Photos: Snowy Graveyards
Jan 30th, 2010 by buber

It has been snowing the last few weeks and it always makes Santa Fe look like a magical place to me, especially the graveyards scattered throughout the city.  I went to two of them, the main cemetery of the city and another big one that is nestled between the School for the Death and the Odd Fellows hall.  This last one is very interesting as there is the main graveyard that is enclosed in a fence and then another bit that is outside the fence (you have to drive all the way around) and is not enclosed but contains a number of headstones, include the “Lucy Jackson” one.  There are branches lying around and old buckets full of stuff.  Not sure if people are dumping things or someone is trying to clean it up.  In either case, it is just one of many around town that are just there, part of the scenery.

More tops
Jan 30th, 2010 by buber

100103_7882TopsOver Christmas break, Lisa’s dad let me use his lathe again, and I made a few more tops.  I made 4 in all, but two of them we gave to friends before we snapped a picture.  In any case, here are two of the new ones with the old ones.  One of them, the one on the right in the first picture,100103_7887Tops I also gave to a friend, Bob.

The handles aren’t quite as polished as I would like and the tips that they spin on aren’t as smooth as I would like to give the whole top a nice smooth look, but overall they turned out alright and do a decent enough job of spinning.  I was maybe a little aggressive trying to by fancy by carving out towards the inside of the volume, which made it a bit difficult to sand them properly, so that is why in the second photo the third top has a bit of a rough edge.  I started to lose a little patience with the sanding.  But, still, they look good, were relatively easy to make, and were fun to make too.

Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly
Jan 6th, 2010 by buber

cordingly-under the black flagEvery age seems to have it’s iconic figures, those who end up defining that age, symbolizing it, from the knights of the medieval period to the gunslingers of the wild west.  We romanticize these figures, overlooking their shortcomings and glorifying them to the point that they are barely recognizable from the real thing.

And so it is with pirates, those symbols of the Age of Discovery and Exploration, when the West was newly “discovered” by Europeans.  Pirates operated all over the world, from the Indian Ocean to China.  But, it is those that sailed the Caribbean and the American coast that really capture our modern-day imagination.  And they are the focus of David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates.  Cordingly describes the pirate life as it really was: nasty, brutal and usually short, even for the most successful pirates.  These were ruthless men who attacked merchant vessels, fishing boats, and even coastal towns in search of plunder.  They tortured crew members in order to find out where treasure was stashed, often in some very graphic ways.  They spent their money on drink, gambling, and women, often within weeks or months of winning it.  The authorities that hunted them down were equally vicious, making examples of captured pirates by executing them and displaying their bodies in chains.

Cordingly does a wonderful job of both describing the life of the pirates, their motivation, their modus operandi, and the effort to eradicate them.  His goal is two-fold: to give us a realistic picture of the real pirates as well as determine how we’ve come to romanticize such a vile group of men.  He discusses the pirate in literature and film and how those media led to our modern day romantic pirate. Most of what we now associate with pirates — walking the plank, buried treasure, the educated man turned pirate — are more fiction than reality.

He also goes into a number of smaller details, such as the existence of women pirates and the size of a typical pirate haul.  All of these details give a very nice overview of what pirates really were, who they really were, and what they really did.

There are a couple of things I wish he had included.  He discusses the different types of ships that both pirates and the authorities used and for someone like me who knows nothing about ships, it would have been nice to have some illustrations showing the size and shape of these ships.  Also, while he does touch on a number of the most notorious pirates, including Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Calico Jack, these are scattered throughout the book and no really coherent picture emerges of most of these men.  A chapter devoted to brief bios of the major pirates would have been an appreciated addition.

Overall, however, this is a very entertaining book that gives a lot of real information about a very interesting subject.  Highly recommended to anyone interested in the reality behind the fictions of the pirates.

Opportunity in America
Jan 3rd, 2010 by buber

During the health care debate, one thing that has been a talking point is that the people who are on the lower end of the economic ladder are there at least primarily due to faults and errors of their own.  This is an inherent assumption of the American Dream:  “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Everyone has the ability to pursue their own happiness and, the implication is, if they do not obtain it, it is a result of their own failings, primarily a lack of effort.

At the same time, however, it seems to me that some amount of failure has to be built in to the system.  That is, the system cannot sustain itself if everyone is successful in realizing their dreams, of obtaining their happiness.  There has to be some, even a majority of us, that fail in becoming doctors, lawyers, or whatever they dreamed of in their youth.  We can’t all be at the top of the economic ladder, or better said pyramid.  For the economy, for society function, we need people who end up in those jobs that none of us want, that we don’t aspire to, but are sometimes forced into by circumstances.  We need the sanitation workers, the slaughter house workers, the assembly line workers.  They are absolutely crucial to our system functioning.  But, I dare say, these are typically not jobs we aspire to, jobs that were part of our dream when we were “pursuing our happiness.”

