Monday, December 05, 2016

Parallel Dreams

I thought I was prepared for anything, but as the alien creature advanced on me I still sat in shock. It studied me as it came toward me, carefully stepping around what I supposed were the corpses of people I had known quite well. Its head was slightly elongated and sloping back with what looked to be extra eyes along the edges, a blue stripe connecting them.

Something shifted next to me and I saw that it was Todd, but he didn’t look too well. He perched on his seat with blue glowing things evident on his skin. The being’s attention was on him as well, then a surprise.

“You will not be like him, he is merely a breeding colony. Important but otherwise useless.” Its attention swung back to me. How did it know English? “You on the other hand, will be like me.”

Of course a smart remark right now might save me from a fate worse than death, but nothing came. The creature passed within a couple feet of me and plucked a blue-glowing orb the size of a pea from Todd who seemed unconcerned.

“Hold out your hand.”

As I complied it set the orb in my palm, and then curled my fingers over the object. It felt warm, pulsing slightly.

“This will be painful, but I will offer you the chance to make it less so.” The creature squatted before me, holding my fist closed. The skin felt different, but not completely alien. “Close your eyes. What do you see?”

I should use my voice to curse this creature, to scream and carry on like my passed friends, but I comply, “It looks like a planetary nebula.”

“Very good. I will now remove your worries.” The accretion disk around the protostar vanished. I felt light. “Now what do you think the middle is?”

“That’s me.” Now panic started to form despite the clearing of worries, but I couldn’t open my eyes, couldn’t make this terrible dream stop.

“Yes, but it still such a bother, let me replace it with a much more efficient system.”

With a surge of effort I woke up, wondering what the dream had been. Was it a look into the future? What was that alien being? Was it really an alien, just a modified human form, or a terrible metaphor? I don’t know, but I hope a dream told does not come true. I must write about this.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Revisiting Tolerance

I wrote about tolerance a while ago. These sentiments of mine are nearly unchanged, but I think I need to address the specific issue of intolerance and its danger to an otherwise tolerant society. Basically one of the few things we have to be intolerant of is intolerance.

It seems self-defeating, if we are intolerant of intolerance then we are hypocritical. But let’s observe it from a slightly different vantage. Let us draw a hopefully erroneous link between intolerance and violence and say that every person disliking another person to the point of hate based on ethnicity is likely to be violent toward that ethnicity.

If we tolerate their hate but stop them from being violent, what have we accomplished? If we are perfectly omnipresent and can stop the violence before it begins, will the world be better? But we aren’t omnipresent, nor are our imperfect criminal justice representatives, and on top of that there can be threats of violence that can impact a person’s life just as much as a violent act, all the way up to death. You could call it psychological violence, let’s not escalate this too far. Unless the victim has a strong, supporting, understanding community it will likely end up doing just as much harm in the end.

So let’s go one step beyond and curtail the threats, then there will be immediate claims of first amendment violation. And that is where this argument wallows for all time. Everything comes back to the rights of an individual, or so it seems. Both sides start saying terrible things and the debate becomes a conflagration. It is up to the third party on the intolerant’s perceived side of the debate to correct that person. Yes, it is intolerance of a sort, but rather than the intolerance breeding more and more of itself, it is curtailed, one less perceived supporter.

Of course the medium bringing you this blog is probably partly to blame in the ease to which a person might find other people as intolerant as they are, with no way for us to quarantine a person and their brand of intolerance.

So what do we do? Well I have to confess that I have major issues with this thought. It’s not skin color or ethnicity that bother me, it’s beliefs. I will tolerate beliefs that I don’t hold, but it must be mutual. What I don’t want to do is support a advocacy group that is intolerant of other people’s beliefs. But then how can I hold these opposing thoughts? Am I contradicting myself? It would be nice to live in a nice insulated world, which I do in a way, and believe that I can get to know people I meet and respect them for who they are.

Am I going to support advocacy groups that have attacked Christians? If I flat out say “no” then how am I different than Martin Niemöller and his speech turned into poem “First they came…”? I still need to work it out, reflect, pray, and think about it. In the meantime I think it is absolutely imperative that we know what is going on from trusted sources, so I will definitely support NPR to continue reporting on as much as possible.

One major thing that I believe in and am supporting is Science. I might be looked down upon by some intolerant christians, but I believe that we really need strong science in order to understand our world and make it look more and more like the good parts of Star Trek, namely the abolition of material want.

