red echo

A web journal by Mars Saxman: my life, reflected and filtered

April entries

Archived Entries for March, 2004

March 31, 2004

Last year Joe and I convinced management to let us distribute a command-line version of RbScript for Unix systems. We got the basic system working, but did not have enough free time to finish it. In the meantime, though, we added support for console applications to REALbasic 5.5. This morning, Joe spent half an hour putting pieces together and built a brand new version of command-line RbScript in REALbasic itself.

Somehow all those months of work on the Mach-O linker feel just a little less like wasted effort now.

March 30, 2004

Beautiful day in Austin. Sunny, clear, and a nice cool breeze. The planning meetings are going well, too.

March 28, 2004

Kayaking on Town Lake in Austin

Night out at Emo's

March 25, 2004

Bizarre rockstar moment that could only happen at a geek conference: I'm walking down the street in downtown Austin, a few blocks from the convention center. I pass a group of random people walking the other way and hear, "hey man, nice compiler!". I'm flattered... I think.

March 24, 2004

REAL World Conference 2004

March 20, 2004

The gym usually has one of its half-dozen TVs tuned to CNN, and I was treated to twenty minutes of George Bush's campaign startup speech this morning. They leave all the TVs set to subtitles and turn their sound off; the curious thing was, without the faux-folksy twang voice that makes him sound like a hack actor trying out for a Beef Council ad, the man doesn't sound that much like an idiot. He even got in a few cracks at John Kerry that were funny. I still disagree with just about everything he said, and his blithe misrepresentations of simple facts just make me fume, but it was strange to see a tiny glimmer of the otherwise inexplicable appeal he apparently has for so many supposedly sane Americans.

Terrific, literate, and substantive discussion between Philip Pullman, atheist, author of His Dark Materials, and Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England. That they managed to conduct a civil conversation is noteworthy, but that they actually dug in and discussed religion, myth, storytelling, and faith in a way that respected both religion and atheism really impresses me.

Nice day for an anti-war protest

Bush chose to start his electoral campaign on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. He hasn't much choice; he wanted this war from the start, he has been pushing for it and defending it for over two years, and now he doesn't have much else to show for his term in office. It is a personal matter: this is Bush's war, not America's war, and everyone knows that the only way to end the war and forestall the series of invasions he has probably planned for the next few years is to get the guy out of office. Today's protest was equal parts anti-Iraq-war and anti-Bush, because they are really the same issue. I don't know whether this will turn out to be a help or hindrance in the upcoming campaign; Seattle is one of those "liberal" urban enclaves where pretty much everyone opposed the war all along, so I can't really judge what the rest of the country is going to do.

In any case, the march was a nice pleasant walk from Capitol Hill down to the waterfront. It had the usual complement of signs with writing as sloppy as the thinking behind their slogans, obnoxious radicals pushing flyers for this or that revolutionary organization, inane chants, and off-topic embarassments that seem to converge on any public demonstration, but I went with a group of friends and ran into various acquaintances along the way, so there was at least some good conversation to be had.

The cops were out in force at the freeway overpass, defending the on-ramps in ludicrously excessive force against the peacefully strolling crowd whose terrifying radical message basically amounted to "Don't vote for Bush in November". I guess they feel like they can't take any chances since the WTO protests, but the lines of armored police armed with four-foot batons gave that part of the walk an oppressive feel. The cops were basically just there to direct traffic along the rest of the route, and some of them even looked a little bit less than unfriendly.

None of my group were particularly interested in standing around listening to speeches for an hour, so we bailed out after reaching the end of the march and went up to Pike Place for lunch and beer. We're all going to vote against Bush anyway; the point was just to get out and be counted, to help fill out the crowd so the news can remind everyone that we're still here and we're not going to shut up anytime soon. Bush may have gotten his war, but if we keep up the opposition maybe we can make him pay the consequences.

March 19, 2004

I just picked up a classical guitar book at Half Price Books. It's the Carcassi Classical Guitar Method - original copyright 1946! What a trip, to be learning from a book that old. Music is still music, though, and a $4 book full of arpeggios looks like just what I need.

March 18, 2004

I'm ready to declare "Somewhere out here", my latest song, close enough to finished that I'm willing to let it rest. It's about as good as I feel like making it. It sounds good, I like the mix, and the various imperfections in the recorded performance are minor enough to live with. I'm happy with it and ready to move on to the next project. I'm tempted to go back and finish "Technological Cavalry" now; I played it immediately after "Somewhere out here" and the vocals sounded muddy and muted by comparison. I don't know whether I need to re-record or just re-mix, but the track definitely needs improvement. An extra instrumental part would be nice, too. Of course, I'd also like to (finally) record the rest of "Not in my name"... and the list goes on.

March 17, 2004

The party went well. The turnout was a little lower than I expected, since illness and work obligations kept quite a few people away, but that worked for the best as I really didn't have enough seating to accomodate any more people. It seemed like a good mix; some of the pool people I see every week, some old friends I don't get to see very often. My guests seemed to get along well, and conversation rarely faltered. I am content.

I enjoyed playing host. I like being the center of attention every now and then, but it's nice to have a defined background role to fall back on. It suits my temperament, anyway; I enjoy the planning and preparation, and it's nice never to have to wonder "what am I doing here?".

