Friday, August 29, 2008

I thought you were a libertarian?

After my twittering while watching Obama's speech - a friend accused me with "I thought you were a libertarian".

I do consider myself a small-l libertarian. (I've never been a Libertarian party member). I voted for Harry Browne. I believe in individual freedom and limited government. I worked for concealed carry reform in Minnesota, and have always been staunchly supportive of gay rights, abortion rights, and opposed to the war on drugs.

I am also a pragmatist.

And I believe that, this year, we need to focus more on rebuilding our country than on ideological purity. Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate - and if I were a single-issue voter, I wouldn't vote for him. But I do believe that he will uphold the Constitution, *unlike* the current administration. I do believe that he will rein in the abuses of our civil liberties. Probably not as far as I'd like, but far more than if McCain gets in. I believe that he will work to restore our pride in America, and some of our belief in America and what it stands for.

Perhaps, if I were more of an idealist (and less of a cynic), I'd believe that, if we just let things *really go to hell*, the American people will *rise up* and we'll have a revolution to take back our country. After watching the erosion of our liberties over the years, with the willing consent of those whose liberties were being taken, I no longer believe that.

Is there a better, third-party, truly-libertarian candidate? Unfortunately, this year, I don't think any third-party candidate matters. Because this year, they won't get in. This year, I intend to cast my vote and spend my energy on a candidate who has a chance to get in and who won't further destroy my country once there. Once we've rebuilt and reminded Americans what it means to be American, maybe we'll have a shot at pushing forward and getting a real libertarian candidate into office. But first, this year, we have to recover America from what has been done to her.

This year, I'm voting for Barack Obama. Because, even more than being a libertarian, I am a patriot. And dammit - I want my country back!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

SciPy conference - afternoon

SciPy Documentation Editor:
NumPy decided, instead of creating a bunch of documentation, to create a documentation *framework*! This looks really useful for open source projects. And the sources are available to use elsewhere. We definitely should look at using this for other python projects.

Documentation appears to be the theme of the afternoon sections. It's nice to see that documentaiton is getting attention here. Too often it's an afterthought (if at all.)

Sphinx is a python documentation generator. Currently used in matplotlib. Sphinx avoids separate "printed" and "online" docs. Based on reST. Again, this looks good.

In general, most docs suck. Too many say things like: "xyz is the foo port of bar", which only works if you're coming to foo from another OS or Package that uses bar. Some folks are going directly into foo - and needing to know what the heck xyz does and how to use it. Setting up frameworks that *work* provide easy entrypoints for folks to contribute to an OpenSource project - even if they're not 1337 hackers itching to commit patches to the core.

SciPy conference

I'm at the SciPy conference today. I didn't sign up, but Alex gave a keynote and I got to ride on his coattails. (Although I'm being hit up for presenting in the future...)

Alex talked about the problems of black boxes and that "abstractions leak". He gave some nice examples of why you want to understand at least a couple of levels lower than the abstraction you're using (eg., statistical packages won't fix sample bias problems).

The next speaker after break talked about graphing networks - a package called NetworkX. This was a really gorgeous graphing package that looked like it has a really simple, usable API. I particularly liked that in the examples, they used
import networkX as NX
rather than the usual "from blah import *". It's important, particularly in tutorials and FAQs, imho, to SHOW where all the functions you're using live. Explicitly showing all the dots makes it clear where these things live. Using import * hides that. My compliments to the NetworkX people for not hiding things.

One of the use-cases they mentioned at the beginning was for synchronizing oscillations, and I immediately thought of neo-cortical neural synchronization, which they mentioned at the end when they demo'd their oscillation synchronizer.

NetworkX has a very pretty gallery of graphs to show some of its possibilities. Check it out if you have any graphing or complex network modeling needs.

The next talk was on intervals. It harked back to Alex's talk, which was amusing. Pay attention to your numbers - including the algorithms and packages you're using to calculate things. It was fun to watch - it reminded me how much I actually *like* math. (I was the geek who used to solve quadratic equations for fun.) I'm not so good with trig and logs (although I've gotten better). Anyways - I really enjoyed the intervals talk - it was fun to see a purely mathematical coding talk; it's pretty rare.

We're going to have to head out this afternoon to the airport. If I catch any more presentations, I'll post about them.

Social-wise, the SciPy people were very nice. We got picked up at the airport, driven to our hotel, and they took us to dinner. This morning, breakfast included *protein* (Yay!) not just carbs. And I got to meet another Minnesota girl - who's now working in neuroscience down at Berkeley. We're going to get together when we're back.

