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It's been a curious past few days; I spent most of Saturday working on the course for the researchers at Orygen Youth Mental Health which I presented on Monday. It went extremely well; I provided an overview of high performance compute clusters, environment modules and job submission using their preferred applications (MRtrix, Matlab, Octave, R, and especially FSL and Freesurfer. They were a large and very switched on group, and it brought me great pleasure when I received some rather positive responses in person and in email.

On Sunday visited the Unitarians to hear a presentation by the president of Dying With Dignity to speak on the upcoming legistlation such matters. Last year to the state government committee I contributed two submissions from different organisations on the matter, and legislation is expected soon. In a less positive manner, an old friend of mine has just found his way into hospital and I suspect he's in the position that he might not be getting better. Three years ago he appointed me enduring power of medical attorney. To top it all off, [livejournal.com profile] caseopaya's mother has found herself in hospital as a complication arising from her continuing illness.

It surprises me that there are those who begrudge public revenue raising and expenditure on health, as if the wealthy have more of a right to live than the poor. Even using the criteria of the 'dismal science', economics, it is obvious that having people alive and well is not just a private benefit to the person in question, it is also a public benefit. The is equivalent matter here with education as well, and likewise the private-public benefit is a continuum which includes current and future productivity of the person in question. All of this, of course, on top of matter of being in a society that cares for its less fortunate.
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After the necessary recovery day from the flight (along with some weird sleeping hours as my body-clock adjusted), the next day was a visit to Frankfurt University. The technical and scientific research groups are located in an outer suburb which nevertheless is only 15 minutes by train from the city centre. The day was spent in conversation with their Center for Scientific Computing Team team then attending their introductory class in cluster computing conducted by Anja G., which is an especially comprehensive overview, albeit without a hands-on component. I have spent considerable time going through their lesson plan and slidedeck providing feedback, as well as updating my own standard content from their insights.

After this was the trip to Stuttgart to stay with relatives, about an hour's journey on the fast IC trains. The following day was a holiday, so we we took a tour of the city and especially around the Schollplatz. Visits to (and from) the Stuttgardians are always a pleasure; they're switched-on, savvy, and highly considerate of the needs of others. The children are polite, funny, and absolutely fascinated by Australian animals, which makes buying gifts a breeze. Additional time with them was quite accidental as the person I was supposed to visit at the local university had fallen ill, so we instead took a visit to the Trippsdrill Theme Park, which apart from the usual fare also integrates local history of Swabian life especially from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Following day started with a visit to downtown Stuttgart where I teased a person in a kangaroo suit (complete with joey) by chatting to them and putting on a very broad Australian accent with colloquialisms. It was a conclusion of some animal events from the past day which included a small finch that stunned itself after flying into a window and a visit by a red squirrel. Further down the road a woman was offering "Free Hugs" in the middle of the mall, so obliged this pan-handler. Afterwards we visited the Ritter Sports chocolate museum, which of course the kids loved. They had an absolutely appalling abstract expressionist art exhibition. When will people learn that such art (loosely defined), the enemy of realism and surrealism, was actually a CIA plot? The day has ended with dinner at for all at Das Pilum, an Italian-Swabian restaurant in former military barracks (the grounds date to Roman times).
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What an extraordinary past few days. The first big surprise was the pleasant discover that Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing had given our Kickstarter a plug. The next couple of days our pledges tripled, leading to Kickstarter to reach its target with five days to spare. I was getting worried that nobody among the bigger geekdom media was going to pick up on our little joke, but Cory came to the party. A wonderful result, and now we have the problem of deciding how big our print run really should be - I am probably going to recommend to the committee that we go for caution.

The second event was the sixth wedding anniversary for [livejournal.com profile] caseopaya. As this is traditionally an "iron" gifting anniversary. You can guess what I bought her; the imagur photo story reveals all. Afterwards we went to visit our friend Lyle, who is recovering (very well) from having a stroke. On our return we watched A Very Long Engagement, which is very much in the French realist tradition - sensual, sad, violent, dramatic, amusing - all mixed together. Quite a brilliant film.

