Archive - Jan 2011

January 31st

Music Monday - Godel, Escher, Swift

Where do stars come from? It is the sort of question I would hear from my daughters when they were young and looking through a telescope with me. Years later, they would ask the same question as they watched American Idol or some awards show. In both cases, the answer might be something similar, you take a lot of hot air and wait for something cosmic to happen.

I would love to hear Jon Swift’s response to those questions. Jon Swift is an astrophysicist. He describes his research this way:

While I find all topics of astronomy fascinating, my professional research has focused on Galactic star formation. Following the discovery of a pre-stellar core located in an evolved and isolated molecular cloud (Swift et al. 2005, 2006), I spent the last part of my graduate career designing and completing a comprehensive observational program aimed at understanding the L1551 dark cloud in which that core exists (Swift 2006, Swift & Welch 2008).

Jon Swift is also an amazing musician. His bio page ways:

As Jon derives much of his inspiration from nature, it is not surprising that his music has been featured in snowboard and ski videos, yoga DVD's, fly fishing movies, and surf films such as Shelter, The Drifter, and Melali: The Drifter Sessions. Jon's song Run River has also fueled Corona Australia's highly successful From Where You'd Rather Be television ad campaign which was expanded to South America this year.

Jon Swift, however, can probably give much better explanations to how stars are formed. In the realm of astrophysics, he might talk about “a dynamic and inflowing envelope” around “the evolved molecular cloud L1551“. When it comes to music, he might shrug off the stardom that is generated by hot air. Instead, he notes that astrophysics and songwriting are complimentary. He mentions Kurt Godel’s work.

I grew up on Godel, Escher and Bach, and have always been fascinated by music that transcends incompleteness. There is a transcendent nature to Swift’s music, yet he goes further. He talks about the importance of discipline and detachment as essential components to any constructive activity, including songwriting.

The detachment comes through masterfully, most likely because of his discipline.

So, when you want some engrossing music, something more than the hot air that makes up so much of contemporary music, when you have some time to be still, to be detached and listen to music that goes beyond thought, spend some time listening to Jon Swift’s music.

A brief digression; I like to end my Music Monday posts with a video. As I searched for a good music video of Jon Swift, I found some really impressive covers of Swift’s music. That says something. Anyway, without further ado, let me end this blog post with this video:

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January 30th

Access to Power

The events of the past couple weeks, the shooting in Arizona, the political turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt, and even the court battles in Chicago have got me thinking a bit about access to power. I’ve chosen this phrase deliberately. At my job, we have an ‘access to care’ team that helps people get access to health care. (There is even a website for people in Connecticut to help them find out if they Qualify for Health Care). To address problems that people are having, they need to know more about the access they have to health care, as well as to people in power. One story I recently heard was of a man who was down on his luck and had an untreated medical condition. The access to care team helped him get the care he needed and his life has turned around.

While there are few things as basic as our health, a ran into a more striking story recently. I met a person who was showing me pictures of his family. There he was, with his family, together with Governor Malloy, Senator Blumenthal, his Congressman, and various other elected officials. He beamed as he talked about his kids talking with our leaders.

Now, I most admit, I take this sort of stuff for granted. I’ve worked in politics. I know many of our elected officials on a first name basis. My wife and I have received unsolicited personal calls from noted politicians asking our thoughts on various issues. It is how American Democracy is supposed to work.

Later, I learned that the man I was speaking with, however, was not originally from this country. He fled to America after his parents were killed in his native country. It put a whole new perspective on access to power.

In a few weeks, we will be having special elections here in Connecticut. My wife works for Common Cause and is always looking for places to do voter registration drives. I suggested doing a voter registration drive at some of the community health centers around Connecticut. The National Association of Community Health Centers, NACHC, has this campaign to get community health centers to do voter registration. I suspect this may be looked at more from an advocacy point of view, but I’d like to suggest that it should be looked at from a public health point of view. People who feel empowered, who feel that they have a say in the political process, are probably likely to be healthier as well.

I suggested that NACHC should partner with an organization like Common Cause to do voter registration. However, folks at NACHC think that community health centers should need special voter registration drives. Instead, voter registration should be a natural part of the community health center experience. It should be as natural to ask a new patient if they are registered, as it is to ask about their insurance. Voter registration forms should be available at all community health centers, the same way they should be at every department of motor vehicles.

Yet this takes me back to the comparison between access to care and access to power. Providing forms is not enough. We need to help people understand if they are qualified to vote, and help them with any questions they have filling out the forms. We need access to power teams, just like we need access to care teams. Community health centers might be wise to collaborate with organizations like Common Cause since access to power teams is more of a core competency of groups like Common Cause than it is of health centers.

