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Spent the weekend mostly recuperating from the now-concluded job. Got some new prospects in the works, including a phone interview tomorrow (Monday) morning. I popped in for the minyan at Chabad this morning and chazzaned. I'm hoping to start going somewhat regularly once again - after having been away from it for a few weeks - and it was nice that they asked me to lead the prayers.

Portland seems to be finally into a sustained period of nice weather and I got outdoors for about 20 minutes of run/walk today. Planning to do it again tomorrow. What I've been forgetting about those runs is how good I feel afterward.
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You get good at anything by practicing it a lot, and that includes mathematics. I wanted to bring my foundational math skills up to a good strong level, and I didn't want to schlep around a lot of textbooks. So after a little poking around I discovered Kuta Software (based in Istanbul), which markets a line of "Infinite" math worksheet programs aimed at the grade school to college levels.

https://www.kutasoftware.com/index.html

I started using the software last night and I'm very happy with the product. Right now I'm working on solving polynomials by completing the square; this is one of those operations that you can learn step-by-step in a few minutes, but it's only by working many practice problems that it becomes natural.

The topics covered range from arithmetic to calculus. You set the parameters for your worksheet (topic, number of problems, easy/hard, involves fractions or doesn't, etc.) and the program spits out as many worksheets as you want, with fresh problems each time. You can refresh the random values each time so you never run out of problems - hence, "Infinite".

Now that I'm officially working in the IT field, I'm going to want to make sure my technical skills are strong, and notwithstanding my age I'm still hoping to get around to finishing that BS degree in Physics or Engineering. An endless supply of practice math problems will help me stay in the game.
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I've got several boxes full of old CDs and DVDs, all of which I keep meaning to watch or listen to "someday". Last night I decided to give one of those DVDs a go (a production of a Shakespeare play that I'd had for maybe 5 or 6 years) and I put it in the DVD player. A few minutes into the play, the faces of the actors dissolved into blocks of pixels as if they had all been placed under the witness protection program. Soon thereafter, the disc stopped playing entirely.

Disc rot. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_rot] It's the same problem I'd been having with many of my DVDs and audio CDs. Meanwhile, my old vinyl records - some of them inherited from my parents - still play, for the most part, pretty well.

Sony gave us the CD back in the early 1980s [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_disc] and I can remember the extravagant promises that were made about the digital compact disc's durability and longevity. Now I'm wondering if it's time to just cut my losses and toss all my old optical media in the dumpster.

I can watch videos and listen to music on streaming digital media and downloads now. Of course, the continued viability of those media depends on the survival of the technological infrastructure that they inhabit: successive generations of computers, mobile devices, music players, and so on.

I'll confess I have a certain sentimental nostalgia for vinyl - but my reasons for keeping up my vinyl collection are pragmatic. I want a record that'll damn sure play 10 or 20 years from now. I don't know that about my digital tracks, and I certainly don't know it about my CDs, but I know it about my vinyls.

And as for Sony - the folks who brought us the compact disc in the first place - what are they up to these days?

Well ...

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/29/534854280/sony-will-start-making-vinyl-records-again-in-japan-after-nearly-30-year-hiatus

The tables have turned ... at 33 1/3 rpm.
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This weekend I decided to get serious about digging into my Shakespeare. In the course of reading up on the Bard's life, I found the following observation in 'The Riverside Shakespeare':

'Contrary to a fairly widespread impression, there is no special mystery about his life. ... The biographical outline provided by more than a hundred such documents is filled in by well over fifty literary allusions to Shakespeare and his works in the published writings of his contemporaries. But these details, even when they have been eked out by traditions and conjectures, scarcely combine to portray a vivid personality. Modern readers, accustomed by the Romantics to poets who lived their poems and dramatized their lives, have felt somewhat put off by the undramatic nature of the dramatist's private career.'
- Henry Levin in 'The Riverside Shakespeare'.

Well, that will never do. But fear not!

http://www.tntdrama.com/shows/will

'Will tells the wild story of young William Shakespeare's (Laurie Davidson) arrival onto the punk-rock theater scene in 16th century London -- the seductive, violent world where his raw talent faced rioting audiences, religious fanatics and raucous side-shows. It’s a contemporary version of Shakespeare's life, played to a modern soundtrack that exposes all his recklessness, lustful temptations and brilliance.'

So there you go ... Shakespeare's life made as exciting as it ought to have been!

