Standard

Enschede, Philosophy of Technology Conference

The past few days I have been in Enschede, a moderately-sized former industrial town near the border of Germany, staying at the deco-era Hotel Rodenbach, situated next door to the pleasant Volkspark. The final night we splashed out a bit and enjoyed a meal at their rather nice restaurant; most other evenings we spent in their rather sizable Oude Markt area. Overall Enschede is really pleasant town with a good mix of interesting architecture, with a good student community, and a moderate amount of industry. It has managed to rebuild itself quite well following a rather dramatic decline in its traditional manufacturing base in the 1980s, reminding me of some the New Zealand towns of a similar vintage (e.g., Cambridge).

The purpose of this visit to a such a relatively obscure place has been for a philosophy of technology conference at the University of Twente. My own paper, Transparency and Immersion in High Performance Computing basically argued that (a) the command-line interface will always be necessary for speed and capability and especially for HPC and that (b) it also needs to be updated in terms of syntax, structure, and linguistic scope for greater intuition, although I did have a fairly pessimistic conclusion on the chances this would occur. As once remarked: "We think an act according to habit, and the extraordinary resistance offered to even minimal departures from custom is due more to inertia than to any conscious desire to maintain usages which have a clear function" (Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology).

For a conference that was expecting 50 people and ended up with over 200, it was quite stimulating. I made a couple of relatively important contacts, including Don Ihde, whose phenomenology of technology was extremely influential in my own thinking on the subject, and Rosi Braidotti who gave an absolutely firey presentation on the current state of critical theory and post-structuralism. In addition there is at least three other people whom I am hoping to have further collaborations with in the future across the disciplines of Habermas' critical theory and technology, cultural studies, and Internet privacy. Overall, it was a really good event and a credit to the organisers. Nearly all the speakers I heard were very knowledgeable about their respective subject matter and raised important issues on human-technology interactions, and many were from backgrounds that knew the technical details intimately. But as stimulating as it was, it was also a reminder on the discipline: "if you want to be a philosophy graduate, you'd better get a taxi license as well!". Philosophy as a profession is rarely the path to a secure or even moderate income.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/254664.html.
  • Current Location: Oldenburg, Germany
  • Current Mood: tired
  • Current Music: Tench/Care, Shriekback
Standard

The Hague, Amsterdam, Utrecht

After Ghent the next leg of the journey was The Hague, which there was an intent to visit the International Criminal Court, but it was closed that day and returning to the venue was not really viable - next time. Instead, we visited Jett D., an old friend and night-club organiser from Perth who lives in neighbouring Delft, and was given the opportunity to meet his charming partner and progeny. True to his style, he took on a most epic pub crawl through this canal-based town, which included visits to the various sights including the Oude and Nieuwe Kerk, the City Hall, and his most recent club venue, the Oubliette. I think we ended the night - still at a fairly civilised time - at the oldest pub in the city. There was much opportunity to reminisce on the goth scene in Perth from the late 80s to early 90s which were a hey-day of our activities.

The next journey was to Amsterdam, with a one-hour stopover in Antwerp which mostly included viewing the art-noveau train station with a sense of wonder. Reaching Amsterdam itself, we stayed in the very upmarket Hotel Pestana (which was on special). The building itself was the former city archives, and the staff were uncomfortably obsequious. The inner city itself was thoroughly charming, having been converted from a car-based environment to a human (or bicycle) one. We visited as much as we could in the single day, which included the fair torture museum, two underdeveloped and disappointing places claiming to be cheese museums (cheese is important stuff), and the Vondelpark. This place is certainly deserving of multiple visits, and its notorious "sex and drugs" reputation is quite overstated - yes it does provide those freedoms, but there is also a strong sense of civic responsibility.

After Amsterdam, we made our way to Utrecht, nominally to visit another former Perth-person, Peter C. Due to miscommunication, he had actually moved (to Amsterdam no less), so we missed him. Worse still, it mean we were in Utrecht and in the dire Badhu hotel - it does have a very nice bar, but garish rooms, and the stinking rotting carpet was a health hazard. As for the city itself, Utrecht is the potato of the Netherlands. The potato is indeed a nutritious staple and Utrecht is functional. But the rows upon rows of identical houses is tiring, just like how the once ubiquitous potato in every meal of Dutch cuisine generated a diet of "incredible monotony" (Wintle, 2006).