Today was my last day of work for the year, and what a great year its been. It was wrapped up with a ResPlat function at the Princess Park Bowls club. Tomorrow morning we head to Perth for familial duties - for friends we've organised a lunch and dinner both on the 23rd of December (solstice feast!) Ruoccos in Fremantle and Amore Mio in Maylands; looks like it will quite an Italian food day.
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Second day in Stuttgart involved a visit to the local university, where is the home of the High Performance Computing Centre, which includes a Department of Philosophy of Science and Technology of Computer Simulation. From the latter group I received a summary presentation of each of the research projects. From the main body, attended the large (sixty plus) advanced parallel programming class lead by Dr. Rolf Rabenseifner and a visit, of course, to the data centre. The HPCC is home of one of the most powerful (currently 9th) computer systems in the world; Hazel Hen, a Cray XC40-system - along with the remains of a Cray II. Afterwards took a two hour walk home which was mostly through dense urban forest, a surprisingly delightful detour courtesy of Google Maps recommended path. That evening took the family to Weinstube Froehlich an excellent traditional Swabian restaurant. The lovely Kinder had already received their special present - a copy of Australian Menagerie and all the supplements we could find.

From Stuttgart we caught the dawn bus service to Freiburg im Breisgau, a visit which, alas, all too brief for a single day. We stayed next to the Stadtgarten on the edge of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität district and the old city. The (often reconstructed) medieval area does feature the extremely impressive Freiburg Minster, a massive high-gothic construction which was first built in the 1100s, then added to successively over the next four hundred years. The internals are quite a sight, almost enough to convert someone if only in recognition of the human effort and creativity involved. The main part of the day of course was a visit to the university HPC centre (consisting of a a tour of the facilities, a long discussion and comparison of differing architecture and management) was very valuable. It is interesting that they are also doing a cloud-HPC hybrid system, albeit with quite a different architecture - which can be summarised as the differences between a chimera and a cyborg. We have a multi-headed system, and they have cloud instances within their compute nodes. I am already seeing several papers coming out and much closer collaboration from these visits.
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Journeyed from Frankfurt to Schwarzwald via train, changing at Karlsruhe and then to Freudenstadt (whose name translates as "City of Pleasures"). From Freudenstadt we were collected by relatives to be taken to their "little cottage" (Herrenwald) in Schwarzwald, which is two refurbished barns whose foundations date from the early 16th century. The area is high ground and denseley forested with firs and ferns resulting (as the name indicates) a very dark and cool place. As one could expected we took several long walks with great views ("panoramaweg"), along with visits to Mummelsee, legendary home of a water spirit (Nix), hence the logo, which was also an opportunity to eat Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, and a morning on a tour of the Alpirsbach Abbey, an 11th century Benedictine monastery.

From the Black Forest we have travelled to Stuttgart for a few days, where we took the afternoon to visit the rather impressive Mercedes Museum, both in form and content, which includes several stories of vehicle history and engineering well correlated with historical events. The city itself lives up to its traditional name ("mare's garden") with a heavy automative influence, being the world headquarters of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, along with parts manufacturers Bosch and Mahle. "See if you can smell the money", as one Australian friend advised me on this trip. Afterwards made visit to the Bismarck Tower and today (having had one work meeting shifted to tomorrow) too the opportunity to spend some time in the Ludwigburg Palace, an enormous building and grounds with highly differentiated baroque and neoclassical styles. Built in the early modern period, one could sense the opulence and excess that came from medieval royal lines - and the impetus towards revolution that would come in the future.
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I have spent the past few days in Perth with [livejournal.com profile] caseopaya's family (in-common-laws). Her mother remains in extraordinarily condition given her health issues. Christmas eve dinner was spent at Rockingham's Thai By The Sea, which apparently has become a staple family gathering. Christmas day was at holiday home at the seaside island suburb of Falcon. Apropos nephew Luke finally received the review of his band's debut EP 'Last Words' on Rocknerd (I do have a few others I should put up by the end of the year). Apropos of this lifestyle will be attending Reunion (FB) on NYE where aging Perth punks, goths, and indie-poppers from the 80s and early 90s will hang out.

