Friday, December 29, 2006

Analyze This

For the past year I have repeatedly dreamt I was to take a graduate level mathematics exam but on appearing for the exam, I realize I have no idea what the course is about. I wonder why I had never attended a class, and fret over how I could be stuck in this predicament. Each time I experience the dream, I repeatedly chastise myself for not paying more attention ahead of time; I go ahead and take the exam, but the results are ambiguous.

So last night, for the first time in over a year, the dream has a different ending, and feels sort of conclusive. Last night, I decide I'm going to drop the course, instead of taking the exam like usual. So I go off to see me graduate adviser. He is a bright Russian professor who wears a red cardigan with Clark-Kent glasses. I start off explaining the situation. He asks me which course it is. I try to think of the name, and I have no clue. I say I don't know. He then asks something like "well, what's it about." I think for a while, and finally say, "I really have no idea. I can't remember a thing. I don't remember signing up for the class. I can't recall ever going to the class, and in fact, I don't even recall how I ever got started on my PhD in mathematics."

He scratches his head, consults his star grad student who is seated next to me. Then he leans over and whispers cryptically, "Deep, if you walk to the edge of the ocean, and put your finger in it, the water will ripple all over the planet." I get frustrated, my voice starts shaking, and say, "I don't understand what you are saying. Are you saying I am where I am because of a chain of events that is out of my control, and I should just drop the course and not worry about it?" He says, "yes." I say, "But it's not that easy. I don't sign up for something, and then just drop it because of a challenge. That's just not the way I am. " He says, "But you don't even know what the class is about." I say, "You're right. I'll drop it." And apparently I do, and it really is no big deal.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Book Review of Mark Haddon's Novel: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

This is one of the best novel's I've read all year. The book is narrated by a 15 year old autistic child, Christopher Boone, who is mathematically brilliant, and processes the world like a piece of software might. The writing reminds me of Faulkner's style while describing Benji from the Sound and the Fury. Haddon really dives into Boone's character and sucks you into his world. I highly recommend this book. Its a very quick read. I finished it in a long morning. I give it 4 stars out of 4. I love experimental writing techniques -- especially one's that tell a strong story well. Here's a snippet from

Mark Haddon, who has worked with autistic children, has created a unique narrator to tell this story. At first glance, an autistic child whose fantasy is to wake one day and find he's the only living person left on earth would seem to be an unlikely narrator. We quickly come to understand Christopher Boone and his understandings and misunderstandings of how the world works. We sympathize with the adults who must suffer his fits and practice extreme patience with the minute details with which he orders his life. Christopher's father is the most patient with him, even if his manner is gruff at times. He quickly forbids Christopher to ask anyone questions about Wellington's death and to promise to let the matter die, which Christopher does, within the specifics of his promise. The questions he's already asked, though, and the people he's already met have put events into motion that will eventually send him on an adventure that will challenge all of his skills to cope with the world that he is especially challenged to understand.

Because Christopher understands even less of the world than most 15-year olds, the result is that seeing the effects of emotions, lies, and intrigue of the adult world through his eyes lets them hit even more powerfully. Since he sees all this in his non-judgmental perspective and only how they affect the careful order in his world, the flaws of the adults are heightened by their disregard for the effect they have on Christopher while also being tempered by the fact that his autism has placed incredible stresses on all their lives. Christopher is more than just a different medium for seeing the world. In Mark Haddon's capable hands, he quickly becomes all too real, and while he can be incredibly frustrating, he explains his world in a way that makes perfect sense. When events unfold that threaten his carefully maintained world, his quest to solve the problem is as adventurous and dangerous as any literary character. To Christopher, it's something he just must do.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Photos from Zipolite, Oaxaca in Mexico

Its been a busy, chaotic, stressful and in most ways, rather annoying week since we returned from Oaxaca. This week was a stark contrast to the 3 calm, relaxing, and stress free weeks we spent on the beach. I'm starting to understand why so many people in Zipolite have chosen to drop out of their home worlds.

Well I've finally gotten our photos uploaded, so you can now view them in 2 slide shows by clicking on slide show 1 and slide show 2.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Review of Google's Blogger Beta

I recently started using Google's new Blogger beta. Its definitely a big step up from the previous version of Blogger.

