Category Archives: Poetry

What the Bird Said Early in the Year

Recently I was fortunate to have a gate unlocked that led onto grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, England for a stroll along the “Addison Walk” around a small island in the River Cherwell.

A paragraph in the 1820 topographical guide to Oxford gives some perspective on the walk’s namesake (page 85):

On the north side of the grounds is a long walk, still termed Addison’s walk, once the chosen retreat of that writer, when intent on solitary reflection. In its original state no spot could be better adapted to meditation, or more genial lo his temper.

Shield of C.S. Lewis’ 1938 poem
No monuments to Addison were found along this walk, although apparently the Spanish oaks famously lining both sides were planted by Addison himself.

As I exited the secluded leafy path and crossed a bridge I couldn’t help but notice an engraved shield of C. S. Lewis placed upon on an old stone wall.

Lewis seemingly wrote this poem to contrast his faith in eternity with his disappointments in a series of ephemeral life events. Despite the age and environment of the poetry, I believe it provides excellent food for thought in our modern era of cloud computing.

I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you.
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick! – the gates are drawn apart.

It is said that in this poem Lewis was describing his feelings from taking walks along this same Oxford path I was on, where he engaged in deep philosophical/theological conversations with his “inklings” colleagues J.R.R. Tolkein and Hugo Dyson.

While some try to limit the poem’s relevance to Lewis’ own religious struggles (raised a Christian, after the death of his mother and in his teens he left the faith disappointed and rebellious, then returned later to his roots) his words seem much more broadly insightful.

If nothing else, we can recognize Lewis experienced many trust failures as he grew up, which tested his faith. This poem emphasizes how repeated failures need not be seen as terminal when belief matures to account for greater good. He found permanence by believing operations run on something beyond each instance itself.

Perhaps I should re-frame his poem in terms of a certain “open-source container-orchestration system for automating deployment, scaling and management”…and then we’ll talk about what the container said early in the deployment.

Eisenhower’s “proud confederation of mutual trust and respect”

On January 17, 1961 President Eisenhower gave a phenomenal speech about the future of technology, especially Internet authorization models. Consider his words in context of today’s social networks and data platform controls:

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Video of the speech is available via C-SPAN

Many people reference this speech due to its stern warning against a congressional-military-industrial-complex diverting public funding to itself and away from education and healthcare.

People also tend to leave out the congressional role related to Eisenhower’s warning, probably because it was inferred and not explicit. Fortunately a professor of government explains how and why we still should include Congress in that speech:

When the president’s brother asked about the dropped reference to Congress, the president replied: “It was more than enough to take on the military and private industry. I couldn’t take on the Congress as well.”

Perhaps we can agree in hindsight that Eisenhower’s warnings were right. There is over-centralization in the American communications industry as well as a state of near-perpetual warfare. This means we should have also expected the “congressional-military-industrial-complex” to expand naturally into a “cyber” domain.

Of course, just like in 1961, we have more than one path forward. The tech industry should be moving itself away from power abuses and more towards something like Eisenhower’s prescient vision of globally decentralized “mutual trust” confederations.

Meanwhile, “For Nato, a serious cyberattack could trigger Article 5 of our founding treaty.”

2019 BSidesLV: “AI”s Wide Open

My 2019 BSidesLV presentation on AI security will be briefly in the “I Am The Cavalry” track and then again more in-depth in the “Public Ground” track:

When: Tuesday, August 6 (14:30:14:55 and 16:00-17:55)
Where: Tuscany, Las Vegas
Cost: Free (as always!)
Event Link: BSidesLV Schedule
Title: “AIs Wide Open – Making Bots Safer Than Completely $#%cking Unsafe”

Abstract (I Am The Cavalry track):

Bladerunner was supposed to be science fiction. And yet here we are today with bots running loose beyond their intended expiration and with companies trying to hire security people to terminate them. This is 2019 and we have several well-documented cases of software flaws in automation systems causing human fatalities. Emergent human safety risks are no joke and we fast are approaching an industry where bots are capable of pivoting and transforming to perpetuate themselves (availability) with little to no accountability when it comes to human aspirations of being not killed (let alone confidentiality and integrity).

This talk will frame the issues for discussion in the Public Ground track later. Perhaps you are interested in building a framework to keep bot development pointed in the right direction (creating benefits) and making AI less prone to being a hazard to everyone around? Welcome to 2019 where we are tempted to reply “you got the wrong guy, pal” to an unexpected tap on the shoulder…before we end up on some random roof in a rainstorm with a robot trying to kill us all.

Download Presentation Slides (6MB PDF)

TL;DR “Once the state has been founded, there can no longer be any heroes. They come on the scene only in uncivilized conditions.” The Philosophy of Right, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Video (Starts at 3:14:30 of 7:40:33)


RIP Rutger Hauer, the actor who turned down a role as an actual Nazi to instead play a futuristic robo-supremacist leader of renegade replicants in Bladerunner. He passed away this month aged 75

“Rutger read [my] speech and then went on with a couple of lines about memories in the rain,” co-screenwriter David Webb Peoples told THR in 2017. “And then he looked at me like a naughty little boy, like he was checking to see if the writer was going to be upset. I didn’t let on that I was upset, but at the time, I was a little upset and threatened by it.

