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Concert at the Universala Kongreso

July 28, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Tonight, after a pleasant dinner with Kalle Kniivila and family, Phil and I attended a concert at the Universala Kongreso. More than a thousand spectators packed the auditorium: the largest part elderly white Europeans, but many Asians and some Americans and others (from Oceania and the Carribean).

The first act, Getch Gaëtano, was quite good. He was a young white guy who played guitar and had a very solid backup band. They played rock, but with a northern European, sometimes even Celtic beat. When he came on stage he said "Saluton!" but then started speaking French. This was a bit of a surprise to me, as the musical performances are usually in Esperanto.

Getch Gaëtano

After several songs, they performed a song where he read the words in Esperanto — very competently — and received twice the applause. Then played a couple more songs in French (and one with some English, which had the weird line "I really have to touch your balls" — I swear that's what he said. I'm not making that up.) They one more more song in Esperanto then back back for one encore and were done.

The next group was a reggae band led by Zhou-Mack Mafuila from Zaire. He is a stocky black man with long dreadlocks. He came on the stage and called out "Saluton ĉiuj! Ĉu bone?" And the audience went wild: "BONEGE!"

Zhou-Mack Mafuila

He held the audience enthralled for a great, long set of reggae music: some in Esperanto and some in other languages, but interspersed with conversation with the audience in Esperanto. It was striking to me the immediate connection that really sharing language can make to bridge cultures, in a way that nothing else can.

I've often wondered if we could teach kids from the barrio, the inner city, and the suburbs all to speak Esperanto, because they could meet and talk and get to know one another without the barriers of language and accent to divide them.

Airline Trail Redux

July 18, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

In 2011, I rode the Airline Trail and wished I could ride it with Daniel and get dropped off at one end and picked up at another point. Today, Alisa helped me do it.

I put together a picnic lunch and we drove down there — it's a rather long drive. The weather was iffy, but the rain held off as we got on the trail in downtown East Hampton.

When I had ridden before, I'd started outside of town -- there's a nice parking area at Cranberry Pond. But it was fun to start right in town. The first quarter mile is only marginally ride-able. It goes up onto a fill, over a road, and then descends where a viaduct was removed and then goes back up. But then you get on the trail for reals and the riding is good.

The first several miles are generally flat or downhill. This is the part I'd ridden before. I was expecting to ride more slowly to enjoy the scenery, but Daniel seemed to be trying to get the ride over with, so we went pretty fast. We crossed the Rapallo and Lyman viaducts and continued generally downhill until the Blackledge River. For a relatively short period afterward, the trail was very sandy. It was not just loose sand, but was much more difficult and treacherous riding. The trail also began to trend upwards.

There is also a brief section where there's no trail crossing for Rt 2. There are in fact no indicators regarding how to cross the highway. It's not hard to figure out, but more signage -- and maybe some painted signals on the pavement might be nice. In fact, the whole trail could use better signposts and mile markers would be nice too.

As we entered the Grayville Falls Town Park, there's a nice little bridge over Judd Brook, where Daniel took a break for a few minutes as he was getting tired.

Daniel Tired

I exchanged a few text messages with Alisa, who had found the park, and then we pressed on, arriving just a few minutes later.

We had a lovely picnic using our picnic set and, just as we finished our repast, it began to rain. We got a little damp as we packed everything up and got into the car, but it just added a little color to the adventure. Now, I'll have to look further down the trail for more adventure!

Cape Cod Vacation

July 13, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

My inlaws invited Alisa and me to come vacation on the Cape. We stayed at a place called The Soundings in Dennisport along the southern coast. It was very opportune for me, as I've been wanting to ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. The trail has three ends with a rotary near the beginning to choose which way to go. The first day, I scouted the area and then set out to find the rail trail.

Cape Cide Bike Trail Rotary

My first effort took me down Belmont to Depot Road and then Bell's Neck Road. This last crosses the rail trail and looked like a quiet back road. It was. But then it became a gravel road and then got very sandy. I almost wiped out several times and resolved to not ride that way again. It was a really pretty spot, though, with ponds on both sides of the road, so we went back by car to park and walk around. But not a good place to bicycle. Having found the trail, I rode west a couple of miles to the beginning of the trail and then back to the condo.

I rode out very early the next morning to ride the Old Colony Rail Trail to Chatham. I rode up Depot Road, past Bell's Neck, to Depot Street and then onto the trail. As I arrived at the trail, I was tickled to find a Box Turtle in the parking area. I took a picture of him and then guarded him from vehicles until I could see which way he was going and then helped him into the vegetation.

Bix Turtle

The early part of the trail goes through Harwich to the rotary and then I headed east toward Chatham. It's a lovely trail between cranberry bogs and through oak and pine scrub forest. The trail goes through a few little towns and detours around the Chatham airport before ending unceremoniously at a road.

