Sunday, October 31, 2010
I'd like to thank Eva for taking care of me (and the dogs) so well and so carefully; I quite literally could not have done it without her.
Friday, September 10, 2010
ETA: I'll be fixing up the typography and the layout of the poems in the near future, but the content will remain the same.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
More details on both Eva's and my medical adventures below the fold.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Oh, and quite by accident, this won't affect my health insurance situation. If I were staying on COBRA it would, since that coverage makes Providence a preferred provider network; anything done at Legacy costs me an extra 20% of the invoiced amount (which has been a problem because the neurologist is at Legacy Meridian). But as of the beginning of this month my COBRA coverage has expired (thanks, Congress), and I'm going on the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool. Coverage won't lapse, but I have to wait for the paperwork to be done and my coverage info sent to me before I can get it to the providers. I believe the OMIP coverage will be the same for both providers (at least I hope it will; Providence is more convenient for a lot of things, and I like the hospital itself better).
It's interesting to compare this situation with the therapy Eva is getting for breast cancer prophylaxis. There is a single person who is her case worker whose job it is to coordinate therapies and doctors, and to make sure that she knows what's going on, and that everyone is singing from the same page of the score. And all the health professionals go to great lengths to keep it that way. I think everybody should have a case worker, for all health concerns. I did a rough back of the envelope calculation: Eva's caseworker says she's carrying 300 active cases; for everybody to get one (and assuming an entire family gets the same caseworker, which makes sense to me) means we'd need considerably fewer than a million caseworkers nationwide. I bet we could train that many of the currently-unemployed to do the job in less than a year.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
The one thing I can't figure out is why the dogs like to lie around in the heat upstairs so much.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
(at least the animal found it exciting)
I was sitting here at the computer when Eva yelled down the stairs from the living room, "There's a bird trapped in here." Eva ran down as I ran up, because as a little girl she once got a bat trapped in her hair for a minute or two, and is very averse to that ever happening again.
The bird had come in the sliding door from the deck, which is at the end of the north wall of the living room. The rest of that wall is picture windows (this is an Atomic Age split-level ranch, and the amount of light coming into the living room was one of the reasons we bought the house), and the bird tried to get out again through a window. It was trapped in the window by Spencer, our rat terrier, who wanted to either play with the bird or eat it, either of which would have been seriously bad for the bird. Either way, Spencer was trying hard to get to the bird, and the bird was frantically flying around in the window, but afraid to move away from it, so it was trapped in the casement. The bird was further confused by the fact that another bird (perhaps its mate) was flying around just outside the same window, and the trapped bird clearly wanted to join it.
There's a baker's rack with plants and some display vases next to that window, and now there was also an excited terrier trying to get to the window, so I had to spend several minutes moving things out of the way while holding the dog off. Luckily, Jemma, the Lhasa Apso wasn't quite so excited about the bird, though she did circle around that part of the room, a few feet back from the window. Eventually the combination of my persuasion and Eva's calling the dogs from downstairs got them both to leave the living room. The bird by this point was too scared even to be fluttering around in the window; it had landed in the corner of the window and stayed there.
The bird didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I looked around the room for something to catch the bird in that wouldn't hurt it or let it hurt me. I grabbed a blue felt blanket off the couch, the security blanket that we put on Spencer at night (he likes to sleep curled up in the fetal position on the couch completely covered by the blanket). I carefully surrounded the bird with the blanket and very softly closed it up so that I had my hands around the bird's body and wings. The bird didn't move; I guess it was still pretty scared. Then I carried the blanket out on the deck, held it over the railing above the back yard, and shook the blanket gently so the bird could get out. It flew straight away from me as fast as it could, apparently undamaged.
Spencer doesn't seem to have noticed any new smells on his blanket, which I'm happy about. He can wind himself up quite enough even without the smell of prey to excite him.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Mez (Merril Pye) died Jan. 1, 2010 after fighting cancer for several years, but I (and the rest of the Making Light community where she posted for the last few years) only just found out today.Jeanne Robinson, wife of Spider, died last week of cancer, surrounded by her family and friends.
