Wednesday, February 23, 2005


My wife and I have moved. We're out of the old place and in the new one. The new place isn't as much of a tight fit as I was worried about. The primary things left to take care of are the book shelves (finding homes for them) and settling all my books into them. Beyond that, there's not a lot. I only have to sort out the DSL line.

We have her car!!! FINALLY! There's a tad bit of paperwork to be done, but none too big. In general, alles ist kosher. She loves it which was the point. We're taking her out for test driving this weekend. She can drive, but she's nervous in the area. The SF Bay area is far more scary a place to drive than NM or her native Ukraine to her. I'll see about a pict at some point, but its a lil red PT Cruiser (her choice). I'm far more a Jeep kinda guy and I kept my old one, but we needed something baby compatible.

We had another run to Labor and Delivery. Aurora wasn't kicking as much as she normally does. Nothing wrong as far as the Doc's see. We worried over nothing. She was in a sleep cycle. Given how tired we've been this shouldn't have been a surprise. Based on their lil meter that they hooked Lyuda up to, Aurora was kicking just fine. Lyuda just wasn't feeling as much.

I'm still sick. Along with the move, I just haven't been up to reading or doing much. I've kept up with the new Battlestar Galactica. I really like it. I think the sex could be toned back considerably without any loss for the show's quality, but other than that, it's a damned good show. It definitely has the zeitgeist of a near genocide of humanity down pat.

We have an interview with INS (or whatever they're called these days) on March 3rd. This is a biggie. I'm not too worried. I just have to supply them with all the same things that we've supplied them with several times now. *sighs*

I'm still reading the phytoremediation book. It's long. It's chemistry. I don't like chemistry. Never have. Never will. I'm more for a physics and computers kinda guy. That doesn't mean I don't follow it. It doesn't mean that it's terribly difficult. I just don't enjoy it. I'm slogging my way through though.

Next months reading list looks to be a little short: A book on the American Hegemony, an AI coder's book for games, and a book on interstellar exploration. We have to replace our digital camera and buy baby stuff so that eats into the book budget a bit.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Ok. The wife and I have been sick. Really sick. Actually, I have been more sick than my wife has been since last Friday. She has been better since Saturday. Where as I have had no chance to relax or sleep and its been killing me: as soon as I get mostly better, I have to do something in the cold, wet and without enough sleep. I get worse again. :S

She did have something not so fun happen to her though. Last Thursday night/Friday morning, we had to rush to Labor and Delivery. We were there for 6 hours. What happened? My wife is having contractions. They're periodic. They're not very strong though. They're constant though. The Dr's didn't know what to do. Aurora seemed to be happy as a clam. So, in the end, they sent us home.

We're also moving! Cheaper apt. We were living in my bachelor pad and since we're about to have a baby saving dinero might be advisable. So we're in the process of moving. We're about 40% done. We'll get the rest in a bit. We're getting help tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Back to the Grind

My wife is mostly better. She's not feeling well, but the fever has broken and we've beaten back the drips. We spent a good chuk of yesterday at the hospital checking on Aurora. The Dr misunderstood us when she was kicking less when Lyuda came down with the flu. Normally, Aurora kicks - at the minimum - of once a minute. When Lyuda got the flu, Aurora kicked once every few minutes. The Dr got upset with us saying that we should have gone to Labor & Delivery immediately. We called in rather than showed up and L&D told us take lots of fluids and Tylenol for the fever. The fever never went close to the temperature that they worry about (101.4) and Aurora was kicking over double their worry rate (5 kicks per hour). It's just a lot less than her normal routine. After the check and pokes and prods, four hours worth, they pronounced her fine and sent us home. Lyuda and I were a little irritated: the doctors kept trying to think too much about what we were saying rather than just listening. We're articulate people. I understand that not everyone conveys what they're feeling properly. Oh well.

Anyways, after the pokes, prods, and ultrasound, Aurora started kicking and moving like a demon. She REALLY didn't having the ultrasound or the microphones attached to my wife's stomach. She kept it up for hours afterwards. She was kicking hard enough it hurt my wife!

