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Transience Divine Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "James R." journal:

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October 18th, 2015
11:55 pm

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Milan Expo 2015
I am now back in Berkeley, enjoying the sun as New York State slowly covers in snow. So to remember my brief time in Italy, I give you some photos.

Coffee Forum finale Milan Expo 2015
Coffee Forum finaleMilan Expo 2015


Above is the last event of the World Coffee Forum, with a ceremony of countries around the world symbolically pouring coffee beans into a mixed bag (which we all got a small sachet of). After the event, we were left free to wander the Milan Expo, 12 million square feet of exhibits designed to make a person hungry.

Malaysian Expo site Another Expo pavilion
Malaysian Expo siteAnother Expo pavilion


Every country had a "pavilion"-- or part of one, or multiple ones-- consisting of a building constructed solely for the Expo. The pavilions seemed to reflect the aspirations of each country, whether mosque-like Qatar, souring Russia, Poland-the-hashtag, or Korea's building of robots.

Train in the Milan Science and Tech museum Park Sempione
Milan Science museumPark Sempione


Having seen the Expo on the last day of the Forum, I wandered the city before heading to Nice, visiting the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci", with its building of trains, and Park Sempione near the Castello Sforzesco (deserted, because of a little drizzle).

I went to Nice, France, before coming back, but I have no pictures of it because the rain followed me and drenched my phone. It took the phone a week to recover, but it did.

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October 3rd, 2015
03:44 pm

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World Future Day in Milan
Every trip is about something different. And no matter what you want it to be about, life seems to impose its own meaning and expose just what you need.

My trip to Italy has something to do with the future-- or maybe past visions of the future and their impossibility. Here are the pieces I'm trying to puzzle together.

For my recent birthday, my mom created a self-declared "box of old books of the month club", to give me some of my dad's old sci-fi paperbacks as she prepares to move. I brought with me "World's Best Science Fiction: 1965", which the introduction informs me is the first of its kind. The longest story, which I read on the plane, is called "Four Brands of Impossible."

Also on the plane, after a round of edits on my report, I watched Disney's Tomorrowland. The movie is meant to be an inspiring reinvigorating of our hope in the future in the face of global problems, but ends up making that vision seem even more ridiculous and inapplicable.

My reason for visiting Italy was to present a year's work on the future of coffee at the Global Coffee Forum. For many of my results, I had targeted the year 2050. Jeff Sachs, who did the actual talking, just came from securing global agreement on the "Sustainable Development Goals" as the successors to the MDGs until 2030-- an incredible achievement-- and used his allotted time mostly to discuss these. The Forum was set for the first World Coffee Day, ironically to discuss the eve of the industry's lean-times consolidation.

At the same time, Milan is hosting the EXPO 2015, a kind of World Fair. Like a 100x scaled-up Epcot Center, every country had its own pavilion, but the exhibits showed a bizarre juxtaposition of the desire to present their modernity of industry next to idealized representation of traditional agriculture. I went into a score or more buildings, but the most popular were clogged with wrapping waiting lines.

For my free day in Milan, yesterday, my top tourist visit was the Museo Nazionale Scienze e Tecnologia. When I couldn't find an obvious entrance, I went into the building with a 20-foot billboard announcing their temporary exhibit on Space. It turned out to only be the exit, and I would need to enter through their exhibit on the history of clocks (a clear allegory for time itself).

It's easy enough to distinguish objective reality from meaning, but impossible to distinguish the meaning I experience from my mood. Nonetheless, there is something ironic in this trip. Repeatedly, I see a connection between the future and our only approach to it through the past. The near future is in the process of being made, and it is hopeful: the SDGs, the likelihood of an agreement in Paris, the recognition that better knowledge can produce better action. The point is not that this isn't the future we envisioned; it was never going to be. The point, perhaps, is that the path to the future is more shoots than ladders.

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September 26th, 2015
12:15 am

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One console to rule them all
I love text consoles. The more I can do without moving a mouse or opening a new window, the better. So, when I saw XKCD's command-line interface, I grabbed the code and started to build new features into it, as my kind of browser window to a cyber world of text.

I want to tell you about my console-based time-management system, the entertainment system, the LambdaMOO world, the integration with my fledgling single-stream analysis toolbox. But the first step was to clean out the password-protected stuff, and expose the console code for anyone who wants it.

So here it is! Feel free to play around on the public version, http://console.existencia.org/, or clone the repository for your own.

screenshot

Here are the major changes from the original XKCD code by Chromacode:

  • Multiple "shells": I currently just have the Javascript and XKCD-Shell ones exposed. Javascript gives you a developer-style javascript console (but buggy). You can switch between the two by typing x: and j:.

  • A bookmark system: ln URL NAME makes a new bookmark; ls lists the available bookmarks, and cd NAME opens a bookmark.

  • A login/registration system: Different users can have different bookmarks (and other stuff). Leave 'login:' blank the first time to create a new account.

  • Some new commands, but the only one I'm sure I left in is scholar [search terms] for a Google Scholar search.



