Monday, April 23, 2018

Autographs ― Walter Mosley

I have not yet read any of Mosley's books. I decided to attend his talk at this past weekend's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I knew they would have his newest book for sale, but I wanted to start with one of his earliest, so I bought this one the night before at Vroman's.

(Index of autographs)

Autographs ― Lawrence Wright

I have always enjoyed Wright's work in The New Yorker, and our book group discussed The Looming Tower back in 2006.

Until I read about this new book, I didn't know he lived in Austin. I went to hear him at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this past weekend, and I bought this book. When I was getting his autograph, I told him I had been born and raised in San Antonio, went to Rice, then came to USC for grad school.

(Index of autographs)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An apparently religious boy

Chip Levine Memorial Award (CLMA) 
Rodney Hoffman
for Devotion to Jewish Studies, 1964

To all appearances, I was quite a religious boy. I'll say why, and then talk about what happened.

We didn't go to services every week, but we did go on major holidays and some other occasions. 

I started kindergarten at the synagogue, learning to read before I entered first grade. 

I went to Sunday School through confirmation at age 16. I won the Jewish Community Center's Bible Bowl (named and modeled after TV's College Bowl). 

I went to Hebrew School twice a week. Almost everyone stopped going to Hebrew School after Bar Mitzvah, but because my Bar Mitzvah was in October, and I had already begun the new academic year, I finished out that year, almost a full extra year of Hebrew School. Because of that, in May, I won the gold watch pictured above. 

I was in SAFTY, the San Antonio chapter of the the North American Federation of Temple Youth, and went to SAFTY and TOFTY (Texas) events. I won one of the Temple's four camperships to NFTY's Hagigah, a two-week arts camp in Warwick, NY. 

In college, I went to quite a few Hillel events. In grad school, I still went to a few.

But starting years earlier, I found the number of religions, each claiming The Revealed Truth, baffling and impossible and the very idea of God dubious. Conflicts between religion and science, historical and current, pushed me away from religion. Coming to terms with being gay was the final breaking point.

I have now been an atheist for decades. My hatred of religion has only grown over the years. I think raising children to be religious is child abuse. (See all my blog posts tagged 'religion.')

I reluctantly attend religious weddings and funerals, but otherwise I don't even step into churches, temples, or cathedrals. I respond negatively to anyone pushing their religion in my face, including fish on cars and crosses on homes, saying, if only silently, "Keep it to yourself!"

Friday, March 30, 2018

Whole Earth Catalog

A few of my WEC items

[Prompted by this John Markoff article about WEC in the LATimes]

I was a huge fan of The Whole Earth Catalog (see also the Wikipedia page). I have many issues of the catalog and its offshoots, CoEvolution Quarterly, Whole Earth Review, Whole Earth Software Review, etc.. It drove my reading for many years. I made countless library purchase recommendations based on its listings.  I visited the Whole Earth Truck Store on one of my first visits to the San Francisco area.

When I was at PARCin Alan Kay's group, I was pleased to see so many WEC-recommended titles in the library, but until I read Markoff's piece I didn't know that Kay had started that!

When asked for my favorite book, I sometimes say The Whole Earth Catalog, despite that not being the kind of book the questioner had in mind. It was more important to me and influenced me more than anything else I read. It led me to so many new ideas and writers.

The timing was ideal for me, just as I went off to college. It also accelerated my shift away from TV to more reading, which has continued for my entire adult life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Visa progress: Step 2

I added time in Mérida before and after our Peru trip so that I could push forward on Victor's visa.

The U.S. Consulate in Juárez handles fiancé visas, and they say they sent some papers to Victor on February 7th. As of today, he still has not received anything. (See my note about Mexico's postal system!) Fortunately, they also sent a copy of at least the main page to me, mailed from El Paso instead of Juárez!

With that, we were able to complete Victor's lengthy online visa application. I expected to immediately see instructions for selecting an interview date, but that didn't happen. Even after returning from Peru, nothing. When I called, after fighting through the recorded prompts and hunting down my application confirmation number, I finally was told that I needed to pay (more!), wait for the receipt, and then schedule the interview.

The website says this additional fee can be paid online, and I spent a long time unsuccessfully hunting for that. The same page says the fee could be paid by phone, but when I tried that, they said the website needs updating; the fee can only be paid in pesos at specified banks in Mexico. They also could not help with scheduling the medical exam in Juárez, nor could they even tell me whether interview dates were available starting in a week, a month, or six months. Every little step of this process is aggravating. GRRR.

I paid the additional fee this morning and received the email receipt at once. That did enable me to get to the interview appointment page! So we finally have the dates for the final step. Victor will go for fingerprints, etc. in Mérida on April 30th, and we will then go to Juárez. The medical exam is walk-in, no appointment needed. The interview is set for May 7th.

