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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Stephen Cass' LiveJournal:

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Thursday, January 29th, 2009
9:20 pm
The DIY Gifting project
The first five people to respond to this post will get something made by me.

My choice. For you.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:

* I make no guarantees that you will like what I make!

* What I create will be with you in mind.

* It'll be done sometime this year (2009)

* You have no clue what it's going to be. It may be something written, some physical thing made, could be anything at all, but I will make it myself. It's entirely my choice what it is. No quibbles, no refunds.

* I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.

The catch?

Oh, the catch is that you put this in your journal as well. If you don't.. You don't get anything.
Thursday, July 3rd, 2008
12:10 pm
Bloggy McBlog Blog
For those who care about things science fiction-ey, my shiny new blog for DISCOVER is up!
Wednesday, April 9th, 2008
3:53 pm
Fun with planes
Should you have had an unfulfilled desire to see me look like an idiot in zero gravity, your prayers have been answered!
Friday, February 2nd, 2007
12:37 pm
Dublin Quays
A while back, La Glitz journaled about walking down the Liffey quays, and it prompted me to remember a poem by our late friend, Jude Hamill. I wanted to post it, but couldn't find it, until I finally came across it while packing up my office (today's my last day at Spectrum). So, here it is:


Wallpaper

Whose home was that I passed today, on my way to wherever I was going?
From the skeletal remains, can I resurrect, the lives that were lived here before?
Whose chiming laughter echoes still, when a whistle from the Liffey
Lingers in the throat of the chimney shaft; whose tears fell silently, or screaming
To the floor, and, what loves had they who here did stay, as guests or tenants?

Who waited here for dreaded news or joyful;
And was it coffee that they drank, or tea?
How many happy hours spent hogging the fire,
After battling the brazen breeze
As he howled down the quays?

And where are they now?
Six doors down, or six feet under?
Their house is gone and all that remain
Are ripped and dirty forlorn fragments
Of the wallpaper, over which there was
Such disagreement. Put up perhaps,
For the Confirmation or for Christmas,
That now hangs open to the rain wind and air,
Oblivious to the humming and hawing
That plastered it there;
Shielding vainly, with its frayed and flapping
Now unfashionable pattern,
The flue, from the prickling rain.

The angular zig-zags chiselled into the paper.
Shadows of where the stairs once were;
And where, perhaps, someone cried in the darkness
Down a phone-line, or into a bottle.

All that testifies to the dream this once was is that sad, old, embossed covering--
The derelict decay of re-zoned, pre-redevelopment Dublin.
What stories could that paper tell, and who would listen or recall the players?

Their lives, like others, neither enviable nor special
But nonetheless imagined and wondered of today

Jude Hamill
Tuesday, June 20th, 2006
12:56 am
Greetings from Caprica!
Well, not actually Caprica, but the city that plays Caprica on TV: Vancouver. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're missing some of the best television around right now, i.e. Battlestar Galactica.) It really does look like a science fiction city from a distance -- all the new buildings are rounded, built using sea-green tinted glass and beige concrete and roughly equidistant from one another. At ground level though, the older square buildings dominate, along with living proof that grunge is alive and well and living north of the border, given the amount of dreadlocked, bongo/guitar-playing panhandlers on the streets.

I'm in town for the UN HABITAT's World Urban Forum, which is pretty interesting: next year, for the first time in human history, there will be more people living in urban settings than rural ones, a shift that will continue for the foreseeable future: Urbi est Orbi. Vancouver is packed with delegates from all over the globe, which might explain why it took 40 minutes to get through the line for passport control at the airport last night, except that it seemed to take just as long to move people through the Canadian citizen line. Vancouver airport is real gem, a truly beautiful structure, an airy and open building, carefully adorned with aboriginal art and water features. Still, there's something to be said for JFK's stainless steel cattlemarket, in that it is brutally efficient. Ever seen The Terminal? The opening scene is pretty much spot on for JFK's immigration control process. The only time it took me longer than 15 minutes to clear JFK immigration was recently, when I didn't have an actual green card, just a stamp in my passport promising that I really was going to get one in the mail, so I spent a bit of time waiting to the approved in secondary processing--but there was no hanging around to block the main line!