Science is getting a bad rap from so many different groups that it pervades and distorts findings, but this is easier to do because of how many scientists have been corrupted by the need for “positive” findings in the science community. I did go on at length about this topic, but the main point here is that we need to support open and transparent science.

Go to Amazon Smile FAQs and consider listing the Center for Open Science as the beneficiary even if I don’t work for them anymore. Or become a member at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Or both!

Unintended Consequences

“What am I charged with?” Dan couldn’t help but lean forward in the chair since his wrists were chained to the middle of the table.

“Terrorist activities and destruction of property.” The detective read from his notebook.

“I’ve done no such thing.”

“We found you standing in front of the property with materials that we believe brought down the building. Do you have anything to say?”

“I plead the fifth.”

“There isn’t much room for that amendment in this current administration, we could send you down with the ‘bad dudes’ and just forget about you for a while.” The FBI agent leaning against the wall mentioned as though commenting that shorts shouldn’t be worn in this weather.

“Is that why I haven’t had the chance to contact a lawyer? And you know that the truth value of whatever you get me to say will be suspect under duress or threats of duress.” Dan tried not to sound too smug, it would just get him in trouble. In fact that may have been too far now that he thought about it. He looked for signs that the agent might be upset.

The door opened and an officer came into the room and handed the agent a clipboard. Maybe a bit of frustration eased from his face at Dan, but was readily replaced with consternation.

“Mr. Forth, I have it here that the building is back to normal, but I saw it this morning and it was just a heap of ash?” Dan stayed quiet, it was certainly good that the building was back, but he hoped it wasn’t back to normal. After thirty seconds of staring at him the agent went on, “Well if that’s the case, let’s go look at it, you too detective.”


Arriving in the parking lot in the unmarked black car Dan could see that all the trees around the building were untouched, good. Other than appearing cleaner the building seemed to be exactly the same as when he had set the nanites to do their thing the night before.

The three of them got out with Dan in the middle and still handcuffed. Dan saw the crowd of employees standing at the edge of the police cordon. He was pretty sure that no one would be injured with the nanites’ protocols.

As they approached he saw another agent, probably the one in charge and an officer in uniform talking with the director of the building.

“I can’t let you in there sir, it was a pile of rubble this morning if you remember, who knows how fast it could collapse?”

“Don, I brought him back.”

“Ah good, Sir, this is the man that we arrested on the premises early this morning. Do you recognize him?”

“Never seen him in my life, what did you do with my building?” The man tried to tower over Dan rather unsuccessfully.

Dan stayed mute.

The agent in charge glanced back and forth a couple times. “Alright, let’s go on a little tour, I have a gut feeling about this building.”

“But how do we get in?” The director almost wailed, “There aren’t any keyholes on the doors or rfid scanners.”

Dan spoke up knowing this would link him more than circumstantially. “Engineering protocol 2.22, activate security system.” He was hit from the side and taken down, striking the side of his head because he was still in cuffs. He hadn’t seen that coming.

“What was that?”

“We aren’t in any danger.” Dan managed to say and then groaned. He saw two guns trained on him with the third making sweeps of the perimeter.

“All clear.” The officer holstered his gun and made a move to help up the director who had also been knocked down.

“What the hell did you do?” The agent from the station hauled Dan up to a standing position without the care the officer had observed for the director. Dan gritted his teeth as the cuffs bit into his wrists.

“I activated the building so that the director and his staff can access it. Try it, just walk toward the door as though you were going to work.” The last directed at the director.

The director fidgeted a moment and got a nod of confirmation from Dan. Of course he was starting to feel more of the bruise on his face.

After a few moments the officer in charge said, “Well this has to be the weirdest case to date. If it’s safe,” another nod from Dan, “then we should investigate.”

“Welcome director,” the door slid open as the director finally turned as though to go in. He stopped and the door stood open. “Unauthorized persons accompanying. Should I issue them temporary passes?”

“Just say yes,” Dan whispered.


“Four passes issued, expiration at the end of today’s work day. Let me know if you need any of them extended or revoked.” The door patiently stayed open while the two agents thoroughly scoured the inside for any signs of threats.

