Sunday, December 25, 2011

100 Years Ago and Today

Pager's parents, Joel Kinsley Putnam and Mabelle Butler were married 100 years ago today. The photo above was taken at the farm on their wedding day. No white Christmas that year!

Beth still has Mabelle's wedding dress:

Above Pager celebrated Christmas today with Beth, Emily, Laura and Katie. Below with me, Brian and Geoff:

Beth gave Pager a copy of the new history of Cambridge (Special Places, Special People) by Roberta Marsh, published last month:

A White Christmas

It has been an unusually warm fall. Most of the northern U.S. is not having a white Christmas this year. We do not have a lot of snow here, but we are fortunate to have a white Christmas. Yesterday, the day before Christmas, was a beautiful, sunny day. We had 2-3" of snow in our backyard:

Today, Christmas Day, it snowed:

 By evening we had another 6" of light, fluffy snow.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Laraway Mountain

Today was a beautiful winter day. We climbed to the lookout on Laraway Mountain on the Long Trail in Waterville. On the trail up:

Mt. Mansfield from the lookout:

Brian and Laura at the lookout:

Laraway Mountain is known for its south-facing cliffs just below the lookout. Giant icicles form on the cliffs in the winter. Hiking out under the cliffs:

There was 3-4" of snow. We didn't need snowshoes, but it was a little icy. Yaktrax or MICROspikes were helpful. It was a cool day, with temps in the single digits above zero Fahrenheit. We saw only one other set of tracks all day. Soon after crossing the big brook on our way up we met the person who had made those tracks, a rabbit hunter.

On the trail down as the sun set:

The best day in winter is better than the best day in summer!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Angels Landing

Angels Landing is a 5785 foot peak in Zion National Park. The climb is a popular yet challenging hike. It is 2.5 miles up, with an elevation gain of about 1200 feet. The peak from the valley floor:

The first two miles are paved. The initial climb goes up a series of switchbacks on the south side:

Then the trail levels out as it passes between two peaks:

The paved trail then continues up an amazing series of switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles:

Scout Lookout is at the top of Walter's Wiggles. Here the paved trail comes to an end. The trail now leads to the summit from the north across a narrow ridge. In a few places the trail is only 2-3 feet wide. There are chains to grasp in many places.

We made it!

Looking down on the Organ and the Virgin River:

Looking down on the Big Bend parking lot (the Organ is just to the right outside the photo):

Looking north toward the Temple of Sinawava and the Narrows:

Looking south down Zion Valley:

We hiked from Zion Lodge, visible in the photo above if you magnify it. A super hike!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A look back at 9/11 and blogging

Today is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Those attacks helped fuel the rise of blogs.

In April 2002 we visited New York City. It was the first time I had ever been in New York City except in airports and train stations. We went specifically to see Ground Zero. (And also the play QED at the Lincoln Center starring Alan Alda as Richard Feynman.) It was after returning from that trip that I discovered blogs, as I wrote about in this post.

In that post I wrote about two bloggers, Megan McArdle and Glenn Reynolds. Both are now well known bloggers. Megan McArdle blogs at The Atlantic. Glenn Reynolds blogs at Instapundit.

Megan McArdle started blogging in November 2001. She joined Mindles H. Dreck on a blog called Asymmetrical Information. (Mindles H. Dreck is undoubtedly a pen name. I don't know anything about him or her.) Dreck started the blog in October 2001. From Dreck's first post on 10/2/01: "About me: I'm in the money management business. My offices are a few blocks from the former World Trade Center. Like many 'warbloggers' I read, my proximity to this historic event is one of the reasons I'm recording my thoughts." (source, scroll to bottom)

Ms. McArdle's first posts were on 11/23/01, under the pen name Jane Galt. From one of her posts that day:

Now to introduce myself. I am, it seems, the epitome of our new century. I'm 28, just graduated from one of the top business schools in the world, and just had my job offer rescinded by a management consulting firm. In the interim, I have obtained a job with a construction company working on the WTC disaster recovery site. No, I don't work on "the pile" (as it is known here, despite the fact that they are already working below ground level) -- I work in a trailer across the street, doing everything from handing out security passes, to database design, to typing letters. Unfortunately, I can't offer any great insights, or even good gossip, about the site -- first, because they don't tell me anything, and second, because relating what I do hear could cost me my job. So no great insights. But possibly interesting trivia.

In my post referenced above I quoted from her blog post on 4/27/02 when she wrote about having been at the WTC recovery site for seven months, and asking "do you remember?" about things that had happened during those seven months.

Glenn Reynolds starting blogging in August 2001, one month before 9/11. His blog took on a new focus after 9/11. He recently looked back at that experience. Start with this short post that he published last night. Then read this article at posted yesterday: Attacks gave rise to Instapundit blog. And finally watch the 5 minute video by Glenn Reynolds at the bottom of the knoxnews article.

From the knoxnews article:

In an August video marking the 10th anniversary of his blog, Reynolds said, "The beauty of blogging goes on, as the kind of technology that made it possible for me to start Instapundit makes it possible for people to do all kinds of independent punditry and journalism today."