George Scithers' ashes were interred at Arlington Cemetery last week. George was for decades a giant in science fiction fandom and in publishing. He was a major force in creating and maintaining the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
They mount a thread of smoke to reach the sky;
we hold our breath below. Recall of sight
of those before who lost their lives gives fright
until calm voice reports all safe; we sigh.
And so again we've sent them to the black,
explorers yes, but artisans as well;
carrying breath for later ones to dwell
there and move outward on their track.
Rejoicing's tinged a melancholy hue:
Atlantis will not ride again the fire;
her sisters are all soon to follow suit.
Though plan's not made, I hope some day a crew
will board a future craft to journey higher,
while giving these adventurers salute.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
When I went into the surgeon's office for a followup exam after my back surgery last year I was told that I would have to see the surgeon's assistant because the surgeon was on extended leave for personal reasons. That wasn't a big problem for me because the assistant had taken part in my surgery and was familiar with my case. Then three months after my surgery, when I had another followup appointment, I was told that the senior surgeon was still unavailable, as a result of medical problems. I talked to people in his office and in the rehab group I went to; no one seemed to know what had happened to my surgeon, though there were rumors of chronic neurological problems that would prevent him from performing surgery.
A couple of weeks ago the doctor who's overseeing my recovery1 suggested that I talk to a surgeon again about procedures that might improve some of the problems that the previous surgery hasn't been very effective against. He suggested I see my original surgeon's partner, so I called up, and was told that my surgeon had returned and was seeing patients once a week, and that he would like to see me. So I made an appointment for last Tuesday.
It was immediately obvious what had happened to him when he walked into the consultation room, and he confirmed it: he'd had a severe stroke that partially paralyzed his left side. There was no effect on his cognitive abilities, language processing, or memory, but almost 9 months later he's still got a brace on his left foot to prevent foot drop2 and his left arm is extremely weak. He's not an old man by any means, I think he's in his late 30s, but he looks like 10 miles of bad road: his hairline has receded, he's lost considerable weight3 and his movements are not those of a active and confident man, instead they're hesitant and conservative, as if he's no longer sure what his body can do4.
Of course the irony of this happening to him at a high point in a career that's based in part on his ability to do exacting and precise physical work for long periods of time5 is not lost on him. It's especially keen as he was a surgeon in large part because he was very good at it, and he loved doing it. It' s extremely likely he will never be able to perform surgery again. But my hat's off to him; he could certainly decide not to have anything to do with medicine anymore, if he can't do surgery, but he's come back and is seeing patients and helping to plan treatments which his partner and assistant will actually perform. I surely hope that the satisfaction he gets outweighs the disappointment, if for no other reasons than that he is an excellent doctor and a really nice guy.
So there it is: I feel very bad for the doctor; having a stroke isn't worse for him than it would be for anyone else, though the resultant damage to the life he had is especially poignant in his case. I like him and am grateful to him for his work on me, so I identify more strongly with him than might with someone I don't know. But he's doing his best to come back from the physical damage, and is determined to rebuild his professional life as best he can, all of which is good. So why do I feel such a need to talk about his case? Is it just that I've found a good piece of gossip? I hope not, that wouldn't make me feel very good about myself. But what about this story should be told for what salutary effect on my readers?
1. He's a specialist in neurological and back/spine rehabilitation whose job is to make sure that the various other specialists, surgeons, therapists, and whatnot are talking to each other, and that there is someone who's watching out for the outcome of my treatment, not just the procedures being administered. I am really grateful I found him; he's the one who tells me when we need to re-evaluate how well my progress is following the expected outcome.
2. And I can sympathize with that: I've got braces on both feet for the same purpose.
3. He was in quite good physical condition before the stroke; not bulked up, but he looked like he played a lot of tennis or raquetball.
4. And I know that one too; that's what happens to anyone whose body suddenly won't do or does only with difficulty what used to be effortless.
5. My surgery lasted 6 1/2 hours; a year or so ago they'd done an 18 to 20 hour procedure that completely restructured the spine of a teenage girl with spinabifuda from C5 to S3. Shortly before my surgery, she was able to dance at her prom.