Having gotten to the end, I decided to look for breakfast and found that the best place seemed to be Hangar B, which was back at the airport I had passed. I rode back and got a seat outside where I could watch the planes coming and going. I got Red-flannel Hash with two poached eggs which came with sourdough toast and a little dish with strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry preserves. It was glorious -- unquestionably the best breakfast I've ever had. (Although the fact that I was starving probably has something to do with it too. :-)

Red-flannel Hash

After breakfast, I rode back and, in the end, went around 26 miles. It was a great ride. Later in the day, we went to the Cape Cod Brewery, where I got to try 5 samples of beer. I tried the regular IPA and then spent all my other samples (plus two extras from Alisa and Mickie) drinking the Bitter End Imperial IPA. It was really good.

Last of the Bitter End

The next morning, I took Alisa out for breakfast at Hangar B and went exploring the north shore by car. I crashed (in the bed) for an hour after lunch and then got on my bike to try to get to the other end — the longest leg.

I left around 1:15 and made good time. There isn't much wind on the rail trail because of the vegetation, but what there was was with me. But it was hot and having the wind with me made me even hotter. I got to Nickerson State Park and found a place to refill my water bottles, then pressed on. When I got to the end of the trail, I was pretty tired. I hacked the portal at the end of the trail and then turned around.

I had only gotten a few miles back when one of my pedals seized up and began grinding. I sent Alisa a text message asking her to organize a rescue and said I'd find a cross-street that would get me over to Rt. 6 to get picked up. It was complicated, however, by the fact that Alisa had left her car key locked in the car, which made driving the car impossible. In the meantime, however, I had found that there was a bike repair place on the cross street, so while we discussed the key situation, I was able to get my pedals replaced and continue my journey.

I was starting to get bonked when I reached Orleans, but found Hot Chocolate Sparrow, an espresso and ice-cream shop by the trail. I had been disgusted to find that on Cape Cod they don't seem to know what a milk shake is and want to make you buy a "frappe". And although this place had "frappes", they had a parenthetic note to say that this *was* a milk shake — and they had malt! So I was able to get a chocolate malt and press on. I ended up getting back to the condo around 7:15. Total distance, 52.5 miles with a riding time of 4 hours 45 minutes at 11mph.

After the ride, I took a quick shower and Alisa and I went for dinner at the Lost Dog Pub, which we had discovered in our morning explorations. This is our favorite place in St Croix and, although we had known there was a Cape Cod location, we'd never known where it was. I was mildly disappointed to find that they didn't have the Island Hoppin' IPA we can get on island, but they did have the Meatle Mania pizza, so I got one of those and consumed the whole thing.

Today, I've been able to take it easy: a nice soak in the hot tub and a short bike ride down the beach just to loosen up.

Cape Cod Beach

It's been a great vacation. Tomorrow morning, we check out and start heading back home.

Dupolusaj Proverboj

July 7, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Antaŭ kelkaj jaroj, mi ekhavis ideon. Mi ne diros ke ĝi estis bona ideo, sed mi havis la ideon krei retpaĝaron kiu prezentus aŭ hazardan proverbon (el la Esperanta Proverbaro) aŭ tekston farita per Markov-ĉena tekst-generilo. Mi notis ke la proverboj estas foje — eĉ ofte — enigmaj. Ekz. "Pri lando malproksima estas bone mensogi" aŭ "Ĝi ne eliris ankoraŭ el malproksima nebulo". Mi supozis ke estos amuze rigardi frazon kaj diveni ĉu ĝi estas vera proverbo aŭ maŝine farita.

Antaŭ semajno, mi havis kelkajn minutojn do starigis Dupolusaj Proverboj. Ĝi estas programeto kiu trifoje tage aŭ hazarde elektas proverbon aŭ uzas ĉi programon por krei "proverbon" el la korpuso de la proverbaro. Ili estas amuzaj!

Kelkaj estas tute trafaj:

Kelkaj estas preskaŭ senchavaj:

Kaj la plejmulto estas tute frenezaj:

Mi kreis la fluon kaj atendis por vidi ĉu iu notos ĝin, sed apenaŭ iu ajn ŝajne atentas. Nur unu alia homo nun sekvas la fluon (krom mi kaj Phil). Domaĝe ke temas pri nur Esperanto ĉar se temus pri Calvin kaj Hobbes, oni fanfaronus la ideon ĉe BoingBoing.

Bad Pharmacy Experience

July 6, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Knowing that I was going to be in-and-out of town over the summer, I made a point of getting my prescriptions refilled early, so I wouldn't have to worry. Unfortunately, the pharmacy I use has changed hands and the new one, Family Pharmacy, seems unable to work out how to receive prescriptions from the medical practice -- in spite of being in same building. Their system, based on sending and receiving faxes, is seemingly irreparably broken.