“Later, seeing the movie, that was a brilliant contribution of Rutger’s, that line about tears in the rain. It is absolutely beautiful.”

Hauer said he turned down a role in Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot (1981) to work on Blade Runner, which he noted “wasn’t about the replicants, it was about what does it mean to be human?” The late Philip K. Dick, whose novel served as the basis for the film, called the actor “the perfect Batty — cold, Aryan, flawless.”

His most famous line was basically a haiku

All those moments will be – 6
Lost in time like tears in rain. – 7
Time to die. – 3

6+7+3 = 16

From Melting Pot to Tree Rings: Immigration Visualization

The history of the phrase “melting pot” is an interesting one. A “Romeo-and-Juliettesque” play by Israel Zangwill staged in 1908, generally is credited for American usage. It reflected on the life of a Russian Jewish immigrant who searches for a better life after he survived the pogroms that killed his mother and sister.

Imagery of America as a giant pot of refugees notwithstanding, my school teachers used to talk about getting a better stew from more diverse ingredients.

Ford manufacturing plants, for example, were based on immigrant descriptions of assembly lines seen in England’s shipyards during the Napoleonic Wars. Edison famously proved immigration beneficial to his own accumulation of wealth by awarding himself (instead of his country) credit for any innovation made by immigrants he had access to, requiring them to assign to him all rights to their ideas. Perhaps Edison’s first name should have been changed to Stew.

Fast forward to today and National Geographic offers us a tree visualization as alternative, which has the benefit of emphasizing the significance of concentric growth rings.

I also am reminded of “The Trees” by Philip Larkin, which the BBC posted as a visualization

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The Oscillation Range of Human Languages

Being caught as a non-native speaker can have serious implications, like death. That probably is why a BBC article about overcoming the exact cause of accents is going to be of more than just casual interest.

Recent studies show that native speakers develop expertise with a specific oscillation range:

Every human language oscillates at a different range of frequencies, with British English fluctuating considerably between 2,000 to 12,000 Hz and French much less so between 15 to 250 Hz and 1,000 to 2,000 Hz. If French can be described as flat, English is very wavy. Russian fluctuates between an incredible 125 to 12,000 Hz. This means that some languages, like English and Russian, can go much higher and lower in pitch than say French.

There are many recent examples of risk to draw from. The BBC goes with an ancient history one to highlight why being identified by accent is so dangerous; why some work so hard to understand how to more easily jump into different ranges:

Speech has been used to segregate people for millennia. When the Tribe of Gilead defeated the Ephraimites in The Bible, they used accent as a means of identifying surviving Ephraimites trying to flee.

Anyone who claimed not to be a survivor was asked to say the Hebrew word “Shibboleth”, which means stream. People from Gilead pronounced it with a “sh” sound, whereas Ephraimites could not say “sh”, so anyone who said “Sibboleth” was killed on the spot: 42,000 people failed the test, according to the Old Testament.

Of course accent is just the beginning. Cultural meaning is another problem entirely. Take being happy, for example:

  • Chinese “Xingfu” – Sustainability and meaningfulness through sufficiency
  • Greek “Meraki” – Focused attention that achieves devoted precision to creative tasks
  • Japanese “Wabi Sabi” – Appreciation of the imperfection and complexity of reality
  • Brazilian “Saudade” – The longing for a happiness that once was or could be
  • Finnish “Kalsarikaanit” – Staying home wearing only your underwear and drinking

Karlsarikaanit

This Day in History: Nazis Invade Czechoslovakia

Radio Praha remembers this dark day in history with a post including some poetry. It begins…

Eighty years ago today, on March 15 1939, Hitler gave Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha a stark choice: accept becoming a protectorate or face destruction.

There was no choice, really, as Hácha was tortured and literally manipulated by Nazi “doctors” into signing away his country’s existence. An eye-witness (M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, in the French Yellow Book) reported it as heart-attack and injections until the suicidal papers were signed.

President Hácha was in such a state of exhaustion that he more than once needed medical attention from the doctors, who, by the way, had been there ready for service since the beginning of the interview. […] At 4:30 in the morning, Dr. Hacha, in a state of total collapse, and kept going only by means of injections, resigned himself with death in his soul to give his signature.

Two very notable points are made in the Radio Praha post, which a reader hopefully will not miss so I’ll call them out here.

1) Chamberlain was fighting an uphill political battle in Britain to oppose Hitler’s insanity. Although in retrospect many obviously want to say Chamberlain should have been more aggressive towards Nazi Germany, at the time he had to carefully navigate through many in Britain who wanted to embrace fascism.

Six months after the Munich deal was struck, Chamberlain explained invasion of Czechoslovakia as his “I told you so” moment to allow him to declare war, instead of being an oops moment he regretted. It’s a very subtle and important distinction in the texts.