Linkage

Jul. 9th, 2017 03:30 pm
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I'm proud to say that both the author of this piece (Andy Ngo) and one of the subjects (Athena Brown) are friends of mine. The photos are from the June 4 rally at Terry Schrunk Plaza.
https://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2017/07/06/for-this-woman-coming-out-as-transgender-was-easier-than-coming-out-as-pro-trump/

Baldilocks (Juliette Ochieng, my travel buddy on a recent trip to Africa) remembers Whitney Houston.
http://datechguyblog.com/2017/07/04/whitney-houstons-legacy/

Shavu'oth in Abuja, Nigeria.
http://tikvatyisraelsynagogue.blogspot.com/2017/06/sights-and-sound-of-shavuot-57778.html
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After last weekend's long-overdue trip to the Oregon coast, I'm charting the next moves in my work life. I've made it official that I will be "open for new opportunities" as they say in mid-July.

Scorcher

Jun. 25th, 2017 07:35 am
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As my Mom used to say, playfully reverting to her native Maine dialect, "Aiyup, it's gonna be a scotchuh."

Good day to head to the coast, and that's what I plan to do.

Summer

Jun. 20th, 2017 05:52 am
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has well and truly come to Portland. It's 77F in my room right now.

Juneteenth

Jun. 19th, 2017 09:14 pm
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth

'More isolated geographically, Texas was not a battleground, and thus its slaves were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation unless they escaped.[6] Planters and other slaveholders had migrated into Texas from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slaves with them, increasing by the thousands the number of slaves in the state at the end of the Civil War.[7]

Although most slaves lived in rural areas, more than 1000 resided in both Galveston and Houston by 1860, with several hundred in other large towns.[8] By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas.[7] As news of end of the war moved slowly, it did not reach Texas until May 1865, and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2.[7] On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government.[6] On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of "General Order No. 3", announcing the total emancipation of slaves:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.[9]'
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I know that woman.

In jazz-age Harlem, in the winter of 1925-26, an obsessive love triangle leads to murder, madness - and ultimately redemption.

'Jazz' is Toni Morrison's sixth novel, first published in 1992 and following the critical and popular success of 'Beloved'. Like 'Beloved', the story is haunted by a ghost - not the literal ghost of a baby, but the memory of a seventeen-year-old girl. In the 2004 foreword, TM writes that the inspiration for the story came from a James Van Der Zee photograph of a pretty girl in a coffin, and from the discovery of a trunk filled with her mother's memorabilia from her own youth.

I think writing about the period around when you first came into the world must be one of the hardest things. So hard to separate historical fact from your own fanciful childhood memories of a world you scarcely understand, and hearsay told to you by adults and tailored to your understanding. So hard to fill in the spaces, with accuracy and confidence, in that twilight zone of memory.

And in fact the narrative timeline of Morrison's second novel, 'Sula', skips a whole ten-year period (from 1927 to 1937) bracketing the time of the author's own birth in 1931. But now, in 'Jazz', the writer is ready to step into, and fully inhabit, her mother's world.

The narrative voice of 'Jazz' is unique and mysterious: an omniscient first-person narrator who frequently addresses the reader directly. In the foreword, TM writes that the book's style was born of frustration - and of a moment of epiphany and liberation.

The story of Joe, Violet, and Dorcas unfolds at a deliberate pace. All the forces of family love, loss, violence, prejudice, passion, and forgiveness that shape the characters and their relationships are told, bit by bit, in Morrison's spellbinding prose.

In its final pages, the writing is perhaps some of Morrison's most explicitly spiritual. Dorcas' last words remained with me long after I put the book down, as did the closing words of the lonely and disembodied narrator. I get the feeling that it is not only the characters' creator who is speaking, but ours as well.

There is only one apple. ...

I have watched your face for a long time now, and missed your eyes when you went away from me.
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Vir has gone to the Great Maker.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/la-et-mm-stephen-furst-20170617-story.html

Stephen Furst gained fame in 1978 as "Flounder" Dorfman in 'Animal House', but fans of the late-1990s
science fiction series 'Babylon 5' remember him as Vir, attache to the grandiose Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (played by Peter Jurasik). Here he is confronting the sinister Mr. Morden in one of the show's most memorable exchanges:



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Via an academic friend who wishes to remain anonymous:

'From ******** University's "Diversity of Human Experience" requirement guidelines: "In this scoring guide, 'diversity' refers to differences in ethnic, religious, and cultural perspectives, class, race, gender, age, sexual orientation and ability."

This term I had my students critique the university's stated educational requirements (alongside C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man). When we got to this sentence one student asked: "Is it just me, or would an Oxford comma be helpful here?"'
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Maybe you think my religion is stupid. That's fine - sometimes I think my religion is stupid too.

I like being free to explore, question, and re-affirm my beliefs from one day to the next. I love being able to discuss and debate these things with others without fear. One of the great achievements of Western civilization has been the creation of a broad cultural consensus, enshrined in law but deeply rooted in hard-won social norms, that makes possible the free and open discussion of matters of faith without fear of reprisal or persecution.