On June 4th, the medical practice faxed my refills, but on June 15th, the pharmacy had no record of the new scrips. So I filled out a request on the medical practice's "patient portal" (where they warn you that it will potentially take 48 hours to get a response) asking them to expedite resending the prescriptions, noting that I'll be leaving town on the 18th.

On the 17th, having heard nothing, I call and they say they've faxed them again. I drive to the pharmacy and the person behind the counter has one prescription, but says there "wasn't time to fill the other two". So I pick that one up (which was the only one I was running out of, luckily) and go on my trip.

Today, I go to pick up the other two prescriptions and find only one. The pharmacy checks their computer and says, "No. They haven't sent anything for the other prescription." I walk downstairs and ask the medical practice. They say they've faxed it twice. I walk upstairs and talk to the pharmacy. She says, "No, we haven't received anything BUT I'M NOT SURPRISED. THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME." (Emphasis mine.)

I walk back downstairs and ask at the medical practice, "Is there any way I can I get this resolved today, while I'm already here? So I don't have to drive out here again?" She said, "No, It takes 48 hours to get prescriptions resent." So, after railing at both the pharmacy and the medical practice that their system of transmitting prescriptions, based on sending and not-receiving faxes, is irreparably broken, I get in my car and drive away.

Hey, guys -- the 80's called: they want their fax machine back.

Update: After posting this, I got a prompt reply, they tracked down my prescription, and filled it. Much appreciated. Now we'll see if they can get their system sorted out before the next time I need a prescription refilled.

La Sekreta Kongreso

June 27, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Mi aŭdis onidirojn en januaro ke la usona Landa Kongreso okazos en Detroito. Sed kiam mi kontrolis la retpaĝaron estis neniu spuro.

Finfine oni anoncis la lokon, sed restis (kaj restas) tre malmulte da informo. Troviĝas preskaŭ nenio sur la reto: la lokon oni nur tre malfacile eltrovas, kaj tagordo tute mankas.

Mi ne plu aliĝas al Esperanto-USA do ne intencis partopreni la kongreson, sed fakte mi estis en la regiono pro la bezono viziti la patron kiu havis san-defion. Kaj mi kaj mia frato Philip Brewer estis proksime do ni decidis veturi al Detroito por viziti kun kelkaj el la kongresanoj. (Jen lia raporto pri la kongreso.) Pro la manko de informoj pri la kongreso, ni decidis ke estis fakte sekreta kunveno de esperantistoj.

Ni intencis nur sidi ekster la kunvenejo dum ioma tempo por babili kun la kongresanoj dum ili alvenis, sed la vetero estis terura, do mi decidis eniri la kongresejon antaŭ la kongreso komenciĝis kaj mallonge alparoli kelkajn homojn.

Estis plezuro babili kun Phil Dorcas, Bill Harris, Ron Glossop, kaj Tamara-ne-amara. Phil Dorcas priparolis sian celon pri Esperanto-USA: malgrandigi la dividon inter la estraro kaj la membraro. Post kelkaj momentoj li devis forlasi nin, kie ni staris inter la membroj, por iri al alia flanko de la ĉambro kie la estraro sidis ĉe aparta tablo dividita de la membraro per du tabloj starigitaj kiel barilo. Perfekte.

Sekreta Kongreso

Montriĝis ke tre tre malmulte da homoj aliĝis al la kongreso — verŝajne malpli ol tridek — malgraŭ ke ĝi estis kunkongreso de la kaj usona kaj kanada Esperanto-asocioj. Domaĝe.

Post kelkaj minutoj alvenis Sherry Wells kiu organizis la kongreson -- kaj kiu sciis ke ni ne estis pagintaj la kotizon. Ni varme salutis ŝin kaj tuj forlasis la kongresejon, nia celo plenumita.

Ni veturis poste al Plymouth, kie mi loĝis antaŭ multaj jaroj, por serĉi restoracion kiun mi memoris, sed kiu ŝajne estas longe for. Ni trovis kafejon por komputi. Survoje, ni vidis ŝildon kiun ni devis foti:

Estas domaĝe ke Esperanto ne ricevas la intereson de la publiko, sed la problemoj de Esperanto-USA estas eĉ multe pli profundaj.

The Long Walk

June 20, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

For a couple of years, Phil and Jackie have been planning to walk to the full length of the KalHaven trail. Yesterday, they did it. And I got to drive the support vehicle, which was a lot of fun.

I dropped them off at the eastern trailhead around 7am and then drove to Meijers to pick up the supplies for a picnic lunch -- and to fill a cooler with ice and water bottles. Fully loaded with supplies, I drove to Mentha, which is about 6 miles into the trail. I arrived around 8:30 and settled myself into a new foldable director's chair I also picked up at the store.