Anyhow, that annoyance aside, I like Vancouver: it's very walkable, and all those new buildings I mentioned above are apparantly the fruits of a concerted effort by the city to get people to live in the downtown area, which they did by rezoning office space as residential. Still haven't quite got the hang of the public transit system yet, but I'm getting there. Today was mostly about the opening ceremonies and grabbing as much literature as possible: the real meat of the conference begins tomorrow, and, as anyone who's read me commenting about Terry Pratchet's attitude to urban life can attest, I love cities, so I'm really looking forward to it.
Wednesday, February 15th, 2006
12:52 pm
Slowly but surely I get there
Finally getting on the video bandwagon, my first video blog is up. It's about the Toy Fair here in New York, which is not as bizzare as some conferences I've been to recently, but if you're interested in robots, especially Lego Mindstorms, it's worth a click.

It's actually the second video piece I've made for the magazine -- the first piece will go up to accompany a product review in May -- but I was surprised by how easy it was to put together, almost like the steroetypical movie way of using a computer, i.e. bunch of raw material over here, a bit of re-arranging there and presto! iMovie (and iLife) rocks, and it looks like the magazine will stump up for an office camcorder and tripod purchase so I can stop borrowing Annie's kit. It's all part of the new Internet-driven journalism -- being a text person just doesn't cut it any more, you're got be to able to cough up audio/radio and video stuff as well, meaning that where I used to be able to somewere with just a notebook and tape recorder, I can now end up dragging a digital recorder, fancy microphone, still digital camera, camcorder, and tripod along, not to mention the accompanying supplies... Still, video is a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to doing more.
Monday, February 13th, 2006
11:53 am
SEND FOOD
NYC's Biggest snowstorm on record this weekend--over two feet--, but the city seems to have handled it pretty well, with little in the way of stopped subways, multicar pileups or power outages and so on. I did a little snow shoveling, helped immenensely by the guy who attached a snow plow to the ATV he was obviously very proud of and used it to drive up and down the Court St. sidewalks. I can't help but be reminded of Ireland's Big Snow in the 1980's, and how was the coolest thing ever, because just for once we had proper snow just like on TV, instead of the usual piddling inch or two that was barely enough to make a snowman before the rain came. Can anyone remember exactly what year that was?
11:52 am
Tuesday, December 20th, 2005
11:14 am
Strike City
The Transist Workers Union went out on strike this morning at 3 am. What this means is: no buses, no subway, and 7-plus million passengers trying to figure out how to make their lives work in the absence of one of the key systems that makes NYC tick. In fact, so strong is this effort, that it can lead to rapid cultural evolution. In the last strike, in 1980, the humble sneaker was pushed to center-stage, and hasn't really left since. This time around, if the strike lasts any time at all, I think it'll be the tipping point for telecommuting. True, a lot of people telecommute now, but its definitely seen as a poor substitute for actually being in the office for many workers. My bet is that a long strike will push people to really use the tools for remote collaboration, and their demand will provide an incentive to improve those tools in the longer run.

As for me, I'm leaving for North Carolina for Christmas, and hopefully all will be sorted out by the time I get back. That is, assuming I can get to the airport in time...
Thursday, November 10th, 2005
6:14 pm
What on Earth?
Something has been tapping on my windows at odd intervals, and it's gone before I can turn around and see what it is, so it's nothing big like a pigeon, who don't fly up this way anyway. This wouldn't be a huge deal, except that I'm on the 17th floor. Edgar Allen Poe would be proud...
Wednesday, August 10th, 2005
5:44 pm
Another data point in the continuing development of my historical understanding
With the recent 60th anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this article from The Weekly Standard is both provactive and persuasive. It reexamines Truman's decision to drop the bomb, but a few extracts will speak better than a summary:

In 1945, an overwhelming majority of Americans regarded as a matter of course that the United States had used atomic bombs to end the Pacific war. They further believed that those bombs had actually ended the war and saved countless lives. This set of beliefs is now sometimes labeled by academic historians the "traditionalist" view. One unkindly dubbed it the "patriotic orthodoxy."

But in the 1960s, what were previously modest and scattered challenges of the decision to use the bombs began to crystallize into a rival canon. The challengers were branded "revisionists," but this is inapt. Any historian who gains possession of significant new evidence has a duty to revise his appreciation of the relevant events. These challengers are better termed critics.

The critics share three fundamental premises. The first is that Japan's situation in 1945 was catastrophically hopeless. The second is that Japan's leaders recognized that fact and were seeking to surrender in the summer of 1945. The third is that thanks to decoded Japanese diplomatic messages, American leaders knew that Japan was about to surrender when they unleashed needless nuclear devastation.