Friday, March 26, 2010
There are three works of Lewis Carroll's that I think are among the jewels of English literature¹: "Alice in Wonderland", "Through the Looking-Glass", and "The Hunting of the Snark".² So I tend to get somewhat critical of adaptations of Alice, to film especially. I've resigned myself to the inability of most screen writers to distinguish between "Wonderland" and "Looking-Glass"³, but I really do insist that the adapters have some clue about what Carroll was doing with his original versions. Hence my distaste for the recent abomination on SyFy.
Burton, as you might expect, has respect for both Carroll's stories and the original Tenniel illustrations. The intersection of those two is Johnny Depp's portrayal of the Mad Hatter, which I enjoyed immensely, both to look at and to hear. But the Jabberwock ("The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!") should also be admired; it is the very finest homage to Tenniel. And Burton has the sense not to try to retell the same stories as Carroll as many have tried before and failed at. Instead he gives us an older Alice, returning to Wonderland with imperfect memories of what she experienced there in her childhood.
Between Burton, Depp, the voice of the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman!), and the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry!!) the level of insanity is quite as high as necessary, and definitely as dark and edgy as it needs to be (this is where Disney blew it big time in 1951, of course). Special insane honors should be given to Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the Queen of Hearts with a strident psychopathy that really endeared her to me (in a dark and edgy, I'd-never-want-to-meet-her-in-a-dark-alley sort of way).
I can't really say enough good things about the visual design. The playing cards were done in a rusty-red armor that clearly did not contain human beings and managed to be both menacing and somewhat clumsy-looking at the same time, though their movements were swift and deadly; the chess pieces in the White Queen's army were from a relatively cheap, abstract-shape set (and looked as if they were made from a slightly off-white plastic). And the architecture of the castle of the Queen of Hearts was pure Eldritch Gothic.
In fact, there was only one thing I would have liked to have seen done differently. As Eva pointed out as we drove away from the theater, Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" gets its power from the fact that the actions, dialog, and motivations of the creatures of Wonderland are chaotic and often random and lacking obvious cause and effect relations. No film or TV adaptation has ever been able to unhook itself sufficiently from the orthodox notions of narrative storytelling to follow that example as far out as Carroll went. Moreover, "Through the Looking-Glass" is just the opposite, with the characters and their interactions often following spurious and nonsensical, but logical, patterns. That's why putting the two together is so problematic. In the end, Carroll had no other way to end "Wonderland" than to say that it was all a dream (or was it?); Burton felt it necessary to wrap the story in a narrative of Alice's acceptance of the adult responsibility for her own decisions. I wish he had been brave enough to stick with nonsense.
As for the 3D technology, it was reasonably good, modulo the overuse of parallax I mentioned above. I noticed a couple of odd effects, possibly artifacts of the technology: occasionally soft images such as (computer-generated, I think) lens flare or smoke effects seemed to be at the wrong depth, and some images that intended to appear very close to the viewer seemed to have inverted parallax as if they were actually behind my head. I have no idea if that's what was actually happening, but these effects were a bit disconcerting. My take on current use of 3D (not having seen "Avatar"4 which I have been told uses it very well) is that it's still somewhat of a gimmick.
I'm encouraged in my wishes for the success of this movie by the fact that three weeks after the opening it is still running in 3 theaters (2 in 2d and 1 in 3D) of the multiplex where we saw it. Please, all of you, go out and see it (again if appropriate) to make it as financially successful as it is artistically successful.
¹ And several that in a just universe would be totally forgotten: "Sylvie and Bruno" and "Sylvia and Bruno Revisited" especially.
² If you ever get a chance, listen to a audio recording of Jean Shepherd reading "The Hunting of the Snark" on his radio show (he did it once a year, with great glee and gusto).
³ I don't know if Disney was the first to do this, but I believe he influenced everyone afterwards to do it.
4For reasons of political taste, the same reasons which have so far prevented me from watching "Dances with Wolves".
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
My aunt Eve is going to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Sony World Photography Awards in Cannes this April. Even neater, the award will be given on April 22, the day after her 98th birthday. Go, Eve!
