Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Children of a Creator

Things have slowed down at work and I had a whole week off for Thanksgiving.  Since Leila and I got step throat and the two youngest are sick, I am ready to go back to work.  However, while I have been off I have had more time to read for fun.

This was originally going to be a review of the books I have read over the last few weeks, some new: Kon Tiki - by Thor Heyerdahl,  Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans, Unwind and UnWholly by Neil Shusterman, and the Supernaturalist by Eoin Coiffer, and some old favorites: The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien, Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin.  I try and read all of the books that Emily and Aleah are reading - I usually like young adult speculative fiction and it helps me keep tabs on what they are reading.  Instead, this is more of a meta-review/ramblings about what I think our fiction tells us about us and our God.  

In genetics, you can test the genotype of an individual by progeny tests - for Mendelian inherited qualitative traits - segregation ratios, for quantitative traits - frequency and distributions.   I think the the same is true in life.  If you want to really know about the parents, look to the children.  If we are are created in God's image, then one way to understand the nature of God would be to look at ourselves.  I think that it is significant that we spend a majority of our lives creating universes - TV, movies, books, stories, music, art.  I love science fiction and fantasy and the highest praise is that the author has created a complete universe - think of Tolkien's Middle Earth which is complete with mythology, history, maps, languages, and people.  No other creature spends so much of its life steeped in imagination.  Even more concrete sciences and professions are built upon a foundation of imagination - engineering, inventing, design, etc. So many of our technical advances started as something imaginary that someone willed into existence.  The idea of the lightbulb went off before it could be made in reality.  This shows that God is truly a creator.  Like my own children pretending to be parents, cats and owners, cooks, pirates, princesses, and teachers, we imitate the creator when we imagine worlds beyond our own.  

One of the reasons I think is that fiction helps us to understand the world around us or how we feel.  Ursula Le Guin describes this in her forward to The Left Hand of Darkness:

"Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it.  But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events, which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That's the truth!"  

Make-believe is a huge part of my life I am afraid.  I feel like I know many fictional characters and events as well as I remember real life.  Even my memories are layered with the stories that I have told about them.  I think that is why my siblings memories of key events do not always agree with my versions.  The stories I have told myself and others overwrite the true events because the story is more powerful than the memory.  I can see this with my kids as their memories and the stories they tell converge over time.  

The counter-argument would be that imagination gives an evolutionary advantage, which is definitely true.  Even in the absence of civilization the ability to imagine is adaptive - it surely helps in hunting, in adapting to and modifying our environment. It helps in human groups - nothing fills the evening and attracts a mate like storytelling and music around the campfire.  Role playing helps prepare for future situations.  The evolutionary development of imagination would be adaptive with or without the relationship with deity, so it still comes down to whether you believe that we are children of deity or not.  

So why does this matter?  Since we have inherited this from our God, imagination isn't just escapism, but is the beginnings of creation.  It is divine and should continue throughout our life. As we mature, we progress from pure imagination to creation - putting those ideas into reality.  As adults though we begin to limit our imaginations to fit what we see as the bounds of our creative power, and often we are wrong.  We have fewer limitations than we think.  The balance though is that reality is bigger and richer than we imagine it to be.  Any fiction that clouds reality is a distraction.  

I loved this quote from Pres. Uchtdorf speaking to the Relief Society - I abhor the sappy musical accompaniment but can't find a video link to the whole talk:

So go forth and create!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Patents of the week

Each week the patent office releases patents approved that week.  I try to keep up on them for work, but it is a tough list to troll through because the order is so esoteric and listed by number.   Here are a few from a month ago that I copied out because they caught my eye.  Basically anything can be patented if you are persistent and good at writing patent claims.  And there are so many patents.  Millions of them.  

In full disclosure, none of these are ones that matter to my work.  They are not my area of expertise and I am not probably the best judge of their true value, but as an outsider that reads these things, I think they are good examples of the idiosyncrasies of our patent system. By no means are my comments meant as legal or intellectual property advice.   

That was a mouthful.  

