Year end, decade end, Y2K and related matters

In just under six hours it will be midnight here in California and now seems like a good time for some reflection.

2009 has had ups and downs. Obama has at least not been as bad as Bush. This is not to say that Obama has been particularly good. But since Bush set the bar very low it is not difficult for Obama to distinguish himself. And since I did not expect great things from Obama I have not been as disappointed as those whose souring hopes were reflected on their innocent and naive faces at his inauguration. I have learned never to expect anything approaching intelligence or honesty from any politician. Thus my expectations of political disappoint are usually confirmed and if on a rare occasion some member of the political classes shows some glimmer of intelligence or honesty then I can be pleasantly surprised.

The decade as a whole suffers from the dishonesty, hubris and mendacity of Bush, Cheney and the rest of that disreputable bunch of conservatives, neo-conservatives, fools, liars and thugs. As I write this the USA is still in Iraq involved in a unnecessary war which has killed and injured many and cost much. The total cost of Iraq is already about One Trillion Dollars and the final cost is unknown. But of greater importance are those killed and injured and their families. History will judge Bush harshly for Iraq. And Bush bungled Afghanistan which now has the possibility of turning into a fiasco.

Another thing I have heard recently is mention of Y2K. Often with some nervous laughter about how silly everyone was at the time. Yet many people either forget or did not realize that there was a lot of testing done to make sure that the disaster scenarios did not occur. Embedded microcode in controllers was tested. Software was patched and new servers with updated operating systems were installed. In 1999 I was working at Sun Microsystems as part of the team administering the java.sun.com website and some related sites. I was chosen to be responsible for Y2K readiness for the servers our group administered. During 1999 I did testing and documentation of test results. I followed the activities of other people within Sun doing Y2K testing. I read about Y2K testing on technical email lists as well as the general press. I determined that our servers were fine. And I could jokingly say I was Y2K ready since I had two cans of Spam and a six-pack of Jolt cola. Seriously I did have supplies because having at least two weeks of food and water are prudent when living where earthquakes occur. And remember two weeks of supplies is a lower limit not an upper limit. So I was fairly confident. Confident enough that in November 1999 I reluctantly left Sun after 13 years to join a startup

Thus on December 31, 1999 came around I watched the news as the time was changing around the world and there did not seem to be any major problems. I decided to do one more test just to satisfy myself. Just before I left Sun a server had installed in a Scandinavian country which had the java.sun.com content but was not yet listed in DNS; thus there was no traffic going to the server and only a few people in Sun even knew about it. I remembered the IP address because just before I left Sun I had helped deploy software and content on the server. So I entered the IP address in my browser and the page loaded perfectly just like I expected. I smiled and left for a New Year's Eve party being thrown by some friends of mine; Mike and Karen. For the past two decades I have attended their NYE party and had a wonderful time. And in just about an hour I am heading there again.

Be safe. Have fun. I look forward to 2010 being better than 2009. And I sincerely hope that the next ten years are better than the past 10 years.

Have a Happy New Year.


The Shah, Thatcher and recent revelations

Some records have been released from the UK archives concerning the Thatcher government and the Shah. The article in the Guardian. is an example of the coverage and the Financial Times also has coverage in their article.

The Financial Times article reports that Thatcher was "deeply unhappy" that the Shah could not be offered sanctuary in the UK in 1979. The Financial Times articles says that Thatcher confided to Lord Carrington, the foreign secretary, that the shah had been a "firm and helpful friend to the UK". As the saying goes "With friends like that who needs enemies". To call the Shah a friend of the UK shows how much the anti-Communist urge had led to tunnel vision. Thatcher along with many other politicians in the UK and the USA seemed to not really grasp the harm that was done by supporting dictatorial thugs or by continuing or supporting colonialism.

Let us not forget that it was British government who got the CIA involved in overthrowing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 over oil. The Shah was put in place and what followed was two and a half decades of the Shah being a brutal thug. This brutality of the Shah's regime was a great contributing factor to the rise of fundamentalist forces in Iran.

The Shah was a brutal thug; not deserving of pity but rather to be taken before the bar of justice. Upon becoming Prime Minister what if Thatcher rather than being "deeply unhappy" had instead stood up and denounced the Shah as the brutal thug he was and said publicly "No entry or asylum for dictatorial brutal thugs". And what if the next day President Carter of the USA had stood up and said the same thing. If only Thatcher and Carter and a few politicians had the intelligence and courage and basic decency to be speak accurately about the Shah and demand that the Shah and his band of accomplices face justice.


Avatar - Movie Review

Last night I saw the movie Avatar in 3D with a group of friends. My prediction is that the movie will be very successful at the box office and will be nominated for many awards and win a substantial number of them.

Does this mean I think it is a great movie? No. I do not think it is a great movie. It is a good movie. It is an OK movie. But it is not a great movie.

Much of the script is formulaic. To often I was able to predict the next five minutes of the movie because it was so predictable. Having a bit more nuance and sophistication in the story development and nuance would have gone a long way in improving the film. And some things were simply silly; having the character Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver smoking a cigarette in 2154 was a very bad choice. It just appeared as a clumsy attempt to do character development on the quick and it fails.

The story of the movie is a mashup of the typical "educated moderns do not understand spiritual nature of the world" and the "exploitation of the earth" and "cowboy joins native tribe". Each one of these has potential and a mashup of all three has potential but Avatar just did not reach its full potential. Much of the movie seemed like it was overlooking potential sources of interesting issues to explore so to build up to a big battle of good guys (humans) versus bad guys (planet natives). In the group of people with whom I saw the movie one person summed it up as being for "11 and 12 year old kids" so it should be viewed that way; although some others felt the movie was much better. And maybe I was expecting too much. Particularly when many adults seem to have the mental maturity of a 12 year old.

