The Women’s March on Austin

Like most people, we were disheartened by the horrible results of the 2016 election. The old quote that is variously attributed to Edmund Burke or John Stuart Mill kept rolling around in my head; “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. The awful coalition of the Tea Party, alt-right, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and the religious right that over-powered the Republic Party and spawned the Trump administration is as evil as anything in American history that I can think of. The growing need to do something, even if only a symbolic gesture of resistance, coincided with a chance sighting on Facebook of some event info about a Women’s March in Washington, DC planned for January 21.

There was no way we could attend a march in Washington, DC but there appeared to be ancillary marches in the State capitols as well. Austin seemed possible, so we put it on the calendar. The event info also mentioned the Pussy Hat Project – a good-natured poke at Donald Trump’s hypocritical “Make America Great Again” hats. His hats promoted bringing jobs back to America while ironically being mass-produced by low income workers in China. Pussy Hats, in contrast, would be hand made by individual American makers everywhere. Neither Susan nor I are knitters but I am a member of Dallas Makerspace, the biggest collective of hackers and makers in Texas, so it was pretty easy to find a like-minded knitter there. The talented Devin Burnett knitted us a few hats in exchange for the pink yarn.

Early on the morning of Jan 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, we set out for Austin. There was a beautiful sunrise but almost immediately a weird, dark haze began to settle over the landscape. There was no rain. It was more like a thick dark fog. We joked that perhaps as in Lord of the Rings, the rise of evil is always accompanied by a physical darkness settling over the land. The dark haze was with us most of the way down but finally began to break up as we approached Austin, revealing a beautiful, warm sunny day. Along the way to Austin we saw numerous buses and I noticed someone on Facebook saying they were taking a bus from Dallas to Austin. Had we known about them, we’d have taken a bus too. Our biggest worry was that it would be impossible to find parking close to the capitol. As it turned out, everything worked out perfectly.

We found the Cap Metro Howard Station Park & Ride on Google maps on the northern outskirts of Austin and decided to take a chance that there would be a way to get downtown on a Metro bus. We parked free and walked straight from the car to a waiting bus with Cap Metro employees waving us aboard. We tried to buy two day passes but it was an “exact change only” situation and the smallest bill we had was a ten that the cash scanner didn’t like. The driver asked if were going to the Women’s March. We said yes and she comp’ed us two day passes. The bus was full of other happy, pussy hat wearing marchers.

The bus arrived downtown and let us out a couple of blocks from the capitol. It was no problem finding the march. There were people from every direction converging on it and within moments we had merged into a stream of marchers. Originally, the plan was for everyone to meet at the capitol and then march a 1.5 mile path around downtown. As it turned out, there were so many people that the entire capitol grounds were filled as well as the entire 1.5 mile marching course. The Austin police estimated 50,000 marchers (and it’s now on record as the largest march in Texas history). So there was a continuous, endless loop of marchers on the 1.5 mile path for nearly four hours as well as the massive crowds on the capitol grounds. It was the largest crowd we’ve ever seen in person.

We marched for a while and then mingled with the crowds at the capitol. I shot lots of photos. I was amazed at the range of ages and the diversity. There were people of every race, old women in wheel chairs, children of all ages, I even saw one blind woman. There were lots of men as well and entire families marching together. There were lots of religious leaders marching too.

I was especially pleased to see the wide range of issues, well beyond just women’s rights being represented. I think this election may have awakened a widespread recognition that we have to stop taking things for granted, that we have to get out and work together or the forces of ignorance and superstition will overtake us all. I saw many signs advocating science and evidence based policy. There were a surprising number of signs bearing inside jokes of geeks, nerds, and science fiction fans. There was a general feeling of good-natured humor and fun among the marchers. Overall it was a great experience and I think it really encouraged everyone that maybe there is some hope after all. Maybe what we’re seeing is not the pendulum swinging back into the ignorance of the past but, rather, the last gasps of an ever shrinking minority who want to hold back the rest of the world and who may well die out in a generation.

We eventually headed back to the bus stop and made the drive back to Dallas. It was a long day but well worth it. Now we just need to get back to the everyday work of trying to make the world a better place.

Austin Maker Faire 2008

The Austin Maker Faire was last weekend and I was there, of course. I got a different view of it than last year because I spent part of the time as a maker. I helped out at the Dallas Personal Robotics Group table, where we showed off a variety of a small robots. We had several autonomous mobile robots, a robot arm that Martin interfaced with a game controller, a variety of robot components, and a couple of robot-like art pieces that were the result of my recent obsession with welding.

We did pretty well. There was a good-sized crowd of people at our booth throughout the faire, handling our robots and playing with the robot arm. Our table won an editor’s choice award from Make magazine. And we’re already talking about how we can do something bigger and more interactive next year.

All the usual crazy stuff was there too; cyclecide with their human powered carnival rides, including one they didn’t have last year called the Melody Maker, in which the rider propels spinning guitars to make music. The Austin Bike Zoo brought a 50 foot human powered rattlesnake that could be seen slithering in and out of the show barn and surrounding areas during the faire.

The Austin Robot Group had the giant ponginator robot, which is probably the biggest, loudest robot to be found in the State of Texas. They had about a dozen tables of smaller projects too. There were also fire-spewing machines, strange vehicles, medieval siege weapons, the Swap-O-Rama, DIY metal forging, liquid nitrogen ice cream, wind generators, linux clusters, pretty girls, (with mohawks), pirates, (and a pirate ship), tesla coil music, and a nice sunset on Saturday night.

Maker Faire Austin 2007

I went to the Austin Maker Faire October 19-21. I’ve been promising various people I’d write about it for a while but events have conspired to prevent it until now. The short version is that it was fun, interesting, worth the trip, and I’ll be returning next year. It was interesting to compare this to my Marfa trip a couple of weeks ago for the Chinati Open House art festival. I’m even more convinced of a growing convergence between DIY/homebrew technology geeks and artists. I even ran into a guy in the Maker Store wearing a Chinati 2007 T-shirt, so there were at least two of us who attended both events and probably more.

I drove down to Austin from Dallas and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. Despite having four lamps, my hotel room was strangely dim. Rather than complain, I tried to get into the spirit of the Maker Faire by driving to a nearby Home Depot and purchasing a box of 100 Watt light bulbs, which I used to upgrade all the lamps. While hanging around the hotel, I met a cat in the hotel parking lot. The hotel’s main entrance had automatic doors which relied on motion sensors. The cat had learned that it could enter the hotel any time it wanted by walking up to the doors. It frequently walked into the lobby, where it caged treats off the hotel guests. The daytime hotel clerks chased the cat away but I noticed the nightshift guy feeding and playing with the little cat.

Susan wasn’t able to go with me. Actually, I think she was afraid it was just going to be another boring robot event. She’s patiently attended more than her share of robot-related events. It’s always more interesting to view art and technology when you can share the experience with someone. Fortunately I met Alix, a local Austin blogger, and we hung out together during the Maker Faire. Hopefully she enjoyed it as much as I did.

Maker Faire was too full of interesting experiences to describe them all in a short blog entry. Maybe I can get across the general idea. Unlike most conferences, fairs, and similar events, people attending the Maker Faire are not idle spectators. Participation is allowed or even required for nearly everything there. If there’s a ride, you can bet you’ll have to pedal. If you buy an electronics kit, you’ll be provided with tools, test equipment and space to assemble it. Stand too close to the girl building synth gear out of salvaged medical equipment and she’ll put you to work disassembling equipment. If you go to the Swap-O-Rama to trade clothes, you’ll be cutting, sewing, and silk-screening them yourself, with expert help if needed. Maker Faire is very much a DIY event in every sense.

There are a few exceptions. You’ll have to keep your distance from noisy machines belching flame and sparks, for example. And while you may be asked to help turn the cranks to hoist the 4,000 lbs safe into the air during the execution of the Life-Size Mousetrap game, you’ll have to stand behind the fence when it plummets to the ground with an impact that can be felt a hundred yards away.

Everywhere you look at Makers Faire you’ll see interesting people who are always willing to stop and explain how their creation works, how they made it, why they made it, who did their tattoos, or answer any other question you might have for them.

I suppose I should at least give you a quick sampling of the things you might see at a Makers Faire: art cars, dirty art cars, biped robots, robots on wheels, robotic toys, robot art, robots that make art, cute girls who drive all the way from Iowa to show off the art-making robots they built, strange musical instruments, stranger musical instruments, tesla coils, tesla coils that are musical instruments, drummers who knit, free-roaming ferris wheels, working medeviel siege weapons, strange fire-breathing machines, homebrew supercomputers, stirling engines, fur-bearing dinosaurs, girls with tattoos, girls with hula hoops, girls with 5-inch plastic heels, the amazing mouse girl, the cigarette-smoking bee girl, scary insectoid robotic things, Dalek pumpkins, photovores, things that spin around until you get dizzy (unless it snaps your feet off like twigs first), things that I don’t even know what they are but if you pump them full of gas, pressurize them, and apply high voltage, they glow purple. And I should point out that I hardly saw half of what was there. For more weird stuff, check out my Maker Faire flickr gallery.

Those who got tired of looking at mind-blowingly strange things could stop to listen to mind-blowingly strange music playing on any one of the three stages. There were also several talks and tutorials going on at any given time. Wendy Tremayne, the founder of the Swap-O-Rama, gave an interesting talk entitled The Maker as Revolutionary. For me that talk tied together some of the loose threads between art, DIY geeks, and the free software movement that I’d been pondering since my trip to Marfa.