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/254395.html.
Tags:
Standard

Luxembourg, Brussels, and Ghent

The first leg of the trip to the low countries was from Stuttgart to Luxembourg via Koblenz which pretty much followed the Rhine, with all its old-world beauty. Contrary to expectations, accommodation and dining at Luxembourg was very reasonably priced; a hat-tip to the superb value-for-money Empire Hotel and the cheap-and-cheerful Italian restaurant next door. There was sufficient time to tour select landmarks of the old city and remains of the historic fortifications, as well as taking the Skylift which provided a panorama of the city. One thing particularly of note was that few people in Luxembourg speak the national-language Luxembourgish (which, for all intents and purposes, is a dialect of German). Whilst French is listed as a "working language" of the Grand Duchy, almost every conversation is in French first. The reason is quite clear when one views the demographics; Luxembourg is essentially a migrant city, and of the locals and migrants, close to 100% of the population is French-speaking.

The next city was Brussels, the journey from Luxembourg through the traditional Walloon territory, alternating between small towns, deep forest in hilly areas, and green fields, where the cows are so fat and happy that most have decided that they don't need to stand anymore. Staying at the Hotel Des Colonies was quite a historical experience; built in the early 1900s it is lusciously designed numerous art nouveau effects and was occupied by in both the first and second world wars by various powers as a headquarters. It is believed that Field Marshal Montgomery wrote his Christmas speech in the hotel itself. In the attempt to continue historical contributions the new shower system was designed for contortionists. Despite all this the opportunity was taken to visit the old city centre region and stand in absolute awe of its imposing and lavish 17th century wrought and gilt guildhouses. The day finished with quiet dinner at the peaceful Place des Martyrs, where bodies of the 1830 Belgian revolution lay. Again as another example of the northward march of the French language, it was only here that I overhead any Flemish spoken at all, which is a significant demographic shift.

Following Brussels the next stop was Ghent, a small and compact city steeped in medieval and early modern history. The opportunity was taken to visit the local university and in particular Kenneth Hoste, the main organiser behind EasyBuild, who provided lunch and a tour of the data centre which hosts the regional HPC system. I was also alerted to a couple of job opportunities. Late in the afternoon caught up with Qassem and his friend Salah. I have established a long-standing friendship with Qassem, a Syrian refugee from Da'ara, whereas his friend is from Aleppo. Qassem has written a number of articles for the Isocracy Network, and it just so happened to be his birthday on the date of our arrival. He and Salah gave us a tour of major features of the city (including Gravensteen, St Michaels' etc), along with dinner with the sole small Syrian restaurant. Afterward we went to Salah's apartment where we watched the unexpected win of Belgium over Brazil. The latter had many more opportunities at goal, but the Belgian defense was really quite impressive - and when the Belgians did attack, they did so very quickly. It is, of course, almost impossible to visit Europe at this time of year without making some observation on the World Cup.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/254163.html.
Tags: , ,
Standard

Stuttgart, European Politics

The past few days have been in Stuttgart with [personal profile] caseopaya's Deutsche side of the family. It was an astoundingly relaxing time compared to the usual rate of affairs I like to operate on, and there was even one day which I could honestly say I did nothing (except read, play FreeCiv, and mock Ron Paul for his latest round of racism). It was, of course, great to catch up with Felix, Kerstan, Annalise, and the kinder, Antonia and Tobias - who are always delightful. One particular outing was to the Württemberg Mausoleum, which provided impressive views of the city. It was built by XXX and, with great acoustics, is still used for Russian Orthodox services. An amusing present I provided the family was a German-language copy of Talisman, which I picked up in Australia.

I always manage to get at least one if not more serious conversations in with Felix and the state of world politics and technology. He expressed grave concerns that the current POtUS is causing economic and political damage to what has previously been decades of close friendship between Germany and the United States. I made the observation that much of the rest of the world looks towards Europe to provide leadership in terms of political matters, as it still provides "the northern lights" of civil rights and social democracy, whereas the 21st century is also witnessing the extraordinary economic growth of China. It may be, unless there is some dramatic change in the United States (at that is quite possible), that the Europeans may find that there is more to be gained with a more strategic relation with China rather than their "old friend".