The critics divide over what prompted the decision to drop the bombs in spite of the impending surrender, with the most provocative arguments focusing on Washington's desire to intimidate the Kremlin. Among an important stratum of American society--and still more perhaps abroad--the critics' interpretation displaced the traditionalist view.


Certainly, until reading the article, this had been my understanding of the event -- that decisions unrelated to 'saving lives' prompted the near-obliteration and radioactive poisoning of two civilian populations. And while I await the results of the debate that will surely follow this and similar articles to see how well the scholarship stands up before making a final judgement, the article goes on the make a strong case that the critics' viewpoint is based a fragmentary set of information and hence:

When a complete set of the "Magic" Diplomatic Summary for the war years was first made public in 1978, the text contained a large number of redacted (literally whited out) passages. The critics reasonably asked whether the blanks concealed devastating revelations. Release of a nonredacted complete set in 1995 disclosed that the redacted areas had indeed contained a devastating revelation--but not about the use of the atomic bombs. Instead, the redacted areas concealed the embarrassing fact that Allied radio intelligence was reading the codes not just of the Axis powers, but also of some 30 other governments, including allies like France.

The diplomatic intercepts included, for example, those of neutral diplomats or attachés stationed in Japan. Critics highlighted a few nuggets from this trove in the 1978 releases, but with the complete release, we learned that there were only 3 or 4 messages suggesting the possibility of a compromise peace, while no fewer than 13 affirmed that Japan fully intended to fight to the bitter end. Another page in the critics' canon emphasized a squad of Japanese diplomats in Europe, from Sweden to the Vatican, who attempted to become peace entrepreneurs in their contacts with American officials. As the editors of the "Magic" Diplomatic Summary correctly made clear to American policymakers during the war, however, not a single one of these men (save one we will address shortly) possessed actual authority to act for the Japanese government.

An inner cabinet in Tokyo authorized Japan's only officially sanctioned diplomatic initiative. The Japanese dubbed this inner cabinet the Big Six because it comprised just six men: Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, Army Minister Korechika Anami, Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, and the chiefs of staff of the Imperial Army (General Yoshijiro Umezu) and Imperial Navy (Admiral Soemu Toyoda). In complete secrecy, the Big Six agreed on an approach to the Soviet Union in June 1945. This was not to ask the Soviets to deliver a "We surrender" note; rather, it aimed to enlist the Soviets as mediators to negotiate an end to the war satisfactory to the Big Six--in other words, a peace on terms satisfactory to the dominant militarists. Their minimal goal was not confined to guaranteed retention of the Imperial Institution; they also insisted on preservation of the old militaristic order in Japan, the one in which they ruled.

The conduit for this initiative was Japan's ambassador in Moscow, Naotake Sato. He communicated with Foreign Minister Togo--and, thanks to code breaking, with American policymakers. Ambassador Sato emerges in the intercepts as a devastating cross-examiner ruthlessly unmasking for history the feebleness of the whole enterprise. Sato immediately told Togo that the Soviets would never bestir themselves on behalf of Japan. The foreign minister could only insist that Sato follow his instructions. Sato demanded to know whether the government and the military supported the overture and what its legal basis was--after all, the official Japanese position, adopted in an Imperial Conference in June 1945 with the emperor's sanction, was a fight to the finish. The ambassador also demanded that Japan state concrete terms to end the war, otherwise the effort could not be taken seriously. Togo responded evasively that the "directing powers" and the government had authorized the effort--he did not and could not claim that the military in general supported it or that the fight-to-the-end policy had been replaced. Indeed, Togo added: "Please bear particularly in mind, however, that we are not seeking the Russians' mediation for anything like an unconditional surrender."

...

This brings us to another aspect of history that now very belatedly has entered the controversy. Several American historians led by Robert Newman have insisted vigorously that any assessment of the end of the Pacific war must include the horrifying consequences of each continued day of the war for the Asian populations trapped within Japan's conquests. Newman calculates that between a quarter million and 400,000 Asians, overwhelmingly noncombatants, were dying each month the war continued. Newman et al. challenge whether an assessment of Truman's decision can highlight only the deaths of noncombatant civilians in the aggressor nation while ignoring much larger death tolls among noncombatant civilians in the victim nations.