In short - I've really enjoyed being here and I plan to attend SciPy in the future. If you are into scientific uses of Python at all - I encourage you to attend.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pasta with *breadcrumbs* and sensory perceptions

Okay - I admit that I'm a foodie. I love food. Not lots of it - but fun variations on food. I like cooking. Not the day to day grind of it, but the idea of taking some raw ingredients and making something totally unexpected from them. Synergy, as my art teacher might call it. Shopping for ingredients is lovely. I'm quite fond of the Italian rhythm of daily life - go shop for whatever looks good today and make something with it.

I also love watching cooking shows. Giada de Laurentiis and Mario Batali are two of my favorites. Giada is so sweet and fun to watch but not terribly authentic. Mario is great for very *authentic* Italian food. So, Giada did a recipe recently - Rigatoni with breadcrumbs. I tried it tonight. Sort of. I used some tomato sauce with red peppers and garlic - which I heated in a pan with olive oil. I didn't use Italian croutons but rather Italian breadcrumbs - along with some roasted almonds and toasted pinenuts. I mixed the breadcrumb mixture with the cooked Rigatoni in a bowl, then poured the heated sauce over. It was actually really good. We had it with a nice Vernaccia.

I especially like how easy and quick it was. I plan to make this again. Although, I suspect it will never be the same as the way I made it tonight. I don't much follow recipes - I tend to just add things that smell right.

I love cooking - it's such a sensual experience - taste and texture and smell and sound and sight and kinesthetic pleasure. I never believed much in just 5 senses - there's kinesthetic sense (which I've gotten better at over the years) and sense of time (which I'm not good at)...

If I were better at planning, organizing, and sense of time, I might have considered doing cooking more seriously. But really, I can only handle about one course... and even "sides" can be challenging for me at times. At one time, I raised vegetables in my garden, canned, and baked the daily bread for my family. I briefly flirted with the idea of a small business making bread - I love the feel of kneading the dough - it's so *alive*. Nurturing it until it's ready to bake, then pulling it out of the oven and slathering that first slice of bread with butter. Oh yes. My children, to this day, are fans of the "heel" of bread. But bread takes love and attention, attention I don't have much these days for anything but schoolwork and trying to keep the house from imploding under the clutter.

In the meantime, quick delicious dinners from a few simple ingredients is just the right touch of "home-made" for my life.

Finding normal?

How do we know what's normal? It's amazing how many friends I've had who, when talking with others, suddenly realized that what they thought was "normal", wasn't. Even bodily functions - yeast infections, celiac disease, hearing loss, ... It's amazing how often we take for granted, problems that are solvable. If we extend that into the differences in how people think or learn, we have an even wider field to play in. Where do we draw the line between "has trouble socially" and Asperger Syndrome? When do we decide that "I'm just not good at ..." vs figuring out that "I can do ... but only with this workaround." Only by communicating with each other, reading, sharing knowledge, do we learn not only what's "normal" but also what's *possible*.

Monday, August 11, 2008

odd brainstate

I'm sitting here - my plans for this evening went away POOF because I'd thought I was going to SF to a meeting but the meeting is tomorrow. And I also got some interesting information in the mail. Nothing earth-shattering - just my Social Security statement. I realized how little I've made over my lifetime. In 31 years, the average has been less than $10k a year. Yet on that, I bought a house, two cars, and raised two kids - up to the day I married Alex. It's really odd to consider.

But - mostly, where my brain is - is away. I'm feeling - quiet.
Slowed down.
My brain has gone into relaxation mode - theta state.
I am aware, conscious, but simply here. No planning, no tomorrow or yesterday. Just now.
I get this sometime.s
It's a good place to be - except that most of the time my life doesn't permit me to remain. Most of the time, I am expected to be here by this time and there by that time and very time oriented and time consciouse. And yet, I am amused by all the people who mediatate or take drugs to achieve thius state of no time. In this state, I simply am - no awareness of time flow. I can guess that time has changed - becuase there are different items in the collection of memories in my brain - and yet - I have no *experience* of time "passing" or "moving" or "flowing".
It's amazing how much trouble such states have gotten me into in the past, how little tolerance our society has for people who live in this brainstate - in this timeless existence. And how many think they want it.


And now - and I know NOW when I am done for now writing this post and so I am ready to move to the new "now" thing of checking the pasta pot and finding out if water is boiling so we can cook dinner.
But for now - I sit - quiet and still - and smile. and breathe. and watch and listen and feel.

Now - in this state - I hear and feel things differently - textures are all important and I crave texture - but only when I am moving. Other times, I am simply istting - and feeling and hearing and sensing but not deciding, not "thinking". Just here now.
Deep breath. Some unknowable, uncounted period of time (so the standard language usage claims) later, I breathe deeply, and move to go look at the stove.