Last week I was upgrading the graphics card in our family PC (Radeon X1950XT to HD4830), working at the dining room table next to Max, who was working on a massive Lego vehicle he had received as a Christmas present. He was making observations and asking questions about what I was doing. I showed him the motherboard, CPU, graphics card, hard drives, etc., and attempted to give him an explanation of each component’s function.

Later that day, we went to Microcenter to get some miscellaneous hardware to finish the job. While we were in the store Max said, “Daddy, I want to see the mama-boards...where are they? My next spaceship is going to have, like, four computer brains.”

Mama-boards.

Happy Holidays 2008.

Peace on Earth.

Happy Holidays 2008 from Jason, Rose, Max & Esmé

"I see your family photos everyday... It was the time like a dream, sweet dream."

Max's first Pac-Man drawing.

Max's first Pac-Man drawing. The legacy continues.

Maxie & EsméFunny kid stuff recently: Lately, whenever Esmé gets her hands on some money, she always refers to it as $5. We have no idea why this happens, but it's hilarious. She'll hold up a penny and say, "Here's FIIIVE dollars!"

Max has been exploring the scientific method in Kindergarten. One night, he decided he was going to explain it to us. "A hypoposis is...it's like your idea. A hy-pop-osis is your concept, Daddy...and then you have to test it."

These kids are too much. They're my Christmas presents.
I think I originally read Catcher in the Rye in 1992 or 1993--when I started college it was on my list of “books I should have read in high school but didn’t because my school was too religiously conservative.” Unfortunately, when I first read it I was in the beginning stages of architecture school, and was apparently too distracted by my new obsession (and the corresponding workload) to appreciate the full beauty of the story.

I just finished reading it again, and realized, interestingly, that Holden’s little sister Phoebe seems to be the spiritual twin to Esmé in Salinger’s earlier short story bearing that name.
Stepping back, the thing that intuitively concerns me about ‘the state of the world’ right now is a general volatility and compression of critical events into ever shorter time horizons. Financial markets are a mess, but my real concern is that financial crises seem to be getting closer together, and the swings--both up and down--are growing larger. I’m concerned about resource use and global warming--weather seems more volatile and climate disasters more frequent. I’m concerned about political instability--the world is ‘getting smaller’ yet we (the nations of the world) don’t seem to be getting on any better.

These are intuitive comments, generated from a mix of qualitative information and personal observation. If you think of the earth as an organism, with each component part of human existence being part of that organism (the ecosystem, the political system, the economic system, the technological system, etc.), it boils down to this question: How healthy are we? How healthy, or stressed, is the earth as an organism?
In winter, in downtown Cleveland, there's a gentle breeze that blows. It runs about 30 MPH on average and it has a nickname--the "breeze that makes people leave northeast Ohio."
In Max's Kindergarten class, the current big thing is Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network. Toys 'R' Us is pushing it, everybody's pushing it. This is all fine, fine, when it comes to toys and costumes, etc. However, the show is quite violent, and I can't believe there are so many parents out there allowing 5-6 year olds to watch it.
Rose and I were having dinner with some friends last night--wonderful people--and the experience reminded us of what characterizes our social circle. We have a very mixed group of friends--different income levels, different political views, different cultural interests, different geographies, different ideas of what constitutes a good time...the list goes on. We tend to slice across personality types--many of the people we call friends wouldn't really get along with one another, even though they get along with us. Over time, we've observed that the single common thread that runs through the individuals and couples that we consider friends, and who remain friends over time, is the following set of characteristics:
  • They have a reasonable amount of confidence about themselves,
  • They have a genuine interest in other people,
  • They have no agenda to deliver, no big chips on their shoulders,
  • And nothing to prove to anyone.
True relaxed inner confidence is so rare. It's an 'OK-ness' with yourself that allows you to avoid one-upsmanship, just be yourself, have a good time. You'd think these qualities would be more common, but they really are not, and they're a treasure when found.
Years ago, we posted some of illustrator Gary Taxali's work on Opensewer. Recently, his work was featured on the cover of Newsweek.
Ahhh...feels good not to be ashamed of our President.
Although we took over 2,000 photographs on our recent 3-week trip to Japan & Korea, upon reviewing them I found so many instances where--amazingly--I wish I'd taken more. Just a little more detail of that building or street, or a video & sound recording of the subways, or another photo of a restaurant or a temple, or a photo of a silly sign, or the desk where I sat...not subject matter for award-winning photos...just memory.
I've posted a photo set of highlights from our recent trip to Japan & South Korea. A larger set of photos, with more detail on each city (Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul) can be found here.
I thought our trip to Japan & Korea was expensive until I got home and updated our stock portfolio (ouch).
Home.

