A seat of your own

Do you have that one item that makes your bedroom or your apartment truly your own? Perhaps it’s a poster of Jim Morrison you’ve had since you were a teenager, or a TV you watch every night before bed, or a forty-year-old longboard you bought off a kid for fifty dollars that consumes an entire corner of your room. Hey, I’ve got one of those too. Regardless of what it is, surely this item exists. For me, it’s my grandfather’s brown velvet armchair. Nothing says welcome home like sitting in that chair and kicking your feet up. Tuesday, that chair arrived in my dorm room courtesy of my parents. Now, finally, my place feels complete.

A little back-story on the chair: as long as I can remember I was always fond of it. The first attraction was probably one of touch, it’s incredibly soft and when you are young, things like that draw your attention. I remember rubbing my cheek against it, the chair always smelled like my grandfather’s pipe tobacco. I also liked the color, sort of a dark chocolate, but in the sunlight it would reflect a few different shades of auburn. Another draw was that it spun and when you’re young that can provide hours of amusement. I remember sitting in the chair with my cousins and spinning it round and round until one of the adults would threaten us to quit it. Then we’d wait till they left the room and start it up again. The chair sat for years on my grandparents back porch, which was a tiny living room with a TV and a black iron fireplace. My grandfather would always sit in it when the grownups were talking. That was Pa’s chair.

Years flew by, eventually newer, better furniture forced the chair to be moved out on to the enclosed deck at the back of the house, a sort of limbo for all the things my grandmother refused to part with. You see, my grandmother is a terrible packrat, but that is a story in itself. There the chair sat for years, through my grandfather’s battle with cancer, after his death, through four years of high school, visit after visit, right up to the point my grandmother decided to sell the house. And then, with no place to go, the chair made its way out to the side of the road, ready to be forgotten.

I remember that day. Sitting on the steps of their house, watching it from where it sat on the side of the road, recalling all the times I’d seen my grandfather relaxing in the chair with his pipe. It made me sad. That was his chair, seeing it leave the family was like loosing a piece of him. So I adopted it. And now it’s always there for me, a comfortable seat at the end of the day, there to remind me of him. It’s still Pa’s chair, I’m just… keeping it warm.

The most trusted name in news?

Yesterday in Jefferson County, Colorado, some 54-year old creep named Dwayne Morrison snuck into a school and took six female students hostage. Over the next several hours, police worked to negotiate with him over the release of the girls. Tragically, a sixteen year old girl was killed in the incident and if anyone cares, the gunman is also dead. While I have no comments on the actions of the police department, I do have some comments on the media coverage, especially in the national aspect. As often as I do watch CNN, I found that yesterdays broadcast of the hostage situation utterly pathetic. Here is an article from the Denver Post by Joanne Ostrow, which is a fairly accurate outline of just how bad it was:

Midway through the hostage crisis at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, the anchors on CNN Headline News excitedly shifted focus. The wife of the gunman is one of the hostages, they reported inaccurately.

That means it is not a random shooting but an escalated domestic situation, they explained. Quickly, they jumped on a new line of questions: “How often is a hostage situation a crime of passion?”

Another miserably wrong speculation: While watching a body on a stretcher being loaded slowly onto a helicopter, CNN opined that the emergency workers were not rushing, “probably because the injury is not severe.”

Misinformation, speculation and backtracking were the norm through a tense afternoon of media coverage Wednesday as the nation once again watched a Colorado school crisis unfold.

For the first hour, the media’s aerial shots focused on the administration building as the site of the events, instead of the second floor of the high school.

Columbine coverage was on everyone’s mind as local media rushed to the scene, with each of the four network affiliates providing shots via helicopter to national news networks. Columbine residue was apparent even in the questions asked at a school-side news conference: “What was the gunman wearing?” Was a black trench coat on anyone’s mind?

On the plus side, no local stations put students on the air via cellphone from inside Platte Canyon High, as happened during Columbine. There was no discussion on 24-hour cable of who was hiding where, as during the 1999 tragedy.

Lessons learned in 1999 saved local TV from committing the same mistakes, but the flow of misinformation and unconfirmed reports was disheartening.