"This American Life" - the public radio show, did a series of shows about patents (Show 1 and Show 2) and one of the largest holders of patents - Intellectual Ventures.  It is a fascinating story.  Many of the claims in the story are denied in the official responses by Intellectual Ventures (Link1, Link2, and Link3).  I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.  There are definitely patents out there that are badly written with very broad claims that I suspect are not defensible in court.  There are also persons that try to take advantage of the system to collect royalties from competitors.  Many smaller companies or individuals may not have the financial means or expertise to struggle through the complex and inane system built up for legal dispute and protection from patents.   

There are just so many things that I am surprised are patented or patentable.  


This patent was filed by the U.S. Navy.  I would hate to work at this computer station that monitors how often you look away from the screen and what part you point. Darn it, I just thought of an application where this patent could be built upon to be actually useful and not just a Draconian monitoring system for false worker productivity in some sort of military cubicle hive.

Here are some other examples of the kind of thing that is patented each week.  Many of them are components of a larger system and the hope of the filing inventor is that the patent will protect them from competition without disclosing too much about their invention.

Method for separating substrates

Many of the topics require some expertise.  Obviously if separating substrates is important for most chemical extractions, there must be different ways to do it, but I have no idea how this method works. 


How is this process patentable? I have no idea.  It seems like any crop insurer would have a computer, some way of querying data and a way of estimating the cost of crop insurance.  Many of these patents are to clear the path from potential competitors that could potentially sue to block others from using similar web interfaces.  There are tons of these types of patents.  

Many patents are incremental improvements.  This is the firing piston of a gun.  It looks similar to others, but if you knew firearms well, and I don't, maybe you could see some improvement over available designs, I guess.  


So many of the most recent patents from Google and Facebook look like this.  They have some flow diagrams that outline their strategy for passing information about what we do on the internet back to a database of ads and then picks the ads that are displayed to the user.  And presumably charges the advertiser. 

Like I said, there are tons of these right now.  Each week there are very similar patents that come out.  I am sure there is a patent fight in the future where someone will have to reconcile these very similar patents. 

I can't even imagine how this is unique.  As an outsider, this looks exactly like the process that I learned in my early statistics courses.  Essentially this process datamines a sample for a measurement that is significantly different from the null hypothesis and then calculates a p-value.  There is some automation proposed for the calculation and normalization, but that is all.  I would love to be able to sit down with the patent office and the patent holders in confidential meetings where everyone was completely upfront about what this is really for.  I suspect this will be implemented in some computer program to detect signal to noise variance, but besides that I nothing that to me is unique or patentable about it.

If you want to see a bunch of truly bizare patents check out these links:

A list of absurd patents -

Apple patents rounded corners -
I won't even get started on design patents.  This is an area where the asthetics of something are potentially patentable.  Things like how wide your cellphone is or shape of the buttons, etc.

What does this all mean?  Patents are the base of most businesses and now universities.  It costs money to develop new ideas and most companies want some way to sell that idea directly to consumers or to sell the idea to other companies who will make something that someone else buys.  Either way it is a complicated business because it is tough to determine what is truly novel and what isn't.  There are similarities and differences that sometimes I think the patent office doesn't do a good job differentiating.  And when they don't, people go to court.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Something had to give

These last two months were a little nuts.  In September, I went to North Carolina, twice to Minnesota, Manitoba, Canada, twice to Nebraska, Illinois, twice to Missouri, South Dakota, and North Dakota.  I put thousands of miles on my truck and ate at small diners, restaurants, and bars (Many small towns really only have two places to buy food - a small grocery and a bar, if the grocery has a deli they usually have a great pork loin dinner for 6-7 dollars.) throughout the Midwest.  I had notes to take in the nursery and visitors from out of state.  It seemed like every day there was something pulling my attention away.  In October the combines started to roll and data started to pile up.  That means that I didn't go anywhere and do anything but stare at numbers on my computer screen, till midnight many nights.

I don't mean to complain, really, OK, maybe a little.  Feel free to massage my ego and tell me how I made it.

Leila and the girls covered for my absence and long work hours.  It is great being close to work so I can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with them, unless I am out of town.  Even when I had to work late I was able to read to the kids and then go back for a few more hours of fun with data.  But, a lot didn't happen.  I missed three violin lessons with my only student, who then quit.  I brought my violin with me on my travels and practiced in my hotel rooms in the evenings, but only opened the case once in October.  I didn't update the blog obviously.  On the road I did run, but stopped as soon as data started rolling.  I didn't run, do yoga, or even sit ups.  I tried not to eat a lot of junk food, but did eat a very large piece of meatloaf in a diner near Harlan and washed it down with mash potatoes, dark gravy, bacony green beans, and apple pie.  I made it to some of the kids activities - I made it to watch Emily cross the finish line in cross country, but had to sprint the last 800 yards to make it.  She is dang fast. We went running together on a weekend in September and my ego has to deal with the fact that she is faster than me.  I just can't do 7 minute miles anymore without more consistent training.  A lot happened this last month or two, but it feels like one of those long dreams that upon waking fade to impressions of details that don't fit together.

Emily has honor band this week and has been busy this last month or two with cross country, band, and choir.  Becca is willing to try anything that her older sisters do.
She has started walking, climbing up and down all the stairs, and climbing on anything handy.  She folds arms when we pray, blows kisses, chases the cat, and loves pretty shoes more than anything else.  She is utterly fearless compared to Kate and insists on climbing up and down stairs even though she has fallen down them.
She also thinks she is very funny in these glasses.
And wants to ride the horse every time she goes downstairs.
The girls and I picked apples at the Boyds'.  Leila and her friend Kate canned over 120 jars of applesauce.
 I made a great cheesecake out of the leftover ricotta cheese.  The crust is made from pecans, dates and chocolate.  Very decadent.
These four played and played together.  Our downstairs is full of toys and dress-up clothes, but they had fun.
Colleen has started piano with gusto and will play her songs for as long as we let her.  She plays a mean Old McDonald.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fourteen years

August 20th was our 14 yr anniversary. Fourteen years. For some this would not be a milestone anniversary, but it feels momentous to me.  Fourteen years.  Coincidentally, Fourteen is how old I look in my wedding photos.  Why in the world Leila, a beautiful 24 year old would date such a little child is mind boggling.  

 Some statistics and links from the last fourteen years:

Children - 5 girls, six with baby Brian

Houses - Three - Bryan, TX (4 yrs), Lafayette, IN (3 years), and Huxley, IA (4 years).  
States - Four
Apartments - Four (three in Prove and one in Lafayette)
College graduations - four (three for Brian and one for Leila)
Dogs - One
Cats - two
Cows - two
Pigs - two
Fish - one
Chickens - 83 - the coons ate more than I would like to record.
Cars - four (the caprice, the green car, the work truck and the minivan)
Crops grown at work: tomato, quinoa, cotton, popcorn, corn. 
Weight gained - forty pounds (for each of us)
Vacations without kids - two (This is depressingly true.)
Quilts - too many to count
Fights - I haven't counted.  Luckily, Leila's memory of these fades quickly.

We have had some tough days together in the last fourteen years: times when Leila or I were depressed, when Brian died, when I have had to work too hard, or been away from home travelling when it was 30 below zero and the pipes froze during a blizzard, when I been so stressed and tired that I had seizures, late nights with crying or sick children, times when money was so tight, and when life has seemed overwhelming. My mom says that unfortunately the people that see us at our worst are the ones that we love the best.  Leila has definitely seen me at my worst, and when the day break finally came, forgiven me and treated me like the night had passed like a dream.  That is one of the things I love best about her.  She has loved me through it all.

One of my favorite movies, Sweet Land,  has two quotes that I roll around in my mind as I think of Leila and the last fourteen years.  The first is a bit of a poem by Keats:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: 
Its loveliness increases; 
it will never pass into nothingness; 
but still will keep a bower quiet for us, 
and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

The other is, “Let us all hope that we are preceded in this life by a love story." 

Usually Leila has the camera and there are a lot more pictures of me than her.  This is from the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.  Emily is in the backpack carrier and Leila and I were enjoying the festive atmosphere downtown.  We couldn't afford to buy tickets to anything, but it was fun to be downtown with all of the visitors.  
Leila, pregnant in Texas.  Emily has grown as tall as Leila now.

Emily and I picking cotton with her kindergarten class when they came to my field for a field trip.

Us today, from our vacation on the tram to visit the Gates Foundation in Seattle.  

