Friday, December 30, 2005

Hanukkah Party

We missed the big Hanukkah Party this year, because of our booking on the mountain. I was actually triple booked: Wanderers featured Dick Pugh and his Trans-Siberian Railroad adventure (not a recent trip, but still a great story -- I got an update from Don).

So this year we went to a smaller Hanukkah Party, same site, and enjoyed many of the same activities: eating latkes, playing dradle for chocolate geld, exchanging gifts, perusing the Yiddish dictionary (a simple one). We talked a lot about movies and TV shows.

I brought several brands of sparkling juice (grape, pear, strawberry, apple, apple-marionberry) and suggested we each hypothesize which we'd like best, then see if we'd guessed right. That didn't happen exactly (my agenda wasn't a big priority, nor was I especially attached to it). The grape was a big hit, and was kosher besides.

Earlier, I helped Barry, a retired banker and peace corps vet (and Wanderer) snake some wires through a pipe on his 40 foot Tollycraft -- he was adding a new GPS device.

Update 1/1/06
: the GPS works great! Barry took her out the next day and we watched ourselves make a line on the screen (lots of floating wood, dodged a dead tree).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On the Mountain

discovered decal
North wall, Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Lodge

We took a break from Bridge City (nickname for Portland) and ventured into the mountain clime: lots of freezing rain, turning to bona fide snow at higher altitude. Dawn had never seen a world class ski resort before, having grown up in Ohio and Florida.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Festive Outfit

Friend Mark Allyn designs his own clothes
(Christmas Eve, in front of Stark Street Meeting House)

Christmas 2005

Yesterday morning, Don and I drove out to Sandy to assist the Lehmans with tree decorating and computer stuff. Gene, a devout Catholic intellectual, publishes the LUNO newsletter.

Then I drove Don to the boat so he could retrieve his car (a water pump issue). I'm still thinking about Gloria's rum cake.

Dawn and I met under the big tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square for some last minute shopping. A baby carriage tipped over on the swaying trolley, dumping infant and toddler. Dawn rushed to help mother while I mumbled some apologies for the faulty engineering.

Last night we did Christmas Eve with Quakers at the Stark Street meeting house. Bridge City Friends Meeting produced the event which featured readings, singing, and candles. I was happy to share this time with so many fine people.

My ability to sing appears to have deteriorated somewhat -- these days I mostly just listen.

This morning, our family was graced with gifts from faraway places: Italy, Lebanon, Tibet, Michigan...

I wanted Tara to experience the joys of vinyl records, and so purchased a turntable (Denon), along with some used records (The Beatles, Tom Lehrer), plus Dawn has an old stack, plus Don was giving 'em away at the Wanderers party. We also got her a more modern disc player, cell phone, and a robot dog (Tara has developed an intense interest in robotics lately).

I'm expecting Matt to come by. I bought his gift from a nonprofit toy store that donates its nonprofits to children. Matt renewed my subscription to The Nation.

Thank you friends and family, for your many gifts and blessings.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sushi for Xmas

The title alludes to this hilarious skit I heard on a recent Prarie Home Companion, about this clueless public radio guy doing all this multi-cultural programming around Christmas time, inspiring mass demonstrations and rocks through the window.

Like, who wants sushi music for Xmas? Me, for one.

Today I get to eat as much sushi as I like, sumo style, in celebration of my wife's new bookkeeping collaborative, which does dynamite fund-accounting for worthy NGOs around town. We'll be joining Phyllis and her husband, a computer geek like me (I've not met him before). We'll have our children with us too (yay).

Then maybe we'll get to see King Kong. See Grain of Sand for a review.

Merry Christmas everyone! Ho ho ho. Good WILPF party last night at Boltons. I sat next to this Lakota, former high school biochemistry teacher, who had all this interesting evolutionary theory (mapped to medicine wheel mnemonics) about how patterns of light and dark (a consequence of spiralling / spinning) program our solar system. Fun fun.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Prospero's Books

Scholars through the ages have dreamed of bringing books to a higher state of aliveness. Thanks to modern electronics, we're able to make this dream real, to a degree. By embedding applets, Flash animations, movies within the text, we're in a position to offer new vehicles for content delivery within the classroom or home school.

Another dream is to make interaction with these books remunerative, in the sense that passing tests in safe, controlled conditions will advance your credentials along various tracks, making you eligible for new services. Remuneration needn't be in the form of cash. If you're a marine biology major, you might net an invitation to join some field expedition, ala Darwin's journey to the Galapagos. Or you might get some new gear.

The point is to make education rewarding, as well as demanding, both by enhancing the content delivery mechanisms, and by embedding new opportunities within that content. Resource allocation occurs intelligibly, in response to students' needs, abilities and commitments.

Of course this already describes the current system fairly closely. The difference is more in terms of bandwidth -- these fatter pipe books will move you along more quickly, waste less of your limited time with us here on Spaceship Earth.

Related reading:

Sunday, December 18, 2005


From a masterfully done invitation to G4G7, the 7th annual Gathering for Martin Gardner, master puzzler and keeper of the mathematical archives. I am honored by this invitation.

I'm also a fan of Gerald Gardner, cofounder of Wicca, a designer religion for which many Quakers of my ilk have developed a special fondness. See Triumph of the Moon for more info.

Friday, December 16, 2005

More Time on the Boat

Last night we saw Christmas ships on the Columbia River, an annual phenomenon, largely governed by radio waves, by which I mean: we were tuned in to the shared frequencies the Coast Guard uses, with others, to ensure safe operations in the water ways (for example, in this case we had an oncoming tug-pushed-barge plus a stern wheeler (both would require bridge swings (the railroad bridge is quite low (the I-5 bridge is the last draw on the USA I-net they tell me)))).

Christmas ships are thematically lighted, mostly privately owned watercraft, used at night this dark time of the year, for purposes of pageantry and celebration -- this night under a full moon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Avalanche Awareness

Our Wanderers meeting last night was a little different in the sense that another group had booked the same space, bypassing our Pauling House shared calendar.

These mountaineers had invited an avalanche specialist to discuss warning signs, what to do if buried, how to undertake a rescue op. Wanderers simply joined the meeting, contributing wine and cheese, and a twisted sense of humor.

Weather, snowpack, terrain, and the human factor all play a role in setting the danger level. About 90% of fatalities get attributed to human misjudgments.

Beware of these three modes or pitfalls:
  • sheep mode (following blindly)
  • horse mode (cutting corners in the rush to get home)
  • lion mode (woo hoo, I'm immortal).
Operating in any of these modes might get you killed. Males in the presence of females tend to take greater risks. Don't be afraid to speak up even if you're not the leader. Leaders, give your group members frequent opportunities to check in and share about their state. Keep both laser focus and peripheral awareness (urban analogy: never cross a busy intersection talking obliviously on your cell phone, even if the light is with you).

The avalanche-aware know how to read a site for signs, plus bring to bear their knowledge of recent history. Releases are triggered by shifting weight, not loud sounds. If the snow is layered, with a top layer only weakly bonded to the one beneath it, and if the slope is moderately steep (quasi-vertical isn't usually a problem), look out.

If caught in a release, plant your poles, shed gear, yell loudly to help others mark your position (you'll likely be downhill from where they last saw you). They'll need to find you soon. Warm breath within the snow pocket, usually 4-6 feet under, seals it with ice and reduces the oxygen flow. Your chance of survival drops by 50% after about 30 minutes. Carry a beacon. Carry a collapsable pole to search for your friends.

I found the speaker highly engaging and effective. This was the kind of presentation Wanderers would do well to emulate (he had slides, handouts, quotes, quips, actual gear). He was also on the older side, which was reassuring (the guy must be doing something right, given how many hours he's spent on the slopes).

Terry and I ducked out a couple times to continue our meeting of earlier today. We're city rats, less likely to be leading clueless newbies through snowy mountain mazes. However, I did pick up a wallet card for the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, just in case.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Saying Cheese

"allusion to Wallace & Gromit"
(photo by Tara Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

Sixth Grade Science

Tara's Popcorn Experiment
Winterhaven, Dec 8, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

Harry Potter, GOF (movie review)

Yes, they're growing up, expressing more teenage characteristics, but one thing Harry and friends don't seem to do is question authority.