Still working on the second book, apparently over-inspired by the idea of providing a near-comprehensive introduction to C and Fortran programming it is getting a bit larger than I previously expected (arrays in Fortran are particularly painful). An old university friend on Facebook described me as a relentless restless intellect, which is certainly true but also gave me a moment of consideration on why exactly I am such a person. Surely it would be easier and perhaps even more beneficial in my life if I was not so restless and relentless in my intellectual pursuits. It is perhaps with good fortune that I am able to engage in a modicum of organisation in this, but I have wondered that if I had specialised I would be somewhat more successful. But it is the variety of pursuits that I enjoy and by which I used to feed off one another; in the strait-jacket of a single discrete discipline I doubt I could be happy. So the second book goes well - even if I do continue with Duolingo, game development, academic research, and a range of other restless and relentless interests.
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The past week was spent in Perth with [livejournal.com profile] caseopaya and her mother who, as mentioned, has been diagnosed with T-cell lymphomic cancer. The comments posted in the last 'blog post and on Facebook etc are deeply appreciated. It was mainly a case of cleaning, running errands, and preparing a small mountain of meals (it was grossly unfair that one could live their entire life without trying coq au vin). All of this occured in her modest home in Medina. It is a poor suburb, the average household income being only 60% of the state's average, with most of the houses are hardwood or asbestos cement. Many show the typical signs of this culture; frontyards with multiple muscle cars on blocks co-exist with pensioner neighbours with their trimmed lawns and flower beds. In its favour, the suburb does have some rather pleasant parkland apparently a far-sighted feature of its original town planner.

We left on the midnight flight in the early hours of Saturday morning, following an obviously tearful farewell at the Kwinana train station. As we passed Murdoch University and its own station, my thoughts turned to 1989 when I was briefly employed by the University to survey and improved the public transport options to the university; the Vice-Chancellor, many years later, would remark on how that report completely changed the public transport commission's approach to dealing with the university. It is was very pleasing to see how that work snowballed. Reaching the city, we stumbled upon the Winterland festival at the Culture Centre, a rather surreal experience; one does not expect to see outdoor ice-skating in Perth. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to catch up with Bruce T., for dinner with a long conversation that was typically wide-ranging and deep.

Life is back to some semblance of normality for the time being. Mac the Cat expressed his pleasure at our return by bringing home a live young dove. Saturday was a meeting of Linux Users Victoria which had a "ask the experts" theme, allowing us to deal with various problems that people had with this preferred operating system. Today's big event was playing another session of GURPS Middle-Earth (the old ICE Mirkwood-Erebor TA 1640 setting using GURPS rules), where we're engaged in what I have described as "The Battle of the Four Armies at Almost Helm's Deep", where the cliffhanger is my character about to ride out to confront a goblin army coaxing a cave bear. 'Overconfidence' can be a hell of a disadvantage at times. On a related topic however, a few weeks ago I was approached by a chap in the Ukraine who has been running one my favourite old-school games, Swordbearer. The meeting of minds has spurred me into writing a new edition for this classic under the name 'Spirit and Sword', of which several thousand words has been written a small Google Plus group assisting (I hate how slow Google+ is and personally prefer the mailing list where work is being replicated).
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On Wednesdsay night [livejournal.com profile] caseopaya received the 'phone call that her mother, already in her eighties, had been diagonised with T-cell lymphoma, a type of cancer that is pretty much untreatable. By the following day work had been informed and by Friday we were in Perth for the coming week. We spent the weekend with family in their Mandurah holiday house and currently staying with mother-in-common-law in the southern suburb of Medina, doing what we can (and what she will allow us to do!) around the house, running errands, etc.

At the point of last week's 'phone call things did seem very grim. However a transfer to the Fiona Stanley hospital has seen a remarkable improvement in her symptoms, courtesy of a hefty dose of steroids. The hospital itself is quite a remarkable and impressive institution, located next door to my alma mater, Murdoch University. Once described a "nursery for left-wingers" with radical ideas about teaching (e.g., mature-aged students, distance education, Deans teaching first-year subjects etc) it really has proven itself over time.

In so many ways [livejournal.com profile] caseopaya's mother is quite a remarkable woman. Moving from Germany to Western Australia by herself in the 1950s with very minimal English, and bringing up three children after her partner died in an accident in the mid-1970s is evidence of a quiet determination that is not immediately obvious from her slight size and conciliatory demeanor where every third word is punctuated by a small laugh through a thin smile. From conversation it is evident that she is facing her own mortality in a practical sense without much fear, although in contrast to denominational Catholicism, she has made it quite clear that she does not want to suffer and has expressed support for volunatry euthanasia.
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Big event on Saturday was the wedding and subsequent reception of Sophie and Allister at Yallingup Brook. A very pleasant location and perfect weather, it was a traditional style, and actually quite charming. Speeches were appropriate and gently amusing, the food was excellent, and everyone behaved themselves whilst in good spirits. The following day celebrations continued with a late lunch at Clancy's in Dunsborough. I was particularly impressed with the deep fried feta sticks and fried mice (i.e., jalapeno). Following day visiting the truly wonderful Ngilgi Cave (I challenge D&D players to try it out - with sword and shield!), and then on to the 1.841km Busselton Jetty, a journey of memorial plaques, poetry and prose.