In Mentha

At first, I was straining my eyes to see them in the distance: you can probably see better than a half-mile along the trail at that point. Then I remembered I had my binoculars with me. It was quite pleasant to sit out in the cool weather and wait for them to arrive. I saw some bunnies and a vole. And the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbirds. I could hear the sound of water from the drainage system -- Mentha has a very interesting history.

In fact, I only had to wait 20 minutes or so until I spotted them walking briskly from the east. They got some water, adjusted their shoes and gear and then headed out again.

One of my plans was to try to kill green Ingress portals to clear green fields and links crossing the KalHaven trail. This was not a very serious goal, but I stopped in Pine Grove to kill a portal that was anchoring several links and fields and then, when I got to Gobles, I captured three portals and constructed a blue field that was over our picnic table (or very close to it, anyway). That taken care of, I set up the picnic I had prepared on a table right along the trail.

Many years ago, Richard and Katy gave Philip and I each fancy picnic kits. With Alisa's help to track ours down -- and Lucy's help to wash everything -- I had that to use to lay out the spread. So we had a nice table cloth with matching napkins, plates, silverware, and glasses. Phil and Jackie had made their own sandwiches before we left, but I picked up some crudite, raspberries, red bananas, hummus and pita bread, german potato salad, and brownies -- for after.

Repast

Before they pushed on, Phil gave me a bunch of additional Ingress items (bursters and resonators), so I spent another hour in Gobles walking around smashing more portals and linking them up to the field I'd already created.

I spent the rest of the afternoon much the same way: I drove ahead to Bloomingdale, Grand Junction, Lakota, and South Haven to see where the trail crossed and find a likely spot to hang out at the appropriate time for Phil and Jackie to check in and get more water and snacks.

Finally, approaching 8pm, they completed their walk. I picked them up and we went to the Taste in South Haven. I dropped them off at the restaurant, so they wouldn't have to walk anymore and then went off to park the car. The South Haven "Harborfest" is going on so it took me a while but, by the time I returned they were seated and we had some drinks and dinner.

Phil & Jackie

It was a great day and a lot of fun to be a part of. I realized it was perfect to have something to do, to have a sense of purpose and engagement, but something that didn't really require much effort or difficult -- and which gave me an excuse to not be doing something else more productive. I've suggested that Phil and Jackie try to get sponsorships to do other long walks in exotic places like, say, New Zealand, that would pay for their expenses -- and for someone to drive their support vehicle.

Update: Phil has now posted about the hike.

Perfect Pedal2Pints

June 14, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I think Buzz and I rode the first Pedal2Pints several years ago. In the intervening years, I didn't go: sometimes I was busy, but also it was hard to get into good enough bicycling condition to commit to the ride. (Back then, it was earlier in the spring.) This year, Buzz got me to commit and I signed up for the ride back in March. And I started trying to get in shape for a long ride.

They have four different routes from 33 to 90 miles. Each route leads to a series of breweries where you can stop to sample beer. I'm happy to go on the shortest route -- to have more time for beer.

When I signed up, it said I could indicate a team affiliation, so I choose Amherst Media and wore my Makers at Amherst Media shirt for the ride.

The suggestion for people going on the shortest ride was to arrive around 11 and leave between 12:00 and 12:30. Since parking is always an issue, Buzz picked me up and we arrived around 11:30. Once we were checked in, we decided to just head out -- more time for drinking beer!

We had a cue sheet and they'd marked the pavement at all the turns. The marking was pretty good. The cue sheet was sometimes hard to interpret and the fact that my cyclometer is not well calibrated didn't help. But we found our way. The route was slightly different than I'd remembered from past years. The first part is along 116, which is fairly busy. But then we turned off onto the back roads and saw cars only infrequently.

The road goes way down when it crosses the Deerfield River and then there are two steep climbs out of the valley. The first is so steep that I always have to walk my bike. The second one I weathered and then we pushed on toward Greenfield. The road parallels the expressway, which makes that leg not as peaceful as it might otherwise be. Similarly the Riverside Greenway also is so close to the highway that there's constant noise of cars.

The first stop was the Artisan Beverage Cooperative. They have kombucha, mead, and other weird things -- not really my thing. But I tried their Oaxacan Mead and a stout and both were interesting. Just down the street is Lefty's Brewery.

They had an English IPA, which was good, and a double IPA, which was better, but also a "Li'l Sticky" IPA which was excellent. The brewer said that the Li'l Sticky is a version of a "Wicked Sticky" beer they make in the early fall with local fresh hops, but uses dry cones instead, as the fresh hops aren't available. Both Buzz and I made entries in our mental calendars to come back in August to try to get some Wicked Sticky. (It was only as I was researching this post that I realized it was "wicked" and not "wicket".)

