December 2010 Archives

A Walk in the Park

In keeping with the holiday spirit, I took this old guy I know for a walk at the Newport Back Bay. He is 89. Soul of an artist. Gentle. Sweet. But you can tell he is lonely. Desperately so. His wife died a year ago. His only wife.

Newport Back Bay | Newport Beach, California Can you walk this dirt path without falling on your face? I asked. If you let me hold your arm I can, he said.

So off we went. None too hurriedly, I might add. Precious old man. Beautiful day. Warm & sunny.

Later I introduced him to my artist-friend, and let them talk about art while I played with her son (.. the Bug's age).

Everybody seemed to enjoy that. (Especially the boy, who I spun around 'til he nearly puked. Why do kids love that so much? "Again!")

While walking down our trail at the Back Bay, my ancient friend told me the story of how his dad lost the family house -- in Brentwood, where OJ used to live, in Los Angeles -- during the Great Depression, and how that traumatized him as a youth (.. born in '22).

People who were walking in the other direction gave me some of the warmest looks I've ever seen.

Chopsticks» eDawg & Chopsticks

Speaking of warm looks .. eDawg teared up (.. in the Chinese restaurant .. the one down on Balboa Island) ..

.. while telling me how much he appreciated the advice I gave him .. back when he was trying his darnedest to drop outta college.

We had talked for hours that night. That was back when I was still with the Bug's mom .. living in 'the Big House' .. in Laguna. Before the Bug. All of us were there.

What a place. This photo (stitched) is great, but doesn't do it justice. The magic there, I mean. Five levels, cut into the steep Laguna hillside. High up. 180-degree view. Catalina island in the distance.

Lots of kids lived there. And their friends were always visiting. High-school energy. Middle school energy. Laguna energy. eDawg's step-sister, Mikaela, is the one who came up with Bug's name. Heck, if it wasn't for her, the Bug still wouldn't have a name. =)

[ Mikaela was friends with Lani, who regulars will be more familiar with. Lani shaved her head and got married. Not necessarily in that order. ]

Maria sold the Big House right before the market tanked. House-flippers bought it and got killed. Put an end to their house-flipping days. Maria always was lucky like that. She didn't wanna sell.

Coming from a Windows background, one of the first differences I stumbled across while learning to administrate a Linux server .. was the concept of permissions, which includes the topic of file & directory ownership.

Permissions is not a very romantic subject, so I won't bore you with geeky details. But failing to understand how they work can keep your scripts from running.

Warning DangerAnd even when you *do* understand .. they can still cause problems. (Uh, more on that later.)

I mean, used incorrectly, chmod (the unix command that sets permissions on files & directories) .. can even trash your whole server .. when used to do things like I'm trying to do ..

.. which is to effect changes to the permissions of ALL the files & directories contained within a certain master-directory. With great-power comes great-danger. (Think thermo-nuclear.)

I almost ran this directory-wide command from the wrong directory. That woulda been ugly. No easy way to recover. (Shoot me now.) But I caught myself. (It was late & I was tired.)

Used to be .. I was always on *high-alert* when working with/in the shell. But now that I've become more comfortable there, I've lost that sense of painstaking-vigilance I used to have. (Fear of trashing the server.)

Linux (a variant of Unix) recognizes 3 types of users »

  1. the owner (.. of the file/script/directory/folder. That's me.)
  2. a group member (.. formally assigned as such. Generally people you know & trust.)
  3. everybody else (.. including the dregs of society. Others.)

Here it might help to visualize a 3x4 grid, with 12 possible values. Based on our permission settings, each one of these 3 types of users can do 1 or more (or none) of 3 possible actions:

  1. nothing (.. no action permitted)
  2. read (.. the file or directory-contents)
  3. write (.. to the file/script or directory)
  4. execute (.. the script)

MODx Content Management System CMS» MODx Revolution CMS has Arrived

Now, if you've been faithfully following along, you know I've been learning to program with PHP. (Happy holidays, by the way.)

And one of the reasons I want to learn PHP is cuz of the (very cool) » MODx CMS.

[ CMS = Content Management System. ]

The coding studs at MODx have released a new version (2.0) called » Revolution, which was built from scratch, using all the latest/coolest stuff (technologies). Always nice to start from scratch with the latest technologies, tho normally impractical. (If I could start over .. the site, with what I know now. Ooh la la!)

Winter solstice today. Longest night. Shortest day. The exact moment .. when the sun reaches its southerly-most point and begins heading back north » 3:38 PM PST (California time) .. if my calcs are correct.

Winter solsticeWinter begins .. for those of us who live here in the Northern hemisphere.

In the Southern hemisphere, Christmas occurs at the beginning of summer. That would seem strange.

The winter solstice, I feel, is the most significant of the various solar demarcations that arrive thru-out the year .. as we sail around the sun .. making elliptical like .. at warp speed.

Here's an interesting video (10-mins) along these lines.

