The Swift Way

Arthur kaj Alice SwiftToday we all rode to the bike path connector to attend a dedication ceremony honoring Arthur Swift, who was one of the key organizers who made the connector happen. Arthur used to ride his bicycle most days from Orchard Valley to UMass where he was a professor in the Physics Department. He's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and requires a lot of assistance now.

The bike trail is much more accessible the campus now than it was before the connector was built. It's been particularly useful to make the trail more accessible for children. Without the connector, it's difficult to ride to the trail from where I live without having to cross several busy roads. The connector makes these crossings much safer.

The ceremony was organized by Rob Kusner, a math professor, former colleague of Arthur's, and a controversial member of the Select Board. Rob is an avid cyclist when he's not embroiled in t-shirt incidents or leaving threatening voicemail. He reflected on various conversations he had with Arthur over the years and invited various other folks to speak briefly.

I knew many of the people there. Our state and federal elected governmental officials were there: Ellen Story, Stan Rosenberg, and John Olver. They didn't ride bikes to the ceremony, though.

MTA Day Two

We passed an agreeable night in Boston and started the business this morning at 8am. For the first hour and a half, the Higher Ed caucus met to discuss a variety of new initiatives and challenges. I wish we could get the Higher Ed caucus to meet more often -- Every time the group meets, I perceive that we have many of the same issues across higher ed that we could address better if we shared information more effectively.

The MTA Teacher of the Year, Jessie Auger gave an effective speech. She had spent 8 months in San Jose Las Flores in El Salvador and spoke movingly of the students growing up with the aftereffectis of the terrible war there. A delegation from El Salvador attended her speech and offered brief remarks afterwards. The speaker, among other things, condemned "neoliberalism". I wonder how many of the audience could give a concise definition of neoliberalism.

The rest of the meeting is primarily devoted to passing the budget. You learn a lot about an organization by looking where the money goes.

MTA Iraq War Resolution Passed

The first year I came to the MTA annual meeting, there was a huge controversy when an MTA member, Andy Sapp who was currently serving in the armed forces in Iraq, sent a letter asking the annual meeting to consider a resolution condemning the war in Iraq and requesting the immediate withdrawl of troops. The body was divided and a series of efforts were made to prevent the motion from being heard at all and, in the end, it wasn't considered. A less controversial motion was proposed and even that was defeated.

Last year, Andy Sapp had returned from Iraq and presented the motion again. Again, efforts were made to squelch consideration of the motion. The motion was postponed until the next day, but eventually came up for a vote and was defeated.

This year, a lot has changed. The motion came up and there was not a single comment made against it. A handful of people did vote against it, but it passed overwhelmingly.

[...] Be it resolved that the MTA opposes the United States' continued occupation of Iraq and diversion of federal funds from public education that it causes,

That the MTA calls for an immediate decision to expedite the safe withdrawal of US forces from Iraq [...]

It's about time.

MTA

I'm attending the annual meeting of the Mass Teachers Association at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston today and tomorrow. This is the third time I've come. I was supposed to ride with someone else, but they bailed at the last moment, so I ended up driving myself. Normally, I park at Alewife and take the T in -- I decided this time, since I was staying at the Sheraton, to just drive to the Sheraton to see what would happen. I left the car with the valet parking, left my bag with the conciereige, and walked about 100 feet and into the Hynes. I don't know what will happen when I need to check out of my room at noon, but have to attend meetings until 4pm.

The Western Mass Caucus and the Peace and Justice Caucus are organizing to pass a series of motions. Every year I've come, they've been trying to pass a resolution condemning the war in Iraq and a motion to force the MTA to use the "special campaign for public relations and organizing" for organizing. It will be interesting to see if we can pass those this year: support has grown for both each year.

Andrew Card

The University of Massachusetts is currently scheduled to confer an honorary degree to Andrew Card, Jr at the graduate student commencement ceremony in a couple of weeks. This is the Andrew Card who served as white house chief of staff for 6 years, who led the White House Iraq Group, who directed the reclassification of government documents, and who stacked government advisory scientific committees with incompetent, but pro-Bush, appointees. The students of the University are leading efforts to have the offer of the degree withdrawn. Unfortunately, it appears that the University's trustees are unlikely to reconsider the offer.

