Saturday, March 07, 2009

I spent the day as a judge at the San Jose FIRST Tech Challenge at the Computer History Museum. I've been a judge before the FIRST Lego League events, but this was my first time at an FTC event and I really enjoyed it.

The challenge is aimed at older kids, has a more difficult problem to solve and allows for a more advanced robot, though they still have to build it from a limited set of materials. Some of the robots were really interesting and it was great to see how they performed in head to head competition after judging them.

The site where it was held, the Computer History Museum is also interesting. It is a big, obviously expensive building, previously home to Silicon Graphics and it's ratio of empty space to exhibits seems too high. There feels like there is a lot of empty space to look at and walk through without a lot to see, although there are some interesting relics in one side room.

There was one world class thing - the museum is currently the home to one of two working copies of the Babbage Difference Engine #2. I was able to attend a short demo where it was actually run and it was amazing to see it do its thing.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Last night I finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.

The title character, Edgar Sawtelle, is a non-deaf mute with a special rapport for dogs, handed down from his father and grandfather before him. The book involves his family history, his youth and some tragic events that unfold after an uncle returns home. Mixed in with this is a lot about dog rearing/training and breeding as Edgar's family is involved in a long term project to raise dogs that are better companions. The actual goal is never fully explained though, one of many things that is not fully developed.


It is almost a cliche that in any novel involving a young person, that their parent(s) have to die in order to get the story moving, so when Edgar's father died, I wasn't surprised. But I quickly realized that it was something a little different - it was actually a re-telling/reflection of Hamlet, even down to many characters names. For example, his mother is Trudy (Gertrude) and his uncle is Claude (Claudius). There is even a Polonius and a Laertes equivalent, and a dog named Forte (Fortinbras) that shows up occasionally. The ending of this book isn't quite as apocalyptic as Hamlet, since the mother and Laertes characters survive, but everyone else perishes and one character is blinded.

But other than the plot similarities, nothing is really done with the Hamlet comparison. The main character does not share Hamlet's tragic flaw of indecision, for example, and there is no Ophelia character or other romantic interest. Similarly, there are a lot of pieces of the novel that just don't add up to much. There's a prophetic old woman, and a singular appearance by her daughter, but her prophecies don't illuminate anything. There are many mentions of a hippie commune that Edgar wants to visit but he never makes it there and his interest is never explained or explored. He goes on a long trek in the wilderness after accidentally causing the death of the local vet (i.e. Polonius) but nothing comes of that either.

In the end, it's a well told story and an enjoyable read, but it doesn't seem to add up to much beyond an enjoyable read.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

This afternoon, we went and say the Tipsy Gypsy Trio, a gypsy jazz trio, at the Velo Rouge Cafe in San Francisco.

It was nice to get out to hear some live music, and the band was good. They are actually a four piece (violin, 2 guitars and bass) and had a singer sit in on a few songs. Everyone did an excellent job, playing some swing and gypsy jazz standards.

I actually know the violinist, Benito Cortez. He and I played together in a western swing class taught by Jack Tuttle and did one show, billed as the Silicon Valley Doughboys. Since then, he has gone on to be a professional musician, gigging in the SF bay area with a lot of local jazz groups.