Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Performancing Test

Wil Wheaton has started using Performancing at WWdN: In Exile so I thought I would try it.
It integrates with Firefox and has a number of bells and whistles, lots of help and tips on its site, and if this publishes to blogger will be very dandy.


Monday, March 27, 2006

toc time tic

Stu in comments quotes E.E. Cummings:

there are so many tictoc
clocks everywhere telling people
what toctic time it is for
tictic instance five toc minutes toc
past six tic

Spring is not regulated and does
not get out of order nor do
its hands a little jerking move
over numbers slowly

we do not
wind it up it has no weights
spring wheels inside of
its slender self no indeed dear
nothing of the kind.

(So,when kiss Spring comes
we'll kiss each other on kiss the kiss
lips because tic clocks toc don't make
a toctic difference
to kisskiss you and to
kiss me)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Low Tide

East of North of here there is an estuary which connects to San Juan de Fuca and so to the Pacific.

Every once in a while I have to go there to remind myself I don't go there often enough.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Time's Just No Thing

Once, in the arrogance of my naivete, I asked some twenty young men -- Seniors at a Jesuit prep school where I taught briefly -- to read a selection of books, mostly in translation. It was my response to being asked to teach a class called 'World Literature.' I did not limit our reading to fiction. My expectation that they would read a book each week was quickly shown to be unrealistic. The point, so far as I was capable of forming one then or now, was to develop the verbal skills they might find useful as they passed through college into the adult world. That is, the class required a lot of talking by them with me to start and fill in the gaps. Some students excelled at this, while others sat shy and silent.

One item on the reading list was I and Thou by Martin Buber. (The young Jesuit who taught them philosophy stammered incredulously: "How did you get them to read Martin Buber?" "By assigning it," was my unintentionally flippant reply.) Early in my intro I pronounced what I assumed would be a throw away line: "There is no such thing as time." I drew breath for the next sentence but froze at the sight of a generously proportioned student, one suitable for the line in football, rising to his feet to demand "What do you mean 'there is no such thing as time'?" For the next three days the rest of the class cheered the verbal ping pong match between he and I. Neither of us convinced the other, and the match was declared a draw. That display of verbal fisticuffs, opposed to his previous silence, earned his 'A'.

But I maintain: There is no such thing as time.

Of course we have watches. Of course the factory whistle blows at certain times. But what exactly is it that these things measure? The duration of our home planet's revolution on its axis? Some portion of the orbit 'round the sun? Does this particular duration hold true for other planets? So that a day on Mars is twenty-four Terran hours? Wouldn't that waste a half hour or so of rotation? Like putting a nickel in the meter as you drive away?

There is no such thing as time.

Our species once lived as hunters and gatherers. 'Time' for them was a succession of seasons. At its most precise it was the alternation of light and dark with the boundary line being most important because that was when the waterhole was busiest.

Farmers pay closer attention to the seasons so as to catch the time to plant and do the other chores based on celestial placement. Their workers made do with 'sunup', 'noon', and 'sundown'.

The Catholic Church institutionalized their rituals into the offices of the day, each accompanied by its distinctive peal of the bells: Prime, Terce, Matins, Lauds, Evensong and Compline to divide the day and night into six parts. Or more. Or less. It depends on your source. It also depends on the historic period under discussion.

Such jobs as there were in feudal Europe -- that is work at will rather than that done as a bound serf -- were paid by the season or the job. In the 1600's a blacksmith might charge four pence for a hundred nails of a certain size -- hence 4d nails. How long it took him to make those nails was less important than that he be able to find a buyer for all he made. Materials were the major expense, labor a minor consideration. House servants in the eighteenth century might be paid by the year, in quarterly portions at each quarter day.

The Chinese divvied the planet's full rotation into twelve 'hours' named in accordance with their system of astral signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger and so on to Dog and Boar. The hour of the Rat straddled our midnight.

There is no such thing as time.

All was to be made anew! So thought the French Revolutionaries. In 1793 France reformed its calendar in line with the decimalization of other measures. "There were 10 hours in a day, 100 decimal minutes in an hour and 100 decimal seconds in a decimal minute, so 0.12345 day = 1:23:45." It gets more fun. The year has twelve months of 30 days each. The year begins with the Autumnal Equinox. Each year ends just short of this event, so there are five or six 'Festival Days" thrown in for padding. These have stirring appellations as: 'Virtue Day' (Jour de la Vertu), 'Genius Day', 'Labor Day', 'Reason Day', 'Rewards Day' and 'Revolution Day'. Each month has three weeks of ten days each. These were called, in a stunning display of Gallic imagination, Primidi, or First Day, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi and so on. The month names show some flair. The month starting on our October 22 is called 'Fog' ("Brumaire") and is followed by one called 'Snow'. 'Rain' succeeds that. Fair warning. Thank Le Bon Dieu the year begins with 'Vintage'.

