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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.


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.


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 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, 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 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.'

Circumnavigating the Connecticut River

May 12, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

One of my favorite rides is to ride north to the Sunderland Bridge, ride south along River Road through Whately and Hatfield, and cross back over via the Norwottuck Trail. I call it "Circumnavigating the Connecticut River". I kept my sights fixed on this ride through all of the graduation ceremonies: the Grad Ceremony Friday morning, Undergraduate Friday afternoon, the Graduation Dinner Friday night, the Senior Luncheon Saturday morning, and the College Celebration Saturday afternoon. When I finally got home around sundown, I was exhausted and pretty much went straight to bed. But on Sunday morning, I got up, checked the weather, and headed out.

I pumped up my tires, filled my water bottles, and grabbed two big "Pink Lady" apples for the road. I rode up to North Amherst, stopped for a minute to Ingress, then headed out. The wind was out of the south, south-east, so behind me for the first leg of the ride.

There's a good climb as you leave Amherst and head into Sunderland. It's not really steep, but it lasts a good while. After that, its all downhill to the river.

I took a slight detour to go by the Firestation: It was a green portal anchoring several big fields that covered a lot of where I would be riding, so it had to go.

Before I crossed the bridge, I stopped at a convenience store to drink a soda. I probably should have just gotten water, but its nice to have a little taste of something now and then.

I crossed the bridge and turned into the wind to head south along River Road. It was really starting to heat up, so the breeze was not actually that unwelcome. A few times, it really picked up and reduced my pace quite a bit, but many spots along the way are relatively sheltered.

I took a longish stop at the site of the original Smith Academy with a marker thanking Sofia Smith, the original benefactress of Smith College. I thought that I probably needed a benefactress. While I was there, I realized that there are a bunch of sakura cherry trees that were still blooming. They have a differently shaped flower than my sakura tree -- and evidently bloom a bit later. I'll have to remember that in coming years. I chomped one of my apples still musing under the cherry blossoms. The Pink Ladies are OK, but not as good as Honeycrisp.

I pushed on, making the steep climb up the overpass over the train tracks and I-91, and then the longer climb up Rt. 5 into Northampton. Feeling hungry, I stopped at the River Valley Market and fixed myself a salad at the salad bar. I felt justified in putting on two scoops of bacon bits. And I refilled my water bottles with fresh, cold water.

The only really nasty part of the ride is the left turn from King Street onto Damon Road and then the brief stretch on Damon Road to the bike trail. I should probably just head down King Street until I pick up the bike trail down there, but its not much better and quite a bit out of the way. It's scary to have the big trucks and traffic going so close, since there's no bike lane.

The newly resurfaced bike trail was like a dream after spending so much time on the roads. It was crowded with bikers and skaters and walkers, but much better than cars. I was starting to get pretty tired and, by the time I reached the climb into Amherst, I was seriously flagging. I stopped to drink most of the rest of my water and to eat the other apple. I finally climbed back on my bike and struggled up the hill and then turned the corner onto the last leg of the journey.

The Art Swift Way runs back to campus, mostly downhill, and I had a nice breeze behind me again. There are transverse cracks that are a bit unpleasant to ride over (90 on campus alone), but its better than being on the road. I finally made the last climb by Computer Science and turned back into my neighborhood. It came to about 30 miles. It was a great ride and good training for Pedal2Pints coming up in about a month.

Sakura Viewing

April 30, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

For several years, I've been sending out an invitation for friends and colleagues to stop by to see our sakura tree flower in the spring. This is a tradition in Japan with a history that goes back centuries. The brief flowering of the cherry trees is a moment in the spring to reflect on the ephemeral and transitory nature of life.

Sometimes the weather is bad where it's really too cold or wet to enjoy the flowers. But this year, it was absolutely perfect: the flowers hit their peak on perhaps the first really nice day of the spring. The temperature was nearly 70 with sun and just a few clouds.

Our tree is perhaps the most glorious sakura tree in Amherst. The nation of Japan gifted Amherst with several sakura trees in the 1930s in honor of William Clark and our tree (reportedly) was grown from a cutting of one of those trees. There are several more in the neighborhood and even more around town -- but ours is the best.

One thing I like most about the tradition of hanami is the unpredictability of it all: the cherry trees can bloom basically any time from the beginning of April to the beginning of May, so you really can't plan for it. You just have to drop everything and make time for it when it happens.

But not everyone can. Or does, anyway. But those who came had a lovely time and it gave me a lot of pleasure to share my sakura tree with others.