The administration summons Harry's best friends off camera, then ties them to the bottom of a lake. Apparently, a rescue is of life or death significance, as Harry goes the extra mile to free a competitor's little sister at some risk to himself (this is a contest see, some kind of sick and twisted Olympic event).

Yet no one questions the premise that such cruel and abusive sport is a good use of students' time and abilities. The docile little dummies buy in to all the pageantry.

The special effects are spectacular.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Another Interesting Day

I started with housework (an English translation of economics, a Latin root) expending energy from Bonneville to suck dust into a plastic compartment, for later emptying (electric motor -- called a vacuum, and my name is Kirby, which is also a brand of vacuum cleaner, and once the Kirby people showed up and ya know, I came that close (finger gesture) to buying one, probably just cuzza my name).

Then I drove Derek and Nick downtown, Dr. Consoletti to leave off at Union Station, enroute to Powell's Technical. I consumed Laszlo's new book about some A-field, Ervin having been in charge of this Budapest Institute, some think tank Dr. Consoletti attended in his process of earning a PhD certification. Nick's French mom was a pro scuba diver. He also has an American mom. The book is fascinating, especially to me the autobio parts.

Derek treated me to lunch at Sisters of the Road, which looks like doesn't have working FoxPro right now (ball was in my court, sorry sis). We both got spaghetti with extras, really not bad food. The "chocolate juice" (soy product) was a tad on the too sweet side for my taste.

In America 2005 (a very old operating system, precursor to USA OS, any version) you had these three categories: people who didn't work and needed to, people who did work very hard, people who didn't work and didn't need to. Those in the third category were considered to "have made it", those in the second to be "just making it" or maybe "doing OK", and those in the first "not making it". What all this jargon meant, in practice, is something an historian could tell you. Or watch

Don came by, after Derek and I got Frostys™ @ Wendy's. I shared this blog entry and he pointed out another important category: people who work hard, and don't need to. Went to Oasis.

After dark, I wrote an essay on MER for our KBE, and continued with the housework, having purchased Pine-Sol® at Freddie's. Science fair @ the school, dinner out with family. I should get Mr. Braithwaite and Mr. Bright to meet up; they're both majorly into Moto Guzzi.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another NSR from AAA

So right in the same curb side parking spot it happened last time, on a sunny day (this time it was cold and overcast), my car engine refused to restart (dash flicker, clock says new time). Last time, she restarted, this time no dice. So we arranged another car to fetch the kids and I waited for AAA, reading Ideas by Peter Watson.

The USA Towing guy showed up in the requested Battery Support Unit (AAA roadside service and I agreed that's what I needed -- not a tow truck). He tested the battery, and 'shore nuff it was close to dead (14% rating). I cheerfully agreed to buy a new one off him, but according to his clipboard log, he'd just transacted his last compatible unit away. So although he jump started my car, he entered an NSR (no service rendered) into the AAA computer -- because he didn't have the battery I wanted to buy. He suggested Les Schwab (14% is low enough to suggest immediate replacement).

I drove her to the Les Schwab on SE Powell and received instant expert service. They offered me a choice between extremely powerful and super extremely powerful batteries. I went for the less expensive choice, which it turned out was not in stock, so they gave me the super duper one for the price of the only super one.

AAA entered an NSR for me once before on this car, when I got her towed on a flat bed, following the bicycle collision with Matt. That time, my driver was also the evening's chief, and needed to rush to a crash scene, Razz already strapped down in the back (me front). He kindly credited back the service because I didn't raise any fuss maybe.

Wanderers met this morning. Then I adjourned to Wired, and later to Meliptus (lunch at Thanh Thao).

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (movie review)

A playful romp through modern Gotham, wherein fathers rape, imprison and/or kill their own daughters -- or simply steal, write trashy fiction, and make movies. The loser anti-hero, a thief, bad in bed and at math, pursues the slinky, funny girl of his boyhood dreams. She cuts him some slack, thinking he's really a detective who might help solve a loved one's murder. He pulls off some magic and saves the day. Heart warming.

Matt and I retired to Leaky Roof (new owners) for some dinner, where I discovered I'd lost my free movie ticket (I'm a card carrying Regal Cinemas goer). That bummed me out. Plus I get tired of Gotham sometimes and wonder why Batman tried so hard to save it. The answer is Biblical I suppose: just one or two worth saving is enough to tip the scales. But I get tired of the Bible too. Maybe the real reason to keep saving the world is simpler: women.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Movie Making

Stallings saw Mindwalk again recently, liked it better than What the Bleep. My Dinner With Andre falls into the same category (Nick made this connection), plus that animated Waking Life.

All of these flicks are heavy on the chit chat, low in the action department. But still, people like to listen in on intelligent conversations, a kind of healthy voyeurism we learn as children, perhaps riding in the back seat, listening to pilot/co-pilot banter.

In my Project Earthala scenario, affiliates showcase promising new technologies, using real prototypes, not just phony stuff. Lots of strategic product placement and brand repositioning is going on, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.

Our Reality TV stars have a lot of interesting lines however, so the genre isn't that far from the above philosophical films. Characters take strong positions. For example, I'm clearly wanting to keep our Fuller Projection nation-free at the base level, even if we allow such political data in overlays.

Others might take objection. Bohmian Dialogue ensues.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Coneheads in a Case

"reflected light"
by K. Urner
Experience Music Project, Seattle WA

Baroque Cycle Manuscript

Neal Stephenson's original
hand-written manuscript
for the Baroque Cycle
SciFi Museum, Seattle, WA
(photo by K. Urner)

Friday, November 25, 2005

Post Thanksgiving

So it's the day after Thanksgiving. I'm using Mary's iMac and missing those Blogger interface controls in Safari. Tara is on the treadmill behind me, watching the first Smallville episode with headphones on big plasma. Dawn is in the kitchen, teaching Mary about Buddhism's Four Noble Truths. Mary is an ER physician, and is the daughter of my grandmother Esther's sister Elsie's daughter Eve. We'll be taking off here shortly. The plan is to head for that Paul Allen rock and roll museum at Seattle Center, near the Space Needle. I expect it'll be crowded. None of us has ever been before. I uploaded my Thanksgiving pix via USB to iPhoto.

I spent much of the morning browsing Norm Stamper's Breaking Rank, his autobiographical insider analysis of policing in turn-of-the-century Gotham (e.g. Seattle, San Diego). He gives the unions some heat for shielding incompetence. If our society had a stronger homeschooling and community college safety net, i.e. if job loss weren't such a threat to basic survival, then it'd be easier to let go of those most in need of a new profession (many politicians included). A lot of people end up in jobs for which they're ill suited, and society pays a high price for that. I expect it'd be worth the collective costs to purge ranks in many walks of life -- think of it as a vast student exchange program. Unions would be more like professional guilds of old, upholding high standards and keeping their reputations for excellence well deserved.

Later the same day: At EMP, I learned Jimi Hendrix attended the same high school as Mom (Garfield High in Seattle). The SciFi museum was pretty good, especially if you're able to read English, but even if not. I'm home after driving about 600 miles since Tuesday. We reunited with our pets, I unpacked and installed the new Qwest modem for faster DSL. Dawn and Tara, inspired by the museum, are watching Star Wars V. Catching up on snailmail, email (over 3.4K spams) and news.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Posting via Modem

So we're in our favorite hotel in Bellingham, WA, the one with the spooky aviators hanging from the ceiling, over the indoor pool.

We met a dad in the jacuzzi, a local. His house had caught fire a couple days ago. Insurance services showed up to collect their clothing (for cleaning), and possessions (for storing), plus picked up the tab for some time in a hotel. His family was enjoying the facilities. The house was to be repaired.

