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October 30, 2006

San Simeon Kayaking

Over the Labor Day weekend, Elizabeth and I drove up through the central coast of California. (Yes, I am almost two months late in posting these pictures.) We stayed some in San Simeon, famous for the Hearst Castle. It was peaceful and relaxing; a welcome change of pace.

Amusingly enough, we ended up not going to the Heast Castle at all. (We had been there before.) We had a good kayaking trip with the Sea For Yourself kayaking rental/tour company, and they were dedicated to ensuring that we made use of our time on the water. (Pictures are attached below.) After a long shower and a short nap, we had lunch at The Ragged Point Inn, up the coast a bit. The food was good, but they were understaffed and we had to wait quite a while. (The restaurant business in Los Angeles is competitive, while usually translates into great service. I've grown use to it.) We also spent some time in Cambria, wandering around the touristy areas. Supposedly, a restaurant in the area has great olallieberry pies, but we didn't have enough meals to find it.

On our way back down to Los Angeles, we drove through the Santa Barbara wine country. We had been up there in March, for some wine tasting. (I have not posted pictures for that, oddly enough, but it was another pleasant long weekend.) We had bought a good bottle of Pinot Noir at the Lincourt Winery on our previous trip, so we stopped, tasted some more, bought another bottle. (It's a small world after all: There were three couples that were in the tasting room, including us, and all of us lived within about two miles of each other in Los Angeles. Elizabeth had babysat for one of them, many years ago!) After several glasses of wine at Lincourt, lunch at the Los Olivos Cafe seemed all the tastier.

We need the rest and relaxation for the drive back to Los Angeles, as the 101S was packed.

Elizabeth was at the front of our two-person kayak.
I was the powerhouse, the workhorse, the Johnson Outboard in the back of our boat.
The cove had some great kelp beds, which served as nice stabilizing points for the kayakers. Our guide said that seals sometimes wrap themselves in the kelp while they sleep, so they don't drift off.
The Hearst Castle was up in the hills.
A picture of our kayak, courtesy of the guide. The north edge of the cove was much warmer than the middle.
There is lots of life in the kelp, even at small scales, including small water insects and shrimp. The water was fairly clear.
Starfish hung out at the cove walls.
The kayaks were trailed (at a safe distance) by friendly seals.

October 29, 2006

Dawkins At Caltech

Richard Dawkins, a well-known author and evolutionary biologist, gave a lecture at Caltech this Saturday, sponsored by the Skeptics society. We were fortunate to attend, thanks to a co-worker who is a Caltech graduate.

The Beckman Auditorium (on Caltech's campus) was sold out, and there were lines of people waiting to get it. The auditorium seats 1150, and we got seats in the back of the first level. There was a surprising (to me) number of senior citizens, considering that Caltech contains many young students. (Other people in my group, based on their experience with other extra-curricular lectures on campus, pointed out that older members of the nearby community are the most likely to attend these types of things.) It was definitely a friendly crowd for Dawkins, and they erupted into cheers and applause at several of his statements. There were relatively few nutcases. The afternoon began with the president of the Skeptics society advertising their email list, lecture series, and upcoming geology tour in southern California and Nevada ("Evolution: The fossils say 'Yes!'").

The first 45 minutes of the session were mostly readings from Dawkins new book, The God Delusion. He started off by making an important distinction: There are some people (including many scientists) who use religious language to describe the feeling of awe and connection that they have with the world and its workings. He called this "Einsteinian religion", as Einstein occasionally wrote about such things. It is a completely natural belief, as opposed to supernatural. The other type of religion is faith-based, and is the type of thing that encouraged by the major organized religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc). Dawkins said that the proponents of supernatural religions sometimes (intentionally or not) delude themselves into thinking that scientists are talking about religion in the same way that they are. They are not. He cited Thomas Jefferson several times, enough that made me wonder if Dawkins was flirting with Deism, but he rejected the notion of a creator god. He made the interesting point that intelligence (due to its complexity) seems to be a latecomer to the universe, so it doesn't make too much sense to think of an active intelligence creating the universe.