Jet lag is *nasty* after 27 hours of continuous travel, moving from a +13 hour time zone. Special bonus accomplishment while coming home: our 777, thanks to a 170 MPH tail wind, traveled in excess of 700 MPH. So far this is the fastest I've ever traveled, and as close to the speed of sound as I'll likely ever get (unless I hitch a ride in an F-18 some time).

Secret garden.

Leaving Seoul and soon-to-be-distant (again) friends. Five year reunion held in the sixth year; hopefully we'll see them again soon. The world is small but still big, and Seoul is a city almost too large to comprehend. Travel takes a lot of energy; we miss home but still wish we could stay longer. Seems like we've been away forever, but the trip went so fast.

Esme and a friend.

Leaving Kyoto for Seoul today; shinkansen to Tokyo then an airplane...long day of travel ahead, but some old friends at the end. Some Kyoto observations:

  • I made a Florence reference in my Tokyo entry on 10/6, but that was only referring to the flavor of a relatively small district around Shibuya station. More appropriately, based on my limited observations, I think one could refer to Kyoto as the "Firenze" of Japan.
  • Tokyo is a modern city, so the high-tech, the modern, the sometimes-ugly...they all blend together fairly well into a hyper but energetic and attractive mess. In Kyoto, the new and the old do not blend so well. For example, take the Higashiyama district, with its beautiful traditional architecture and multitude of shrines and temples. On its western, southern, and northern edges, it collides with a landscape of 70s-90s vintage horrid-modern masonry and curtain wall mid-rise buildings. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the overhead power lines and transformers everywhere.
  • In contrast to the above point, one of the most beautiful things about Kyoto is the fact that you can be walking in the midst of what feels like a concrete jungle, and then suddenly come upon a wooded shrine in the least expected place. When this happens, it's like discovering an oasis.
  • I can't get the ubiquitous phrase 'onegai shimasu', in that high-pitched 'may I serve you' voice, out of my head. So kind, but so strange.
More later...

Tokyo Sunrise.

After five days in Tokyo, we're leaving for Kyoto today. It's been a hybrid relaxing/intense few days, but an amazing experience so far and a lot of fun. Few random observations about an American family traveling in Tokyo with two young children:

  • Tokyo's non-orthagonal configuration makes many of its districts feel (but not look) like older European cities. Our first night, wandering around Shibuya station, felt a little like wandering around central Florence (if you squinted your eyes until everything became a little blurry).
  • The city, considering its size and intensity, is surprisingly quiet. At Shibuya crossing, thousands cross at every light change without a word--you can almost hear the footsteps. If it weren't for traffic noise, and the blaring noise from video screens on buildings, there wouldn't be much noise at all. Drivers do not honk at each other.
  • People move smoothly and efficiently everywhere. Even with the crushing crowds on the metro and Yamanote line, we never felt unsafe or overcrowded, even with kids in a stroller.
  • Tokyo doesn't have any public trash cans. You 'pack out' what you use, just like when hiking. Public restrooms don't have paper towels, and often don't have air dryers. You carry a small cloth handkerchief with you to dry your hands. This, and many other examples exist everywhere of efforts to make a small footprint, individually and collectively.
  • Service and courtesy are amazing. No less than five separate individuals attend to us on our way from the front door of our hotel to the elevator. But these same people navigate the metro stations without regard to anyone around them, and might just run you over if they're in a hurry.
  • Japanese people love our kids; they get a lot of smiles and a lot of photos taken of them.
More to come from Kyoto...
This is the busiest Fall I can remember. I’m not a big fan of saying that I’m busy, because I firmly believe that there’s always time for something if you want there to be--it’s all about priorities. Nonetheless...wow, we are busy. During the months of September & October 2008:
  • Our son Max started Kindergarten
  • I started teaching a graduate course at a local university
  • We have several improvement & repair projects going on at our house
  • I have two major deals underway in the office (one of which recently died, which is always fun)
  • We moved a significant amount of money into a real estate investment
  • And we’re taking Max & Esmé on a three-week trip to Japan and South Korea to visit some old friends
This is all happening over a span of about, say, seven weeks. It’s enough to keep us on our toes. To stay on top of all of this, and to give each individual the love they need during times that are special for them is, admittedly, quite a challenge.
One week to go...
Last night, while sitting at the dining room table building Lego Mars Mission vehicles, Maxie asked me: 'Daddy, will there always be a tomorrow? I mean, is the world ever going to end?'

Ah, the thoughts of a 5-year old.

I told him (in simpler and more explanatory language) that individual people, after they get old and gray, will come to an end and die, but as long as we keep having children and take care of the Earth (and the other planets for that matter), there will always be a tomorrow.
Max started Kindergarten today!
Maxie-boy is now officially riding his bike with no training wheels! He's been working at it, and for some time now he's been able to ride when you give him a push. But as of yesterday, August 24, he can take off, ride and stop all by himself!


So proud! As promised, he was rewarded for his achievement with a Mars Mission LEGO set.
A well-written editorial post on Lifehacker regarding productivity and information overload:
The longer I do this, the more I suspect that a good part of the "information overload" story is a myth cooked up by folks who don't know how to use the internet well in order to demonize something they don't understand.

And my two cents on the matter:

Productivity is, in a sense, meaningless. Those things which are important to you, or your boss, or your client, as the case may be, get done. Those things which are less important fall by the wayside. In business, most (but not all) things that rise to the level of "important" involve relatively larger sums of money. The above holds true in your personal life as well. If someone tells you they're "too busy" to get together, etc., they're actually informing you (politely) of your relatively low placement within their internal priority list. No reason to be bothered by this--it just 'is what it is', as they say. Everyone does it. People make time for what's most important to them, whether they admit it to themselves or not. So forget about productivity--just get done what's important to you. If you're not satisfied with what's getting done, revisit your priorities.
Ode to Joy, another MIDI duet by Max (melody) & dad (accompaniment)...

Happy birthday to my special big guy (5)!
Happy birthday to my sweet pea (2)!
Spring family photos posted.
Here's a MIDI recording of Maxie and me playing a duet on the piano the other night. He's melody, I'm accompaniment. My special little guy is getting so big!

At the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Esmé & Max looking for Sea Lions.

Intelligentsia vs. Gimme! Coffee -- Winner: Gimme!

Max drew 6 trains recently.

Six trains.

Yesterday Max decisively beat me at Go. Admittedly, at the outset, I gave him some help and intentionally made a few bad moves to help get him going. But by the time we were 20% through the game I was actually trying, and a soon-to-be 5-year old beat me. This has a few possible interpretations: (1) I'm really bad at Go, (2) Max is really smart, or (3) some combination of (1) and (2).
The best way to live
      is to be like water
For water benefits all things
      and goes against none of them
It provides for all people
      and even cleanses those places
      a man is loath to go