When they walked in the transformation was complete, even though the outside hadn’t changed, other than fixing major flaws that couldn’t easily be seen, the inside was an entirely different building. The reception area was a sunny glade with a desk seemingly made out of interwoven branches that held up a flat surface. Dan smiled thinking about all the work still going on behind the scenes. Next spring the staff would be in for a surprise as they found out that the desk and walls that seemed to be made out of three trunks would leaf and bloom with hypo-allergenic flowers of the appropriate types.

They toured around and were completely engrossed in the amazing internal architecture. After half an hour the director spoke up, “Sirs, this is amazing. I don’t think we need to press charges against this man. In fact if anything he should probably be congratulated. From what I’ve seen and he explained, this is a huge improvement over what we had, and it recaptures space that we could have never used in the old design. On top of that all the things that needed to be preserved were.”


Dan opened the door to a knock, a tall burly man stood there. “Are you the guy that rebuilt the building?”

“Uh, yes, what may I do for you?”

“I was out sick last week.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, I hope you are feeling better.”

“I would be if I hadn’t been let go.”

“Why would you have been let go?”

“You failed to tell them that the whole building is now self-cleaning.”

“Yeah, so? I figured it was a nice bonus.”

“I was the custodian.”

“Oh,” awkward pause, “Certainly you could better use your talents elsewhere?”

“Ha, what an elitist thing to say, but you won’t be able to tell that to the next guy.” Dan saw the gun drawn and froze.


*Note: I've always had a bit of a fascination with the idea of how much nano-robotics could do. In college it was an idea of how much a thorough body-wide system of robots could make me an invulnerable hero like the Silver Surfer or later iterations of Iron Man's Extremis armor. Though I have not read either of those comics so I think my influences were from other science fiction books. As I exited the college days of uncertainty I still thought about the nano-robots and how they could be used for construction: give them raw resources and a plan and get a perfect building built in a day or two. Of course there are many issues with that as I address one or two in this story.

I did also write several beginnings of stories hinging on nano-robotics, I started rewriting a few of them this last year. With writing 50k words for NaNoWriMo last year I think that I could possibly finish them and maybe publish. Now that I think about it I have three nearly distinct universes: Nano, Human Galactic Proliferation, and the Halver universe at least in science fiction. I also have a few fantasy worlds, but I really haven't focussed on those for years.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Decisive? Derisive?

Right, I just want to say that I don't like the outcome of the election. How can it be that my optimism is always smashed? Oh, that's right, I am a realist and every time I want to be optimistic I get a reminder why I am a realist. Most people might call my realism pessimism, and I would agree sometimes.

I hope I am being hyperbolic, but I am with Scalzi even if I don't have lots of diverse friends. If anything I really hope that my story about future luddites really doesn't have any strong parallels to more people-like characters, or real people for that matter.

I guess I want to be pleasantly surprised, so I am being overly pessimistic, or at least I hope it is overly pessimistic.

In other less pessimistic news: I got the simulator running for the NASA Space Robot Challenge, but then ran out of disk space on my Ubuntu setup and couldn't turn the computer on after shutting it down to go deal with the windows partition. I guess that really isn't good news, going to have to break out the ohmmeter and see if the button works anymore and then work down the system from that.

Lots of other things, Jessie started a new job, the new town has been so good in that area compared to the old one. I am dealing with lots of birds, photos, thinking about software, you name it, but I am finally getting into the swing of things and I hope to become much more productive over the next few weeks. Maybe even write a novel, though I think I overbooked that one. ;)

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Sets and Sequences

Or “I could mess up everything with two clicks.”

Maybe not quite that simple, but close. That is the way I feel about dealing directly with the SQL database. Why do I feel so much better about writing a script to go through species by species to fill in, asset by asset, the queue for people to draw boxes.

What are the differences? Despite not knowing Java that well it still generally reacts like a script and can go through each asset one at a time. I can check each asset to see if is a good asset. I can test this, have been asked to test this, and will look into unit-testing this somewhat thoroughly.