Dawkins also argued that, contrary to Christians, the Bible is not sufficient to establish a system of ethics. He read pointed out several horrifying passages. (They are classics in the atheist playbook, of course. I personally enjoyed Paine's account of them in Age Of Reason.) It could be argued that those passages aren't the important ones, or they aren't really good examples, or that faulty humans misinterpreted the word of God. But we must be presupposing some other source for ethics other than the Bible, in order to know that those passages are not right.

I enjoyed the question and answer session afterwards. This lasted over an hour, and it was interesting to see how Dawkins' responses would affect the crowd (based on the number of hands that would raise to make follow-up questions). One set of questions / answers had to do with the reasons for (revealed) religion, including a question about the evolutionary significance of religion. Dawkins said that it isn't the right question to ask, and made an analogy to the question: "What is the evolutionary significance to moths flying into flames?" Evolution provided moths with a rule of thumb (fly toward the light) that tended to work well in its original situation. Self-immolation is a byproduct of that rule of thumb. Dawkins suggested that there is evolutionary significance for children to believe their parents, and religion is a byproduct of that.

In another vein of questions, he pointed out that extremists and terrorists are a small portion of the overall (faith-based) religious community. However, "moderate" clerics share some amount of blame, though, as they foster an environment that allows "extremists" to be unquestioned. If one should not (or even, can not) question the rationale behind one's beliefs (i.e. if faith is allowed as a way of knowing and is unquestioned), then extremists can justify anything. I was reminded of an observation soon after the September 11th attacks, in the suburban neighborhoods near my parents in Indiana: There were a surprising number of homes that had a small placard posted in their front yard, with a list of the Ten Commandments on them. I think that they were trying to point that that terrorists were either not Christian, or that murder was wrong, or maybe it was time to get "old testament" on the terrorist-supporting nations. While perhaps those things are true, they seemed to miss the point: The Islamic extremists are explicitly religious, and their problem seems to be too much faith rather than too little.

In the Q&A session, Dawkins suggested something to do: We should not allow children to be categorized by the religion their parents. There is no such thing as a Muslim child or a Christian child… Their parents are Moslems or Christians, but the children themselves have not yet formed their own, independent minds about such things. (Elizabeth pointed out, afterward, the difficulty of dealing with the children of Jehovah's Witnesses in the hospital, when they need blood transfusions. The children themselves are not Jehovah's Witnesses... Their parents are.)

There was one disappointment: One questioner asked what Dawkins thought about Ayn Rand's philosophy, in particular her view of reason as the basis for ethics and that there are no conflicts between rational men. Dawkins responded that he wasn't familiar with her work. That strikes me as odd, as Rand is well-known within the secular humanist world. Dawkins had talked the entire afternoon about the virtues of scientific thinking and the failure of faith as a guide… It seems strange that he would not be familiar with the thinking of someone as close to him. Dawkins is British, though, so perhaps Rand's influence is not as large there.

Overall, it was an excellent afternoon, with interesting ideas. I will have to take a closer look at Dawkins' writings.

I looked around for some other blog reviews, and didn't find much. Comment #5 talks about Dawkins' visit to NYC. More info about Dawkins' book tour is available.

Bathroom, Part 3: Days 6 through 10

Well, much progress was made last week on the bathroom but there is still a lot to do. A history and some pictures below.

  • Day 6-8 (Monday through Wednesday): Tiling. It looks like the majority of the shower and floor tiling is complete.
  • Day 9 (Thursday): Although the construction guys were here, I do not know how long, and I did not see any progress.
  • Day 10 (Friday): They started work on the ceiling (cutting out holes for the new vent and lights).

There is still lots to do: The installation of the shower door, the installation of the vanity and medicine cabinets, finishing the ceiling and lights, and repainting.

Previous pictures: Days 1-3 and Days 4-5.

