Monday, October 22, 2007

What I did last Saturday

AKA the engagement story

Lighted sentinals

I'm given to understand there is a much better story teller who may be available to you. But, here is my version.

1. Morning - Woken up at 5:00 AM to go to a house fire on the South Side. And by the time I get to the Red Cross, I find out there was a second fire on the North Side. Go and perform damage assessment, case work with clients, and get home around 9:00 AM, and go to bed.

2. Woke up, again, around 12 Noon. Afternoon was with S at a house warming party of a former neighbor of mine (Hi R and T). We ate real well, with home cooked Thai food that I have not had in years. And there were lots of kids running around (they ranged from 21 months to 6 years, yes, they were running). I cooked an apple cobbler for dessert. S played the piano (very happy piano).

3. After being stuffed with Thai food, we went to Phipps Conservatory, where we went to the Chihuly exhibit (glass sculptures in garden [ok, I'll skip some not so necessary details, but the blog post is titled "What I did last Saturday"]). It was open that evening because, well, Chihuly glass sculptures that are lit a night in a gardenare rather romantic-y sort of things, so gardens can make a lot of money with all the couples who like going on walks in lit gardens with beautiful glass sculptures around. Or so I am led to understand (I'm a member, got to understand these things.)

4. When we were done, there was this one sculpture that I suggested might look real nice close up, which would require going outside. Where there was a very handy bench that looked into the proper window.

5. And, yes, said sculpture looked very nice. And I asked S if she would marry me. And I gave her a certain ring that I had in my pocket. Which also looked very nice.

6. Oh, she did say "yes"

Congratulations on making it to the end. And thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I wonder if anyone reads this

Something shiny given away
Originally uploaded by LugerLA
If so, this may be interesting news (understanding that reasonable people may disagree). Anyway, as of last week, S and I are engaged.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World by Rupert Smith link

General Rupert Smith (UK, Ret.) wrote this after reflection on 40 years of service, including UN duty in the Balkans. The theme of the book is that the nature of conflict has changed, and those who think about the use of national power (diplomatic, information, military, economic). Smith identifies 6 major trends:

- The ends for which we fight are changing
- We fight amongst the people
- Our conflicts tend to be timeless
- We fight so as not to lose the force
- On each occasion new uses are found for old weapons
- The sides are mostly non-state

As he discusses the evolution of modern conflict, and the information(media) and intelligence focus (as opposed to purely physical) of future conflict, he has as a backdrop the United Nations intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s. And the ineffectiveness of the UN forces there, culminating in the massacre of 7,000+ Bosnians by the Serbs in the "safe area" of Srebrenica. Smith points out that the UN members essentially employed a tactic (use of blocking forces) to counter a strategy (Serbian desire to dominate the Balkans) and the Serbians used a wide range of means (propaganda, military, diplomatic) to make the UN military forces irrelevant.

Smith is mostly documenting a problem, one that he views as difficult, and something for U.S. and western nations need to deal with. Because as long as there is a desire to have a world that is not full of the arbitrary violence, ethnic massacres, generators of hate, the west and those that have allied with them will ask their militaries and other instruments of power to enter these parts of the world. And these militaries will have to learn how to operate in these settings. Smith's challenge is that they be sent in a thoughtful way, that the ends are considered with the quality, quantity and purpose of the forces made appropriate to the ends desired. And just how you decide this, are lessons yet to be learned.

This is not an easy book to read. Every passage is meant to be read, then the consequences of every idea thought through. Even the descriptions of historical events have to be mulled in consideration of many facets and the environment around them. But the reader is rewarded with many considerations of thought and issues to debate. And a context for reading anything else in this subject area.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why is the use of anthropology a contentious issue?

From an Anthropological Perspective

There has been a debate that has been going on for years among social scientist, in particular anthropologists. Should anthropologists cooperate with the military (or any other government organization for that matter)? The negative side points out that anthropology was created as a colonial tool (to put it bluntly) and that as a discipline, they should repudiate all such work. The affirmative side argues (1) pretty much everything in applied anthropology causes effects on the society examine, whether on behalf of corporate interests, or non-profit (whose motives don't always look much more noble then the colonial white-man's-burden) (2) the negative side seems to imply that anthropology should not be used to mitigate or prevent cultural damage. If they can't do that, what is the use of anthropology (other than for corporations to exploit people or non-profits to manipulate a society)? I'm being slightly simplistic here. The link provides a much more nuanced view. Searches for 'anthropology' and 'military' should find articles in the New York Times, the BBC and various anthropology and military sites.

In one sense, the issue is somewhat moot. The military (at least the American tradition) is bound to fill the mission given to it by its civilian leaders. If accomplishing that mission is best done by having people study the society that exists in the environment to avoid the use of destructive force when it can be avoided, the military would do so. Whether or not people who have the word "anthropologist" in their resumes are involved is quite irrelevant. Even if it would make things easier if there were some at hand. (if not, the military will make do with who they can find who is available.)