One friend who came said she'd planned a trip to see the famous cherry trees in Washington DC but, when the time came, she was too busy at work and couldn't get away. And she'd been really disappointed. My invitation came at just the right moment and she enjoyed my tree even more than she would have enjoyed the trees in Washington.

It's amazing. There simply aren't words to describe the feeling of standing under the tree, surrounded by flowers, looking up through beams of sun through the petals, to see the blue sky above. Sugoi. Or, as Daniel would say, Sugoku kawaii.

People came and went and, as the sun was finally going down, the last of my friends drove home. It was a lovely hanami and I look forward to several more days under the cherry tree until the petals start to fall. And then I'll have to wait another year, inshallah, to see them again.

Finding my bliss

April 12, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I saw an article this morning about finding your bliss derived mostly from an interview with Joseph Campbell. I realize how fortunate I am to have as much freedom as I do to choose projects to work on that I think are worth doing. But I can tell when I'm working too much when, looking back, I see that it was a whole week since I wrote a haiku.

It's been a month of keeping plates spinning, one after another after another. My class is working on their final projects: amazing netlogo models! I almost have Junior Writing through the quinquennial review: just one more question to answer. We've got the beginnings of a draft for IT strategic planning: four goals defined and assignments to draft the narrative. I'm feeling like the Amherst Media board is finally starting to pull together: committees have projects and are moving forward. Makers at Amherst Media is hanging in there: the drop-in sessions are picking up steam. Hack for Western Mass is moving forward: full speed ahead! So I took Saturday to just decompress.

It's been a perfect day. I got up early. I had Love Crunch granola with fresh raspberries and coffee for breakfast. Lucy, Charlie, and I solved the Jumble. I went back to bed for an hour. Lucy and I drove downtown to walk around and play Ingress. We went to the Library (where I got Karen Memory!) We went to the grocery store. I came home and fixed chili. While it was simmering I took a bike ride with Daniel. We got back just in time for me to watch the Red Sox while I ate chili and had a beer. I napped for a bit while the game was on. Then I went out to play a bit more Ingress then stopped at Raos for a latte to compute and write haiku. I got home just in time to have taco bowls which Daniel had made for dinner. Afterward, we watched some Tony Tony Chopper. And now it's time for bed.

I particularly want to write more haiku over the next few weeks as I work to pull together my next book of haiku. I've decided on a theme and have hatched a plan to develop the imagery. I have enough haiku now, but it would be good to have a few more to let me drop some of the weakest ones. Hopefully, I'll have the new book ready to take with me to the UK.

I still have some questions: Do I want to keep to the same format? Or mix it up? Should I stick with the bilingual pattern? Or go monolingual? It's fun to think about the possibilities.

Online Threats and Phishing

April 7, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Recently, I was invited to co-present on security. We each brainstormed up a list of what we thought were the biggest online threats today and some practical steps people can take to protect themselves. Here is the list I created:

Brewer's top five threats

  1. Dangerous scripts (flash, javascript, others) in browser
  2. Insecure/questionable links (in email, in social media, etc)
  3. Insecure attachments
  4. Insecure plugins, extensions, apps, etc
  5. Social Engineering

Brewer's recommendations

These are intended to be some basic steps anyone can take to improve their security, although they are not necessarily convenient.

Use Firefox with both no-script and flashblock enabled.

Only do banking, human-resources stuff, etc with fresh web-browser session:

  • Use a different browser only for that purpose
  • Start up browser, do session, quit browser
  • Do the same for insecure/questionable links.

View (and send) email as plain text only

  • Look at links carefully
  • Don't leak information via images and web-bugs

Look at full headers of questionable email

  • Only trust headers written by known hosts.
  • Learn to recognize suspicious hostnames.

Don't just click on links!

  • know the structure of links:
  • Navigate there directly
  • Critically evaluate links
  • Look at hostnames & paths
  • Avoid apps that obfuscate links
  • Use copy & paste
  • Use "whois" for questionable hostnames
  • Remove parts of path that might have tracking information

Don't be a monoculture -- don't just use the most widespread software:

  • Open Microsoft documents with Libre Office.
  • Don't use Acrobat: Use Preview (or something else).

Only use software that has a strong, open community

Periodically review addons/extensions/apps for browser, phone, social-media apps

Question/verify the provenance of people & information

  • Confirm human references "out of band"
  • online resources — even DNS — can be spoofed
  • fake hostnames can look like real ones

Ne IKUmos en Lille

April 2, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Jen mia propono kiun oni neis por IKU-prelego ĉe la Universala Kongreso.