Anyways, back to The Grind today. I really need to get that paper moving forward again. It's about a 1/4 done. The deployment plan was done on Friday. So I don't need to worry about that.

I have thoughts on NASA, etc., but that will have to wait for another time.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

My Wife is Sick

She's not doing so well at the moment. I think she just has a cold that is being exasperated by pregnancy. It kept her - and me - up most of the night. I am planning on taking her to the doctor tomorrow if this doesn't clear up. I'm worried about her. I really, really love her and worry about our daughter t'boot. She seems to be getting better though. Right now she is sleeping while I clean and do dishes, etc. I put on Beethoven's 6th to help soothe her (it worked! Amazing!) and cover the sounds of cleaning in the apartment.

Speaking apartments, we didn't get the one we wanted. Alas. We are have clinched one of two others: its our choice which. One has a view of the SF Bay. It's not bad. We were going to sign for this one on Sat, but when we went in to look at it a lot of things that were supposed to be fixed were not. I'm less than pleased. The agent was REALLY less than pleased. She told us to hold our money and she'll see about getting it fixed. We looked at another one without the view but south facing. It has less that needs to be remedied. We've switched our preference. We have the cashier's checks in hand. The agent is salivating. She's just trying to dodge around to get what we want. I'm really not happy though with how this has played out. grr.

The phytoremediation book is progressing. A lot less notes. I have the chemist in this project working up a projection on the cost for the necessary environmental lab. She's supposed to have something on monday. I need to talk again to the biologist involved. I think this will fly and pretty well. I just need to get myself educated enough to play conductor, but not be the one of instrumentalists.

Anyways, back to cleaning.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Just a little too much today

We just moved my office contents from Berkeley to Oakland. The old building was considered unsafe because of the Hayward Fault. They built that building at LBL during the 1980s and it met the codes then. The codes have changed and are more strict based on the big earthquake in 1989. They found that the building I was in would collapse catastrophicly and prolly killing most of those inside. So! I lost my office with a window as they tear down that building. Now I have one in Oakland only. Effectively, I had one in each place, but officially only in Berkeley. No more.

They trashed a machine in the move. I am getting a new computer out of that. They damaged an LCD. New one there too. I was also too late to prevent them from packing the charcoal and pencil drawings that my wife did for me. The one based on a Kamakura period painting is smudged. grrr. They also broke a frame with my wife's picture in it. *sighs*

I am supposed to make three different calls today for making appointments and such. One is about the car. One is about the new apartment. One is about a trip to the dentist. Bah.

I have had zilch goof off time and I need a night. I've been cleaning or working or cooking or helping Lyuda with her homework. She's taking another triple of english classes. She wants to finish cleaning up her english because she has an accent and fix her grammar. Her spoken English and reading ability outstrips her written at this point. She wants to get a University degree from here in the States and wants to ace everything and to do that...;)

We took a tour of Kaiser's Labor and Delivery Department. Lyuda and I both almost cried. I've wanted to be a dad for a loooong time, but wondered if it'd ever happen after teh flaming wreckage of my first marriage and some very horrible things that happened afterwards. Lyuda is a little scared, but touched as mucha s I am too. We're excited, terrified and happy all at once.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Thoughts on _Collapse_

I have been giving _Collapse_ a lot of thought. I have to say that I am not so sure that accept a lot of his ideas. Let me go through this a little bit before I get into the whys. I am definitely someone concerned about environmental problems even though I am of a nominally more conservative bent. Well, that most that I live around at least.

Jared Diamond makes another attempt at being predictive in anthropology and history. He puts together a list of conditions that are predictors for if a society will collapse. The index of made up of the following: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners, and a society's response to its environmental problems. As he goes forward through the first several sections of the book, he tries to point out where each of the failed or successful societies had each of his indicators tripped (or not). While this does break down later in the chapters - he doesn't talk about some of the indicators at all for some societies - he does make the attempt.

