Friday, October 13, 2017

Irrationality about gay marriage

In 2008, the Mormon church and the Catholic church poured time, effort, and tons of money into stopping same-sex marriage in California. Irrationally, they feared that the mere existence of same-sex marriage in the state would greatly harm them.

Now, equally irrationally, I devoutly (!) wish their fears were true.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Autographs ― John Dean

John Dean spoke about Watergate at Occidental today. The room was packed.

I bought one of his books a couple of days ahead of time and got his autograph before he spoke. I haven't yet read the book.

(Index of autographs)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Boxing is barbarism

I sent this note to the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times (not published):
The sweet science is nothing but barbarism.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My pathetic AT&T internet service

I hate my "high speed" AT&T internet service!

(It used be called U-verse, but they seem to have dropped that name now.) AT&T advertises "speeds up to 50 Mbps". At its very best, I get about 0.6 Mbps service. More often, half that. And much too often, service that internet speed tests say is too slow to measure. GRRRR!

It seems to be getting worse. It's unusable more hours of more days than before. In the past three weeks, it's been (barely) OK four full days and three half days.

It can't just be my 50+ year-old internal wiring, since sometimes it's (barely) OK, and sometimes not. It can't just be too much traffic in my neighborhood, since it's frequently just as bad in the middle of the night. It can't just be my browser; I have three browsers, and when it's bad, it's bad on all of them. Occasionally, stopping and re-starting the service helps, but usually not.

When I complain to AT&T, they refer me to websites. Fat lot of help that is when my internet service is terrible!

A few months ago, AT&T installed fiber optic cable about a mile away. I desperately hoped they would make it to my block, but no such luck. They haven't been spotted anywhere close since then. I've called and written asking when I will get fiber, but they can't say.

I only went to AT&T when my previous provider, Clear Wireless, went out of business. I only have three choices: AT&T over phone lines, Spectrum over cable, and Hughes via satellite. Each of these has some unhappy customers in my neighborhood, and Hughes requires a two-year commitment.

Google Fiber was supposed to be coming to Los Angeles before they suspended all expansion plans. I registered my interest.

Until shortly before I retired, I only used the net at work. I didn't even own a home computer. I was spoiled, and I knew it. Starting at PARC, one of the originators of the ARPANET, continuing at Oxy, and later at JPL, I always had reliable, high-speed internet service at work.

I don't stream movies or TV shows. I don't need super high-speed, just decent and reliable. I'm an Internet addict, and I'm only surviving these days by driving over to Oxy when my crummy AT&T service is down. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse — Oregon, August 21, 2017

The best my smartphone camera could do

I made a quick trip to Oregon to be in the path of the total solar eclipse. A few photos are here.

The two minutes of totality were spectacular! I've seen a couple of partial solar eclipses before, but being able to take off the eclipse glasses and see the blacked-out sun and the solar corona was special.

In addition to the sun itself, there were two other things I hoped to see: the moon's shadow racing along the ground, and the 360° sunset. (See this article, for example.) I did look for the moon shadow, but I didn't see it. And during totality, I was so taken by the sun that I forgot to check for the full-circle sunset. The two minutes of totality was over too quickly.

Getting to the eclipse, everything went very well. With traffic jams and flight delays, leaving was much more difficult. For all the details, keep reading.

Two months ago, when I finally decided to make the trip, I looked for a one-night room in the path of totality. Everything was booked or super-expensive. I finally found a standard-price Airbnb in Tualatin, a southern suburb of Portland, about a two-hour drive away from totality. I got a non-stop flight to Portland, but for the return, had a connection in San Francisco. I also reserved an eclipse viewing parking spot on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, where totality would last just over two minutes.

At Warm Springs, the partial eclipse would begin at 9:06 and totality would begin at 10:19. Worried about traffic, I left Tualatin before 5:30 am! As it turned out, I drove at top speed the whole way — no bad traffic at all. Along the way, I spotted the recreational marijuana retailer I hoped to stop at on my return; it wouldn't open until 10 am. I also saw a dead young bear along the side of the road, but, worried about traffic, I didn't stop to take a photo. I also didn't stop to photograph this sign (here's someone else's photo):

Views of Mt. Hood and the drive through Mt. Hood National Forest were beautiful. After that, I was in the path of totality, and even at the early hour, every available roadside parking spot was taken.

