lawrence

A Song for Kansas Day

Wandering children of Kansas away,
 By mountain, by desert, or sea,
Feasting or fasting, at prayer or at play,
 Whatever your fortunes may be,
Open the doors of your hearts to the breeze,
 Prairie wind never are still,
Hark to the surf in the cottonwood trees,
 The breakers that boom on the hill.
Open your soul’s windows–let in the sun–
 The prairie sun gay with delight.
Where’er your wandering pathways have run,
 Come home tonight.

Come home where Kansas lies under the stars
 Twinkling back beauty and joy;
Come and let homely love poultice your scars,
 Leave off your restless employ.
Come home where summer winds billow the wheat,
 Where golden tides cover the sands;
Come–let your heart’s longings hasten your feet
 And home love unfetter your hands.
Come where the tawny sunflower eagerly bends
 A tawny frank face to the light,
So do our hearts seek the joy of old friends–
 Come home tonight.

— William Allen White, “A Song for Kansas Day”

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making things

I made a thing

In the spirit of making things this year, I bought a sewing machine. My ultimate goal is to make beautiful quilts like this and this and this, for wrapping myself in while reading books and for giving to friends and for handing down to future generations. I’m starting small, though: I made a potholder.

yellow_potholder

I looked up a bunch of tutorials online, ranging from the fancy matching set with rounded corners and double fold bias tape binding to the quick and dirty, who needs pins?, all machine-sewn version. Ultimately, I leaned toward the quick & dirty.

This may have already been obvious from the photos above.

It’s not perfect—I attempted to free quilt using my new machine, just for kicks, and didn’t end up liking the look of it (though maybe actually having a design in mind, rather than going at it willy-nilly, would have helped). The binding is wonky. The hanging loop was an afterthought, and as a result is oddly placed. HOWEVER. I’m proud of my awkward first attempt (which Dan already used this morning to pick up a hot cast iron skillet—it’s functional, even if it’s ugly!), and I’m not yet totally scared off from the idea of someday making something someone else will actually admire. Success!

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books, life list, making things

Goals

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about goal-setting, self-incubation, being myself and being bad at things, and finding direction and clarity. Today, I stumbled across Maggie Mason’s blog post on editing your life list and decided it was time to give mine an overhaul.

Taken off: lots of old travel goals that have become less interesting or important over time (do I really need to ride in a dhow off the coast of Zanzibar? There’s a good chance I’d much prefer spending a week on the Pacific Coast Trail instead.), a few conferences I no longer want to attend (ahem), a few older fitness/adventure goals that have since changed (goodbye, obstacle race; hello, ultramarathon).

Updated: liking poached eggs. A couple of years ago, I somehow convinced myself a) to eat one and b) that I liked it, but I’ve never ever wanted to eat one again. I’m leaving this as a successful accomplishment anyway (though I did remove “learn how to make a poached egg,” as it now seems like a fairly pointless personal skill).

Added: a ton of goals related to making things. Since finishing the first version of Wedding Draft last fall for my CS50 final project, I’ve been itching to make more things—to write more (and better!) code, to cook, to blog, to hand-stamp thank you cards, to sew, to make things out of clay. Some of these are things I already do well; some are things I haven’t done since I was a kid. I’m looking forward to working more on these skills this year.

Reviewed: I realized I’ve let some of the goals on my list languish, un-crossed-off, for years, even though I’ve almost definitely achieved them. The problem: I have no proof. To help fix this, I’ve started tracking the books I’ve read this year so that I can finally cross “read 100 books in a year” off the list. So far it’s a few fantasy novels (vacation reading), a couple of more literary novels, and, erm, a wedding planning book because Dan and I got engaged last week. Looking forward to keeping track for the rest of the year, then maybe using the skills I’m hoping to learn over the next few months to make some pretty pictures out of the resulting information about the kinds of things I’m reading.

To sum up: housecleaning, self-incubating (less weird than it sounds), and making things. Here’s to 2014!

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cs50, SIPA

On numbers

One of my favorite lectures at SIPA was Paul Thurman’s last lecture for Quantitative Analysis for International & Public Affairs.

Stats is required for every SIPA student, not just those concentrating in economic development or international finance, and a lot of people hate it in the same way that high school students hate math. Thurman was tasked with the very tough job of convincing us that it was relevant to each and every one of our careers. After a semester of practice sets and STATA and normal distributions and t-tests and midterms, Thurman sat us down, flipped on a projector, and pretty much convinced us all.

We had just finished presenting our final projects, which (he teased) had probably been rush jobs—all nighters pulled in the library frantically running multiple regressions. He asked us to walk through another rushed stats project with him to see if we could figure out what had gone wrong. The slides he put up were partially blacked out to protect the confidentiality of the client, but the essence was that a set of tests to identify possible correlations between temperature and the failure of a certain mechanical part were being horrifically misinterpreted.

