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Archive for June, 2010

I love a juxtaposition after work. Tonight I was listening to a Philosophy Bites podcast over coffee at a busy intersection, with what looked like a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new park taking place across the way.

The subject of the podcast was singularity – the idea that one day, mankind will build a machine more intelligent than itself – and that machine will in turn build a machine more intelligent than itself – and so on and so on. Where will this take us? What are the ethical considerations?

Could I one day upload the essence of myself to a machine – and make backup copies?

I have to say that, despite having watched a lot of Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, I don’t really worry about this too much. I believe in reincarnation, and that the essence of who we are does exist independently of biology (including the human brain) so that we we transmigrate intact from one life to the next. Enough of that for now.

Machines are very good at being quantitative – and they already outsmart us in this regard. They can write music that is recognizable as music to humans, because music is quantifiable. With the right software, you can sample from digital recordings of songs by Abba, and compose an original song that Benny and Bjorn themselves could have penned, and generate a recording that would pass for Abba. Recorded music can be reduced to 1s and 0s.

But the challenge for a machine would be to compose a funny joke. You could sample from the repertoires of Jeff Foxworthy, Jerry Seinfeld, and Paula Poundstone – only to come up with “You might be a redneck if you dryclean your cat.” – which is hardly funny. If it did make you laugh, it is only because I made it up myself – and might just be funny within the context it was presented:)

I mention the little ceremony over at the park, because I noticed the rather inviting benches – just waiting for butts to sit on them. I may not yet be a senior, but if you’ve spent any time at my blog, you’ll know that sitting at an intersection watching people and buses is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s one of those things that makes me me. An uploaded version of myself could certainly know if the buses were running late – and recognize passersby. But could it really enjoy a latte and scone?

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Tardis time

Another 3-hour journey home from work. Walking. Traffic. Lights. Running for the Link train. Words in the stairwell at University Street Station. Latte at Second & Seneca where the barista now knows my order. YouTube images of Earth from space juxtaposed with very earthbound rush-hour outside. Noisy ride on Water Taxi listening to sounds of thunder and rain on my iPhone. Windblown walk along waterfront enjoying bright and gloomy skies. Roller bladers. Joggers. Beach volleyball. Fish and chips. Rose gardens. Nothing in my mail box.

Seems like a million years since I left work.

In the door, to that welcoming hum.

“Hello.”

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I usually try to avoid contentious debate on the bus. It is annoying for those who have to overhear it, and you run the risk of making enemies of people with whom you have to share a confined space on a regular basis. But I broke this rule today.

There is a character in my neighborhood who I see often – but thankfully don’t have to interact with. Many years ago, he treated to me a rather harsh and uncalled for barrage of criticism and judgement – in the public forum of the bus! Since them, I have given him a wide berth.

He’s one of those people who’s always alone, but clearly unable to enjoy aloneness because he jumps on the slightest opportunity to start a conversation. And it’s always upsetting to have to listen to him. He dresses and acts as though laid back and relaxed.. but my sense is that he’s really very tense and uptight.. and trying hard not to let it show. So today, as I boarded my bus, I was dismayed to see him sitting in the first seat. I just hoped he wouldn’t say anything.

Then one of my bus-buddies got on. He was carrying a laptop that was open. I got his attention and he took the seat in front of me. I teased him about the open laptop, as though he had been using it while walking down the street. He laughed, and then showed me the reason. He had been installing updates that were not done by the time he had to leave to get the bus, so he could not turn off the laptop, or even close it, because that would have put it to sleep. So he had no choice other than head out with it open.

Mister Opinion just could not be quiet and started interrogating my friend about laptop ownership, and how such devices are getting in the way of normal human interactions, and mesmorizing us, and taking over our minds!

Now this was a pretty ordinary laptop my friend has – the type of machine that has been around for well over a decade! So I was surprised he even questioned it, and wondered how Mister Opinion feels about the more new-fangled iPhone. I would soon find out.

I just had to join the conversation and point out the utility of owning such evil toys. My friend with the laptop is looking for a job – and it’s a whole lot easier going to the library with your own laptop to connect to the WiFi for as long as you need, than having to wait for a free computer and then be up against a time limit.