La Mondo Ne Estas Kiel Ĝi Ŝajnas: Historio kaj estonteco de mondaj altern-/pliigit-realaj interretaj ludoj


La Interreto dum la pasintaj 20-jaroj ebligas novan artan/kulturan produktaĵon: la amase retan ludon. Tiaj ĉi ludoj, iam la fako nur de fanatikuloj, nun estas grandskala, tutmonda, kultura fenomeno. La plej gravaj ludoj postulas la saman kapitalon de granda Holivuda filmo. En tiaj ludoj, homoj tutmonde povas partopreni kaj interagi por konkursi, kunlabori, kaj amuziĝi. Multaj el ĉi tiuj ludoj okazas nur en komputila universo sed iom post iom ekaperas ekzempleroj en kiu oni ne nur ludas en komputilo sed ankaŭ en alterna aŭ pliigita realo kiu kunekzistas kun la vera mondo. En tiu ĉi proponita IKU prelego, mi skizos la historion de altern-/pliigit-realaj interetaj ludoj; pli detale montros du ludojn; priskribos la rilaton inter lingvo, arto, kaj kulturo de ĉi tiuj ludoj; priparolos kiel ĉi tiaj ludoj jam ekinfluas la ceteran kulturon (ekz la "ludigado" de klerigado kaj merkatiko); kaj proponos, finfine, ke oni konsideru Esperanton kiel sukcesan mondan altern-/pliigit-realan ludon.


La Interreto dum la pasintaj 20-jaroj ebligas novan artan/kulturan produktaĵon: la amase retan ludon. Tiaj ĉi ludoj, iam la fako nur de fanatikuloj, nun estas grandskala, tutmonda, kultura fenomeno. La plej gravaj ludoj postulas la saman kapitalon de granda Holivuda filmo. En tiaj ludoj, homoj tutmonde povas partopreni kaj interagi por konkursi, kunlabori, kaj amuziĝi. Multaj el ĉi tiuj ludoj okazas nur en komputila universo sed iom post iom ekaperas ekzempleroj en kiu oni ne nur ludas en komputilo sed ankaŭ en alterna aŭ pliigita realo kiu kunekzistas kun la vera mondo.

Ekde la plej fruaj tagoj de la interreto, oni multe uzas ludojn por esplori la kapablojn kaj nuancojn de reta interago. Eble la plej frua altern-reala reta ludo estis LambdaMOO (CURTIS, 1990) kiu similis al pli fruaj tekstaj aventuraj ludoj, ekz Colossal Cave Adventure (CROWTHER, 1976; CROWTHER & WOODS, 1977) kaj la sekvaj Mult-Uzantaj Galerioj (TRUBSHAW, 1978; BARTLE & TRUBSHAW, 1980), sed malsamis en tiu ke la ludistoj povis ne nur esplori, sed ankaŭ kunkrei la medion kaj interparoli (tajpe) kun homoj en la samaj "lokoj" en la ludo. LambdaMOO estis virtuala versio de la domo de la kreinto. La komunumo bonvenigis samsekamajn kaj transgenrajn homojn (oni taŭge komenciĝas en la ludo/mondo en ŝranko) kaj donis al ili sekuran lokon por provi aliajn modojn de esprimo pri identeco kaj genro.

Sekvaj ludoj enkondukis la ideon ke per la reto multege da homoj povus samtempe partopreni: Masive Multiludantaj Rete Rolludoj (t.e. Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMPORG)) kiel Ultima Online, Everquest, kaj la plej konata World of Warcraft. Pro la eblo atingis grandegan partoprenaron, ludoj transiris el la fako de nur retaj teĥnikuloj kaj fariĝis varo de grandaj firmaoj. Nun, StarCraft 2 kaj Dota 2, estas mondskale konataj ludoj kiuj allogas grandan intereson. Firmaoj elspezos dekojn da milionoj da dolaroj por produkti unu novan ludon kaj konkurencoj fariĝas internaciaj spektakloj. La internacia Dota 2 konkurenco en 2014, “The International”, oftertis ĝis $10,9 milionan da prezoj kaj oni montris la ludojn per internacia televida reto ESPN kun samtempa komentado.

En 2008, Jane MCGONIGAL organizis mondan altern-realan ludon Lost Ring (La Perdita Ringo) kiu ricevis subvencion de mondaj firmaoj kaj organizaĵoj, precipe McDonalds kaj la Monda Olimpika Komitato. En la ludo, aktoroj ŝajnigis esti atletoj kiuj troviĝis, sed ajnaj memoroj kaj kun tatuoj kiuj diris “Trovu la ringon perditan” (en Esperanto!) Tiu ĉi ludo fariĝis speciale interesa por samideanoj ĉar oni uzis Esperanton kiel enigmon en la ludo. Mi mallonge resumos la ludon en la prelego kaj montros ĝiajn ecojn.