I will say a good word about the production in general and the 3D in particular. I was able to watch the movie without eye strain using the supplied 3D glasses. The integration of live action and animation worked well. At a technical level I was extremely impressed by the movie.

So in conclusion I suggest seeing the movie in 3D. You will likely enjoy the 3D experience and will be able to decide how you feel about the movie.


Peter Watts and Border Patrol

The SF author Peter Watts has posted his account of his treatment by USA Border Patrol with additional information.

There is a lot of comment flying around on the blogosphere about this. Many of the comments I was going to make have already been made in this discussion by Jo Walton.

The area which I think has not gotten sufficient is why is this culture of authoritarianism, intimidation and militarization becoming so prevalent at the USA borders as well as the USA in general. For something this complex there are no simple answers however I think one place (out of many) to start the analysis is with the Drug War. It is difficult to see the Drug War as anything other that a serious mistake which has done much harm to the USA and the world in general. Unfortunately there are many individuals, organizations and companies who are feeding like leeches on the supply of government money that finances the Drug War. And do not expect the politicians who have made the supporting evermore draconian laws to suddenly have a sudden change the hubris and mendacity which has increasing become a hallmark of the political class.

So can things change for the better? In theory yes things can change for the better. Am I optimistic that they will change for the better? Not today; today I just sad and sick of the situation. It is all very depressing.


I am annoyed.

I am not in one of the extreme groups. I am not in the "global warming is going to destroy the earth tomorrow and it is all 100% caused by humans" group and I am not in the "nothing is happening so let us just ignore everything and gas up our SUV" group. But I am annoyed; very annoyed; actually I am getting pissed off.

I am rather annoyed at people who refer to skeptics as "deniers" and I am annoyed at people who use the term "alarmists" to refer to people who hold with the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) view. I am extremely annoyed at people who publish about what is supposedly one of the greatest threats facing us and then stonewall about the raw data and then after several years say Oh we lost it years ago. I am really pissed about that. And yes I think the raw data sets with all of the metadata does matter because there is always the possibility that any aggregation, combination or correction to one or more data sets may have had mistakes. I would like to see every step documented from each raw data set to the final published data set so that everything is transparent and subject to review. Plus it would be useful for training students. In addition to the data sets we need to have transparency in methods, formulas and parameters. There was a big disruption a few years ago about trying to get the details concerning the famous hockey stick graph. The last I had heard was that some corrections were finally published. Why all the secrecy? At time some people involved in all of this remind me of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings saying "My Precious! O my Precious" as he obsessed about the One True Ring; however instead of a ring some people act as if they are so possessive of their data sets, their formulas, their academic positions and their own sense of superiority that serious scientific inquiry appears to suffer.

One of the big concerns that I have is that there is so much focus on human factors that we are missing other factors. What about CO2 and ocean acidity? What happens if we all switch to wind, nuclear, etc and global warming continues due to other factors such as fluctuations in the sun for example. A while back I happened to read about some under sea volcanic activity in the Artic which melted a lot of Artic ice. It seems to me that losing a lot of Artic ice would have some impact on how much energy is reflected back. What happens if there is a major volcano eruption and we have global cooling? What do we do? Maybe humans should start better understanding exactly how the earth and the rest of the solar systems works. And the first step to that is remember how science works. Maybe we all need to put "transparency" and "openness" on our resolution list for 2010.


And Tango Makes Three. A book review.

The book And Tango Makes Three is written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell with illustrations by Henry Cole. It is published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers; what most of us would refer to as a children's book. The hardbound book is a couple of dozen pages long and has about 800 words of text along with the beautiful illustrations. What brought this book to my attention was that during Banned Book Week I saw it listed as one of the most challenged books for children. So I decided to take a look for myself. I was actually going to buy a copy of it at Kepler's since I was going to be there the next day but they were sold out and had more coming that were not shelved yet. So a few days later I was back at Kepler's to hear Richard Dawkins speak about his new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution and I bought a copy then along with Dawkins' book. I read the book a couple of days later; and yes those of you who are quick with subtracting one date from another are correcting realizing that I have been slow to write the review but now I am finally getting to it.

The book is based on actual events at the New York Central Park Zoo involving two male chinstrap penguins named Roy and Silo. Roy and Silo were a couple and built a nest but did not have an egg. According to the story they tried to hatch a rock that was shaped like an egg. Rob Gramzay is the senior penguin keeper at the zoo and he took the step of taking an egg from another penguin pair which had two eggs but in the past had not been able to handle two eggs and gave it to Roy and Silo. Roy and Silo took care of the egg and soon there was a new addition. Roy and Silo became parents of Tango. Roy and Silo seem to have raised Tango very well and taught her the appropriate penguin skills such as swimming and eating fish.

So why the controversy? Well is seems that some people are upset that book mentions that both of the parents were male and they do not want children to find out that the penguins had a same sex relationship. And they do not want children to know that two penguins of the same sex can be good parents. Or at least this is what I think they are saying. I did a small bit of google searching trying to find a coherent statement from the persons who wanted the book banned from library access or restricted. But I gave up since I was not finding anything that made any sense at all.