Turns out the mechanical part was an O-ring—the O-ring that failed on an unusually cold day in January 1986, causing the Challenger to explode.

While the engineers in charge of determining safety—people whose jobs it was to run the numbers and interpret the math—had correctly identified this as a problem, multiple people at other layers of the project—managers at both NASA and Morton Thiokol, the contracting company responsible for building the O-rings—had decided to go ahead with the launch anyway.

Thurman’s point was that statisticians, engineers, and data geeks aren’t the only ones who need to pay attention to the numbers. Most of us would at some point be in a position where we would need to make decisions based on quantitative analysis, and given our collective interest in development, finance, and economics, many of these decisions could have real, serious impact on people’s lives. He then put a photo of his kids up on the screen and charged us with making sure, essentially, that we didn’t fuck things up for them or future generations.

(It sounds almost unforgivably hokey now, but I wasn’t the only one with goosebumps, and some people actually cried.)

Four years later, I’m taking David Malan’s intro to computer science course, CS50. Monday’s class was partially about imprecision in float variables, and Malan showed a video that took me right back to Thurman’s class:

(In case you’re not up for 9 minutes of Modern Marvels: because “one tenth of a second” can’t be represented precisely in binary, the clock on early versions of the Patriot missile lost precision over time. Because of this error, the missile failed to intercept an incoming Iraqi missile during the Gulf War, leading to the deaths of 28 American soldiers. A short explanation is here.)

To sum up: numbers are really important.

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digital activism, human rights, internet censorship, u.s. politics

Anonymous asks people to call Congress; US responds by shutting down wifi at Gitmo

Earlier this evening I saw that the Associated Press and others are reporting that the US military has shut down wifi service, along with access to Facebook and Twitter, at Guantanamo.

According to Army Lt. Col. Samuel House, who spoke with the AP, the shutdown was a response to a May 6 press release from Anonymous, titled “We are closing Guantanamo Bay for good.” The release lists the phone numbers of the White House, US Southern Command, and the Department of Defense, links to a Change.org petition to close Guantanamo, and urges readers to “join global actions on the ground and hacktivist protests as well as twitterstorms, email bombs, and fax bombs, in 3 days of nonstop action.”

Unlike in earlier operations, where Anonymous has threatened to “lay waste to…servers” in response to human rights violations in Bahrain or to prevent the State of the Union from being broadcast online, the #OpGTMO press release doesn’t appear to contain any specific hacking-related threats. In fact, I can’t find anything “threatening” at all about this entirely legitimate call to legal civic action.

I’m left wondering: why, exactly, was shutting down wifi and access to social media an appropriate response? (And furthermore, how would these measures—especially blocking Facebook and Twitter—even make a difference, were Anonymous or others to decide to launch a DDoS attack against US military servers?) So far the best commentary I can find on this issue comes from Brittany Hillen at Slashgear:

It is worth noting the press release doesn’t say anything about hacking or cyberattacking the network, instead urging the public to bombard the powers that be with denouncements of the prison’s conditions, actions, and continued existence. As such, it has been pointed out on the Operation Guantanamo’s Twitter account that the base has taken itself offline, with the hacking collective not having to do anything, seemingly fulfilling the purpose it was assumed Anonymous sought to achieve.

There’s no word on when the network will be available again.

Ahem.

(Relatedly: does anyone know what the non-military Internet access options are for military service members on the island? General Internet access in Cuba is fairly dismal, but I’m wondering what other options, if any, exist for the average sailor/Marine.)

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boston, human rights, LGBT, uganda

Call Me Kuchu: March 12, 2013 in Salem, MA

I just got back from a screening of Call Me Kuchu, a film about Uganda’s LGTB activist community, at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. I’ve been eager to see this film since I first blogged about it in May 2011, and it lived up to the nearly two years of anticipation.

Boston-area folks: it’s also playing at the Salem Film Fest on March 12, 2013. It’s not available in the States yet, so this might be your only chance to see it for a while.

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lawrence

A Song for Kansas Day

Wandering children of Kansas away,
By mountain, by desert, or sea,
Feasting or fasting, at prayer or at play,
Whatever your fortunes may be,
Open the doors of your hearts to the breeze,
Prairie wind never are still,
Hark to the surf in the cottonwood trees,
The breakers that boom on the hill.
Open your soul’s windows–let in the sun–
The prairie sun gay with delight.
Where’er your wandering pathways have run,
Come home tonight.
 
Come home where Kansas lies under the stars
Twinkling back beauty and joy;
Come and let homely love poultice your scars,
Leave off your restless employ.
Come home where summer winds billow the wheat,
Where golden tides cover the sands;
Come–let your heart’s longings hasten your feet
And home love unfetter your hands.
Come where the tawny sunflower eagerly bends
A tawny frank face to the light,
So do our hearts seek the joy of old friends–
Come home tonight.

— William Allen White, “A Song for Kansas Day”

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