There are not that many pictures of all of us.  I know I must have them somewhere.  I need to scan in some from the yearly JCPenney Christmas photo, but this is us, minus Kate who was taking the picture when Aunt Janie came to visit.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gluten-Free at home.

I am still following a low carb diet to keep my liver happy.  I tried a couple experiments last year where I modified my diet for a couple of months and then had my blood tested to see what caused my liver enzymes to rise to unacceptable levels or fall close to normal.  When I followed a gluten-free diet, my liver enzymes were just about normal.  When I stopped and went back to eating normally, they rose up again, but the antibody test for gluten response was negative.  After talking to my doctor, I decided that while at home I would try to stick to a gluten-free diet and while traveling do the best I can, with the occasional piece of homemade bread.  It has been almost a year.

One of my friend's daughter is celiac and has to be very careful what they eat.  She asked for some of the recipes that I use.  I posted a year ago with a couple of recipes, both of which are still favorites.  We grind most of our flours at home. I have refined my gluten free pancake recipe over time.  I still don't measure usually, but today I made sure to weigh the ingredients:

Gluten-free pancake

Dry Ingredients
150 g Rice mix flour
65 g Sorghum flour or corn flour or ground oatmeal
50 g Urad flour - bean flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Wet stuff
1-2 Tbsp. honey
1-2 Tbsp. oil
1 lemon - zest and then squeeze juice.
2 eggs

I mix all of the dry ingredients and then add the wet stuff.  I have the dry ingredients here as grams, in reality I put about 2 parts rice mixed flour to 1 pt sorghum or corn meal and 1 pt bean flour.  One of the benefits of a gluten free flour is that for pancakes usually you have to be careful about mixing too much and activating the gluten - which makes a tough pancake.  No problems here with that.  Mix as much as you want.  The lemon is really to replace buttermilk, which we rarely have, and to add some flavor to the pancake.  The batter is quite foamy at first, but after a while the calcium carbonate stops reacting with the acid in the lemon juice and it flattens.  I like to make the first pancakes while it is still foamy so they are thick as possible.  The later ones are thinner, but still have a good texture.

From Annalise Roberts' "Gluten-Free Baking Classics"
Rice mixed flour

6 cups Rice flour - finely ground
2 cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour

I use this same rice mixed flour and her recipes for noodles and desserts.  I find if we don't grind the rice flour enough they can be a bit grainy.

Egg noodles

1 cup Rice mixed flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 large eggs
pinch salt

Egg noodles are really so easy.  Just mix the eggs, add salt, flour and xanthan gum.  The book says to use an electric mixer, but I rarely do.  I usually mix it in a bowl with my hands until it is smooth and pliable.  Then I dust the counter and roll as flat as possible and cut into strips with a pizza cutter.

She has great recipes for brownies, lemon squares, and cookies.  She raves about her chocolate cookie recipe, but I wasn't that thrilled with it.  It is OK.  But I must admit I did substitute butter for vegetable shortening, because my shortening smelled bad.  She is insistent that vegetable shortening should not be substituted for butter.  I added a little more flour so that they didn't spread excessively.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What do you do in the summertime?

This summer had flown by. Somehow July is half over and I have a list things I haven't done that is as long as my arm. 

Obviously I haven't updated my blog either. So here I am sitting in my car waiting for lessons typing on my new iPhone. 
I ran a small race while we were in Gig Harbor. I have been running regularly. My phone has a running application. That maps out my route, keeps track of my speed, and has programmed training it has been very helpful to measure how slow I really have become and to see the speed begin to pick up. 
I went to Mexico for work on a very fast trip. 

Lots of time looking at corn grow and worrying about too much rain and now a potential drought. 

My garden is beautiful this year. I have enough veg to feed dozens of vegetarians. 
Broccoli out if control. 

I found this 15 in snapping turtle just outside of town by my corn field. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Rule of Seven

My mom must have told me about the rule of seven, from a conversation she had with my brother Rich.  He had been climbing some frozen peak and his face and hands were raw and sore from the cold and climb.  She asked him, "Why would you do this?  How could that be fun?"