Good time to stop & think about things. .. as the sun appears to stop for a few days. (The term 'solstice' means » sun-stopping.) Things like life (= the present). The past. The future.

Regarding the present .. it is raining like crazy. Unbelievable. Worst storm in 10 or 15 years. So there's no way we'll be seeing any of the eclipse.

Multiple storms lining up to kick our butts and drown us. Souther California is not designed to handle large amounts of water (.. cuz it rains here so rarely), so it is doubly bad when it does.

Speaking of 'thinking-about-things' .. the biggest consequence I've noticed (thus far) .. of familiarizing myself with Nietzsche (& his ideas) .. is that I've started seeing things in light of VALUES. Specifically » how values for the same things vary.

Never did this before. At least, not like this.

Nietzsche is very much about » values. The terms 'good' & 'bad' imply that values have been assigned to things .. things for which we use these labels.

Liu Xiaobo» Liu Xiaobo | Nobel Peace Prize

Take, for example, this Chinese guy who won the Nobel Peace Prize » Liu Xiaobo. This is what got me thinking along these lines.

He has been recognized & honored for calling for greater freedom of expression & human rights in China (.. by writing Charter 08, signed by 350 others) .. something he obviously feels strongly about (i.e. » values very highly).. enough to go to jail for.

The Chinese government, on the other hand .. uh, doesn't hold these same values. Not hardly. They say he is a criminal .. who deserves to spend 11 years in prison. (That's a long time, Dawg.)

Same man, valued differently by different organizations. Dramatically so. Striking contrast, no?

What award could be more uplifting? Than the Nobel Peace Prize. What punishment more sapping? Than spending a decade rotting in a Chinese prison. He must feel like someone standing in the eye of a hurricane.

That's what Nietzsche has done to my perception. There's this auto-focus-thing going on that sharpens the lines of contrast where values are concerned. Like I said, not something I was expecting.

The effect of this heightened contrast .. is that values seem to be a function of the person doing the valuing, and not the object itself.

Is Liu Xiaobo a hero, worthy to be included along with a century of legendary laureates? Or is he a criminal, worthy of prison? Depends who you ask. Right?

Gays in the Military | My Experience

A historic new law repeals Don't ask don't tell (DADT), allowing gays to serve openly in the military for the first time in our nation's history. I spent 6 years in the Navy. Never knew a single gay person before I enlisted.

Gays in military I was 18. Assigned to a frigate (for 4 months) in drydock at the shipyard at Bath Iron Works in Maine (.. while waiting for my seat at Nuke school to come up, after bootcamp).

It looked similar to the ship you see pictured here under the watchful gaze of lady Liberty.

Ours was being overhauled. The galley was gutted, the ship uninhabitable. So the crew was assigned to barracks some 10 miles inland.

Nice place. Quiet, rural. Summertime in Maine. Two guys to a room. Community showers. Had my sportster there.

My roommate, after about a month, says, "We need to talk."

"What's up?" I ask, certain I'm a cool dude, cuz I'm a man of the world now, earning my own keep for the first time. Out on my own (.. at 18). But we'd been talking for more than a month, so this sounded serious.

"I'm not straight," he says.

"What?" I ask, honestly not knowing what the heck he was talking about. "What do you mean?"

Four or 5 times he repeated "I'm not straight." Each time with a different emphasis & inflection.

I finally asked, "You mean, you do drugs?"

He finally came out and said, "No, I'm gay."

» I Can Only Imagine the Look On My Face

Caught me completely off guard. Can only imagine the look on my face. Musta been priceless. You know, my roommate. My only roommate. He's gay. He likes to have sex with other guys. I'm a guy. These are things that flashed thru my mind.

He was from Charleston, SC. Black. Pre-med drop-out. Intelligent. Articulate. Slightly feminine. No lisp, but soft spoken. Had a delicate air about him. Very pleasant. Excellent social skills. Good sense of humor. Cool.

Inside the Programming Castle

The more I learn about programming for the Web, the more it seems like everything is about the DATABASE. PHP just happens to be the tool we use to shuttle data back & forth .. to & from the database. PHP also lets you modify the data going back & forth .. in seemingly unlimited ways.

Castle of Computer ProgrammingEvery once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the power available in learning to wield programming languages. Very brief glimpses, cuz I am just a beginner.

Interestingly, these glimpses always come while I'm learning how to use PHP to access and manipulate data going into or coming out of a relational database (MySQL).

The coolest part of these glimpses .. is that they really do give me the sense that the power available in programming is truly UNLIMITED (.. limited only by your imagination).

I mean, computer programming is designed to use (work on) a computer. By that I mean » a CPU and memory, which itself mimics how the human brain & human memory works. So there's this self-reflexive thing going on in the background (or underneath) .. which is itself a little trippy. What are the limits of the human mind?

Hard to describe, cuz I'm still just a programming n00b (.. tho I continue to make progress). But the promise of unlimited creative power is very seductive. Can hear it calling my name.

The programming gods however, do not freely surrender the keys to this unlimited creative power. No, sir. There's a price to be paid.