The process by which degree candidates are selected is shrouded in mystery. Reportedly, it was a faculty member who originally suggested Andrew Card as a candidate. The list can be amended by the Amherst Chancellor, the UMass President, and the Board of Trustees, but there is no review offered to the students or faculty at large. Some people might well decline to be considered if there would be a public review or vote up or down on their candidacy. At the same time, its clear that the process as it exists is hideously flawed to have produced such a controversial candidate.

Today, I presented a motion at the Faculty Senate condemning the honorary degree for Andrew Card. The motion was originally drafted by Tobias Baskin, who couldn't attend today to present his own motion. Unfortunately, there was not a sufficient number of faculty senators available today to consider the motion. Hopefully, it will be considered again at the next faculty senate meeting.

Andrew Card looks like a nice guy -- As John Stewart said, "You're the nicest man I ever didn't want to like". But I can't overlook the damage this white house has done to the role of science -- or any genuine inquiry -- in government policy. We're going to pay for the stubborn refusal of the white house to confront a whole range of scientific issues, from global warming to stem cells, for at least a generation. Andy Card helped make that happen. He does not represent the high ethical standards that I believe my University should represent.

Bosnian Mess

I skipped lunch when I left Montreal -- I thought I'd feel more alert for trying to navigate to downtown Montreal and then find my way back to the expressway home on an empty stomach. I watched for places along the way, but eventually decided to stop in Burlington, Vermont for dinner. I had planned to eat a churrascaria restaurant I had seen on my way through before, but which was too busy on Thursday night. I thought they wouldn't be too busy at 4pm on Sunday and I could grab a meal. Unfortunately they were closed. The Mexican place was closed too. In fact, every restaurant downtown seemed closed until at least 5pm. I spotted a "Euro Gourmet Market & Cafè" that was open and then noticed they had a menu with food. There was an item on the menu called "Bosnian Mess" -- no real description except to say it had some kind of beef and that you could get it spicy -- that I simply had to try.

It was kind of a scary place inside: it looked like a messy house, with old sofas and boxes stacked on the floor. The counters were covered with half-full and empty bottles. There was a data projector dangling from the ceiling from what appeared to be shoe-laces. It was projecting a soccer game (Madrid Real vs Sevilla) on a bedsheet or piece of paper tacked up on the wall. The proprietor was nonchalant: "You want something?"

I ordered the Bosnian Mess -- spicy -- and was directed to sit down. The woman cleaned the table for me, but didn't offer to bring me anything to drink. Another nearby table was left unbussed. Eventually some little girls came running out of a back room with a grandmother trailing behind. One of the girls began eating from the unbussed table (which I assumed meant it had been her plate -- not that she routinely started eating whatever was left behind).

When the plate of food came, the fellow set it on the table and tossed down a couple of paper napkins. But no silverware -- and still nothing to drink. I asked for a glass of water, which he eventually brought.

The Bosnian Mess actually turned out to be a sort-of panini with big green leaves, red oily sauce, and slices of some kind of dark red sausage. It was not at all what I had imagined from the meager description. It was actually a lot like two pieces of greek pizza stuck together and fried on both sides. It wasn't exceptionally good, but was perfectly tasty. And, as I'm still OK today, I appear to have escaped without getting food poisoning or anything. I got back on the road well before 5pm, but without my churrascaria.

Home again

I got home last night in good after after Libre Graphics. I'm pleased I went to the conference -- I learned a lot about the software and got some good leads on where to start improving my knowledge on how to help people create good posters. I think I really need to take a course on design, but I'll probably start with this book.

I was particularly excited by how far Free Software has come: Free Software is ready for prime time. I became converted to the rightness of the free-software cause when I was in graduate school and I had used Supercard to do my doctoral project. When the company that owned Supercard went belly up, it looked for a while like all of that work would be unusable and unsupportable. After that experience, I have tried very carefully to avoid building anything that depends on any proprietary software.

I do still use some proprietary software (principally, the MacOS) but last year I set up a laptop with Ubuntu and I was impressed. The previous time I ran linux on a laptop (on my tibook) it wasn't really ready: I had to hack textfiles everytime I wanted to switch between the wireless or ethernet interfaces. And don't even get me started on trying to get multiple video interfaces configured correctly. Ubuntu looked better when I tried it last year. I was impressed this weekend that even the video issues seem now to be relatively straightforward now in the distributions that people were using.