Share, expand, and enjoy!

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September 13th, 2015
10:37 pm

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Gnostic Doubts
A while back, I got very excited about Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi Library. I'm stumbling upon more of that world, with a weird coincidence. The roleplaying game I'm making is set in the time of the rising of Zoroastrianism, and its crusade against untruth and error. Then, this morning, I attended my first (and last?) service of the local Christian Science branch, in a beautiful wooden cathedral on my corn. The rhetoric was strikingly similar: Truth is the only reality, and it is unchanging and godly. Matter and the world as we perceive it is unreal and can neither think nor feel.

With the huge caveat that I know very little of Christian Science or the other two, part of me loves this rationalist vision. It quickly leads to a new conception of the soul and God Itself. If the world does not exist as such, then neither do we as such; whatever it is that is not-matter in us is very close to God, and it is exactly that entity that finds Itself in (or at least surrounded by) error. But therein lies Gnosticism's central problem.

1. Why would God cause there to be error? The Gnostics blame the demiurge and Zoroaster blamed Angra Mainyu, setting a figurehead on the two sides of their dualistic universe. Christian Scientists have no such choice, so the blame falls to mere mortals. Even for the earlier Gnostics, God seems to have basically given Itself a split-personality disorder. Why would It do that, except that It liked it better that way?

2. It seems dreadful to treat all of nature like an abomination. In his writings, John Muir speaks endlessly of the divinity of nature, the wondrousness of its infinite complexity and the vibrance of its multitudinal spirits. To him, the trees are cathedrals, the clouds are cities; he writes that "many other beautiful winged people, numbered and known and loved only by the Lord, are waltzing together high over head, seemingly in pure play and hilarious enjoyment of their little sparks of life."

And while I'm sure that many kinds of disease are horrible and without mitigating benefits, those are not the one's I have been lucky enough to encounter. The diseases I know are wise and deep. As Ginsberg says, "Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!"

Perhaps there is only one reality, and error is all around us. But if so, it seems prudent to look for that reality in the infinite beauty that surrounds us.

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September 9th, 2015
07:16 pm

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Labor Day 2015: More hours for everyone
In the spirit of Labor Day, I did a little research into Labor issues. I wanted to explore how much time people spent either at or in transit to work. Ever since the recession, it seems like we are asked to work longer and harder than ever before. I'm thinking particularly of my software colleagues who put in 60 hour weeks as a matter of course, and I wanted to know if it's true across sectors. Has the relentless drive for efficiency in the US economy taken us back to the limit of work-life balance?

I headed to the IPUMS USA database and collected everything I could find on the real cost of work.

When you look at average family working hours (that is, including averaged with spouses for couples), there's been a huge shift, from an average of 20-25 hours/week to 35-40. If those numbers seem low, note that this is divided across the entire year, including vacation days, and includes many people who are underemployed.

The graph below shows the shift, and that it's not driven by specifically employees or the self-employed. The grey bands show one standard deviation, with a huge range that is even larger for the self-employed.

klass


So who has been caught up in this shift? Everyone, but some industries and occupations have seen their relative quality of life-balance shift quite a bit. The graph below shows a point for every occupation-and-industry combination that represents more than .1% of my sample.

hours


In 1960, you were best off as a manager in mining or construction; and worst as a laborer in the financial sector. While that laborer position has gotten much worse, it has been superseded in hours by at least two jobs: working in the military, and the manager position in mining that once looked so good. My friends in software are under the star symbols, putting in a few more hours than the average. Some of the laboring classes are doing relatively well, but still have 5 more hours of work a week than they did 40 years ago.

We are, all of us, more laborers now than we were 60 years ago. We struggle in our few remaining hours to maintain our lives, our relationships, and our humanity. The Capital class is living large, because the rest of us have little left to live.

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September 7th, 2015
09:57 am

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A Day for Labor
The meaning of Labor Day seems lost on much of my generation. Many take it to be intrinsically ironic: what a funny thing that we don't work on Labor Day. But of course it is not ironic at all.

The 1% and the 99% are new names for a newly harsh distinction between Capital and Labor. Even my knowledge-worker class is trapped in a cycle of laboring, with 60 hour weeks just to keep our jobs and housing prices chasing away the gains. We are, all of us, Labor.

99% of our days are spent serving capital, and yet we feel lost on the 1% reserved for ourselves.

So I want to live this day outside the cycle. To contemplate and read. To cook eggs and vegan sausage. To enjoy the sun out of doors. To clean a little, but not for maintenance sake. And yes, to work, but not ironically: I will do a little work for Labor that our day of liberty can come sooner.

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September 2nd, 2015
12:09 am

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The role of non-empirical science
The New York Times has an op-ed today about that argues "Psychology Is Not in Crisis, in response to the response to a paper that tried and failed to reproduce 60 of 100 psychology experiments. I have been thinking for a long time about the importance of falsifiability in science, and the role of the many kinds of research we do in light of it.