The book ends with Roy and Silo together raising Tango. But life goes on after a book ends; Roy and Silo were together five years after Tango arrived and then they split up. According to a news article in the NY Times Silo had taken up with a new partner and her name is Scrappy. She is from California. New York Times article has the details.

So what are some of the lessons we can learn? Censorship seldom accomplishes what it sets out to do. Penguin relationships do not last forever.

If you are looking for a gift book for a young child this year I recommend this one.

Tutankhamun Exhibit

Saturday I went to San Francisco to see the exhibit Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharohs. This is a traveling exhibition which is at the De Young Museum until March 2010. Thirty years ago there was a major traveling King Tut exhibit that was in San Francisco and I was able to see that exhibit. Although my memory has faded somewhat over the decades my impression is that this exhibit was better organized and better managed than 30 years ago. The signage I saw on Saturday was some of the better museum signage that I have experienced.

The exhibit itself was very well arranged and the items that were very impressive. A chest with a lid about a meter long which had Tutankhamun's name on it had a feeling of practical personalization and association. Another striking item was the mirror case in the shape of an Ankh. There was a golden dagger which was found inside the coffin secured around Tutankhamun's waist and this dagger and sheath were on display. The gold of the dagger and the colored beads inserted in the handle of the dagger were stunning. There were many other striking pieces such as the gold falcon piece which as designed to hang in front of the body. This piece is a broad flat gold pieces with designs in the metal; simple but stunning.

I recommend this exhibition.


WFC Review

The 2009 World Fantasy Convention was held in San Jose over Halloween weekend. It was great. In the world of SF (Speculative Fiction) the boundaries between what are traditionally referred to as Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction are often a bit fuzzy. The theme for this year was the 200th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe. I have previously attended different Science Fiction conventions including many World Science Fiction Convention but this was my first World Fantasy Convention and I really enjoyed it. There was much to do ranging from listening to great panels to talking with interesting people to attending tremendous parties.

The convention was very well run; registration was great, programming was great, the various events were great, dealers room was great, the art show was great and the hospitality suite was beyond excellent. Kevin and Andy and all of their helpers ran a hospitality suite that had everything from wonderful decorations to great food to incredible drinks. They served very good wines; and let us not forget "Death in the Afternoon" which is champagne and Absinthe. The Absinthe came from St. George Spirits in Alameda. The cake was huge and shaped like a hot air balloon.


The Ugly

There are actually many ugly things but I will comment on just one at the moment. That is the general ugliness which surrounds political discussions. Too often what passed for discussion is little more that thoughtless sound bites layered with spin and obfuscation and often descending into blatant dishonesty. This is not just a Republican or a Democratic or a Green or a Libertarian or any other party problem and it is not limited to any one movement such as liberal, conservative, libertarian, progressive or any other political philosophy. And not every member of any party does it but enough do such that we often see very uncivil discourse.

There are a variety of issues including health care, tariffs, tax rates and many others which come up and instead of having a detailed analysis often what we get is trash. Take a topic like health care; you may be for increased Federal funding and control over medicine or you may be opposed but please cut the nonsense and do not insult my intelligence when making your pitch.

What most people seem to ignore is that much of the disagreement about specific policies actually derives from a deeper disagreement on the proper role of government and what nature it should have. That discussion is necessary but often neglected. There are many ways to start the discussion; for example compare the ideas in the book by A Theory of Justice by John Rawls with the ideas in the book Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick. I had the good fortune to read both books for a political philosophy course at UCSB taught by Professor Burleigh T. Wilkins. Of course there are many other important books and ideas; these two are mentioned as examples because I am familiar with them and the works have had some impact in the world of ideas. The point is that I think we would all be better off if we approached these issues honestly and acknowledged that there are deep fundamental issues which need to be addressed.

The Bad

It looks like I am on a theme of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and I have arrived at the Bad. The Doubletree Hotel in San Jose has declined recently and thus gets the title of "The Bad".

I can remember when the hotel was originally The Red Lion. Then it became the Doubletree and it went along OK for a few years. Then it started to decline. Seriously decline. I have attended many conferences and conventions at the hotel and I have seen it go down. I was there for a couple of events this past weekend and I was saddened at the low quality. The quality of the food had declined seriously and I do not recommend anyone eating there. They are now charging for parking so there if you stop off at the bar you will pay an additional $6 or more for just parking.

The service is poor although this appears to less the fault of the front line employees and more the fault of management making very unwise decisions about staffing and operation rules.

Bottom line: Do yourself a favor and do not book any events at the Doubletree. Avoid the place. Perhaps someday the management will be replaced with some people who are competent.

The Good

Saturday my niece was in San Francisco on a work related trip so I was able to get together with her and catch up. We had a great meal at Millennium Restaurant. It is a vegan restaurant and while I am not vegan I enjoyed the meal and would gladly go again. The food was very fresh and well prepared.

Good conversation and good food.



Saturday night Nancy and I went to Spamalot and had a wonderful time. I think this was the last weekend for Spamalot in San Jose and it is moving on. If you get a chance to see it I recommend it. It is a load of fun.


Catch Up From Travel

My traveling during August and early September took a toll on my blog output. Both trips were fun and I had a good time but I returned tired and behind plus I had to get back to my job. No work means no pay; no pay means it is very difficult to finance travel.

In summary the trip to Canada (with a side trip to Kansas to visit family) was great. Quebec City and Montreal are both wonderful. Worldcon was fantastic.

Burning Man was very good. Really great.

Hopefully I will get some photos sorted and some notes written about my travels.


