enjoyed Terry's talk Friday night, a long-anticipated event in our little ISEPP world, partially overlapping with said Quakers, through Doug Strain et al.  Carl Thatcher knows some of the story.

I've cast Girl Scouts big time in my science fiction, which trends towards the "Tarzania" variety, or, in more urban settings, highlights nomadic chic, with gizmos.  Sometimes we ride in bizmos.  Couldn't resist.

The camp was good at re-grounding me in the realities, in this case of what forest life is like, when you're in close quarters yet clumped, with paths in between.  Are they meeting in the other hamlets?  Is there a party tonight?

The Lodge supposedly has a schedule, but a lot of stuff is ad hoc.  Some girls feel sadly left out.  They think the popular girls are maybe running things.  At camp, we test out theories, and begin a life long process of constructing a model of reality.  Camp David is no different.

I pitched my tent amidst those already adjacent the lodge.  I was uncertain about temperature, having forgotten to bring blankets.  A Friend lent me one, but I'd heard some warnings about how cold it was the night before (when I was still in Portland).

As it turned out, May 4, 5 were really warm at the Oregon coast, with locals exclaiming about the heat.  We didn't get to a temperature drop until Nye Beach in Newport, a steamer clams stop for me.  The mom and daughter (passengers) phoned ahead for Chinese food.  The mom was on a pilgrimage to revisit Sylvia Hotel, which in her day let beach front rooms for only $60 a month.

The girl scouts do Girl Scout Math, which doesn't fit the stereotype of just noodling with a pencil.  There's algebra involved, and some calculus, but also using forces, maintaining equipment, hauling supplies and inventory from point A to point B.  Scouting in other words.  Navigating, organizing, not leaving it all to the Boys.  Designing, building... I've used Food Not Bombs as a role model, when it comes to cooperating, urban planning, counting calories, making friends.

Larry and I dipped into Florence for coffee, from where Tara and I got in touch about her return.  The night before, another Friend and I were at an amazing restaurant in Old Town, the one with the bar and the cakes and the giant chalkboard menu, crab encrusted halibut etc.  We got the last table.  Lucky devils.

I did manage to join in a Meeting for Worship. The testimony against torture was strong, somewhat despairing that we were stuck here for so long, a problem child, error prone beyond wise.  Could Universe afford us?  Are we too needy to survive?  Perennial questions.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

May First Festivities

May Day 2013
:: May 1st / PDX ::

I don't take it as sacrilegious or even trivializing to take in May Day (May First) as a fashion event.  Yes, I'm talking about the red and black, the workers of the world, as well as the displaced and "undocumented" (plenty of disk space, and how is a Facebook account not a "document"?).

I've grown in my respect for the fashion industry over time.  Yes, lots of money and resources, but the usage of same is relatively benign.  Models push towards extremes, an athletic achievement, and the human imagination clothes them.  Picture a Survivaball [tm] on the runway in Milan!  Grin.

I was backup, in the batter's box, in case extra muscle was needed, but for the most part I was free to move about and shoot pictures from various angles.  I liked this woman's simple cut dress and somewhat elven boots.  This Peruvian look was interesting.  Peru is a focus these days, because of TPP (some WTO-like nonsense).  I'm already looking for the spoof web site.

Ironically, I had a full day of work to put in and wasn't billing AFSC for time on the clock.  I'm volunteer through NPYM to keep an eye on things Quaker-related where this Committee is concerned, one steered by many Meetings and even some Churches, though EFI has a history of feeling repelled by various species of Red, not to mention Brown (UPS has rescued Brown as an OK uniform color -- a handsome service, for both women and men).

AFSC is a creature of Haverford College and such places, a rather cerebral / academic institution that panders to the neurally endowed.  Some claim such pandering is inconsistent with Diversity but that's like saying a circus doesn't have enough variety of freak.  Spoiled brats are freaks.  Who is in no way a freak of nature, raise your hand?

I find it amusing that all these white people stormed into North America in order to accuse the people here of moving about illegally.  The King of England hath spoken and there shall be no Trespass and blah blah.  Dang but idiocy spreads quickly, can't contain that UK and its private property obsessions, with some groups qualified to lord it over others where forest lands were concerned.  Robin Hood and all that.  Monty Python sums it up.

Some of the guys, a few gals, were demonstrating their right to be anonymous, to where you couldn't even see their faces (though for some, that was more a costume and they kept monkeying with it, so we saw them).  I, on the other hand, was sporting my AFSC name tag.  True, it got twisted and lots of times you couldn't see it, but I was basically the only one wearing a lanyard with my name glaring out through the plastic.  A fashion statement there, even a bold one, though I'm more behind the camera where recording models is concerned.

Lots of people had their cameras.  You demonstrate some distance with those, if you want to.  You might be a journalist from a skeptical far right political group, just exercising your right as a member of the public, to mingle with traitorous curs.  But then you have the option of self branding in various ways.  Me with my name tag, others with colors, such as red and black.  Carry a sign, hold a balloon, just show your solidarity.

The police were on the clock too and not especially unfriendly.  This is good practice and low key, a time to get out the bicycles, motorcycles, horses, even like a SWAT team or two to guard the bridges, in case the anarchists made a break for it and tried to unite with the forklift people in those East Side warehouses, where Willamette Valley produce is handled.  What if the Reds took control of the tomato supply?  The police were ready.

I thought the Asian girl (Cambodian?) behind me was one of the most fashionable, with bright layers, designed to change as the day progressed.  Bright orange (the NGO's theme color), blue, black... Awesome.  I also enjoyed meeting up with Crystal, back from Arizona.  Given partially overlapping scenario Universe it may be months before I see her again, one never knows.  We worked on Verboten Math together for Portland Free School.

On the way from my car, other side of Burnside, I went by the Door Project and snapped a few doors (means I took their picture).  Then I interviewed a guy about zoning for camping, what we call "shanty towns" in the rest of the world, but don't want for our too-good-for-poverty "developed" world.

If we upgraded the services and technology, the way Occupy Portland was attempting to do for itself (with not much cooperation from the Pentagon, known for its occupation equipment and aspirations), then camps more like Dignity Village, not right in the heart of downtown, would be feasible  (expand the Clackamas County TRP program?).  Something for Metro to think about?  Not in a vacuum.  Many great cities wrestle with these same planning / zoning problems.

Not that you can't have skyscraper villages, perhaps a section of floors.  This guy was tired of the inside of a tent and would probably not be first in line for a Cubby [tm] either, no matter how much WiFi was provided.

Lindsey was trying out a new look as well.  Compare Occupy (then) with May Day (now).  She and Melody (a couple of two years) were headed to a film showing.  Some of the youth Melody works with have been busy on film projects and these are starting to come into the public eye more.