Greetings from North Carolina

Greetings from scenic North Carolina, a-blogging from my father-in-law’s computer. Yesterday we took the opportunity to visit Fort Fisher just south of Wilmington, where one of the last meaningful battles of the Civil War was fought. In fact, my great great grandfather, Jay Whittington Lewis, fought there (in a gray uniform) and was later injured at the battle of Bentonville, which truly was one of the very last battles of the war. It would’ve been a crummy battle to die in. Fortunately, he lived and so I exist. North Carolina suffered a curious fate during the Civil War. Fort Fisher and Bentonville were the only two significant battles in North Carolina, and they came at the very end, meaning that the state was spared the destruction that was visited on, for example, Virginia or Tennessee. On the other hand, for the very same reason, troops were recruited from North Carolina right up until the end (my aforementioned great great grandfather entered the conflict late in 1864 as a 17 year old recruit), so the state provided more troops (and therefore casualties) than any other state.

I have had flights cancelled

I have had flights cancelled before, sometimes mere minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off, but this is the first time an entire airline has vanished from existence just as I was about to step on the plane. They cancelled my entire airline. So my wife got up early this morning and stood in line at the airport to convert our worthless Midway tickets to worthful U.S. Airways tickets, and so long as U.S. Airways doesn’t go out of business in the next week, we’re in good shape.

In the meantime, the vacation was delayed by a day and I was able to get some damn good web surfing in tonight. For instance, take a peek at this lovely painting called McDonald’s Nation by Canadian artist Chris Woods. There’s an entertaining little audio commentary by the artist that runs along with the page.

I don’t see 21C Magazine

I don’t see 21C Magazine on the newstands around me anymore; I had assumed they went out of business, but they have a web site and appear to be thriving. Their latest issue, all of which appears to be available online, has some good stuff in it. Most compelling to me was the piece about the documentary movie “The Devil’s Playground,” which is about the Amish concept of rumspringa. The Amish are famously strict parents, but at age 16, all the rules drop away and their children can do whatever they want until they make their decision (so goes the theory) to commit themselves to their church and community. The wild (and thoroughly modern) partying that goes on during the rumspringa is eye-opening, almost straining belief. Can it really be like this? But sure enough, a lot of the kids, though not all of them, exorcize the wildness and return to the fold. There’s something very civilized about this. It seems saner than either continuous cradle-to-grave repression or anarchic loosey-goosey upbringing.

We should all have a rumspringa. The word has pleasant connotations of a rum-soaked spring break, and the concept brings a certain sensible framework to the inevitable teenage rebellion and dissipation. The only way to avoid the corrosive seduction of the english world is to embrace it and then walk away. Makes sense to me. Here’s a long quote from the article.

The Amish …[prefer] their adherents to join the church when they are old enough to make an informed decision about committing to the religion for life. Therefore when each child turns 16 they can experience the outside “english” world with all its temptations -“the devil’s playground” – in order to make their decision. This period in their life is known in their Pennsylvania Dutch language as rumspringa, which literally translates as “running around”. It ends whenever an individual feels ready – typically between the ages of 18-22 – to make the decision that will determine the rest of their lives.

Nanotubes and other assorted things

Nanotubes and other assorted things nano are shaping up to be the next big hype bubble to burst, but it’s fun to surf the wave of unreasonable expectations while it lasts. These nanotubes do have a touch of the alchemical philosopher’s stone about them, bringing magical transformations everywhere they land. As Feynman said, there’s plenty of room at the bottom. Read about it in the New York Times: It Slices! It Dices! Nanotube Struts Its Stuff.

I’ll be on vacation for

I’ll be on vacation for the next week, so no bloggo mucho till July 29th. I’m flying down to North Carolina on Midway Airlines.
Hey! Wait a second… as of Thursday, July 18th (that’s today) Midway has ceased to exist. The timing is perfect. Midway vanished (it was swallowed up by U.S. Airways, hardly a paragon of solvency itself) on the absolute eve of our trip. We have to go get paper tickets issued to us at the airport and walk to the U.S. Airways desk before they will consider changing them. Paper tickets… walking… no resolution by phone or computer. It all feels so nineteenth century. Perhaps I’ll dash over to the aerodrome first thing tomorrow on my velocipede. Wish me luck.