One no brainer new feature is the introduction of tags. Perhaps a couple years late, but a welcomed new feature nonetheless. I was getting quite tired of loading my entries with keywords, and then relying on the search capability to "kind of" get tags to work. Another thing they seemed to have done a decent job on is the introduction of a UI builder to design and edit your blog templates. You no longer have to hack your way through convoluted HTML to introduce simple UI elements like a linked list. In general the UI builder seems to work, and not crash. But it does have its problems, the biggest being the confused state it winds up in if you do edit the HTML; unfortunately, this is innevitible if you upgraded your old blog as opposed to creating a new one from scratch. I still recommend rebuilding your UI template from scratch using the UI builder; of course, make sure to keep a back up of your original.

There are also some nice widgets in the UI builder. One of my favorites is the RSS summary display; it allows you to put in an RSS feed, and then drag the element onto the blog display. The result is all the titles of the RSS feed show up so your users can click off onto this other blog. You can see an example on the new site I created at - if you scroll down a bit, you'll see an RSS feed called Chalo Bolo. Chalo Bolo is my main blog, so this element allows me to pull users interested in more general topics I write about. In general, the new Blogger is a big step up from the old, and better than other server side blogging all inclusive tools I've used. Nonetheless, I have a few items on my wish list for the next release:

* More customization ability on the RSS viewer. For example, I would like an option to include a couple lines of text from each article in addition to just the title. I would also like to be able to customize the number of articles displayed.

* Clean separation of content from blogs. Currently I have about 4 different blogs on Blogger. It is a real pain to post articles to different blogs, especially when I need to cross post. I would far prefer it if I could simply choose, for a given blog, which tags to automatically show in that blog. For example, my general blog Chalo Bolo, would show any articles regardless of tag, where as my art blog, would only show articles with the tag "art."

* Future dated posts. I often write a number of blog posts at once. I would like to have these posts automatically posted over the next few days. It would be great if I could simply select a date in the future for a given post, and then have the post go live automatically on that date.

* Frequent Commenter Widget. Many people who post comments on the web, do so out of a self interest to drive traffic back to their site through an active link on their name. I would like to encourage this (minus the spammers of course), since it increases interest and traffic in my own site. It would be nice if I could have a widget that ranks in inverse order the most frequent commenter. Another idea is to enable users to vote on comments, so there could be a featured comment of the day.

* Ability to buy a domain name. Many of us are too addicted to leave Blogger, but would prefer to have our own domain name, and would prefer to do without the generic tool bar at the top of each blog. I would like to be able to pay a small amount, and have the DNS registration, migration, etc. all handled for me.

That's it for now. I give the new Blogger 3 stars out of 4. Unless you want to go the next level and highly customize your blog locally using client side software, I recommend going w/ Blogger.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A 5 year old Seattleite's take on Zipolite, Oaxaca

Here's a letter my 5 year old son Nayan wrote (actually my wife took dictation) to his friend from Oaxaca:

Hi Issey,

We are in Mexico and its really hot where we are and Issey there are cactuses growing they are really cool because they have prickles on them and they are really big cactuses bigger than people and and white stuff comes on them that makes them smaller I think its some kind of bug that eats the cactus the white stuff I`ve seen on big cactuses each day I look and the cactus gets smaller and smaller. Issey there is a museum of sea turtles and they are really big. One turtle can lay 100 eggs. Its like India here because you don`t have to wear seat belts.

Issey its really hot. The ocean water is really warm and there are waves at the beach. Really big ones and really strong. Big and strong enough for people to go surfing. People can do snorkling here and my dad is snorkling right now. They speak Spanish here and a lot of Italian! The roofs of the houses are made of palm leaves, the houses are open -- they have no doors or walls, there's no glass for the windows just wood that opens all the way up. And there is no hot water but you don´t need it because its really hot.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Big Investments in Biodiesel

The Seattle Times is running an interesting article called Can Biodiesel Compete on Price about Imperium Renewables, a bio-diesel startup. What's interesting to me in the article, are the many references to big $ being invested in the alternative fuels market, both in the form of start up dollars, and big agri-business dollars. It seems gas prices are really starting to have a positive impact. Here's a snippet from the article:

What no one has demonstrated yet is whether biodiesel, as a business, can compete on the key factor for many consumers — price.

Imperium Renewables, a Seattle-based startup, has been obsessing over a business model it believes can beat regular diesel at the pump. The company says biodiesel can win at what it calls the "triple bottom line" of environmental, political and economic benefits.

