Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween California Style

Some of my mom's neighbors seem to really get into Halloween decorations.  Most of these are from one yard, though many others had decorations. There were some in San Francisco as well.  As the day ends, here are some pictures. 

Click any of these pictures to see them clearer

This is a small car sized cat whose head moves back and forth every now and then.

These two (above and below) are from San Francisco.

Such A Cool Idea

 Guess what it is.  Two pieces, over six feet (two meters) long.  The name, for me, is even better than the sculpture.

I really wasn't planning to take pictures last Sunday at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, but this one was irresistible.  

I'm in awe of the person who thought up this idea and executed it.  I googled to see if this was, perhaps, an old Japanese idea, but nothing is listed, except this piece.  I thank the artist for expanding my imagination.  Here's what it says about him on the Museum's website (where you can find the cool name of this piece and the whole description.)
[UPDATE 4pm Alaska time:  This post got cluttered with updates as I got reports that the links stopped working. They did.  But then they started working again.  So I'm consolidating most updates here. But just in case, I've added a screenshot* of the linked page at the bottom.]

"Okura Jiro (b. 1942), who lives south of Kyoto
in the town of Uji, is an artist who has worked
independently, outside the established exhibition
system in Japan. He began as a self-taught
sculptor working with the wood of enormous
native trees.

Okura emphasized allowing the natural
features of the wood to dictate the final forms.
His early works— such as _______________
shown here— were large, undulating sculptures
of various shapes and with beautifully smooth,
polished surfaces."
 Go to the link to find out what it is.

I think what I'm doing here, making you go to the link to find the answer, drove my kids nuts when they were growing up.  But their ability today to figure things out on their own is the long term reward.  So, indulge me.  Give the museum a quick look and find out the very cool name of this piece.  (I'm making it easy by giving you lots of links to the answer.) 

[UPDATE October 15, 2013:  The links are again not working, but the name is available already on this page.  If you put your cursor over the photo, the file name will be visible - on my browser in the lower left - and it has the name.  Also the screenshot below has the name.  Just click to enlarge and make it clearer.]

[UPDATE  noon:  Using sitementer I can see that of the people coming here from another site that links to this post, less than half are clicking on the museum link to find out the name of the piece.  Given that you came here to see the post, I can't understand not taking the extra tiny step to find out the name.  Too much work?  Not enough curiosity?  It isn't interesting?  Or did you find the other way to get the name without going to the link? I'm curious.  If the comment system is too difficult, email me.]

*Here's the screenshot with the name of the piece:

Click to enlarge and focus

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Arguing Over The Biggest Threat To Fair Elections

KCRW's To The Point brought together for people with different expertise on elections today.  I was struck by Steven Rosenfeld's rather churly tone and lack of concern about voting machines being manipulated.  Panelist Victoria Collier rebuked him for a recent alternet post claiming election machine activists were alarmists. (link below) He kept putting down the voting machine skeptics by saying it was old news and there were bigger threats.  To me, it seems voting machine fraud may have been on the radar a while, but that the problems haven't been addressed.  Because the proof of tampering is hard to get, and doesn't make good television, we're not getting compelling coverage. Is all this simply headline inflating to get more readers?

By the end of the show, though, I got the sense that he wasn't dismissing voting machine problems as much as saying there are bigger threats to the election - voter suppression, for example - than rigging the machines.

My sense is that it all depends on which jurisdictions are targeted for which type of election manipulation.  Are the voting machines a real threat in this election or just a potential threat?  Without transparency, we really don't know. 

For those who know nothing about the concerns about voting integrity, the show is a good place to start.  For those who know more, it raises questions and possibilities.  I thought Ion Sancho offered some reassurance, given the work he's done in his district, but that there are so many other places that aren't anywhere near there.  The key point he made - I think it was him - was that you have to have objective, non-partisan election officials.  A bad system with good people will work, but a good system with bad people won't.

Here's a link to the show.  It follows the piece on Sandy, seven minutes in. 