Any individual can pursue their happiness, to varying degrees of ability, opportunity, and circumstance.  But, most of us have to fail.  Most of us have to give up on those dreams in order to survive.  The economic pyramid has to be bottom heavy to function, and none of us aspires to be at the bottom.

I understand that our system in no way guarantees that we obtain happiness, just that we are able to pursue it.  However, that most of us must fail, suggests to me that we who do succeed are not entirely free from any responsibility for those who do fail.  We depend on them, we require them, for a functioning economy.  Therefore, it seems that we should realize that failure to obtain our happiness is not entirely on our own shoulders, but is also a part of the system.  It will happen to most of us, the system ensures that.  As a society, we have some responsibility to make sure those people have some basic standards of living, including health care.

Simplexity by Jeffrey Kluger
Dec 29th, 2009 by buber

kluger-simplexityA lot is made of complexity and complex systems. A prime example is the formation of materials from atoms. Atoms are, for the most part, relatively simple things. However, put them together, and very complex behavior emerges, from basic defects such as vacancies and dislocations to properties such as superconductivity and fast ion conduction. Another example is the complex behavior of even the simplest of ecosystems created by ants.

Understanding how complex systems arise from simple components — in essence simplifying them in a way that can be used to make predictions and design useful systems — has become a science in itself. In his book Simplexity, Jeffrey Kluger gives an overview of this new science. His approach is to describe many different examples of how complexity is hidden around us, how complexity emerges from simplicity, and how complex things can be understood via some simple rules. This connection, between complexity and simplicity, leads to the term simplexity. The framing thread is the work done at the Santa Fe Institute, founded to study exactly these kinds of issues.

The examples Kluger describes are definitely very interesting. They include the spread of disease (how such seemingly complex and random things such as the spread of disease can be traced to simple origins), the complexity of different types of jobs (driving a truck is more complex than being a middle level manager), and how hard it is for people to judge risk to themselves (illustrated by the behavior of people in the Towers on 9/11).

The examples do a good job of describing various aspects of complexity science, of showing how things we think are simple are really very complex and vice versa. And I did learn a number of things. For example, in evacuation routes in buildings, they purposely put false columns in the rooms to break the flow of people to emergency exits as that adds some “turbulance” that makes the overall flow of people smoother and less likely to jam at the doors. Also, in describing how our technology has become overly complex, so much so that most of us can’t really figure out our devices, at least not fully, he tells about research going on at the Media Lab at MIT on the “bar of soap“.  This sounds like an awesome device, something that would be awesome to see and the implications for technology in general and how we interact with it are really intriguing. And these are just a few of the things that I learned.

However, I was overall disappointed, because I don’t feel like I learned anything about the science of complexity. I learned about how things are complex, and how they can be simplified in some ways. And some of the specific examples were really interesting. But, I really didn’t learn about the science behind it, how complex systems are studied, how they are classified, or how they are characterized. What makes a complex system amenable to study? To simplification? What makes a collection of simple things complex? The book is a bit of a tour de force of examples from complexity science, but there isn’t any deeper probing behind any of it, nothing that gives any deeper insight.

Thus, as an introduction, of a teaser of the science, the book succeeds. However, as any real introduction to the science itself, it felt flat to me.

Over the Alps
Oct 31st, 2009 by buber

After a recent conference in Italy, I flew to Spain to visit my dad’s family.  The flight was via Munich and we passed over the Alps.  I took a few pictures from the plane that I thought turned out pretty well.alps1alps3alps2cloudrivers

The Embodiment of Fall
Oct 29th, 2009 by buber

I just flew into Pittsburgh for a conference and was just struck by the beauty of the landscape stretched before me from the airplane window.  I didn’t have a camera, so unable to take a picture, I jotted down my impressions (edited now for flow and readability).

The sky is gray, the air crisp and still.  Rolling green hills peak through forests of golden trees, in shades of orange, brown, and yellow.  Scattered with those golden trees are barren trunks, already in hibernation for the winter.  In stark contrast, small groves of evergreens keep their color, defying the overwhelming autumn hues.  Valleys cut around the hills, but gently, with no drastic or abrupt gorges.  Clusters of houses huddle amongst those trees, in clearings big and small.  Small villages and towns snake along the valleys, conforming with the contours of the land, not defying or challenging them. Occasionally, an old abandoned and ruined house lies forgotten, isolated in a clearing of its own.  Down the river float barges, laden with tons of pitch black coal.  Nearby there are open pits and piles of the stuff, in stark contrast to the greens and golds.  A random smoke stack, remaining from the glorious steel days, punctures the horizon, billowing thick white smoke that then slowly drifts and spreads across the sky.

This is the embodiment of fall.

»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa