Links for the week of September 4th, 2009

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For Love of Information

An analog thread in the digital world

I’m a little bit of an information pack rat.  I started blogging before there were blogs, from UGCS.  It seemed mildly neurotic and self involved and exhibitionist at the time.  I mostly did it for my mom as a way to keep in touch without having to e-mail all the time.  I’ve lost information here and there, even digital information (which seems kind of unforgivable), but analog too.  Actually, I think more I just didn’t create much analog information.  Five intense months of life, bicycling across Europe in 1994.  Maybe 2 rolls of film total?  Almost no photos from my summer in Russia.  Both my parents were avid photographers.  My dad professionally (though eventually he tired of the weddings and quinceañeras, and retreated to a steady stream of passport and similar photos… para las micas rosas, y para amnestia…) and my mom (so far as I can tell) more personally.  Family pictures, documentarian style, wildflowers, and some prizes in the Fresno County Fair.  But I never got into it, until I got a digital camera in 1999.  My first piece of digital film was a 64 MB compact-flash card (incredibly, several times larger than the 20 MB hard disk in my first computer, which I got in 1993).  It cost about $100.  The camera was a Nikon Coolpix 700, with 2.1 MP sensor and no zoom.  I bought it in an online auction (at Yahoo!) for $425, but had the seller leave me feedback at eBay (you could leave anyone feedback for anything back then).  I mailed the check, and he mailed the camera, simultaneously, trusting each other.  I still have our e-mails.  The pictures could go directly to the web… via the web server I had running in my bedroom in Santa Cruz.  I still have those pictures.  No developing.  No cost-per-click of the shutter.  Kayaking through Southeast Alaska with Becky in the summer of 2000 I had to limit the resolution to 640 x 480 to avoid running out of space over 3 months, and I couldn’t use the LCD lest I run out of batteries, but at least I took the pictures, and kept them.

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Shared Links for Jun 26th – Jul 7th

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Shared Links for Jun 25th

Shared Links for May 29th

What Are Cities For?

Kurt recently asked me:

Assuming (1) that you like the outdoors, open spaces, gardening, etc. and (2) that you would prefer high-density urban design to low-density, suburban, car-oriented sprawl, then how would you fuse these two together in an ideal town? If my assumptions are wrong, I realize my question is moot.

I am asking because I like the idea of owning acres of land, but not the idea of having to drive everywhere, and I wonder if those two desires are mutually exclusive.

and it got me thinking about what my ideal city would be like, and how close one can get to that in this lifetime, especially on this continent.  I’m going to make this an exercise in creative idealism.  Kurt’s assumptions are right, and I do feel torn, especially having grown up in a rural area, on 8 acres of oak woodland with a creek running through it.  I am completely sympathetic to the pastoral urge, but that urge is not and never has been satisfied by the suburban existence which has come to typify the American experience in the last half century.

A small urban plaza

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A Letter to Richard Rhodes

Dear Richard Rhodes,

Thank you for writing The Making of the Atomic Bomb.  It was beautiful, and terrible, in the way I imagine a nuclear detonation might be.  It deeply changed the way I think and feel about history, about technology, and about the role and limitations of human volition and foresight in the making and potential unmaking of our world.  Somehow you made these people human, and independent of the roles they played.  You made the science beautiful, and the history engaging.  Given that books like yours exist, I am appalled that I was not required to read them in the course of my scientific education, and instead have had to stumble across them on my own.  I think science and engineering students deserve to have some understanding of the potential scope and consequence of our work, for better or for worse, before we are turned loose on the world.  Too often the ethical and philosophical impacts of technology are left completely unaddressed, or even shunned as irrelevant by scientists, until after the effects are widespread.  I doubt this kind of education would have much substantive impact on the overall course of history, or technological development, but I once attended a talk at Caltech by Hans Bethe on the Manhattan Project, and even after half a century he broke down into tears on stage.  He said he didn’t regret having helped create the bomb — that it had to be done — but that he felt guilty for having enjoyed it.  I would prefer that we were better prepared for the possibility of bearing that kind of responsibility, and for taking it on knowingly, as I think Oppenheimer and Rabi did, instead of only realizing our roles after the fact.

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Shared Links for Mar 14th

Shared Links for Mar 6th