Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Legalize pot already

The Los Angeles Times ran an article headlined "States rush to protect cannabis". I sent this note in response (not published):
Perhaps this will finally prompt the cowards in Congress to take marijuana off the list of proscribed drugs and out of the hands of Attorney General Jeff Sessions!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Roger Ailes was a disaster for the country

The Los Angeles Times published this letter from me today. (They added the bracketed pieces.)

Rodney Hoffman of Montecito Heights declines to identify Ailes as a force for good:

Ailes is second only to Reagan as responsible for the rise of the right.

I agree with [Fox News host] Sean Hannity that Ailes "dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape singlehandedly," but Hannity says that was "for the better."

Maybe [this is true] if you are employed by Fox News. For the rest of the country, it's been a lasting disaster.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fiancé visa application

In December, Victor surprised me by quitting his ten-year employment at Presur. He said he is now ready to spend enough time in the U.S. to use a fiancé visa and wait for a green card.

When I returned to Los Angeles, I began looking at the application in detail. When I told Victor that he would have to get a passport-style photo, he insisted he wanted to wait and do that together with me during my next planned visit in March. I'm not sure why he didn't want to go by himself, but this meant I couldn't get the application done earlier.

In late March, we got the photos (easy, of course), and I had Victor sign one page of the application, and we asked his mother about her birthdate and information about his father. In April, back in L.A., I began filling out the forms.

I also searched online for information about fiancé visa denials. That's not very common, but I still put together a fat package of material:

  • The 6-page application
  • The two biographical information forms, one for each of us
  • Our two photos
  • My check for $535 (!)
  • A copy of my birth certificate (required)
  • A detailed relationship and visa and travel chronology
  • A page about my finances, with proof
  • 17 pages with color copies of 32 photos 1993-2017
  • Supporting statements from family and friends who know us
  • The form requesting notification of receipt
I mailed all that May 1. The Post Office estimated it would get there in about three days, but it wasn't until May 11 that I got the acceptance confirmation email.

Unless we're immediately denied, the next step will be for Victor to fill out another form online in order to sign up for an interview. Although the form questions are available in other languages, the answers must be in English. I'll try to go there to do that with him.

There are scores of sample interview questions online. I will go over those with Victor. I also plan to go with him for the interview. For a fiancé visa, I read that they usually let the U.S. citizen accompany the applicant, although they might not.

I'm pretty hopeful about this. The next two steps — the additional form and the interview — will both make Victor nervous. But I'm still optimistic. I think Victor will get here this year! At long last!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My time at PARC — 1979-1984

In early 1979, after my first semester of teaching at Occidental, I decided I could use a second part-time job. At the USC Placement Center, I saw one at Xerox that sounded promising.

During my interview, I was asked to write a FORTRAN program for Newton-Raphson root finding. They liked my work, noting that I had included checks for failure to converge.

I was to write computer programs in support of two physicists doing research on magnetic recording heads. Two years later, this work resulted in my only technical publication, when they listed me as a co-author.

This lab of 30 people was part of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, PARC. I knew about corporate research labs in general, such as Bell Labs and IBM Research, but I had never heard of PARC. This Southern California PARC outpost was a by-product of Xerox's 1969 purchase of Scientific Data Systems.

Shortly after I began, someone showed me a small isolated room with an unused Alto. When they booted it up, my jaw dropped. I had never seen anything like this graphical user interface (GUI): bit-mapped screen, multiple windows, mouse, WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") text editing and more. Few people had. This was before Apple's Steve Jobs first saw one at PARC. I thought, "Where has Xerox been hiding all this?!" It's hard to convey to anyone today how revolutionary all that was.

This inspired me to look more deeply into PARC. I sat down with the PARC Directory, and saw several names I recognized from publications, including Alan Kay and Danny Bobrow. Even a friend from Rice, Tom Malone. I knew he was in grad school at Stanford, but didn't know he was sometimes at PARC. I was very eager to visit PARC in Palo Alto.

Half of the Los Angeles PARC lab was headed by H.M. "Andy" Anderson. Fortunately for me, he was happy to help me out. First, he sent me on a one-day get-acquainted PARC visit in December 1979, along with Dan Bloomberg, one of the physicists I was working under. That was fun, even though neither I nor the PARC folks I had appointments with knew what the heck I was doing there. The best connection I made was with Dan Ingalls of the the Smalltalk group. (Alan Kay, head of the group, was too busy to see me.) Because I knew a bit of Simula, I knew about object-oriented programming.

Later, and still hard to believe, Andy arranged for me to spend half of every summer for the next four years at PARC, with no responsibilities! I had to pay for transportation, room and board, but Andy continued to pay my salary. It was a dream come true.