We rode on, slightly unsteadily, to the People's Pint where, outside the brewery, they were serving pilsner (ick) and training wheels (a session IPA), but the pitcher of training wheels had just run out. Inside the brewery, a gal gave us some training wheels and then opened a bottle of a beer she had made with maple syrup (3 gallons in 200 gallons of beer). It's not normally my thing, but it was pretty good: a nice balance among the roasted malt flavors and the maple.

Much more unsteadily, we headed off to Millers Falls. This has a series of very long climbs with one or two steeps climbs in the middle, and then a quick steep descent. We arrived at Element hot and starting to get pretty tired.

Element always has somewhat weird, offbeat beers. To be honest, they've never had something that's really captured my heart. They have a couple of IPAs that have sake notes in them, Plasma and Tachyon. I was pleased to get a chance to try them. I actually have a bottle of Tachyon that I've been meaning to try. It's OK.

At that point, the ride heads back to South Deerfield with an unofficial stop at the Bookmill. Buzz and I got cans of Resin and, after one round, decided to have a second before pushing on. I would have tweeted again from the Bookmill, but by then the battery had died in my cameraphone.

It's mostly downhill from there. We took a wrong turn and had to get directions to put ourselves back on track, but then sailed along the beautiful Falls Road where I pointed out where I want to look for terrestrial gastropods. And we stopped to pay homage to the Buttonball Tree.

Back at BBC, the party was already in full swing. They gave us some Pedal2Pints socks, a pint glass, and 5 tickets: 1 for dinner and 4 for beer. They weren't serving any good IPAs outside, so we went into the BBC to get pints of Lost Sailor and then got a nice dinner of pulled-pork sandwiches. We ate under a tent and enjoyed the camaraderie and the feeling of accomplishment of making the long ride. In the end, we only used those two tickets and handed off the others to other folks.

Buzz dropped me off in time to catch the last couple of innings of the Cardinals and I was in bed by 8pm. Mission accomplished.

Hack for Western Mass: Day Two

June 8, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Day two got off to a slightly rough start when we realized that, although we had a plan for breakfast, no-one had connected the dots to order it or pick it up. Cristos made the command decision to just go get it. So, although it was a few minutes late, we had plenty of coffee and tasty things for people to eat.

Everyone quickly settled back into work and, other than a gentle reminder as the morning wore-on to shift from working on the project to working on a presentation, the organizers could take a break and catch up on other things (like writing the Day One summary. :-)

Toward 11:30 brunch arrived and shortly after noon, the final presentations commenced. There was a flurry of live-tweeting as the events happened.

I was pleased to be able to pick-and-choose tweets to retweet with the @hackforwestma feed, although in the end I mostly retweeted Ruby Maddox for consistency.

The first presentation was by the Springfield Parking Authority Challenge.

Their community partner worked closely with them on Saturday, but couldn't come today and the two coders that had built the back-end and a mobile app were a bit shy, so they got Emma Dalton to help make and offer their presentation. The app shows a map with pins, or list, indicating the various parking garages with the ability to show price and availability. The back-end reads data in from the existing structure that the Parking Authority uses (a CSV file), but they had ideas for how to create a new data-gathering process and add on-street parking availability to the system as well.

The next presentation was for the Smith College Shooting Bias Simulator.

The goal was to construct a research tool to explore racial bias in evaluating targets to shoot. It presents pictures of people of different races with either benign objects or guns and measures the reaction time of the subject in deciding whether or not to shoot. They created a javascript front end with Drupal on the back-end that could emit a JSON representation. They didn't have enough time to connect the two pieces, but the team was satisfied they made a huge amount of progress for the project.

The next presentation was by the Girls Inc Team. They fielded an impressive team that did a huge amount of work.

The redesigned their old static website to create an elegant new responsive website with student-created content (blog posts and photos) and worked up some infographics to present data about their participants.

The next presentation was by the Square One team.

They provide childcare for at-risk children and needed a streamlined mechanism to receive attendance records from multiple child-care providers. Using Ruby-on-Rails, they built a portal to collect and manage the data and the result was so positive that one of the young coders has received an internship to continue the development over the summer.

The next presentation was by the Gardening the Community team.

They wanted a way to communicate more effectively with their community of participants and the public. A team of hackers worked with Ruby Maddox to build iOS and Android native mobile apps that could present relevant information regarding volunteer opportunities, vegetables available, or supplies need and receive push notifications. I was particularly excited in hearing Ruby present that she talked, not just about the technical accomplishments, but also about how much she'd learned.

The next presentation was by the Full Moon Girls team.

Full Moon Girls is a program to help girls connect with themselves and the out-of-doors. They were looking for a way to streamline and integrate the constituent relations management, in particular, registration and communication. The were pleased to have learned a lot about different free and low-cost options.