There was a time when

There was a time when R.U. Sirius and his wacky crew at Mondo 2000 were on top of the world. I was a Mondo 2000 reader, squarely in the middle of their young-geek-yearning-to-make-tech-cool demographic. After a few issues, Mondo began to smell of too much sweaty enthusiasm untempered by any graphical restraint or even genuine content. It was a shooting star, but it set the stage that Wired magazine went on to dominate. Still, what a show! How did they manage to pull it off? Here’s a profile of R.U. Sirius from

This just in: good friend

This just in: good friend Matthew J. Simoneau has started a weblog, despite the fact that he feels, as he says in his first entry, “a little embarassed to be jumping on the weblogging bandwagon so late.” Nevertheless, he jumps off to a good start with a report of his visit to the museum of giant artwork, MASS MoCA. What is MASS MoCA? Read about it here and on Matt’s blog.

Is there any truth to the rumor that Matt’s middle initial stems from the fact that Rocky, Bullwinkle, and all three male members of the Simpson family (Bart, Homer, and Abraham) share the middle initial J? A visit to his site may clear things up. Then again, it may not.

A Space in Time

A bookstore, a weblog, a magazine, all these things take on the personality of their proprietor, and if that personality resonates sufficiently with your own, you find yourself coming back again and again, chuckling that someone should be able so consistently to amuse you, sight unseen. So it is for me, I find, with The Atlantic magazine. I can’t say exactly how they keep choosing articles that interest and entertain me, but they do. I will read anything by William Langewiesche, and he’s written the cover story this month about “unbuilding” the World Trade Center. Actually, the web version is an extract, and the magazine version is only one part of what will become a book on the same subject.

In the same issue, and fully available on the web, is beautiful lyrical essay
(“A Space in Time”) by Michael Benson about imagery from NASA’s various space probes. It’s long for an onscreen read, but it’s worth the effort. Near the end, he uses a long quote from Carl Sagan that I will include here. Carl says

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said—grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

This echoes very much the teachings of Joseph Campbell, who pointed out that a healthy working mythology (religion) is one that puts you into accord with the universe as it is currently understood, not as it was understood by nomadic tribes in the Near East two thousand years ago. I’m with Carl. The religion we need is the one that lets us hug those improbable spacefaring robots from JPL. You go, God!

The BBC sez: Replace your

The BBC sez: Replace your mouse with your eye. It’s a premise with promise, but what do you think? Could you accurately move things around your screen with your flickering eye movements? It just might replace aching wrists with strained eyes. I can just imagine the cursor twitching back and forth across the screen until you go back to the closet and dig out the old mouse in disgust. But maybe I’m just closing my eyes to the march of progress.

I am interested in how

I am interested in how computers are used to extend our senses, such that algorithms effectively become eyes, seeing a picture that would not otherwise exist in the streams of ones and zeros returning from, say, an orbiter around Mars. So I was intrigued to hear that Mt. Everest was actually discovered by a computer. It was discovered (in the sense of being the tallest mountain in the world) in 1852, and “computer” is the title applied to a person in Dehra Dun, India who was given the task of grinding through the math associated with the Grand Trigonometrical Survey of India. Determining the tallest mountain means measuring them all against the same yardstick set against the same baseline. This is clearly a complex undertaking, so it perhaps comes as no surprise that Everest was officially observed in 1847, but it took five years to “see” that it was the tallest mountain in the survey (and by extension, the world). Here’s a nice summary with some good pictures: Peak XV. And here’s an oddball piece (written from the mountain’s point of view) from some sort of Nepal tourist office: An Autobiography of Sagarmatha’s Height.