Over dinner at Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro we discussed Buddhist precepts, Dawn's cancer treatment, tragic deaths, pain, suffering, enlightenment. I'd just learned about Douglas Hofstadter's suffering, from the preface of Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies (my reading of late). His story reminded me of William Wharton's, and of Ken Wilber's.

Tara remarked how kind it would be if death were not so hard, as in "see you in a next life sometime." I remarked that if I died tomorrow (not my plan of course), no one should get too bent out of shape over it. I've had a wonderful time and I'm grateful.

Posting via Satellite

Again I've joined my fellow North Americans for ritual travel and consumption of mass quantities. Aside from the jam up around Lynnwood WA, the driving was pleasant enough. We retrieved Dawn from her retreat center (a five day, no talking, meditation around metta), and continued on through Seattle in the HOV lane (the express lanes also saved time).

I helped Tara stuff an MP3 player with some favorite tunes before we left, plus she had a hand-drawn coloring book from Micheal Sunanda (in Costa Rica these days) but once we slowed to around 15-20 mph she got bored and started categorizing trucks by wheel count (most had 6 or 18, a few had 22, one had 34).

Last night, Les showed me some pix of Tsingdao, China, from whence he'd recently returned. I encouraged him to upload a short clip of a local traffic pattern: a bus turns onto a four lane thoroughfare and simply chooses the nearest lane -- against oncoming traffic! Tsingdao has seen an explosion in vehicular traffic in the past few years (several doublings) and many of the new drivers learned their skills second or third hand.

Another story: back when command economists were at their apex in China, wooden fishing boats were banned, the theory being that upgrading to metal hulls would force modernization. However, the traditional craft were built to last and now, a half-century later, a few have come out of retirement, long after the upstart metal ones have turned to rust. But these relics of a bygone era are themselves in disrepair, as many of the supporting practices, such as cultivating trees in pre-designed shapes, have been unlearned.

Les has a long history working with watercraft, so of course the boat stories especially interested him. He also tried many of the local foods (caterpillars and such). This was his first trip to China (with a multi-hour layover in Seoul each way), a big eye-opener for him, and a wonderful adventure.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another Outing

The above image is from inside a 1966 LIFE magazine (Feb 18, pg. 56). The virus model on the cover is far less sophisticated, but this one suggests a dawning awareness of "the geometry of nature" as Fuller called it, although carbon chemists had long known it as simply "organic" (lots of hexagons).

When Scientific American popularized the new understanding, Fuller's name was cut from the final writeup, in part because editors didn't think their readers were quite ready to grapple with Bucky's unsettling A and B module talk. That was like forty years ago.

I purchased my copy of the aforementioned magazine from a local mom and pop books and periodicals store. I made an extra trip to get cash and spare them the surcharge (also to buy pie and walk Sarah).

I recognize the plastic card system gives merchants a way to share the costs of making travel safer and more convenient, bringing more tourism to local establishments. But when shopping close to home, the locals may use a more traditional currency. That's certainly true here in the Hawthorne District.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Parked in PDX

Mom got her nine packages today, sent UPS ground in some other blog post.

Ulmer and I (likely to be confused by some misspellers) shot the breeze on Google Talk this afternoon (he's in a desert bizmo, I'm somewhere in the Hawthorne matrix -- lots of wireless coffee shops).

Yes, other Wanderers besides Dave and I use IM clients, blogs and so on. This might help us recruit among a broader demographic, as young folk today seem born with IM skills and can't fathom why adults wouldn't have 'em.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sunday @ Meeting

Quakers of the past reputedly didn't say "Sunday" -- and in some cases this was true -- as "Sun Day" has a pagan sound, as if we really needed to name days for obvious Sesame Street figures or whatever. Let's just call it "First Day" and be done with it. That way, if we exit the solar system, and lose track of the sun... Anyway, it's not true. I say Sunday all the time, never think twice about it.

Anyway, I was at Quaker Meeting today, wearing my Quaker hat (Paul Kaufman styled it, with a Chicago-style band). Actually, I flung the hat onto the raised platform on the north side of the room and worshipped hatless, as is our custom. I even shared from the heart, but didn't physically rise to my feet, as our group is still small enough to make standing optional. I told some stories from what I called my "ecumenical weekend" (Catholics and Unitarians, mostly -- I think of Wanderers as more Science than Religion, though it does phase into Philosophy on occasion).

Back at the ranch (not really -- no horses), we had guests over for homework. Our children are studying a combination of topics: coal, fossils, geological columns, layers of sediment. The local Max station under the Zoo has some amazing geological columns, tipped sideways, but going back in time in one direction. Long ago, this area was under a lot of water. A great flood happened, after some giant lake in Montana took off towards the ocean, leaving behind what we later called the Columbia River Gorge (a major feature of our landscape around here -- upriver was ground zero for the Manhatten Project, and OMSI teaches how important it is that we don't let groundwater fallout percolate out to our river (a lot of radioactive waste was just dumped or poorly contained, because there was a big war going on, and everyone was in a frenetic hurry -- no time for proper planning, and we're paying for that now)).

Ways to mine coal (from the homework project): strip, surface, slope, shaft. Katrina and Rita hurt coal making they say. That explains the higher prices. Sounds reasonable. Coal types: anthracite, bituminous, lignite, sub-bituminous. "Coal is a solid fossil fuel, it forms from decomposed swamp plants." Yep, that sounds believable.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday @ Matt's

I'm at Matt's place checking Google videos. I enjoyed this quick tour of a newspaper production facility.

The IE interface to my control panel for blogging @ Google really sucks on this OS X box -- no editing controls. No wonder Nick is dead in the water (he's packing an iBook or something). I'll continue polishing this posting when I get access to a more usable interface. I don't know if Safari is any better... Nope, sucks as well (not user-friendly).

My own video upload is still in verification.

Why am I at Matt's place? Time for the annual gutter cleaning, followed by the ritual meal.

It's Veterans' Day today. The flags are in place up and down Hawthorne.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wednesday @ Pauling House

Setting: two tapes filled, camera now rewinding (I was cameraman, made lots of mistakes); participants are right now discussing funereal customs, cemetery design and so on, having already covered transportation, economic and social rules, many other matters -- all this in the context of Guatemala, per Don's slide show.

On break, Dick Pugh offered to do similar travelogues (Trans-Siberian railroad for example). We're Wanderers, so yeah, this makes some sense. On the other hand, we've typically integrated more science-minded analysis, dealt less in raw intelligence. What's the status of Guatemala's electrical grid I wonder. Or we could just lighten up and do more anthro -- more philo too while we're at it.

Don was embedded with a former student and family, Don being retired faculty, Mt. Hood Community College. His student runs a restaurant serving USA-style dishes (pizza and such). Don learned a great deal on this three week sojourn, his first foray outside El Norte. He performed marvelously, and brought back a ton of interesting insights and information. Guatemala is definitely a happening place. I was especially taken with Chenté, a street smart dog in the family.

I've got a bid request in with Bullseyedisc to see if our tape collection might be transcribed to DVD at an affordable cost. We'll recycle the Hi-8 tapes, minting 3 DVDs per talk to start: copy to the presenter(s) of a talk; copy to the in-house library; copy for off-site backup, Iron Mountain style. We may take up a collection, once the bid is in (likely the $80 or so in the coffee fund won't cover it -- I've got a stash of like 25 tapes by this time, including the two of Doug Strain).

Nancy joined Don and I for lunch on the boat where I got cell calls from France (school business) and from Mom in Washington, DC (I dropped her at the airport before Wanderers).