-- from the Tao Te Ching, V. 8

Following up on previous posts here and here, I continue to attempt to reconcile...
  • The concept of living like water, as expressed in the Tao Te Ching, and
  • My intuitive connection with the forms of the natural landscape
...with my personal aspirations. You see, in reading the Tao Te Ching, one could be led to think that goal-seeking is a less than optimal way to live. From V. 9:

Grabbing and stuffing--
      there is no end to it

Sharpen a blade too much
      and its edge will soon be lost
Fill a house with gold and jade
      and no one can protect it
Puff yourself with honor and pride
      and no one can save you from a fall

Complete the task at hand
Be selfless in your actions

However, as my brain has passively processed all of this over the past several months, I think I'm finally starting to unify these ideas. I am recognizing that perhaps they do not contain the inherent contradictions I once thought.

Water, the presence and lack thereof, whether liquid, as a flow or a body, or solid, as a glacier, has formed and continues to form the natural landscape in which we live. The cycle of water can be seen as an analogue for certain journeys in life, which can include aspirations.

I am one who seeks like water.

The older I get, the more I realize that things cannot be forced. All we can do is seek out that which fits our life and our context, and then enable it. Through this seeking, and through the un-contrived pursuit of opportunities that fit one's circumstances, each person can achieve a success that resonates with them. The difficult part is the search, and having the wisdom to recognize which aspirations should be pursued (and then enabled), and which should be ignored.

I believe this general concept applies to goals, relationships, and in fact everything in one's life. It is a lesson learned from water, from gravity. It is a cycle, and a journey from high to low. Success comes at the bottom.
  • Rain is chaos, the unknown, randomness.
  • The Watershed is a flow with resistance, it is seeking, finding one's way. It is the most difficult part of the cycle.
  • At the Stream, a way has finally been found. There will be challenges, but gravity is with you.
  • The Body of Water, at the low point, at the terminus of the stream, is a temporary end, a reward. Life's rewards can be found in low places. This resting place, being low, is also a type of death. Death leads to rebirth.
  • Through Rebirth, evaporation, we are led back to chaos, and the cycle begins again.
This is life--full of opportunities, full of people. But only a small portion of these fit each individual, each situation. The search, both the experience of seeking and the potential reward, is part of what gives life meaning.
From time to time, I'm known to fall asleep reading to my kids. This gives my wife two choices: Leave me alone, in which case I usually wake up around 2:00 AM and crawl pathetically into bed, or two, kick me so that I wake up. Depends on her mood.

Last night, I managed to drag my sorry hide downstairs and we watched BSG Razor (awesome). Rose gave me a little sarcastic remark like, "Nice to have you awake for the whole movie..." To this I replied, "It's easy to stay awake when you have a knot in your stomach," referring of course to how one feels when watching BSG. It's a good knot.

Season 4 starts this week. I've never before been excited for the new season of a television show. Time to format the DVR's hard drive.
File under fun with rolling balls/marbles/George Rhoads-esque: Binary Marble Adding Machine (direct link to video).

Pajama day.

EsméMax

Coffee

I'm truly passionate about coffee, and have learned a lot over the years. I realize that I have almost nothing to say that hasn't already been better said by others, so I link to them below.

After struggling with (and wearing out from over-use) no less than three consumer-grade espresso machines, I finally broke down and invested in a decent prosumer machine with a heat-exchanger (HX) and E-61 group head.

Originally, my wife was not happy with the fact that I took out of commission one entire worksurface in our relatively small kitchen... However, now that she's had more than a few of my espresso drinks she's learning to live with the configuration.