ETA: see my previous posts on Eve, here and here for more information about her.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Now you can move, tilt, and zoom the camera to make some more interesting patterns:
Note the camera control icons in these stills. I don't have a video camcorder, so I tried to use the video mode of a point and shoot digital camera. In fact, I tried 2 different cameras, and found that I couldn't get rid of all the icons on either of them. My current budget is constrained enough that I can't afford to go out and buy a camcorder just now, so simple video feedback is problematic for this project.
Never fear, the computer will save me. Turns out it's not at all difficult to simulate video feedback with a program. On Mac OS X, there is a program called Quartz Composer that allows you to program complicated video effects in the Core Image API. You can build components (called "patches") for these programs using standard Mac Objective-C coding, but once they're built, you can wire them together with composer in a visual editor paradigm. Since the system comes supplied with a wide-range of patches, and there are more at various developer sites on the web, you can do a lot without ever writing any code. I made some simple feedback videos using input from the iSight camera in my laptop feeding into Quartz Composer; here's one still:
Here's a screen-shot of a composer editor window:
That window shows the wiring diagram for a feedback video that looks like this:
And here's a short video of another simulated feedback program:
Friday, February 26, 2010
Posting is going to be sporadic for the next week or so; to keep you off the streets and out of trouble I'm going to leave you with a puzzle Robert Anton Wilson put into his Schrödinger's Cat trilogy.
Sometime in the middle 15th Century, two monks traveling through Romania stopped in the capital of Wallachia for the night. They were invited to stay in the castle of the Voivode Vlad III, called Dracula (son of the Dragon), and later called Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler) for the manner in which he executed thousands of his enemies. Vlad sat them at his table at dinner and engaged them in conversation about their travels. Then he asked both of them what they thought of his reign in Wallachia. The first monk, fearing that telling the truth would anger Vlad into having the monk impaled, told the Voivode that his reign was just and benevolent, and that he was respected and loved far and wide as a great ruler. The second monk, sure that he would be impaled if he lied, spoke of the injustices and atrocities of Vlad's reign. Which one of the monks was impaled for his answer?
Friday, February 19, 2010
Ralph 124C41+ didn't have it any better!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Not that I'm complaining: the good news outweighs the bad by a sumo wrestler, at least. Just hoping to have a little unmixed good luck sometime. On second thought, I'm fine, as long as I don't get any unmixed bad luck.
Monday, February 8, 2010
But the doctor's prescription started me thinking about how many orthotics, prostthetics, enhancements, and replacement parts we get as we get older. I'm in my early 60s, and I've already got plastic lenses in both eyes and powerful signal-processing hearing aids in both ears. And most days I paste electrodes to my back and plug them into an electrical stimulator that I hang on my belt; it's called a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulator) unit, and its job is to block the pain in my legs that actually comes from the nerves that were compressed. Part of that back surgery was a spinal fusion; if I'd had that 10 years ago when the doctors first suggested it, I'd have a titanium rod in my spine, with stainless steel screws to hold it in place. But in the 9 years I waited, the state of the art in spinal fusion advanced to using bone grafts instead of hardware; result: I can go through a metal detector without it freaking out.
I may not even be near average in the replacement sweepstakes: I know several people not much older than me who have had both knees and both hips replaced with metal parts. And as we grow older, not only does our need for replacements grow, so does medical science's ability to provide them. I fully expect that by the time I need to replace my hearing aids (5 to 10 years from now, I hope), implants much more advanced than the cochlear implants available today will be able to restore hearing to many people who get by with hearing aids that barely do the job.
So where does it stop? How much can you replace before you're not a biological homo sapiens any more, but some sort of homo ex machina? My own opinion is that there may not be any change that retains the ability to think and speak and empathize with others that can take away humanity. It's worth thinking, though, about the cautionary tales that have been written about the subject. The best and most thought-provoking I can think of are the "Moderan" stories of David Bunch. Bunch wasn't telling simple horror stories out of a Luddite abhorrence of technology. The people he described used the techology to express some of the ideals of the period of the 1960s and '70s; ideals like conforming to the expectations of others even in private matters, competing with everyone else for your place in society, and considering the acquisition of wealth and power the most imprtant goal in life. Of course our modern society finds these ideals abhorrent: no one would think them appropropriate today. Oh, wait...