There is no such thing as time.

Another revolution occurred at about the same time. John Harrison set about solving the greatest scientific challenge of his day by looking where nobody else looked.
With no formal education or apprenticeship to any watchmaker, Harrison nevertheless constructed a series of virtually friction-free clocks that required no lubrication and no cleaning, that were made from materials impervious to rust, and that kept their moving parts perfectly balanced in relation to one another, regardless of how the world pitched or tossed about them. He did away with the pendulum, and he combined different metals inside his works in such a way that when one component expanded or contracted with the temperature, the other counteracted the change and kept the clock's rate constant. -- Longitude by Dava Sobel page 9

While the Astronomer Royal, The Fellows of the Royal Academy, Admirals of varied colors and Gentlemen Scholars vied with one another to create tables and formularies that would allow navigators to determine longitude, Harrison's solution was two of his chronometers. One faithfully maintained the time at Greenwich's Naval Observatory, the other was reset each day to local noon, this being the best time to take a sighting of the sun which by means of trigonometry could yield the current latitude. So important was this 'nooning' that Noon was the start of the Royal Navy's day. By noting the difference between Greenwich and local noon the distance east or west, plus or minus., was found. For the first time a sailor out of land's view could know where he was.

Still, there is no such thing as time.

The industrial revolution made time a commodity. Rather than pay craftsmen by the work, which gets into a just valuation of quality, Capitalists made a deal with yokels just off the farm to show up for so many hours a day to do as bid for so much an hour. The yokels said the vernacular equivalent of: "hot dam! I get paid real money just to show up." The capitalists moaned about how "We wuz robbed!" while building another villa in the country with their savings. Of course, the yokels sang a different tune when the landlord came for the rent -- another new concept for refugees from the villein economy. Productivity -- doing more in the same time -- was invented to improve the bosses' take. Unions were created to try to even the odds a little bit. The bosses had an answer to that: inflation. Inflation is charging more for the same thing today than you did yesterday. Bill Mauldin showed the relationship between wages and prices by depicting a worker reaching for a basket of food suspended over his head, labeled 'Prices'. The next panel showed the same worker on a small ladder marked "Wages". But the basket was still just out of reach. A third panel showed a taller ladder with the basket still just out of reach. Prices rise as wages rise.

The Economist (of March 5th, 1994, page 15 of the Manufacturing Technology Survey: 'The Uses of Time".) summarizes it as:
In the modern world, everyone can know the time exactly and carry it with them anywhere. In the pre-industrial world, only precise observation of the heavens could provide accuracy, and time was encased in all-but immovable clocks. The difference was brought about and necessitated by industrialisation. Greenwich mean time was taken from London to the provinces by clocks on steam engines, the better to synchronize the rhythms of the nation's work. Time's unmeasured flow became controlled, paid for, subdivided. Factory whistles punctuated it, Frederick Taylor and his stop-watches measured it exactly, punching the clock gave it value.

The comoditization of time led to our preoccupation with time. We now divide seconds into thousands and millionths in a futile effort to gain -- what, exactly? More money? More Time? More knowledge?

Yet there is no such thing as time.

You are tired of the refrain? A thousand pardons. But we are so conditioned to think of time as what it is not that repetition is a needful corrective. What is time? Ah. That moves us forward. Tic. Tock.
Tic. Tock.
Tic. Tock.
Time is not.
Rhythm is.
Times' an idea: Use a rhythm to measure duration.
Understand that and you control it.
If your life is too busy, too harried, too little time: Change the rhythm to one that suits.
By determining what is important to you and concentrating on that.
By using your I to engage thou. Rather than things.
Easy -- Not?
Who said it would be?
-- ml

Friday, March 17, 2006

It is a Matter of Taste

My former co-worker Barbara, who -- in another life -- once ran a restaurant in Marin County, California, capped a discussion by intoning:
Blessed be those who have taste,
For they found new food
When the tribe needed it.
And blessed be those who have no taste,
For they kept the tribe alive
When only bad food was available.