He starts out contrasting two dairy farms. One in Montana in the present day and the other in vanished Norse Greenland. Its a simple introduction that he outlines what he's getting at: that societies collapse through environmental problems and that we need to be really careful because we're headed down that path.

That leads into his discussion of the Bitterroot Valley of Montana in the USA. He started going there again on a regular basis for vacations with his family after having been there some as a boy. He seems to be enough of a regular that the locals have accepted him. He discusses the changes that have taken place in the environment since he went out there as a boy. Here he talks about the environmental problems that Montana, and specifically the Valley faces. He also discusses the changes that the people have seen and not been happy with: frex, the rich out of towners that have bought some of the land for their vaccation homes in closed communities. He presents four different viewpoints and positions through interviews of a fly fishing guide, a local real estate developer, a newcomer/"refugee" from Berkeley in California that is now a Montana state politico, and dairy farmer. He tries to make the case for Montana being a model of the world.

He then launches into discussions of past societies that have imploded, he states, through environmental issues. The first one covered is Easter Island. He does a fairly good job. Unfortunately, my knowledge of EI is rather limited, but it seems to match with what he states here. The EIers deforested the whole island and that pretty much screwed them but good. The next one covered is that of Pitcairn and the Henderson Islands prior to the Bounty's crew 'settling' there. Again, I know very little. It seems plausible enough.

He then launches into a discussion of the Anasazi. Here I have some knowledge. While I am not an anthropologist that specializes in that extinct culture, I lived in New Mexico for 17 years of my life. For 8 of them, I lived in northern New Mexico, specifically in Los Alamos, and walked the grounds of a lot of ruins there. In fact, it was a hobby of mine that I enjoyed. There are a lot of ruins there and in the surrounding mountains. All of them are Anasazi. The most famous happens to be what is now the Bandelier National Monument. That's the largest single largest concetration of impressive ruins. Its hardly the only one. Chaco's collapse is pretty well understood. Its rather well documented and even though there are some very controversial aspects of it, it is as he said, largely due to an environmental collapse. However, that's not what destroyed Anasazi civilization as a whole. He gives the impression that the center gave way and all was lost when the great droughts that would have destroyed almost any civilization destroyed Chaco. However, based on a lot of research, as I remember it, it was really the droughts that did it the Anasazi, not Chaco's fall. Frex, the environmental damage that he brings up in Chaco didn't take place in other sites (frex Bandelier). However, the drought did. The other places were then abandoned in the same time frame...when the drought crushed Chaco, which was already in bad shape, it did everyone else too. What was interesting in addition to all of this is that he has split societies that I could have sworn were considered Anasazi into multiple ones. The last book I picked up on the Anasazi had sites in the areas he has labeled as 'Mimbres' and 'Kayenta'. Those two are definitely in areas I remember to be traditionally a part of the Anasazi culture. Thena gain, as I said, I am not a Anasazist and I am not up on the latest research so its very possible that I am simply mistaken, but I began to wonder here about Diamond's accuracy and thrust.

The next culture he covered was the Maya. Drought and environmental damage was the collapsing agent for the fall from the so-called Classical Mayan period. I really don't know enough to comment. What he says is plausible. That might be his danger though: what he says is plausible, but not entirely accurate.

He then launches into a discussion of the success or failure of various Norse colonies. The ones covered in passing are the Orkneys, Shetlands, and Faeroes. Iceland is covered in some depth. These were all the sucessful colonies. Vinland is covered in some depth, but not so much since there's not a lot known. The most discussion is given to the Greenland colonies. There were two: the so-called Western and Eastern Settlements that should have been called north and south since they were both on the western side of Greenland. He gives a lot of discussion as what life was like in Norse Greenland. It was fun and interesting. He also gives his theories as to the demise of that society after existing for nearly half a millenium: Inuit hostility, the Crusades destroying the market for their main exports, the Little Ice Age, environmental exhaustion (clearing the forests and destroying pasture), and an inability to adapt to their new circumstances (ie not adopting Inuit techniques for hunting food).

He rounds out his discussion of past societies by a chapter on successful ones. The first is his true love of the New Guinea Highlands. The second is an island called Tikopia. The third was actually Tokugawa Japan.