Rich explained that some things you appreciate or enjoy after seven seconds, or seven minutes, or seven days, seven weeks, and some experiences take even longer to distill - seven years or more. This has been rattling around in my brain since I got back from visiting Bryan/College Station.  I have thought about it repeatedly while I was running, especially during my last seven mile run on Sunday.

1. Seven years.
Bryan, TX I missed, College Station, not so much.  I stopped by our old house, which looked identical except for the huge tree and rose bushes.  You're welcome, new owners, for the new roof, siding, window shades, tile, paint, and landscaping. Seven years ago that tree was puny.   I never thought it would grow.
I visited our friend Erin and family on Saturday and it was great to see old friends.  We had such good friends in Texas, and Indiana.  Something about the age and being in school together as we were making decisions and raising our kids made it easy to make life-long friends.  It was surprising during my department visit to see how little it and the people had changed, but campus had grown so much. The Beasley Lab, the Cotton Lab, and the Heep Center still felt like home, but I realized the rest of the campus was foreign to me.  I didn't recognize it and I didn't miss it.  
I spent an evening collecting petrified wood out of our cotton fields and Saturday morning at the cemetery.  I thought ten years would feel like a long time, that old wounds would be healed.  I was wrong. 

2. Seven days.
One of the engineers I work with collects instruments from around the world.  I begged him to invite us over so I could play the erhu.  I made a very squeaky, scratchy squawk, but after seven days I am beginning to think I need one of my own.  
 Joe has this great townhouse in downtown Des Moines with a rooftop patio.  He also smoked pork and chicken that was better than at the state fair, which is a high compliment for pork roast.

3. Seven minutes.
On Saturday, Colleen, Kate, and I went to Chichaqua Bottoms Park to go canoeing after we finished planting the garden.  A member of our ward runs the park and promised me free use of his canoe.  I thought this would be a great reward for working hard in the garden.  
Colleen and Kate look happy in this photo, but it is a lie.  Colleen just sat up from her kneeling prayer asking that God would keep her from dying in the canoe.  Kate is repeating to herself, "If I fall out, Dad will rescue me.  If I fall out, Dad will rescue me."  Colleen assured us that the Holy Ghost told her she wasn't going to die this day, but that didn't keep them from crying out for divine intervention to get them out of the canoe and onto dry land the ENTIRE time.  Kate even cried out for Mom to save her!
Then a few minutes after getting out they were both thrilled to be in the water.  Colleen told me how grown up she felt riding in the front of canoe and helping to paddle.  No mention of the hour of terror in the boat.  

4. Seven Seconds. 
On Monday, we had a full evening schedule - 4:50 - piano recital for Emily and Aleah, 6:00 - Graduation party for a friend in the ward, 7:30 - Emily's Choir concert.  Sunday night we all slept downstairs because of tornadoes near Huxley, so the kids were a little on edge, as were parents.  As we were driving to Ankeny, Kate was whining about something.  "What is the matter?" I asked her.  

She said that she wanted to be more like her Dad when she grew up.  I asked her to tell me how she wanted to be like me.  She said that, "I want to eat spicy food.  I want to like peppers and tomatoes.  I want to be able to tickle babies.  I want to take hot baths with really hot water.  I want to be able to snore like you.  I want to read lots of books and go to work.  When I am a Mom, I want to be a Dad." That made my day.  That may carry me through a lot of days actually. 

I was cheery even as we drove through a developing tornado.  
 It didn't touch down, but there was a tornado watch because of this storm.  We spent the first hour of Emily's concert in the locker rooms waiting for the watch to expire.  

Some other things that have went on this last few weeks:
Here is Kate and Emily trying out beards.  Very fashionable.
Emily's band concert.  They have the last concert in the gym with 5-8 grade bands.  There are too many kids and parents to fit any where else.  I love that band is cool at Ballard.  
Leila calls this putting your hatchet where your mouth is.  I met a family at the track meets with turkeys they were willing to give me, if I butchered them.  Big, very tasty birds.  I also sliced my finger with my newly sharpened knives. 
For the freezer
For roasting.  Very flavorful turkey.  
May 3rd we had significant snowfall, then it jumped into the 90s, then dropped down again, and then tornadoes and storms.  I still don't have all my corn planted.  Crazy Midwest weather. 

Lots more to talk about, but this is getting long.