I continue to humbly pursue excellence in my own espresso-making. Please follow these links for excellent coffee resources:
  • Gimme! Coffee - Excellent educational PDFs. If you make it to Ithaca or Brooklyn from time to time, stop in to their espresso bar and have some of the best drinks in the eastern United States. Did I mention that they do mail-order beans as well?
  • David Schomer - An espresso sage. Be sure to read his MSNBC story.
  • Coffee Geek - Once you get serious about coffee you'll spend hours (days) here. See my review of the Anita and the Quick Mill doserless grinder.
  • Whole Latte Love - Check out this tutorial on the golden rule of espresso.
  • Home Barista - How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Heat Exchangers.
Enjoy.
One week ago Starbucks closed its stores nationwide for about 3 hours to train its 'baristas' (sarcastic quotes intentional) and, according to the company's former CEO, regain some of the romance and soul of the espresso experience. Coffee connoisseurs around the world laughed out loud at the news. The subtitle of this ABC news article nails it: 'Coffee Purists Say a Few Hours of Training is Hardly Enough to Learn the Art of Espresso'. The community at CoffeeGeek had a few interesting things to say about the event. Timely as ever, NPR's The World offered a short but highly informative story within its GeoQuiz on the true art of espresso (thanks, Rose!). As you may already know, I'm a junkie.
My wife and I (and now our kids, 4 and 1) have been fans of Animusic ever since we first saw the early videos back when we were at Cornell (Wayne Lytle wrote his first music animation software while at Cornell). The first video we saw, and one of the most memorable, was called "Pipe Dream". Now two guys, Dan Paluska and Jeff Lieberman, have created an "automated multi-instrumental orchestral machine" that bears more than a passing resemblance to the ball-bouncing instruments in Pipe Dream. It's located at 186 Orchard St. in New York City. Wonderful...I can't wait to show this to my kids! (via Gizmodo)

Incidentally, if you like bouncing balls, check out some of George Rhoads' sculpture, another Ithaca resident. (previously)
At io9, The Pros and Cons of a Google Brain Implant. My comment:

...Over the next 10-50 years this could be a real issue.

I feel as if I already operate using the 'external collective brain' to some degree. Using my 3G smartphone and Google, I can look up, in about 30 seconds or less, just about any miscellaneous fact that I need. Maps (GPS phone), images and videos included. The weak link in the interface is the fact that this is still done using a device and my fingers, so the input is slow. When you think about it, all that's needed to make this a reality is a faster interface--brain implant, eye gestures, etc.

As we rely on external sources for basic factual information (still of course using our minds for logic and analysis), I do worry that we'll begin to lose something. For example, the portions of our brain responsible for wrote memorization: will they atrophy due to the fact that we don't memorize much any more? Will this inflict currently unforeseen collateral damage on other parts of our brain? Perhaps contemporary neuroscientists have already studied this...

Has anyone seen the 'Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex' series? Worth watching in it's own right, but particularly interesting in relation to this particular discussion. The series deals with computer-human hybrid brain issues, in a very trenchant manner. There is even some thought given to future diseases that may be caused by 'cyberization' of the brain.

I recall one scene in particular involving 3 characters: two of them are having a complex discussion in involving a barrage of literary and cultural references. The third character, eaves-dropping, interjects and remarks that they're having a fascinating discussion, but he couldn't follow it because he didn't have an 'external memory device'. In other words, he understood the logic and essence of the conversation, but his brain wasn't connected to the internet, so he couldn't 'look up' a lot of the specific references.

Perhaps a scene from our not-to-distant future... Funny thing is, I can recall at least two times in the past 3 months that I've been in a group discussion and I snuck out my phone to Google a historical reference that I didn't get at first. I looked it up on the sly and kept plugging right away at the discussion without missing a beat. Would have been easier with a brain implant...

Max designed this track, then we built it.

This morning, Max sketched his design for a train track on paper, then we built it.

Success

There is no such thing as success. There are no rewards, there are no punishments. There are only actions and consequences.

What's inside will show through to the outside.
Strange harmonics.

This morning I woke up and the fountain pen on my desk was clink, clink, clinking in its metal spring holder as I typed, and the soup pot atop the refrigerator was resonating with the vibration from the compressor. I have never noticed these sounds before.
Winter/Christmas 2007 photos posted.

This is the slide.

Yesterday we observed that playground slides are much faster when lubricated by snow.