Tonight I met up with Dick Pugh again, also Wanderers McCarty and McGown, at the Sigma Xi meeting at PSU (Brother Guy for the Vatican re Pluto et al (hey, I vote we name this new 10th planet, grain of sand thingy Diana -- or maybe Coyote after some Native American)).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Monday @ Pauling House

Wardwell is burning CD-Rs with pictures taken in Guatemala on his Canon. We just purchased those from Fred Meyer's, with a parking lot on the roof (Google Earth shows it clearly -- across from the red-roofed Jiffy Lube, 39th and Hawthorne). We also bought an extension cord (8') to go from the wall to the power strip (grounded outlet), into which strip are plugged: Don's iMac laptop, my Toshiba running WinXP, my Optoma small footprint projector. We're running routine tests to make sure we're ready for his presentations. Don and Patrick (works here) are chatting in another room. Outside: dusk, still pretty light, 4:39 PM.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Physics Emergent (ISEPP lecture)

Physicist and Nobel laureate Dr. Robert Laughlin delivered the kickoff ISEPP lecture at the Schnitz last night. He projected a series of hand drawings (he's pretty good -- plans to take up color in a next life if he gets one) and talked about The Frontier (archetype) in science: yes there is one, but a lot of times we look for it in the wrong direction.

The word "law" has two connotations in English: physical laws that set the stage, and social agreements that govern the acting. Laws of the first type get ascribed to God, at least in Judeo-Christian thinking, and so we get the picture that God supplies the foundations or fundamentals, and complex life forms such as ourselves build atop this set-in-stone framework.

However, what's becoming more apparent in science is that physical laws may be emergent in the sense that their formulation and description only makes sense in the context of complex aggregates, assemblies or "piles" (Laughlin showed a pile of apples -- the picture had other plot elements I won't go into). The phenomena these rules describe simply vanish at more inward levels. So we get this hierarchy of "grammars" [my word choice].

Later, after dinner at the Heathman, I stepped out from behind the camera to propose this analogy: say a novelist is bound to follow all the rules of grammar [I'll add proper spelling], but in order to sell books, knows to incorporate suspense, to follow other rules for strong plot development; nothing about the rules of grammar predict or force a novel to be any good (that's up to the writer) i.e. these higher order rules are emergent.

Laughlin found this a pretty good analogy with the following caveat: he doesn't see any need to complement the mindless automaticity of quantum mechanics with some new principle of Agency (the writer). He's OK having his Universe run on autopilot, with emergent/synergetic behaviors, yes, but still a machine in the final analysis (Occam's Razor at work).

One practical consequence of emergent law (in physics, not just in biology and society) is we can't advance science through thought experiment alone. Measurement remains a primary source of new discoveries, and this feeds our appetite for new and better instruments (e.g. earth-focused satellites). Our sphere of scientific relevance, at any frequency, is bounded by our ability to measure.

For this reason, Laughlin sees string theory (about the very small) as only quasi-scientific, given it hasn't yet given us doable experiments that would make it falsifiable. A lot of cosmology (about the very large) is like that too. A chief purpose and benefit of such twilight zone science fiction is it helps us raise funds for new machinery so that the horizons of real science might be expanded to new frontiers.

Speaking of Nobel laureates, we remember Dr. Richard Smalley, a co-discoverer of fullerene, who died recently. And speaking of scientists who have died recently, we remember Dr. George S. Hammond, chemist par excellance, and a Wanderer.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Good Night and Good Luck (movie review)

George Clooney, writer and director, and Fred Friendly in this film, takes us back to a world of monochrome TV, excessive smoking, and people trying to stay sane (which is why the film is timely, and why the packed audience applauded at the end). It's a film about courage and integrity. Mom loved it.

A theme here is television might be used more effectively to wake people from their soaps and sitcoms and give them a bigger dose of reality. However, those trafficing in "reality" seem prone to paranoia and keep taking us into nightmarish episodes. Maybe more politicians should be watching Rome or Extras on HBO, instead of inflicting their twisted brand of theater on the rest of us. Maybe we need more quality fiction, not less. We could make it "reality fiction" -- like this film.

A couple years ago I rented the Ed Murrow vs. Joe McCarthy tapes from Movie Madness, having been too young to appreciate these events at the time. Last night I took the new projector over to Larry's house, where he shared Thirteen Days, about the Cuban missile crisis, one of his favorite films (I shared eXistenZ, one of mine). My reaction to these "great game" scenarios (ongoing): why should such a tiny cast get to arrogate so much power to script world events?

If an apocalyptic showdown between "great powers" is what turns you on, just rent the DVD. Either that, or think of some better role playing games, with more interesting and constructive props.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rambling On

I missed much of the Wanderers meeting today at the Linus Pauling house, as I had a routine doc appointment (my annual physical). I got back for the tail end of a rambling discussion of the Israel-Palestine situation, the Canadian health care system, the tax advantages of S- corporations and so on.

We didn't have an organized presentation today.

Jim brought fresh-picked chantrelles again, $15/lb. at the local grocery store. I reported on Don's communications from Guatemala (so far so good). Patrick's wife might present on supercomputer applications in a few weeks (she used to work for Sandia).

In today's Oregonian (page D1): Google gives a $350K grant to PSU-OSU to for development of open source software (Google uses a lot of it, including Linux, Apache, Python and more).

This evening, I drove mom down to the AFSC-organized reading of soldier and civilian names, American and Iraqi war dead. I was glad to reconnect (however briefly) with local staff I've worked with (Alice, Marco, Pam). I brought some decaf to the Metcalfs, MMM stalwarts, who were holding the Quaker sign. Bruce Huntwork sat next to me for awhile. A few hundred showed up, in the park between City Hall and the Federal Building. My camera fell out of its case onto the bricks, but didn't break (yay).

I'm making rather slow headway in Quake 4. Les, recently back from China and Korea, would no doubt have finished it by now.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Shopping Trip

Friend Andy Cross of MMM invited me to join him on a trip to Fry's Electronics this Friday morning, a big box vendor in Wilsonville that used to be named Incredible Universe when owned by Tandy (Radio Shack). I sometimes call it Mecca, given its importance in my reality, and how often I make the pilgrimage. That no doubt sounds sacrilegious to some, but I figure electronics engineers have done God's will at least as effectively as priests (not that these are mutually exclusive occupations).

Andy was picking up a whole new system (a Sony desktop). I grabbed an internal DVD burner (16x +/- R, 4x DL, 5x DVD-RAM) for like $45 including mail-in rebate. My first backup was only 1x (very slow) but I don't think the new device was to blame (I was off having a beer -- next time I'll monitor more closely). I considered the more expensive Plextor, a brand with a loyal following, but unlike some Pentagoners I don't insist on gold plating.

I also bought Quake 4 for $37.99, a choice some Quakers will question. Like, what's a pacifist like me doing with an M-rated game ("Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language")? I'm actually OK with mythical mayhem. I'm this Marine fighting Strogg, with all humanity united behind me and my buddies depending on my prowess in battle. Thankfully it's only a simulation, as I die often.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Back to Work

Following that fun vacation to McMinnville and environs, I needed to get back to various projects simmering on my metaphorical stove (my real electric one has 4 burners, only 3 usable, plus a working oven).

Front burner: Sam Lanahan would like to meet Ken Snelson, given Flextegrity is entering the patent literature in close proximity to Ken's and Bucky's work As a software engineer, I'm suspicious patent abuse will gum up the works, but that doesn't mean I don't recognize good literature. Patent libraries are goldmines for historians of engineering.

Ken phoned me re my recent email proposing Sam and I fly out for a visit, just as I was going into a meeting on another high priority project: keeping the flow of clinical data to my health mission client uninterrupted, as we transition from vendor A to vendor B in the cath labs over the next few months.

Project 3: the RBF-LW bridge, a work in progress in philosophy world (I'm a critical path manager on this one).

Project 4: wiring more synergetics into K-12 CS-informed math (CS = computer science). I need more help from television on this front. Geometry lends itself to communication by that medium -- looking forward to more in high def TV and DVD. My work with Russ (he just sent some new EIG files) comes under this heading.

And last but not least, Project 5: preparing to teach Python in a Portland Public School (a 9 week stint, not counting school holidays and vacations).

... other projects, too numerous to mention, will need to go unlisted at this juncture (I read a lot of blogs, journalism and stuff, watch some TV, but that's more play than work, plus doesn't pay the bills).

Precessionally (tangentially, thinking more in terms of side effects), the above projects are also about putting 4D Solutions on wheels, in a bizmo, e.g. when I go on the road more, I'll still need to VPN into client networks, do source code editing and such (which reminds me, I need to stop writing in my blog and do some more POV-Ray renderings for Sam 'n LaJean).