Have since arrived in Perth, staying at the creaky 19th century Royal Hotel in a quirky corner room. Conducting two days of training for staff and researchers at the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Western Australia, the first day on high level systems administration of their cluster (including several software installs), followed by user training on Linux, HPC job submission, and MPI programming. A third day will consist of further work on the cluster itself. Caught up with Jason F., and had dinner at the pleasant Olivers as we conversed on computing, music, and metallurgy.
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Took the silver bird to Western Australia on Friday for the niece's wedding, watching Love is Strange and Automata. The former did well to elucidate the destructive effects of discriminatory employment practices. The latter had a good premise and deriving from a number of near-future sf films, didn't quite deliver. Getting off at Perth, turned on Ingress to discover that my home portals had been smashed just as was taking the taxi to the airport. It was particularly disappointing as a number of them were at 85-plus days, including one at 89 days. Given that there is a guardian badge at 90 days, which would have given me the criteria to get level 15, it was a little annoying to say the least. The charitable side of me wants to believe that the surprise attack was not the result of a screenscraper, as that would constitute cheating.

Initially staying in [personal profile] caseopaya's mother's house in the southern suburb of Kwinana and went to the Rockingham foreshore for dinner. This has changed significantly since my childhood. Once very much a fringe suburb of beach shacks and campsites, it is now very much mainstream suburbia with modernist mansions overlooking the sea. Of course the facilities are much improved but it has certainly lost a great deal of its isolated charm. On the following day made our way to the Yallingup Forest Resort taking accommodation in a pleasant chalet surrounded by bushland, which includes some very friendly magpies.

Shortly after arrival joined a tour of some of the other guests a few local wineries and breweries (there's apparently around 125 in the Margaret River region). None were particularly astounding, although we picked up a reasonable limette at Happs and a good tampranillo at Hay Shed. Lunch was at a local brewery, Bootleg, which had good food and setting, although the beers were very uninteresting. I certainly could have done without the ignorant old white man at the lunch table trying to tell me how much better the aborigines had it before equal rights. It is interesting that I have never in all my years heard an indigenous person say such a thing.
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Spent three days at Auckland for the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy and gave my paper on Lying in Politics Revisited (draft). Seemed well received with third parties telling me it had attracted some interest. Was particularly pleased with recommended further readings in the psychology of moral disengagement and for further elaboration on strategic action. Was also impressed with Paul Miller's (ANU) paper on "The Ambiguity of Freedom" which argued for freedom to be understood as a process and a relationship rather than the traditional model of sovereignty and, continuing on the theme, Matheson Russell's paper on Hannah Arendt's intersubjective concept of freedom and agency. Also managed to meet up and had a great yarn with James Flowers of Redbrick, current publishers of the Earthdawn and Blue Planet roleplaying systems. Managed to miss the entire third day of the conference following drinks with James, then drinks at the conference dinner, and then drinks at a club afterwards!

Took the Overlander down to Palmerston North, which is the first time I'd made that journey by train and was very pleased to do so. It was quite a feat of engineering to have a trainline, requiring flat and straight tracks, through a land famous for hills, valleys and bends. Staying in Palmerston North for a few days to visit mother and brothers was pleasant, very relaxing but quite unexciting. There is only so much small-town gossip I can handle before my eyes glaze over; lengthy stories of who married who, where they live, what their home is like, and what their relationship is with other members of the community. There is no discussion of great ideas, and little of great events (hat-tip to Elanor Roosevelt). Although well-meaning people, an ignorance of worldly affairs leaves me wondering how people derive meaning and satisfaction from vicarious trivialities.

Anyway, I'm now in Wellington at Geekmansion with [livejournal.com profile] beagl and [livejournal.com profile] kimeros. I can see how one could spend entire days in conversation and/or coding looking over Evans Bay to Mount Victoria. Beautiful.

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Diary of a B+ Grade Polymath

August 2017

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