Upgraded to WP2.0.4

I’ve just upgraded the blog to WordPress 2.0.4. If you notice any oddities, please let me know via a comment to this entry.
(I’ve also heard of people who are having trouble with the new three-column layout: their browser displays the left column, then the middle, and finally the right, straight down the left side of the screen. If you encounter this, please tell me your browser version and screen layout.)


Derek's memorial service

The memorial service for Derek Maxwell (“DIM” to his friends) will take place this Thursday at 8 pm. Derek MaxwellIt will be at the Dumont-Sullivan Funeral Home, 50 Ferry Street, Hudson, NH. (There’ll be a closed-casket “viewing” from 5-8 pm.)
I know that a number of DIM’s friends and colleagues read this blog. If any of you have stories, anecdotes, memories or tributes that you’d like to contribute, please add them as comments to this posting, or email me. I’ll pull them all together and share them with Derek’s family. I know they’d appreciate it.
UPDATE: If you’re inside the Sun firewall, you can find more material here.


The day after I arrive in Seattle…..

It’s destiny. Or a delightful coincidence:

Seattle soccer fans who missed the chance to see perhaps the world’s most famous athlete, David Beckham, in the summer of 2003 have a second chance.
Beckham and his teammates from Real Madrid, one of the globe’s most popular soccer teams, are headed to Seattle for a friendly against Major League Soccer’s D.C. United and its 17-year-old phenom, Freddy Adu.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow…
UPDATE: Section CLB238, seat J 18. See you there! 🙂


Merry in "O"

Merry just got quoted in O (Oprah Winfrey’s magazine), in a little piece on How to Help a Friend Who’s in an Abusive Relationship. It’s actually a nice example of the genre: a real problem, an articulate survivor, someone to provide a professional angle, and simple, concrete, practical advice.
(And although the article didn’t include contact information, it already seems to be generating some referrals.)


Evolving locomotion

This is another “What I love about the web” moment.
I was reading Pharyngula (as I do so often), and his piece “Evolutionists get all the fun” led me to Mark’s ruthless debunking of yet another piece of creationist rubbish by Granville Sewell, who seems to be holding up the left-hand end of the bell curve of IQ in math professors. But that’s not what this all about. At the top of PZ’s post was a picture:
breve image
And I recognized this picture: it looked as if it came from a video clip that Dan Dennett had shown to us in class last spring. Clicking through the link in Mark’s piece took me to the breve home page:

What is breve?
breve is a free, open-source software package which makes it easy to build 3D simulations of decentralized systems and artificial life. Users define the behaviors of agents in a 3D world and observe how they interact. breve includes physical simulation and collision detection so you can simulate realistic creatures, and an OpenGL display engine so you can visualize your simulated worlds.
breve is available for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows in the download section.

Wonderful – but life is hectic right now, I don’t have time to play with this. Not to worry: if you’re running on a Mac, there’s a breveCreatures screensaver which repeatedly runs 20 trials and evolves the most successful “creatures”. In this case the fitness function is “distance travelled from origin”. So now I can go about my day, checking in occasionally to see how evolution is going.
I have to say, though, that PZ falls into a classic trap in his posting. He writes:

One thing I noted right away in the simplest demo (“”) is that there’s no symmetry imposed on the systems, so the poor creatures are afflicted with four limbs that may each have completely different properties, making them particularly thrashworthy. There really ought to be something in the code to require the two upper forelimbs, for instance, to have identical controls, with some kind of central regulatory circuitry that could impose phase differences. Are there no structuralists and developmental biologists among the coders at breve?

No, no, no, PZ! Symmetry is a consequence of evolution, not a constraint. Suppose the most efficient walker turns out to be asymmetrical?! I’m reminded of Dawkins’ “The Extended Phenotype”, where in Chapter One he quotes Fisher: “No practical biologist interested in sexual reproduction would be led to work out the detailed consequences experienced by organisms having three or more sexes; yet what else should he do if he wishes to understand why the sexes are, in fact, always two?”
Anyway, all Mac users are encouraged to grab breve and indulge in a little desktop evolution.


"Freedom is on the march"

You can’t make stuff like this up:

AFGHANISTAN’S notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was set up by the Taliban to enforce bans on women doing anything from working to wearing nail varnish or laughing out loud, is to be re-created by the government in Kabul.
The decision has provoked an outcry among women and human rights activists who fear a return to the days when religious police patrolled the streets, beating or arresting any woman who was not properly covered by a burqa or accompanied by a male relative.

Spreading freedom and democracy, eh?
[Hat tip to the General.]


Blog style

Those of you reading this blog over the last 24 hours must have been thoroughly confused. I’ve been playing with different themes (about a dozen of them, in fact). I’ve decided that I’m going to stick with the current one (code-named “treacle”) for a couple of days, adding back in some of the elements from the theme I’ve been using for the last few months. Please let me know if you encounter any issues.


Derek Maxwell, RIP [updated]

I just learned that a former colleague of mine, Derek Maxwell, died yesterday. He and I worked together from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s: he was the go-to guy in product marketing for our PC networking products such as PC-NFS. Soon after he arrived, the so-called “planets” re-org saw our entire group restructured and renamed as an independent business unit, SunSelect. The potential for chaos and duplication was high, and much credit goes to Derek for sustaining the relationships with the product teams in the other Sun business units. Eventually our group was folded into SunSoft, and for a while Derek worked for me when I was acting director of PCN.
Derek and I had a number of interests in common, including motor racing, and we often found ourselves comparing notes on the strange gestalt of being an expat Brit in America. Unfortunately we drifted apart after I joined SunLabs, and Derek moved into various marketing roles in the OS and storage organizations, although we often exchanged non-work email.
Speaking of email, Derek’s always ended with the signature:

Tha fhagail fhein aig gach neach !” – “Everyone has their own particular destiny”

Sadly, his own came too soon, in the form of a massive heart attack at the age of 49. Farewell, Derek. We’ll miss you.
Here’s the internal announcement from Sun (and yes, it’s OK to redistribute it):

It is with great sadness that we pass on the news that our friend and colleague, Derek Maxwell, passed away last night from a massive coronary.
A 17-year Sun veteran, Derek was well-known not only to the Storage Group, but throughout Sun. In his earlier years he worked in a variety of Sun organizations and projects including Sun-MC (Management Console), a program for managing and diagnosing problems on SPARC-based Solaris systems. He’s been part of Sun Storage since its inception, dedicating his expertise and passion to Storage Management over the last few years and most recently working as a Product Definitions Manager for SAM-FS/QFS.
Long-time friends and colleagues of Derek describe him as a man with a true generous spirit, who reached out to others and always had an easy smile for all who crossed his path. He maintained a tremendous passion for his work and was often known by his work team as the Sun “go-to” guy, because of his breadth of knowledge and Sun expertise.
Derek leaves behind his wife, Sandra, a son and a daughter. Our thoughts and prayers are with them as they work through this difficult loss.
Due to the many years that Derek spent at Sun, it is impossible to reach out to all those who knew and worked with Derek. Therefore, we appreciate if you can forward this message as appropriate to those who have not received the news.
Thank you for your support.
Nigel Dessau and Nancy Hurley


Suez 1956; Lebanon 2006

Over at The Belgravia Dispatch Greg has posted a series of interesting emails he’s received on the subject of Israel, Lebanon and US policy. All put recent events in historical context in a way that politicians and journalists have long since forgotten how to do. This caught my eye:

Israel is radicalizing people who have little use for armed militia, but have less use for being indiscriminately bombed out of their homes and livelihoods. The Germans were fond of “community punishment” techniques during their battles with European resistance movements during the war, and we all know how much that endeared the Germans to their fellow Europeans. Giving a blank cheque to Israel is as mad as Kaiser Wilhelm giving a blank cheque to Conrad von Hötzendorf in 1914.
Of course, our government will take no such drastic action, particularly not having “committed” itself as it has, but how ironic that fifty years ago this summer our government rather brutally brought the Suez crisis to an end by squeezing Britain until the pips squeaked. I would defy anyone to reconcile the strategic worldview of the United States as reflected by these two seminal events.

Indeed. But then considering Eisenhower and Bush, maybe the contradiction isn’t so surprising.


Heads-up: celebratory imbibition

In anticipation of my departure for Seattle on August 8, a few of us will be getting together for drinks on Friday August 4. The rendezvous point is the Naked Fish on the Middlesex Turnpike on Billerica, MA. I’ll be getting there at 5pm; some of us will be staying on for dinner (they do a really good Coconut Encrusted Haddock). Pass the word to any Sun, ex-Sun, ex-Mosaic, ex-PC-NFS, or ex-386i folks that you know….