This point is particulary compelling for me, who, as many of you know, is someone with a prediliction for that piece of sometimes harsh pragmatism known as cost-benefit analysis. By 2004, about 371,000 people perished as a result of the direct and indirect effects of the nuclear bombing of Japan. Considering civilian lives alone, and assuming all the Japanese deaths were civilian, this means that if the bombing accelerated the end of the war by just six weeks and Newman's figures are valid for 1945, it did indeed save lives and can not be dismissed as inherently immoral within the context of an existing war.


There are a good many more points that now extend our understanding beyond the debates of 1995. But it is clear that all three of the critics' central premises are wrong. The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor. Finally, thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood--as one analytical piece in the "Magic" Far East Summary stated in July 1945, after a review of both the military and diplomatic intercepts--that "until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies." This cannot be improved upon as a succinct and accurate summary of the military and diplomatic realities of the summer of 1945.


I still believe a demonstration -- such as putting a hole in the side of Mt Fuji -- of the atomic bomb should have been made, as some argued at the time, however fruitless the result may have been, so that all options would have been exhausted before hitting urban civilian populations. However, given the very limited stock of weapons available, uncertainities about their reliability, and, as the article points out, the opportunity cost in terms of lives in victim countries, I can understand how the reasoning would go the other way, especially when there was a concern that tens of thousands of allied POWs would be moved to target cities as human shields.

Food for thought, as I find myself moving on the fence of another nuclear-related issue that I previously had Firm Views about.
Monday, August 1st, 2005
12:43 pm
Ad Astra per funis
Some of you will be aware my enthusiasm for the space elevator, a 100,000 kilometer long cable that could carry cargo and people to and from space for a teeny fraction of the cost, risk and complexity currently required. Finally, after a lenghty gestation, you can read an overview of the project in this month's Spectrum, which features an article by the Wernher Von Braun of the elevator, Brad Edwards. If the damn thing does get built, it'll make the changes wrought by the automobile or the Internet look like very small beer...

http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/aug05/0805spac.html
Monday, June 27th, 2005
11:10 am
Take the MIT Weblog Survey
Friday, May 20th, 2005
2:08 pm
Thursday, May 19th, 2005
6:01 pm
For Eurovision Watchers
From the physics preprint archive, ArXiv:

Title: How does Europe Make Its Mind Up? Connections, cliques, and compatibility between countries in the Eurovision Song Contest

It's an analysis of 12 years of Eurovision votes, proving once and for all, that yes, Greece and Cyprus are in cahoots, for example. There' s lots of good stuff in here (discover the secret Ireland-UK-Nordic Alliance!), but the best bit may be from the footnotes:


[19] The title of this paper is inspired by the song-title Making
Your Mind Up, which was the winning song in 1981 for
Bucks Fizz of UK. However, to help reassure readers that
this paper is not written with a pro-UK bias, we note that
its authors include a citizen of a country which has never
appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest, a UK citizen of
Irish descent, a UK citizen who had not even been born
when Bucks Fizz won in 1981, and an ABBA fan.
Tuesday, April 26th, 2005
12:03 pm
Interview

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your LJ with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

So let me know if you want me to interview you :)

Questions from stringy

1. How long have you been at your current job?

4.5 years. After five years they give you a pin!

2. What first got you hooked on Buffy and/or Angel? (whichever came first for you)

anniemess gave me the Season One DVDs for Valentine's day a few years back, along with a contribution towards my first DVD player. It was something of a gag gift, given that I had previously passed on watching Buffy with her, complaining the show looked like "Dawson's Creek with Vampires." But it didn't take me long to get hooked: I don't think Annie knew what kind of a monster she was creating...

3. Who's your favourite Terry Pratchett character and why?

By far and away, Sam Vimes. He's a rational pragmatic idealist: he sees and understands the big picture problems, but he also understands the trade offs involved, that the most moral decision is often based on a cost/benefit analysis rather than a priori ideological rules conjured in the abstract: for example, when he has a chance to overthrow the Patrician, he declines, because the Patrician's a lot better than the alternatives, but he's bang up alongside his ancestor's Regicide, as things had crossed the threshold in that situation. Vimes makes the world a better place by simply hammering away at his corner of it and letting other people get on with their corners, (as long as their corners don't involve cornering other people's corners, if you know what I mean). His inherent dislike of aristocracy also endears him to me, as does his willingness to give everyone a a fair break, even if he's far from gender, race or species blind. He also loves the city, and is a champion of the urban way of life, rather than seeing the cities as just some horrible blights on the landscape whose inhabitants would really be better off living some nice pastoral existence. The city may be smelly and dangerous and full of injustice, but it also opens doors to people to live lives of their own making. Vimes is a voice of social conscience, but a voice that's connected to a head that actually wants to do what good it can, not just sit around bitching, or dreaming up schemes that go something like: Step 1: Radical Change, Step 2: ???, Step 3: Utopia. As well as understanding the importance of having an truthful picture of the world, Vimes knows that you can't duck the responsibility of answering the question "And then what?" Accepting that responsibility sometimes means being ruthless and making the hard choice, a burden which distances and isolates Vimes from the world, but which he carries because of his fundamental sense of duty,