Also I have written 2,600 words for National Novel Writing Month. I think I might be a bit… ambitious. Two classes and 50k words in November? Maybe. It is also the second installment of my first NaNoWriMo novel, which I still need to continue editing.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Phyton: Episode 2

**Previous episode**

Al had just picked up his fork for the delivered plate of food. “Al, may I sit with you?” He turned and saw Jeff at his elbow, trying to let people go by in the tight confines of the diner’s aisles between tables. He shook his head exasperated, but said, “Sure” and set down his fork as Jeff slid into the booth opposite. Of course Jeff knew about the diner, Al came here every week after fencing on Wednesdays for the last 20 or so years. In fact Al tried to imagine a time when he had missed this ritual, only conferences, and always the same sunny-side-up burger even if it was late evening. The only change was the company, over the years people had come and gone, including Jeff for a while. “I’m really sorry,” Al snapped back to the present as Jeff pulled out a manilla envelope, he did look a bit sorry, “but the boss said to have another go at you.” He slid the envelope over the table, missing the fork. “What’s this?” Al felt like he was in one of those old spy movie scenes. “A bit more evidence and hopefully quite a bit more incentive.” That was ambiguous, possibly ominous. “So what’s he have that he thinks that you talking to me would help?” Al’s hand hovered over the envelope for a second before he decided to accept it. Jeff indicated the envelope and Al opened it, some sort of teflon if he was any judge, and pulled out the specs and e-paper set. He definitely didn’t feel comfortable with the large glasses frames, it seemed a bit too close to the pair he had finally rid himself of, but between the government being half a step behind with technology and the recent crackdown on autonomous entities it was unlikely that the paper would interface with his permanent contact lenses because it wouldn’t be able to positively ID him. In fact if the heft was any indication the e-paper might be recently dug out of storage, without even a capacity to support a basic entity. The specs were coded to be able to read the phased display of the e-paper, making it legible for him, otherwise it was just a mess of gray lines for anybody else looking at it, though without an entity there was a limit to how thoroughly it could be encoded, anybody could slip on the glasses to read it. “They told me it was rigged to wipe when you took the glasses off, so, uh, don’t move them around your face after you have them on.” Jeff must have been referring to his own fidgeting, Al smiled carefully and looked down at the paper. “Thanks. Do you know what’s on here?” Al asked as the paper and glasses were syncing. “Nope, better that I don’t at this moment.” A grayscale photo of a doting mother and a child sitting on a park bench swam into view as the glasses and paper finished syncing. The concise paragraph below told a few details about the photo: Angela Fisler and son, Edward, in Monterey, CA. Dr. Fisler and husband Dr. Gustaf Fisler run a small lab for the D.o.D. on several internal microbiome projects meant to enhance a person’s survival in harsh conditions. While the work from the lab has been exemplary, there is cause to suspect unsanctioned human experimentation of unknown extent. More thorough investigation is suggested. “Great.” Al sat back, took off the glasses and watched through the reduced view as the page was scrubbed. Rubbing the bridge of his nose he slid the now blank set back to Jeff. “That’s the Angela I know, though a bit older now and a kid…” He trailed off hoping that he wasn’t giving too much classified information away, “If I had known that I might be their only chance for a ‘negative skeptic’ I wouldn’t have been so short with you last time.” “I sure hope that’s a yes.” Jeff didn’t take the materials, but stared at him hopefully. “Yep, so how soon can we get funding for my inept replacements? And probably more liability insurance for the mistakes they will make?” “They won’t be that bad.” Jeff slid the paper and the specs back into the manilla-colored envelope. “How old were you during the crop failure of ‘35?” “Twelve. My parents were certainly worried.” “Well between the large corporations waging a no-seed-crop war and the testing failure it cost nearly a trillion dollars to straighten it out, not something an insurance company takes lightly.” Jeff seemed to mull over it for a few moments, “I think I can convince my boss that we don’t want to have that happen again.” Even though he seemed serious Al could see that he was excited to get a positive answer. “I’ll have information to start the process tomorrow.” “I would really like to get this over with, so sooner is better.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Phyton: Episode 1

** This is the first episode in a series. Also take a look at my other stories. **

“Okay, run this by me again, I don’t quite get it.” Dr. Al Ingram stood with his arms crossed studying the shorter man intently. He knew the words the man had just said, but the meaning was nonsensical. The short man wore his dark grey suit, somewhat reminiscent of styles from earlier in the century, with a bit of unease that transmitted itself through his movements.

“Alright,” Jeff ran a thick-fingered hand through his black hair and took a step back, as though he could retrace his words with steps. It also helped him to not look up at such an angle at Al. “You are a recognized skeptic, outside of your own work…”

“And I am never complacent with that either.” Al cut in.

“Right, well we need you to work with the Fislers. We would like you to look into their advances. We believe that you are the best suited for this as it fits your field and you have the clearance.” Jeff finished and stared at Al.