As for the corrupting influence of the iPhone, I remarked that it’s rather handy to know when the bus is really coming, and being able to listen to audio versions of books in situations where reading is not possible. (That’s a good way to defend the iPhone to a cultural snob.)

I just find it offensive that on a bus on a quiet Sunday, you have to defend your ownership of a piece of equipment to a total stranger. But then, this guy starts these conversations all the time. I think I won the argument though:)

When I got off the bus, I went for a latte and muffin and enjoyed the last few chapters of Huckleberry Finn – something that definitely took over part of my mind for the last few weeks:)

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“I have been on a strange and unusual trip and there are many ways in which I could talk about it.”

The above words are inscribed in risers of the steps up to street level from the University Street Transit Tunnel station – the stairwell that brings you out at Third and Seneca. I have read them so many times. Tonight I took the time to write them down – well, tap them into my iPhone:)

I’ve had a bit of a week, with a lot going around my mind – and a lot going on where I work. There’s been a lot in the news also – but I won’t comment, because I try to keep this blog positive
– well, as much as possible.

I’ve been enjoying an audio version of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn of late. It has been the perfect antedote to gloomy news and many M*A*S*H moments at work. Yesterday morning, the chapter was a little short, and the chapter to follow was too long – so I wanted another diversion – something to restore faith in the universe before heading into work. For some reason, Google Earth wouldn’t start. So I went to YouTube.

I couldn’t think of anything to watch. I ended up doing a search on Mark Twain – and found several performances by Hal Holbrook. I have never seen Holbrook do Mark Twain, but have heard about it. Amazing! And there are quite a few on YouTube. Later in the day, I browsed around them a little more and read some of the comments. YouTube threads have a way of going off topic and becoming ridiculous. But in this case, a quote in an off-topic comment caught my eye.

“If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have a key to the universe.”
-Tesla

I have heard of Tesla – but never of this quote. It really excited me. I have had an ongoing relationship with the numbers 3, 6, 9, and 0 for much of my life. These numbers keep showing up in street addresses at which I Iive or work, and in telephone area codes. The trail starts in London in 1982 and brings me to Seattle via Cambridge (UK), Colorado (twice), New Hampshire (twice), and Kentucky – which is where I began to wonder…

I moved to Seattle, to area code 206 and a street address of 24 – and so thought no more about it. But a couple of years later, I was working in a retail store that is very well known by name, rather than address – so I didn’t think much about the address until during a quiet moment when I found myself looking at the front door, trying to make a customer appear!! My attention was drawn to the large glass window above the door – and the street adress up there in huge numbers. 603!! I had to laugh – and wonder.

A little later on, I was getting into the reinvented Doctor Who, in which the Doctor and Rose kept encountering the words Bad Wolf everywhere they went. At first the Doctor took it as a sinister warning. But later we learn that the Tardis scattered those words throughout time and space as a map, to make sure that the Doctor was always in the right place at the right time.

I have since wondered if those numbers are my version of Bad Wolf. I allow myself to enjoy this because Bad Wolf numbers, as I call them, are very pleasing to the eye. And if the 0 is taken to represent 12, they can be easily displayed on a clockface. For example, 3690 makes an upright cross.
I suspect that this orthogonality is something that could make these numbers powerful.

In late 2003, King County Metro took delivery of 100 40-foot low-floor air-conditioned buses. They were assigned coach numbers 3600 through 3699. So there are quite a few Bad Wolf buses there:) And I am always happy to be on one.

I enjoyed Bad Wolf dates too. June 3 of last year (6/3/09) was rather special and I experienced a most amazing coincidence on 6/30/09! September 30 was rather sad when I realized that 9/30/09 would be the last Bad Wolf date until the year 2030. I watched my bedroom clock tick over to 9:39, and bade it farewell. I worried that I might be at the end of my happy trail. But then someone told me that it might mean that I’m definitely going to live to see the day 3/03/30:)

I currently live at street address 4102 and work at 3307 (ow – just 1 digit off!), so no cause for excitement. But I never know where or when Bad Wolf will show up again. I’m pretty sure it will:)

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I don’t live right at Alki – rather around a mile or so south. But when asked where in West Seattle I live, I say Alki because everyone knows where it is – especially on nice summer evenings.

