Thank you, Alfonso Cuaron

October 6, 2013 by

If I ever meet Sandra Bullock or Alfonso Cuaron or Jonas Cuaron and I can do so without being an asshole, I am going to thank them on behalf of all engineers for crafting “Gravity”. We engineer types don’t get much from Hollywood or television so I really appreciate the portrayal of admirable but human problem solvers, people who aren’t preternatural but simply hardworking, competent and who manage to keep their heads despite all odds. The two main characters in Gravity don’t solve their problems by being (literally) unbelievably smart or by having every cockamamie scheme they try work the first time. They are competent people, one better trained then the other but both unable to work miracles, only magnificent competencies. And that’s what we engineers strive for in our best moments: not MacGyver but Bullock’s Ryan Stone. I haven’t felt this grateful to a character since Keith Stewart in Neville Shute’s “Trustee from the Toolroom”


I don’t get it (1930 vs. 2012)

August 10, 2012 by

Sitting in my high school and college history classes, I often wondered just why the 1% of the 1920’s completely turned around and allowed Franklin Roosevelt to come to power and to so radically change our country.  Over time I came to the conclusion that it was all about the Bolsheviks and, later, the Maoists.  Don’t get me wrong, I think they were monsters, little more than thugs with a lust for blood. But when the Gatsby set here saw their Russian and Chinese brothers stood up against the wall and shot and their wealth confiscated, they knew in their bones they had to allow reform.

But just in case we think history actually teaches us anything, I look at the fact that thievery and fraud on an unimaginable scale is going unpunished in this country, at least as long as the perpetrators are from the “right” class.  Oh sure, they fine the company, but the people who pulled the trigger go unpunished. Look at LIBOR.  We know the individuals who committed the fraud.  We have them on tape and know exactly who they are.  And our press doesn’t even ask the question “Shouldn’t these guys go to jail?” The US Secretary of the Treasury knew what these were doing and let it continue, and no one dares to suggest he should be in jail.  “Crisis” they say.  Well there is no crisis now.  Isn’t it time to round up the bad guys?

All this comes form watching a Canadian sci-fi show, “Continuum” and realizing it simply could not be shown in the US because it highlights these issues. 

The horrors the communists inflicted are almost unimaginable, and are an order of magnitude worse than anything the robber barons did. But I wonder, when history repeats itself, who will be the examples and who will change based on those examples.  Three generations ago it was Russian and China who paid the price and the US and Europe who averted disaster.  I have to wonder if today it may play out exactly in reverse.

Notes for the Traveller: JFK, KAL

July 29, 2012 by

July 29, 2012

JFK continues to astound me. Drop my car off at National and I am hauling a families worth of luggage by myself.  Get on the AirTrain Elevator.  Check the sign: “Terminals – 3rd Floor”.  At the third floor there is a yellow tape strung across the door, barring my way out of the elevator.  OK – I go under it.  A bunch of people are heading toward the elevator.  Turns out there is no service on this floor.  No sign to tell them that. but they’ve been waiting and gave up.  Went down to the second floor, which is for Jamaica station.  All signs still say third floor to go to the terminals.  No one quite knows whats going on.  Nobody to help.  Eventually we get on the train to Jamaica station, because, Why Not?  It goes there, comes back to the station we are at and then continues on to the Terminal.  So I made it.  But, c’mon people, maybe a sign? I realize it is NYC so I would expect the sign to be hand lettered and hung with fingerprinted scotch tape but hey, as long as it said something.

KAL business class lounge in terminal one.  Kind of run down and musty smelling in places.  Good coffee and the liquor selection was good. Snacks are limited but fine. Kept very clean in terms of tidying up.

Trying to like Alcatraz

January 20, 2012 by

I was a total “Lost” geek and I’m trying to like Alcatraz because it comes from the same team but after two episodes it’s going nowhere for me. It is almost the exact opposite of Lost. In that show, you learned about a character, really felt for them, and then you found out a game changing revelation that made you look at them differently. So far the only character that is the tiniest bit more than a set of lines delivered on cue is the Jorge Garcia one (he actually managed to get a moment towards the end of the second one where you felt something for him). Game changing revelations? Oh yeah. Maybe three, four per show so far. But it feels like a group of writers just sat around thinking up plot twists.

Characters. That’s what the show needs. So, hey writers! You’ve got some good actors to work with, how about giving us some characters?