Friday, February 5, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Most of the mathematical art produced in the last few years has been in the form of computer graphic images (it's become cheap and easy with available software), but other media are popular too. I've already mentioned 3D printing and machining, and there has been a lot of work in various textile media such as quilting, chrocheting, and embroidery, and origami has been claimed as a field of mathematics. There's been work in more evanescent forms such as soap bubbles and light shows4.
One obvious source of inspiration for artists is geometry, plane or solid, Euclidian, spherical or hyperbolic. Escher created many beautiful examples of all of those categories. But there are many other areas of mathematics which have a visual aspect that lends itself to implementation by the artist: topology, dynamic systems theory, packing theory, and so on³. Recently nearly 20 years of work by a loose cooperative of mathematical artists (or is that artistic mathematicians) including the science fiction writer Rudy Rucker, ended in the discovery of a 3 dimensional analog of the Mandelbrot set and the creation of some really beautiful images.
If all this sounds interesting, you can follow the link in the title of this post to a site of links to a number of artists working with mathematical images of all sorts. I plan to blog more on this subject, and say more about specific artists. To get you started on some of the do-it-yourself possibilities, here's a miscellany of books and links. Some of the books, especially the ones on theory, are rather expensive, but you can find them at many public or university libraries. The book links are to bookdepository.com.
General books on Mathematical Art:
"Fragments of Infinity: A Kaleidoscope of Math and: A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics and Art" by Ivars Peterson
Theory or Mathematical Art:
"The Visual Mind II" by Michelle Emmer
"M. C. Escher's Legacy" by Doris Schattschneider
The Home of Mathematical Knitting (sarah-marie's mathematical knitting pages)
"Making Mathematics with Needlework" edited by Sarah-Marie Belcastro and Carolyn Yackel
"Curve Stitching: Art of Sewing Beautiful Mathematical Patterns" by Jon Millington
The Geometry Center Download Page
¹ It certainly won't surprise any artists who took a course in perspective drawing.
² I wonder just what percentage of the world's CPU cycles has been involved with displaying some part of the Mandelbrot set.
³ For more than a century a war has been waged within mathematics over the legitimacy and relative importance of visual intuition in mathematical research and understanding. Coxeter fought for many years for the use of diagrams and visual insight, often against the hydra-headed Nicolas Bourbaki. Both art and mathematics were the benefactors of that battle.
4 There is a group in Germany that projects light shows onto buildings.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
First, did Apple get it right? I think they did as well as they ever do in a first product introduction: they showed us a first generation product which will create a new product category, and perhaps even a whole new market. It's not perfect, and it's not yet complete, but it's out there as a stake in the ground. And it's credible enough that it freaked Amazon into trying to extort Macmillan into submission by delisting their books. Macmillan was one of the publishers who's been talking to Apple about ebook business models for the iPad, and their CEO went to Amazon on Thursday to say, "We like what Apple proposes and we want you to go along." Amazon's response was "Oh, crap, it's Stevie and the Pirates! Run out all the guns!"
Let's review Steve Jobs' strategy for introducing the first generation of game-changing products like the iPod, the iPhone, and the iMac:
- It has to be recognizably an Apple product, with the level of fit & finish, industrial design, and usability that we've come to expect of an Apple product.
- It should open a new market niche, or one whose current occupants haven't been able to get a handle on.
- It doesn't need to have every feature you can imagine, but it should be immediately useful to a large market segment, with potential enhancements that will pull in still more market.
- The target market is never programmers, computer geeks, sysadmins, or engineers. The emphasis is always on helping people get their tasks done, or on having fun with the product.
- It doesn't need to be the cheapest product out there, or the most customizable, or the fastest. It should excel in enough areas to be the best choice overall for a large part of the market in the long term.
- It should allow Apple to create an ecology to go with it: iTunes for iPod as an example.