I enjoy a walk to Alki any time of the year, and in just about any weather. I had a happy routine last winter. After getting home from work and feeding the cat, I would grab my netbook and go over to Alki for a latte and some Google Earth therapy. I saw some really dark and stormy walks!

But now that summer has finally put in appearance, I’m enjoying strolling through the neighborhood, taking it all in. Right where I live there are no major attractions, so it’s mainly locals out and about – walking dogs, exercising etc.
And on really nice evenings, there are plenty of folks just chillin’ – hanging out on porches, decks, stoops, or in yards -usually with brews or wine. Lots of baggy shorts, ratty tank tops, bare feet and the occasional straw hat.

Closer to the beach is where the fun is. There are many eateries, most of them fairly modest of price, unambitious of cuisine, and somewhat low on “cool”.
However, there are a few establishments that fall into the “see and be seen” category. You certainly see a lot of blonde hair extensions, dark tans, big sunglasses, tight jeans and high heels. And that’s just the guys!!

There’s always a lot of posturing and posing – and it starts with getting out of the car, once they finally find a parking spot. No matter how close they park to the target restaurant, they always seem a bit unsure of which way to go. And once walking, the girls often look wobbly on their heels – as though they are unaccustomed to wearing them. Once done with dinner, they have to stand outside on the sidewalk for at least 10 minutes, and who knows how many phone calls and text messages before they know where they are going next.

Early in summer, they may find themselves hopelessly underdressed as they battle a very chilly breeze coming off Elliot Bay that has all the locals still bundled in hooded sweatshirts. At any time, they always seem to look as though they put in far too much effort simply for dinner at Alki! I wonder who it is they hope to impress.

I wouldn’t say that the beautiful people of Seattle necessarily flock to Alki. But it may be that those who aspire to it come to Alki to practice:)

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After I left work today, I headed up to Sears, hoping to find at least one more of the shirts I bought last week. It was cool and quiet in there, as it usually is on a weekday afternoon. I bought a shirt and left.

Part of me didn’t really want to go straight home. But as the Mariners had a game this evening, I decided it would be better if I did. The weather was gorgeous, so I walked into West Seattle. Along the way, I was passed by the 22 and 57 buses. Nothing unusual about that.

Some bums were fishing from the pier. The wild roses embraced me fragrance. And I got to cool off briefly in the wonderful deep shade under the western end of the West Seattle bridge, where ferns make an urban forest floor.
A rather nice summer walk home.

Once all the way across, I checked bus status on my iPhone. Wow! Everything was showing at least a 30 minute delay! Someone at the bus stop mentioned a demonstration taking place downtown. So I checked it out via Twitter and KIRO7 news. Seems like traffic was halted downtown just in time for the afternoon rush hour.

I actually only waited around 10 minutes for a bus home. But the one that showed up was running around 45 minutes late. Thankfully it was not overcrowded and the A/C was running. Many people thanked the middle-aged lady driver for her performance as they left. Sounds like she did a great job keeping up morale. But it was just a normal ride home from the Bridge for me.

After getting home I went for a walk. The bus disruption only seemed to get worse as the evening progressed. Delays exceeding 30 minutes persisted until after 8pm. I’m sure it was bad all over Seattle, and I expect to hear lots about it tomorrow at work from those who were trying to go north. But it didn’t help the West Seattle situation that there was baseball AND that the Spokane Street swing bridge had to open up shortly after I’d made it across!! (I see that West Seattle buses are now almost back to normal – just in time for the Mariners post-game reroute!!)

“It all seemed normal to me.” I somehow made it home completely unaffected by this. It’s amazing that something causing such disruption can have such minimal impact on someone who was only a couple of miles away, despite the fact that transit was impacted citywide. If I had not been actively following the fallout, on my iPhone and from bus-spotting as I took my evening walk, I might have had no reason to suppose the evening commute was anything other than normal.