Could Voting Machines Steal the Election? (1:07PM)

In the year 2000, "hanging chads" on Florida's paper ballots put the presidential election in doubt. Two years later, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which provided federal subsidies for states to buy electronic voting machines that don't use paper at all. Dispute is raging over what it could mean for the integrity of next week's election. Both campaigns and many political pundits say Ohio could decide the election.  How secure are its voting machines?


What I got out of this is:
  1. Voting machine tampering is still a serious issue
    1. 1/3 of the machines do NOT use paper backups that can be verifiable
    2. tampering with the machines is invisible and while there are ways to identify problems - ie discrepancy between exit poll results and actual results -  these things have to be followed up on.  
    3. as I said in a recent post, most people are skeptical about voting machine "conspiracy theories" and reluctant to call for hand counts
  2. There are better systems for keeping the machines accountable - listen to Ion Sancho on the audio - but you also need better people
  3. Other issues - voter suppression - may be a bigger threat in the election next week
  4. All of these are important issues and arguing over which is the most important is probably counterproductive

Monday, October 29, 2012

Or Maybe He's Just A Spoiled Brat

There was something about this announcement posted at the Redwood City CalTrans station that pushed me to the snarky reaction in the title.

Regular readers know that I'm basically in agreement with the underlying sentiment; that I  usually look for explanations of bad behavior, explanations that recognize that a lot of unpleasant human behavior can be explained (not excused) if you understand the larger context.  Basically, I'm all for this message, for giving someone the benefit of the doubt.    I guess it's the total lack of any recognition that some kids', maybe many kids', rude behavior should  be called out.

If the kids are under five, even six or seven, give them a pass with perhaps a smiling, gentle encouragement.

Older than that, it's harder to distinguish between a real disability and a squirrelly diagnosis designed to excuse bad parenting.

Calling kids out with deadpan sarcasm tends to get the message across.  If they really have a legit problem, they probably won't get it anyway.  If they're just being jerks, they probably won't get it until they're half-way to the next house.    Something like:

"Great costume.  You're really into it.    You're supposed to be a kid with politeness deficit disorder, right?"


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Is Sitemeter Down?

[UPDATE June 30, 2015:  Sitemeter is now out of control.  First it gave totally crazy numbers - counting individual hits 30 or 40 times - and for the last four or five days it gives you the "Try again in a few minutes message."  Either it's now dead - and surely a lot of users are going to abandon Sitemeter for other statcounters -  or  their tech people are scrambling hard to do repair work.]

[UPDATE Aug 31, 2014:  Grrrr!  It's not completely down today.  If I check the last seven days displays I can get numbers.  But everything else is unavailable.  I haven't updated here for a year it seems, but I have complained in other posts, like My Love/Hate Relationship with Sitemeter.  And Google Stats says I have three or four times as many hits per day as Sitementer.]

[UPDATE Aug. 5, 2013:  It's been down since yesterday.  Screenshot from Is It Down Right Now:

 A comment said that Sitemeter is owned by MySpace.  If the original creator of Sitemeter sold it to MySpace, that would explain the incredible difference in response when I first got Sitemeter and now.  Then, the creator very quickly made personal responses to my questions.  Now, there's no response at all, except, sometimes, a robotic one that says nothing.]

[UPDATE May 1, 2013:  From Down for Everyone or Just Me?
It's not just you! looks down from here.
Check another site?]
But Is It Down Right Now?  says is UP and reachable.
 The website is probably down just for you...
Given the number of people who get to this post on a regular basis, Sitemeter is down regularly, but for different people.  I thought maybe I was getting better service because I'm paying.  But now, who knows?]

[UPDATE April 19, 2013:  It's been down again all day for me.  This happened several weeks or a month ago, but I didn't post here.  My guess is that it's gotten bigger than the original group can handle.  When I first started using Sitemeter, the guy who set it up answered my emails personally and quickly.  Now I don't get any answer.]

[UPDATE Nov. 4:  Down again since last night.  Most troubling is the lack of communication about it with users.  Perhaps not enough users are paying and they can't afford enough staff to maintain things.  But not communicating with us means we start speculating, and as the comments on this post show, people are looking for alternative counters.]