We have plenty of issues with health care in our country, but for many access to power isn’t one of them. In defending the American way of life, we should all be working together on simple ways of improving access to power for those who have limited access.

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January 29th

How Do You Tell Your Children Not to Paint Each Other Green?

Yesterday, my middle daughter who skipped high school to go to art school, and a couple months after she turns 18 will start her master’s degree program in art in Boston, posted a picture of me on Facebook. It was from when we went to pick a Christmas tree last month. To the photograph, she added the caption, “This is the lecture face.” Her older sister responded, “ Or the ‘...Mairead, did you really HAVE to paint your sister's head green?’ face”. Miranda responded, “ I think it's a similar idea :P”

When they were much younger, Mairead did in fact paint Miranda’s head green. It was hilarious and made the Blue Man Group look like amateurs. Fortunately, it was some water soluble poster paint that would come off easily in the bathtub. Unfortunately, there was paint everywhere, some of which may never have gotten completely removed from the floors, ceilings, walls, grout around the bathtub, etc.

It raised an important issue. How do you tell your children not to paint each other green? Somehow, bursting out laughing and acknowledging the great creativity seemed fraught with risks. While it was greatly imaginative, it wasn’t something I wanted to encourage. They were, after all, at that tender age where if you tell them something funny, they would keep repeating it long past it stopped being funny, and I suspect that it wouldn’t take too many times of cleaning up paint everywhere for such art projects to become pretty annoying.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to stifle the budding creativity. So, I took as close to a middle course as possible and put on my ‘lecture face’. I don’t know what I said, I hope I complimented them on the creativity, compared it to Blue Man Group as well as to rites in various aboriginal cultures, and then spoke with them about what a mess it made and told them they had to clean up, and not make any more messes that large.

I don’t recall how they reacted to the lecture, but they did take a bath, or perhaps two, and watched the green water go down the drain.

Did I strike the right note? It’s hard to say. Miranda is heading off to a graduate program in art. However, Mairead may have felt the rebuke more strongly. So, how do you tell your children not to paint each other green?

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January 28th

Remembering the Challenger

It seems hard to believe it was twenty-five years ago. I was working at 360 Hamilton Ave, White Plains, NY as an external consultant on IBM’s Advanced Accounting System. If I recall properly, my officemate’s wife was a junior high school teacher, and we were all very excited about the shuttle taking off. However, Steve was a bit of a practical joker.

So, shortly after the shuttle was scheduled to lift off, he received a phone call. It was his wife calling. I don’t remember overhearing the discussion, but after he hung up, he turned to me and said in a complete deadpan voice, “The shuttle exploded”, or something like that.

It was so deadpan, so unexpected, I thought he was joking, but it quickly became clear that he wasn’t. Back then, IBM had an internal network called VNET. I had already connected with IBM employees from around the world on this very early precursor to social networking. VNET had a connection to BITNET, and from BITNET you could get out to ARPA and Usenet, although it was pretty restricted.

One of IBM’s big locations at the time was in Boca Raton, which is a couple hundred miles south of Cape Canaveral, and I remember the emails flying in from Boca Raton about the explosion. There were a lot of people at IBM that were deeply emotionally invested in the space program.

I remember reading the emails, being in shock, sharing thoughts with Steve. In many ways, it was my first experience of a major news event through information I was receiving online.

Later, I listened to President Reagan’s speech. I was not a fan of President Reagan, yet on this day, his simple but elegant speech summed it up better than I could ever have imagined.

The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them....
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."

So, this evening, I watched a clip of CNN’s broadcast of the Challenger explosion and a clip of President Reagan delivering his speech. Kim and I talked about the event with Fiona.

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January 27th

Snow Day

Today was a snow day. For Fiona, it meant no school. For Kim, it meant working from home, as well as spending a some time digging out. For me, I went to work and it was a long day.

I spent about an hour digging out the car. While I was working on it, the plow came and clear the driveway so I could get out. The drive to work was fairly uneventful. There weren’t many cars on the road, so even though the roads were not as clear as they could be, traffic moved along briskly. I was fortunate in finding a good parking place when I got to work.

Part of my job, as social media manager is to setup a blog. The blog is not ready for a formal launch. There are still things that I’m tweaking. However, I’m getting a few good blog posts up.

With that, I’m pretty tired and don’t have a lot of writing energy right now. So, if you want to see my efforts with the CHC blog, check out this. Just be aware that it is still under construction. There are lots of things I need to fix or setup.

That said, if you have thoughts or comments about any of my recent blog posts over there, let me know.

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