The Smalltalk group agreed to host me. I had my own Alto. I learned Smalltalk, of course, (and some Mesa and Modula-2), read tons of great technical papers, attended talks by giants of computer science both from PARC and elsewhere, got my first ARPANET address, used the Ethernet and laser printers all the time, and much more. It was an amazing post-graduate computer science education. Even as a novice CS teacher at a liberal arts college, I knew cutting-edge CS from PARC that only became widely known many years later.

I hoarded PARC technical reports. I still have several boxes of PARC documents, almost everything listed in the Computer History Museum's Alto archive, including my Alto User's Handbook, several PARC Annual Reports and A Decade of Research - Xerox PARC 1970-1980, which includes the paper I co-authored. I even have a giant 14-inch 2.5 MB (!) magnetic disk platter from an Alto. I always showed it to my students when talking about computer history. In the close-up, you can see this disk suffered a head crash, which is why I was able to keep it:

Besides PARC, I enjoyed many other activities in the area. I hung around Stanford a lot, especially the libraries. I lived in a rented room in old Palo Alto and bicycled through Stanford to PARC every day. I also went to gay bars and met gay folks at Stanford and at PARC, particularly Peter Deutsch. I was in Palo Alto for the initial organizing meeting of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR). I was a founding member and started the L.A. chapter. I was a local and national officer of CPSR in later years.

My summers at PARC only stopped when Xerox closed its L.A. PARC lab in the mid-1980s. Dan Bloomberg moved to Palo Alto to continue to work at PARC. I worked at another part of Xerox in El Segundo until 1991. CPSR work brought me to Palo Alto regularly for many years, and I often stopped by PARC, usually officially hosted by Dan. (Dan now works at Google. I had lunch with him there in 2010, when I was visiting a former Oxy student of mine who's now at Google.)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Isla Mujeres — May 2008

Victor reading one morning on Isla Mujeres

[I recently realized I never wrote about this trip.]

We spent a couple of days on the island of Isla Mujeres off the coast by Cancun. It didn't rain. Mostly we swam and hiked and tried different restaurants.

We swam in the ocean and in pools. We hiked much of the small island. The shore was mostly rocky, as in the photo above.

We also swam with dolphins. That was a bit pricey, but fun. I have no photos of that. They wouldn't let you take your camera, because they wanted to sell you the photos they took of you. Grrr

Monday, April 24, 2017

Autographs ― Tim Wu

At this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, one panel I attended was "Silicon Valley Disrupters." There were four authors plus a moderator. All were interesting, but I only bought this book by Tim Wu and got it signed.

(Index of autographs)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mexico City — Spring 2017

Link to more photos

I last visited Mexico City in 1985. Although he has passed through Mexico City many times, the only local sight Victor had seen was Teotihuacan.

We signed up for an Out Adventures tour, our first with a gay group. It was great. Victor loved it. The weather was fine — moderate temperatures day and night and not a drop of rain.

The tour included quite a few places I had not seen, including Frida Kahlo's home, lunch on a boat in the Xochimilco canals, Museo Dolores Olmedo, and Museo Soumaya.

In addition to the expected sights (see the photos linked above!), we went to a temazcal — a sweat lodge, visited Coyoacan, had one special dinner at a great restaurant, Dolce Patria, and our final group dinner at the home of a gay couple who teach cooking. Victor and I also visited the zoo on one free morning.

Monday, March 27, 2017

'Alien' plants

The Los Angeles Times ran a long story on fighting alien, non-native 'weeds.' I sent this note in response (not published):
I'm always surprised that so many people who welcome immigrant people reject immigrant plants, calling them non-native and alien and trying to wipe them out. Why? Yes, they will alter the environment, just as immigrant people do.

If they thrive here, I welcome them, both people and plants.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Here's why Trump's attacks on 'fake news' succeed

The Washington Post ran a story with this misleading headline last week: Here's why Trump's attacks on 'fake news' succeed. The story was entirely about why Trump's supporters are OK with his attacks on the news media.

In response, I sent this letter (not published):

That's a narrow definition of success: that it will go over with your supporters. That's true, but not news, and not success.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Autographs ― Alison Bechdel

I've long been a fan of Alison Bechdel. Her 'Dykes to Watch Out For' comic strip was always my favorite item in The Lesbian News, until she stopped it, and I bought her book Fun Home as soon as it came out.

This week, the Tony Award-winning stage musical based on that book came to town. I saw it two nights ago, and loved it.

Happily, as part of that, Bechdel also came to L.A. Today, I attended her talk at the Santa Monica Public Library, and I got her to autograph my book. She noticed that I had the first edition of the book.

(Index of autographs)