And that may be the most unintended of consequences of the terrorists whose aim was to strike fear in the hearts of Americans.

P.S. Happy birthday, Brian!

UPDATE 9/12/11: Megan McArdle posts some thoughts about the events of 9/11/01. "Without 9/11...I would not have started blogging."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Douglas Adams on Money

Douglas Adams was brilliant.

I have been rereading his 1998 talk "Is There an Artificial God?", published in The Salmon of Doubt. (See also my earlier posts on the book and the talk.)

Here's how the talk came about. Douglas Adams was invited to be a speaker at a conference titled: Digital Biota 2 - The Second Annual Conference on Cyberbiology at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, England. He declined to give a speech, feeling that he was an amateur among luminaries. But he did attend the conference and he agreed to be put on the agenda for a "debate." When it came time for his "debate," he stood up with no prepared notes and talked extemporaneously for over an hour, basically proposing a debate over the question: "Is There an Artificial God?"

It was an amazing performance. Fortunately someone made an audio recording, so that his talk was preserved and later transcribed. At the first link in this post you can find a link to the audio recording where you can hear both Adams himself and the audience reaction.

This captivating talk wove together concepts from science, religion, economics, agriculture and feng shui, all wrapped up in a story about the Four Ages of Sand. He brought all of these disparate themes together into one simple principle:
Anything that happens happens.

You need to read the talk to understand what he meant by that, but he believed that this principle "is arguably therefore the prime cause of everything in the universe. Big claim, but I feel I'm talking to a sympathetic audience." His talk was a tour de force, all the more so because it was off the cuff.

In this post I want to focus on what Douglas Adams said about money:
Money has no meaning outside ourselves; it is something we have created that has a powerful shaping effect on our world, because it's something we all subscribe to.

In his view, the concept of religion is the same. Now you can see how he came to include the topic of economics in a talk titled "Is There an Artificial God?"

Adams does not argue that we should get rid of either religion or money. On the contrary, he acknowledges how incredibly useful they both are. The example he uses to support the usefulness of religion involves agriculture, which is how that topic got into his talk.

That's about all that Adams says about money, but I think he could have said something additional that is interesting.

Recall his Four Ages of Sand; that is, sand to make glass lenses, silicon chips and fiber optic cable:

1. Telescopes - We discover the outer universe.
2. Microscopes - We discover the inner universe.
3. Computers - We discover computation.
4. The Internet - We discover new ways of communication.

All of Adams' major points revolve around the first three ages, especially the Third Age where we learn that complexity can arise from simple processes repeated over and over. He actually forgot to talk about the Fourth Age until someone asked a question about it. In his response to that question he talked about four modes of communication:

1. One-to-one
2. One-to-many
3. Many-to-one
4. Many-to-many

One-to-one communication needs no explanation. One-to-many communication is mass media. I'll say more about many-to-one communication below. Adams' point was that many-to-many communication is new in the world, made possible by the Internet, the Fourth Age. We don't know what changes this will bring to our world, but they are likely to be profound, just as the introduction of one-to-many communication brought profound changes. Think about the effect on history of the printing press, radio, and television.

Adams gave only one example of many-to-one communication:
Then there's many-to-one; we have that, but not very well yet, and there's not much of it about. Essentially, our democratic systems are a model of that, and though they're not very good, they will improve dramatically.

He did not elaborate on how he thought our democratic systems would improve dramatically, but the point I want to make is about something else. I think he overlooked something. I think he missed another important example of many-to-one communication: markets.

Think about the law of supply and demand. Prices adjust so that the amount supplied (at that price) equals the amount demanded (at that price). The price mechanism is what allows the efficient allocation of scarce resources. Prices serve to communicate information between buyers and sellers.

I suppose we could think of markets as many-to-many communication, since there are usually many buyers and many sellers. But I find it useful to think of markets as many-to-one communication. The many (buyers) are communicating useful information to the one (each seller). What kind of useful information? Producers are one example of sellers. The price they can obtain for the products they sell communicates useful information about how much to produce. If the price is high and the producer therefore realizes a profit, the producer will tend to produce more, and so on.

There are two important similarities between democratic systems and markets. In both systems, the many communicate to the one by voting. In democratic systems we vote with ballots. In markets we vote with our purchasing decisions.

Another similarity is that both systems operate well only with liberal quantities of freedom. It is not a coincidence that both democratic systems and markets increased in importance in the world as freedom became more prevalent. The year 1776 was a seminal year for both systems, with the adoption of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and publication of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

Douglas Adams said "there's not much of it about" meaning many-to-one communication. If democracy is one's only example, that is true. The amount of information transmitted from the many to the one in a democratic voting system is limited. Not everyone votes, ballots have limited choices, and votes are counted only once every few years. Much more information is transmitted from the many to the one in a market. Participation is broader, choices are more extensive, and votes are counted continuously.

Markets are a wonderful example of many-to-one communication. I would argue a better example even than democracy. And what is necessary to make markets work? Something that:
has no meaning outside ourselves; it is something we have created that has a powerful shaping effect on our world, because it's something we all subscribe to.