Saturday, October 15, 2005

From Evergreen's Airplane Collection

Photo by K. Urner

Per our tour guide: the MiG's guns pointed upward 15 degrees for some reason, so the way to avoid being shot at was to fly very close to the ground. If you were shot at anyway, because the MiG was chasing you upside down, the pilot was probably Russian.

Our Hotel's First Manager

Portrait of Tom White
photo by K. Urner w/ Olympus Stylus 500

The inscription on the wall next to this painting reads: "Tom White gave life to the hotel in 1905 and guided it through its initial quarter century. A bit of a Renaissance man, Tom was well-read, a devoted member of the Masons, and very active in community work. He was an excellent cook, a skilled carpenter and loved working on his farm."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Hotel Oregon

Dawn and I did a retreat at Hotel Oregon recently. That's in the small town of McMinnville, in the heart of some wider sprawl engineered by a freeway- and mall-minded culture. We stayed in the first manager's bedroom, Tom White's. Yes, another Mason, like many departed in McMenemin's world. We learned of more Masons at the Grand Lodge in Forest Grove on another visit.

Then we visited the Spruce Goose and friends, at Evergreen Aviation. Our tour guide and former F4 pilot was none too pleased his bombing mission got canceled that day Hanoi Jane was in town. Fonda's visit recalls the early days after WWII, when the OSS thought Ho'd be a fine leader of a Jeffersonian democracy (Ho thought so too) if only the French empire would pull back, which it eventually started doing (Japan's empire had already been pushed back, thanks in part to this new US-Vietnamese alliance).

Then LAWCAP (e.g. Dulles & Dulles) decided to rebalance the powers by joining forces with former enemies Germany and Japan, now vanquished and ripe for rebuilding (see JFK by Col. L. Fletcher Prouty). In Vietnam, the "quiet Americans" (Capitalism's Invisible Army) started taking over, to fight an Evil Empire. Thus began WWIII, or the Cold War as they called it, in which many more millions would die, especially in Southeast Asia. That was before the Grunch came along (e.g. Fuller & Co.) and another rebalancing.

Evergreen also has an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which could read license plates and sense where the bodies of migrant farm workers were buried in California. Very cool. Its competition, the U "shot down" 2, is still in service, exposing miles of film to targets of interest.

I especially recommend the Hotel Oregon's rooftop pub and restaurant (we took the stairs, but there's an elevator somewhere). Park in the 2-story garage opposite the police station on 5th. And be sure to check out the Mack Theater directly across 3rd street to see what's showing. Dawn and I saw Junebug.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Corpse Bride (movie review)

Many critics declaim against this movie's supposedly shallow plot (my wife included), but I figure the secret to this fairy tale is to see but one bride and groom to be, and the projections they go through.

The girl thinks maybe a parasitical money-grubbing a-hole is out to get her, like the one that broke her heart before, but this new guy seems different.

The new guy, meantime, is your typical morbid poet, worried about death and decay, and how this gorgeous girl is also this amazing like dead thing, i.e. so absurdly physical.

So yeah, the marriage rehearsals leading up to the real deal are seemingly interminable. The projected parental marriages aren't very encouraging either. I can see where some young folks might pause for thought before tying the knot.

Like Robots, this film is all about a look, and that look ain't just window dressing or something irrelevant. No, that's a looking glass look, a fun house mirror, a lens -- an artifact storytellers have worked on and polished, and handed down across centuries. Many proud artists, many forgotten graves.

The musical numbers: also strictly by the book.

There're only so many ways to do macabre, and make a funny family flick at the same time (Addams Family is another). This way works. Please accept my gratitude.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Talk Like A Pirate Day

Pirate ordering a cheeseburger
at the Island Cafe, 19 Sept 2005

(by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500,
brightness/contrast adjusted)

Rethinking the CyberBookMobile Concept

Based a lot on Ulmer's reality check, I'm recognizing my state of the art bizmo fleet is going to need better infrastructure. I just don't have the skills necessary to operate a rig like Dave's -- would need a crew of grannies to keep it long haul operational.

Per my alternative model lifestyle, I'd be less inclined to hold tightly to one bizmo of my own, and more thinking to check one out from a garage closer to a point of interest. After mission control uplinks my mission, I'll swoop into Town A and do some of the requested curriculum stuff, leaving behind a local school faculty thinking more about sphere packings, hypertoons, Pythonic mathematics. Lone Ranger type stuff ("nicely done Kemosabe" -- like when Don deftly parks his Meliptus alongside the Island Cafe).

This is a healthy memepool for sure, but should be no one's exclusive diet, nor is it, even for me. However, my bizmo will run software uniquely customized for my brand of scholarship and teaching/outreach -- not because I'm all that tied to a specific bizmo, but because the basic design is highly configurable through downlinking OS level stuff and/or special purpose applications.

On the outside, different bizmos may have different decals (I'm hoping we'll be seeing some from Google, whether I'm a driver or not). Those with the same decals will likely be running a lot of software in common (reflective of whatever corporate cultures, e.g. Mentor Graphics).

The decals themselves may be swappable, in the same way a Tri-Met bus, though advertising its route with lit signage, is perfectly able to run a different route on another day. In my case, my decals (e.g. 4D Solutions logo) might follow me around, maybe in the form of a rear view mirror dongle or glove box credential. The same physical bizmo might return to the same electronic gate on consecutive evenings, and gain access the one night but not the other, because the decals, running code, crew and driver, could have all changed overnight, not a big deal.

Basically, a geek checks the thing out of the garage, and then sucks down her favorite kernel (one of several), possibly similar to what wuz running in her last bizmo, or maybe in one she's nostalgic about (like running Win98 in 2020) but now the target points are different, so a different garage was accessed (same deal with the rental cars: return at the airport, like to PDX or whatever).

On another note (and speaking of The Island Cafe): last September 19 was Talk Like a Pirate Day, and by nightfall, we had a full cast of free spirits in properly piratical attire, right down to the plastic parrot this one guy had. A boat sailed to and fro in the channel, setting off a miniature ceremonial cannon, reminding me of the curious opening to The Confusion, sequel to Quicksilver in the 3-part Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson (Jules, Don's grandson, Nirel's son, is another Stephenson fan).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dave's Bizmo

Dave, age 59, is presenting Dave's Life this Wednesday morning, about his on-the-road lifestyle. His slides break it down into Motivation, Equipment, Infrastructure, Monthly Costs and so on. The lifestyle depends on having good telecommunications and maintenance skills.

Given the complexity of these rigs "if you're not mechanically adept, you're dead meat" -- even RV-driving grannies have to learn basic troubleshooting, often by consulting Internet user groups (there'll be one for every component). Schematics aren't necessarily available, and dealerships may have long waiting lists.

Dave avoids RV parks like the plague, uses GIS/GPS to locate suitable public lands (BLM, state, national forest, military -- or maybe a Wal-Mart parking lot). This land is your land, this land is my land. He pulls a trailer containing a Yamaha Mountain Max snowmobile (used mostly in the spring) and Suzuki DRZ400 dual sport motorcycle. The bizmo itself is a 33' Beaver Diesel Pusher motorhome. He's self-sufficient in terms of fuel, food, water, power, for weeks at a time. His utilities (fuel, satellite, insurance etc.) run about $825 a month, plus maybe $200 for food with an emphasis on fresh vegetables (Safeway a good source).

Before 2000, when GPS was deliberately inaccurate, Dave smashed his snowmobile on the side of Mount St. Helens, thinking he was on a trail he wasn't. Driving heavy equipment, alone, in desolate, erratic terrain, is highly dangerous. Dave rarely takes these unnecessary risks. He stores his camp sites, drive routes, other points of interest in GIS software. Given over two years of living this way full time, he's got a gold mine of information in his database. His photo diary, shared with a small group of subscribers, is likewise a valuable record of his adventures.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Wanderers Retreat

I showed up at the Blanchard Education Service Center today to make some brief remarks on behalf of the Koreducators' charter school proposal. Adam & Co. certainly have their ducks in a row.