Al closed his eyes and reached up to rub the bridge of his nose, and only realized once again that he no longer had the heavy glasses which plagued him up until six months ago. He stopped midway through and tried to naturally lower his hand without too much extra frustration from the long ingrained habit. He opened his eyes and Jeff stopped fidgeting and shifting from foot to foot.

“First, I am not a microflora expert, I test genetically engineered plants to see how they interact with their environment. Second, they are a husband and wife team that has only a few student helpers, not something a full-fledged researcher can walk into without raising a whole bunch of red flags. And lastly, even though I am trying to mitigate adverse impacts of genetically modified crops before they ever get out there,” he waved his hand,” and I know that there are sleazy genetic engineers, I don’t like your implication that the Fislers might be going beyond a basic symbiotic relation between the microflora and humans.”

Jeff quirked a smile, a bit nervously and defused the argument, “Right the last reason is why we need you there: a negative skeptic, though don’t negative skeptic the Defense Department projects, they don’t like people poking holes where none should be. I’m sure you can pick up an understanding of their work very quickly, right?” It was a near perfect parry, feint, and point. Jeff seemed over anxious almost all the time, but maybe that is why opponents had underestimated him while fencing.

Al shook his head, he decided to ignore the logic, “Look, we’ve known each other for a long time, but I need to continue my work. Things still aren’t getting enough review before going out there, even after the staple-scare of 2035. Thanks, but no.” He ushered Jeff out of the lab thinking: some friend to ask him to spy on other friends.


“Sir, he won’t cooperate, and he has some good points.” Jeff stood fidgeting, of course, in front of his boss’s boss.

“Well we can make some good points too, funding cuts,” Jeff tried not to grimace at that, Special Agent-In-Charge Flind smiled and continued, “or extra funding and help. If his lab is in good hands while he works in California, maybe he’d be more willing to go. But I think this will really convince him it’s a good idea.” Flind tapped a manilla envelope nearly obscured by other carefully arranged paperwork, carefully arranged to those who knew him, or at least that is what Jeff had heard about the desk, to him it seemed an indecipherable mess. “Come pick it up when you are ready to see him next, and tell your boss to calm down, she isn’t losing you, I just need your connections.”

“Thank you sir,” Jeff tried not to make it sound too sarcastic. It was tough to work for two bosses, even when his boss’s boss obviously took priority. It was as though he couldn’t convince his boss that he would be back once he finished the assignment. If she really didn’t want to lose him why did she seem exasperated with his fidgeting?

** Next episode **

Monday, October 17, 2016

Short Story: Caught Speeding

*Note: This is not a new concept, but I am definitely practicing writing. Here are more short stories.*

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What?” An automatic response to really any noise my officemate made, some exceptions.

“This is nuts.”

Not answering directly usually indicated that I should pay attention, but it did seem he was just saying things to be outraged over the most recent political scandal. However, when I looked up the chagrin on his face didn’t seem faked. He slammed his chair back and stood up, paced in the small office and then retrieved the chair . Sitting down he grimaced, and took a breath I recognized as his story-telling breath.

He beckoned me to come around to look at his screen.

He had what looked like a really badly done version of YouTube, yep, GovTube. Nobody watched GovTube unless they were told to. Maybe if the government had made one well-thought-out contract with YouTube more people would have used it.

“Watch this,” he nearly spat and violently slammed the space bar. I only flinched inwardly.

The top view of a red convertible with a single male, obvious from the male pattern baldness and other more subtle hints, was driving, quite quickly along a road in a desert.

“He is going very fast,” I remarked blandly, it was never good to get him more excited, it would just make things worse.

“Yes he is, 162 miles per hour.” The way he said it made me stop watching and look at him. There was a smoldering anger that often came up when people started to do stupid things, or continue without heeding his warnings. But this was different, there was a much deeper connection.

“Wait, that’s you?” I hope I put enough incredulity in the question so he could take it either way.

“Yep, after a conference five years ago.”

“What was observing you?” I went through my knowledge of all the public and military satellites that might record it, “But wouldn’t they have brought this up earlier? Err…” It was a bit of an accusation, him driving that fast, if he had been pulled over he would have lost his job and clearance.

He chuckled wryly. “They certainly shouldn’t have sat on it this long. I wouldn’t have even worked on the project if they had any inkling of this. I didn’t even tell my wife.” He was becoming awfully jovial for a man that was about to lose his job. “Maybe the bureaucracy is just as bad as everyone thinks it is.”

