Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

June 2nd, 2007 at 2:12 pm

artEAST benefit auction

Silent Auction

artEAST, the local arts booster organization is having a fund raiser silent auction of 100+ one-foot-square pieces donated by local artists. We were enticed into bidding on more than we can afford to win so you should really go take a look. It’s hanging in the back room of the "Up Front" gallery on Front Street until next Friday. Plus you can bid online starting on Monday at the artEAST website: Becky has a piece in there. $300 bid takes stuff home so if you want to see them, go soon.

April 30th, 2007 at 6:14 pm

Art events in Issaquah

The Issaquah Art Walk is this Friday (May 4) and yours truly will be showing photographs of lost gloves at the Kung Fu Club at 185 Front Street North. Please do introduce yourself to the nice long-haired bearded man with the strange pictures should you happen to come by.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, also in Issaquah, come to the second annual Flying House Art and Craft Sale. Works by 12+ artists. Fine art, Photography (hi!), Paper-cuttings, Textiles, Jewelry, Handmade soaps, and more. All at my house from 10am to 4pm each day. Say you saw it here and amaze us. ;-)

February 26th, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Connie Willis at Richard Hugo House

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These aren’t the greatest pictures ever, but they’ll give you a bit of an idea of how dynamic a speaker author Connie Willis was this evening at Richard Hugo House. She talked about and read a passage from her work in progress about the Blitz in England during WWII. and then did an extensive Q&A which included fascinating answers about her research methods and the nature of science fiction.

As has become my habit, I recorded the talk. If you’d like to hear the recording, leave a comment or drop me an email and I’ll send you a link.

January 31st, 2007 at 10:47 pm

George Dyson on John von Neumann

George Dyson was at Town Hall in Seattle last night doing a talk about computer pioneer John von Neumann. I saw Dyson about a year ago in the same venue talking about the Baidarka (the Aleut kayak).

It was a fascinating talk in a number of ways. First off, Dyson is in a unique position for a scientific historian in that his father, Freeman Dyson, is a scientist so George has actually known many of the people and places he’s talking about. For instance when introducing the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton he can go to a slide of himself as a small child in front of the main building and tell you that it was a really boring place to grow up with all the ivory tower types busy thinking their deep thoughts. And knowing these people he has access to papers that an anonymous historian might have trouble getting to.

But the star of the talk, of course was von Neumann and the work to build the first digital computer. Dyson is sort of a magpie when it comes to shiny bits of scientific trivia so his talk and associated slide show was full of wonderful little tidbits like photos of pages from the system logbook of that first computer and hand-drawn diagrams of and-gates and other circuitry and memos from ivory tower types to the administration complaining of all the engineers taking over the place and floor plans of the IAS showing the offices of Einstein, Oppenheimer, von Neumann, and Gödel all within steps of each other. Lots of funny quotes too, offered up without commentary.

While he didn’t say it outright, I’m sure there’s a book coming with all this great stuff. One of the things I’m most looking forward to hearing more about is the role of von Neumann’s wife Klara. Dyson has been able to read the letters the two wrote (they were almost never in the same place at the same time) and how Klara learned to program the new computer and was intimately involved in the work they were doing with the machine in those early days (bomb simulations).

Another thing he mentioned is that on his death, von Neumann left a sealed box which wasn’t to be opened for 50 years after his death. That milestone passes in just about a week from now, so there may be some interesting revelations coming soon.

The talk gave a great feel for what an amazing convergence of talent and inspiration there was at that time and how much the decisions made by these people have informed our modern technology (the architecture of that first 40-bit computer is essentially identical in broad outline to all the computers we work with every day). And yet rather than making it seem like a one of a kind event, I came away feeling like there must be similar convergences happening now or yet to come.

One of my favorite quotes from the evening came in the Q&A section when Dyson made the comment that “writing a book is 10% inspiration and 90% not being distracted by the internet.”

I made a stealth audio recording of the talk that’s reasonably listenable. If you’re interested, leave a comment or email and I’ll send you a link to download it. It’d be better with video of his slides–there are lots of spontaneous bursts of laughter as the audience read some quote up on the screen–but the audio is interesting enough.


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