Day one (9/23):

We used software and projector to zoom in on the Pauling House, plus visit other points of interest (Gothenburg isn't highly resolved yet -- didn't find Chalmers). Jon Bunce grilled Dave Ulmer on his book (unpublished), having given it a close read. Nancy joined us enroute to another retreat at Mt. Angel with Father Driscoll. We looked at slides I took of Julian's unveiling of Heart of Steel in Lake Oswego, and slides of Dave's many bizmo adventures. The bizmo itself is parked out back, receiving satellite TV about hurricane Rita. Downloaded from iTunes and played: We Didn't Start the Fire (Billy Joel), played a bogus game of chess.

Day two (9/24):

Briefed by Dawn on Smallville developments (season 3), cartoons, Rita (weather news), breakfast on Hawthorne (Tabor Hill Cafe), helped Consoletti with inheritance fax, gave Ulmer my 9/14 letter (feedback on his book) while he projected the DVD 1984 from his laptop (I didn't watch too closely this time, believe I've seen it before -- like Brazil). Dave backed up the bizmo by 6', enough to see the HDTV satellite behind the tree. Jon & Don off to check out a dishwasher (mechanical problem). Allen's here -- he and I went out for Thai (Rick joined us for Thai take-out last night). I did some more messing about with "math through programming."

Big summit on future of Wanderers in the evening. Terry Bristol, David Feinstein, Steve Bergman, Audrey Lee, Pat Barton, Gus Frederick joined our group. Lots of discussion, lots of web sites projected. What did we decide? Terry is working on getting us a server with a fat pipe. Doug Strain's interest in peace work helps define us.

Day three (9/25):

Woke up with Sarah in the bed (sorry Dawn, I know the rules), another Smallville briefing from Tara (still season 3). Drove mom to Quaker meetinghouse (former ESI building) in Razz (our razzberry-colored Subaru wagon). Joined Dave & Don in the bizmo for long HDNet pans from a helicopter over New Orleans (some amazingly cool cemeteries). Even spookier would be HDNet over Chernobyl (saw that dare devil Russian chic's fast motorcyle diary -- likewise amazingly cool). Thanh Thao has been a source of most meals. Celestia + Stellarium = an answer to my prayers. I missed the impromptu presentation by Office Depot, printer madness. Guests from South Africa (the home scene). Julian came by with both children (I projected my slides from the unveiling). Jon solved the story problem (about a man and his dog).

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Retarded Design

At the other end of the spectrum: yes, the closed and systematic formal expression of Universe is incomplete, always tantalizingly improvable. But the balancing inexplicable complement, considered from an all too human point of view, is slow-like, not God-like. We're mortally, fatally stupid and (good news) the generalized principles are on our side -- was Fuller's view. The eternal works to save us from ourselves.

Human intelligence, even at its best, is a form of retardation (a lagging), an abberation, which plunges us into the consequences of limited knowledge, limited speed. But that's not synonymous with any condemnation to hell. If we accept our limitations, yet continue to faithfully participate, knowing we're not the veritable impersonation of omniscience, we'll likely still do OK. Integrity matters.

What doesn't so much matter is whether you posit, in the sense of imagine, idolize, that superior intelligence. Either way, you/I ain't it. So believers, cut those who don't some slack. Non-believers, reciprocate. Either way, we're retarded, yet exercising what powers of intelligence we might. We shine as brightly as we're able, dim though we may be. Integrity matters.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Happy Birthday Dawn Wicca

We're so fortunate to have you in our lives. Here's to a kind and talented spouse, mother, daughter, friend, sibling -- also a fighter in more ways than one.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Batman Begins (movie review)

This movie is now playing at the Bagdad in 2nd run (cheaper admission, profits made in beer & pizza), but I've so far resisted the temptation to see it again. Dawn and I both enjoyed it quite a bit when we saw it in 1st run. Really the perfect batman film, plus the sequels have already been made, so the sequence feels complete. More could be done, sure, but this particular one admirably captures Metropolis in high gothic style, within a dark story against an east-meets-west backdrop. Pretty sophisticated stuff, for a comic book movie about a fictional superhero. Plus I heard Terry Gross interview Christian Bale on NPR. Very informative.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wedding Anniversary

Photo by Brenna Nally
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Dawn and I were married c/o Multnomah Monthly Meeting on September 11, 1993. We stopped by the wedding venue this afternoon, after enjoying a potluck with Friends at Laurelhurst Park.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A Gothenburg Incredible

"A boyfriend for Portlandia"
(photo by Kirby)

On the Columbia

Gary's gas dock
(photo by KTU, Olympus Stylus 500)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Willamette Meteorite

Geohistorian Dick Pugh tells the story,
musician Jon Bunce (background) listens
(Linus Pauling House, Hawthorne, photo by K. Urner)

Spy Guy

Slide from Larry Wall's keynote
OSCON 2005
(photo by K. Urner)


Heart of Steel (hemoglobin)
by Julian Voss-Andreae

Planting Seeds in the Silicon Forest

"Friends Meeting House"
from company archives
courtesy of Wanderer Doug Strain

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Summer Memories (picture series)

Ron Braithwaite w/ Illuminati jacket
"Off to Canada" Party
Creston Park, July 31, 2005
(photo by K. Urner)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More BizMo Tech

A lot of bizmos will generate scrolling video blogs. There might be a live show now and then, perhaps at a convergence spot (festivals, e.g. Burning Man). However, a lot of the viewing will be asynchronous and achronological, even though the recordings get filed in the order they happen (per usual in blogdom).

Bizmos involved in emergency relief tend to be too busy to log much beyond procedural stats, giving control room overview: quick updates, better feedback. The slower-moving and sometimes more soap operatic operations (a blur of characters) will come when there's more time for reflection. The very same bizmo might be capable in both modes (as are everyday humans: capable of emergency response, but needing relief from too much stress).

Some bizmos assess damage or working conditions, scout locations, prepare the scene. Others may come by after an event and clean up, restore the environment. What happens in between might be anything from a circus to a refugee camp. You need some clowns in both, because children need cheering up. Get some cartoons going in one of the tents, serve popcorn. Let kids laugh if they're able, or cry if that's what's up.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Tillamook cheese factory
(photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

Pioneers from the east discovered their cows really grooved on the grasses here, and soon they were drowning in dairy. Given difficult topography, the smart folk of Tillamook built a boat, the Morning Star, and sailed it to Portland to trade butter for other necessities.

As in Switzerland, local farmers realized how their way of life might be sustained by minting a cheese of dependable quality. They organized accordingly, by hiring some of the best in the business, and the Tillamook County Creamery Association was formed.

The result: the factory is a tourist destination and the Tillamook brand is recognized around the world for excellence (the ice cream is good too).

Friday, August 26, 2005

Web Wrangler

Web wrangler (photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

After a meeting at Jake's downtown (happy hour). We discussed turning the design of our site over to her. Currently, our site is little more than a placeholder.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

An Adventure

I was out with captain of Meliptus last night, when a sail boat astern asked if we had radio and if so, to turn it on. We caught a coast guard broadcast: to all ships in vicinity, jet ski boat incident Washington shore, any wishing to investigate? Don took them up on it, and we switched to another channel to get details. This was well after dark. We had no direct communications with the shipwrecked crew (yet). I swiveled a search light through the blackness, while Don pushed slowly towards shore.

OK, not shipwrecked as it turned out. Cell phone contact established, with coast guard mediating. Just an out of gas situation, jet ski beached, two individuals (two males, with backpack and BBQ). We couldn't get the boat right up to shore, given busted depth finder and unknown depth. She doesn't like to run aground, Meliptus doesn't. So we commanded either/both to voluntarily swim out, pushing the jet ski (a fairly light water craft). Not a big job for a fit young man in his mid twenties, Patrick, grad of Catlin Gabel, works in chip fab, as we learned of his identity, while towing the depleted craft back across the Columbia (his mate stayed behind with the merchandize (a BBQ shouldn't get wet)).