The strategy relies on economies of scale. Imperium is building the nation's largest biodiesel refinery at the Port of Grays Harbor on the Washington coast, capable of supplying 100 million gallons a year — one-tenth of all the diesel burned in the state.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Insane Bush Buddy Freaks All

So a couple nights ago, I was lounging in the restaurant of our place. Its a very relaxing atmosphere. There are virtually no tourists anywhere in town, and few people of any sort. So I've gotten used to having spaces to myself. We´re on a long lonely dirt road, with a few distant human neighbors, but mostly just buzzing critters in the jungle. Its in this serenity, that I started to hear some very loud American-ese. I say American-ese, since its not just english, which is very rare to hear down here, but that obnoxious type of '-ese' that the rest of the world makes fun of, much louder than anything around, and spoken with the air of absolute security that everyone in ear shot is surely interested in all that the source is spouting.

Well, it might not have been so harsh, if it wasn´t for the very short moments of respite between the abundant trails of profanity. So Luna, one of our resident doobers, starts barking like mad. I was of course a bit thrilled, and didn't bother to shush her like normal, since clearly she could recognize an unwanted guest. Well, of course, Sexualos, my nick name for her 3o something sultry self, was arriving to dine at our place. Between the loud profanity spewing, was the 2 person sexual tension type of dynamic that makes most well adjusted people a bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, we (myself and some of the Italian regulars) tried to tune them out for a while. The spewing went through ebbs and lulls, peaked for a while in an odd eye´s filled with tears weeping outburst saying something like: ¨I can´t believe I haven't painted in 18 years, its so terrible. What? Stop harrassing me about it ok? I've known you for almost a month now, why do you have to harrass me about it.¨ The harrassment consisted of a rather innocent statement something like a ¨so why do you think that is.¨ Immediately after the outburst, a hand on leg type of ¨affectionate¨ pseudo-apology.

Since I couldn't get away from the scene, and there is little to do for entertainment around here, I figured I'd do the next best thing, and pay more attention, so I'd atleast get a good blog entry out of it. Well eventually, they started talking about the Iraq war. I should say, her friend, seemed like a decent fellow, a rastafarian type of guy with a thick British accent and a sweet demeanor. Anyway, she started screaming pretty loudly, ¨well someone had to do it! Someone had to deal with Saddam. I´m sick of %&%&$$%$ everyone hating America. I´ve never felt as *?%&/$· patriotic as I do now! We need to bomb the hell out of folks so we can save the world.¨ Similar statements in reaction to pretty mild ¨well I don't think that's quite the full story¨ type of comments. The regular Italians and our lovely hosts were all doing that thing people do when they can't say anything, and are a bit frightened, raise their eyebrows, pretend they don't understand english, and smile in a I'm scared and embarassed for her type of way.

So last night, we´re down at the beach at another restaurant, and sure enough, Sexualos shows up w/ a different guy, and of the 30 or so empty tables, sat down next to Ameen, the kids and I. Once is a novelty, twice is a bit much, and the profanity is something I shield my kids from.

In any event, I blame the US government for just willy nilly handing out passports. I mean really, we spend millions on ad campaigns trying to convince the world we aren't jerks, and then one woman goes off and convinces an entire town that we're all really insane. I've started putting the pressure on my friend to run around telling everyone he's American as the opening to every conversation so the local's only image of us isn´t so frightening. Another option is to team up with the local drug dealers and get some lithium swapped into her weekly prescription.

Mo Critters Buggin'

So the other day, I woke up, wandered outside, well we're always outside here, there really is no such thing as inside, but anyway, I wandered across our outside kitchen to our outside bathroom. I should note here, we, in our naivete, assumed since everything is outside, there really is no point in closing doors. Well it turns out, volleyball sized frogs, can´t jump up through the always wide open windows. So to my surprise, in my sleepy and glasses-less morning haze, a big lump on the wall started to wiggle about. I ran back in our room, put on my glasses, and returned. The largest frog I've ever seen was happily lazing in the shower. I ran to get Ameen and the kids so they could come check him out. Along the way, Ameen noticed a nice black scorpion the size of a silver dollar sitting happily in Ananya´s orange bucket she plays in all day. Turns out, after some investigation, the scorpion, while poisonous, can't really kill you, just cause a volleyball sized swelling. And the frog, is a known resident of Las Casitas - perhaps he realizes he´s safer with the Italians since their diet is not as hip to the amphibious hoppers as the native neighbors.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Art post

I'm not sure how long this idea of having a separate art blog is going to last, as its a pain to cross post. In any event, I just posted to my art blog at an article titled: The Quest for Subject Matter in Zipolite. Here is a snippet:

We sort of slacked off in packing supplies, bringing only the most basic of items. In part, this was due to the blur of activity that led us to the airport, and in part it was because we assumed we'd be able to dig up some local materials, which we are usually able to, but here, this has proven a more difficult task. In addition, it seems our little one, Ananya, has gotten much larger, and more importantly, faster, since our last art/trip. We're staying at a place which is not exactly a toddler sanctuary - lots of rock drops, few guard rails, no closed walls in our cabin, etc, which means Ameen and I spend a fair amount of time simply helping Ananya avoid collisions. We did manage to find a local village girl who will serve in the collision avoidance role so that should free up some time.