March 15, 2004

Ready for tomorrow's party

March 14, 2004

Coal Creek Trail in Cougar Mountain Park

March 12, 2004

The World Resources Institute runs a site called EarthTrends, an "environmental information portal", with a cool section about Watersheds of the World. I spent a while looking for a map of the Columbia river watershed last year, but couldn't find one that had the detail I wanted; well, here it is.

March 11, 2004

Interesting essay on the Dunbar Number and its application to group sizes. I've heard echoes of this idea for years, but this is an extended treatment with real examples and some sensible explanations of the stresses on a group as its population increases.

An essay in the New Yorker argues that the gay-marriage debate, and the debate over homosexuality in general, is divided along generational lines:

To talk to younger people is to realize that for most of them, including many young conservatives, such notions as the idea that homosexuality is shameful, that it is a voluntary and/or contagious "life-style choice," or that it is some sort of threat to something or other (public order, the family, civilization, God) are simply bizarre curios from the past, like the belief that masturbation causes blindness. And, for what it's worth, anecdotal impressions are confirmed by opinion research. ... The trend lines are clear: at some point in the fairly near future - maybe by the time those twenty-somethings are forty-somethings - gay marriage will be routine. (So will gay divorce, if the experience of straight marriage is any guide.)
I think there's some truth to this, but I also remember some counter-anecdotes. When I worked as online cop in the teen forums on Talk City, I remember being horrified by the common, unthinking use of "gay" as a general derogation, in the same way kids my age had used "lame". They really couldn't understand why this bothered me; it was normal and unremarkable to them. This was a good seven or eight years ago now, so perhaps things have changed since then, and Talk City tended to attract a socially conservative audience anyway, but the sense among those kids that "homosexuality is icky and bad" was so pervasive that it's hard to imagine it has simply vanished in the time since.

Still, it does feel like we are in the middle of a strong cultural shift: the center of gravity has clearly moved, and in the right direction. Maybe the next generation of kids will think about homosexuality the same way I think about divorce: "oh, yeah, that was a really big deal when I was a kid, wasn't it?" The cultural conservatives still think divorce is a big deal, and still wring their hands worrying that single-parent families will cause the demise of western civilisation, but everyone else is long since over it. I think we're seeing the same shift with acceptance of homosexuality. The conservatives will keep on griping about it for decades to come, but people are going to stop caring pretty soon. We're here already, and the Big Gay Apocalypse they've been prophesying for years is still nowhere in sight.

I have just compiled a complete list of synthesizers found on Vintage Synth Explorer that match these criteria:

  1. Rackmountable
  2. Responds to MIDI control
  3. Driven by oscillators or wavetables (no sample playback)

The list is not very long. There was a narrow window between the introduction of digital circuitry and the switch from true synthesis to sample playback, roughly 1985 through 1989.

Of particular interest are the Roland MKS-50, the Oberheim Matrix-6R, the Korg EX-8000, and the Kawai K5m.

March 10, 2004

It's only mid-March and I'm already suffering mountain fever. The sky is clear, the air is cold, and the Olympics define the western horizon. Living in the city, owning a car tends to cause more problems than it solves, but this is the one transportation challenge I have yet to conquer. My new apartment building doesn't even have a parking garage, so vehicle ownership is pretty much out of the question through at least the end of the summer...

March 5, 2004

Well, so much for keeping wine bottles on top of the refrigerator. Sitting in the other room, I heard a bunch of thumps and a big crash; apparently this '99 Cabernet Franc was struck with an attack of vertigo and took my big vase along in its hurry to find lower ground. Alas.

From rebecca's pocket, here's a terrific story about a project in South Africa which is building kid-powered water pumps in poor South African communities. Seriously - an advertising company called Roundabout Outdoor sets up merry-go-rounds and uses them to drive water pumps. The kids, who have mostly never seen any playground equipment before, have a great time spinning around on them.

The location of the Playpumps in villages and near primary schools also cuts down on the amount of time young women previously spent collecting water. Tapping the energy of children at play, the pumps can generate upwards of 1,400 litres of water per hour, saving young women time and energy that they would otherwise have spent walking to and from more remote water sources. The Playpumps also help prevent diseases such as cholera that can stem from open water supplies.
What a brilliant and completely unexpected convergence.

March 3, 2004

Let's hear it for equal treatment under the law

Ha! It's working! Yay for Gavin Newsom - gay weddings are taking off all over the country. Another town in New York has announced that it's going to begin offering weddings to gay couples. Multnomah County, which includes the city of Portland, has taken the same step today. I can hardly believe it's actually working - I'm still waiting for the backlash. It feels like one of those Berlin Wall moments, where the pressure has built up for so long on either side of a stalemate that when something finally cracks you can hardly believe the tension is finally ending.

March 2, 2004

It's about time already:

Capping a 17-year effort by a small but committed group of activists, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has agreed to let a South Carolina physician treat 12 trauma victims with the illegal street drug ecstasy in what will be the first U.S.-approved study of the recreational drug's therapeutic potential.
The spin just oozes out of this article - notice how they make a point of calling it an "illegal street drug" and "recreational drug", and how they try to marginalize the "activists" who accomplished the change. I wonder what kind of stall tactics they'll use when the study's report comes out.

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photo © 2001 Stacie Mayes

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