Peru — March 2018

Me with a tailless whip scorpion

Macaws at a clay lick

Link to more photos.

Given our love of wildlife and knowing that Victor would feel very comfortable in another Spanish-speaking country, I signed up for this tour along the Tambopata River in southeastern Peru.

Initially, I intended to add a visit to Machu Picchu either before or after, but that was more complicated than expected, and other things intervened, and ultimately, I didn't do it. We did have a few spare hours in Lima, but we didn't do much additional sight-seeing there, either. I had hoped to see the Circuito Magico del Agua, but Victor was too tired.

The trip went well. I was very pleased that we had little rain, mostly overnight. Given the mud, I was glad we were provided with rubber boots! The macaws were beautiful. I was disappointed by how few animals we saw in the jungle. Plenty of birds and spiders and butterflies and other insects, but few other animals. The river travel quickly got monotonous; the scenery varied little. Perhaps I should have sought out another tour, maybe including other areas of the country and Machu Picchu.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My unwritten book, Apples and Oranges

"Knowledge is classification"
John Dewey, 1925

For nearly fifty years, I collected notes for a book I titled Apples and Oranges: Intellectual Categories and Their History. I last added an item five years ago.

Sure, now that I'm retired, I could actually start writing the book, but it would take a lot of work, and I'm not sure how many people would be interested in it. The other day, I thought I should at least mention it here.

I began thinking about academic departments and majors, but I was also intrigued by the numbered section of Roget's Thesaurus, which I found fascinating. My 1962 edition has eight classes, each with numerous divisions and sub-sections — 1040 numbered entries in all. In the latest edition, there are six classes and 1000 entries. Clearly, there's some history to be told here.

Along the way, I learned about the trivium and quadrivium. I have notes on the history of encyclopedias and the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress classifications.

I have lengthy excerpts (Thanks, Xerox!) of books on the subject by Langridge, Palmer, Herdman, Sayers, Hutchins, Amsler and Sowa; notes about books by Maltby, Ranganathan, and others; quotes from Aristotle, Kant, John Stuart Mill, Wells, Lenat, Landau, Fodor, and Lakoff.

Being a computer scientist, I added notes about clustering algorithms, taxonomies, and the rise and fall of categories and classes in the Smalltalk browser.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Autographs ― Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers' most recent book, The Monk of Mokha is about Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Yemeni American who becomes a coffee entrepreneur. Both of them were scheduled to speak at the Los Angeles central library last night.

I'm not a coffee drinker, and I'm not very interested in that book, but I went hoping to hear Eggers and get his autograph. I was only partly successful, and not the part you might expect.

Eggers got stuck in transit, and didn't arrive until after the talk! Alkhanshali spoke for nearly an hour. It was mildly interesting. Eggers arrived just in time to sign books, and most people had multiple books for him to autograph. Plus, he first talked to some of the library staff, then to the two people who had spoken briefly before Alkhanshali.

They were serving special coffee at the reception, and I hear it was very good, but there were long lines for that, and I really didn't want to have coffee late at night, so I didn't stand in line.

I'm glad I got the autograph, and I look forward to reading the book, but I still felt that most of the evening was a waste of my time.

(Index of autographs)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Scholar Stones

Impression of Shengshan 2, 2015
by Zhao Meng

I've always liked scholar's stones. Now, I've just purchased the sculpture pictured above, inspired by them. It's about ten inches from end to end. It's my biggest art purchase ever. Here's the back story.

I was looking at collections of photos of scholar's stones and related sculpture, such as this batch, and I liked one in particular:

I would have purchased a copy, but there are none. It's one of a kind, in a private collection, and not for sale. But the sculptor, Zhou Meng, has done other similar pieces. Rasti Chinese Art in Hong Kong sells his work. The piece I bought is one of the cheapest available.

I am generally pleased with my purchase, but there were several annoyances along the way. Mr. Rasti always responds to email, but, of course, there is a long delay in correspondence due to time zone differences. His prices are negotiable, but I hate haggling, and I'm not good at it, and I almost certainly overpaid. Worse, the only payment method he accepts is an international wire transfer, which is slow, expensive, and must be done in person at a bank. (He did cover the fee.) The shipment was held up at Customs for several days; no one knows why.

Finally, the work has some streaks, spots, and discolorations:

Rasti says, "The discolouration is deliberate to make the sculpture more natural. It actually gives depth to the rocks," but I prefer it clean and white (as in the photograph I based my purchase on!). Some of the marks do come off, and I am working on that.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Legalize marijuana already!

(click to enlarge)
My letter in response to Attorney General Sessions ending legal shelter for state-sanctioned marijuana was published in today's Los Angeles Times:
Bring it on. Let's force the issue.
If the feds begin wholesale arrests and imprisonment of pot dealers and users, it will only enrage everyone who supports legalization.
The cowards in Congress will either have to finally legalize marijuana or face the wrath of the voters.