It has been suggested that this occupation of Czecho-Slovakia was the direct consequence of the visit which I paid to Germany last autumn. It is said that, as this was the personal policy of the prime minister, the blame for the fate of Czecho-Slovakia must rest upon his shoulders.

“I may remind you that, when it was first announced that I was going, not a voice was raised in criticism. Everyone applauded that effort. It was only later, when it appeared that the results of the final settlement fell short of the expectations of some who did not fully appreciate the facts-it was only then that the attack began, and even then it was not the visit, it was the terms of settlement that were disapproved.

Had Britain been more aggressively opposed to Hitler earlier there’s a good chance Hitler would have been assassinated by the Nazi military itself, but that’s tough speculation. We know General Beck said his coup plans were cooled when he thought foreign nations wouldn’t support it.

More certain is the fact Chamberlain was trying to keep pro-Hitler factions at bay in his own country. He would likely have lost control of Britain by moving faster or more decisively against Germany. Chamberlain’s cautious approach ultimately meant handing control of his party to Churchill, who earlier had more aggressively opposed fascism.

While handing control to Churchill meant Chamberlain himself took a step away from leading, his party neither lost control (as Churchill famously proved) nor did Chamberlain allow Britain to side with the Nazis as so many in Britain had hoped. That’s the political complexity and proper context for the “I may remind you” quote above.

2) A popular commentator in Prague used a form of poetry to navigate the dark veil of censorship by Nazis

Allow me to mention a non-military fact. Somewhere from afar a black crow flew over Prague. It circled above the National Museum building above the headlights and listening devices of the German army and headed down Wenceslas Square to Můstek. Perhaps the crow was surprised by the noise it had heard and the picture it saw below.

Radio Praha points out that his attempts to avoid Nazi censorship weren’t enough, however as “eventually they lost patience with František Kocourek. He was arrested by the Gestapo and would later die like so many others in Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

Nterini – Fatoumata Diawara

In a story that I’m almost certain nobody has read (based on everyone I have asked about it)…hundreds of thousands of letters that were seized by British warships centuries ago, now are getting digitized for analysis by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

Somewhere in the U.K. National Archives in London, there are 4,000 boxes containing more than 160,000 undelivered letters from ships captured by the British during the naval wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Now those letters — some of which are bundled in old mail bags and affixed with wax seals that have never been broken — are about to go online.

[…]

The mail, sent mostly between 1652 and 1815, is written in 19 different languages and contains songs, notebooks, packages and personal correspondence.

[…]

Many of the letters are made inherently tragic by having never reached their destination.

A series of four letters from a Madam Dupont in Quebec between 1702 and 1703 show a woman frantically trying to reach her husband, who is away on business in France, and growing increasingly despondent by his lack of response.

“These letters are full of the hazards of the flu epidemic and chicken pox in Quebec and her tone gets more and more desperate, because she doesn’t get any sign of life from her husband,” Freist said.

“She feels utterly neglected and resented and finally decides not to write anymore. In the letter she says: ‘You can’t love me anymore if you don’t answer. I will now stop writing. I give up.’ But then she writes again and she implores her husband once again to come back.”

No word yet on why the German Prize Papers Project is leading the effort for a British archive.

I almost feel like this is the German way of trying to prove again how terrible the British Empire was for global humanity.

Speaking of letters of humanity, and of messages sent but never received…the Fatoumata Diawara video Interini about migration is a must watch/listen:

Lyrics:

Cette chanson parle de la souffrance que la distance inflige aux amoureux. Mon amour et mon confident est parti loin et ne me donne pas signe de vie. Je l’aime malgré tout et il me manque nuit et jour. J’aimerai avoir des nouvelles de mon chéri, sinon je n’arrive pas à dormir.

Mon amour est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir
Mon chéri est parti loin de la famille
Et ne reviendra peut-être plus
Il était mon ami, mon confident, comment va t-il?
Je veux juste savoir si tu vas bien?
Il est parti dans une contrée lointaine
Il me manque beaucoup
Toi qui as toujours été mon guide
Je t’aime de tout mon cœur

Mon amour a pris son envol
Qui sait quand est-ce qu’il va revenir?
Dites-moi, mon chéri est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir

Il est parti s’installer dans un pays lointain
Et ne m’a rien dit
Ce n’était pas le temps du matin qui m’empêchait de le voir
Ni la chaleur de la journée

This song speaks of the suffering that distance inflicts on lovers. My love and my confidant have gone away and do not give me any sign of life. I love him despite everything and he misses me night and day. I would like to hear from my darling, otherwise I can not sleep.

My love is gone away
And maybe not coming back
My darling left the family
And may not come back again
He was my friend, my confidant, how is he?
I just want to know if you’re fine?
He left for a distant country
I miss him a lot
You who have always been my guide
I love you with all my heart

My love took flight
Who knows when will he come back?
Tell me, my darling is gone away
And maybe not going back

He moved to a distant country
And did not tell me
It was not the morning time that prevented me from seeing him
Neither the heat of the day