We are in danger of losing this.

No one will be burned at the stake or imprisoned for attacking Christianity in any Western country. Well and good. But today's self-styled "liberals" who are so proud of their indifference to Jewish and Christian doctrine will bend over backwards to defend Islam against any perceived slight, and to smear and silence those who critique the Muslim faith.

I am under no moral obligation to have a good opinion of Islam, and I don't. Maybe I'm wrong, and you're certainly welcome to debate me on the matter; but I reserve the right to form my own opinion. That doesn't mean that I'm blind to the fact that there are people who are fine, beautiful human beings, and also devout Muslims. It does mean that I'm capable of judging individual human beings by their character - and also of forming judgments about the belief systems that influence the behavior of millions of people.

On my coffee table at this very moment sits a slim, attractively bound paperback titled 'Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment'. Edited and translated by Caroline Warman and others, it's an anthology of the founding texts of the European Enlightenment.

The book was conceived and produced in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders as a tribute to the highest ideals of the French Republic. A far nobler and more constructive gesture than lighting candles and posting "Je Suis Charlie" on social media - and yet, still tragic. Because in the end, the jihadis unequivocally won. Charlie Hebdo continued publishing, but never again dared incur Muslim wrath with cartoons of Mohammed.

"Can Islam be reformed?" This is a question asked by many well-meaning Westerners. Personally I think it is only answerable by the Muslim world as a whole. Whether Muslims "reform" their religion or abandon it altogether is of no concern to me; what I care about is the practical outcome.

I do not entirely understand the solicitude of Western non-Muslim liberals for the well-being of Islam. They want to defend it from criticism and even save it from itself. It's almost as if, having abandoned church and synagogue themselves, they remain in the grip of an unacknowledged craving for religion.

What I do know is that I care about my relationship with the Creator and with the sacred tradition that I (however imperfectly) follow. I care about the freedom to use my gift of reason to investigate the meaning of the Scriptures and the findings of science. I care about living in a world where people treat one another with the kindness and dignity befitting beings made in the image of G-d.
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My friend and fellow Viking Andy Ngo first made waves at Portland State University with his feature on minority students who support Donald Trump:

http://psuvanguard.com/traitors-the-minorities-who-support-donald-trump/



Last April, Andy lost his job at the Portland State Vanguard for simply publicizing the words of a Muslim speaker in an open forum:

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/447563/free-speech-islam-i-was-fired-my-student-newspaper-reporting-truth

'At one point, a woman in the audience asked the Muslim student if a specific verse in the Koran actually permitted the killing of non-Muslims. “I can confidently tell you, when the Koran says an innocent life, it means an innocent life, regardless of the faith, the race, like, whatever you can think about as a characteristic,” he began. At this point, I took out my mobile phone and began recording as he continued: And some, this, that you’re referring to, killing non-Muslims, that [to be a non-believer] is only considered a crime when the country’s law, the country is based on Koranic law — that means there is no other law than the Koran. In that case, you’re given the liberty to leave the country, you can go in a different country, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. So you can go in a different country, but in a Muslim country, in a country based on the Koranic laws, disbelieving, or being an infidel, is not allowed so you will be given the choice [to leave]. ...'

The video clip is here: https://twitter.com/MrAndyNgo/status/857469487909490688/video/1

And more on the incident at The College Fix: https://www.thecollegefix.com/post/32616/

Andy was punished, not for anything he himself said against Islam or Muslims, but for simply reporting what a Muslim speaker said, publicly, about Islam. What's being punished is the imagined "intolerance" of someone daring to question Islam, but not an expression of intolerance from within Islam itself.
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Portland's 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade was scheduled this year for April 29, Saturday, but was cancelled due to threats because the parade would have included the Multnomah County Republican Party.

http://www.oregonlive.com/rosefest/index.ssf/2017/04/organizers_cancel_82nd_avenue.html

'Organizers of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade announced Tuesday that the event will be canceled, for fear that the east Portland parade could be disrupted by "the type of riots which happen in downtown Portland." ...

At least two protests were planned for the day of the parade, one by Oregon Students Empowered and another by Direct Action Alliance. Both events were mentioned in an email sent to parade organizers on Saturday, threatening to shut down the event with hundreds of protesters in the street.

"You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely," the anonymous email said, telling organizers they could cancel the Republican group's registration or else face action from protesters. "This is non-negotiable." ...'

But demonstrations happened anyway:

http://www.kgw.com/news/politics/march-for-free-speech-counter-protest-lines-82nd-avenue/435194023

'Soon after the parade was canceled, Joey Gibson and other local conservatives organized a replacement march, called it the “March for Free Speech”.