He then moves on to modern societies and what's happening their. The first one goes through, what he feels, is the root cause of the genocide in Rwanda was that it was really a Malthusian problem. He provides data to back it up in the form of statistics about the decreasing farm sizes. He then goes through the history of Hispanola: Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He then walks through China's current environmental issues. Then he thoroughly thrashing Australia. In none of the cases does he take the stance that you are going to see an Anasazi style collapse. However, he fires off warning flares in a big way.

From there its the so-called practical lessons section. The first chapter is about why societies make bad decisions. Its interesting but nothing earth shattering. It boils down to a lot of 'NMP' (Not My Problem), other values (yes, values) and decisions that are net negatives. An awful lot of it seems like 20/20 hindsight rather than really helpful. He then alunches into a discussion of 'Big Business' and the environment for the next chapter. He goes through the whole discussion of the oil, hardrock mining, coal, logging, and seafood industries. Surprisingly, and a bit delightfully, he actually lays the blame for environmental problems not on big business, but on the public.

The next chapter, The World as a Polder: What does it all mean to us today? is a juicy one. He outlines twelve issues that must be fixed or addressed. I'll give very short quotes here:

1. "At an accelerating rate, we are destroying natural habitats or else converting them to human-made habitats, such as cities and villages, farmlands and pastures, roads and golf courses." pg 487

2. Overfishing.

3. "A significant fraction of wild species, populations, and genetic diversity has already been lost, and at present rates a large fraction of what remains will be lost within the next half-century." pg 488

4. "Soils of farmlands used for growing crops are being carried away by water and wind at rates between 10 and 40 times the rates of soil formation, and between 500 and 10,000 times soil erosion rates on forested land." pg 489

5. "The world's major energy sources, especially for industrial societies, are based on fossil fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal." pg 490 These will run out.

6. "Most of the world's freshwater in rivers and lakes is already being utilized for irrgation, domestic or industrial water, and in situ uses such as boat transportation corridors, fisheries, and recreation." pg 490 We're running out of freshwater.

7. Photosynthetic capacity limit. "...we are projected to be utilizing most of the world's terrestrial photosynthetic capacity by the middle of this century. That is, most energy fixed from sunglight will be used for human purposes, and little will be left over to support the growth of natural plant communities, such as natural forests." pg 491

8. "The chemical industry and many other industries manufacture or release into the air, soil, oceans, lakes, and rivers many toxic chemicals..." pg 491.

9. Alien species destroying ecosystems. "The term 'alien species refers to species that we transfer intentionally or inadvertantly, from a place where they are native to another place where they are not native." pg 492

10. Human modification of the atmosphere. Ozone layer, global warming, etc. pg 493

11. Population growth out of hand. pg 494

12. Population's impact on environment. pg 495

He wraps up by saying he's actually cautiously optomistic.

My favourite juicy quote:

"People in the Third World aspire to First World living standards.
They develop that aspiration through watching television, seeing
advertisements for First World consumer products sold in their
countries, and observing First World visitors to their countries.
Even in remote villages and refugee camps today, people know about
the outside world. Third World citizens are encouraged in that
aspiration by First World and United Nations Development agencies,
which hold out to them the prospect of achieving their dram if they
will only adopt the right policies, like balancing their national
budgets, investing in education and infrastructure, and so on.

"But no one at the U.N. or First World governments is willing to
acknowledge the dream's impossibility: the unsustainability of a
world in which the Third World's large population were to reach
and maintain current First World living standards."

Chapter 16
The World as a Polder: What does It All Mean to Us Today
Pgs 495 to 496

Okay, some general thoughts.

Throughout the book, he comes across as disliking complex societies. They fail, often, in his view and are thus unsustainable. The adoration that Diamond gives to the New Guinea Highlands society seems to bleed over here. It seems to me that this isn't just his issue, but one that antrhopologists often develop: the society they are studying becomes superior to their own PDQ. I've seen it for those studying Native American cultures, Arab cultures, and others. Alas.

