Both the elliptical title of this post and the long distance from its antecedent have the same toothmarks: I’ve been reading so much, I haven’t wanted to write anything. I’ve enjoyed being both the style and the substance of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, and read it interspersed with revisiting some Terry Pratchett and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Also slowly, slowly working my way through Borges Ficciones, wherein the most pertinent quote might be from The Library of Babel: “You, reader, are you sure you understand my language?”

I’m not sure I do, but it is wonderfully toilsome to try.

At any rate, the weather here has been early summer over the weekend–sunny and 70 degrees. The Sun is now transiting the meridian pretty high in the sky, and the skylights in our house are providing lots of light. As the Moon waxes these days, it picks up where the Sun leaves off, and it, too, illuminates our kitchen from above. We planted some roses in the backyard yesterday, and right now a delicate golden kinglet seems to be taking advantage of the legions of buds on the red maple right outside the kitchen window, making a hurried morning meal. For my own hurried morning meal, I cracked open a jar of apple butter received from one of Elle’s comrades at the university. I’m trying to use more glass jars so I can use fewer disposable containers; I’m also trying to buy as much food as possible in reusable containers.

Coffee has been a problem there, although since I buy bulk beans, I usually just end up with the strangely useless paper bags provided at the store. I also usually don’t buy expensive coffee, on the argument that if Kona estate peaberry isn’t laying around, I won’t know the difference. All of this is by way of saying that I was highly amused that Dunkin’ Donuts is marketing their coffee in grocery stores here, where I don’t think there’s an actual Dunkin’ Donuts storefront for a thousand miles: I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to that Krispy Kreme, which we at least have in Portland. I am amused to no end that I stepped outside habit to buy a name brand product which is then not the product that gives the name. But it is pretty good coffee.

Front-page editors of various newspapers I saw yesterday seem to feel bound to report on the North Korean missle launch, and perhaps in honor of tradition to do it in the same way such things were reported during the cold war. Although I haven’t seen anybody labelled ‘Reds,’ yet. Perhaps they are referring to the limited historical and belligerent importance when they use smaller type for that headline than for budget stuff. Or perhaps they have taken notice, as Jeffrey Lewis has, that for as much as North Korea wants to impress the world by being a scary nuclear power, they are actually 0 for 3 with these kinds of things.

Sure, they did prove to their own citizens that they are still defiant, but that doesn’t seem too important right now. The NORK government is also still trying to tell everybody that they got a satellite into orbit, but people seem to be paying more attention to the statement by Obama, encouraging renewed consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

That’s an unintended success.


21,483 calls in 36 years

2 December 2008

It’s been more than a week, and I still am saddened when I think of the loss of Phil Rounds. Ben Fleagle already did a better job than I did talking about it, and was closer to the loss. Right now, I feel pretty close, though. My thoughts go out to all in the Great White North.

And there are many who also appreciate the efforts of those who show how he was missed. Staff at the News-Miner did an excellent job with a several articles and an obituary. While I’m at it, I’d like to thank Todd Shechter for several email forwards, Josh Zwart for the thirty second version of A-shift history and pumpkin pie, and my wife for her diligence on Facebook.

But I think the most impressive is this video. Taken by Carol Falcetta, it shows the procession down University Avenue in Fairbanks towards Phil’s memorial service. The music is very nice, and the video itself shows some small measure of the respect this man held. First of all, remember that every engine pictured represents an entire department that committed to sending a crew for this. Also, for those of you fire service folks out there, wait until the end and count the number of law enforcement. Try to imagine another firefighter getting that kind of help from cops.

We’ll miss you, Phil.

Less is more. Literally.

3 October 2008

I’m very excited to have started reading The Social Life of Information, a book which simultaneously supports many of the same conclusions about information theories I’ve read in other works I’ve liked, and blows my hair back with new stuff.

The concept in the introduction of that work that could perhaps be approximated by the old adage that only ten percent of communication is carried by the words spoken in a conversation, with the other ninety left to tone, body language, eye contact, et cetera, is remarkably similar to a conversation I had yesterday at work. Speaking to a gentleman who turned out to be an electronics engineer and music buff, we had a fairly intense conversation about what equipment produces the best quality of sound. While he has more specific knowledge than I, our consensus was that older equipment sounds better for all its messiness of being analog, vinyl, or whatever, than the truncated, cleaned up electronic equipment now so common.

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N.B. Must remember not to strive for so many details per post. Caused me to miss this date by a week and subsequent intended Chinese New Year/Tet festival post on lunar calendars. Oh, well. Next time.

Reading about collapses of civilization with presentations ranging from essentially ineluctable (Scaramouche) to nearly apocalyptic (The Handmaid’s Tale) to somewhere in between (The Dream of Scipio) highlights many differences of opinion and of history. All authors seem to agree, though, with Robert Wright’s description of civilization and its attendant technology. Put succinctly, they are sort of like the gophers in Caddyshack. Just when you think they’ve been eradicated somewhere, they pop up in another spot altogether.

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A striking contrast is presented between the new MacPro that just arrived at work and the definition presented for the first learning tic-tac-toe playing computer laid out in a 1963 paper and reiterated in the O’Reilly Statistics Hacks book I’m reading now. On the one hand, an eight-core CPU, new fast RAM, and an embarrassment of riches in graphics cards; on the other, to quote Bruce Frey quoting Donald Michie, 287 matchboxes and large numbers of nine different colors of beads. That’s right. The arch-nemesis from 1983’s WarGames can be constructed from the contents of your kitchen junk drawer.

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At least two meals today will consist of the dwindling store of Thanksgiving leftovers: Elle’s mascarpone-whiskey pumpkin pie to break my fast and the ubiquitous turkey sandwiches for lunch. Outstanding all around.

In doing some research over the last couple of days, I’ve been surprised at how unsophisticated the majority of nonprofit and government agencies seem to be about their data presentation. For starters, any of you who are not assiduous fans of the West Wing may be unaware that there are a shocking number of inaccuracies and political problems with the most common map projection in the world. But that’s just the beginning. Read the rest of this entry »

No TV is good . . . and bad

18 September 2007

Bad in the sense that I didn’t hear about the kerfuffle about a supposed Syria-North Korea super-villainous plan until today, despite numerous reports last week.

The money quote is right here, from Joseph Cirincione:

This story is nonsense. The Washington Post story should have been headlined “White House Officials Try to Push North Korea-Syria Connection.” This is a political story, not a threat story. The mainstream media seems to have learned nothing from the run-up to war in Iraq. It is a sad commentary on how selective leaks from administration officials who have repeatedly misled the press are still treated as if they were absolute truth.