Lots of traveling

The lack of posting for the past few weeks is due to my traveling in late July and early August and then the time needed to get caught up with work and laundry. I spend time visiting family and then headed to Quebec City and Montreal. Worldcon this year was in Montreal.

Now I am getting ready to head out for Burning Man in a few days. My friend Nancy and I will be in an RV this year instead of the tent like last year.

Hopefully I will be writing up some my travels during the coming month.


Perhaps someone is asking the wrong question

I expect that everyone is aware of the just past 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing. I hopped in my car to go have dinner with some friends and caught the tail end of some news story and thus missed the name of the speaker being interviewed. All I heard was he said that he many years ago when he went into schools many hands were raised when he asked how many students wanted to be astronauts. Now he says there are just a few and thus he is concerned.

It seems to me he is asking the wrong question; why not ask "How many are interested in living for 10 or 20 years or more on the Moon or on Mars or on a space colony?" and see how many hands are raised. I do not know for sure how many will be raised but at least it shifts the frame of the discussion. It appears to me the one of the reasons the astronaut question gets such a low response is that there might be a perception of not much change over the decades and that the space program is stagnant.

Plus consider the limited number of astronaut slots. But there are obviously going to be a lot of colonists slots. But will NASA be in the lead in establishing human colonies off earth; not likely because that is not what NASA has been directed to do. And NASA is probably not the proper organization for space colonization. Actually I think the most likely way for it to happen is for the private entrepreneurs like Scaled Composites to lead the way. Maybe they know the questions to ask.


Bruno - A movie review - Contains spoilers

On Saturday I had nothing scheduled for the evening. On an email list I am on there was a discussion briefly touched on the movie Bruno before going off on something else. I decided to see the movie. I had previously seen Borat which is the previous movie by Sacha Baron Cohen so I generally knew what to expect however I had not read any reviews so I did not know much about the details of the movie.

An over-aching aspect of the movie which is bothersome is that the movie plays on stereotypes of gays. I would hope that people would be intelligent enough to realize that the depiction of gays in the movie is not accurate. These stereotypes are much worse that I had expected and actually made the movie less funny rather than more funny. GLAAD has issued a release about the issue.

To me the movie started off rather slow and plodding. In most scenes Cohen and the other actors are not all that funny. Sometimes a bit of humor but not much. The movie gets a bit more interesting when people who are not actors get involved. These are people that know they are being filmed yet have not picked up that this is all a spoof. The part of the movie which is most widely commented on occurs near the end with the cage fight in Arkansas. When the cage fight audience in Arkansas realized that the interaction between Bruno and Lutz had changed from anger and violence to love and affection the audience vented their rage and demonstrated stereotypical redneck, homophobic and low class trashy behavior and attitudes. It should be pointed out that beer was available for $1 per cup at the event and likely contributed to the outcome. Cohen had set up a situation where a bunch of clueless people could demonstrate just how sad they really were. It would be better if there people had more enlightened views. I wonder if seeing themselves in the movie will change any of them?

It is sad that people in Arkansas have that kind of reaction but when it was shown on the movie screen the biggest laughter of the movie erupted in the theater; that patronizing laugh of condescension. It is important to remember that not everyone who has ever lived in Arkansas is a homophobic hick. And not everyone in California is a modern hip sophisticate. Stereotypic depictions should not crowd out clear thinking.

So is ridicule a useful tool for change? Perhaps in some situations but I am doubtful if the movie Bruno will be one of them.

UPDATE: I have been thinking about this for a few more days so I am going to add a couple of comments. Obviously the primary motivation of making Bruno was not change the behavior of racists and homophobes. And likely not the secondary or tertiary or ... well you see my point. But it is worth reflecting on what kind of movie would be useful. If ridicule is the tool to be used then it seems to me that the ridicule needs to be directed at behaviors and opinions and not at people. Particularly not at people who are just over the line; it might be good to give them some room to improve their behavior and say "Oh I am not like that" and then hopefully their attitudes will change also. But this kind of change can take a long time.


A Simple Delight

I have been so busy the past couple of weeks I have not written anything here but I do want to take a few minutes to pass on a simple tasty delight.

Obtain a box of Red Oval Farms Stoned Wheat Thins (Lower Sodium) crackers. Be sure to get the Low Sodium because the regular ones taste too salty. Each cracker is about 6 cm. by 6 cm. square and designed to be split into two pieces. I purchase the crackers at either Safeway or SaveMart but sometimes they are out of stock so whenever I see them I buy a couple of boxes.

Obtain a container of Jimtown Fig And Olive Spread; this is the Jimtown version of a Mediterranean olive tapenade. I get mine at Whole Foods; however they are often out of stock because it sells so fast. There is a webpage for the Fig and Olive Spread.

Obtain a 5 ounce package of Laura Chenel's Chevre Chabis Pure Goat Milk Cheese. The cheese is packaged in a clear plastic bag with a label on it. I can usually find this cheese at either Whole Foods or SaveMart. The way to dispense the cheese is to cut a very small opening at one corner of the plastic so that when you gently squeeze the cheese will extrude in a ribbon about 0.5 to 1.0 cm wide.

Preparation is simple. Take one of the 3 cm by 6 cm cracker pieces and spread with the Fig/Olive Spread. Then on top squeeze a thin ribbon of cheese for the length of the cracker.

Take a bite and enjoy.

I had enjoyed all three of these products individually in the past and one day was inspired to combine them. It tasted good to me. I make some from my friend Nancy and she said they were really good. So now I am sharing the idea with the world. Enjoy.