There is a bigger question on the anthropologists side. What is the role and substance of ethics? Is ethics an avoidance of labels that don't sound nice? Is ethics a list of "thou shalt nots." Are both the ends and the means irrelevant, if the perceived "ultimate end" is "wrong" (the quotes are because the "ultimate end" and "wrong" are not as defined by the doer, but by an uninvolved party who has noone's interests in mind, namely the anthropological profession, which is divided.)

In general, this is probably the problem with ethics, especially as practiced in non-practitioner settings. Ethics tends to be discussed as what is wrong, not what should be done. In other words, what not to do. And the principles that are seized on to decide the what not to do become absolute and definitive. To the exclusion of all others. Including human life. In my interaction, people will hold to these principles even when the life that is to be lost has been identified (which is the case here as well.)

For many professions, the focus of training is on what (and how) to do. In an environment where everything is focused on acting, negatively based ethics quickly becomes irrelevant. (i.e. the U.S. Army will study the cultures it works among to determine non-destructive ways of solving conflict, regardless of the collective decision of the anthropological community.) And the members of the academic disciplines that would prefer to actual engage their world for positive ends, rather than withdraw to avoid breaking rules, or look for areas of activity that are not addressed (such as social anthropology by marketers and advertising), are faced with professional isolation, or creating a new profession.

Friday, October 12, 2007

and at night you become a superhero - and other quotes

I spent the last weekend doing a lot of emergency service work, both as a ham radio operator at the Head of the Ohio and for a Red Cross exercise. Some quotes:

"Next time there is someone who is vitally important to the running of the whole show and she refuses a shadow, give her one anyway."

Me: "Hi. I'm your shadow. Your not allowed to get lost anymore."

Me: "You are going to sit down, under a tent, in the shadow, and I am going to watch you drink this bottle of water and eat a protein bar." (at 3PM, on a very hot day)

"I told them that they needed to turn around, and they started telling me how the river was free for everyone. Then I told them that is ok, and the Coast Guard will be coming by to talk to them. They said, 'The Coast Guard?!' Yes, the same U.S. Coast Guard that issues your licenses and put up the Notice To Mariners that is on your marina board saying that the river is closed today, and has been broadcasting messages on Marine Radio every half hour telling you that the river is closed. And they are coming to you."

Coast Guard: "Oh, we saw them. And we stopped to chat. And they were very agreeable."

Coast Guard: "I think we will go over there and say hi. And discourage anyone from heading in the river too fast."

Actress playing resident who was not quite all there and was trying to 'escape': "I want to go for a walk."
Me: "Oh fun, I want to go for a walk with you. Over here is a go outside for a walk place (pointing at a door that led to a courtyard, that was not out)"
Actress: "Oh, you're no fun. I can't even be mean to you."

Actress from a previous exercise: "Hi, remember me?"
Later in the day: "I'm hurt, you were avoiding me all day."

Disaster volunteer: "I work in marketing, it is so boring."
Me: "So then at night you put on your Red Cross shirt and become a superhero."
Volunteer: "I should show you what my phone says. 'Wonder Woman'"

Monday, October 08, 2007

[Chicago Tribune] Man dies in heat-shortened (Chicago) marathon

Chicago Tribune article

My sister sent me a text message yesterday letting me know that the Chicago Marathon was shortened. Other than my general interest in running marathons, I did try to enter this one back in May, but it was already full.

So, the issues, other then the obvious. Actually, one person dieing is not enough cancel an event like this. Or even to dissuade potential participants. People participate in physical events because of the harsh reality that they represent. Most people live in worlds that are governed by perception, not reality. Activities in the physical world such as running, bicycling, backpacking, etc. are a forum where reality and truth are incontestable, and the laws of the natural world provide a court that is often without appeal. And the grim fact is, you need to acknowledge this on the course. (this does not really apply to school athletic teams. For high schools and colleges, part of what the kids are learning are these very limits, and coaches are supposed to be teaching this, and about other aspects of the realities of life.) Those who can't or won't acknowledge this, suffer and sometimes die.

But the bigger issue is what is going on outside the race. Reports are that 315 runners were removed by EMTs for heat-related conditions, and 146 people were taken to hospitals. That many hospitalizations due to a single event is known as a disaster. The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago activated the patient connection program, which is usually done for major disasters. And realizing that it was going to get worse, as the morning went into early afternoon, turning off the clocks and telling people to walk was acknowledging reality as emergency rooms throughout the city and suburbs took in patients.

No doubt that this as well as the Rotterdam (?) marathon that were cut short earlier this year will be case studies for all those who organize these types of events. One thing I've been learning as I get older, and see these events from the points of view of participant, organizer, emergency support, communications, etc. is seeing how all these different priorities are balanced out. And how people make tough decisions.