I'm planning to begin working seriously to persuade people (the department and students) to start moving away from proprietary software. I've been doing this in small ways for years, but I want to get creative with how else I can convince people. I've been thinking that the slogan "Free Software Liberates You" might be a start.

Vizito kun Normando

Mi vespermanĝis kun Normando kaj Zdravka en Montrealo hodiaŭ vespere. Mi veturis aŭte kaj, per la direktoj de Google Maps, mi trovis la ĝustan vojon facile.

Ili havas du gastojn en la domo nun kiuj ne tamen parolas Esperanton. Ni, do, plejparte parolis la anglan. Tre stranga estis paroli al Normando angle! Mia cerbo ne volis fari tion.

Zdravka preparis belan manĝon: salmon kun supo, salato, rizo, kaj banana kuko por deserto. Ĉio estis perfekta.

Poste, venis Boriso kaj ni parolis dum unudu horoj pri la kunfandotaj 2008 LK kaj TAKE. Morgaŭ mi vizitos la lokon kie ili proponas ke ili okazu kaj mi faros fotojn.

Men

Deserto ĉe Libre GraphicsThere are people from all over here: Norway, Australia, Germany, France, UK, etc (no-one from South America, though). Mostly men are here -- and the conference was primarily organized by men. You could tell that at lunch time when there (initially) weren't any forks or napkins. Women wouldn't have permitted something like that to happen. It was a delicious lunch, however, with awesome desserts.

The first talk this morning was in English, but the second two were in French. The first one was a group doing Open Source Publishing. They're doing a bunch of cool stuff -- I got their card and talked to them about getting help with OniDirasNun. I watched some of the next two in French, but couldn't get much out of them -- I just can't understand enough French to catch more than a word or two. The first talk was on building a workflow for digital imagery using FOSS and the second was on Blender. Both interesting topics I would like to know more about. I don't begrudge the francophones their French language talks, however -- its really adds to the interest of the conference to have the diversity of languages. I'll have to offer an Esperanto-language talk if I attend again.

First Day of Libre Graphics

The first day of LibreGraphics was good. I met a lot of people, had a lot of good conversations, and enjoyed the presentations. It was a long day (better than 12 hours) before my feet finally gave out and I walked back to the hotel. Now I want to capture some of my impressions.

There is an interesting mix of people here: developers, users, artists, documentation authors, technologists, and organizers. There is a strong francophone contingent and between a third and a half of the presentations are in French. But most people understand English. It's kind of like "foreign-lite".

I've gotten a lot of advice from people on poster printing. One guy has volunteered to come by UMass Amherst sometime and give us a workshop on using Scribus. A few people said to use Inkscape -- that was my first instinct too, but it can't place Poscript, PDF, or EPS files (which Scribus can). Still, Inkscape can do a bunch of cool stuff that people are going to geek out over when I get back.

The presentations have provided an interesting window into the development communities of the different projects. I've attended mainly Inkscape and Scribus presentations -- they've been the most numerous. There was one GIMP presentation that I wanted to see, but I couldn't find it. There are a lot of beautiful and interesting materials given to participants, but there weren't signs or a schedule posted anywhere, so you have to wander around to try to figure out where stuff it.

The first presentation was about digital archives by Alain Boucher. It was in French, but the slides were in English. I couldn't understand anything he said, but the slides weren't very interesting -- lots of words. But he was talking about the idea of creating digital artifacts that needed to be recreated as the technology changed. That remided me of when I was in Phoenix. The gist of the story is that there was a native American ruin that had been excavated that was getting damaged by the elements, so they built a metal roof over it in the 1930s. Sometime later, a law was passed that structures older than 50 years needed to be preserved as historical artifacts -- but in the 80s, when they wanted to tear down and replace the metal roof, they found that it was now a historical artifact and had to be preserved. It would be interesting to me if everytime you digitized a document you doubled the number of "artifacts" you now had to manage.

The next presentation was by Louis Suarez-Potts who spoke about the Open Document Format. He gave a rather philosophical talk about proprietary formats leading to a form of "neofeudalism" where the people give up their control over their information by using proprietary standards. I wish I could get people at UMass to care about these issues -- I've been trying to convince them of that for years. I learned it in spades when I was coding in Supercard and, at one point, it looked like all my work would suddenly just not be usable anymore.

I attended several presentations on Inkscape and Scribus by developers and organizers. The roadmaps for both look very promising -- and there are a bunch of things available now (or very, very soon) that look really useful. More tomorrow.

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