The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Current Affairs ... Technology ...

I’m probably into the final decade of my working life, so I’m not trying all that hard anymore to keep up with modern business trends. Nevertheless, I was chatting with the IT director at my job the other day, and we started talking about cloud computing. Our employer (a mid-sized local government agency) does not yet utilize cloud services, but the IT guy wants us to. I asked him, just why do we need to buy our computing services from “the cloud”. The IT guy in question is not very good at giving concise, relevant answers. And once again, he went off on one of his rambling monologues (sort of like my blog entries!). But somewhere in his speech, I heard a sentence that actually summed it up.

In a nutshell: my employer invested over a quarter million $$ into servers and enterprise software for e-mail, file storage and exchange, anti-virus, and other network management functions. This is the backbone of our data system, to which about 400 desktop computers are connected. We pay additional on-going sums for all the wiring within our main office, and to rent T-1 connection lines between our headquarters and 5 remote office locations. There are further fees for equipment repair, software maintenance, and the in-house staff needed to keep the servers healthy.

Going to the cloud means renting all of this capacity from some big company with a huge server bank, and connecting to it with individual high-speed internet connections from every local site. As such, we could do away with  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:04 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Photo ...

A little portrait of a wet, rainy day in February.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:08 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Friday, February 22, 2013
Brain / Mind ... Politics ... Society ...

Over the past few decades, America seems to be getting less homophobic and more accepting of gay life-styles. And that’s a good thing, obviously (well, I HOPE this is obvious!). Between 2001 and 2012, Gallup reports that the percentage of Americans who feel that homosexual relationships are moral increased from 40% to 54%. I did not see any data before 2000, but I would have to imagine that this percentage down in the 30’s or upper 20’s back in the 1950’s. Some other gay acceptance factoids: Public acceptance of gays in the military grew from 51% in a 1977 Gallup Poll to 80% in 2003; and approval of gays as elementary school teachers grew from 27% in 1977 to 61% in 2003.

One of the key factors to increasing acceptance of homosexuality appears to be the notion that gayness is more a matter of nature than nurture. Over the past 25 years, there have been many articles citing scientific research showing links between intra-family traits, genes and homosexuality. The Gallup report cited above said that in 1977, 56% of people polled believed that being gay was caused by their upbringing and environment, while 13% said it was something that people are born with. In 2012, those numbers are 35% environment and 40% born-with.

Obviously, there is still some resistance to fully accepting gay people; again, about one-third still feel that gayness is caused  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:08 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Current Affairs ... Society ... Zen ...

My Zen sangha (Clear Mountain Zen Center) has a web site where they post recorded mp3 files of the weekly “teisho”, i.e. the 10 minute talks usually given during the second sitting period by Sensei Carl Bachmann, or one of the senior teaching members. Last week, Sensei Bachmann’s talk reflected upon the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” in light of the First Buddhist Precept, i.e. “abstain from causing harm and taking life”. Actually, the Sensei was discussing the overall US effort to find and kill Osama Bin Laden, which is what Zero Dark Thirty fairly accurately portrays. The movie seems to have convinced him that evil truly exists. Some weeks ago he was considering re-writing our Gatha of Repentance as to expunge the term “evil karma”. But since ZDT, he is content with it.

So what did teacher Bachmann find to be the main evil of ZDT? I would have thought it was the September 11, 2001 attacks which killed 2,996 people, and also the other terror attacks carried out before and after that date by Al Qaeda against civilians in London, Madrid and throughout the Middle East. Those attacks appear to me to violate the First Precept in a huge and heinous fashion.

But no. The good Sensei felt that the covert US actions depicted in the movie, including the torture  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, February 15, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Science ... Society ...

My last blog entry discussed how important information clearly is. But as to it’s being the core of reality, the most fundamental thing about our universe . . . I myself don’t think that’s right.

Think again about my busy day off (discussed in the previous blog entry), and all the ups and downs that I had based on what information I had and did not have. The reality is that plenty of other information came my way in this time, but did not make much of a difference to me. I listened to the news on the radio, saw various cars and trucks on Route 46, saw the cloudy sky and felt the moderately cold air. Some people were speaking Spanish in K-Mart. Lots of information, but not particularly relevant to me. Despite all the science, it still comes down to the fact that some information means something, and other information doesn’t, relative to the user. Some information “informs”, other info does not. At the heart of the information is the word “form”. Information is abstract and intangible; form happens when things becomes real.

And what does “real” mean? Just what is real? I tried to get in touch with the answer  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:30 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Personal Reflections ... Science ... Society ...

Yesterday was a good day to think about the concept of “information”, and what roles it plays in our lives. It was Lincoln’s Birthday, and my local government employer is one of the last that still gives this day off. Instead of sleeping in and enjoying a lazy day (where not much information would be required), I decided to get up early and plunge ahead with a to-do list. I was hurling myself into a state of informational need and uncertainty. For starters, I wanted to stop in on the 6:30 am quiet meditation session at my local zendo (Clear Mountain in Montclair). However, I knew that the fellow who usually opens up the place had the flu just a few days ago, and I was unsure if he would be there or if anyone else would show up.

