Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Updated list of my trips with Mike

I'm going to try to use the Blogger "pages" facility to keep track of this, because it works better than having a new summary post every year: My Backpacking Trips with Mike.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Upper Rhine Valley: prelude and overture

We took an altogether-too-short but thoroughly wonderful trip to the Upper Rhine Valley region of Europe. I'm not sure that "Upper Rhine Valley" is a recognized term for this region, so please forgive me if I've abused it; more technically, we visited:

  1. The Alsace region of France
  2. The Schwarzenwald region of Germany
  3. The neighboring areas of Frankfurt, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland.
But since we were at no point more than about 40 miles from the Rhine river, and since we were several hundred miles from the Rhine's mouth in the North Sea, it seems like a pretty good description to me.

Plus, it matches up quite nicely with this map.

So there you go.

Anyway, we spent 10 wonderful days there, which was hardly even close to enough, but it was what we had.

And I, in my inimitable fashion, packed about 30 days of sightseeing into those 10 days, completely exhausting my travel companions.

Once again, no surprise.

I'll have more to write about various aspects of the trip subsequently, but here let me try to crudely summarize the things that struck me about the trip.

  • Rivers are incredibly important in Europe, much more so than here in America. Rivers provide transportation, drinking water, sewage disposal, electric power, food (fish), and form the boundaries between regions and nations. They do some of these things in America, too, but we aren't nearly as attached to our rivers as they are in Central Europe, where some of the great rivers of the world arise.
  • For centuries, castles helped people keep an eye on their rivers, and make sure that their neighbors were behaving as they should in the river valleys.
  • Trains are how you go places in Europe. Yes, you can fly, or you can drive, but if you CAN take a train, you should. And, if you can take a first class ticket on TGV, you absolutely, absolutely should. I have never had a more civilized travel experience than taking the TGV from Frankfurt to Strasbourg. (Though full credit to Lufthansa for being a much-better-than-ordinary airline. If you get a chance to travel Lufthansa, do it.)
  • To a life-long inhabitant of the American West, Central Europe is odd for having almost no animals. People live in Central Europe, nowadays; animals do not. BUT: storks!
  • France, of course, is the country that perfected that most beautiful of beverages: wine. While most of the attention to wine in France goes to Southern France, don't under-rate Alsace, for they have absolutely delicious wines of many types, and have been making wine for (at least) 2,000 years. We Californians may think we know something about wine; we don't.
  • The visible history of the Upper Rhine Valley is deeply formed by the Franks. Don't try to understand the cathedrals, villages, cities, etc. without spending some time thinking about Charlemagne, etc. And, if you were like me and rather snored through this part of your schooling, prepare to have your eyes opened.
  • The other major history of the Upper Rhine Valley involves wars. My, but this part of the world has been fought over for a long time. Most recently, of course, we can distinguish these major events:
    1. The Franco-Prussian war, which unified Germany and resulted in Alsace being a German territory
    2. World War One
    3. World War Two
    Although the most recent of these events is now 75 years in the past, the centuries and centuries of conflict over who should rule these wonderful lands has left its mark, deeply.

    So often through my visit I thought to myself: "Am I in French Germany? Or perhaps is this German France?" Just trying to form and phrase these questions in my head, I realized how little I knew, and how much there is to learn, about how people form their bonds with their land, and their neighbors, and their thoughts. Language, food, customs, politics, literature: it's all complex and it's all one beautiful whole.

    This, after all, is the land where Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, where people like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Louis Pasteur, John Calvin, and Albert Schweitzer lived and did their greatest work.

I could, of course, have been much terser:

  1. The Upper Rhine Valley is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The people who live there are very warm and welcoming, and it is a delightful place to take a vacation
  2. Early May is an absolutely superb time to go there.

I'll write more later, as I find time.

Back online

I took a break from computers.

I had a planned vacation, and so I did something that's a bit rare for me: I took an 11 day break from computers.

I didn't use any desktops or laptops. I didn't have my smartphone with me.

I went 11 days without checking my email, or signing on to various sites where I'm a regular, or opening my Feedly RSS read, or anything like that.

Now, I wasn't TOTALLY offline: there were newspapers and television broadcasts around, and I was traveling with other people who had computers.

But, overall, it was a wonderful experience to just "unplug" for a while.

I recommend it highly.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Staying up to date

One thing about having several computers, and about never having quite enough time to work on them, is that whenever I turn on a particular computer, it's almost certain that I'll have updates to perform:

  • Windows updates
  • Java updates
  • nVidia driver updates
  • Steam updates
  • etc.

In fact, I'll usually have at least 2 or 3 updates that run whenever I switch one of my computers on.

At least the updates are mostly self-sufficient, though I can never really get the hang of which updates just run automatically, and which require me to baby-sit them at least to the point where they put up a confirmation prompt requesting me to authorize them to update their own software.

Snort.

Meanwhile, in the world of updates, I'm trying to figure out if Windows Subsystem for Linux has matured to the point where I can run Java 8 on it.

As best I can understand from poking around on duh Netz, it seems that:

  • Oracle's Java 8 distribution has made a number of fixes, and now can be successfully installed and run on Windows Subsystem for Linux, at least according to this StackOverflow answer
  • But Java 8 in general really seems to prefer Ubuntu 16 over Ubuntu 14,
  • And Microsoft themselves suggest that both Java 8 and Ubuntu 16 are able to be used once I have upgraded to Windows 10 Creators Update (see this MSDN blog article)

So it seems like the bottom line is that for the time being, I should continue to do my Java work using either the vanilla Windows JDK, or using my full Linux installation on my VirtualBox instance(s).

