Saturday, May 02, 2009

Streaming Consciousness

Free writing results from this morning's Writing Group session at BarCampPortland:


Things--physical objects--give a sense of place, but they're not the only thing. The sound of traffic outside might tell you you're in a city. The smell of grass and flowers might indicate the countryside.

I once heard a lecture by a computer science professor who had developed software to tell, from the shadows visible in a photograph taken outdoors, exactly where on the planet and at what time of day that picture was taken. But the computer only does analysis. It has no memory of that place. It doesn't know who took that photo, why the woman on the left looks a little sad, whether this was the end of the party or just the beginning.

One of my high school teachers told me that you can frame a photograph when you're taking it--choose where the edges are, where the image ends--and leave out certain things. He thought that a written account was a better memento, because you can include as much as you want. I think it's also better because it's an active recalling of the event.


The Fourth of July! Celebration! Parades, flags, music, marches, people everywhere. Fireworks show audiences are always crowded. Not just because the pyrotechnic materials themselves are closely regulated, but because it takes skill and expertise to deploy them. Any kid with a sparkler can shoot off some sparks, but it takes real, professional telant to put on a show.

Where does one go to learn the fireworks trade? Are there vocational schools? Correspondence sources? (Probably not.) The biggest fireworks manufacturer in America is a family business, and has been for decades. They have trade secrets--even their powder mixture and construction techniques are proprietary. It would be a tragedy if all that knowledge was lost one day because they held on to it too tightly.

On the other hand, "open source" firewords probably wouldn't work, either. These are high explosives. You can't experiment with them the same way you can tinker with computer code--crashing a web server is not as bad as blowing off a finger, or an arm. We need to build on the knowledge of others, a tleast for the fundamentals. The artistry comes after the craft.


Rain is not always cold. People complain about the weather here in Portland, joke about the rainy season being "January 1st through December 31st," but I've seen days where it's sunny and rainy at the same time. Okay, so it also hails in April, and last December was the snowiest for something like 40 years, but I like the variety.

What I don't like--and my wife hates--is driving in the snow. We drove down to California, the bay area, back in February, and putting on chains to go through Grants Pass was terrifying for her. She's lived all over the US, including Minneapolis, where it got so cold that the ground was literally frozen when her brother had to go outside and bury a knife (that's another story), but she's never had to put on tire chains before.

When she lived in Chicago, they didn't allow chains because they would tear up the road--everyone had snow tires or 4-wheel drive instead. Also, they plowed the streets regularly. Last December, Vancouver, Washington, was totally buried for days because the city didn't have enough snowplows or drivers to clear the streets. We were very glad that we only lived half a mile from the grocery store, because it was kind of fun to trudge through the snow and go shopping. But only once.


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