I suppose that I was accidentally “insulated” from gridlock misery this time. And I suppose that it’s also very possible to be insulated from the effects of recession, or natural disaster, or war – and still enjoy an illusion that everything is normal. And OK.

“The illusion is always of normalcy” – Doctor Who.

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I’m a bit of a M*A*S*H-aholic – on the wagon for now. Back when I had a satellite dish, I probably watched 2-3 hours a day. I wished that there could be a M*A*S*H channel. When I moved to Seattle, I settled for what I could find late at night on independent channels. But by 2007, it was getting almost impossible to find M*A*S*H on the air. So I started collecting it on DVD. I finished the collection in December of last year, when I found seasons 2 and 9 on sale at a DVD store that was going out of business.

I don’t have a DVD player, and so watch DVDs on my laptop – taking it to bed with me much of the time. But last February, the drive started acting flaky and I had a hard time getting disks to play. I was about to go and buy an external drive to run off the USB port – but I had just got speakers for my iPod Touch, and was getting into podcasts – and so decided to give M*A*S*H a rest for a bit.

I miss it. For over two years, I fell asleep almost every night to M*A*S*H. After an upsetting day, I would look forward to ending it curled up in bed at the 4077th. The opening music, and the sight and sound of the choppers, always comforted me – as though I were being transported from the battleground to a hospital where I would be taken care of for a while.

I love the low-stimulus, slow pace of M*A*S*H. The colors are subdued earth tones. There is often not much action – just lots of conversation. And not a word of dialog is wasted. There is no small talk.

I have a rather nice, easy life considering the challenging times we live in. But I often have occasion to get upset about something. Most of the time, I try to keep my feelings and opinions to myself – partly because most people don’t care for my opinion, but also because I know there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

Instances when I am upset or angry over something that is utterly ridiculous and a complete waste of time, but someone insists is vitally important – I refer to these as M*A*S*H moments:) I just try to deal with the situation the best I can – often with humor. And I usually do just fine, albeit with a bit of whining.

But every once in a while, I feel I’ve been pushed just that little bit too far – and a M*A*S*H moment progresses into a Hawkeye moment. You know when Colonel Potter gets a “queasy feeling in his gizzard”, and the company worries they will soon be writing to Hawkeye in the stockade? Basically, I am then capable of mouthing off at a 5-star general!! Or at least the civilian equivalent.

I figured this out in January, after watching something from season 2. It was too late to prevent the Hawkeye moments I had at work over the Holiday season (I am in retail), and all too late to prevent myself having been mentioned a few times on Yelp over the years! But perhaps a M*A*S*H moment can be enjoyed in itself, without letting it become a dangerous Hawkeye moment!

Now when I have a M*A*S*H moment that might just become a Hawkeye moment, I try to picture BJ saying “Don’t do it Hawk”. Most of the time it works. But sometimes it just makes me want a martini:)

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Riding the Link Light Rail into downtown Seattle from SODO is always a comforting experience for me – even though there’s not much to see other than the backs of warehouses and loading docks and walls covered with graffiti. Graffiti and rail tracks – seem to make a natural marriage.

This afternoon, I recalled a piece of graffiti I saw for years as I traveled in and out of London while a student. It was on a wall under an elevated motorway structure, just west of Paddington station. I looked for it each and every time.

“I am an angry, passionate soul screaming out in this tortuous mediocrity.”

It was actually the opening line to a longer diatribe which was hard to read from a fast-moving train – but I thought that line alone said enough.

It wasn’t the angry and passionate that excited me. By age 16, I’d heard plenty of that. But tortuous mediocrity! Those were deeply biting words! Decades later, I find myself still thinking of those words.

To a certain degree, ours is a culture of mediocrity – in education, entertainment and politics. But I don’t worry myself over that, because I know there are plenty of other people, far more qualified than me, fighting those battles. But what really makes me want to scream is the tortuous mediocrity of so much daily conversation, that I know is only meant in good will – but which drives me nuts anyway! It’s all so predictable.

