2015 in Review

I guess it’s worth trying to summarize what, if anything, I accomplished or at least experienced in the past year. Working in education, there’s a constant reminder to self that reflection is as important to growth and learning as absorbing new ideas and doing things.  So here goes:


As a nerd this is the most easily quantified as I look at the digital trail I’m leaving behind. In 2015 I tried out quite a few new programming platforms, languages and frameworks. I built things in the cloud with Javascript, Ruby, Python, Go, Swift, PHP, Reactive.JS and the Flux paradigm, Flask, Bootstrap, Material Design, d3 (a Javascript data visualization library), Grape (a Ruby API builder), Android and iOS SDKs, Xcode, Eclipse, Google App Engine and Google APIs, Amazon Web Services, Docker, HTTP Live Streaming (both on the client and on the server side), and static website generators (Pelican and Jekyll).

I created 5 new and updated 20 public source code repositories on Github.com.

To get acquainted with the Internet of Things, I tinkered with Arduino, the Particle Spark, RFM69 wireless chips, and the BeagleBone Black single-board computer. My electronics (and construction) tools and skills are still very rudimentary, so here’s a place for growth in the coming year.

I also got hands-on about (especially the MakerBot Replicator) 3D printers (how they work, how to calibrate them, how to repair them).

I upgraded my school district’s network to a new firewall and helped move students and staff toward a cloud-based future and away from reliance on individual workstations and physical servers (bidding farewell to 9-year-old Apple Xserves when they fail ungracefully).


Because of my school district’s master plan to modernize our school campuses, I learned a lot about (and generated even more questions about) what the physical and technological demands of a 21st century classroom should be. EdCamps, Google Hangouts, and face-to-face meetings (especially with talented groups of people like those on the CETPA Edtech mailing list, BAISNet, the Stanford FabLearn attendees, and the Bay Area Maker Educators Google Plus community) helped immensely, and I hope that I might have provided a few useful comments in return.

Personal Growth

I don’t think I changed substantially for the better in 2015, but some milestones made an impact. There was an afternoon in April at a magnificent villa in Rio de Janeiro that my family and I spent reviewing touching correspondence that my late father received 40 years ago and that was essentially sealed away until recently. And my mother’s passing after a slow 10 year decline into forgetfulness and silence as sad as it was, did create opportunities to reach out to my siblings and their families and to eventually have a short but meaningful reunion on a beautiful New England October weekend.

In the dubious distinction category I logged 269 films on Letterboxd during 2015. Films continue to impart meaning to me, and my watchlist (films I need to see) grows longer every year, and I hope you had or have a chance to see some of the films on my 19-best list of 2015.

Flamenco update

Rocio Molina, from http://www.tristeyazul.com/Noticias_Flamenco/Fotos/Rocio_Molina_04.jpg
Rocio Molina, from http://www.tristeyazul.com/Noticias_Flamenco/Fotos/Rocio_Molina_04.jpg

It’s been nearly a year since I posted about being swept away by Belen Maya in Carlos Saura’s “Flamenco”.  Maya and her young Malaguena dance partner, Rocio Molina, recently performed their latest exhibition of Flamenco energy, “Mujeres”, at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass.

Due to good fortune (who says 2009 is unlucky?) the stars aligned, and my wife and I made a quick getaway/pilgrimage to the East Coast to see the show.  We and our friends were not disappointed. Experiencing in person the tremendous accomplishments of these two women is something I find akin to the feelings I sometimes get while watching this year’s Tour de France every morning: here are athletic artists at the top of their form, giving every moleculue of their body and soul to their craft.  And there is the danger that the young artist presents to her mentor, as well.

Once again, I am out of my league as someone who knows absolutely nothing about dance.  But you cannot avoid being affected by the physical and emotional confrontation of these two women, or by the music of the cantaores and guitarras who back them up.

You can’t really describe these ephemeral passages of sweat, anger, motion, and despair, with a bit of happiness.  After coming home, I got around to reading Alastair Macauley’s words from the New York Times review.  There was an extract that resonated with what I cannot put out of my memory of that June evening.  “[Rocio Molina’s] shoulders are on the high side, but there’s no undue tension in them or in the neck.  Just the side tilt of her head or the isolated roll of one shoulder can be unexpected and delectable. Her neck and shoulders can yield creamily, and her head falls back, ecstatically.”

We were seated two rows away from those amazing shoulders.  The roll of Molina’s shoulder and her twisting fall can be frightenting as well as delectable.  The photo (from a performance in Malaga) captures a little of Molina’s mood.

Fados, a film by Carlos Saura
Fados, a film by Carlos Saura

In the meantime, Saura’s latest film, “Fados”, has come and left the Bay Area too fast for me to catch it, even though the reviews for it had an eerily similar mention of the fado performers’ power and intensity, caught by Saura’s unflinching lens.  Maybe it will come back to town or to PFA.  I’m there as soon as it does.

No direction home

Taliesin sky V-dub
No direction home Mad mailbox

The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes

The more you hear Highway 61 Revisited the more it resonates with
the feeling of angst and doom anyone born in 1951 feels today. The road
from Hibbing to New Orleans is the road from Joe McCarthy to Karl Rove,
from My Lai to Tikrit, from Esso to Enron.