Ways the Modern World Is Not Like You Think It Is

November 24, 2011 by

We imagine we are cataloging and compiling our lives in this digital age as never before…

…but the reality is our records are ephemeral. When the school system upgrades their records to a new software system, will they allocate the funds to convert 25 year old records to the new format? When Patch, the replacement for your local newspaper, does the same or simply goes belly up, what will happen to the picture of your child’s championship swim meet? And when you die, will your children have the password to your email account? And will that one be the same one you used while wooing your spouse? And given that unliklihood, will they have the patience to sift through tens of thousands of notes and FYI’s and grocery lists to find the one special email where you declared your love?

So we are returning to the pre-literate days. The only records we leave behind will be a few official ones.

Taking Flight

November 19, 2011 by

So I lift off in an incredibly strong aluminum tube, stretching east out of Singapore and banking so steeply I can peer into the islands visited by a thousand wooden ships a half dozen lifetimes ago. A single light shines through the dusk, and that bright enough to pierce the thin strip of cloud stitching across a hundred beaches. What is that beacon?

The Party of Nothing

November 19, 2011 by

There is an article in the New York Times that really crystalizes where the Democratic party is today, and by default, what the Republican party has become. The Democrats, however flawed, offer the only home for those people who want to do something. The Republicans have become the party of nothing. I am a “on the one hand, and on the other” kind of guy by nature, so this lop sided and harsh judgement does not come naturally to me.

The Times article describes the hard work done by the Democrats in Massachusetts to understand and deal with the health care cost crisis in their state. It is a multi year effort, and one that the party leaders are actually engaged in. Martha Coakely is quoted on just one small but crucial issue: is there a justification for reimbursing the prestige hospitals and physicians at the higher rates they currently demand. She checks off a number of reasons this might be justified but then refers to research to show that these reasons are not borne out by the facts. I know something about how this works and it takes a number of iterations to nail these things down. You do a study. Possible flaws are raised. You revisit the data or do another study. Repeat until it is nailed. This is hard work.

So, honestly, can you imagine this type of effort coming from a collection of Republicans today? No chance. Republicans are punished by their base for even entertaining complexity. They are defined by what they are against, and justify their lack of accomplishments by disparaging those as fools who think progress is possible.

Issues are complex and their landscape is strewn with facts of various shapes, sizes and worth. If you are the type of person who looks at that confusing jumble and starts to plan how to evaluate each piece and plan how to build something solid and useful with the best of them then your only recourse today is to join with the Democrats, whatever their flaws. On the other hand, if you are the type of person who has no interest in those pieces except to judge which has the best heft and sharpest edges for throwing at your enemies, whether they be gold or copralytes, then you are today’s Republican.

Shanghai Surprises

September 3, 2011 by

So one of my big surprises here in Shanghai has been the availability of really great bread. Crusty loaves of all shapes and sizes are available in virtually every neighborhood


June 18, 2011 by

It is odd to me that so many religious people believe that being more religious means being more moral. This seems to me to fly in the face of everyday experience. In the people I have met there seems to be no real correlation at all. I have met religious people of all varying shades of morality and intensity of religious belief, the two characteristics mixed and balanced together in every combination, as if people’s characters were created by pulling random allotments from first the bag of morality and next the bag of religiosity.

Some may say that those who are immoral aren’t truly religious, but to me that simply proves that the two aren’t connected. For if someone who believes fiercely in their god, goes to church every day, and prays hourly, and repents of their recognized sins (but is blind to the recognition of so many others) is somehow not religious just because they are mean spirited or hurtful or dishonest or cruel, then it just means “religion” has been defined as “morality”. The pieces that have to do with religion are given short shrift here and the morality is elevated.

Some have also argued that without religion, there can be no morality, but this is visibly false, since religion seems to do nothing to define a true morality. Christian Serbs and Saudi Arabs of intense religious belief have both embraced murder and cruelty to innocents as the ultimate expression of their faith, while just next door their co-religionist may completely abhor the very idea. Some text of this or that religion might have something to say on morality but these words can be interpreted by a thousand readers in two thousand ways. And contra-wise, in my own experience I have met many with little or no faith that are profoundly moral, and who push themselves daily to do right and reject wrong.

2011 Running season starts

March 21, 2011 by

So I went for my first race of the season and I gotta say, I was pretty happy with my effort. This speaks less to my ability then to the benefit of racing against low expectations. All winter long I’ve been distressing over my general out-of-shape-ness and pillow like physique. With 50 days in China since October the hotel fitness cub has been my only respite from absolute sloth. So I was dreading this five miler, thinking I would end up walking. But some hasty training runs (including a 5K with my daughter a couple of one milers with my son) gave me the little edge that I needed and I finished at 52:43, with a little extra help from the CBC Radio 3 podcast and a decent last mile kick. Would I normally be pleased with 10:35 minute miles? No way. But those low expectations lifted me up until I felt like a champ.