He's very dismissive of new technologies changing the circumstances that lead to this, that or another problem. I can think of one that immediately changed things: the electricity. The air quality in London in the 19th century was, well, killing people through coal burning. Electricity helped change that. In the future, fuel cells could fix one issue PDQ. Another would be the now beginning deployment of phytomining and phytoextraction. These could really change how we mine metals. There are others that will have as much of an impact.

I have to say that I simply don't buy what he's saying. His collapsing societies were always in ecological marginal regions. If he could have picked, say, the Roman Empire and proven it or one of the Chinese Dynasties, then his point would ahve been accepted far better. My favorite juicy quote is another good example. Just doing the math some friends of mine online pointed out there's a lot more capacity out there and that efficiencies can be brought into the current system without too much of a problem that will fix a lot of what he's complaining about in the form of unsustainable resource consumption.

It's not to say that I don't think there are not problems that desperately need fixing - that's putting it mildly! - but rather that he is panicking too soon and drawing the wrong conclusions from the wrong places. He's extrapolating from a data set that preagrees with his hypothesis rather than a more generalist one. In essence, he's saying the whole of the earth is now an ecologically marginal habitat and I don't buy it since he failed to prove it in my mind.

The book was a good read and I recommend it just for the thought provokingness, but I ask that you cross check and think about it rather than take it as a bible. it might be better to pick it up as a paperback when the time comes. I was lucky and got it as BDay present from my wife. :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Getting some personal overload at the moment.

First, we're trying to move. A new apartment is needed with Baby Baird on the way. Second it'd be nice to save some dinero with Baby Baird coming. We're negotiating our way into a nicer community but its fraying me at the edges with Lyuda inquiring all the time how things are going (she's in class most of the day) and everything else going on.

Second, we're trying to buy Lyuda a car. My Jeep Islander is not a baby mobile. We're going to keep the Jeep. However, we need another one. I'm not having fun here at all. She ahs her preference. it looks like we're going to get it. We'll see. Dickering != fun.

Third, she's back in classes. *I* am effectively doing the dictionary retrievals for her. Makes getting anything else done when she's doing her English rough.

At work, I've been working on two papers and a deployment plan. One that I planned on doing profiling the cluster file systems available for AIX and linux. The second is that I am effectively, but prolly not officially, collaborating on security requirements for center wide shared file systems. The deployment plan is to cross-mount lustre between two systems. It's been the bane of my existence. Let's leave that there lest I say something in a blog that I will regret later.

I am done with _Collapse_. My BSometer went off at the end. I'll summarize in the next few days his twelve major points. I promised to do that on alt.history.future, but I got snookered the past few days at lunch into debating work related issues. It just happened again today a few minutes ago much to my annoyance.

I started the phytoremediation book. I already have two pages of notes and a page of thoughts. I have a seperate notebook for this project and I am trying to keep each area in it labeled very distinctly. If the ratio of notes and thoughts to pages read holds up, I am going to have about 35 pages of notes and 15 pages of thoughts. My intent is to base the business plan off of these notes and thoughts. We have a bsic working model for one, but it will need to be refined. Interestingly, there are two sites in the US already using phytoextraction for mining nickel. Fascinating. There are three companies that are working in this space already that would be direct competitors that I have found. Unfortunately, they look like they're better pedigreed than we will be. They already have some of the best research universities in the field sown up. I suspect that's because they were spun off from those U's, so licensing those U's genengineered plants will be difficult at best. The book notes for some applications you simply must use genengineering. I don't have the queeziness that others might so we'll see. None of the other competitors seems to have the same model for business either. We'll see if I'm approaching this sanely or not by the end. Don't worry, I'm not base everything off of one book. I have 12 in the queue and then I'll be doing interviews.

I've been also working on getting individuals stoked about the Primer from Stephenson's book. Basic idea's on how to impliment it or at least a prototype have come together. I'll have to start hacking sometime relatively soon. The funny part is that its not the hardware that's really hard. It's the adaptive and instructive story telling that is.