“But five years, I mean it’s more likely that the superluminal satellite project was a success, despite the explosion in orbit.” I paused for moment to do a bit of morbid calculation of the dead project, back then we had amazing offices and dreams that extended outside of the solar system, “The telescope would have just gone through five light years away about four months… ago…”

My face must have looked the same as his, ashen, mouth partly gaping. I saw him start to form words, but I had to be the first to say it.

“That’s more like the bureaucracy I know, what?”

“I can’t believe they are using Dan’s work to nab me, what?”

The Lab of O

I’ve started the new job at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology! Specifically I am working for the Macaulay Library and it is awesome! When I started my previous job at COS I really wanted to push them to start supporting citizen science, but that never really worked out. Now I am dropped right in the middle of a citizen science and machine learning project! What could be better? If you want to help out: edbird is where you should submit checklists and upload photos, and merlinvision is where you can box/annotate bird photos.

So other than the tons of paperwork that comes with switching jobs, it is pretty awesome. My normal commute now is a walk in through the woods, with binoculars, so I can bird on the way in and out, and sometimes lunch too. It certainly beats 30 minutes each way unless I got stuck behind a bus.

Of course I am still learning the stack after two weeks (I claim there is quite a bit of paperwork to do), but I am starting to wrap my head around how things are done and being reminded how repetitive Java is: Make a new instance of a class by first telling the compiler that this is an instance of this class and then using “new” and the class… I understand that it makes it solid, near indestructible code, but I am not a huge fan. Also semicolons, thank goodness for a good development environment.

The best thing about this job is birds. People at work like birds! There are 1.4 million bird photos with more coming in every day from people across the world. It is just amazing that I am getting paid to do this. I guess they are paying me to become familiar with Java, the rest is just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


I decided to skip the update this week, it was much too disjointed and just felt blah. So rather than that I will write a rant, much more exciting, and outward focused.

In Elon Musk’s talk on September 27th he commented during answering questions that the first people to venture to Mars will have to accept the risk of death. A perfectly reasonable risk as they will be even further away from Earth than Apollo 13, but still possibly disconcerting.

What surprises me is that Elon Musk’s age, he is nearly the perfect age for some of the biggest psychological impact from the Challenger disaster. To put it into perspective he was a year or two younger when that happened than I was when 9-11 happened. A teenager dealing with a disaster that may have injured or scarred that generation watching as a teacher was going to orbit. It is possible that this group of kids, now grown, could be reticent to embrace risk for space travel, just as my generation is quite heavily scarred from the subsequent wars.

In fact my fear for the future of spaceflight is that NASA will start to get administrators that were traumatized by that event, and rather than learning to balance risk with listening experts, we still need to push. But Elon seems to be bucking that possibility, even to the point of acknowledging that there will be risk of death. He and SpaceX are pushing technology to get to Mars. Is it a moonshot? No, it’s a marsshot.

Will they be successful? Will they make it in time? What are the risks of failing? What are the risks of delaying? But it isn’t these questions that really worry me, no, it is the responses to these grand plans that really bother me: “It’s too big, too much, too soon, too risky.” “We shouldn’t be swinging for the fences, small incremental steps are better.”

My response is: We are going to bore people to death with incremental steps. We need these pushes, not everything can be safe. The only way we are going to advance quickly is to try new things quickly. Of course some will fail catastrophically, bet on it. But to keep a slow, glacial pace of incremental advancements doesn’t do anything for anybody. Failing early with all of these unmanned missions helps to keep technology going forward, as long as we are willing to continue investing.

If it is the argument about funding, we spent nearly 1 trillion dollars (a very conservative estimate) in Iraq and Afghanistan where some people say hundreds of thousands of people died directly or collaterally. Tell me again why we can’t risk many fewer lives and much less money advancing technology rather than bombing people back to the stone age?

Of course it isn’t as cut and dry as that. If we weren’t concerned with global politics and allowed a vocal violent minority to take over, either large sections of the planet, or specifically the US, then technological development in areas other than new weapons would have even less appeal. Either for the war effort or our new, non-representative overlords. (Even when the reasons aren’t all that clear all the time for US involvement; we should continue to play a significant role in the world, but it is worth discussing the method and the cost.)