But hopefully Windows 10 Creators Update will reach my machine soon (if I get really impatient, Microsoft says I can possibly hurry the process along using the Update Assistant).

And then I can start a whole new round of updates!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

An Alameda high rise?

Alameda Magazine, which frankly is simply a Chamber of Commerce flyer, nonetheless ran this breathless article: Alameda’s First High-Rise?

A developer is proposing to build a 14-story, 589-unit housing project on the waterfront at the long-dormant Encinal Terminals site. The project, which would be constructed directly across the estuary from Oakland’s 3,100-unit Brooklyn Basin housing development now under construction, would feature the Island’s tallest building.

“We are building a world-class waterfront” that will be “a centerpiece for the estuary,” said Mike O’Hara, a representative of developer Tim Lewis Communities, or TLC. TLC recently broke ground on another 380-unit housing project on the adjoining historic Del Monte warehouse property.

I certainly would like to see the estuary waterfront opened up and reclaimed. Currently it is a wasteland of abandoned warehouses, docks, and vacant lots, mostly fenced off and sitting idle. It could be some of the most beautiful space in the Bay Area, if it is done well.

As the article notes, however, this is far from a slam dunk:

the Encinal Terminals project faces a more complicated regulatory approval than most developments. The 32-acre site includes nine submerged acres, large dilapidated wharf structures, and six acres of state tidelands. Under state law, tidelands property cannot be used for housing, so the project would require the swapping of private acreage around the perimeter of the site for tidelands property in the interior—a plan that also would have to be approved by the state.

It just so happened that I had the chance today to wander down to a similarly-long-under-used section of the San Francisco waterfront, known as "Dogpatch", where an enormous gentrification project is underway, scheduled to run for at least another 15 years.

The cities are changing. The Bay Area is changing. It's good to remember the history, but it's also good to invest in the future.

On we go.

Bad Behavior: a very short review

I was rambling around on the Internet, leafing through some random person's "book recommendations" page, when I came across a recommendation for Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior: Stories, and decided to take a chance on it.

What an astonishing collection of stories this is!

Of course, at this point, 30 years have passed, and so this is old news to everyone, but still. I'm not sure I've ever read somebody whose writing seemed so vivid, so real, so true.

This. Is. How. People. Really. Think. And. Act. And. Talk.

However, what goes hand-in-hand with this is that her stories are not for the faint of heart. They are raw, fearless, clear-eyed views into the very abyss of our human souls; Gaitskill neither flinches nor turns away from the truth, no matter how horrid the vision she sees.

I'm tremendously glad I read these stories, but on the other hand they're not the sort of thing I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone.

If they're the sort of thing you'd enjoy, you've probably already found them, somehow.

Of course, I hadn't, and so I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

GBooks, 15 years on

Three perspectives:

  • How Google Book Search Got Lost
    Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google’s right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed — one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google’s book-related ambitions.

    But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that’s not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition.

    ...

    But Google took away a lesson that helped it immeasurably as it grew and gained power: Engineering is great, but it’s not the answer to all problems. Sometimes you have to play politics, too — consult stakeholders, line up allies, compromise with rivals. As a result, Google assembled a crew of lobbyists and lawyers and approached other similar challenges — like navigating YouTube’s rights maze — with greater care and better results.

  • Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria
    What happened was complicated but how it started was simple: Google did that thing where you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and forgiveness was not forthcoming. Upon hearing that Google was taking millions of books out of libraries, scanning them, and returning them as if nothing had happened, authors and publishers filed suit against the company, alleging, as the authors put it simply in their initial complaint, “massive copyright infringement.”

    ...

    Amazon, for its part, worried that the settlement allowed Google to set up a bookstore that no one else could. Anyone else who wanted to sell out-of-print books, they argued, would have to clear rights on a book-by-book basis, which was as good as impossible, whereas the class action agreement gave Google a license to all of the books at once.

    This objection got the attention of the Justice Department, in particular the Antitrust division, who began investigating the settlement. In a statement filed with the court, the DOJ argued that the settlement would give Google a de facto monopoly on out-of-print books. That’s because for Google’s competitors to get the same rights to those books, they’d basically have to go through the exact same bizarre process: scan them en masse, get sued in a class action, and try to settle.

    ...

    It was strange to me, the idea that somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25-million books and nobody is allowed to read them. It’s like that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie where they put the Ark of the Covenant back on a shelf somewhere, lost in the chaos of a vast warehouse. It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

  • Why Google Books Deserves Better Than These Obituaries
    Unfortunately, the copyright case over Google Books morphed into something larger. It became a vehicle for anxieties over how the digital era has undermined authors on a financial and cultural level. Those concerns are legitimate, but scapegoating Google Books for these fears was misguided.

    Meanwhile, groups like the Authors Guild continue to celebrate the collapse of the settlement even though no other options have emerged to replicate its potential benefits. Those benefits would have included a new market for digital copies of old books, and a solution to the problem of "orphan works"—books whose authors cannot be located that are out-of-print but still under copyright protection. Instead, there is stasis.

    ...

    But if Google is to dispel the recent mutterings about the project's decline, it must do more to raise the profile of Google Books, and offer some assurances about how it will ensure the collection—which, recall, is nothing less than the history of human knowledge—will survive. Ideally, the company should create a trust or foundation to manage it so as to ensure it endures no matter what corporate changes come at Google.

    Meanwhile, it's time for Google Books opponents to acknowledge the astonishing thing Google has built. Critics like the former head of Harvard libraries, Robert Darnton, have long suggested some university or public consortium can replicate the project. But today it's clearer than ever this is just a pipeline, and no one will muster the money, energy, and technology to do what Google did also over again.