Looking for Lighthouses

In response to Philip Greenspun’s ironic question/link bait: Why pretend to care about others when we have professional therapists?

A friend criticized me for being unsympathetic regarding a concern of hers that I thought was irrational. She believed that a friend ought to care simply because another human being is apprehensive, even if that apprehension is not justified. During this exchange it occurred to me that there is actually no reason for the layperson to be sympathetic or emphathetic in any modern situation.

Three hundred years ago friends needed to empathize with one another. Today anyone who wishes to get symphathy for his or her troubles can simply buy it from one of the hundreds of thousands of trained professionals in the therapy industry.

From three hundred years ago, a non-ironic answer:


All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all….No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Excerpted from John Donne’s Meditation XVII, 1624


Art Photography

The illusion of perfection

My last rock story. Today if only the sun would cooperate I could finish the photos of the mineral collection and finally put this show on the road. There’s a metallic taste in my mouth and I find looking at the last broken and browned leaves of Fall outside to be a soothing counter-point to immersion in such vivid greens and blues and pinks and purples, oranges and golds and clears.

I measured my pyrite cube and found that it’s not a perfect square that it appears. Still, it’s close enough that when I showed it to my brother years ago, he didn’t believe it was natural – how can anything in nature follow such perfect lines? Today through an understanding and study of fractals we know that there is more of a pattern to nature than is apparent to the naked eye.

In fact, crystals of a specific mineral usually grow in precise patterns that are known as the crystal’s habit, a primary identifier of the mineral. For instance, Vanadinite has a very distinctive habit and color that make it quite easy to identify.

However, the appearance of consistency and pattern in nature is really an illusion; a trick to make us think we have the answers. Just when we think we’ve found the key to understanding it, nature changes. We’re then left grasping at our tattered assumptions, gazing in bewilderment at our math where two plus two does not equal four. We learned a lesson about this from the sun this week – if something so primal to our lives can suddenly change behavior, what can we depend on? Do you feel your world rocked?

Barite can be clear and precise and ordered, and there is serenity in its clean, uncluttered lines:

But it can also be yellow and chaotic, with growth in every direction. Look at the following photo – how can we believe that the mineral that formed the elegant bit of clarity above is the same mineral that formed into the messy and inconsistent crystal shown below?

Still, if a crystal can have many forms and colors and shapes and textures, there is a finite limit to its variety. Dioptase will never be red, and molybdenite will always be metallic. It is this limit that now leads me to believe that one of my samples, a lovely bit of orange-red and clear crystals, may be a fake. I cannot find a mineral that matches the color, the weight, and the shape – all three.

By color it could be realgar, but the shape is wrong; by luster it could be spinel, but the shape is wrong; and by weight it could be rhodonite – but the shape and size doesn’t fit any of these.

It is driving me mad.

It’s a pity my pretty orange rock refuses to be classified, to fall into neat little patterns of mineral behavior: this color and this luster and this crystal shape and gravity. There’s no room in the collection for mystery.


Digital Genres conference

I wanted to point out what could be a potentially interesting conference in Chicago, May 30-31: Digital Genres Conference. According to Alex Golub, the focus of the conference is:

In 1924 Gilbert Seldes’ The 7 Lively Arts made one of the earliest and most powerful arguments that popular genres of entertainment such as jazz and cinema deserved the same critical attention afforded the fine arts – a view that is now widely accepted. This conference seeks to do today for digital genres what Seldes did for the lively arts eighty years before.

It’s nice to see a conference in the mid-west rather than East or West coast. And the topic doesn’t sound like it’s been done to death.

I, unfortunately won’t be attending. In fact, I won’t be attending any conferences or meet-ups this year. I even turned down doing a presentation a O’Reilly’s Open Source conference, which was a bit of an ouch – I would have enjoyed being there.

However, less gadabouting  means more writing and pics, right? Always a silver lining.

(Thx to Dorothea for link)


Rock artists

Earlier in the week, I had posted a photo and then removed it because of download times on the page.

It was a photo of one of the rock sculptures that are unique to the waterfront of San Francisco, created by artists I call The Rock Artists.

These sculptures don’t last. Eventually, water and people will knock the work down. In the meantime, they are an absolute delight.

Liane asked where the picture was. I’ve re-embedded the original photo, and linking to some additional photos.

Here you are, the San Francisco rock art.