The Kitchen Table - A Restaurant Review

Recently some friends and I ate on a Wednesday evening at a Kosher restaurant in Mountain View The Kitchen Table. The restaurant is not open on Friday evening or on Saturday.

I had a salad with fish; the fish was very well prepared. I enjoyed it. The appetizers were very tasty. Out of our group of eight one person did say that their turkey burger was bit overcooked on the outside and had a bit of a charred taste. The others in the group seemed to enjoy their meals. The vegetarian in the group enjoyed his soup. The member of our group who had the duck said it was very good.

The restaurant was very busy and thus had the downside of service being a bit slow. This appeared to be due to the restaurant being full on a Wednesday and I suspect the crowd was due to people wanting to try a restaurant which had opened fairly recently.


Tiananmen Square

Those who are shocked that the government of the PRC has clamped down on communications and social network internet sites are hopelessly naive. Given other crackdowns on dissent such as during the Olympics; this crackdown should have been expected.

However I do not think the situation is hopeless; I think it is possible that when the 100th anniversary of Tiananmen Square occurs that perhaps there will be a statue erected to honor the memory and the example of the brave man who stood up to the tanks. Will it happen; maybe; maybe not. The PRC is better now than earlier times; will the liberal values of free expression and free markets be more fully realized in 80 years? I hope so.


Maker Faire

This weekend I went to Maker Faire. It has been held 2007, 2008 and 2009 in San Mateo. There was also a Maker Faire this year in Newcastle, UK. Austin, Texas has had Maker Faires in 2007 and 2008.

Maker Faire has everything from large Tesla coils and Flame exhibits to robotics and do it your self electronics to exhibits on spinning wool into yarn and making costumes. Maker Faire has some art projects that have been at Burning Man as well as groups such as Flaming Lotus Girls. There are several hands on things; as well as inexpensive classes and also children's activities. I spent most of the day Saturday there. It was a load of fun. Plus I bumped into many friends there.

I recommend Maker Faire.


Prop 8

It was announced today that the California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 8; the ban on same-sex marriage.

I was disappointed when I heard the news. It made me feel sick inside. It seems that people never stop wanting to use government to create special privileges for one group at the expense of another. In this case it is gays and lesbians that are being discriminated against. I wonder who it will be next.

When will people realize that some things are just too important for government to be messing with them? In addition to separation of church and state I think we need separation of marriage and state


Weekend, Baycon and etc.

I spent a lot of the weekend doing various personal errands. And there was the work emergency due to a server not working; this resulted in my cell phone going off at about 6:00AM Sunday morning with an alert. I jumped out of bed to deal with it and another person from work called me about it so we worked on it and got everything working again. Unfortunately I was tired Sunday and Monday due to the sleep interruption.

When I was not working or running errands I spent some time Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday hanging out at Baycon; a local SF convention. It is a good place to get together with friends. The art show was good and I bought a couple of inexpensive pieces. Baycon was held in the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara. The Sushi restaurant is good. I had the buffet in the restaurant on two occasions; on Saturday it was OK; on Monday Lunch is was better than average with Poached Salmon; steamed vegetables, rice pilaf and a few other items. The salmon was very good; not overcooked. I avoided eating any of the several cakes; looked like too much gooey sugary frosting more my taste.

I bumped into someone I worked with years ago who is now running a new book company called HappyAbout.info. Appears that they are using ebook and online sales.


Signs in Chinese and English

I happened upon a page of Chinese/English signs. The URL is:


I particularly enjoyed the No Smoking sign. Sometimes changing the wording on a common phrase in enough to get people's attention.


Science and politics

Something that bothers me is the tendency by some people to improperly entangle two different spheres of activity; science and politics. I get annoyed when people try to link a political theory to the debate on a science question.

Of course the issue most prominent today is Climate Change. It makes no sense to me for someone to say that having a Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian or other political theory or position then necessarily indicates a how a person stands on Climate Change questions except to say that any study should be done with openness, transparency and integrity. Climate Change covers may questions ranging from the magnitude and direction of change, the role of human activity, the role of volcanic activity under the Artic, the role of solar activity, ocean chemistry and currents, cloud and rain patterns and so forth. These are topics to be studied by meteorologists, climatologists, physicists, chemists, vulcanologists, geologists and similar disciplines. There is no more a Whig, Tory, Republican, Democrat, Green or Libertarian, etc. position on Climate change than there is a Whig, Tory, Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, etc. position on String Theory.

Bay Area Skeptics Meeting

Over the weekend I went to the Bay Area Skeptics meeting. The gathering was held at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Palo Alto. The building is a old high and stately structure with a high ceiling and was originally the site of the Bijou Theater. The restaurant opened in 1988 and was the first of the Gorden Biersch Brewery Restaurants. One downside to the building is that it does not have air-conditioning and last weekend had higher than normal temperatures.

The meeting was a simple unstructured get together. There were between 12 and 15 people in the group as people came and left. Generally the conversation was interesting. There were a couple of cases of people who thought they knew about something but generally someone else was there to give them the proper information. Overall it was interesting and I might attend more of these get together meetings.


New Star Trek Movie

After visiting the San Jose Museum of Art I went to the AMC Mercado in Santa Clara and bought a ticket for the new Star Trek movie. They have an IMAX screen and I decided to see it on IMAX. Now this is not the large curve screens that is the image that many people have of IMAX. It is just a larger flat screen. But is it larger so I spent the $13.75 to see it. I got my ticket a couple of hours in advance because I expect the showing to sell out (it did according to what I heard). Then I grabbed by computer from my car and went to the World Wraps restaurant near the theater ate a very tasty Thai Chicken wrap while reading a couple of novelettes on my laptop. The two that I read are Hugo award finalists.

