Retracings from the high valley above Taos

1.

From the ski lodge there is a trail to William’s Lake in the valley beneath Wheeler Peak, the southernmost stand of the Sangre de Cristo range. Beyond the clear lake, under the peaks’ deep slopes, nestles a higher valley. On the near side as I approached, I came upon a pond, strangely perched, undergirt by stone. Our common weight led the drainage through a lower path to which the pond seemed unconnected, save perhaps by overflow through dry October grasses, fall of the year’s unveiling of our nature’s morbid state.

The starry messenger had lit these stones for 20 million years, as best I know, but the pond’s origin was more recent. Ice and rain, wind and roots purchased the shape from the upthrust rock not long ago, though perhaps longer than my life, or the life of any person who yet has been.

The pond, full of bright green algae and other water weeds, was our mother, framed by night’s ice. From that silt we came, though in another place, among the rocks or among the waters, or where they meet, to speak it right. 

The red peaks spoke, but the pond, with its own will, bloomed in this high nook, transforming what the rock had meant, and rightly so, for it had its freedom, which is ours as well. Wandering from that pond, we bear our debt: that the valley of death is, and shall be, the valley of life.

2.

The next phase entails some confusion. The woman at the base had made us our morning coffee. She suggested we walk to Williams Lake. Her husband had proposed to her there. My friend having descended, though not yet wanting to part my thoughts from the mountain valley, I followed him down on my bike. She was still there when I got back and caught site of Andy, who was waiting. I sat down with him, and he reminded me. If I wanted coffee, I should order now, because she was closing.

She had closed, in fact, for it was 2 past 2, but she hadn’t cleaned the expresso machine, and made me a latte, gracefully. She asked about the falls. I saw no falls, or perhaps what I saw could be called a falls, but it was October, in a dry year. I bought cider as well, a Pellegrino for full measure, and also filled my water bottle, before heading again up the mountain.

The trail that had led to the lake turned aside there to climb the peak. But there was a common way to the higher valley where I had found the pond. I imagined that others who have seen it have written other words, of which I am unlearned, save for our common language that wells from us and wets the grasses.

The trees’ shapes recalled fish to mind. I swim a middle sea. I speak a middle tongue from a middle place, for this is where I am best at home. The starry messenger speaks now with the double voice of Linden trees that grow far away, yet the past, also, is in the middle place. To move beyond the middle is to return, for nature likes to move in cycles.

3.

I seek a path onwards. We are individuals, and nature is not. Will we always swim the middle sea? Will we set foot on land, evolve, speak, quarrel, destroy ourselves? Have we not done so already? We cannot return.

Finitely we arose, and do not tread the same paths: the finite must diffuse. And yet life is something that overflows lips minds limbs. It is not the paths and not the falls or the mountains, or even, perhaps – no – it is the living however short their span. It is easy to wander.

4.

The next phase will be to be more definite: we are not ruined, but we overflow. We are conditioned by extension, but we do not live of extension, or by extension, or for extension. The layers of light like quartz veins in ore that gleam in the heights tell us of the planet’s core. Yet carbon and water are the mantle’s grease, as it throws up islands – continents – that float on the lava’s ocean. We stand like spirits on the lava’s ocean, listening as the ocean tells us of ourselves.

Finiteness finds its ground in the ancient phases: earth for solid, water for liquid, air for gas, and fire for change and life. Each form is a phase, each phase is a form. There is no difference, but the one passes in the common report, the other passes only as imagined things pass.

5.

Time has come down to hunger and companionship. They do not get along. But they have to travel together. We will quarrel and compete, will travel and be replete. Consume as we must, consume as we are, we gnaw at the ends of time, like the mouse who ate its way into Andy’s nuts. The magpie followed us up the trail. I advised Andy to be friendly to the magpies, but it wasn’t in his nature. Indeed, they can be annoying, I admit as much.

Time itself is annoying. I admit as much. All these things that change: we swim here like fish. Why be irascible? Time itself is an abstraction. But all things must change, though nothing changes in extension.

6.

Let me retrace my steps. I write in the twentieth year of the millennium. I have packed my bike and driven to town and the pleasures of our civilization – expensive food served for rich tourists even during the plague.  Our nation is disunited. We sharpen the arrow that time points to nowhere. 

“In the people united” – what does it mean? Madison’s majestic royal we the people; it found its life in the understood expression. Our breadth was our brawn. Now we narrow, when we should overflow.

“These truths we hold to be self-evident?” These truths we hold. That should have been enough, or had a better phrase attached. Self-evidence is not the psalmist’s mighty fortress. It is a machine – it is that which must have an outside purpose. And has that purpose not misled, picturing might as righteousness? We are on the road to being a people, and always will be, until we are no more. All our roads must lead through the middle of America, even as we, also, swim in the middle sea. If someone asks us, who is that third person who walks beside you? Let it be that we shall answer “companionship” and not “hunger”.

Apropos software patents

Apropos: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/business/supreme-court-seems-wary-of-a-software-patent-case.html

There are two ways software can be novel: it can be a new way to do something, whose embodiment is a software program, and it can be a new way to get a computer to do something (which itself isn’t necessarily novel).