Philip Glass Ensemble in Austin

Susan and I have been back in town for a few days after a week in Austin to hear several live performances of the Philip Glass Ensemble. I’ve been meaning to post a summary of our adventures and here it is.

We left for Austin on the 2nd, opting to drive rather than fly. It seemed the prudent thing to do considering the war (or whatever you call it). And besides, we had some pending genealogical research at several cemeteries between Dallas and Austin. Anyway, we had a nice drive and shot photos of some long lost headstones.

The event itself, called Philip on Film, was being held at the University of Texas. Each night a different Film which included a Philip Glass score was being peformed live – the Philip Glass Ensemble played the piece in real time as the film was show. After checking into the hotel, we went to the first perormance which as a collection of short films. A couple of them, such as Anima Mundi were interesting and a couple were, um, not. The music was great on all of them, of course.

On the 3rd, we attended a lecture and Q & A session where Mr. Glass told a lot of interesting stories. His answers tended to go off on all sort of unexpected, interesting tangents, so it only took a few questions to fill up all the time available. He had stories about everyone from David Byrne to Danny Elfman. And he had some good ones: the first time his music was performed by orchestra instead of his own ensemble, the players walked out rather than play what they believed wasn’t real music; having people throw things at him during performances; and, in one case even having someone come on stage and try to physically stop him from playing. Later that evening, we attended the live performance of Powaqqatsi. After the performance we ate a late dinner at the famous Katz’s Deli.

On the 4th we attended a lecture at the UT Law School where Philip Glass and a couple of faculty members discussed legal aspects of music. Actually, there was about five minutes of legal-related discussion and the rest was Glass telling more interesting stories. Who’d have thought he listens to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream? That night we saw a performance of la Belle et la bête, an opera based on Jean Cocteau’s film by the same name. And, in fact, timed to be performed live as the film played with the action and music perfectly in sync.

The performance on the 5th was Dracula but we had seen it performed live by Philip Glass and Cronos Quartet about a year ago (and we had a limited budget anyway), so we decided to skip this version which had been rearranged for the Ensemble. As it turned out, we heard an ad on the radio saying that Clandestine was in town and playing on the UT campus that night so we heard some nice jigs and reels instead.

Finally, on the 6th, was Koyaanisqatsi, which I hadn’t seen since the original theatrical release back in 1982. The next morning we left Austin for Dallas. We stopped at couple of cemetaries on the way back including one that proved very difficult to find. After asking directions from a resident of the area, we were directed to a dirt road that led to some private property. The road was in such bad shape, there was no way I was going to take the new RSX down it, so we got out and made our way on foot. By coincidence, we ran into the property owner, who was coming up the road in his pickup truck. He knew where the cemetary was and thought we probably wouldn’t be able to make it on foot. We climbed into the back of his pickup and he gave us a ride over some very rough terrain. The cemetary was overgrown with 3 or 4 foot weeds but we did manage to find the headstones.

On the way back to car, the landowner mentioned that he had heard on the radio just before picking us up that we had started bombing the Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan. We had the same reaction that most people I’ve talked to since have had – sort of a combination of “it’s about time” and concern over whether we’d be able to stop them before they made their next attack on the US. We spent the rest of the drive back to Dallas listening to news reports on the radio.

Happy New Year 2001!

Happy new year and welcome to the 21st century and a new millennium! I’ve been on a news-posting sabbatical since the middle of November and now I’m back. After a year and a half of posting almost daily news updates, I needed to take some time off to avoid total burn-out. I’m pleased to report getting a few emails over the last month from people who actually read these news postings either here or on Advogato, wondering what had happened to me. Just a little time off – and don’t worry, you didn’t miss out on much.

Let’s see, the only interesting thing I remember from November is getting to hear a live performance of Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet in Austin. December was a bit busier. Work sucked up a lot of my time as things at NCC continue to pick up dramatically. I did manage to take some time off for Christmas shopping and various traditional Christmas-time activities.

Texas weather was as unpredicatable as ever. I mowed the lawn for the last time of the year in mid-Decemeber and a week later it was below freezing. We’ve been alternating between high temperatures near 70F and sub-freezing for a couple of weeks. (We actually got a tiny amount of snow yesterday.)

Susan and I ended up with quite a pile of new CDs this Christmas. Some were gifts and some we got with gift certificates. So we’ve survived the miserable cold weather by staying indoors and listending to the Philip Glass 5th Symphony, The Complete Works of Edgar Varése, several Dvorak symphonies, as well as some Honegger, Holst, Liebermann, and Shostakovich among others. One interesting work that we haven’t listened to yet is “Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts”, a collaboration between Ursula K. Le Guin and Elinor Armer. This appears to be out of print – I ran across it in a used book store. I’ll report back after we have a chance to listen to it.

There’s a lot more to write about but I’ll try to spread it out over a few days.