Which also leads into a political aspect of this trip; I am meeting a couple of individuals who have contributed to the Isocracy Network in the past, and I am hoping that I convince said individuals to take up a leadership role for the Network in their respective countries (I am particularly thinking of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany), and hopefully make them into functioning branches. In order to further develop this I have arranged for a Melbourne meeting on my return on the subject of the current state of European politics; my current take is the still-existing political and administrative fragmentation of the European countries is still too great, and civil rights are not strongly enough enforced between EU member states (c.,f. Hungary). But these thoughts will ferment further over the next few weeks.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/253822.html.
Tags: ,
Standard

Frankfurt and Heidelburg

The last day of ISC was workshops, mini-conferences in their own right. The two I attended were the HPCIO Workshop and the Performance and Scalability Workshop. Most presentations were war-stories of very metric testings and unusual results, but the practical import was seeing how the different interconnects and storage systems behaved and picking up a few tools for doing the same on our systems. I also had some time to spend with Anja G., whom I first met three years ago at Frankfurt University at one of her HPC courses. Of similar disposition and profession, we've become good friends over the years and have collaborated on a few projects.

With the exception of a report on my activities for work, which I have at least started, I am now on actual holiday probably the first (with the exception of a scattering of days around the place) for at least three years. The last day in Frankfurt included a visit to Liebieghaus, a rather beautiful former Baron's villa who was a collector of sculpture (small and medium) and now includes a great collection of such items from ancient Egypt to the late Renaissance. Also included throughout the collection was an exhibition of William Kentridge. Juxtaposition either creates jarring effects or complementary, and in this case the latter was achieved with exceptional acumen. Adding to the early modern (19th and 20th) centuries technologies of industry and movement, providing absurd and dadaist movement to complement the mimetic and realist stasis. It was a truly memorable performance-exhibition and worthy of a 'blog post in its own right. Afterwards we took a short (2 hour) tour along the Maim covering the two ends of Frankfurt city proper.

The following day took the train to Heidelburg, once recommended to me by a stranger at a university wine tasting. The recommendation was sound. We stayed at the older Krokodil Hotel which is in a good location, half-way between the station and the old city, and in a rather charming neighbourhood. The day's activities including taking funicular to the Schloss and Königsstuhl, both of which provide great views of the city and river. The massive sprawling castle and grounds itself is part functional, part ruin, due to a rather rough history, and of particular note was the presence of the largest wine barrel in the world. At first I thought it was a novelty item, rather like the nonsense you get at some Australian towns. But no, this was actually used - holding over 220,000 litres of wine. Afterwards went to the famous Philosopher's Walk, which includes a fairly steep start but then affords a pleasant journey with good views. Appropriately, it now includes the home of the theoretical physics institute the local university.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/253489.html.
  • Current Location: Heidelburg
  • Current Mood: awake
Standard

International Supercomputing Conference 2018

The formal proceedings of the International Supercomputing Conference 2018 ended yesterday, and today I'll be attending the HPC IO workshop which dovetails with the official program. Whilst I will be giving a more complete 'blog review, a summary can be provided. ISC itself contained quite a few highlights, not the least being record attendance with over 3500 people registered. As usual, there was the bi-annual announcement of the Top500 list, with the US taking the number one spot with Summitt for the first time in several years. There also is a curious increase in duplicate and anonymous submissions which is strictly within the rules but does distort things somewhat. Ultimately of course measuring systems solely on floating point operations is not the best metric.

Unlike last year I spent less time attending the formal program, and more time in discussion with various vendors, mainly for matters of system expansion, filesystems (BeeGFS is a particular favourite, and networking technologies. My own contribution to the conference was via the proposed International HPC Certification programme with both a poster presentation, and the first face-to-face meeting of the group. The latter was quite an enthusiastic gathering, and I did note a much better gender balance than other components in the indusry. One presentation I did attend of note was the final session with Thomas Sterling giving his usual hilarious and insightful presentation on events in the previous year and predictions for what is upcoming. I had a brief chat with him afterwards and took the opportunity to get him to sign one of my copies of his classic book, How to Build a Beowulf.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/253382.html.
  • Current Location: Frankfurt
  • Current Mood: determined
Tags:
Standard

Freizeit im Frankfurt, Mainz, und Hanau

With a free day and weekend before the International Supercomputing Conference, the opportunity was available to have a micro-holiday. The hotel room at the Hotel Adler wasn't available at the early hour of arrival, so in a half-asleep state took the opportunity to visit the impressive Naturmuseum Senckenberg. The following day went the nearby town of Mainz, which just so happened to be hosting the 50th annual festival for Johannes Gutenberg. Took the opportunity to visit the Mainz Citadel and the Gutenberg Museaum, an exceptional place for bibliophiles. which seems to have expanded since last year with a section for Arabic and Egyptian writings. I was fortunate enough this time to have a try at a reproduction early movable type press and printed an indulgence against printing errors, which I could certainly do with! I will have to check, but it may be a version of one of the earliest movable type documents.