One point that seems to have been generally overlooked is that, for the purposes of its intended market, the iPad is not a computer. It's an application engine for a whole host of applications. Programming it, customizing it, or having it maintained by the user are irrelevant objectives for the market in which it will be sold. And that market is vastly larger than all of the technical users who would want to write their own apps or install a Linux distro on it.
I'm not the only one of the opinion that the iPad makes some sense. Charlie Stross and Stephen Fry seem to agree. Of course, both of them are tarred by the same brush I am: they're Mac users. Perhaps not all the time, or for all tasks, but they own and enjoy using Macs, as do I. So our opinions are not likely to be of interest to those who either loathe Apple entirely, or are only interested in what to Apple are edge-case uses of the product.
Some of the enhancements that Apple is going to make over the next 2 or 3 iterations of the iPad product line are pretty obvious. They'll add some apps that weren't feasible for the iPhone such as the iLife applications, giving the iPad the means for creation, manipulation, and viewing of photographs, music, and movies. They'll add 2 cameras: one facing out for taking photographs and movies of the world, and the other facing the user to allow video chat. But there are bound to be enhancements that won't be obvious, that even Apple might not yet forsee. That's because nobody knows yet what the full range of applications will be for this kind of product, or what use they'll be put to for which some new software or hardware will be helpful. This is why creating a new product category can be so profitable for a company like Apple that's willing to accept a little bit of a leap into the unknown. I predict that the real killer apps for iPad won't be things we expect.
¹ Think about using it to create maps of an archeological dig in the field, or record airplane or bus or train maintenance results on the tarmac or the rail. I'm thinking about plugging my digital camera into it and using it check and touch up my photos in the field.
My take on the action is that Apple's proposal of an agency-based deal with Macmillan and five other publishers, followed by the iPad introduction that clearly positioned it as a Kindle-killer, scared the execs at Amazon into action to shore up their strategy of dominating the future of ebook distribution by platform lockin. So they tried a tactic that has worked for them before: extortion. And it failed to make Macmillan cave. Although despite their "surrender" whine which tried to paint Macmillan as monopolists for insisting on a monopoly of the books they've bought from writers, Amazon has yet to relist Macmillan's books.
For my part, I sent a nasty email to Amazon on Sunday, and got back a mealy-mouthed customer service droid response.
I understand that your recent action in removing books published by Macmillan from online purchase was part of what Amazon management perceives as a conflict between the two corporations. But it seems to me that you have responded to a proposal from Macmillan intended as part of negotiation with a bullying tactic that hurts not only Macmillan, but your customers as well. And I cannot see it as other than an attempt on Amazon's part to increase it's monopoly and monopsony positions in the publication supply chain so as to control the pricing and delivery of books in general. In particular I think you are attempting to control the publication of ebooks in the long term by making the Kindle the majority platform, and then preventing publication on other platforms.
I object to all those attempts on Amazon's part to control what I can read and how I must read it. The attempt to extort submission from Macmillan is particularly objectionable, and not unique in Amazon's history; the same tactic was used against Hachette in the UK a year or so ago. Now I am a good customer of Amazon, a member of Amazon Prime, and I have purchased thousands of dollars of books and other items in the last few years. If you do not rescind this removal of Macmillan books from online sale in the next few days, I will cancel my Amazon Prime membership and refuse to purchase through Amazon in the future. I certainly hope that you realize that I'm by far not the only customer of yours who feels this way.
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Friday, January 29, 2010
Eve was hired in the 1950's to take publicity photos of Marilyn Monroe and they became friends. Eve published a book of photographs of Monroe, and became Monroe's preferred photographer as well. She's published a number of other books of her photographs; I highly recommend in particular "The Unretouched Woman" (unfortunately out of print, but the paperback can be found in used bookstores), whose photographs illustrate the lives and surroundings of women all over the world, and which has an introduction in which Eve talks about how she became a photographer and what her work means to her.
I haven't seen Eve in many years (she moved to England in the 1960's and has resided there since), but she has been a role model of mine since I was a teenager, not least because she encouraged me to try photography, which has remained a source of joy to me to this day. I have been very lucky in knowing many women, some of them my relatives, who have chosen their paths to suit their own abilities and desires. Eve is high on that list.