What's happening at Sitemeter?

It was down last night when I tried, but then it came back on for a while including this morning.  But it's down again.

I did check to see it wasn't just me.  Is It Down Right Now? says it's down.

Is It Down? also says:

"We have tried pinging Site Meter website using our server and the website returned the above results. If is down for us too there is nothing you can do except waiting. Probably the server is overloaded, down or unreachable because of a network problem, outage or a website maintenance is in progress..."

The few times a year that Sitemeter goes down like this only serve to remind me how much I depend on them to give me detailed information on who is visiting my blog and what they are looking at.  I even decided at some point I should contribute to them for the service they provide and the additional information they offer paying users is worth it to me.

But it would be nice if Sitemeter maintained an email list of all their users on a separate server - particularly those of us who pay them - and would email us to let us know there are problems.

UPDATE Tuesday Oct. 30:  Mine came back Monday, Oct. 29 and is working fine.

UPDATE:  Friday Nov. 9:  Down again.  My my main problem is that I can find nothing from Sitemeter to a) apologize and b) explain.  Like some of the commenters, I'm looking for alternatives.  I don't really want to learn a new system, and my annual payment to Sitemeter still has some time to go, but I'm starting to think I have no choice if I want to keep track of visitors.

LATER Friday, Nov. 9, 11pm:  They're back up. But for how long?

UPDATE Saturday, Nov 10, 5pm:  They were up most of today, but I can't get them again this afternoon.  I did send in a request for an explanation while they were up, but I'm guessing they aren't reading their email.  They have a drop down window for you to put the level of urgency of your message, but there's only one option:  normal.

SUNDAY Morning Nov. 11. 11am.  Up again.  Starting to feel like a roller coaster.

MONDAY Evening Nov. 12:  Sitemeter was down this morning when I checked and again about 5pm, but is up now (11pm).  

Beautiful San Francisco Saturday Starts With Snow Boarding

Snowboarders were outside the Asian Museum across from the San Francisco city hall.  We'd checked out the Chinese Calligraphy exhibit (no photos allowed) and were getting ready to walk along the waterfront trail from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Here are some photos from a gorgeous, blue sky day, with the temps in the high 70s.

Alcatraz in the background

These were weeds when I was growing up in LA.  Beautiful weeds.  What I didn't know then was that they were the flower of passion fruit which makes a great juice among other things.

We saw a number of birds, including this (I think) American bittern that was fishing.  When I get home I'm going to hunt for my old Audubon bird book and find the bittern picture.

 We were on the trail headed west, but every now and then I turned around to see the SF city scape too.

As you can see, we made it to the bridge.  Also, my camera has developed a speck of dust which shows up well in shots like this.  I knew I shouldn't have ordered a new door for the battery/card slot.  The camera is old enough that things would go wrong, like this spot.

As we walked back along Lombard, bars were packed with Giants fans watching the game and we saw a number of people celebrating Halloween this weekend.  A good day with my son and with old friends from the East Bay. 

We spent Sunday house hunting on the Peninsula.  Not for us, but good friends who live here.  Interesting what $1 million can't buy these days. 

Moby Dick at San Francisco Opera

We had some world series the other day, so we should have a little opera.  A friend told us we could get senior rush tickets at 11 am of the day of the performance, so we walked down to the opera house and got in line.  We were in the orchestra, row S, for $30 each.  Student rush tickets are only $25.  And there are also tickets for a standing area for $10. 

Moby Dick was commissioned by the Dallas Opera for the opening of its new opera hall in 2010.  Jake Heggie was asked to write it.  He was at the pre-opera talk an hour before the performance.

You may not take pictures during the performance, but digital imaging and human imagination made made the ship and the ocean real on stage.  Particularly cool was the curved stage with 'steps' built into it.  This allowed cast members to be at different levels of the ship.  It also allowed them to be in rowboats (with the help of digital boat outlines and a digital ocean) and the fall overboard - sliding down the curved part of the stage to the floor.  You can see it in this picture below of Captain Ahab (Jay Hunter Morris) taking a curtain call, without his peg leg.

Here's the whole cast.

All the parts are male, but they used a soprano to play the 14 year old Pip.  Heggie explained in the talk that 14 year old boys were not the most reliable, would have to be miked, and his voice would be changing.  Using an older female soprano seemed the obvious solution.  

 Here's Heggie after the talk and before the performance. 

I liked the music, but I have no idea how to discuss it so I won't.  But you can judge for yourself in the Youtube video from UC television.  He goes to the piano to talk about Moby Dick at about 29 minutes. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is The Election Going To Be Electronically Stolen?

"Why is Mitt Romney so confident?
In states where the winner will be decided by less than 10%, of the vote he already knows he will win. This is no tinfoil hat conspiracy. It’s a maths problem. And mathematics showed changes in actual raw voting data that had no statistical correlation other than programmable computer fraud. This computer fraud resulted in votes being flipped from Democrat to Republican in every federal, senatorial, congressional and gubernatorial election since 2008 (thus far) and in the 2012 primary contests from other Republicans to Mitt Romney."
 This comes from a UK Progressive magazine article alleging massive voter machine manipulation across the US in the 2012 Republican primaries and the 2008 and 2010 elections. It goes on:
This goes well beyond Romney’s investment control in voting machine maker Hart Intercivic and Diebold’s close ties to George W. Bush. Indeed all five voting machine companies have very strong GOP fundraising ties, yet executives (including the candidate’s son Tagg Romney) insist there is no conflict between massively supporting one party financially whilst controlling the machines that record and count the votes.
The whole article is here. 

So far, the only coverage I can find on this story is on blogs and political websites, but my experience with the Anchorage Municipal election in Anchorage last April have made me much more aware of the potential for election fraud.  In that election about half the polling places ran out of ballots;  a Fundamentalist Christian political operative sent out emails telling their members they could register to vote the day of the election [which he knew to be false] which resulted in significantly higher numbers of unregistered voters showing up and disrupting the election, and a election officials were told if voting machine seals were broken to not worry about it.  I learned a lot about voting machines and how susceptible they are to tampering.  People were upset when there were no ballots, but most people were resistant to the idea of election manipulation.  I also began to read the Brad Blog, which covers election fraud.  There's nasty folks out there who believe in winning by any means possible. 

But I also learned how - yawn - resistant most people are to these issues. 

The UK Progressive article goes on to cite retired NSA analyst Michael Duniho who investigated voting in his home state of Arizona:
When Duniho applied a mathematical model to actual voting results in the largest voting precincts, he saw that only the large precincts suddenly trended towards Mitt Romney in the Arizona primary – and indeed all Republicans in every election since 2008 – by a factor of 8%-10%. The Republican candidate in every race saw an 8-10%. gain in his totals whilst the Democrat lost 8-10%. This is a swing of up to  20 point, enough to win an election unless a candidate was losing very badly.
Here's a new (posted Friday night) video from The Intercept of Duniho and another plaintiff in the their suit against Pima County discussing why they are suing.

Basically, they are asking for accountability of the voting tallies, to randomly compare numbers of the voting machines against a hand count.  Something, as I understand it, the Anchorage Assembly seems to have agreed to for the next Municipal election.

My concerns, based on what I saw in April Municipal elections, are these:
  • Cognitive dissonance - people's belief in American democracy is so strong, that reports of election fraud are met with disbelief.
  • People whose party wins, are even more reluctant to want to pursue allegations of election fraud.
  • Because the fraud happens on computer chips, totally unseen, people have trouble understanding it.  ("Said Duniho, 'It is really easy to cheat using computers to count votes, because you can’t see what is going on in the machine.'”]
  • Because most Americans are statistically illiterate, statistical evidence of voter fraud means nothing to them. 
 When the Romney votes start coming in a week from Tuesday, how many people are going to just accept the election and how many will be listening to the evidence that I'm guessing will also come in about vote tampering? At the very least, we need to take the charges seriously and have them investigated.  For that to happen, enough people have to get angry enough to write letters and/or take to the streets.  Seriously.  Remember the quote above about how all the voting machine companies are owned by people with a big stake in Republican candidates. 