Mission accomplished, we radioed closure to the coast guard. No further events to report from that night. No encounters with the stealth boat, though Don has pumped gas for the tender boat, which includes crew member "Lara Croft" (an allusion to Damian's keynote).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Madagascar (movie review)

Another good DreamWorks cartoon with plenty of physical comedy for youngsters, embedded cultural allusions for oldsters with more in memory (e.g. spot links to Cast Away and Planet of the Apes). Credit goes to AMD Opteron-equipped HP servers down on the (rendering) farm. PS: Penguins rule!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

2005 BizMo

On-board monitors
(photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

Left monitor: HDTV connected to HDNet via satellite, and currently receiving Sunrise Earth, a no voice-over, slice-of-life program designed to showcase the high definition picture.

Middle monitor: topomaps and biometrics (e.g. captain's weight gains and losses). This bizmo is tasked with gizmo prototyping and field testing, e.g. of vidcam equipment for exploring abandoned mine shafts (which the topomaps & GPS help locate).

Right monitor: general purpose filesystem e.g. image log and music stash (speakers not shown, color printer behind middle monitor).

Monday, August 15, 2005

1931 BizMo

1931 BizMo
(photos by David Ulmer, Feb 5, 2004)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Bridge Pedal 2005

Train crossing
(photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

I was among the first to start this year (6:30 AM). Mayor Tom Potter, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and Dick Gibson of Providence (whom I know from meetings) gave short speeches. The organizers expressed their fond hope that we'd have no broken bones this year.

Gayle had a bike accident involving a ped and broke her collar bone last year, fortunately very close to the ER at Legacy Emanuel. With something like 18K riders and walkers doing complicated criss-crossing routes, such accidents are always a possibility.

My chain came off two seconds into the course (not propitious) but the rest of the ride was fairly stress free. The bridges were beautiful. We crossed them in the following order: Morrison, Sellwood, Hawthorne, Ross Island, Marquam, Burnside, Broadway, Fremont, St. John's, Steel.

I met up with Larry and Chris and their son Greg (visiting from Russia) atop the Marquam, and just by chance with Sam and LaJean, who'll be giving the Wanderers presentation this coming Tuesday. Sam accompanied Bucky on a trip to the Philippines in the early 1970s, which would've been when I was there, still a high school student (Imelda Marcos made sure Sam and Bucky got some better shoes).

Congressman Blumenauer promised the new transportation bill will be good for cyclists, and that Portland serves as a national model for a bike friendly town. Gothenberg was even friendlier though, with all those wide divided sidewalks (peds and bikes each get a lane, so there's less contending with buses and cars for a slice of asphalt).

Total miles on my odometer (including the distance to/from the event): 38.4.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Lost Lake

Lost Lake
(photo by K. Urner w/ Olympus Stylus 500)

Friday, August 05, 2005

Gibson BizMo

Dawn w/ OSCON sponsor's business mobile
(photo by K. Urner, Olympus Stylus 500)

At some point in all this OSCON business, I attented a Ruby for Java Programmers session, which was very well done. Having studied Java enroute from FoxPro to Python, and being these days a student of Ruby (albiet a very beginning one), I found this bridge useful/meaningful. Check the OSCON 2005 schedule for the name of the presenter, room number, and so on.

Last day of OSCON 2005

I grabbed the 75 bus this AM and got to OSCON early -- plenty of time for coffee and baked goods, conversation with a Perl programmer from Denmark. He asked what I spoke about (my name badge indicates I'm a speaker) and I explained about the Fuller School, how I'm a big fish in a small pond, how open source has facilitated our work enormously and on many levels.


Asa Dotzler discussed a perennial topic: how Linux might do more to help Regular People on laptops and desktops, even while keeping it a kick ass system for developers.

The next keynote by Drew Endy of MIT was about programming DNA -- maybe just to insert some documentation. Yeast consists of about 12 million characters of info. Open source yeast? Problems: (1) balkanization of basic biological functions (patents widely distributed -- imagine individual coders owned each piece of punctuation in a program and needing multiple permissions to write each line) (2) quality of code (3) screwed up rights to reuse, react, reverse engineer.

Tony Gaughan (CA) talked about his experiences with Ingres (now open source). Licensing is confusing (GPL, LGPL, CDDL, CATOSL etc.).

Danny O'Brien talked about good and evil in Open Source (software patents are evil).

My favorite presentation was Saul Griffith's about Howtoons: kids hacking the physical world, using comic book instructions. Lots to learn here, about teaching software skills as well.

The panel on women in open source, and engineering more generally, provided interesting insights. Juggling time commitments and priorities -- an age-old problem (it's what operating systems do). The ability to telecommute certainly helps, especially if you're a parent (this is certainly true for me, a dad).

During the Python lightening talks I was able to squeeze in 10 minutes about hypertoons (with projected demo), a real crowd pleaser. Guido was likewise into graphics: a clock featuring multi-colored turning disks, making use of Tk.

Miguel's concluding keynote gave us a foretaste of where Novell is taking the Linux desktop: X running atop OpenGL (= xgl), meaning Gnome, with Mono at its core, will be able to keep pace with OS X (and the next Windows) when it comes to eye candy. Beagle looks like fun.

Shortly I'll be packing the car for a weekend camping trip -- time to get away from computers for awhile, unless I take the laptop to show hypertoons to Bridge City Friends.

Thanks to all for making OSCON 2005 a fantastic learning experience.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

More OSCON Brilliance

Today's keynotes:

The analyst, Nick Gall, showed us how the Internet models what long term investors look for in an infrastructure: an hourglass shape that makes innovation easy on top of a minimal structure: address, format, protocol. Containerized shipping represents the success of this approach as well.

David Heinemeier Hansson: Ruby on Rails trades flexibility for liberating constraints; learn the conventions of the framework, and you'll find Ruby has taken a lot of the responsibility for making your life as a web developer a lot easier.

The HP guy, Kartik Subbarao, explained how Venice models the ideal IT ecosystem, vs. quadrants Desert (closed source), Swamp (roll your own, maybe starting with open source, but failing to collaborate with the open source community), Ocean (completely open, all possibilities, no land). Case study: HP buys commercial support from Symas to coauthor OpenLDAP, an open source project, in support of its internal economy, thereby netting the benefits of commercial support and the participation of a global expert community.

Geeks sit around with with laptops like musicians with their instruments. One of our sponsors this year: Gibson, the guitar company (I snapped a photo of Gibson's bizmo, parked out front).

Next keynote by Robert Lang: a lecture on the history of origami (well developed by 1734). Akira Yoshizawa invented an instructional language for communicating origami (the http of the origami world). The speaker's Black Forest Cuckoo Clock was amazing (as were many of his others).

Today's computational origami is not like the old stuff. Check out the insects! Applications: unfolding space lenses, solar sails, auto air bags, heart implants (e.g. stents). I went to the follow-up presentation, which got into a lot more detail about the mathematics involved (trisecting angles is easy with origami).

And let me not forget the Identity 2.0 guy, who lives in Canada.BC, is over 21, and drives this fancy car -- or so he alleges (he provided no credential I could authenticate other than his obviously considerable talents as a presenter -- good enough for me in this case, plus I've run web audits since).

OSU is FireFox central (bouncer load balances global distribution). The Mozilla Foundation embodies the open source model where organizations are concerned (there's also a subsidiary corporation). Aside: I think the Python Foundation might do more to emulate this model. Expect FireFox to keep getting better (check my post about XUL). Mitchell Baker is one cool geek.

Nathan Torkington is doing a wonderful job of emceeing this O'Reilly event, per usual. We're lucky to have him in our community.


Dawn picked me up out front in the Subaru (Razz) and we drove to Providence Medical Center, where she had a 5 mm mass removed for biopsy using a needle vacuum. I charged my laptop in the waiting room, and read some of that New Yorker article about the new Pope.