Book Review: Usagi Yojimbo - Fathers and Sons

(written at Goodreads: Amazon link)
The hero, Usagi, is a ronin (unattached samurai) in a historical Japan after the great wars. As such, he is in the midst of a time of change, which much conflict, but most of it is not in the open. The social order is changing, and Usagi is finding his place in it. Along the way, he is joined by his son, Jotaro. But Jotaro does not realize he is Usagi's son, and knows Usagi as an uncle.

In this volume and volume 18 they travel through Japan to Jotaro's new teacher (who was Usagi's teacher). Along the way they meet many of Usagi's friends, encounter those who are also trying to carve out places for themselves in a new Japanese society (some of them through intimidation and violence), and other fathers, who are also trying to provide for and teach their sons the ways of the world and their place in it. One recurring bit of amusement occurs when Usagi's friends and others that encounter them along the way identify Jotaro as Usagi's son, even as they are introduced to Jotaro as a nephew, as they observe how they interact with each other.

Stan Sakai creates an engaging world with characters that are rich in motivation and backgrounds. Many lessons are taught and learned. Many mistakes are made, and there is even nobility and courage. And when you are done, you wish them well, those that continue their journey, and those that are left behind.

There is a strain of the arts that presents the purpose of the arts is to present the human condition, in its richness, grandeur, and in the mundane. And this is a fine example of this.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Shadowing The Head of the Ohio

The Head of the Ohio (HOTO) was this past Saturday. (Hi Jonathan) Like the other Head of . . . races, it is the capstone of the rowing season for Pittsburgh, and probably the biggest event of the year. In Pittsburgh, the main sponsoring organization seems to the be the Three Rivers Rowing Association. I was there as amateur (ham) radio support to the race organizers, and I was shadowing the volunteer coordinator. Regattas like this all have a similar structure. Most people thing of these as intercollegiate (or even high school) events, because most of us get exposed to this because of our college friends who row crew. But these are bigger. Unlike most sporting events, the Head of . . . series are a lot more then one division. There are high school, collegiate, and club teams competing (each in their own division) and they do it together.

There are lots of sports/activities that make claim to being like family. This bunch has as good a claim as any, as you see an entire cross section of ages at these. The high school and college students (like you expect), the high school parents, but you also get the adults who row who like to race. And their families (both younger generation and older generation.) the result is even the high school kids get to see a whole community of people, all taking part in the same activity at various levels. And these people have been around each other for years (especially the club rowers), so the usual high school athlete parent gets integrated with a large community that his/her child is being brought up into, a community of adults the child can respect on many levels, and all eager to be present as they mature.

So what do you see at such things? With such a cross section of people, engaging each other in a very public place, a wide range. In addition to the usual frustrations and joy of working with a wide range of people in a big event, you see generosity, selfishness, grace under pressure, people cracking under pressure, the range of motivations, courtesy, response to discourtesy, deciding what battles to fight, and which ones not to. How to influence others without using authority. How to use authority wisely (and effectively). A whole host of lessons. Both for the kids, and for the not very old (like me) to learn. And many people who are hoping we (including me) learn them, so as we take our places in the community, we are able to take their places.

This was my second event as part of Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES). And this was the classic scenario. Radio operator shadows official, provides multi-modal communications between official and others, sometimes when other modes are not operational. There were various fires (metaphoric) to be put out. Minor crisis. And one medical. Oh, and a couple older hams who could explain what they did, how they did it, and a bit of institutional knowledge that comes from doing things over years. And yes, there are a couple roles that I could be playing in that community in the years to come, if I stick around and get more training and experience. These are people who know how to look into the future.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Computer development platform

Well, I've started modeling work on a project at work. So far it has been data gathering planning (what kind of data do we need) and asking lots of questions about the system I'm trying to model. And, while that is not over, now that I'm back in Pittsburgh, time to get started. Right now, I'm actually doing the "make the first one to throw away" thing. Because this is so amorphous, I'm not sure just how to solve this just yet anyway. I told the project manager this, and he actually likes the idea as a risk management principle. (because version 2 is supposed to be deployable, let's just forget about that until I have a model that works, then worry about making it deployable)

Now, a lot of this is the fact that I'm working in a domain that not too many modelers have gone in. Slides that I've built for presentations in the past have gotten real good reception, as people who have seen this get the idea, and the possible impact. Of course now I have to deliver.

Since I get to work on that most idealized of environments, clean slate and zero previous work to build on, I thought I would actually try to do things right. And take the opportunity to build up a new tool chest. For now, documentation is in LaTeX, with Dia to build up flow charts and UMLish diagrams. I'm reading Head First Design Patterns by Freeman and Freeman, and some ideas have gotten in my head.

