Archive for March, 2007

on Dreams and Youth

I woke up this morning* from an enjoyable dream in which I was lounging in an Arabic villa (thanks John) (only in my dream I had labeled it the Bellagio in Las Vegas, perhaps due to the large fountain (more parentheses!)) eating a picnic lunch. Along came a hard-up Southerner and his baby daughter, looking pointedly at my lunch–so I offered them a few things. The girl was singing and babbling away and I remember wishing I could still access that childlike mode of creativity.

Of course, the next moment I woke up and realized that this same mind of mine that had been thinking these wistful thoughts was at the same time filling in all of the material coming out of the girl’s mouth.** Cool, huh?

*The second time, that is. The first time was at 7:30 to retrieve a cup of coffee from my new programmable coffee maker***, and with high hopes of making inroads on my big paper for Senior Seminar. The coffee did not stop me from returning to bed until 10:57, three minutes before my first class of the day. Which was good for the sake of the dream, since I usually only remember mine when I wake up and then go back to doze some more. As for the paper–um, why the heck am I blogging right now?

**Or perhaps not. According to Ben, people who are lucid dreaming can sometimes interact with each other. But I’m not convinced.

***(Uh oh, now I am nesting footnotes too (and parentheses within footnotes (stop the insanity!))) A gift from my aunt and uncle–thanks! Now I’m ready to be a Seattlite for sure.

on Sustainability that Makes Good Business Sense

Have you ever wondered if sustainable practices can really be good for business? This evening I attended a lecture in which Paul Murray, environmental affairs manager for Herman Miller, Inc., made a powerful case that it can.

Herman Miller is a Michigan-based manufacturer of chairs and other furnishings with an impressive history of paying attention to their triple bottom line (considering the environmental and social costs of business decisions as well as the direct financial ones). For instance, they helped support the U.S. Green Building Council (creator of the LEED green building standards) in its infancy and have been a pioneer in applying cradle-to-cradle design philosophy to their products.

Their current “Perfect Vision” initiative is a particularly impressive benchmark for where the company hopes to be in 2020:

  • zero solid waste
  • zero hazardous waste
  • zero air and water emissions from manufacturing
  • 100% renewable energy
  • company buildings constructed to a minimum LEED Silver certification

According to Murray, the company is 61% of the way towards this goal now, and will reach 80% by 2010.

I was particularly impressed by the company’s efforts in organization to allow for innovation in the area of sustainability. There is a committee, overseen by Murray, which interacts with multiple subcommittees attending to various areas of concern. All told, 400 of the company’s 6000 employees are involved in these committees–management has realizaed that the workers on the floor are often the most aware of where improvements can be made.

A striking example of how this company works is the story of what happened when the 37 acres of wildflowers at one of their locations began to attract troublesome wasps. The groundskeeper was instructed to remove them using whatever means necessary–insecticide or mowing. Instead, he contacted a biologist at the university who raised the possibility of bringing in honeybees to compete with the wasps. A local beekeeper was invited to bring his bees, and it turns out that wildflower honey sells for more than other types–thus a deal was reached by which the beekeeper paid for access to the flowers with honey that was passed on to Herman Miller’s customers. Today the company owns its own bees and continues this tradition.


I asked Murray how to work for change in an organization that doesn’t have the management support for efforts in sustainability that Herman Miller does. His recommendation was to treat all suggestions as business proposals, pointing out how the change can save the organization money. (He noted that the combined rate of return for all of Herman Miller’s projects to date is around 50 percent!) He also highlighted that as consumers, we can have a significant influence on the companies we purchase from simply by asking questions about their environmental decisions.

I hope that in the years to come I will be fortunate enough to work for an organization with as good an environmental and social record as Herman Miller’s–or, failing that, that I will find the patience and creativity to seek out improved practices that are beneficial for people, for the environment, AND for the organization’s bottom line.

on Maps

This has been happening the past few nights…
(apologies to Toothpaste for Dinner)
…so here goes…

There are few things that can keep me so inordinately entertained as a good map. I like figuring out where I’m at, trying to understand the way a place is organized and connecting the projection on paper to my real life experience, searching for buildings or roads I didn’t know about, or funny place names. This love is probably the clearest instance of my general affinity for information and seeing it represented in meaningful ways.

My love of maps goes back at least to age six, when I got my first atlas prior to spending a year in Costa Rica with my parents, who were leading a study-abroad program. In Costa Rica, I entertained myself by taping a blank paper over the country map on the window, and tracing a new copy. Before long I could recreate it from memory. Later, on road trips in the states, I would keep the road atlas open on my lap and (geek that I was/am) could at any given time rattle off the name of the nearest town and our estimated time of arrival at the next one.

I of course rejoiced with the masses when Google released Google Earth, with its satellite images of the entire globe, from my host home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to the up-close view of campus that I have turned into a giant poster in our living room. More recently, I have also had fun playing with Wikimapia, which takes Google’s satellite imagery and lets you tag places in it–the tags must be corroborated by other viewers to remain. And while investigating Seattle, WA as a place to move next year, I discovered Lost in Seattle, an extensive map of the city which identifies buildings and such. (By the way, for those of you who read my blog about options, I am leaning heavily toward Seattle at this point. Thanks to those of you who offered counsel and encouragement!)

Recently, Naf told me about his idea for a new map projection. One problem with conventional maps is that they are usually good either for looking at a huge area at low resolution or a very focused area in detail–but not for getting both detail and context. So his idea was to take a Mercator projection–in which two points, the poles, are spread out across the entire top and bottom of the map while points in between are less distorted–and adjust its orientation so that the location of interest (lets say Goshen) becomes the effective pole. Thus you would get a lot of detail where you want it, shrinking into the entire world to give context. One handy side effect of this projection is that it would make the vertical axis of your map into a measure of how far you are from Goshen, while the horizontal axis would be a measure of the direction from Goshen.

Computer programmer that I am, I had to try this out. The result is crude but satisfying: (click for large version)
That’s Lake Michigan there in the upper left.

(For the geeks in the audience–this was generated with the following simple Perl script, thanks to the handy PDL::Transform::Cartography package from CPAN.)


use PDL;
use PDL::NiceSlice;
use PDL::Graphics::PGPLOT::Window;
use PDL::Transform::Cartography;

$a = earth_coast;
$a = graticule(10,1)->glue(1,earth_coast);        # Load coastline map
$a->((2)) += (7-3*$a->((2)))*($a->((2))>0);       # Make it more colorful
$a->((2)) -= 3*($a->((2))<0);
$ts = 'longitude '; $ps = 'latitude '; $as = "azimuth ";   # Shorthand strings
$ms = 'projection '; $rs = '(radians)'; $ds = '(degrees)';

@wopts = (size=>[16,20],j=>1,hardlw=>1,hardch=>2);
$w = pgwin(dev=>'goshen_earth.png/png', @wopts);
$ps = "projected ";
$opt = {title=>"Oblique Mercator $ms",xt=>"$ps theta $rs",yt=>"$ps tan phi"};

When I get some free time again (har har) I’d like to try rendering one of these in detail using the satellite images from Blue Marble in concert with my big poster of campus that I mentioned above. But I think I will have to write some code in C or Java to coax my computer to do it without slowing to a standstill, and that will entail brushing up on said languages…

on Options

I have too many good options for what to do next year. I am of course grateful for the range of opportunities open to me, but trying to determine which is the best option sometimes makes me want to go curl up into a little ball and take a nap, rather than carpe-ing the diem. (Which diem should I carpe, the inferiorating (and not just because of the disgusting Eng-Lat-ification) question festers.) The question has been brought to a head this afternoon by the arrival of a list of choices from the service organization I applied to, which I now need to prioritize.

Option 1: Seattle, WA. I just visited Seattle with the men’s chorus and like the thought of living somewhere with mountains, the ocean, and winters slightly warmer than (albeit as grey as) Goshen’s. I also have 3 good friends already living in the Seattle area–having a few people around that I already know would be nice for this introvert. My work would be for an organization that provides web and network support for environmental groups–very much up the alley of the part-time work I’ve been doing for the past few years.

Option 2: Washington, DC. Washington would also be a fascinating place, though I must admit the West draws me more. A definite plus would be that I have an aunt, uncle and cousins living in DC. The work assignment would again be in IT design and support for nonprofits, but would also include a half-time component in a computer training center. That would be an interesting challenge; potentially good, but I’m not sure I like working with people that much.

Option 3: La Jara, CO. Here’s one that’s not in the city — but I’m not the biggest city fan, so that’s fine…and I do love southern Colorado. The work would be for a Boys and Girls Club, maintaining their computer network. Their is a decently large Latino population in the area, so it would be a chance to practice my Spanish. The service organization is particularly anxious to fill this position. But it’s less likely to turn into a job offer than the previous two, and less likely to be somewhere I’d want to stay long term.

Option 4: Goshen. There is a decent chance that I would be able to get a salaried programming job here next year. My current boss is eager to keep me around, because the other guy who knows the system well will likely be leaving for grad school. The opportunity to make a bit of money would be nice, and I would get a bit more time with my Goshen friends. On the other hand, this seems a bit like the easy option, and I know that after spending 19 (minus 1.3) years in Goshen I don’t want to stick around too long, for the sake of growth and independence.

Then there is a small part of me I just noticed this evening which is still yearning for something more….some time overseas? I haven’t quite identified what it is yet. I think it is a yearning for a full life, for a life in which risks have been made and in which I’ve walked faithfully as a disciple, and found peace, or an impulse and opportunity to work for peace. Of course, the options outlined above wouldn’t necessary preclude this. But while I find computer work interesting, I’m not sure I’ve ever quite been able to imagine how it could lead me to that which I am deeply yearning for.

Sooo… Help! How do I make this decision? I would certainly appreciate your prayers for direction in my discernment.

on Winter Yearnings

That is the title of this composition which I just put together for my Physics of Musics class. (The assignment was to write a 2-minute piece of music incorporating various additive and subtractive synthesis techniques, disguising an instrument’s sound, and playing a melody on harmonics.) Criticism is welcome, but keep in mind that this is my first composition and I will probably give up composing for good if you don’t like it. 😉 (Of course, that may be what you’re going for.)

Aside from the bongos, which I found using FindSounds, and the synthesized tones layered on top at the end, I only made use of two recordings: a single strike on my hammer dulcimer, and white noise from the airplane last week. All the processing was done using Adobe Audition.