The next presentation was by the Pioneer Valley Local First team.

The Pioneer Valley Local First organization had a clunky old drupal site and were looking for help, especially with navigability. They were really excited to get help with graphic design, a responsive theme, and an interactive map to help people find local options geographically.

The next presentation was by the Permaculture Institute of the Northeast (PINE) team.

The Permaculture Institute of the Northeast was a similar story: a redesigned website with a custom Bootstrap responsive theme was integrated with Gravity Forms to enable them to share and receive information more effectively.

The final challenge presentation was by the Dial/Self team.

They had an amazing team that migrated an old website into a new, drupal website with a responsive theme. They had set ambitious goals and worked tirelessly to implement a bunch of innovative features. The population served by Dial/Self often has limited access to technology and one feature they really could use is a text-to-voice integration for interacting with the site via a voice-phone call: one of the hackers new about twilio phone integration and set up an instance to try.

After all the challenges, Andrew Pasquale showed one of the scratch programs written during the Youth Hackathon.

The final presentation a wrap up and thank you by Elyssa Serilli.

We tried to thank everyone: the participants, the volunteers from the Urban League of Springfield, the UMass Center at Springfield, Amherst Media.

And, of course our generous sponsors: Paragus IT, Atalasoft, Fit Solutions, Communicate Health, Last Call Media, Hidden Tech, Digital Ocean, NERDSummit, Creative Strategy Agency, the Center for Public Policy and Administration, App-o-Mat, Mad Pow, Machine Metrics, InResonance, and the Springfield Parking Authority.

I was pleased when someone thought to recognize me, personally, as the last original organizer who was still part of the team. Nick also outted me as President of the Board of Amherst Media. People seemed surprised, but I hadn't mentioned it simply because it was the wrong melanti for the situation.

We are planning a Hackathon Hangout later in the summer to bring people talk together to reflect on the event. There's often been interest in trying to arrange more regular events throughout the year. Maybe NERDSummit could work.

We're also sending out an evaluation form to participants to get direct feedback on people's experiences. Maybe when we've gotten that feedback, I'll write up another summary as well with what we've learned.

After everything was over, the organizers went to the Northampton Brewery for a well-earned drink and a change to debrief (rant). It was my idea, because I wanted to capture people's experiences while they were still fresh. As soon I post this, I need to start writing up those notes to share with the other organizers. What a great bunch of folks -- and a great community of hackers here in Western Mass. It's a lot of work -- and stressful to pull off. But the experience and serendipity of the event makes it all worthwhile.

Hack for Western Mass in Springfield: Day One

June 7, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

The 2015 Hack for Western Mass was held at the UMass Center at Springfield in Tower Square Mall in Springfield Massachusetts.

UMass Center in Town Square

Springfield has struggled economically due to the collapse in US manufacturing ultimately going bankrupt. More recently the city emerged from crisis and is experiencing a renaissance of economic development.

IMG_20150607_081158298

I think some participants were surprised to see a different side of Springfield than they'd seen before. I certainly was.

The UMass Center at Springfield was a fantastic partner for the hackathon. Dan Montagna, Scott Poulin, and Patryk Glosowitz went out of their way to enable us to get the most out of the facility and its resources. They even let us take over their digital signage to run a slideshow thanking our sponsors.

The organizers and volunteers came in the night before to get organized, discuss how to set up the space, and do an orientation on using slack for messaging during the hackathon.

Bram Rockin' the Slack

Returning participants brought great energy. The hackathon is really starting to build a strong sense of community among the participants.

I had originally thought I would be working behind the registration table but, on the last evening, the other organizers encouraged me to conduct the opening ceremony. I really felt honored to be the one welcoming everyone and introducing our guests.

After my opening remarks, we had a video from Mayor Sarno, a brief welcome to the facilty by Dan Montagna, and a keynote by Delcie Bean. We had some technical difficulties with the video by Mayor Sarno, but otherwise everything came off great.

Nick Ring from Amherst Media filmed the opening ceremony and then wandered round getting clips of the teams at work. Our goal is to offer a summary video presentation and, perhaps even more importantly, a short promo piece that we can use next year to help recruit organizers, sponsors, and participants.

We had a great set of challenges this year. I'm always amazed just to hear about all of the interesting non-profit initiatives that are happening in the region.

Most of the pitches were made by just one or two people, but Girls Inc always fields a whole team.

It's always interesting to see how current trends in technology play out in the kinds of challenges that get brought forward. Last year, the theme was location-enabled mobile apps. This year…

We provided some guidelines to participants about forming effective teams that using Agile development techniques.

Team Formation

We also provided a brief summary of the Code of Conduct using the slides that Molly McLeod had developed for the first hackathon that always generate a lot of enthusiasm.