We came back after the procedure and I showed her around, starting with the Google booth (good global data), and moving on through ice tea and ice cream stops, sometimes in the company of our old friend since CUE days, Jeff Zucker, a Perl saint and author of an upcoming book on the Perl DBI package. I also introduced her to Guido, Python's big benefactor, with whom I last conversed at that Thai food kiosk near the ferry stop in Gothenberg.


Now I'm in Jim's talk (Miguel is in the row behind me). IronPython is promisingly fast. The Pie-Thon challenge (trying to get Python to run on Parrot, Perl's evolving engine) helped IronPython evolve, as Guido's benchmark tests for Parrot gave IronPython something to chew on. IronPython 0.6 was only 4% slower than Python-2.3 implemented in C. IronPython 0.9 is now out, and allows subclassing of .NET classes within the language, much better COM support.

Jim demoed Avalon running from within a Python interactive shell. Miguel wanted to see the xaml-defined calculator buttons rotated by 45 degrees, using a list comprehension. Hey, it worked! Then he showed a GTK# GUI talking to the Microsoft Word dictionary. Finally, he showed us embedding a Python engine inside C#. I asked him to demo __add__ binding to the underlying overload of C#'s + operator (that worked too). The Visual Studio debugger transitions smoothly between Python and C# stacks (per my question: any debugger would have access to the same hooks in the .NET or Mono framework).

Open Technology in Oregon:

This presentation by the Open Technology Business Center was about bringing O'Reilly's OSCON back to Portland, based on Oregon's strong commitment to open technology, including increasingly in hardware realms. We got a rundown on some of the relevant businesses here, plus looked at a roadmap for going forward (a commercialization funnel).

We need to also focus on the education, nonprofit and government sectors, for which open technology is vitally important, not just as end users, but as contributing innovators and field testers (Project Renaissance model). OSCON should not become exclusively captive to business interests. Apropos of this, the Government Open Source Conference (GOSCON) is coming to Portland in October, sponsored by OSU's Open Source Lab. A questioner (not me) brought up exactly what I was thinking: Paul Nelson's K12LTSP and Free Geek are currently among the most important open source projects in Oregon.

And After:

Party @ Bar 71, deputized a member of the Posse. Chatted with an OSL guy who was big in the rose business (as in delivery of flowers) because he needed to test some software he was developing for a company, and it actually worked. The company itself went bankrupt, but he wound up with a running business. Then some letter in the mail threatened to sue because he had illegal copies of stuff. Upon audit, he discovered no transgressions, then realized this was a bulk mailing. But he was scared enough to think open source must be the way to go, and he's not looking back.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Summer in the City

Bartender and Server on Hawthorne
Photo by K. Urner

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Meanwhile, Near Hawthorne...

Caught John Roberts (the anchor, not the Supreme Court nominee) getting rid of his tie last night, following a segment on down-dressing business class Japanese (still formal, just minus the jacket and tie). Then today in Powell's I found Fruits, by Phaidon, about fashion-savvy teens in and around Tokyo, setting new trends. "Fruits" carries no specific connotations regarding sexual orientation in this context, unless you count polymorphously perverse.

What cracked me up on CBS last night was the story about DARPA trying to turn those cute robot puppies into vicious dogs of war, and maybe those Segways™ (straight out of Fantasia's Sorcerer's Apprentice) into silent stalkers. Leave it to DARPA to put a scary sinister spin on anything (even Python -- actually Python was easy).

I eyed the news while packing a night bag for Tara, who slept at the Oregon Zoo (Brenna too), part of a programmed summer camp experience for youngsters in this town. Dawn was in post-op, Short Stay, but not for anything too serious, and I fetched her home later that evening, having spent the better part of the day at the hospital, where I almost finished Quicksilver (so today I bought The Confusion, and a map of Rome).

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Hugh Watkins, a Wittgenstein buff based in Copenhagen these days, coined "Kirbiania" to refer to my writings (Kirbinalia might have been an alternative). Could this be some brand of God-talk from the Book of Narnia perchance, used by some exotic species or being that didn't make the final edit? Here's the relevant blog entry.

We've been feeling somewhat out of the woods regarding my wife's medical condition, at least for the interim, but today it finally hit home what they've been trying to tell us: the MRI was not really negative (although the PET thankfully was), and given the state of the art, that could mean many things. So an ultra-sound is indicated, and maybe a biopsy.

I'm about done programming my OSCON talk, which will presumably happen sometime in the first week of August. Later in the summer, we're hoping to maybe rent a smallish RV and visit Dawn's brother and sister-in-law near Sisters, and Crater Lake. I'd prefer to field test a real bizmo, but Education Research is less of a budget priority right now.

No, civilian programming continues to take a back seat as we prosecute some war on terror ad infinitum. Granted, life is somewhat terrifying, so there'll always be this need to keep our minds occupied with security concerns. But like president Eisenhower, I'd rather opt for better and more global health care, higher living standards, more civilian alternatives. Livingry is far more effective against terror than killingry.

As I wrote to Hugh yesterday: "In focusing on ordinary language, I think [Wittgenstein] brings us to where the action is, i.e. we need to infuse more science content into ordinary thinking, so that human beings bumble about in less politically-minded language games and spend more time programming their new smart homes and playing world game. "

My wife and I are mindful of the fact that the level of medical care we're getting is far above the global average -- and yet is still so dark ages compared to what it could be (the doctors feel this acutely).

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Stealth Boat

"stealth boat"
(photo by K.Urner)

So today's front page of the Oregonian was about this jet boat variant we've been seeing, and photographing, on the Columbia River. Don and I watched it from the Chris Craft that day, as I filled my Olympus xD card (property of 4D Solutions).

Maybe we weren't supposed to take pictures, but I figured this is my Columbia as much as theirs, so if you're going to putter about in a public area, you'd better not complain if you're treated as a member of the public, by your fellow taxpayers.

Especially if you're working for the government, expect to be monitored by the boss (i.e. "we the people").

A crew member pointed to the shadow boat, like maybe that'd give me pause. So I got some stills of it, too. Anyway, now it's an open secret, so I might stop dragging Friends into my office during potluck, for a quick peek at the funny jet boat (followed by friendly speculations -- many of them on target).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

JetBlue's Bizmo

JetBlue Bizmo, Blues Festival, PDX 2005.
Photo by Don Wardwell

Monday, July 04, 2005

Liseburg Amusement Park

Liseburg Kannen, 1 July, 2005 14:19:58
Gothenburg, Sweden (robot camera)

Sunday, June 26, 2005


This was a long day, given the sun only set for a few minutes, sometime after midnight, when we'd passed beyond Greenland going about 625 mph at 35,000 feet on a muscular MD-11 owned by KLM, enroute from Vancouver, BC to Amsterdam. The next jet, a 737-400, also KLM, was named Ernest Hemingway. The Air Canada from PDX to Vancouver was a Dash-8 (props, cabin under the wing). Airplane reading: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.

I haven't slept much since waking up in Portland many hours ago. That's OK. Dawn sometimes talks about entering dreamtime when she travels. Maybe this is what she means. I'm here for EuroPython of course, as a special invitee. We've got a thread going on the Math Forum that has some more background.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Day At the River

Today Dawn woke up more unhappy than usual, and we resolved that getting out to some new place would be good. Her choice: Sandy River by way of Edgefield. We took this trip, and her mood greatly improved, as did mine. Scenic Troutdale was fun to drive through.

At the river, which we drove to after walking around the golf course, admiring the fresh plants (plus a wedding was getting ready to happen), having lunch, a big sign warned of drowing deaths, I think 12 since 1993.

Too many. Life guards were on duty, and an ambulance was parked nearby. But I'm sure this level of support can't be arranged 24/7. Kids will swim nude, drunk, or dive off the bridge. Grownups have their own problems.

The circling hawks were spectacular.

In a few minutes, I'll join Matt and Mike for a beer. Mike has a new used car. We haven't the three of us gotten together since my birthday. I'm coming back early though, as Dawn wants to celebrate the solstice with some good friends while I look after Tara. That's perfectly OK with me -- recharging one's batteries is an important part of life, especially during holidays.