Saturday, February 16, 2008

We all find our way forward

I called my son last night: he took his physical and qualification tests for the Air Force on Thursday - Friday. We'd arranged to talk about what he had learned about the opportunities and about what he was thinking about doing.

It turned out that he had already enlisted.

I should have expected it: he's making a his own decisions now, choosing his own future. We've always said that our goal as parents was to raise capable and confident adults who could be independent and successful in whatever they chose to do. This really feels like the step over that threshold.

He is excited about having the chance to be part of the Space Command or an AWACS group (he got a 97 / 100 on the test, so he says that he has the whole range of job options open to him). He sees a path to getting his degree or his commission, to living in other places, to traveling around the world. He's sorted out the differences in pay and benefits, $300 per month that he gets with the 6- over the 4-year enlistment option.

He's absolutely following his heart on this: I still have a thousand questions and worries that I struggle with in my head.

But I followed my passions too, when I jumped at a three-year expatriate position here: a better job, living overseas, earning more.

I suppose that we are both looking to ambition, belonging, and commitment (although that may be more of my reality-lens than his similarity). In the end, I suspect we'll both find what we are looking for.

And, in the end, my hope is that we all find our happinesses too.

Integrity First
Service Before Self
Excellence in All We Do
-- US Air Force Core Values

Friday, February 15, 2008

Creating a panorama from pictures

A couple of months ago, I downloaded the Windows Live Photo Gallery as a companion to the Windows Live Writer that I use for authoring my blog. It isn't perfect, but has some really nice features that might make it worth a look.

On the good side, I've found that the Auto Fix Photos does a better job of adjusting color balance and brightness than the Microsoft Picture Manager included with Office, and the included Sharpness control is good at cleaning up the occasional blur. On the minus side, there is no batch editing, so the process of touching up a gallery can be tediously slow.

A cool feature that really impressed me is the "Create Panoramic Photo" function.

The bridge at the Spanish village of Ronda is spectacular, but I struggled to find a picture from the viewpoints around it. The best that I could do was to get a collection of photos:

DSC04544 DSC04546 DSC04547 DSC04543 DSC04545

As an experiment, I ran them all through the panoramic photo tool, and in a minute, it warped, turned, and connected the pictures to create a seamless composite:

DSC04543 Stitch

I need to experiment with it a bit more to see how to get the best composite, but it really seems to work.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Microsoft nor stake in Windows Live.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Where do all the good thoughts go?

Nature is inherently conservative: good things are retained and passed along, while bad things are discarded.  The maxim holds for nature, for nurture, for evolved and acquired traits.

This reflection led to "windshield thinking", driving through Portugal, about how nature might be conservative about experience.

Over our full years, each of us builds up a lifetime of experiences, carefully stored and indexed as memory, available for instant recall, association, and application.  It seems to me that this knowledge, built up over decades of survival, is too important to simply be discarded at death.  (How) Does nature, therefore, conserve valuable experience acquired by it's agents?image

One idea might be preservation by patriarchy.  At a certain age, accumulated experience might simply be embodied as the wisdom of elders, passed along as oral teachings and oracle-style answers to questions.  I have to admit that there is an appeal to putting on robes, growing a beard, and becoming a patriarch some day. But this is a fragile and inefficient way of preserving experience. (In contrast, as women look forward to matriarchy, is there a contrasting role for passing judgement on right and wrong behavior and associations?)

Another might be preservation by externalization.  Experience could be written down as a memoir or treatise, placed on a shelf image(or on the Internet) for future generations to discover when it became relevant.  However, I think that unless a work attracted a commentary it would likely be lost.  I'm reminded of the knowledge passed to the Eloi in Well's "The Time Machine": still intelligible, the knowledge carefully preserved has still ceased to have any meaning for them.  It's as sure a waste of experience as if it had died with it's creators.

The religiously inclined might argue that experience lives on through preservation imageof the soul or through reincarnation.  While I have no empiric data to suggest that this alternative is correct, it is at least romantically attractive to think that the imprint of my life somehow becomes part of a universal, collective, and eternal wisdom.  I imagine each of us sent out with free will, returning with the lessons of a unique conscious path, and, finally, on whole, creating the full fabric and texture of life's possibility.

Who can know the truth?  I surely don't, but driving through the mountains and across the plains, seeing the world, meeting people, sharing ideas, it just seems a waste that it doesn't end up somewhere other than my own mortal mind.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

...but I loved Seville !

After Malaga, the drive led north through the Sierra Nevada mountains to Seville, a two lane road that winds through wonderful valleys and gorges. Although TomTom said that it would take two more hours, it doesn't: traffic flows nicely across the desert plains on the north side of the highlands, and the views are so much better.

Seville is an absolute delight: a fanciful city of blue tile and orange stucco walls. The old core reminds me of Venice: the streets are narrow walks open only to pedestrians, lined with shops and homes and everyday life. Orange trees line the boulevards, and extensive gardens to sit and watch the people go by. The city is very compact and easy to walk, warm and welcoming morning and evening.

DSC04100 DSC04122

The Cathedral has the largest interior space in Europe, walls coated with gold and ceilings arching yellow far overhead. Four huge figures bear the sarcophagus of Columbus; a massive carved wood organ set in rose marble dominates the center of the nave. The adjacent Giralda has a ramp that curls easily up to the bell tower, allowing for an easy (and free) walk up to wonderful views of the city.

DSC04000 DSC04049

The Real Alcazar is a beautiful Moorish-style palace surrounding extensive sculpted gardens. I hadn't realized how dramatic sightlines could be within a building: every arch frames a view, lines of geometric tiles lead room to room, arches draw the eye up, mosaics draw the eye down. The courtyards and galleries are regal without losing human scale, and it's worth hours taking it all in.

It also had one of the more pointlessly amusing translations to help tourists with Spanish.

I could easily have spent twice the time exploring the city, and felt like I especially didn't really get to sample the food adequately. In any case, I highly recommend it as a getaway destination.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reflecting on Malaga

'Back from a wonderful few days in the South of Spain and Portugal. There weren't many Internet connections along the way, so it was a real vacation, disconnected from the office and the social network. The travel loop led through the mountains near Ronda, around Seville, and across the Algarve: weather was temperate and very windy.

I had originally planned to drive the Costa del Sol from Malaga to Gibraltar, up to Cadiz, and then around into Portugal, but I very quickly tired of the coastline. DSC04454There is absolutely rampant construction everywhere, with cranes dotting the horizon and white condominium developments crawling up every hillside. The agents are asking well over 100,000 euros for units: who is buying bits of these vast tracts of new construction? There are lots of British in Spain, Germans in Portugal, but do they all have enough disposable income to buy in these volumes? And to stay?

I also wonder at the impact of the changes on the local economy, culture, and environment. DSC03938 The people that I talked with in cafe's and grocery stores were happy for the jobs and money, but resentful of the overwhelming number of visitors and the escalation of prices. The land seems fragile and arid, and unlikely to be able to sustain the cumulative pressure of people that is being placed upon it. The small towns already look more like strip malls, sterile and empty much of the day.

Somehow, Globalization should be more respectful of local scale.

At the moment, once the world economy identifies what an area is good for, it overwhelmingly exploits that single aspect. The Costa del Sol isDSC03936 good for vacation homes, so thousands are built, erasing towns, agriculture, and coastal wilderness. I don't think that the resulting monoculture can be viable or adaptable over the long term. Thus, the short term elevation in living standards would seem to be only a temporary benefit. Like Algernon's mouse, it has the potential to leave the region in worse condition when the boom ends, having lost the historic culture that lived from and supported the region.