On Monday I get asked about my weekend. On Friday, I get asked if I have big plans for the weekend. Now my weekends are kinda dull. It’s a bit of a stretch to come up with a blog post, I can tell you! Unfortunately, I have a bit of a Basil Fawlty penchant for the old sarcasm – and I have to exercise great restraint, and not respond to the “Do you have big plans for the weekend?” as follows:

“Plans for the weekend? Oh, the biggest! I thought I’d walk the dog and then do some laundry. Maybe later I’ll go mad and order a pizza! On second thoughts, I think I’ll steal a car and rob a liquor store.”

And on Monday morning, when asked, “Did you have a good weekend?”
I want to say:

“Haven’t you read about it yet? It’s in all the papers!”

If you are still reading this, you’re no doubt thinking that I’m a really mean person. I’m sorry, but I just have a really low tolerance for small talk. (I had some very colorful moments in retail
work.)

My English accent is the bane of my existence. I get tired of being asked about it. I don’t know why it matters to people. It probably doesn’t. It’s just the obvious thing to talk about. I sometimes wish someone would ask instead if I ever had robbed a liquor store (which I haven’t by the way.) I wouldn’t be offended – because I’ve never been asked it before. It’s hardly an appropriate question for a stranger – but at least it’s not dull.

Good piece of graffiti isn’t it? Forty years later, it’s still affecting me:)

I’d love to know if it’s still there.

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Around 12 years ago, I was rather involved in Reiki, a system of energy healing. I mainly practised on myself and my cats, only occasionally offering it to another person.

According to Usui, who discovered and developed the system of Reiki in the 1800s, Reiki should never be offered for free. There must always be an exchange of some kind. It does not have to involve money or something of equal value – but there has to be something. (For example, you may give a Reiki treatment to someone who has a sewing machine, and in return she will hem the jeans you just bought that are a little too long.) Usui emphasized the importance of the exchange, because observations of poor people in his native Japan led him to conclude that people never appreciate or value what they are given for free. They come to take it for granted, and even abuse it.

I love the App Store, and must admit that most of the apps I have downloaded were free – although many do bother you with ads – so there is actually an exchange involved. All off the podcasts I enjoy are free. I’m thinking I really ought to start supporting our local NPR station, because I listen to so many podcasted shows. Anyway, I am guilty of consuming apps and software that I was able to download at no cost, and perfectly legally. But I try to remember Usui, and be appreciative of this wonderful free stuff and the people who work on it.

Before I download an app, or a podcast I haven’t heard before, I glance through the reviews. I’m stunned at how critical and scathing some of the reviews are. I can understand someone being upset after paying a hundred dollars for a program that has obvious glitches. But when it is offered for nothing it seems a bit petty. I have downloaded several apps that I deleted shortly afterwards when I realized they didn’t do what I expected. I think it’s great that you get to try a limited-function, or Lite, version of an app, free of charge, before paying for the full version. And if you go for the full version, you’re looking at $4.99 or less most of the time. Such a bargain!

I remember downloading shareware in the 90s. There were two utilities that were so useful to me, that I did indeed pay to get a registered version. One was WinZip, that allowed you to zip up numerous files into one – and save a lot of disk space. This turned out to be a very useful backup tool while I was writing my dissertation. Every Friday, I zipped up all my working directories into one neat file with the date in the name, and saved it on an Iomega Zip disk. I gladly sent the developers a check for $25! Then there was an FTP utility that displayed the remote host as a temporary directory in Windows, allowing you to easily drag and drop files. I think that one was $25 also. I don’t think anything at the App Store comes even close to that. But some people seem to feel they are being ripped off!

Geeks are incredibly generous with their products. (I hope GNU is still around.) They offer this stuff for nothing so that it will be used, and they will get feedback that will spawn new ideas. Eventually, they build a product that they feel they can charge for. But by then, people have become accustomed to freebies and resent having to pay.

To date, the most I have spent is $5.99 for an excellent I Ching app. It was well worth the money.

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