Once the challenges had been issued and the teams had formed, the code sprints began. Last, year we were rather crowded together, but this year the UMass Center provided ample space for groups to organize into small breakout rooms, in classrooms, and a beautiful lounge.

While the sprints were happening, there was a series of other workshops. For young people, we had a workshop on Scratch on Saturday with Minecraft planned for Sunday.

Scratch Presentations

Christine Olson ran a Makerspace activity for Makers at Amherst Media. She's been having participants make a quilt to show at the National Maker Faire next weekend.

But students also could engage in a bunch of other activities including making Rube Goldberg machines.

In mid-afternoon, Ali Cook from Ohm Style Living led the hackathon in a movement break.

Not everyone is a fan of yoga.

As always, we had spared no expense to get great food for the hackathon, with lunch from Hot Table.

Lunch from Hot Table

And a fantastic dinner from Nadims..

It's always been clear that the contributions by sponsors are most appreciated when people have good food after a long day of coding.

On Sunday, we're wrapping up and building presentations for lunch time. It's been a fantastically productive weekend with great folks and great community.

Updated: Read about Day Two.

Apple Running for Mayor of Crazy Town

May 29, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Recently, Apple discontinued iPhoto and launched their new Photos.app. I've been unhappy with the direction Apple has taken in recent years, in my last post saying Apple Heads Deeper into Crazy Town, but now I think they're running for Mayor of Crazy Town.

A few months ago, I got a shock when I removed some photos from my hard-drive that I had shared via Flickr and got a rude shock:

Now, with Photos.app, you can no longer get access to the original files. Oh, if you're willing to work at it, you can. You can use a shell to go into the secret Library folder and copy out your originals manually. But you can't just drag from the Photos.app window to make a copy of the file on the desktop — or to drag into a field on a webpage to upload the image. When you right click on the file, there's no way to show the file on the hard-disk. Spotlight does not make the file name of the file searchable in the Finder.

Apple used to be all about empowering the user. But now it appears to be about empowering the corporate partners that pay Apple to lock customers in to their services. Evil.

The Value of Data

May 27, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Last fall, I had my students construct and observe balanced aquaria. The project was only moderately successful. I had hoped to have the students work with the dataloggers, but the platform I was using proved to be a little too finicky. As with all student projects, the final data set was pretty messy:

But you can see some interesting trends and patterns. In two aquaria, pH increases over time, in the others it's flat. But across all of them, you can see a little uptick in pH when the light turns off, and then a return to baseline when the light comes back on. I'm not sure what that means -- it was not what I'd predicted (which was to see pH go up as CO2 was consumed the algal growth and, in the dark, for CO2 to accumulate and drive down pH. But, there it is: DATA! The world is more complicated than we think.

The technician who set up the incubator saw something quite different. What she saw was that the light was supposed to be off in the incubators for 8 hours and instead was only off for 2. They had been using these incubators for months with the assumption that the light was off for 8 hours and here was evidence that this was not so. Data!

After spring semester, we tested all of the incubators and found that they behave the same way. You program them kind of like a VCR (if anyone remembers what those are). After consulting with the company, she found that the programming doesn't persist across midnight, so you needed to set up two programs to have it be dark across midnight: one before midnight and one after midnight. Last night, we put the datalogger back and confirmed that the incubator actually turns off at 11pm and actually turns back on at 7am. Data!

I'm hoping when the summer moves on a bit, I'll have some time to actually develop a model for building data loggers that will make it easy for folks to implement them widely on campus. We have all the pieces -- I just need to organize them a bit so people can put them to work. Because more data is generally a good thing.

Great ride to the Bookmill

May 26, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I've been getting in some great rides training for Pedal2Pints which is less than three weeks away. I'm going on the shortest ride, but still need to improve my fitness so I can drink beer all day and still finish the ride.

The ride to the Bookmill is one of my favorite rides. I ride north through North Amherst and up 116 into Sunderland -- like on my ride to Circumnavigate the Connecticut River, but turn right on 47 in the middle of Sunderland. Just past the intersection is an amazing tree. I stopped for a few minutes to play homage.

And to hack the ingress portal there. While I was there, a couple stopped in their car to visit the tree and there was another carload of people there when I came back. The Pioneer Valley is like that.

The brief ride up 47 is the worst part of the ride: It's generally uphill and there's very little provision for bicycles. And people drive very fast. But its short -- probably less than a mile -- until you can turn left onto Falls Drive, a pretty little back road with views of the Connecticut River on the left and a shelf of exposed bedrock on the right. The rock isn't pure limestone, but it must have a lot of calcium carbonate in it, because you see Columbines growing out of it.