In Scorsese’s tribute, Joan Baez had it right when she said that for
the people who heard Dylan’s music, it cut right through to their
hearts. After a few beers at the Corte Madera Oktoberfest, even the
walk back to my house could be Highway 61, or even Rue Morgue Avenue.

You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

See for yourself…

Goin’ digital

My 20 year old travel companion   http://www.worldofescher.com/gallery/jpgs/P11.jpg
http://www.pictosphere.com/jpegs/portrait_small.jpg   4 dimensional candleholder

We’ll be on the right coast this week, with a new content grabber, the Canon PowerShot S70, wide enough for architectural photography. If the weather smiles on us, there may be things to discuss. Hopefully, the author will find that the transition from emulsion (and a 10-pound SLR with bulky shift lens) to CompactFlash is as liberating as the transition from handwriting to WordPress.

What will be interesting for my techie side is what you can do in post-photography to build architectural images, given 7.1 megapixels and some good tools. Panorama Tools (or a freeware replacement for it) should help compensate the loss of a real tilt-shift lens. The transformations of this little software package are pretty astounding. I like the attitude of the developer, Helmut Dersch, when he states that with his software and the right equipment “previously impossible effects can be realized.” Off we go.

Err. Guess what–every silver lining has an IP cloud around it. Apparently the folks at Pictosphere feel that they own Helmut’s stuff:

We believe Helmut Dersch has made a non-profit contribution to the field of spherical photography, as have many of those who use his software. We plan no legal action in enforcing our patents against Dr. Dersch, nor against non-profit users of his software in the United States. While this is our policy, it should be clearly understood that we believe the “PT” suite of software tools uses technology encompassed by our patents, and that if you are using the tools commercially in the United States, you need to purchase the appropriate Pictosphere™ license (e.g., Click Away™) in fairness to us. We have invested considerable resources and many years to open up the spherical industry commercially to a legal, non-click-fee solution, and we believe this will benefit everyone in the industry. Furthermore, you need to be aware that other than for PT-Viewer, you may have third party exposure if you are using the “PT” tools commercially, (although it may not be worth it for someone to prove in court whose tools you are really using). We are distributing PT-Viewer under the GNU license, alongside our product. Because, as has been previously stated, a Pictosphere™ Click Away™ software license includes a license to Ford Oxaal’s patents, and because Ford Oxaal’s patents alone, so far as we know, cover PT-Viewer, Click Away™ users are free to use PT-Viewer.

And poor Pictosphere is trying to extort from the big boys: iPix and their ilk. Ain’t patents wonderful. The underlying math of mapping pixels from one space to another is in every graphics textbook around. I’m not “commercial” so I’m not going to worry (yet).

End of the world as we know it

Kilimanjaro 2004, from Wikipedia   http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2005/ALLPOLITICS/03/17/steroids.baseball/story.canseco01.jpg

OK. There are days when the items in the news look like a conspiracy. Today was one of those days. There’s a thread of the threat of extinction about it all. The headless and heartless U.S. Senate attached a rider to a budget bill to open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, using as a justification the fact that gas prices for America’s SUVs are at an all time high ($2.05 a gallon nationally), and crude oil stands at $57 a barrel. OPEC agrees to raise production levels twice by 500,000 barrels per day, but “the market” still thinks that world petroleum demand will continue to outstrip supply (now at about 87 million bpd). Stay tuned to see how open the oil taps will go this summer, and whether Al-Zarqawi can destroy Iraq’s flow. I want to keep track of these numbers from now on. Time to buy gold?

Meantime, what is the alternative, nuclear energy? Great idea, except that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports today that scientists trying to find a way to make the proposed Yucca Mountain long term plutonium waste repository safe for the next 100,000 years couldn’t even use uncooked data. Apparently, they fudged their computer models to show that the effects of underground water would not cause our hot waste to leak out into the environment–anything to get this horrible project built.

OK. Nuclear is on hold, then, so how about coal? Well, it turns out that two studie released today show that even if we were to stop burning all fossil fuels today, we could expect air temperatures to rise over a degree in the next few centuries, and sea level should rise at least a meter. I will never get to see the snows of Kilimanjaro even in a photo (see above). Guess what? We’re not going to stop burning fossil fuels.

And what else do we do with oil, gas and coal? Make poisonous chemicals like pesticides and steroids. So it’s either goodbye Bangladesh (experts say we have plenty of time to “adapt”–build dikes, move cities–all fun) or hello, Jose (Canseco). I’m going to remember this day.

Why another blog?

http://images.amazon.com/images/P/0156106809.01.MZZZZZZZ.jpg http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/wildparrots/images/home_mark.jpg

What the world needs less of is another blog. Nonetheless, I am going ahead just as other bloggers are showing the white flag. I want to try to address some of the things that have stricken me for better or for worse in our decadent, technological, capitalist society.

Maybe every noun in this blog should have three adjectives, since it seems as though for each positive, exciting possibility of urban (and even suburban) 21st century American life, one can find at least two negatives.

Or maybe it’s just springtime in 2005 and I feel like writing. It’s the negative ions I picked up by spending two days in the Coachella Valley. Anyway, I hope to cover my hopes and dreams for Nature, Architecture, Science and Technology, and Community in these pages. Or else like Calvino’s baron in the trees, or the student of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, I just don’t feel like there’s any other way to live but this one.