For the model building, there is an idea in the back of my head that deployment will be inside MS Excel and Visual Basic (because everything quantitative is deployed inside MS Excel and Visual Basic). But because the tools are just hard to develop in, and it quickly turns unmanageable, even when done right, I'll probably use Python and/or R to develop the initial model. One big benefit is the various algorithm libraries that are readily available in Python and R as well as the automatic documentation tools like Docstrings, PyUnit and Sweave. And I've actually used all of them.

For the tool chain, LaTeX and Dia and Python. But, since I had to get a new laptop anyway, and needed to reinstall my tools, why not try something new. I'm doing almost everything inside of the Eclipse IDE, specifically the EasyEclipse version of it. In addition to Java development (which I may end up doing non of, unless I switch into Jython), it handles LaTeX (through TeXlipse), Python, through Pydev), database access, and version control through Subversion. First time I've used many of these tools before. It is rather nice. TeXlipse is much better then the JEdit or Vim that I've used in the past since it does command completion, and it seems even better then TeXnicCenter that I did my thesis in. Having version control as an integral part of the IDE is wonderful. I've tried it in the past and it just got too bulky, even with a graphic interface. Now it is just a button click. Auto-build in Eclipse is nice too. Having a window with the results updated with every save means near-realtime feedback. Since Dia saves diagrams as XML, that works in a version control system also. So all my notes, the documentation, diagrams and the source code will all be in version control. I almost feel like I know what I am doing with this development thing.

Of course, the real fun starts next. Going from all my diagrams to actual code and data.

Booknerd stuff

I just put in a first batch of books into Goodreads. So, where did I start (anyone who has seen my apartment or looked at my boxes when packing to move realizes that this is a serious undertaking)? I started with all 36 books that I have reviewed on Bookshelved

One thing that means is for this first batch, I have real reviews actually written up. So I'll probably get them moved over to Goodreads soon, and I'll actually have content.

Anyway, this sort of stuff is somewhat more valuable if people I know were on it. In particular, people who read books that I may like. So, if you read things about:

current affairs
science fiction
computer (programming and software design)

Well, it would be nice to see you on it. (oh, yeah, most of my book club is already on there. No, we do not read books on any of the above topics in my book club.) Oh, and invite me :-)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Book social network: Goodreads, Shelfari, iRead, LibraryThings ??

Something that caught my eye, social networks for reading. Ok, what first got me was my fellow book club members inviting me onto Goodreads. And Goodreads is on Facebook as well. Now, in the past, I have put my book reviews on Bookshelved. But I don't actually know anyone else on there in real life. And there is a rather high effort required to enter a book (you have to create a page on a wiki. And I feel obligated to write something somewhat serious.) But these networks with their automatic linking to other people that you know seems to be interesting.

So, all of you book readers, question: Are you on one of these networks and are you putting up book reviews (either star ratings or actual reviews)?

The big ones I've found are Goodreads, iRead, LibraryThing, Shelfari. Of these, iRead is ONLY on Facebook (a big negative to me). Goodreads and Shelfari can be subscribed separately from Facebook, but can be integrated. Goodreads also has a widget like Flickr does to put a sidebar on a web site like Blogspot sites. LibraryThings I think has a fee after 200 books (I think I'm going to get above that eventually). And I rather like the idea of Facebook integration.

Right now, it seems I have friends on Goodreads and iRead, but I'm curious as to what other people are doing before I go through the effort of putting books on them.

Pittsburgh Great Race Sunday 30 September 2007

Running for Joe
Originally uploaded by LugerLA
Another running of the Great Race, the capstone race in the Pittsburgh season now that the marathon is no longer being run. This will be my third running (and I arrived in Pittsburgh a year too late to run the marathon). The biggest difference, I only ran the 5K instead of the 10K.

S, A and I took the bus from downtown to Oakland at the starting line on Fifth amidst the University of Pittsburgh and the behemoth of UPMC. Some highlights:

The Pitt Men's Glee Club singing the national anthem, straight up. Just the way I like it. You can play with "God Bless America" all you want, but the "Star Spangled Banner" is impressive by itself.

Mayor Luke greeted the runners, noting that his wife was running the race. Now, while I'm glad he made it out there, and I hope he enjoyed it, the one thought: Wuss! Your wife is running a biggest race in Pittsburgh and your not! Whose the man here!? Ah, the days when Murphy would greet the runners and then get in the starting area with the rest of us.

There were a few new sponsors (Someone from KDKA got to speak). I hope they got a good show. I heard a rumor of the return of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and happy sponsors would be a good step in that direction.

It is fun seeing the city again. Running through Oakland. Along the Mon. Past Duquense with the rump band and cheerleaders. And flying down the ramp onto Boulevard of the Allies to the end. Oh, and the usual Eat 'n Park Smiley cookie.

And all three of us had our "Running for Joe" shirts. Had to wear something, right?