Being creatures of some culture, after returning to Mainz we took the opportunity to frock up a little and go to the Frankfurt Alte Oper. Rather delightfully, the show was no less than the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There was a degree of audience participation, and the live band was particularly good, but the performance came across as a little flat to me and surprisingly tame in terms of innuendo. Afterward went to Sachsenhausen for dinner, and found a delightful little dining establishment, 38 Grad. Recommended for those who find themselves in the area.

For the third and final day before ISC (I did complete registration in the morning), decided to go the neighbouring town of Hanau, in particular to visit the Schloss Philippsruhe a grand late baroque-early neoclassical manor house, and the beautiful surrounding grounds by the Maim. The Schloss also includes an excellent collection of paintings from the era and a collection of paper-theatre. The other claim to fame for the town was being the birthplace of the Grimm brothers, and the numerous dense woodlands around the town obviously provided some good source material for their work. This was also the day where I completed the Englische baume (i.e., from German) for Duolingo.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/253141.html.
  • Current Location: Frankfurt
  • Current Music: Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack
Tags:
Standard

European Arrival, Rick Matters

Have just arrived in Europe after spending the better part of twenty hours in flight via Bangkok, which is about as good as it will get travelling from Australia; roughly a nine hour trip from Melbourne to Bangkok, two hours at the airport, then roughly eleven hours to Frankfurt. At the Melbourne airport had a chance encounter with frou_frou who is on her way to Wales for a heritage tour. Our journey was via Thai Airways; polite, functional, and inexpensive. Neither the food nor the in-flight entertainment is anything special (indeed the latter is overly cautious), but it does the job. Of some note was The Shannara Chronicles; I wasn't fond the books when I was in my early teens finding them too derivative of The Lord of the Rings, and too much like someone's D&D game mixed with a Gamma World setting. What I have seen of the TV series hasn't dissuaded me of that point of view. Obviously sleep deprived I also watched The Sound of Music, which remains a curious film, with its saccharin yet memorable score and an unreal but still charming plot. By chance I finished the film exiting Austria airspace, as one of those little moments where life imitates art.

Just prior to leaving Melbourne I dealt with a couple of major issues concerning Rick B., including completing a new financial statement for VCAT, and moving him from Carnsworth to Mercy Place Abbostford. I am working on the basis that the latter has a significantly more affordable fee structure and that is does have a better sense of community. It was quite a trial getting all the necessary paperwork together for the move - who knew that even in for the same purpose that state and federal governments won't share medical information even if the POA tells them to? Anyway, it's done now and the next step will the sale of his apartment. Once that is done I can close the door, as it were, on what has not been the easiest set of financial transactions that I've had to deal with. I seem to be taking greater care of another person's finances than my own, although this said, there is also greater need.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/252791.html.
  • Current Location: Adler Hotel, Frankfurt
  • Current Mood: exhausted
  • Current Music: Anton Bruckner, Symphony No 8
Tags: ,
Standard

Ten Films That Made Me

Five years ago now I engaged in one of those reflective, life-spanning, meme, Ten Books That Made Me. A couple of weeks ago, courtesy of [personal profile] funontheupfield on FB, I was induced to the equivalent for film. Whilst previously posted in other social media, it is worth repeating here in a summary form on what is my main 'blog.

1. Blade Runner (1982). Bringing science fiction back to earth, as it were, this neo-noir classic essentially established the genre of cyberpunk, and for decades since I have been living in its shadow. Aside from the overwhelming visuals, superb soundtrack, the unfolding and immersive narrative, and the troubled characters there is the thematic exploration of what it means to be human, the existential crisis of limited lifespan, the doubts of memory, and of course, one of the most famous and quoted death-scenes of in film history.

2. Casablanca (1942). Romance and high drama, deadly political intrigue, absurd comedy, so many quotable lines, gorgeous settings, a great plot, magnificent acting by some of the greatest on the screen, famous theme song (along was a great performance of "La Marseillaise", performed by people who were mostly refugees from the Nazi regime), and rightly recognised as one of the greatest films of all time.