In the first case, the computer might be a practical necessity, but the process must be novel even if it were performed by an army of accountants. In the second, the process could be mundane, but involved elements which no expert before knew (or could easily have known if they set their mind to it). In the latter case, the process itself is not properly patented, but the elements that make it novel.

Thoughts on “Value” of Inflation and Unemployment

Inflation is like overeating, whereas unemployment is like starvation. Obviously, the latter is worse. The best circumstance is that you have plenty of money, but put it to good use — eat well and exercise.

Unfortunately for the Fed, it controls the amount of money, but not the amount of exercise, which depends on how well trained the workforce is, what the incentives are to work, the state of the infrastructure, the state of the global economy (is there anyone to play with, or do I have to work out on my own?).

The focus on inflation is a symptom of the public’s lack of trust in government, and ultimately, their lack of trust in themselves.

Is Justice Roberts a Mystery?

I just read Linda Greenhouse’s article on John Roberts. My take is this: when justice Roberts was a youth, and some of his peers were wearing “question authority” pins, Roberts, were he the pin-wearing type, would have worn a “question lack of authority” pin.

He has upheld the authority of government whenever possible, and is very persnickety about questions of the standing necessary for plaintiffs to challenge its authority. He has upheld the right of people (shareholders) to authorize collectives (corporations) to speak on their behalf.

I think his reference to the duty of the court to find a law constitutional if there is any possible interpretation that doesn’t rule it out was not just a political calculation, but an expression of a strongly held principle.

Why don’t tornados dig holes?

It seems like we are off to another record year for tornados. When I see pictures of tornado devastated land, everything above ground is ripped up, but the ground itself is always pretty much intact.

If a tornado were to strike a desert, one would expect sand to be redistributed pretty extensively. Perhaps not actually creating holes very often, as that would require a counterintuitive overall lowering of entropy. But certainly sand dunes would not be in at all the same places once the tornado passed.

This doesn’t seem to happen in the areas where tornados actually strike. I suspect that the surface tension of the water in the rain-soaked ground binds it together so that it can’t be lifted (except as a very heavy, elastic whole). I wonder if architects have thought of taking advantage of this effect? Perhaps turf roofs together with vents designed to allow rapid pressure equalization would allow many more structures to remain standing….

Binocular Beauty or Do It Right the Second Time

I was taken to the dogshed by my lead developer the other day. We have been building a web service api, and a javascript analytics client, both at the same time. He’d been grumbling about the service interfaces for some time; I’d resisted changing them. Finally, I noticed he was getting more and more sullen. It turned out that he was not just annoyed but really upset about the interfaces.

Certainly, they could be improved. As he said, they were “RPC-style” interfaces, despite our stated goal of following REST principles. Indeed, I had cooked them up in 45 minutes one evening. They did support the client fairly succinctly, but would almost almost certainly break if we made any design changes, or tried to write a second application (which we will soon).

So I gave him the go ahead to rewrite the interface. He spent the day writing it anew along REST principles. I haven’t reviewed it yet, but I’m sure its much better; also, having created it, he’ll be much more productive writing the client.

So why did I drag my feet? Because I believe in Doing It Right (or putting in significant effort to get it right) the Second Time. Not the first time, and not the third. In particular, for an interface, thinking hard about what the best abstractions are is best done in conjunction with writing the 2nd client. Its often worth *not* doing for the first client, even if this means parts will have to be rewritten.

This isn’t a hard rule (note that I caved to my developer rather than argue). Also, for tasks you have already done before and know how to do, by all means do them right. But for new, exploratory work, it is nevertheless a good tenet. The intuition is the same as for pairwise testing and binocular vision. To tell the difference between phenomena and epi-phenomena often requires more than one perspective; much more rarely, for the main outlines at least, does it require more than two.

Socio-Economic Content In Sex-Ed

My older son’s school offers sex-ed in two tranches: at the end of fifth grade, and in seventh grade. The first part seems to have explained the biology fairly well, and let him at least talk about sex — so pretty good, I would say.

The school also has some policies regarding sexual behavior. For instance, certain types of clothing are not allowed, as they are deemed inappropriately erotic for young teenagers. Fine. But does the justification for this rule follow from anything they are taught in class? I would venture to say — almost certainly not.

And yet, would it be that difficult to add a bit of socio-economic (or cultural) content to sex-ed? It is not hard to grasp that, if monogamy and promiscuity are the extremes of human sexual strategy, they make uneasy neighbors. Also, we needn’t teach Freud (or not very much) to illuminate how social structure is built out of units — like couples and families — whose glue is often sexual relationships.

Tolerance is taught; but prudence seems to be only taught in terms of the dangers of unsafe sex, and the need to respect oneself and others. Nothing is said about why a social system (such as a school) might want to constrain even safe sex. Or, on the other hand, why a larger society might be more stable if its members follow diverse strategies. (Or individuals follow mixed strategies.)

Beyond economics, there is a great opportunity to teach how sex fits together with culture, but I don’t suppose that many schools will be wading into that soon. Nevertheless, for young minds starting to think not only about sex, but to think for themselves in general (though not necessarily at the same time as speaking — alas a difficult art), tools for thinking about their own sexuality on the basis of their biology are good. They should also be given tools to think about how their sexuality is part of how they relate to their community, and economics could provide a “neutral” framework for this discussion.