Day 6: The soap/shampoo hole, already in use.
Framing of the shower bench.
Day 7: The shower floor tiles were added.
Two of the three walls are pretty much done. Note that the soap hole got its tiles, and that each of walls got a little tile decoration. The decorations are not as big as I thought that they would be, but are a nice subtle touch.
Day 8: The other wall and bench seem complete. It looks quite nice, really.
Day 10: Holes in the ceiling, for the new fan/light assembly. I wonder how the previous hole will be covered up.

October 22, 2006

Bathroom, Part 2: Days 4 and 5

The saga of the bathroom reconstruction continues. I've attached some pictures from Thursday and Friday night.

Day 4: The new shower will have a built in seat. This was the framing of it.
Construction of the new pocket door, between the bathroom and the bedroom
More of the pocket door construction. This required removing both sides of the bedroom/bathroom wall.
Inside the pocket door. This will never be seen again.
The shower will have a built-in shelf for soap and shampoo.
Day 5: The bathroom / bedroom wall facings were remade.
Some of the new floor tiles were laid. The color isn't exactly right, because of the thick (choking) layer of dust.
More tiles. The grout wasn't put between the tiles yet.
I also procured a new showerhead. It looks cool, and it should even be better once I remove the flow limiter. The man will not prevent me from taking a good shower.

Wealth creation

Here's an interesting article on wealth creation. (Via Virgina Postrel.) This was an essay in the book Hackers and Painters, which looks like something that I should have read a long time ago.

October 19, 2006

Bathroom Remodeling Part 1

We decided to remodel the master bathroom, and, at long last, employed a general contractor, Building America after several quotes. They began work this past Monday, and it looks like it will take through early next week. It will include a new tile floor, a new (and more efficient) door layout, new sink and vanity, new medicine cabinets, new ceiling, etc. It will be great.

I disassembled my entertainment center on Sunday night. I had that thing since my grad school days. My dad and I had assembled it when I first moved in, and it was well-constructed.
The old shower. Old tiles, 1975's style door, difficult to maintain.
The old ceiling. The fan was loud, rusty, and didn't fit well.
The old sink. Cracked. 1975's style vanity. Mirrors that were discolored. The fixtures on the sink were fairly new, as my dad had installed them about a year or so ago (due to leak problems).
The old vanity.
The first day of demolition. The shower is no more.
The first day of demolition. The vanity is no more.
The third day. They sealed the bottom of the shower with a tar-like substance.
The shower valves. Unfortunately, they are buried in the wall, and it requires that the complex water be turned off for a significant amount of time, if we were to replace.
The area without the vanity. They replaced the shutoff valves.

October 05, 2006

Coordinate Transformations In Visio

Everybody does coordinate transformations with translation and rotation. There is nothing too challenging there. Microsoft Visio, takes it a bit further, though, and includes translation, rotation, and flipping (mirroring) around the local x/y axes. When working on a recent project in Visio, we needed to find the global page coordinates, given the local shapesheet coordinates. This required a little bit of thought into the coordinate transformations that Visio must use.

The figure below shows the situation. The local coordinate system (in black) is rotated (angle theta) around the point (locX, locY) in local coordinates. Visio provides the point of rotation also in page coordinates, as (PinX, PinY). The point of interest is given in local coordinates as (ptX, ptY). (This might be Connection point 1, Controls.Row_1, etc.)

The trick is that the ShapeSheet also contains the properties FlipX and FlipY. If FlipX is TRUE and FlipY is FALSE, then you get a scenario like:

If FlipX is FALSE and FlipY is TRUE, then:

IIf FlipX and FlipY are both TRUE, then:

Fortunately, inspection of the graphs above, shows the normal coordinate rotation matrix can be easily altered in the presence of flipping.

Where (capital) X and Y are the point of interest in page coordinates, (lower case) x and y are the point of interest in local coordinates (given in the ShapeSheet), l_x is LocPinX, l_y is LocPinY (the point of rotation in local coordinates), theta is the rotation of the local coordinate system (Angle in the ShapeSheet), and PinX and PinY are the point of rotation in the page coordinates. f_x is 1 if FlipX=FALSE, and -1 if FlipX=TRUE, and similar for f_y.

No big deal, but I doubt that I will remember this if I don't write it down.