The movie was better than expected. In my opinion the story of the young Kirk just did not hold together well and I think could have been better written; it was just a bit too much over the top. However once the movie shifted to Star Fleet Academy the writing seemed to get tighter and better structured.

I will not give away any of the key points of the movie. One thing which the movie did well was demonstrate a sensibility to the original Star Trek series and to Roddenberry's vision. I recommend the movie.

Warhol Exhibit

I went to the San Jose Museum of Art to see the Andy Warhol exhibit; it was great. The exhibit had works from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, While many of the images have been reproduced in books, magazines and online; seeing them full size is great.

The exhibit is generally well done with good thematic positioning of the works. The exhibit runs through May 31, 2009. I recommend seeing it if you can.


Restaurant and Lounge Recommendations

On Friday my friend Nancy took me out for dinner. We went to Bodrum Cafe in Mountain View at 383 Castro St. The food is excellent Mediterranean cruise. Very tasty. Great Service. Definitely a place worth a return visit.

Saturday night at the Hedley Lounge to relax and listen to some live jazz. The Hedley Lounge is located in the DeAnza Hotel in downtown San Jose. The DeAnza Hotel was upgraded and few years ago and is very nice. The Hedley has a fine staff and is a great place to spend an evening.


This weekend saw the play Breaking the Code

I saw the play Breaking The Code which is about Alan Turing. It was well performed at the Bus Barn Stage in Los Altos. This is a small theater group which I had not previously attended. The performance was good, with well done sets and very fine acting. One downside is that the performance deserved a larger audience.

Since Turing and the basic information about his life and death are well known it is hard to say if someone not already familiar with the basics would follow the play easily. The play runs at Bus Barn Theater until May 2 and I recommend it.

Seeing the play is yet another reminder of the stupidity surrounding the arrest and prosecution of Alan Turing. In addition to his brilliant work in mathematics and computation Turing was turning his talents to biology. We will never know the extent to which Turing could have contributed to science if he had been allowed to live his live without persecution. It is very likely that he could have contributed to biological knowledge and thus aided in reducing human illness and suffering.


A small movie review of Shall We Kiss?

The movie "Shall We Kiss?" (Un Baiser S'il Vous Plait) is a French romantic comedy. It was better than I expected. The characters had enough substance that movie did not seem limp and the characters did not do too many stupid things. I have not seen many French romantic comedies however when I think about the general category the image of silly people doing stupid things always comes to mind. This movie was different; the number of "that is just stupid" moments was greatly reduced. The movie had some predictable moments but these were actually handled very well.

This movie is structured as a man and a women having dinner after an accidental meeting. The man suggests a good night kiss and the woman declines and starts to tell a story to explain why the kiss is not a good idea even though she wants it. During the course of the movie the man also tells a small story. This works much better than it sounds.

The ending of the movie was well done and meshed well with the rest of the movie. It did not seem gimmicky or trite. I could think of a different ending which would have worked as well however the ending chosen was good.

I recommend this movie even if you are not a French romantic comedy fan.


Monsters vs. Aliens 3D

My friend Nancy and I went to see the movie Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D. We had a great time and enjoyed the movie. The movie was actually better than I expected It was well paced and the movie did not have parts where it dragged. The characterization was good and meshed will with the plot and story. The 3D worked very well; this is not the old red and blue 3D but a different technology that gives a reasonably good experience. The 3D glasses were comfortable enough that after a while you forgot you were wearing them and the 3D effect worked well. I had previously seen the movie Coraline with the same 3D technology and I think it is going to be successful particularly for animation.

My recommendation is to see Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D.


Contact Conference

Friday, Saturday and Sunday I attended the Contact Conference. It was a fine and interesting conference covering a range of topics from space travel and issues on about going to Mars to the interesting biology in caves. The conference was video taped and I have been told that the video will be going up on the web. Since it will be online soon and I am a bit tired I will not do a detailed description.

I did some volunteer work at the conference helping with the snack and beverage table and opening Champagne and wine during the Saturday night party. As far as I could tell everyone had a great time. I know I did.


Attended the play Candide

Today I was very fortunate to attend the final performance of the play Candide at the Calaveras Repertory Theatre. The play is a modern adaption of the novel by Voltaire and was translated, adapted and directed by John Ribovich. There were four actors Maggie Ferrill, Noel Wood, Tim Davis,Gloria Betsy Picart who played all of the various parts.

You could tell that the cast was really having a wonderful time with the material and their roles. I enjoyed the play and if they ever stage the production again I recommend it.


EFF Benefit Reading

Monday evening there was a benefit reading for the EFF in San Francisco. Reading were Charlie Jane Anders, Annalee Newitz, Rudy Rucker and Cory Doctorow. All read from either works in progress or recently published works. It was great. I enjoyed it.

After the reading I had the privilege of speaking with Cory for a couple of minutes and telling him that his novel Little Brother was a finalist for the Libertarian Futurist Society Prometheus Best Novel Award. He was very happy. I highly recommend the book. Get it from your favorite bookseller or via download for immediate pleasure
Free Download Link From Cory's Website.

The Full List of Prometheus Award Finalists.



According to various news reports HRP-4C is a walking and talking robot just announced in Japan. The unit is described as being generally female in form with a height of 158 centimeters and a weight of 58 kilograms. The basic robotic framework will be available for sale and software available as open source. Various news articles are available: International Herald Tribute and Engadget (with link to video).