Thanks to Gryphen who has a video up with an interview with Duniho's NSA colleague Dennis Campbell (and editor of UK Progressive magazine.)

Remember too, this could be wrong.  We don't have collaborating alternative sources.  But it feels worth paying attention to. 

[UPDATE Nov 5:  I've done another, related post - Arguing Over the Biggest Threat to Fair Elections. ]

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fluffy White Cat

Xiongxiong is our friends' senior catizen. A Chinese immigrant to the US.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series - Almost Live

He was working his phone with his buddy who was trying to get tickets.  The price at the moment was $500 for bleacher seats on Stubhub.  He said he'd take that for third base, but not bleachers. 

We felt like the accidental tourists this afternoon.  We were on the train from Santa Clara to San Francisco.  All we saw was black and orange.  Our train, it turned out, was ending two blocks from the Giants ball park about an hour before the second game of the world series. 

So it seemed I should walk over to the stadium and check things out before heading for our son's place.

The radio station was handing out posters and then taking pictures of the people holding their posters. 

It felt right - Myron Stephens and then Andrew Glass

I had decided to leave my camera in my pocket, even though we were sightseeing, sort of.  We were at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.
Bergamot Station is the historical name for the site on which the gallery complex is located, dating back to 1875 when it was a stop for the Red Line trolley running from Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier. Bergamot is a flower of the mint family that once flourished in the area.
The trolly was shut down in 1953 (who needs public transportation anyway?) and eventually the city of Santa Monica converted this into  a big art complex - lots of galleries and the Santa Monica Art Museum. 

But I wasn't going to blog this trip.  Except when we got into the artla gallery this picture caught my eye.  Tim pointed out that this was NOT a blackboard, and the pictures were not taped on it.  It was all painted by Myron Stephens

I looked closer.  The tape even has an air bubble.  But there is no tape, just paint. 

Tim pointed out that the chalk was painted with 5 hair brushes.  Part of me doesn't need to know that the artist worked long

and painstakingly to make the painting.  The final outcome is what is important.  And as frivolous as this seems at first, there's something about it.  It talks to me about interpersonal relationships and however old we get, we can get go back into childlike innocence when we make a new connection with a special person.

But there were other works too.

And I really liked these pieces by Andrew Glass.

Can you find the details on top in the whole picture below? Click to enlarge

The paintings had tiny numbers next to them and I didn't keep track of them.  They linked to a price sheet.  The pieces ranged from $1500 to $3000.  Art prices are pretty arbitrary - it depends how close an artist is to people with money and someone who knows how to convince the buyers it's worth the cost.  We are in a getting rid of period, rather than a collecting period of our lives.  But when we've bought stuff it was because we liked it, not with an eye to investment. 

I hope if the artist sees this post, he'll forgive what my camera's done to the colors.  They're sort of close, but not quite.  Here's an excerpt of his artist statement on his website: 
"It is the interplay of materials such as acrylic gels, transparent pigments, alkyd resins and inks that informs this process for me. I am fascinated by the stories they can tell. I want to explore a tactile sensibility, in other words to touch what is on the surface, however still searching for what is lying underneath. With painting, I want to tell a story, uncover and understand what has come before, or is still hidden. This is not only an aesthetic process, but also one that allows me to invent history."

The paintings themselves are available at artla.  

That's Tim in the corner

These two above are details of the painting on the left below.

The door to artla is to the right of the white car at Bergamot Center. 

You can read a September 2012 interview with Andrew Glass here.

[UPDATE:  People who saw this early, might notice I made some changes.  I was confused.  Although I was surprised by the starkly different styles of the chalkboard and then the work below, I clearly hadn't listened carefully to Tim.  Actually, these are two different artists, which makes much more sense. Sorry for any confusion.]