Monday, March 13, 2006

The Result

The filling is a third cup each frozen pie cherries and blueberries passed through a moulinex food grater. Add a half cup ground almonds and about 6 oz. Hero's Swiss apricot preserves. The frozen fruit was quite juicy, but between the nuts and the baking the result is a thick sauce. This batch made a dozen hefty ones. Your count may vary.

Speaking of sauce -- go easy on tonight's libations. Just enough to confuse your best friend's and your worst enemy's name. Please don't get schnockered.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hamen's Pockets

One of my favorite holidays approaches. It is a joyous one that celebrates freedom from oppression. It is also the only holy day I know of where G-d commands us to drink. "To drink wine until we can no longer distinguish between our best friend and our worst enemy," as a Rabbi explained it to me in Tokyo. As a young sailor I delighted in the drinking and rejoiced in my fine memory. Now that I am no longer young and my memory is less dependable I understand the point to be less about the drinking than about the letting go of bad experiences so that life may grow good again. Surely that is a worthy reason to lift a glass.

The holiday is Purim which celebrates the events related in the biblical book of Esther. For more detail visit Judaism 101: Purim. Purim begins this year at sundown of March the thirteenth and continues until sundown or the fourteenth.

Another treat associated with Purim is Hamentaschen, or Hamen's pockets. In the story Hamen is the baddy. He likes to squeeze money and taxes out of everybody. He's the guy whose name we're supposed to blot out by swinging noisemakers -- rattles -- called gragors. Hamentaschen are rounds of pastry folded around a filling to make a shape like a three cornered hat, with pastry for the brim and the filling for the crown. One traditonal filling is plum jam. Another is Poppy seeds with lemon peel in honey. Both are good, but any fruit type filling works.

For the pastry I make my variant of the Rich Tart Pastry found in the Horizon Cook Book. Sift 2 cups of flour with salt, a quarter cup of sugar, and a cup of finely ground almonds or other nuts. Cut in three quarters cup of butter. Add 2 eggs, grated peel of a lemon, one or two tablespoons of rum or brandy and mix until dough makes a ball. Wrap in wax or parchment paper and refrigerate for an hour.

For the filling use a good preserve, or chop a cup of dried apricots and half a cup of nuts finely. Soak in a good dark rum. Break two tablespoons of poppy seeds in a mortar with a pestle. Add all to a half cup of honey in a saucepan and heat until thick. Orange peel might be a tasty addition to any of the above.

To assemble: Roll the pastry into three inch rounds about one eight inch thick. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center. Fold the edges together around the filling and pinch the ends together to make the hat shaped triangles. Place one and a half inches apart on a buttered, or parchment papered, sheet. Bake about twenty minutes in a 350of oven.

-- ml

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Political Calculus

In a city not too distant there is a harbor and a downtown. Not too surprising? No.
Over fifty years ago an elevated freeway was constructed dividing the harbor from the downtown, as effectively as a curtain wall might. The life expectancy of such structures is no more than fifty years. This is in earth quake country.

There is some pressure to replace the structure.

There are three possible ways to replace the freeway.
First, build a new viaduct. It will have six lanes rather than four. It will be half again as stout as the present structure to withstand quakes. It will separate the city from its waterfront even more thoroughly. It will last for fifty years. At a projected cost of 2.6 billion dollars.

Second, build a tunnel. This is a billion, or so, more expensive, but lasts twice as long. This reconnects the waterfront to the city and creates a tourist destination -- i.e.: money!

Third, unbuild the viaduct and fix up the ground level streets to make a six lane boulevard. Presumably this has the advantage of creating the tourist draw for less than cost of replacing the viaduct. It's disadvantage is that the traffic may log jam. But that is a 'may', not a 'will.'

So we have a decision.
a.) $2.1b/50 = $42 million per year. No bonus from tourist income.
b.) $3.1b/100 = $31 million per year. Plus tourist money.
c.) $1b?/100 = $10 million per year. Plus tourist money.
The correct answer may be obvious.
The decision is a..

I told you this is political calculus.

See Goldy for the bloody details.

-- ml

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Analects of Management xiv-anon.

Regardless of how many "grown-ups" he had around him, he was the head of the organization and the organization was a reflection of him. They always are.

Super. Saved the quote. But not the link. Apologies to the author, but the thought is too good not to share.
-- ml