Obviously there is a lot of work to do but I am impressed at what National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan has achieved thus far. I saw Asimo (developed by Honda) demonstrated in 2006 and I was impressed then and I expected to see progress. Based on what I see it will not be too many years until we see more advanced models working a variety of roles. This will be happen just in time since Japan (like many other countries) has an aging population.


Over the weekend I saw the movie Watchmen. It was not bad; actually it was fairly good considering the difficulty of trying to take the vision of a graphic novel and transfer it to a motion picture. One thing which actually helped the movie was how closely it followed the graphic novel; this kept it from wondering off course.

Time will tell about how the movie does financially. I suspect that there were people going to the movie who were not familiar with the graphic novel and expected a typical superhero movie. For people who enjoyed the graphic novel; I recommend the movie if you adjust your expectation appropriately. For people who have never read the graphic novel but can deal with an atypical superhero story with lots of violence and story line which is more complex than average superhero movie then it is worth seeing. Both the graphic novel and the movie will make you think.

The Guardian has an interesting interview with Alan Moore in which Moore discusses the Watchmen graphic novel, some of his views on comics and his take on the movie business. In the interview Moore also discusses Lost Girls. I have not read Lost Girls but the Guardian describes it as "a 320-page, three-volume work of pornography, illustrated by Melinda Gebbie, a veteran of the San Francisco underground and also his wife." The Lost Girls covers the sexual adventures of three fictional women – Lewis Carroll's Alice, Peter Pan's Wendy and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.


Photos, laws and related topics

The are several topics in the news that are somewhat related:
The Canadian Film maker Rob Spence lost an eye in an accident as a teenager and now he wants to have a mini camera installed in his prosthetic eye. And Tanya Vlach in San Francisco also has the same idea. My guess is that one or both of these projects will be successful within a few weeks or months; I would be very surprised if it takes over a year. Thus there would be people walking around taking video on the fly; not great high definition but still video.

Coming on the market are small lanyard cameras such as those in this BoingBoing blog entry.

Now consider what some police and politicians are doing. Cory Doctorow had a blog post in BoingBoing about the bizarre behaviour of NYPD on trying to enforce a law that does not exist; details in this NYT article. And then there is the proposal in the UK about police photos. I suspect that many police and politicians want to watch everyone and have no one watch them.

Surveillance is not a simple subject. The recent case of a Chicago cop beating a bartender is interesting in that the charges against the officer were increased after the surveillance video hit the internet. And there is the role video shot from cameras of the BART police shooting a young man.

These topics are more complex than I can cover in this one post. However as a beginning place to start thinking about these issues I suggest reading Cory Doctorow's SF novel Little Brother which is available as a free download and at booksellers. And there are a couple of sites worth following since they often have news on these topics: BoingBoing and the Reason blog.


Potlatch SF Convention

I spent the weekend at the Potlatch-SF convention held in Sunnyvale. It bounces around between the SF Bay Area and Seattle and once in a while Portland. Potlatch has a focus on SF literature. Having two books of honor this year worked well.

Overall I had a wonderful time. There were a couple of things which could have been a bit better but most relatively minor. Several others have already done blog entries about con and some of the panels so I will just point those who are interested to sites such as:
this one
and here is another
and yet another
and several here.
This list of web resources for Potlatch is not complete but should give those who could not be there a starting point.

Next year Potlatch will be in Seattle. The details are TBD.


Marriage and related topics

Cheryl Morgan has written some wise words in her blog about polygamy and other things related to marriage and the government. Her post was triggered by some comments published in the Guardian. The comments deal with more that simple UK issues.

As Cheryl points out these are big and important issues about how people organize theirs lives and we have the frightful actions of various religious factions trying to use the government to enforce their views on morality and social institutions on everyone else. I highly recommend reading what Cheryl has written. A few months ago I wrote a short piece covering similar issues.



As anyone following the news knows the economic situation is less than optimal. As I was thinking about this I was reminded of something that happened a few years ago. I was sitting around with some friends. The topic of conversation was economics and one person mentioned micro-finance and how well some of the micro-finance projects were doing in helping the poor particularly poor women. This lead to a general discussion of various charities and several individuals in the group mentioned charities; some of which the others had never heard of. These charities were not "ideological" that is they were not associated with a religion or political movement; they were just charities to help others.

What was interesting to me is the everyone in the group had known everyone else for at least two years and in some cases over 15 years but the idea of mentioning charitable donations had not come up before. We just had never thought about each other donating to a charity. So remembering that conversation lead me to think that making a post about charities might be a good idea since charities tend to have declining revenues during economic downturns.

There are many charities and there are also rating agencies which rate how much of the donations go to the intended cause. So you can find plenty of worthy non-ideological groups who are not pushing religion or politics but who are helping people. I like to think both locally and globally so I will mention ones that I support and I think do a good job. Local to me is Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Globally there is Smile Train which provides surgery to fix cleft lip and palate defects in poor children.

So if you can afford to make a donation now would be a good time to find a charity that you can help support. Thanks.


Holiday Weekend

This past weekend was the extended Valentine's Day and President's Day weekend. I had dinner with my dear lady friend Nancy although we got a bit damp. It rained a lot but it was needed to help fill up our reservoirs.

Also on Sunday a friend was in town on business from Texas so he, I and a mutual friend got together for dinner. We ate at Xahn in Mountain View. I have eaten there several times and always enjoyed it; the sea bass cooked in banana leafs was very tasty.