I was recently re-perusing Collins et al. 2010, which purports to address the need for an integrated approach to environmental science, with a new conceptual framework. The heart of the framework is the distinction between "pulse" and "press" dynamics. I do not want to explain the difference here though. I want to know if we learn something from it.

Knowledge comes in many forms. There's empirical knowledge, facts about the world that we know could not have known until they were observed; analytical knowledge, resulting from the manipulation of logical constructs; and wisdom, inarticulable knowledge that comes from experience.

The Collins et al. paper uses analysis, but it proves no theorems. But of course analysis can be a powerful tool without mathematical analytics. Recognizing multiple parts of a whole can open doors in the mind, and provide substance to a question. Nonetheless, the criteria for science of the usefulness of analysis is, does it allow us to learn something we did not already know? Knowing that fire is a pulse dynamic while climate change is a press dynamic could come in handy, if these categories added additional knowledge.

I claim that papers like this do not try to teach analytical knowledge, although they focus on a piece of analysis. Their goal is to expand our wisdom, by giving it shape. The distinction is not tied to anything we did not already know about fire and climate change. Like a professor who notices two things being conflated, the paper tries to expand our vocabulary and through it our world. Alas, it is exactly the wherewithal to shape our conceptual world that constitutes the wisdom sought. Pulse and press dynamics are one nice distinction, but there are so many others that might be relevant. Having a distinction in mind of pulse and press dynamics is only useful if I can transcend it.

Knowledge builds upon itself, and naturally bleeds between empirics, analysis, and wisdom. I am not a psychologist, but I presume that they are seeking knowledge in all of its forms. The discovery that 60 empirical building blocks were not as sure as they appeared does not undermine the process of science in psychology, and indeed furthers it along, but I hope that it undermines psychology-the-field, and the structure of knowledge that it has built.

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August 27th, 2015
12:07 am

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Public personas in the crossfire
I've spoken elsewhere of the way that grad-student life can crowd out real human connections, interests, and awareness. While life as a postdoc seems better, I've discovered a new, longer-term struggle around human connections and academics. This post is to apologize for the cross-chatter of research that you'll see if you follow me in mixed-company social networks (presently, Twitter).

The academic is a sole entrepreneur, treading water in the sea until you catch enough driftwood to build your own boat. Well, it doesn't need to be that isolating, but the stakes are as high and the self-reliance as complete. Communicating one's work is a part of the job that has no clean boundaries.

When I post about research, it isn't meant for most of my friends, and it isn't a reflection of my passions outside of work. I do it as a signal to the academic world, and my public persona gets caught in the crossfire.

I will keep posting my non-work (read: non-academia) life here, at least at the trickle I have been. If you do want both, or to do your own filtering, feel free to follow my Food for Thought blog, which automatically draws from both the social and research streams.

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July 29th, 2015
12:17 am

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Living in Berkeley
I'm now settled into a studio just south of the UC Berkeley campus. With a built-in secretary, a lock on just the bedroom side of the door to the kitchen, and a tight service stairway out of the kitchen, the apartment feels bizarrely colonial.

I'm only sometimes here though. I was just in NYC for a week, and I fly back for another week on Monday. After some prodding at my going-away party, I'm going to take these trips as an opportunity to get back into a little D&D. Here's the idea for my nascent campaign:

The year is 500 BCE, and the Persian Empire is the crossroads of the world. This is not quite the ancient Persia of history books: it is a place of wonders and legend and secret crafts. But times are changing, whispered by sages and hinted in strange news from distant lands. They say that new gods are coming, old gods will fall, and it is time for everyone to collect their allies close for the coming chaos.

I've also been having some fun with GIS, to combine fantasy and history:

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June 11th, 2015
08:48 pm

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A month of nominal changes
I've been busy! In the last month, I have collected an appalling list of achievements which mean much to the world and very little to life as I live it.

First, I am a doctor, as of May 20. Not a real doctor, and Flame won't let me wear a stethoscope anyway. But my program in sustainable development is officially over. Interestingly, this is nothing like job changes I have had before: I still work on the same projects and attend the same meetings with the same people. But in theory, I am now unemployed, and I will soon be a UC Berkeley employee with similarly slight impacts.

Second, I can now drive a car. Of course, I could before, and have been acceptably competent at it for the past six months. But the winter is a horrible time to take a road test, and New York City is a horrible place for one. My license was finally approved on Monday. I have yet to experience the joys or sorrows of driving alone, but I hear California is great for that.

I have also finished my Hepatitis A and B shot series and gotten a new Yellow Fever vaccination. I think I was already immune with the first shots, and only people who lose their international immunization card need a second Yellow Fever vaccine, but now I have paperwork for all three. And, twelve years out, I am not quite done with my student loans, but with $101.58 left, I might as well be.

Flame and I are now ensconced in a tiny apartment on the corner of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Officially we have had the apartment for over a month, but we just changed residences last week. So, I suppose with all of the nominal changes, there are a few real ones too. It has been an exciting journey! But some time I will need at least a nominal vacation.

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