And liverworts. I've been meaning to come here with a bit more time sometime, when the weather is a bit moister, to look for terrestrial gastropods, because they tend to be more diverse where there's abundant calcium to grow their shell. The US, and Massachusetts in particular, tends to not have much gastropod diversity -- or abundance.

At one point, where the river and shelf are quite close, the road takes a little jog to cross a bridge over a rushing brook and, to the right, is a very pretty little waterfall. Often, earlier in the year, I'll ride just to the waterfall and then turn back. But this time, I was headed on to the Bookmill.

The road winds on, slightly up, through farm fields. There is an organic farm operated by Red Fire Farm. There are some very nicely situated houses too and a mix of other houses as well. Finally, there's a turn and a very steep climb up to the Bookmill. I arrived with an auspicious reading on the odometer.

Under other circumstances, I might have stayed a while to grab a drink and a bite to eat, but with the Cardinals playing at 4pm (and having missed the game yesterday), I rested a few minutes and then headed back the way I'd come. I stopped for a few minutes by the waterfall to munch an apple and then stopped in Sunderland briefly to buy a bottle of coke.

My fitness is better this year than it's been in a decade (mostly due to ingress, I think) and I particularly notice it climbing hills. I find I'm rarely needing to drop into the lowest gear and can often muscle my way up hills at good speed. It feels good.

Maddening problem with LDAP and Apache

May 25, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I've spent the last three days fighting with one of the most frustrating problems I've ever had. We replaced the hardware for the BCRC server -- an old Solaris server with a new Ubuntu box. We had done this before in the ISB and, other than a minor hiccup or two, everything switched over smoothly. I assumed this would be the same and almost everything was. Except for LDAP in Apache.

We use LDAP for centralized authentication. It's not perfect by any means, but it's been a huge efficiency in how we manage accounts and services. We use it for shell accounts (cf ssh), samba (file sharing and printing), and via apache (http basic authentication and in PHP). It was no problem to get it set up everwhere except for apache. LDAP only failed in apache. But the same configuration we were using on the other server wouldn't work on this one.

I spent one day just denying that it was anything to be concerned about. Then I spent a day double-checking everything: config files, permissions & ownerships, typos. Then I spent a day trying stuff: configuration changes, re-installing software -- even rebooting. Then I spent a day hiding from it (maybe two). Finally, on Sunday, I went in to the office in the evening, rolled up my sleeves, and made the commitment to just stay there working on it until it was solved or I was dead. About three hours in, I found it.

The errors I was getting didn't make sense. The first error, a generic "couldn't contact ldap server" wasn't helpful, especially as the ldap_connect function was working -- it was failing at ldap_bind. I figued out how to turn on debugging with this line of PHP code:

ldap_set_option(NULL, LDAP_OPT_DEBUG_LEVEL, 7);

But the error I was getting back didn't make much sense.

TLS: only one of certfile and keyfile specified

This error is so rare that google mostly just returns links to the source code.

The logging on the LDAP server was the equally vague "TLS Negotiation Error".

Eventually, I figured out that the configuration for setting up SSL for HTTPS also governs the connections the server makes to the LDAP server. And then I found it:

#   Allow insecure renegotiation with clients which do not yet support the
#   secure renegotiation protocol. Default: Off
SSLInsecureRenegotiation on

This line was commented out on the server where it worked. I commented out the line, restarted the webserver, and it just started working.

I'm wondering if this is the point where people start to say, "I'm gettin' too old for this kind of shit!"

Bridging the divide

May 19, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

It's weird to live in a town like Amherst. In most of the country, people would call me a socialist, left-wing freakshow but, in Amherst, I sometimes feel like I'm on the right-wing fringe. You see, I believe that it's possible, through thoughtful effort, to improve the town. There is a vocal subset of the town that very strongly does not believe this.

I think part of it is anti-capitalism. I'm pretty anti-capitalist myself -- I can get my socialism on with the best of them. But I recognize that spitefully trying to prevent people with property using their property to make money, in the long run, hurts us as much -- probably more -- than it hurts them.

I think part is just fear and doubt -- fear that any change will be bad and so should be prevented. But simply preventing change is not conservation -- it's stagnation. Do people really look at the town and say that this is best of all possible worlds? Really? We can do better.

The most frustrating thing is the difficulty in having a meaningful conversation when the focus becomes questioning other people's motives, rather than articulating a positive vision for the town. I may be biased, but there seems to be a special reserve of venom directed at the people who are engaged with, and who do the hard work year round making town government work. Too many people seem inclined to snipe from the sidelines and try to be sand in the gears than expressing a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work necessary to move the town forward productively.

At one time, I was seduced by the idea of opposing development, but then I read The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, which talks about how bad things have gotten by people simply trying to stop bad things rather than trying to build good things. 'The future will require us to build better places,' Kunstler says, 'or the future will belong to other people in other societies.'

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