4. The Apprentice: Carolyn or George?

Oh, don't make me choose! In the heel of the hunt though, I'd have to say Carolyn, for this season's barely suppressed giggles as she witnesses various inanities.

5. What's the deal with dark matter anyway?

Hmmm. The answer is something of a rabbit hole: how deep do you want to go? :) The idea of dark matter came from observing the rotation of galaxies, among other things. The stars that make up a galaxy are held together by gravitional attraction, but the rate at which galaxies are seen to rotate is so fast that galaxies should disintegrate, shooting stars hither and yon, because there just aren't enough stars and dust to produce enough gravity to keep everything together. So there must be some other form of matter, that we can't see (hence Dark Matter), that's contributing to the total gravity budget of galaxies and so holding them together. In fact, it's estimated that 90% of the matter in the universe must be in the form of dark matter in order to explain how galaxies rotate and their distribution across the sky. What exactly is the nature of this matter has been Physics's great guessing game for the last few decades. The current leading contenders are various soups of sub atomic particles, such as neutrinos and other exotic particles, some of which have been observed in particle accelerators, and others which are currently purely theoretical conjectures.
Tuesday, April 19th, 2005
4:34 pm
Uncle again
My younger brother David and his fiance Wendi have just succesfully reproduced, yay! The offspring is a 6lb, 11oz, healthy boy called Eliott. My brother appears quite smitten with his new son, noting that the child is 'cute' and 'really cute'. He has inherited Wendi's blond coloring, but apparently shows early signs of a Cass disposition: when some noise occurs in the room when he's sleeping, instead of startling awake, he'll silently lift an eyelid, roll his eye to scan the room, and return to sleep. Once he learns how to steeple his fingers and mutter 'excellent', we'll be all set.
Wednesday, April 13th, 2005
12:45 pm
It's Finished! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
It's finally gone live: My Apollo 13 Special Report for the 35th anniversary of the explosion that almost killed three astronauts three-quarters of the way to moon.

On the one hand, writing this article was a blast, pure job satisfication: I got to write about a subject I love, and I got to talk to a bunch of really cool guys, the steely eyed missile men in mission control, and even find out stuff no-one else has reported on. On the other hand, it was a mountain of work that gobbled up weekends and nights: including sidebars, the article comes in at 13,000 words, over four times the length of a regular feature article.

So tell your friends, and everyone better bloody love it! Or else.
Thursday, March 17th, 2005
10:45 am
Another Paddy's Day in New York
The streets are festooned with green again: I don't know why, but I really do get a big kick out of seeing people of every ethnic stripe cheerfully sporting green. Very NYC melting pot thingy.

I try to ignore the green bagels though, and mercifully, 34th Street doesn't have any bars, so I'm spared the sight of the first green pints being downed. However, I think I may have disturbed my fellow subways riders earlier in the morning due to the constant stream of muttered obscenities that emanated from me when I discovered an Op-Ed in The New York Daily News by Gerry Adams, along with a whole bunch of Letters To The Editor whining about the British occupation of Northern Ireland. Adams was identified simply as the "President of Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party in the north or Ireland," omitting the "and a leader of a terrorist organization, so maybe you shouldn't give him any money" bit.

On the up side, Annie just found a local website where I can order Denny's sausages and White Pudding and Weetabix, etc., so I see a proper Irish fry up in my future...
Tuesday, March 15th, 2005
11:56 am
Automatically generated... or is it?
that bitter old queen niallm gone and said that they saw me talking to radegund and talking crap about stellanova. If I get my hands on them they'll be sorry!

Oh yeah. everybody has asked why I'm leaving the furry fandom but the answer is simple: Some of you know who you are and why I'm leaving FOREVAR.

This entry automatically generated by the LJ Drama Generator!
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