“There are always lessons to learn every time you do this. Every time, mistakes are made and there will be some moment you wish you could take back,” said KMGH-Channel 7 news director Byron Grandy. You hope the new lessons “play out in muscle memory” the next time.

With Columbine in mind, local stations proceeded carefully. But even the lessons learned and sorrowful memories of seven years ago were not enough to keep the national cable networks from letting competitive fervor push the line on good judgement.

Very sad.

I’ve been BOINCing all night.

Some time ago, on another blog, I enthusiastically pumped a little program called BOINC. No, it’s not some hot new program for downloading porn. BOINC stands for Berkley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. BOINC cleverly uses your computers downtime (you know, all that time you aren’t on facebook, when you have some cool away message up for your boyfriend) to run small programs that perform various scientific tasks. You see, some research programs, such as SETI, gather so much data that there is literally too much to analyze in a lifetime.

Solution: BOINC.

After installing BOINC, you can configure it to take data from the a list of programs and have your compute the mass amounts of data out there. When the analysis is complete, your computer sends the data back to the source and downloads the next bunch for analysis. Nifty, huh?

Aside from SETI, BOINC works worth several scientific programs. For example:

BBC Climate Change Experiment – Study of transient climate change model predictions.

Seasonal Attribution Project – High resolution variant of CPDN, taking a more in depth look at certain regional areas.

Einstein@Home – Search for gravitational waves to reveal the presence of neutron stars (pulsars).

LHC@Home – Model and improve the design of the LHC particle accelerator (My personal favorite).

Rosetta@Home – Predict and design protein structures, and protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions using the Rosetta program.

SETI@Home – Look for radio evidence of extraterrestrial life (as mentioned above).

SIMAP@Home – Study of protein similarities.

SZTAKI Desktop Grid – Hungarian project. Details hard to come by for the non-Hungarian reader. This project is exploring a mathematical domain looking for solutions to a particular problem space.

I invite everyone to check it out and pt your computers downtime in the hands of science. What have you got to loose?

Mysterious Brown Box

I got a package in the mail this week, Allan Weisbecker’s newest book Can’t You Get Along with Anyone?, numbered edition complete with my name in the Special Thanks section. Kick ass. I managed to make it through the first five chapters before work tonight, I’m hoping to find time to really hit it hard this week. So far, so good. Allan has a style to his writing that makes you feel like he’s sitting in the room with you. His stories lie somewhere between awesome and unbelievable and he tells it all in the most brutally honest way, regardless of how he is depicted.

I became a fan of Weisbecker after reading his second book In Search of Captain Zero. The book chronicles the search for his lost friend in the wilds of Central America, while recounting some of their extraordinary past adventures. Amazon.com does it best by saying…

It offers up a vision of innocent times brought to ruin by war and drugs; it recounts his search for his lost friend, whose life had gone from bad to worse far away from home; and it affords a look inside the strange culture of surfing, whose masters “understood, in a visceral and soulful and inexpressible way, the machinations of the sea, and, by subtle inference, the universe at large.”

That’s what I was trying to say.

His other book, Cosmic Banditos chronicles two banditos in their hilarious search to understand quantum physics. This is certainly my favorite Weisbecker work, and if I haven’t tried to pass off my dog eared, underlined copy to you at some point, we aren’t spending enough time together.

Weisbecker, I have to admit, takes second front to my current reading project, Dante’s Inferno; required reading for my Literary Themes class. I think the Inferno is a fantastic visual journey, despite the fact that it’s poetry, it’s brimming with religious and personal subtexts. Oh wait, that’s what poetry is. I’m already through the first eleven Cantos and my desk is covered with notes and ideas. I’ve also managed to read nearly every article on Neanderthal physiology published in the last eighty years. If anyone feels like debating Neanderthal predation and diet based on stable isotope evidence, bring it on. I need to vent.

So reading becomes my new life.  By the time the end of the semester comes around, I may have more than a few volumes under my belt.

Try to grab a copy of Allan’s book if you can.  Check your local bookstore or stop on over to his website.

More soon.