3. Princess Mononoke (1997). Historical-fantasy is always close in my heart, and it astoundingly well executed in this particularly bloody and epic narrative where the mythic past crashes into early modernity. Even more so, each of the major characters is not without flaws or good intentions. The hero has superhuman strength but is consumed by a violent demon. The demon itself results from attempts to protect the natural environment from encroaching industralisation. The encroaching industrialisation gives opportunities to the marginalised of traditional society - and so it goes on.

4. Dr. Strangelove (1964). A stunning combination of absurdity and comedy with pathological effects. The also listed Threads is utterly terrifying in the realism of the effects of nuclear war, Dr. Strangelove explores the all too plausible ridiculous human failings that could lead to a tragic comedy of errors. Peter Sellers does superbly performing multiple different iconic roles and of course, the entire film is quotable scene after quotable scene.

5. Jason and the Argonauts (1963). It was in my early childhood that I first saw this film and was, of course, highly impressed by the famous stop animation sequence with the skeleton warriors, the defeat of Talos, the harpies, and the symplegades. Truly brilliant stuff, and looking back at it one cannot help but marvel at the work. Plotwise, I am also impressed by what constitutes as improvements to the story to the traditional Hellenic myth, insofar that unnecessary supernatural elements and interventions were removed in favour of more subtle hints and human inventiveness.

6. Breathless (aka À bout de souffle) (1960). The high point of the French New Wave, which I readily admit that my initial love of the film was because Jean Seberg leaves me quite weak at the knees. But of course, there is the roguish main character played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, the numerous references to other films throughout, and, very importantly, the radical jump-cut editing that emphasised character decision points. Breathless showed the rules of film-making could be smashed and a great film could still result.

7. Threads (1984) and I share his opinion on this docudrama. Terrifyingly realistic, the grim story is dryly interspersed with factual information and best estimates of what the effects of a full nuclear war would have on Britain - starting with a 90% population loss, and the living will envy the dead.

8.The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Presents itself as a boy's own adventure of British Imperialism (rather like it's twin, "Zulu"), but it is a devastating critique of the same. The main characters are complete rogues, and suffer the effects of hubris in their empire-building with inevitable results. The performances of Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Saeed Jaffrey are nothing short of brilliant.

9. Novecentro (1976). Unloved by critics, 1900 is a long (two versions 247 minutes and 317 minutes) politically partisan drama spanning from 1900 to 1945 and beyond as two friends experience the changes in Italian society between those years - especially the conflicts between communism and fascism. Includes an array of famous actors, scenes ranging from the hilarious, earthy, and gruesome.

10. Ratatouille (2007). A complex and multi-layered narrative covering ambition, betrayal, loyalty, competence. criticism, love, all whilst pretending to be a cute film for kids that involves rats, and features one of the greatest flashback scenes in film history. Will also appeal to francophiles, lovers of fine food and wine, and those who have worked in kitchens.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/252441.html.
  • Current Mood: exhausted
Tags:
Standard

Linux and PDFs, Exalted Game, Europe Beckons

Currently at Linux Users of Victoria about to deliver my presentation on Being An Acrobat: Linux and PDFs, mostly inspired by having to work with them rather than any great love for the format and standard. Knowing how to create, edit, manipulate, extract, search etc, such documents is, of course, absolutely essential in the contemporary environment, often encouraged claims that they are more secure. It's not true of course, and indeed in many ways they are one of the worst file formats. But they have a degree of ubiquity, and knowing how to work with them is the purpose of the presentation.

Thursday night we had a great session of Exalted China, with the mighty characters having defeated a bandit attack the session previous, and then followed on with actually making their way to the tomb objective of their story, meeting a sapient giant salamander on the way. There was a hilarious moment when one of the PCs was convinced (courtesy of a botched roll) that the tomb was cursed and the best character to fix this failed to do so. A nice example of an emergent narrative effectively.

Apart from that the rush to prepare for the 2018 European trip is beginning to take hold. We leave later this week, first to Frankfurt, then to Heidelburg, Stuttgart, north to Luxembourg, then Brussels, Ghent, The Hague, Amsterdam, Enschede, Oldenburg, Berlin, and then back to Frankfurt. There are at least three conferences that I want to attend on the way, and a good number of friends that I will make the effort to catch up - including some Isocracy people whom I have known for years but never met in person.

This entry was originally posted at https://tcpip.dreamwidth.org/252374.html.
Tags: , ,