I arrived at Warm Springs before 7:30. There were a few hundred eclipse viewers there. I wandered around and read until the partial eclipse began just after 9. From then until totality, I put on my eclipse glasses every ten or fifteen minutes to check out the disappearing sun.

Immediately after the too-brief totality, I left. I was the first person to leave Warm Springs, but a few blocks later when I hit the highway, there was already a steady stream of cars! Ahead of time, I thought there would be bad traffic getting to the eclipse, but no problem leaving since most folks wouldn't leave right after totality. I was completely mistaken.

After only ten minutes on the highway, we came to a complete stop. For more than an hour after that, it was mostly slow going, with occasional stops. I began to worry that I would miss my flight! Because of that, I made none of the stops I had planned.

After traffic eased, I did manage to get through Portland, stop for gas, return my rental car, get my boarding pass, go through security, and get to the gate about 40 minutes before my flight.

But while I was at the San Francisco airport, Skywest's (aka United Express) entire computer system went down. The flight preceding mine at the gate had just finished boarding, and they soon had everyone get off the plane! After thirty minutes, and again after an hour, they announced that the computers were still down.

It occurred to me that while Skywest handled my flight to Burbank, maybe I could find a United flight to LAX, and go to Burbank the next day to retrieve my car. At United Customer Service, they switched me to a United flight to Burbank! When it left, Skywest was still not operating. I got home about 11 pm.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Chicago — June 2017

Link to more photos.

I had never visited Chicago, and it was time to remedy that. I signed up for this tour and added a one-day Frank Lloyd Wright tour at the end.

I had a great time. The weather stayed mild, with almost no rain. We were in a downtown hotel along the river.

During free time, I went to the new American Writers Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center and the central library

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Legalize pot already

The Los Angeles Times ran an article headlined "States rush to protect cannabis". I sent this note in response (not published):
Perhaps this will finally prompt the cowards in Congress to take marijuana off the list of proscribed drugs and out of the hands of Attorney General Jeff Sessions!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Roger Ailes was a disaster for the country

The Los Angeles Times published this letter from me today. (They added the bracketed pieces.)

Rodney Hoffman of Montecito Heights declines to identify Ailes as a force for good:

Ailes is second only to Reagan as responsible for the rise of the right.

I agree with [Fox News host] Sean Hannity that Ailes "dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape singlehandedly," but Hannity says that was "for the better."

Maybe [this is true] if you are employed by Fox News. For the rest of the country, it's been a lasting disaster.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fiancé visa application

In December, Victor surprised me by quitting his ten-year employment at Presur. He said he is now ready to spend enough time in the U.S. to use a fiancé visa and wait for a green card.

When I returned to Los Angeles, I began looking at the application in detail. When I told Victor that he would have to get a passport-style photo, he insisted he wanted to wait and do that together with me during my next planned visit in March. I'm not sure why he didn't want to go by himself, but this meant I couldn't get the application done earlier.

In late March, we got the photos (easy, of course), and I had Victor sign one page of the application, and we asked his mother about her birthdate and information about his father. In April, back in L.A., I began filling out the forms.

I also searched online for information about fiancé visa denials. That's not very common, but I still put together a fat package of material:

  • The 6-page application
  • The two biographical information forms, one for each of us
  • Our two photos
  • My check for $535 (!)
  • A copy of my birth certificate (required)
  • A detailed relationship and visa and travel chronology
  • A page about my finances, with proof
  • 17 pages with color copies of 32 photos 1993-2017
  • Supporting statements from family and friends who know us
  • The form requesting notification of receipt
I mailed all that May 1. The Post Office estimated it would get there in about three days, but it wasn't until May 11 that I got the acceptance confirmation email.

Unless we're immediately denied, the next step will be for Victor to fill out another form online in order to sign up for an interview. Although the form questions are available in other languages, the answers must be in English. I'll try to go there to do that with him.

There are scores of sample interview questions online. I will go over those with Victor. I also plan to go with him for the interview. For a fiancé visa, I read that they usually let the U.S. citizen accompany the applicant, although they might not.