Do we need to go to Mars? In short: I hope not. Should we go? Yes and soon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dealing With the Last Few Weeks

This past week was the 15th anniversary of Sept 11th, I will always remember it, mourn those who lost their lives, and wonder what type of world we live in. Although we need to remember we must not dwell on it, but push forward each in our own way. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana

Why am I writing again so soon? Because I need to start chopping on my writing. Not just that but I sort of need to remind myself of happenings and learnings. I wrote weekly updates for NaNoWriMo last November to keep myself on track, but to some degree it was a release, an exercise to see what had gone well and what I had learned. So this is sort of like a diary, but not.

This week I came in to find that the meetings project is not on the Road Map. All the team was moved to other teams and it will probably languish until someone just rewrites it en totale. I don’t think I could have finished on my own and with the sporadic schedule of the intern team that I was “lead” for it was extraordinarily hard to coordinate them. Feelings are mixed, it feels like it is just going to be ignore, but I am also happy to just go to more concrete coding with the bugs and improvements team.

Another great thing is that I have been digging into making the Center for Open Science logo 3D. I’ve been using sketchup which I quite enjoy, it has a very nice learning curve but there are tons of plugins that can nearly match many of the options that much more expensive packages have. The STL files are on the Open Science Framework: I specifically put the key fob on thingiverse and it’s already had some traffic:

So between moving at the end of the month and all that entails, what else am I doing this fall? Two classes. I am retaking Computational Photography since I wasn’t happy about a C, if I hadn’t done poorly on one of the assignments or had participated more, then I would have had a B. Now I am shooting for an A. I am also taking Machine Learning again, but this time I come into it with about 3 solid months of applying ML to MandI, the robot.

I’ve been considering the Space Robot Challenge and recently talked to my brother, of course it would never interfere with homework from Oct. 10 to Dec. 10, right? I think I have most of the vision ideas reasonable, and my brother wants to learn ROS so if nothing else it will just be a solid project to learn new tools with. I am realistic that I don’t think we won’t get to the top 20, but with my experience I think it will at least be a reasonable exercise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

After Defeat

A bit lighter after the last post: After the robot competition my parents, in-laws, and my wife and I went to the New England Aquarium in Boston. It is quite an interesting building and just amazing how many different tanks they had. By the time we finished just before lunch the crowds of families pushing strollers was so pervasive that it was tough to move freely through the building. Still enjoyable.

We went back for a social for the teams, West Virginia was the only team to make any money out of the competition. I certainly envy them a bit, however, it is a large team (40+?) and most of the 750k is probably going to pay expenses and supplement a scholarship fund. They also had a bit of continuity having won 100k last year.

After the lunch the next day with Administrator Charles Bolden from NASA giving a speech, Jessie and I drove to Ithaca, NY. My In-laws also came with. Not too long of a drive from Worcester, but after a late lunch we arrived after dark. First impressions of the town it definitely seems like a nice town, but what I am really excited for is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its office.

We toured the office the next day, went on a walk around the pond, met a bunch of people, and saw where my desk is going to be. I was excited before the tour, I have always been a fan of the Lab, but I am much more excited about it now. Having my own desk with a window overlooking the pond, a much shorter commute for a while, people that might actually know how to drive in snow, and on and on…

Also when we mentioned Jessie’s Bachelor's senior thesis research to our guide and he followed up by talking to the Bio-acoustics Lab people and they are interested in talking to her! Even if she initially volunteers it will be nice to have her working across the hall rather than across the country.

So I can say that we are excited for the move, there are only three things that are varying levels of drawback to this move. The first and biggest drawback is that we have made friends in the area that actually think to invite us to do things. We had friends in Hawaii, but it seemed that they had mostly different interests, or just didn’t think about inviting us. So it will be difficult to make friends again, hopefully as nice too, right?

The second is just the process of moving, although we will be able to take much more with us initially because we don’t need to ship it across an ocean. More convenient if still just annoying how many things we have to deal with.

The third thing is about the Center for Open Science. Even though I am leaving I still want to see it succeed. Though I won’t miss the wash of panicked projects and the shifts in priorities that leave me wondering if I am actually contributing, it will be bittersweet. I plan to become an Ambassador and look into current processes with my new job to see if any part could use the OSF as it stands.

All in all bittersweet, but we, Jessie and I, are more mature, know most of what needs done, and are really excited. I'll
write about the new job in much more detail after I start.

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John studied himself in the mirror as best he could through tears. Red, puffy eyes stared back at him, a running nose already leaked just a ...