A lot of people were off work on Monday but I worked. I had things to do and since I am on contract I get no paid days off; so if I do not work I do not get paid. That is a real incentive.


Went to a Birthday Party

I went to a Birthday party today in San Francisco; had some cake and sang "Happy Birthday" The party was actually a few days early. The party was for Charles Darwin. There was someone taking the role of Darwin who spoke for a while. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of NCSE National Center Science Education gave a great talk about Darwin, his life, his accomplishments and importance of Darwin.

Saw the movie Coraline 3D

Saturday I saw the movie Coraline in 3D. The movie is the first ever stop-motion animated film to be shot in 3D. There are some theaters showing a 2D version; I went to a theater showing the 3D version. The story line and visuals work well together. It is definitely worth seeing if you at all enjoy fantasy.


Commercial Party

I had a wonder time at my friend Brad's Super Bowl Commercial Party. The key to the party is that he records the Super Bowl on his MythTV setup and while it is recording those that want can go out for a hike. We hiked at the Rancho San Antonio County Park in Los Altos. Our group got separated but we eventually all made it back. Brad and Kathryn had set up a wonder spread of snacks. And before we left some of us had picked lemons from their tree for lemonade. So when we all got back Brad started the game and would fast forward until there was either a scoring play or a commercial. About half way through our viewing the pizza delivery arrived and we ate well. Then back to the commercials. When done seeing the game, the cake was brought out. On the cake was written "Go Products Go" in honour of the commercials.

Lots of good people, good food, good commercials and a generally good time.


Another Second Life Party and a Visit to the Cartoon Museum

Yesterday (Saturday) morning I participated in a surprise Birthday party for my friend Max held in Second Life. There were over 50 well wishers from around the world at the event. It was a great event and a fun time was had by all.

Then in the afternoon I headed up to San Francisco to do a few things; primarily to visit the Cartoon Museum which has a special exhibit of items related to CORALINE; first ever stop-motion animated film to be shot in 3D. The exhibit contains puppets, sets, costumes, drawings and storyboards. There is also a short video about the making of the movie and the work that went into it. I am generally not overly interested in puppets however I found this exhibit well worth the trip and the admission fee. It runs for a couple of more weeks and I highly recommend it.


Just saw the play "A Clockwork Orange"

This evening (Saturday) I attended a performance of the Anthony Burgess play "A Clockwork Orange" by Renegade Theatre Experiment of San Jose. It was a very fine performance. The motion picture "A Clockwork Orange" is probably better known and even the novel upon which the movie was based is better known than the play. I have seen the movie and read the book but this is the first time I had seen the play. I enjoyed the play very much. If I had not already been familiar with the novel then I expect certain parts of the play might have been slightly difficult to follow. As it was I found my self following the unfolding of the story in the play and at the same time noticing the places where the book and the play differed. The differences are mostly in the elimination or compression of a few scenes to keep the play to a reasonable length.

The play is performed at the Hoover Theater. This is not one of fine venues found in downtown San Jose; rather it is on the grounds of Hoover Middle School in San Jose. Do not let the humble facility deter you. Admission is $20 and well worth it. This is much a thought provoking and interesting piece. I recommend it.


Transition in POTUS

Well Bush is out and Obama is in.

At the moment the two words which Bush brings to mind are:

I have no great expectations about Obama so I will not be surprised if things do not improve however if Obama does better than Bush (which should not be too difficult) then I will be pleasantly surprised.

Time will tell.


Very Fine Day

Yesterday (Sunday) and today (Monday) were both unseasonably warm. Both days I went for a mid-day walk in tee shirt and jeans and was very comfortable. Sunny, blue sky, a few wispy clouds with just a slight breeze. The forecast indicates that this weather pattern might continue for a few more days. Wonderful.


Saturday in San Francisco

I spent Saturday in San Francisco, I rode up from San Jose to San Francisco on the Caltrain which took about 90 minutes and gave me time to read. The main reason was to visit the Asian Art Museum to see the visiting exhibition of Afghanistan treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. Many of the items were over 2,000 years old. It is interesting to see the items with either origins or influences from many different areas and cultures such as Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese. The museum building was the old public library building which was upgraded and is now a fine facility.

After the museum I went over to Valencia Street. There are a variety of interesting shops along Valencia including the Pirate Store, Good Vibrations and Borderlands Books. Borderlands is a great bookstore with both new and used books. Saturday evening I got in line early to get a seat for Writers with Drinks. I have been to Writers with Drinks a couple of times and while it is of variable quality I usually find it interesting. Then since I was closer to a Bart station I walked over to the Bart station and rode Bart to the Millbrae station and then got Caltrain.


Have you read Little Brother?

Cory Doctorow is a fine writer and has written one of those books with is marketed as a Young Adult novel but can be enjoyed byan older audience. If you have not read his book Little Brother then I recommend it. I suggest both buying the book at your favorite bookstore and getting the free download version.

The download is at:

Most people will have one or more quibbles about the novel but it is well worth reading and it does raise some interesting questions.


Remember the baby shower last month

Remember the baby shower I mentioned previously? Just a quick followup that the baby was born on Friday Jan 2 and that both mother and baby are doing fine. The mother created a gmail account for the young baby and so she will be receiving emails before she can read.

EFF is 18

I attended the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) 18th anniversary party Wednesday evening at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco. The EFF is a good group and I generally agree with them. I am a member and if you are interested in liberty in the realm of computers, electronics and the digital world in general then I suggest that you might want to be a member also. Visit www.eff.org and find out more.