In researching how our brains learn, it seems we find it easier to learn new-things that we can relate to things we already-know.

The problem (I've found) is that learning how to program does not readily lend itself to other things we might already-know. Rather, it's like having to build a whole new conceptual world .. from scratch. In other words, it takes longer. And requires more effort, in the form of memorization.

I actually went back and reviewed the material covering basic concepts .. especially the section on user-defined functions() .. after finding I kept having questions about material I already covered. I'm talking about after I began studying Object-Oriented Programming (OOP), which is the focus of Beyond the Basics.

Mao & China

I've been reading up on Mao & China .. since we (the U.S.), and especially our children, are so heavily indebted to them.

Mao & NixonFascinating character, Mao. The George Washington of Communist China.

Similar trajectory (.. military » to » political & founding father of a new nation). Similar hardships.

Most interesting is the Long March. Six thousand miles, averaging 17 a day. Crossing 24 rivers and 18 (freezing) mountain ranges.

95% of the 86,000 soldiers who began the trek died along the way (.. '34-'35).

That's like walking the length of the United States, from New York to Los Angeles, then turning around and walking back again. My dogs would be barking after the first day.

The hike to the top of Half Dome (in Yosemite) is 17 miles, round trip. Takes all day. You start at the trailhead at first light (in the summer). By the time you get back, it's starting to get dark again (.. after hanging out for a couple of hours at the summit, where you eat lunch).

Would be considerably more difficult if you had to do it every day, including winter months, on starvation rations, with people shooting at you.

Mao had malaria. Needed to be carried, at times, on a litter.

They actually lost most of their number while crossing the vast grasslands, where one wrong step sent you plunging deep into mud. If it got up to your chest, nobody could help you.

Mao was one of the 5% who survived. Did it when he was 40. Stories like this make me feel better when I feel like whining about my own trials & tribulations.

He began as an idealistic student. The book I'm reading says his revolution took the lives of more of his subjects than did any other leader in human history, including Hitler & Stalin. 70 million is the number I heard. That would be every 4th or 5th American. Hard to believe. Peacetime.

I know China has lots of people, but they make it sound like all these (country-wide) executions were no big deal. Matter of course. "What are we having for dinner, hun? I'm starving."

I definitely get the feeling that life does not mean much there .. maybe cuz there's so MUCH of it. In that sense, China seems a little scary.

The Bug is Reading!

The Bug is reading! Was so not expecting this. Least not yet.

Back when I attended kindergarten, I learned to play with toys (.. no problem there) and how to share them with other kids (.. bit more of a challenge). Also learned to put my head down and pretend I was asleep. Wasn't until first grade that we learned to read (.. in Connecticut).

Pooh learning to read in classHe however, brought home some 'homework' .. to read as many words from a list fast as possible.

[ Homework in kindergarten? What's the world coming to? ]

You can read? I exclaimed, examining the sheet.

Yeah, dad. It's easy. Watch.

That's it! I said, I'm not taking you to that school any more. They're teaching you *way* too much stuff!

Pooh & Tigger find letters of the alphabet» Magic Week

This was one of those "magic weeks." I mean, he was in a super mood. The whole time. Happy, playful. Lots of laughs. My heart was singing.

All child development metrics fade in relevance if the kids aren't happy. What really stood out, tho .. was the way his communication skills took a quantum leap.

Don't get me wrong; he has always been a good talker (.. except for some stuttering when he was 2). His vocabulary has been the most frequent compliment he gets.

He's cautious with people who he doesn't know, but he can carry on a decent conversation with adults he likes. And he has the coolest voice. People seem surprised at some of the things that come out of his mouth. (Kids are so honest, so transparent.)

He's my only, so he's all I know. So naturally, I think everything he does & says is normal. But others suggest otherwise.

Pooh & Owl read» Vocabulary Takes a Quantum Leap

This week brought an explosive torrent of sentences .. that came pouring out of him .. so rapidly that I wasn't even paying attention to what he was saying ..

.. cuz I couldn't get over his wielding of the language. Something about Anakin Skywalker & the Star Wars clone troopers. You know.

I was like » Oh. My. God. Freaked me out a little. He's talking on an entirely different level. Felt like saying, "Who are you?"

Seems child development isn't necessarily linear. Things are obviously clicking for him.

My friend Tom (the rock-climbing stud) says, They learn a lot in kindergarten.

I'm feeling very good about the little guy. This week was one of our best yet. I'm glowing. Extremely satisfied.

I put serious effort into filling that boy with as much LOVE as I can muster. For his whole life. His tiny hand was holding my pinky when the nurse shot him in the thigh with vitamin-K just minutes after he was born.

[ That's gotta suk. Welcome to the world. Bamm! Here's a needle in your leg. And there's more where that came from. ] 

I was talking to him the whole time .. in the most soothing (familiar) voice I could summon » Everything's okay. Daddy's here. Welcome to the world, little man. We've been waiting for you. You're beautiful.

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