This lack of information broke in a nice way when I arrived to find the zendo door open, a candle lit, and some of my fellow sangha members posed on their zafus in the Buddha hall. By 8am we had re-convened at the usual coffee shop. I got the usual parking spot, ordered the usual large decaf, and paid the usual price. The other people there were talking and acting in just about the same ways that I expected of them. My inner mental information state and outward reality seemed in synch once again.

My next stop was the state motor vehicle inspection station in Wayne, about 10 miles away. My car is due for the bi-annual emissions check, and it seemed like a good time to get that done. But wait a minute —  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, February 8, 2013
Economics/Business ... Public Policy ... Society ...

A recent study indicates that Baby Boomers on average have worse health than their parents’ generation did. Being an aging Boomer, this really disappoints me. My generation sold itself on being so hip and enlightened, so ready to change the world and set it free. I thought that we were earthy and close to nature and body conscious, that we exercised and ate healthy (organic even), and thus were going to age gracefully. We despised big-business manipulation and thus would avoid all the salivatory temptations laid before us by Pepsi and Burger King and Kraft foods, i.e. high calorie fast foods and microwave-heated processed meals and high-fat munchies from big plastic bags. But no, on average we are more overweight and sicker and have higher blood pressure than our parents had at this point in life. We might be living longer than they did, but only because of medical science; we will be depending greatly on its expensive nostrums to delay the inevitable end of our confused, contradictory, self-absorbed lives.

And in the process of using so much expensive medical care at the government’s expense (Medicare isn’t going to be touched despite GOP lectures about fiscal responsibility), we are dragging down the nation’s economic growth and making a much more difficult future for today’s kids and young adults. Various Baby Boomer commentators including economist Robert Samuelson
(“There’s a huge redistribution from young to old — a redistribution that will be made worse if retiree programs are largely excluded from deficit reduction . . . taxes will rise steeply or other federal programs will be cut sharply. The young will pay more and get less. . . “) and pundit David Brooks (e.g., “entitlement spending is crowding out spending on investments in our children and on infrastructure . . . the real entitlement problem is Medicare”, and “Seniors vote. . . as a result, seniors are being protected while children are getting pummeled. If you look across the country, you see education financing getting sliced. . .”) repeatedly explain how the federal budget deficits that are being caused by entitlement commitment to the aging Baby Boom generation will suck vitality out of the US economy for the next 25 years or so. Young people just entering the working world today will still be paying off our bills in 2040, through high taxes and reduced economic growth. Their standard of living and opportunities for betterment will clearly be impacted by “my generation”.

I’m really disappointed to hear that we Baby Boomers are acting so irresponsibly. We’re still  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:15 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Technology ...

I have not yet gotten myself a smart phone, and I don’t think I will anytime soon. I’ve seen many of the Androids and I-Phones out there, very impressive. They do all kinds of things; view pictures, take pictures, surf the Internet, figure out your location with GPS, tell you where restaurants and other stuff is in your vicinity, record voices, view and send e-mail and text messages, on and on. But you know what? Aside from the e-mail and texting, these smart phones remind me of Leatherman tools. I.e., those all-in-one things that look like a mutant pair of pliers; they have all sorts of mini-tools folding out from them. Akin to a Swiss knife on steroids!

But as with the Leatherman, almost none of the tools on a smart phone are the best possible forms of that tool. The I-Phone screens, although getting bigger,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:15 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Knowing that I was once a serious railroad enthusiast (and still am, to some degree), a friend from my Zen community recently loaned me a photo book relating to railroads, Railroad Voices by Linda Neimann and Lina Bertucci. This was not the usual dry historical tome or railroad photo album aimed at buffs and modelers. Railroad Voices tells a story of two women who encountered modern railroad life in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, a time of much change and contraction in the railroad industry. The book speaks to an artistic and intellectually engaged audience; both women have unusual combination of academic achievement (PhD’s) and experience as train crew employees, being among the first women to break the male-only barrier in that job category. Their book does not assume any particular interest in the railroad industry; the railroad serves mostly as a stage for the unfolding of various social vignettes. The railfan can come along for the ride, but shouldn’t expect that hobbiest interests and sensibilities will be catered to.

Thus, from a railfan perspective, I was initially disappointed with Railroad Voices (but not to say that its stories and photographs are entirely devoid of technical interest). Also, as a former switch tower operator, I would have liked some pictures and stories from inside the switch towers (like the ones seen in Ms. Bertucci’s photos from Milwaukee). Ditto for the dispatchers who directed train movements, plus the signal maintainers who kept the switches and signals working.

But no, this is a train crew’s story told in words and photos. A story well told, albeit from a somewhat unusual perspective — i.e., from the eyes and ears of women  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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