In any event, there is much to look at here, and be inspired by. It is called a jungle desert, and they've just come off the rainy season, which means it is very lush. While the greenery is visually stunning, the colors are even more so. Lots of exotic flowers in bloom, crazy colored birds, gigantic black lizards, and of course, bugs galore. I've been snapping a fair amount of pictures on a hunt for subject matter; there's a lot to capture: ram shackle huts, trucks hauling crowds of people, bright clothing, flowers, shattered Italian mosaics, the list goes on. I tend to paint from assemblages of photos, atleast for my more representational work, so it is always nice to have stacks of photos and sketches to work from when I get back into the studio.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Freedom to Roost and Roam

In the states there is a lot of talk about all of these freedoms we have. Often it's in the context of freedom to start a business and make a fortune, freedom to own a gun, freedom to undue search and seizure, etc. Whenever I'm in another country with supposedly a lot less freedoms than we have back home, I always find it ironic how free I feel. I think there are so many little freedoms that we don't realize have long since been discarded in the US.

My wife and kids and I typically hop onto the backs of these little trucks to get wherever we want to go here in Oaxaca. Its an incredibly cheap and simple system. You stand virtually anywhere on the side of the road, and a little Datsun pickup truck picks you up. There's usually a bunch of people in the back that are very happy to see us. They all make sure not to wake the baby if she's asleep in her stroller. They lift the stroller up into the back. We all hop in, and off we go. The wind blows through our hair, the sun is shining, we can go anywhere we want to, and all for about 5 pesos (50 cents), and thats for the whole family. This little piece of freedom could never happen in the states. The truck doesn't have seat belts, its rarely loaded within its weight capacity, and there is no official access for the disabled, though I'm sure anyone in a wheelchair would be treated as well as us with our stroller.

Here's another case: my friend Mateo leaves his house to go to the local pub. A few hours later his dog randomly shows up in the bar, happy to see Matt, but clearly here at the bar for his own social or snack-induced reasons. Obviously, another no go - few dogs in the states live life as free as Paco. Perhaps due to myriad lawsuit driven laws - things like health code violations, the fear of rabies, roaming deranged Pit Bulls, etc. etc.

At the same pub, there is no roof in certain places, the chairs are delapidated, wires are all strewn about, and clearly the owner got this business off the ground with a pretty small up front investment. Nonetheless, the place is packed, everyone knows everyone, and its a real charmer of a place to hang out. In addition, the bar owner's wife and 2 year old son are lounging about, many bar goers are playing with the baby, and there's even a basonnette for the baby to sleep in when he gets tired. There is no oppression against the baby - he obviously loves the attention, no one is stammering drunk, its more like a dinner party type of atmosphere. Obviously here's another notch against freedom in the states. The freedom of the bar owner to start this place up on an incredibly low budget, the freedom of the bar owner and his family to run a business without spending a fortune on day care. The freedom of the baby to roam at will, and see his parents all day and night long. And my freedom, as a patron, to hang out, enjoy the atmosphere in a NON age segregated environment.

And yet another: we go to the beach, sit at a restaurant, and the kids can just roam free. Ananya hops up onto the swing at the bar - swinging back and forth blissfully, Nayan is kicking his beach ball in between all the tables and chairs, the bartender's daughter is playing with Ananya. There is no wall separating those priveleged to drink alchohol, and those not. There is no traffic to be concerned about. There are no social faux pas' causing us to worry about our kids annoying people. Everyone loves kids here, and if they don't, they have the freedom to leave.

Not all freedoms involve the government, and not all are those the news thinks matter. As many freedoms are lost in the states, or virtually any western nation, due to social pressure. In Ballard, maybe I do have the freedom to keep a rooster at home, but I'm sure my neighbors would hate me if I did. Okay, this is dragging on too long, and its unbelievably hot in here. My sweat is dripping into the keyboard.
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