“The mission is to promote freedom, free speech and to basically go through these liberal areas and have a right to just speak and show what we believe in,” he said.

The event kicked off at 10 a.m. at Montavilla Park.

From the beginning, Portland police were on hand, keeping Gibson’s group separate from about 60 counter-protesters. ...'

Video from KGW's Maggie Vespa:

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Via my friend Yehudah Kimani.

https://www.gofundme.com/help-build-synagogue-in-kenya

'Kehillat kasuku was founded 18 years ago,and offcourse we are happy to stay forever.Am Yehudah Ben Yosaiv ,community Leader and educator.
Our community is in central part ,in kenya highlands around mt kenya region.this is a 2-3 hours drive from Nairobi city.We are 20 families here,more story at http://www.timesofisrael.com/the-isolated-jews-of-rural-kenya-starting-from-aleph-with-a-lulav-and-etrog/
Our mission is to create an accessible spritual home,where all jews,regardless of affiliation or background,are warmly embraced and welcomed into our community. In this 18 years we have been praying together,study,socilize and dine together as families of Israel.We are the only shomer Shabbat Synagogue in our area and such play a vital role.We are proud jews and have taken a lead to bring peace and unity in our village that is of many differnt faith.
In the previous years,our small community have grown and expanded.And in all the growing numbers it rely on this community to have a beautiful shabbat experince together.After a long while having our temporaly tent like synagogue.we found it was worthy build a permanent Shul that will shelter us from cold,wind,hot sun,and heavy rain that floods in our synagogue and for our growing children.Is very unfortunate sometimes in all this weathers we fail to do the services due to harsh condition of either. ...'

Full article, with photos, at the link.
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http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/the-brain-as-computer-bad-at-math-good-at-everything-else

'f course, the brain didn’t evolve to perform arithmetic. So it does that rather badly. But it excels at processing a continuous stream of information from our surroundings. And it acts on that information—sometimes far more rapidly than we’re aware of. No matter how much energy a conventional computer consumes, it will struggle with feats the brain finds easy, such as understanding language and running up a flight of stairs.

If we could create machines with the computational capabilities and energy efficiency of the brain, it would be a game changer. Robots would be able to move masterfully through the physical world and communicate with us in plain language. Large-scale systems could rapidly harvest large volumes of data from business, science, medicine, or government to detect novel patterns, discover causal relationships, or make predictions. Intelligent mobile applications like Siri or Cortana would rely less on the cloud. The same technology could also lead to low-power devices that can support our senses, deliver drugs, and emulate nerve signals to compensate for organ damage or paralysis. ...'

The Rally

Jun. 7th, 2017 08:38 pm
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So, I went to this last Sunday.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1927691894133941/

Short version first: It was an amazing experience. I saw Andy there, and finally got to meet Athena and Leo and a number of other local people that I'd only interacted with online. Marco and Harim came up from Cali and I got my picture taken with Harim. A street preacher talked about sin and forgiveness, and a trans activist stomped on a communist flag. This big, friendly Polynesian guy named Tiny started the whole thing off with a warrior dance.

The folks on the other side tried to make trouble for us, but they didn't even make a dent. The Portland police did a good job of keeping order. I had been a bit apprehensive about the event, and didn't decide until the last minute that I was going to go at all. But it was incredible, energizing, and a great chance to build bonds with people I hadn't met before but needed to.

I've already posted (without much context) a few pictures from the event. I'll have more to say soon, both about the rally itself and events leading up to it. But I've had a super busy day and I need to be turning in soon.
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Weather looks to be decent again today. Clear and mild, but not too hot. My window looks out to the west and I can see the pink-orange light of dawn on the tall building of the new Civic Apartments on the next block. (The new Civic bears no resemblance to its old namesake, a cavernous concrete eyesore that was torn down a few years after I first moved here.)

I got up at 4 because I like to allow myself a good two hours of me time in the morning before I leave for work.

I'm still working at the call center but I've got a phone interview at lunch today and a video interview tomorrow after work. (Need to remember to set up Google Hangouts.)

Plans for tonight include making more headway in Toni Morrison's 'Jazz' (her sixth novel). It's a story of jealousy and obsession sett in 1920s Harlem. The story, according to TM's foreword, was inspired by James Van Der Zee's photograph of a deceased young woman at a funeral, and by TM's youthful encounter with a trunk filled with her mother's memorabilia from her own youth. (I immediately thought of Samuel R. Delany's 'Atlantis', in which SRD imagines his father's world in the same place and time.) I'm hoping to finish it by this weekend and do a write-up for Amazon.

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