En 2012, la firmao Google starigis la ludon Ingress, pliigit-reala ludo kiun oni faras per poŝtelefono. Ĝi bone montras la ecojn de aktuala pliigit-reala ludo. En la ludo, ekzistas portaloj per kiu eniras la mondon “ekzotika materio”. Por ludi, oni devas viziti en la vera mondo la lokojn kie situas tiuj portaloj, ofte ĉe publikaj konstruaĵoj kaj artaĵoj. Praktike, oni tiel devas multe promeni de loko al loko por partopreni kaj unu el la kromceloj de la ludo estas plibonigi la san-staton de la partoprenantoj. En la prelego, mi priskribos kaj montros la ludon.

En la lasta sciencfikcia literaturo, verkistoj ekimagas kiel ĉi tiaj ludoj fariĝos parto de la ĉiutaga kulturo. En la fruaj 2000-aj jaroj, verkistoj komencis priskribi kiel tiaj ludoj povas transiri inter la alterna, luda realo kaj la vera realo. En la libroj Pattern Recognition (GIBSON, 2003), Halting State (STROSS, 2007), Little Brother (DOCTOROW, 2008), kaj This Is Not A Game (WILLIAMS, 2009) aŭtoroj priskribis kaj ellaboris la ideon ke tiaj ludoj ebligos la interrilaton kaj kunlaboron de homoj ĉirkaŭ la mondo. Mi resumos la ecojn kiujn oni priskribis kaj montros kiel la estonta mondo kiun oni priskribis jam multflanke efektiviĝas.

Ludoj ekhavas kreskantan influon sur la cetera kulturo kaj bonan kaj malbonan. La komputilo fariĝas pli ol nur “ilo” sed vera parto de la korpo kaj cerbo kaj menso (TURKLE, 1984; TURKLE, 2011). Lastatempe, oni multe priparolas kiel “ludigi” diversajn ecojn de la ĉiutaga vivo, precipe instruadon kaj merkatikon. Ofte la planoj kaj proponoj montras danĝeran nescion pri la lecionoj kiujn oni lernis pri kondutismo antaŭ jardekoj. Ankaŭ estas danĝero pri la datenoj kiujn oni devas dividi per ajna Interreta agado, sed precipe per poŝtelefonoj. Ludojn kiel Ingress postulas ke vi dividu kun Google kaj la poŝtelefon-firmaoj (kaj registaroj) kie vi estas kaj kien vi iras.

Esperanton mem oni povas pripensi kiel altern-/pliigit-realan ludon. Malmultaj homoj partoprenas Esperanton kiel parton de la profesia vivo, sed samtempe dediĉas multe da tempo al ĝi: por lerni, instrui, organizi, renkontiĝi, diskuti, kaj konstrui literaturon en kaj pri mondo kiu similas, sed ne tute kongruas, kun la ĉiutaga mondo. Mi esploros kiel per lenso de altern-/pliigit-realaj ludoj ni povas kompreni kaj eble plibonigi Esperantujon.


BARTLE, R. & TRUBSHAW, R. 1980. MUD3: Multi-User Dungeon. BCPL softvaro por PDP-10.

CROWTHER, W. 1976. Colossal Cave Adventure. FORTRAN softvaro por PDP-10.

CROWTHER, W. & WOODS, D. 1977. Colossal Cave Adventure. FORTRAN softvaro PDP-10.

CURTIS, P. 1990. LambdaMoo. Komunum-fonta softvara projekto. Available at:

DOCTOROW, C. 2008. Little Brother. Tor Teen. 387pp.

GIBSON, W. 2003. Pattern Recognition. Penguin Group. 384pp.

MCGONIGAL, J. 2008. The Lost Ring. Altern-reala ludo.

STROSS, C. 2007. Halting State. Ace. 380pp.

TRUBSHAW, R. 1978. MUD1: Multi-User Dungeon. Macro-10 softvaro por PDP-10.

TURKLE, S. 1984. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. MIT Press. 372pp.

TURKLE, S. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. MIT Press. 360pp.

WILLIAMS, W.J. 2009. This Is Not A Game. Orbit. 384pp.


@Ceilidhann And everything else too. — 3 hours 9 min ago
@TheChuff But you can't get more international than McDonalds. When I go into one, I like to imagine I'm in Tokyo or Paris or Singapore… :-) — 3 hours 17 min ago
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just set this as the wallpaper for his phone hours 34 min ago
@morinotsuma My wife is from Pennsylvania, so I learned about it from her & visiting her relatives. Too bad I couldn't get any Opera Fudge. — 13 hours 53 min ago
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