I'm pretty hopeful about this. The next two steps — the additional form and the interview — will both make Victor nervous. But I'm still optimistic. I think Victor will get here this year! At long last!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My time at PARC — 1979-1984

In early 1979, after my first semester of teaching at Occidental, I decided I could use a second part-time job. At the USC Placement Center, I saw one at Xerox that sounded promising.

During my interview, I was asked to write a FORTRAN program for Newton-Raphson root finding. They liked my work, noting that I had included checks for failure to converge.

I was to write computer programs in support of two physicists doing research on magnetic recording heads. Two years later, this work resulted in my only technical publication, when they listed me as a co-author.

This lab of 30 people was part of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, PARC. I knew about corporate research labs in general, such as Bell Labs and IBM Research, but I had never heard of PARC. This Southern California PARC outpost was a by-product of Xerox's 1969 purchase of Scientific Data Systems.

Shortly after I began, someone showed me a small isolated room with an unused Alto. When they booted it up, my jaw dropped. I had never seen anything like this graphical user interface (GUI): bit-mapped screen, multiple windows, mouse, WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") text editing and more. Few people had. This was before Apple's Steve Jobs first saw one at PARC. I thought, "Where has Xerox been hiding all this?!" It's hard to convey to anyone today how revolutionary all that was.

This inspired me to look more deeply into PARC. I sat down with the PARC Directory, and saw several names I recognized from publications, including Alan Kay and Danny Bobrow. Even a friend from Rice, Tom Malone. I knew he was in grad school at Stanford, but didn't know he was sometimes at PARC. I was very eager to visit PARC in Palo Alto.

Half of the Los Angeles PARC lab was headed by H.M. "Andy" Anderson. Fortunately for me, he was happy to help me out. First, he sent me on a one-day get-acquainted PARC visit in December 1979, along with Dan Bloomberg, one of the physicists I was working under. That was fun, even though neither I nor the PARC folks I had appointments with knew what the heck I was doing there. The best connection I made was with Dan Ingalls of the the Smalltalk group. (Alan Kay, head of the group, was too busy to see me.) Because I knew a bit of Simula, I knew about object-oriented programming.

Later, and still hard to believe, Andy arranged for me to spend half of every summer for the next four years at PARC, with no responsibilities! I had to pay for transportation, room and board, but Andy continued to pay my salary. It was a dream come true.

The Smalltalk group agreed to host me. I had my own Alto. I learned Smalltalk, of course, (and some Mesa and Modula-2), read tons of great technical papers, attended talks by giants of computer science both from PARC and elsewhere, got my first ARPANET address, used the Ethernet and laser printers all the time, and much more. It was an amazing post-graduate computer science education. Even as a novice CS teacher at a liberal arts college, I knew cutting-edge CS from PARC that only became widely known many years later.

I hoarded PARC technical reports. I still have several boxes of PARC documents, almost everything listed in the Computer History Museum's Alto archive, including my Alto User's Handbook, several PARC Annual Reports and A Decade of Research - Xerox PARC 1970-1980, which includes the paper I co-authored. I even have a giant 14-inch 2.5 MB (!) magnetic disk platter from an Alto. I always showed it to my students when talking about computer history. In the close-up, you can see this disk suffered a head crash, which is why I was able to keep it:

Besides PARC, I enjoyed many other activities in the area. I hung around Stanford a lot, especially the libraries. I lived in a rented room in old Palo Alto and bicycled through Stanford to PARC every day. I also went to gay bars and met gay folks at Stanford and at PARC, particularly Peter Deutsch. I was in Palo Alto for the initial organizing meeting of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR). I was a founding member and started the L.A. chapter. I was a local and national officer of CPSR in later years.

My summers at PARC only stopped when Xerox closed its L.A. PARC lab in the mid-1980s. Dan Bloomberg moved to Palo Alto to continue to work at PARC. I worked at another part of Xerox in El Segundo until 1991. CPSR work brought me to Palo Alto regularly for many years, and I often stopped by PARC, usually officially hosted by Dan. (Dan now works at Google. I had lunch with him there in 2010, when I was visiting a former Oxy student of mine who's now at Google.)